The reason for this dilemma is because most people don't know the history of the Constitution, why it was written, and what principles it was meant to enshrine. When this knowledge is lacking it is easy for people to become persuaded, through their ignorance, into discarding the very principles that guarantees our liberty. Therefore, it behooves all of us to become better acquainted with this unique and important document.
When America was first colonized people settled in areas they called states and, in time there were thirteen of them going all the way from Maine to Georgia. However, each of these states had their own government which, for all practical purposes, made them behave much like independent nations.
This is the situation we see in Europe where a number of countries such as Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, England, and many others have their own form of government and are independent from one another yet they all co-exist together.
In the beginning of our country, although each of the thirteen independent states had their own constitutions and elected governors they were still under the rule of the King of England who could override any decision the state governments made. Over time, Americans became increasingly unhappy with the intrusion of laws forced on them by their mother country and no matter how much they complained to England, the King continued to impose more and more restrictions on their behavior.
By July 4, 1776, the American colonists decided they could no longer tolerate such dictatorial rule and formally declared their independence from England. Once that happened each state then became free to operate like an independent country, each having their own form of government and their own laws that, in many cases, was somewhat different than all the others. Rather than being united as one country, they remained separate and distinct from one another in the same way as countries in Europe do.
However, since they still considered themselves to be Americans, they united themselves in what is called a confederacy, which is an agreement among people on how to get along together. The formal document that created this confederacy was called the Articles of Confederation which was more of a treaty of friendship among equals than it was as a formal government. Its stated purpose was to form a perpetual alliance or compact among the thirteen states for the purpose of working together for the common good
Under the Articles of Confederation each state remained independent and sovereign but, from time to time, each state would send representatives to meet - usually in the city of New York -- where they would discuss important matters. This legislative body of men, known as the Continental Congress, became especially important once Americans went to war against their mother country. Since all thirteen states had agreed to rebel against England that meant money, material, and men were needed from all thirteen states to help support the revolution for independence.
However, the meetings held by the Continental Congress were nothing more than summits where, after discussing an issue and reaching a decision, no state could be compelled to do anything it didn't want to do. That's because the Continental Congress lacked the power to enforce its own rules. If it passed a law and one or more of the states decided to ignore it there was no punishment.
For example, if one state said it didn't want to send any troops, money, or supplies to help out in the war effort, there was nothing anyone could do to make them. Or, worse yet, if one state said it agreed to send troops but then didn't keep their promise, there was no penalty for breaking their pledge.
The weakness of this form of government became apparent even before the Revolutionary War began but it became even more apparent during the war. The Continental Congress had no authority to raise taxes to pay for the war and the country had to depend on the voluntary participation of each state to provide men, weapons, and money. Because of this situation, many American soldiers fought with little food to eat, no new clothing to wear, and kept running low on ammunition and weapons. Worse yet, both during and after the war the American soldiers weren't fully paid the money they had been promised by the states for their service to their country.
After the war, things got worse. The states argued with one another over such things as boundaries, trade, slaves, and a long list of other problems and grievances. But, often when the Continental Congress called for a meeting to discuss these issues, some of the states didn't even send representatives to attend. Sometimes, there were so few people who showed up for the meeting that there weren't enough to conduct business. And when there were enough people in attendance, under the Articles of Confederation, all thirteen states had to agree on whatever action was being proposed. If even one state objected to a proposal then no final decision could be made.
It wasn't long before there were some who realized there needed to be a different form of government that could unite all these separate and independent legislatures into one union of states while at the same time allowing each of them to remain separate and equal in power.
To do this the new government had to have more authority and power. However, the task they faced was how to create a government that was strong enough to provide for the security of their nation and insure the stability of the union as a whole while at the same time maintaining the liberty they desired and had fought with their blood to secure.
What they wanted to do, as far as was humanly possible, was to form a more perfect union of states wherein justice would be established, tranquility would be insured, where the general welfare of the people was promoted so they could prosper, and the blessings of liberty would be secured for not only for themselves but for their posterity.
