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Don't Just Read the Constitution


By Suzi LeVeaux - Posted on 05 November 2011

Ron Paul is always referencing the Constitution. Tea Party types and right wingers are always telling us to "read the Constitution." There is quite a difference between reading the words, and understanding the scope of the document written by our Founding Fathers.  

The U.S. Constitution was written because the representatives knew that the Articles of Confederation were not working. The Articles of Confederation, which was this country's first government, did not permit an effective or strong federal government. There was no president, no executive departments like the Treasury or Justice, no judiciary and no authority to collect taxes. Because there were no taxes, the government really did not exist. It only received money when the states donated it, which was rarely done. This was one reason Washington’s soldiers rarely received their pay, which led some of them to want to overthrow the government. In a famous confrontation, George Washington was able to dissuade them from doing just that.  As Washington said, one of the problems with the Articles of Confederation was “no money.”  When a war almost broke out between Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania over the use of the Chesapeake Bay, the representatives of the states realized something had to be done.

There had to be a strong central government or there would be chaos. The concern was they did not want this government to be too strong. The Founding Fathers were familiar with the political philosophers Montesquieu and John Locke, who wrote that there were three sides to political power. The powers are making the laws, enforcing the laws, and interpreting the laws. By dividing the political power into three separate branches with no branch having absolute power, the Founders were able to alleviate some of the concerns about the government having too much power.

Thomas Jefferson, who was representing the states in Paris at the time, was asked by James Madison for advice about a constitution. Jefferson sent Madison fifty history books about confederations and federations from the past. Madison read all the books and made notes about each one, then listed the things that made each work and listed the things that made them fall apart. He kept this little notebook with him and used it during the Constitutional Convention. These ideas played a large part in the making of the Constitution.
The Constitution that was produced was eloquent and in some parts ambiguous. This seems to have been done on purpose. The original Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 when the first Congress opened. But the Constitution did not include the Bill of Rights, which were added on December 15, 1791.

The Constitution starts with a preamble, which states the purpose of the government. Then it is divided into Articles. Article I describes how the Congress is to be constituted and what its powers are. Article II describes how the Executive branch is to be constituted and what its powers are. Article III covers the Supreme Court. (Articles IV through VII concern matters not relevant to this conversation)

When describing the authority and powers of the government, the Constitution states explicit powers as well as implied powers. The explicit powers of Congress are in Article I, Section 8 Lines 1 to 17 and the implied powers are in Article I, Section 8, Line 18. The idea of implied powers was hotly debated in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and was finally settled by the Supreme Court decision in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. In this decision, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall wrote regarding the implied powers:
“Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.”

As a result, the doctrine of implied powers finally fully established the authority of the Federal government to take actions not explicitly stated but implied by the Constitution.

And here is what Ron Paul and the far right do not understand about the Constitution. Listening to them, it seems that they believe this country is a confederation instead of a federation. It is clear they also believe that if something is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, then it is forbidden. But this country has been operating from the beginning, and established by law, that the government has implied powers in the Constitution. What is explicitly forbidden is forbidden. But what is implied is allowed.

Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. The Constitution does not give the president explicit authority to do this. But the authority of the government to do this is implied. We have an Air Force. The Constitution does not say explicitly that we can have an air force. But the government has the authority to have an Air Force because it is an implied in the preamble, where the stated purpose of the government is to “provide for the common defense…”

Ron Paul and others may say that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional because it is not explicitly stated in the Constitution. But it is an implied power in the Constitution to “promote the general welfare.”

But the biggest error in their understanding of the Constitution is that it is not an economic document. It is NOT about economics. It is a pact between the government that it establishes and “we the people.” It has nothing to do with following economic theories. We have a society that is based around our beliefs and traditions. We established a government to defend and maintain that society. The government was not established to maintain and defend any economic theories. It is designed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Not a government of the economic theory, by the economic theory, for the economic theory.

So to all of those who always say "read the Constitution," I say, read and understand the Constitution.

