How Would You Revise Your State Constitution?
As another school year winds down, we hear of teams of young people who have received honors for their work in government or Constitution related competitions. We are led to believe that here are the young people who know a lot about government and are being prepared to lead our nation in the near future. As I have looked into these activities, I have usually been disappointed at what the students are studying. It seems that they are being prepared to be lawyers because they are studying cases which have been handed down over the years from judges who have themselves been guided by previous court cases. As I have listened to some of these presentations, I have asked myself, "Where are the foundational principles which should guide all legal activity?" I believe if our young people had a better grasp on basic principles of good government as laid down by our Founders, we would have movements much different from what we are now seeing.
As a teacher of senior high school students, our class entitled "The Healing of America" has been involved the last two months in a simulated Constitution Convention with the purpose to revise the Constitution of the state of Arizona. State constitutions must deal with matters quite different than the federal constitution. They work with matters closer to the people-matters which, as James Madison put it, "concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people." The debate in the simulated convention was sometimes quite lively. But the impressive thing was that they usually agreed on the principles behind the motions, even though methods were much debated. It must be kept in minds that these are high school seniors doing this. They have very little real life experience in public affairs. While some of their judgments may reflect their youthfulness, the principles they have learned in prior classes are reflected in their thought processes.
In the very beginning of our present state constitution is a declaration concerning principles. It states: A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual rights and the perpetuity of free government. Here is a mandate to return often to original principles. There seems to be a disease which inflicts most lawmakers that gives them the feeling that just because they have been elected they have to begin making more laws! It is easy to get sidetracked into areas completely beyond the scope and authority of government.
I believe one of the most basic and most misunderstood concepts in government is the concept of federalism-the division of responsibility between different levels of governments which, when followed, will best protect the people from overpowering governmental intrusion. Several principles of the Founders emphasize this point:
- The United States of America shall be a republic.
- A constitution should be structured to permanently protect the people from the human frailties of their rulers.
- A system of checks and balances should be adopted to prevent the abuse of power.
- The unalienable rights of the people are most likely to be preserved if the principles of government are set forth in a written constitution.
- Only limited and carefully defined powers should be delegated to government, all others being retained in the people.
- Strong local self-government is the keystone to preserving human freedom. (See a discussion of these and others in The Five Thousand Year Leap)
Dr. Skousen explains the delicate balance which the Founders built between the states and the national government:
"The powers allocated to the national government were highly important but carefully enumerated. The Constitution lists only twenty (See Article I, Section 8, U. S. Constitution). These are the powers relating to foreign affairs, war, peace, national security, managing interstate commerce, federal taxes, naturalization, patents, bankruptcy laws, federal lands and property, handling federal finance, coining of money, fixing weights and measures, establishing post offices, setting up federal courts, and handling crimes on the high seas or violations of the law of nations.
"The Founders feared that federal officials and federal agencies would try to invade or control the activities assigned to the states. They therefore included the Tenth Amendment to remind the federal government that it had no authority in any area not specifically described in the Constitution.
"With the Constitution fixing chains on the branches of government to hold them in place, the Founders put the federal government over the several states to serve them as its coordinator in the area of 'national' affairs.
