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Why Can’t We Change? February 7, 2014

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics, Politiocal Philosophy.
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Paths with no obstacles usually lead nowhere.

Among those who hallow the Constitution you will find no more loyal devotee to this document that helped continue the limited government established under the Article of Confederation.  There is no one who believes more passionately than the author of this article that the Constitution provided the space for the individual freedom, personal liberty, and economic opportunity needed to foster the growth of the greatest nation this world has ever seen

However, it is only necessary to read The Gilded Age by Mark Twain to see how corruption and greed, crony capitalism and lobbyists have been building their own kingdoms since before any of us were born.  And just as it doesn’t take a weather man to know which way the wind blows it doesn’t take a constitutional scholar to know at this time and in this place the Constitution has failed.

Look at the path America is on.  Do you think our current leaders or our current policies will lead to a renewing of America or to its slide into the second tier of nations?  Think about the directions laid out for us.

We are told by the Progressives who lead us that perpetual continuation of unemployment payments for the long-term unemployed is good for the economy and good for jobs.

If unemployment creates jobs and is good for the economy why don’t we just give it to everyone who doesn’t have a job in perpetuity, and make it a thousand dollars a week for good measure?

Increase the minimum wage to $10.10.  This will create jobs and help the economy.  Our leaders say there are just too many people laboring for the current starvation wage of $7.25. While according to CNN Money, “An estimated 3.6 million people were paid hourly rates at or below the federal minimum in 2012, down from 3.8 million a year earlier.  Just under 60% of all U.S. workers are paid hourly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An estimated 4.7% of those hourly workers make minimum wage or less, down from 5.2%, a year earlier. That share is the lowest since 2008.”  That’s quite a few people: 3.6 million, and obviously worthy of notice.

However when 16 million people had their healthcare plans cancelled due to Obamacare we were told this was an insignificant number.  As with everything connected to Obamacare the numbers of those who have lost insurance coverage as a result are sketchy.  Some sources say more than 4.2 million Americans have now seen their health insurance policies canceled due to the new regulations. And the President’s spokesman said that 14 million losing their healthcare is just a “small sliver” of the population.

We must increase food stamps.  This is the only humane thing to do since so many go to sleep hungry at night, and besides it will create jobs and it’s good for the economy.

If food stamps spur economic growth why not just give them to everyone and on a handy plastic card that works at marijuana stores and casinos.

We must have comprehensive immigration reform, the code words for amnesty because it will create jobs and it’s good for the economy besides the illegals have earned the right to be citizens. This comes not from some general in La Raza it comes from our own Secretary of Homeland Security.  If illegal immigrants have earned the right to be citizens why don’t we just dispense with borders and give citizenship to every undocumented democrat who can walk across the line.

Look at these continuing soap operas we find as our national policy.  These are transparent wealth transfers, give aways, and oxymoronic programs building bridges to nowhere.  All passed by the gerrymandered representatives of K Street that make up the perpetually re-elected representatives of our nation and lame excuses for leadership proposed by empty suits who have occupied the White House since Reagan went home to California.

What’s a patriot to do?  There is a remedy in the Constitution for the failure of the Constitution.  It is found in Article V which describes the amendment process. This provides two ways to amend the Constitution: either Congress initiates an amendment or the States can call for a Constitutional Convention to consider amendments.  The first method has resulted in 27 amendments.  The second method has never been used.

Many people fear a Constitutional Convention.  Many believe that it would open a can of worms and lead to the destruction of our limited government.  Our limited government has already been co-opted by the Progressives and turned into a Leviathan which is quickly devouring every limit and every freedom in its path.

What we have is not working, and it hasn’t worked for quite some time.  I believe Article V at least provides a method to attempt to return to limited government peacefully.  Let’s give peace a chance.  I believe that the principles of liberty can win in the marketplace of ideas.  Let us engage in a debate to save our present and the future of our children.  To continue the way we are going leads to a democratic totalitarianism of the majority.

If we could find the faith and the courage to call a Constitutional Convention for what should we advocate?

I propose we do as our ancestors the Framers of our Constitution did when they were called upon to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation.  I propose we write a completely new document.  Where do I get the chutzpa, the hubris to call for such an outcome?

By remembering why governments exist at all, “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  And never forgetting “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect (sic) their safety and happiness.”

Our system is broken and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put it back together again.  If we stay within the bounds of what has been done in the past what are we to do?  Propose a Balanced Budget Amendment or a Spending Restriction Amendment?  Or perhaps an amendment that says, “The Constitution means what it says not what judges interpret it to say” and then stand back while the Supreme Court interprets that to mean as one Chief Justice said, “The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means.”

If we continue to play the same game by the same rules we will lose the same hand because the deck is stacked.  This is when we need to remember: paths with no obstacles usually lead nowhere.

Let us be as bold and brave as our forefathers.  Let us propose fundamental change and roll the dice.  If you don’t swing the bat you don’t have a chance to hit the ball.  If we continue on the road we are traveling the only thing left to say is an attempt to explain how and why we let freedom slip from our grasp.

I believe that no one is as smart as everyone, so the ideas I am proposing I do not see as the beginning and end of debate.  I see them instead as a starting point.  Let’s join together, demand a hearing, and move forward in an attempt to reinstate limited government and preserve this last best hope of mankind.

First of all I stand for retaining the amendments with the exception of the 16th and 17th and enshrining them within the original document.

I propose eliminating the office of President and changing to a parliamentary style government based upon the majority in the House electing a Prime Minister who is head of government and head of State.  Elections for the House should continue on a two year basis.

