In 1944, at the height of World War II, Samuel Pettengill and Paul Bartholomew wrote a book titled For Americans Only. In it, they touched on many themes which maintain their relevancy today: the alarming degradation of economic freedom, the over-reaching actions of the federal government, its many unconstitutional programs set up by central planning and the out of control spending.
Their conclusion: the states needed to retake their authority from the federal government.
“The foundation of America’s greatness, the Constitution, its guarantees of liberty and its restraints on power, is being undermined,” they write. “This cannot remain the ‘home of the free’ unless it is still the ‘land of the brave.'”
Eerily prophetic, the writer’s warnings have been vindicated by our present crisis, but nevertheless offer us renewed hope in curbing the feds.
For example, their critique of excessive federal government spending through deficits could easily be applied our current budgetary predicament (emphasis added).
Not only does this new philosophy of public debt through deficit financing make all these invasions of state socialism possible; it makes us soft and tolerant toward the notorious waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government. Such is the habit-forming opiate purveyed by the addicts of political dope to a people betrayed by those they trust. Let us not borrow ourselves into dictatorship…The rule of politicians is: Hide the tax or borrow. Don’t let the people feel the cost of what we spend.
“We cannot save free enterprise, or freedom itself, in this country unless some time before it is too late, we compel our government to live within its means,” they concluded.
The two writers call attention to the dangers of having the feds bribe states with money to enforce their laws, as we’ve documented many times. They also attacked the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the interstate commerce clause in Wickard v. Filburn, the catastrophic results of which are evident today (emphasis added).
Meanwhile, the elaborate spending program moves along in high gear. States receive more and ever more “federal money” through grant-in aids; always, need it be said, with the proviso that state laws of a sort pleasing to Washington be enacted…The New Deals’ method is indirect and sly…armies travel on their stomachs, but governments travel on their pocketbooks. Take from the states their financial kingbolts and you destroy their independence…Not only are the states’ powers being whittled away by the use of federal money, but also a novel and startling interpretation of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution is being used to obliterate the states.
One way the feds might usurp the power of the states, they wrote, is by depriving them of tax revenue, then using that tax revenue to bribe the states (emphasis added).
There is still another danger in taxation. That is the matter of the survival of our states. The expansion of federal taxation is unquestionably “marching in” on state revenue sources. There is, after all, just so much money capable of being taken by taxation. As federal collections increase and approach the point of saturation, state tax strangulation must inevitably result. The income, gasoline, and inheritance tax fields have all fallen to the federal tax invasion….it has been discovered that in the guise of excise taxes, property can be taxed by taxing its transfer or its use. This device may well be employed on a grand scale in the not-so-distant future.
In the chapter “Powers not Delegated,” the authors provide the historical context in which the Constitution was written. Using the then-current national socialist regime in Germany, they explained why dictators hate states’ rights, preferring a strong centralized government with no limitations on its authority (emphasis added).
In the beginning, there was no federal government. There were only thirteen states or colonies….the people created a central government without prior existence and, of course, without prior powers. To this the states transferred certain powers which had previously belonged to them. Thus, the entire field of governmental powers, previously possessed in its entirety by each state in its own area was divided between the new federal government and the states, the former to have only those powers enumerated in the Constitutions, the states to retain all other powers. This basic principle was presumably settled once and for all by the Tenth Amendment to the United States.
…..Our forefathers were all too familiar with the dangers inherent in governmental power. That is why after setting up the machinery of government they immediately attached numerous brakes thereto, to prevent it from running away with itself; and that is why they carefully distributed the limited powers of the central government among the several branches, reserved all others to the states and to the people. Under that kind of government America grew, waxed strong, and weathered every storm.”
……As Jefferson understood a hundred and fifty years before either Hitler or the New Deal, despotism cannot flourish alongside self-governing communities. This prevents the concentration of power. Germany, when Hitler came to power, was a federal republic. Like our own, each German state had independent powers, states’ rights. Hitler saw that the first step to dictatorship was to take from the states their independent powers, then to eliminate them. Hitler’s method for eliminating them was direct. Within a month after the elections had given Hitler control of the Reichstag, states’ rights were being legislated out of existence.
In the chapter “The Constitution – Blueprint for Prosperity,” they highlight the key source of the problem; Americans’ profound lack of knowledge and/or understanding about how the Constitution and the role the states play; ironically, they note that this unawareness is in spite of high government spending in education (emphasis added).
Our present ignorance of the American Constitution is profound. We brag to ourselves that we spend more on our schools than all the rest of the world put together, yet only one American adult in four knows what the Bill of Rights is, only three in ten can tell the difference between free enterprise and national socialism, and less than one in two can even name one United States Senator from his state. While government is becoming increasingly important to us, we are becoming increasingly ignorant of it.”
Pettengill and Bartholomew then describe what a future America will look like if these issues are not addressed, an America which sounds unsettling familiar (emphasis added).
Who today has any real and abiding confidence in the future of America five years hence, to say nothing of fifty years from now, when men, now at the threshold of life, will become old?…..No one knows what the dollar will be worth, whether the budget will ever be brought to balance, whether any real effort to pay the principle of our debt will ever be made, whether honestly acquired property is to be free from tax confiscation, or business free government competition by our Socialists in power….under the new interpretations of the interstate commerce clause and general welfare, no business today is any more free from the decrees of distant government than the American colonists were when they revolted from the economic oppressions of George III.”
“Those who believe in the American way of life have been letting the battle for its survival go by default,” they write in the Appendix. “People vote as they think and feel. If they think wrong they will vote wrong. If they think the American system has failed and that communist, fascism, or National Socialism is a better alternative, the American system will perish.”
Reflecting on their observations, one might be inclined to be pessimistic about America’s future. After all, how many of the problems they discussed 70 years ago are just as present today as they were then? A great deal of the outcomes they predicted have passed into political reality.
Nevertheless, there is reason to be optimistic. Pettengill and Bartholomew did not live to see how nullification, just the stuff of history books in the 1940s, has allowed the states in recent years to retake their authority stolen by the feds. More and more of them are nullifying unconstitutional federal laws ranging from drugs and indefinite detention to warrantless surveillance and gun control – with the last one in particular, the feds have repeatedly been stymied in their repeated attempts to restrict our right to keep and bear arms, the fundamental right from which all rights are guaranteed.
Yes, throughout the years the feds have won many battles and in doing so eroded our rights, but at the same time liberty lovers have also secured vital victories. If they were unsuccessful in eradicating our civil liberties when ignorance about the Tenth Amendment was at its zenith, this should encourage us as more people rediscover the noble legacy of nullification throughout American history and its vital role in today’s struggle against tyranny.
“When gentlemen in Washington make no bones of setting about to plan our lives for us, then the right to speak out belongs to the ‘planee,’ quite as much as to the planner,” Pettengill and Bartholomew write.
Make no mistake: The war is not lost. It has only begun. With your help, we keep up the pressure on the feds, and in doing so continue the work of our political predecessors.
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