© 2000 By D. Eric Williams
This essay is adapted from a speech written just prior to the 2000 presidential election
As we would expect in an election year, it seems that the collective conservative mind is directed toward the upcoming presidential election. That's fine in a way - a presidential election year is always important. However, many people place their hope for political change in one candidate or the other - in one party or the other. Obviously those who hold political office make a major impact on this nation. For instance, in addition to executive actions, the president installs people of his choosing in many important positions - attorney general, secretary of state and so on. These people influence the course of events in our nation for good or for ill. Nevertheless, the sort of philosophical changes that we are interested in cannot be implemented by a mere changing of the guard in the oval office - nor by a shift in the political leanings of the house or senate. None of these people - the president included - will necessarily have a lasting affect on this country. Their influence may very well be erased by the next administration. The fact is, lasting influence can only be achieved by a revision of the foundational documents of these United States. I am speaking, of course, of Constitutional amendments.
In this essay, I present a three pronged approach to altering the course of this nation for the better. We will discuss the need to amend the Constitution so that our federal representatives and senators will be subject to term limitations; We will detail the need to repeal the seventeenth amendment which deals with how senators are elected; thirdly, we will look at a necessary revision to the preamble of the Constitution. In each case we will quickly review the current situation, examine the historical data and examine the constitutional compatibility of the proposed amendments and then touch on the hoped for outcome of the amendment.
Term limits remain a hot topic these days. The reason for this is obvious: think Ted Kennedy et al. These are men and women who have made a career out of running the lives of other people. I don't care what political party a man or woman might represent - continual immersion in power will cloud the judgement of any person no matter how pure they may have been prior to their arrival in Washington DC. I won't take time to recite a list of specific abuses - we are all well versed in that sort of information. Nonetheless, I must point out the obvious; it is not in the heart of mankind to willingly let go of that which benefits self. It is nigh unto impossible for one who has become entrenched in political office - who has constructed a bureaucratic army about himself and who feeds upon and in turn feeds the eternal bureaucracy of state; who has a hand in the disposal of billions, indeed, trillions of dollars; who wields incredible power over the lives of mere mortals - it is incredible to think that a man or woman who occupies a place of such prominence and power will willingly limit their time there. It has been done in the past and there are those contemporary politicians such as Hellen Chenoweth who fulfilled their pledge to limit their tenure in office: Yet it is rare indeed.
The people who live in that surreal world of national politics, really do not understand the life of the common man. They cannot seem to fathom the fact that if they tried to run a business - or a household - in the manner in which they run the nation they would end up in prison - for a variety of offenses. They do not understand that the money that they access is not really theirs to waste on their pet projects: infrastructure improvements where they are not needed, studies that no one will read nor benefit from, travel that meets no purpose, programs in which only a fraction of each dollar spent actually reaches the target audience and privileges and perks that are suited to royalty but certainly not to citizen servants.
It is my contention that the primary reason for all of this foolishness, is simply that our representatives have been too long away from the grassroots. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, "There are a number of things wrong with Washington. One of them is that everyone has been too long away from home." Indeed, the men and women who rule in Washington DC may as well be citizens of a foreign land insofar as they are unable to identify with middle America - the backbone of this nation.
Now, you may say that the term of any elected official can be limited by the voters: "throw the bums out" as the saying goes. Remember though, one does not relinquish easily that which benefits self. Plenty of people agree that term limits are a good idea; not enough people are willing to see their home state be the one to take that first step. Indeed, term limits will not work unless they are implemented across the board in the form of a Constitutional amendment.
When George Washington was elected as the first president of the United States of America, there was a general consensus among the men we recognize as our founding fathers, that service in political office should be considered a burden. That it should be undertaken, not as a career, but as a temporary service accorded to this nation as a patriotic duty. Indeed, at the end of his second term as President, Washington expressed relief that his years of public duty were over. Clearly he held a view similar to Benjamin Franklin, who said that "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter is not to degrade but to promote them." Thus in the eyes of the founding fathers, public office was not something to strive for and then to grasp in an iron grip, bending every effort to retaining the place of public service. Instead it was a duty undertaken with a certain reluctance
Even though these were widely held beliefs at that time, it was understood by some that not all those who aspired to public office would be so high minded. That most effective anti-federalist - an anonymous writer from Massachusetts calling himself John DeWitt - claimed that the failure to Constitutionally limit the terms of office for representatives, senators and the president, would prove to be the downfall of government for the people and of the people. In other words, DeWitt was saying that unless a man was restrained from serving one term after another, after another and so on, he would be inclined to grow to enjoy power, and strive - not for the betterment of the nation as a whole - but to maintain his grip on power even to the detriment of his constituency. And oft times his constituency is harmed by the pork he brings home - whether or not anyone cares to admit it. The final outcome is a mind-set that views holding office as the end, not a means to the end of giving something back to the country.
