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While the Founders had not the technology to broadcast their discussion, or put it on the Web, they could, and did, have the ability to write about it…and write they did. And, it is by those writings we can gain an appreciation and understanding of the government and country they bequeathed to us. Unfortunately, it is a systemic failure of our times that these writings and arguments are almost entirely ignored throughout the American educational system.

In his 1951 essay introducing the Great Books of the Western World titled The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education, Robert Hutchins observed that the …spirit of Western civilization is the spirit of inquiry…[and that]…the exchange of ideas is held to be the path to the realization of the potentialities of the race. It was by a study of the Great Books that one could surely become a knowledgeable and contributing member of civilization. Likewise, it is by a study of the great works of the Founders that one can become a knowledgeable and contributing citizen of the republic.

One of the critical foundational ideas was that the government being instantiated was one of specific enumerated powers…the people and the states were only loaning certain elements of their sovereignty - no more than was specified in the Constitution - and which they had a right to reclaim. The government would not be permitted to exercise any power not specifically authorized, or enumerated, in the Constitution. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, arguably the leading Federalist, stipulated such in Federalist LIV when discussing the issue of a bill of rights:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? (Emphasis added)

However, that very same Alexander Hamilton, when serving as the first Secretary of the Treasury and arguing in support of the establishment of a central bank of the United States encountered a problem – the Constitution did not empower the federal government to establish banking institutions of any sort. This didn’t seem to bother Hamilton who then argued the exact opposite than in Federalist LIV – since the establishment of a central bank was not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, it was implicitly permitted. Hamilton later prevailed in the argument with those who took the contradictory position and the First Bank of the United States was established in 1791. Ironically, Hamilton, having questionably won the argument but not having the required $2 million to purchase the establishing shares - the government was $80 million in debt - borrowed the $2 million from the very same bank and then used it to purchase the required shares to establish the bank.

Thus we have the opening shot in a debate that endures to this day – what are the limits of power and authority of the federal government?

Today that debate has been morphed into the Progressive idea of the living Constitution, which basically means that the Constitution itself has no limiting authority and that the federal government can do pretty much whatever it wants.

If that’s in fact the position in which we find ourselves, then the United States is, now, not much different than any banana republic or totalitarian state.

We trust that's not the case because that will mark the end of a great and unique idea.

We hope you’ll spend time here, browse the document and book collections, learning material, and other offerings to make yourself a more aware citizen and more cognizant of the foundations upon which the Nation is built.

Please note that the site is continually Under Construction as the amount of data to be incorporated is enormous. If you find something that doesn't work, or inaccurate, please drop us a note using the Contact Us button on the left of all screens.

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Temporary delusions, prejudices, excitements, and objects have irresistible influence in mere questions of policy. And the policy of one age may ill suit the wishes or the policy of another. The constitution is not subject to such fluctuations. It is to have a fixed, uniform, permanent construction. It should be, so far at least as human infirmity will allow, not dependent upon the passions or parties of particular times, but the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, Rules of Interpretation of the Constitution, 1833

 

Notable Quotes

The freedom we should seek is not the right to suppress others, but the right to live as we choose and think as we choose where our doing so does not prevent others from doing likewise.

Russell, Sceptical Essays


Founder's Quotes

Where the people are free there can be no great contrast or distinction among honest citizens in or out of office. In proportion as the people lose their freedom, every gradation of distinction, between the Governors and governed obtains, until the former become masters, and the latter become slaves. In all governments virtue will command reverence.

John Francis Mercer (A [Maryland] Farmer), New Constitution Creates a National Government, Will not Abate Foreign Influence, Dangers of Civil War and Despotism, March 7, 1788


Did You Know?

The Supreme Court tradition of the  "conference handshake” began with Chief justice Melville W. Fuller in the late 1800s. Before they take their seats at the bench, each justice shakes hands with the others. Chief justice Fuller cited the practice as a way to remind justices that, although they may have differences of opinion, they share a common purpose.


A Government of Laws...

In the government of this Commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative or judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, A.D. 1780


Term Limit Congress
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A Book You Should Read

Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and His Correspondence with the Most Distinguished Men in America and Europe: Illustrative of Their Characters and of the Events of the American Revolution, Richard Henry Lee (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2007)