Just What Did We Declare?

This July 4 we will celebrate the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Parades and concerts will be held, gatherings of family and friends for backyard cookouts will take place, and most citizens will enjoy a day off from work.  However, if you have ever watched any of these “man on the street” interviews where individuals are asked what we celebrate on this day, far, far too many haven’t a clue.  So as we enjoy this day, let’s reflect upon just what our forefathers put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line to declare.

Some, but not enough, of these queried citizens about this day may be able to quote a phrase or two from the Declaration but there is a greater underlying principle to the Declaration than “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

You may wonder what greater principle can there be than the right to equality, life, liberty and happiness?  The answer can be found in the opening sentence of the Declaration and repeated a little further down in the second paragraph.

In that first sentence Jefferson lays out the principle that Nature’s Laws and Nature’s God entitle people to be self-determining when it comes to how they will be governed.  Listen to how he begins:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,…”

Jefferson here claims that people have the right “to assume the powers of the earth” which entitles them to choose with whom they wish to band together into society.  He then proceeds in the second paragraph to expand upon this right by stating that the assuming of this power means they also have the right to determine how the society they formed when banded together is to be governed:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to 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 their Safety and Happiness.”

If a people are not free to choose how they wish to be governed then they live in a state of tyranny and oppression.  As the song recorded by the Rascals in 1968 put it,

All the world over, so easy to see

People everywhere just wanna be free

Listen, please listen, that’s the way it should be

There’s peace in the valley, people got to be free

That same sentiment is inscribed on the base of our Statute of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Without self-determination when it comes to governance, there can be no life to speak of for it is life without liberty nor happiness.  Yet as far too many in our country today go about the frivolity of fireworks, concerts, et al, and are oblivious to the fact that we stand at the precipice of losing all that our forefathers declared are our inalienable rights that day 241 years ago.

It is time that we all re-learn the true meaning of this day and commit ourselves to the principles contained within that Declaration.  Five years ago I woke up in the middle of the night and penned the following – a modern update to Jefferson’s Declaration.  I hope you find it worthwhile and will share it with others that we might, like our forefathers, dedicate ourselves to the future freedom of our posterity:

Declaration of Reclamation

-June 30, 2017

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To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part II

The basic function and reason individuals form societies and create governments is in a single word:  protection.  As free individuals, we momentarily set aside our natural right of self-protection and assign that to our government (until and unless the government fails or is incapable for any reason in protecting us, at which time we are at liberty to take that right back into our own hands).

In a free society, therefore, the role of declaring war must be relegated to this basic premise, namely, that it is necessary for the protection of our natural right to life, liberty and property.  It is only in totalitarian (or at the time of our founding, monarchial) systems in which war is viewed as a means to an end, e.g. conquest, enrichment, vengeance, etc.  For example, the United States entered WWII because we were attacked first and our natural rights were in danger of being destroyed.  Even then, when President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan following the attack on our forces in Pearl Harbor, he made careful use of the tenses of his verbs:

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger… I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

 On the other side of the coin, Japan and Germany went down the road to war for the examples I gave for totalitarian regimes.

In the draft of his farewell address, George Washington admonished the country “That we may be always prepared for War, but never unsheathe the sword except in self defence so long as Justice and our essential rights, and national respectability can be preserved without it.”

In his final version, these words were omitted, but if you read the version he delivered, he spent a great deal of it encouraging his fellow countrymen and those who were to follow to limit their political engagement and alliances with foreign nations unless necessary for defense.

Committing its citizens to a state of war is the gravest move that a government can make, for it places the lives, property and indeed its very existence on the line.  This gravity is even greater when that nation is a free people for then liberty itself is at stake.  Consequently, I believe that the wisdom spoken to us by Washington, even in draft form, behooves us to “declare” war only when such natural rights and our existence as a people is in danger.

Alas, in most of our history, very few instances fall into the category as described by President Roosevelt.  Since the adoption of our Constitution, there have only been five congressionally-declared wars, and only one of them was a declaration to go to war; the other four were like FDR’s request, merely an acknowledgement that a state of war was already in existence.  However, as all of us know, our past is littered with military conflicts, both on this continent and abroad, so we must ask what was the purpose for including this power of war within our Constitution?  We will continue delving into that question next week.

