Words That Men Live By
Neal Ross (2007)
Part I: Our Dysfunctional Republic
These United States of America, three simple words that used to mean something we could be proud of, words that meant so much to so many. If you look at each of them individually, you begin to get an idea of what I am talking about. United; "being made one, in agreement; harmonious", States; "a body of people occupying a definite territory and organized under one government". America is the geographical location of these united states. Combine them and you come up with a body of people, living in America, united and harmonious under a common form of government.
What has happened to this country? Take a look around and you will see we are far from united nor are we harmonious in regards to so many issues. Abortion, religion, gay rights, immigration, gun control, taxes, the War in Iraq, the role of government, and many other issues divide us.
When people go to vote, they find themselves supporting a political candidate based solely upon whether that candidate has an 'R' or a 'D' in front of their name. Blind loyalty to a political party has done away with people no longer taking the time to research how their candidates voted concerning the issues that concern them. Instead, people rely upon 30 second marketing ads to form an opinion that is of such great import to them, and the nation overall. A majority of these ads only smear their opponents without providing any clear cut answers to the problems our country faces. So we continue to stumble through these troubled times, while blind loyalty to political parties, animosity, and even outright hatred of anyone with an opposing view, is tearing our nation asunder. As I said, we are far from united.
I would like to share quick thoughts with you that will be covered later in much greater detail. If any of you have read the Declaration of Independence, I am sure you are familiar with the following.
"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..."
Read that again...carefully. We seem to have forgotten one simple fact, that our government works for us. We are their employers, and it is we who wield the real power and authority in our representative form of government, not vice versa. Alexander Hamilton once said, "It is not otherwise to be supposed that the constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents.",
Yet that is exactly what is happening. We see our government pass all kinds of legislation that many of us find distasteful and unconstitutional. Yet they seem to do so with impunity and with little regard for the citizenry they were elected to represent.
We live in a representative republic, yet we are no longer represented by those who sit in office. In case you didn't catch that, we live in a representative republic, not a democracy.
Remember the Pledge of Allegiance? "I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands...". According to James Madison "A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person."
We have a government in which candidates are voted into office to represent the people, not govern over them. They are placed there to represent the will of their constituents strictly according to the Constitution of the United States, and, for local and state representatives, their state constitutions as well. They are paid by us to act on our behalf. Yet how many times have we seen them act like they know what is best for us by passing legislation which exceeds the powers granted them by the Constitution, or goes against the desires of the public?
Think of electing a representative somewhat like a contract. When they take their oath of office, they are agreeing to the terms of that contract. If they run a campaign on promises that the Constitution does not authorize them to undertake, they are committing fraud. Then if they are elected and they proceed with their plans to enact legislation which violates the Constitution they have violated the terms that contract and we have the right to seek legal recourse. In this case, their removal from office based upon breach of said contract.
Former President William Henry Harrison couldn’t have explained that concept better when he said, “The only legitimate right to govern is an express grant of power from the governed.” Their power is given to them by us, and that power is clearly defined in the Constitution. Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, had this to say about that power, “Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.”
It seems our government has forgotten, or chooses to ignore this principle, as they pass law after law that goes beyond, and violates their constitutional authority. It is often argued that times have changed, and so should our government. I hear people say that the Constitution is a living document and should therefore reflect the current needs of the country.
It is true that our country has changed much since the founders wrote the Constitution. It is unlikely they could have foreseen the changes we have undergone. However they allowed for change by creating the amendment process. George Washington plainly stated, “The basis of our political system 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.”
This country has strayed from the course our founding fathers set us upon when they created our system of government. We have forgotten the words of Patrick Henry "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests"
Through our own ignorance and apathy we have allowed our government to overstep its authority and to become our masters. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Overall, the American people are woefully uninformed and misled as to the true functions, and the goings on within our government. We care more about trivial things, such as sports, the lifestyles of celebrities, or reality TV, than we do about the laws that our government is supposedly passing in our behalf. We choose not to put forth the time and effort required to read the text of these laws to see whether they violate the constitution, or if they will infringe upon those liberties spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. Instead we rely upon a 90 second news clip from the some network news anchor to get the truth. It is inconceivable that the network news could explain the ramifications of a 750 page piece of legislation in a mere 90 seconds.
