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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Foundational Principles and the 2012 Election

People generally vote for what they believe to be in their personal best interest. Of course, if they are short sighted, they may vote for something that gives them an immediate benefit, but actually damages them in the long run. Few people have a clear understanding of the foundations of a free society. They aren’t aware of the precepts that guided the Founders in creating this uniquely free land filled with hope and opportunity for everyone.

It’s not that they don’t love their country. It’s just that they are either uninformed or misinformed. It’s hard to select the right leaders if you do not understand the principles that are essential to preserving freedom. And make no mistake about it, freedom is cherished by Americans more than in any other nation. It’s what the United States of America is known for, and it’s what we have fought for many times. The freedom we enjoy and the resulting prosperity it brings is the envy of the world.

But throughout history, periods of freedom are rare. A free society is the exception, not the rule. And America (beginning with the Pilgrims and the Puritans and those led by John Smith in Virginia) didn’t become free by some accident or stroke of good luck. Only a naïve fool would believe that freedom and prosperity just happened by luck in America. To believe that freedom was an accident of history would take more faith than believing that a tornado went through a junk yard and the result was a stylish new sports car. American freedom happened by design and by the grace of God. And, just as freedom is not the result of dumb luck, neither is the great prosperity of America the result of some accident of history.

The Founders of our society weren’t just Washington, Adams, Henry and Jefferson, they were the men and women who landed at Plymouth Rock and the others who came after them. To suggest that the Founders were just Deists is simply silly. Nearly half the signers of the foundational document of the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence, had formal training in a Christian seminary. The other men were well read in the classics, but the book they knew the best and read the most was the Bible. The Bible was the book that formed their views and their understanding of human nature. It gave them unique insight into the fallen state of every man and thus the danger of giving any one person or even a small group of individuals unlimited power.

In writing first the Articles of Confederation and later the United States Constitution, the Founders focused laser like on limiting the power of government. Patrick Henry, one of the Founders with the greatest insight, opposed ratification of the Constitution on the sole grounds that it would devolve into a tyrannical government. He feared that free men would become slaves to government, rather than the masters of it. The Constitution was barely ratified in Virginia and even then it was done with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution as then written.

All the care the Founders took to divide government into three branches—congressional, judicial, and executive were designed to limit and check the power of government. In the Founders view, the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights was absolutely crucial, “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.” This was the final and most important safeguard of the people included in the Bill of Rights to ensure that government did not grow out of control, and that the states and the people would have supremacy.

Today commentators and politicians say silly things about the 10th Amendment. They say things like, “The 10th Amendment, who knows what that means?” There was no doubt in the Founders minds what the 10th Amendment meant. The powers of the new federal government drafted by the Founders were specific and enumerated. What the 10th Amendment says is that any power not specifically given to the federal government belongs to the states or the people. It was to be a federal government that recognized the sovereignty of the individual states. The states created the federal government, the federal government did not create the states.

Of course, fallen man will always devise ways to get around and avoid following the law. We are told that the “general welfare clause” of the preamble to the Constitution gives broad, virtually unlimited powers to the federal government. The preamble reads…

“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.”

The preamble, of course, is a statement of intent. It is not in any way a governing document and it takes only a cursory reading of the writings of the Founders to understand that their intent to promote the general welfare of the citizens of the United States was not in any way intended to grant the federal government unlimited powers to do whatever it wished.

The other scheme to get around the clear intent of the 10th Amendment and indeed the intent of the Founders themselves was to interpret Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution (the so-called general welfare clause) to give broad, far reaching, non-enumerated powers to the federal government. Clearly this was not the intent of the Founders as you can glean from reading this clause…

“To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

It doesn’t take a college professor or an attorney to see that the intent was only to give the federal government power to make laws necessary to carrying forward the execution of the powers enumerated in the Constitution. It doesn’t say anything more than that. It is a simple and straightforward clause that was intended to handcuff legislators who wanted to pass extra-constitutional legislation that would give them more power over the people.

Patrick Henry didn’t buy it. He was sure that no matter what safeguards were placed into the Constitution that crafty, sinful man would find a way around them. The Founders set out to create a government of laws, rather than a government of men. In other words, they wanted all men, no matter their status or their position in government, to be under the law. The law was to be clear and supreme.

For more than 100 years the Founders experiment in freedom worked. Yes, men and women of African descent were excluded from participation in the American dream, but as abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglass, said,

“…the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.”

