“May you and your contemporaries . . . preserve inviolate a Constitution, which, cherished in all its chastity and purity, will prove in the end a blessing to all the nations of the earth” (Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Nicholas, December 11, 1821).
September 17 is Constitution Day. In the past, this holiday was noted and commemorated from coast to coast. Today, however, the average person doesn’t even know that September 17 is a holiday. Worse, the average person has never taken the time to study and learn the Constitution and thus does not recognize the plethora of ways it is being violated on a daily basis by the very people – the sly oath-breakers – ostensibly representing him. This Constitution Day, I give a short tribute to the U.S. Constitution and the noble men who were inspired by Heaven to write and establish it.
The British statesman William Gladstone famously remarked that “the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” I submit to you that this is true. Examine all the systems of government of the past or present and where do you find another that has secured to so many people as many rights and privileges and produced so much prosperity, advancement, and influence? No system in recorded human history has ever duplicated the general benefits that have resulted from the establishment of the Constitution of the United States.
The United States is, by any honest analysis, the greatest, wealthiest, freest, and most powerful nation in history. No other nation has risen so far so fast, produced as much wealth, secured as much personal Liberty, or exerted as much influence on the world for good as the United States. Much of this unparalleled success stems back to the system of limited republican government established by the Constitution.
George Washington wrote of the system set up by the Constitution: “I was convinced it approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among men” (George Washington to Edward Newenham, August 29, 1788). Another time he declared that “the Constitution is the guide which I never can abandon” (George Washington to the Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795). And during his Farewell Address, President Washington again affirmed:
“[T]he Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.”
Why was the Father of our Country so enamored with the Constitution? One of the reasons he was thrilled by the Constitution was that its authority centered in the People themselves, not in a monarchy, oligarchy, or formal bureaucracy. Washington stated:
“The power under the Constitution will always be with the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period to representatives of their own chusing; and whenever it is exercised contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their Servants can, and undoubtedly will be, recalled” (George Washington to Bushrod Washington, November 9, 1787).
The Constitution in fact was designed by the Founding Fathers to be an act of the People themselves. It had to be, for it would be their government. During the Constitution ratifying debates, however, some said that the Founders were not truly representing the People and therefore should not have used the phrase “We the People” in Constitution’s Preamble. However, a delegate from North Carolina, Archibald MacLaine, stated that the term was perfectly appropriate because it was the American People, and no other, that would ultimately approve the Constitution and thereby put it into force by their consent to its laws:
“[The Constitution] was to be submitted by the legislatures to the people; so that, when it is adopted, it is the act of the people” (W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, 176).
The Constitution was and is the act of the People. The Constitution derives its powers, as Thomas Jefferson had stated in the Declaration of Independence all governments should, “from the consent of the governed.” In his brilliant book The Making of America – my pick for the best book ever written on constitutional interpretation – W. Cleon Skousen explained:
“The new Constitution presupposes the complete restitution of all political power to the people, with a subsequent redistribution of certain powers to the states and certain powers to the federal government.
“This explanation gives particular significance to the words of James Madison when he emphasized the relative amount of responsibility allocated to each level of government:
““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. The former will be exercised principally on external objects as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and prosperity of the state.”
“Of course the people were accustomed to thinking of the states as the sovereign source of all political power, but the Founders wanted to educate the people to understand that they themselves are the source of all such power. James Wilson of Pennsylvania explained it as follows:
““. . . On the principle . . . of this Constitution . . . the supreme power resides in the people. If they choose to indulge a part of their sovereign power to be exercised by the state governments, they may. If they have done it, the states were right in exercising it; but if they think it no longer safe or convenient, they will resume it, or make a new distribution, more likely to be productive of that good which ought to be our constant aim.
““The powers of both the general government and the state governments, under this system, are acknowledged to be so many emanations of power from the people.
“The purpose of the Founders was to assign to each level of government that service which is could perform the most efficiently and the most economically. There was a remarkable rationale behind the whole system. It went back to the “ancient principles”” (W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America, 176-177).
The “ancient principles” referred to are those which empower the People. Just as the government derives its powers from the People, the People infer their collective power from individuals. Genuine and rightful power does not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It begins with the individual who receives his rights and prerogatives as an endowment from God Almighty, or nature, and then proceeds outward to families, neighborhoods, communities, counties, states, and, finally, the nation.
This system originated thousands of years ago. It is the system revealed by God to ancient Israel. From there it spread to other areas, such as to the Anglo-Saxons. It was from the Anglo-Saxons that Thomas Jefferson gained knowledge of this near-perfect societal, governmental structure. Jefferson described it thus:
“[T]he way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one; but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. let the National government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and it’s foreign & federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police & administration of what concerns the state generally; the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; and each Ward direct the interests within itself.7 it is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down thro’ all it’s subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. what has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? the generalising & concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the Autocrats of Russia or France, or of the Aristocrats of a Venetian Senate. and I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that Man shall never be free, (and it is blasphemy to believe it) that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher & higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers, in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. the elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union, would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one it’s delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government. where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs not merely at an election, one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of some one of it’s councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte” (Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, February 2, 1816).
