I have a little red book (published by the CATO Institute). It measures just 3.5 inches by 5 inches by 0.2 inches and its sixty small pages contain two of the most radical documents on the planet: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. These documents are radical because they instituted a form of government never before tried, a government which recognized the “unalienable rights” of the people and which sought to limit the power of government.
As we approach the 237th year of this experiment, we must remember that our Constitution is not self-enforcing. It will live only as long as the principles remain in our hearts and minds, and we continue to act on those principles.
Our experiment has not always been easy. It took a long war to establish our form of government and another war, nearly a century later, to confirm the principles of our union. Since then, we have endured other wars and less violent, but still serious, attacks on our freedom. James Madison was both wise and prescient when he wrote, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Our Founders listed some specific grievances against the tyrant of the time, King George III, in The Declaration of Independence. Some of these same grievances could apply just as well to the current administrators of our federal government. For instance:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
Think of the junk science-based green zealotry of the EPA and their regulatory war on energy production. Or, think of the Fish & Wildlife Service using the Endangered Species Act to crush economic development and private property rights. Does the IRS come to mind? We have a proliferation of federal agencies, each filled with unelected bureaucrats, who together produce tens of thousands of pages of regulations each year, many of which “harass our people and eat out their substance.” That is a long way from the sixty small pages in my little red book.
Congress, too, shares the blame. Much of what should be done legislatively has been turned over to regulatory agencies. In spite of pompous declarations, the era of big government is not over, and in fact government continues to grow bigger and more distant from the founding principles and the people.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
Today these standing armies are not armies of men, but of endangered species whose welfare, according to the feds, takes precedence over our use of private property.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws ….
Our current President seems to rule by executive order and decree, deliberately bypassing Congress and proper legal authority. A headline in the Arizona Daily Star: “In 2012, Obama to press ahead without Congress.” Papers and emails necessary to legal investigations become mysteriously lost and words are parsed beyond common sense. Promises to “Put people first” and to run “the most ethical administration ever” or to have the “most transparent administration ever ” have turned out just the opposite.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
How much good legislation has been vetoed by the president; how much never made it out of a Congressional committee? Reasonable budgets have been vetoed; our borders are still unprotected from illegal substances and illegal immigrants.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation…. Biodiversity programs, World Heritage sites , Man and the Biosphere , Ramsar Convention, Kyoto Protocal, Border 21, Agenda 21, and gun control, are all United Nations programs or their offshoots which directly affect private property and national sovereignty. Even the Endangered Species Act is based on international treaties. Add to this questionable military adventures of little import to our national interest.
My little red book introduces the Constitution as follows: “When it came time to draft a new constitution, the Founders drew upon the principles they had outlined in the Declaration. Having recently overthrown oppressive English rule, they were not about to reimpose oppression on themselves. Accordingly, their basic task was to devise a government that would be strong enough to secure our rights against domestic and foreign oppression yet not so powerful or extensive as to be oppressive itself.” Toward that end, the Founders developed a system of checks and balances and specifically enumerated the powers for the federal government.
The power of our government derives from the people rather than the people being granted certain rights by the government. This principle is reflected in the Preamble: “We the people… do ordain and establish this Constitution.” It is reiterated in the first sentence of Article I: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in the Congress…” These powers are enumerated in Article I, Section 8 and reinforced by the 9th and 10th Amendments.
However, power breeds lust for more power. Through actions of all three federal branches and complacency by the people, federal powers have been expanded and extended much beyond those originally enumerated. Most usurpation of power comes from liberal interpretation of two sections of the Constitution: the “Welfare Clause” and the “Commerce Clause.”
The “welfare clause”, Article 1, section 8, clause 1, reads “The Congress shall have the 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….”
Were that to mean the Congress has general power to tax and spend, as some read it today, then Congress would have unlimited power and the enumerations which follow that clause would be meaningless. For most of our history, it was generally recognized that the “welfare clause” did not grant a “general welfare power.” However, in the 1930s, during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, the interpretation changed and passage of social welfare programs abounded. Politicians who wanted a means of legal plunder have changed the meaning of “welfare” from “the state of faring well” to “the redistribution of wealth.” We’ve seen establishment of agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to handle problems which should remain purely local, and not become matters of national concern. Thomas Jefferson was of the opinion that Congress’ ability to raise and spend money for the general welfare was restricted to the enumerated powers.
The “commerce clause” refers to interstate commerce (Article 1, section 8, clause 3): “To regulate Commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes….”
The intent of this enumerated power was to ensure a free flow of goods and services among the states, because prior to establishment of a federal government, the states were taxing goods imported from other states (shades of the proposed internet tax). However, rather than being limited to goods and services crossing state lines, the “commerce clause” has been perverted to include anything which “affects” interstate commerce, which is in effect, everything. This practice makes the enumerated powers meaningless. It has been taken to such an extreme, that in order to build a school on private land containing a dry wash in Tucson, for instance, one needed a permit from the Corps of Engineers, because a dry wash is occasionally wet and may flow into a river which may eventually cross state lines to become “waters of the United States.” And they needed a permit from the redundantly named U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service because that same wash just might be home to “endangered” pygmy owls.
How goes the Union? It may seem that the “checks and balances” of our government are not working. Currently, we have a president ruling by the decree of executive orders and a Congress which has apparently abdicated its responsibility in favor of regulatory agencies. There has always been controversy over the meaning and application of our Constitution, but usually it was controversy between honorable people of good will. There have been sleazy, corrupt administrations before, but none that have threatened our rights and our national sovereignty as much the Obama administration (Clinton now comes in second).
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” -Martin Luther King jr.
Remember, as John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote: “The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.” Do we still have the will to uphold our basic principles and preserve our unalienable rights, or will we allow the “gradual and silent encroachments” to destroy our great experiment?