Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Lesson in Government Structure Part II

The first written constitution in modern times was in 1639 by Reverend Thomas Hooker; it was called the "Fundamental Orders of Connecticut." It was actually based on the principles recorded by Moses. You can read about the ancient Israelite principles in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. This constitutional charter operated successfully and was even adopted by Rhode Island. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the only two states that didn't have to write new constitutions when the English colonies were converted to independent states.

The People's Law in ancient Israel was much like that of the Anglo-Saxons:

  • They were set up as a commonwealth of freemen.  A basic tenant was: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (Leviticus 25:10)  
  • This inscription appears on the American Liberty Bell.
       Whenever the Israelites fell into the temptation to have slaves or bond-servants, they were reprimanded.  Around 600 B.C., a divine reprimand was given through Jeremiah: "Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbor: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord." (Jeremiah 34:17)
  • All of the people were organized into small manageable units where the representative of each family had a voice and a vote.  This organizing process was launched after Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, saw him trying to govern the people under Ruler's Law.  (See Exodus 18:13-26)
       When the structure was completed the Israelites were organized as follows: (click to see bigger version)

  • There was specific emphasis on strong, local self-government.  Problems were solved to the greatest possible extent on the level where they originated.  The record says: "The hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves."  (Exodus 18:26)
  • The entire code of justice was based primarily on reparation to the victim rather than fines and punishment by the commonwealth.  (Reference to this procedure will be found in Exodus, Chapters 21 and 22.)  The one crime for which no "satisfaction" could be given was first-degree murder.  The penalty was death.  (See Numbers 35:31.)
  • Leaders were elcted and new laws were approved by the common consent of the people.  (See 2 Samuel 2:4, 1 Chr. 29:22; for the rejection of a leader, see 2 Chr. 10:16; for the approval of the new laws, see Exodus 19:8.)
  • Accused persons were presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.  Evidence had to be strong enough to remove any question of doubt as to guilt.  Borderline cases were decided in favor of the accused and he was released.  It was felt that if he were actually guilty, his punishment could be left to the judgment of God in the future life.*
The Founders hoped to memorialize both the ancient Israelites and the Anglo-Saxons by representing them on the official seal of the United States.  Though not accepted by Congress, these drafts from Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, reveal their feelings toward the Bible.  Note that Franklin and Jefferson are often thought of to be anti-Christian or anti-religious.

This seal portrays the ancient Israelites going through the wilderness led by God's pillar of fire.  This part of America's history has virtually disappeared from most history books.

The Articles of Confederation and the Constitutional Convention

Before the United States Constitution as we know it, were the Articles of Confederation written by John Dickinson.  Under the Articles were no executive, no judiciary, no taxing power, and no enforcement power.  On the Power Spectrum, they fell somewhere between People's Law and Anarchy (no law.)  It basically allowed for recommendations to the states with the hope that the states would then respond favorably... which they often did not.

Some say that the suffering at Valley Forge and Morristown reflected the weakness of the central government under the Articles of Confederation.  Some amazing facts about Valley Forge:  for six weeks they mostly ate a mixture of baked flour, water, and salt, called fire-cakes; of 8000 soldiers, around 3000 abandoned Washington, 200 resigned, 2000 died of starvation and disease.  Washington attributed this to the weakness of the central government.  Sad, but think of the ones that stayed with Washington - they didn't have to, they watched many of their fellow statesmen walk away, they knew they were up against starvation, or an otherwise brutal death, but they stayed.  They believed.  They knew they were part of a cause bigger than themselves.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 lasted four months - happening at a time when the dollar was inflated almost out of existence (history repeating), the economy was deeply depressed (history repeating), rioting had broken out, New England threatened to secede, and England and Spain were waiting in the wings to snatch up the states.  We can only imagine what kind of pressure the delegates were under as they labored over the ideas that would make for the United States Constitution.

With some issues taking as many as sixty ballots to resolve a matter, there were three issues not resolved after the four months of deliberating (issues of slavery, proportionate representation, and regulation of commerce).  On September 17, 1787, President Washington signed the draft and sent it to Congress, Congress ratified the Constitution without change.  The states were invited to send suggested amendments, and they sent 189.  The amendments were reduced to 12 by James Madison, 10 of them were approved and ratified by the states, and thus were born our Bill of Rights.

The Founders found the balance of power and James Madison described it as follows:
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State." (Federalist Papers, No. 45, pp. 292-93)
And this selection by Madison, my friends, is so profoundly relevant for us today to understand and grasp.

The American Eagle was born.  The central head, which has two eyes, being the law-making or legislative function including the House and the Senate, which must see eye-to-eye before any legislation can become law.  A second head is the administrative or Executive Department with authority going to the President, operating on a defined framework of limited power.  A third head represents the judiciary branch, given the task of guarding the Constitution and its original intent as designed by the Founders; all three heads operating on a single neck, not able to function independently.

The heads of the eagle are balanced by the neck, and the neck is balanced by the wings.  Wing 1 is the problem solving wing, or wings of compassion.  Wing 2 is responsible to conserve the nation's resources and the people's freedom.  It must ask Wing 1, "Can we afford it?" and "What will it do to the rights and freedom of the people?"  Balanced properly, the eagle soars.  If the wings get out of balance, America dips either toward tyranny or anarchy.  If wing 1 decides to fix every problem the nation faces with no regard to monetary cost or cost to individual liberty, we get tyranny.  If wing 2 won't solve any problems in order to save money at all costs, or as not to disturb the peace, we have people taking matters into their own hands, causing anarchy.

I end Part II with Franklin's, and many of our own, appropriate great fear: "I am apprehensive, therefore - perhaps too apprehensive - that the Government of these States may in future times end in a monarchy.  But this catastrophe, I think, may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we not sow the seeds of contention, faction, and tumult, by making our posts of honor places of profit."  (Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 10 vols.)

Contention?  Faction?  Tumult?  Posts of honor places of profit?  Oh, my.  Mr. Franklin and his comrades are weeping silently among us, I'm sure.  I say it in all sincerity and respect.

* List and Moses Organization photo taken from The 5000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen.

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