Skip to comments.Ignorant About the American Constitution?
Posted on 12/10/2003 11:22:04 PM PST by luckydevi
I'd like to enlist the services of my fellow Americans with a bit of detective work. Let's start off with hard evidence.
The Federalist Papers were a set of documents written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to persuade the 13 states to ratify the Constitution. In one of those papers, Federalist Paper 45, James Madison wrote:
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."
If we turned James Madison's statement on its head, namely that the powers of the federal government are numerous and indefinite and those of the states are few and defined, we'd describe today's America. Was Madison just plain ignorant about the powers delegated to Congress? Before making our judgment, let's examine statements of other possibly misinformed Americans.
In 1796, on the floor of the House of Representatives, William Giles of Virginia condemned a relief measure for fire victims saying it was neither the purpose nor the right of Congress to "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require." In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a bill intended to help the mentally ill, saying, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity," adding that to approve such spending "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded." President Grover Cleveland was the king of the veto. He vetoed literally hundreds of congressional spending bills during his two terms as president in the late 1800s. His often given reason was, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution."
Today's White House proposes and Congress taxes and spends for anything they can muster a majority vote on. My investigative query is: Were the Founders and previous congressmen and presidents, who could not find constitutional authority for today's bread and circuses, just plain stupid and ignorant? I don't believe in long-run ignorance or stupidity, so I reread the Constitution, looking to see whether an amendment had been passed authorizing Congress to spend money on bailouts for airlines, prescription drugs, education, Social Security and thousands of similar items in today's federal budget. I found no such amendment.
Being thorough, I reread the Constitution and found what Congress might interpret as a blank check authorization -- the "general welfare clause." Then I investigated further to see what the Framers meant by the "general welfare clause." In 1798, Thomas Jefferson said,
"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."
The Constitution's father, James Madison said:
"With respect to the two words general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."
My detective work concludes with several competing explanations. The first is that the great men who laid the framework for our nation were not only constitutionally ignorant but callous and uncaring, as well. The second is it's today's politicians who are constitutionally ignorant. Lastly, it's today's Americans who have contempt for the Constitution, and any congressman or president upholding the Constitution's letter and spirit would be tarred and feathered.
Probably another supreme court decision to replace the word, 'promote,' with 'provide.'
Don't forget the Air Force. There's no amendment authorizing that either.
Whereas, It has become necessary to call into service, not only volunteers, but also portions of the militia of the States by draft, in order to suppress the insurrection existing in the United States, and disloyal persona are not adequately restrained by the ordinary processes of law from hindering this measure, and from giving aid and comfort in various ways to the insurrection Now, therefore, be it ordered, that during the existing insurrection, and as a necessary measure for suppressing the same, all rebels and insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persona discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice affording aid and comfort to the rebels against the authority of the United States, shall be subject to martial law, and liable to trial and punishment by courts-martial or military commission.
By the President of the United States of America:
Second: That the writ of habeus corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement, by any military authority or by the sentence of any court-martial or military commission.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Twenty-fourth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.
By the President.
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
Returning to reality ....
My impression of Lincoln is about as close to a love/hate thing as one can achieve.
I have no doubt that Lincoln suspended the Constitution (and that he did, despite revisionist historians protests to the contrary) because of his deep love for our republic, and his burning desire to preserve the unraveling union. But, in doing so, he set a precedent that, 150 or so years later, may very well set the foundation for the destruction of our republican form of government.
When I first read the Patriot Act, one of my initial reactions was, How long will it be before an American President (not necessarily Bush, but the remote possibility exists) invokes a Lincoln-like suspension of the writ of Hapeas Corpus, in the name of homeland security? That vision made me weak in the knees, because the right to individual life and liberty that is the cornerstone of our Constitution, and our republican foundation, would be dealt a blow possibly commensurate to that which any threat of terrorism from outside our borders could ever achieve.
And Im afraid its only a matter of time.
I have a nine-volume set of books, published in 1907, called Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volumes VII, VIII and IX are entitled Letters and Telegrams, and they contain fascinating inner glimpses into Lincoln via hundreds of personal writings, many of which he labeled personal and confidential. (After purchasing this set of books many years ago, I recall spending several days reading all of these letters, and feeling as if I learned more from them than from all of my previous study of Lincoln).
In one that was written on June 12, 1863 to Corning, Erastus and others -- labeled personal and confidential -- he writes, of the suspension of the writ (brackets are mine):
And here I ought to close this letter, and would close it if there were no apprehension that more injurious consequences than any merely personal to myself might follow the censures systematically cast upon me for doing what, in my view of duty, I could not forebear .... but the meeting, by their resolutions, assert and argue that certain military arrests .... for which I am ultimately responsible, are unconstitutional ....
Would not the demonstration have been better if it could truly have been said that these safeguards had been adopted and applied during the civil wars [meaning those that occurred in England] and during our revolution, instead of after the one and at the close of the other?
I, too, am devotedly for them after civil war, and before civil war, and at all times, except when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require their suspension. The resolutions [adopted by those who were protesting Lincolns suspension of habeas corpus] proceed to tell us that these safeguards have stood the test of seventy-six years of trial under our republican system, under circumstances which show that while they constitute the foundation of all free government, they are elements of the enduring stability of the republic.
