The Patriot's Primer on American Liberty (Full Copyright Text)
A treatise on the eternal struggle between Liberty and tyranny, and on the primacy of Rule of Law over rule of men.
“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington
The mission of this essay is to provide our fellow Americans with a foundational understanding of Liberty, so that we may all more effectively “Support and Defend” the unalienable Rights of Mankind as enumerated in our Declaration of Independence, and enshrined in our Republic’s Constitu tion. If this essay inspires you to action, then I invite you to help us distribute millions of The Patriot Post’s highly-acclaimed Patriot’s Primer on American Liberty booklets. As a preface on Liberty, “endowed by [our] Creator,” these pocket guides are a vital educational resource for Patriots of all ages. They are available for bulk purchase and distribution for students, grassroots organizations, civic clubs, political alliances, military and public service personnel, professional associations and other groups. (This content may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without written permission from its author.)
Sons of Liberty — The Fight for Freedom
“The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” —Thomas Jefferson
On December 16th, 1773, Bostonian “radicals” and members of a secret organization of American Patriots, called the Sons of Liberty, boarded three East India Company ships at Griffin’s Wharf. They threw 342 chests of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor. This iconic event foretold the coming revolution against oppressive taxation and tyranny, and is immortalized as “The Boston Tea Party.”
Resistance to the British Crown had been mounting since King George imposed the Writs of Assistance, giving British authorities power to arrest and detain colonists for any reason. He also imposed oppressive bills of attainder, targeting colonists for punishment without a trial. The Quartering Act of 1765 even authorized troops to use the homes of his colonial subjects as barracks. The spirit of protesting had intensified over previously enacted taxes, including the 1764 Sugar Act, 1765 Stamp Act, and 1767 Townshend Acts.
The growing unrest came to bloodshed in March of 1770, when British troops fired on civilians in Boston, killing five colonists. This event, which became known as the Boston Massacre, gave credence to the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”
But it was the 1773 Tea Act, under which the Crown collected a three-pence tax on each pound of tea imported to the colonies that instigated many Tea Party protests and seeded the American Revolution. Indeed, as James Madison reflected in 1823, “The people of the U.S. owe their Independence and their Liberty, to the wisdom of descrying in the minute tax of 3 pence on tea, the magnitude of the evil comprised in the precedent.”
News of the Tea Party protest in Boston galvanized the colonial movement opposing onerous British parliamentary acts that were a violation of the natural, charter and constitutional rights of the British colonists.
In response to the rising colonial unrest, the British enacted additional measures to punish the citizens of Massachusetts and to suppress resistance to the Crown’s authority. These were labeled “The Intolerable Acts,” the first of which was the 1774 Boston Port Bill that blockaded the harbor in an effort to starve Bostonians into submission.
Among the Patriots who broke the blockade to supply food to the people of Boston was William Prescott, who would later prove himself a heroic military leader at Bunker Hill and Saratoga. To his fellow Patriots in Boston, Prescott wrote: “We heartily sympathize with you, and are always ready to do all in our power for your support, comfort and relief; knowing that Providence has placed you where you must stand the first shock. … Our forefathers passed the vast Atlantic, spent their blood and treasure, that they might enjoy their liberties, both civil and religious, and transmit them to their posterity. … Now if we should give them up, can our children rise up and call us blessed?”
The Boston blockade was followed by the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act and the Quartering Act. But far from accomplishing the desired outcome, the Crown’s oppressive countermeasures hardened colonial resistance and led to the convention of the First Continental Congress on September 5th, 1774, in Philadelphia.
By March of 1775, civil discontent was at its tipping point, and American Patriots in Massachusetts and other colonies were preparing to cast off their masters. The spirit of the coming Revolution was captured in 39-year old Patrick Henry’s impassioned speech to the Second Virginia Convention, concluding, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
That month, Dr. Joseph Warren also delivered a fiery oration in Boston, warning of complacency and instilling courage among his fellow Patriots: “The man who meanly will submit to wear a shackle, contemns the noblest gift of heaven, and impiously affronts the God that made him free. … Ease and prosperity (though pleasing for a day) have often sunk a people into effeminacy and sloth. … Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
On the evening of April 18th, 1775, General Thomas Gage, acting as the Crown’s military governor of Massachusetts, dispatched a force of 700 British Army regulars with secret orders. These troops, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were to arrest 53-year old Boston Tea Party leader Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Provincial Congress President John Hancock, and merchant fleet owner Jeremiah Lee.
But what directly tied Gage’s orders to the later enumeration in our Constitution’s Second Amendment of the innate “right to keep and bear arms,” was the primary mission of his Redcoat brigades. They were charged with undertaking a preemptive raid to confiscate arms and ammunition stored by Massachusetts Patriots in the town of Concord.
Patriot militia and minutemen, under the leadership of the Sons of Liberty, anticipated this raid and the confrontations with British regulars at Lexington and Concord proved the fuse that ignited the American Revolution.
Near midnight on April 18th, 41-year old Paul Revere, who had arranged for advance warning of British movements, departed Charlestown (near Boston) for Lexington and Concord in order to warn John Hancock, Samuel Adams and other Sons of Liberty that the British Army was marching to arrest them and seize their weapons caches. After meeting with Hancock and Adams in Lexington, Revere was captured, but his Patriot ally, Samuel Prescott, continued to Concord warning militiamen along the way.
The Patriots in Lexington and Concord, along with other citizen militias in New England, were bound by “minit men” oaths to “stand at a minits warning with arms and ammunition.” The oath of the Lexington militia read thus, “We trust in God that, should the state of our affairs require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause.”
In the early dawn of April 19th, their oaths would be tested with blood. Under the command of 46-year old Captain John Parker, 77 militiamen assembled on the town green at Lexington, where they soon faced Smith’s overwhelming force of British regulars. Parker did not expect shots to be exchanged, but his orders were: “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
A few links away from the Patriot’s column, British Major John Pitcairn swung his sword and ordered, “Lay down your arms you damned rebels!”
Not willing to sacrifice his small band of Patriots on the green, as Parker later wrote in a sworn deposition, “I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse, and not to fire.” But his Patriots did not lay down their arms. Pitcairn ordered, as Parker later testified, “Immediately said Troops made their appearance and rushed furiously, fired upon, and killed eight of our Party without receiving any Provocation therefor from us.” Ten other Patriots were wounded.
The British continued to Concord, where they divided ranks and searched for armament stores. Later in the day, the second confrontation between regulars and militiamen occurred as British light infantry companies faced rapidly growing ranks of militia and minutemen at Concord’s Old North Bridge. From depositions on both sides, the British fired first, killing two and wounding four.
This time, however, the militia commander, Major John Buttrick, ordered, “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!”
And fire, they did. The volley commenced with “The Shot Heard Round the World,” as immortalized by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. With that shot, farmers, laborers, landowners, and statesmen alike brought upon themselves the sentence of death for treason. In the ensuing firefight, the British suffered heavy casualties. In discord, the Redcoats retreated to Concord proper and after reinforcing their ranks, marched back toward Lexington.
During the Concord retreat, British regulars took additional casualties during sporadic firefights. One of the most famous incidents was an ambush by the reassembled ranks of John Parker’s militia, and has become known as Parker’s Revenge. The English were reinforced with 1,000 troops in Lexington, but the King’s men were no match for the Patriot ranks. The militia and minutemen inflicted heavy casualties upon the Redcoats along their 20-mile tactical retreat to Boston.
“What a glorious morning this is!” declared Samuel Adams to fellow Patriot John Hancock upon hearing of those first shots in what would become an eight-year struggle for American independence.
By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in May of 1775, the young nation was in open war for Liberty and independence, which would not be won until eight years later, at great cost of blood and treasure.
On July 6th, 1775, less than three months after the confrontation at Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress passed Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms,” which asserted the inherent right of the people to defend themselves against tyranny: “We most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard … employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves. … With a humble confidence in the mercies of the Supreme and impartial God and Ruler of the Universe, we most devoutly implore His divine goodness to protect us happily through this great conflict.”
In January of 1776, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” which framed the uprising, noting, “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”
Of the justification for Revolution, Samuel Adams wrote, “The People alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”
In his 1776 treatise, “Thoughts on Government,” 41-year old John Adams declared, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”
On May 15th, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution calling on states to prepare for rebellion. In its preamble, John Adams advised his countrymen to sever all oaths of allegiance to the Crown.
“Endowed by Their Creator”
“In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator.” —Samuel Adams
On July 2nd, 1776, delegations from the 13 sovereign states convened as the Second Continental Congress at the Pennsylvania State House. The delegates voted in support of a much-debated resolution for colonial unity and independence. The New York delegation abstained, as they had not received permission from its Provincial Congress to vote in the affirmative.