Unfortunately the framers of the Constitution did not believe that this situation would arise and so it was not addressed in the amending process that took place directly after the ratification of the Constitution.
The argument may also be made that term limits are unconstitutional. My reply is that of course they are - unless the Constitution is amended to include term limits - which by the way is a primary argument against legislation by judicial decision.
The question is not are term limits Constitutional but are term limits in keeping with the philosophy of the document? The question we must ask is, would an amendment to limit the number of terms a federal representative may serve be in keeping with the original intent of the founding fathers? That is not to say that we are restrained from using a means that the framers of the Constitution did not consider. Perhaps limiting the terms of elected representatives did not fit with their corporate view of how to place parameters around the federal government. If that were true, would it mean that advocating a term limit amendment is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Constitution? Not necessarily. You see, the intent of the framers - in a nut shell - was to create a limited central power, which would be responsive , even submissive to the people, while at the same time restrain the baser impulses of the masses - the impulse to enrich self at the expense of someone else for instance. So it would seem that limiting the terms of elected representatives is in keeping with the general intent of the framers of the Constitution.
If so, we must further ask ourselves, do we want to remain bound by the world view - the philosophy of government - of men who lived two centuries in the past? Well, knowing the mind of the "Religious Right" as I do, I am confident that we do want to remain as heirs of the founding fathers - insofar as we are eager to remain subject to a limited government as opposed to a totalist regime of any sort.
So then, the only question that remains to be answered is, are term limits organically related to the tone and temper of the Constitution as understood by the founding fathers? I believe that the references I made earlier in this essay adequately answer that question. The problem was that those men did not believe it necessary to specifically limit terms. They felt that would be accomplished voluntarily by the principled men who would serve this nation in public office. I would that they had been right.
I propose term limits along these lines; two terms for the senate, and three terms for the house, with a hiatus of five years imposed on anyone wishing to serve out their limit in one branch and then serve in the other. I would also propose a limit of twelve years for members of the various federal courts. To some of you, this proposal to limit the terms of federal judges may sound unusual. Yet, we cannot be so naive to think that the men and women who are installed as federal judges are of a different species and thus immune to the effects of power. Although I am not firm on limiting the terms of federal judges, I believe it may help subdue the arrogance that underlies constitutional revision by the judiciary.
The outcome of a term limit amendment would be the end of a privileged ruling elite. It would make public service an interruption, borne for the sake of the nation, not pursued as an end in itself. It would be something like service in the peace corp. Hopefully it would end the point of view expressed by Russell Long a former U.S. Senator from Louisiana who said that a "...congressman's first obligation is to get elected; his second is to get reelected." It would move us closer to a congress made up of "real live Americans" - citizens in touch with life in the real world.
The second prong we need to exmine is the repealing of the seventeenth amendment. As you recall, the seventeenth amendment provided for the election of senators by popular vote rather than by the various state legislators. The effect of the seventeenth amendment was to consolidate power into the hands of the federal government and to leave the states without a real voice in Washington DC. In other words, it effectively removed a "ruler" - to cite Junius Brutus - it effectively removed a ruler that could oppose a ruler. Certainly the states did not cease to exist simply because of the seventeenth amendment (although it sometimes seems that they ceased to exist). However, they were left without a significant part to play in the national government. The states - as specific, separate institutions - were isolated from the exercise of authority at the federal level. What this means is that a very important check on the federal government was lost. Why is this so? Because the popular election of senators makes those senators answerable to the "people" and not to the states. The federal government exists as an organ of the people not of the states. Therefore, popular election of senators shifts the moorings and the loyalties of the senate from the states to the federal government. Do you see how this completely eliminated one of the greatest impediments to federal power that the framers of the Constitution had put in place?
The seventeenth amendment was enacted in 1913, in the midst of a radically leftist decade. There were two amendments ratified in 1913 - the sixteenth allowing for an income tax and the seventeenth concerning senatorial election ...one in 1919 - the eighteenth amendment enacting prohibition and another, the nineteenth amendment, ratified in 1920 allowing the vote to women. You may wonder why I don't call for a repeal of the sixteenth amendment, the power of congress to lay and collect tax on income. I'm convinced that if we took care of the three amendments I'm proposing, the sixteenth amendment would be dealt with soon enough. How so? To push through the three amendments I am calling for would require a tremendous grass roots revolution ...a revolution by conservative, middle Americans ...and I don't for a moment believe that if such a movement were successful, that it would stop with just these three amendments. On the other hand, If we do not start with the three prongs I'm sharing with you tonight, then I doubt that we would ever undo the sixteenth amendment and replace it with something less oppressive.
