As some of you know I recently changed my shift preference at work and went from Swing Shift to Day Shift. What that means is that the time I used to spend writing, (between the hours of 9 a.m. to noon I am now at work) – so that’s one of the reasons I haven’t written anything for awhile. Then there is also the fact that I just haven’t been inspired to write anything and you can begin to understand why I haven’t written anything in about a week. Nonetheless, a few days back someone commented on my last effort on Facebook, asking me to answer my own question; Are our founding documents empty words? So what you’re about to read will be my effort to answer that question from my perspective.
I think the overwhelming problem in American politics today is that when one begins to discuss the subject they encounter people with individual biases and beliefs that get in the way of a subjective look at what is wrong with politics in America at this point in our history. How many times have you heard friends, family members, or co-workers say that they aren’t going to vote for a particular candidate based upon their stance on a particular issue? It doesn’t really matter what the issue is, be it gun control, abortion, or the war on terror; the point is that it is these issues that divide the people of this country into two camps; the Republicans and the Democrats, or conservatives and liberals.
To me that is a form of tunnel vision akin to going to a sporting event or a concert with one eye covered and watching the event with the other eye through a drinking straw; it limits your perspective on all that is happening beyond your field of focus. Too many people are caught up in this whole left/right paradigm and refuse to take just a few steps back and look at government as a single entity that devours the freedom that it was promised it would preserve for the people of this country.
How many people do you know who can name four, maybe five of the enumerated powers delegated to Congress and listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution? How many people do you know who can recite more than one or two of the rights listed in the Bill of Rights?
So instead of forming their political opinions based upon the document that both established and restrained our government, they form their opinions based upon what they hear from others, are taught in school, learn from their parents, or are based upon how a particular candidate or political party benefits them personally.
I know there are a great many football fans in this country, so let’s use a football analogy to describe what I mean. When two football teams square off on the gridiron there are referees on the field to ensure that those playing the game adhere to the rules established for their conduct. Then there are the paying fans who fill the seats to watch the game; cheering on their team.
In a football game the rules apply equally to both teams, do they not? The referees are supposed to be unbiased when they call fouls whenever the rules are broken. Well we are the referees for our government, we are supposed to be unbiased when we watch over the actions of our government; meaning that it should not matter if a Republican or a Democrat violates the rules; but it sure doesn’t seem that is what is happening. The people in this country are more like the fans in the seats who pay their entrance fees, (taxes), to cheer on their team, (the Republicans or the Democrats), and we ignore the rulebook that established this system of government.
So, in essence, the Constitution is a document filled with empty words; for it is the virtue of the people who elect these candidates that ultimately ensures that they adhere to the rules. Regardless of whether he meant what he said there is a lot of truth to James Madison’s words found in Federalist 51, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Any government founded on the principle of consent of the governed is only as good as the people demand it be. Before he was elected to serve as our 20th President, James Garfield delivered an Independence Day Message to Congress wherein he states, “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…. If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”
Those might sound like noble words and lofty principles, but there is something hidden beneath the surface that deserves a moment or two of discussion. Garfield said that the people are responsible for the character of their Congress, while that is somewhat true, it leaves out the fact that there were two entities for which this system of government was supposedly designed to represent; the people AND the individual States.
You have got to understand what sovereignty is and where it resides before this begins before you can understand the significance of this. Sovereignty is the supreme or absolute political authority; be it in a township or in a country. In America that authority, that sovereignty rests wit we the people, as affirmed by the Supreme Court back in 1793, “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people; and they are truly the sovereigns of the country, but they are sovereigns without subjects…with none to govern but themselves; the citizens of America are equal as fellow citizens, and as joint tenants in the sovereignty.” (Source: Chisholm v Georgia)
If you truly understand and believe in the concept that no man has the right to deprive another of their life, their property or their liberty without due process of law, then you begin to understand how important sovereignty is; for each of us as sovereigns has the right to defend those things from attack; wherever that attack may come from.
During and after the Revolution we the people established State Legislatures and bestowed upon them certain powers to act in our stead in the passing of laws that would affect us in our daily lives. For all intents and purposes each State became a sovereign nation unto itself, a concept that was supported by the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution, “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States…” Oh, and there’s that word, sovereign again.
However, just as they had realized that they must unite together to defeat the British during the Revolution, they realized that as small sovereign States they were weak against the might of empires like Britain, Spain and France, they sought to form a Confederacy; a loose alliance of States bound together for certain common and beneficial purposes.
Just as each individual is equal in their sovereignty with their fellow individuals, each State in this Confederation was equal in its sovereignty in determining what became binding upon the Confederacy. This is affirmed by Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation, “And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.” (My emphasis)
Every State had one vote, and for anything to become binding upon all it was required that it be approved by the Legislatures of ALL the States, not a simple or 3/4 majority, ALL OF THEM. The States were to decide what laws would be passed that affected the day to day lives of the people, and the Confederation Congress was to propose measures that affected how the States interacted with each other, and the means by which they could provide for the general welfare and defense of the Union as a whole. Each government had their own sphere of authority and each was confined to that sphere by the powers delegated them by the voice of the people; the true sovereigns.
As hard as it may be to believe, back then the influence of political parties was nowhere near as strong or pervasive as it is today. Even if party’s existed back then, they were not as entrenched and influential in politics as they are today; and even if a party held sway in one State, it was a simple task for another State to halt the passage of a measure that deprived the people of their State of their lives, liberty or property by simply voting against the passage of a measure.