Douglass saw in this document the principles of individual freedom. He saw it not as a document that justified slavery, but just the opposite, “a glorious liberty document” that guaranteed individual freedom for all.

And this is what he had to say of the Founders…

“Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.”

“They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.”

“They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.”

“How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them!”

Douglass understood the “eternal principles” of the Founders upon which the United States Constitution was based. He understood the importance of not trusting men to be public servants. He knew they would, as fallen men, always strive to be masters and to make American citizens their servants.

And so it has been throughout the history of the United States. Nothing ever changes. Men will always ignore St. Paul’s advice, “…not to think of yourselves more highly than you should.” (Romans 12:3)

In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the assault on the United States Constitution intensified. And, of course, there was a rationalization. Men like Richard T. Ely (1854-1943), a founder of the progressive movement, concluded that some men had progressed ethically beyond others and thus they could be trusted to handle more power over others. In fact, the thesis was that such men would actually be doing a favor to others if they had power over them. And thus the modern liberal/progressive movement was born. One of the first things this new movement did was encourage re-segregation of the South in the belief that African Americans had not yet progressed to the ethical level of their white brothers.

Woodrow Wilson, recognized as the first “progressive” President, studied under Ely who was a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. At first Wilson disliked Ely and disagreed with his anti-capitalist, pro-socialist views, but Ely won him over to his economic views as well as to other progressive positions. A Southerner, who at the age of 12 living in Georgia cheered for a victory by the Confederacy, Wilson adapted Ely’s view that the black Americans had not progressed sufficiently to govern themselves. Upon being elected President in 1912, Wilson included a number of Southern politicians in his Cabinet and to the chagrin of black leaders like Booker T. Washington, one of his first acts was to re-segregate the government in Washington, DC. In addition, he summarily fired a number of appointed black office holders. When Washington and others complained, Wilson was defiant, “I do approve of the segregation that is being attempted in several of the departments. I think if you were here on the ground you would see, as I seem to see, that it is distinctly to the advantage of the colored people themselves…”

Under Wilson, for the first time, a US President talked about what the government ought to do for its citizens. It’s not that prior to that time Congress had not gone beyond the Constitution and doled out money to special interests, but this time a US President was advocating policies that were clearly contrary to the vision of the Founders and decidedly outside the purview of the United States Constitution. And, of course, Wilson unlocked the floodgates of money to the federal government by advocating and successfully passing an amendment to the Constitution allowing a federal income tax.

This misunderstanding or perhaps rejection of the Founders’ vision was accelerated under Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in his famous “four freedoms” speech included two new freedoms—freedom from want and freedom from fear. The age of government dependence was in full swing. Government now guaranteed freedom from want, and with the passage of the extra Constitutional Social Security act, guaranteed the retirement of every American citizen. The promises were false and hollow, but in supporting these acts the people gave away part of their birthright as American citizens, their individual freedom.

In 2001, future President Barack Obama said during an interview over Radio WBEZ in Chicago, in regard to the US Constitution and the Warren Court…

“But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can't do to you. Says what the federal government can't do to you, but doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.”

Clearly Obama is bemoaning the fact that the Warren Court wasn’t more radical and didn’t use its power to engage in redistribution of income. Of course, the United States Constitution does not give the federal government any power or right to do anything to or for the American people. The Founders knew that any government powerful enough to first take your money from you and then give it back to you was a government that could and would erode your individual freedom. Nevertheless, through all manner of extra Constitutional laws and edicts, including Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare, our freedom and opportunity are being swallowed up by bigger and bigger government.

With one government employee (local, state and national) for every 18 Americans creating goods and services, we have come a long way down the road to tyranny. The American spirit of self-reliance is being replaced by government dependence. This not only kills off prosperity, but also shrinks opportunity for the next generation of Americans.

The time is long past to return to the sound principles of limited government. Thankfully, the election this November gives us an opportunity as we have never had before to restore these principles to government. Government can promise anything, but since it creates nothing and has only the dollars it takes from us in the first place, its promises will always fail.

Your children and grandchildren are not learning about foundational principles in school. It’s up to you to help them understand what George Washington said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Government is just pure, raw power. The more powerful government is, the less freedom you and I and our children and grandchildren will have. If we don’t pass this understanding along to the next generation, the America you and I love and hold dear will disappear from the face of the earth. We must not let that happen. This November, support those candidates for public office that have the perspective of our Founders. Urge others to do so, too.

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