One reason why it was important for them to be united is that to prosper they needed to trade with other countries and it was better to have one large country make trade agreements than to have each state make their own separate trade treaties. Furthermore, if each state had to provide their own army and navy for protection, the smaller states would be more vulnerable to attack from foreign countries than the larger and wealthier states.
Worse yet, during the revolutionary war the Continental Congress had borrowed millions of dollars from France and Holland to help pay for much of the supplies needed by their soldiers. However, after the war the United States had to pay back what it had borrowed but many of the states refused to make any contribution toward that debt. Yet, if the loans were not repaid no country would ever lend them money again and America would remain a poor nation, scorned by other countries, and more susceptible to attack.
In 1786 the Continental Congress agreed to hold a convention in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where representatives from all the states would meet and discuss what could be done to make a better form of government. The date they set for holding that meeting was May 1787 and all but two states eventually sent representatives to attend what has became known as the Philadelphia Convention or the Constitutional Convention.
The men who attended this convention were not ordinary, poor, farmers but were men of wealth, who were successful in their trade, highly educated and well acquainted with the ways of governing. From first-hand, personal experience they knew full well the dangers of being ruled by a king, so they looked to other forms of government they might imitate. With much diligence a number of them had studied the many different forms of government that existed in Europe at that time as well as in other parts of the world but couldn't find any system that would insure the preservation of their liberty.
Having failed at that, they next studied governments that existed in the past, going as far back as the Roman Empire. In the words of James Madison, they tried to learn from "the experiences of [the] ages, with the continued and combined labors of the most enlightened legislatures." In an effort to find the best system of government they studied "the history of almost all the great councils and consultation held among mankind" along with understanding "the infirmities and depravities of the human character."
While they found many praiseworthy aspects within each system, all of them possessed the potential for abuse which had led many of them to descend into tyranny and despotism. Instead of finding the perfect system of government they could emulate, what they found instead was that each form of government they studied had within it "the seeds of its own destruction."
Knowing full well the weaknesses of human nature, what the framers of our Constitution did, as they diligently sought "to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as our own" was to fashion a form of government that was unique in the history of mankind.
While most of those attending the Philadelphia convention knew that the Articles of Confederation needed to be improved, the main area of disagreement among them centered on the issue of how much power the new central government should be given. It had to have enough to hold the country together and provide for their common defense yet not have so much that it could take away the right of the states to govern themselves. In the end, what they came up with was something revolutionary in concept.
What was proposed was a government that had an executive branch, a legislative body, and a judicial system. While this was nothing new, what made it unique was that each branch acted as a check on the powers of the other two. Knowing that power can corrupt even the best of men, the framers of our constitution sought to place as much restrictions on power as they could.
One way these sought to do this was by taking power from those in government and giving it to the people. In this way the power to govern was spread out among thousands and perhaps millions of people rather than letting it accumulate in the hands of just a few. Furthermore, under this newly proposed governing system, every so many years the leaders of the country had to be elected by the people. In this way, those in leadership positions could only maintain their power with the consent of the governed. This was a radically new idea but it came from their study of history which showed how, time and again, if a man or a body of men became tyrannical in their use of power, it became almost impossible to get rid of them.
But, no sooner had this plan been presented than it faced several challenges, the greatest of which was states rights. Under the Articles of Confederation each state operated according to its own constitution and was free to set its own laws. The fear that each state had was that under a powerful, central government, those rights could be taken away. Yet, without a strong general government the union would not last. Therefore, a compromise had to be found.
At first a plan was put forth where each state would elect two people to represent their constituents in Congress. However, the larger states immediately objected, saying that it gave the smaller states just as much power as the larger ones, which, they argued, was unfair. They proposed that the number of representatives from each state be determined by its population. But the smaller states strongly objected to this proposal, claiming that would allow the larger states to have more votes than the smaller states thereby causing them to be out-voted.