I propose that we keep the Senate but that it reverts to its original intent as the representatives of the States and those Senators are once again elected by the legislatures of the States and serve at their pleasure.

I propose stronger guarantees for the States in a renewed Federalism: a true confederation similar to that of Switzerland.

I propose that since the scope of Federal jurisdiction will be severely restricted, the Federal Court System along with its power of judicial review be abolished.  The State court systems are well able to handle the civil and criminal cases brought within their boundaries.

I propose that the Supreme Court be abolished and replaced by a Constitutional Court similar to Germany’s.  This court would be physically removed from the capital, and it shall have no jurisdiction beyond Judicial Review having the power to declare laws and actions of the Federal Government unconstitutional.  The Congress shall have the power to override these rulings by a three quarter majority in both houses.  Judges shall serve four year terms with only two terms allowed.

I know that these proposals will make some people very upset.  I know these proposals will make some quit reading this History of the Future.  I also know that is we do not do something to break the log jam the river will not flow free.

Yes, there are what seem to be insurmountable obstacles to change.  I know these obstacles are daunting, and they will not be overcome by the timid.  However, paths with no obstacles usually lead nowhere, and if what we have is no longer working, why can’t we change.

Keep the Faith.  Keep the peace.  We shall overcome.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2014 Contact Dr. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

 

Are the States Out of Date? July 5, 2013

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The people of the founding generation did not think of Americans as Americans. They did not see them as one people but instead as citizens of the various states. Even as late as the Civil War, people such as Robert E. Lee, who disagreed with secession and wanted a united United States, left because his State seceded and not because he suddenly wanted Virginia to be another country. Another example of the feelings of many in the founding generation was the fact that the term “We the People of the United States” that opens the  preamble to the Constitution caused great controversy during the ratification debates. It was pointed out as a blatant attempt to make the States irrelevant.

The Constitution was meant to improve the federation of the various States as created under the Articles of Confederation. It was not meant to create anything new. This was stressed over and over by the supporters of the Constitution in the ratification debates. The Framers voted by State, and, though some of the Framers wouldn’t sign the completed document, since it was adopted by all the States it was called unanimous. The ratification votes of the various conventions voted by state not as individuals. As provided in the original document the members of the Senate were not elected by the people at large. They were instead selected by the State legislatures. The house was designed to represent the people, and the Senate was designed to represent the States.

The Constitution never would have been ratified without this provision designed to protect the States from losing their integrity as sovereign republics which had voluntarily joined together. This was essential and this was generally understood.

So when was our social contract revised? How can a contract be unilaterally revised?

When did we agree to surrender our liberty in exchange for security? When did we agree to move from a voluntary federal republic to a centrally-planned democracy? When did our freedom from warrantless searches morph into 360° surveillance? When and how were the guarantees found in the Bill of Rights turned inside out and upside down?

The scariest thing I see about all this as I travel around the country is not that our totalitarian wanabes will use any excuse and any subterfuge to undermine limited government for the benefit of their power and their crony capitalist’s profit. No, that doesn’t scare me or surprise me at all. What catches my attention is that as I speak to more and more people about this creeping corporatism the majority of them say things like, “I’m glad the government is watching out for terrorists” or “If you’re not saying or doing anything wrong why should you care if the government listens in?”

Not only have Americans been dumbed down to the point where the majority of college freshmen need remedial studies, but these descendants of the pioneers have lost sight of the American Dream. Asked “What is the American dream?” most citizens today will recite the pabulum spooned out by the Federal Reserve Bubble Machine, the political hacks who gave them power, and the Wall Street Casino that profits by the game: “The American Dream is to own your own Home.”

That is not the American Dream! The American dream is limited government, personal liberty, and economic opportunity.

At what point do unilateral changes to a contract render it null and void?

I have long said, it will still be called the United States of America. The stars and stripes will still wave, there will still be elections, and we will still hear that this is the freest most prosperous nation on earth as our freedom slips away and our opportunities shrink.

During the ratification debates it became clear that the Constitution would not be ratified unless there was a promise that the first order of business for the new government was going to be to amend the document to state some things that a majority of people thought were missing. The promise was made and the first ten amendments were added. Today we call this our Bill of Rights. While some people can recite all of them and many more can recite a few almost every American knows they exist. The Bill of Rights has a treasured place in the American heart.

Few if any know what was said in the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, which is neither mentioned nor studied today. This sets out their purpose and is enlightening as a starting off point for understanding what they are and what we are losing.

“THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution” (emphasis added). The Bill of Rights was added in order to prevent misconstruction, or the words of the document, or abuse of its power by the government to be established under the Constitution. This could not be possible unless the words of these amendments were supposed to mean what they say, not what black-robed partisans can interpret them to say.

The Bill of Rights were not written nor adopted in their order of precedence. The number one amendment requested by the States was set as the 10th or capstone. “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.” In other words, above all the citizens of the various States were concerned most that the central government not run rough shod over the States which were the home republics closest to and controlled by the people. They feared that the central government would become a Leviathan, crushing dissent and smothering freedom.

And they never heard of the IRS, the NSA, or the EPA. They never imagined an unelected, appointed for life Supreme Court that would cancel amendments to State constitutions that were legally adopted according to the processes within those constitutions. Not since they had overthrown King George had they lived under the suffocating tyranny of a Patriot Act or rule by decree such as executive orders.

