From Tyranny to Freedom and Back Again

In 1776 this country underwent its first transformation when certain individuals voted to support a resolution stating that “…these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” Two days later they affixed their signatures to a document that enshrines the principles this country was supposedly built upon – The Declaration of Independence.

Yet there were those who did not agree with the decision to sever the ties that had bound them to Great Britain for over a century and a half. These Loyalists had varying reasons for their sentiments, but it was one Mather Byles, a prominent Pastor from Massachusetts who uttered the famous words, “Which is better―to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”

Byles, like many others, did not argue that the Crown was imposing tyrannical rule over the Colonies, his argument was that it was better to remain under British rule than the sever the ties with Great Britain, only to find that they were now subject to the tyrannical rule of a government of their own creation. Sadly, Byles quote now sounds almost prophetic.

I wonder how many have ever considered what it was the Colonists were fighting for. Going back through the writings and speeches of those who were key players in the revolution I find no reference to their having fought the revolution to establish a centralized system of government that consolidated the States into a perpetual Union of any kind. What they were fighting for was freedom from tyranny; which equates to liberty-and for awhile after the revolution they actually enjoyed the fruit of their efforts.

However, as always happens, with the absence of a controlling power a vacuum always occurs; which someone seeks to fill with their own brand of tyranny. To believe that we are immune from such tyranny is naive, at best, and certainly foolish.

So it was that in the spring of 1787 delegates met in the city of Philadelphia to discuss plans for a new centralized government. Of course by the mere mention of a new system of government those delegates were violating the trust placed in them by their respective State Legislatures. Nonetheless that is the course they took; locking the doors and swearing each other to secrecy until a proposal could be agreed upon. Thus our constitution was born; under secrecy, fraud and betrayal.

The following year saw a heated debate in this country between those who opposed this new system of government and those who argued that without it our country would not survive and take its rightful place on the world stage. Those who supported this new system of government became known as Federalists; although there was nothing federal about the plan they supported. Had they been true federalists they would have clung to the Articles of Confederation with the last ounce of their being; for a confederation is at the core of what federalism represents. No, what they wanted was a national form of government; one in which the central government was superior to the individual component parts of the Union and which would ultimately swallow up the States; depriving them of their independence and sovereignty.

On the other side of the argument were the Anti-Federalists; which is ironic because in truth they were the true federalists. They opposed the proposed constitution for a multitude of reasons. Some felt that it was a decent proposal that could be made better if amended to better protect certain rights or the sovereignty of the States. Then there were those who flat out rejected the plan because it was a consolidation of the individual States into a single Union governed by a system that gave the people no means to restrain it from becoming just as tyrannical as the one they had just fought a war to free themselves from.

It was during these debates that three men, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay penned a series of articles, an ad campaign if you will, to drum up support for the proposed constitution in the State of New York. We know those articles as The Federalist Papers; and they are believed to be the definite source for understanding the constitution. Yet in reality they are nothing but empty promises designed to sway public support towards their cause-the ratification of the constitution and the establishment of their system of government.

Nonetheless there is one passage from Federalist 51, written by James Madison, that I would like to share with you. In Federalist 51 Madison writes, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” No matter how tyrannical a government may be, the people always have the option to resist it; it all rests upon how willing they are to risk everything to obtain one simple thing-liberty. So what Madison was saying was that government is a mirror by which the society it governs is reflected. If the people accept tyranny it is because the spirit of liberty does not flow through their veins.

If we elect bad people to govern us because they promise to do certain things which make our lives better, more comfortable, or more secure, then ultimately we are to blame for whatever form our government takes. If, on the other hand, we adhere to the principle of individual liberty, leaving the government to manage the general affairs of the country while the people enjoy a maximum amount of freedom, then we can be said to be of the same spirit as those who fought for their independence in 1776. In short, we get the government we deserve.

Years after the constitution went into effect a Frenchman travelled to America to examine our culture and unique system of government. Putting his notes together into a book Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America in 1835. One of the many things de Tocqueville said was, “Another tendency, which is extremely natural to democratic nations and extremely dangerous, is that which leads them to despise and undervalue the rights of private persons. The attachment which men feel to a right, and the respect which they display for it, is generally proportioned to its importance, or to the length of time during which they have enjoyed it. The rights of private persons amongst democratic nations are commonly of small importance, of recent growth, and extremely precarious; the consequence is that they are often sacrificed without regret, and almost always violated without remorse.”

