Are Our Founding Documents Empty Words?

When I was a kid attending public school one of my teachers performed an experiment that has forever stuck in my mind. She had the class line up single file around the inside of the classroom and she handed the student at one end of the line a small piece of paper with a short statement on it. That student was to then whisper the statement into the ear of the next student, who would then whisper it into the ear of the next, which was repeated over and over until the last student in line was asked to repeat what they had been told. What the last student said was so far from what was written on the piece of paper to be barely recognizable.

We all laughed and joked about it but the teacher then told us the lesson of this little experiment. She said that the further one gets from the time something is originally said, the more it is interpreted and expanded upon, and that if you want to know the truth about something you need to go to the source rather than taking for granted second and third hand renditions of events.

That stuck back in the cobwebs of things I’ve learned over the course of my 61 years of existence, and when I awoke this morning something had shaken it loose and it was right there in the forefront of my mind.

I think that maybe that tidbit from my past shook loose because the other day I issued a challenge to someone who believes the federal government is authorized to do something, (something which is irrelevant for the purpose of this article), and has quoted numerous laws justifying their position.

I basically told this person that the Constitution created the government, therefore if the government is authorized to do what this person believes it should be doing, then somewhere in the Constitution it should say so. I also added that if those who drafted the Constitution felt that what this person believed was among the powers of government that somewhere in the writings of the Founders they would have written about it as being important enough to be among the powers granted the government they were working to establish.

My challenge was for this person to find any reference prior to 1787 that says the Founders believed government should do what he believes they are authorized to do. When he asked me why I chose 1787 as the cutoff year I told him that anything after that was an interpretation of the Constitution by those who called themselves government.

I also added that if he could prove me wrong I would publicly admit that I was wrong; either in an article or on Facebook, and that I expected him to do the same should he be unable to find any evidence which backed up his claim. I never got a confirmation that he would do this; so we’ll have to wait and see if this person continues to believe a lie or whether he is man enough to publicly admit that he had been wrong, and to change his position so that it conforms to the facts.

You see, this challenge exists every time I write an article; I welcome debate so long as people provide facts of their own to back up their position; and I WILL admit when I’ve been wrong. However, I do not abide people who simply disregard what I have to say because they are unable, or are too lazy to do any kind of research to support their position on an issue. You see, the truth is all that matters to me, not a person’s political party ideology or their stance on a particular issue such as gun control or abortion rights…just the truth.

Whenever I find myself in a debate with people over politics, either in support or opposition to either a candidate or a particular piece of legislation, I always find that people take the position of someone living in the 21st century rather than how those who adopted the Constitution in 1789 might have viewed whether or not the things being discussed were among the powers granted government by the Constitution.

It’s kind of like that little experiment my teacher had us do all those years ago; each succeeding generation tolerates their government expanding its powers a bit more with the election of new administrators, and over time the government amasses all manner of powers it was never intended it possess. However, this increase in the size and scope of their powers is so minute, and often promised to be of great benefit to the people, that the voters acquiesce to these usurpations of power; which ultimately lead to the loss of the liberty their ancestors fought so hard to obtain.

It’s as Patrick Henry said way back in 1788, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.”

Yet even back then Henry feared that the idea that government should exist to defend and preserve the liberty of the people was becoming an old fashioned idea, “But I am fearful I have lived long enough to become an fellow: Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”

Now if you can imagine how quickly a simple note handed to a student by their teacher can be interpreted, or perverted, over the course of two or three minutes as it is whispered in the ear of one student after another imagine, if you will, how far constitutional principles can be perverted over the course of the 230 years since it was adopted.

When these candidates run for office, or when these politicians speak out in support of this piece of legislation or that one, they rarely mention the constitutional justification for any of the things they say they want to do. Could it be they don’t do that because deep down in their hearts they know the Constitution does not authorize them to do what they are proposing?

When I’m at work and get into a debate over the legality of something government is doing, I pull out a copy of the Constitution I keep in my lunchbox and open it to Article 1, Section 8 and ask the person I’m arguing with to show me where it authorizes government to do the thing they say it should be doing. Inevitably they throw their hands up in the air and say something like, “There’s no arguing with you Neal, you always ask for facts.”
If the truth doesn’t matter, if the facts don’t matter, what does?

You know, I would venture to guess that if a comprehensive civics test was given before people were allowed to vote, that 99% of the people in this country would be ineligible to cast a single vote in any election. People tell me that I’m smart, but I know people who have more knowledge in their pinkie toe than I have in my entire head. I’m not smart, but I sure hope to be one of these days.