Now, the seventeenth amendment was put through congress during the Taft administration and made part of the Constitution early in Wilson's reign. It was a self conscious attempt by the federalists to democratize the senate and supposedly remove control of that legislative body from the hands of the party bosses. The progressives of that day, led by William Jennings Bryan, felt that the U.S. senate had become corrupted by the state party machines, by the routine bribing of state legislators and by the expenditure of immense sums of money to gain office. Some of their concerns were well founded.
However, the seventeenth amendment did not solve the problems that Bryan and the Progressives sought to remedy. Party corruption, and the tremendous expenditure of money in pursuit of office are still problems today. The seventeenth amendment did move this nation closer to the "one man, one vote" ideal that the progressives desired and it did eliminate a layer of representation between the people and their leaders. And by the way, Bryan and company actually believed - or so they said - that this was in the spirit of the founding fathers. They could not have been more wrong. In fact, as we did with our first point, we need to ask the question, would a repealign of the seventeenth amendment be in keeping with the intent of the Constitution as originally conceived and written? Was the intent of the founding fathers clarified and brought to a greater level of maturity by the seventeenth amendment, or did that action run contrary to the spirit and letter of the document?
Really, it seems an easy question to answer. The framers of the Constitution were interested in creating a tri-part balance of power in the legislative and executive arms of the national government. Notice how they originally designed the processes of election for each. The House of Representatives is occupied by men and women who are elected by popular vote. The Senate was to be filled by people chosen by the state legislators. The President is chosen by an electoral college - a hybrid of popular election and election by the state legislatures - the college being selected either directly by the state legislators or in a fashion they prescribe, typically guided by the outcome of the popular vote.
Very briefly, the idea was to create a stable, balanced government free from the excesses historically associated with a republic - not to mention a democracy! The founding fathers abhorred the thought of mob rule, they abhorred the thought of a tyranny of the majority. As C.H. Hoebeke wrote, ..."the Constitution's framers saw the will of the people as a force to be restrained and refined, not unleashed and encouraged."
The solution to this problem is very simple indeed. I did not say easily done - only simply.
It is imperative that the seventeenth amendment be repealed. It is my opinion that it will be impossible to reign in the growth of the federal government without a return to the state legislature the election of senators. I am not sure that middle America has learned any lessons over the past 90 years - let alone the past twleve. Nonetheless, my hope is that we now recognize the importance of U.S. Senators as creatures of the states rather than that of the people. Senators as an arm of the various states are in a position to stand against the tide of federal power on behalf of the citizens of their various states. I alluded to Junius Brutus a moment ago; this is the thesis of his 16th century classic, A Defense Of Liberty Against Tyrants; the people do not have the right to wage an anarchist uprising against a duly constituted government. However, their properly elected representatives of one branch do have the right to oppose the leaders of another branch of that government. And this is a principle that the founding fathers agreed with - the Declaration of Independence and the resulting war for independence being a case in point.
Thus, a repealing of the seventeenth amendment would raise a battlement against the surging advance of Leviathan as U.S. Senators take their stand against the beast on behalf of their constituency - the state governments and the citizens of those various states.
With all of this in mind, let us turn our attention to the final prong of our attack against the forces of totalist government; a change in the preamble of the Constitution. Here we read: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Fine sentiments indeed. However, there is one thing missing that virtually guarantees that these fine sentiments will be steadily eroded - gradually overthrown by the very government that the Constitution created for the people. That missing link - if you will - is an appeal to a greater authority. Almost an aside that would say, "Oh, and if this government fails to perform as commanded, then we will call upon somebody with an even bigger stick." We can see the fruit of this failure today. And who should the framers have called upon? Why, God Himself, of course.
Quoting from Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's Leftism Revisited, "If God exists, everything if possible; if there is no God, everything is permitted." Our Constitution implies that there is no God - or if there is, He isn't really relevant to the affairs of men. This omission was not an accident. As Paul Johnson wrote, the Constitution was "drawn up at the high tide of 18th century secularism, which was as yet unpolluted by the fanatical atheism and the bloody excesses of its culminating storm, the French Revolution." What this means is that although the framers were not overtly hostile toward religion (meaning Christianity), they were concerned that religion not intrude upon government. In other words they believed they could accomplish their purpose apart from reliance on God ...and rely on human reason alone. Unfortunately for us they were wrong. "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted" - is there any better way to explain the fix this nation is in today?
We have a government that encourages murder through legalized abortion. We have a government that encourages promiscuity through the distribution of condoms and the funneling of money into the coffers of Planned Parenthood. We have a government that subsidizes obscene displays in the name of art. We have a government that wastes billions of taxpayer dollars without any qualms and continues to demand more.
We live in a society were drug use is wide spread, where criminal activity is common, where the production and consumption of pornography - even child pornography - is growing by leaps and bounds. We live in a society were human life is of little value as evidenced by the many thousands of abortions that take place yearly and the neglect of our elderly.