So heated was this debate that some of the delegates to the constitutional convention stormed out of the meeting and never returned. However, a comprise was finally reached where the legislative branch was split in two with one chamber called the Senate, that gave equal representation to each state, and the House of Representatives who members were elected based on the number of people in each state.
The document that came out of this convention was not a perfect system but it was the best compromise that could be fashioned, given the nature of men. However, before it could become the law of the land, it had to be approved by the legislative bodies of at least nine of the thirteen states.
But even here, the rancor and debate that had existed during the framing of the Constitution continued as each state legislature argued both for and against acceptance of this document. The biggest objection that many people had was the fear that this new general government, as it was called, would have too much power and authority over the states, thereby taking away the freedom of their people.
To help convince the American public that this form of government was best for them, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of eight-five articles that were published in the local newspapers of New York during that states' ratifying convention, explaining the value of the new Constitution and why it would not take away anyone's freedom. These articles have come to be known as the Federalist Papers and are an excellent source of understanding the thought process and intent of those who crafted our Constitution.
Yet, even so, there were many who remained skeptical of this newly proposed general government precisely because they feared it could someday take away their liberty by infringing on the rights of the states. To quell these fears, during the ratifying process several state conventions proposed that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution as a means of insuring the protection of certain fundamental rights of the people as a condition of ratification.
At the first session of the new Congress in 1789 they passed the first ten Bill of Rights. In its ending clause, they added, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." This clause effectively limited the power of the general government to only what was specifically contained in the Constitution. Any power or authority not specifically mentioned in the Constitution was automatically reserved for the states. In this way the presumption of authority resided with the citizens of each state, rather than with those who were elected to serve in the Federal Government.
With deliberate thought and intent, the Constitution was purposely written to limit the power of the central Government so as to prevent it from becoming too large and too powerful. What the framers of the Constitution knew too well was that without this imposed limitation on power, men of dangerous ambition would find ways to usurp more and more authority to themselves until they had obtained all power. The Constitution of the United States of America was specifically designed to prevent this very thing from ever happening in our country.
To do this, the Constitution was based on a Republican form of government rather than that of a Democracy. This is why we say "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of American and to the republic for which it stands."
A democracy is simply defined as majority rule. Under a true democracy, laws are determined by whatever a majority of people want and that law can be changed anytime by a majority of people For example, if 51% of the people decide that all black people should be slaves, then that becomes the law or if 51% of the people say that no one can be a Catholic or a Baptist, then that becomes the law. This type of governing can easily become a form of mob rule. That's why our founding fathers rejected it.
Human nature being what it is, the framers of our Constitution realized that such a form of government could and had in the past lead to an abuse of power. Their study of history had shown that those who had successfully overturned the liberties of their countrymen had done so "by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing [as] demagogues, and ending [as] tyrants." By using flattery and preying upon the fears, prejudices ignorance, and baser instincts of human nature, such as greed, jealousy, revenge, or laziness, such men were able to sway a majority of people into thinking that it was in their best interest to give up their rights and liberty. This is how Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany
A Republic, on the other hand, gets its power from the people. As James Madison explained in the Federalist papers, the genius of republican liberty not only comes from the people "but that those [who have been] entrusted [by the people] should be kept in dependence on the people, by a short duration of their appointment."
A Republic is also a form of government where those in power must govern according to a set of principles that are set forth in a charter. Our Constitution is such a charter that sets forth the principles by which we are to be governed and those principles are not subject to change by a majority vote, not even a super-majority. This distinction has been summed up in the saying, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." A set of principles, enshrined forever in a charter, is what arms us against the misguided will of the majority.
While there is nothing new about a republican form of government, it nonetheless forms the very basis of how our Constitution works but it is the way that this republic was formed that makes it unique.
What our Founding Fathers did was shape our Republic into Federal rather than a National government.
