The Articles of Confederation created a weak government, due to the recent memories the Founders retained of a powerful central government under King George. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government had no power to levy taxes or regulate commerce, no enforcement powers for the laws passed by it, and there was not even a provision for an executive officer, the closest thing being the President of the Congress, which was simply a presiding officer.
On May 25, 1787, delegates from the states convened in Philadelphia for the purpose of discussing amendments to the Articles. George Washington was unanimously elected president of the convention and the work commenced. Over the next four months, these men discarded the Articles of Confederation and began work on a new Constitution. This assembly was arguably the greatest collection of political and philosophical minds ever assembled under a single roof.
After enduring the oppressive heat and humidity of the Washington summer, and debating the various proposals for the new Constitution, a final document was finally agreed upon and on the 17th of September, 1787, all members of the Constitutional Convention, except Gray (Massachusetts), and Randolph and Mason (Virginia), signed the final draft of the Constitution, forming a new government for the United States of America.
The Constitution was and is a political masterpiece, striking a delicate balance between the will of the majority and the rights of the minority (and individual). The brilliance of the Constitution lies in the Founders' understanding of factions and the nature of man, as well as in the doctrine of federalism. The Founders established vertical and horizontal separation of powers, such that encroachment on power from one branch or level of government would of necessity come at the expense of another. By creating this natural tension, the Founders established a government under which power would be widely distributed and therefore less susceptible to abuse.
This week, we celebrate the 224th anniversary of the Constitution, a document that has show amazing durability considering the assault that has been waged against it. The checks and balances built into the Constitution have largely been erased, which has led to a weakening of the rule of law in our country. If this erosion remains unchecked, it will lead to the fall of our republic.
In order for us to retain our liberties, we must first understand why the Constitution was constructed as it was, and why those principles and mechanisms are critical for the establishment and maintenance of liberty. For how can we defend what we do not understand? And when the people are ignorant of the power granted by the Constitution, wicked and conspiring men will step into the breach and usurp that power for themselves.
To assess your own knowledge of the Constitution, consider whether you have succumbed to some of the myths regarding it.
For example, we are forever being told about the "separation of church and state," and warned that religious influence should be kept completely separate from civil government. Yet is that true? Not according to the Founding Fathers. The phrase "separation of church and state" comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, shortly after he assumed the presidency, to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, in which he assured them that their fears that the establishment of a national religion was eminent were unfounded. The wall of separation referred to the government restriction on an establishment of a single national religion at the expense of other denominations, but by no means demanded the complete exclusion of religious influence in government. Indeed, President John Adams said that the Constitution is made for a moral and religious people, and is "wholly inadequate for the governance of any other." Thomas Jefferson, widely held up as a non-Christian by secularists, allocated federal funds to send Christian missionaries out to proselyte the Indians. These are hardly the words and actions of those that support complete separation of religion and government.
Another area of confusion lies in the right to vote. There is no constitutional right to vote, period. The Constitution never states that all people have a right to vote, only that citizens can't be denied the right to vote based on certain criteria. Over the last two centuries the Constitution has been amended to grant the right to vote to negroes (forbidding the denial of suffrage based on race, color or condition of servitude, under the 15th Amendment), women (under the 19th Amendment), the poor (forbidding denial of suffrage based on failure to pay a poll or other tax, under the 24th Amendment) and legal adults (setting the minimum voting age at eighteen years, under the 26th Amendment). If there was a universal right to vote, then there would be no need to establish characteristics by which a person can NOT be denied the right to vote, correct?
Maybe one of the most insidious and damaging of all myths surrounding the Constitution is that the Supreme Court has the final say in all matters pertaining to the law. Article III of the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court as the vested judicial power in the United States, granting it primary jurisdiction to resolve cases involving ambassadors, consuls and other public ministers. However, the Constitution grants only "appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as Congress shall make". In other words, the Supreme Court and all lower courts are limited by the Congress in their jurisdiction, and Congress may forbid the courts from reviewing specific laws or types of cases. Unfortunately, this aspect of the separation of powers has been largely forgotten, and the judiciary has become a black-robed oligarchy, not only interpreting the law but rewriting the law through their rulings. This is diametrically in opposition to the system created by the Founders.
Other common fallacies include the belief that the United States is a democracy, which is patently false. America is a constitutional republic, one that guarantees the protection of the unalienable rights of the individual, regardless of the will of the majority. In fact, many of the Founders believed democracy to be the worst form of government, second only to anarchy.
It might also come as a shock to many to discover that there is no "right" to education, health care, high speed Internet, or to never be offended. In fact, many of the "human" rights, "civil" rights and "environmental" rights some advocate have no foundation in our Constitution.
The great patriot Patrick Henry once exhorted, "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government." Our government today has grown larger and more intrusive than ever before. Only when "We the People, in order to form a more perfect union" begin to truly study the Constitution's principles and precepts, and elevate men and women to positions of public trust that revere the Constitution and honor their oath to defend it, will we again become a nation of truly free men. May we all rejoin the fight for liberty, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Happy Anniversary, Constitution, and many more!
Louis DeBroux is a Taylorsville resident, married, with eight children. He is chairman of the Bartow County Republican Party. He owns Gatekeeper data backup and recovery. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.