On July 3rd, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among men. … You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man.”
Adams continued: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory.”
Finally, Adams concluded with, “I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Day’s Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
The delegates then spent two days reviewing the draft of the proposed declaration for independence, which 33-year old Thomas Jefferson composed at the request of John Adams. After revisions and deletions, it was ratified on July 4th and signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. July 4th has since become the Independence Day we celebrate with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations.”
On the night of the enactment of the Declaration of Independence, printer John Dunlap produced the first 200 broadsides for distribution. Notably, however, the famous parchment copy of the Declaration now in the National Archives was ordered by Congress on July 19th — including the additional word “unanimous” after the New York delegation affirmed its support. It was then signed by 56 Patriots, some of whom were not present in Philadelphia in early July. Most signed in early August, with the last signature affixed on November 4th.
The delegate signers, who were merchants, farmers, doctors, lawyers, and of other common professions, all pledged, “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” to the cause of Liberty. Nine of the 56 would indeed lose their lives in the ensuing conflict.
They declared: “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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Our Founders further avowed in the Declaration, “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. 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.”
Our Declaration of Independence was derived from Common Law, “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” And the assertion that the rights of all men were irrevocable as “endowed by their Creator” rather than by kings and magistrates was radical, as was its call upon “the Supreme Judge of the world” for “protection of Divine Providence.”
The Declaration’s first paragraph references “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” which informs the words “endowed by their Creator” in the second paragraph.
To better understand what is meant by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” recall that our Declaration’s signers were not of one mind on matters of theology and doctrine. They were Christians, deists, and agnostics. In their diversity of beliefs, they uniformly declared the rights of all people were, are and forever will be, innate and unalienable as established by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
This is not an article of “faith.” It is the assertion that the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” as enshrined in our Declaration, is inherent and applicable to all humans of every nation, religion, race and ethnicity, and for all time.
It makes no difference what one’s concept of “Nature’s God” or our “Creator” is, or whether one even subscribes to any such understanding. All people are entitled to Liberty and all the rights so embodied. Those rights are not the gift of man nor the declarations and constitutions ascribed by men. As Founder Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The sacred Rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Indeed, the Declaration and Constitution were designed specifically to protect those rights, not award them.
“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” are natural rights — gifts from God, not from government.
The Declaration’s Common Law inspiration for the Rights of Mankind has its origin in governing documents dating back to the English Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) and the Magna Carta (1215). Each established objective Rule of Law over and above the subjective rule of the king. Rex Lex (the king is law) was slowly replaced by Lex Rex (the law is king). The Magna Carta stated the king was bound under the law by a national covenant—a declaration of mutual obligations of the ruler and those ruled.
The roots of Liberty and Rule of Law are also found in the Reformation “wars of religion,” and in the 17th century Puritan writers, most notably Samuel Rutherford and his works.
In his 1690 Second Treatise on Government, John Locke articulated this contractual vision of a government of laws existing to protect the liberties of its citizens. The context for Locke’s thought was the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the English Bill of Rights (1689).
However, our Declaration’s most contemporary Common Law inspiration was William Blackstone’s 1765 Commentaries on the Laws of England, perhaps the most scholarly historic and analytic treatise on Natural Law.
Blackstone wrote: “As man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. … This law of nature, being coeval [coexistent] with mankind and dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this. … Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered [permitted] to contradict these.”
Justice James Wilson, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and one of George Washington’s first nominees to the Supreme Court, wrote: “Law … communicated to us by reason and conscience … has been called natural; as promulgated by the Holy Scriptures, it has been called revealed. … But it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed … flows from the same divine source; it is the law of God. … Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine.”
As John Adams resolved, “If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave.”
It is these fundamental principles of Liberty, as “endowed” and protected by Rule of Law, that Thomas Jefferson and the delegates enumerated in our Declaration of Independence, and which James Madison later codified in our Constitution. (Notably, references to “God” and “our Creator” would eventually be included in all 50 state constitutions.)
“We Resolve to Conquer or Die”
“The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. … We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world.” —George Washington
At the advent of the American Revolution, John Adams wrote, “Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”
Samuel Adams captured the spirit of the Revolution in his statehouse speech in Philadelphia a month after the Declaration’s signing: “Courage, then, my countrymen; our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious Liberty. … If I have a wish dearer to my soul than that my ashes may be mingled with those of [fellow Patriots] Warren and Montgomery, it is that these American States may never cease to be free and independent.”
In December of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, of the contest for Liberty: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. … Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
As Benjamin Franklin noted, “It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their Liberty in defending our own.”
American Patriots faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds, but their unanimously chosen leader, George Washington, was, by common acclimation, a divinely inspired choice as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington had proven his steadfast leadership as a young Virginia militia officer in the French and Indian War two decades before the Revolution, most notably at the Battle of the Monongahela. When the French and their Indian allies ambushed General Edward Braddock’s forces and mortally wounded Braddock, the British were retreating in chaos. Washington rode back and forth amid the pitched battle, rallying Braddock’s troops and his Virginians into an ordered retreat. In the process, two horses were shot from under him, and he would later count four bullet holes through his coat, but he himself was unscathed.
Concerning overwhelming odds, Washington wrote in his General Orders of 1776, “Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions — The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny mediated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
Washington’s General Orders continued, “The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessings of Liberty—that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.”
The Revolutionary War was hard fought and nearly lost on many fields. There were pitched and bloody battles between the onset at Lexington and Concord in 1775 and the war’s conclusion with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The most notable of those battles were Ticonderoga (May 1775), Bunker Hill (June 1775), Quebec (December 1775), Charleston (June 1776), Trenton (December 1776), Bennington (August 1777), Saratoga (October 1777), the encampment at Valley Forge (December 1777), Monmouth (June 1778), Rhode Island (August 1778), Kings Mountain (October 1780), Cowpens (January 1781) and finally Yorktown (October 1781).
There were some 6,800 American battle deaths, with overall deaths including the wounded, starved and diseased, of more than 55,000. Our French ally suffered more than 10,000 battle deaths, mostly at sea, and their Spanish ally bore more than 5,000 casualties. In comparison to the casualty counts of the 20th century’s world wars, these numbers are small. As a percentage of population, the casualty statistics are harrowing. In 1776, the 13 colonies’ population was just under 2.5 million, less than 20 percent of the population of Britain at the time.
At war’s end in 1783, Washington wrote, “It is yet to be decided whether the revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved.”
Benjamin Rush observed: “The American war is over; but this far from being the case with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.”
In retrospect, John Adams wrote, “But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the People; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations. … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the People was the real American revolution.”
Rather than anoint himself king, as some speculated he might, General Washington chose instead to return to his Mount Vernon farm. When King George III heard from his American-born portrait painter, Benjamin West, that Washington would retire rather than take power, he reportedly replied, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Fortunately, Washington was later persuaded to return to public service as our nation’s first constitutional president. The man also is known as the Father of our Country and its “Indispensable Man” set the highest standard for presidential character.
“We the People”
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” —Preamble to the Constitution of the United States
In 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee representing the 13 newly sovereign states to draft a formal document of incorporation. On November 15th, 1777, the states approved the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The Articles, which maintained the maximal autonomy of the individual states, were finally ratified on March 1st, 1781, and “the United States in Congress assembled” became the Congress of the Confederation.
Returning focus to the issue of self-governance at the close of the Revolutionary War, it was evident to most American leaders that the Articles of Confederation between the states did not sufficiently ensure the interests and security of the Confederation. In September 1786, at the urging of 35-year old James Madison, 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia) met in Annapolis, Maryland, to consider amendments to the Articles.
Those delegates called for representatives from every state to convene at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia for full consideration of the revisions needed, and 12 states (Rhode Island declining) sent 55 delegates, a third of whom had signed the Declaration of Independence.
The most noted delegates were George Washington, James Madison, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and George Mason. (Thomas Jefferson was in Europe in his capacity as Minister to France, but he expressed his cautious support for the new Constitution in correspondence with Madison.)
Noticeably absent from the proceedings were Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Paine who believed the Articles needed modification, not a replacement. Their concern was that establishing a new constitution could imperil our fundamental liberties. Summing up those sentiments, Henry wrote that he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”
The Philadelphia (Constitutional) Convention opened on May 25th, 1787 and unanimously elected George Washington as the convention’s president. Drafting a new constitution was soon favored against amending the existing Articles. The next three months were devoted to deliberations on various proposals. The objective was to draft a document to secure the rights and principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, thus preserving Liberty.
In late July, after much debate, a Committee of Detail was appointed to draft a document that included all of the compromise agreements, but based primarily on Madison’s Virginia Plan, establishing a republican form of government subject to strict Rule of Law, reflecting the consent of the people and severely limiting the power of the central government.