James Madison explained that "Under a National Government, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure." Under this system the Union would be considered "as a consolidation of the States" where each state, instead of being independent, free, and sovereign, would become the collective servant of the National government, doing as they were told. Under a National government, the central government rules over the states and tells them what they can and cannot do. This was the kind of system that was used in the old Soviet Union and the kind of rule the King of England had over the thirteen American states.
On the other hand, a Federal form of government "regards the Union as a confederacy of sovereign states." Under this system, the general government and the States share power with each other and are equal in authority to one another. One is just as important and powerful as the other and neither one has the power to tell the other what do. In this way it provides a check and balance system to prevent one governmental body from becoming so powerful that it can take away the rights of the others.
Under the rules set forth in the Constitution, should the Federal government try to take power away from the states, the states can block such efforts. At the same time, if the states try to get too powerful, the Federal government can block their efforts. In this way they balance one another and act as a check against each other's abuse of power.
However, the framers also knew that in order for this to work there had to be some system to keep the Federal government from getting too powerful. To do this, the Constitution deliberately limits what the Federal government can do. In this way it acts as a barrier or a protective shield for the states from being over powered by a strong central government. At the same time, if one state tried to exercise too much power, there are now 49 other states plus the Federal government that can we can turn to for relief.
On the other hand, without this document, there would be nothing to prevent our Federal system from becoming a National government. Should that happen then the central government would be able to tell all of its citizens what they can and cannot do and there would be nothing the states or anyone else could do to protect us from our own government.
It was envisioned by the framers of the Constitution that "the members of the federal [government] will be more dependent on the members of the State governments, than the latter will be on the former" and that "the operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; [while] those of the State governments, [will be most extensive and important] in times of peace and security." The original design of the Federal government was for it to be limited in power and small in size.
The Constitution is what makes our system of government work the way it does. With much thought and deliberation our framers sought to give us the right balance of political power. If there was no government system at all we would have anarchy. Although this would give us the maximum amount of freedom, there would be no rule of law and everyone could do whatever they wanted. This would lead to chaos.
On the other hand, if the government was too powerful, then, by definition, we would have some form of a dictatorship. Although our lives would be very orderly and regimented because the government would tell us everything we could or could not do, we would have no freedom to decide for ourselves.
In politics we often hear groups of people described in terms of being either "right" or "left," "conservative" or "liberal" but most people have only a vague understanding of what these words means. To be right or left has reference to the amount of control that a government has over its citizens. To the extreme far right would be no government control at all and to the extreme far left would be total government control.
Under the Articles of Confederation, our system of government was so ineffective it was almost like having no government at all and the effect it had was to produce chaos among the thirteen states (#1 on the above chart shows their position on the political scale). What our Constitution sought to do was give us some order through government regulation while still giving us the maximum amount of freedom from government control (#2 on the above chart). Today, according to most polls, the majority of Americans hold an attitude that is just slightly right of the center between no government and all government control (#3 on the above chart). What this means is that most Americans are now willing to have more government control in their lives than what the framers of the Constitution envisioned.
The word "conservative" comes from the root word "conserve" which means to preserve or save or hold onto what we have, such as when people conserve energy or their money. It also implies thrift and self-control. The word "liberal" means to be generous with what we have or to easily give it away, such as when a person gives a liberal donation. It also implies being liberated or breaking away from the traditional way of doing things.
In the realm of politics, a conservative is someone who wants to preserve or keep the original form of government their country had, while a liberal is someone who wants to break away from or do away with the old way of being governed.
In America a conservative is someone who wants to preserve or follow the form of government contained in the original Constitution of the United States while a liberal is someone who wants to break away and become liberated from those constraints. Since a person can only move either to the right or left along the political scale, Conservatives are positioned closer to the far right side without becoming extreme while liberals are positioned closer to the far left.
