The following is cross-posted from The Jacksonian Party.
The following is a party outlook paper of The Jacksonian Party.
The idea that the federal government is the backstop of rights for the citizenry is a prime consideration for the generation that fought the Revolution and then saw the Confederation crumble under the weight of debt from that war. A war won to secure liberties was eroding them, by imprisoning the poor land owner, confiscating lands and concentrating power in the population centers of the States. The concept of a Republic to replace the Confederation was seen as a possible solution, but even then its track record in history was not a good one. The ideal of a Republic from the time of Plato onwards was just that: an ideal. While Atlantis may have had one, the remains of that civilization on Crete and the island of Santorini point out that it left no record of its prosperous form of government. Word of mouth kept it alive to be written down centuries later as an ideal government form, that somehow worked before it was extinguished from this earth by a volcanic eruption.
From that time onwards various forms of Republic had been tried by those at wits end as what to do so as to get accountable government. That failed time and again, and the Founders were seen treading into waters where the explosive mix of democracy and Republic would spell ill times for the future. To combat that the drafters of the Constitution did their best to ensure that some of the ills of past Republics and democracies were addressed. In the modern era we assume that this argument was superior as the unstable form of government created has lasted for over two centuries. That is, however, meager time to actually test this form of government and many pointed out the long-term ills seen from previous attempts:
Republics are divided into democratics, and aristocratics. The establishment of an order of nobles, in whom should reside all the power of the state, would be an aristocratic republic. Such has been for five centuries the government of Venice, in which all the energies of government, as well as of individuals, have been cramped by a distressing jealousy that the rulers have of each other. There is nothing of that generous, manly confidence that we see in the democratic republics of our own country. It is a government of force. attended with perpetual fear of that force. In Great-Britain, since the lengthening of parliaments, all our accounts agree, that their elections are a continued scene of bribery, riot and tumult; often a scene of murder. These are the consequences of choosing seldom, and for extensive districts. When the term is short, nobody will give an high price for a seat. It is an insufficient answer to these objections to say, that there is no power of government but may sometimes be applied to bad purposes. Such a power is of no value unless it is applied to a bad purpose. It ought always to remain with the people. The framers of our state constitution were so jealous of this right, that they fixed the days for election, meeting and dissolving of the legislature, and of the other officers of government.That from Agrippa No. 15, by Agrippa on 22 JAN 1788. Republics, apparently, were known to have problems especially when the right to decide when to set elections was set by the government itself. Do note that the problems seen by previous Republics include such things as rule by force from the government in aristocracies and the outright corruption, bribery and mayhem that results from large districts in which voting is rare. The Constitution does, as Agrippa points out, try to address these problems, but is seen deficient in the actual powers given to the government:
I know it is a common complaint, that Congress want more power. But where is the limited government that does not want it? Ambition is in a governour what money is to a misar—he can never accumulate enough. But it is as true in politicks as in morals, he that is unfaithful in little, will be unfaithful also in much. He who will not exercise the powers he has, will never property use more extensive powers. The framing entirely new systems, is a work that requires vast attention; and it is much easier to guard an old one. It is infinitely better to reject one that is unfriendly to liberty, and rest for a while satisfied with a system that is in some measure defective, than to set up a government unfriendly to the rights of states, and to the rights of individuals—one that is undefined in its powers and operations. Such is the government proposed by the federal convention, and such, we trust, you will have the wisdom and firmness to reject.Yes, this is the ringing endorsement of the Jeffersonian concept of suffering the ills of government until they are no longer tolerable showing up again 12 years after being put down in the Declaration of Independence. And the reason for that is a weak government between the States was seen preferable to a strong one that would seek to secure more power for itself over time. That concept of Ambition being to Governors as money is to misers - never having enough - rings true today as it did then. Those who seek ambitious ends for themselves seek to place ever more power in government and remove it from the People, who are the source of such power and legitimacy of government.
