Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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How do we protect our rights?

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. Declaration of Independence.

As reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and other writings of the period, the Founders believed that rights came from God, not the government.  The Founders didn’t believe that governments bestowed rights, nor did they believe governments were an agent to protect rights.

When the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, the delegates were to “render the constitution of government adequate to exigencies of the union,” but  ensure that a stronger government would not become oppressive and undermine rights and personal liberty.  They knew that rights were fragile.  They can be suppressed by force, gradually eroded, or simply lost through neglect.

The original Constitution didn’t include a Bill of Rights.  The delegates didn’t believe one was necessary.  In their minds, rights were not protected by words, but by limiting governmental power.  Montesquieu and Hume advocated separation of power into three equal branches, with each branch having potent checks on all of the others.  Although this was a well-established theory at the time, no national government was designed along these principles, and existing state constitutions gave overwhelming advantage to the legislature.   Delegates to the convention believed that if they could construct a system consistent with the separation of powers doctrine, limit the national government only to enumerated powers, and effectively set up the states as checks on the national government, then the national government would be unable to trample rights or intrude into peoples’ lives.

Before the Constitution could become the supreme law of the land, it had to be debated and ratified by conventions of the people.  The convention debates—and the media opinion pieces—were at different times thoughtful and raucous, but they were always contentious.  Success was never assured.  One of the anti-Federalist arguments that gained support was that the Constitution was flawed because a Bill of Rights was missing.  Although not a legal condition of ratification, several conventions approved the Constitution based on a promise that a Bill of Rights would be added.  The First Congress proposed, and the states ratified ten amendments to the Constitution which we now call the Bill of Rights.

A bill is a list, but is the Bill of Rights a list of government guaranteed rights?  No.  These ten amendments remained consistent with the Founding principles.  Read the first eight amendments.  They are filled with phrases like Congress shall make no law, shall not be infringed, shall not be violated, nor be deprived, shall not be required.

These are not rights generously bestowed by government, they are directives from We the People to the government—orders not to infringe  upon our God given rights.

If the first eight weren’t clear enough, our Founders added two more amendments.

9th: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

10th: “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.”

Today, rights are at risk because power has been concentrated in the executive branch.  Rights cannot be abridged unless government possesses unchecked power.  Our American heritage is to fear concentrated power, so those who seek control have convinced many that the government grants and guarantees rights.  They are in essence saying that there is nothing to fear here—we are the ones that make you free, and we can even enlarge your freedoms.

Except that this has never been true in the history of the world.  Oppression has always come from government.  To protect our rights, we need to:

  1. Re-instill the Founders fear of powerful government
  2. Once again make the states an effective check on the national government
  3. Reestablish the Constitutional checks between the branches
  4. Restrict the national government to its enumerated powers.

Last, but most important, we must elect people who accept as true that unalienable rights come from the Creator, not the government.

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention.


1 MD Roe { 11.24.10 at 5:57 pm }

Great article! I long for the day when government power is restricted once again.

The first step, I think, is in abolishing a number of government agencies that create a fog on the interaction of government, spending, economy and our rights. The first and foremost on this list is the Federal Reserve.


2 Brian Kessler { 11.24.10 at 6:22 pm }

Well written and argued, except just because the founders of America believed in a Creator, doesn’t make his/her/its existence any more real.

Rights come from neither god(s) nor government. They come from people who conceive or perceive those rights and then are willing and able to fight to implement and maintain those rights.

In modern America, too many people are content with beer, pizza, and football (i.e., “bread and circuses”).

Moreover, fighting against machine guns and a media that persistently ignores real issues and lies freely, is an exercise in futility which can only result in suffering and death.

Someday Americans may reclaim their rights, but expect life to get much worse first.


3 James { 11.24.10 at 8:17 pm }

Take out the thinly veiled anti-Obama nonsense and irrational Christian nonsense and you may have something here. The problem with government in the US is corruption to the very core, Western Civilization’s faulty and destructive definition of “success”, and authoritarianism and its tools of tyranny; Christianity being one of the greatest, right next to patriotism.


4 Jerry { 11.25.10 at 1:30 am }

This would article would have had an inkling of credibility had it been written during the 8 year Bush administration. Only during Democratic presidencies do the conservatives beat the “let’s limit governmental power” drum. Only during Democratic Presidencies do conservatives attack US federal employees as being unnecessary, etc. etc.. This article is little more than hypocritical political hackery.
Where was the author when Republican Bush was increasing the size of the federal government more than any president in history?
Where was this author when Republican Bush began a policy of warrantless wiretapping?
Where was this author when Republican Bush attacked and executed Saddam Hussein who was NOT a threat to the USA yet ignored much more threatening countries like North Korea?
Where was this author when Republican Bush doubled the US national debt during a time of economic prosperity?
Where was this author when Republican Bush created TARP and spent $400 billion dollars bailing out wall street with taxpayer dollars a month before Obama was elected?
At the time, this author was NOT calling for Republican Bush’s presidential powers to be limited, he was marching in step with him. He was marching against what America stands for because of his political beliefs. Siding with politics over country IS THE PROBLEM, not the solution.


5 miss ann { 01.07.11 at 5:41 am }

I’m so sick of this “Founding Fathers” nonsense. Our nation was founded in a time that is totally irrelevant to the struggles we face today. It was founded by a bunch of men with a thirst for power and a hunger to control citizens in a way that alluded to the belief that the system was built for “us”. The times have changed and so must our government. It’s so foolish to even try to adhere to the so called principles that were established when this country was founded. A government that does not progress and change is one that will fail. It worked for a time and that time is over. If America is going to continue to be a functional super power the whole structure of our government needs to be broken apart and torn down and rebuilt in a way that benefits us in this century.


Mike Reply:

Ah. A progressive communist. I’m not name calling either.


6 James D. Best { 01.07.11 at 6:07 pm }

miss ann, you convinced me with your flawless logic. Please provide your “whole structure.” I’m sure, like the Founders ideas, yours are thoroughly grounded in a lifetime study of governmental systems and have been debated by the general populous for several decades..


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