What separates me from the vast majority of people in this country is my thirst for knowledge. I’m a voracious reader of history and that is the only thing that separates me from most others. Sure, when I first started reading things from our country’s past I had trouble making heads or tails out of what I was reading, but as I’ve said hundreds of times before, the mind is like a muscle, and if you don’t use it then it will atrophy. However, if you start using it, then like any other muscle, it will grow and you will soon be able to make sense of what you are reading. But it is like any other exercise program; you have to have the motivation and dedication to stick to your training plan for you to see any results.

So, when it comes to electing people to our system of government, or supporting or opposing the passage of new laws, you should not look to what the news media says, what the politicians say, or even what your history books taught you; you should look to the time when the Constitution was being argued by the various State Assemblies and Ratifying Conventions to see what THEY said were the powers being granted to this new system of government…and that requires a certain dedication and time expended to find the truth.

But, as Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson, “On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

I’m still in the process of doing just that, as some of those debates are hundreds of pages long. Yet my desire to find the truth is so overwhelming that I put forth the effort day in and day out; each day learning something new. I have mounds of printed material, both in support of the Constitution and in opposition to it. I have read and re-read the Federalist Papers numerous times, and have done the same for most of those who were, mistakenly named, Anti-Federalists; and if there is one thing I’ve learned it is that those who opposed the Constitution were right to fear the government it established. Almost everything they predicted would happen if the Constitution were ratified has happened; proving that they were right, while those who said, “Naw, that shit ain’t gonna happen.” were wrong.

The fundamental point I’m trying to get you to see is, either we have a system of government whose powers are delegated and limited by a written Constitution, or we don’t; we have a system of government that is free to do whatever it thinks is in our best interests. It’s either one or the other people; the question is, which one do YOU think it is?

I have heard people say that the Constitution is outdated and that it has not kept up with advancements in society, and that it should be abolished. People are shocked when I agree with them, but then they quickly become upset when I say, “But, if we abolish the Constitution we also abolish the system of government it established.”

The Constitution does provide a means by which it may be amended, and if the people think that government should have new powers then do it the correct way, not through usurpation or the general consent of an ignorant and misinformed public. But so long as we have a written Constitution, then we should adhere to it in the strictest spirit in which it was adopted.

I believe the Constitution was intentionally written to be weak and ineffective at restraining government from amassing all manner of powers that were promised it would never amass; but that’s just my belief after having read through Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates and the notes from the State Ratifying Assemblies.

We are told of all the wonderful checks and balances found within the Constitution to restrain each branch from overstepping the authority of the others. How well have those checks and balances worked for us? Patrick Henry also warned of the ineffectiveness of these so-called checks and balances, “There will be no checks, no real balances, in this Government: What can avail your specious imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances?”

You see, the ultimate truth is that government, be it good or bad, is a creation of the people, and it is up to the people to either resist the usurpation of undelegated power, or to bend over and allow their freedom to be taken from them under the guise of the general welfare of all. It’s that simple.

People today meekly accept the laws that are imposed upon them, never questioning the authority of those who enact AND enforce them upon us. Yet in 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.”

Oh, but talk like that frightens people and is considered treasonous. NO, what I find treasonous is the abandonment of the principle of individual liberty and the acceptance of the fact that government can do things it has no authority to do. But that only shows how ass backwards things have become in this country.

The Declaration of Independence tells us that it is our right and our duty to alter or abolish any system of government that no longer serves the purpose it was established to serve. I say we get busy doing some abolishing because it damned sure isn’t doing the job it was originally promised it would. Or are those also empty words written on another piece of paper; making two documents the people don’t understand and adhere to?

The point I’m trying to make is, the Constitution established our system of government; on that fact I think everyone can agree. However, was the Constitution intentionally written to be ineffective at restraining government, or is it simply ignorance and apathy that has allowed government to expand its powers well beyond those few found in Article 1, Section 8? In either case, Lysander Spooner was right, “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.”

And if you’re honest with yourself you’ll come to the same conclusion. So why do you bother voting when the entire system is corrupt and designed to deprive you of your freedom? That’s what I’d like for you to ponder today…if you’re not afraid to gaze at the truth that is…

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One Response to Are Our Founding Documents Empty Words?

  1. Anthony Coffel says:

    Thanks for another well written and thought provoking article !

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