Skip to comments.Constitution Day 2009
Posted on 09/17/2009 9:15:40 AM PDT by loveliberty2
"Although all men are born free, slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant - they have been cheated; asleep - they have been surprised; divided - the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? ...the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it.... It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently free."- James Madison
America's Constitution is the means by which knowledgeable and free people, capable of self-government, can bind and control their elected representatives in government. In order to remain free, the Founders said, the people themselves must clearly understand the ideas and principles upon which their Constitutional government is based. Through such understanding, they will be able to prevent those in power from eroding their Constitutional protections.
The Founders established schools and seminaries for the distinct purpose of instilling in youth the lessons of history and the ideas of liberty. And, in their day, they were successful. Tocqueville, eminent French jurist, traveled America and in his 1830's work, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, wrote:
On the frontier, he noted that "...no sort of comparison can be drawn between the pioneer and the dwelling that shelters him.... He wears the dress and speaks the language of the cities; he is acquainted with the past, curious about the future, and ready for argument about the present.... I do not think that so much intellectual activity exists in the most enlightened and populous districts of France' " He continued, "It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case...where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education.."
Possessing a clear understanding of the failure of previous civilizations to achieve and sustain freedom for individuals, our forefathers discovered some timeless truths about human nature, the struggle for individual liberty, the human tendency toward abuse of power, and the means for curbing that tendency through Constitutional self-government. Jefferson's Bill For The More General Diffusion Of Knowledge For Virginia declared:
Education was not perceived by the Founders to be a mere process for teaching basic skills. It was much, much more. Education included the very process by which the people of America would understand and be able to preserve their liberty and secure their Creator-endowed rights. Understanding the nature and origin of their rights and the means of preserving them, the people would be capable of self government, for they would recognize any threats to liberty and "nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud." (Adams) (Read about "Our Ageless Constitution" at
Every kid should listen to this
Again, where is the interest in this wonderful day for celebrating the Constitution?
After all, it is the reason we all are able to debate the topics currently on the hot list for discussion. Does your daily newspaper have a headline about it?
Are politicians out there proclaiming its limits on their powers?
If not, why not?
A Proclamation? By the 0bama administration? Surely you jest.
Dr. Williams stated:
"James Madison is the acknowledged father of the constitution. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia. James Madison wrote disapprovingly, 'I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.' '
"Today, at least two-thirds of a $2.5 trillion federal budget is spent on the 'objects of benevolence.' That includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to higher education, farm and business subsidies, welfare, ad nauseam.
"A few years later, James Madisons vision was expressed by Representative William Giles of Virginia, who condemned a relief measure for fire victims. Giles insisted that it was neither the purpose nor a right of Congress to 'attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require.'
"In 1827, Davy Crockett was elected to the House of Representatives. During his term of office a $10,000 relief measure was proposed to assist the widow of a naval officer. Davy Crockett eloquently opposed the measure saying, 'Mr. Speaker: I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it. We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.'
"In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a popular measure to help the mentally ill saying, 'I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity.' To approve the measure '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.' During President Grover Clevelands two terms in office, he vetoed many congressional appropriations, often saying there was no constitutional authority for such an appropriation. Vetoing a bill for relief charity, President Cleveland said, 'I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.'
"Compared to today, yesteryears vision vastly differs in what congressional actions are constitutionally permissible. How might todays congress, president and courts square their behavior with that of their predecessors? The most generous interpretation of their behavior I can give is their misunderstanding of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that reads, 'The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.' Misuse of the 'general welfare' clause serves as warrant for Congress to do just about anything upon which it can secure a majority vote.
"The framers addressed the misinterpretation of the 'general welfare' clause. James Madison said, in a letter to James Robertson, '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.' James Madison also said, 'If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.' James Madison laid out what he saw as constitutional limits on federal power in Federalist Paper Number 45 where he explained, 'The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . to be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.'
"Thomas Jefferson explained in a letter to Albert Gallatin, 'Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.'
"What accounts for todays acceptance of a massive departure from the framers clear vision of what federal activities were constitutionally permissible? It is tempting to blame politicians and yes we can blame them some but most of the blame lies with the American people who are either ignorant of the constitutional limits the framers imposed on the federal government or they have contempt for those limits.
"We can see this by imagining that, say, former presidents James Madison, Franklin Pierce or Grover Cleveland were campaigning for the presidency today. Imagine their saying to todays Americans they cannot find: 'a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents,' 'any authority in the Constitution for public charity,' or saying, 'I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.' Their candidacy would be greeted with contempt by most Americans. They would be seen as callous, mean-spirited men by a nation of people who have now come to believe they have a right to live at the expense of other people through a variety of federal programs. Such a belief differs only in degree, but not kind, from the belief that one American should be forcibly used, through the tax code, to serve the purposes of another American.
"The tragedy is that once such a belief system becomes acceptable, it pays for all Americans to become involved in the attempt to live at the expense of another. If one American does not use government to live at the expense of another American, that does not mean he will pay lower taxes. It only means that there will be more money left over for others. In a word, or so, once legalized theft becomes the standard, it pays for everyone to become a thief. A hundred years from now what congress does and what is in the Constitution will bare absolutely no relationship at all. As a result Americans will be poorer both in terms of liberty and standard of living and they just might curse todays generation."
- Walter E. Williams - Ideas on Liberty - August 2006
This is why a day and week to focus on the Constitution, as written and intended by the Founders, to fulfill the goals and purposes of its Preamble, is as important today as it was in 1787.
Those who debate today must arm themselves with the kind of understanding Dr. Williams so beautifully lays out if they are to pass on the ideas of liberty to future generations. Else, their focus on issues will be meaningless and fruitless.
Thanks. Came across Dr. Williams’ 2006 Constitution Day article and it is so very appropriate to today’s debates that it deserves rereading. The children and grandchildren of today need to understand the documents of their liberty, and all serious Tea Partiers and Town Hallers need to make it their business to arm themselves with the Founders’ ideas in order to preserve liberty.
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