According to the amendment  process in the Constitution, the States can offer amendments to the Constitution by calling for a convention to propose such amendments. Many people are afraid of a convention believing that those who advocate for a limited government, personal liberty, and economic freedom could not carry the day and the Constitution would be altered in a negative way.

It is time to admit to ourselves that the progressives have been and are changing their “Living Document” every day in countless ways: executive orders, regulations (from the EPA for example) and legislation (the 4th Amendment bending Patriot Act for example). We must face the fact the dam has broken and the foxes are guarding the hen house. The ship has sailed and the fix is in. We need a reset button before we slide completely into the abyss of totalitarianism. The flag will still fly, the national anthem still play, yet the land of the free and the home of the brave will be fundamentally transformed into a centrally-planned, regimented, surveillance state.

Once the scales have fallen from our eyes and we see that just because they call themselves liberals, people who want to control every aspect of every one’s lives are no more liberal than any of the other statists who have sought total control to impose their idea of utopia on anyone at any time in any place.

What we need is an American Spring. We need Americans to act like Americans and demand the freedom that is their birthright. Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose. We the People who believe in limited government, personal liberty and economic freedom have got to unite or we might end up joining a worldwide chorus singing, “And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’ your prison is walking through this world all alone.”

The center no longer holds. We must all work to influence our States, our home republics, to reign in the runaway Washington-centered bureaucracy machine before we are strangled in the red tape and buried in regulations.

The States must prove their relevance or perhaps the States are out of date.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

Is the Necessary and Proper Clause either Necessary or Proper? May 30, 2013

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I want to begin by saying that I believe the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights included, comprise the most enlightened, ennobling, and beneficial documents ever penned by the hand of man. I also believe that the Constitution afforded the United States the greatest level of freedom and opportunity ever experienced by humanity. This freedom and opportunity in turn released the talents and abilities of the American people to build the greatest nation ever to exist, rising from thirteen states exhausted and impoverished from years of war into a prosperous and powerful nation which by the end of the twentieth century stood upon the world stage as the uncontested sole superpower.

Simplicity is the essence of genius while over-simplification is the essence of fraud. In a picture perfect example of the truism “The victors write history” what we have been taught concerning the writing and ratification of the Constitution is actually a politically slanted version of the truth. This highly patrician account is also an example of over-simplification.

We are taught that the Articles of Confederation were an abject failure because they were too weak. Shay’s Rebellion scared the venerable leaders who had led and won the Revolution. George Washington and Co. came back from retirement to once again save the nation writing an “almost” divinely inspired document. There was only token dissent to the immediate acceptance of this tablet from the mount by some shadowy unknown people collectively called the “Anti-Federalists.” However after some well-written articles by future leaders called the Federalists, We the People overwhelmingly voted for ratification and the Constitution immediately ushered in the blessings of liberty and opportunity for all rescuing the United States from anarchy and stagnation. Amen.

This is a thumb-nail sketch of what our thumb-nail sketch type history education once delivered as gospel in American public schools. Today, those lucky enough to live in a school district that still includes American History are instead treated to the progressive’s litany of American crimes and debauchery. However, as our constitutionally limited government exceeds all previous limits, is either of these offerings good enough? Americans from all walks of life watch in stunned disbelief as the Federal Government on steroids swallows the economy, health care, the financial system, major manufacturing, the insurance industry, and anything else that doesn’t move fast enough to get out of the way. Can the States themselves be far behind?

How did this come about? How did a government born in the shackles provided by a written constitution designed to limit its power swell into the all-powerful OZ?

Quite simply it was through the deception of the Progressives evolving our Constitution from a rock-solid framework limited to what it actually said to a living document that is constantly being re-interpreted. Thus without amendment, without debate, without a vote our leaders have nudged us from land of liberty to the centrally-planned surveillance state which today sends the IRS after their enemies, leaves our borders open, our opportunities closed, and our sons and daughters manning hundreds of garrisons around the world.

One of the key tools in this century long quest to transform America has been the use of the so-called elastic clauses in the Constitution. One major clause used to accomplish this is found in Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 which states, “The Congress shall have Power To …make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

There are several ways to look at this clause and its meaning. First we need to look at what is called “Original Intent,” or what those who wrote the clause meant. Then we will look at what those who ratified the Constitution thought it meant. Finally we will look at how the Progressives interpret and re-interpret their favorite clause.

The necessary and proper clause was added to the Constitution by the Committee of Detail with no debate. Nor was it the subject of any debate during the remainder of the Convention. The reason why this clause was neither attacked nor defended during the Convention becomes clear from the statements of the Framers during the ratification process. James Wilson, one of the most eloquent defenders of the Constitution, a signer of the Constitution, and one of the first justices of the Supreme Court, said that this clause gave the federal government no more or other powers than those already enumerated in Section 8 of Article I and that “It is saying no more than that the powers we have already particularly given, shall be effectually carried into execution.” The Framers felt as if the clause was merely saying that which had been delegated could be used.

During the ratification debates this clause was a hot topic. Brutus proclaimed that through the Necessary and Proper Clause “This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends…” the debate raged back and forth between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in newspapers, pamphlets, and on the floor of the ratification conventions. Eventually the Federalists won the day and the Constitution was ratified. The result? The interpretation of this clause that was generally accepted by the ratification conventions was that it added no new or expandable powers to the federal government.