The deadly problem with Lincolns philosophy is, very simply put, that the Constitutional safeguards regarding life and liberty which were deemed immutable (except for the unfortunate loophole they left in Article I) by our founders, were deemed temporarily suspendable by Lincoln. Although his motives were purely noble, his actions in declaring the removal of liberty as circumstantial set a dangerous precedent.
Surely neither our Founders, when penning Article I, section 9, Clause 2 (The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it), or Lincoln when he saw fit to suspend H.C., never envisioned a central government which would someday envision itself as just as deadly an enemy of individual liberty as any invasionary force from outside our borders might.
It may be the unknowing loophole in clause 2, combined with the precedent that Lincoln set (no matter his good intentions), that lays the groundwork for future deadly attacks on our individual liberties -- and the future of republican government, in the name of (either bogus or genuine) homeland security.
Homegrown tyrants are prone to take maximum advantage of loopholes and precedents, and theyll not let these two fall by the wayside unused. Its not a matter of if, but when, they will be invoked to their best advantage.
The people of the South, who fought to preserve what they were certain, were the Constitutional foundations upon which the United States had been formed from the united states, might respectfully disagree with your "beginning," in that, they saw it coming in the decade up to the outbreak of the Civil War.
The Civil War attracts so much attention, the preceding "cultural civil war" remains largely un-noticed as the hotbed for the rebellion against the government's trend to play Scrabble with the foundations of our liberty.
Of special note, is that the Senators to the Congress, who were from the South, were largely self-interested and given to voting for measures harmful to the South.
Not much attention was every paid to ending the severe bias of creditors in the North, who refused capital for the industrialization of the South.
Without some breadth and depth to expand the Southern economy, how could they alter the landscape such that industry and other development would gain value on some par with agriculture-based-upon-slavery?
What Northern industrialists, sitting on the board of a bank in Philadelphia, would sanction loans to a Southern industrialist competing against the North?
What were the possiblities that industrialization of the South, using slave labor, would lead to "cheap labor's" economic growth and then "new-found democratic" freedoms?
It's a marvel that nowadays, the sanctimonious who decry slavery in the South, antebellum, cannot bring themselves to decry slavery anywhere, here, or "over there."
Unless, in the spirit of skewering Martha Stewart, we fail to ridicule Kathy Lee and Frank Gifford for using "slave labor" in the Pacific Rim.
I believe it was God's will for Lincoln to be elected and that his solitary purpose was the preservation of the Union. It was his great passion...one that wound him up so thoroughly that he did in fact do extra-constitutional things in the process of holding the southern states in the Union, like those things discussed here and like the arresting of any perceived southern sympathizing Maryland legislator just before they lawfully voted on the seccession measure up before them at the outbreak of the war.
Having said that, in retrospect we know from an historical perspective, that the union holding was of critical importance to events that would occur fifty years later in World War I, and then another twenty years after that in World War II. Without a solid and prosperous ultimate Union resulting from the north's victory (despite the blight of reconstruction), it is almost certain that the Eurpean powers would have played off the resulting two nations in America against one another and we not only would not have been prepared to be the arselnal of liberty for those wars (which proved the winning of both), we very well could have been fighting each other as an extension of both...in which case, we would all probably be speaking German now and Hitler very well may have achieved his demonic goal of his thousand year Reich.
Now, I say this with mixed emotion. I am a Son of the American Revolution three times over...and a Son of the Confederacy, four times over. But the constitution, as it had to be ratified (if it was going to be ratified at all), broke faith with the Declaration of Independence in not addressing the slavery issue. Despite this, and the moral wrong of slavery practised in the south (and many areas of the north as well I might add), I say, despite this, the south was constitutionaly in the right because the issuues of the day were basically state's rights issues (as correctly discussed here on this thread).
As regards slavery itself, the south was moving towards eventual abolition. But the primary issues of the war waere centered on the economics and politics of infringement of state's rights...which of course included the slavery issue.
Lincoln, whom I believe was a sincere and honest man, was committed, above all else, to the preservation of the union. In retrospect, he was inspired to do so, despite the course things took both by his own precedent...and more particularly (IMHO) through the blight and aboration of reconstruction...as perverted, corrupt and immoral a time as ever existed in our history IMHO...and which itself has also led to many of our politcal and social ills today.
But, Lincon, he had no intetnion of afflicting the southern states or its people with that blight. A reading of his own writing makes this very clear. He was for a rapid normalization of issues after the war and a rapid re-elevation of states rights to a more proper role...albeit within an indissolvable union.
I personally believe that it was this intention and commitment on Licoln's part, to relatively cleanly bring the south back into the union and to quickly normalize thier activities within the union, that got him killed. That desire, as history pointed out after his death, was completely incompatable with the powermongers of his day, whom he himself viewed as a greater enemy than the southern armies. We know this is true based on his won pronouncments on the issue. To whit:
"The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, (and) more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe...corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed."-Abraham LincolnHe was quite prophetic in that pronouncement IMHO.
That authority is only obtained through the Constitution and the people have already indicated (through the original ratification process)that the only way to add to it is through the amendment process. Without an amendment, the people, through their federal representatives, are poweless to bequeath new powers to the Federal beheamouth.
So, the only way for the people, through their representatives to extend those rights, powers and priveleges to the United States is to do so through the amednment process of the Constitution. Any attempt to do it otherwise is illegal, null and void as far as law and theory go.
Reality says that since they are willing to enforce unconstitutional acts at the point of the sword/gun...that they have become the defacto law anyway, at least up until the point that the natural rights as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence come into play.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.