Skip to comments.American Government: The Owner's Manual
Posted on 07/05/2008 2:46:05 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of ten articles written by a noted legal scholar to explain America's government. Watch for others in the series, which will appear periodically in this space.)
When you buy a car, a blender, a hair dryer, etc., you also get an owner's manual. Many of us start using the device without reading about it, get ourselves into trouble, and fall back on the last alternative in computer programming. "When all else fails, RTFM," translated loosely as "Read the pea-pickin manual."
Many Americans for many reasons, have concluded that our government is failing, or has already failed. But how many of us have read the Owner's Manual recently, or even read it in the last ten years?
Two recent issues point out the dangers of operating, or trying to understand, American government without reading the Owner's Manual. The new issue is the 4-3 decision of the California Supreme Court, requiring the establishment of homosexual marriage in that state. The continuing issue is the war against terror, in Iraq or elsewhere. The Owner's Manual is, of course, our Constitution.
The first question is: who owns the United States of America? It seems like an obvious question. But when you ask it, answer it, and think about the answer. Some critical conclusions follow.
We were all taught in the third grade or thereabouts that "the people are in charge in the USA." Later, we get the phrase, "popular sovereignty." The Declaration of Independence declares that "governments ... derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." The Manual agrees: In Article IV, Section 4, it says: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican Form of Government...."
That has nothing to do with the Republican Party. Political parties are not mentioned in the manual. Political parties did not exist when the Constitution went into effect in 1789. And the Framers warned us against the dangers of political parties (then called "factions") in the ''Federalist, Number 10.''
The meaning of "Republican ... Government" goes back to Aristotles ''Politics.'' It means government by representatives who were elected by the people. Although most of us today use the shorthand of calling the United States a "democracy" (from which the Democratic Party drew its name), the Manual tells us that is wrong. Pure democracy means direct action by the people. Half of the states have this in their constitutions. But the Owner's Manual for the United States was written without direct democracy, nor have any amendments included that to date.
Choices of what went into the Owner's Manual, or not into it, from 1787 through 1992, are all deliberate. Later in this series well get into details such as separation of powers, checks and balances, etc. Its enough for todays two issues to know that legislative power belongs to Congress and the state legislatures, and that only Congress has the power to declare war.
In the California decision mandating homosexual marriage, four members of the court took unto themselves the power of the legislature to pass laws creating or changing public policy. The three dissenting judges had the theory of government correct in saying that, whatever the merits of the intended policy, it is not the business of judges to create that policy by force. Unfortunately, those state judges had the bad example of five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Texas sodomy case. There, the justices, by a one-vote majority, also invaded the province of the legislature.
Concerning the war on terror, various politicians, press, and pundits have claimed that the Bush administration has no legitimate power to prosecute the war. Again, it is a matter of reading the Manual. Article I, Section 8, clause 10 gives to Congress alone the power "to declare war." It takes only a Joint Resolution; the president doesnt sign that, and cannot veto it.
Then its a matter of checking the gauges. Congress did declare war, through a Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force ("across international boundaries"). That was folded into the Patriot Act, 18 September, 2001. For those who claim that isnt a real Declaration of War, the language is nearly identical to that used by Congress in 1805 to authorize President Jefferson to attack, and defeat, the Barbary Pirates.
Once Congress has declared war, then the presidents powers as commander in chief, kick in. (See Article II, Section 2.) Those powers remain in effect until Congress ends the declaration, or ratifies a Treaty of Peace.
So, these are two, major issues which are easily understood, if we just read the Owner's Manual. It is also a good idea for the press to read the Owner's Manual from time to time.
[Next: Article I, The Congress.]
This is written for a lay audience, not just lawyers. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to share it with others.
John / Billybob
I never got a copy of the pea-pickin’ manual, who do I sue?
Great reminder of how tenuous a grasp we have on freedom.
Ya either got it or ya don’t.
Keep it comin’, CB and a Happy 5th of July!! :-)
PING ME as these come out please
And a Giant BUMP TO YA
Just one thing though, the date is incorrect in the following paragraph:
“Then its a matter of checking the gauges. Congress did declare war, through a Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force (”across international boundaries”). That was folded into the Patriot Act, 18 September, 2008.”
That is 2 months in the future.
You got the year wrong for the Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force. Should be 2001, not 2008.
You should sue your school district.
Government should have been a required 11th or 12th grade class.
We DID read the manual. We DIDN’T like what it said so we have chosen to IGNORE it.
The political ruling elite who will now take TOTAL control of your pathetic and dull little lives and retrain you to serve us in the fashion to which our royal ancestors were accustomed. And BACKTALK will be dealt with MOST HARSHLY!!
Education BTTT! Thanks Congressman Billybob!
John / Billybob
Excellent piece of work there CBB. I enjoy your work, but rarely comment on it. Looking forward to the next in this series.
I often refer to the Constitution as the owners' manual for the nation and I very much look forward to the series.
The Constitution is a homogeneous document. Reading it as a homogeneous document is the best way to understand it. In that fashion one can see the relationship between the words "herein granted" in Article 1, Section 1 to the words in the 10th amendment.
The next in the series is the correct place to begin. I look forward to reading it.
John / Billybob
Very well put, Congressman.
I would point out that the Constitution is written in plain English, and is therefor unintelligible by those who don't know what the meaning of is is.
Ping, read later