Since the New Deal era, Progressives have argued that the Necessary and Proper Clause expands the powers of the federal government to any it deems necessary and proper. In other words the federal government has all the power necessary to do whatever they want about anything they want. The executive department has been using this clause to grab power since Hamilton used it to found the First bank of the United States in 1791. The Supreme Court has been stretching this clause since they ruled in Mcculloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819) to give themselves the power of judicial review. This expansionist interpretation has been upheld by the Supreme Court on numerous occasions and is today the accepted opinion amongst the political-media-corporate establishment.

It is my belief that if we have a better understanding of where we came from and how we got here that we would have a better understanding of where we are. If we understand where we are perhaps we will see the way to get back to where we wanted to go when we started: back to a limited government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Knowing how a simple clause meant to say that what had been delegated could be used has evolved into near totalitarian power shows us that just as the present use of the Necessary and Proper Clause is neither necessary nor proper.  And thus a government of the people, for the people and by the people has been hijacked and become something else.

No matter what we have been taught, no matter even what the reality was the reality is that the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation as the supreme law of the land. The announced purpose of the Constitution’s writing and adoption was to provide a limited government which respected both the rights of the States and the people. Since this was the stated and accepted purpose of the Constitution after two centuries and several decades can We the People deny any longer that it has failed?

Failing and failure are two different things. Everyone who has ever succeeded has failed. It is falling forward from that failure which ultimately brings success. If the Constitution has failed what do we do now? Where’s the reset button.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens

 

 

Where Did This Debt Come From Anyhow? September 23, 2011

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Have you ever wondered where the National Debt came from?  Do you wonder who started it?  Do you ask yourself is the National Debt constitutional? I believe that a lack of Historical knowledge and context is a major contributing factor in our current state of political deterioration.  Unless we know where we came from we cannot truly appreciate where we are and we have no point of reference to guide us to where we want to go.

The National Debt didn’t start under Barak Obama or George Bush.  It didn’t start under FDR or Wilson or Lincoln.  So where did it come from and when did it start?

The National Debt and the economic outlook inherent in its creation have not only been with us since the beginning it was one of the most powerful arguments for the ratification of the Constitution.  I may have just lost many of the recently awakened.  I most assuredly lost those who worship the Constitution as American Scripture and the Framers as demigods who brought the tablets down from on high.

Don’t misunderstand the intent of the following article.  It is not to malign the Constitution.  I believe it is the greatest political document to come from the hand of man.  I have spent a life time testifying to its importance and working to educate people as to its continued relevance.  However I also believe we need to know the History of its development, ratification and the continuing saga of its effectiveness.  If we don’t learn from History we will be forced to learn from our own mistakes.  It’s always less painful to learn from the mistakes of others.

At the turn of the twentieth century Historian Charles Beard published An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States and set off a debate that still rages around the idea that the Constitution was a the product of a conflict between competing economic interests.  The argument goes like this: the Founders, who supported a strong, centralized government and favored the Constitution during its drafting and ratification, were men whose primary economic interests were marked by extensive personal property. They consisted primarily of people involved in commerce such as merchants, shippers, bankers, speculators, private and public securities holders, southern planters and all they could influence. Those who opposed the ratification of the Constitution were supporters of a decentralized government such as already existed under the Articles of Confederation.  These were people whose economic interests were connected to real estate.  They consisted primarily of isolated, subsistence non-commercial farmers and laborers, people who were often also debtors, and the people they could influence.  This article fits into that debate.

Building within the above outlined framework, although James Madison is generally called the Father of the Constitution when it comes to economic concerns I believe the title should belong to Alexander Hamilton.

When the Annapolis Convention which was called in September, 1786  to deal with economic concerns failed to attract enough state delegations for a quorum Hamilton requested permission from the Congress of the Confederation to call another convention in Philadelphia for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation.  Once they closed the doors though they had no authority. The delegates from the twelve states attending wrote a new constitution. Then ignoring the provision of the Articles which required unanimous consent to alter the nature of the American government the Framers sent the Constitution out to be ratified by special ratification conventions by-passing the State legislatures.

Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies.  By the time he was fifteen his father was bankrupt.  At sixteen he moved to New York and went to work in an accountant’s office.  He was a self-made man who put himself through Columbia University and personally raised artillery regiments for the Revolution.  He spent most of the war as Washington’s top aide.  Hamilton had a desire to create a central government both politically and financially strong.

Once the Constitution was ratified and Washington elected as the first president he chose Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury.  Hamilton hit the ground running.  He soon submitted three ground-breaking reports to Congress, one of which impacts the present discussion.

His Report on Public Credit caused controversy because of its social and financial implications.  During the Revolution the Confederation and the individual States had run up large debts to both foreign and domestic individuals.  Hamilton proposed that the Federal Government assume all the war debt of the states which helped the measure gain approval in Congress.  These debts had devalued in worth due to the inflation.  As the debts lost their value they were bought up by speculators at a fraction of their face value.  Hamilton proposed to redeem them at their original value giving tremendous profits to the speculators, many of whom were prominent in Congress and State governments.  The new national government was short on cash, so Hamilton proposed to pay the war debt by issuing interest-bearing bonds, and thus the national debt was born at the dawn of the Republic.  It has existed ever since.  It has never been paid down to zero and it never will be.

Is the national debt constitutional?  Yes, in two ways.  Article VI among other things states, “All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.”  And because the 14th Amendment states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”  So the Constitution both in its original form and as amended both validates the debt and takes the question of its legality off the table.

