It’s time for a little foundational review given all that government is doing and is being encouraged to do. I encourage you, my most faithful readers, to share this post far and wide.
Thomas Jefferson said that “the greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution” and Thomas Edison said that “the strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it”.
These quotes summarize the importance of the U.S. Constitution. Without the Constitution, the U.S. government would not be constrained. This means that the government could and would abuse its power and take away freedom (read my post on Ambition Counteracting Ambition to learn more about this). The Constitution is, very literally, the job description that we the people gave to government when we hired them to do a job for us. We created government to protect us and our private property from each other and we gave them a specific set of tasks to do so.
The founders were careful and thoughtful when creating the Constitution. They believed the best way to protect liberty was to create a Constitution of enumerated powers to government not enumerated rights to the people. In other words, the job description of government is just that, a job description of government. Since the Constitution severely limits and confines the government’s powers, our rights and liberty are, by default, protected as long as government stays within those specific guidelines.
Should government go outside of those boundaries, it has entered into the realm of unlimited and arbitrary power. Should our government have arbitrary power, it would be able to do whatever it wants without repercussions. Consider. No one wants a government that is capable of doing anything it wants simply because it’s government. No one wants to be pulled over by a police officer and have no Constitution to appeal to should that officer become too invasive. If there were no Constitution, what could you say to an officer searching you?
Well… you couldn’t say anything because he represents the arbitrary, unlimited and inherent power of government.
So, I challenge you to think about something.
What is the Constitution…really?
Simply, it’s a very old piece of paper. (I know, you may be rolling your eyes here and thinking, “Well yeah, of course its a piece of paper but is that really what you’re asking?” Yes.) Very literally, the Constitution is a piece of paper. While you may know this in your mind, do you really know this? Do you realize that, in and of itself, the Constitution (a piece of paper) has no power?
Why? Because, it is merely a piece of paper. This is why Edison’s quote is so important. The Constitution is only powerful as long as citizens and government officials reverence and defend it. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, which means that it is supreme over the government. Government alone is subject to the Constitution. No one is above the law.
Think of this way. The Constitution is government’s job description. We the people hired government to do a job for us. Government officials are not above the law as long we, the citizens, keep them accountable to the law… to their job description. Our reverence, our respect and our honor for the law (The Constitution) are what legitimize the law and keep those in power in check and subject to the law and their job description.
This means that it is vitally important for every citizen to know what the Constitution says in order to know if/when the government is actually following it…or not (check out this link to buy yourself your own personal copy of the US Constitution).
How can we keep government accountable to their job description if we don’t even know what their job description is?
So, I’ve set the stage here for a short series of articles that I’m going to write about the Constitution so that you can actively keep your government accountable to it.
Article I: Part One
Article I of the Constitution focuses on the legislative branch. The most important aspect of Article I is this: it says what Congress can and cannot do.
The first thing you need to know about the legislative branch is that it is the law-making branch of government, making it the most important branch of government (see my post explaining why that is the case). The Constitution gives Congress a specific set of limitations about what subjects it can write law about and all other subjects are left to the states to write laws about.
Congress is given tasks to do. They can’t do anything outside of these tasks or else they have violated their job description: the Constitution.
Here are the first 8 tasks that Congress is given to do (taken directly from the Constitution) the next post will look at the second 8 tasks:
Congress is the only branch that has the power to tax.
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
This is rather intuitive. Since the founders were trying to stabilize the otherwise unstable union at the time, they really wanted to take certain powers (that the states previously had) and make them federal to provide some stability and unity to the union. Taxation was a vital federal power because it gave the federal government the ability to operate and function by making money.
To borrow money on the credit of the United States
Again, this is a very critical federal power as it would cause much discord, confusion and chaos if each state were borrowing money on credit individually. This should be a federal power.
To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
Again, this power should be rather intuitive. It makes sense that the federal government should have the power to regulate commerce among the states and with other nations rather than individuals states. There would be far too much confusion and chaos in the union if states were individually regulating their own commerce with other countries and with themselves. There needed to be unified and national way to carry out this process.
To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
And again, it makes sense that this is a federal law rather than a state law. It wouldn’t work out so well for each individual state to have their own unique ways for citizens to become citizens of their own states. People need a way to become a citizen of the whole nation rather than a citizen of a state but not the country. Hence, this power was given to Congress to make law about.
To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
Well, this should be obvious. It would be rather chaotic for there to be different currencies in every state, so the founders wanted this to be a federal law.
To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
Since the federal government establishes a national currency, it makes sense that it would be a national crime for someone to counterfeit this currency.
To establish post offices and post roads;
Yup, imagine if every state had a different method of establishing post offices and post roads? Chaos and confusion anyone? Hence, this is a enumerated federal power.
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
The founders, understanding that men are selfish and will abuse their power, established government to protect private property. So, they included the power of copyright and trademark so that Congress could protect and hence allow unfettered innovation. And this is given to the federal government to do because it would be a bummer to innovate and only be protected in your one state.
… to be continued.
There are 8 more tasks Congress is given to make law about. I’ve attached them at the end of this article and will continue to explain and explore them in my next post. Go glance over those tasks, and then consider something.
Is there anywhere mentioned these following tasks?
Should I keep going?
Think about this for the next few days before the next post comes out. Watch the news, consider the laws being passed and the laws people are demanding to be passed. How many of them actually fit within government’s job description?
Then think about something else. Our emotions, preferences and likes on the matter… really don’t matter do they? It doesn’t matter how much we’d like to use the federal government to save the environment, if it is not within their job description, it’s not within their job description. So, we’re faced with the reality that we can either ask government to violate its own job description (thereby asking for arbitrary power) or we can turn to our state governments since such issues are left to them. If we want something bad enough, we can always change the job description by amending the Constitution.
The government can use arbitrary power for good. It can operate outside of its confines, but it should never because as soon as it does, it now has the potential to do anything.
Consider. What if you hired someone to be a cook in your restaurant. You give this employee a job description and pay them for it. However, this employee ends up using their time on the clock to go help the poor or construct beautiful houses or any number of things. Would you be ok with this?
NO. Because it really doesn’t matter what they are doing (good or bad) if it’s not what they were hired and paid to do.
Friends, it’s the same thing with our government and Constitution. We have hired government to do a specific and confined job for us. It doesn’t matter how many good things they may want to do or do if those things are outside of the job description we’ve given them to do. We either need to change the job description or stop demanding that they violate it. Otherwise, why have it?! Why have a Constitution if we aren’t going to use it to confine government? Why have a Constitution if we don’t demand that government follow it?
The Constitution protects us from government. There is no job description more important.
And there is no job description more egregiously and daily violated as a result of the employers demands rather than the employees.
The Liberty Belle
I will discuss the following legislative powers in future posts.
To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
To provide and maintain a navy;
To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.