Presentation, “God, Man and Law” by Joseph Sobran, briefed and [notes] added by David Norris

What follows is a thumbnail history of the Constitution. In order to appreciate what has happened, you have to stand back from all the details and look at the outline. In the beginning the states were independent and sovereign. That is why they were called “states”: a state was not yet thought of as a mere subdivision of a larger unit, as is the case now. The universal understanding was that in ratifying the Constitution, the 13 states yielded a very little of their sovereignty, but kept most of it.

Those [states that] were reluctant to ratify generally didn’t object to the powers the Constitution delegated to the federal government. But they were suspicious: they wanted assurance that if those few powers were granted, other powers, never granted, wouldn’t be seized too. In The Federalist, Hamilton and Madison argued at some length that under the proposed distribution of power the federal government would never be able to “usurp,” as they put it, those other powers. Madison wrote soothingly in Federalist No. 45 that the powers of the federal government would be “few and defined,” relating mostly to war and foreign policy, while those remaining with the states would be “numerous and indefinite,” and would have to do with the everyday domestic life of the country. The word usurpation occurs numberless times in the ratification debates, reflecting the chief anxiety the champions of the Constitution had to allay. And as a final assurance, the Tenth Amendment stipulated that the powers not “delegated” to the federal government were “reserved” to the separate states and to the people.

But this wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone. Well-grounded fears persisted. And during the first half of the nineteenth century, nearly every president, in his inaugural message, felt it appropriate to renew the promise that the powers of the federal government would not be exceeded, nor the reserved powers of the states transgressed. The federal government was to remain truly federal, with only a few specified powers, rather than “consolidated,” with unlimited powers.

The Civil War, or the War Between the States if you like, resulted from the suspicion that the North meant to use the power of the Union to destroy the sovereignty of the Southern states. Even so, the three constitutional amendments ratified after the war contain a significant clause: “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Why is this significant? Because it shows that even the conquerors still understood that a new power of Congress required a constitutional amendment. It couldn’t just be taken by majority vote, as it would be today. If the Congress then had wanted a national health plan, it would have begun by asking the people for an amendment to the Constitution authorizing it to legislate in the area of health care.

The immediate purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to provide a constitutional basis for a proposed civil rights act [not for an excuse to disband the meaning and intent of eight of the ten citizen Bill of Rights laws].

But the Supreme Court soon found other [hostile] uses for the Fourteenth Amendment. It began striking down state laws as unconstitutional. This was an important new twist in American constitutional law. Hamilton, in arguing for judicial review in Federalist No. 78, had envisioned the Court as a check on Congress, resisting the illicit consolidation or centralization of power.

Our civics books still describe the function of checks and balances in terms of the three branches of the federal government mutually controlling each other. But in fact, the Court was now countermanding [even] the state legislatures, where the principle of checks and balances had no meaning, since those state legislatures had no reciprocal control on the Court. This development eventually set the stage for the convulsive [Darwinian God-rejecting Case Law Precedents] Supreme Court rulings of the late twentieth century, from Brown v. Board of Education to Roe v. Wade.

The Court had become the very opposite of the institution Hamilton and others had had in mind. Instead of blocking the centralization of power in the federal government, the Court was assisting it. The original point of the federal system was that the federal government would have very little to say about the internal affairs of the states.

Used by the permission of “The Schwarz Report”, August 2005, current address: 227 E. 6th St., Long Beach, Ca, 90802. Pat Buchanan, “Joseph Sobran is perhaps the finest columnist of our generation.”

~ D. Norris

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