What the Founders would say about Today's Political Dilemmas
What the Founders would say about Today's Political DilemmasFor the last two months I have been an observer to an incredible event. About 15 high school seniors, who were just about to graduate, were giving a remarkable demonstration on how to use the Founding Fathers' thinking to solve today's problems and to restore original intent to the Constitution. These young people were part of the senior class who had just completed a whole semester studying nothing but the Founders' reasoning. They studied the Principles of Liberty in depth and learned how to apply them to current events. They read actual proposed legislation being debated in state and national legislative halls and compared them to sound principles of the Founders. They were required to take extensive notes in a format that will be of value to them for years to come. They studied the United States Constitution in depth by breaking out each unique provision and reading the Founders' reasoning for including it in the original document. Probably, the most notable thing about this extended activity is that there were very few philosophies and theories expressed by the students that have become popular since the days of the Founders. Surely this is mostly due to the fact that these students are so young and have not been tainted by the philosophies of men and constitutional theories that have caused our nation to stray and have become the precedents and basis for much of our legalistic thinking. These young people really do believe the Founders' thinking is still sound and that it will really work. And so, filled with this confidence, they proceeded to use these quotes and thinking to restore the beautiful vision of the Founders as expressed in their original documents-The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. It was not all easy going during our simulated convention. They were warned in the beginning that they would find out more about their classmates than they ever knew as they started to debate these real life issues. Yes, there was even anger expressed at times because someone could not see the point. Someone even had to walk out of the room to cool off. But, just as in the original convention of 1787, the difficulty of coming to consensus on some issues caused them to search deeper for answers. They opened their notes and searched the Founders' wisdom and more often than not, they found the answers. As a teacher, I do not take part in the procedure. I have prepared them as best as I know how. They cannot ask me a question except during a recess of the convention. So I just sit and listen. I see the frustration, the searching, the pleading, the resisting, and the consensus building attempts. I am tempted to say at times, "You are so close. Just tweak it a little bit." But I hold my tongue. One of the real pleasures is to hear a student scholar plead with his fellow "delegates" to come together in a spirit of unity. That happened this year when one of the students stood, after a rather frustrating exchange between several others, and gave what I considered a magnificent impromptu speech for unity. I told her afterward that I thought for a minute I was seeing Daniel Webster in embryo. Of course, Daniel Webster, one of the most noted orators in all of American history, could rise and speak eloquently for the cause of liberty for hours without any notes. His cause was to save the union and he came on the scene in the early 1800s at a most critical time in American history. This student's humble but powerful impromptu speech, seemed to have the same affect on our little, but meaningful, simulated convention. The last day of the convention, they all came together, and, while there still were some minor disagreements, all agreed to the document in its restored version and they all were signatories of it. Part of the graduation day is devoted to an honors assembly of the whole school of about 400 students. I enjoy giving awards to my senior students who participated in the convention. I particularly like drawing parallels between the personalities of my students and the personalities at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Here are some of the awards given: (quotes are from William Pierce, delegate from Georgia at the1787 convention)
- Thomas Jefferson Award - The most able scholar (#1 in class)
- James Madison Award - Not one whit behind (2 nd in class)
- Alexander Hamilton Award - "there is no skimming over the surface of a subject, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on." , wrote more Federalist Papers than anyone else
- Roger Sherman Award - only American to sign the Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. In other words, he's been around for a long time!
- Eldridge Gerry Award - "goes extensively into all subjects that he speaks on, without respect to elegance or flower of diction."
- William Patterson Award - "one of those men whose powers break in upon you and create wonder and astonishment"
- Gouverneur Morris Award -loves to talk and debate, comment on everything - gave more speeches in the convention than anyone else
- George Mason Award - "remarkable strong powers, steady and firm in his principles"
- William Pierce Award - "The flattering opinion which some of my friends had of me.gave me a seat in the wisest council in the world."
The Principles of Liberty-Summary DVDThis two-hour summary presentation begins with a discussion of the value of knowing principles. Knowing these true concepts gives a person a certain confidence in political affairs that can be obtained in no other way. One finds himself able to discuss issues from a position of strength. People will come to view you as an "expert" and they will often ask you how you feel about issues or candidates. Next is a discussion of the political spectrum and how the Founders had a much better way to measure government than the left-right scenario of today. It quickly dispels the current idea that someone who relates to the Founders' principles for freedom is somehow out of touch or on some radical fringe. The Founders' approach is really the most balanced approach to politics. Ten of the twenty-eight principles of liberty are then summarized on the DVD:
The only reliable basis for sound government is Natural Law.Natural law is God's law. There are certain laws which govern the entire universe, and just as Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, there are laws which govern in the affairs of men which are "the laws of nature and of nature's God."
A free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong."Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." - Benjamin Franklin "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." - George Washington
The proper role of government is to protect equal rights, not provide equal things.The Founders recognized that the people cannot delegate to their government any power except that which they have the lawful right to exercise themselves. For example, every person is entitled to the protection of life, liberty and property. Therefore it is perfectly legitimate to set up a police force to protect these unalienable rights. One of the worst sins a government can commit against God's law is to get the idea that it is more "just" to take from the haves and give to the have-nots. It is equally sinful for a government to think it has a duty to make everybody equal in "things."
A Constitution should protect the people from the frailties of their rulers.The big question at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during 1787 was this: "How can you set up an efficient system of government and still protect the freedom and unalienable rights of the people?" Human nature being what it is, the Founders felt it was a serious mistake to blindly trust their elected leaders. As Madison put it: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.... [But lacking these] you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." The genius of the Constitution of the United States is that it was specifically designed to keep government in the balanced center, with enough power to maintain order and justice but not enough power to abuse the people. It further provides for a peaceful remedy if the government drifts toward anarchy (too little government) or tyranny (too much government).
Life and liberty are secure only so long as the rights of property are secure."It is not the right of property which is protected, but the right to property. Property per se, has no rights, but the individual -- the man -- has three great rights equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his life, the right to his liberty, the right to his property. "These three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To give him his liberty but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave." -U. S. Supreme Court
The government should be separated into three branches.The Founders followed the thinking of Baron Charles de Montesquieu who improved on Polybius by not merely having a roughly mixed government but a highly refined and beautiful balance between the branches of government. He said there should be a single executive, a legislature of two houses -- one to be the elected representatives of the people and the upper house to represent the states. He also felt there should be an independent judiciary to see that the other departments of government did not violate their constitutional parameters.
Strong local self-government is the keystone to preserving human freedom."The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent [to perform best]. "Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State government with the civil rights, laws, police and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward [township] direct 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 by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best." - Thomas Jefferson
"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none.""The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations to have as little political connection as possible."
The burden of debt is as destructive to human freedom as subjugation by conquest.Slavery is involuntary servitude and it can be inflicted by conquest or self-inflicted by debt. The Founders also looked upon a national debt as a curse, particularly where it might have to be paid off by subsequent generations. Jefferson said: "I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared."
The United States has a manifest destiny to eventually become a glorious example of God's law under a restored Constitution that will inspire the entire human race.The Founders sensed from the very beginning that they were on a divine mission. Their great disappointment was that it didn't all come to pass in their day, but they knew the prophet Moses had promised that someday it would. John Adams wrote: "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth."