Only a Virtuous People
Most Recently Added
The Declaration of Independence
The Bill of Rights
The Articles of Confederation
The Magna Carta
What Others Are Saying
How You Can Help
The Principles of an American Understanding of Government
(M B, February 2005.)
Where Do Our Rights Come From?
The most fundamental premise of our nation is enshrined in The Declaration of Independence. It states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted...” Our Founders believed our rights came from a supreme Creator, and that they are inalienable, and that governments are instituted among men to secure those God given rights. This is the American understanding of government.
Government is Limited—Not the People
For this reason, one of the most important principles to understand is that the Constitution does not grant rights to its citizens, rather the citizens grant certain, specific, or “enumerated” rights to the federal government. If you understand this, then you can also understand that most of the Bill of Rights was somewhat superfluous because it does not grant rights to citizens either, but places further limitations on government. And just to be sure there was no mistaking this, the Founders added the 9th and 10th amendments.
All legislative power is granted to Congress. This means that zero legislative power is granted to the executive, and zero legislative power is granted to the judicial. Thus the concepts of executive orders and relying on judicial precedent are foreign to the Constitution.
Congress was intended to be the most powerful branch of government, having power to reign in the excesses of the judicial and executive and being the most accountable to the people and the states.
Another very important point to grasp is that there is a significant difference between the federal government, and local and state governments. Amendment 10 specifies that all “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.” This means that there are areas that the state and local governments are authorized to legislate on that the federal government is not.
Republics and Democracies
Our form of government is a republic, not a democracy. In a democracy, the majority can trample the rights of a minority. A democracy also has deeply anti-religious overtones, since it implies that right or wrong can be determined by the will of the majority.
Democracies start out as free societies, but soon wind up in anarchy. The mob becomes swayable by demagogues and government begins to violate the very rights it was created to protect. Violent class struggle erupts and then those demagogues promise a resolution to the anarchy they helped create and set up an oligarchy ruled by themselves.
The Founders understood that, contrary to popular opinion, a democracy is the most undesirable and unstable form of government.
A republic has a just and permanent framework of laws that cannot be violated, especially by the government. Our constitutional republic is based upon principles that will never change. That is that men—once endowed with power, will almost universally seek to abuse that power. Thomas Jefferson said “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
In the end, you wind up with an oligarchy or rule by man, or a republic which is rule by law.
Left and Right
Our current concept of left and right came out of the French Revolution. How absurd is a political scale of Communism on the left and Fascism on the right? On this scale there's nowhere to go but wrong. The Founders measured by a more useful scale. On the extreme left is tyranny in it's many forms, including oligarchies, monarchies, communism and fascism. On the extreme right is anarchy (or no government). The Founders wanted a government large enough to maintain order, but not big enough to abuse the people.
A Sample of Current Federal Violations of the Constitution
Involvement in education, welfare, housing, agriculture, subsidies, warrentless search-and-seizures (wiretapping), foreign aid, medicine, health, the graduated income tax, estate taxes, rulings on abortion, confiscation of state lands, involvement with the United Nations, WTO, WHFTA's.
Highly Recommended Resources on This Topic
An Overview of Our World
John F. McManus
The 5000 Year Leap
The Making of America, The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution
Back to Basics - Timeless Truths Series