I never thought about it this way before, but the study of history is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle; if you don’t have all the pieces, [facts], you’ll never see the whole picture. It’s kind of funny though; the more one learns, the more the things you’ve already read take on an entirely different meaning.
For instance, I cannot count the times I’ve both read, and used the Preamble to the constitution in my writings. Yet the other night as I read it again it was as if someone had shone a spotlight down upon it; revealing things I’d never noticed before.
The Preamble, as it reads in the constitution, states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Now if you examine that from the perspective of how it is structured as a statement, you’ll find that it says who is doing something; what they are doing it for; and what exactly it is they are doing. Therefore, the who is, “We the People of the United States …” The why is, “…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” That leaves us with the what, which is, “… ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Now if you take away the why part, the Preamble reads as follows, “We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Before I continue I must take a trip down a side road to share my thoughts on reading things like the Preamble. The other night I read a quote by author Kenneth Royce that, up until recently, wouldn’t have meant much to me, “To read law requires absolute focus. Our society was never sufficiently focused to study law, which explains how the Constitution has been so horribly used against us through microscopic verbiage and punctuation…1”
The reason I bring that up is because, for the longest time, I was just reading things at a superficial level; not really understanding fully what I was reading. I could understand the words, if taken individually, but the way in which they were joined together, the structure and punctuation used, is what gives sentences their meaning. It has taken me many years to train my brain how to read quotes like that so that I can glean the intent, or meaning behind them; and it is a skill that I am still in the infant stage of developing.
I tell you this because I hope you aren’t just reading the quotes I provide in my articles; I hope you are really taking the time to discern what is said by them. I can’t do that for you, I can only provide them for you to read; it is up to you to put forth the effort required to truly understand them.
Now that I’ve explained that, let’s get back to the Preamble; and maybe you’ll begin to understand why I said all that. First of all I would like to begin my discussion with how they used the word ordain in the Preamble; for I find that word to be quite interesting; or telling.
Merriam Webster’s defines ordain as: to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law. That implies that there is someone in a position of authority actually establishing something, and someone in a position of subordination who that thing is being established for. So the question is, who is doing the establishing, and who is it being established for?
Damn Neal, I thought you were smart; it says it right there: We the People are establishing the constitution. Yes, it does, but who are they establishing it for, and more importantly, who are these We the People characters?
So it says We the People, right; but the people of what; the individual States, or acting alone as sovereigns? It says, “We the People of the United States…” Then it says that they are ordaining and establishing the constitution “… for the United States of America.”
That’s where training one’s mind to read the intricacies of legal document comes into play; for the wording of the Preamble designates two distinctly different entities; the United States of America, and the People of the United States. One of them, the People of the United States is engaged in ordaining a constitution which shall apply to the United States of America.
The phrase United States can mean many things; it can mean the United States of America, it can mean the federal territory where our system of government is seated, it could mean the individual 13 States, or it could mean the individual people living within the territory known as the United States. The question is, which of those things does the phrase refer to in the Preamble?
Was the act of writing the constitution undertaken by all the people, inclusively, living within the 13 States of the Confederacy? If it wasn’t, then the meaning couldn’t mean the people en masse. Was it written by the States, acting in their sovereign and independent capacity? No, it was written be delegates chosen by the States, acting on behalf of them and, supposedly, with their best interests in minds. But one thing is for certain, the constitution was written by a small group of men when compared to the overall population of these States united; meaning it was not an act done by We the People in general. Furthermore, the constitution was not ratified by the people en masse; it was ratified by select assemblies chosen from among them. The thing is, those chosen to attend these ratification assemblies did not comprise men chosen from all walks of life; they were chosen from among men located near, and more closely benefitted by the centers of political power; lawyers, banking and commercial interests, and speculators of bond land and money. Therefore, it cannot truly be said that the constitution was written by WE the People; as we had little say in both its drafting and its ratification.
The Preamble, as part of the constitution, neither grants, nor does it expand upon the powers specifically delegated to government by the document it precedes. As much as I dislike Justice Joseph Story, he laid out that fact quite clearly in his Commentaries on the Constitution in §462, “The preamble never can be resorted to, to enlarge the powers confided to the general government, or any of its departments. It cannot confer any power per se; it can never amount, by implication, to an enlargement of any power expressly given. It can never be the legitimate source of any implied power, when otherwise withdrawn from the constitution. Its true office is to expound the nature, and extent, and application of the powers actually conferred by the constitution, and not substantively to create them.2”
That being said, as the introductory statement to a legal document, which the constitution is, the wording of the Preamble gives it meaning as to who wrote it and to whom it applies; which is why the study of who We the People and who the United States of America are of such importance.
