The American Experiment is One of Balance

by: Brent Smith at the Common Constitutionalist

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Yes, Thanksgiving is almost upon us. A day when families all get together and give thanks for blessings afforded us as Americans.

I personally have much to be thankful for, but that’s not what I mean about giving thanks.

Although it is often overused by we on the right – I’m thankful to be an American. It sounds cheesy and jingoistic. It may be, but that doesn’t make it any less true, particularly when you know American history and what our forefathers had to go through to achieve it. And no, this will not be a history lesson. Not much of one anyway.

I wish I could travel back in time, not to change anything, but just to thank the founders for what they did – thank them for their foresight. Assure them that they did the right thing – that they didn’t go through all that for nothing. That hundreds of years later we are still talking about it, still quoting them and trying to live their ideal.

I would assure them that all the crap they had to endure was not in vain – that they made a profound difference – and not just for us, but for the entire world. If it wasn’t for them, Earth would be awash in anarchy, despotism and dictatorships. read more

This is Progress

By: The Common Constitutionalist

If you are a regular reader (even if you’re not), you may have seen me use the the word “Progressive” (in political terms) as a synonym for liberal, which it is.

In fact, during the early Twentieth century, as the term “Progressive” developed a negative connotation, they simply changed it to liberal. We now see, with a negative reaction to the term “Liberal”, they are reverting back to progressive. Neat trick. Interestingly, the founders considered themselves “Classical Liberals”.

After speaking to few people, I realize I have never really explained “progressive” properly – what it means & why political progressives think the way they do.

To do this I thought it might be instructive to go back and look at one of the founders of the American progressive movement, president Woodrow Wilson, using excerpts from one of his more famous speeches, What is Progress?“.

In his speech Wilson said, “We think of the future, not the past, as the more glorious time in comparison with which the present is nothing. Progress, development-those are modern words. The modern idea is to leave the past and press onward to something new.”

So far, progress sounds great, or does it? Does progress really mean to leave the past, forget the past, and press on to something new and no doubt glorious?

One could argue, unsuccessfully, that this is not what he meant. In his speech, he will reveal, this is indeed what he meant.

Wilson continues, “What attitude shall progressives take toward the existing order, toward those institutions of conservatism, the Constitution, the laws, and the courts?… Are those thoughtful men who fear that we are now about to disturb the ancient foundations of our institutions justified in their fear?”

You’re darn right they were justified in their fear!

You will notice how Wilson is trying to separate himself and progressives from the founders by describing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as old dusty, ancient foundations, as if they were crafted on stone tablets thousands of years ago. read more

It’s Better to Look Back Than Forward

by: the Common Constitutionalist

 

We all know of the giant $1.2 billion NSA storage facility in Utah. It tops out at over 15 times the size of Giants/Jets stadium and that’s just the part that’s above ground. 200 acres is evidently not enough room to store all the data to “keep America safe”.

In May of this year construction began on an additional 28 acre NSA site outside of Baltimore Maryland (and again, that’s just the part that we can see). Together they are seven times the size of the Pentagon.

But don’t worry; they need all that acreage to “keep us safe”.

Many have complained of all that data being stored, but our government assures us that they aren’t reading our transmissions or listening to our phone calls.

They say they must monitor us all “in general” so they can better find the bad guys. That it is essential for the administration to issue “general warrants” allowing the NSA to spy on everyone.

So the question is, should we allow it to continue? Is it legal or even proper? Good questions. For answers, we conservatives always go back to our original documents: the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist papers as well as the founders actual statements.

But you may say, most of the surveillance is electronic. What did the founders know of that? Well, nothing of course. So what! A “general warrant” is the same, whether it is to intrude electronically or physically.

One has to go no further than the fourth amendment of the Constitution which states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by the oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That seems fairly straightforward. But where did it come from? One of the fourth amendment purposes was to prevent the new American government from doing what the British crown had perpetrated on the colonies for so many years.

