Wednesday, December 29, 2010

U.S. Constitution: Original Intent of the Founding Fathers

By Douglas V. Gibbs

More than 200 years have passed since the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where the Founding Fathers of the United States of America provided the framework for the creation of the U.S. Government. The federal government was designed to protect, preserve, and promote the new union of sovereign states, while being limited in its authorities in order to preserve the basic rights of the individual states, and the American people. The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, and all laws made in pursuance of the U.S. Constitution by the federal government are the supreme law of the land (Article VI, Clause II). The U.S. Constitution is the starting point from which all of our government institutions come. The founding document is the wisdom of the ages, crafted purposely to serve as the foundational base of our system of governance in order to form a more perfect union, while protecting the basic ideals of individual liberty, individual freedom, and our inalienable individual rights from the federal government, or any tyranny that may rise against us, foreign or domestic. This new government was to be based on republicanism, rather than a monarchy, while using some functions of a democracy in order to elect the representatives that would serve in the system.

A woman asked Benjamin Franklin, after the Constitutional Convention had produced the U.S. Constitution, “Sir, what have you given us?”

“A Republic,” Franklin replied. “If you can keep it.”

As a social contract between the States and the newly formed federal government, the U.S. Constitution grants to the federal government a limited number of powers, reserving the remaining powers to the States (Tenth Amendment). The limiting principles set forth by the U.S. Constitution were designed to protect the States’ sovereignty while giving the federal government enough authority to properly protect and preserve the union of individual states. As a result, the United States of America was not designed to be a nationalistic entity, but rather a federation of sovereign states that have granted the authority to maintain the union to a federal governmental system. To understand that the Founding Fathers looked upon the new country as a federation of states, and not a nationalistic entity, one must only look to the language they used.

In the following quotes by two of our founders, through the understanding of language one can recognize how the Founding Fathers viewed the new nation of united states:

"Governments, in general, have been the result of force, of fraud, and accident. After a period of six thousand years has elapsed since the creation, the United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation, unattacked by external force, unconvulsed by domestic insurrections, assembling voluntarily, deliberating fully, and deciding calmly concerning that system of government under which they would wish that they and their prosperity should live." -- James Wilson, November 26, 1787 in remarks in Pennsylvania ratifying convention.

“The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” George Washington in a letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham, July 19, 1791.

In both quotes, if you locate the words “United States,” you will notice that in both cases the word following “United States” does not end with an “s”. This is a significant clue to understanding how the founders viewed the new country. They saw the United States not as a single nationalistic entity, but in the plural, or as a collection of sovereign states united for the purpose of protection, and the preservation of the American way of life.

To further illustrate what I mean, let’s use the word “dogs” in the place of “United States.” If you were to say “the dogs exhibit to the world,” it makes sense that there is more than one dog. If you say “the dog exhibit to the world,” your first realization is that the phrase uses bad grammar. The proper way to say it would be “the dog exhibits to the world.” Dog is singular, therefore the word following it must contain an “s” at the end of the word.

Once again, if you were to say “The dogs enjoy a scene of prosperity,” apparently there are more than one dog. If “dog” in the singular had been used instead, an “s” would be added to the word “enjoy” to make the phrase grammatically correct. Therefore, it would read, “The dog enjoys a scene of prosperity.”

Going back to our quotes, the first quote reads,

“. . . the United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation. . .” The United States is a nation, the quote says so. However, the fact that “exhibit” has no “s” reveals that Mr. Wilson did not see the United States in the singular, or as a nationalistic entity, but as a nation of states - a federation of states. The United States, in this quote, is in the plural. The United States, then, in this quote, could very well have read “these states united,” and it would have meant the same thing.

Mr. Washington’s letter reads, “The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” Once again, there is no “s” at the end of the word after “United States,” meaning that Washington was not referring to a single nationalistic entity, but to a collection of sovereign states. As with Mr. Wilson’s quote, George Washington could have written “The States that are united enjoy a scene of prosperity,” and the sentence would have meant the very same thing.

Understanding how the founders viewed the union is important because it reveals much about why, and how, they wrote the United States Constitution. The founding document was not written to create a national government, but to create a federal government with the power to protect the union of individual states. In other words, the Constitution enables a governing body to protect and preserve the union of the States that are united.

To better understand this, one must consider the important distinction between a nationalist, and a patriot. Patriotism is the wholesome, constructive love of one’s land and people. Nationalism is the unhealthy love of one’s government, accompanied by the aggressive desire to build that governmental system to a point that it is above all else, and becomes the ultimate provider for the public good. In short, Patriotism is love of country, Nationalism is love of government.

The frame of reference of the Founding Fathers was the British Empire. In their independence, the patriots of America desired to be as nothing like the tyranny they had won their independence from as possible. The Founding Fathers, based on their own experiences, the experiences of the colonists before them, and the realities of history, determined that freedom for individuals was best served when the governmental system was limited by the chains of a constitution. Nationalists believe that government should have the authority to enact any act of government for the purpose of forceful benevolence. But if an individual is being forced, how is it benevolent?

