Constitutions and Limiting Government
We are possessors of a will with which we choose the paths we want to follow and the things we desire to do. Our will enables us to govern ourselves correctly or incorrectly and we suffer the consequences of the decisions we make. Without a will we would not be capable of governing our beings. No one can touch or use our will, but us and only us. We always have the decisive call. If someone tried to control or manipulate us and attained to place a yoke of servitude upon our shoulders, this would be a guide for us to desperately desire freedom and be willing to do anything to obtain it. Once we acquired that long desired liberty, we would find the means of securing it to not allow someone else to have the absolute power to govern us ever again.
Just as we yearn for the freedom of our volition, the states, during the times of colonization, also sought independence. They wanted to be autonomous and self-governed. They had a need to feel the certainty in that their rights and liberties would be secure and enforced, but why?
The colonists found an opportunity and fled from the oppressive British government to the “New World”. When they arrived to the land, they established different colonies that would later become independent states. These states would all be ruled by different predictable norms and predictable laws that would constitute distinct predictable sanctions over the people. The states wished to have a government that functioned differently than the British government.
The British way of government had an unwritten constitution based on tradition. Having an unwritten constitution began to cause various problems between the colonies and the British government. Britain commenced to act with the colonies in manners that were not accompanying tradition. Those actions, however, were justified by the British in saying that they were constitutional if a group of men, known as Parliament, said they were. A tiny band of men is easy to influence and convince to fulfill the things that are favorable to one side or the other, but a group of states is not.
As exposed in Longing for Liberty, when there is a diversity of states that enforce separate policies, there exists competition between them. The people can flee from one state to the other if the first is becoming very suffocating in its policies. Therefore, the states have an incentive to govern and treat their citizens more righteously. That is the reason why the colonists fled to America. They wanted freedom and opportunities to prosper and follow a new way of life, one that would not be interfered by with government.
There was a necessity in the states to find the protection of the rights and liberties of the people. The Revolution was fought for this purpose. It was battled against an unpredictable and volatile constitution that had no written foundation and thus, no predictable continuity in its interpretation and tradition. Britain’s constitution was found in the mouths of a merely small number of living and breathing men that held the complete authority to rule over the country and the states as they pleased.
Those are the dangers of having a government where the power to make decisions has been centered in a few people. Governments already have a monopoly in the initiation of the application of force and with no restrictions to resist them, their power could and would be utterly endless. There must be borders between governments for them to fear the fleeing of those that provide their income through taxation, and persuade those outside their territory that they are least oppressive. This is why there were different states in the “New World”. However, those states, when obtaining their independence and having been victorious in the Revolution, they united. The unity gave birth to a written constitution that would establish the limits on the central government in telling them what they could or could not do and who would do it.
A hierarchical system of various authorities that delegated different tasks in society was protected by the new constitution. If an individual could not fulfill a task, he or she went to the family. If the family was not capable of resolving the mission, they went to the community. If the community could not delegate the job, they went to the city’s government. If the city’s government was not able to solve things, then they went to the state’s government. If the state’s government could not do something about it, they went with the central government. Finally, the central government could only accomplish the task if the states had agreed to it in the constitution. If the constitution’s articles did not mention the central government could do such things, then they amended the constitution, of course, with the permission of every state. This process ensured the freedom and autonomy of the states and protected the rights of every citizen in the United States.
In other words, the central government would not hold all power to make decisions. There would actually be flexibility in the enforcement of policies because the needs of every state were taken into account. If one state did not agree with the policy, it had the right to not obey it. In extreme cases, if the state did not coincide with every single norm, it could nullify all of them and separate from the union. Dividing political authority prevented the engagement of wicked policies that subjugated the people. Nothing that could be solved by an individual, family, etc. was delegated to the state or central government.
We do not find the same case in accordance to self-governed states and the respect of the written constitution, today. It is now declared that “it is unreasonable to confine ourselves strictly to the text of the Constitution. We should interpret the Constitution broadly to allow the Federal government to exercise powers we need it to exercise, even if they are not actually listed in the document. The Constitution is a ‘living and breathing’ document which changes along with the times. If we are going to perform something, let us explicate the Constitution, not by intending to understand its original signification, but by adapting it to the standards of the present.”
This is proclaimed as of 2014 and practically ignoring that if something was not written in the Constitution, because it was forgotten or whatever, you have the possibility of amending the document. Think about it, if you can construe something in which ever fashion you want, you will do so in a way that such interpretation favors you, or the side you support. Judges today have a monopoly to understand the Constitution by their own means, and favor the Federal government. Hence, judges in the Supreme Court will comprise the Constitution in ways that give tremendous power to the central government. Then people say, “Of course, Judges can only know what the Constitution signifies. How would you know what the Constitution was intended to mean?” And the normal answer is, “No one can really know, so… let’s do whatever we want.” People like these disregard the fact that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison said that the document can be comprehended using the State Ratifying Conventions.
Besides, if you must apply the Constitution to the changes of society, then you utilize the amendments to reflect the transformations. Some states might approve the amendment and others might not, but that is when people within the states that do or do not want the addition can go to those states that will or will not use it. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction (interpretation) which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction (interpretation).”
Nevertheless, that is what has occurred, it has indeed become, if not a blank paper, then one close to that reality. You do not find the Tenth amendment put into application any longer. It is Thomas Jefferson who called it the “cornerstone” of the Constitution for it safeguarded the liberty and autonomous government of the states. It reads, “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.” With this addition, the states were basically telling the central government that if they had failed to mention anything else in the document that the United states could not render, then the central government should not do that either unless the states allowed it to.
In those days the states chose very meticulously what powers the central government could and could not have. They had fought a revolution to not continue receiving a “living and breathing” constitution with volatile interpretation and violator of tradition, giving the government infinite power and unpredictability. The states wanted to sustain the power to nullify the things the Federal government was able to do and even withdrawal from the union, if necessary. We find historical cases when they used the power of nullification to not apply the government’s policies.
Before I expose the historical facts, I hope you have now known that the Constitution was not a contract between the states and the Federal government, but it was actually a compact between the states themselves. The Federal government was created by the compact and was not a party to it. The central or Federal government was the result of the agreement of the states in the compact. Therefore, being the result of the compact, the states could nullify the central government’s declarations, and even use secession. Secession is not like insurrection, for it does not necessarily involve violence.
When Thomas Jefferson became president, he made an embargo and many states nullified it. In the month of January of the year of 1809, the state of Massachusetts declared the embargo unconstitutional and did not comply. In the same year, in the month of February, Connecticut’s governor ordered state officials to not cooperate with it. Lastly, in the month of March, Rhode Island declared that its government would protect its people against the Federal government’s unconstitutional exercise of power and the official ban of trade was not carried out in the states.
This was a limited government, one that did not possess a monopoly in power and was absolutely controlled by the will of the states. Liberty was ensured, but we have slowly been losing it, allowing the Federal government to expand and interpret the Constitution as ‘living and breathing’. Construing in this way spits in the face of the patriots that fought and died during the Revolution to have a firm constitution that endowed freedom and secure rights to the people in the land. The free will of the citizens has little by little been obstructed. But remember, we always have the decisive call.