Mr. Pettengill is a former Congressman from Indiana and a noted authority on the Constitution.
"No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and compounding the American people into one common mass."
These words were written by our greatest Chief Justice, John Marshall, more than one hundred years ago. He was wrong. Political dreamers are compounding the people into one common mass. Power is being concentrated at one point. Not only is the federal government encroaching upon governmental functions formerly reserved to states and communities, but it also is gathering to itself increasing control over financial (banking) and economic affairs (prices, wages); and it is entering the field of education and the arts.
The Republic is being torn down and the Monolithic State is being erected. The business of city halls, county court houses, and state capitols, is being moved to Washington and put in other hands, far from the people.
This is being done in violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution. It is true that in recent years the Supreme Court under political pressure has given its blessing to this consolidation of power in Washington, and the concurrent destruction of power in state capitols, court houses, and city halls. But that does not settle the question. There is a judge above the Court, and to that judge we can appeal. The People who ordained and established the Constitution can enforce it, if they will, or change it if they choose. The Constitution does not belong to the lawyers.
As John Marshall said: "The enlightened patriots who framed our Constitution, and the people who adopted it, must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they said."
Since 1932 The People have amended the Constitution in the following respects only: changed the date for Congress to convene and for a President to be inaugurated; made provision in case of the death of a President or Vice-president elect before taking office; repealed the Eighteenth Amendment; declared against a President having a third term; and gave the citizens in the District of Columbia the right to vote for presidential electors.
Not one of these amendments delegated new or additional powers to the federal government to tax, appropriate, regulate, or govern the states or The People.
Nevertheless, these powers have been assumed or usurped. The federal government is taking over, in whole or in part, such matters as housing, water, sewers, urban renewal, depressed areas, the relocation of industries, health, hospitals, education, police, fire prevention, juvenile delinquency, and even snow removal.
Read and reread the plain words of the Constitution and ask yourself how these words were understood by the men who wrote them, and by great statesmen and jurists down to recent years.
First, George Washington, the president of the Constitutional Convention: "The Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all…. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position….
"Let there be no change by usurpation, for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."
James Madison, the "father" of the Constitution: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
Alexander Hamilton: "It is the duty of courts of justice to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void."
Chief Justice Marshall: "To what purpose are powers limited and to what purpose is that power committed to writing, if those limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained?"
Daniel Webster, the "great expounder" of the Constitution: "Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of power…. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions…. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic Party: "To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition…. When all government shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will become venal and oppressive. I wish to see maintained that wholesome distribution of powers established by the Constitution for the limitation of both, and never see all offices transferred to Washington.
"In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Republican Party: "A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations… is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or despotism."
Woodrow Wilson, father of the "New Freedom," would apparently have vetoed most of the laws passed by the New Deal and the New Frontier to concentrate power. Before his inauguration in 1913 he said: "If any part of our people want to be wards, if they want to have guardians over them, if they want to be taken care of, if they want to be children patronized by the Government, I am sorry, because it will sap the manhood of America. But I don’t believe they do. I believe they want to stand on the firm foundations of law and right and take care of themselves."
Again he said, "The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of power, not the increase of it…. The concentration of power always precedes the destruction of liberty."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, when governor of New York: "Now to bring about government by oligarchy, the sovereignty of the States must be destroyed. We are safe from that danger as long as home rule in the States is scrupulously preserved and fought for whenever it is in danger."
This concentration of power so alien to our system has been brought about, not by The People, and in the manner prescribed by the Constitution, but by legislators and judges who have assigned new, strange meanings to such words in the Constitution as "interstate commerce," "general welfare," and so forth.
This has been done in the face of the fact that we have a written Constitution which delegates to the United States certain specified powers only, and it has been done in defiance of Amendment 10 (put there by The People), which says in plain language that the powers not delegated to the United States "are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people."
In the momentous case of Texas vs. White (1869), the U. S. Supreme Court said: "The preservation of the rights of the States, and the maintenance of their governments, are as much within the design and care of the Constitution, as the preservation of the Union and the maintenance of the National government. The Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States."
