Wednesday, September 17, 2014

227 Years and Counting

Today is the 227th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitutional Convention had convened on May 14, 1787 and work was finished and the delegates signed the Constitution on September 17.

The Constitution was then sent to the 13 states for ratification.  Nine were required for the Constitution to fully "unite" the states. That did not occur until June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document.

In the interim, the Federalist Papers were written to explain the theories, rationale and reasoning of our Founders.  Alexander Hamilton devised the idea to write and publish this series of papers in an effort to enlist support for ratification in the states and to answer the many criticisms that were lobbied against the Constitution. This was particularly the case when it came to defending the need for a federal government at all.  Oh, how times have changed!

Hamilton enlisted James Madison and John Jay to join him in writing the series of essays.  Hamilton ended up writing 51 of the 85 articles.  John Jay fell ill and ended up writing only five papers.  This left the remainder to Madison who is known today as the "Father of the Constitution".  By the way, Madison was just 36 years old and Hamilton was 32 when they were writing the Federalist Papers.

What is truly amazing in reading the Federalist Papers is how well our Founders understood human nature and the efforts they took to provide safeguards in the Constitution against human fallibilities and foibles.

I have written about the Federalist Papers before, and it being Constitution Day, I thought I would once again highlight what is perhaps my favorite blog post since I started writing BeeLine.

If you have any doubt about the brilliance of our Founding Fathers and of the Constitution they drafted, read on about "Improper and Wicked Projects" in the Federalist Papers.  What were Improper and Wicked Projects?

This is their list.  I kid you not.

A rage for paper money 

A rage for the abolition of debts 

A rage for an equal division of property

A little eerie?  Read it all and send it on to others.  The answers to our problems are already in existence.  It was written down 227 years ago today. We just need the good sense to return to these founding principles.

Improper and Wicked Projects (originally posted August 22, 2011)

Power, politics, greed, bias, conflicts of interest, oppression.  There is nothing going on today that our Founders did not anticipate.

Due to the intelligence and insights of our Founding Fathers they wrote a document that considered all of the above and more in writing the U.S. Constitution.  They knew that instability, injustice and confusion within the institution of government had caused many to fail.  They were determined to build a governmental structure that could endure for the ages.

Federalist Paper #10 was written (by James Madison) to describe "How the Union Will Act as a Safeguard Against Domestic Division and Rebellion". The Founders understood that opposing political factions were the greatest potential threat to any government and that in many governments the only redress was violence.  They wanted to insure that factions could not wield power that would be dangerous to either the rights of other citizens or the common good.  What did they see as the most common and tangible source of faction?  The conflict between rich and poor. Here are the exact words from #10.

The most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. 
Where did they see the most danger for a majority to trample on the rights of a minority?  Taxation.

The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets. 
They understood that those that governed us had to be a cut above to balance and mediate these conflicting interests and put the public interest above any special interests.  However, they also knew that this was naive. The Common Argument modern translation puts it this way.

Enlightened statesmen will not always be in power, and even if such mediation could happen, it would rarely take place with long-term interests in mind, since the immediate "here and now" interests of the party in power would most likely win the day at the expense of the rights of the other party, or the good of the whole.
Our Founding Fathers were one smart group.

They also knew that there was little they could do to prevent factions from occurring.  That could only be done by limiting liberties or insuring every citizen has the same opinions, feelings and the same interests. Neither was acceptable to the Founders.  They had no interest in preventing the causes, which is what Communist and Totalitarian governments do.  They focused on controlling the effects of factions.  Thus, they constructed a republican governmental framework with an ultimate goal of securing both the public good and private rights against the dangers of an oppressive majority faction. Everything in the Constitution was built on this foundational principle. 

They built a government which derived all of its power directly or indirectly from the People, administered by representatives who hold their offices at the pleasure of the People, for a limited period of time, or during good behavior. Using different time periods for holding office, including the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government and limiting the power of the federal government relative to the states were all important foundational principles to achieve their overarching goal of facilitating majority rule but protecting minority rights.

Perhaps most applicable to today is what Federalist #10 says in the second to last paragraph.  It explains why they set up the republican form of government we have and not a democracy or parliamentarian system. It literally stopped me in my tracks when I read it.  I re-read it several times in The Original Argument and then went to the actual Federalist Papers to read it exactly as it was written.  There could not be a better example to show how far we have deviated from the path the Founders established and why they set up safeguards in the Constitution to protect the People. 
It reads as follows with the bold emphasis being mine:

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
How much more relevant can you be to what we have seen in recent years in this country, most particularly in the Obama Administration?  The Founders found all of these to be "improper or wicked projects"by dangerous factions.  These were the types of government abuses they were trying to prevent. 

  • a rage of paper money (what is the Federal Reserve doing?)
  • an abolition of debt (what was done to the secured creditors in the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies or with the bailout of Wall Street?)
  • for an equal division of property (Redistribution of income and wealth through a focus on taxing the rich)

Isn't it interesting that each of these "improper or wicked projects" is also at the core of what has motivated the Tea Party?  Terrorists?  I think not.  These are the sons and daughters of the Founding Fathers united against the very factious leaders our forefathers warned us about.  


  1. Thanks for the Federalist papers. As you said, our Founders were simply incredible, but what was infinitely more important was what you left out, that they banked everything they had invested in this experiment in ordered liberty and limited government on the underlying principle that God as revealed in Jesus Christ GOVERNED in the affairs of men, without Whom we would surely suicidally perish, something almost unknown today by a mad world where the inmates have taken over the asylum. God save us, as only He can. Russ