9/11 was a clarion call to many Americans who were shocked to find themselves brutally attacked on their own soil that beautiful September morning. Seemingly out of nowhere this offensive made no sense to the average thirty something man or woman, who might best be described as a soccer mom or weekend warrior concerned with working hard to raise a family and live out the American dream. This was a tear in the veil through which we viewed our world. Where was this coming from? All eyes focused on our president who slowly began to explain what had happened and how we would deal with this seemingly new threat to our comfortable existence.
Over the next decade and a half, many in our society awakened out of their lethargy and began to pay greater attention to world and domestic affairs. This meant that our elected leaders would face greater scrutiny in what was to become known as “New Media”. Dissatisfaction with status quo wheeling and dealing led to the “tea party” movement. This is a response to the “progressive movement” which exerts powerful influence on the republican and democratic parties, our education system, our fundamental institutions and our culture.
Today, within American society, an ideological war is being fought on three fronts: 1) between those who believe in big government (government knows best) and those who believe in limited government (less government means more freedom), 2) those who want the United States to become more isolationist vs. those who want our country to remain involved in world affairs, and 3) those who believe national sovereignty backed with capable power will protect our interests and those who believe in a world government and redistribution of wealth, power, and influence.
We are at a pivotal moment in time, not unlike the decade immediately following our independence from England. In the next decade, we could irreversibly change our political system (which many take for granted) to one in which we yield our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence) to the ascendance of a political oligarchy made up of entrenched politicians and unelected bureaucrats who are above the law. The better alternative would be to ensure that our citizenry understands the rationale behind our rule of law and the overarching importance of maintaining the integrity of the U.S. Constitution in order to preserve our position as a world power and continue to facilitate a domestic environment conducive to economic and social mobility. Only with this awareness can each generation ordain it as stated in the preamble.
In The Origins of our Constitution, Gordon Wood writes, “Given the Americans' loyalty to their states and their deep-rooted fears of centralized governmental authority, explaining the Constitution of 1787 is not as easy as it looks.” (p. 2) Most students of American History are superficially familiar with the reasons leading to the Philadelphia Convention. In Shay’s Rebellion and the Making of a Nation, a collaboration among Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), the Springfield Armory, and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA), teachers are taught to explain that consideration for creating a stronger national government was directly influenced by Shays’ Rebellion and “what many delegates perceived as state-sanctioned assaults on liberties and property. What isn’t discussed in our nation’s classrooms are the details. Delegates attending the convention were largely motivated by rumors that Shay and his men planned to “march on Boston, loot the Bank of Massachusetts, recruit additional rebels in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and then march southward with the intention of redistributing all property.” (Novus Ordo Seclorum, McDonald, p. 177)
On a national level, “The Continental Congress, despite a lack of formal powers, engineered a massive expropriation of private property through a calculated policy of inflation”. They had financed the war with unsecured paper money called bills of credit, which eventually depreciated to zero. (McDonald, pp.’s, 154-155) “Alexander Hamilton tried in 1781, and again in 1783, to draft an amendment that granted Congress the right to levy and collect an impost.” (The Articles of Confederation 1781-1789) which required unanimous approval of all the states. “Rogues Island…killed the amendment to the Articles of Confederation that would have given Congress a source of revenue from import duties.” (McDonald, p. 175)
Within the states, currency, “issued in North Carolina and Rhode Island depreciated significantly.” (McDonald, p. 156) “Rhode Island established criminal penalties for refusing to accept its currency and removed the right to trial-by-jury in cases related to debt-collection.” (The Articles of Confederation 1781-1789) There was seemingly no recourse. In Connecticut, “many public creditors suffered the absurd experience of having their farms sold for nonpayment of taxes that had been levied to pay them interest on their public securities.” (McDonald, pp.’s 173-174) There were tax revolts occurring throughout the New England region because the cost of government and the revolutionary war was being foisted on a citizenry that did not have the means to pay and were unwilling to give up their property to satisfy this debt.