I am just one voice, but I hope to show people, who may be open to the truth, what has gone wrong. I hope to provide you with some very specific examples of how our government is not living up to it’s commitment to represent We the People, and how if we don't wake up soon, our freedoms and liberties will be something left for the history books and it will all be over for the United States of America.
Part II: Pre-Revolution Colonial History
To understand what has gone wrong with our country, and our government we must first understand how our republic was supposed to be governed. It is essential that we understand the reasons that our existing form of government came about. That means looking back to the history of this country.
While parts of America had been colonized previously it wasn't until the arrival of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock that a mass emigration of Europeans began in earnest. Many of these immigrants left their homelands to escape political or religious oppression. Some came to seek opportunities that were denied them at home. Whatever their reasons, they all faced serious challenges and hardships to create a new life here in this land called America.
As their numbers grew, and they faced and overcame many difficulties, the settlers spread out and formed the first thirteen colonies of the United States. While these settlers came here seeking freedom from oppression, they were not entirely free. The English crown still considered them citizens of Britain. The settlers still had to deal with the fact that England was their lawful sovereign.
Being that England ruled over them, they imposed many laws upon the colonies, while denying them representation in Parliament. Among these acts where the Navigation Acts of 1696. These Acts limited all colonial trade to English built vessels. In 1750 Parliament passed the Iron Act, which restricted the growth of the iron industry in the colonies. In 1764 the Parliament passed the Currency Act which prohibited the colonists from issuing any legal tender paper money. In 1765 the Stamp Act was passed by the Parliament which imposed the first direct tax upon the American colonies, payable directly to England. Under the Stamp Act, all printed materials were to be taxed, including; newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, almanacs, and even playing cards. Also in 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which required colonists to house British troops and supply them with food. In 1766 Parliament repealed the Stamp Act and passed the Declaratory Act, stating that the British government had total power to legislate any laws governing the colonies. In 1774 Parliament enacted a series of Coercive Acts which virtually ended all form of self-rule by the colonies.
It is interesting to note that if you look a modern history book, the term 'taxation without representation' is mentioned often as the reasoning behind the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.
Yet, if you read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin you find something entirely different. In 1757 Franklin went to London, where he would stay for many years. It was during this time that the colonies began issuing Colonial Scrip. Colonial scrip was debt free fiat paper money created by our government for the payment of debts public and private.
During his time in London, Franklin was asked by the bank of England how Franklin could account for colonies newfound wealth, Franklin exclaimed, “That is simple. In the colonies we issue our own money. It is called colonial scrip. We issue it in proper proportion to the demands of trade and industry to make the products pass easily from the producers to the consumers. In this manner, creating for ourselves our own paper money, we control its purchasing power, and we have no interest to pay to no one.”
It was at this time that the Parliament passed the currency act of 1764, prohibiting colonial officials from issuing their own money, ordering them to pay future taxes in gold or silver coins.
In his autobiography Franklin states that, “In one year, the conditions were so reversed that the era of prosperity ended, and a depression set in, to such an extent that the streets of the Colonies were filled with the unemployed.”
He also makes the assertion that, “The Colonies would gladly have borne a little tax on tea and other matters had it not been that England had taken away from the Colonies their own money, which created unemployment and dissatisfaction. The inability of the colonists to get power to issue their own money permanently out of the hands of George III and the international bankers was the PRIME reason for the revolutionary war.”
Whatever the reasons, the colonies had had enough of British rule. In 1775, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a provincial congress was held in which John Hancock and Joseph Warren began preparations for war. It was at this time that Patrick Henry delivered a very moving speech in which he said,
"Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.
If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
They tell us, sir, that we are weak - unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?
Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable - and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"
On April 19, 1775 about seventy armed Massachusetts militiamen stood face to face with a British advance guard. A single shot, 'heard around the world' was fired which was the beginning of the American Revolution. One last attempt at peace was attempted in July when the Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, to try and achieve a reconciliation with Britain. King George refused to even look at it. All hopes for peace were gone, the colonies now had to fight for their liberty or remain servants to the British Crown.
On July 6, 1775 the Continental Congress issued a Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, in which they detail their reasons for fighting the British. They resolve to ”...die free men rather than live as slaves."
One year later, on July the Continental Congress formally adapts the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson. In my humble opinion, the opening of the Declaration of Independence is the most eloquent piece of literature ever written by man. In it, Jefferson states,
"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. 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.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."