When that ambition is given into, and more power is vested in the government, it tends, as seen by Agrippa, to not be able to actually exercise nor utilize its powers well. Adding more power to government actually is seen as making it worse, not better and that major complaint shows up now, over 200 years later, with a Federal system that is decaying from the ambitions of those in the House of Representatives and the Senate to actually sequester power from the Executive and Judicial and place it in the Legislative.
The concept of 'representative democracy' is to have those elected actually known to those doing the voting for them. An ability to have a representative that does, indeed, represent your ideas and ideals and be held accountable for such are paramount. Brutus, in Brutus No. 4 on 29 NOV 1787, looks at this problem as it pertains to government:
In order for the people safely to repose themselves on their rulers, they should not only be of their own choice. But it is requisite they should be acquainted with their abilities to manage the public concerns with wisdom. They should be satisfied that those who represent them are men of integrity, who will pursue the good of the community with fidelity; and will not be turned aside from their duty by private interest, or corrupted by undue influence; and that they will have such a zeal for the good of those whom they represent, as to excite them to be diligent in their service; but it is impossible the people of the United States should have sufficient knowledge of their representatives, when the numbers are so few, to acquire any rational satisfaction on either of these points. The people of this state will have very little acquaintance with those who may be chosen to represent them; a great part of them will, probably, not know the characters of their own members, much less that of a majority of those who will compose the foederal assembly; they will consist of men, whose names they have never heard, and whose talents and regard for the public good, they are total strangers to; and they will have no persons so immediately of their choice so near them, of their neighbours and of their own rank in life, that they can feel themselves secure in trusting their interests in their hands. The representatives of the people cannot, as they now do, after they have passed laws, mix with the people, and explain to them the motives which induced the adoption of any measure, point out its utility, and remove objections or silence unreasonable clamours against it. — The number will be so small that but a very few of the most sensible and respectable yeomanry of the country can ever have any knowledge of them: being so far removed from the people, their station will be elevated and important, and they will be considered as ambitious and designing. They will not be viewed by the people as part of themselves, but as a body distinct from them, and having separate interests to pursue; the consequence will be, that a perpetual jealousy will exist in the minds of the people against them; their conduct will be narrowly watched; their measures scrutinized; and their laws opposed, evaded, or reluctantly obeyed. This is natural, and exactly corresponds with the conduct of individuals towards those in whose hands they intrust important concerns. If the person confided in, be a neighbour with whom his employer is intimately acquainted, whose talents, he knows, are sufficient to manage the business with which he is charged, his honesty and fidelity unsuspected, and his friendship and zeal for the service of this principal unquestionable, he will commit his affairs into his hands with unreserved confidence, and feel himself secure; all the transactions of the agent will meet with the most favorable construction, and the measures he takes will give satisfaction. But, if the person employed be a stranger, whom he has never seen, and whose character for ability or fidelity he cannot fully learn — If he is constrained to choose him, because it was not in his power to procure one more agreeable to his wishes, he will trust him with caution, and be suspicious of all his conduct.In this view representative democracy that becomes distant from the individual voter and citizen is seen as less representative for those doing the voting. Complex ideas and ideals are not well represented with those that have huge voting population base, and their ability to actually speak out in a meaningful way for any majority of voters is hindered due to differences between the individual representative and the individuals they are representing. In the modern day House of Representatives the members represent, on average, 550,000 individuals and the ability of such representatives to be known for their wisdom and good deeds in their community is lessened and the ability for ambition to grow for any individual representative is high: by means of utilizing public goods and funds for their own purposes, members of the House have the ability to assure that their meager 'base' is funded. Laws passed from which Congress, additionally, exempts itself puts further distance from those that actually are the subjects of the laws involved, such as the labor laws instituted for the rest of the Nation or not putting forth the idea that 'freedom of information' should extend to the Legislative branch, also.
