Reclaiming the Power of the Constitution

Reclaiming the Power of the Constitution

by: Richard Bratten

Health care is a right. Obamacare is unconstitutional. The Constitution is a “living document” which needs to be re‐interpreted to fit modern times. Who has NOT heard these statements, among others, regarding the foundational document of our nation, the Constitution of the United States?

How many of the people uttering such statements with great passion and emotion have recently read the Constitution, much less studied it? What do we really know about the Constitution, and why does it matter?

Many of us have believed that the system of checks and balances created by our Constitution is a sufficient guardian of freedom. We remember learning about these checks and balances in school, and we carry on in confidence that the Judicial branch will check the Legislative branch which will check the Executive branch, which will… you get the point. That’s what we were all taught, right?

But suppose no one “checked” the judicial branch when it ruled that it was illegal for a farmer in Kansas to grow his own wheat on his own land to feed his own livestock (Wickard v Filburn)? What if no one “checked” the executive branch when the President cleared the way for Japanese American internment camps by executive order? What if no one “checked” the legislature when it passed laws to force the people of free states to return escaped slaves to their owners (Fugitive Slave Act) and the Supreme Court demanded Wisconsin follow that law? In each of these cases, who is to stand up to “check the checkers.”

The founders believed that it is “we, the people” who hold this ultimate authority. They thought that the people would never give up their right and responsibility to enforce the Constitution.

How do we know what the Constitution meant when it was written, and whether it still applies today? Not by studying current textbooks or sitting in a 2 day crash course, both of which are often no more than someone’s opinionated paraphrase of history, but by going to the source documents of the day. This means the Constitution itself. We are also fortunate to have another original document from that period which comes highly recommended by none other than Thomas Jefferson. That document is called The Federalist Papers, and was written in great part by James Madison, known as the principal author of the Constitution. Jefferson endorsed The Federalist Papers as the ultimate authority on the meaning and intent of the Constitution.

We must understand the constitution and how it applies to our world because the Constitution is not a self‐enforcing document. It requires a people who are confident in their knowledge and energized in their defense of liberty. To give you an idea of how the spirit of freedom among the people has changed over 200 years, consider that James Madison believed that it was inconceivable that Congress could ever pass a law that would not apply to members of Congress. He states in Federalist #57 that, “If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.”

Yet that is the very situation we endure today. Members of Congress have passed many laws that do not apply to themselves. What other intolerable acts of tyranny might occur in an age of such a debased spirit of liberty? Can we depend upon the government to be the judge of its own power? History has shown us many wretched examples of what happens when the individual spirit of liberty fades and government is left to check its own power.

Our Constitution was designed to provide chains of restraint upon government so that man could remain free. However, it is nothing without the enforcement that is to be provided by the spirit of liberty which beat so strong in the hearts of those who founded this country. We must reclaim that spirit of liberty, and soon. Go buy some books, download them, read them on the internet – whatever it takes. Study and discuss with others. Light the fire before it is too late. Touch your torch to the flame of freedom that burns so strong in our Constitution and illuminates The Federalist Papers, and rekindle the spirit of liberty. Our future depends upon it.

Photo used under creative commons license. Photographer: Chuck Coker. No modifications were made.