In another great case, Gibbons vs. Ogden, Justice Marshall wrote: "Congress is not empowered to tax for those purposes which are within the exclusive power of the States." Apply this language to federal taxes for such matters as education, urban renewal, and the like.
In a veto message to Congress, President Franklin Pierce said: "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States…. Such a conclusion the characters of the men who framed that sacred instrument will never permit us to form. Indeed, to suppose it susceptible of any other construction would be to consign all the rights of the States and of the people of the States to the mere discretion of Congress, and thus to clothe the Federal government with authority over the sovereign states, by which they would be dwarfed into provinces or departments, and all sovereignty vested in an absolute, consolidated central power against which the spirit of liberty has so often and in so many countries struggled in vain."
It is clear that the Constitution has been practically rewritten in vital parts, not by The People in the plain manner provided by the Constitution but by "usurpation," to borrow from Washington’s Farewell Address. The crafty arguments of left-wing professors have been seized upon by ambitious politicians to increase their power and to appeal to the cupidity of voters.
States and their people who might have objected to these concentrations, if submitted as proposed amendments of the Constitution, have been denied their right to vote on them. During the "court packing" fight in 1937, President Roosevelt (forgetting what Governor Roosevelt had said), told the nation over the radio that "the Constitution is what the justices say it is rather than what its framers or you might hope it is." Therefore, change the Constitution by changing the judges! He rejected proposals to submit a constitutional amendment on the ground that it would take too long, and that The People might vote it down!
There are at least three great reasons why the continuing concentration of governmental, financial, and economic power in Washington, D.C., may be the "weapon by which free governments are destroyed."
One: If a state goes bankrupt its bondholders lose their investment, but it cannot destroy the value of money generally. A state cannot manufacture money to pay its debts. Nor can it continue to go into debt forever, because in time no one will buy its bonds. But the federal government can manufacture money, and as it goes deeper and deeper in debt, the value of all the money of all the people rots away.
If a state overtaxes its people, they can move out. But if the federal government does so, there is no escape except to invest in foreign lands.
Two: "A power over a man’s subsistence is a power over his will," as Alexander Hamilton twice wrote in The Federalist Papers. The gathering of the people’s wealth into Washington, and its disbursement by grants, gifts, loans, and "federal aid" creates a gigantic political machine, a super-Tammany. Farmers, city dwellers, bankers, businessmen, even college presidents, begin to shut their mouths. So it happened under Hitler and Mussolini. "Whose bread I eat, his song I sing."
Three: The "white gold" of a nation is the character of its people. As ever larger numbers of people are urged by national political leaders to use their ballots to "vote themselves rich," what happens to the moral fiber of the people?
If the sprawling Colossus on the Potomac had made a shining success of balancing its budget, paying its debts, maintaining the value of money, "solving" the farm problem (after forty years of effort), denying monopoly power to labor unions, reducing crime and juvenile delinquency, and improving our world position by fighting three wars in one lifetime, we could, perhaps, view the future with some resignation.
But it has not succeeded in any one of these matters.
What the future holds, no one can say. The native common sense and love of country of the average American could cause him to see how he has been defrauded of his inheritance, and to recapture his right to pursue happiness within the framework of the Constitution that was written by the ablest and most disinterested patriots that history has known, and as it can be amended, where necessary, by The People.
We do know that there is an ebb and flow in human affairs and periods of decadence and corruption are followed by the return of strength and honor.
We can begin with our children in school and college. A good start has already been made in this direction by several completely trustworthy organizations.
I conclude with the words of Supreme Court Justice Story addressed to the "ingenuous youth” of 1840. "The fate of other republics, their rise, their progress, their decline and their fall are written but too legibly on the pages of history…. Those republics have perished, and they have perished by their own hands. Prosperity has enervated them, and corruption has debased them….
"They have disregarded the warning voices of their best statesmen and have driven from office their best friends…. Patronage and party, the triumph of an artful popular leader, and the discontents of the day, have outweighed, in their view, all solid principles and institutions of government….
"Let the American youth never forget that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils and sufferings and blood of their ancestors…. The structure was erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity…. It has been reared for immortality…. It may nevertheless perish in an hour by the folly or corruption or negligence of its only keepers, THE PEOPLE….
"Republics fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them."
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