Prior to the revolution, British courts issued “Writs of Assistance”, a type of general warrant. It gave the crown very broad search and seizure powers. The writs gave customs officials the power to enter private homes and businesses to search for smuggled or untaxed goods.

Writs of assistance not only gave British customs agents the power to search for illegal imports, but as the name suggests, it allowed them to command other government officials and even private citizens to assist them. A holder of a writ had the power to search any building or residence and confiscate any suspected contraband.

Writs of assistance were very similar to the data collected and stored by the NSA. Unlike a standard search warrant it was and is permanent, remaining in effect until six months after the death of the King in power when it was issued. Now that I think about it, NSA stored data is worse than a writ of assistance for a writ does eventually expire where NSA data is truly permanent.

Writs were such a concern to the colonists that in 1756 the colony of Massachusetts banned the use of general warrants, but it did no good for the crown superseded all colonial law.

Attorney and founder James Otis, Jr. describes general warrants as: “the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that was ever found in an English law book.”

The issuance of writs had become so egregious as to be included among the specific complaints the signers of the Declaration of Independence laid out against King George III: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

So as is always the case, if one wishes to find the answer pertaining to law or government one merely has to look back, not forward. I’d say the founders would be firmly against the NSA program, wouldn’t you?

Constitution 101 (9)

Lesson 9: “The Progressive Rejection of the Founding”

Study Guide

Overview:

Progressivism is the belief that America needs to move or “progress” beyond the principles of the American Founding. Organized politically more than a hundred years ago, Progressivism insists upon flexibility in political forms unbound by fixed and universal principles. Progressives hold that human nature is malleable and that society is perfectible. Affirming the inexorable, positive march of history, Progressives see the need for unelected experts who would supervise a vast administration of government.

Progressivism is rooted in the philosophy of European thinkers, most notably the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Progressivism takes its name from a faith in “historical progress.” According to the leading lights of Progressivism, including Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Dewey, human nature has evolved beyond the limitations that the Founders identified. Far from fearing man’s capacity for evil, Progressives held that properly enlightened human beings could be entrusted with power and not abuse it.

The Progressive idea of historical progress is tied to the idea of historical contingency, which means that each period of history is guided by different and unique values that change over time. The “self-evident truths” that the Founders upheld in the Declaration of Independence, including natural rights, are no longer applicable. Circumstances, not eternal principles, ultimately dictate justice.

If human nature is improving, and fixed principles do not exist, government must be updated according to the new reality. The Constitution’s arrangement of government, based upon the separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism, only impeded effective government, according to Progressives. The limited government of the Founding is rejected in favor of a “living Constitution.”

Constitution 101 (1)

The following is Lesson One in a Ten Part program presented by Hillsdale College on understanding The United States Constitution. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we understand our founding documents, particularly the Declaration of Independence & the Constitution.

Lesson 1: The American Mind

You may feel free to simply watch or follow along with the attached Study Guide

Lesson Overview:

America’s Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said, was the product of “the American mind.” Our Constitution was made with the same purpose as the Declaration—to establish a regime where the people are sovereign, and the government protects the rights granted to them by their Creator.

The word “constitution” means “to ordain and establish something.” It also means “to set a firm thing strongly in place.” It is linked to two other words: statute and statue. All three words—constitution, statute, and statue—connote a similar idea of establishing something lasting and beautiful.

The Constitution, then, is a work of art. It gives America its form. To fully know the “cause,” or purpose, of America, one must know the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, its author, mentioned four thinkers for their contribution to molding “the American mind”: Aristotle, Cicero, Algernon Sidney, and John Locke.

Studying these philosophers is a wondrous task in itself, and it greatly helps our understanding of America, just as it informed the statecraft of the Founders. Knowing the meaning of the Declaration and Constitution is vital to the choice before us today as to whether we will live under a Constitution different than the one bequeathed to us.