What Is a Constitutional Crisis? Would You Know it if We Were in One?
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What Is a Constitutional Crisis? Would You Know it if We Were in One?

October 11, 2019


What is a constitutional crisis? Would you know it if we were in one? To understand if we are in one today, we have
to look back at our history. But first, a definition. Constitutional crisis, noun: a problem or
conflict in the function of a government that the political constitution or other fundamental
governing law is perceived to be unable to resolve. Let’s look back at one, the Nullification
Crisis, 1828 to 1833. South Carolina declares national tariffs would
be null and void forcing a constitutional showdown between state and federal governments. President Andrew Jackson is none too happy. Congress is, uh, concerned about, um, the
economy, and the tariffs are, uh, perceived to help manufacturing in the North and in
the West, uh, and Southerners though perceive the tariffs as being, uh, economically oppressive. Just as the 1828 election is about to occur,
Congress passes another tariff law jacking up the standard rate to 50%. Think about that. Imagine if everything that you purchased that
was manufactured or grown in a foreign country had a 50% tax on it. At this point, uh, South Carolina had had
enough. In the fall of that year, they passed an Ordinance
of Nullification. They declared that the, uh, tariff was no
law, that it was not binding on the state of South Carolina, and it wasn’t going to
be enforced. While that was going on, um, President Jackson
issued what’s called the Nullification Proclamation. He said, “You’ve been misled by your political
leaders. You cannot prevent enforcement of a federal
law in South Carolina. Nullification is treason, and I have sworn
an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.” He also asked Congress to ask what came to
be called a force bill. The force bill would empower the president
to use the Army to enforce the law. People actually thought that Jackson would
go attack South Carolina, that there would be a civil war in the United States. Fortunately, Henry Clay steps into the scene,
you know, the Great Compromise. Henry Clay negotiates a compromise that everybody
agrees to. Ultimately, it gives South Carolina and the
Southern states some tariff relief over the next ten years. It’s controversial because, uh, by now we’ve
had several efforts to assert, um, a kind of radial states’ rights position. Um, the radical states’ rights position is
actually at odds with, um, much of what we see in the Constitution. Does the federal government have primacy or
do the states have primacy? The political problem was dealt with, but
the fundamental issue of whether or not the federal government is going to have absolute
control or whether the states still had a part to play, that has not been resolved and
really today hasn’t been resolved at this point either. And then we have crisis number two, the death
of William Henry Harrison, April 4th, 1841. In this case, shortly after inauguration,
William Henry Harrison dies in office. Should his vice president finish out his term? Should a special election be called? The Constitution is less than helpful. So what happens? Uh, Tyler immediately starts to behave like
he’s a lawfully elected president, and he takes the Presidential Oath of Office, and
he just starts running the country as if there’s no doubt about this. And he’s able to sort of create a kind of
precedent that we’ve followed ever since. Tyler’s detractors, uh, only considered himself
an acting president, um, which meant that he wasn’t considered popularly elected as
far as, uh, his, uh, detractors were concerned. I- it would’ve also meant that they should’ve
been, uh, trying to, uh, immediately schedule an election, uh, to fill the, the presidency
as soon as possible. Tyler believed that the moment he took the
Oval Office, he was entitled to finish out, uh, Harrison’s term. Ultimately, there’s too much of a, uh, temptation
to basically just seize power, and whoever has the political clout at the moment is going
to be able to do that, and we see this all the time. Usually, it’s through usage, through what
James Madison called liquidation of constitutional provisions that their meanings are established. I believe that any time that here is any gray
area, instead of simply setting a precedent, simply letting those in power decide what
their powers are going to be, that we should turn to the amendment process. We passed the 25th Amendment, uh, after, uh,
JFK’s assassination. By then, we also had a kind of set of lingering
concerns, for example, what if a president becomes, uh, mentally ill? A number of these concerns, uh, started to
become raised, and so the 25th Amendment was enacted to clarify that the vice president
would always be the one to assume power of the president either dies or is somehow incapacitated. And finally, crisis three, the 1876 Presidential
Election, November 7th, 1876. Voting irregularities force Congress to appoint