This is the ingenious system that our Constitution was designed to safeguard and promote! It is perhaps the most succinct description of how the American system is meant to work. Each man is meant to personally govern himself, his family, and his affairs. Families were never intended to reach out to the government for help. Rather, a family’s relatives and neighbors, and local church, should be their support net.
If each family takes care of itself, and extended family and neighbors bind together to take care of each other within their wards and districts, the entire nation would easily govern itself with little need for government intervention. What need would we have for a large and invasive national government if each family and neighborhood tended to itself? There would be no welfare state with its massive bureaucratic apparatus, no need for a sprawling police force, and far fewer abuses and excesses.
J. Reuben Clark, Jr. was a lawyer, an experienced statesman who held numerous positions in government, and an influential religious leader. He was an expert in law and had an acute understanding of Freedom’s enemies. He said that our Founding Fathers understood these threats and formulated the Constitution to minimize them. Clark wrote:
“We must always remember that despotism and tyranny, with all their attendant tragedies to the people, as in Russia today, come to nations because one man, or a small group of men, seize and exercise by themselves the three great divisions of government, – the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. For now a score of centuries, the nations and peoples of Western and Southern Europe – the bulk of the civilized world until less than two centuries ago – have lived under this concept (sometimes more, sometimes less) and, when the concept has been operative, have suffered the resulting tragedies – loss of liberty, oppression, great poverty among the masses, insecurity, wanton disregard of human life, and a host of the relatives of these evil broods.
“The framers of our Constitution knew this history, and planned to make sure that these enemies to human welfare, freedom and happiness did not come to America. They were trained and experienced in the Common Law . . . They were thoroughly indoctrinated in the principle that the true sovereignty rested in the people. . . .
“Deeply read in history, steeped in the lore of the past in human government, and experienced in the approaches of despotism which they had, themselves, suffered at the hands of George the Third, these patriots, assembled in solemn convention, planned for the establishment of a government that would ensure to them the blessings they described in the Preamble.
The people were setting up the government. They were bestowing power. They gave the government the powers they wished to give; they retained what they did not wish to give. The residuum of power was in them. . . .
“The Framers, in the Government they provided for, separated the three functions of government and set each of them up as a separate branch – the legislative, and executive and the judicial. Each was wholly independent of the other. No one of them might encroach upon the other. No one of them might delegate its power to another.
“Yet by the Constitution, the different branches were bound together, unified into an efficient, operating whole. These branches stood together, supported one another. While severally independent, they ere at the same time, mutually dependent. It is this union of independence and dependence of these branches – legislative, executive and judicial – and of the governmental functions possessed by each of them, that constitutes the marvelous genius of this unrivalled document. The Framers had no direct guide in this work, no historical governmental precedent upon which to rely. As I see it, it was here that the divine inspiration came. It was truly a miracle.
“The people, not an Emperor or a small group, were to make the laws through their representatives chosen by them” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Church News, November 29, 1952, in Jerreld Newquist, ed., Prophets, Principles and National Survival, 78-80).
Some might think that this emphasis on the People means our system is a democracy. Not so. The Constitution explicitly promises a “Republican Form of Government” to the states (see Article 4, Section 4). In a democracy, the People personally administer the government. In a republican system, the People appoint representatives to oversee certain duties that are impossible for a large people to administer in-person. Furthermore, in America we enshrined the rule of law in written documents and constitutions, thus creating our own unique brand of republicanism.
Constitutional republicanism is not democracy. This is a great fallacy. Our Founders despised democracy and considered it worse than monarchy. Our system is also not authoritarian. Our system did not rest in either extreme, but was closer to the middle of the scale if one side is tyranny and the other is anarchy.
Alexander Hamilton said:
“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments – if we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy” (Alexander Hamilton, Debates on the Federal Convention, June 26, 1787).
Thomas Jefferson strongly favored republicanism and stated:
“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind” (Thomas Jefferson to William Hunter, March 11, 1790).
Jefferson also told the nation during his First Inaugural Address:
“We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. . . .
“Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government.”
Again, America was founded not as a democracy, but as a republican nation firmly rooted in rule of law as established in a written constitution. Unlike the British system that had no formal written constitution and which was thus very fluid and subject to the whims of leaders – especially the corrupt British monarchy – the U.S. government was set in stone and bound within very narrow limits and could only justly exercise a specified number of powers for limited purposes and in particular ways. Checks and balances, separation of powers, and enumerated powers were all fundamental aspects of our limited federal Constitution.
J. Reuben Clark, Jr. spoke often of the Constitution. He reverenced it, as I do, as an inspired document. He said:
“The Constitutional Convention met and out of it came our God-inspired Constitution – “the most wonderful work,” said Gladstone, “ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” . . .