A month later, the Committee of Style and Arrangement, which included James Madison as primary author and intellectual inspiration, Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton, William Samuel Johnson and Rufus King, produced the final draft of the Constitution, which was then submitted September 17th, 1787, for delegate signatures. Here it must be stressed that this document established a Republic, not a popular democracy — which is to say that it affirmed the primacy of Rule of Law over the rule of men.
Said Benjamin Franklin of the new document: “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. … Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”
Of the 55 delegates, 39 signed the new Constitution while the remaining delegates declined, most out of concern that the power apportioned through the new plan was a threat to the sovereignty of the several states and, thus, to individual Liberty.
The ensuing ratification debates among the states were vigorous.
James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton (the latter having distinguished himself as Washington’s chief aide and as a 26-year old officer at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781), authored and published The Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 essays written under the pseudonym “Publius,” advocating for ratification of the new Constitution and a strong central government it established. The Federalist Papers remain to this day, our Constitution’s most detailed explication — affirming the original meaning and intent of our nation’s founding document.
Anti-Federalists opposed the plan under consideration because they believed it allocated too much power to the central government. Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Robert Yates, Thomas Paine, Samuel Bryan and Richard Henry Lee were among those who spoke against ratification, and some authored several essays that were aggregated and published as The Anti-Federalist Papers.
The Federalists prevailed, but Madison conceded: “It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect.”
To that end, it is important to note that the “strong central government” established by our Constitution bore no resemblance to, nor did that document authorize, the behemoth, intrusive, statist central government that we have today.
In Federalist No. 32, Hamilton notes, “But as the plan of the [constitutional] convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, exclusively delegated to the United States.”
The new Constitution stipulated that once 9 of the 13 original states ratified it through state conventions, a date would be established for its implementation. This created controversy, as the new Constitution had no standing authority to make such a stipulation. However, once the ninth state, New Hampshire, reported its convention’s approval on June 21st, 1788, the Continental Congress set the Constitution’s enactment date as March 4th, 1789. With Rhode Island’s ratification on May 29th, 1790, all 13 states endorsed the Constitution.
Though critical of many of its provisions, Thomas Jefferson wrote in reflection of the Convention and its product: “The example of changing a constitution by assembling the wise men of the state, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had given them. The constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberation, is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men.”
Our Founders affirmed that the natural rights enumerated in our Declaration of Independence and, by extension, as codified in its subordinate guidance, our Constitution, are those endowed by our Creator. Regarding the supremacy of the Declaration’s enumerations, on the occasion of the Declaration’s 50th anniversary, Madison wrote to Jefferson, “On the distinctive principles of the Government … of the U. States, the best guides are to be found in … The Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental Act of Union of these States.”
Hence, the U.S. Constitution was created as a contractual agreement binding the several states into one union as our national motto implies — E Pluribus Unum. But the innate Rights of Mankind identified in the Declaration, provide the overarching basis for that union, irrevocable and non-negotiable by way of “collective agreement and compromise.”
But as James Monroe cautioned, “How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.”
Upon ratification, James Madison observed, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”
George Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College twice, in 1789 and 1792, and served our new nation until 1797, when he chose, once again, to return to his Mount Vernon farm.
“To Secure These Rights”
“The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…” — Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Endeavoring to further define our Constitution’s limits on governmental encroachment upon the innate rights of the people, James Madison, its primary architect, introduced to the First Congress in 1789 a Bill of Rights — which was ratified on December 15th, 1791.
Our Bill of Rights was inspired by three remarkable documents. The first being John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689) regarding protection of “property” (in the Latin context, proprius, or one’s own “life, Liberty, and estate”). The second, the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) authored by George Mason as part of that state’s constitution. Finally, of course, our Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson.
Though the Bill of Rights is commonly referred to as “the first ten Amendments” to our Constitution, it is essential to distinguish these ten Articles from Amendments. The Bill of Rights are an integral part of our Constitution. Constitutional Amendments made over the course of our nation’s history, have modified the Constitution per its own stipulation.
Madison proposed these Articles “to prevent misconstruction or abuse” of our Natural Rights by stipulating “declaratory and restrictive clauses” to prevent the central government from violating those rights.
The addition of the Bill of Rights was hotly debated among our Founders. Many argued that the mere reiteration of these innate and unalienable Rights of Mankind within the Constitution implied that those rights are subject to change. The subtext being that those rights are granted to the people by the state, rather than inherent as “endowed by their Creator.”
Alexander Hamilton maintained in Federalist No. 84: “Bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”
But Anti-Federalist George Mason was among 16 of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates who refused to sign the Constitution because it did not adequately address limitations on what the central government had “no power to do.” Indeed, he worked with Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams against its ratification for that very reason.
As a result of Mason’s insistence, the first session of Congress incorporated those 10 additional limitations upon the federal government for the reasons outlined by the Preamble to the Bill of Rights: “The Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
Notably, in the earlier debates on the language in the Constitution, Madison argued, “In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce.” This was a reference to the question of the length of terms for senators, and other such particulars. However, everyone in the Constitution and Bill of Rights debates would reject the notion that such changes would ever apply to the constriction of natural rights, such as those enumerated in the First and Second Articles.
Read in context, the Bill of Rights is both another affirmation of the unalienable Rights of Mankind and a clear proscription upon any central government infringement of those rights. The purpose of its inclusion was, without question, to further secure those rights.
“An Evil of Colossal Magnitude”
“I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery.”
Much has rightly been written of the fact that, at the time our Declaration was instituted and our Constitution ratified, many Africans were enslaved in the American colonies. Notably, strong sentiments for emancipation were also expressed in that same era.
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state.”
In his draft of the Declaration, Jefferson wrote, “[King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and Liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” He later wrote, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”
“Negro slavery,” wrote John Adams, “is an evil of colossal magnitude.” Benjamin Franklin concluded that slavery was “an atrocious debasement of human nature. … Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States… I have, throughout my whole life, held the practice of slavery in…abhorrence.”
“John Jay declared, "It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
During the constitutional debates, James Madison observed: “The real difference of interests, lay not between large and small, but between the Northern and Southern states. The institution of slavery and its consequences formed a line of discrimination.”
George Washington would later write: “I wish from my soul that the legislature of [Virginia] could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of slavery. … [T]here is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].”
Assertions by those who employed slaves is viewed in the contemporary context as a contradiction, though in the context of the period, they were not. Unfortunately, as ingrained as the institution of slavery was in the Colonial period, arguments for emancipation gained little traction.
Slavery would not be abolished until the end of the cataclysmic War Between the States, 76 years after our Constitution’s ratification. The primary catalyst for that bloody war was slavery and its extension westward. The secondary reason for the war was an issue of states’ rights and a host of economically oppressive federal policies benefiting the more populous northern states to the detriment of the agrarian South.
Abraham Lincoln’s war-objective was, first and foremost, to preserve the Union. He generally advocated returning slaves to a newly-created nation in Africa.
And by way of understanding Lincoln’s motives and the complexities of the era, notably, he offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union forces at the war’s outset. But Lee declined, writing that his first allegiance was to his home state of Virginia: “I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”
By late 1862, it was apparent to Lincoln that preservation of the Union could not be achieved without emancipation of slaves. Despite resistance from his free white labor constituents in the North, who did not want competition from an influx of black laborers from the South, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Full emancipation was ultimately codified in 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, but it would take the 1964 Civil Rights Act to establish uniform legal racial parity for black Americans.
The Rule of Law
“They define a Republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.” —John Adams
Article VI of our Constitution proclaims: “This Constitution … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”
For its first 150 years (with a few exceptions), our Constitution and the Rule of Law it enshrines, stood mostly as our Founders and “The People” intended — as is — in accordance with its original intent. In other words, it was interpreted exegetically, as textually constructed, rather than eisegetically, as a so-called “living constitution” that could be continually reinterpreted by jurists to comport with the political agendas of later generations of politicians.
But incrementally, particularly rapidly in recent decades, constitutional Rule of Law has been diluted and degraded by the actions of those in the executive, legislative and judicial branches — most notably the latter — and at great hazard to the future of Liberty.
Indeed, James Madison’s warning was prescient: “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the People by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
As Thomas Jefferson warned repeatedly, the greatest threat to Rule of Law and constitutional limitations on central government was an unbridled judiciary: “The original error [was in] establishing a judiciary independent of the nation, and which, from the citadel of the law, can turn its guns on those they were meant to defend, and control and fashion their proceedings to its own will. … The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”
Jefferson clearly understood that, should our Constitution ever become a malleable document for a politicized and and despotic judiciary to misinterpret according to executive and legislative special interests, Rule of Law would gradually yield to the rule of men — the historical terminus of the latter being, irrevocably, tyranny.
Our Framers did not subject judges to election in order to avoid political corruption. They assumed judges would remain above such influences and stay true to Rule of Law, thus protecting our Constitution from avarice and populist adulteration. Our Founders and early members of the judiciary were men of character, who were deeply devoted to Liberty and Rule of Law.
Jefferson predicted that many in the executive and legislative branches would eventually abandon their oaths “to Support and Defend” our Constitution. Likewise, the ideologically appointed judiciary has suffered a similar fate of oath corruption. That exploitation of the bench is difficult to correct since judges are protected from electoral eviction. It may be argued that all three branches of government have devolved into various degrees of “despotic” branches.
Regarding the process of amendment prescribed by our Constitution, George Washington wrote: “If in the opinion of the People the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates, but let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Alexander Hamilton concurred, writing, “A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.” He declared, “The present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political foes — rejecting all changes but through the channel itself provides for amendments.”
On the subject of constitutional interpretation, Jefferson wrote: “The Constitution on which our Union rests, shall be administered … according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the People of the United States at the time of its adoption — a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated it. … On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
Jefferson concluded: “Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.”
James Madison agreed: “I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that is not the guide in expounding it, there may be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful exercise of its powers.”
Madison added: “As the Courts are generally the last in making the decision, it results to them by refusing or not refusing to execute a law to stamp it with its final character. This makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper.”
Justice James Wilson set forth, “The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.”
The Federalist Papers clearly delineate constitutional interpretation. In Federalist No. 78, Hamilton wrote: “[The judicial branch] may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment. … Liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments.”
In Federalist No. 81, Hamilton declared: “There is not a syllable in the [Constitution] which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution. … The Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is an evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution.” And yet this non-existent “spirit” is the errant basis for today’s “living constitution,” enabling amendment by judicial diktat rather than its prescribed method in Article V.
To this end, national courts have done great damage to our Constitution’s original form and intent, errantly, regressively and perilously eroding Rule of Law and “progressively” replacing it with the rule of men. The federal judiciary has indeed become the “despotic branch” of which Jefferson forewarned
Shortly before his death, Jefferson wrote: “At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions, nevertheless, become law by precedent, sapping, by little and little, the foundations of the constitution, and working its change by construction, before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life, if secured against all liability to account.”
The Rule of Men
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the People to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.” ——George Washington
The first significant instance of constitutional interpretation by the federal judiciary was the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison. The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Marshall, denied a plaintiff’s claim because it relied on the Judiciary Act of 1789, which the court ruled unconstitutional.
Since that ruling, the Marbury precedent has been used by judicial activists to violate the limits of judicial power outlined in Article III of our Constitution. It has thus eroded Rule of Law and created a quiet constitutional crisis of decay and ruin.
Prior to Woodrow Wilson’s “progressive” presidency, and Franklin Roosevelt’s further expansion of central government power with his “New Deal” social welfare programs, the courts were still largely populated with Originalists — that is, those who properly rendered legal interpretation based on the Constitution’s “original intent.” Because of this, Roosevelt was often at odds with the courts.
So determined was FDR to overstep the constitutional limits on the executive branch that in 1937 he covertly conceived a plan to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court from nine to 15, with the expectation that his six newly minted appointees would give him a favorably predisposed activist majority. (It’s no coincidence that the term “living constitution” was coined that same year.)
Roosevelt’s effort to pack the courts went down to resounding bipartisan defeat, but during his unprecedented three terms in office (he died 82 days into his fourth term), he appointed a whopping eight Supreme Court justices. Their activist rulings consistently allowed him to enact his statist New Deal policies and greatly expand the power and scope of the central government.
In effect, Roosevelt successfully converted the judicial branch from one of independent review according to Rule of Law into one of subservience according to the rule of men. Fortunately, in 1951 the 22nd Amendment was ratified, setting a two-term limit on the presidency, but the constitutional damage done by FDR’s imperial presidency was done.
In its prescription for separating the judiciary from the executive branch, Federalist No. 73 notes: “Judges … by being often associated with the Executive … might be induced to embark too far in the political views of that magistrate, and thus a dangerous combination might by degrees be cemented between the executive and judiciary departments. It is impossible to keep the judges too distinct from every other avocation than that of expounding the laws. It is peculiarly dangerous to place them in a situation to be either corrupted or influenced by the Executive.”
By the mid-20th century, statist executives had all but co-opted the judiciary, and those who favored judicial despotism have been devitalizing Rule of Law ever since.
In the decades that followed FDR’s reign, the notion of a “living constitution” subject to contemporaneous judicial interpretation molded by political agendas, infested many federal court jurisdictions. With increasing frequency, those judicial activists “legislating from the bench,” were nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court by like-minded politicians.
This degradation in Rule of Law was codified by the Warren Court in Trop v. Dulles (1958). In that ruling, the High Court noted that the Constitution should comport with “evolving standards … that mark the progress of a maturing society.” In other words, the Warren Court believed that the Constitution should be a fully pliable document, as Thomas Jefferson had forewarned, “a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”
Since then, activist judges have not only undermined the plain language of our Constitution but have also done equal injury to the Bill of Rights.
By the 1980s, the adulteration of our Constitution by its Supreme Court arbiters was so commonplace that Justice Thurgood Marshall would frequently lecture on “The Constitution: A Living Document.” He thus defended constitutional interpretation based upon contemporaneous moral, political and cultural circumstances.
More recently, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “[There’s] the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break. But you would have to be an idiot to believe that; the Constitution is not a living organism; it is a legal document. It says some things and doesn’t say other things.”
Justice Clarence Thomas followed: “There are really only two ways to interpret the Constitution — try to discern as best we can what the Framers intended or make it up. No matter how ingenious, imaginative or artfully put, unless interpretive methodologies are tied to the original intent of the Framers, they have no basis in the Constitution. … To be sure, even the most conscientious effort to adhere to the original intent of the Framers of our Constitution is flawed, as all methodologies and human institutions are; but at least Originalism has the advantage of being legitimate and, I might add, impartial.”
On the political consequences of a “living constitution,” Justice Scalia concluded plainly: “If you think aficionados of a living constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again. … As long as judges tinker with the Constitution to ‘do what the people want,’ instead of what the document actually commands, politicians who pick and confirm new federal judges will naturally want only those who agree with them politically.”
Indeed, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
A “Wall of Separation”?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the People peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” —Article One, Bill of Rights
Among the most egregious examples of judicial activism undermining our Constitution are the many flawed rulings rendered in regard to Article One (the First Amendment) of the Bill of Rights, particularly to its assurance of religious freedom. Once again, in plain language, the First Amendment stipulates, “Congress shall make no law…”
But activist courts have ruled that this prohibition applies to virtually every public forum, from public schools and sporting events to public squares.
There is no more ominous assault on our Constitution, no more serious threat to Liberty “endowed by our Creator,” than the gross errant notion that any vestige of religion must be eradicated from any and all levels of government. To the extent that knowledge of our Creator (at one time prevalent in every educational institution) is eradicated, then the historically accepted knowledge that the inherent right to Liberty is “endowed by [our] Creator” will be undermined, succumbing to rule of men.
Our Founders’ First Amendment intent was that the central government would not favor one religious denomination over others by act of Congress. “Congress shall make no law…” It is precisely that which Thomas Jefferson referenced when noting the Constitution built “a wall of separation between church and State” — and nothing more.
But for decades, judicial activists have “interpreted” the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause” to suit their political agendas, placing severe constraints upon the free exercise of religion by invoking Thomas Jefferson’s once-obscure but now wholly misrepresented “wall of separation” metaphor.
In 1802, Jefferson rightly supported the disestablishment of the Anglican Church as the official religion in Virginia. Baptists hoped he would similarly affirm the disestablishment of the Congregational Church in Connecticut. Moreover, Baptists feared the national government would declare Anglicanism the national church, much as the Crown recognized the Church of England as its official church. Recognition of state-backed religions led to discrimination against those who were not adherents of the official church.
Responding to the Baptists about their concerns, Jefferson wrote: “I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. … I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man.” (Notably, two days after writing that letter, Jefferson attended religious services in the House of Representatives.)
Jefferson’s letter reaffirmed the Bill of Rights’ barrier between federal and state governments, and the prohibition against Congress making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” His “separation” language most certainly did not create a prohibition against faith expression in public venues. Yet, those limitations are how the courts interpret it today. The intended consequence of the contemporary artificial barrier between church and state is to remove references to our Creator from all public forums—particularly government educational institutions. Over time, disabused belief in a sovereign God and His endowment of Liberty and other unalienable Rights of Man fall to the wayside.