a special panel to determine the election results: seven Republicans, seven Democrats,
and a justice. What could go wrong? It was a highly contentious election. Tilden was accused of, uh, all sorts of things. They called him corrupt, they accused him
of being riddled with syphilis, they called him a drunk. There were also accusations of voter intimidation. Armed white citizens wanted to sort of push
the Republicans out of those remaining Southern states. We’re in the midst of Reconstruction. Uh, many states in the South are still effectively
under martial law. They’re being run by the, by the U.S. military,
so there were a lot of, uh, there’s a lot of gray in, in all of this. Instead of allowing each state to determine
the results of its own election, it got thrown to this special panel. And what Congress did was to appoint a 15
person commission to try to resolve all of these issues and decide who would be the next
president of the United States. And then there was going to be this last person,
this 15th person that at least a number of congressmen hoped would be a somewhat more
neutral figure. That person ended up becoming Supreme Court
Justice Joseph Bradley. When finally the commission took its vote,
a, uh, Supreme Court justice who had been thought to be neutral but actually wasn’t,
uh, voted Republican, and that meant that Hayes ended up getting to, to become the president. Eventually, a compromise is hammered out,
and this is what, uh, ends up resolving the crisis is that, um, a number of promises are
made, uh, to im- uh, help improve the economy of the South. This will happen if the Democrats accept that
the contested votes will all go to Hayes. There’s an, uh, understanding as part of this
deal that the federal government will withdraw what’s left of the troops from places like
Louisiana. The standard version of the outcome in 1876
has been that there was a trade between Northern and Southern whites. In reality, this is not what happened. Grant had already removed significant military
assets from the South, so it actually was not a product of the commission’s work that
Reconstruction was brought to a final end. Conclusion: Historical Crises, Lingering Effects. If we’re going to have “rule of law,” then
we have to have a firm, concrete foundation, a constitutional foundation that does not
shift and it does not move. In all of these crises, we start to see what
happens when we don’t adhere to that foundation. People have made good-faith arguments in recent
years that in various scenarios, we were in a constitutional crises. I think pending how one understands ongoing
events in 2019, it’s arguable that we are in more than one kind of constitutional crisis. I don’t think that we’re living in the most
divisive time in history. I think we have always had divisive times. The more you try to centralize, the more that
divisiveness is going to be exacerbated. Uh, when we can decentralize, it’s easier
to get along and live together. Anyone who, uh, watches, uh, uh, this documentary
or thinks hard about these episodes, uh, will hopefully come away with the sense that, uh,
constitutional principles aren’t, uh, self-executing. Uh, they’re not self-evident, even through
we like saying that they are. Uh, instead, they are, uh, enforced through
struggle, the willingness of someone to kind of lay down, um, uh, to draw a line, uh, to
fight for a principle. We can only know the content of a principle,
uh, through this struggle and how people react to it afterward.

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  1. By definition no we aren't in one…. they've made the claim since the fair loss of the 2016 by making several false claims to discredit the process backed by the cognitive dissonance of the Democrat voters help fuel the insanity of being a sore loser … everytime the Democrats lose there is always some excuse of the other party cheating but if they win it's fair and no one did anything wrong lol… 2016 they cheated and loss and can't deal with it… I learned of the election process over 20 years ago in middle school so it's not a surprise to me but so many people clearly never paid attention and are guided by emotional manipulation where reality doesn't matter because they feel strongly about something

  2. Half of Congress are dual citizens with demonstraitable biased loyalties to one nation over another. Our military is being used as international police while our police have become a standing army hostile to the people. Then their is the war on drugs despite the fact that although not specifically stated it is heavily implied that the states are in charge of regulating intoxicating mind altering substances and not the feds and speaking of feds why the fuck does the ATF even exist? 2nd amendment is very infringed upon. And on and on I could go.

    Gilded cages still hold captives and this tyranny will still disregard it's law to do what ever the individual with "authority" wants to do.

    The masons have failed in their stewardship of this nation.

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