T Nation

We The People


#1

Thoughts on the US Constitution:

The US Constitution owes far more to Rome than to Athens. The laws of Solon established merely a popular government which declined into tyranny(Peisistratos) in less than a generation. By contrast, Rome's constitution was the true seed of liberty and the longest surviving political institution in the history of mankind.

The Roman constitution wasn't a written constitution, however upon the creation of the Tribunes a "mixed government" system came into being. The Consuls had inherited the monarchical[1] power from the kings, the Senate retained the aristocratic[2] power and the through the magistracy of the Tribunate the people[3] were enfranchised. As John Adams said:

"Without three divisions of power, stationed to watch each other, and compare each other's conduct with the laws, it will be impossible that the laws should at all times preserve their authority, and govern all men."

Rome also developed what we now call a "separation of powers" - executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and what we now call "checks and balances" to keep these branches from gaining dominance over the others.

The Roman constitution was not static and unchanging but developed over time. In Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli describes how the corruption of the Roman people led to constitutional reforms:

'It was necessary therefore, if Rome wished to preserve her liberty in the midst of this corruption, that she should have modified her constitution, in like manner as in the progress of her existence she had made new laws; for institutions and forms should be adapted to the subject...'

The reforms of Rome's constitution were easier as Rome's constitution was not a written constitution. As Machiavelli explained:

'...the majority of men never willingly adopt any new law tending to change the consitution of the state, unless the necessity of the change is clearly demonstrated; and as such necessity cannot make itself felt without being accompanied with danger, the republic may easily be destroyed before having perfected its constitution'

The 'danger' that presented itself to the founding fathers was a weak executive branch[1] and the tyranny of the states[2] and the people[3]. Adams was acutely aware of this; Jefferson was not.

Adams advised the drafting committee: "it is of great importance to begin well; misarrangements now made, will have great, extensive, and distant consequences; and we are now employed, how little so ever we may think of it, in making establishments which will affect the happiness of an hundred millions of inhabitants at a time, in a period not very distant."

After signing the constitution Adams wrote to Jefferson: "you are afraid of the one[1], I am afraid of the few[2]...I would therefore have given more power to the President and less to the Senate." Adams also didn't believe Presidential appointments should need to be approved by the Senate.

Adams was adamant: "'If there is one central truth to be collected from the history of all ages, it is this: that the people's rights and liberties, and the democratical mixture in a constitution, can never be preserved without a STRONG EXECUTIVE."

[1] Rule of the one - monarchy

[2] Rule of the few - oligarchy

[3] Rule of the many - democracy/anarchy

EDITED


#2

There are many historical examples of free republics losing their liberty that I could cite to illustrate parallels today. I will give just one which I believe is the most pertinent. It relates to the fall of the Roman republic, the seeds of which were sown long before the Gracchi. As Machiavelli explained, the people:

"not content with having only one Consul taken from their class...wanted both to be plebeians. They afterwards claimed the Censure, the Praetoriate and all the other dignities of the republic. And not satisfied with these advantages, and urged on by the same violence, they came in the end to idolise all those whom they saw disposed to attack the nobles, which gave rise to the power of Marius and to the ruin of Rome."

One has to bear in mind the differences between the constitutions of the US and Rome when drawing such a parallel. Whilst the Senate in Rome was exclusively patrician, the US Senate is composed of the state electives who are in essence a meritocracy rather than an aristocracy. In addition, although the House of Reps is intended to represent the people, in practice the party system and constitution enfranchises the people at the state and federal level also. However, there is a parallel in this extension of the people's power via domination of Congress. The main parallel however, is the supreme irony of the people's loss of liberty via their enfranchisement. This is an example of the universal political laws that Polybius and Cicero expounded upon - democracy/anarchy will degenerate rapidly to dictatorship. Often, as in the case of Rome, this process takes the form of a counter-revolution in the name of the revolution. Bonaparte was the pre-eminent example of this, achieving in 5 years what took the arms and genius of Caesar and Augustus and the folly of the people of Rome.


