by Neal Ross
Two hundred and forty five years ago a small percentage of citizens stood up against a superior force and declared their independence from the tyranny under which they lived. This revolution for independence spawned men such as Patrick Henry, who declared, “…give me liberty, or give me death.” These were men who realized the inherent danger in their actions and were willing to risk all for that most precious gift, liberty.
The successful war, and the ensuing Constitution, which created our republican form of government, gave these men that gift which they had been willing to risk all to obtain. Yet they realized that to hold on to that gift the people of this country must remain vigilant to prevent tyranny from again ruling the people of this land.
George Washington emphasized that point when he said, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly consideredâ€¦staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
On the very day that Congress had approved the Declaration of Independence, they also appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin to design a seal for the new country. Ben Franklin, along with the support of Thomas Jefferson, proposed the phrase “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
Although it was not approved by Congress, the sentiment is one that was felt widely among the patriots who fought for our nations independence, and brought forth our Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.” That issue is one that appears to have been settled, as we are no longer a nation in which the will of the people is upheld by those chosen to represent them.
From the earliest point in our nations history there has been a battle over the interpretation of that document which grants our government its very existence, the Constitution.
There were those such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who felt that the Constitution was to be strictly adhered to. Then there were those, chief among them Alexander Hamilton, who felt that the Constitution was to be loosely interpreted as the needs of the nation demanded.
Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” While James Madison elaborated that point further when he said, “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.”
On the other side of the argument, Alexander Hamilton is quoted as saying, “Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.”
That issue lies at the heart of all the problems that this country faces, what exactly is the purpose and scope of powers of our government? Forget about Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal. Those issues are insignificant unless you understand what is the true purpose of our government.
Thomas Jefferson described the function of government when he said, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government.”
If that be the case, what of the candidates who run for public office who we choose to vote for? Do the promises they make to garner your vote sound more like the one described by James Madison when he 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.”
One year before his death in 1826, and one hundred eighty three years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to William Branch Giles, “I see,… and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power… It is but too evident that the three ruling branches of [the Federal government] are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic.”
If Jefferson said that nearly two hundred years ago, imagine what he would say if he were to see our government as it exists today. Yet we the people of this country sit idly by and allow our government to violate their oath to uphold the Constitution when it was clearly stated by Jefferson, that “Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
When our apathy is so great that our government can violate the Constitution as it pleases, without fearing the populace there is tyranny. Or as Jefferson once stated, “[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights.” (emphasis added)
Therefore by our negligence in understanding the true function of our government, we are to be held liable for its unlimited growth and scope of powers. We have acquiesced and therefore surrendered our rights willingly, well some of us have anyway.
Even Alexander Hamilton would be astounded at how much our government has grown, and how far its power extends into areas that were not intended. Yet didnâ€™t even Hamilton once say, ” Ah, this is the constitution,” he said. “Now, mark my words. So long as we are a young and virtuous people, this instrument will bind us together in mutual interests, mutual welfare, and mutual happiness. But when we become old and corrupt, it will bind no longer.”
So, before you go to the polls in just under four months, take some time to think about what our government was established to do. Dig out a copy of the Constitution for yourself and read through it if you must. You may be unpleasantly surprised to see that our government no longer resembles that which was intended.
Or you could just go vote for the candidate of your choosing as you always do. If that is the case, remember one thing Gore Vidal once said, â€œIt makes no difference who you vote for-the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people.â€
Itâ€™s your choice, but I would like for you to ponder what Samuel Adams once said, â€œIf ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymenâ€