The View From 1776

The Constitution Be Damned

Tocqueville forewarned us about the tyranny of majorities that by nature impose ill-considered policies trampling upon individual liberties, liberties which the Bill of Rights was enacted to protect.

The Constitution created a government that people expected to defend them against foreign aggression and to protect the natural law rights of individuals to life, political liberty, and free exercise of private property rights.  Today, instead of protecting individual rights against mob will, we have a Federal government that follows the mob and presumes the power to force people to conform to the schemes of academic state-planners.

Decades of left-wing judicial activism and, now, Congressional rage enacted in punitive, ex post facto taxation, are inexorably undermining the Constitution’s intent. 

Whatever you may think about the propriety of large bonuses paid to AIG employees, whether you like it or not, the bonuses were paid in accordance with legal contracts executed before AIG received bailout money.  Those individuals had a legal right to the money.  If the company or the Federal government wished to abrogate the contracts, the spirit infusing the Bill of Rights required them to adjudicate the matter in the courts of law.  Among other things, the 14th Amendment declares “...No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Those are also limitations upon the Federal government, which Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, in the Federalist papers, argued were implicit in the Constitution.

As the Anti-Federalists vigorously asserted in the debate over ratification of the Constitution from 1787 to 1789, the citizens of the United States did not fight a war against the arbitrary tyranny of George III and Parliament only to replace them with a powerful Federal government, which they feared could ride roughshod over the people’s individual rights. 

In the early decades of Constitutional government, as a bulwark against collectivization of power at the Federal level, the states retained and exercised the largest share of powers affecting citizens in their everyday conduct.  In the 20th century, particularly after 1932, the states increasingly were relegated to minor roles as the Federal government usurped more and more tax revenues.  The number of Federal regulatory agencies was expanded exponentially and hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations were added.  Individuals and businesses found themselves ensnared in a web of red tape. 

For a wide-ranging indictment of the mob-spirit tyranny displayed by our current Congress, with the tacit support of the President, read George F. Will’s column in the Washington Post, The Toxic Assets We Elected.

I am indebted to Tom Emerson, who alerted me to Mr. Will’s column.