-May 12, 2017

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To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part I

In 1970 Edwin Starr raised the question in his hit song, “War, what is it good for?”, and with this sentiment George Washington concurred in his letter to David Humphreys on July 25, 1785:

“My first wish is, to see this plague” [i.e. war] “to Mankind banished from the Earth; & the Sons and daughters of this World employed in more pleasing & innocent amusements than in preparing implements, & exercising them for the destruction of the human race.”

 Alas, today we are far from realizing Washington’s wish as there are tensions and saber-rattling occurring in all corners of the globe.

I realize that it has been two weeks since I sent out my weekly essay, but because of the current situation in the world and the debate over who has the power to commit our country to war, i.e. the meaning of the constitutional power “to declare war”), I wanted to take time to go back and reread the writings/debates of our founders so as to share with you how they viewed this subject.

There are many questions to be answered before addressing the meaning of this phrase as they understood it, and I plan on addressing them in a series of essays over the next few weeks, basic questions such as “Who?”, “Why?” “When?”, “How?” and “What?”.

Answering these questions from the perspective of the founders and the history surrounding this issue will take more than one or even two 400-word essays, so I hope you’ll forgive my omission over the past two weeks and will look forward to this series.

-May 5, 2017

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“I’m From the Government…

…and I’m here to help” – the nine most terrifying words in the English language according to Ronald Reagan.  We laugh, but painfully because we know deep down it’s true.  But why?  The answer is the law of unintended consequences.

Our founders crafted the Constitution as  a means of limiting the size, scope and  role of the federal government in our lives.  Yet practically, if indeed not all, of the ills besetting us can be traced back to the point at which the federal government has exceeded the boundaries of its constitutional authority.

The most recent case in point:  the flood victims of Louisiana.  Tens of thousands of families have been displaced, their homes destroyed  and their lives turned inside out.  These families face the challenge of trying to re-build without any insurance funds to cover the costs, leaving them in dire straits.  Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President places the blame on the bogus notion of man-made “climate change.”  Some may blame the Army Corps of Engineers for not properly building dykes and levees, while others may even blame God.

The fault, however, can squarely be placed at the feet of the federal government.  One government agency that provides flood insurance will only do so to those living in what has been declared by the government to be a flood plain.  However, another agency told many families that they did not live in a flood plain, and therefore they were not eligible for federally-provided flood insurance.  Had that not been the determination, then many might have applied for the insurance and thus had some protection since private insurance firms refused to offer flood insurance in that general region as the federal government was doing so.

Here then is the result of the law of unintended consequences.  Those in government felt that it was the “right thing to do” to offer folks this insurance, and in so doing make themselves feel they had performed the function to which government was created.  Yet because government stepped in and determined some to be eligible and others not, many are now facing ruined lives.

To begin with, it is not the government’s role to provide insurance – it is not one of the limited, enumerated powers granted it by the Constitution.  Second, by stepping outside its limitations, it provided a false sense of security to those living in the affected areas who were told they had no need of the coverage.  Third, and this is the ultimate unintended consequence of government’s overstepping, it indirectly encourages individuals and companies to take risks they otherwise would not take.  If you have the guarantee of government backing that you will be provided the money to rebuild your home, business, etc, then you might risk living in an area such as what would otherwise be a place you would avoid.

We saw the same thing in the bailouts a few years ago when banks and investment houses were “saved” by government handouts because they were “too big to fail.”  Why did the housing market collapse?  In a nutshell, it was government interference in the marketplace and its encouraging, and in some instances coercing, banks to make risky loans they would not have made in times past.  Again, the lives of countless individuals were adversely affected, and in the end, we all were as the national debt swelled as a result.  There are so many other examples they could comprise a book instead of a short essay.

I am not saying those affected in Louisiana are not to be helped, but if the government didn’t take so much of our money in taxes for unconstitutional purposes, private citizens would have more funds available to donate as they are doing and the government would not be needed.

President Reagan was right; he also warned that whenever we hear those “nine most dangerous words”, the safest thing we can do is run.  This we must do – run back to our constitutional roots of a limited government, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, that is bound down by the chains of that precious document so that we can escape these kind of negative, unintended consequences.

