On July 4th I have had a mixed sense of wonder and loss. I suppose it’s the same way some grieve for the loss of loved ones during the Christmas season. I am torn because I have the highest level of admiration and gratitude for those that freed themselves from the grips of the British tyranny, yet I do not feel that the cause for which they fought is represented properly in today’s celebrations.
After severing the political bonds, these brave colonists confronted a corrupt government and against all odds won their freedom. The most excellent generation of Americans laid a foundation for future generations by drafting a constitution designed to strictly limit federal power and to, as Jefferson noted, “bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution”. In the era of 1776 our forefathers granted us an incredible inheritance, a historic victory of People over established government.
Unfortunately, over two centuries we have squandered much of our inheritance and every time we look to Washington, D.C. for a “national” solution we further destroy our own children’s guarantees. The legacy and spoils of our celebrated revolution slips away with every stroke of the pen in Washington, D.C. This leaves me with a great sense of loss as the freedoms and liberties that we once enjoyed and the hopes for our children’s future are destroyed by federal politicians acting outside the authority provided them and against the interest of the People. The Bill of Rights specifically denied the federal government the authority to search without probable cause, indefinitely detain without warrants, declare guilt without due process or assassinate without conviction in a court of law. Yet, in today’s warped acceptance of centralized government these are exactly the powers claimed by our general government over Americans.
The revolution in 1776, after all, was an absolute rejection of centralized power. And when independence was won, the founders debated at length a new system of decentralized power sharing among the states and the newly created general government. The American experiment was defined by the limitations placed on the central government. In Federalist #45 Jefferson indicated how power would be shared:
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
Clearly, we have not protected our American liberties by limiting the growth of the central government. Perhaps we have relied too much on indirect solutions with disappointing results. “Solutions” such as voting the bums out, or letters to representatives, or petitions, or marches on DC. Perhaps, we have lost to time how to maintain a better balance of power between the states and the federal government. Perhaps, we have forgotten that the power of the people and the strength of our republican form of government lies in the ability of the individual states to nullify or interpose on the people’s behalf against egregious federal actions. Jefferson’s advice: “…where powers are assumed [by the general government] which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy”.
On July 4th, we celebrate the spirit of American independence by reflecting on the wisdom of the Declaration of Independence:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”.
In the era of 1776, the people rejected centralized power and removed themselves from the political bonds of an established government. Will we reject the centralization of power today with the same clarity and determination?