The constitution was written by a small group of men who came from the upper crust of society, if you choose to use that terminology to describe them. They were chosen to act as representatives of their respective States to come up with proposals to amend the existing system of government; which they did not do. Furthermore, they laid out the specific mode by which their proposal either be adopted or rejected; which also was not in accordance to existing law- The Articles of Confederation; Article 13 to be specific.
Who were those men who drafted the constitution; were they the We the People mentioned in the Preamble; for I certainly did not see the names of any of the other 3.9 million people living in America among the names of those who drafted the constitution. We the people sure sounds as if it is all inclusive to me; until you add the phrase United States to it. Once that caveat was added to it, it could be taken to mean almost anything. Not only that, but the constitution was to apply to the People of the United States of America; another group altogether; which I take it to mean the average person just trying to make a living for themselves and their families.
One can only make an educated guess as to what was meant by the meaning of the two phrases We the People of the United States and the United States of America; but allow me to say that I believe that it was a group of oligarchs saying that they were establishing a constitution, and therefore a system of government, that was to apply to all the people living in the States united. It is my belief that they thought the people were, for the most part, stupid, that they needed a strong centralized system of government to do what was in their best interests; things that they were too stupid, or uninformed to do for themselves. This guess is supported by something George Washington said in a letter to John Jay in 1786, a year before the convention met in Philadelphia, “We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt & carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power.”
The constitution gives them that coercive power. Yet today we are taught that the constitution was created and adopted by the people of America; when only a few had an actual hand in accomplishing that. I have a question, and this comes as the result of something my friend Mike Gaddy posted on Facebook a day or so ago. My question is, if we the people truly are the creators of, and the source behind all power held by our government, how is it that when the States submitted lists of proposed amendments to form a bill of rights, the Congress established by the constitution whittled out those that would limit its power and submitted only those they felt were absolutely necessary to appease the public?
If those proposed amendments came from the people, who are the true source for government’s power and authority, why not submit them all and let the people decide which ones they wanted to adopt?
These proposed amendments came from We the People, as those who comprised the State Legislatures that submitted them are part of that ‘all inclusive’ term, aren’t they? Therefore, all suggestions made by them should be left to the remainder of the people whether they would be adopted or rejected; not by the government created by the constitution.
Yet in a letter to Patrick Henry written by Richard Henry Lee, Lee describes how the amendments proposed by the State of Virginia were gutted and weakened as they made their way through both the House and the Senate, “As they came from the H. of R. they were very far short of the wishes of our Convention, but as they are returned by the Senate they are certainly much weakened.3”
Very little is available as to what went on behind the closed doors and secrecy of the convention that produced the constitution. Even less is known about what went on in the various committees within the convention. However, the one committee that is of importance is the Committee of Style; responsible for coming up with the wording for the constitution that would eventually be voted upon by the convention as a whole.
This Committee of Style consisted of five men; Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris; all of whom, at one point or another, had spoken about their hope to subjugate the States under a strong centralized authority. Madison’s letter to George Washington before the convention even began its proceedings gives us key insight into what these men had sought to achieve, “Conceiving that an individual independence of the States is utterly irreconcileable with their aggregate sovereignty; and that a consolidation of the whole into one simple republic would be as inexpedient as it is unattainable, I have sought for some middle ground, which may at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.4″ (My emphasis)
One of the things this Committee of Style did was it re-worded the proposed Preamble. Prior to them finalizing the wording of the document the Preamble had read, “We the people of the States of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity.”
In legal terminology that is far different than, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
For one thing, it lists the individual States, not the people, as being those who are ordaining and establishing the constitution. The second, and possibly more critical change, came when the substituted the final passage; changing it from, “…the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity” to “… this Constitution for the United States of America.” The use of the words ‘of’ and ‘for’ are of particular significance; as the former implies it was created by them and for them, and the latter implies that it was created by one entity to apply to another.
In the first passage the constitution would appear to be a document perpetuating the existence of a confederation of sorts; sovereign States establishing a system of government for the individual States. The second passage appears to be a consolidation of all the people under a single system of government; bestowed with the coercive power Washington said was necessary.
Now it may seem inconsequential; trivial even now that we’ve lived under the constitution for 200 some odd years; but back then what was being proposed was HUGE; it is akin to if today a general convention were to be held to propose amendments and they came out producing a document establishing a system of government that was pure Communist in form – that’s how drastic a change was being made. Patrick Henry warned about how drastic this change was when he said, “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?5″
It is my belief, based upon a course of intense study, that the constitution was written, and forced upon the people of the various States in an effort to consolidate and centralize power in one location, or entity; the government established by the constitution.
