Distrust of Power

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
James Madison

For those unaware James Madison was the man who wrote our constitution. Back in the late 18th century the idea of writing a constitution down (England had an unwritten constitution) was novel. It is ironic, the way we look at our founding fathers, these peaceful men in white wigs who used words to conjure up a nation all in agreement of what was needed and how each of their words were to be immortalized. Alas I wish it were so, but even in 1787 our nation was hardly unified.

I won’t give you a full history lesson of the constitution today, though I may sprinkle in in bits and pieces throughout my blog, suffice it to say James Madison and the constitutional convention was a hotbed of merging political ideals. From James Madison, a follower of Jefferson’s Democratic ideals, to Alexander Hamilton a man who worked to give the federal government as much power as possible. Certainly there is a degree of unity in these men, having fought the revolution, and even Madison and Hamilton co-authored the federalist papers. In the end our Government was formed, a Democratic-Republic. You may here of the United States spreading democracy like young men with a brilliant idea that everyone should share, the irony is that The United States isn’t a pure democracy, nor was it meant to be.

Our constitution was written to both give, and restrict the power of the federal government. We know many of the basic powers given in the bill of rights, daily we hear freedom of speech, freedom of religion, we here about the right to own firearms. These are only a few of the abilities prescribed to the people within the constitution, of course many forget the tenth amendment: : The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Likewise in amendment nine it says: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” James Madison hadn’t thought it all necessary to include a bill of rights, after all isn’t the constitution itself a bill of rights?

But the anti-federalists (soon to be Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans) won out, and Madison wrote down those first ten amendments. So here we have passed the history lesson, and those of you still reading are wondering why I’m writing this, and why it’s been so long since I have even written a post. Here goes:

Our government was meant to protect us from the powers of parliament, and the rule of a king. James Madison thought it was pointless to say that we had rights not because they were not there, but instead because there are so many. Were it not for those first eight amendments, America would have surely become an autocratic power led not by a single man, but by a congress whose corruption would have given the vote only to their own body of government (see the Roman Republic). Sadly the next two amendments (9 and 10) are thoroughly ignored by our government. Certainly those in power can cite later amendments which are used to give the federal government the ability to do this thing or that thing.

So here’s the deal, here is my point; The Constitution was meant as a protection for the people from the States. Read that again, and understand. We needed protection from foreign powers, and that’s why a confederation failed, but our Democratic-Republic was given specific powers which were intended not for the legislature to restrict our ability (whether it is our ability to do drugs, to drink, or to read the communist manifesto) The federal government was meant as a watch dog to make sure the states didn’t infringe upon our rights. And when taken in that context, one can understand why the Bill of Rights was unnecessary. Likewise we can understand why Lincoln stopped the secession of the Southern Confederacy. If the Confederate States were allowed to secede, then the Federal government could not protect the citizens. (Slavery was a cause, but not the reason we fought the civil war)

I want you to think on our government, and what rights it has stripped from you, it may be able to cite standing cases or amendments which might be read to give the federal government more power but that was certainly not the intent. What would our society look like if the federal government followed its role of only ensuring that citizens’ rights are vouchsafed? And if the federal government is meant as protection against the states, what are states governments meant to do? (I believe protect our rights from encroachments upon each other)

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