Over the hundreds of years since its inception our nation has continuously had a National Debt.  Every President has faced it when they took office and every president has left it for their successor.  Some have reduced it, most have increased it.  At times it has contributed to our strength and stability.  At first by helping to establish the credit of the United States and then by proving the trustworthiness of our government, no one ever doubted redemption.  Today the National Debt soars beyond the perceived ability to redeem.  It races ahead at an average rate of $3.93 billion per day which is $163,750,000 dollars per hour, $2,729,166,666 per minute and, $45,486 per second.  We all know from our personal finances debt in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.  We also know unsustainable debt is.  No one can afford to spend more than they make forever.  Unless of course they have their own printing press then they can do it until no one will accept the paper any more.  Then they will do something else.

Stand by for something else.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College.  He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com View the trailer for Dr. Owens’ latest book @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ypkoS0gGn8 © 2011 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens.

 

The Ratification Debate Part Three July 17, 2011

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Concluding my three part series in celebration of our nation’s 235th Birthday, we will look at arguments advanced by both sides.  Last week we ended with the question, who were the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists and why does it matter to us today?  This week we will learn the answers to the questions.  Who was debating?  What did they have to say?  Who won?  And, why does it matter to us today?

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers are a collection of eighty five essays published in New York newspapers.  They outline how the government, as proposed in the Constitution, would operate and why this highly centralized type of government was the best for the United States of America. All of the essays were signed by “PUBLIUS.” To this day there is some dispute as to who authored some of the articles.  However, after much study the consensus is generally believed that Alexander Hamilton wrote fifty two, James Madison wrote twenty eight, and John Jay wrote five.

Just as in every state, the debate over the ratification of the Constitution was intensely followed by the public in New York. Immediately after the conclusion of the Convention, the Constitution came under intense criticism in many New York newspapers. Echoing the sentiments of several of the prominent men who had been delegates to the Convention some contributors to the newspapers said the Constitution diluted the rights Americans had fought for and won in the recent Revolutionary War.

As one of the leading designers and loudest proponents of the Constitution Alexander Hamilton worried that the document might fail to be ratified in his home state of New York.   Therefore, Hamilton, a well trained and well spoken lawyer, decided to write a series of essays refuting the critics and pointing out how the new Constitution would in fact benefit Americans.  In the Convention Hamilton had been the only New York delegate to sign the Constitution after the other New Yorkers walked out of the Convention, because they felt the document being crafted was injurious to the rights of the people.

Hamilton was in favor of a strong central government having proposed to the Convention a president elected for life that had the power to appoint state governors. Although these autocratic ideas were thankfully left out of the finished document Hamilton knew that the Constitution, as written, was much closer to the kind of government he wanted than the one which then existed under the Articles of Confederation..

Hamilton’s first essay was published October 27, 1787 in the New York Independent Journal signed by “Publius.” At that time the use of pen names was a common practice. Hamilton then recruited James Madison and John Jay to contribute essays that also used the pen name “Publius.”

James Madison, as a delegate from Virginia, took an active role participating as one of the main actors in the debates during the Convention.  In addition he also kept the most detailed set of notes and personally drafted much of the Constitution.

John Jay of New York had not attended the Convention.  He was a well known judge and diplomat.  He was in fact a member of the government under the Articles currently serving as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

“Publius” wrote All eighty five essays that were written and published between October 1787 and August 1788, in newspapers of the state of New York.  But their popularity, readership, and impact were not limited to New York. They were in such great demand that they were soon published in a two volume set.

The Federalist essays, also known as the Federalist Papers, have served two distinct purposes in American history.  Primarily the essays helped persuade the delegates to the New York Ratification Convention to vote for the Constitution.  In later years, The Federalist Papers have helped scholars and other interested people understand what the writers and original supporters of the Constitution sought to establish when they initially drafted and campaigned for ratification.

Knowing that the Federalist Papers were written by such luminaries as Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury; James Madison, the fourth President of the United States; and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the question asked is, who were these Anti-Federalists who dared speak against the founding of the greatest nation that has ever existed:  Some fringe people who didn’t want the blessing of truth, justice, and the American way?!

The Anti-Federalist Papers

The list of Anti-Federalist leaders included: George Mason, Edmund Randolph, Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and even though he was not in the country at the time, Thomas Jefferson.

There is one major difference between the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers: the former are compact and relatively unified the latter are not really a single series of articles written by a united group with a single purpose as the Federalist Papers were. Instead there were many different authors and they were published all over the country in pamphlets and flyers as well as in newspapers.  Among the many the most important are: John DeWitt- Essays I-III, The Federal Farmer- Letters I and II, Brutus Essays I-XVI, Cato, Letters V and VII.

The first of the Anti-federalist essays was published on October 5, 1787 in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer.  This was followed by many more published throughout the country which charged that any new government formed under the auspices of the Constitution would:

  • Be injurious to the people because it lacked of a bill of rights.
  • Discriminate against the South with regard to navigation legislation.
  • Give the central government the power to levy direct taxation.
  • Lead to the loss of state sovereignty.
  • Represent aristocratic politicians bent on promoting the interests of their own class

The Federalists had the momentum from the beginning.  They were wise enough to appropriate the name Federalist, since federalism was a popular and well understood concept among the general public even though their position was the opposite of what the name implied.  They also had the support of most of the major newspapers and a majority of the leading men of wealth if not of all the original revolutionary patriots.  They also used a tactic of trying to rush the process as much as possible calling for conventions and votes with all dispatch.  And in the end these tactics combined with the great persuasion of the Federalist Letters and the prestige of General Washington carried the day. The Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788.

