The Foundation of our Nation
Things have changed in America. Change is good . . . right? Weren’t we recently told that Hope and Change were the answer to all of our woes? The latest major change began in January 2009, when gas was at $1.79 a gallon. To truly answer the question, let’s look at what has changed in America, from the beginning, and what brought about that change.
How were things in the beginning? America was a mere outpost of the British Empire, far across the sea. We were foreign colonies—a distant settlement of a totalitarian regime which forced its far-away subjects to pay high taxes, enforced endless regulations and prohibitions, and which traded in human slavery.
There were those in America who were unhappy with things as they were. Although they lived and prospered under the British system, these constraints on human freedom were intolerable to them, and they dreamed of liberty. They began to spread the word among the colonists that America should become independent of the British Empire, and should establish its own government. Pursuant to that desire, and at tremendous personal risk and costs, Americans declared their independence from Great Britain:
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Declaration of Independence.
The “causes” for the separation and the underlying principles upon which the emerging nation must be built were then “declared”:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This declaration pretty much sums up the course that Americans had set for themselves. God had created people and given them rights, rights that were not given by governments and that could not be taken away by governments, including 1) the right to live one’s life free of threat or risk from government, 2) the right to live freely without government restriction or compulsion, and 3) the right to pursue “happiness,” the nature of which happiness was left up to the individual person by God, who had created him or her. Yes, God had created all people to have equal opportunities at life, liberty, and to pursue happiness, and no government should be allowed to restrict those rights. This personal liberty (freedom from government) is the foundation of America, and must be the ultimate guiding directive of every endeavor of our governments.
LIBERTY IN INDEPENDENCE
Following years of American struggle for independence from the British Crown, we made a clean break, and were finally left to ourselves, to establish our own form of government, founded on these principles established in the Declaration of Independence. The goal of national government was to unify all Americans under a single government, while at the same time maintaining the individual and collective liberties enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.
This was a tricky task—to balance the benefits of collective government against the rights of independence and liberty of every individual.
At that time there were many well-educated, independent thinking people in America and elsewhere who had given much thought to the perfect form of government—one that would provide collective benefits while maintaining individual liberty. Indeed, they well understood that every benefit of collectivism came with a price tag, and they well knew to ask the question—At Whose Expense?—when considering a benefit that might come from pooling resources.
FROM TRIBE TO VILLAGE
To understand this question better, let us think of a single family, alone in the wilderness. They eek out a living on a small patch of ground they have cleared. They hunt as well. With the resources they have at hand, they have food, shelter, and freedom to pursue happiness without interference. One day, a neighboring family comes and suggests that a number of independent families might be better off if they divert some water from a nearby river, and if they pool their resources and hire a teacher to come and teach their children, and if they take turns providing security for the neighborhood. The families all agree on these three improvements, and suddenly, we have government—a collective pooling of resources to provide something that would be too expensive for just one family to provide on its own.
Pooling resources is good, and it is the foundation of civilization. However, what happens when the pool of families grows to the point where a full time administrator is needed? How will the salary of that administrator be paid? At whose expense? How about two additional teachers? Is that a good idea? Perhaps so, but again, the questions arises . . . at whose expense? Perhaps a City Hall building. At whose expense? Paved roads? Central water and sewer? Assistants for the administrator? Assistants for the school’s principal. Assistants for the assistants? At whose expense? And when does this collectivism become too burdensome for the families? How much should each family be required to pay for the collective benefits they receive? What about when the town drunk suggests that families no longer pay their numerical percentage of the costs, but now pay a percentage of their annual production or income? In other words, a family no longer pays proportionally for the services it is using, but now pays into a general fund based on how hard it works and how much it produces, regardless of what benefits it receives from the collective government it has helped to create. And what is a productive family’s response when it sees the town drunk receiving more benefits while contributing far less?
America’s founders considered these questions at great length, and published books, pamphlets and newspaper articles, discussing the merits and disadvantages of the various forms of government that had been established throughout human history. Many of these have been collected into a volume title The Federalist Papers.
The founders met together to decide what form of government would be best for an independent new nation of hard working people, blessed as they considered themselves, by a loving God with a beautiful land filled with the abundance of nature and resources. They considered the democracy and the republic, among other forms of governance. They rejected all forms of totalitarian or socialist governments, because the one thing they could all agree on was the need for individual freedom—liberty from government. Indeed, this became the very foundation of their guiding principles in forming a national government—the need to preserve and defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
13 SEPARATE COLONIES INTO A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The original 13 colonies were also self-interested in preserving their sovereign independence from one another and from a national government, as well as preserving each individual person’s independence from government and other people. Many of that time were convinced that no national government was necessary, but that the 13 colonies could continue separately. Many understood that this would not be possible.
