Thursday, August 01, 2013

"Commencing with individual liberty and the inalienable rights of the man"


   Jefferson, on the contrary, was a believer in man; he affirmed not only the right of man to self-government, but the capacity of man for self-government. Commencing with individual liberty and the inalienable rights of the man, he proceeded to the defense of the rights of the community. Following out this doctrine he insisted that matters which concerned the state only should be decided by the state and that only national affairs should be entrusted to the national government. In his first inaugural address he set forth what he deemed "the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration." In this statement of principles he presented his views respecting the spheres of the general government and the state government as follows:

   "The support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad."

   Jefferson placed his defense of the state government upon two grounds: first, that it is more competent to administer domestic concerns, and second, that it is a bulwark against centralization. So tenacious was he about the preservation of the state's influence that he insisted an amendment should be added at once specifically asserting that "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."

   Jefferson's part In the adoption of the ten amendments is referred to In a letter which he wrote in 1802, while he was president, to Joseph Priestly. He says: "One passage in the paper you enclose me must be corrected. It is the following: 'And all say it was yourself more than any other individual that planned and established the constitution.' I was in Europe when the constitution was planned, and never saw it until after it was established. On receiving it, I wrote strongly to Mr. Madison, urging the want of provision for the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and substitution of militia for a standing army, and an express reservation to the state of all rights not specifically granted to the union. He accordingly moved in the first session of congress for these amendments, which were agreed to and ratified by the states as they now stand. This is all the hand I had in what related to the constitution."

   The ten amendments cover many subjects, but they all relate to two things, viz.: the protection of the individual and the assertion of the doctrine of local self-government. The individual was safe-guarded in his right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, in his right to speak his mind and to put his thoughts on paper, In his right to assemble and to petition; in his right to bear arms, in his right to trial by jury, and in his right to hold property. So careful were those who insisted upon these amendments that after enumerating all the rights they could think of, added amendment nine as a precaution: "The enumeration in the constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The tenth amendment carries the same doctrine a little farther, and gives the state the benefit of the presumption as against the general government where a poweris neither granted nor denied.

   The reservation of power to the state is all the stronger because it is specifically net forth in the amendment. Had the language of the amendment been inserted in the constitution itself, it would not have shone out so boldly. The constitution was ratified with the understanding that the amendments would be added at once, and they were, in fact, submitted by the first congress, and in a short time were ratified by the necessary number of states. There can be no doubt that those who lived at the time of the adoption of the constitution favored the dual form of government, and believed In the wisdom of and the necessity wr this division of power. Those who held to the strict construction of the constitution on this subject obtained control of the government eleven years after the constitution was framed, and retained control for a quarter of a century.

   But admitting that the framers of the constitution and those who lived in the early days were champions of the dual idea, an important question presents itself, viz.: Have time and events so altered conditions as to make it wise or necessary to disturb this equilibrium between the state and the nation? The framers of the constitution recognized the possibility of error in themselves and the possibility of change in conditions, and therefore provided a way of amending the constitution. If the time has come for obliterating state lines and consolidating all authority, legislative, judicial and executive, at Washington, it can be done by constitutional amendment, whenever three-fourths of the states arc willing to ratify such an amendment.

   But Is there any demand for a surrender by the states of the powers reserved to them? On the contrary, every reason which existed one hundred and eighteen years ago exists now, and those reasons are even stronger than they formerly were, because of the increase In the area and population of the nation. Then, there were a few million people scattered along the eastern coast. The thirteen states have grown to forty-six, and eighty millions of people are now governing themselves through the machinery set in motion by the constitutional convention of 1789.

   The states are even more needed than they formerly were for the administration of domestic affairs. As n matter of theory, that government is best which is nearest to the people, if there is any soundness at all in the doctrine of self-government, the people can act most intelligently upon matters with which they are most familiar. There are a multitude of things which can be done better by the county than by state authority, and there are a multitude of things which can be done better by the state than by the federal government. An attempt to transfer to the national capital the business now conducted at the state capitals would be open to two objections, either of which would be fatal. First, congress could
not transact the business. The Work now devolving on the national legislature makes It difficult to secure consideration for any except the most important measures. The number of bills actually discussed in a deliberate way is small; most of the bills that pass are rushed through by unanimous consent, and a still larger number die on the calendar or in committee.

   Second, the members of congress could not inform themselves about local needs. The interests and industries of the nation are so diversified and the various sections so different In their needs that the members of congress from one part of the country would be entirely ignorant of the conditions in other parts of the country. Whenever congress attempts legislation now for a particular section, the matter is usually left to the members from that section, but more often the matter is crowded out entirely by larger interests.

   The farther the legislative body is from the community affected by the law, the easier it is for special interests to control. This has been illustrated in state legislatures when long-time charters have been granted to franchise corporations by the votes of members whose constituents, not being interested, do not hold them to strict account, and it would be worse if congress acted on the same subjects.

[The Commoner, Lincoln, Nebraska, March 22, 1907. Vol. 7, No. 10. Whole Number 322. Pg. 1&2]

No comments: