Posts Tagged founding fathers

When in the Course of Human Events


This is the time of year when Americans celebrate the anniversary of our declaration of independence from Great Britain.  It is ironic that the United Kingdom itself a few days ago found it necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.”  By leaving the European Union the British people have reconfirmed that the longing for liberty is an eternal emotion.

Meanwhile, here in the colonies, the very document that ensured our rights as a free people has been under relentless attack.  The Constitution of the United States has withstood the test of time. After the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the framework for an effective federal government delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia and in September of 1787 put their signatures to the document which, at least theoretically, remains our nation’s ultimate authority.

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify theConstitution which then took effect on March 4, 1789.  The document was, however, viewed as incomplete and several states insisted on the inclusion of ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights.  Those amendments were ratified and became effective on December 15, 1791.

That the Bill of Rights was necessary is evidenced by periodic efforts throughout our nation’s history to disregard, water down, or remove them entirely.  Perhaps no amendment has been so violated as the tenth which limits the power of the federal government.  Congress and the president, frequently with complicity by the Supreme Court, have consistently throughout the ages infringed on this right.  Today the assault continues, especially upon the second amendment governing our right to keep and bear arms.  The non-existent “right” of freedom from religion has replaced the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the first amendment.

It is safe to assume that the founding fathers would place in the first amendment those rights that they viewed as most vital to a free people.  It is here that the Constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and of the press.  Now obviously there was no electronic media or internet back in 1787, but freedom of speech and of the press clearly applies to all means of communication.

A free press was instrumental in our nation’s founding.  The only method of mass communication was through the printing press producing formal newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides.  From Thomas Paine during the revolution to the Federalist Papers, the expression of opinion via the printed word was a vital means of exercising free speech.  Throughout our history we have depended on a free press to keep government in check, such as it did during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.  So vital is a free press that it is often referred to as the “fourth estate,” or fourth branch of government.

It is therefore disturbing to see candidates and elected officials from the national to the local level trampling this vital right.  In just the last few weeks, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign events.  Here in Penn’s Woods, the Democratic mayor of Harrisburg, Eric Papenfuse, has revoked the credentials of the capitol city’s newspaper the Patriot News/Penn Live. Papenfuse’s actions are especially curious in that he is the owner of a prominent bookstore, so you would think he might have some loyalty to the unfettered circulation of the printed word.

My goal here is not to defend the content of these publications – whose left-wing ideology frequently taints their reporting of the news – but to stand up for their right to do so.  If elected officials, from mayors to presidents can decide who can cover the news they can also then control the news.  This is not only a violation of the media’s constitutional rights, but an existential threat to our democracy and ultimately our individual liberty.

As we celebrate our freedom with fireworks and back yard barbecues let us always remember that the trampling of one right is the trampling of all rights.  The loss of any one right puts us on a very slippery slope which will ultimately lead to the loss of all rights.  From freedom of the press, to freedom of religion, to our right to keep and bear arms, we must fight to protect our God-given rights against those who would take them away.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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One Nation?


Since the beginning of our republic there has been a great debate on the role and scope of the federal government and its relationship to the states.  We did not begin as the United States of America, we began as 13 individual colonies each with their own unique socio-economic system and each wary of federal entanglement.

That federal entanglement has grown to a degree never imagined by our Founding Fathers and, safe to say, they likely would be appalled by how powerful and invasive the national government has become.  The Constitution of the United States was developed not to empower the federal government, but rather to protect the rights of the several states and their inhabitants.

Before agreeing to ratify the Constitution, a number of states insisted on what has become known as the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments that more clearly and specifically protect the God-given rights of we the people and of our state governments.  To put an exclamation point on the issue the framers added the tenth amendment which reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Excepting during the Civil War, presidents largely adhered to the limitations of the tenth amendment until the early part of the 20th century when America emerged as a global power.  From that point on, the reverse has been true: the federal government has assumed those powers not specifically prohibited rather than those specifically delegated.

A parallel to the issue of states’ rights played out recently in the United Kingdom when Scotland entertained the notion of seceding from the union.  In the end, the three century old United Kingdom survived – but not until the British version of a federal government agreed to grant sweeping new power and more autonomy to Scotland.  Other parts of the kingdom, Wales and Northern Ireland and even England itself are eyeing more powers of self-governance.

In the run-up to the Scottish vote Reuters conducted a public opinion poll in this country and discovered an astounding 24% of Americans would like to see their state secede from the union.  In the mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, 21% favor secession.  Secession fever runs highest in the American southwest, where Texas – which generally considers itself to be a nation/state – particularly favors secession.

Secession has not been seriously entertained by any state since the Civil War, nor is it likely to at any point in the near future.  But the Reuters analysis of their poll offered this conclusion: “By the evidence of the poll data as well as these anecdotal conversations, the sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt.”

The analysis further explained that those favoring secession from the United States were entering a “protest” against “a recovery that has yet to produce jobs, against jobs that don’t pay, against mistreatment of veterans, against war, against deficits, against hyper-partisanship, against political corruption, against illegal immigration . . . against government in general – the president, Congress, the courts and both political parties.”

In short this is more evidence that federal government intrusion into virtually every aspect of Americans’ everyday lives has reached a point where it can no longer be controlled, effectively administered, or even be viewed as being for the public good.  As a result, nearly one-quarter of all Americans believe they would be better off if their state seceded from the union and governed itself.

Rather than have states secede, we need to get back to two fundamental governing principles.  First, the primacy of the tenth amendment must be restored and the federal government must be shorn of those functions not specifically designated to it by the constitution.  In other words, we must pare down government to its essential public functions.   Second, those tasks that are legitimately the function of government should be performed at the lowest governmental level possible.

Only by returning to these core principles can we right-size government, make it truly effective and efficient, and restore a public confidence which has clearly been lost.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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