What is garnered from that are laws that the People will not obey in substance and often not in form. Taxation is rife for 'cheating' and seeing the unfairness of the tax code weighted, in theory, to have rich individuals pay more while companies and many of these rich individuals pay nothing. They are, even with that, the greatest source of income for the Federal government, but the idea of special tax law for one class over another distances the individuals, as a whole, from the common government. That devolves to the point where the power vested in the Federal government is not utilized to actually uphold its duties, say on immigration and naturalization or properly scoping out the size and needs of the Armed Forces of the Union, that the population loses confidence in these distant legislators who, apparently, now only legislate for themselves, their cronies and their vested 'special interests' that support the with kick-backs from Federal grants and contracts. Actual, simple things like identifying deficient bridges and repairing or replacing them are put secondary to funding such things as bike paths, State roads and even gardens for private institutions. The result, as stated by Brutus is painfully clear:
If then this government should not derive support from the good will of the people, it must be executed by force, or not executed at all; either case would lead to the total destruction of liberty.Such government as this destroys liberty. If force be used it is a direct change from rule via the People to rule via the Strong. And if neglected the Laws of the Land fall into disrepute and the society and Nation slide into disunion, disharmony and destruction. Either is the death of Liberty which depends upon the structure of government and its acceptance and adherence by the People in a representative democracy. When that factor of personal knowledge and accountability is put at risk, Liberty is put at risk over time by the distancing of those that govern from those being governed.
That power of taxation and the influence of the wealthy and distant is seen as a major contributing factor to the destruction of representative democracy. In Cato No. 6 by Cato on 13 DEC 1787, the following passage is seen after speaking on the ills that taxation will not be able to address:
In what manner then will you be eased, if the expences of government are to be raised solely out of the commerce of this country; do you not readily apprehend the fallacy of this argument. But government will find, that to press so heavily on commerce will not do, and therefore must have recourse to other objects; these will be a capitation or poll-tax, window lights, &c. &c. And a long train of impositions which their ingenuity will suggest; but will you submit to be numbered like the slaves of an arbitrary despot; and what will be your reflections when the tax-master thunders at your door for the duty on that light which is the bounty of heaven. It will be the policy of the great landholders who will chiefly compose this senate, and perhaps a majority of this house of representatives, to keep their lands free from taxes; and this is confirmed by the failure of every attempt to lay a land-tax in this state; hence recourse must and will be had to the sources I mentioned before. The burdens on you will be insupportable—your complaints will be inefficacious—this will beget public disturbances, and I will venture to predict, without the spirit of prophecy, that you and the government, if it is adopted, will one day be at issue on this point. The force of government will be exerted, this will call for an increase of revenue, and will add fuel to the fire. The result will be, that either you will revolve to some other form, or that government will give peace to the country, by destroying the opposition. If government therefore can, notwithstanding every opposition, raise a revenue on such things as are odious and burdensome to you, they can do any thing.Those that control the ability to tax will not know the bounds of restraint only of their ambitions, and those lead from the lightest of overall taxation to increased taxation on anything to raise revenue. Yes, the Federal government has gone much, much further than tariffs to: income taxation, tax on alcoholic beverages, tax on gasoline, tax on cigarettes. Any Federal government that can tax cigarettes can tax anything it wishes. By being able to win extensions of the 'interstate commerce clause' to have say over purely intra-state (within a single State) as seen in the recent Gonzolez v. Raich decision, then anything can be considered as 'having an impact on interstate commerce' be it legal or illegal, as the Raich decision was on ILLEGAL sales tracked by NO ONE. That is a bit of that folks not complying with laws bit seen by Brutus.
Purely this is abuse of power and seeking its extension by the Legislative branch and being agreed to by the Judicial branch and enacted due to the Executive prosecuting such laws. In theory the stated ability of Congress is de-limited to interstate commerce ONLY as no other power is granted to it by the People. The Executive by carrying out such law is complicit in agreeing to it and enforcing it and the Judicial is putting its seal of approval on breaking with the stated authority given to Congress and adding to it in a way strictly against the Congressional mandate from the People. Any government that can use any activity, legal or illegal, as an excuse to make law down to the lowest level within States due to 'commerce based activity' can legislate on anything it desires under that concept. That is a failing by all three branches in the modern era to actually just uphold the limits placed upon government by the People. I assume that yard sales will fall under the purview of this next. Or children swapping trading cards. All has value in commerce and, therefore, all can be taxed by the Federal government.
