Tuesday, Sept. 17, was Constitution Day, and arguably it is the most forgotten designated day in America. The mainstream media will say nothing of it. No parades or city council proclamations. No three-day weekend, beer busts or barbecues in its favor. It is as though it never happened. Probably not one in 10 people can tell what happened this day in 1787; it has been forgotten so long.
Still, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended that day, and the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification thus institutionalizing liberty in America more fully. This action positively affected everyone in the United States and is probably the most important day in the nation’s history – so special that millions flood our borders illegally to benefit from it.
For nearly six thousand years of recorded history, governments, which are best described as regimental, dominated people. Only for a few fleeting moments in the past have individuals had anything to say concerning the restrictions leveled on them. Under an occasional benevolent monarchy or an unconcerned king, people have in rare instances been left alone and thus somewhat free. And, even more rare were the instances when as in Athens, Rome or at Runnymede that the people, sometimes through persuasion and often by force, instituted changes which allowed individual freedom to flourish for a brief time. Our experiment with liberty was one of them.
Still, until 1787, people did not know how to harness government. Liberty is, in fact, freedom from excessive government, and the biggest enemy to individual liberty is, and has always been, government. But the Constitutional Convention, which ended Sept. 17, did it.
They abolished kings forever in favor of presidents selected by the state legislatures – before the 17th Amendment – for a short, but defined, period of time. They took away the president’s power to make decrees even laws or rules over us, allowing him in a state of the union address to merely suggest changes, otherwise he can only sign or veto law made by the legislative branch.
The legislative branch consists of representatives from the states: the Senate to protect states’ rights from federal intrusion and the House of Representatives to protect the people from federal intrusion. These groups make all the laws. Both legislative branches approve every law imposed upon the people from different perspectives and all law had to adhere to the constitutional list seen in Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1-18.
Historically, the two areas most sensitive to the people were excessive taxation, as all monies expended were extracted from the people, and unpopular wars, as all injuries, deaths, and suffering was absorbed by the people. Under the Constitution, there can never be an unpopular war as the House of Representatives have total power over raising and funding the army. They must consent to the war by declaration because they provide blood and brawn for it and they alone authorize the treasure for it, according to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11.
“All bills for raising revenue shall originate” with them, according to Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1. The Constitution, if followed as designed, ended for all time both unpopular taxes and war. We became the first nation in history placing the people in charge of both. Moreover, funding for war could not be extended for more than a 2-year time period, thus requiring that the war remain the will of the people, as see in Article I, Section 8, Clause 12.
The Constitution is marked by four divisions of power: the first – and most important – being between the states and the federal government with fear of a national government dominant. Our Founders, under a new concept called federalism, allowed two governments to coexist, neither to be over or under the other, with primarily external issues governed by a federal government and internal issues by the states – like a marriage – equal partners. All power not specifically listed in the Constitution remained with the states. The federal government’s powers were listed in Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1-18, or what the states agreed to give them later, but anything thereafter added by amendment required three-fourths of the states to approve, according to Article V. It was decidedly a limited government from the outset with few federal laws restricting the individual.
The other three divisions divided power at the federal level. Separation of powers is basic to the Constitution with the legislative branch making federal law, the executive branch enforcing it and 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 this corruption.
The Bill of Rights, which was demanded by the states as a condition of their ratification of the Constitution, further restricted the federal government. All amendments created the first 10 amendments, namely Amendments 11-27, were approved by three-fourths of the states and altered some parts of the Constitution. Still, the federal government remains limited and on notice to remain subservient to the people.
The Constitution remains an enemy to big government, largely supported by both political parties and liberals and conservatives alike, because big government is an enemy to individual liberty. Perhaps it is the reason so few wish to honor it or bring attention to it on Constitution Day. Americans might awaken to their extensive loss of liberty.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.