I have been writing from such a negative viewpoint lately that some think I can no longer write with my old style, that being to try and educate people as to the structure and function of government. Well, it has been awhile, so let’s see if I still have it in me to do just that.
Everything about our nation’s history, from the arrival of the first settlers at Plymouth Rock, to the ratification of the Constitution, has been about one thing, and one thing only…RIGHTS. The first settlers sought religious freedom, the ability to worship as they saw fit, free from persecution by the Church of England. The American Revolution was fought for rights the colonists felt were being trampled upon by the British government.
The Declaration of Independence clearly states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
This was the opinion that was widely held by those alive during the period which gave us our founding documents. In a 1775 address to the Fairfax Independent Company, a branch of the militia, George Mason stated, “In all our associations; in all our agreements let us never lose sight of this fundamental maxim – that all power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people.”
The Preamble to 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.”
A little known founding father, James Wilson, is the only one whose signature appears upon both the Declaration of Independence AND the Constitution, once said, “All men are by nature equal and free. No one has a right to any authority over another without his consent …”
Wilson also reiterated, and expanded upon, the principle written by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “Government … should be formed to secure and enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind.”.
Therefore it is of the utmost importance that people understand the structure, and powers granted government; from their local governments, all the way to the federal government.
In drafting the Constitution the founders did not seek to create a government of unlimited powers which could, at its own discretion, expand its powers over even the smallest aspect of our lives. Their powers were specifically enumerated in Article 1 Section 8, and that is all that they could legislate upon.
However, there were still those who feared that this new government would grow into one which disregarded the natural rights of the people. Therefore a Bill of Rights was called for, and eventually added to the Constitution, becoming part and parcel of that document, with the full force of law behind them.
Certain founders considered a Bill of Rights dangerous, as they could not possibly include all the rights held by the people. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 84 stated, “I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted.” Yet many of the states would not ratify the Constitution without the promise of a Bill of Rights being added to, or incorporated into it.
The Preamble to the Bill of Rights states that, “THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…” For the purpose of my discussion I would like to address only the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution.
As Hamilton stated, a Bill of Rights may “…contain various exceptions to powers not granted…” Therefore, the Ninth Amendment was ratified, which states “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” In other words, just because a right is not clearly listed, does not mean it does not exist.
However, of more importance to my discussion, the Tenth Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
You see, the Federal government was not to be supreme over all matters within the United States; it was only to have power to act in accordance with the 18 specific powers listed in Article 1 Section 8. All other matters were to be handled by the states, within the states. Unfortunately, over the course of our nation’s history, the states have ceded much of their power to the federal government, or had it taken from them as what happened during and after the Civil War.
The power structure was to be as follows; the ultimate power would lie with the people and governments were instituted by them to secure their rights, and manage certain affairs that were delegated to them by the people. The states were to manage the affairs of the states themselves, while the federal government was to manage the general affairs of the nation, such as ensuring commerce flowed between them, and providing an overall defense against attack.
However, in all cases, the rights of the people remained out of reach from governmental regulation, restriction, and infringement! As James Wilson said, “the people never part with their power … what part of this system puts it in the power of Congress to attack those rights?”
It was never intended that the federal government set the speed limits within the states. It was never intended that the federal government dictate how much water a toilet uses when flushed. It was never intended that the federal government set requirements for the testing of professional athletes for steroids. Yet they have done all these things, and many more, most of which infringe upon our rights as individuals.
A right is a right, is a right, and they apply equally to all throughout this nation. Why is it then that in certain states a person may purchase, and own, a certain type firearm, yet in a neighboring state that type firearm is prohibited? If rights are equal, and are off limits to government restriction, then that state which says I cannot own a certain category of weapon, while a person from a neighboring state can, then MY right has been infringed upon by my state government!
Remember, we the people hold the ultimate power and authority, and that whenever government, in whatever manner it assumes, violates our rights; we are not obligated to obey those laws. As Jefferson said, “…whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
Government, at least in this country, is a creature created by the people by virtue of the state and federal constitutions. We gave it whatever powers it has to serve certain specific purposes and when it oversteps its authority, and infringes upon our rights, the power reverts back to us and we are not legally obligated to obey any law which infringes upon those rights.
With that being said, when the majority of the people support a piece of legislation which infringes upon the rights of the few, then it would be hazardous to the well-being of the minority to disobey these laws. Yet the preservation of those rights is the primary function of our government, and when it no longer serves that purpose it becomes tyrannical. And, as the Declaration of Independence clearly states “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.”
The Declaration of Independence goes on to say “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Finally, if one were to read that document in its entirety, and then look at the specific powers granted our government, and what rights are listed as being unalienable by the Bill of Rights, then one would be forced to admit that our current government is guilty of far more usurpations of power, and infringements upon our rights, than the British government was prior to the Revolutionary War.
Peaceful protests and looking for candidates who understand these principles are all well and good; but people have to decide how far they will let their government go in the process of stripping them of their rights before they say enough is enough.
Sure, that may sound frightening to some, standing up to the government, but Samuel Adams once said, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards…” Like it or not, it is your duty, if you consider yourself an American, to stand up for these rights. For if you allow those rights you feel are unimportant to be taken from others, what’s to stop the government from taking those rights YOU feel are important away from you?