All Commentary
Sunday, April 1, 1962

A Boundless Field of Power


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to be inaugu­rated; made provision in case of the death of a President or Vice-president elect before taking of­fice; repealed the Eighteenth Amendment; declared against a President having a third term; and gave the citizens in the Dis­trict of Columbia the right to vote for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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