-August 26, 2016

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America’s Greatness – Who and How?

As I set forth in my previous essay (America’s Greatness – Past, Present or Future),  a case can be made that our greatness as a country has slipped a few notches and is in need of being “made great again.”  So who will effect this resurgence and how will it be achieved?  To answer that question we must turn to our past and answer the underlying question of “Who made America great to begin with and how did they do it?’

Some might argue that it was our “founding fathers”  who made us great by giving us the greatest system of government ever devised to procure and protect the freedom and liberty of a country’s citizenry.  As great as these men were and the fact that never again in history have such a gathering of political genius been assembled, they did not make us great – they only provided the opportunity to make America great.  Nor did the Constitution, as great as that document is, make us great – it merely provided the framework for a government that would allow greatness to flourish.

Someone else might point to our past military prowess and submit that as the source and means of our greatness.  Yet that has been the means by which oppressive empires of history have achieved  so-called greatness.  We were established to be a free people, intent on pursing life, liberty and happiness and not the conquest and subjugation of others.  Another might point to our economic engine, or our technology or any other of a number of our achievements as a people.  However, none of these provide the real answer.

To find the answer we need look no further than our own reflections in our mirrors.  It was “We the People of the United States,”  who set out  “to form a more perfect Union.”  It was the farmers and merchants who left their farms and businesses to shoulder a musket to fight for the principle of liberty in our War of Independence.  It was the hardy men and women who braved the hardships of the ever-expanding western frontier from the original thirteen states to the Pacific Ocean to settle and tame a continent.  It was those who went to  war, brother against brother, to fight for the ideals of our Declaration of Independence.  It was those souls who came to our shores, those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free, who left behind their ancient ancestral ties to forge a new identity as “Americans.”  It was our parents and grandparents, those of “the greatest generation”,  who came through the multiple adversities of economic depression and world wars.  All of these who came before us are who forged the idea of American exceptionalism and elevated America to a status above all other nations in history.

So what happened?  I remember as a boy such phrases as “American ‘Can-Do’ attitude”, “American rugged individualism”, “American ingenuity”, “the American Spirit”, and so forth.  I remember the attitude manifested in us that the surest way to get an American to accomplish something was to tell him/her that it couldn’t be done, because such a challenge would immediately be met with the retort “Oh yeah?  Well watch this!”,  and  the task would quickly be mastered.  In short, we’ve forgotten who we are (or better, were).  We’ve allowed these traits that were passed on and instilled within each generation to die away.  We’ve lost the passion to be a free and independent people.  Our rich history has been watered down and not taught to our children and grandchildren who are no longer challenged to shoot for the moon as President Kennedy challenged us in 1961.

If America is to be made great again, even greater than it was before, it is up to you and me.  We must look back at our ancestors, follow their example, believe in the principles of individual responsibility, self-determination and respect for life, liberty and property.  In short, we must become one people, bound together by a common language, a common purpose, a common belief in ourselves as a people and a common passion for freedom.  Only then will America be great again.

-August 19, 2016

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The Devaluation of Citizenship

Today there is much talk about countries devaluing their currencies in an attempt to make their exports cheaper and thereby boost their economies.  Here in our country we have another serious devaluation going on, that of citizenship.

Citizenship does not entail “rights” properly understood.  Rights are those things which every individual possesses by virtue of being a part of the human race as they come, as Jefferson stated, from our Creator and are therefore inalienable.  Government, therefore, can neither grant nor take away rights (although tyrannical governments can and do restrict them).

Citizenship is an honor that governments bestow upon those individuals who meet the requirements that the civil society has set forth.  Civil societies, according to John Locke, are formed when individuals band together and agree to defer some of their natural rights to the group (i.e., government) so that they may exist in an orderly and peaceful fashion.

Becoming a citizen, then, carries with it certain privileges and responsibilities.  Some responsibilities, for example, fall upon both citizen and non-citizen alike.  For example, paying taxes to the government is a responsibility of both classes of individuals within a society as both groups benefit from the actions of government (protection from invasion, personal injury, etc).  However, privileges are those things reserved for citizens alone.