I suppose we’ll never know if de Tocqueville was reflecting upon what he say taking place in America or if he was just making a general observation about humanity. Regardless of why he said it, his words remain true; for America soon lost its concern for liberty and sought to use the legislative, taxing and coercive power of government to create a mighty economic power to compete on the world stage. On top of all that there were some states who tried to impose their will upon the others by dictating what the other states were allowed to do within their own borders. Of course I’m referring to the institution of slavery; which in and of itself was a crime against humanity; but under the constitution and according to the Supreme Court, was perfectly legal in America.

All this came to a head in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln. Now before I address the Civil War, for that’s what this is all about, let me take you back to 12 years before the election of Lincoln the president to when he was a young Congressman from the State of Illinois. During his time in the Senate Lincoln gave a speech regarding the war with Mexico, and in it he said, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, most sacred right- a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to excercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as they inhabit.”

Not only that, but Lincoln was a Republican, and the Republican Party Platform of 1860 stated, “That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”

Yet in 1860 seven States believed that with the election of Lincoln they had but two options; remain in the Union and accept that their government would go on oppressing and subjugating them, or withdraw from the Union and form their own system of government; one which would better represent them and serve their needs. They chose option B.

But now, no longer a Senator, President Lincoln backtracked on his stance on the right of the people to “…shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better.” He also appears to have forgotten his parties political platform when he called for 75,000 volunteers to form an army and squash this rebellion against federal authority; for in reality that is all the Civil War was about, not slavery, not tariffs, but whether or not a people must submit for all time to a system of government or whether they would be free to shake off that system of government and form one that better suits their needs. Like I’ve said hundreds of times, there would have been no WAR had Lincoln not raised an army and sought to force the South into remaining a part of the Union.

At this point only 7 States had issued declarations of secession, but upon calling for troops to invade those states that had, 4 more joined their ranks, with Virginia’s Governor, John Letcher, declaring that it was Lincoln himself who had chosen to inaugurate civil war.

Not only that, but the State of Missouri declared that it too would not be providing troops to invade the sovereign soil of another State, and their Legislature began discussing secession for the State of Missouri. Lincoln immediately dispatched troops to Missouri and took over its State Legislature to prevent them from seceding. Missouri was not the only State that happened to either; Maryland saw it’s State Legislature taken over by federal authority when it considered secession.

Lincoln’s Union was falling apart at the seams and the only thing he knew how to do was to bring force to bear against those who threatened to destroy it and deprive his federal government of the lifeblood of tax revenue which was being sucked out of the Southern States.
So much for the idea of government by consent of the governed…

We all know that the South lost the Civil War, but what many don’t know is how they were treated afterwards. We’ll never know how Reconstruction would have gone under Lincoln, as he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. With his death the radical Republicans led by men like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner had free rein to inflict their version of punishment upon the South for having the audacity the question the authority of the federal government.

A series of bills made their way through Congress to help, (and that’s being sarcastic) rebuild the Union after the war. What these Reconstruction Acts really did was treat the South like a conquered territory; stripping them of their right to a Republican form of government as guaranteed by Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.”

The First of these Reconstruction Acts stated:

Whereas no legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exists in the rebel States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and Arkansas; and whereas it is necessary that peace and good order should be enforced in said States until loyal and republican State governments can be legally established. Therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

That said rebel States shall be divided into military districts and made subject to the military authority of the United States as hereinafter prescribed, and for that purpose Virginia shall constitute the first district; North Carolina and South Carolina the second district; Georgia, Alabama and Florida the third district; Mississippi and Arkansas the fourth district; and Louisiana and Texas the fifth district.

Not only did they place the States under a military dictatorship, they also imposed the rules by which they could re-enter the Union:

And be it further enacted, That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition, who have been resident in said State for one year previous to the day of such election, except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion or for felony at common law, and when such constitution shall provide that the elective franchise shall be enjoyed by all such persons as have the qualifications herein stated for electors of delegates, and when such constitution shall be ratified by a majority of the persons voting on the question of ratification who are qualified as electors for delegates, and when such constitution shall have been submitted to Congress for examination and approval, and Congress shall have approved the same, and when said State, by a vote of its legislature elected under said constitution, shall have adopted the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, and known as article fourteen, and when such article shall have become a part of the Constitution of the United States, said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress.

Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, attempted to block the efforts of Congress to treat the South so poorly after the war, vetoing many of the bills introduced by Congress during the Reconstruction era. In one of his veto messages the President wrote, “Here is a bill of attainder against 9,000,000 people at once. It is based upon an accusation so vague as to be scarcely intelligible and found to be true upon no credible evidence. Not one of the 9,000,000 was heard in his own defense. The representatives of the doomed parties were excluded from all participation in the trial. The conviction is to be followed by the most ignominious punishment ever inflicted on large masses of men. It disfranchises them by hundreds of thousands and degrades them all, even those who are admitted to be guiltless, from the rank of freeman to the condition of slaves.”

