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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 only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.

Mark Twain


Founder's Quotes

Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.

James Madison


Did You Know?

Once the Declaration of Independence had been written and signed, printer John Dunlap was asked to make about 200 copies to be distributed throughout the colonies. Today, the “Dunlap Broadsides” are extremely rare and valuable. In 1989, someone discovered a previously unknown Dunlap Broadside. It was sold for over $8 million in 2000. There are only 26 known surviving Dunlap Broadsides today.


A Government of Laws...

Article V - Amendment Process - United States Constitution

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.


Term Limit Congress
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A Book You Should Read

The American Tradition, Clarence Carson (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1974)