As we approach the upcoming pivotal election this fall it is important to bear in mind that one such privilege is that of voting. Contrary to what many may believe, there is no such thing as “the right to vote” because voting is an act granted by government, not by our Creator.  Therefore, voting is a privilege that comes with the honor of citizenship and if one has not met the stipulations for earning citizenship they have no claim on being allowed to vote.

In a free society, voting is the means by which those who have banded together to form that civil society determine how they, as a society, wish to be governed.  Those who are not yet citizens have no allegiance to the group and are, in effect, loyal only to themselves.  Consequently they should have no say in how those who do should be governed or to what they should be obligated.  Such is the reason why it is critical that the integrity of the vote be upheld and that proof of citizenship be mandated for those who go to the polls to cast their ballots.

However, those on the left have completely misunderstood this basic concept of the nature of citizenship and are pushing for open elections – i.e.,  granting all inhabitants within the boundaries of our land this privilege.  California has recently passed legislation that will permit illegals (non-citizens) access to the voting booth.  Such action devalues citizenship, for if this privilege is not restrictive, then of what use is citizenship?  If citizenship is not something to be valued and held to be a distinctive identifier of those within a country, then how can a civil society be maintained?  The answer is there is no value and civil society will eventually splinter into sundry parts, each vying for their own special benefits rather than the good of all society.  In such a circumstance America (or any country) will cease to be a country.

Finally, voting is one of the privileges of citizenship that also falls into the realm of responsibility.  If citizens fail to live up to this responsibility, then eventually the time will come when this failure will result in a government that deems such privileges are no longer to be granted, and all of society falls under the dark cloud of tyranny where our Creator-granted rights are restricted.

– June 24, 2016

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Those of us in the conservative movement find ourselves in a heated and an unfortunate (many times) acrimonious political campaign.  Many may think that such is a decline in our political process, but such could not be further from the truth.

I imagine many individuals look upon our founding fathers, though flawed individuals as we all are, as paragons of political wisdom (which they were) and united in the quest for liberty and the establishment of our republic.  If that is your perception, allow me to share just a few quotes to forever dispel that thought from your mind.  There were numerous rivalries and harsh feelings among many of our foremost founders.

It is no secret of the animosity that existed between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, yet here are the thoughts of James Madison on some of the other founders that may shock you:

“Hancock is weak ambitious a courtier of popularity given to low intrigue and lately reunited by a factious friendship with S. Adams–J. Adams has made himself obnoxious to many particularly in the Southern states by the political principles avowed in this book. Others recollecting his cabal during the war against General Washington knowing his extravagant self importance and considering his preference of an unprofitable dignity to some place of emolument better adapted to private fortune as prof of his having an eye to the presidency conclude that he would not be a very cordial second to the general and that an impatient ambition might even intrigue for a premature advancement. The danger would be the greater if particular factious characters as may be the case, should get into the public councils.”  (James Madison, letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 17, 1788)

As for the enmity between Jefferson and Hamilton, consider these words Jefferson penned in a letter to President Washington on September 9, 1792:

“To this justification of opinions, expressed in the way of conversation, against the views of Colo Hamilton, I beg leave to add some notice of his late charges against me in Fenno’s gazette; for neither the stile, matter, nor venom of the pieces alluded to can leave a doubt of their author. Spelling my name & character at full length to the public, while he conceals his own under the signature of “an American” he charges me 1. With…”

They also had the same complaints with the press that many decry today.  For example, in a letter to George Washington on October 18, 1787, Madison wrote:

“The Newspapers here begin to teem with vehement & virulent calumniations of the proposed Govt.”

There was also the falling out between the two authors of The Federalist Papers, Madison and Hamilton, that became quite heated as they exchanged essays published from 1793-1794 regarding the role of the presidency and legislature in foreign policy matters.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became so estranged from one another that they refused to communicate with one another for over twenty years, before being reconciled shortly before their deaths.  Their reconciliation was such that when Adams died on July 4, 1826, his last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives”, not knowing Jefferson had died five hours earlier.

So you see, our current animosity, though unfortunate, is certainly not new.  My hope and prayer is that once this primary season is finished, we can be of the same mind as Adams and Jefferson on that semi-centennial day of the signing of our Declaration of Independence.