In opposing the proposed constitution, Melancton Smith wrote, ” If respect is to be paid to the opinion of the greatest and wisest men who have ever thought or wrote on the science of government, we shall be constrained to conclude, that a free republic cannot succeed over a country of such immense extent, containing such a number of inhabitants, and these encreasing in such rapid progression as that of the whole United States.6″
A government, thus centralized, could not possibly be aware of the needs and requirements of all those comprising We the People, and therefore must eventually prove oppressive to some of them if it is to pass laws for the ‘general welfare’ of all. A government thus formed, is diametrically opposed to the plan envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, “Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best…7”
In the plan outlined by Jefferson, the closer one got to the local governments, the more power was wielded over the lives, property and liberty of the governed; with power diminishing the further it got from those affected by government. In the plan proposed by the Convention of 1787, the most power was to be wielded by the central government; at a subsequent loss of power for the other governments.
One thing, however, is certain; once established this system refused to give up its power; the Civil War is a perfect example of that. Yet there is one final quote I wish to discuss before closing. In 1796 George Washington wrote, “The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.8”
The key passage of that statement is, “But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all.” Washington is saying that it takes an act of the ‘whole people’ to change this system of government, yet it did not require an act of the ‘whole people’ to establish it? C’mon George, that don’t make any sense!
The basis of our system of government rests upon the concept of consent of the governed, does it not? Yet the people who consented to this system of government have been dead for years; yet their legacy remains to this day. I never gave my formal consent for this system to tax me and pass laws that I must obey at the threat of fines, prison time, or death if I disobey; did you?
Each generation should be allowed to choose for itself what form of government they want for themselves; and what powers that system of government shall exercise on their behalf. Not only that, if a government is truly based upon the concept that it exists to secure liberty for all the inhabitants of a country, and not just a select few, then each individual should be allowed to decide for them self if they want that government to have any authority and jurisdiction over them, their property, and their rights.
Lysander Spooner expressed that belief as follows, “If the people of this country wish to maintain such a government as the Constitution describes, there is no reason in the world why they should not sign the instrument itself, and thus make known their wishes in an open, authentic manner; in such manner as the common sense and experience of mankind have shown to be reasonable and necessary in such cases; and in such manner as to make themselves (as they ought to do) individually responsible for the acts of the government.9”
Spooner then went on to say, “If any considerable number of the people believe the Constitution to be good, why do they not sign it themselves, and make laws for, and administer them upon, each other; leaving all other persons (who do not interfere with them) in peace?10”
Would you go for that; meaning let people decide for themselves whether or not this government could pass laws that they must obey; enact taxes that they must pay? What we have is a system that commands our obedience; one we cannot shake ourselves free of unless it were to be violently overturned; a prospect I do not condone or support; although it may come to that eventually.
This system encourages your participation by voting; an act which is best described by something Spooner also wrote, “…it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practise this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave.11”
The best one can do, especially if that individual is one who understands what liberty is, and cherishes it with all their being, is resist, to the best of their ability, the authority of government when its laws violate their rights. However, under no circumstances, if you love liberty, should you support this system, nor participate in choosing people to office within it; for as Spooner also said, “A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.”
I refuse to support this government, to participate in electing people to it, and to worship the document that created it; for without that document this system, no matter how good or bad it is, would never have been established. While I hate bombarding you with all the Spooner quotes, one more ought to suffice, “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.”
I know that I may come across as a radical or extremist, but everything I’ve said I’ve tried to base upon historical fact. It’s up to you whether you choose to accept what I’ve said or reject it. However, if you reject it, I have a final quote from my friend Bart Stewart for you to ponder, “I believe that if you can’t look what you supposedly “advocate” in the face, you have no right to an opinion. War. Abortion. Slaughterhouses and factory farms. Name it. If it’s “who you are and what you’re about” but you can’t look it in the face? Damn you for a liar and a coward.”
1. Hologram of Liberty, Javelin Press
2. Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833
3. Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry, 14 Sept. 1789
4. James Madison to George Washington, April 16, 1787
5. Patrick Henry’s Address to Virginia Ratifying Assembly, June 5, 1788
6. Brutus #1
7. Thomas Jefferson to C. Cabell, February 2, 1816
8. George Washington’s Farewell Address to the people
9. No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority