Cicero Warned About the Evils of an Ambitious Government

CICERO - bust   by Diane Rufino, July 15, 2018

When a government becomes powerful, it is a usurper which takes bread from innocent mouths and deprives honorable men of their substance for votes with which to perpetuate itself.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Cicero was a famous lawyer, philosopher, and most importantly and significantly, a Roman senator during Pompey Magnus’ and then Julius Caesar’s rule. Anyone who has studied Roman history knows of the great Cicero. Cicero was the great defender, the great proponent of the Roman republic.

Cicero warned about the evils of an ambitious government. At some point, that government becomes more concerned about its power, its longevity, and its control over its citizens than it is about the rights of the citizens themselves and their legitimate issues. It transforms from a government for the people to a government for the government, and the best way for a government to perpetuate its own power and control is to be able to secure their votes. The best way to secure their votes is to keep them dependent on the government for their essentials, for their sustenance. And that’s when governments move towards socialism.

Keeping people comfortable in their poverty is what the government seeks… keeping them just comfortable enough so that they don’t bother exerting the energy to get a good education and become self-sufficient (which means they become suspicious and resentful of government); keeping them comfortable enough so that they don’t bother exerting the energy to go out and get a good job and therefore jeopardize getting all the free stuff. Man is essentially a lazy creature. If he can get for free what it normally would take a lot of energy to obtain, he has a tendency to get it for free… OR, to take it from those who have “enough.”  Man is also smart. If the incentives are taken away (the incentives that come from a free market economy) for him to be successful, he won’t be willing to put in the many years of education, all the hard work, the sacrifice, and take the necessary risks in order to become successful, to develop a necessary or a novel or a more efficient, effective product, to build a successful business, or to offer important services. If he can’t enjoy the benefits, the fruits, of his hard work and his sacrifice, he won’t put in the energy. And society suffers. Innovation stagnates.

Government needs – absolutely needs –being large enough to maintain the safety and security of the people and securing their inalienable rights yet small enough not to over-regulate the people it governs. As long as government remains small enough and dedicated to the proper aims for its existence, then it should not need to find ways to control people, control the votes they cast, and keep them dependent and thus prevent them from investing in themselves and doing for themselves. Being independent and able to provide for oneself is the absolute way to be objective about government and how it is being run and how it is governing, and therefore the best way to keep it honest and ethical.

Again, Cicero understood the evils that come from an ambitious government.

Cicero had a profound impact on our Founding Fathers, particularly on their understanding of the proper role of government and their design to secure human rights and defend individual liberty by tightly constraining government. As he wrote: “Never was a government that was not composed of liars, malefactors and thieves.”

During the Enlightenment era, philosophers from England and France began to think similarly to Cicero – about the natural role of government rather than a divine right to sovereignty. They, as Cicero did, spent a lot of time philosophizing about the proper role of government and of laws. Frederic Bastiat, for example, recognized that the greatest single threat to liberty is government. The extension of that is that government must be established for the right reasons and must be constrained.

In his writings, Cicero talked about the rightful purpose of laws. He said laws had to serve “right reason’; in other words, laws should promote and reward good behavior while punishing and discouraging bad behavior. In his book, The Law, Bastiat talks about laws needing to be kept in their proper domain which is the protection of every person’s liberty and property.  According to Bastiat: “See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

Relying on Cicero’s advice, and Bastiat’s as well, to keep government minimal and constrained, adding in John Locke’s explanation for the natural purpose for government (to secure individual rights), and topping it off with Montesquieu’s advice for the need for checks and balance on government to keep power that is properly divided in check, our Founders came up with the government that was created by the US Constitution.

Our current federal government hardly resembles that government. It has gotten large, bloated, aggressive, and overly ambitious. It is so ambitious that it looks out for itself first and foremost. Consequently, it now longer knows what its “proper domain” is and in many respects, it is no longer interested in protecting every person’s liberty and property. It is certainly not interested at all in property rights. Property now exists for government to tax.

Cicero started man thinking in the right direction – a direction that would ultimately result in a nation defined by the Declaration of Independence and one dedicated to the security of individual liberty. Sadly, the government he believed and stood up for would cost him his life.

During the years when Julius Caesar wrestled control of Rome from Pompey and then sought to concentrate power in just himself, Cicero warned about the dangers to the republic. Concentrating power in himself, Caesar naturally sought to take power away from the Senate, the people’s body, thus taking away government power from the people. Cicero believed and defended the Roman republic. His strength of character and devotion to principle led to his demise. He was assassinated on the order of Marcus Antony and Augustus Caesar, per Rome’s Proscription law, labeled as a traitor for daring to remain loyal to the republic rather than to Rome’s all-powerful leaders, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Antony. Antony instructed that Cicero be beheaded and that his hands be cut off, particularly the one he had used to compose the speeches against him, portraying him as a despot. Cicero’s head was put on display outside the Senate, by its door, and his hands nailed to the podium on the Senate floor, to deter future insolent behavior.

Let us never forget our courageous founders who put their lives on the line to stake out our country’s independence from a government that had grown tyrannical and disrespectful to individual rights. We get a glimpse of what was at stake for them when we read the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Their act of rebelling against the Crown was an act of treason, punishable by the most cruel and horrible of deaths. They, like Cicero, stood up for responsible government, a government (republic) of the people and responsible to the people, knowing they would likely be punished for being traitorous.

The question is, of course, will we heed Cicero’s advice. Will we appreciate Bastiat’s warning. Are we doomed to an ambitious government that will continue down the road to socialism and political despotism or will be work to take back our government and divest it of its unconstitutional and unnatural powers.

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The English Roots of American Liberty

MAGNA CARTA - King John signing

by DIane Rufino, January 20, 2018

From the Declaration and Resolves (petition to King Charles listing the colonies’ grievances against the King and Parliament), the Declaration of Independence, to the Bill of Rights / Declaration of Rights adopted by the individual states, to the US Constitution, and to the US Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers looked to English history for the words and templates to navigate the colonies towards independence and then into a republic. They reflected on the abuses of the Kings and the compacts demanded by the people to check those abuses, as well as the Enlightenment era philosophy on government in building a lasting republic. It is said that our Founding Fathers were wise and extremely well-read, but moreso, they were keenly aware of England’s history, which was, of course, also the history of the American colonies.

The colonists certainly embraced the liberty they found in the American colonies and the chance they had to self-govern as they saw fit. They worshipped according to their conscience, they engaged in trade freely, and they established their own colonial governments. But then they began to see that new-found liberty in jeopardy. The historic abuses of the English monarchy on its subjects now turned to the colonies. The colonists were taxed without their representation in Parliament (a right listed in the Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights of 1689), their trade interfered with (Tea Act), their colonial assemblies suspended (violation of their colonial charters), they had standing armies kept among them (in violation of the English Bill of Rights), they were forced to quarter troops (in violation of the Petition of Right of 1628 and English Bill of Rights), and their firearms and ammunition were confiscated (in violation of the English Bill of Rights). And when they protested and remonstrated these violations of their rights as English subjects, as those of centuries earlier had done, King Charles III ignored and mocked them. To the King, the colonists were crude, almost laughable in their simpler ways. He accused them of acting like petulant children and essentially being bothersome. He did not answer their written complaints, nor was swayed when they pleaded to him, “as loyal subjects,” to please intervene on their behalf to Parliament (for such things as the Intolerable Acts). By 1774, the King had had enough of them and accused them of being in active rebellion against Great Britain. All the colonists wanted was to have their rights respected. [Watch the DVD Set “Liberty – The American Revolution” (PBS) to feel the frustration the colonists felt in the years leading up to the American Revolution].

The question was this: How would the colonists respond?

Well, we know how they responded. Looking at the totality of the situation (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…”), the colonists, assembled in the Second Continental Congress, felt it had no other meaningful course but to seek its independence. In asserting what they believed was their natural right of self-determination and right of self-governance, they took a cue from their English roots (the Grand Remonstrance of 1640) and set forth a list of grievances against the King. In the Declaration of Independence, they listed 27 grievances – abuses of their rights – which, as the colonies declared, justified their separation from Great Britain.

When the fighting began the colonies weren’t seeking their independence; they were merely rebelling against tyranny. But North Carolina and then Virginia, and then others, began to call for independence, and on July 2, 1776, the resolution declaring independence was adopted and on July 4, Jefferson’s formal Declaration was issued – “to a candid world. The rebellion turned into a war for independence. Luckily, trust in George Washington paid off and friendship with France paid off as well. After our victory at Saratoga, France sent troops and its naval forces. British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, VA on October 19, 1781 and on September 3, 1783, representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris to officially end the American Revolutionary War. Article I of the Treaty read: “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states…” The colonies were free.

But then next question was perhaps more important: How would they secure the liberty and individual rights they had just fought for? What kind of government system would best suit that goal?

Luckily our Founding Fathers were students of history and philosophy. They studied the Greek and Roman republics and knew what made them great and what led to their demise. They knew the history of England – a monarchy – and knew that although the great charters of liberty were written by the English to limit the conduct of the King and then to include Parliament, they also knew that those protections often went unnoticed. There were several attempts in England’s history to limit (forever) the rights of kings to place themselves above the law, but in some cases, the king took the “Divine Right of Kings” doctrine far too seriously. The Divine Right of Kings was the political/ religious doctrine in England that asserted that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. Indeed, the history of England was a series of repeated events – abuses of the King over his subjects followed by a charter or petition demanding that their rights be acknowledged and that the King recognize limits to his power, followed by periods where the King or Kings ignored the charter/petition and subjects were again abused, followed by another petition, etc. For example, King John (1199-1216) signed the Magna Carta in 1215 after his barons took up arms against him, but almost immediately, he broke those promises. In 1928, Parliament presented King Charles I with the Petition of Right, complaining of a series of breaches of law and the Great Charter (Magna Carta) he had committed. The violations were of four general types – unfair and illegal taxation, as well as imposing taxes without the action of Parliament, many due process violations, including imprisonment without cause, quartering of soldiers on subjects, and imposing martial law in peacetime. The remainder of his reign would be marked with such extreme abuses that he would eventually be brought to trial and executed. James II, his son, would be another abusive king. With James II, the people (and Parliament) had had finally enough. He was removed by a bloodless revolution and the new King and Queen, William and Mary (Mary being James II’s daughter) signed the English Bill of Rights in 1689. Drafted by Parliament, the Bill of Rights officially set limits to the right of kings to put themselves above the law. The statute which offered the throne to William and Mary legally conditioned their rule on signing and respecting it. And subsequent kings would thus be limited as well.

All of our Founding Fathers knew that history very well. Again, England’s history was the history of the American colonies. But it was, after all, a monarchy. And a monarchy, as shown, was incapable of truly securing the inalienable rights of the individual. A democratic form of government would work either. True democracy is mob rule. It is always a rule by the majority. It could easily be tyranny by the majority.

In drafting the Constitution, which created our system of government here in the United States, our founders decided the best form of government would be a republic. Their study of history taught them that. As James Madison, author of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 10: “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths … A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of government … ”

At the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, the task of the delegates was to design the new republic as wisely as possible. like what Dr. Joe Wolverton II wrote in a 2004 article for The New American: “They believed they could find the key to inoculating America against the diseases that infected and destroyed past societies. Indeed, it has been said that the Founders were coroners examining the lifeless bodies of the republics and democracies of the past, in order to avoid succumbing to the maladies that shortened their lives.”

The Constitution was signed by the delegates on September 17, 1787 and then it was sent to each state to be ratified or rejected. Several of the delegates were unhappy with the final draft because it did not include a Bill of Rights and some, including the powerful George Mason from Virginia, promised to try to defeat its ratification in the state conventions. (Patrick Henry planned to help Mason do so). Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, believed strongly that a Bill of Rights needed to be added, but Madison, author of the Constitution, did not. Jefferson wrote: “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” States like Virginia and North Carolina and Rhode Island would not ratify unless a Bill of Rights was added, and New York was up in the air. Although it may have been likely that 9 states (as required by Article VII) would have ratified so that the Constitution would have done into effect, the states couldn’t imagine a union without the large powerful states of VA, NY, and NC. And so a deal was made with Madison at the VA Ratifying Convention. He would submit a Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution in the first session of the first US Congress. Madison was an honorable man. The rest is history.

Before the deal was made, however, Patrick Henry got up before the Convention to make the case that a Bill of Rights was necessary to secure the blessings of liberty from a government that (as history has always shown) will eventually become too powerful. He spoke these words: “Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessing — give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!….. I say, the time has been when every pulse of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”

Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution (a Bill of Rights) to Congress on June 8, 1789, and after a committee put them in final form and Congress adopted them, they were sent to the states on September 25 for ratification. Out of the twelve proposed amendments, the states ratified ten. There are approximately 26 individual rights identified in the Bill of Rights (excluding the unenumerated possibilities in the Ninth Amendment). Of those 26 individual rights, 9 can be traced back to Magna Carta, 7 can be traced to the English Petition of Rights of 1628, and 6 can be traced to the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

I used to think our Founders were divinely inspired to write some of the documents that they wrote….. the words, the themes, the ballsy language. But when you go back and study England’s illustrious history and you read the great charters and documents of liberty – the 1100 Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Rights (1628), the Grand Remonstrance (1641), and the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – you realize that our Founders had all the templates they needed. In many cases, they followed in the very footsteps of their forefathers – English subjects – who petitioned every hundred years or more for their rights and for the King to limit his jurisdiction over their lives. For example, the Grand Remonstrance listed a series of grievances against Charles I, from the beginning of his reign, explaining why he needed to answer for his actions. In drafting the Declarations & Resolves of Oct. 14, 1774 (series of petitions and resolutions to King Charles I and Parliament in response to the Intolerable Acts), the First Continental Congress adopted the same petition formats that the English used to their King to petition for the rights that were being violated. In drafting the formal Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson used the same format in order to condemn King Charles III and to make the case to a candid world why the people of the American colonies were seeking their political and legal separation from Great Britain. And so history lessons like this are so important because they serve to remind us that our system rests on a very distinguished history of standing up for liberty against tyranny and that the principles embedded in our documents are ones designed to withstand the abuses of those in power, in any branch. And that is why it is so important that those principles should not be taken for granted, maligned just because our fore-fathers were products of another era, or happened to own slaves or represented social norms of the day or happened to sneeze the wrong way, or “legislated” away from the bench by activist judges. Charles I was a miserable, ambitious King who, perhaps more than any other King of England, embraced the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and hid behind the artificial status it created. He quarreled with Parliament (the people’s body established by the Magna Carta to give them representation when it came to taxation) over taxes. He wanted more and more to finance his endless wars. When Parliament wouldn’t give him the funds he demanded, he merely dissolved the body. He did so three times from 1625-1629. When he dissolved Parliament in 1629, he resolved to rule alone and to get the money he needed. And so he raised revenue through non-Parliamentary means – including Ship Money (taxing those who lived along the coast). Most of these things helped to lead to his demise, which followed after he waged a civil war on Parliament itself, which he lost. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason by (a rump) Parliament in January 1649. He was beheaded. I point to Charles I because he was so abusive and dismissive of the rights of the people that the damage he did signaled the end of British system. After he was executed, Oliver Cromwell served as Lord Protector over England until his death in 1658. The monarchy was restored two years later, at which time, Charles II took the throne. He ruled until 1685 and when he died, his brother James II took the throne. He was deposed less than 3 years later. William and Mary were offered the throne and England got an official Bill of Rights at their coronation.

But one good thing came out of Charles’ reign. He cracked down quite heavily on the Puritans in England, and as a result, they emigrated (ultimately) to New England to found colonies based on religious liberty and eventually to establish the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The history of England is also one of religious tyranny and persecution, and no doubt provided the passion that certain Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, had to secure religious freedom in the colonies.

England’s history is vital to our education because in her 600-year-or-so history, her people have stood up for their rights – rights they believed were fundamental and essential to their humanity and dignity – and in the end, their petitions, once merely requesting for the recognition of certain rights, became a Bill of Rights (1689), officially recognizing essential rights belonging to the individual that government was obligated to respect. While England does not have an official Constitution, per se, it considers a group of documents (including the English Bill of Rights) as being its “constitution” or governing document. But those documents, which represented the plight of the English for their rights to be free and to be free from government made it to the minds of our American Founders who then incorporated it into our nation’s founding documents. Our founding documents are superior to England’s because in this country, there is an “official” Constitution and an “official” Bill of Rights and both are predicated on something the English system is not – that government power originates from the individual. Those documents memorialize not only the formal recognition of inalienable individual rights, but they set important limits and boundaries on government. If you don’t think the English system of protest and petition didn’t work and if you don’t think it SHOULD be the model we embrace here – consider this: Each time the English people petitioned for their rights, those rights were enlarged, as mentioned above. Also consider this: The ability to have and bear arms originated as a “duty” in England, under the Militia laws. But after many years of the Crown confiscating guns and leaving England’s subjects undefended and vulnerable in the face of despotic Kings (willing to arrest and imprison them merely for political reasons or belonging to the wrong religion), that duty became a “right” in the English Bill of Rights. We have our Right to Have and Bear Arms (Second Amendment) because of the will and determination of the English people.

References:

“English and Colonial Roots of the US Bill of Rights – http://teachingamericanhistory.org/bor/roots-chart/

Virginia Ratifying Convention, Thursday, June 5, 1788 – http://www.constitution.org/rc/rat_va_04.htm

Federalist No. 6 (Alexander Hamilton), Avalon Project (Yale Law School) – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed06.asp

“Liberty – The American Revolution” (3 disc, DVD set), PBS – https://shop.pbs.org/

The Petition of Right of 1628 – http://www.constitution.org/eng/petright.htm

The Grand Remonstrance of 1640 – http://www.constitution.org/eng/conpur043.htm

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/england.asp

Dr. Joe Wolverton II, “The Founding Fathers & the Classics,” The New American, September 20, 2004. Referenced at: https://21stcenturycicero.wordpress.com/tyrrany/the-founding-fathers-the-classics/

A Government of the People, By the People, For the People… How it Really Works, According to Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON - Time magazine cover

by Diane Rufino, September 20, 2017

Thomas Jefferson articulated the absolute right of a state to secede from the Union. He did so in 1798, in 1799, in 1816, and up until his death in 1826 (July 4, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). The right of self-determination was proclaimed in the Declaration as a founding principle and was never surrendered in the Constitution. In fact, Jefferson and Madison (1798 and 1800, in his written documents explaining the nature of the agreement known as the US Constitution) both agreed that such an inherent right can never be contracted away, although it should be reserved for extreme cases.

For Jefferson in 1816, the States had a clear right to leave the union. Government power, he reasoned, should never be concentrated at the top but rather at the bottom, closest to the people. If such were the case, there should never arise the level of tyranny that would warrant the drastic remedy of secession. The key, therefore, is to keep government closest to the people. Jefferson explained that the way to do this is to vest government only with those responsibilities that are absolutely necessary and those which people, in their individual capacity, cannot do or cannot be trusted to do and then to divide those responsibilities accordingly – with the governmental bodies closest to the people (localities) being responsible for the interests and affairs that touch on their lives most directly – their property, their livelihoods, their customs and communities, their education concerns, etc – and the government farthest away from them (Washington, DC) being responsible for the matters that are most external to their everyday lives, such as national security, international affairs and diplomacy, inter-state commerce, etc.

From Kevin Gutzman’s exceptional book, THOMAS JEFFERSON, REVOLUTIONARY:

Explaining the subdivision of government power, into “ward republics,” Jefferson wrote: “The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but rather 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 defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations, the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally, and the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; each Ward directs the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best…. 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 of 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 synthetic process, to higher and 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 of its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental checks and balances 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 one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power he wrenched from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”

The Roman Empire fell when its ruling authority in Rome presided over too large and diverse of a group to represent them and their interests properly in a concentrated government body. And the same is happening here in the United States. If we hope to make this country the one that it was originally destined to be, the country that Thomas Jefferson dreamed of and worked his life to guide, then we need to push for solutions that return power back to the people…  In my favorite movie, GLADIATOR, Emperor Marcus Aurelius confides in his loyal general, Maximus, and conveys his dying wish: “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter…….. There is one more duty that I ask of you before you go home. I want you to become the protector of Rome after I die. I will empower you to one end alone, to give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. It must be you. it must be you. You have not been corrupted by her politics.”

We are Rome. We are a republic in name only, and have been for a very long time now.  We must acknowledge that. Each congressman represents too large and diverse of a group of people (at least 700,000 individuals per congressional district) to act as a meaningful advocate in government, and each senator, representing each person in his or her state, has the same problem. And so, our elected representatives no longer work for us or our interests;  they become agents for the interests and preservation of the federal government – a government that becomes more interested in “the common good” with each year of its existence. Republics are only successful when they are relatively small, when the ratio of elected representatives to the constituency remains workable. The solution to returning power to the people is to subdivide our one great republic into smaller republics (as Jefferson called them, “ward republics”) – to subdivide government power with the greatest control over the individual and his or her everyday life vested in those government bodies most local and closest to the people.

A big government is not our friend, although it likes to portray itself as such. We’ve seen its violations against us over the years, including collecting our personal information, lying to the American people, refusing to punish those in office who have broken criminal laws (and have even skirted on treason), taxing us excessively (including to support terrorist regimes such as Iran and Pakistan), forcing people to purchase health insurance not because they need it but because others need it, opening our borders to leave our communities and jobs vulnerable, judicial activism from the courts, obstruction in our attempts to legitimize the election process, and most recently, wiretapping political a presidential candidate to undermine the success of a threatening political movement. Ask yourself one question: What power do We the People think really have over the governing of our states and our country?  The key to the security of freedom is the control the people have in their government. James Madison once wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

The era of King George III is here. Americans have a history of how to respond to such tyranny…. Unless, of course, we have truly become Rome.

Edward Snowden, labeled both a patriot by many and a traitor by some, said: “Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.”

 

Reference:  Kevin Gutzman, Thomas Jefferson – Revolutionary, St. Martin’s Press, NY (2017).

SAVE THE REPUBLIC! Rethinking the American Union of States for the Preservation of Republicanism

SECESSION - Separate or Die (head, the federal government, is chopped off)

by Diane Rufino (citing Donald Livingston in his book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century), July 26, 2016

The purpose of this article is three-fold:  First, I want to be provocative and get readers thinking.  Second, I wish to educate the reader on our founding principles. And third, I hope to encourage the reader to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, written in part and edited by Donald Livingston, founder and president of the Abbeville Institute.  I enjoyed the book immensely and wanted very much to help get the word out.

I think the best way to encourage one to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century is to hook him or her using one of the more thought-provoking themes of the book. And so, this article is composed in great part using selected portions from one of the chapters in that book which I found most interesting – “American Republicanism,” authored by Livingston), with a discussion of nullification, interposition, secession, and federalism by myself.  Credit, of course, goes first and foremost to Professor Livingston.

