By Bradley Harrington
“But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” — Lysander Spooner, “The Constitution of No Authority,” 1869 —
We take the Constitution of the United States for granted, as a general rule; a given that has been there for centuries and always will be.
And, to the extent we consider the concepts of “federal overreach” or “concentration of national power” as evil at all, a few of us assume that we need merely roll ourselves back to the time when our national government had greater restrictions on its ability to ransack its way through our civilization.
This supposition, however, completely evades a singular, fundamental reality: Where did the “federal overreach” come from in the first place?
Unbeknownst to most Americans today — because it’s rarely, if ever, taught in our schools any longer — is the fact that the development and ratification of the Constitution was opposed by a great many citizens at the time, on the basis that it gave the federal government far too much power.
Those individuals — the “Anti-Federalists” — warned us, as best as they could, that the prospective national regime would outstrip its limitations and eventually end up trampling the hard-fought freedoms earned by the American Revolution.
And the arguments the “Anti-Federalists” raised to back up that claim?
■ That the Constitution lacked sufficient checks and balances (“Virtue will slumber. The wicked will be continually watching; consequently, you will be undone” — Patrick Henry);
■ That the executive presidency would evolve into a de-facto monarchy, (“or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy” — Elbridge Gerry);
■ That the federal government would come to dominate the states (“I meet with a national government, instead of a federal union of states” — Samuel Adams);
■ That the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights (“There is no Declaration of Rights, and… the Declaration of Rights in the separate states are no security” — George Mason);
■ That the Constitution gave Congress the power to tax (“It opens a door to the appointment of a swarm of revenue and excise collectors to prey upon the honest and industrious part of the community and eat up their substance” — “Brutus”).
Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the “Anti-Federalists” were right. For, as we examine our political scene today, we can see that, with the exception of the lack of a Bill of Rights, which was adopted in 1791, every other fear expressed by the “Anti-Federalists” has borne its foul fruit.
Consequently, our ultimate problem is NOT that we need to “return” to the Constitution — but that we need, instead, to determine which parts of the Constitution permitted the overreach to begin with.
And the best place to start with that analysis? Our definition of what it is that government ought to be doing in the first place: Protecting our “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Since that is government’s sole purpose for existence, does it not therefore follow that any Constitutional provision that steps outside those bounds merits abolition?
While a thorough discussion of constitutional problems from the perspective of their interference with our liberties lies outside the scope of this commentary, we can certainly mention, in passing, a few of the obvious bones of contention:
■ Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3: “To regulate commerce… among the several states…”;
■ Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5: “To coin Money, [and] regulate the Value thereof…”;
■ Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7: “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”
None of these allegedly “essential” government functions had anything to do with protecting man’s individual rights and were actually destructive to those ends — as they all interfered with the operations of a free and unfettered marketplace. The camel’s nose was under the tent flap.
These (and other) provisional cracks (with the regulation of interstate commerce being the worst, judicially) have, in the time since ratification, all widened themselves to the point where the very structure itself is now on the verge of collapse. From the acorn grows the tree.
The REAL Constitutional sinker, however, was Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1, which gave Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises.”
Being based in the initiatory use of force, this provision alone absolutely guaranteed the eventual eradication of our liberties. It is a notion entirely antithetical to the principles of our Declaration of Independence and made all the other erosions possible.
Which, naturally, raises the question: Ideally and ethically, absent the politics of plunder, how are we to fund and operate the proper functions of government?
And that discussion, Dear Reader, is our task for next week.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on February 12, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.