However, in Europe, while the term "conservative" and "liberal" have the same meaning, these groups of people occupy the opposite position on the political scale. . A conservative in Europe is someone who wants to preserve or keep the original or old way of being governed however, for them that means being ruled by kings, which is a form of a dictatorship.
On the other hand, a European liberal is someone who wants to break away from that system of governing. As such a European conservative is similar to an American liberal, although they are usually further to the left, while an America conservative is similar to a European liberal but is father to the right. On the political scale, most Europeans are to the left of center (#4 on the above chart). That's why many America liberals try to convince us to become more like the Europeans because it's closer to the way they believe.
Without a correct understanding of history and the words used to describe political parties it becomes easy for people to be confused about the debates happening in our government. But those debates are important because they will decide whether we remain a free people who have the right to decide for ourselves or whether we lose our freedoms and allow the government to tell us what to do.
Unfortunately, over the last 200 years the Federal government has grown in power and in size until today we've become accustomed to looking to it for almost everything we want. As a result of this change in mind-set, many people have lost sight of the importance that the framers of the Constitution placed on preventing the Federal government from infringing on the rights of the states and there are many important reasons.
One is that that the closer the government is to its people the more say the people have in their own affairs. Conversely, the farther away the government is from its people the less influence they have on those in power and the more detached those in power are from those whom they govern. Like anything else, the larger something is the more cumbersome and unwieldy it becomes. It is for this reason that the framers of the Constitution sought to create a small Federal government and let most of the work of governing be done by the states.
Another reason is that the more power that's placed in fewer hands, the more those hands desire and even want to increase their power. Conversely, the less power any one individual or group of individuals has, the less opportunity they have to abuse it. Power is best protected from misuse when it is spread over the widest number of people possible. To place power in thirteen or fifty states is much safer than placing power in one Federal government. And when the Federal government can keep check on the states power and the states can keep check on the Federal government then it becomes nearly impossible for any governmental body to misuse their power by taking away the liberty of its people. But if the Federal government is able to take away the rights of the states then they will have destroyed the checks and balance system that was designed to protect our individual rights.
Still, another reason is that if the Federal government has the ability to take some power away from the states, it will only be a matter of time before they will take more and more until they have taken it all. It is for this reason that the rights of the states must always be protected because if they ever lose their rights, then all we will have left is a National Government.
Back in the 1700's Americans had a clear understanding of the vital importance of these principles of liberty but through the years we have taken them for granted and, in so doing, have lost sight of them. Therefore, if we are to maintain our liberties we must relearn what those principles are.
However, before we look at them, it is important that we first understand what a "principle" is.
The dictionary defines a principle as "a basic rule or standard of personal conduct based on moral or ethical standards or judgments." A principle is a standard by which we live. It something we strongly believe in to the point that it influences every decision we make and affects the way we behave in every situation. A principle is like a compass we look to for guidance when we don't know what to do or where to go. It is like an anchor that helps us remain firm against the winds of change. Principles are what give men the courage to keep going against all odds and to persevere when others want to give up.
A simple example of a principle can be found in mathematics. We've come to believe that 2 times 2 equals 4 and we base our life on following this simple principle. It isn't hard to imagine the chaos that would result if we didn't follow it. We also believe that 4 times 4 equals 16 and that 8 times 8 equals 64. But the way that we've come to know these principles is because we've been taught it so many times that it has become a permanent part of our memory.
But suppose someone said that 64 times 64 is 3,096. Unless our knowledge of mathematical principles was good enough we wouldn't know if that answer is correct or not. Nearly all adults know their multiplications tables up to 10 and some even up to 12 because they've had these mathematical principles drilled into them throughout their school years. But not many people have learned to multiply by 64. Yet, by using the basic multiplication tables we have been taught, with a little bit of effort we can find out for ourselves what 64 times 64 is equal to.
The principles of liberty are the same. We learn them by being taught over and over again until they become part of our memory and this teaching can come from our parents, schools, and churches. Yet, we don't need to know every principle. As long as we know the basics we can then figure out for ourselves the more complicated issues that confront us. However, when we aren't properly taught even the basic principles of liberty then we are left confused by the many philosophies that swirl around us and, because of our ignorance, we become vulnerable to being duped into believing anything.
Most tyrants don't come to power by military conquest alone. More often than not they first need to enlist the support of others to their cause and many times they do this by preying on the ignorance of the population. By changing the meanings of words such as patriotism, justice, fairness, equality, goodness, and evil they are able convince a gullible public into believing that dark is light and that light is dark. They make promises that can never be kept or have no intention of keeping yet the ignorant believe them because they don't know enough to realize they are being lied to. In this way tyrants come to power to the cheers of those who will shortly become their slaves. But, by the time the people realize what they have done (if they ever do) it will be too late to rid themselves of the monster they helped put into power.
However, the early Americans had no such illusions. Having lived under the tyrannical rule of the King of England as well as the Church of England, they fully knew, through painful experience, the value of the true principles of liberty. And it was their belief in these principles that motivated them to leave their homeland, taking a perilous voyage across thousands of miles of treacherous seas, and to settle for life in an unknown wilderness that was full of many dangers.
All the colonists who came to America - the new England - came primarily for one reason: to have a place where they could enjoy the freedom to live as they wanted. And because of their freedom, they prospered. But, it wasn't long before the King of England extended his dictatorial rule across the ocean to take away their cherished liberty.
It must be remembered that these early colonists didn't consider themselves to be Americans but Englishmen. When they first came here, it was never their intention to create their own nation. It was their hope that through the power of their petitions to their King that he could be persuaded to let them live in peace. Had he done that they would have remained loyal subjects to him.
However, when their repeated petitions were ignored and more of their freedoms were taken away, they were eventually left with only one of two choices - either give up their liberty altogether or fight to preserve it. On March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry expressed the choice that laid before them in these words: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
At this time England was a world super-power and the colonists were mostly farmers armed with musket guns for hunting wild game, plows for tilling the ground, and pitchforks for throwing hay. They had no army or navy and they had no great wealth to buy one. Yet it was their belief in the principles of liberty that compelled them to do the unthinkable.
On July 4, 1776, representatives of the thirteen states signed a letter addressed to the King of England. But this time it is wasn't a petition they sent him but a bold statement declaring their independence from his rule. However, as men of honor, they felt required to declare the causes which impelled them to separate themselves from England. And in setting forth their reasons they listed many of the principles of liberty. If we want to learn what those principles are, we can have no better text to study than the declaration they wrote.
It begins by saying, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
Truth is the way things really are. As such, it is unchanging. What was true yesterday is just as true today and will be true tomorrow. What the founders of our country believed in were certain things that they felt were not only true but were self-evident. That is to say, these are truths that are so apparent that they don't need any explanation or defense. It's like saying 2 times 2 equals four. That's a self-evident truth.
However, there are those who will not accept self-evident truths but, instead, will argue that such ideas are neither truths nor are they self-evident. King George certainly did not accept as truth what the signers of the Declaration of Independence told him. But denying a truth doesn't make it untrue. It is merely ignoring truth.
The signers of the declaration then went onto say, "that all men are created equal."
When they said "all men" they meant just that. It excludes no one. It doesn't make any difference whether a person is rich or poor, male or female, slave or freeman, born in America or lives somewhere else, we have all been "created" the same way. This is another way of saying that we have all been born of a woman and we all came from the womb the same way. The child of a nobleman is created no differently than the child of a commoner. It is in that sense that we were all created "equal." It is only after we have been "created" by nature that men later become unequal by choice.
Furthermore, what man has created, by right, belongs to him. Since the state didn't create man, they have no rights over him except that which he allows. Yet, there are those who look for ways to take what doesn't belong to them and that applies to people in power perhaps even more so than to others. However, the true function of government is not to take away man's rights but to protect and secure them.