Article IV of the US Constitution guarantees to every State in the Union “a Republican form of government.”  It is known as the “Guarantee Clause.”  It has not been widely interpreted, but constitutional scholars think it ensures that each State be run as a representative democracy or a dictatorship, preventing any initiative to change a State constitution to provide such.  The Supreme Court has essentially acknowledged that it doesn’t have the slightest idea what it means, has been reluctant to specify exactly what a “republican form of government” means and has left the clause devoid of meaning.  Historically, however, republics have had distinct characteristics, namely that its citizens make the laws they are to live under, that there is a Rule of Law, and that the republic itself be relatively small with respect to population and territory, to ensure that representation is meaningful.

The American system of 1789 was not a republic. It was a federation of republics – each state itself a republic – but the Union itself was not a republic. “A federation of republics is not itself a republic, any more than a federation of country clubs is not in and of itself a country club.” Under the Constitution of 1787, the central government could rule over individuals but only under the powers delegated to it by the sovereign States. All other powers of sovereignty belong to the States, expressly reserved through the Tenth Amendment, by the natural law of sovereignty, and contractually by force of the compact theory characterizing the Constitution. Given this framework, the final safeguard for a truly republican form of government for the people in America was, and could only be, some form of lawful resistance to the concentration of coercion in the federal government, which includes state interposition, nullification, or secession. These remedies are included in the “reserved powers” belonging to the States.

Nullification is a legal theory that holds that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that State has deemed unconstitutional. If the authority for the federal government only comes from the highly-contested and debated powers that the States agreed to delegate from their reservoir of sovereign powers, as listed in the Constitution, any federal law, policy, action, or court decision that exceeds such grants of power is “null and void” and lacks enforcement power. Since the federal government will always seek to support and enforce its laws and actions, it must be the States, as the parties to the Constitution and the ones which suffer the usurpation of powers with each unconstitutional action, which must rightfully declare “unconstitutionality” and prevent them from being enforced on a free people. Because the right of nullification is not prohibited by the Constitution (nor is it even addressed), it is reserved by the States under the Tenth Amendment.

Interposition is another claimed right belonging to the States. Interposition is the right of a State to oppose actions of the federal government that the state deems unconstitutional by in order to prevent their enforcement.  The very definition of a tyrannical government is one that imposes unconstitutional actions on its citizens. Tyranny is arbitrary rule. Interposition is the actual action, whether legislative or otherwise, to prevent an unconstitutional federal law or action from being enforced on its people. The most effective remedy against unconstitutional federal action, as emphasized by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is nullification together with interposition. Interposition finds its roots in the Supremacy Clause.  While the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance are considered the supreme law of the land, laws (and other actions) not grounded in rightful or legitimate Constitutional powers are not supreme and the States are well within their powers to prevent such usurpation of government power belonging to their sphere of authority.

Secession, like nullification and interposition, is not prohibited by the Constitution (or even addressed), and hence, is a reserved right of the States.

Nullification and interposition were invoked in 1798 by Kentucky and Virginia to identify the Alien & Sedition Acts as unconstitutional and to prevent citizens of those states from being imprisoned essentially for their exercise of free speech and press. Secession was threated in 1815 by Massachusetts after it characterized Jefferson’s embargo against Great Britain and his Louisiana Purchase and then Madison’s War of 1812 as a history of abuses against the North, with an intent to further the interests of the South. All three States’ Rights’ remedies were regularly invoked in the antebellum period, in every section of the Union, to assert State sovereignty and to constrain the central government. As of 1860, the central government was out of debt and imposed no inland taxes. It existed simply off a tariff on imports and land sales. The Supreme Court was tightly constrained in its exercise of judicial review. It challenged the constitutionality of acts of Congress only twice – in Marbury v. Madison (the Judiciary Act of 1789) and the Dred Scott decision (the right of a slave to challenge his status in a non-slave state when brought there by his master). States and localities in almost all States in the North refused to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act (nullification), either by statue or by civil acts of disobedience, and most strikingly, the Wisconsin legislature and the State Supreme Court in 1854 and 1859 outright challenged the constitutionality of the Act (citing coercion of the states and state officials). South Carolina nullified the Tariff of 1828, citing the improper nature of the tariff, changing it from an ordinary tariff (for revenue collection for the government) to a protectionist tariff (to provide direct funding of “improvements” for the North, as well as other enormous benefits), and claiming it was nothing more than a federal scheme to directly enrich the North at the great expense of the South.

Today, it is taught and it is believed that the “checks and balances” in the American system are only those between the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. We know about the veto procedure, the ratification process for treaties, appointments (including federal court justices) and judicial review (this last check is not in the constitution actually but a creature of the Supreme Court itself!)  The purpose of our Separation of Powers and our series of checks and balances is to prevent the consolidation of power in any one branch of government and any one group of representatives.  But only a very limited number of Americans understand and appreciate that the greatest check on the consolidation of power comes from the unique design feature of our government established by the States and our Founding Fathers in the conventions and debates creating the Constitution – and that is Federalism.  Federalism is idea that real power is shared by the members of the “federation,” which are the States, with the creature they created (the federal government), which is the reservoir of powers expressly delegated to it by the US Constitution.  Federalism is a “sharing” or “division” of power among sovereigns in order to prevent concentration and tyranny.  The idea is that the government, as a sovereign with very limited and expressly delegated powers, and the States, as sovereigns retaining all other powers of government, will jealously guard their sphere of power and will watch, ever-so-vigilantly, the actions of one another.  What more effective check on government power could there be !!  Sovereign versus sovereign, which is what the term “dual sovereignty” refers to.  Or, as I like to refer to this design feature: “Titan versus Titan” (a reference to Greek mythology).  Alexander Hamilton, in a speech to the New York Ratifying Convention on June 17, 1788, explained it this way: “This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.”

Sadly, this most effective check on consolidation of power in DC has been effectively eroded – mainly at the hands of the US Supreme Court.  The checks from the States on central authority in the form of nullification, interposition, and secession have now been ruled out.  And this is just another way of saying that the federal government can define the limits of its own powers. And that is what the American colonists and ratifiers of the Constitution drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 meant by “absolute monarchy.”

Ask yourself this:  Which branch of government ruled out the essential and natural remedies of nullification, interposition, and secession?  The answer is the US Supreme Court, supporting the ambitious plans of the federal government and improperly relying on Marbury v. Madison (1803) and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution for authority. For a State to treat its decisions with less than full support would bring the full resources of the federal government into its backyard. It’s happened before. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rather than interpreting the Constitution, which pretty much is its sole task, the Supreme Court has redefined a new political and government system, one that is quite different from the one entrusted to us by our framers and founders.

When authority taken by the federal government falls outside of the enumerated powers, it makes no sense to ask the federal government to rule on whether the federal government has the power or not. The States, the ones which debated and ratified the Constitution for THEIR benefit, have no umpire on the bench.  As historian Tom Woods points out, if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining the extent of its own powers, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones.

So, it is no surprise that the Supreme Court consistently and steadily handed down decision after decision to strip the States’ of their natural remedies against the Titan seeking to subjugate them – the federal government. Again, the Supreme Court is itself a branch of the very government that seeks to benefit from the consolidation of power it wants by weakening the States.  What better way to get the States to calm down and get in line?

Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of the federal judiciary and warned that they had the greatest potential to undermine republican government. In 1823, he wrote: “At the establishment of our Constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions nevertheless become law by precedent, sapping by little and little the foundations of the Constitution and working its change by construction before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life if secured against all liability to account.”

If you believe, as most Americans seem to believe (because of government indoctrination), that States no longer have the rights of nullification, interposition, and secession because of the action of one man, a virtual dictator, Abraham Lincoln, then you must reconcile the fact that no State any longer enjoys a republican form of government, as guaranteed in Article IV. That is, they no longer enjoy a republican form of government under any historical understanding of what such a government is nor under the vision of our founders. That notion has now decayed into a legal fiction.

But if the States are not republics, what are they?  Donald Livingston argues that the answer was given by Alexis de Tocqueville in his assessment of the French Revolution. According to de Tocqueville, the French revolution was intended to overturn the monarchy and return power to the people by creating a republic but in reality, it fundamentally changed nothing. The coercive government of the monarchy was simply replaced by a different type of coercive government.  The monopoly over government and land created by Kings (Divine Right of Kings) is a doctrine that embodies two bodies of the king. This duality is symbolized by this famous phrase: “The King is dead! Long live the King!” The first body of the king was the flesh and blood; the mortal body.  The second body was the monopoly, or the artificial corporation, established by birth-right and familial ties. Both bodies are coercive in nature since they are not “of the people” and can never truly represent them. When de Tocqueville said that the French Revolution fundamentally changed nothing, he meant that all that it did was kill the first body of the king. It left the second body of the king intact, merely changing its name from the “Crown” to the “Republic.” The revolution merely replaced the person of the king with a fictitious “nation-person.” In other words, what was created after the French Revolution was an absolute monarchy without the monarch; a regime that had all the major defects of a monarchy but none of the benefits. The post-French Revolution era of “republics” would increase government centralization beyond the wildest dream of any monarch. The German economist, Hans Hoppe, estimates that before the mid-nineteenth century, monarchs, as bad as they might have been, were never able to extract more than 5-8 percent of the gross national product (GNP) from the people, whereas “republics” have been able to exploit over 60 percent.

In his war to prevent Southern independence, Lincoln and the perversely-named “Republican” Party destroyed the two American institutions that had made true republicanism possible in a region on our continental scale – State nullification and secession. Without these rights, there can be no practical check to centralization and oppression of government, and hence, no practical way to ensure that the People of the several States are guaranteed a republican form of government.

Is it possible to have an exceedingly large republic, such as the size of our current-day United States?  British philosopher David Hume once considered the question of a large republic. He proposed the first model of a large republic in his essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth,” which was published in 1792.  Hume’s model did not physically seek to divide territory up physically into individual sovereigns but rather to decentralize government power so as to preserve the human scale demanded of republican self-government. The question is whether this can realistically be done.

Hume agrees with the republican tradition that “a small commonwealth is the happiest government in the world within itself.” But Hume’s model of a large republic, in contrast to the historically small republic, would be to order the large republic in such a way as to have all the advantages of a little republic. The question is whether Hume’s model is translatable to the real world: Can the size of a republic be expanded without destroying those values unique to republican government (self-government and the rule of law) that require a human scale.

Hume’s idea of a large republic is something of the size of Great Britain or France. (Remember his essay was written in 1792!)  As a comparison, Great Britain is approximately equivalent in size to Wyoming and France is approximately equivalent in size to Texas. In Hume’s model, the republic is divided into 100 small republics, but with a national capital. Each of these small republics is then divided into 100 parishes. The members of each parish meet annually to elect 1 representative. This yields 100 representatives in each small republic’s legislature. The legislature selects from among its members 10 magistrates to exercise the executive and judicial functions of the republic and 1 senator to represent the republic in the national capital. That yields 100 senators, from among which 10 are chosen to serve as the national executive and judiciary.

Laws would be proposed by the national senate and passed down to the provincial republics or ratification. Each republic has one vote regardless of population, and the majority rules. To free the provincial legislature from having to vote on every trivial law, a bill can be sent instead to the ten provincial magistrates in each republic for ratification.

How does Hume’s large republic compare to the “highly-centralized regime” that the United States has become today?  Hume’s republic has 100 senators in the national capital representing the individual States, as we do. But the legislative body representing the nation of individuals is located in the several capitals of the provincial republics. This provides three essential advantages.  First, it provides a better and more republican ratio of representation to population. Hume’s republic is the size of Britain, which in his time had some 9 million people; yet his regionally dispersed legislature jointly yields 10,000 representatives.  [100 x 100].  By contrast, the United States has 305 million people, which is 34 times as many inhabitants. Its representative body contains not 10,000 representatives but only 435 representatives – a number that Congress capped by law in 1911.  Hume’s large republic provides a ratio of 1 representative for every 900 people, and so it is of a republican scale.  This is very important !!  The United States’ system provides 1 representative for every 700,000 people, which is not even remotely within a republican scale.

And if you are thinking that this unrepublican character of the United States can be remedied by abolishing the law setting the cap at 435 and increasing the number of representatives in the US House, you will need to understand that judging by the size of legislatures around the world, 435 is just about the right size for a lawmaking body. Everything in nature has a proper size for optimum functionality. A cell can only grow to a certain size (a certain volume-to-cell-surface ratio) so that it can absorb nutrients, eliminate waste, and respire most efficiently. A jury of 12 is perfectly suited to determine the facts of a case; a jury of 120 would be dysfunctional.  When the first US Congress met in New York in 1789, there were 65 representatives. There was 1 representative for every 60,000 people. James Madison thought that was an inadequate ratio to adequately represent the people in a republic. When the number of representatives was capped at 435 in 1911, the population in the United States was 93,863,000. That means that there was 1 representative for every 215,777 inhabitants. If we were to use the same ratio that was used in 1789 – 1: 60,000 – there would be over 5,000 members in the House of Representatives. This would be impossibly large for a lawmaking body. Size does matter.

So, if the number of representatives in Washington DC cannot be increased as the population increases, then we have clearly reached the point where talk of republican self-government is utterly meaningless.  We are merely a republican in name only. In the not too distant future, the population of the United States will reach 435 million. This would yield one representative for every million persons.  Who could honestly believe a regime under this system could be described as a republic?

The point is that a country can literally become too large for self-government.  It becomes unresponsive to the people because its representatives cannot possibly represent the interests of all its constituents.

If the United States has indeed reached the point of political obesity, then the only remedy would be to downsize. The United States will need to be downsized either through peaceful secession movements or through a division into a number of federative units forming a voluntary commonwealth of American federations – an idea that Thomas Jefferson was fond of.

For the moment, let’s put peaceful secession aside (which would divide the Union into distinct territorial jurisdictions or would create individual, independent sovereigns).  Suppose that the United States adopts such a model as Hume’s large republic. This would require abolishing the House of Representatives in Washington DC (Yay!) and transforming the State legislatures into a joint national legislature. The Senate would propose legislation to be ratified by a majority of the States, each State having one vote.

Consider trying to enact the unpopular legislation passed in 2009 and then 2010 under such a model. Of course, I’m referring to the Bailout bills and the stimulus packages of 2009 and then the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or grossly referred to simply as the “Affordable Care Act’; or aptly named “Obamacare”) of 2010. A strong majority of Americans opposed the bailouts for the monster banks whose corrupt and inept policies caused the financial meltdown in 2009, the economic stimulus packages that they knew wouldn’t work, and Barack Obama’s healthcare plan of some two thousand pages, rushed through after secret meetings and secret deals and with publicly-acknowledged privileges given to some states and not others, and admissions by its leading supporters (Democrats) that they hadn’t even read it.  To this should be added that many believe that Congress has no constitutional authority to bailout businesses, let alone arbitrarily choosing which ones to provide federal aid, nor to impose a national healthcare plan, regardless whether it is good or not and whether or not it would help certain citizens out. Now, had these bills been sent down to the State legislatures for debate and ratification, as required by Hume’s large republic model, their defeat would have been so certain that they probably would never have even been proposed in the first place.

The second advantage presented by Hume’s model is that by dispersing the national legislature among the provincial republics (the smaller republics), he has eliminated the corruption that inevitably comes from putting the House of Representatives and the Senate in the same place. The number of representatives in Washington is 435 in the House, and 100 in the Senate– for a grand total of 535 lawmakers. A majority of this number is only 269. This small number rules 305 million people. And the majority can be even less, since both houses can lawfully operate, and they often do, with a mere quorum. A quorum majority of both houses of Congress is only 135 !!

Consider also that the US Supreme Court, centered in DC, a branch of the federal government, with justices who are appointed according to political and ideological lines – and not for proven understanding and adherence to the Constitution – has usurped the traditional “police powers” of the States, which it exercises for the health, safety (including law enforcement), welfare, education, religion, and morality of its citizens. The police powers exercised by each individual State for the benefit of its own people is the very essence of republican life. Nine unelected Supreme Court justices with life tenure – by only a vote of 5-to-4 – make major social policy for 305 million people. Political issues that are reserved to the States, such as abortion, marriage, and voter integrity laws, have been taken out of the policy arena and magically transformed into “constitutional rights.” This means, in effect, that the Court can rewrite the Constitution at will, entirely by-passing the process specifically provided for in Article V (ratification of any alteration/amendment of the Constitution by a ratification by three-fourths of the States).  Again, to think that five members of a high court can usurp lawmaking authority from the legislature (popularly-elected), can usurp powers from the States, and can transform the meaning and intent of the Constitution from the bench rather than the lawful process specifically put in place for the People themselves to define the limits of their government and we are still a republic is ludicrous.

Dispersing the legislatures among provinces would not necessarily get rid of government corruption, which is one of the biggest problems with a consolidated government. However, it would not exist on the same scale and of the same intensity that we see in DC today. Hume’s national legislature sits jointly in the 100 provincial capitals.  That means that a lobbying interest must deploy a much greater number of lobbyists and over greater distances. In addition, it would be much more difficult for representatives to coordinate with each other to buy and sell votes, as is routinely done in Congress today. With such a large republic, representatives would be more cautious and frugal in spending taxpayer money. After all, the 10,000 dispersed representatives who live in the same neighborhood with their constituents would have to look them in the eye and would have to answer to them.

Third, Hume provides a number of checks to prevent a faction from dominating the whole. If the senate rejects a proposed law, only 10 senators out of 100 are needed to veto that decision and forward the bill to the republics for consideration. Laws thought to be trivial can be sent from the senate to the ten magistrates of the republic for ratification instead of calling on the whole legislature. But only 5 out of 100 provincial representatives are needed to veto this and call for a vote of their legislature. Each (small) republic can veto legislation of another republic and force a vote on the matter by all the republics.

Should the United States be divided up into provincial republics – into a “federation of republics” – in order to provide a true republican form of government to its people?  Thomas Jefferson thought so.  George Kennan, esteemed historian and American diplomat (crafted the US policy of containment with respect to the Soviet Union) also thought so. In his autobiography, Around the Cragged Hill, Kennan argued that the United States has become simply too large for the purposes of self-government. As he argued, the central government can rule 305 million people only by imposing one-size-fits-all rules that necessarily result in a “diminished sensitivity of its laws and regulations to the particular needs, traditions, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and the like of individual localities and communities.”  Kennan passed away in 2005.  That the lives, property, income, and fortunes of 305 million Americans should be the playthings of an oligarchy in Washington that can act by a majority in Congress of only 269 (and 135 if acting by a quorum) and that the essence of republican life – religion, morals, education, marriage, voting rights, law enforcement, and social welfare – should be decided by nine unelected Supreme Court justices is something no free, liberty-minded people should tolerate.

Of course, there is the other option – secession and the formation of individual republics, not held together in federation form. It is said that secession should and must be ruled out because it causes war and it will necessarily involve bloodshed.  But that is not necessarily true. Of course it will depend on the ambitions of the administration in Washington DC, in particular, the president.  We would hope that we should never again suffer the likes of another Abraham Lincoln. But there are many examples of states that have seceded peacefully, including a number of Baltic states from the former Soviet Union. Norway peacefully seceded from Sweden in 1905 and Singapore did so from the Malaysian federation in 1965.  Eventually, if things don’t change and freedom’s flame is close to being extinguished, secession may be the remedy to save the American experiment. Additionally, it may be the only way to save the US Constitution – by putting it in the hands of a people who will take care of it and be much more vigilante with its limited powers and its checks and balances than Americans have been.  When 11 Southern States seceded from the Union in 1860-61 and formed the Confederate States of the American, they, as a Union, established a new constitution. This would be the third constitution that Americans made for themselves, and in most respects, it was far superior to the one of 1787 – they backed out of.  It included several provisions which would have made it much more difficult for the central government to concentrate and usurp power. Had Lincoln respected the States’ right of self-determination (as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence), we would have had the unique opportunity to compare, side-by-side, how each Union of States (North or South) fared under their constitutions.  The point is that secession gave the People (acting in State conventions) the opportunity to correct the defects in the Constitution that caused them to be oppressed by government. The question will be: when that time comes (and maybe it is already here), will we have the Will to Secede!!  Already, between 19-34% of Americans (ranked by State), now believe we would be better if States peacefully left the Union.

Donald Livingston closes his discussion of “American Republicanism” with this summary: “When a healthy cell grows too large, it divides into two cells. It is the cancerous cell that no longer knows how to stop growing. That artificial corporation, created by the individual States over two centuries ago, called the “United States” has, over time, metastasized into a cancerous growth on a federation of continental scale, sucking republican vitality out of States and local communities. The natural chemotherapy for this peculiar condition is and can only be some revived form of State interposition, nullification, or secession. If these are rejected out of hand as heresies (as our nationalist historians have taught since the late nineteenth century), then we can no longer, in good faith, describe ourselves as enjoying a republican style of government.

American secession

 

Again, I encourage everyone to read the entire book – Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century.  Aside from Donald Livingston, accomplished authors and academics Kent Masterson Brown, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, Dr. Marshall DeRosa, Yuri Maltsev, and Rob Williams also contributed chapters.

 

References:

Donald Livingston, ed., Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede, but Why?  –   http://blogs.reuters.com/jamesrgaines/2014/09/19/one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede-from-the-u-s-but-why/

Poll: A Quarter of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/poll-seccession

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://dailycaller.com/2014/09/19/poll-one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede/

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BOOK REVIEW – “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty” by Eric Metaxas

ERIC METAXAS       by Diane Rufino, July 11, 2016

I just finished reading the latest book by New York Times #1 Best-selling author, Eric Metaxas, entitled “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.”  Metaxas is the author of other best-sellers, including Bonhoeffer, Amazing Grace,Miracles, 7 Women, and 7 Men, and has a weekly talk show, “The Eric Metaxas Show.”

The book is essentially a pep talk for our troubled time, peppered with wonderful bits of history to remind readers why the they need to be fired up. Hopefully the title will ring a bell with the reader. At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin as he was leaving what has come to be known as Independence Hall.  She asked him: “What kind of government have you given us?”  And Franklin historically replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

And that’s the challenge we all face.  As our traditional institutions and values are eroding, and as our connection to the document that secures our rights and restrains government in our lives – the US Constitution – becomes increasingly tenuous, we see that our republic is in danger.  John Adams once said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  The truth is that all our Founding Fathers shared the same view, and probably none as strongly as Benjamin Franklin. And so his reply to that woman implicated a duty imputed to all Americans to remain virtuous and to trust only virtuous leaders with this grand experiment that was to be America.  Once we lose that sense of duty and that keen sense of responsibility, then the days of our republic are indeed numbered.

Why is morality and religion so indispensable to our republic and its longevity?  Alexander Hamilton addressed that question clearly: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  Men are not angels; they are forever tempted by power, greed, and other evils which corrupt men’s souls. History proves this, and history also teaches us another sad reality – that republics typically have a relatively short lifespan.  Machiavelli wrote: “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”  Machiavelli wrote: “Republics that wish to maintain themselves free from corruption must above all things preserve the purity of all religions observances, and treat them with proper reverence; for there is no greater indication of the ruin of a country than to see religion condemned.”  Religion is the basis of morality.  Religion teaches a person how to to conduct oneself and how to treat others.  Moral people don’t need a lot of laws because they inherently know how to govern themselves.  Morality ensures that government can remain limited.

Metaxas argues that America’s greatness cannot continue unless we embrace our own crucial role in living out what our Founding Fathers entrusted to us. And that, he says, requires us to reconnect with our history and with the brilliant and forward-thinking ideals proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence, emphasized by our Founders, and embedded in the fabric of our history.  And to remind us of some of those threads, the author weaves in selected and profound moments from our country’s earlier years. Metaxas wants us to remember why our country is great and why she is good.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States, among other reasons, to study our democracy. He wanted to help secure to the people of France the same blessings that democracy in America had ordained and established for its people. After touring the states, he noted: “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her bustling harbors and her ample rivers — and it was not there……  In her fertile fields and bound less forests — and it was not there….. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce — and it was not there….. In her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution — and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Metaxas acknowledges the growing trend of young people who dwell on the faults with America, which we all know punctuates our history, beginning with the oppression of the American Natives and the perpetuation of slavery and in more recent times, our willing embrace of abortions to kill our unborn. Indeed, our history is coming under attack and efforts are being made to re-write it and to even to redact parts of it from our school books. But he urges everyone to balance the bad with the good.  He urges us to go back and study our history – to re-establish those “mystic chords of memory” that hold us together as unified nation. With each chapter, Metaxas reminds us of individuals who, through their actions or words, embrace the values of the American experiment and exemplify the goodness of America.

If You Can Keep It prompts us to the urgency of our time. Our country continues to take misstep after misstep, consistently eroding morals and alienating religion. Corruption has undermined our confidence in the Rule of Law.  Our republic lies precariously on a precipice. If it tips too far to the left, we doom our republic and our last best chance to secure our freedom, especially the rights of minority groups.  And in doing so, we let down other nations and peoples of the world, who look to us to stand up for them and to export our values to their governments. After all, for over a hundred and fifty years, it was the “idea” of America that attracted the “tired, the poor, the homeless, and the wretched refuse” of other countries to our shores. It was America that provided a home for the “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

And so, with Benjamin Franklin in mind and with Alexis de Tocqueville in mind, Eric Metaxas convincingly reminds us of our duty to “keep our republic.”  Our freedom, as Ronald Reagan once pointed out, “is never more than one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”  The answer, Metaxas suggests, is for us to be good again, to find heroes in our history and emulate them, and to rekindle the American spirit.

BOOK -  If You Can Keep It (Metaxas)

Nullification v. Article V Constitutional Convention: Where is the Honest and Open Debate?

Mark Levin (with smirk)

by Diane Rufino, January 5, 2014

When the original 13 states came together to discuss the possibility of establishing a confederacy, at the urging of Benjamin Franklin (“Join or Die”), they did so with a great deal of hope, but also a great deal of trepidation. The hope was that a federal government might be formed that could provide greater security and stability to the colonies.  The hope was that it might handle the few issues that were common to all the states but which could not be dealt with by the states individually. The fears, on the other hand, were that this government might come to gain an enormous amount of power; that this power might come to be concentrated in the hands of very few; and that the federal government as a whole might end up overreaching its authority and end up meddling in affairs that ought rightly to be left to the states and the various local governments (if not individuals themselves).

The Constitution created a limited government, which is evidenced in four obvious ways: (1) The Constitution was framed in such a way that the power of the federal government would be split between three separate branches – each acting as a check-and-balance on the power of the others; (2) The power of the federal government as a whole was limited to certain specific areas;(3) Government power structure was split between two co-equal sovereigns – the individual states and the federal government (emphasized or restated by the Tenth Amendment); and (4) A Bill of Rights (“further declaratory statements and restrictive clauses to prevent the government from misconstruing or abusing its powers..”) to put further limitations on government power.

For 200 years, this structure has been eroded, always at the hand of the federal government. After numerous overt acts of usurpation, constitutional amendments, and loose interpretations of the Constitution itself, each of the branches of government has managed to seize more power than it was ever meant to have. Now, as we see and feel most acutely, the federal government involves itself in matters that are neither federal in nature nor are subject to its jurisdiction.  It insinuates itself into virtually every aspect of public and private life, including political, economic, and social.  When we listen to a young mother in Alabama cry because the new healthcare mandate has increased her insurance premiums each month by over $100 and has presented her with a dilemma that is causing her great heartache and distress (she wants to work and do the right thing, but if she does, she can’t afford the increase in healthcare premiums, and so she is faced with the choice that puts and her family on welfare), then we understand how destructive the government has become and how far it has strayed from its intended purpose.

Those who support Nullification have put the alert out years ago. They assert that the federal government can rightfully be divested of such unconstitutional power by having the States call the government out on its conduct and refusing to enforce unconstitutional laws. But Nullification is not a term or a concept that the average American has heard before and so it has not been roundly embraced.  But it is catching on finally. In fact, support is growing exponentially. As more and more people (Thomas Woods and Mike Church, for example) and groups (The Tenth Amendment Center) educate those who are willing to listen, audiences are finding that it makes sense and is indeed a constitutional and viable remedy.

And then there are others, such as famed radio personality, Mark Levin, who advocate for a different approach.  Mr. Levin recently wrote a book entitled “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic,” in which he proposes what he believes is the ONLY viable solution to restoring constitutional governance, which is an Article V State Convention.

In his book, Mr. Levin writes:

I undertook this project not because I believe the Constitution, as originally structured, is outdated and outmoded, thereby requiring modernization through amendments, but because of the opposite – that is, the necessity and urgency of restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.  The Statists have been successful in their century-long march to disfigure mangle the constitutional order and undo the social compact. To disclaim the Statists’ campaign and aims is to imprudently ignore the inventions and schemes hatched and promoted openly by their philosophers, experts, and academics, and the coercive application of their designs on the citizenry by a delusional governing elite. Their handiwork is omnipresent, for all to see – a centralized and consolidated government with a ubiquitous network of laws and rules actively suppressing individual initiative, self-interest, and success in the name of the greater good and on behalf of the larger community. The nation has entered an age of post-constitutional soft tyranny

Unlike the modern Statist, who defies, ignores, or rewrites the Constitution for the purpose of evasion, I propose that we, the people, take a closer look at the Constitution for our preservation.  The Constitution itself provides the means for restoring self-government and averting societal catastrophe in Article V.  Article V sets for the two processes for amending the Constitution, the second of which I have emphasized in italics:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….”

Importantly, in neither case does the Article V amendment process provide for a constitutional convention. The second method, involving the direct application of two-thirds of the state legislatures for a Convention for proposing Amendments, which would thereafter also require a three-fourths ratification vote by the states, has been tried in the past but without success.  Today it sits dormant.

The fact is that Article V expressly grants state legislatures significant authority to rebalance the constitutional structure for the purpose of restoring our founding principles should the federal government shed its limitations, abandon its original purpose, and grow too powerful, as many delegates in Philadelphia and the state conventions had worried it might.   [Levin, pp. 1-13]

Levin then goes on to propose a set of eleven (11) Amendments – which he terms “Liberty Amendments” – that an Article V Convention might want to propose in order to rebalance the government (the creature created by the Constitution):  These proposed Amendments include:  (1) term limits for members of Congress; (2) the election of Senators to be returned to state legislatures; (3) term limits for Supreme Court Justices (and the opportunity for federal and state legislatures to override Supreme Court decisions with a supermajority); (4) limits on federal spending (with an eye to curbing federal debt); (5) limits on taxation; (6) limits on how much power Congress can delegate to the federal bureaucracy; (7) limiting the federal government from interfering with economic activity that does not pertain to interstate or international trade; (8) requiring the government to compensate property owners for the devaluation of property caused by regulations; (9) allowing the states to amend the constitution directly (without having to go through Congress); (10) granting states the right to overturn the laws and regulations of Congress with a supermajority;  and (11) requiring voters to produce photo identification at election booths.

Notice that Mr. Levin writes that “in neither case does the Article V amendment process provide for a constitutional convention.”  Why would he include that statement?  Both conservatives and liberals have routinely referred to an Article V “Convention for proposing Amendments” as a “Constitutional Convention” or Con-Con for well over 30 years, and likely much longer.  Is it possible that they ALL have mistakenly assumed that the words “constitutional convention” are found in Article V?  Is it possible the government itself is also mistaken?  When the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on November 29, 1979, regarding the role of Congress in calling an Article V convention, the official name of the hearing as published by the Government Printing Office in a 1,372-page document was “Constitutional Convention Procedures.” This hearing was held because the number of states petitioning Congress to hold an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment was rapidly approaching the necessary 34 states.

And what about the “populist lovefest,” better known as the Harvard Conference on the Constitutional Convention, held at Harvard on September 24-25, 2011, which was cosponsored by the Harvard Law School and (surprisingly) by the Tea Party Patriots as well?  Of course, Levin’s book “The Liberty Amendments” hadn’t been published yet, so the people at Harvard and the Tea Party Patriots didn’t realize that they were using a forbidden phrase, “constitutional convention,” to refer to an Article V convention.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a look at that Conference and watch videos of the various panel discussions to understand why holding a constitutional convention could open Pandora’s Box.  The host of the Conference, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig, and the moderator of the Closing Panel, Richard Parker, both committed populists, advocated for greater democracy in our country. They believe more and more issues should be decided by popular vote.  (Parker can trace his political history back to the 1960s organization, Students for a Democratic Society).  They believe that holding an Article V constitutional convention will help get them where they want to go.

Perhaps the reason Levin wants to deny the validity of the phrase “constitutional convention” is that one of the most persuasive arguments against holding such a convention is based on the contention, the criticism, and indeed the fear that such a convention could become a “runaway” convention based either on the inherent nature of “constitutional conventions” or on what transpired at our original “Constitutional Convention” in 1787.

How is it that Mr. Levin is convinced that an Article V convention could never become a “runaway” convention?  On page 15 of his book he writes: “I was originally skeptical of amending the Constitution by the state convention process. I fretted it could turn into a runaway convention process…. However, today I am a confident and enthusiastic advocate for the process. The text of Article V makes clear that there is a serious check in place. Whether the product of Congress or a convention, a proposed amendment has no effect at all unless ‘ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof…’  This should extinguish anxiety that the state convention process could hijack the Constitution.”

So, in this excerpt, Levin admits that he shares the concerns of others that an Article V convention could turn into a “runaway convention.”  Yet he is confident that he has overcome those concerns with his belief that “Article V makes clear that there is a serious check in place,” namely the requirement of ratification of amendments by three-fourths of the states. There are several reasons why Levin should not be so assured that this is a “serious check” in place to stop a runaway convention.  Larry Greenley points these reasons out in his article, “Levin’s Risky Proposal: A Constitutional Convention”:

First, the “ratification by three-fourths of the States” requirement of Article V already has failed to prevent undesirable amendments from being ratified. Consider the 16th Amendment (the federal income tax), the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators), and the 18th Amendment (prohibition). All three were ratified by at least three-fourths of the states, but most constitutionalists would likely agree that all three were bad amendments and should not have been ratified. In particular, many constitutionalists think that changing the method of choosing U.S. senators from appointment by state legislatures to direct election by the voters in each state as provided by the 17th Amendment has been extremely damaging to our constitutional republic. James Madison spoke ever so strongly for this important design feature at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, in his rebuttal of Patrick Henry who accused the Constitution of potentially granting too much power to the federal government.  “The deliberations of the members of the Federal House of Representatives, will be directed to the interests of the people of America. As to the other branch, the Senators will be appointed by the State Legislatures, and secures AN ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE OF THE FORMER ON THE LATTER.”  The Senate was a direct “federal” element within the very design of the federal government. Its power to refuse to approve a legislative act of the House that is against the reserved powers and interests of States is precisely what the doctrine of Nullification provides.

Second, it is hard to predict just how much pressure the American public can put on state legislators or state convention delegates to get some future undesirable amendment or amendments ratified by the three-fourths rule. We all know what happens when big money and special interests groups send out their tentacles. When big money, special interest groups, and political power pour in to try to influence the delegate-selection process and the convention business itself, the people lose their voice.  Experience has shown that we can’t trust public servants once they go behind closed doors. We saw what happened with the healthcare bill.

Third, it is quite possible that an Article V constitutional convention would specify some new method of ratification for its proposed amendments. After all, our original Constitutional Convention in 1787, an important precedent for any future constitutional convention, changed the ratification procedure for the new Constitution from the unanimous approval of all 13 state legislatures required by the Articles of Confederation to the approval by 9 state conventions in Article VII of the new Constitution.

But for those who are not quite comforted by Levin’s argument that Article V provides the very means to control its convention, he offers still another method to ease our concerns about a runaway convention. On page 16, he quotes from Robert G. Natelson, a former professor of law at the University of Montana: “[An Article V] convention for proposing amendments is a federal convention; it is a creature of the states or, more specifically, of the state legislatures. And it is a limited-purpose convention. It is not designed to set up an entirely new constitution or a new form of government.”  Too many others, including notable intellectuals, constitutional scholars, and even former US Supreme Court justices beg to disagree on this point.

Many constitutionalists will also agree that Levin is encouraging Americans to play with fire by promoting a constitutional convention. Just because the Constitution authorizes Article V conventions to amend the Constitution doesn’t mean that it would be wise at this time in our nation’s history to call one.

While pro-Article V convention enthusiasts tell us that this is a great time for an Article V convention because the Republican Party controls 26 of the 50 state legislatures (the Democrats control 18, five are split, and one is non-partisan), and therefore could surely block the ratification of any harmful amendments proposed by an Article V convention, they are omitting from this analysis that very many of the Republican state legislators are not constitutionalists, and could end up in alliance with Democrats to ratify some harmful amendments. Not to mention the likelihood that constitutionalists would be in the minority at the convention for proposing amendments itself.

There is no doubt that Mr. Levin has done his homework with respect to the Article V Convention.  But it is clear from the strong and sometimes rabid response to his book that he has not made the case strong enough to quell the legitimate fears of many who believe such a Convention is akin to opening a can of worms. I use the expression because it means: “something that (often unexpectedly) sets in motion that which has unanticipated and wide-reaching consequences.”  Or as TN Tenth Amendment Center leader Michael Lotfi puts it: “An Article V constitutional convention of the states is not the right answer; it is the bullet to a loaded revolver pointed at the Constitution.”  Knowing that the Nullification movement is gaining momentum, Levin made it a point, in promoting his book, to try to discredit the “rightful remedy” of Jefferson and the “duty of the states” approach of Madison.  He did not do it in a civil, educated manner but rather resorted to referring to Nullification as “idiocy” and Nullifers as “kooks.”  I imagine that if Thomas Jefferson were listening to Mark Levin’s assertion of how to address a government that willingly and defiantly passes unconstitutional laws, he would think he was a “kook.”

I would also think that Jefferson would conclude that people who think narrowly, as Levin does in his book and in his commentary to promote his book (including the rejection of nullification) are incapable of saving a republic that is on the brink of imploding.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

The only object upon which the Constitution acts is the federal government. It is its playbook; it defines its jurisdiction. It is also its restraining order. Yet each time the government did not wish to be confined by it, it used one of the three branches (most notably the Supreme Court) to reinterpret it and enlarge government powers, regardless that the ONLY way the government can rightfully be altered is by amendments (Article V). The point is that the government has refused to adhere to the limitations set forth in the Constitution…. the limitations that the States demanded and relied upon when debating and deciding whether to relinquish some of their sovereign power and ratify the compact that formed the government.  So here is Levin’s solution:  Even though the Constitution clearly defines the government’s powers and sets forth limitations, and even though the government has repeatedly and systematically refused to adhere to those limitations, he believes the only way to limit the government going forward is to make the States go through a series of hurdles (Article V’s requirements) in order to try to add a new set of restrictive amendments.  Levin himself has pointed out that such a State Convention may not successfully happen and even if it does, it may take up to 20 years or more add such amendments.  We can predict what will happen.  The government will ignore them or quickly find a way to erode them or get around them.  There is no guarantee that the amendments will restore the proper balance of power in government.  According to Levin, the parties who have been the victims of the government’s usurpations, the States and the People themselves (the rightful depositories or reservations of sovereign power) – have no other recourse or remedy except to take their slim chances with an Article V State Convention, a remedy that has NEVER been used before and hence has no proven record of success.  In other words, the States and the People MUST abide strictly by the provisions of the Constitution when the federal government has never done so.  Levin stands by his proposition even though the people of the states already have the extra-constitutional right to convene a constitutional convention by virtue of the Declaration of Independence. That’s exactly what the Philadelphia Convention was…  an exercise of this right (which is referred to as the Theory of Popular Sovereignty), because the Articles of Confederation created a so-called “perpetual Union.”

Article XIII of the Articles read: “Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State…..  And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual.”

The Theory of Popular Sovereignty wasn’t just the design of men like Thomas Jefferson (VA), John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Roger Sherman (CT) and Robert R. Livingston (NY), the committee appointed on June 11, 1776 by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence, it was indeed a consensus notion among the whole of our Founding Fathers. Consider for example what Edmund Pendleton, president of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, said to the delegates on June 5, 1788:

We, the people, possessing all power, form a government, such as we think will secure happiness: and suppose, in adopting this plan, we should be mistaken in the end; where is the cause of alarm on that quarter? In the same plan we point out an easy and quiet method of reforming what may be found amiss. No, but, say gentlemen, we have put the introduction of that method in the hands of our servants, who will interrupt it from motives of self-interest. What then?… Who shall dare to resist the people? No, we will assemble in Convention; wholly recall our delegated powers, or reform them so as to prevent such abuse; and punish those servants who have perverted powers, designed for our happiness, to their own emolument.

Although there are some ambiguities in this passage, Pendleton appears to be assuring the delegates that if the Constitution turned out not to secure happiness for Americans, then it could be reformed by the “easy and quiet” methods of Article V.  However, if the Article V process were to be subverted by “our servants,” the state and federal legislators, then We the People (the sovereign people) would assemble in convention, wholly recall and reform the delegated powers of the Constitution, and punish the offending servants.

Former US Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg addressed the topic of a Constitutional Convention with skeptism back in 1986.  He wrote:

As we look forward to celebrating the bicentennial of the Constitution, a few people have asked, “Why not another constitutional convention?”

I would respond by saying that one of the most serious problems Article V poses is a runaway convention.  There is no enforceable mechanism to prevent a convention from reporting out wholesale changes to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Moreover, the absence of any mechanism to ensure representative selection of delegates could put a runaway convention at the hands of single-issue groups whose self-interest may be contrary to our national well-being.
A constitutional convention could lead to sharp confrontations between Congress and the states. For example, Congress may frustrate the states by treating some state convention applications as invalid, or by insisting on particular parliamentary rules for a convention, or by mandating a restricted convention agenda. If a convention did run away, Congress might decline to forward to the states for ratification those proposed amendments not within the convention’s original mandate.

History has established that the Philadelphia Convention was a success, but it cannot be denied that it broke every restraint intended to limit its power and agenda.  Logic therefore compels one conclusion: Any claim that the Congress could, by statute, limit a convention’s agenda is pure speculation, and any attempt at limiting the agenda would almost certainly be unenforceable.  It would create a sense of security where none exists, and it would project a false image of unity.

Opposition to a constitutional convention at this point in our history does not indicate a distrust of the American public, but in fact recognizes the potential for mischief. We have all read about the various plans being considered for Constitutional change. Could this nation tolerate the simultaneous consideration of a parliamentary system, returning to the gold standard, gun control, ERA, school prayer, abortion vs. right to life and anti-public interest laws?

As individuals, we may well disagree on the merits of particular issues that would likely be proposed as amendments to the Constitution; however, it is my firm belief that no single issue or combination of issues is so important as to warrant jeopardizing our constitutional system of governance at this point of our history, particularly since Congress and the Supreme Court are empowered to deal with these matters.

James Madison, the father of our Constitution, recognized the perils inherent in a second constitutional convention when he said an Article V national convention would “give greater agitation to the public mind; an election into it would be courted by the most violent partisans on both sides; it would probably consist of the most heterogeneous characters; would be the very focus of that flame which has already heated too many men of all parties; would no doubt contain individuals of insidious views, who under the mask of seeking alterations popular in some parts but inadmissible in other parts of the Union might have a dangerous opportunity of sapping the very foundations of the fabric. Under all of these circumstances, it seems scarcely to be presumable that the deliberations of the body could be conducted in harmony, or terminate in the general good.  Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first convention which assembled under every propitious (promising) circumstance, I would tremble for the result of a second.”
Let’s turn away from this risky business of a convention, and focus on the enduring inspiration of our Constitution.

The bicentennial should be an occasion of celebrating that magnificent document. It is our basic law; our inspiration and hope, the opinion of our minds and spirit; it is our defense and protection, our teacher and our continuous example in the quest for equality, dignity and opportunity for all people in this nation. It is an instrument of practical and viable government and a declaration of faith — faith in the spirit of liberty and freedom.

Arthur Goldberg

Constitutional attorney, Publius Huldah, also rejects the Article V Convention as the effective means to restore our country to its intended constitutional republic.  She takes the position that as the rightful depositories of government power are the Individuals and resistance to tyranny is not only a natural right but a duty. She therefore supports the rightful remedy of Nullification to enforce obedience to the Constitution.  She writes, in her article Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification, Not Amendments!, that the Oath of Office, addressed in Article VI, last clause, requires both federal  and state officials to support and defend the Constitution.  This requires them to refuse to submit to – ie, to nullify! – acts of the federal government which violate the Constitution.  “This is how they “support” the Constitution!”  As to Mr. Levin’s assertion that an Article V Convention is the proper, safe, and legal mechanism to restore constitutional limitations to a government historically unwilling to abide by them, she argues that while he admitted (on pg. 15 of the book) that the process has the potential to turn into a “runaway” convention, he never successfully explained why Article V can effectively prevent that from happening.

Publius writes: “The claims of the nullification deniers have been proven to be false.  To persist in those claims – or to do as Levin seems to do and ignore the remedy of nullification – is intellectually and morally indefensible.  Instead, they continue to tell us that what we need is a “convention of the States” to propose amendments to the Constitution, and that this is the only way out. They tell us, the only way to deal with a federal government which consistently ignores and tramples over the Constitution is to amend the Constitution!   Do you see how silly that is?”

Publius Huldah

Michael Lotfi, the Associate Director of the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center, wrote an excellent article comparing the Article V State Convention remedy of Mark Levin to Nullification, the remedy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (collectively, the authors of all our foundational documents, except the Articles of Confederation).  The article is entitled: Nullification vs. Article V Constitutional Convention: Why Levin is Wrong.  (See prior post on this NC TAC site).  He wrote: “Calling for a convention to amend the Constitution with amendments shows absence in sound judgment.”  Further, he wrote: “Levin proposes an Article V constitutional convention of the states as salvation. Not only is an Article V constitutional convention not the right answer, it is the bullet to a loaded revolver pointed at the Constitution.”

Lotfi talks about some of the unconstitutional laws, agencies, and actions that the government has imposed over the years – “the NSA, NDAA, ObamaCare, the Patriot Act, EPA, DOE, every war since the 1940s, federal gun laws, etc.  These laws and agencies all fly in the face of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments.”  He asks how a process that potentially may take as long as 20 years but more likely won’t work at all will address these gross usurpations.  We must not forget that these amendments were adopted as EXPRESS limitations on the federal government.  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights explains it best: “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

How is it that the government can find a way to limit the effect of the first ten amendments when those amendments were intended to limit the government and keep those particular objects OFF LIMITS with respect to the federal government?

