by: Kim Weissman
July 4, 1999
On July 4th, it is the custom in this country to celebrate our Freedom, although the occasion has become more an excuse to hold backyard barbecues and shoot off fireworks, than a calm reflection of what it is, exactly, we are celebrating. As the 20th century draws to a close, how free are we, really?
On this date 223 years ago, we proclaimed our Freedom from an oppressive government with the stirring words contained in our Declaration of Independence. In the intervening 223 years, have we maintained our Freedom? Many people would say yes, indeed, we have increased our Freedom. Some segments of our population, which were denied the Freedom enjoyed by white males in the 18th century, certainly do enjoy more Freedom today. It is ironic that the very groups whose Freedom has grown the most over the past 223 years – minorities and women – are the same groups most critical of the very Constitutional system which made the expansion of their Freedom possible. But what of the nation as a whole?
Writing shortly after our revolution, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, most people could live their whole lives without once coming into contact with an agent of the government. Such an ideal is clearly no longer true, it is today virtually impossible for an American to go a single day without coming into contact with, or being affected by, some agent or agency of the government. Our federal government has become ubiquitous, worming its way into every nook and cranny of our lives. The Federal Register, that compendium of orders issued to the American people from Washington defining what we can or cannot do, what we must or must not do, grows by tens of thousands of pages every year.
Every year we are forced to work longer just to pay our tax tribute to the government. This year, Cost of Government Day (that day when we stop working for the government and start working for ourselves and our families) is June 22. According to the Americans for Tax Reform, Americans will work 173 days of the year just to pay the cost of government: 123 days to pay for government spending, another 50 days to pay for the regulatory burden. The good news is that the Cost of Government Day has moved backward nearly a month since hitting an all-time high of July 18 in 1992. The bad news is that we are still working nearly half the year for the government.
There are other indicia of our loss of Freedom, of course, such as the level of intrusion of government into our lives and our privacy. Late last year, the Federal Reserve Board proposed their now-infamous "Know your Customer" regulations, which would have turned every banker into a snoop for the federal government, requiring them to report "suspicious transactions" for federal scrutiny, allegedly to combat drug money laundering. The FDIC opened up the process for public comment, and was overwhelmed by a flood of negative reactions. Over 15,000 comments were received (the average new bank regulation usually draws a few hundred comments), all but 12 negative. The proposed regulations were eventually withdrawn, with the comment from an FDIC spokesman that "…we are going to have to do something different than what was proposed."
We now know what that "something different" is. Allegedly in an effort to crack down on parents who owe child support, the government is now expanding it’s massive data monitoring system (the National Directory of New Hires) to include banking and financial holdings, in addition to existing data on the employment status, income, and other personal information on nearly every adult in the country. As the Washington Post put it, never before have federal officials had the legal authority or the technological ability "…to keep tabs on Americans accused of nothing."
The officials in charge of this Orwellian intrusion learned their lesson from the "Know your Customer" debacle. This expanded assault on our privacy is claimed to be for the benefit of "the children", the standard excuse used so effectively by this administration to curtail so many of our freedoms. And this time, they are trying to sneak it by without public comment, because it is merely an expansion of an existing system (begun in 1997 in the name of welfare reform), not new regulations. One official proclaimed "…the need for people to support their children far outweighs their need for privacy."
Thus because a tiny percentage of parents avoid their responsibilities, the entire population are treated as criminals. The Administration for Children and Families, part of HHS, runs the program, and according to a former ACF official, "What we’re now going to do is put a system into place that will track the earnings and comings and goings of the entire adult population of the U.S. In a free society, we should always be on the lookout for the possibility we do harm through good intentions." Indeed. The primary motivating attitude of our government has become the belief that every single American is some sort of criminal, presuming our guilt, and requiring us to prove our innocence by opening every detail of our lives to the scrutiny of snooping federal bureaucrats.
This is not the way the government of a free republic is supposed to work. It certainly is not the way the Founders envisioned it; although there were some at the time of ratification, the anti-federalists, who feared the development of precisely what we see today:
Richard Henry Lee (who introduced the motion leading to the Declaration of Independence and was a signer of that document) opposed the Constitution without a Bill of Rights, and called it "elective despotism".