But men are also created equal in another sense. Just as the state has not "created" man, so man has not created himself. As the signers of the Declaration of Independence went on to say, all men "are endowed by their Creator."
The word "Creator" as used in this sense refers to a superior being who alone has the power to create life. Therefore, our life, along with our body, no more belongs to us as it does the State. Instead, it belongs to Him who created us and has given us life. Throughout the history of the world, in nearly every civilization, man has believed in some sort of a "Creator." They may call this Being by various names and ascribe to Him different titles but, the term Christians use to describe this Being - and the framers of our Constitution were devout Christians - is "God."
From this we learn a self-evident truth which is that "God" has created all of us and that we are all equal in His sight. He doesn't love the freeman more than He loves the slave. He doesn't love one race of people more than He does another. All of us are the work of His hands and because of that He has equally "endowed" each of us.
The word "endow" means "to give, empower, equip, or instill." Thus, God, our Creator, has endowed, or given, equipped, or instilled within each of us "certain unalienable rights."
As used here, the word "right" has a legal connotation. A "right" is something that either belongs to us or is something we are owed, as in a debt, and, as such we are entitled to. The word "unalienable" means something we cannot be separated or alienated from. It is as much a part of us as the air we breathe. If man is separated or alienated from air, he dies. Thus, an "unalienable right" is a right that is a part of us and makes us who we are. As such, it is something we cannot give away even if we wanted to.
What kind of rights are unalienable? Among others, the signers of the Declaration of Independence listed three: "… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Life is the most basic of all unalienable rights. Without it there is no existence and without existing nothing else matters. Just like we didn't create our own bodies, so also we did not create life. Therefore, our life doesn't belong to us but to that Creator who gave it to us and who endowed or instilled it within us as an unalienable right. Since life doesn't belong to us we have no right to take it from anyone, including taking it from ourselves.
If governments are instituted by men to protect and secure our rights, then there is no higher duty of government than to protect life. Therefore, it is a self-evident truth that no man or government has the right to determine who will live and who die. The only exception to this rule (and the framers of the Constitution believed in this principle) is capital punishment for those who have committed violent crimes against society. But even here, our founding father sought to preserve even the life of a criminal by giving them ample opportunity to prove their innocence.
To the early Americans, the words "liberty" and "freedom" had the same meaning. Another word that is often used to describe this principle is "agency." It is a self-evident truth that all men have been equally endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to choose for themselves Therefore, whenever any man or government takes away the right to choose, either by physical force or by the demands of law, it is just as detrimental as taking away a person's right to breathe. Therefore, the second highest duty of government is to protect and secure the right of its citizens to have the freedom to make their own decisions as long as those decisions don't infringe on the freedom of others to decide for themselves.
In matters of religion, this country was specifically established to grant everyone the right to worship whoever, wherever, and whatever they wanted without being punished for doing so. Although each religious sect has their own methods of converting others to their faith, in American no is forced to belong to a church they don't want to join. From the very beginning of this county, the role of government was never meant to prevent people from telling others what they believed but to protect the rights of its citizens to choose for themselves which church, if any, they wanted to join. Being offended because someone believes differently doesn't give anyone else the right to prevent someone else from expressing their beliefs. Being prevented from becoming offended is not a right but a personal choice.
But the right to chose also means having the unalienable right to experience the consequences of our decisions. If we take away the consequences of our choices then it is as though we have no choice at all. If, for example, one person chooses to work hard, the consequences of their choice may be to amass wealth. On the other hand, a person who chooses to be lazy will reap the consequence of having very little money. But if we feel sorry for the lazy man and, in the name of compassion, give him money he hasn't earned, then, for him, it doesn't matter if he works or not because he will still have money. In that case, he really has no choice because the consequences of his choices will be the same regardless of what choice he makes.