Mr. Lotfi gives a wonderful explanation of the legitimacy of Nullification.  He writes:

The powers delegated to Congress are few and defined. The Tenth Amendment provides explicit validation for nullification, “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” (emphasis added).

In regards to nullification, does the Constitution delegate this power to the federal government? It obviously does not. Does the Constitution explicitly prohibit nullification? It does not. It can now easily be concluded that nullification is a power reserved for the people of their respective states.

The Ninth Amendment expounds even further the right to nullification. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Jefferson explained that nullification was a natural right belonging to the people and their respective states. Because the Constitution does not expressly prohibit nullification, the federal government cannot deny or disparage this natural right of the people.

Just as so many intellectuals have requested that Mark Levin stop the name-calling and have an intellectual, honest, and dignified debate on the topic of Nullification, Mr. Lotfi has done the same.  He ends his article with this message: “Levin is perhaps the most appreciated and admired political talk show host in America. Rightfully so, he has earned his accolades. However, with such clout comes an incredible responsibility to not only seek truth, but to display the humility and courage to admit when you are wrong.”

Michael Lotfi

Mr. Lotfi hit the nail on the head in his article with respect to Nullification. He addressed what I believe is the most powerful of the opponent’s arguments – Madison’s remarks following the Nullification crisis of 1832. Most are too uneducated or too shallow in their willingness to read more than a page of history and so they just don’t get that Madison was trying to explain that the particular situation wasn’t one that can be rightfully addressed by nullification. Nullification, at its core, requires an act by the federal government that exceeds the powers delegated to it under the Constitution. Congress rightfully has the power to legislate regarding tariffs. The Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 (tariffs of abomination) were within Congress’s rightful exercise of power. And so nullification was not the proper or rightful remedy to challenge it or to assert as the basis for non-compliance. The real argument was the one that Calhoun originally made, which rested on the Compact Nature of the States. He claimed that when the States came together and drafted the Constitution and then ratified it, they were guided by the concept of social compact. They agreed to give up some of their sovereign power (a “burden,” in contract terms) in return for the understanding that the federal government so created (the creature) would be their “common agent” and would serve them equally (the “benefit,” in contract terms). Even James Madison, and many of our other founders, acknowledged the compact nature of the Constitution. At the VA Ratifying Convention, Madison prefaced his speech with these words:  “A Federal Government is formed for the PROTECTION of its individual members.” Calhoun argued that under the compact nature of the Constitution, the common or federal government was supposed to serve all the states equally. The tariff, as you know, benefitted the North exclusively, at great detriment to the South. This unequal treatment of the Southern states is what really led to the secession of the Southern states – not the issue of slavery. Lincoln’s election simply meant “more of the same.”

Again, as Publius pointed out in her article Mark Levin Refuted: “The claims of the nullification deniers have been proven to be false.”  The truth, as she brilliantly explains, is that resistance to tyranny is a natural right (the natural right to protect one’s sovereign rights) and Nullification is the rightful tool of resistance.  Just as resistance is a natural right, nullification is the natural remedy.

Publius is a scholar and is brilliant.  Mark Levin is a scholar and is brilliant, as well.  The most brilliant men of all are Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and if you have any doubt of that, then you are all hypocrites for living under the very free society they secured for you. The difference between scholars like Publius and Mr. Levin is which view point they choose to endorse, given their extensive knowledge and understanding. Publius is a scholar of history and of original intent. She understands that the Constitution is not a stand-alone document but is grounded in the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and in the doctrine of Social Compact.  She is an attorney.  Mark Levin is also an attorney and understands history. Unfortunately, he has chosen to ignore some of the background that rounds out the understanding of our founding documents.  As we are all aware, there are those who support Mark Levin and those who support those who endorse Nullification.  I am troubled that someone as brilliant as Mark Levin can so cavalierly disregard Nullification and resort to the unsophisticated approach of calling those not in his camp a bunch of kooks. This truly troubles me because I believe scholars should be above that and try to promote their points of view through robust discussion and debate. That’s how our Founding Fathers did it. And that was the climate at the Philadelphia Convention which produced the final design of our federal government. The one area that debate and discussion could not produce the just result was with respect to slavery.  Georgia and South Carolina simply refused to go along if the concession wasn’t made.  Personally, I don’t think one remedy is exclusive over the other; I think the sound approach is finding a way to REPEAL any amendment that increases the power of the federal government and destroys its original design (such as the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and parts of the Fourteenth amendments) while using NULLIFICATION to frustrate the enforcement of any unconstitutional federal law, policy, or court decision. I think the sound approach is recognizing the POWER that both approaches offer in limiting the power and reach of the federal government (outside its constitutional limits) and using them BOTH for the effective transfer of power back to the People. That’s what it’s all about, right??

And so, with this article, I want to ask all of you to please put the good of the country first and please find the untainted authorities to educate yourselves on Nullification. Jefferson and Madison are good starts – Read the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 and the Virginia Resolution of 1798, as well as Madison’s Virginia’s Report of 1800, but most importantly, read the circumstances under which Jefferson and Madison sought to re-assert the compact/founding principles of nullification…. the government was starting to trample on our Bill of Rights!!)  Nullification is a good way to hold the federal government at bay while we figure out the best ways to divest the federal government of its liberty-killing powers. There are valid criticisms of an Article V Convention, and I advance that position with the others.  If Mark Levin can PROMISE ABSOLUTELY that a group of state delegates can produce amendments that are clearly limited to transparent goals and which will LIMIT the government (and not in fact enlarge its powers, as some states seem inclined to do), then perhaps we should continue our discussion and debate on the Convention. But I don’t think he can do so.

As Joe Wolveton II, JD writes: “Enforcing the Constitution and demanding that states stand up to their would-be federal overlords accomplishes the same goal as Levin’s proposed con-con without putting the Constitution so close to the shredder that an Article V convention could become.”

Mark Levin may have personal popularity, powerful friends in the media, the ability to shut down much of the criticism of his book, and a powerful bully pulpit in his radio show and his guest appearances on the top news outlet, but he doesn’t have the same understanding of liberty and its preservation as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and our other Founding Fathers had.

Nullification must continue not only to be the remedy of choice, but of right.

“No matter the soothing words and the slate of scholars standing with Levin,” Wolverton emphasizes: “the convention they’re calling for would be beyond the control of the people or their representatives and could result in the proposal by the assembled delegates of potentially fatal and irreversible alterations to our Constitution that could very well end up being ratified.”

 

References:

Mark Levin, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, New York, N.Y.: Threshold Editions, 2013, 272 pages, hardcover.

Arthur Goldberg (former US Supreme Court Justice), “Steer Clear of Constitutional Convention,” Miami Herald, September 14, 1986.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Joe Wolverton II, JD, “Levin, Limbaugh, Hannity Calling for Con-Con, “ The New American, August 22, 2013.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Larry Greenley, “Levin’s Risky Proposal: A Constitutional Convention,” The New American,  October 27, 2013.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Michael Lotfi, “Nullification vs. Article V Constitutional Convention: Why Levin is Wrong,” The Washington Times, December 27, 2013.  http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/american-millennial/2013/dec/27/nullification-vs-article-v-constitutional-conventi/

Publius Huldah, “Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification, Not Amendments!”.  https://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/mark-levin-refuted-keep-the-feds-in-check-with-nullification-not-amendments/

 

How a Republic Dies

ROME (Vorenus)

by Diane Rufino, December 30, 2013

One of my all-time favorite HBO series is ROME, starring Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson.  Borrowing on a theme similar to Forrest Gump, the series follows the journey of two men in Julius Caesar’s Roman legion who seem to find themselves making history wherever they go. The soldiers are Lucius Vorenus (McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Stevenson).  Although Vorenus and Pullo are real centurions who displayed outstanding bravery and valor in battle and were included in Caesar’s war journals, their journeys and experiences in the series are the creation of the writers. ROME chronicles the period in Roman history when the people lost their republic. Aside from the entertainment provided by Vorenus and Pullo, who are often violent and crude, the story showed how the Senate tried to stand up to the ambitions of men like Julius Caesar and Octavian (who renamed himself Augustus Caesar) to protect the people’s hand and voice in government.

Perhaps I am drawn to the series because of my Italian heritage or perhaps it is because of Rome’s history as a republic and its impact on our Founding Fathers when they sat down to fashion a government to serve the people and protect their inalienable sovereign rights.

Rome was established as a republic in 509 B.C. when it was a mere city-state.  It was easy to manage and government was responsive to the people. Originally established as an advisory board composed of the heads of patrician families (wealthy landowners), the Senate soon became the most powerful organ of republican government and the only body of state that could develop consistent long-term policy. It was involved in virtually all public matters, but its most important responsibilities were in foreign policy and financial administration.  Roman citizens had a voice in government by electing Senators who represented them and were accountable to them.

After the second Punic War (218 – 201 B.C.), when Rome defeated Carthage, Rome’s economy soared and trade grew.  Rich landowners and merchants were able to buy up most of the land in the county.  Eventually, they would begin to have more and more political power.  Under Roman law, only landowners could serve in the military, but as it happened, the rich wouldn’t serve in the army. The number of soldiers dwindled and this caused instability in the Roman military.

In 133 B.C., Tiberius Gracchus, who was elected to the position of tribune, proposed several laws to reshape Rome into the republic that it had been intended and that it had once been. The proposed laws included giving an equal share of land to all citizens, limiting the amount of land one person could have, and allowing every free Roman citizen to vote (at the time, only residents of Rome could vote).  Gracchus’ ideas were very controversial for the time and when Romans began to riot, he was killed. His brother Gaius took the position of tribune in 123 B.C. and he attempted to pass the same laws.  He too was murdered.

General Marius ushered in more reforms in 104 B.C.  He established a new law which stated that people did not have to own land to be a soldier. This served to benefit the military.  However, in return for their service, soldiers began to demand that they be given land.  This required Marius to use his influence on the Senate, for at the time, there was no provision to grant soldiers land.  It was General Marius versus the Senate.  The result was that soldiers became very loyal to Marius; they trusted him.  In fact, they were more loyal to him than to the Senate. It was from this point on that generals began to gain significant political power in Rome. Generals who commanded the legions and who were popular with them could become quite powerful.

By about 79-78 B.C., Rome was temporarily back to being ruled by the Senate. Meanwhile, Pompey, the most distinguished general of the time, was gaining public favor from his many military victories. At the same time, Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome, also gained much popularity from the common people, for defeating a large slave uprising. Both Pompey and Crassus were ambitious and had designs on ruling Rome.  But still another prominent general was also gaining much popularity.  That was Julius Caesar.  Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar would make a secret alliance to work together to gain control over the Senate. This alliance would become known as the First Triumvirate.

But soon ambition, politics, and battle would destroy that union. Caesar was elected consul in 60 B.C.  He proposed laws that would gain the triumvirate even more power.  When the Senate tried to oppose these laws, Crassus and Caesar resorted to intimidation and violence in order to get them passed.  When Crassus was killed in battle in 53 B.C., the triumvirate was destroyed and only two were left – Caesar and Pompey, who were good friends. (Caesar even betrothed his beautiful daughter Julia to Pompey in order to strengthen the political alliance between them).  Julius Caesar left Rome after his term as consul ended to take up a governorship he demanded in southern France.  Ignoring the orders of the Senate, he raised his own army, and led a path of conquest throughout all of Gaul. Marc Antony, another brilliant general, was with Caesar at this time in Gaul and was making a name for himself.

