The day was September 17, 1787 and the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention were to gather together one final time to cast their votes for or against the document they had produced. Some had left the convention earlier; stating they felt the convention had overstepped its just authority, while others had pushed on with their plan to scrap the Articles of Confederation and create an entirely new system of government for America.
Prior to the vote being taken a speech prepared by Ben Franklin was read to the delegates by James Wilson. Franklin was suffering from too much pain to stand and deliver the speech himself, so he had Wilson deliver it for him.
A portion of Franklin’s speech is as follows: “Mr. President, I confess, that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it; for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration to change my opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise….
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults—if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?
It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does…”
Franklin openly admits that the Constitution may have faults in it, and that it may lead to despotism when no other form of government is suitable for the people it was written to govern. I suppose the only question we should be asking is, what did Franklin mean by that?
Many sacrifices and compromises took place in the drafting of this thing we call our Constitution. Madison had to sacrifice many of his original plans for it, and many of the States had to compromise on issues such as representation in Congress to obtain a finished document that all could support to a certain degree. That is what Franklin meant when he spoke of assembling a number of men with their prejudices, passions, errors of opinion and interests.
But, for the system of government created by this Constitution to work the way it was designed one vital thing needed to take place; the people needed to know what it said and what it meant; and then they needed to ensure that the people they selected to fill the various seats within the government it created with men who would uphold it.
What Franklin meant when he said that it would lead to despotism when the people have become so corrupted to need despotic government is that the people needed to stay both educated on the Constitution, and apply the things they learned in the selection of those who filled the seats of power within that government. When their principles, their understanding of the Constitution became corrupted then despotic government was the inevitable consequence, and the only thing which could govern a nation of people whose ideas and beliefs regarding the purpose of government was so varied.
I could go back to as far back as I remember and not find a single president who was elected because of his campaigning on a platform of firm adherence to the powers given the office he sought by the Constitution…NOT A SINGLE PRESIDENT; even Reagan.
I don’t know, is it because people feel that if their government isn’t continually passing new laws that it isn’t doing its job? Or, is it that people’s expectations of what government should do for them have become so twisted and perverted from what the Constitution says are the legitimate powers of government that they think the more government does for them the more efficient government is working?
Yet from the day that Franklin delivered his speech to the Philadelphia Convention there were those who warned of the dangers this proposed Constitution posed to the liberty of both the people and the States themselves.
These Anti-Federalists, as they were called, spoke of a consolidation of the independent States into an empire, or as Patrick Henry said on June 5, 1788, “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?”
Henry would go on to say, “But now, Sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country to a powerful and mighty empire: If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your Government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together: Such a Government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism: There will be no checks, no real balances, in this Government: What can avail your specious imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances?”
If history does one thing, it either validates, or invalidates the warnings people give. The question is, does history validate, or invalidate what Patrick Henry warned the people about?
If you want my honest opinion, history has elevated Patrick Henry’s predictions to the level of prophetic; almost everything he warned us about has come to pass.
The Spring following the ratification of the Constitution Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Edward Carrington in which he stated, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” The speed at which liberty yielded and government gained ground depended entirely upon how closely the people adhered to the principles upon which their system of government was established. The less the people cared about adhering to the Constitutional limitations of governmental power, the faster government grew and liberty was lost.
I believe that this is what Franklin was speaking of when he spoke of the people’s being incapable of being governed by anything other than despotic government. I mean look at us today; how many people know what the Constitution says; let alone what the words meant back when it was written? How many people care that the laws our government passes no longer have any foundation in the powers given government by the Constitution? How many people even realize that the Constitution was written to represent both the States and the people, and that the States, ever since the Civil War, have become mere provinces of a centralized and all powerful government?
Whether you believe the Civil War was fought over slavery or not, it remains a crucial turning point in the balance of power between the central government and the governments of the States. The antebellum South sought for years to nullify those laws; especially those regarding the tariffs they were forced to bear, prior to exercising their last resort; separation from the Union. You can either take my word for it, or you can do some research on your own regarding the period of American History known as the Nullification Crisis; that’s entirely up to you. But for years the South, led by South Carolina and men like John Calhoun.
How many of you know that John Calhoun was Vice President of the United States, and that he resigned his position to run for the Senate so that he could better defend his State of South Carolina and its attempts to nullify what they felt to be unfair and unconstitutional tariffs?
For almost 30 years South Carolina fought a back and forth battle with the federal government until they felt they had reached a point in which their remaining in the Union was detrimental to the welfare of the people of South Carolina.
You have to realize that back then there was no such thing as an American Citizen; the people were citizens only of the State they resided in; and that’s where their loyalties lay as well. During that period of American history if you immigrated to America, then later became naturalized, you became a citizen of the State you lived in, not of the country of which that State was a part of.
Shortly after the 14th Amendment was ratified, 1875 to be exact, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling on the case of United States v. Cruikshank, in which it stated, “We have in our political system a government of the United States and a government of each of the several States. Each one of these governments is distinct from the others, and each has citizens of it’s own…”
Also, during this time each State still believed itself to be a sovereign and independent nation that was part of a union of similar sovereign and independent States, and that it was their right at any time to say that they no longer wanted to be part of that Union. This is the underlying principle upon which America was founded, and it is expressed thusly in our Declaration of Independence, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Like I said, you can argue that slavery was the ONLY reason the Civil War was fought until you are blue in the face, but whether the reason South Carolina seceded in 1860 was due to perceived injustices, or actual injustices does not matter; they, as well as all the other States, believed that secession was their right; a last resort to stave off the exercise of unjust power by the federal government.
Eventually 11 States joined South Carolina in forming the Confederate States of America. They had lived nearly 3/4 a century as members of the Union and saw the flaws within the Constitution that Franklin spoke of.
Yet our Declaration of Independence does not simply state that it is a States right to just up and secede; it also states that they should seek to provide new guards for their future security. After 71 years of being governed under the Constitution of 1787 they saw the flaws contained within it and sought to establish a Constitution of their own which would prevent government from becoming abusive and tyrannical. Changes were made to the powers given government; especially taxation, and the means of amending the Constitution were made easier. The President was given the line item veto in which he could strike out any portion of a bill sent to him by Congress, and he could only serve one six year term with no eligibility for re-election. Also no funds from government could be spent on internal improvements of the individual States, unless they were for the improvement of harbors and the navigation of rivers. Even then, the costs were to be recouped by the imposition of duties upon river navigation.
What the South did was to essentially fix the flaws within the Constitution of the North; very much like those attending the Philadelphia Convention were only supposed to fix the flaws within the Articles of Confederation.
Abraham Lincoln could not allow the South to separate and become a nation of its own; it bore the brunt of all the tariffs which funded the government which he led and if he allowed them to leave it would leave his Treasury virtually empty.
When a group of Virginia Commissioners queried whether Lincoln would use force against the blooming Confederacy, especially in regards to their having their own Constitutional Convention in Charleston, Lincoln responded by saying, “But what am I to do in the meantime with those men at Montgomery? Am I to let them go on… [a]nd open Charleston, etc., as ports of entry, with their ten-percent tariff. What, then, would become of my tariff?”
Lincoln was between a rock and a hard place. He either had to let the South leave and form its own nation; free of his power of imposing tariffs upon them, and at the same time impose tariffs upon his crony Republican supporters in the North, or take the country to war to force the South into adhering to the Union. Lincoln chose war over peace with a neighbor to the South who only sought to be left alone by the government that was supposed to respect their rights.
When the South was forced to surrender at Appomattox Courthouse the principle that a State had the right to leave a voluntary Union of States was lost as well. The end result of the loss of the Confederacy was not the ratification of the 13th Amendment and the freeing of slaves, it was the final nail in the coffin of the consolidation of the States into a single empire of which the government was in control.
Forty years before the Civil War commenced, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to C. Hammond in which he declared, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated ….”
The day that Lee surrendered at Appomattox was the day that Jefferson’s statement came to fruition. It has all been downhill ever since.
You can vote for all the Hope and Change, or the Let’s Make America Great again you want, but it isn’t going to change the fact that our government is this HUGE monstrosity that regulates and restricts liberty. Our government spies upon us and we say, “If you don’t have anything to hide why should we fear our government spying on us?” If we step too far out of line we have a standing army, in the form of local law enforcement and a whole host of heavily armed governmental agencies ready to dispense their idea of justice upon us.
And yet people still have the audacity to say that this is the land of the free? Most Americans today would not know true freedom even if it came up and took a big old bite out of their asses!
But that’s okay as long as they still have jobs, homes to live in, food to eat, and plenty of garbage on the TV to keep them entertained. The concept of standing up for the principles upon which our nation was first established is as foreign to them as getting on a spaceship and traveling to distant galaxies. Most people are content in their servitude, leaving their precious cocoon of ignorance once every 4 years to argue whether their slave masters will be Republican or Democrat.
And thus Franklin’s prediction has come true, the people have become so corrupted that we are incapable of anything other than despotic government. Our Founders fought a war against their government to be free of its ability to bind them in all cases whatsoever. Is that not exactly what we have today where all the actions of our government, constitutional or unconstitutional, supersede the laws of the States or our Rights?
As Patrick Henry said in 1788, “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?” I would say the same to people in America today, “Can you not see that the things I am telling you are actually the case; are they not plainly so?”
You may not think you are a slave, but neither does a cow or a pig until it is led to the slaughterhouse. Keep that thought in mind…
February 9, 2017
~ The Author ~
Neal Ross, Student of history, politics, patriot and staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Send all comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked Neal’s latest column, maybe you’ll like his latest booklet: The Civil War: (The Truth You Have Not Been Told) AND don’t forget to pick up your copy of ROSS: Unmasked – An Angry American Speaks Out – and stay tuned – Neal has a new, greatly expanded book coming soon dealing with the harsh truths about the so-called American Civil War of 1861-1865. Life continues to expand for this prolific writer and guardian of TRUE American history.