To bring the colonies and the people together under a single unit of government, while preserving the independence that they knew would be so vital to their liberty and wellbeing, the founders eventually formed a democratic-republic, which provided for the election of representatives in the national government. They also determined that the states would remain sovereign entities, not absorbed into the national government, and that each state and its citizens would retain all of their rights, but would only cede to the national government a few, specially enumerated rights.
NATIONAL GOVERNMENT—A BEAST TO BE SHACKLED
The national government was something greatly feared by most educated people—especially those who knew the importance of having it. Without a national government, how could the fledgling nation defend itself from foreign invaders? How could it free up the trade barriers established by several of the colonies? How could it establish a common currency that was equally accepted among the several states? However, by establishing a national government, and giving it certain powers, the founders knew there was tremendous risk of the government encroaching on the liberties that they held so dear.
George Washington said it best: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
This was the prevailing attitude among the founders, who had witnessed the blood of 25,000 spilt in breaking the shackles of Great Britain’s government. They were very much of the opinion that government is indeed a monster, to be kept in chains, to be limited with every restraint available . . . because if left to itself, it will feed, and grow, and take, and pillage, until it is the master and the people who created it are the slaves.
With this in mind, the new national government was established. It was made up of three separate branches; the executive, the legislative and the judicial, each tasked with checking or limiting the powers of the other—to ensure that it never reached beyond its modest initial mandate.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
This is a system of “Checks and Balances,” where each branch limits the expansion of power of the others. The federal government was limited in its powers, by design, and only given certain specific “enumerated” powers, to enable it to perform certain collective responsibilities, while ensuring that it would never grow in its ability to limit the rights of its citizens. Only those specific powers enumerated in the Constitution were given to the national government, and all other powers were specifically “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” as reaffirmed in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
THE THREE BRANCHES OF THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT
The legislative branch of the federal government is given the power to write laws that apply nationally. Each law that it enacts must be “constitutional,” meaning that it must not infringe on any God-given right enjoyed by any citizen, or those “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” when adopting the Constitution, AND it must be founded on one of the specially enumerated powers granted the national government by the states and people in the US Constitution. In fact, there are few laws that can be promulgated under those restrictions, which we shall see shortly, below.
The legislative branch of the national government was divided into two chambers, the house of representatives, elected by the people at large, and the senate, elected by the state legislatures. The reason for this division, like the divisions of the national government itself, was “Checks and Balances.” In other words, to put a guard over the other chamber, of congress. The founders were quite familiar with the limited benefits of a pure democracy, because history teaches that once the masses figured out that they held the keys to the collective treasury, they would loot it, and destroy their nation in the process.
Therefore, although the people elected the members of the House of Representatives, to promote their issues, the states themselves, in the body of their legislatures, elected the federal senators, and tasked them with the responsibility of maintaining the states’ rights in every act of legislation. This “Checks and Balances” guarantee was put into place to keep the body of average citizens from looting the treasury, through their elected representatives. Every piece of legislation sent to the senate from the house was reviewed with an eye toward protecting the rights of the states and their citizens individually, because senators were not beholden to the people for re-election. This Checks and Balances system served the growing nation very well, and few laws and burdens were placed on the people as a result.
The duty of the Executive branch of the national government was to enforce the laws enacted by the legislative branch, while the duty of the Judiciary was to interpret those laws to ensure that they were not violative of the US Constitution and that they preserved the rights of the states and their citizens. This form of government was the most perfect in function that the world had ever known, and under it, notwithstanding the many attempts to contort it and its functions, the country grew from its lowly station to one of international prominence and material success.
ONLY SPECIFIC POWERS DELEGATED TO THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT
The specifically enumerated powers of the federal government to make laws are found in the US Constitution in Article I, Section 8. They are:
1] The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes [not personal or corporate income taxes], Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
2] To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
3] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
4] To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
5] To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
6] To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
7] To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
8] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
9] To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
10] To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
11] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
12] To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
13] To provide and maintain a Navy;
14] To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
15] To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
16] To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
17] To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
18] To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Surely, these are powers that are indeed limiting to the national government, while enabling it to perform its enumerated mandates of providing for the common defense, freeing the flow of commerce, coining money, establishing weights and measures, providing for immigration, bankruptcies, postal services, patents and copyrights, declare wars, establish a Navy and Army, and to establish duties, imposts and excises to pay for the national government’s activities.
While we kept the federal government shackled and limited, as provided by our Constitution, it was our servant. It helped us to provide for collective needs, to establish a brilliant civilization, limited in its glory only by the limitations of the people who were its citizens. The Constitution preserved personal freedoms and liberty, and enabled generations of Americans to elevate their standard of living and guarantee ever-increasing opportunities to the next generations.