Founder James Iredell expressed the fact that citizens will have allegiance to two different and distinct governments:
"When this government is adopted, there will be two governments to which we shall owe obedience -- to the government of the Union, in certain defined cases -- to our own state government in every other case." (Quoted in The Making of America, p. 183)
One can readily see that the Founders were very clear that the national government's powers were very few and very defined. Jefferson was foremost in his understanding of the limited role of the national government:
"Our citizens have wisely formed themselves into one nation as to others, and several states as among themselves. To the united nation belong our external and mutual relations; to each state severally the care of our persons, our property, our reputation and religious freedom. This wise distribution, if carefully preserved, will prove, I trust from example, that while smaller governments are better adapted to the ordinary objects of society, larger confederations more effectually secure independence and the preservation of republican government." (Quoted in The Making of America, p. 183)
The national government was not to have anything to do with situations which pertained only to one group of people, a specific locality, individuals, businesses or any other entity unless it benefited the nation as a whole. And even if it did benefit the nation as a whole it still had to fall under one of the twenty defined powers. They referred to this as "general welfare". All other concerns were left solely to the state and local governments. James Wilson said it this way:
"We find, on an examination of all its parts, that the objects of this government are such as extend beyond the bounds of the particular states. This is the line of distinction between this government and the particular state governments.... (Quoted in The Making of America, p. 184)
During the ratification debates, some had expressed fears that the national government would gradually eat up the state governments and render them powerless. In response to this, Francis Corbin of Virginia explained there is not the power given to do this:
"The extent of the United States cannot render this government oppressive. The powers of the general government are only of a general nature, and their object is to protect, defend, and strengthen the United States; but the internal administration of government is left to the state legislatures, who exclusively retain such powers as will give the states the advantages of small republics, without the danger commonly attendant on the weakness of such governments." (Quoted in The Making of America, p. 185)
James Wilson expressed the thought that the Constitution gives the states enough power to balance any unauthorized encroachment by the national government. He goes even farther to point out that, in many respects, the national governments very existence depends upon the states:
"But, Sir, it has been intimated that the design of the federal convention was to absorb the state governments. This would introduce a strange doctrine indeed, that one body should seek the destruction of another, upon which its own preservation depends, or that the creature should eat up and consume the creator. The truth is, Sir, that the framers of this system were particularly anxious, and their work demonstrates their anxiety, to preserve the state governments unimpaired -- it was their favorite object; and, perhaps, however proper it might be in itself, it is more difficult to defend the plan on account of the excessive caution used in that respect than from any other objection that has been offered here or elsewhere. Hence, we have seen each state, without regard to their comparative importance, entitled to an equal representation in the senate, and a clause has been introduced which enables two-thirds of the state legislature at any time to propose and effectuate alterations in the general system." (Quoted in The Making of America, p. 186)
Having been well founded in these principles, our students then undertook the task of proposing revisions to the state constitution to reflect the real strength of the states in standing up to the national government. Some of these assume a restoration of the original intent of the U. S Constitution. Here are some of their ideas:
Bearing of arms : The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, and the citizens shall never be required to register their firearms.
Military Allegiance : No citizen in the state shall be forced to serve under any military command except of the state or nation.
Elections : All laws pertaining to political parties are repealed. Political subdivisions shall include state, county, city, precinct, and school. Precinct and school level elections shall be by the vote of the registered voters within those boundaries. All other elections shall be by an Electoral College method. Electors shall consist of one representative elected from each of the next lowest political subdivisions. No current office holder may serve as an elector. The sole duty of the electors shall be the finding, interviewing, and choosing a resident to serve in the particular office.
Taxes : No tax shall be levied by this state upon the income or property of its citizens. The only taxes that may be levied will be sales taxes and a tax on each person of an equal amount. Property taxes may be levied only by each school governing board solely for the purpose of supporting the public school within its own boundaries.
Education : Each public school shall be owned, controlled, and financed by the citizens living within the boundaries of that school. No school districts shall ever be created containing more than one school. Each school shall have a governing board elected by parents within that school district. Such board shall have complete authority over teacher qualifications and hiring, curriculum, and financing of the school. All schools are encouraged to teach religion, morality, and knowledge. (Per federal law as set forth in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. See The Five Thousand Year Leap, pp. 75-78)
Morality laws : Adultery, homosexuality, fornication, and cohabitation are prohibited within this state.
Federal lands : No county recorder shall ever record a deed for federal ownership of land unless it strictly complies with the requirements of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and it has been approved by the state legislature.
Initiative and Referendum : It is hereby declared that the initiative and referendum procedures are strictly prohibited in this state. These procedures violate the United States Constitutional guarantee to each state of a republican form of government by allowing the people to pass laws themselves. As has been seen in the past, this leads to unwise, emotional, and hasty decisions, which tear at the moral and republican nature of our society.
Where Do Students Learn To Reason This Way?
These ideas, and many more, are learned by the students as they study the ideas laid down by the Founders of our country. We study their own words, not just what someone has said they said. The Founders' words are so clear and refreshing that one is led to exclaim, "The whole nation should be studying these ideas."
In our class we study The Five Thousand Year Leap and The Making of America. These books present the Founders' ideas in an organized, clear way. This is a semester long class. We have gone to the effort of video taping these lessons for use by any schoolteacher or homeschool family. This package comes complete with quizzes, tests, and other study material. See the accompanying flyer or call our toll-free number on the letterhead for more information.
Earl Taylor, Jr.