by Fed Farmer
In its literal sense, a foundation is what has been laid down upon which everything else is built, so it is imperative that you at once build a strong foundation, less all else crumbles. It is also, perhaps less realized, that one most also build that foundation on a firm footing and not upon sand, more on this later.
There are only two foundations for the governance of society available from which to choose:
The Rule of Law
The Rule of Men
Throughout the entire course of human history, our societies have opted for the later. There have been a few notable, short-lived, exceptions; the Greek Republics and the Roman Republic, but even those degenerated into Oligarchies. The Egyptians had their Pharaohs, later Rome had its Emperors, Europe had its kings, and Russia had its Czars – all with one overriding characteristic: men were ruled by the whim of other men. The central question differentiating the two is this “Where do men’s rights come from?”
In all forms of Oligarchy, the answer is rights of men are granted to them by their rulers (their King or Emperor), who, of course, could easily take those rights away.
One asks the obvious question, where did the King get these rights from which to graciously bestow them onto his people? The answer was the King is God, or at least ordained by God. In order to promote the edicts of the King, local governorships were established and frequently given to corrupt officials that the King could rely upon. This last point is indicative of how the early colonies were established.
It was not quite that way throughout our early history; from the founding of Jamestown to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – a span of nearly 200 years, each of the colonies were autonomously ruled largely due to the distance and time from the British King and the colonies, and out of custom.
Our early history was one in which the King cared little as to specifics of how the colonies were governed. The people of the colonies were able to establish their own governments, their own statutes, and their own laws; in short, they enjoyed a great deal of Liberty. It is also very important to note that the British King had lost a great deal of power to the British Parliament in the preceding 500 years from the Magna Carta (1215) to the English Bill of Rights (1689) and that the “Rights” of the British subjects in the colonies were further defined in the Colonial Charters. It was the erosion of these rights to which our Founding Fathers objected. Each and every one of our Founders considered themselves to be loyal British subjects up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
During and after the War for Independence, these United States of America were, again, largely ruled autonomously with [too] few powers given to the Continental Congress. The Constitutional Convention was called and took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, to address the shortcomings of the Continental Congress; specifically how to pay the bills, establish a government that could earn the respect of other nations, and address the question of governance. It was here were the philosophical question of “are we to be ruled by men or are we to be free” was answered. What follows is largely taken from the Wiki article on the Constitutional Convention.
There were four separate plans submitted and rejected, but it is through the debates on each of three of these plans where we can determine our foundation.
The first was the Virginia Plan, written primarily by James Madison and presented by Virginia governor, Edmund Randolph. The objection to the Virginia Plan was that it would establish a National Government. The Virginia Plan proposed a very powerful bicameral legislature – both houses of the legislature determined proportionately. The lower house would be elected by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house. The executive would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and would therefore be selected by the legislature. The Virginia Plan also created a judiciary and gave both the executive and some of the judiciary the power to veto, subject to override. Remember this when you read Madison in The Federalist Papers.
Charles Pinckney then submitted his plan, though not in writing, so the details are somewhat sketchy. The basics were that of a treaty; it was not debated and did not come up again.
The Virginia Plan threatened to limit the smaller states’ power by making both houses of the legislature proportionate to population. On 14 and 15 June 1787, a small-state caucus met to create a response to the Virginia Plan. The result was the New Jersey Plan, otherwise known as the Small State Plan.
The New Jersey Plan, ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, was much closer to the initial call for the Convention: drafting amendments to the Articles of Confederation to fix the problems within it. Under the New Jersey Plan, the existing Continental Congress would remain, but it would be granted new powers, such as the power to levy taxes and force their collection. An executive branch was created, to be elected by Congress (the plan allowed for a multi-person executive). The executives would serve a single term and were subject to recall at the request of state governors. The plan also created a judiciary that would serve for life, to be appointed by the executives. Lastly, any laws set by Congress would take precedence over state laws. When Paterson reported the plan to the convention on June 15, 1787, it was ultimately rejected, but it gave the smaller states a rallying point for their interests.
The forth was The British Plan, submitted by Alexander Hamilton. Unsatisfied with the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed his own plan. It was known as the British Plan because of its resemblance to the British system of strong centralized government. In his plan, Hamilton advocated virtually doing away with state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. The plan featured a bicameral legislature, the lower house elected by the people for three years. The upper house would be elected by electors chosen by the people and would serve for life. The plan also gave the Governor, an executive elected by electors for a life-term of service and an absolute veto over bills. State governors would be appointed by the national legislature, and the national legislature had veto power over any state legislation. This, too, was rejected mainly on the grounds it resembled the British system too closely. It also contemplated the loss of most state authority, which the states were unwilling to allow. Again, remember this when you read Hamilton in The Federalist Papers.
What followed was The Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, proposed on June 11. In a sense, it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the senate, and thus retaining a federal character in the constitution. Sherman sided with the two-house national legislature of the Virginia Plan, but proposed “That the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. branch [house] should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more. This plan failed when first presented.
What was ultimately included in the constitution was a modified form of this plan. In the Committee of Detail, Benjamin Franklin added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House, and, rather than the state delegations voting as a block, as instructed by their state legislatures, Franklin’s modification made them free agents. As such, the Senate would bring a federal character to the government, not because senators were elected by state legislatures, but because each state was equally represented.
It is with little difficulty that one can realize that what came out of the Convention was a Constitution, federal in nature, respecting the rights of the states and established to secure the rights of men. Not one by The Rule of Men, that would have been either Madison’s or Hamilton’s plan, but one of The Rule of Law. This is a Republic, as Benjamin Franklin answered, if we can keep it.
1Co 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
The attacks on the nature of our Constitution came immediately through the misnamed Federalist Papers. Though both Hamilton and Madison were proposing a strong National government at the Convention, and failed, they knew that they could build upon the Constitution. The advocates of a federal government, one with few delegated powers, were consigned to take the name The Anti-Federalists.
But this does not adequately address the question as to what did these men build our foundations upon. Certainly not on the Republics of antiquity – they all failed and that would have been a foundation built on sand. No, it was upon far more than ancient bedrock upon which our foundations were built: The Bible.
In Exodus 18:13-27, Moses had a problem. All of the people of Israel came to him to solve all of their problems. Seeing that Moses was overwhelmed, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, proposed a simple solution:
Exo 18:20 And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
Exo 18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
With this, God provided the bedrock upon which to build the foundations of how people must be governed.
Fed Farmer is a guest writer to The Bold Pursuit.