Then along came a group of men who felt that this form of government was weak and ineffective at government such an expansive Union. Unfortunately, many of the people had quickly forgotten what it was they had fought for in the Revolution and sought a much stronger government that could stabilize internal affairs and maintain peace. Some of that was due to a little thing called Shay’s Rebellion, a rebellion in Massachusetts over the Legislatures attempt to impose taxes to avert a debt crisis. Daniel Shay led a group of about 4,000 rebels in an attempt to confiscate the arms at the Springfield armory so that they could overthrow the State Government.
This caused widespread fear throughout the States that something similar could happen within their States; which led to support for a convention to strengthen the Articles of Confederation. Yet upon hearing of Shay’s Rebellion, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” (Source: Letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787)
Jefferson, were he alive today, would probably be considered a domestic terrorist for his views on the people’s rights to rebel against an oppressive government; which tells you how far we have fallen as a nation when rebellion against tyranny is considered a crime. You see, Jefferson felt that for liberty to be kept alive that the spirit of resistance to governmental authority be kept alive as well. As he said in a letter to William Stevens Smith, “…what country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? let them take arms. the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. what signify a few lives lost in a century or two? the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure.”
Nevertheless, in the Spring of 1787 delegates gathered together in the City of Brotherly Love, (Philadelphia), having been given instructions by their State Legislatures to come up with proposals to strengthen the Articles of Confederation. I know it will never happen, not when the government controls the curriculum which is taught to our students, but I firmly believe that each graduating high school student must have passed a class which covered both Madison’s Notes on that convention, and the following debates over the ratification of the document they produced. Only then can people begin to see the transformation that took place when the Constitution was put into operation.
So much changed when that document went into effect that a book could, and probably should be written about it; not that anyone would read or understand it. For one thing, the individual sovereignty of the States was severely weakened. Instead of each State having an equal say in what became law, it now only took a simple majority, along with the consent of the President of course, for anything to become law.
Another question of huge import is whether this newly ratified Constitution established a system of government that was federal or national in nature. Did the power of this new system of government to enact law apply only to the States, or did it also give this government the power to directly affect the lives of the people living within the States; which is one of the distinctions between a federal and a national form of government.
Patrick Henry addressed that question when he rose in opposition to the Constitution during the Virginia Ratifying debates, “I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning of my interrogation was obvious: The fate of this question and of America may depend on this: Have they said, we, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation: It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, Sir, on that poor little thing-the expression, We, the people, instead of the States, of America.”
In Federalist 45 it appears that James Madison was telling the people that the Constitution was retaining federal features, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
Now I want you to be completely truthful, does that sound even remotely like the balance of power between the States and the federal/national government we have today? Does not the power of the federal government intrude upon almost every aspect that concerns our lives, our property and our liberty? More importantly, isn’t that exactly what most people want? Don’t most people look to Uncle Sam to fix all the problems they face instead of seeking to keep the power to remedy those problems localized and more easily controllable by the voters?
By the adoption of the government outlined by the Constitution we forsake the idea that each State was sovereign and independent, and we opened the doorway for a simple majority of either the people, or the States, to oppress and tyrannize the minority. And if you ask me, that’s all elections have become; the opportunity for one party to gain control of a system that seeks to use the coercive power of lawmaking, and law enforcing, upon those whose ideals and beliefs they disagree with. And that, my friends, is NOT what liberty is all about.
After all, the fact that one segment of the country could impose its will upon another, be it over slavery, tariffs, or whatever else may have led to it, was the ultimate cause for the secession of the South and the war that Lincoln waged against them to hold the Union together.
If the people, or the States, were the ones who were sovereign, and if they agreed to this system of government for certain and specific purpose, then to say that they must forever be bound to it no matter how tyrannical or oppressive it might become is to deny the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
So it could very well be said that the Constitution laid the groundwork for the destruction of the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, and that the document itself is now a dead letter; or empty words with little to no meaning to the people. After all, that document talks about rising up and opposing government when it oppresses the people and deprives them of their liberty; words that nowadays are considered seditious and treasonous. So you tell me, do you blindly support a government and oppose those who seek liberty, or do you stand for liberty and oppose any government that threatens it? You can be but one or the other; so which one is it?
And as for the Constitution itself, I believe it is/was the Pandora’s Box that opened the doorway to the current system of government we have today. I believe, although it is only my own suspicions, that this was the intent all along, to abolish State sovereignty and independence and place the people directly under the thumb of an arbitrary system that could impose whatever laws and taxes it wanted upon them.
And if that was the original intent all along, then Lysander Spooner was absolutely correct when he said, “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.”
Regardless of whether that was the original intent, or if we have simply allowed government to expand its power way beyond those originally intended, the ultimate responsibility for the failure to preserve our liberty lies with us; for we have chosen comfort, security, and an endless litany of benefits over the animating contest for liberty.
As Judge Learned Hand said back in 1944, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”
We, as a people, place too much trust, too much hope, too much faith in those we elect to do what is right and to preserve the liberty all governments should strive to secure to the people. The fate of this country, or more directly, the fate of your freedom rests in your hands, not those you vote for. The longer you tolerate and support infractions upon that liberty by those you elect the harder it will be to restore that freedom should America every choose to do so.
As Winston Churchill once said, “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”
The choice is, and always has been, up to you. You can either open your eyes and see the truth that is right there for all to see or you can continue to put your trust in people who seek to deprive you of the liberty government should seek to preserve and protect. One pathway leads to freedom and the other to slavery, choose well.
Well, I hope that sort of answered the question of whether I believe our Founding Documents are empty words; for I don’t know what else I can say to explain how I feel about the matter.