Sun­day was im­por­tant but for­got­ten hol­i­day

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Harold Pease, Ph.D

Sun­day, Sept. 17, was ar­guably the most for­got­ten des­ig­nated day in Amer­ica. The main­stream me­dia scarcely men­tioned it. No pa­rades or city coun­cil procla­ma­tions took place. Lit­tle or noth­ing was said of it last week in the class­room. There was no three-day week­end and no beer busts or bar­be­ques in its fa­vor. It is as though it never hap­pened. Prob­a­bly not one in 10 can say what hap­pened on this day in 1787 be­cause the special day has been ig­nored so long.

But this day pos­i­tively af­fected ev­ery­one in the United States and is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant day in our his­tory, the day that we in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized lib­erty in Amer­ica. It was the day the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion ended and the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion was sent to the states for rat­i­fi­ca­tion. Sun­day was Con­sti­tu­tion Day!

For nearly 6,000 years of recorded his­tory, govern­ments best de­scribed as reg­i­men­tal have dom­i­nated mankind. Only for a few fleet­ing mo­ments in the past have in­di­vid­u­als had any­thing to say con­cern­ing the re­stric­tions and con­trols laid upon them. Un­der an oc­ca­sional benev­o­lent monar­chy or an un­con­cerned king, peo­ple have, in rare in­stances, been left to them­selves and were con­se­quently some­what free. Even rarer were the in­stances when, as in Athens, Rome or at Run­nymede, the peo­ple some­times, through per­sua­sion and of­ten by force, in­sti­tuted changes al­low­ing in­di­vid­ual free­dom to flour­ish for a brief time. Our ex­per­i­ment with lib­erty was one of those.

Still, un­til 1787, man did not know how to har­ness govern­ment. Lib­erty is, in fact, free­dom from ex­ces­sive govern­ment, and the big­gest en­emy to in­di­vid­ual lib­erty is and al­ways has been big govern­ment. But the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion, end­ing on Sept. 17, did just that. It lim­ited govern­ment!

We abol­ished kings for­ever in fa­vor of pres­i­dents se­lected by the state leg­is­la­tures (be­fore the 17th Amend­ment) for a short, but de­fined pe­riod of time. We took away the pres­i­dent’s power to make de­crees (laws or rules) over us, al­low­ing him, in a state-of-the-union address, to merely sug­gest changes and oth­er­wise only to sign or veto laws passed by the leg­isla­tive branch.

The leg­isla­tive branch, con­sist­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the states in the U.S. Se­nate, to pro­tect states’ rights from fed­eral in­tru­sion, and the peo­ples’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, to pro­tect the peo­ple from fed­eral in­tru­sion, were to make all laws. Both leg­isla­tive branches, from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, had to ap­prove ev­ery law im­posed upon the peo­ple, and all law had to ad­here to the con­sti­tu­tional list (Ar­ti­cle I, Sec. 8, Cla. 1-18).

His­tor­i­cally, the two ar­eas most sen­si­tive to the peo­ple were ex­ces­sive tax­a­tion, be­cause all monies ex­pended were ex­tracted from the peo­ple, and un­pop­u­lar wars, be­cause all in­juries, deaths and hard­ships were suf­fered by the peo­ple. Un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion, there can never be an un­pop­u­lar war be­cause the peo­ples’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives have to­tal power over rais­ing and fund­ing the army. They must con­sent to the war by dec­la­ra­tion be­cause the peo­ple pro­vide the blood and brawn for it and the House alone au­tho­rizes the trea­sure for it (Art. 1, Sec. 8, Cla. 11). “All bills for rais­ing rev­enue shall orig­i­nate” with them (Art. 1, Sec. 7, Cla. 1). The Con­sti­tu­tion — if ad­hered to as orig­i­nally writ­ten — ended for all time both un­pop­u­lar taxes and war.We be­came the first na­tion in his­tory to place the peo­ple in charge of both. More­over, fund­ing for war could not be ex­tended for more than a two-year time pe­riod, thus re­quir­ing that any war re­main the will of the peo­ple (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cla. 12).

The Con­sti­tu­tion is marked by four di­vi­sions of power, the first and most im­por­tant be­ing a divi­sion of power be­tween the states and the fed­eral govern­ment due to fear of dom­i­na­tion by a na­tional govern­ment. Our Founders, un­der the new con­cept of fed­er­al­ism, al­lowed two govern­ments to co-ex­ist, nei­ther to be over or un­der the other, with na­tional and in­ter­na­tional is­sues gov­erned by a fed­eral govern­ment and lo­cal and in­trastate is­sues gov­erned by the states. The fed­eral govern­ment and state govern­ments were equal part­ners with dif­fer­ent spheres of rule and author­ity — like in a

mar­riage. All pow­ers not specif­i­cally granted to the fed­eral govern­ment in the Con­sti­tu­tion re­mained with the states or the peo­ple. The fed­eral govern­ment’s pow­ers were lim­ited to the pow­ers listed in Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 8, Clauses 1-18, and to pow­ers as­signed to the fed­eral govern­ment by the states by an amend­ment re­quir­ing three-quar­ters of the states to ap­prove (Ar­ti­cle V). Ours was, de­cid­edly, a lim­ited govern­ment from the out­set with few fed­eral laws plac­ing re­stric­tions upon the in­di­vid­ual.

The other three di­vi­sions spelled out in the Con­sti­tu­tion di­vided power at the fed­eral level. Pow­ers were sep­a­rated with one body, the leg­isla­tive branch, mak­ing fed­eral law; an­other, the ex­ec­u­tive branch, en­forc­ing it; and a third, the ju­di­cial branch, ad­ju­di­cat­ing it. But none of th­ese branches were to leg­is­late, ex­e­cute or ad­ju­di­cate in a man­ner to erase or un­der­mine the first divi­sion of power be­tween the states and the fed­eral govern­ment. No Found­ing Fa­ther sup­ported such a usurpa­tion of fed­eral power.

The Bill of Rights, de­manded by the states as a con­di­tion of their rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, fur­ther re­stricted the fed­eral govern­ment in many ar­eas. Amend­ments there­after, num­bered 11-24, ap­proved by 3/4 of the states, altered some parts of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Still, the fed­eral govern­ment re­mained lim­ited and on no­tice to re­main sub­servient to the peo­ple.

The Con­sti­tu­tion re­mains an en­emy to big govern­ment, which is largely sup­ported by both po­lit­i­cal par­ties and by lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives alike. Why? Be­cause big govern­ment is an en­emy to in­di­vid­ual lib­er­ties pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion. Per­haps this is the rea­son so few wish to honor the Con­sti­tu­tion or bring at­ten­tion to it on Con­sti­tu­tion Day. If they did, Amer­i­cans might read the doc­u­ment and be awak­ened to their ex­ten­sive loss of lib­erty.

Harold W. Pease, Ph.D, is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and an ex­pert on the United States Con­sti­tu­tion. He has taught his­tory and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence from this per­spec­tive for more than 30 years at Taft Col­lege. To read more of his weekly ar­ti­cles, visit www. Lib­er­tyUn­

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