The colonies had just declared themselves independent of England, shots had been fired. There was no turning back, all their bridges had been burned. Their only choice was to fight for the freedoms that they held so dear, and which were so clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Part III: The American Revolution and the Constitution
With the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms having been written, and the Declaration of Independence formally signed, America was now formally at war with Britain. Those who signed these documents, and who took up arms to fight against the crown were considered treasonous by the English. Nevertheless, they firmly believed in their cause, stating in the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, "...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor".
Although the American Revolution was already underway, it was not as widely supported as you may have thought. There were still loyalists, those who wished to remain loyal subjects under English rule. The loyalists disagreed with the idea of American independence. Loyalists were numerous and included small farmers as well as large landowners, royal officeholders, and members of the professions. They were to be found in varying strength in every colony. There were also those who were neutral, having not taken either side in regards to the issue of independence. A notable division was between Benjamin Franklin, who supported the fight for independence, and his son William Franklin who was loyal to the crown.
The Revolutionary war began with the 'shot heard around the world', and, depending upon whether you consider it to have ended when General Cornwallis surrendered or when the Treaty of Paris was signed, the American Revolution lasted between 7 to 8 years.
It was not an easy battle, this fight for our nations independence. George Washington lost many of his first battles and the outcome was never certain. Fortunately, with increasing military skill, and aid from our allies, the colonies defeated the British, and in 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally ending the War. America was now officially a free and independent nation.
The colonial patriots knew, that if they were successful in winning the fight for their independence, that they would need some form of government to hold the colonies together. Therefore on July 12, 1776, just eight days after signing the Declaration of Independence, drafted the Articles of Confederation, a constitutional agreement made between the 13 states. However, it wasn't until after many years, and just as many revisions, that they were formally adopted.
The Articles of Confederation, which contained 13 Articles, did such things as establish the name of our country, The United States of America, explained the rights of the individual states and the amount of power they were entitled to. It also bound them together for the common defense, gave people the right to freely move between one state and another, established the ability to extradite fugitives. It also allocated on vote in the Congress to each state, while members of Congress were appointed by state legislatures. It limited the power of the central government to conduct foreign relations and declaring war. Finally it made Congress the final court for disputes among states.
The Articles of Confederation severely limited the powers of the central government. For instance, they could not raise revenue for their operations. There was no executive branch to enforce the laws and no judicial branch to interpret them. There was only a Congress, and a President of the Continental Congress, whose job was similar to the Speaker of the House today, the most notable of these being John Hancock.
The Congress realized that the Articles of Confederation were weak and needed revision, therefore on February 21, 1787 Congress resolved: "It is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation."
James Madison had for years been studying history and political theory, hoping to find a solution to the problems that faced America. Madison knew that the government and the states were on the brink of economic disaster, the Congress was running on a depleted treasury and paper money was flooding the country, causing extraordinary inflation. Many were being thrown into jail for failure to pay debts and farms were being confiscated and sold for the taxes owed. Madison, and many others understood that something had to be done if the country were to survive.
In September of 1786, commissioners from 5 states met in the Annapolis Convention. Their desire was to discuss how to adjust the Articles of Confederation so as to remedy to problems the country faced. They eventually invited representatives from all the states to Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the Articles of Confederation.
Of the seventy four delegates invited, fifty five attended, Rhode Island had decided not to send any delegates. They thought that the Philadelphia convention was an attempt to overthrow the existing government.
Many others felt the same way, including Patrick Henry, who claimed he 'smelled a rat'. He suspected that Madison had plans to create a powerful central government which would subvert the powers and authority of the states.
The first plan to be introduced at the Constitutional Convention was the Virginia Plan. On May 29, the governor of Virginia, Edmund Randolph opened the debate and outlined a broad plan that would create a government with three branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. Each branch had the power to keep the others in check, the basic framework of our current form of government today. However, under Randolph's plan, the federal government had the ability to veto legislation created by the states. The rat that Patrick Henry had smelled was now exposed.
Many of the smaller states were revolted by the plan for a strong central government. On June 13, delegates from the smaller states proposed the New Jersey Plan, a plan to merely modify the existing Articles of Confederation. This plan, although it showed the great division between ideas for a new form of government, was quickly voted down.
On June 18, Alexander Hamilton offered up his own proposal. Hamilton went so far as to call the British government 'the best in the world'. This did not go over well with many of the members of the convention. Hamilton's plan proposed an executive to serve for life during good behavior. This executive would have veto power over all laws. It would also include a Senate which had the power to pass all laws whatsoever. Hamilton's plan was defeated as well.