Now, not all of the Anti-Federalists were reasoned folks, and a few of them became quite immoderate and florid in their writing against the proposed Constitution and its backers. Yet, even in that floridness and vituperation, some sense of what can be lost and why can be garnered, as seen in Centinal No. 8 by Centinel on 29 DEC 1787:
But as it is by comparison only that men estimate the value of any good, they are not sensible of the worth of those blessings they enjoy, until they are deprived of them; hence from ignorance of the horrors of slavery, nations, that have been in possession of that rarest of blessings, liberty, have so easily parted with it: when groaning under the yoke of tyranny what perils would they not encounter, what consideration would they not give to regain the inestimable jewel they had lost; but the jealousy of despotism guards every avenue to freedom, and confirms its empire at the expence of the devoted people, whose property is made instrumental to their misery, for the rapacious hand of power seizes upon every thing; dispair presently succeeds, and every noble faculty of the mind being depressed, and all motive to industry and exertion being removed, the people are adapted to the nature of government, and drag out a listless existence.That reads just like a modern day blog in its essence, although the command of the language is far, far higher than anyone in the modern era can, apparently, muster to express themselves. As one guesses the reason I concentrate on the Anti-Federalists is that they had some insights into how democracy and Republics can fail, and Centinal does point out that the blessings of liberty can become so commonplace that we forget it is special to us. We have seen historical examples of this in Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain... and many Nations of the 'third world' or lesser industrial powers in S. America, Africa and Asia. Rwanda, Somalia, Argentina, Panama, Laos, Cambodia, all attest to the failures of securing liberty against those that would seize power from a decaying system.
If ever America should be enslaved it will be from this cause, that they are not sensible of their peculiar felicity, that they are not aware of the value of the heavenly boon, committed to their care and protection, and if the present conspiracy fails, as I have no doubt will be the case, it will be the triumph of reason and philosophy, as these United States have never felt the iron hand of power, or experienced the wretchedness of slavery.
In Federal Farmer No. 8 put out on 03 JAN 1788, we get a view of the systemic problems of governmental systems that cannot adhere to common rule and the problems seen in Britain and Rome are compared and contrasted through the lens of historical analysis. Not bad for 1788! The piece concludes with this view of what happens when governmental systems decay in a representative democracy of free people:
De Lo[l]me well observes, that in societies, laws which were to be equal to all are soon warped to the private interests of the administrators, and made to defend the usurpations of a few. The English, who had tasted the sweets of equal laws, were aware of this, and though they restored their king, they carefully delegated to parliament the advocates of freedom.When legitimacy is lost, either through outright corruption, usurpation of power or distancing of government from the People, then the government itself decays until conditions invite despotic rule. The concentration of power can happen not only by design but by neglect: the lack of oversight through incompetence or just not seeing something as a long-term problem. Thusly the concentration of power in the United States happens whenever fewer individuals represent more and more people. The President is chosen to lead the Nation in full, and the Senators to represent the interest of each State, but the House is the body meant to represent the will of the People and the neglect of actually having individuals that are respected and known in their communities by the majority of individuals creates a problem for representative democracy. By setting the size of the House by Public Law, the Nation has grown and each individual represents more and more individuals but has less and less accountability in the system. The Senate was created to give a stable outlook for all of the States and to quell the tumultuous view of the People with more reasoned guidance. Today that 'elder statesman' role is gone as the turnover in the House is so minuscule that there is no 'tumult' of opinion to quell. While the Nation changes to adjust to modern times as individuals, the tools of government lag worst in what should be the most representative body of the land: the House of Representatives.