There was a rise of demagogues holding office, driven by their passion for popular favor, not reason. (McDonald, p 164) Anti-Tory statutes were enacted which were unconstitutional yet reflected the sentiment of the citizenry. (McDonald, pp.’s, 155-156) The thirteen sovereign states had “vested virtually unlimited powers in popularly elected legislatures,” (McDonald, p. 160) and Americans were discovering they were less “secure in their property rights between 1776 and 1787 as they had been during the colonial period.” (McDonald, p. 154)
“Attacks upon property rights were, in the eyes of many, symptomatic of the excesses that were inherent in democracy.” (McDonald p. 157) The prophet Micah (Micah 4:4) wrote, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.” Many of those later known as the Framers of our current rule of law became convinced that, “The function of government, in bringing about such a condition, was to protect the people against themselves.” (McDonald p. 160) The total of their experiences of living in sovereign states, loosely united under our country’s first constitution The Articles of Confederation led them to this conclusion. Yet, Americans were for the most part disinclined to yield any portion of their regained liberties back to a centralized authority and, as famously written in the Declaration of Independence, they were “more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.” (McDonald p 161)
In our current political society, federal policy is clearly behind a massive redistribution of wealth and property. In Free fall: How government policies brought down the housing market, Peter J. Wallison and Edward J. Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute provide a litany of reasons to explain the government role in the mortgage crisis.
The affordable housing goals imposed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 1992 were the major contributors to both the deterioration in underwriting standards between 1992 and 2008 and the growth of an unprecedented ten-year housing bubble that suppressed delinquencies and stimulated the growth of a private securitization market for subprime loans. But other government policies are also to blame for the deterioration in the US housing market, including the thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage, the mortgage interest tax deduction, the right to refinance without penalty, and the Community Reinvestment Act.
What isn’t addressed in this comprehensive, yet easy to understand article, is the subsequent redistribution of property that has occurred since the crisis. Many foreclosed homes have been taken from the largely middle class and are either rented out, often to Section 8 recipients, changing the makeup of neighborhoods and displacing many families who had believed in the investment value of their homes. In other instances, extremely wealthy people or corporations have been able to purchase these homes on the cheap and stand to make great profit on them should the market recover.
In Summary of Kelo v. New London (2005) , author Tom Head writes, In Kelo vs. New London, the Supreme Court determined that, “a city may claim private property under the Fifth Amendment so long as it does so as part of a clear economic development plan intended to benefit the community as a whole.”
In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) condemned the ruling as a fundamental attack on property rights. "To reason," she wrote, "that ... incidental public benefits ... render economic development takings 'for public use' is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property--and thereby effectively to delete the words 'for public use' from ... the Fifth Amendment."
Since this 2005 decision, property owners have become less secure in their property rights. There is a movie coming out, Little Pink House about this case, soon.
James Madison wrote in Federalist 51,
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be 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 oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
According to Forrest McDonald, in 1787, the Constitutional Convention could have gone in one of three ways.
One could give up on republicanism and restore a more authoritarian form of government, monarchical or otherwise. Or one could attempt to create a more virtuous public by means of education, by setting good examples, or by making it to the interest of individuals to strive for the public good. Or one could try to establish republican government upon principles other than virtue, upon the assumption that most men, most of the time, would act out of motives of self-interest rather than of the public interest. Advocates of each position would be present in the Constitutional Convention. (McDonald, p. 179)
Forrest McDonald cites Adams Smith’s, Theory of Moral Sentiments to explain, “In Times of civil discontent and disorder, there are two kinds of leaders.” One “seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society…as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard.” (McDonald, p. 292) The other kind of leader will “respect the established powers and privileges even of individuals, and still more those of the great orders and societies into which the state is divided.” He will accommodate “his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people.” At the convention, it was the second type of leader who prevailed. (McDonald, p. 293)
At this juncture in our history as a constitutional republic, let us remember some words from David Hume, one of the most influential political theorists of the colonial period, and often quoted by the Framers during the convention. "Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature."
Are we prepared to accept a fundamental transformation of our country? Or would we be better served by studying our founding documents to better understand how our rule of law was designed to protect our inalienable rights and allow us to thrive as a sovereign nation? Many Americans who have made the effort to read and understand the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights would agree that it is because of the great thought that went into their construction that our country is often called the shining city on the hill.