Though a federal government could potentially be a bad thing, no federal government was an even more dangerous proposition. The Founding Fathers realized that if the states had not united against the British Empire, the Revolutionary War would never have been won. And as a nation, without a federal government wielding enough power to field an army, or tax in order to pay for that army, the new country would not long survive. The Articles of Confederation, a loose agreement between the States, proved to be too weak in the face of Shays’ Rebellion. So, the Founding Fathers set out to create a new government with enough power to form a more perfect union, yet limited enough that it did not become a centralized tyranny such as the one the patriots had just defeated in the War of Independence.

The British Empire was ruled by men. The King believed Britain to be his realm, therefore the concept of property ownership was limited to a small group of land owners, who were the Lords of Britain. The King, and the nobles, had complete power over making law, and imposing taxes. Therefore, the Founding Fathers realized that a nation ruled by an oligarchy of political elite was not compatible with the society that would champion liberty, and individual rights, that the founders desired.

A Democracy is a system of government ruled completely by the people. All laws and governmental functions, in such a system, are determined by the whim of the people. Historically, democracies are transitional governments that, when the people seek a governmental system more efficient and stable than their fickled democracies, become oligarchies, or a governmental system characterized by the many being ruled over by a few political elites. Therefore, the founders did not desire to create a democratic governmental system, because ultimately the system would centralize, and become nothing more than the monarchy that the Americans had fought so hard against in order to gain independence.

The conclusion was that the United States must not be subject to the laws of men, be subjected to the rule of men, or open itself up to become an oligarchy by creating a system that enables too much power to be granted to a single person or governmental entity. Therefore, the new nation needed to be a nation subject to the laws of God, governed by the rule of law, and have a republican form of government that features a representative system of governance. The States, and the people, would need to hold sovereign power. The federal government would need to be limited to authorities only necessary for protecting, preserving and promoting the union. All other authorities, specifically those authorities that would address issues directly affecting the people, would need to the responsibilities of the States, and the local governments, where the people have more control over governmental functions.

To achieve their goal, the Founding Fathers determined that the components of this new federal government, as opposed to being a national government, would need to be one with three separate branches of government, whose powers are separated so that no collusion between the branches could be possible, with numerous checks and balances to ensure no part of government wields to much power, have a limitation of authorities to the federal government granted by the States, provide due process of the law with the right of a trial by jury, and be a system that ensures that the federal government does not betray the inalienable rights of the people of the United States.

To achieve this, the Founding Fathers argued and debated heavily for four months in 1787. The result was the U.S. Constitution, a document like no other. The American Form of Government, through its constitution, would serve as a protector of the fires of liberty by preserving the union of states, and ensuring that individual freedoms and state sovereignty maintain a voice in the system. The nation would prosper, to the surprise of the world, and maintain its system of limited government for more than 200 years.

Unfortunately, the original intention of the Founding Fathers has been whittled away by the creeping incrementalism of progressive thoughts and ideas. Those that oppose the American Form of Government wish to move our nation in a direction of a more centralized government, where the central authority wields great power, which ultimately results in a system that uses its power to rule over the people through the rule of man. The rule of law, under such a system, is then transferred to the courts, and law becomes determined by the opinions of a few powerful men.

Under a progressive system, the federal government does not limit its actions to the powers granted to it by the States. The federal government seizes its powers without ratification, claiming it is acting on behalf of the common good. Ultimately, under such a system, the United States Constitution will be disregarded as simply a set of guidelines that the federal government can choose whether or not to follow, and different groups in the population would begin to receive special privileges, or a classification as a protected class, which is not uniformly granted throughout the population.

We the People have the duty to ensure that our governmental system does not operate outside Constitutional boundaries. It is our duty to protect our God-given liberty, and restore our Constitutional Republic. That journey begins with understanding the original intention of the Founding Fathers, and educating ourselves and our posterity about the U.S. Constitution, and working to restore our government to the constitutional limitations our Founding Fathers intended.

As a result of the original intentions of the Founding Fathers which are contained within the pages of the United States Constitution, our nation has prospered as a unique republic. In the words of George Washington, “The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” That is, if we can keep it.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary


Unknown said...

Your argument makes a fundamental mistake. The foundation of our Constitutional Republic also rested on allowing slavery, excluding women and dismissing Native Americans as savages. I am not implying that our founding fathers were necessarily racist, sexist or imperialist; they were people of their time, but as we have evolved (progressed) to a better understanding of civil, and human rights and the extended promise of freedom, that has precluded that the aspect of central government has necessarily evolved, as well. How can a nation predicated on freedom and equality (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) allow state to state applications of justice and fair governance? One state defines rights thusly and is at odds with another within the same nation? Our Constitution is a brilliant framework and such elasticity is not only inherent (Article 5), but vital to our survival.

Unknown said...

thank you both so much for your incredible opinions :)

Anonymous said...

Ohhh little Gary is a slippery duck.....

"How can a nation predicated on freedom and equality (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)"

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..... no mention of EQUALITY in the sentence or the document for that matter.

The D of Ind. merely claims that we are all equal in our creation i.e. in the eyes of God. It does not say anything about the Federal Government being responsible for creating equality beyond a legal sense and only in certain areas.... not in all circumstances.

Those powers delegated to the Fed are clearly expressed in the Constitution and as Mr. Gibbs points out..... all others are left to the state.

Anonymous said...

And what guarantees do we have the a monolithic Centralized Federal government will be just … we have seen the bickering of powerful politicians putting forth their own political agendas for self aggrandizement, power, and financial gain.