#3

On federal taxation:

"...the jurisdiction of the Union...must embrace a provision for the support of the national civil list; for the payment of the national debts contracted, or that may be contracted; and, in general, FOR ALL THOSE MATTERS WHICH WILL CALL FOR DISBURSEMENTS OUT OF THE NATIONAL TREASURY."

Federalist Number 30 - Alexander Hamilton


#4

John Adams on John Locke's constitution of Carolina:

'(Locke) in 1663, was employed to trace out a plan of legislation for Carolina; and he gave the whole authority, executive and legislative, to the eight proprietors, the lords Berkley, Clarendon, Albemarle, Craven, and Ashley; and messieurs Carteret, Berkley, and Colleton, and their heirs. This new oligarchical sovereignty created at once three orders of nobility: barons, with twelve thousand acres of land; caciques, with twenty-four thousand, and landgraves, with eighty thousand. Who did this legislator think would live under his government? He should have first created a new species of beings to govern, before he instituted such a government.' (Letter LIV)

Typical Englishman.


#5

By no means are you the first to come here with these 'ideas' you think you have.

the T-Nation PWI thread is somewhere but I gave up after a few minutes.


#6

Everything in that video is in accord with what I'm saying except for a few mistakes and oversimplifications(in the video). Don't know what your point is.


#7


#8

So your point is that my ideas aren't new? I'm well aware of that. They were however, developed from reading about the history of republics in the ancient world and in the Italian communes of the late middle ages. I wasn't aware that John Adams developed the same ideas until very recently. In fact, he developed his ideas from the same sources I developed mine. In his work, A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America, he quotes Machiavelli's Discourses dozens of times. He explains that a static/unchanging constitution is fit only for the most primitive of political systems - Moses' Torah, Laws of Lycurgus etc.

My point is that I cannot understand this strict constitutionalist nonsense that is in direct opposition to the ideas of the founding fathers. Unfortunately the US has a long and sordid history of this sort of perversion of the constitution for purposes of appeasement/ collaboration and weakening the executive. There are striking parallels between the unconstitutional Neutrality Acts of the 30's/America First Committee and the present day fringe libertarian/isolationist kooks of the Ron and Rand Paul variety.

EDITED


#9

What? Didn't the founding fathers write the constitution?

Or are you saying that they didn't all agree on everything, and they weren't so sure about it... so it doesn't really make sense to be strict with it?

Sorta like - "if they were around now, they wouldn't act like it was some type of magical thing"?


#10

The founding fathers gave the people then and of the future, the things they believed were right. Especially when looking to history. I know the founding fathers didn't want you to serve two terms as a senator and retire as a millionaire with twenty four hour protection. George Washington didn't even want to be President.

Try and tell me the government needs to be spread out over this world, in almost every country. For what purpose? How much money is spent? The drug war? Have we ever come close to winning any battle this government decides to fight? We need to go to what this country was founded on, her core Constitution.

The video was simple words for people to follow. And please enlighten me as to how Ron Paul is a "strict constitutionalist nonsense that is in direct opposition to the ideas of the founding fathers." Please provide simple sources and maybe something to look for if the text is a huge volume. Or as many would say, POIDNH.


#11

Nope. The constitution was written by 'the framers' - appointed by the committee. Jefferson and Adams weren't involved(in the writing), although Jefferson managed to get the framers to remove the anti-slavery tract that Adams wanted.

No that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that what is generally referred to as 'strict constitutionalism' is a complete misnomer. The constitution outlines the powers of the branches, seperation of those powers and the checks and balances. The constitution evolved, and continues to evolve, with the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.

Not "magical" but probably the most important document on earth. I don't think many people understand how important. The fate of the entire free world depends upon the US.

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, - are all with thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


#12

No, I don't think that at all. I believe that al-Qaeda/sponsor states are a real and serious threat and need to be dealt with. How we should go about that is a strategic decision that the President should make based on the advice he receives from intelligence/JCS. Obviously the US is seriously overstretched and in a very difficult situation in Afghanistan but the 'pull out of everywhere all at once' crap won't cut it.

Obviously for national security but also world stability, economy, access to oil and protection of US and free world interests.

