“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face! It’s just a god-damned piece of paper!” – George W. Bush
Ironically, I agree with Dubya, but my reasoning is from a far different perspective. But Bush’s attitude is hardly rare, and the Constitution’s failure to create a system of government to stop the George W. Bushes of America is hardly rare either.
It is my contention that as a nation, we were far better off under the Articles of Confederation, and that the government created by the Constitution represented a dangerous centralization of power. While the debate raged over the passage of the Constitution, a large number of people believed the Constitution posed a threat as well. They were the Anti-Federalists, and the compilation of writings that flowed from them are available today as The Anti-Federalist Papers. The most prominent Anti-Federalist, Patrick Henry, did not believe the federal order would last for more than two generations. He was right; by 1861 it had become something else entirely.
When the Constitution created the new federal order, it was a country that stretched from Maine to Georgia. It was one of the greatest land masses united under a common government for any group of Europeans in over 1,000 years.
Now, it stretches from Maine to San Diego, and from Miami to Seattle–plus Alaska and Hawaii thrown in to complicate matters even further. Then there are the U.S. territories and commonwealths, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Marianna Islands–among others. How could this ever be construed as anything other than an empire?
But many of the Founders, mainly the Federalists, dreamed of a sort of renewed Roman Empire. They naively believed that enough had been learned about “political science” that safeguards against tyranny could be enacted. Ironically, the strongest safeguard in the Constitution was and still is the Bill of Rights–a document the anti-Federalists insisted upon. The parliamentary checks of the Federalists, found in the primary body of the Constitution, have been almost completely ignored.
The failure of the Constitution to restrict the god-state started immediately. “Big Whiskey” realized they could use the newly created federal government’s ability to levy an excise tax as a weapon to run their small competitors out of business, since excise taxes were part of the powers granted by the Constitution to the federal government. Congressmen and the executive branch fell into line, and the Whiskey Rebellion resulted. And for not the last time, the army was sent in to crush the “rebellion.” This action was ordered by none other than George Washington himself.
Not even a decade after the Constitution was adopted, John Adams pushed through the first Patriot Act in 1798–the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798.1
How bad was the first patriot act? Read then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson’s despair2 in describing the Alien & Sedition Act:
“…that if the acts before specified should stand, these conclusions would flow from them; that the general government may place any act they think proper on the list of crimes and punish it themselves whether enumerated or not enumerated by the constitution as cognizable by them: that they may transfer its cognizance to the President, or any other person, who may himself be the accuser, counsel, judge and jury, whose suspicions may be the evidence, his order the sentence, his officer the executioner, and his breast the sole record of the transaction…”
After reading this, you might think that Jefferson’s own presidency was the true golden era of America. Hardly. The Ring of Power that the executive office represents was calling out to him. Despite his warnings against standing armies, Jefferson created West Point, which was to supply the officers for a permanent standing army. (More than a few army officers have considered those officers from West Point to be the most mindless, the most willing to carry out any order, and the most willing to put career and self before others.)
Jefferson also agreed to the U.S.’s purchase of the greater Louisiana territory from France–with no input from Congress. While I am sympathetic to his goal of ridding North America of French influence, his action further added to the argument for the unitary executive, that is, the office of the presidency as a virtual dictator. And I deliberately wrote, “his action further added” because the Federalists, from day one, visualized the office of the presidency as a type of sitting monarch.
When you have men such as Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, who were all well-read and understood the dangers of central power behaving in this way, you knew there were going to be problems.
The early days of the U.S. also witnessed two attempts to create a Federal Reserve-type system. The Second Bank of the United States was particularly onerous, and its power so great that it caused the Recession of 1833-34. Once Andrew Jackson thought he had the Second Bank of the U.S. firmly in hand, Bank President Nicholas Biddle showed he had more tricks up his sleeve. G. Edward Griffin notes in his epic The Creature from Jekyll Island (p. 354):
“[Biddle’s] plan was to rapidly contract the nation’s money supply and create another panic-depression similar to the one the Bank had created thirteen years earlier. This then could be blamed on Jackson’s withdrawal of federal deposits, and the resulting backlash surely would cause Congress to override the President’s veto.”
Unfortunately, as Ron Paul builds the case in The Ron Paul Money Book, the monetary history of the U.S. has always been a shameful fare. There was never a golden age for money under the Constitutional order.
During Davy Crockett’s two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1827-31), an event happened that illustrates quite well the rot that was already apparent in the federal government, the House of Representatives specifically. Congress was creating welfare programs. And this was over a hundred years before FDR came to power. The full story3 is well worth reading.
The point in this recollection is that all of these events happened close to within one generation of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The War for Southern Independence was still off on the horizon. Yet the Constitution’s checks on power were proving utterly ineffectual. They have to this day.
Some Specific Flaws of the Constitution
The federal government’s right to coin money. Why does any government have the privilege of creating money at the expense of tax-payers? This is a task that private industry can perform. With laws against fraud and theft, as well as competition between minters, we could have a currency that is comprised of gold, silver and/or platinum coins. It would be reliable. And there would be no temptation for the state to debauch the currency, because they would have no control over the currency.
The right to levy excise taxes. This allows Fed Gov to single out particular industries for taxation. For instance, the BATFE is centered on collecting excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and firearms. These are three industries that have never enjoyed much support from the Church or from large portions of the populace. As far as many Christians are concerned, let the state tax guns, alcohol and tobacco into oblivion. It is never a good situation whenever the State can divide people into small groups. It makes it easier to drive those groups into extinction. How many people do you know who pay excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco or firearms? The chances are, you know none. When taxation is out of sight, it is also out of mind. Fed Gov could enact de facto gun control by raising excise taxes on firearms to $10,000 per gun. And it would be allowed by the Constitution.
The General Welfare Clause. This is a section of the Constitution that is so poorly written that it is misinterpreted almost as often as Romans Chapter XIII. While an absolute meaning can be had from studying the Federalist Papers and understanding the general spirit of the Constitution, the bottom line is that the general welfare clause is a dream come true for those championing an “organic” interpretation of the Constitution.
The Interstate Commerce Clause. Talk about an opening big enough to drive a semi through, the Interstate Commerce Clause is it. Massive amounts of our regulatory and police state apparatus are due to this poorly conceived clause. The FBI also birthed itself into being because of the ICC.
The 2nd Amendment. Legal documents need to be written in a crystal clear fashion. The 2nd Amendment is anything but. Like Romans 13 and the General Welfare clause, there is an absolute meaning behind it that is not at all “pro-state.” But why make it so hard to understand? I’d say the 2nd Amendment’s prose is an excellent sign of the Talmudic lawyer mentality that has long been at work in the legal profession. Now that isn’t to trash the Bill of Rights. About the only legal protections we have left from Fed Gov are those found in the Bill of Rights. And the Bill of Rights was a concession demanded by the Anti-Federalists.
Then there is the lack of religious tests for office and acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the foundation for all earthly power. Gary DeMar has some highly creative arguments for trying to explain this away. They don’t work in my opinion. Michael Hoffman argues that this issue has left the door open not only for the numerous Jews who occupy high positions in the U.S. Government, but for the numerous ACLU-type cases alleging a combining of “church and state” (e.g. Nativity scenes on public property and the like). Gary North has argued in Political Polytheism something similar to what Hoffman has argued, although not as forcefully. North has expanded part of his premise even further and made it into a separate book (see the article Conspiracy in Philadelphia4 for more details).
The Constitution also allows for the federal government to create roads and run the post office. The interstate highway system has been one of the great destroyers of American community. And the post office leads America in diversity hiring.
The Temptation of Large Countries and Central Governments (or “Answering objections to abolishing the Constitution & the U.S.”)
The good things that came with the the Constitutional order in the U.S. do need to be acknowledged, because many of them provided the impetus behind the creation of the European Union. With free trade between the states, industry flourished. With no restrictions placed on travel between the states, commerce, personal wealth, and learning rose. With a common currency, the U.S. didn’t have greedy money changers in every state ready to take their pound of flesh. With one regulatory standard, instead of fifty, designers and manufacturers could concentrate on building one product instead of making tweaks to satisfy fifty different regulatory bodies. And natural entities that cover multiple states, such as the Mississippi River, can be addressed by a central authority that ostensibly does not favor one state above the other…ostensibly.
Fair enough. However, all of those issues can be resolved with non-state and/or non-central government solutions.
On the regulatory front, there already has been much work done towards creating a non-government based system of standards. If you use a wireless LAN, chances are it uses a variation of the IEEE 802.11 standard (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). Or you may use the BlueTooth standard to transfer files or listen to music. Often times, multiple standards exist side-by-side in the same spectrum (one aspect of network neutrality). But when the FCC created a standard, the HDTV broadcast standard for example, we have a format that is so deeply flawed that it is extremely susceptible to multi-path interference. But the Digital Audio Broadcast format created by a coalition of radio equipment manufacturers and the National Association of Broadcasters does not share the FCC’s standard’s fatal flaw.
The point with the above paragraph is that non-government agencies are already creating standards and figuring out ways to create win-win solutions for spectrum management, as well as in a number of other areas. But when Fed Gov creates a nationwide standard, we get something like the flawed HDTV format.
Not to go on and on about spectrum issues, but it illustrates a lot of our problems so well. When radio started to make the switch over to digital modulation, there were no government mandates to kill analog broadcasts. Whereas the TV switch over (June 2009) involved instantly obsoleting millions of older TVs overnight (unless they bought a HDTV tuner module). Complex problems can be and are solved without the need for a federal government.