Although the anti-Federalists lost their struggle against the ratification of the Constitution their spirited defense of individual rights, personal liberty, and their deep-rooted suspicion of a central governmental power became and remain at the core American political values.  Their insistence upon the absolute necessity of the promise of enumerated rights as a prerequisite for ratification established the Bill of Rights as the lasting memorial to their work.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College.  He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com View the trailer for Dr. Owens’ latest book @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ypkoS0gGn8 © 2011 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook.

 

The Ratification Debate Part Two July 8, 2011

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Picking up where I left off in my review of the ratification debate I want to address the question I raised at the end of last week’s essay,What was the problem?”

If the government as established under the Articles had so many successes how did it end up being replaced by the government as established under the Constitution?

There were some perceived and actual weaknesses of the government as established under the Articles of Confederation:

  • The national government was too weak as compared to the State governments.
  • There was only a unicameral legislature and thus there was not a separate executive department to carry out and enforce the acts of Congress.
  •  There was no national court system to interpret the meaning of the laws passed by Congress leaving them open to differing interpretations.
  • .Congress didn’t have the power to levy taxes. It was instead dependent on State donations, which were levied on the basis of the value of land within the various states.
  • Congress did not have the exclusive right to coin money. Each state retained the right to coin money.  Without a uniform monetary system the coins of one state might not be accepted in another, hampering commerce.
  • There was no mechanism to adjudicate disputes between the states.
  • The Individual States were not precluded from having their own foreign policies including the right to make treaties.
  • Each State had one vote in Congress with no respect to size or population.
  • It required nine out of the thirteen states to approve the passage of major laws, approve treaties, or declare war.
  • The amendment process was cumbersome requiring a unanimous vote.

Some of these weaknesses caused actual problems during the Articles short tenure, and some were merely perceived as possible sources of problems in the future.

So how did we get from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution?

It was commerce that proved to be the catalyst for the transition between the Articles and the Constitution.

Disputes concerning navigation on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia led the calling of a conference between five states at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786.  Alexander Hamilton was one of the delegates.  He successfully convinced the delegates that these issues of commerce were too intertwined with primarily economic and political concerns to be properly addressed by representatives of only five states.  Instead he proposed that all of the states send representatives to a Federal Convention the following year in Philadelphia.  At first Congress was opposed to this plan However, when they learned that Virginia would send George Washington they approved of the meeting.  Elections of delegates were subsequently held in all of the States except Rhode Island which ignored the summons.

The Convention had been authorized by Congress merely to draft proposals for amendments to the Articles of Confederation.  However, as soon as it convened they decided on their own to throw the Articles aside and instead create a completely new form of government.

Was the writing of the Constitution legal?  Who gave the Federal Convention authority to discard the Articles of Confederation which had been duly ratified by all thirteen States?  Was this a counterrevolution?

The answers to these questions have been debated by historians and constitutional scholars for hundreds of years, but in reality the answers are moot.  Whether the Federal Convention had any legal sanction to do what they did doesn’t matter. The action was eventually accepted by the Congress, the ratification conventions were held in the various States, and eventually it was ratified becoming the supreme law of the land.

Now we are ready to look at the Great Debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

First, what about the terms, “Federalist” and “Anti-Federalist” how appropriate were they during the debate?

New Speak is nothing new in politics, and the concept of words having power to shape reality was not invented by George Orwell.  Look at the original debate of the ratification of the Constitution, and as a consequence how we have studied, learned, and even shaped the debate in this lecture concerning the ratification of the Constitution.

Think about the central term itself. Federalism refers to decentralized government. Those who supported the Constitution, who advocated that it replace the Articles of Confederation, which if nothing else established a decentralized system of government, called themselves “Federalists,” even though they wanted a more centralized government.  This left the supporters of the Articles, who wanted a decentralized government, to be known then and forever as the “Anti-Federalists,” when in fact they were the true Federalists.

So much for the straight forward clarity of Historical fact, everything must be examined and everything interpreted.

In the study of the debate for the ratification of the Constitution a common mistake made is the shallowness of the study.  In a good school the average student will be exposed to perhaps two of the Federalist Letters and none of the Anti-Federalist Letters, which is like trying to understand an answer without knowing what the question was.  In this abbreviated look at the subject we will look at both sides in general seeking instead an overview of the topic leaving the specifics to a personal study, which will without a doubt enrich the understanding of any who find the motivation for such an endeavor.

The Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers were actually published as newspaper articles for the general public.  This in itself tells us much about the comparative state of public education and awareness between the American general public in the late Eighteenth Century and the early Twenty-first.  When we examine the two sets of papers and dwell upon the vocabulary and the breadth and depth of the philosophical, political, and economical ideas expressed we are immediately struck by the fact that the average person in America today would not be able to understand the sophisticated and specialized vocabulary let alone grasp the ideas.  And yet these were not published in journals for the educated elite. These were published in general circulation newspapers and were actually debated and referenced across the dinner tables and around the workshops of America.

Next week we will look deeper into these two sets of documents that have had such a profound effect upon America and find out exactly who the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists were and why does it matter to us today?

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College.  He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com View the trailer for Dr. Owens’ latest book @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ypkoS0gGn8 © 2011 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook.

The Unlimited Blessings of Limited Government June 20, 2010

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The battles were over and the war won now the hardest task of all: how to secure the rights fought for while providing a government strong enough to endure.  The Framers gathered in Philadelphia for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation.  Within days they decided instead to frame a new government launching an experiment in centralized but limited government.

