By Ronald M. Mann
"Foresight through hindsight conduces insight."
It is reported that immediately after the Constitutional Convention as Benjamin Franklin was leaving the hall, a lady approached him and asked: "Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?" He replied: "A republic, if you can keep it."
This was no Constitutional Convention. Franklin recognized that the grand experiment - a Constitution that provided something new - a government created by the people for the people, would require a dedicated electorate to maintain.
As William Gladstone had said of their creation - Our Constitution: "It is the greatest piece of work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man. It was the considered opinion of most of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, for example, had said: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Certainly a good education is paramount if freedom is to survive. "Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal or universal. (Dr. Benjamin Rush - 1786)
Moreover, education must, of necessity, consist of: "A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and maintain a free government." (Virginia Declaration of Rights - 1780)
A plethora of recent national education surveys gives sad testimony to the shameful ignorance of the American electorate relative to American history, government, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Is it any wonder that we are losing our freedoms when only a minority, less than 40 percent of those eligible to vote, vote?
Students lack proper knowledge of Constitution
While serving as the deputy director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, I had many experiences that documented the sorry state of our nation. For example, I took the time to review 23 high school and junior high school texts dealing with American history and government. Everyone of them were totally inadequate, and in many cases the material used was not factual. Little space was given to the serious study of our early history, the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Obviously, this is one of the reasons our students do so poorly on tests on these subjects.
As a result of this data, the commission decided to print up a small Constitution and give it wide distribution. Using the Constitution adopted by Congress and comparing it to the original in the Archives, we found more than 60 mistakes. Unbelievable, but true. I am not even sure that the mistakes we found have been corrected. Thanks to support from several businesses and a little government funding, we were able to distribute free more than 50 million pocket Constitutions. We hoped that these would awaken a new interest in the document and stem the tide of abuses to it.
Apparently we failed. During the celebration of the bicentennial of our Declaration of Independence, the government allowed the commission to start 10 years before that event and provided millions of dollars - substantially more than we received.
The celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution started in 1985, two years before the bicentennial and was terribly under funded. In the first year, we were given about $176,000. This was hardly enough to rent office space and hire several people.
The commission decided to form a financial committee to raise money to address this problem. Accordingly, a body of prominent citizens were selected. At the end of the bicentennial this "August Body" had raised a pittance - $5 million. Beyond belief! The financial committee for the centennial of the Statute of Liberty raised more than $500 million. Imagine raising a hundred times more money for the symbol of our freedom than for the source of it - our Constitution.
Lack of support reflects public’s lack of interest
Looking back, the only conclusions one can draw is that no one was interested or that someone was trying to spike our efforts or felt it was a waste of time. Other road blocks were also placed in our path - too many to detail here. One example was that during the first three months our commission was in operation we were taken to court by the ACLU and then by the People for the American Way in an attempt to curtail or stop our efforts. This cost us valuable time and resources we couldn’t afford.
Because of the indifference and ignorance of the American people. I believe we are losing our freedoms and the form of government given us by our founding fathers.
Every elected official and government employee signs an oath to support and uphold our Constitution. In spite of this, many officials deliberately violate and even Ignore the Constitution. Whereas we were given a limited government with separate, limited and delegated powers, we now have a limitless government that is out of control.
Skeptical persons should consider the following: Our national debt Is more than $7 trillion - more than $28,000 for every person in America. Our national security may be to the point that it is questionable if we now have the capability to deter a major dedicated enemy. This despite the fact that our national security is one of the key and major responsibilities of our government. It must be able to deter or, if necessary, protect citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic.
We are waging a war against terrorism abroad, while the terrorists are given free access to us through our porous borders. These same open borders also allow illegal drugs to freely flow into the United States, causing yet another problem. It is forcing us to spend millions of dollars on drug-related issues.
Without defined and defended borders, we are not a sovereign nation. Yet the past three presidents, which includes the present one, refuse to protect our borders, while millions of illegal persons enter this nation every year - many of them dedicated to destroying us. Yet we are willing to spend millions of dollars building border protection systems for other nations.
Ignoring Constitution weakens our sovereignty
At one time, we were recognized as the greatest nation in the world. Now because of the politicians in Washington D.C., we have lost major industries, including but not limited to steel, textile, shoe, electronic, tractor and farm implements. Now the once greatest agriculture nation in the world is importing agriculture commodities from all over the world, while American farmers go out of business.
In 1973, we were importing about 35 percent of our oil. Today, we import more than 70 percent. We are facing a national energy disaster because our national leader spends more time debating than addressing it. The net result of the transfer of much of our industrial and agricultural capability has resulted in a dramatic increase in our imports. This, in turn, has sent our balance of trade out of sight. Our dollar is trading about 140-to-1 against the Euro. Several years ago, it was one Euro to .89 dollars. We have become a debtor nation!
As if that isn’t bad enough, we are now outsourcing thousands of: our critical jobs (more 90,000 in 2004) to India, Russia and other nations. More and more jobs left in the United States are limited to the low-paying service jobs. A nation whose employment is based solely on service cannot long remain sovereign or free. Every year, the number of families declaring bankruptcy increases, indicating the effects of these terrible policies.
While this has been going on, the federal government has grown far beyond the role intended by our founders. The Judiciary has expanded its reach into areas where it has no legal authority, yet Congress does nothing about it. Congress continues to pass laws that are in direct violation of its authority. Tacitus, the Roman philosopher taught that: "when the state is most corrupt, the laws are most multiplied." When we consider the ponderous number of laws passed each session by Congress, we should become very alarmed .
An interested electorate is protection against abuses
The president, through the use of executive orders and other means, has expanded his power far beyond what the Constitution authorizes. State Rights that were of great concern to our founders are nearly gone - even though they wrote the 9th and 10th Amendments to protect them. While the things supra are ongoing, the average American stands in line waiting to be sheared like some hopeless sheep.
So it might be asked: What does all this have to do with the Constitution? Elected and government bureaucrats are able to get away with violations of the Constitution because the lack of interest of the electorate. A solution is a more an enlightened electorate that understands its Constitutional rights and the proper role of government.
John Hancock said it this way: "The powers reserved by the people (under the Constitution) render them secure, and until they themselves become corrupt. They will always have upright able rulers."
At the first sign of a violation of Constitutional rights we must act, government officials must be called to task by the American people, or we should be prepared to suffer the consequences. Our freedoms depend on a willingness to defend them against all foes, domestic or foreign.
We need to start now by seriously studying our Charter of Freedom - Our Constitution.
- Ronald M. Mann is a Payette resident. He served as the deputy director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution and was a former assistant to President Reagan. Ron will be a regular contributor to www.cpidaho.org.