Founding Fathers Blog

And To Think It All Started With 10 Commandments

January 17th, 2013

On the wall in my law office, next to my grand bookcase full of law books, I had a framed cartoon.  It wasn’t a very large cartoon, but it made a point. The cartoon drawing showed a man, presumably a lawyer, standing in front of an enormous bookcase, full of law books. The man’s image of a thought balloon held these words:  “And to think it all started with just 10 Commandments!”

On July 4, 1776, 56 representatives from the original 13 colonies in America chose to begin a new nation. They declared our independence from Great Britain with an inspired document. That was the beginning of the United States of America.

Eventually the leaders of the new nation realized that they needed a new “rule book” with written rules to govern the new nation. Fifty-five representatives from these States created a new rule book. They provided the States with the new Constitution of the United States, adopted September 17, 1787. This new Constitution was 4,543 words long.

These Founding Fathers created a government that was so structured that all the power was to lie in the hands of the People. The People were to remain supreme and the government was to have ONLY those powers granted to it by the People and written into this Constitution. This was a brand new concept. It had never before been attempted.

As one of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, said:  “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And James Madison, who is known as the Father of the Constitution warned future generations:  “We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Commandments of God.”

Thomas Jefferson, another Founding Father, and the author of the Declaration of Independence, told us that “The natural progress of things is for Liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

The oldest, and perhaps wisest of this group of stalwart men, added this sage advice:  “I agree to this Constitution . . . because I think a general Government necessary for us . . . and may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism (tyranny or dictatorship), as others have done before it, WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” (Emphasis added).

James Madison added to his above utterance:  “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary, and if angels were to govern men, then neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government 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 obligate it to control itself. Without a doubt, the primary control on the government will be its dependence on the People, but experience has taught mankind that other precautions will be necessary as well.”

The authors of the Constitution believed as long as citizens were taught correct principles, were moral and religious, they would govern themselves and would do well. But as Franklin espoused, when the people became less religious, less moral, and more corrupt, then they would require more government, more laws, more rules and regulations. Then the government would become more tyrannical.

It’s a little bit like I used to tell my children as they were young:  “There are no rules until you break them!”

That’s why the original States agreed in their unalterable compact, or contract, what would be required as new states would be added to the Union. The Northwest Ordinance, which was agreed upon at the same time as the Constitution in 1787, held that “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Did you get that? In order to have good government, we must teach morals, religion, and knowledge in our schools.  So why have we allowed the teaching of God, morals, religion, and character to be removed from the curriculum of our schools? Good government cannot be had without these subjects being inculcated in our children.

Because citizens are no longer taught morals, religion or character, they have less reliance on “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” as George Washington put it. Inevitably this leads to the need for more external controls by government. More laws, more rules, more regulations are passed each year by our Congress.

Publius (the anonymous author of the Federalist Papers, now known to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) were worried about this contingency. As they expressed in the Federalist Papers:  “Our governments seem the most susceptible to the disease of too easily writing and passing an excessive number of new laws.”  Isn’t that exactly what’s happening now? Bills before Congress are so large and so complex and passed so quickly that some representatives and Senators have confessed that they are not able to even read them, much less understand them, before voting on them to pass into law.

Publius also warned:  “it will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

Benjamin Franklin established the University of Pennsylvania, and its motto, which is “Laws without morals are vain.”

John Adams proposed that :  “Statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People . . .they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”

Rather than passing more complex and incoherent laws on guns, or health care, or marriage, or the environment, or even financial institutions, wouldn’t it be wiser and make more sense to listen to and spend more money on following the counsel of our first President, George Washington?  This might require us to return to teaching about morals, character, religion, and yes, even God. Here’s what George Washington advised in his Farewell Address as he retired from the Presidency:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputations, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

And to think, it all started with just 10 Commandments!

The Constitution – Intended to Endure for Ages

September 6th, 2012

It was Labor Day. I was having lunch with several of my friends and neighbors. At some point I decided to ask:  “We are enjoying Labor Day. So now I ask you, what is the next federal holiday to celebrate?”

Those around the table looked sheepishly at each other. One finally volunteered, “is it Columbus Day?’

“No,” I said, “the next holiday is between Labor Day and Columbus Day.”  They seemed embarrassed and even chagrined–but no one came up with another federal holiday.

So I gave some hints. Big ones. Like it’s on September 17. It’s sort of related to July 4th. It has to do with the founding of our country. Still no one even hazarded a guess.

Finally I had to announce:  “It’s Constitution Day, the observance of the day the United States Constitution was signed by the 55 State representatives. The Day our Constitution went into effect.”

The result was an unenthusiastic, indifferent, uninterested and even a detached: “Oh.”

And that, it seems, is the way we, as a people regard this amazing and inspired document. Oh.

“Isn’t it out of date?  Who pays any attention to it any more? Why don’t we just scrap it?”  Even our President thinks it’s out of date–and he taught Constitutional law in Chicago.

At times it seems we have forgotten the inspired, magnificent and noble history that gave us this grand document.

As a business attorney, I have often compared our founding documents to those documents which are necessary to create a company, a corporation, or a limited liability company. To begin a new company you must first have “Articles of Incorporation” or “Articles of Organization.” These words establish a new company.

Just like those, our Declaration of Independence sets out the words to create a new company–or in this case, a new country. A war was even fought over those words. They were so important. And a new country was created. The United States of America.

Then to determine the rules of operating the new company, an additional document must be agreed upon. The next needed document is a set of “corporate by-laws” or an “operating agreement.”

Your new country  will also require such rules or by-laws. That is what our Constitution of the United States was drafted to do. Present the rules for operating the country.

Please notice the document is titled:  “The Constitution of the UNITED STATES.” (emphasis added.) Some citizens, history teachers, and even politicians have forgotten this is a country made up of 13 original sovereign States–now 50 sovereign States.

That fact was so important to our Founding Fathers, that they fought diligently to protect it in the “operating agreement.” The Constitution. It was a major issue in the original debates. The two main leaders of the Convention, George Washington and James Madison, had disagreements over this issue. It was finally agreed upon. A compromise was accepted.

The Founders feared that the larger, more populous States would be able to overwhelm and overpower the smaller, less populous States. That’s exactly why they set up the electoral college to elect a President. And it’s why they required the Senators to be  elected by the States themselves, rather that the population at large. This was referred to as “The Great Compromise” which led to final agreement.

It was smart, it was prudent, it was innovative. It gave stability and protection to the nation.

That’s why I believe it was unwise and shortsighted to change this protection for the smaller states in our operating agreement, our Constitution. When the seventeenth Amendment was ratified on April 8, 1913, it radically changed our nation.

No longer did the States elect the Senators. Now the electorate at large elects the Senators–just like they elect the members of the House of Representatives. No difference. So technically there is no longer anyone elected to represent the interests of the individual separate and sovereign States.

What difference does that make? you may ask. After all, they all represent the people.

Let’s just take one example. The recently passed health care bill.  It’s doubtful that that bill would have been approved in the Senate, when the Senators all became aware of all the undefined, onerous, and unfunded mandates which under that bill became the responsibility of the individual States. The Senators, representing the interests of the States would have demurred.

Likewise, we can see the individual States now beginning to recognize and fight back about this bill, and about the lack of protection for the states in fighting the abuses of illegal immigration.

When making decisions on how to run the country, look to its by-laws, its operating agreement, its Constitution. Don’t make decisions without resorting to the rules. And don’t change the rules without considering all the ramifications.

Did we make a mistake with the 17th Amendment?  Yes, I think we did. Let’s not make the same mistake with the Electoral College. Listen to the founding fathers. They really did know what they were doing.

As former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, said:  “The Constitution is intended to endure for the ages to come. . .”

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