It was because of the perceived dangers of the Constitution standing alone, that some of the states refused to ratify it without the inclusion of a Bill of Rights which would explicitly protect certain fundamental rights retained by the people, rights which were deemed so vital as to require special protection.
James Madison, the federalist called the father of the Constitution, initially could not see the utility of a Bill of Rights, given the structure of the government which had been created, a structure which had no power whatsoever except that specifically delegated to it: "If no such power be expressly delegated, and if it be not both necessary and proper to carry into execution an express power… the answer must be that the federal government is destitute of all such authority." Madison feared that a Bill of Rights would eventually lead people to believe that any right not specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights was not protected.
Certain elements of our population and political elite have gone so far in misrepresenting our Constitution as to have completely turned it on its head. They act as though the government has the power to do anything, unless specifically prohibited by the Constitution, which is precisely the reverse of the original structure. The Bill of Rights, that last barrier to government tyranny, has become merely a parchment barrier to the government encroachment of our rights. Not only are our inherent rights which are not mentioned in the Bill of Rights at risk, despite the Ninth Amendment ("The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people"), but even those rights which are specifically protected are impaired, are at risk, and in many instances, have already been tremendously diminished by the activities of our government.
The free exercise of religion and the ban against taking private property without just compensation are specifically protected by our Bill of Rights, yet are in danger of disappearing.
Also among those rights protected by the Bill of Rights is the right which our Founders and a majority of the people at that time deemed essential to protect and defend all the rest: the right to keep and bear arms. We have just witnessed a century in which more than 100 million people (by one estimate double that, not including wars) have been slaughtered by their own governments. And yet, despite our Bill of Rights, we are currently engaged in a debate over gun confiscation – make no mistake, that’s exactly what it is -- a debate in which our government contends that it alone should have a monopoly of force. We will all be safer if that were so, they say. Because what has happened time and again around the world can never happen here. How many of those 100 million dead paid with their lives for believing exactly that? Our Second Amendment is the insurance which the Founders gave us, so that we would retain our rights against an overbearing government, to make sure that it does not happen here.
Perhaps the most fundamental reason that our Freedom is at risk today is the ignorance most people have about our founding documents, and the circumstances under which those documents, and our nation, came into being. Even more troubling, however, is the active hostility many people in this country harbor toward the philosophy that those founding documents represent.
Nowhere has this been more starkly demonstrated than in an ongoing dispute in New Jersey over the Declaration of Independence. It was proposed that, along with the pledge of allegiance, students begin their school day with a recitation of the following phrase from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Many members of the New Jersey legislature, as well as many in the general public, have expressed outrage against the proposal. Opponents have called this phrase, and the Declaration of Independence itself, racist, sexist, exclusionary, outmoded, a secular prayer, and a stealth attempt to introduce conservative values into schools. When California enacted a similar law, opponents claimed that it was calculated to teach fascism. Some in the New Jersey legislature propose to "reword" the phrase to make it more politically correct (change "men" to "persons", for example). Fixed truths, unalienable rights, reference to a Creator, government authority dependent on the consent of the governed…it’s no wonder that the big government elitists are uncomfortable with that philosophy. The New Jersey bill has been shelved for further study by "experts".
One editorialist suggested the real fear of the naysayers is that the school children might actually take that phrase from the Declaration seriously. If that has them worried, consider the sentence immediately following that which was proposed: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
The inclusion of that following sentence in the daily recitation was no doubt considered too inflammatory, even by those offering the original proposal. But Jefferson went even further. He wrote, not merely about the right of the people, but their duty as well: "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
Such ideas are anathema to the elitists who run our government, most of our institutions, and who would run our lives for us if they could. It is no wonder that they decline to teach such ideas to children in government schools. They do not want too many people to understand what our Founders actually intended: that the founding documents of our republic established the superiority of the people over their government.
Our Freedom, and our rights which defend that Freedom – all of our rights – are not granted to us at the sufferance of our government. It is our government which derives its just powers from our consent. Freedom means that We, the People, are in charge; that we are the masters of our government, not its servants. It is we, through our Constitution, who have established the rules by which government must abide. July 4th – Independence Day – is the recurring reminder of that fact.
[additional formatting by TYSK]
The above article is the property of Kim
Weissman, and is reprinted with his permission.
3 July 1999