Recall that this same Thomas Jefferson also proclaimed: “The God who gave us life, gave us Liberty at the same time. … Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the People that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”
Indeed, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are the Natural Rights of Man. They are gifts from our God, not government. And yet “progressive” politicians and judicial activists would have us believe otherwise.
It was with firm regard for the Rights of Mankind that our Constitution was written and ratified “in order to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” As such, it established a constitutional Republic whose foundation was law based on Natural Rights, not rights allocated by governments or by those in positions of power.
“Our political way of life,” John Quincy Adams wrote, “is by the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, and of course presupposes the existence of God, the moral ruler of the universe, and a rule of right and wrong, of just and unjust, binding upon man, preceding all institutions of human society and government.”
George Mason declared, “The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth.”
Notably, the conviction that our rights are innately bestowed by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is enumerated in the constitutional preambles of every state in our Union.
“Let it simply be asked,” George Washington wrote in his 1796 Farewell Address, “where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
John Adams asserted, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
As the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist explained: “The wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based upon bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned. … The greatest injury of the ‘wall’ notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intention of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.”
“The Palladium of the Liberties of a Republic”
“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” —Article Two, Bill of Rights
Article Two (the Second Amendment) of our Bill of Rights was written as a proscription against government intrusion upon and usurpation of the Natural Rights of Man, because “the right of the People to keep and bear Arms” is the most formidable line of defense against government intrusion on those rights.
As previously noted, the first shots of the eight-year struggle for American independence, fired at Lexington and Concord, were in response to the British government’s attempt to disarm “the People.”
It was understood then, as now, that the inherent right to self-defense was irrevocable — and not to be infringed. It was and remains the most fundamental of the unalterable Rights of Man – the rights of all people.
After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, during the 1788 Massachusetts Convention debates for ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Samuel Adams proclaimed, “The said Constitution shall never be construed … to prevent the People of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” Other states provided similar assurances in their constitutions, based on common law.
James Madison, in his first Bill of Rights draft, proposed what would become the Second Amendment. This was a concession to the Anti-Federalists, who insisted upon the enumeration of these specific Liberties in the Constitution, much to the objection of the Federalists, who believed this might imply to future generations that those inherent rights were subject to amendment.
Given the preeminent status of the Second Amendment, and the growing contemporary chorus of calls to amend or fully repeal it, we should be clear that our Founders never intended this inherent right to be infringed.
Again, typical of those objections was this from Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 84: “Bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. … For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”
And, we should be equally clear about what our Founders intended to convey with each clause of the Second Amendment, as affirmed by noted linguists: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,” and “the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
The reference to “a well regulated militia” has been a subject of some dispute.
Do these words refer to a standing army as some suggest, a national body of armed forces necessary for the safety and security of the nation, but which could be a potential threat to its citizens under the control of an oppressive regime?
While the militia reference is not to a standing army, it is clear that our Founders had a uniform concern for such military bodies. At the Constitutional Convention, Madison said: “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to Liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”
In Madison’s Federalist Number 46, he declared that the Constitution should be ratified despite fears of a standing army, because Americans are armed, and because they are also organized into state militias not controlled by the proposed federal government.
According to Madison: “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
Madison also observed, prophetically, that in Europe, “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” (I note “prophetically” because the inability of Europeans to defend themselves against the tyrannical socialist dictatorships of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin resulted in the deaths of more than 35 million European civilians.)
More specifically, as Noah Webster wrote in 1787: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”
“A people can never be deprived of their liberties,” Webster insisted, “while they retain in their own hands, a power sufficient to any other power in the state.”
Despite this fundamental truth, there exists a cynical and malicious argument for undermining the Second Amendment. This argument is made by historical revisionists who insist that because “a well regulated militia” refers to a state militia (or guard), it only authorizes “the People to keep and bear Arms” in their capacity as members of such militias.
The Second Amendment, however, has two clauses, just as it has two purposes. The first affirms the advantage of “a well regulated militia.” The second affirms the “right of the people (not state militias) to keep and bear Arms.” Thus, the second does not limit or restrict “to keep and bear Arms” to only militias, but rather affirms the “right of the People” to do so.
In the context of the debates about the Bill of Rights, critics of the proposed Constitution believed that both the establishment of militias and the individual right to keep and bear arms were vital to the future of Liberty.
Thus, the Second Amendment affirms those two rights, much as the First Amendment affirms five rights — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition of the government.
Moreover, in the context at the time of the framing, “well regulated” meant orderly, much as it did in common references to “well regulated government” and “well regulated families.”
It was also generally understood that “militia” was a reference to the whole body of “the People,” though state militias were generally limited to able-bodied men.
George Mason, whose Virginia Bill of Rights was the inspiration for our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, noted in the ratification debates, “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people …” He noted as well that to disarm the people “was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
Virginia statesman Richard Henry Lee wrote, “[T]o preserve Liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
Likewise during the ratification debates, Patrick Henry declared: “The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun. … Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense?”
Our Founders agreed and articulated repeatedly that the inherent “right of the People to keep and bear Arms” was the most dependable assurance of preserving Liberty.
In his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), Justice Joseph Story, appointed to the Supreme Court by James Madison, affirmed the pre-eminence of the Second Amendment: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium (safeguard) of the Liberties of a Republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of the rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the People to resist and triumph over them.”
Jefferson asked rhetorically: “What country can preserve its liberties, if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents,” Alexander Hamilton observed, “there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.” He added, “Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped.”
Historically, there have been no successful attempts to modify the Second Amendment’s assurance of the innate rights of the people to defend their Liberty, but there are now threats to do so. That is precisely why in the debates over ratification of the Bill of Rights, as previously noted, many of our Founders expressed concern that the enumeration of such rights might imply to future generations that such rights were subject to alteration.
That notwithstanding, our Second Amendment rights have most certainly been subject to much alteration by malicious judicial misinterpretation.
Make no mistake: Statists in the executive, legislative and judicial branches who favor a centralized socialist government do endeavor, wherever possible, to enfeeble and erode the Second Amendment. For in doing so, they move ever closer to their ultimate objective (and that of their uninformed constituents) – disarming the American people and demoting our constitutional standing from that of “citizens” to our ancestors standing as “subjects.”
“The Powers Not Delegated…”
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.” —Article Ten (the Tenth Amendment)
The federal government has, over the years, routinely violated this amendment by wielding all manner of legislative and regulatory powers — powers that should be, according to Rule of Law, “reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.”
Equally injurious to our Constitution is the manner in which the assurance of states’ rights outlined in the the Tenth Amendment has been eroded by legislative malfeasance and judicial diktat.
In Federalist No. 39, James Madison expounded upon the covenantal nature of the states’ would-be federal arrangement, voluntarily bound by mutual obligation. “Each State,” he wrote, “in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.”
In Federalist No. 45, Madison highlighted the definite limits placed upon power in such a federal structure, writing: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
To help ensure that the central government would not overstep its constitutional authority, Madison wrote in Federalist No. 46: “Ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. … But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity.”
But by 1792, Madison foresaw the potential for abuse, and he protested loudly against the prospect of the new government’s urge to redistribute the wealth of its citizens for purposes other than those expressly authorized by our Constitution: “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.”
Similarly, Jefferson wrote: “Giving [Congress] a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole [Constitution] to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. [The Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.”
In his remarkable wisdom, Jefferson also warned that the legislature and courts should not enact laws so complex and convoluted as to conceal their meaning and implications from those for whom they were, ostensibly, created: “Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.”
Unfortunately, the law today is barely comprehensible in its scope even to those who legislate and interpret it, and this has dire implications for the federalist system of government established by our Constitution.
“A Republic, if You Can Keep It”
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin
As our Founders debated the language of our Constitution, Ben Franklin wrote: “I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent Beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live & move and have their being.”
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a citizen asked Franklin if the delegates had formed a Republic or a monarchy. “A Republic,” he responded famously, “if you can keep it.”
To that end, as a warning for future generations to beware of “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men,” George Washington wrote of those predisposed to tread on the rights of the people, “A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”
“Good intentions,” noted Daniel Webster, “will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the People against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
Or, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the People, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”
John Adams observed: “Is the present State of the Nation Republican enough? Is virtue the principle of our Government? Is honor? Or is ambition and avarice adulation, baseness, covetousness, the thirst of riches, indifference concerning the means of rising and enriching, the contempt of principle, the Spirit of party and of faction, the motive and the principle that governs?”
On the necessity of wisdom and reason, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.”
John Adams warned of dire consequences should such wisdom and reason fail to sustain Liberty as enshrined in our Constitution: “A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
Unfortunately, and at the expense of Liberty, the Constitution has suffered under generations of “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled” politicians and judges whose successors now recognize only vestiges of its original intent. Today, constitutional Rule of Law has been enfeebled by those who have failed to abide by their sacred oaths to “support and defend” the same.