One only has to read the words of Thaddeus Stevens to understand the extent, not only of his hatred and spite for the South, but for the Constitution itself, “The President assumes, what no one doubts, that the late rebel States have lost their constitutional relations to the Union, and are incapable of representation in Congress, except by permission of the Government. It matters but little, with this admission, whether you call them States out of the Union, and now conquered territories, or assert that because the Constitution forbids them to do what they did do, that they are therefore only dead as to all national and political action, and will remain so until the Government shall breathe into them the breath of life anew and permit them to occupy their former position. In other words, that they are not out of the Union, but are only dead carcasses lying within the Union. In either case, it is very plain that it requires the action of Congress to enable them to form a State government and send representatives to Congress.

They have torn their constitutional States into atoms, and built on their foundations fabrics of a totally different character. Dead men cannot raise themselves. Dead States cannot restore their existence “as it was.” Whose especial duty is it to do it? In whom does the Constitution place the power? Not in the judicial branch of Government, for it only adjudicates and does not prescribe laws. Not in the Executive, for he only executes and cannot make laws. Not in the Commander-in-Chief of the armies, for he can only hold them under military rule until the sovereign legislative power of the conqueror shall give them law. Unless the law of nations is a dead letter, the late war between two acknowledged belligerents severed their original compacts and broke all the ties that bound them together. The future condition of the conquered power depends on the will of the conqueror. They must come in as new states or remain as conquered provinces. Congress . . . is the only power that can act in the matter.

Congress alone can do it. . . . Congress must create States and declare when they are entitled to be represented. Then each House must judge whether the members presenting themselves from a recognized State possess the requisite qualifications of age, residence, and citizenship; and whether the election and returns are according to law. …

It is obvious from all this that the first duty of Congress is to pass a law declaring the condition of these outside or defunct States, and providing proper civil governments for them.”

Stevens is also quoted as saying, “The talk of restoring the Union like it was, and the Constitution as it is, is one of the absurdities which I have heard repeated until I have become sick of it. There are many things which make such an event impossible. This Union never shall, with my consent, be restored under the constitution as it is … The Union as it was and the Constitution as it is–God forbid it. We must conquer the Southern states and hold them as conquered provinces.”

Thus America underwent 3 major changes. First it went from British Colonies subject to the will of an omnipotent tyrant to a country of freemen governed by the consent of the people of each State. Then it went from that to a country governed by a strong centralized government, yet still retaining the feature of government by consent. Then the final transformation was when it went from government by consent to government by compulsion.

No longer is government our servant, it is now our master. Sure, we can replace a few players within it every couple of years, but we cannot shake off its authority, disband it, or choose to live free of its burdensome taxes and regulations that reduce us to the status of free range slaves.

That is the legacy of Abraham Lincoln; who in reality was only carrying Alexander Hamilton’s vision for an elective monarchy to its final conclusion. As George Will so aptly put it, “There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.”

And all of this happened because of one simple event, the decision to ratify the Constitution. I’m not saying we would not have eventually ended up with this monstrous tyrannical government we now have, but it would have taken much longer for it to come than it did once the Constitution was implemented. Therefore Spooner is making an accurate statement when he says, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”

Yet ultimately it falls upon our shoulders as to what type of government we have; one which promotes the liberty of the governed, or one which suppresses that liberty. We have the power to shut government down if we would but grow a spine and exercise it. Instead of electing the same old party hacks at the State and local level we could elect those who would resist federal authority within our States. We could also nullify federal laws which violate our rights by serving as jurors and refusing to render a guilty verdict if the law violates the Constitution.

But all that would require effort and concern on the part of the people of this country; neither of which most people are willing to expend because it means they would have less time to be entertained, or it involves a certain amount of risk. So, most people follow the path taken by 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who said, “I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation. Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21st century. … Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights … do not speak to today.”

That is why people cling to their ignorance, defending it against those who bear the truth; for if they were to admit that they were ignorant it would mean they would have to accept a certain amount of responsibility for the current state of our country. So they claim ignorance as a means of shielding themselves from that responsibility; blaming all our problems on the ‘other party’ so that they can go back to their TV’s their families, or their smart phones and PC’s.

And that’s why I don’t see things getting any better, I only see them getting worse; because the spirit that led our founders to rise up against their King in 1776 is something that only a few remaining people have; and everyone says that WE are the crazy ones.

Try explaining that, how someone fighting to defend their liberty is crazy and those who submit to tyrants are sane…

About Br'er Rabbit

I'm just one person out of millions of others. The only thing different about me is that I don't walk around with my head up my ass.
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