We have just celebrated one of our founding fathers’ greatest achievements—the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, listing grievances of the colonies against the governance of King George III of Great Britain.
Jefferson wrote a mission statement that still guides the hearts of free men everywhere. “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.”
The Declaration challenged George III’s unbridled authority to interfere with local government, abuse taxation, and maintain an army, while at the same time not protecting the settlers against the Indians on the frontier. Discouraging immigration and suborning justices to comply with the King’s will were listed. There are 27 indictments in all.
Jefferson ended with the observation, “In every stage of these Oppression's, we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
With British abuses in mind, the Founding Fathers designed the Constitution. When I became a presidentially appointed Foreign Service Officer, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My military colleagues, other public servants, the Congress and even the vice president take the same oath.
In their day, Jefferson and his colleagues swore an oath to a person: The King. The Founding Fathers took great pains to construct an instrument of law that contained the unbridled powers of the monarchy they opposed. Hence, the Constitution is the reason Americans believe no one is above the law.
John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, summed up the constitutional project by saying, “If Congress or any other department of government can ignore the limitations of the Constitution, all distinction between government of limited powers and a government of unlimited powers is done away with.”
Further, “the people themselves cannot make treaties, enact laws, or administer the government. They must do such things through agents. That these agents might abuse this power was no argument against giving it, for the power of doing good is inseparable for that of doing some evil.”
Thus, the Constitution deliberately created a balance of power between the three branches of government. The First Amendment protects the press, which we have long called the fourth branch of government.
Jefferson himself was very aware of how frustrating the press could be, but he also saw it as a protection against tyranny. The Founding Fathers would never have labeled the press the “enemy of the people.” In fact, the great contemporary defense of the Constitution comes from the Federalist Papers—which were printed, not in book form, but as newspaper articles.
The Constitution requires much of us. It also assumes that representatives and senators will represent the interests of their constituents. That assumption was embedded in Lincoln’s eloquent phrase, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Today, we have representatives who seem more interested in getting their dogma straight than their constituents’ problems solved.
We have a president who talks about “my army” and “my generals.” That’s the people’s army, thank you. We have a president who talks about foreign policy as a function of his feelings about other leaders. He does not talk about what best protects America or its image in the world.
We must ask ourselves, if avoiding the tyranny of George III is the steel in the construction of the Constitution, are we honoring the Founding Fathers and the Culpeper Minutemen, who fought tyranny to live like free men, when we forget what the Constitution requires of us?
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.
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