I have often lately heard it observed, that it will do very well for a people to make a constitution, and ordain, that at stated periods they will chuse, in a certain manner, a first magistrate, a given number of senators and representatives, and let them have all power to do as they please. This doctrine, however it may do for a small republic, as Connecticut, for instance, where the people may chuse so many senators and representatives to assemble in the legislature, in an eminent degree, the interests, the views, feelings, and genuine sentiments of the people themselves, can never be admitted in an extensive country; and when this power is lodged in the hands of a few, not to limit the few, is but one step short of giving absolute power to one man — in a numerous representation the abuse of power is a common injury, and has no temptation — among the few, the abuse of power may often operate to the private emolument of those who abuse it.
When our most recent Congress came in with majority approval ratings after the election and has dropped month by month so that any approval is now near the margin of error of measurement for ZERO, one no longer has representative democracy with the consent of the governed. John Lansing, in his address to the New York Ratifying Convention on 24 JUN 1788, address the problem of what to do with unaccountable Senators and Representatives as he saw this as a prime concern when this National government:
Sir, it is true there have been no instances of the success of corruption under the old Confederation; and may not this be attributed to the power of recall, which has existed from its first formation? It has operated effectually, though silently. It has never been exercised, because no great occasion has offered. The power has by no means proved a discouragement to individuals, in serving their country. A seat in Congress has always been considered a distinguished honor, and a favorite object of ambition: I believe no public station has been sought with more avidity. If this power has existed for so many years, and through so many scenes of difficulty and danger, without being exerted, may it not be rationally presumed that it never will be put in execution, unless the indispensable interest of a state shall require it? I am perfectly convinced that, in many emergencies, mutual concessions are necessary and proper; and that, in some instances, the smaller interests of the states should be sacrificed to great national objects. But when a delegate makes such sacrifices as tend to political destruction, or to reduce sovereignty to subordination, his state ought to have the power of defeating his design, and reverting to the people. It is observed, that the appropriation of money is not in the power of the Senate alone; but, sir, the exercise of certain powers, which constitutionally and necessarily involve the disposal of money, belongs to the Senate: they have, therefore, a right of disposing of the property of the United States. If the Senate declare war, the lower house must furnish the supplies.That old concept of recall is embraced and enshrined as pertinent not only to the Confederation but to the Republic. The States would not agree to give up so fundamental a right as that so as to keep National government in check. Not *just* term limits for certain offices in the State Constitution are cited, but actual recall as a foundation not only for New York State but the Confederation. The seldom used right is one that indicates government is going far off track and the States under the Confederation had this power and its continuation via removing the legitimacy of the ballot by the State for its Senators and Representatives remains a primary right of the State as a negative right. It is asserted only to negate attempts by its elected officials to change the power structure in favor of the Federal government or just to the individuals involved. With the legitimacy withdrawn by the State, and the recall issued, such individuals are brought out of power by the State to ensure the Sovereignty of the States and the People within the Union.
It is further objected to this amendment, that it will restrain the people from choosing those who are most deserving of their suffrages, and will thus be an abridgment of their rights. I cannot suppose this last inference naturally follows. The rights of the people will be best supported by checking, at a certain point, the current of popular favor, and preventing the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom. The Constitution of this state says, that no man shall hold the office of sheriff or coroner beyond a certain period. Does any one imagine that the rights of the people are infringed by this provision? The gentlemen, in their reasoning on the subject of corruption, seem to set aside experience, and to consider the Americans as exempt from the common vices and frailties of human nature. It is unnecessary to particularize the numerous ways in which public bodies are accessible to corruption. The poison always finds a channel, and never wants an object. Scruples would be impertinent, arguments would be in vain, checks would be useless, if we were certain our rulers would be good men; but for the virtuous government is not instituted: its object is to restrain and punish vice; and all free constitutions are formed with two views——to deter the governed from crime, and the governors from tyranny.