After eight years, word grew that Julius Caesar was returning home. The Senate was afraid that he would bring his army and march on Rome and pleaded with Pompey to organize resistance. But Pompey was torn.  Caesar was his friend.  His wife was Caesar’s daughter and he loved her deeply.  But Pompey did as asked and began to build an army. Unfortunately he could not do so in time and when Caesar marched into Rome, Pompey was forced to flee.  Caesar eventually bought off, threatened, or intimidated members of the Senate, and at his command, they crowned him Emperor and gave him concentrated powers for a period of ten years.  The people began to call him a tyrant.  Senators called him a tyrant.  Caesar countered by assuring them that he needed the power “to save the republic” and that after the ten years was up he would turn control back to the Senate.  He didn’t trust the Senate to rule; instead, he thought he knew what was best for the people… and for Rome.

Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15 – the “Ides of March” – by senators Brutus and Cassius, among many others, who plotted among each other to rid Rome of the tyrant.  They descended upon him in the Senate, stabbing him twenty-three times.  Second-in-command, Marc Antony, was also supposed to be assassinated, from what I read.  As the ROME series was able to convey, the conspirators believed that the assassination was a noble act because they were rescuing the empire from the designs of a dictator and delivering power back to the people. The Senate would once again regain control of Rome. The People would once again have their government back.

Well, what followed was not much better.

Immediately, civil war broke out between two factions – the assassins (republicans), including Brutus and Cassius, and the Caesarians, led by Marc Antony and Octavian. Antony and another strong general, Marcus Lepidus, unofficially established their power by intimidation through their armies. Octavian, the son of a noble Roman family, and nephew to Julius Caesar, was named as Caesar’s sole heir in his will. The ROME series spent considerable time portraying the mindset and ambitions of Octavian after Caesar’s demise.  Young Octavian (a mere teen) approached the Senate leader Marcus Tullius Cicero, the foremost lawyer of the day and the greatest defender of the republic (and the man whose writings taught our Founders about “Natural Law”) and struck up a deal.  Unknown to Cicero, the deal would have disastrous consequences.  An astute Octavian told Cicero that the people loved Caesar and harbored great anger over his death. As Caesar’s appointed heir, he could easily manipulate the people against the treacherous murderous Senate.  Furthermore, Caesar who was a good friend of Cicero’s, had appointed him and others in their leadership roles in the Senate. If the Senate was to officially declare Caesar a tyrant, as they planned to do, in order to justify the assassination and to undo his commands, then that would mean their appointments would be undone as well.  So, Cicero made a deal and appointed Octavian consul of the Senate in return for Cicero and the others keeping their positions.  Octavian then began to hatch plans for revenge against those who assassinated his uncle (now adoptive ‘father’).  Brutus and Cassius and a few of the other conspirators had already fled Rome; they left when they found out that Marc Antony survived.

In the two years that followed, Antony and Octavian each amassed great armies and consolidated power in various parts of the empire – Antony in the east and Octavian in the west.  Each would have plans to consolidate power and take over Rome.  Antony understood that the conspirators, many from powerful and noble Roman families, would have to be killed so they could not return to Rome, reclaim their power, and try to turn the people again him and Octavian just wanted them killed out of revenge. And so both Antony and Octavian joined together to go after them. Some of the conspirators committed suicide but the last ones to remain were defeated at Philippi in 42 B.C.  Brutus and Cassius, the last to survive, watched this defeat and then killed themselves as well.

The victors returned to Rome and the Second Triumvirate was formed, consisting of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian. This triumvirate was formally constituted. In effect, it sidelined the consuls and the Senate and effectively signaled the death of the Republic. The three men, Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian used the force of the army and swept the Senate with terror, killing Cicero and others.  They chopped off the great Cicero’s hands and nailed them to the Senate door.  In fact, they used a Roman law known as “proscription” as an incentive to kill Cicero and the others.  “Proscription” was a Roman policy that was revived by the Second Triumvirate to label political enemies as “enemies of the state” which would then allow them to confiscate their money and property to pay the soldiers.

[NOTE:  Proscription was developed by Sulla (a general who ruled from about 82-79 B.C.)  as a way to dispose of the property of those who were ‘condemned.’  By “condemned,” they meant marked for assassination (as “enemies of the state”). The proscribed individuals were called proscripti. The law the Romans passed to grant Sulla this extraordinary power was called lex Cornelia de proscriptione et proscriptis and was known as the lex Cornelia. In 82 B.C. Sulla created proscription as a means of disposing of his enemies — the supporters of Marius. He posted a list of those he wanted killed (like the “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters of the Old West) and upon their death, their property was confiscated and sold. Proscription was adopted again under the second triumvirate in 43 B.C. Again, Cicero was a victim of this second proscription.  Supposedly, Octavian said: “We should concentrate on the rich, especially some of the fabulously rich. If enough men are proscribed, the amount of cash will add up quickly.”]

Initially, Marc Antony took Caesar’s place, but Octavian, who somehow held the upper hand (perhaps because he was hand-picked by Julius Caesar as his heir), was suspicious of him and wanted him out of Rome.  There is one account that Octavian forced Antony to marry his sister, Octavia, and Antony did not honor her properly.  There is also another account that Octavian was resentful that Antony was so completely adored and beloved by the people of Rome and fearful of the intense loyalty that Antony’s men had for him. They thought of him as a god.  And so, Octavian forced him to accept an appointment to govern eastern Rome, which included Egypt (conquered by Julius Caesar).  This is where the famous story of Antony and Cleopatra comes from.  Antony quickly became the lover of Cleopatra, the exotic Ptolemeic queen of Egypt (meaning that she is a descendent of General Ptolemy, who served under Alexander the Great of Macedonia, and then became the ruler of Egypt – 323-283 B.C.), even though he was still married to Octavia.  Antony and Cleopatra had children together. He also supposedly promised her roman land (an act of treason at the time).  Octavian used all that information to make the case to the Roman people and to the Senate that Antony had switched his allegiance and dishonored Rome.  Octavian would declare battle against him to assume sole power over Rome, which he did.  He defeated Antony at the naval Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and when he and Cleopatra were trapped and besieged at Alexandria, they both committed suicide.  (Who can forget Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Cleopatra and Antony in the epic MGM production).

Also around this time, Octavian accused of Lepidus of attempted rebellion, stripped him of his title, and forced him into exile. With Antony and Lepidus aside and removed from power, Octavian assumed sole power and became Emperor. Rome’s republic was officially dead.  Octavian insisted on being called Caesar – Augustus Caesar – and would go on to rule for 40 years. [“Augustus” was a new title to be given to him, meaning “supreme ruler; holy, dignified or majestic]. The reign of the “Caesars” and those leaders that followed would continue to keep power concentrated in a single ruler.  The power was never returned to the people.  While the intentions of the leaders in the beginning for usurping power may have been to serve the “general welfare” of Rome, for example, by giving needy families sums of money from the national treasury or giving farm land to “deserving” people or giving grain to the people who could not find jobs or providing Gladiator games and other spectacular games for entertainment, the fact is that it was never returned properly to the people.  The people seeing that they had no say in what their leaders were doing – that the Emperors were going to do what they wanted anyway – lost interest in keeping their government honest and decent and effective.  And so the republic died.  It died from within.  Because of apathy.

As the power of the emperors grew stronger and stronger, the Roman republic became but a distant memory. The once proud Senate that had witnessed the splendid orations of Cato and Cicero became dominated and weakened year after year by the succession of dictators. It atrophied into a mere figurehead of an institution. And the people themselves became disengaged. They took the duties of citizenship far more seriously during the days of the Republic than in the dictatorships of the Caesars.  In the waning years of the republic and then into the reign of the Caesars, the populace no longer respected civic virtues and virtue in public life. Civic duty was treated as a triviality.

In these final days of the Roman republic, the empire was faced with a changing social structure and culture. There once was a time when Rome enjoyed a very ordered society. But in those final days, at the height of its conquests, its social order began to break down.

It was at this time that the mighty Roman Empire began to reach its geographical limits. It was a massive empire. As a result of its vast conquests, Rome acquired many slaves, who were then used to build most of its bridges, roads, and aqueducts.  Then they went on to take jobs in farming, mining and construction. As this cheaper labor replaced Roman citizens, unemployment grew.  Idle, unemployed, hungry people filled the capital. They were called “plebs” (or plebeians), a term originally referring to free land-owning Roman citizens, who historically had representative power in government (called Tribunes, which had the power to veto the laws of the Senate).  Later the term was used to refer to the lower, poor, common class of Roman citizens. They were apathetic and cared nothing for the governing of the empire.  As the number of plebs grew, they became a more problematic class and the dynamics in the empire changed dramatically. In the eyes of the elite, this lower class lacked morality and were typified by “their stupidity, laziness, and time-wasting.”  They were characterized as being motivated by pleasure, excess, loss of control, and a closing of the gap between genders.  The Roman satirist and poet, Juvenal, referred to them as the mob.  He said they consisted of “idlers, the dregs of every nation.”

To appease and distract the plebs, Roman emperors handed out free distributions of corn and amused them with violent gladiatorial and other contests that were held in the Coliseum and chariot races at the Circus Maximus (stadium).  The more Romans became addicted to the corn distributions and the mindless self-gratification, the more they lost the capacity to govern themselves.

Juvanal wrote: “What of the plebs?  They follow fortune, as always. Nowadays, with no vote to sell, their motto is ‘Couldn’t care less.’  There was a time when they elected generals, heads of state, commanders of legions. But now there’s only two things that concern them: bread and circuses.”  E.G. Hardy put it more bluntly: “The distribution of corn and the attractions of the games had long been drawing to Rome a host of idlers and loungers, ready for any distribution and willing to do anything but work for their own support.”  (Sound familiar?)  The Emperor, in an attempt to please and pamper the plebs, was forced to extend corn distribution and to increase the number of “festivals, holidays, and shows, which were already too numerous.”

The Roman theatre was another popular activity associated with the lower classes (unlike in Greece, where it was the center of intellectual thinking and politics).  In Rome, the theatre was counter-productive of social order, self-control, values, and morality.  It taught “the wrong things, including idleness, inactivity, corruption, and all sorts of indecency.”  Its main objective was to mock personal responsibility and productive family and social values.  (Sounds like American TV !!)

The threat posed by the plebs – that is, the decayed values and resulting social tensions – led to societal structural decline.  This is how the late Roman republic came to be characterized. Social order began to quickly erode. Roman culture was forced to accommodate a new social order.  “The decayed values of the plebs acted as the lowest common denominator in that they began to attract people of all statuses.”  In fact, that’s when the threat to social order and morality became its greatest. The people became so distracted with entertainment and personal pleasures that they no longer valued civic virtues and bowed to civil authority with unquestioned obedience.

It is this moral decay – this civic decay – that Juvenal was referring to when he sarcastically wrote that “the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses.”

Those scornful words “bread and circuses,” panem et circenses in Latin, were used to describe what would become the Roman formula for the happiness and well-being of its population. In fact, it would become a political strategy unto itself.  As we can see here in the United States, it is a policy that seeks to create public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but rather, through diversion, distraction, hand-outs, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.

In the end, Rome collapsed because the people were morally corrupted and civically unfit and irresponsible. They were simply no longer fit to guard over their government, their liberties, and their own destinies.

I wanted to tell this tale of Rome’s republic because our Founding Fathers were great students of history.  Maybe this is what our Founder’s understood all along – that republics can wither and die from apathy, willful neglect, and most importantly from human decay.  Maybe they understood that while power must always remain in the people’s hands and government must be limited, the people themselves, as the rightful guardians of that sovereign power, must be worthy of that challenge. And so, we see their frequent warnings to remain “moral and religious.”  It was not to require that government be entangled with religion, but rather to help the American people to remain fit and of proper character to be faithful stewards of the republic they’ve been entrusted with.