As the erosion of constitutional authority undermines individual Liberty, it likewise undermines economic Liberty, and the primary instruments of that erosion are taxation and regulation.
Our Founders were clearly concerned about government power to lay and collect taxes. Their most notable concern was the direct taxation of income and, accordingly, enumerated specific limitations on taxing and spending.
James Madison addressed the issue of unlimited spending and warned that misconstruction of “the power ‘to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.”
As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.”
To ensure that federal taxation would be limited to these constraints, Article I, Section 8, of our Constitution (the “Taxing and Spending Clause”), as duly ratified in 1789, defined “Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises,” but Section 8 required that such “shall be uniform throughout the United States.” This, in effect, limited the power of Congress to impose direct taxes on individuals, as further outlined in Section 9: “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”
That constitutional limitation survived until 1861, when the first income tax was imposed to defray Union costs during the War Between the States. That three-percent tax on incomes over $800 was sold as an emergency war measure. In 1894, congressional Democrats tested the Constitution again, passing a peacetime tax of two percent on income above $4,000. A year later, that tariff was overturned by the Supreme Court as not complying with the limitations set forth in Article 1.
That resulted in the most devastating blow to economic Liberty, dealt by the father of American socialism, Woodrow Wilson. He was elected in large part due to his mastery of the classist rhetoric outlined by Karl Marx’s 19th century Communist Manifesto. Wilson used that rhetoric to gain rapid passage of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, which specified, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
“From whatever source derived” indeed.
The top tax rate levied under the new amendment was seven percent on incomes above $500,000, but today almost every individual with an income of $25,000 or more (less than $1,000 in 1914 dollars) is taxed. If Wilson had attempted to impose his tax on incomes of $1,000, a second American Revolution surely would have commenced. But like most assaults on Liberty, the income tax levy has avoided insurrection by incremental application, targeting primarily “the wealthy” over the past century, but with deeper economic implications for much broader groups of income earners.
Wilson’s Sixteenth Amendment has been used to enact unequal and discriminatory taxation of targeted groups of income classes — “progressive” taxation as it is known. The resulting classism is the bulwark of all socialist movements. The “class warfare” agenda opened the floodgates for populist executives and legislators to enact taxes for expenditures not expressly authorized by our Constitution, and thus, the end of constitutionally limited government with its resulting empowerment of the rule of men.
Notably, however, the construction of the Sixteenth Amendment notwithstanding, Article I, Section 9, of our Constitution assures that “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed,” as these would allow the targeting of individuals or minority groups for undue punishment. Thus, it should be argued that targeting certain classes of income earners constitutes a bill of attainder, which should disqualify all but the even distribution of taxation by way of a flat tax across the board.
Beyond Wilson, however, the most reckless of the 20th century’s class-warfare provocateurs was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was, ironically, an aristocrat. At the onset of the Great Depression, he instituted a plethora of policies that further challenged constitutional limits on our government, the cost of which now threatens our nation’s economic solvency.
FDR’s economic and social solutions were shaped by his upbringing as a wealthy “inheritance welfare liberal” (those raised dependent on inheritance handouts rather than government handouts). He used the Great Depression as cover to redefine and expand the role of the central government via countless extra-constitutional decrees, and he expanded Wilson’s program for redistribution of wealth to fund those extra-constitutional efforts.
Roosevelt proclaimed, “Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.”
If that language sounds familiar, it is because his unconstitutional “American principle” is essentially a paraphrase of Karl Marx’s communist maxim, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Roosevelt’s “principle” had no basis in Rule of Law or the principles of free enterprise. But, his socialist New Deal policies and programs set the standard for government expansion funded by wealth redistribution under what is the central government’s most powerful weapon: The U.S. Tax Code.
Liberty-minded historians and economists concur that FDR’s model for Democratic Socialism, like National Socialism, is tantamount to Marxist Socialism repackaged. It seeks a centrally planned economy directed by a single-party state that controls economic production via regulation and income redistribution. All three socialist manifestations are formed around class-warfare propaganda and are in direct opposition to free enterprise.
As noted economist and philosopher F.A. Hayek wrote, “There is no difference in principle, between the economic philosophy of Nazism, socialism, communism, and fascism and that of the American welfare state and regulated economy.”
In 1960, John F. Kennedy, perhaps the most notable Democrat of the second half of the 20th century, sounded more like future president Ronald Reagan on tax reduction, than his party’s current statist leadership.
Arguing for tax cuts in 1963, Kennedy proclaimed, “It is increasingly clear that no matter what party is in power … an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.”
On the relationship between taxes, income and revenue, JFK noted: “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now. … A tax cut means higher family income and higher business profits and a balanced federal budget. … As the national income grows, the federal government will ultimately end up with more revenues. … A rising tide lifts all boats.”
The incremental enablement of the federal government’s power to tax and spend, and the resulting centralization of government authority and control, has fueled the abject violation of our Constitution’s Tenth Amendment assurance: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The resulting corruption of Rule of Law and the unchecked growth of the federal government constitute a perilous assault on Liberty.
The Rise of Statism and the Welfare State
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.” —Benjamin Franklin
The ability to impose direct taxes to support a welfare state was anathema to our Founders and the Liberty they fought to secure for their posterity.
Of government welfare programs, the Congressional Record notes that James Madison “acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
Thomas Jefferson observed, “Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”
Neither Article 1, Section 8, of our Constitution, nor its Sixteenth Amendment, gave Congress the authority to collect taxes for redistribution to voter constituencies — not social or corporate welfare, not bailing out financial institutions or industrial sectors, or healthcare, or issuing tens of thousands of earmarks for special interest “pork” projects. Nor is Congress authorized to institute countless conditions for the redistribution of wealth in its more than 75,000 pages and four million words of tax code alone, or to impose millions of regulations on everything from carbon emissions to toilet water volume.
So corrupt is this process of funding special interests in return for campaign contributions, and redistributing wealth to ensure constituent votes, that it is now a grave threat to our Representative Republic.
Put another way, a large percentage of income is confiscated by the government and redistributed for purposes not expressly authorized by our Constitution, but to ensure constituent support and perpetuate reelection. Additionally, our federal government has in recent years saddled the American people with more debt than in all our history combined — debt that obligates future generations for repayment.
Of such debt, Jefferson concluded, “The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” This debt burden will, unless it is reversed, break the back of our nation’s free enterprise system and replace it with the statist policies of Democratic Socialism.
Washington warned, “Avoid likewise the accumulation of debt … not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”
Our Founders’ wisdom notwithstanding, today, more than 70 percent of the bloated federal budget is allocated for “objects of benevolence” for which there is no constitutional authority. Despite claims to the contrary, the debt issue is not a government revenue problem but, rather, a government spending problem.
Franklin Roosevelt’s statist New Deal policies were the inspiration for the so-called “Great Society” government welfare programs two decades later, the catastrophic failure of which has enslaved poor people on urban poverty plantations for decades.
Tragically, by the second decade of the 21st century, more than 30 percent of Americans are dependent upon redistributed wealth. Thus, they are predisposed to vote for those promising such redistribution rather than those encouraging them to work. Indeed, socialist writer George Bernard Shaw observed, “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”
Under siege of oppressive taxation, regulation, debt accumulation and social welfare, can our Republic survive? Can Liberty long endure?
Principium Imprimis — Restoring First Principles
“In disquisitions of every kind there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasoning must depend.” —Alexander Hamilton
If we are to bequeath to our posterity the Liberty that our Founders enshrined, as is our charge, then we must return to principium imprimis or First Principles. Our freedoms cannot long endure unless we, the People, reaffirm what was well understood by our Founders, that Liberty is “endowed by [our] Creator.” This primacy of faith must be protected in order to preserve the most fundamental conviction that, as Jefferson wrote, our “liberties are the gift of God” and not the gift of government.
We must be steadfast in our advocacy for individual rights and responsibilities, and we must demand the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary.
We must be tireless in our promotion of traditional American values, particularly those family values that are the cornerstone of a free society, particularly marriage and family. As Justice Joseph story noted, “Marriage is in its origin a contract of natural law. It is the parent, and not the child of society; the source of civility and a sort of seminary of the Republic.”
We must support free enterprise in order that all Americans have the opportunity for prosperity, and a strong national defense to protect our national interests.
We must beware of the “cycle of democracy,” which has been summarized as follows: from bondage (rule of men) to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to Liberty (Rule of Law); from Liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency) to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage (rule of men).