You don't need a source unless you're are refuting what I have said. Paul isn't even consistent in his misinterpretation of the constitution. He supports federal abortion legislation and wants to repeal the birth right clause of the 14th amendment - I'm not saying I disagree with that, I'm saying it's inconsistent with Paul's stated positions on how he interprets the constitution and the founding fathers.


#13

We'll chop this up to one of your points. You are making a claim, now back it up. Anyone can make whatever claim they want, but it means nothing unless you can provide evidence for your stance. For example, life begins at the moment of conception. Biology shows this simple fact. Irrefutable fact in all honesty.

Are you trying to say abortion is acceptable according to the 14th amendment? Isn't the 14th about providing a broad definition of citizenship? Clarify your position please. Use simple language for a simpleton like myself.


#14

No two separate things. I'm saying that:

  1. Ron Paul supports federal anti-abortion legislation. So do I. However, Ron Paul's support for federal anti-abortion legislation is inconsistent with his other constitutional positions regarding the federal government's right to legislate federal law that overules state law.

and

  1. Ron Paul supports the repeal of the birthright clause in the 14th amendment. With the 12 million+ illegals I can understand this. However according to Ron Paul's stated positions this should be unconstitutional.

Now I already know Paul has arguments why he believes the above two examples are not inconsistent with his other positions on the constitution but it's nonsense. He is a phoney.


#15

Ron Paul wants the state to have individual control. We agree there. Murder will always be illegal across the entire country. Abortion is murder, plain and simple. Nice reach though. 'Should' be is the start of your speculation and I refuse to debating your further points. It should be Ron Paul's consistency and NOT just a guess.


#16

That was already tried - Articles of Confederation. The failures of the Articles and the tyranny of states - e.g. Massachusetts Shay's rebellion - led directly to the movement for a centralised, federal government. You're several hundred years behind the times.

I agree that abortion is murder, but that's not why Ron Paul says he opposes it.

EDIT: And here he is being inconsistent about how he interprets the constitution:

He states emphatically that the federal government doesn't have the right to stop the states doing 'bad things'. Yet he supports federal government anti-abortion legislation. Ron Paul can't have it both ways; he's a fraud.


#17

The federal gov't cant in general stop any of the states from doing 'bad things' without some authority to do so. It needs jurisdiction, and it does not have jurisdiction just because it's bigger. (you probably knew that)

If you consider abortion to be murder, then that would mean that the federal gov't DOES have jurisdiction.


#18

It doesn't matter what I think. I was showing how Ron Paul is inconsistent on the constitution. Not because he doesn't know better(he does) - but because he's a phoney with an anti-American agenda hiding behind the constitution just as the America First Committee did in the 1930's.

Have a little read of some of this speech by Senator Charles W Tobey, one of the leaders of the isolationist block in the Senate, delivered less than 3 months before the attack on Pearl Harbour:

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1602

Sound familiar? Ron Paul is a dangerous anti-American lunatic, just like Senator Charles W Tobey was. He's hiding behind the constitution.


#19

"I will not enumerate the series of deviations from the letter and spirit of the Constitution which have marked the philosophy of government behind the President from his first election to the present period of war hysteria. I but mention in passing the flood of 'must legislation,' concentrating always more and more power in the hands of the President and railroaded through a 'rubber stamp' Congress." - Charles W Tobey 17 Sep 1941

Obviously the exact opposite was true as it is today. The executive was being undermined and thus the constitution[*]. Of course Roosevelt did not create 'war hysteria' and undermine the constitution as Senator Tobey, Senator Nye and others claimed. There REALLY WAS a threat to America from Japan and Germany. Just as today, there REALLY IS a threat to America from al-Qaeda/Pakistan and Iran.

[*]

Nye Committee:

Neutrality Acts:

Ludlow Amendment:

EDIT: ^^ Links added.


#20

No, you have not shown him to be inconsistent on the Constitution. Let me re-word my last sentence there.

I had

"If you consider abortion to be murder, then that would mean that the federal gov't DOES have jurisdiction."

You misunderstood what I meant. I wasn't talking about you

"If abortion is considered to be murder, then that would mean that the federal gov't DOES have jurisdiction. "