James Madison and the Problem with the Constitution

This comes from an early section of Tom Wood’s excellent The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. (Seriously, if you don’t have it, click the link and go buy it.)

Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1792,

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands, they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all the roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress.

Sound familiar?

The man who wrote the First Amendment knew exactly well that the federal government would try to exploit areas of the constitution in order to expand their power. Madison wrote the above in 1792, but even by 1798 John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts were pushing the envelope of what the federal government could get away with.  With the later help of activist, federalist judges like John Marshall and those after him, the door was officially opened to allow the federal government to grow into the monstrosity it is today.

So the question becomes, does the constitution authorize the federal government expand it’s powers into every area of our lives, or is it simply too weak to restrain it?

My answer is: does it matter if the outcome is always the same?

19th century political theorist and lawyer Lysander Spooner convincingly argued in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, that the constitution shouldn’t even apply to those who never agreed to it. To him, the constitution was a contract between men. Spooner saw the idea of the constitution binding future generations of people by some mythical “social contract” as a ridiculous one.  I agree.

The State always expands its own power and authority at the expense of its subjects. It is parasitic by nature. The goal for should be to decentralize that power away from the federal government and back to the individuals, who are far better capable of making decisions for themselves.

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