Article VI: The Founders’ Brilliant Solution to Big Government
Many voters put all their trust into a political party, in hopes that it will fix Washington. However, our runaway government is not a partisan issue, as both major political parties have helped grow big government by not following the Constitution’s limitations.
Without limitations, the American republic ceases to exist. But the Founders gave us Article VI to ensure limitations were enforced.
The Constitution has the solutions for the problems in our government. For instance, Congress has the constitutional power and duty to regulate the courts (Article III, Section 2), by which it can rein in judicial activism. The House of Representatives controls the purse strings (Article I, Section 7), and therefore can rein in unconstitutional executive branch agencies. Congress can also remove any federal official by impeachment (Article II, Section 4).
And if Congress is negligent in its duties and unfaithful to the Constitution, We the People have the power to replace the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate every two years. In other words, we have the power to “fix” our government whenever we choose, by using the constitutional tools our Founding Fathers gave us.
So why are most congressmen, regardless of their fidelity to the Constitution, so often reelected? Polls indicate that although voters disapprove of the job Congress is doing as a whole, they like the job that their congressmen are doing!
Congressman James Garfield (R-Ohio), four years prior to being elected the 20th U.S. president in 1880, provided this thoughtful analysis on July 4, 1876:
Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them.
His words ring all the more true today as Americans have allowed government to deviate from the Constitution. In order to rein in big government, We the People must learn the Constitution and hold our local, state, and federal officials accountable to it.
OBEYING THE CONSTITUTION
Understanding a few basic principles is key to obeying the Constitution. Let’s start with independence and move into “few and defined” powers.
After declaring that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, America’s Founders fought and won a war for independence from an out-of-control monarchy. This left 13 free and independent states, united under the Articles of Confederation. Then they created the Constitution, which delegated certain powers to a new United States federal government. The Constitution is a set of rules that governs the government, not the people.
Three of America’s prominent Founding Fathers — James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay — wrote a series of letters to the editor explaining the new Constitution. This collection of letters is still published as The Federalist Papers.
James Madison, known as “The Father of the Constitution,” summarized the new Constitution in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. [Emphasis added.]
Each state has jurisdiction over its own internal policies. There is competition among the states, and policies vary widely based on the people of each state. If a state encourages industriousness by allowing freedom to flourish and people to keep the fruit of their labor, it attracts a different kind of people than a nanny state with many regulations and redistribution of wealth. People can vote for change or vote with their feet by moving to a freer state.
The constitutional division of power between the United States government and the largely sovereign and independent state governments is known as “federalism.” This is much different than a socialist government with a centrally controlled economy, one-size-fits-all policies, and coercive controls on everyone. We are supposed to have a federalist system of government, as evidenced by Madison’s quote on the previous page and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states:
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.
The few powers delegated to federal jurisdiction are defined in the Constitution. Those powers are divided between three branches or departments: legislative, executive, and judicial. The bulk of power resides in the legislative branch (which is accountable directly to the people). All powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people.
There’s a vertical and horizontal separation and division of power. If any branch or division of government violates the Constitution by exercising a power outside its jurisdiction, its action is a usurpation of power.
A REPUBLIC, NOT A DEMOCRACY
This brings us to Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which reads:
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
This is what is known as the “Supremacy Clause.” It declares that only those laws and treaties made in pursuance of (i.e., in accordance with) the Constitution “shall be the supreme law of the land.” This clause draws a clear line between constitutional and unconstitutional laws. Only constitutional laws (i.e., those that are in pursuance of the Constitution) are the supreme law of the land, as opposed to unconstitutional laws (i.e., those that are not in pursuance of the Constitution), which are not the supreme law of the land.
When asked what form of government the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had created, Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Notice that he did not call it a democracy, which is today’s most common (although incorrect) label for American government.
In a democracy (majority rule), there is virtually no limit to government power and no security for the rights of any minority. Another famous line attributed to Benjamin Franklin is, “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for supper.”
In our republic (rule of law), our Constitution is a fixed body of supreme law that cannot be changed by majority whims or power-hungry politicians without going through a deliberately complicated process. The federal government has strictly limited powers to protect the God-given rights of all the people.
As Robert Welch, founder of The John Birch Society, was fond of saying, “This is a republic, not a democracy. Let’s keep it that way!”
BOUND BY OATH OR AFFIRMATION
The third clause of Article VI requires:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
This clarifies the duty of all government officials, who are bound by oath or affirmation to uphold the Constitution and laws “made in pursuance thereof,” not in violation thereof. Local, state, and federal officials — elected or otherwise appointed — who take this oath are duty-bound to reject and oppose constitutional violations by local, state, federal, or international bodies or officials, whether the usurper be legislative, executive, or judicial.
At the beginning of this article, we gave several examples showing that federal officials are guilty of gross constitutional violations. But they aren’t the only ones. Thousands of local and state officials are also guilty of violating their oath by participating in unconstitutional programs.
THE FOUNDERS’ SOLUTION FOR REINING IN CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS
America’s Founders said constitutional violations should be met with constitutional enforcement. Local, state, and federal officials have a duty to protect our rights by opposing constitutional violations. Enforcement would slash approximately 80 percent of the currently bloated, unconstitutional government. Taxes, corruption, and abuses of power would be dramatically reduced, enabling a new American renaissance.