To voluntarily give of our time, money, or material possession to help others, is a choice we have the right to make. But, whenever a government takes from those who are wealthy without their consent and gives it to those who are poor, whether they ask for it or not, is a violation of man's freedom to decide for himself. That is not an act of compassion but an act of robbery in the name of compassion.
The meaning of the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" has often been debated by many people but it doesn't need to be because its definition is very clear. "Happiness" means different things to different people therefore, "the pursuit of happiness" simply means the right to pursue doing those things that brings a person happiness. If money makes someone happy, then they should have the right to do what they want in order to make as much money as they desire. If having a large family makes someone happy, then they should have the right to have as large a family as they want. If being lazy and doing nothing makes someone happy, then they should have the right to be joyously lazy.
But without being able to pursue our dreams, life has no meaning, therefore one of the vital roles of government is to help protect and secure the right of its people to do those things that brings them happiness. Of course, as always, the rights of one person cannot infringe upon the rights of another, and government has a duty to protect everyone's rights, not just a certain few. But, whenever government places unnecessary barriers and obstacles in the way of its citizens in their pursuit of happiness, they are taking away their liberty to decide for themselves.
In most cases, the results of our pursuit of happiness comes in the form of material possessions. Although many people work at a job they are not thrilled with, yet they look forward to the money they get as a result of their labor. And it is with that money that people can then purchase the things that bring them happiness, whether it is clothing, a home, car, vacation, or just eating out. And because our property is the tangible result of our pursuit of happiness, the right to keep what we have is an essential part of our liberty.
One of the grievances the colonists had with England was their taxation policy. However since the government has no other way of generating revenue except through taxes, it has no other choice than to levy a certain amount of taxes on its people. But, since the Constitution limits the duties of the Federal government, it likewise limits the amount of taxes it can levy.
The duty of the Federal government is to protect the country from foreign danger through the use of a standing army and navy, to make treaties and regulate foreign commerce. They also have a responsibility to provide for the peace and harmony within and between the states, such as interstate commerce. In order for them to carry out these duties, they have to have money, so the Constitution allows them to fund these activities through the taxing of their people.
However, when the Federal government begins raising taxes to fund activities not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, such as social programs, then they are going beyond their Constitutional authority, taking power to themselves they are not entitled to, infringing on the rights of the States whose duty it is to provide for the social needs of its people, and are violating the rights of its citizens in their pursuit of happiness.
While many of these social programs are started with the best intentions of helping people, what is actually happening is that the Federal government is slowly becoming a National government as it takes more and more power to itself. This was the very thing the founding fathers tried hard to avoid when they wrote the Constitution because they knew how easily corrupted such a government can become and how easily such a government can take away the rights of its people. This was the very reason why the American public in the late 1700's had serious reservations about ratifying the Constitution and insisted on putting more restrictions on the Federal government before accepting this document.
Liberty is an individual right and the duty of every government should be to protect the rights of each of its citizens. But when governments protect the rights of certain classes or groups of people over those of other classes or groups, then we will not only lose our individuality but our individual liberty at the same time.
But no form of government can be prevented from falling into tyranny if its people are not moral and ethical themselves. Laws are only good if they are obeyed and only those who have high moral and ethical standards are law abiding people. Every society has its criminal element who look for ways to either get around the law or get away with breaking the law, but when the majority of people within a society want someone else to take care of them by taking it from others, when a majority of people don't care about the rights of others or even their own rights and are willing to give away both, then no government can long survive.
The right to life is what makes possible our ability to make choices and the right to make choices is what makes it possible for us to pursue our dreams, which results in acquiring property. But, when we take the lives of those whom we don't want around anymore and make choices that hurt other people or takes from others what rightfully belongs to them and who find happiness in building up their own power at the expense of others, then the Constitution of the United States will no longer be of any use to us because it's only for a moral people and none else.
These are the principles that have made our country the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world, but we can only maintain our freedom by understanding and adhering to the principles of liberty.