“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
The United States Constitution is recognized as a unique and perhaps miraculous document, but the debates and compromises that produced it have been forgotten. It is sometimes labeled as obsolete.
Is it? If not, why not?
“The Federalist Papers,” written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, are a compilation of 85 letters published while the public vote for approval of the Constitution was pending. These letters answered arguments about all parts of the draft Constitution and were critical to its subsequent approval by the citizens of the 13 states. Any citizen will gain respect for our governing principles by reading “The Federalist Papers,” available at a bookstore for $8.
The representatives of the states met for five months in 1787 to reach agreement on a draft to propose to all citizens. Their preparations were intense as they studied forms of government from the Hebrews departing Egypt, the Greeks, the Romans, to then-current European nations. They designed a new and unique form of government, a representative republic (found only twice in history).
Their second objective was to maintain as much state sovereignty as possible while establishing a national government. The primary fault of the Articles of Confederation was failure to provide minimum necessary powers to the national government; that was resolved in the Constitution by enumerating 17 distinct federal powers and delegating all other powers to the states or citizens.
Unfortunately, that section included an addition for implied powers that has, since 1933, been grossly abused. The federal government today recognizes no limit to its power.
Contrary to wishful thinking of some people, the Constitution is not obsolete. The Founders recognized human nature does not change with time and, believing liberty and personal responsibility are of primary importance to mankind, they limited federal government authority to the minimum level.
To paraphrase George Washington, government action requires force and for the government to assist anyone requires taking from someone else. Redistribution of wealth was developing in Europe, but the Founders stayed firm for personal responsibility and deliberately made no provision in the Constitution for government assistance to individuals. Their belief in personal responsibility was affirmed and, as expected, assistance to America’s needy was generously provided through churches and private charities.
A nation’s economic and social strength is built on maximum employment. For 150 years we avoided the hazard of government redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor while the Europeans were developing socialist policies. America’s economic strength and liberties were the beacons on the hill for immigration. Compare the French motto (liberty, equality, fraternity) to the American (life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness). Personal responsibility for pursuit of happiness (opportunity) sharply contrasts with redistribution of wealth for equality. Americans, with their sense of personal charity, are far more generous to charity organizations they see doing the most good.
America’s recent attempts at “social justice” (government assuming responsibility for equal outcome) have been no more successful than Europe’s. Trillions in the war on poverty have not changed our poverty level 1 percent since 1967, economic stimulus has primarily served to build massive debts for our grandchildren to pay, Social Security entitlements have not been adjusted for greater longevity of life, our world’s best health care is threatened with self-destruction, and a plan to increase homeownership destroyed life savings for millions – including many here in Solano County – while contributing significantly to the 2008 recession.
The Founders got it right. Limit the federal government’s reach over individual liberty and pursuit of happiness. Innovation and prosperity will follow. Do your elected representatives defend our liberties?
Earl Heal is a Vacaville resident and member of The Right Stuff Committee, a committee of the Solano County Republican Party. Reach him at [email protected]