-March 25, 2016

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Why the Electoral College – Part I

(I have been asked about the movement in some states for a direct election of the office of president and vice-president instead of through the electoral college.  This is part I of a four part series I published in 2012 explaining why we do not elect those offices by direct election, how the system is supposed to work and how it has changed.)

Every presidential election we hear the question raised as to why we have such a strange way of selecting our president and vice-president.   Many ask why we can’t just elect them via direct popular vote as we do our other elected officials, since that would be more “democratic.”  Such a move to change our process to a national popular vote demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the kind of government we are supposed to be and the history behind the establishment of our Constitution.  Because of this dearth of understanding among so many of our fellow citizens, it will take more than just one article for me to offer a defense of our electoral system.

The most glaring misunderstanding of our election system is demonstrated when people allege that it is not “democratic.”  We are not a democracy, and those who talk about democracy fail to have an adequate understanding of it.  Our founders did not establish a democracy – they gave us, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, a republic.  The uniting of the concept of republicanism and federalism formed the unique basis for the new government established by the Constitution.  It is this basis that lies at the heart of our unique method of electing the top officials in the executive branch.

There were a number of alternatives proposed during the debates in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as to the best method to select a president and vice-president.  There were some who did favor direct election by the people as they placed a great amount of faith in the people being astute enough to vet those for whom they would cast their vote.  There were others, however, who held just the opposite view.  In his notes on the debates, James Madison recorded that Elbridge Gerry, a delegate from Massachusetts, made this observation regarding the ability of the people to make such a judgment:  “He was against a popular election.  The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men.”  Of those who held these two opposing views, I think we can safely say that Mr. Gerry got it right.

Consider the ignorance of so many voters as evidenced in many of the “man on the street” interviews on the internet and television and we can see how our current process is abysmal.  As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”   Next week I’ll turn to the reason why our system is grounded in the concepts of republicanism and federalism.

-February 12, 2016

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The Federal Government’s Obligations to the States

When we look at the intrusiveness of the federal government into our lives, we should step back and ask “Where is my state government?”  It was the states, acting as independent nation-states which agreed to join together as a union under a federal constitution instead of its then current confederacy.  In so doing, they did not give up their independence or authority completely, but only in certain  limited, defined areas.  It was the intent of our founders that the state legislatures should be our protectors against assaults against our liberties and the authority of the states by the federal government, as noted by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 85:

“We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”

In examining the areas in which the federal government is to act in behalf of the states, they are limited (in broad manner) to the following:

From Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution:

  • To negotiate on behalf of the states with foreign nations in matters of commerce or other treaties;
  • To establish laws regulating naturalization as it relates to citizenship;
  • To coin money as a uniform standard of exchange among the states (an action prohibited to the states in Section 9);
  • To establish post offices and post roads between the states;
  • To provide for a military in defense of the states.

From Article III, Section 2:

  • To act as an arbitrator in disputes between two or more states.

From Article IV:

  • Section 2 – To guarantee the rights of citizens in each state are honored by the other states.
  • Section 4 –
    • To guarantee that each state shall have a republican form of government;
    • To protect the states from invasion and aiding in curbing domestic violence when requested by the legislature of the state in need of assistance.

In light of these I ask – “How’s the national government doing in regards to fulfilling its obligations?”  I can’t see where it is earning a passing grade in any of these areas.  Our biggest problem in the destruction of our liberties by the national government stems, I believe, from its utter rejection of its first obligation in Article IV, Section 4 above.

Consider the recent ruling of the SCOTUS on marriage in which it has forced states that have previously rejected recognition of gay marriage that they must do so.  When citizens of a state through their representatives have said they do not wish to recognize such marriages are told by the national government they must, then the republican form of government in that state has been destroyed.  Or again, if the citizens of a state through their legislators decide they wish to have restrictive gun laws, for the national government to step in and countermand the laws of that state, then once more, the republican form of government in that state has been destroyed.

There are many more such examples I could list similar to these two, but I hope you see the point.   The federal government is restricted to a few and defined (in the words of James Madison) areas, and those left to the states are broad and undefined.  I would submit that given the current condition of world affairs, the federal government should butt out of the business of the states and start concentrating on its obligations to the states, and that it is time for the states to start demanding that the federal government honor its obligations, starting with the one in Article IV, Section 4, Clause 1.

-January 29, 2016

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