What It Means To Be An American – Ep. 265


One of the key differences between Americans and citizens of other countries is that in most nations of the world, individuals gradually won freedoms and privileges from a monarchy. In the U.S., however, we started with all of our rights.  Then, Americans created government by surrendering some of their power, empowering government.  These rights are spelled out in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.

Free Stuff Rather Than Freedom

We have government not to give us stuff, but to secure our freedom. Americans today really don’t want freedom.  They want free stuff. When the government gives you something they take away your choice; they tell you what you are going to get and how you are going to get it. When the government gives you something, however, they must take away from someone else, diminishing that person’s freedom.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution

The Constitution created a Federal Government.  Prior to the Constitution we were organized under the Articles of the Confederation. But the framers of the Constitution wanted the government to have a little more power.  All of the powers of the Federal Government are contained in Article 1, Section 8, and it’s not a big section.  It has 18 enumerated powers.

Government Powers vs. State Powers

The Constitution is written in two ways: it grants powers to the Federal Government and it denies powers to the states. You know that by reading the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, The Bill of Rights ,which lays out how the Constitution is organized, and that the Federal Government has only the powers expressly granted. The states retain certain powers owned prior to the formation of the Federal government. So, if the Constitution did not specifically prohibit the states from doing something, they could do it.

Ignoring the Constitution

We know what the Constitution means because its writing is clear. Today they say the Constitution needs to be interpreted – that the Supreme Court is there to “interpret the Constitution”. The Constitution is not written in Chinese – it is written in plain English.  The Constitution needs to be applied and enforced.  When people are talking about interpreting the Constitution they are really talking about ignoring the Constitution and to impart meaning that doesn’t exist.

The Federalist Papers

If you look back at the Federalist Papers, at what the founders of the Constitution wrote about the meaning of the document, particularly James Madison, in Federalist Paper #45. If you don’t know what the Federalist Papers are, or you’ve never read them, they are a collection of articles, written at the time the Constitution was being ratified, to generate understanding and support. The authors were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

Here is a quote from Madison, who was considered to be the “Father of the Constitution”:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

In other words, here is James Madison stating that the powers of the Federal Government are few and defined, and to focus on external affairs: in war, peace and trade negotiations.  This is where taxes are described. Everything concerning domestic affairs is relegated to the states.

Government Powers as Defined by the Constitution

When you think of the Federal government today, do you think that the Federal government’s powers are few and defined? I am going to read directly from the Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, where all of the powers of Congress are defined:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.