On June 29 the smaller states lost their first battle. The convention approved a resolution that established population as the basis for representation in the House of Representatives. This, of course, favored the larger states. On a following proposal which gave the smaller states equal representation, the vote ended in a tie. The friction at this point was palpable, as one delegate thought that the convention 'was on the verge of dissolution, scarce held together by the strength of an hair.'
By July, George Washington was so frustrated that he regretted having any agency in the proceedings. He went so far as to call the opponents of a strong central government 'narrow minded politicians'.
Luther Martin of Maryland, possibly one of those who Washington considered narrow minded responded by saying, "The States have a right to an equality of representation. This is secured to us by our present articles of confederation; we are in possession of this privilege."
The smaller states had become so disenchanted that they threatened to withdraw completely from the Convention. On July 2 they were still deadlocked over this issue so the subject was given to a committee of 11 to effect a compromise. On July 5 the committee submitted it's report, hereafter known as the Great Compromise. The report recommended that in the upper house each state would get an equal vote and in the lower house they would be represented according to population. All bills regarding taxation should originate from the lower house.
With all the animosity, the delegates were still able to put together a draft and on Monday August 6, 1787, it was presented to the convention. It was an actual article by article model which the members could review and consider for their approval. It wasn't soon that the air of compromise quickly evaporated. Controversy soon erupted over the regulation of commerce, with the southern states complaining that they would become nothing but overseers for the Northern States under the proposed Constitution. On August 31, George Mason wearily wrote that he would "sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands."
These differences were eventually worked out and on September 12 a draft was ordered printed. It was then reviewed for three days by the delegates against the previous proceedings. The final draft was ordered printed by Jacob Shallus on September 15.
Even with the compromise and effort, not everyone was satisfied. Some delegates left before the final ceremony and three refused to sign the document. Realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the consent of the states to the new instrument of Government, they were anxious to obtain the unanimous support of all the delegations from each state. In order that the Convention might appear to be unanimous, Governor Morris devised the formula "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th of September...In witness whereof we hereunto subscribed our names."
On September 17, a speech written by Ben Franklin, was delivered by his colleague James Wilson in which was said, "I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats."
Upon leaving the convention on that final day, it was asked of Benjamin Franklin, "Well Doctor, what have we got - a Republic or a Monarchy?" To which Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it."
The delegates of the Philadelphia Convention had overcome their disagreements and created the Constitution that we now have. Yet the hard part was yet to come, getting the individual states to accept it. Almost immediately groups rose up against it because of the concept of the strong central government it proposed. Chief among these were the Anti-Federalists.
Scores of articles flooded that newspapers arguing against the proposed Constitution. It seemed that after all that work, the Constitution might never obtain enough votes to be ratified by the required number of states to go into effect.
In October, Anti-Federalist Samuel Bryan published the first of his 'Centinel' essays in which he argued against the power of the central government, the usurpation of state authority, and the lack of a bill of rights.
To counter the attacks against the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay penned a series of articles under the pseudonym Publius, which later came to be known as the Federalist Papers. These 85 essays outlined the inherent weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and the reasons for supporting the proposed Constitution. Thomas Jefferson later called the Federalist Papers the "best commentary on the principles of government ever written."
Although the Federalist Papers had done much to help garner support for the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists still held a powerful card to play, the lack of a bill of rights. In addressing the Virginia convention, Patrick Henry asked, "What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances."
The Anti-Federalist demanded a more concise Constitution, one that out specifically the rights of the people and the limitations of the government. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand felt that a bill of rights was dangerous, stating, "I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in 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 which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?"
The need to pacify the Anti-Federalists ended up being too great and even Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that a bill of rights was, ’...what the people are entitled to against every government...’. By the fall of 1788, Madison had become convinced that a bill of rights was necessary to ensure ratification of the Constitution.
With the bill of rights in place, the Constitution was finally ratified and on March 4, 1789 and the new formed government went into effect. Later James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the welding of these clashing interests was "a task more difficult than can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the execution of it." Towards the end of Madison’s life he penned another letter, one which was never sent. In it he stated that no government can be perfect, however, "that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government."
The Constitution, aside from various amendments, has been the basis of our form of government all this time. While it may not be perfect, it contains the essential means necessary for the people to retain their individual liberties, while still allowing for the central government to manage the affairs of the nation. All that depended upon us understanding the principles outlined in it and keeping a close eye on our government, watching for any violations or usurpations of power.
