Monday, October 28, 2013

Constitutional Debate


“ Call me James, my good Robert, it is James. Unless you want me to call you ‘Brutus’?”

Robert Yates steps closer. “No. Robert will do well my fellow patriot. A privilege to cross paths with the honorable James Madison.”

“ Tis so ? Judging by your scathing rebuke of our efforts at reforming our Country and gaining approval for this Constitution it seems rather unclear to me. Why must you stand in the way of this reformation? A reform you know well, my good sir, is unquestionably necessary.”

“ Let us discuss, James. Pray tell—how can a republic succeed over so great a territory ? Remember the great Baron Montesquieu who said ‘It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist.’ In due time, men of large fortunes and low character will rise thinking they can gain glory by oppressing their ‘subjects’.  In a large republic, the public good will be sacrificed to a thousand views. Whereas in a small republic, the public interest is easily perceived and understood. Abuses would be less and more easily dispensed with. This cannot succeed, James, it cannot.”

“Am I a schoolboy that you quote Montesquieu ? You overlook that the powers granted to the federal government in this proposed Constitution are few and defined. Those that remain in the states are many and indefinite. Further, what limited powers granted to the federal government are for foreign commerce, war—external objects, Robert ! The many that remain for the state and local governments concern all that pertain to the lives, liberties, and properties of the people—the internal objects. So—you see then how we have designed this with full knowledge of the astute observation of the venerable Montesquieu. The small republics of our great states remain thereby avoiding the real threats a republic of great size would no doubt involve.”

“At present our country contains three million souls, James, and is capable of ten times that number. With the distinct possibility of further expansion west, it is capable of, dare I say, one hundred times that number. Mr. Madison sir, in so extensive a republic, the great officers of the federal government would soon become above the control of the people and abuse their power to the purpose of making themselves great and oppressing the people.

 The executive offices, in a country the extent the United-States will someday become, will be various and multiplied. The command of all the troops and navy of the republic, the appointment of officers, the power of pardoning offences, the collecting of all the public revenues, and the power of expending them, with a number of other powers, will become expanded in the federal government. When these are attended with great honor and prestige, as they always will be in large states, so as greatly to interest men to pursue them, and to be proper objects for ambitious and designing men, such men will be ever restless in their pursuit after them. They will use the power, when they have acquired it, to the purposes of gratifying their own interest and ambition, and it is scarcely possible, in a very large republic, to call them to account for their misconduct, or to prevent their abuse of power. Your trust in the nature of man, James, is beyond reasonable.”

“Robert ! Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests?”

“The same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests ? You are a man of Virginia and I of New York. Let us dispense with the empty rhetoric—we both know full well the seeds are present to rend our country apart. We cannot agree on matters today !

I believe, Mr. Madison, the future will well vindicate my predictions.  Human nature does not change.”

“Let us enter here and continue this debate Brutus. There is more to say.”

Federalist Papers #14,45,67-70. Brutus #1

Friday, October 25, 2013


Broken, crippled. 

Have you ever felt the truth of who you are ? There is one who wants to carry you, to bring you to that place of peace. Reach to him—reach and He will carry you.

Wounded and forsaken
I was shattered by the fall
Broken and forgotten
Feeling lost and all alone
Summoned by the King
Into the Master's courts
Lifted by the Savior
And cradled in His arms

I was carried to the table
Seated where I don't belong
Carried to the table
Swept away by His love
And I don't see my brokenness anymore
When I'm seated at the table of the Lord

I'm carried to the table.
The table of the Lord.--Leeland

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Rubicon River

Awakened by my children I look at the news and reading about the national government in partial shutdown I shake my head with thoughts running back to the beginning of our republic. What has happened ?

Many of our Founders were deathly afraid of the federal government. Yet here we are on the cusp of implementing a massive federal program and this after decades of other large increases in the national governments power. The anti-federalists of the Constitutional era argued that the new Constitution would eventually lead to the absorption of the state governments, the combining of the Union into “one great republic” under an unchecked national government, and as a result tyranny. Madison countered that the multiple checks and balances would prevent this and would also greatly slow the processing of the federal government reducing its power. Madison won the day after concessions in the Bill of Rights but 222 years later were the anti-federalists right ? Sadly, I am believing so.

The seed planted at Appomattox has 150 years later grown to result in many ways in the absorption of the rights of states as predicted thus greatly reducing this check. The acquiescence of the Supreme Court to the power of the federal government through the changing not of the checks put into place in the Constitution but instead through the insidious changing of the meaning of its words. The commerce clause, the “necessary and proper” clause have been expanded far beyond their original meaning to now being jokingly called “elastic”. I am not laughing. The Bill of Rights starts by saying “Congress shall make no law…” but through the changing of the meaning of the words in the fifth and fourteenth Amendments have allowed the national government to do the exact opposite of those words.

All this however cannot completely undo the checks. The House of Representatives and Senate must still agree on a bill before presenting to the Executive for approval before law is formed. The House still has authority to originate and approve funding as is evidenced by the current impasse.

 What is our future ?

 I cannot help but think back to another republic—the Roman. Towards its end Cicero famously said

“though the republic, when it came to us, was like a beautiful painting, whose colors, however, were already fading with age, our own time not only has neglected to freshen it by renewing the original colors, but has not even taken the trouble to preserve its configuration and, so to speak, its general outlines. For what is now left of the "ancient customs" on which ... "the commonwealth of Rome" was "founded firm"? They have been, as we see, so completely buried in oblivion that they are not only no longer practiced, but are already unknown. For it is owing to our vices, rather than to any accident that we have retained the name of republic when we have long since lost the reality.”

 As that republic weakened it fell when a strong man, faced with complicated circumstances, pushed the final protective walls of the republic down. He felt he had too of course. Julius Caesar. There was an old law that stated that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium which was the right to command within Italy. To disobey was punishable by death. This was to protect the republic from overthrow.

Standing on the bank of the Rubicon River, about to enter Italy and break this law, Caesar knew the seriousness of his decision. He crossed the river. This would begin what would eventually be the death of the Roman Republic. 

Are we just one serious calamity, one strong leader, one “Caesar” moment away from the final walls of our Republic being torn down ? Is the slowness of the operation of our republic, the “running in mud” designed to prevent tyranny the very thing that would compel someone to cross their Rubicon all out of real or perceived necessity ? Perhaps the current situation is that moment or perhaps it is just another in a line of degradations, the future holding still that fateful moment.

Is there a Caesar standing on the banks of a river ?