My contention is that unless we acknowledge God as the ultimate sovereign over the affairs of Mankind, then there is nothing to stop a government "of the people" from becoming - in the end - a tyranny. Not a tyranny of the majority, but simply a tyranny of a governing elite who claim to do the will of the people. And the road to that tyranny is being paved with the creeping loss of liberty we have experienced in this nation over the past 200 years. Moreover, the people governed by a godless government will follow suit. If the only "controlling authority" is the people themselves, then indeed, all things are permitted.
Thus, we may feel sure that the framers of the Constitution would agree: in view of the direction history has taken us, there is a need to amend the preamble in order to maintain contact with the intent of the Constitution - that intent being limited government. As I said earlier, it was not that the framers were hostile to religion, it was simply that they were concerned that religion would upset good government - much like they did not believe that term limits were necessary to good government. Time has shown us that they were mistaken on both counts and a revision of the preamble is needful in order to be true to the intent of the Constitution.
Let me interject here a very important thought. We have been discussing the intent of the founding fathers in this essay. We have said that term limits are in keeping with the framers intent. We have said that the seventeenth amendment was contrary to the intent of the framers of the Constitution. We might say that the Constitution was designed to create a central government of competing powers so as to limit the scope of that government. I hope that you all agree that the founding fathers strove to bring into being a national government that would serve the people. They did not intend for it to evolve into the Leviathan we are faced with today. So when we seek to amend the Constitution. We must do so in a fashion that furthers the original intent of the framers. Our proposed amendments may not be issues that the framers thought of. Our proposed adjustments may have been rejected by the framers as unnecessary - not contrary to the intent of the document, only unnecessary at the time. And economy of words was one principle that the framers were guided by. Yet our guiding principle must be to establish the conditions of government that the founding fathers sought to create.
Now then, perhaps you are asking what I have in mind? A properly amended preamble might read something like this: "Under the authority of, and recognizing the ultimate sovereignty of Almighty God, we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." It doesn't need to be anymore complicated than that. It is merely the acknowledgment of God as the transcendent Ruler of this nation. The pledge of allegiance says this very thing: "one nation under God." And obviously to say that the United States of America is "one nation under God" does not mix church and state. "Church" is the expression of Christ on earth. To mix Church and state would mean that we are attempting to make every citizen participate in the expression of one religion or another as a prerequisite for the privileges of full citizenship. That sort of thing may be common in Iran, but it is not and will not ever be the norm in this nation. Nevertheless, it is wrong to insist that there be a wall of separation in that the spiritual has no bearing on the political. I agree with Glenn Tinder, an author and political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, who says that "politics without a spiritual basis is mostly an empty thing" - and I would add, even worse than an empty thing. Politics that does not recognize Almighty God as the Sovereign Lord will ultimately become tyrannical.
An acknowledgment of God as the Sovereign provides a relief valve - or better yet - an escape clause. It acknowledges what is really self evident; that humans are not merely animals, but are unique personalities, responsible to a Creator and able to appeal to Him as the final authority over against any tyrannical government. Just think for a moment about the Declaration of Independence. The document that started the forward motion of this nation's history speaks of "Nature's God" as the guarantor of human rights. It says that all men are "created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." The signers of the Declaration of Independence appealed to the "Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of (their) intentions" - to judge the honesty of their intentions. In other words, the founding fathers appealed to the highest authority in the universe in their case against an unjust government. Unfortunately, the citizens of this land are prevented from (legally), doing so since our Constitution does not recognize God as the Sovereign. That omission must be remedied.
That is why an acknowledgment of God as the ultimate authority among humankind would serve to reduce the power of our national government. It would place our nation's leaders under authority. As Bob Dylan said, "everybody's got to serve somebody." Currently the national governemnt answers to no one - except a document that makes them the highest authority in the land. "Oh, but they answer to the will of the people" you might say. Yes of course, and who is it that decides the will of the people? Why, those who are it's representatives, our congress, our senators, our president - and the will of the people is whatever they decide it to be. No. Unless God is placed in His rightful position as Lord of this land, we the governed have no impartial court of appeal to which we may turn.
The size and scope of our national government is not a necessity of the times. It is wrong to insist that the founding fathers would accept the Leviathan upon recognizing the tremendous responsibilities forced upon the federal government in this day and age. We respond by simply pointing out that the federal government has accumulated these responsibilities unto itself. It is not necessary for the national government to take on the myriad of duties it now embraces. Indeed, most of the tasks it currently shoulders would be better taken care of in the private sector.
If we hope to accomplish our goal of slaying Leviathan, then we must be prepared to take the necessary difficult actions. Difficult because Leviathan will fight us every step of the way, will fight us as we seek to limit the terms of servant leaders; as we seek to provide ourselves a senatorial wall of protection; and will fight us as we seek access to the court of Almighty God - whom we supplicate for help as we strive to make this nation a better place.