So, what does this Constitution actually say?
October 4, 2007
It is estimated that close to a million people visit our nations National Archives every year. For many of those people it must be similar to a pilgrimage to see a sacred part of our nations history. I wonder though, how many of those visitors could tell you what the Constitution actually says? If the percentage is similar to what I have encountered, I would venture to guess that not many at all could tell you much about what the Constitution actually says.
Not only is that unfortunate, it is truly pathetic. This document describes exactly what our government can and cannot do. How can the people of this country know if, and when, their government is overstepping their authority if they do not understand what authority their government has to begin with?
I have used this quote by Patrick Henry on a previous occasion, but I feel it is important enough that it be considered again, "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests."
If you were to take the time to examine the laws our government has been passing you would find that our government is doing just what Patrick Henry said the constitution was to safeguard us from. The tables have been turned and that the laws our government is passing are, for all intensive purposes, restraining the people of this country and infringing upon our personal liberties.
Article 6 of the Constitution clearly states that, "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby..."
To understand what is meant by the individual clauses of the Constitution you must have a rudimentary understanding of English, a decent vocabulary, and the proper usage of grammar. Take the above sentence from Article 6, "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in the pursuance thereof...shall be the supreme law of the land." That could easily be misunderstood, or misrepresented to mean that all laws passed by the government are the supreme laws of the land. Not so! Look up the word pursuance and you will see that it means, the act of carrying into effect. So, in truth what that statement says is that the Constitution, and all the laws that are passed which aid in carrying into effect those contained within it are to be considered the supreme law of the land. It does not mean that every law that our government passes is legal, valid, or to be considered binding.
In the Federalist Papers, #78, written by Alexander Hamilton, we find the following, "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."
The Constitution was, as Patrick Henry explained, an 'instrument for the people to restrain the government'. Think of it as a handbook, a guide, so the people would know just exactly what the government could and could not do. So according to Article 6, it is the supreme law of the land, and according to Alexander Hamilton, 'No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid.' Therefore if we are not informed as to what the Constitution says, we cannot be know if the laws our government is passing are within it's powers or if they are beyond their powers.
Each and every elected official, from the president to all our senators and contressmen are bound by oath to support that document. They are there to represent the people of this country, not to rule over them. Thomas Jefferson once said, "The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government..."
Before I go any further I want to explain something. You will by now have noticed that I rely heavily upon quotations by our founding fathers. The reason for this is best explained in a quote by James Madison, "Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government."
What Madison meant is that to truly understand the Constitution, you must rely upon the historical background behind it. If you do not, the Constitution is open to misinterpretation which will lead to a form of government that does not follow the guidelines contained within it. The best way to understand the Constitution is to rely upon the writings of those who created it. Only they can explain what they meant by the words contained within it.
The Constitution was fought for and debated upon by people who had recently fought a war for their independence from a tyrannical government. They wanted to ensure that the form of government they created would never end up like the one they had just fought. Every article, every clause, every phrase of the Constitution should be read keeping that thought in mind.
The Constitution, as ratified, contains seven articles and ten amendments, which are known as the Bill of Rights. Article 1 covers the legislative branch of the government. Article 2 covers the Executive branch, or the President and Vice President. Article 3 covers the Judicial branch. Article 4 covers the rights of the states in respect to the union. Article 5 covers the process for amending the Constitution. Article 6 covers the legal status of the Constitution, and Article 7 covers the ratification process.
One final note before I start my discussion of Article 1. The terms legislative and Executive need be understood by all who wish to understand the functions of those particular branches of our government. Legislative comes from the root word legislate, or to create law. The Executive comes from the root word execute, or to do what is called for (as by law). In the Federalist Papers, # 75, Alexander Hamilton states, "The essence of the legislative authority is to enact laws, or in other words, to prescribe rules for the regulation of the society: while the execution of the laws and the employment of the common strength, either for this purpose, or for the common defence seem to comprise all the functions of the executive magistrate." In other words, the Congress has the power to create the laws, while the president puts them into effect and makes sure they are enforced. If you understand that it will be much easier to understand the violations that have taken place by the various branches of our government.
...to be continued.
October 10, 2007
The Author - Neal Ross can be reached for comments at email@example.com. Visit Neal’s Blog at http://www.neals-soapbox.blogspot.com
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