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By Neal Ross
"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." - John Adams
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." - Thomas Jefferson
It is apparent from the quotes above that our founding fathers considered it essential that the people of this country be knowledgeable if they wished to retain their liberties, but knowledgeable about what? I don't think they were talking about trivial matters such as what is on television this evening. I think they just may have been referring to what their government was doing and whether their governments actions were within the confines of their Constitutional authority.
For the people to be able to determine if their elected representatives were governing according to the Constitution, they would first have to know what the Constitution says. In that instance I find the knowledge of many to be severely lacking.
Daniel Webster once said that "There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
So, as the title of this article suggests, just who is in charge? Most people would be inclined to say that the President is in charge. That is not true, we the people are in charge, at least we would be if we had the courage to be.
The Constitution was a compact, or a contract, agreed upon by the people of this country that gives the government certain specifically defined powers. Thomas Jefferson stated it this way, "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people’ (10th Amendment). To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible to any definition." (emphasis added)
In Federalist Paper #78, Alexander Hamilton wrote the following, and although it was in regards to the Judiciary, the meaning is clear. (For those who are not familiar with the Federalist Papers, they are a definitive collection of essays regarding the intent of the Constitution), "Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former." (emphasis added)
Hamilton explained that in greater detail moments later in the same essay, "There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid." (emphasis added)
We, the people of this country, have allowed our government to take upon themselves powers which are not theirs to wield. Why have we allowed them to do this? There are numerous reasons. Over two hundred years ago, a man named Alexander Tytler wrote the following, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." In other words, we vote for the candidates who make the best sounding promises, regardless of whether the Constitution grants them the authority to keep those promises.
Returning to Federalist Paper #78, Alexander Hamilton had this to say about that exact scenario, "Though I trust the friends of the proposed Constitution will never concur with its enemies, in questioning that fundamental principle of republican government, which admits the right of the people to alter or abolish the established Constitution, whenever they find it inconsistent with their happiness, yet it is not to be inferred from this principle, that the representatives of the people, whenever a momentary inclination happens to lay hold of a majority of their constituents, incompatible with the provisions in the existing Constitution, would, on that account, be justifiable in a violation of those provisions; or that the courts would be under a greater obligation to connive at infractions in this shape, than when they had proceeded wholly from the cabals of the representative body." (emphasis added)
Another reason we have allowed our government to assume powers it has no authority to assume is because of fear. We are warned of threats to our safety, or our national security that can only be answered by legislative action by our benevolent, (sarcasm intended), government. A perfect example is the many laws passed in the name of Homeland Security following September 11. James Madison warned us about that when he said, "It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."
Whatever our reasons may be, the desire for government subsidies, (handouts), fear, or just plain apathy, we have allowed our government to step outside the boundaries of power and authority which the Constitution grants them.
If we truly wanted our government to take these additional powers upon themselves, there is a way provided, and it is found in the Constitution itself. Article 5 of the Constitution states, "The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate."
If we want the government to have these powers, the only legal way to grant them those powers is by a Constitutional amendment. However, as Alexander Hamilton explained, "Until the people have, by some solemn and authoritative act, annulled or changed the established form, it is binding upon themselves collectively, as well as individually; and no presumption, or even knowledge, of their sentiments, can warrant their representatives in a departure from it, prior to such an act."
In other words, unless we amend the Constitution to grant our government powers that are not currently clearly enumerated within the Constitution, they do not have those powers, and for them to assume them is ILLEGAL!
Although it is pure hypocrisy for Abraham Lincoln to even have said this, there is one final quote, which I would like for everyone to consider, "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it."
Over the course of our nations history the people of this country have given their power and authority to the government. Now, instead of being the masters of the government, we are now their servants. We have forgotten the meaning of the words Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence, "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, _ 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."
Our rights and our liberties come from God, not the government. We have given up those rights and are not likely to regain them. Samuel Adams expressed my sentiments much better than I ever could, "If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; My your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
April 22, 2008
The Author - Neal Ross can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Neal’s Blog at http://www.neals-soapbox.blogspot.com
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