We the People, through our local, state, and federal elected representatives, have the power to control our government. We have even more influence over local and state officials than we have over federal ones.
The Founders expected the people and the states to be alert “in case the Congress shall misconstrue … part of the Constitution, and exercise powers not warranted by its true meaning.” State legislators should “be ever ready to mark the innovation, to sound the alarm to the people, and to exert their local influence in effecting a change of federal representatives.” “A remedy must be obtained from the people who can, by the election of more faithful representatives, annul the acts of the usurpers.” “This ultimate redress” was prescribed by James Madison in Federalist 44.
In Federalist 33, Alexander Hamilton said that federal “Acts … which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers … will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such.”
ACTS OF USURPATION DESERVE TO BE TREATED AS SUCH
What did the Founders say we should do if any branch of the federal government tries exercising powers outside its jurisdiction, such as telling the states or the people how they can use their property? Sometimes it’s a matter of the state simply ignoring them. In Federalist 16, Hamilton said:
If the … State legislatures be necessary to give effect to a measure of the Union, they have only NOT TO ACT, or to ACT EVASIVELY, and the measure is defeated. [Emphasis in original.]
States should not comply with federal encroachments (or international ones) or participate in unconstitutional programs. Doing so is a violation of the oath taken by state officials (or local ones). James Madison added in Federalist 46:
The means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance, and, perhaps, refusal, to cooperate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions … would present obstructions which the Federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.… The State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. [Emphasis added.]
The executive magistracies (i.e., governors) have much influence “to repel the danger” when they use it. For them to make a stand, they must do so “with the people on their side” (i.e., an informed electorate).
As to the “legislative devices” that states should use, Thomas Jefferson explained in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
Whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force….
Where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact … to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them.
Simply stated, nullification is the reserved power to nullify (or invalidate) any unconstitutional action (as defined by Article VI), not only by refusing to implement it, but also by declaring it null, void, and of no force within a jurisdiction.
INTERPOSITION AND NULLIFICATION
Writing in favor of nullification in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, James Madison said that when the federal government exercises powers not granted in the Constitution, “the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose.”
To interpose means to place between. What Madison is referring to is the duty of government (local, state, or federal) to protect the God-given rights of the people by placing itself between them and any encroachment — in this case, encroachment by the federal government; this is the proper role of government.
Interposition may take the form of nullification. Another example would be for the county sheriff to interpose by placing his deputies between constituents and unconstitutional federal bureaucrats, thereby protecting his constituents’ rights. The New American magazine has reported several instances of this taking place in recent history, including the states nullifying Real ID, as well as attacks on Second Amendment and other God-given rights.
In summary, every local, state, and federal official (including police and military) who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution is duty-bound to oppose laws not made in pursuance of the Constitution as well as any other unconstitutional acts of the federal government or international bodies. This is constitutional enforcement. And the only way we can achieve constitutional enforcement is through an informed electorate.
AN INFORMED ELECTORATE
All elected officials are accountable to the people through frequent elections. Non-elected officials are accountable to the elected officials who appoint them. For far too long, the national media have fixated Americans’ attention on presidential elections.
Of all elected offices in the United States, this is the one furthest from the people, the one they have the least influence over. This diverts people’s attention from the elected officials with whom they have the most influence. You can’t do much about the president or the entire Congress, but you can help build an informed electorate in your community to hold local, state, and federal officials accountable.
As progress is made in creating a constitutionally informed electorate within a state, then progress will be made in electing constitutionalists at the local, state, and federal level who will interpose and nullify unconstitutional acts — protecting the rights of the people.
In a speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention on June 20, 1788, James Madison said:
But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.
Or, as Thomas Jefferson similarly stated in a letter written to Colonel Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” And in a letter to William C. Jarvis, Jefferson wrote:
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is … to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
An informed electorate can rein in big government by electing constitutionalist majorities to all levels of government. Imagine what constitutionalist state legislatures and Congress could accomplish! State legislatures can phase out unconstitutional programs by simply dropping out of them or nullifying them, if necessary. Congress can complete the phasing out of unconstitutional programs by repealing all federal and international agencies and programs that are not authorized by the Constitution. This would enable federalism, freedom, and prosperity to flourish again.
Furthermore, at the ballot box, an informed electorate can hold its elected representatives accountable to their oath to support the Constitution, thus ensuring the perpetuation of constitutionally limited government that would protect our freedom and prosperity.
Creating an informed electorate to hold officials accountable to their oath to support the Constitution takes diligence, dedication, and patience, but it is well worth it! The future of America is up to We the People!
The solution to reining in out-of-control big government and returning to constitutional government is that simple. The John Birch Society has the game plan, the educational and action tools, and a national network of chapters working in concert on creating a constitutionally informed electorate. As a member of a local chapter, your role is very manageable and achievable (e.g., members educate their circles of influence, local businessmen, and other community leaders on how to rein in big government).
An informed electorate is the only way we can expect our government to comply with the Constitution. And that responsible, informed electorate begins with you!
How? Become a member of The John Birch Society (JBS) and join in on the concerted action of a nationwide network of chapters. JBS has much momentum, but must grow much larger to carry out its mission to bring about less government, more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world by providing leadership, education, and organized volunteer action in accordance with moral and constitutional principles.
Now that you know the solution to rein in big government, share this with someone whom you’d like to have in a chapter with you. Then contact the JBS to get started!