That they believed the people to be the source of legitimate authority is exposed in the Preamble which begins, “We the People.”  They based this belief upon the Enlightenment concept of Natural Law, that God endowed men with unalienable rights.  Many people in Western Civilization believed in Natural Law realizing that these rights, though endowed by the Creator as inherent prerogatives, would not continue to exist in organized society unless protected by limitations on government power.  The Framers believed Natural Law not only conferred rights it also established limits to the scope of government and man-made law.  In their mind no legitimate law violated the possession and enjoyment of the rights of man.  In declaring independence our ancestors proclaimed their purpose as assuming the station, “to which the laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them.”

Knowing all this was one thing, but devising a manner in which not only authority but also power could be conceded from society in general to a government which by the nature of organization consists of a much smaller number was quite another.  How was this power to be limited?  How were the rights of all to be protected from the power of the few?  What was to stop the concentration of power into the hands of factions combined for their own benefit?  How to provide a government with sufficient authority and power to ensure the security and order necessary for everyone to enjoy their natural rights, and yet restrained enough to allow them to do so?  This was the problem which confronted those locked in Independence Hall in 1787 devising a government strong enough to do good, yet limited enough to do no harm.

The concept of a written Constitution was the first step.  England had no written constitution.  It was ruled by tradition and precedent.  After the Revolution the Framers knew traditions and precedents can change.  So they looked to a written Constitution to provide a framework and guide for the new government, thus setting boundaries and establishing them for all to see.  They provided a means for change in the amendment process, but they made it difficult and cumbersome so that change would not be easy or readily accessible to the whim of a moment or the rulers of the day.

Beyond this primary recourse to a lasting written code the Framers sought to employ two vehicles for the limitation of government; a federal system wherein power is divided between the parts and the whole, and representation through which the voice of the people would speak.  To accomplish these twin goals the States retain their sovereignty and provide a legislature made up of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The House of Representatives was and still is popularly elected by all eligible voters.  Every two years these closest of all national leaders return to the people for affirmation and a renewed mandate.  And the Senate, which was originally elected by the states through their legislatures who were all at least partially elected by the public thus, ensuring both: more input from the people and the federal nature of the government. The President and Vice President were and still are indirectly elected by the members of the Electoral College, which are chosen in accordance with procedures designated by the individual states, thus once again enhancing the federal nature of the government.  The President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, chooses the judges of the Federal Courts.

This system, which we’ve come to call checks and balances, provides that no law can be enacted without a majority vote by representatives elected directly by the people, representatives chosen by the States and signed by the President, whose election is a result of a combination of the people and the States.  Thus the authority of the people is employed, the voice of the people is heard, yet the indirect manner in which it is applied and the muted manner in which it is heard seeks to ensure a government insulated from the volatile passions of the day.

What the Framers sought was a government of reason. The Enlightenment thinkers believed through the use of reason people discover natural rights and natural law.  They also believed reason is the source of a government capable of protecting those rights by enforcing that law.  To this end they created a federal system to diffuse power and a representative republic to provide a voice for the people safeguarded from the emotions of the moment.  They hoped that reasonable people working within a federal government divided between branches and surrounded by a written constitution would ensure the authority of the many would pass through the hands of the few for the blessings of all. At least that was the hope.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System.  http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens dr.owens@comcast.net

What Is Sovereignty and Who Has It May 16, 2010

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Sovereignty is accepted as absolute uncontested authority. This definition of the concept of sovereignty emerged along with the nation-state. The nation-state hasn’t always existed. Everyone tends to see the circumstances of their own times as the static normality of history. And contrary to the endless lectures of History teachers tied to politically correct text books and standardized tests, History is not static it’s dynamic, it changes every day. The concept of the nation-state emerged in the sixteenth century evolving from countries as the private property of monarchs, and however hard to envision the nation-state will someday be replaced by something else.
If that’s what sovereignty is who has it? In England it’s vested in Parliament. In China it’s vested in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. But in America sovereignty isn’t vested in any one place, which means there really isn’t any. No sovereignty? How can that be? Since sovereignty is an absolute, it either exists or it doesn’t and it’s a misapplied concept when striving to understand the American government.
This does not mean that the United States is not a sovereign nation. The Federal Government represents the United Sates on the world stage. To the other countries of the world the Federal Government is the sovereign power with which they must deal. However, domestically we face a different situation. In some areas the Federal Government is sovereign, in some areas the States are sovereign, and in some areas the people are sovereign. Since sovereignty by definition is an absolutist concept and not one of degrees, either something is sovereign or it is not. In the United States there is no one legitimate source or center of sovereignty. The revolutionary theory the Framers advanced into practice is that several centers of power prevents the formation of an authority vortex swallowing all legitimate authority and paralyzing decision making, thus establishing the world’s first viable system of disassociated sovereignty.
Under the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the Constitution as the foundational document and framework of organization of the United States, stated categorically in Article II, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” Nowhere in the Constitution is this retention of inherent sovereignty surrendered. The so-called sovereignty clause found in Article Six of the Constitution obviously gives precedence to the laws and treaties made by the Federal government it does not however expressly say anywhere in the document that the States surrendered or forfeited their inherent sovereignty. If it had it never would’ve been ratified. As expressly stated in the 10th Amendment neither the States nor the people surrendered their sovereignty to the Federal Government they delegated it. There is a difference between these two actions. To surrender is to give entirely and irrevocably to another while delegation is a temporary action based upon continued agreement between the parties involved.
Another strong argument can be made that since all governments are the products of a social contract between those who govern and those governed sovereignty ultimately resides in the people and governments are therefore merely agents of the people’s will. According to this line of thought all governments wield delegated powers and can have no more power in and of themselves than the moon has light without the sun.
Amendment is the only legitimate process for change under the Constitution. If the design calls for a decentralized diffused sovereignty in an asymmetrical system how was change achieved from that to the current system of highly centralized power and control? Was it by amendment or practice? Is it possible for an illegitimate practice to become a legitimate tradition? Is it possible for an illegitimate tradition to set a legitimate precedent?
All of these historically based academic discussions aside and for all intents and purposes the argument about who is sovereign was forever settled by Abraham Lincoln. When the South attempted to succeed, an action not prohibited by the Constitution they were beat back into submission to the Federal Government. Debate over. Question answered. The Federal Government is supreme. However, though this is the reality of our circumstance since the Civil War this is a reality imposed through the use of military force not to be confounded with the original condition based upon the voluntary agreement between the people, the states and the national government in Constitution.
For years this question of who is sovereign has see-sawed back and forth. Today the Progressives and their two headed government party seek to make the exaltation of the central government permanent. If this stands unchallenged America has devolved from the defused model established under the Constitution to a centralized version reminiscent of its original absolutist definition. If this new normal is enshrined as reality it will become increasingly obvious as States strive to assert their rights and people seek to preserve their freedom. For if the central government is now absolutely sovereign it will eventually crush all rivals. If the people are sovereign in time they’ll find their voice, reassert their power, re-establish the federal system, and return to the social contract as ratified in the Constitution.
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens dr.owens@comcast.net