Our Founders established a Representative Republic, not a democracy, in order to prevent this cycle. However, with the erosion of Liberty and Rule of Law, our Republic is now in jeopardy of falling to the fate of other republics throughout history, where Rule of Law was likewise eroded. Only intervention by citizens and leaders who fight for the primacy of constitutional Rule of Law, those committed to supporting and defending the foundation of Liberty above their self-interest, will secure our Republic for future generations.
Our Founders understood that such self-interest would undermine Liberty.
John Hancock wrote: “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed, by the soft arts of luxury and effeminacy, into the pit digged for your destruction. … I thank God that America abounds in men who are superior to all temptation, whom nothing can divert from a steady pursuit of the interest of their country, who are at once its ornament and safeguard.”
Irrevocably linked to the rights ensured by constitutional Rule of Law is economic Liberty.
In 1916, an outspoken advocate for Liberty, Christian minister William J. H. Boetcker, published a tract entitled “The Ten Cannots.” It fittingly contrasts the competing political and economic agendas in our modern era, of those advocating for Liberty versus those advocating for statist socialism:
“You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. "You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. "You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. "You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence. "You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. "You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. "You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. "You cannot establish security on borrowed money. "You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.”
Simply put, the central government cannot give to anybody what it does not first take from somebody else.
Nineteenth century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville once observed, “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in Liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
Tocqueville was commenting on Liberty and free enterprise, American style, versus socialism as envisioned by emerging protagonists of centralized state governments. And he saw on the horizon a looming threat — a threat that would challenge freedoms writ in the blood and toil of our nation’s Founders and generations since.
So, what are today’s generation of American Patriots to do?
Extending Our Legacy of Liberty to the Next Generation
“Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say ‘what should be the reward of such sacrifices?’ … If ye love wealth better than Liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” —Samuel Adams
Some of our countrymen are overwhelmed with the current state of our nation. They have resorted to fratricide within their ranks, or have withdrawn from the fields of battle altogether. In so doing, they have forsaken the legacy of Liberty extended to them by generations of Patriots who have sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
Of such resignation, Jefferson declared: “Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them.”
On retreating from the defense of Liberty, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
George Washington warned: “Disorders and miseries … gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual … [who] turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty. … The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. … Let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
“Is life so dear or peace so sweet,” asked Patrick Henry, “as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me Liberty or give me death!”
In the same vein, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one!”
On Patriotism, Benjamin Rush wrote, “Patriotism is as much a virtue as justice, and is as necessary for the support of societies as natural affection is for the support of families.”
But none can claim the name “American Patriot” while passively submitting to laws and regulations that violate inherent foundational rights and Rule of Law.
At its core, the name “Patriot” has a direct lineage to those who fought for American independence and established our constitutional Republic. That lineage has descended through our history most conspicuously by way of successive generations of Patriots who have pledged “to Support and Defend” our Constitution — those who have been faithful to and have abided by their sacred oaths, even unto death.
But all men and women who have stood firm in defense of Liberty, and remain steadfast, can rightly claim the name, Patriot. They are among the ranks of a grassroots groundswell across the nation in recent years. Increasing numbers of our countrymen are awakening to the serious threats to our Constitution and the irrevocable terminus of those hazards: tyranny.
The growing chorus of Patriot voices from every corner of the nation and all walks of life is demanding restoration of Rule of Law as enshrined in our Constitution.
A Time for Choosing
“It is [the citizens’] choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptable and miserable as a Nation. This is the time of their political probation; this is the moment when the eyes of the World are turned upon them.” —George Washington
Today’s Patriots exemplify not only the eternal spirit of Liberty conferred by previous generations of Patriots but also a spirit enlivened in recent history by a constitutional advocate who many regard as the greatest American president of the 20th century.
Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 on a platform of strong leadership, constitutional integrity and federalism, and he was devoted to that doctrine. Four years later he was re-elected in a landslide, winning every state but his opponent’s home state and, tellingly, the District of Columbia.
Under his leadership, the nation’s slide into the socialist abyss was temporarily arrested. He understood as his contemporary, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stated succinctly: “Socialist governments … always run out of other people’s money. They then start to nationalize everything.”
In 1964, three years before he would serve as Governor of California, Reagan delivered a treatise on Liberty titled, “A Time for Choosing,” which to this day appositely frames conservative philosophy.
In “The Speech,” as we now know it, Reagan insisted, “I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers. … Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
He continued: “You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down — up to a man’s age-old dream; the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
Reagan departed the Democratic Party at the dawn of his political career, but he made a point to clarify his decision, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me.”
Today, the contemporary leaders of that once-noble “party of the People” have recast it into a colossal statist machine, and in the process, have turned the wisdom of their iconic predecessors upside down.
In his 1961 Inaugural Address, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
But today, his party insists: “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.”
In his famous 1963 address from the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But now, his party asserts: “Our children should be judged by the color of their skin, not the content of their character.”
Some said President Reagan won broad support because he was a great communicator, but he corrected that in his Farewell Address: “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.”
The principles of Liberty advanced by President Reagan were, and remain, a template for the victory of Liberty over tyranny.
But our Legacy of Liberty is at risk today because so many Americans are wholly unable to articulate the difference between Rule of Law and rule of men, Liberty versus statism. The consequence of such perilous ignorance is the acceleration of corrupt “progressive” (Read: “regressive”) ideology, whose agenda is, according to the Democrat Party’s 2009-2017 standard-bearer, “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” by subjugating inherent rights to the state.
Thomas Jefferson warned in successive letters: “I place economy among the first and most important virtues and public debt as the greatest dangers to be feared. … To preserve independence … we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. … When all government … shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another. … Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. … The fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follow that, and in its turn wretchedness and oppression.”
Today, our economy is struggling under the enormous weight of mounting debt, and it may eventually implode with much more ominous consequences than those of the Great Depression. The ensuing social crisis would result in government intervention under the pretense of “economic recovery,” structured to, ultimately, replace the last vestiges of free enterprise with a democratic socialist framework.
As Jefferson concluded, “We must make our election between economy and Liberty, or profusion and servitude.”
Alexander Hamilton wrote likewise, “No man in his senses can hesitate in choosing to be free, rather than a slave.”
Another Time for Choosing
“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.” —Samuel Adams
Given that a plethora of diktats, decrees and regulations imposed by those in the executive, legislative and judicial branches fail to comport with the plain language and authority of our Constitution, it is clear that those issuing them have abandoned their “sacred oaths” to “support and defend” that venerable document “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Our Founders understood that Rule of Law as enshrined in our Constitution was the foundational guarantee to protect and sustain Liberty for their generation and that of their posterity. Consequently, they prescribed that all elected officials be bound by sacred oath “to support and defend” it.
For presidents, Article II, Section 1, of our Constitution specifies: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”
Likewise, Article VI, Clause 3, specifies, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution…”
In the current era, however, many federal officeholders have forsaken their oaths and instead focus on redistributing wealth to their special-interest constituencies in order to perpetuate their own re-election. Here, we can be certain that when the number of constituents who vote for their income and provisions outnumber those who work for their income and provisions, the Republic will be lost.
The time has come to inquire with a unified voice: Because there is no explicit constitutional authority for many of the laws and regulations enacted by the legislative and judicial branches, and enforced by the central government, then by what authority do those entities lay and collect taxes to fund such laws and regulations? Where there is no authority, this certainly constitutes “taxation without representation.” Thus, what should be the consequence for such dereliction?
In the current context of political alliances, the words conservative “right” and liberal “left” are ubiquitously used to describe whether one advocates for Rule of Law or for the rule of men; the conservation of our Constitution as the Founders intended, or its errant liberal interpretation by “progressive” legislators and judicial activists.
President Reagan challenged us to choose which side are we on, and to fully understand the consequences of that choice.
It is time for those of us who endorse the most basic tenets of our Republic — “That all men are created equal,” that we are in fact “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — to choose, and set about the formidable task of restoring individual Liberty and constitutional limits upon the branches of our federal government which threaten the future of our Republic.
The futility of debating policy matters must now yield to a more substantive national debate about constitutional authority and the First Principles of Liberty.
If we are to fully restore Liberty and the integrity of our Constitution, we must continue to do so from the bottom up, a groundswell from the grassroots. Indeed, nothing great and enduring has ever been built from the top down. We must therefore start at the foundation, speaking with one disciplined, determined and unified voice toward one primary objective: the re-establishment of Rule of Law.
If we are to succeed, we must understand our Constitution and the Rule of Law it preserves, and we must extend that understanding to others. If we are to turn back the rising tide of tyranny, it is important that every American Patriot, all of whom are committed to preserving our constitutional heritage and extending our legacy of Liberty to future generations, be able to articulate the difference between Rule of Law and rule of men.
