Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thoughts on the Constitution 4


Overview of the Articles of the Constitution

The Constitution, exclusive of the Bill of Rights and later amendments, consists of seven articles. The first four of these are subdivided into sections. (See below for an outline of the Articles.)
The first three articles deal with the basic powers of government:  legislative (Art. 1), executive (Art. 2), and judicial (Art. 3). These three powers of government ultimately belong to God.
For the Lord is our judge [judicial power]; the Lord is our lawgiver [legislative power]; the Lord is our king [executive power]; he will save us (Isaiah 33:22)
The Constitution provides that these three powers are to be distributed into three separate branches of the federal government. In this arrangement, the Framers’ clearly reflect the ideas of Baron de Montesquieu. In his Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu called for “the separation of powers” as a means of avoiding the tyranny that so often accompanies the concentration of power into the hands of only one man. In a traditional monarchy, all power resides in the king. This is a potentially good and efficient form of government if the king is himself wise and good. Otherwise it has an equal potential to become a tyranny. Unfortunately, history confirms the observation of Lord Acton that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton was wise to say only that power tends to corrupt. It does not always do so, but it happens often enough that the Framers sought to distribute the powers of government so broadly that it would be impossible for a single man or for a small group of men to seize control of the government and tyrannize the people.
The Founders were convinced that it was just as dangerous to entrust all three powers of government to a single of body of men as it was to entrust them to just one man. Therefore they divided the powers of government so that they would be exercised by different men holding different offices. This distribution of power is an obstacle that stands in the way of evil men who might wish to abuse their power.

Outline of the Articles of the Constitution
Article One:  Legislative Power
Section 1:    All legislative power granted to Congress (Senate/House of Reps.)
Section 2:    Representatives:  Terms, qualifications, number, vacancies
Section 3:    Senate:  Terms, qualifications, number, vacancies
Section 4:    Times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Reps.
Section 5:    Each house determines its own rules of proceedings
Section 6:    Compensation
Section 7:    Procedure for passing of legislation
Section 8:    Powers of Congress
Section 9:    Slave trade; Writ of Habeas Corpus; Bill of Attainder; ex post facto laws; capitation; exports; interstate imports and exports; proper accounting of expenses; titles of nobility; gifts from foreign states
Section 10:  Restrictions on the states with respect to coining money, taxes, trade and war
Article Two:  Executive Power
Section 1:    Executive power vested in the President; electoral system; age and residence and citizen qualifications; vacancy; compensation; oath of office
Section 2:    Commander in Chief; reprieves and pardons; making Treaties; appoint ambassadors, Judges of the Supreme Court
Section 3:    State of the Union; receiving ambassadors and other public Ministers; take care that the Laws be faithfully executed
Section 4:    Subject to impeachment
Article Three:  Judicial Power
Section 1:    Judicial power vested in one supreme Court, and such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish
Section 2:    Jurisdiction
Section 3:    Treason
Article Four:  Relation of the States to Each Other and of the Citizens of the States to other States
Section 1:    Full faith and credit
Section 2:    Citizens of each State entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states
Section 3:    Formation of new States
Section 4:    States guaranteed a republican form of government
Article Five:  Amending the Constitution
Article Six:  Debts and obligations at the time of ratification; Constitution the supreme law of the land; oath to support the Constitution; nor religious test
Article Seven:  Ratification

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Constitution 3


The Preamble (continued)


The next stated purpose of the Constitution was to insure domestic Tranquility. This refers to the maintaining of peace and order both within and between the states. After the War for Independence there were uprisings in a number of states that threatened to undermine, if not to completely overthrow local government. Most of these disturbances grew out of protests over taxes levied by the states to pay their war debts. In some states taxes were higher after the war than before. Perhaps the most serious threat to domestic tranquility within a state came in the form of Shays’ rebellion. This was an armed uprising in central and western Massachusetts in 1786-1787, led by Daniel Shays, a farmer and veteran of the war. The rebellion began with protesters shutting down county courts in order to put a stop to hearings involving the collection of debts and taxes. When some of the leaders of the protest movement were arrested, the more radical members organized an armed force which was eventually defeated in June 1787, while the Philadelphia Convention was meeting.
It was not only such disturbances within the states, but also disputes between the states that caused the framers to fear. It might seem odd at this point in history to think of war breaking out between the states, but this was a matter of no little concern at the time. Alexander Hamilton dealt with the issue at length in Federalist 6, 7, 8, and 9, and James Madison in Federalist 10. The historical record shows that the attention they gave the matter was not at all unwarranted. Hamilton listed a number of potential reasons for states to go to war with each other if there were not a stronger federal government to arbitrate between them. Among these, he mentions disputes over:  borders between the states, claims to western territories, foreign trade (taxes on imports and exports), interstate trade, payment of the national debt, and enforcement of contracts between citizens of different states.
The fourth purpose of the Constitution was to provide for the common defence, that is, to defend the republic against aggression, whether from the neighboring Indian tribes or from the nations of Europe. This could be done far more effectively if the states acted together rather than separately. One of the great weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was a woeful inefficiency in waging war. The Articles did not provide the federal government with the power to call out troops or to enforce requests for money from the states in order to fund the operations of war. As a result, the continental army continually found itself running dangerously short of men and supplies.
The next stated purpose of the Constitution was to promote the general Welfare. We will discuss this important (and much abused) clause more fully when we come to Article I, Section 8. The basic idea, however, is that one of the purposes the new federal government was to promote what tended to the good of the country as a whole, rather than what favored this or that state or region of the country, or this or that segment of the population.
The sixth and last purpose of the Constitution was to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. We find here an echo of the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration the Founders had named “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” as unalienable rights given to all men by their Creator. Further, they stated that governments were instituted among men “to secure these rights.” The language in the Declaration is very similar to what we find here in the Preamble. In the Declaration the Founders expressed their resolve to gain the blessings of liberty while in the Constitution they took measures to guard the liberty so recently won, and at so great a cost.


[1] The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, edited by Jonathan Elliot, 5 vols. (Philadelphia, PA:  Lippincott Company, 1891), vol. 3, p. 22. The debates are available to download for free at www,forgottenbooks.org
[2] The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, ed. Ralph Ketcham (New York, NY:  The Penguin Group, 1986), p. 207
[3] The Debates in the Several State Conventions, p. 44
[4] See Forrest McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union:  Imperium in Imperia, 1776-1876 (Lawrence, KS:  University of Kansas, 2000)
[5] Federalist No. 39
[6] He means the Congress as it existed under the Articles of Confederation, in which each state had equal representation. The members of Congress under the Articles were chosen by the state legislatures, which is what the Constitution originally required in the Senate. Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators were not elected by the people of the states as they are today; they were chosen by the state legislature. Compare Art. I, Sec. 3 and Amendment XVII.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Madison concludes by saying, “In its foundation it [the Constitution] is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.”
[9] The Debates in the Several State Conventions, vol. 3, p. 150
[10] Cited in Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, par. 488, n. 2, originally published in 1833 (http://www.constitution.org/js/js_306.htm)