No one person can catalog all possible ways a government can fail and revert to tyrannical rule, both Federalist and Anti-Federalist point out the ways it can fail. The Federalist side put safeguards into the Constitution via divided government, accountability of each branch to the other two and by putting in the ability of the States and the People to put the Federal government in check via the legitimacy of the vote and the power of the purse. Each of those pieces were designed, by the Federalists to answer the problems of the Anti-Federalists and to ensure that democracy in a representative form for the Republic would continue onwards. These were vital and necessary safeguards to protect against concentration of power, the distancing of those governing from the People and the ability to extract funds from anything that the Citizenry would do. Without those things government would trend, by action or neglect, to decay, disorder and then the rise of tyranny either by a single individual or by a group seeking to assert rulership over this disorderly system.
In a short span of 10 years these safeguards were all but removed from the Constitution by Amendment, with only the old right of recall still left in place. I looked at those years previously in a an article and looked at the social and societal repercussions of those actions taken to make government 'more active' and 'efficient' in the affairs of the Nation. That change in society because of those changes have moved away from the democratic ideals represented by the Constitution at the Founding. Direct election of Senators by the People removed the intermediary of State Sovereignty to keep the Federal system in check. Adding an Amendment so as to allow direct taxation of the People by the Federal government beyond mere commerce, but to go directly to individual wealth removed the distributed power of the purse held by the States previously, and, additionally, the Federal government passed into Public Law a set size for the House because it would be 'unmanageable' at 600 or so members by 1940.
Each of these basic and fundamental safeguards installed by the Founders into the Constitution so as to make it very, very difficult to undermine or corrode National governance has since led to a point in time where Congressional approval by the People of the United States has fallen to the level of noise in the polls. Congress has become so isolated that its support is no longer something that can be measured with accuracy, because that confidence in it has evaporated almost completely. The Federalist Hamiltonian solution of what to DO when you get to such a point is clear, and he wrote on that in Federalist No. 26 on 22 DEC 1787 about the abuses of Congress by action, but the same problem can be found by inaction as the Anti-Federalists point out in a section I do tend to cite quite often:
"The legislature of the United States will be obliged by this provision, once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter by a formal vote in the face of their constituents. They are not at liberty to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence. As the spirit of party in different degrees must be expected to infect all political bodies there will be, no doubt, persons in the national legislature willing enough to arraign the measures and criminate the views of the majority. The provision for the support of a military force will always be a favorable topic for declamation. As often as the question comes forward, the public attention will be roused and attracted to the subject by the party in opposition; and if the majority should be really disposed to exceed the proper limits, the community will be warned of the danger, and will have an opportunity of taking measures to guard against it. Independent of parties in the national legislature itself, as often as the period of discussion arrived, the State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.This goes not *just* for the armed forces, but whenever Congress via its actions of inactions drifts from representative democracy and into authoritarian governing. A scheme to divert representative democracy need not be by armed force: neglect and self-serving politicians can achieve the removal of legitimacy by sheer inaction and unwillingness to keep an accountable system in place. By removing the power of the purse from the States the Federal system now enjoys separate Sovereignty to do as it pleases without regard to State input. Funds need no longer be spent in the State's interest and, instead, the interest of the few in the Legislative can corrode the accountability structure to have National funds serve private needs.
Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time. Is it probable that such a combination would exist at all? Is it probable that it would be persevered in, and transmitted along through all the successive variations in a representative body, which biennial elections would naturally produce in both houses? Is it presumable that every man the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country? Can it be supposed that there would not be found one man discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to apprise his constituents of their danger? If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought at once to be an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many States as there are counties in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person."
We as a People were convinced that removing these safeguards in that era of 1909-19 would get the Nation 'better government' that was 'more active' in our daily lives. The counter to that is that any government that can reach that far down from the National to the indivdual without accountability due to removing State input and diluting the power of individuals and communities is then unaccountable to the People. The United States has badly erred in the last century, and while great progress in technology and the arts and sciences have come about, government has become unaccountable and untrustworthy in the extreme. As a People we will suffer ills of government until they are no longer sustainable, and then the thoughts of Jefferson come to the forefront. This system *was* accountable at one time: messy, lethargic, poorly funded and not too active in the lives of the People.
That is something known as: limited government.
Let us work together to return to it and accountability of such government to the States and the People.
Our very Liberty depends upon in it.