We Must Know Who We Are to Decide What We Will Be April 12, 2010

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Forget about the debate the government parties and the geriatric media want us to have, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” The debate we need to have concerns what we were meant to be, not who they tell us we should be. Instead we should discuss issues of substance such as, “Are we a Republic or a Democracy?” for this will lead us to the truth. In today’s polarized political atmosphere conservatives shout “Republic!” while progressives scream, “Democracy!” In truth, neither term fully describes the boldest experiment to provide individual freedom and release human potential in the history of mankind. There is a third term needed if we are to grasp the qualities which makes us who we are.
The United States was birthed in the fire of revolution against the denial of personal freedom and the expropriation of resources by an authoritarian government. The first attempt to balance the rights of the people, the prerogatives of their local states and the need for a centralized structure to face other nations on the world stage, the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate. Then the Framers crafted a constitution establishing a democratic federal republic. All three terms democratic, federal, and republic are needed to express the unique nature of the American Experiment. Not one of them conveys the strength of the three and therefore cannot stand alone. Together they outline the form of government and the manner in which it shall be chosen, yet even these loaded terms leave unstated the inner essence of the last best hope of humanity. For it is the separation of powers, private property rights and the checks and balances built into the system that has safe guarded liberty and unleashed the potential of the American people.
The fact that instead of a reasoned debate about who we are, where we came from, and how we got here we stand on opposite sides of barricades shouting slogans at each other highlights the need for all of us to educate ourselves in the history of the principles and values upon which our country was founded. The current public educational process is a government mandated system which forces teaching to a test that’s forgotten as soon as it’s passed. The teaching of American History has been presented as a boring jumble of names and dates for a few semesters in 12 years since before any of us were born. It’s time for anyone who wants to understand what’s going on in our rapidly evolving political landscape to dig in and educate ourselves. We cannot allow those who want to subvert the home of the brave and the land of the free either to the right or the left to sway us with slogans and catch phrases. We have to know enough to know when we’re being conned by ideologues with a hidden agenda.
Ideologues reduce all things to the dimensions of their own thoughts. They oversimplify and overload words with meaning effectively blocking the channels of communication. They turn complex political, social and economic principles into cat-calls, catch-phrases and campaign slogans designed to move masses to emotional responses not individuals to reasoned reactions. It was the ideologue Karl Marx who reduced history to a conflict between capital and labor, charged all problems to the inequalities of capitalism, projected a continually deteriorating situation and then pointed to communism as the only answer.
We must resist the temptation to reduce our American experiment to an ideology. We cannot allow this bait-and-switch tactic to lead us to the mirage of a collectivist utopia. We need to understand this would deny and distort the constitutionally limited government we inherited. Ideologies start with a conception of mankind as made-up of interchangeable parts projects universally comprehensive answers and ends with enforced uniformity in society. In contrast America has facilitated diversity, individualism and a variety of life paths.
So, “Are we a Republic or a Democracy?” First of all, we need to understand these are not equivalent or interchangeable terms. Today both republic and democracy have become loaded with ideological baggage as in the Democratic Peoples Republic, or Social Democracy. To be specific: republic describes a form of government wherein representatives stand in place of others to deliberate, decide and lead. Democracy means from the people. But there is the third term that must be reckoned with if we’re to understand America: federal. Federal means a form of government in which a union of states recognizes a central authority while retaining certain residual powers of government. Putting this all together, the United States of America was designed to be a federation of states with a republican form of government chosen through a democratic process.
Those who declare we’re a democracy want majority rule while striving to build a majority of people dependant on the government tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend, elect, elect, elect. Those who say we’re a republic have problems with the direction taken by the representatives whose very existence proclaims this to be a republic. This is where the third word fully impacts the other two. The federal nature of the American experiment declares to all that this is an elected representative government of limited power and separated authority. We are not a centrally-planned unitary government based on mob-rule. If we will learn who we are perhaps then we will see clearly who we will be.
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens dr.owens@comcast.net

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