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Posts Tagged ‘Articles of Confederation’

Why Can’t We Change?

Is the Necessary and Proper Clause either Necessary or Proper?

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?

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 toNew 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, soHamiltonproposed 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 Statesand 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

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 inNew Yorknewspapers.  They outline how the government, as proposed in the Constitution, would operate and why this highly centralized type of government was the best for theUnited 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 inNew York. Immediately after the conclusion of the Convention, the Constitution came under intense criticism in manyNew Yorknewspapers. 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 ofNew 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 onlyNew Yorkdelegate 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.

Hamiltonwas 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.Hamiltonthen recruited James Madison and John Jay to contribute essays that also used the pen name “Publius.”

James Madison, as a delegate fromVirginia, 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 ofNew Yorkhad 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 ofNew York.  But their popularity, readership, and impact were not limited toNew 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.

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