“It gave us, for perhaps the first time in all history, a republic with the three basic divisions of government – the legislative, executive, and judicial – mutually and completely independent the one from the other, under which it is not possible for any branch of government legally to set up a system by which that branch can first conceive what it wants to do, then make the law ordering its doing, and then, itself, judge its own enforcement of its own law, a system that has always brought extortion, oppression, intimidation, tyranny, despotism – a system that every dictator has employed and must employ” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Stand Fast By Our Constitution, 187).
In other words, our inspired Constitution set up perhaps the first system that precludes tyrannical abuses, so long as it is strictly followed and the government is kept within its prescribed limits. If our elected representatives followed their oath of office, our government would never devolve into despotism because it could not. It is only when people violate their oath of office and the People let them get away with it that abuses happen. When people criticize our government, as I myself frequently do, they should make sure never to condemn the Constitution, but only its corrupt officers and the unconstitutional laws that we have allowed to be established.
Despite the brilliance of our constitutional system, our government is now a massive bureaucracy that tyrannizes us as a matter of course. It’s full of wolves in sheep’s clothing, traitors, despots, and front men for much eviler people operating and ruling from the shadows. I will cite but one reason for our fallen state: Our collective immorality.
I’ve emphasized this important factor in the past, but virtue and righteousness are essential ingredients in Americanism. I’ll cite four witness from our Founding era and commend their common sense to you with my own testimony of its pressing relevance. John Adams famously said:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (John Adams to the Massachusetts Militia, October 11, 1798).
Another time he observed:
““The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies” (John Adams to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776).
One of my own ancestors, Caleb Strong, was a close associate of John Adams and is one of our forgotten Founders who participated in the Constitutional Convention and held numerous influential roles. In a speech as governor of Massachusetts, Strong stated:
“[W]e are generally apt to ascribe too much to the efficacy of laws and government, as if they alone could secure the happiness of the people; but no laws will be sufficient to counteract the influence of manners which are corrupted by vice and voluptuousness; and it is beyond the power of any government to render the circumstances of the citizens easy and prosperous, if they want the habits of industry and frugality. – Government is necessary, to preserve the public peace, the persons and property of individuals; but our social happiness must chiefly depend upon other causes; upon simplicity and purity of manners; upon the education that we give our children; upon a steady adherence to the customs and institutions of our ancestors; upon the general diffusion of knowledge, and the prevalence of piety and benevolent affections among the people.
“Our forms of government, are, doubtless, like all other institutions, imperfect; but they will ensure the blessings of freedom to the citizens, and preserve their tranquillity, so long as they are virtuous; and no constitution, that has been, or can be formed, will secure those blessings to a depraved and vicious people” (Caleb Strong, January 17, 1806, in Patriotism and Piety, 138).
A third witness, John Witherspoon affirmed:
“Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigor, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed” (John Witherspoon, “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Man,” May 17, 1776).
Finally, George Washington told the nation:
“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” (George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796).
Only a moral, virtuous, just, upright, truth-loving People are capable of Freedom and ordered society. America was once good and so America was once great. We are still the greatest nation on earth, but we are have noticeably fallen from our lofty position. We need to return to our moral, Christian roots if we are to regain our unique American stature.
At the end of the day, the Constitution is not for the United States alone. Its principles are eternal and sacred. They belong to every nation. It was the Lord who raised up America’s Founding Fathers, who preserved us through the War for Independence, and who inspired the Constitution. He intended the ideas that fired the American soul to fire the world and lead to a new era of Freedom, peace, and prosperity. It is our duty as Americans to be the missionaries of this unsurpassed Freedom system.
I end by citing a rousing statement from J. Reuben Clark, Jr. He declared:
“We must come with the loftiest patriotism, with a single allegiance, undivided, unshared, undefiled, for the Constitution under which we live . . . Our hearts and hands must be clean of all foreign isms and alien political cults. The Constitution and its free institutions must be our ensign. For America has a destiny – a destiny to conquer the world, – not by force of arms, not by purchase and favor, for these conquests wash away, but by high purpose, by unselfish effort, by uplifting achievement, by a course of Christian living; a conquest that shall leave every nation free to move out to its own destiny; a conquest that shall bring, through the workings of our own example, the blessings of freedom and liberty to every people, without restraint or imposition or compulsion from us; a conquest that shall weld the whole earth together in one great brotherhood in a reign of mutual patience, forbearance, and charity, in a reign of peace to which we shall lead all others by the persuasion of our own righteous example” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., February 24, 1944, in Jerreld Newquist, ed., Prophets, Principles and National Survival, 60-61).
Americanism is the greatest system in history. This system is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution – the most incredible political document in the world. I repeat that it was inspired by Almighty God and that Americans are the custodians of these superlative principles. It is time for us to declare with George Washington that the Constitution is the guide we will never abandon.
September 18, 2019