 

And sometimes the Tea Partiers choose to read things into the Constitution when it serves their ends. For instance, God is mentioned nowhere. You'd think that if the Founders wouldn't have forgotten that one if they wanted to avoid creating a secular government.

I definitely agree that the constitution was written to separate religion from the State but as we can see, the far right has interpreted God in the constitution lol.----  I really like this analogy of how the constitution has specific and clear rules as well as implied rules!!  The far right thinks they have more ownership of the constitution and they get to interpret the constitution for the rest of America! LOl insanity! lol--- They have hijacked the constitution and used it as a war of ideologies.  In a lot of instances they are so rigid and narrow minded until they really believe that if an issue is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution then it's unconstitutional!!-- The far right in this age did not write the constitution, so how is it that they get to interpret the constitution for the  majority of Americans??--- Again this is another demonstration of how the far right  thinks that they "Own" America and the constitution. Remember their mantra "take back America". They don't realize how multiculturalism and diversity has evolved and made this awesome Country the way it is!!  The radical right wants to psychologically and manually reign supremacy without embracing the beauty of diversity.

 

Sadly, the Constitution is used as a weapon rather than the law that Justly Governs the land. I believe  we are going to have to become more informed about the constitution but not feel guilty that we are not lawyers!! the whole premise of the far right is to make the vast majority of Americans feel guilty because they are not constitutional lawyers!!---- Certainly, most Americans aren't going to know the exact way to interpret the constitution as Lawyers, but we should have a basic familiarity and understanding of the constitution. Unless these radical rights are lawyers, then they do not have the right to interpret the constitution for the rest of Americans. 

I was a little verklempt as I listened to this speech from then newly Elected President Obama. He sounded like an extraordinary visionary in this speech. I get a little sad knowing that there are some people in this world who really do not believe in true democracy and justice for all.  "The Powers That Be" have been exercising domination  and propaganda for so long until they are completely deluded into believing that there is no room for Multiplicity in the human dynamic. Their ferocity towards President Obama is real and personal. Make no mistake about it -- that it is not "Just Politics". Politics is just the guise that is use to attack him with such barbarity.  In order for us to forge forward as human beings in America, we are going to have to reject the "status quo" and "business as usual" ideology. I believe we are in a very critical period in history as it relates to human progress.

We as Americans must send a strong message to those who oppose progress ( be it on the right or the left) that we can't be bought, we will not be silent and we are NOT going backwards!! Sadly, just as the big Rigs are emptying their pockets to win at any means necessary, we must be willing to sacrifice greatly because our very lively hoods depends on it!! --- "WE THE PEOPLE" DECIDE OUR future, not a bunch of selfish, greedy incompetents who destroyed the economy on a bet and then blamed the American people!!--- As President Obama's new Campaign slogan indicated "we can't wait!!"--- I have heard enough slander, hate, intimidation, threats, bullying and  pure malevolent thrown at the President and the least of those individuals in our society from the far right and those sabotagers from every segment of our political arena and media!! check the video out!! 

 

http://www.barackobama.com/video/commit-to-volunteer-video?source=20111104_TW_JM

Great post, Suzi!

As I've said on the FB page, the Constitution cannot be understood in a vacuum. You have to understand the debates, the federalist papers, the anti-federalist papers, English common law, the various philosophers on which the founders relied upon for their own political philosophy.

I mean, even the Constitutional Debates are a good place to look for the original intent of the document, and not all of the real "original intent" actually got written down into it.

With regards to SS and Medicare, it's a kinda weak argument to rely upon the preamble when you can always rely upon Article I Section 8 and Congress' ability to tax.

Anyway, even the founders had severe disagreements on what the country should be, and what the Constitution should entail. Jefferson, considered the founder of the Democratic party, would be far closer to Ron Paul than to Obama or even many of the other GOP candidates.

Whereas Obama and others would be closer to Hamilton and his own view of the Federal government. Or even to Thomas Paine.

Edit: Oh and it's interesting that one of our "trolls" on the FB page was convinced that if you were a "constitutional scholar" it wasn't because you revered the document and its history, but rather because you were looking for "loopholes".

Outstanding post, Suzi!!!

 

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