Indeed, in this, the third century since our foundational Declaration and Constitution were instituted, quiet encroachments have resulted in a central government poised to dictate the terms of Liberty according to the decrees of men. The threat of tyranny is looming.
Although our Constitution provides the people with an authentic means for amendment, as prescribed in Article V, activist jurists and lawmakers have altered that founding convention well beyond any semblance of its original intent, using the courts, legislation and regulation to greatly expand the powers of the central government according to their decrees.
We must declare by all means that the scope of our government’s activities be constrained to the limits enumerated in our Constitution, and we must understand that this contraction will require courage, deliberation and years of steadfast diligence. It will take time to rebuild from generations of erosion to Rule of Law. But rebuild we must, and with determination. For if we fail, and Rule of Law is overwhelmed by the rule of men, tyranny will, once again, prevail.
On July 4th, 1776, our Declaration of Independence was invested as our nation’s supreme contract, proclaiming the unalienable Rights of Man. It asserted, “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.”
Our Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” On the signing of the Declaration, John Adams noted, “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration.”
While one prays that Liberty will be restored and extended to our posterity by way of spirited electoral rebellion — ballots rather than bullets — history does not favor such prospects. But the beauty of our constitutional Republic, as reinforced in recent years, is that an informed electorate can reverse by way of the ballot box the trends toward tyranny.
Founder Patrick Henry wrote of seemingly benign encroachments upon Liberty: “It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth — and listen to the song of that syren… For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”
It is time to fully object to the degraded state of our Constitution and reject any further degradation by way of “illusions of hope” that these depredations will magically repair themselves. It is the responsibility of our generation of Patriots to provide for its revitalization. In the spirit of Thomas Paine’s 1776 assertion, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” So, too, it should be in our day.
As the means for restoring the integrity of our Constitution are weighed, in regard to a “constitutional convention” for amendment, let us beware. But in this day of mass communication and, thus, mass manipulation, there may be severe unintended consequences to such a convention.
As an alternative, let us consider a “Constitutional Confederation of States,” an alliance of states whose delegations would assemble to re-affirm the authority of our Constitution — in effect, to re-ratify it and the Rule of Law it enshrines.
Article IV, Section 4, prescribes with no ambiguity, “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government…” A Constitutional Confederation of States should demand no less than the federalism prescribed by our Constitution and affirmed in its Tenth Amendment.
Ronald Reagan said: “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. … You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
Liberty or Tyranny?
“The citizens of the United States are responsible for the greatest trust ever confided to a political society. If justice, good faith, honor, gratitude and all the other qualities which ennoble the character of a nation and fulfill the ends of government be the fruits of our establishments, the cause of Liberty will acquire a dignity and lustre, which it has never yet enjoyed, and an example will be set, which cannot but have the most favourable influence on the Rights on Mankind. If on the other side, our governments should be unfortunately blotted with the reverse of these cardinal and essential virtues, the great cause which we have engaged to vindicate, will be dishonored and betrayed; the last and fairest experiment in favor of the Rights of human nature will be turned against them; and their patrons and friends exposed to be insulted and silenced by the votaries of tyranny and usurpation.” —James Madison
The cause of, and necessity for, the American Revolution was the violation of fundamental rights endowed by the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Unjust taxation was the catalyst for the first American Revolution and the attempt to disarm the People resulted in the “Shot Heard Round the World.”
Once again, the irrevocable “Rights of Man” are being violated, and that encroachment is sustained by wealth confiscation and redistribution, and by regulation, for purposes not expressly authorized by our Constitution. As was the case at the dawn of the American Revolution, taxes and regulations are the catalysts for undermining our rights. Liberty is not secure for us, nor for our posterity, if the legislature institutes regulations, collects taxes and accumulates insurmountable obligations of debt to support government agendas and expenditures that are clearly outside the limits of our Constitution.
Consequently, our nation approaches the precipice of insolvency, and the bill is rapidly coming due. It will most certainly be repaid in the currency of tyranny unless Liberty and Rule of Law prevail.
Our Constitution, as written and ratified, stipulates in its preface that it is “ordained and established” by the People to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The incremental revocation of our ability to defend ourselves from encroachments on our rights has dramatically diminished our capacity to secure those blessing today, let alone for future generations.
“We, the People of the United States,” must demand that members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches abide by their by their sworn oaths to “to support and defend” our Constitution as mandated in Article II and Article VI.
Laws, regulations, tax collection, and debt accumulation for expenses having no express constitutional authorization is an abject violation of our Constitution. The oaths of those sworn to uphold the Constitution as the supreme law of the land have become lip service. “Representation” does not exist where there is no assurance that elected legislators will abide by their oaths to obey Rule of Law.
Again, as George Washington observed, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths?” Those representatives who allocate unlawful expenditures of the treasury as an instrument to perpetuate their re-election, whose allegiance is secured with confiscated and redistributed wealth, betray their oaths and do great injury to our Constitution and our Liberty.
We as American Patriots must, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” as we endeavor to restore Rule of Law and our Constitution’s limits on the central government’s power.
As 18th-century Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said of complacency and indifference regarding Liberty, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
Likewise, on this critical need for association, on July 4th, 1776, Ben Franklin advised, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” This is sage advice for today and for all those days to come.
Fellow Patriots, I remind you that at the dawn of the first fight for American Liberty, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” And so it is today.
This treatise on Liberty is not a call for revolution but for restoration — to undertake whatever measures are dictated by prudence and necessity to restore the integrity and primacy of Rule of Law as enshrined in our Constitution, in order to protect the inherent right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.
Remember the words of Samuel Adams: “Let us consider, brethren, we are struggling for our best birthrights and inheritance… Let us disappoint the Men who are raising themselves on the ruin of this Country.”
Take heart in these timeless words of George Washington, who penned them when it seemed that the first American Revolution might fail: “We should never despair. Our situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new exertions and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times.”
Washington professed: “It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.”
In his Farewell Address Washington said: “Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.”
But Washington also warned, “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
Fellow Patriots, first and foremost, we are defenders of Liberty and First Principles. We are not defined by race, creed, ethnicity, religion, wealth, education, geography or political affiliation. Rather, we are defined by our devotion to the endowments of our Creator, and to the Liberty He has entrusted to us, one and all.
We are mothers, fathers and other family members nurturing the next generation of Patriots. We are farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen and industrial producers. We are small-business owners, service providers and professionals in medicine and law. We are employees and employers. We are in ministry at home and missionaries abroad. We are students and professors at colleges and universities, often standing alone for what is good and right.
We are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and public servants standing in harm’s way at home and around the world, who are loyal, first and foremost, to a solemn oath to “support and defend” our Constitution.
We are consumers and taxpayers. And we are voters.
We are Patriot sons and daughters from all walks of life, heirs to the blessings of Liberty bequeathed to us at great personal cost by our Patriot forebears, confirmed in the opinion that it is our duty to God and country to extend those blessings to our posterity, and avowed upon our sacred honor to that end. We are vigilant, strong, prepared and faithful.
Make it known far and wide that we remain steadfast in our duty to extend the legacy of Liberty to the next generation, and upon our sacred honor we affirm that obligation.
We will make no peace with any measure of oppression.
Remember Washington’s advice, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
Patriots, only time separates our obligations from those of past Patriots, who were as we are today, devoted to the timeless cause of Liberty for all people.
Finally, in 1630, Pilgrim John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, wrote, “For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”
On the eve of his first election in 1980, Ronald Reagan declared: “Let us resolve tonight that young Americans will always see those Potomac lights; that they will always find there a city of hope in a country that is free. And let us resolve they will say of our day and our generation that we did keep faith with our God, that we did act ‘worthy of ourselves’; that we did protect and pass on lovingly that shining city on a hill.”
Reagan concluded his last national address at the 1992 Republican National Convention saying, “My fondest hope for each one of you — and especially for the young people here — is that you will love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism. May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here. May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. And finally, my fellow Americans, may every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill.”
Hold fast to these words of encouragement from President Reagan: “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
For indeed they are!
Patriot brothers and sisters, let us declare of the fight for Liberty, as did George Washington: “Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!”
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
Publisher of The Patriot Post
The mission of this essay is to provide our fellow Americans with a foundational understanding of Liberty, so that we may all more effectively “Support and Defend” the unalienable Rights of Mankind as enumerated in our Declaration of Independence, and enshrined in our Republic’s Constitution.
If this essay inspires you to action, then I invite you to help us distribute millions of The Patriot’s highly-acclaimed Patriot’s Primer on American Liberty booklets. As a preface on Liberty, “endowed by [our] Creator,” these pocket guides are a vital educational resource for Patriots of all ages. They are available for bulk purchase and distribution for students, grassroots organizations, civic clubs, political alliances, military and public service personnel, professional associations and other groups.
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