"We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel. What those duties are, is determinable by right reason, which may be, and is called, a well informed conscience. What this conscience dictates as our duty, is so; and that power which assumes a control over it, is an usurper; for no power can be pleaded to justify the control, as any consent in this case is void." — Theophilus Parsons, The Essex Result, 1778
The United States Constitution has endured for more than two centuries. Even now, this single, guiding document remains the greatest statement of liberty ever written and a powerful beacon to all who strive for liberty.
On September 17th in 1787 The Constitution of the United States of America was signed by 38 of 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Supporters of the document waged a hard-won battle to win ratification by the necessary nine out of 13 U.S. states.
The Articles of Confederation, ratified several months before the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, provided for a loose confederation of U.S. states, which were sovereign in most of their affairs. On paper, Congress — the central authority — had the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and regulate currency, but in practice these powers were sharply limited because Congress was given no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops. By 1786, it was apparent that the Union would soon break up if the Articles of Confederation were not amended or replaced. Five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the issue, and all the states were invited to send delegates to a new constitutional convention to be held in Philadelphia.
On May 25, 1787, delegates representing every state except Rhode Island convened at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania State House for the Constitutional Convention. The building, which is now known as Independence Hall, had earlier seen the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the signing of the Articles of Confederation. The assembly immediately discarded the idea of amending the Articles of Confederation and set about drawing up a new scheme of government. Revolutionary War hero George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, was elected convention president.
During an intensive debate, the delegates, due to Madison’s influence, devised a brilliant federal organization characterized by an intricate system of checks and balances. The convention was divided over the issue of state representation in Congress, as more-populated states sought proportional legislation, and smaller states wanted equal representation. The problem was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which proposed a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (Senate).
On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. Beginning on December 7, five states--Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut--ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.
It should be noted here that this ratification process was spurred by the publication of 85 essays on the purpose and value of the new constitution authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, writing under the pseudo name of Publius, known as the Federalist Papers. These papers spell out the thinking, intent, and reasons for the new constitution and a republican form of federal government.
On September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States adopted 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the Bill of Rights — and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments were ratified in 1791. In November 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on the issue of slavery, resisted ratifying the Constitution until the U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted by two votes to ratify the document, and the last of the original 13 colonies joined the United States. Today, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world.
Over the past 226 years since the signing of the Constitution it has been amended 27 times (including the first 10 known as the Bill of Rights). Some of these amendments such as the 13th and 14th were needed to complete our dedication to the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..”
On the other hand amendments such as the 16th and 17th are in direct contradiction to the wishes of our Founders. These amendments created a progressive direct income tax — something our Founders did not want — and the election of Senators by direct popular vote reducing the power of the state legislatures and therefore the power of the states. It was this manner of the states sending senators to the upper house of the congress that was needed to obtain ratification of the Constitution in the first place as the states were not willing to abdicate their authority to a strong and powerful central government. An example of this abdication can be seen in the case were the state legislature, governor, attorney general, and people of the Commonwealth of Virginia were opposed to the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare) yet there two senators (both Democrats) voted for its passage. This was indirect contradiction to the will of the people of the state — something the Founders did not want.
For the past 100 years since the rise of the progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century the Constitution has been slowly and steadily degraded. All three branches of the federal government have been overstepping the bounds imposed by the Constitution. The executive branch has gained more power than the Congress and the Supreme Court has made unconstitutional decisions based on politics and not on the intent of the Founders. Congress has passed laws in direct contradiction to their powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Today we are living under a tyranny of the federal government that had the original 13 states known would occur they would have ratified the Constitution.
What we need today is a third American Revolution, a revolution not with guns as was the first one (the original revolt against the British and the progressive revolution of the twentieth century), but a revolution using the Constitution itself and the state legislatures as our weapons the main weapon being Article V that states that amendments can be added either through Congress or the States:
“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.”
Our Founders drafted this article for two reasons. One was to allow a rational amendment process using Congress as the initiating body and the second was to allow the states to curtail a tyrannical congress.
Mark Levin’s The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic is the revolutionary blueprint millions of Americans have been waiting for. In his book Levin leads the charge for restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.
Levin’s research into the Constitution, the debates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as well as those of the state ratification conventions are beyond thorough. As is his sharp eye for the extensive writings of Founders famous — James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason — and lesser known: Virginia’s Edmund Randolph, Pennsylvania’s Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson along with Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and others. Levin has plunged into the contemporaneous thoughts and writings of all the Founders to document precisely what reasoning lay behind the creation of the nation’s founding document.
Writes Levin in his opening chapter of the nation’s current state of affairs:
“Social engineering and central planning are imposed without end, since the governing masterminds, drunk with their own conceit and pomposity, have wild imaginations and infinite ideas for reshaping society and molding man’s nature in search of the ever elusive utopian paradise.”
How did a country so carefully crafted as a constitutional republic by thoughtful men who had experienced tyranny up close and personal ever get to the point where the federal administrative state runs wild, Supreme Court justices, the president and the Congress disdain the Constitution they are all sworn to uphold and the nation, in Levin’s words, “is teetering on financial ruin due to the unconscionable profligate spending, borrowing, taxing and money printing by the federal government”? How does America wake up every day to find its government exercising unlimited power over the private economic behavior of every American? How is it possible that a federal government designed to operate from a defined “enumeration of grants of specific power” is now:
“…the nation’s largest creditor, debtor, lender, employer, consumer, contractor, grantor, property owner, tenant, insurer, health-care provider, and pension guarantor….with aggrandized police powers…(that) for example…regulates most things in your bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen, as well as the mortgage you hold on your house. It designs your automobile and dictates the kind of fuel it uses. It regulates your baby’s toys, crib, and stroller; plans your children’s school curriculum and lunch menu; and administers their student loans in college. At your place of employment the federal government oversees everything from the racial, gender, and age diversity of the workforce to the hours, wages, and benefits paid.”
In effect, over a century after the original American Revolution of 1776, followed by the writing and adoption of the Constitution after exhaustive debate in both Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention and in the various states that then had to vote up or down on ratification — a Second American Revolution took place. A revolution that wasn’t termed as such, that was for the most part non-violent and in fact presented itself as just ordinary-politics-of-the-day. A “reform” that would, Americans of the day were assured, modernize the nation. This Second American Revolution — the Progressive Movement — burst onto the American scene in the 1880s. Progressives directly opposed the underlying principles of America. Where the Founders believed man was an individual — as Levin says a “unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience free to discover his own potential and pursue his own legitimate interests, temper by a moral order that has its foundation in faith.” the Progressives believed something else altogether.
Progressives believed man was not born free, that freedom was not a gift from God but a gift dispensed from the hand of the state. Freedom was redefined as the quest for utopia — or as Levin has termed it, Ameritopia. And in the endless quest for that utopia the social re-engineering of America, the Second American Revolution — the effective nullification of the Constitution — began.
Scornful of the Founders’ belief in limited government, progressives rammed through constitutional amendments that restructured the original design of the American government. Next up was the construction of an administrative state, and Levin quotes Alexis de Tocqueville — who was eerily prescient about what was to come in America long after his death in 1859. America, said the famous French philosopher, could be at risk of being consumed by a system that:
“…covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
This is exactly the effect of the Statist or Progressive movement, taking a century to lead the nation into what Levin calls a “post-constitutional soft tyranny” through an endless series of “inventions and schemes hatched and promoted openly by their philosophers, experts, and academics, and the coercive application of their designs on the citizenry by a delusional elite.”
“…I propose that we, the people, take a closer look at the Constitution for our preservation. The Constitution itself provides the means for restoring self-government and averting societal catastrophe (or, in the case of societal collapse, resurrecting the civil society) in Article V.”
And there it is. The Constitutional way-out of the Statist nightmare — or, as Levin calls it the “Achilles’ heel” of Statism. Article V of the United States Constitution. Levin reprints the relevant portion of Article V with his italics for emphasis:
“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….”
Levin notes a very important point. Article V does not provide for a constitutional convention. It provides for a process of proposing amendments. Article V:
“…provides for two methods of amending the Constitution. The first method, where two-thirds of Congress passes a proposed amendment and then forwards it to the state legislatures for possible ratification by three-fourths of the states, has occurred on twenty-seven occasions. The second method, involving the direct application of two-thirds of the state legislatures for a Convention proposing Amendments, which would thereafter also require a three-fourths ratification vote by the states, has been tried in the past but without success. Today it sits dormant.”
Which is to say, a new Constitutional Convention, and the subsequent ratification process would begin the long overdue process of shifting the tyrannical power out of the hands of the federal Leviathan and handing it back to the states. The states that created the federal government — a much different federal government — in the first place.
As Levin writes:
“I was originally skeptical of amending the Constitution by the state convention process. I fretted it could turn into a runaway caucus. As an ardent defender of the Constitution who reveres the brilliance of the Framers, I assumed this would play disastrously into the hands of the Statists. However, today I am a confident and enthusiastic advocate for the process. The text of Article V makes clear that there is a serious check in place. Whether the product of Congress or a convention, a proposed amendment has no effect at all unless “ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof…” This should extinguish anxiety that the state convention process should hijack the Constitution.”
Thus Levin in The Liberty Amendments lays out in clear, concise language eleven proposed amendments to the Constitution. They are:
- An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Members of Congress
- An Amendment to Restore the Senate
- An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices and Super-Majority Legislative Override
- Two Amendments to Limit Federal Spending and Taxing
- An Amendment to Limit the Federal Bureaucracy
- An Amendment to Promote Free Enterprise
- An Amendment to Protect Private Property
- An Amendment to Grant the States the Authority to Directly Amend the Constitution
- An Amendment to Grant the States the Authority to Check Congress
- An Amendment to Protect the Vote
Here are my favorites (actually I like all of them but I find these to be of the highest importance):
An Amendment to Restore the Senate
SECTION 1: The Seventeenth Amendment is hereby repealed. All Senators shall be chosen by their state legislatures as prescribed by Article 1.
This amendment may well be, as Levin notes, considered to be “the most controversial and politically difficult to institute.” A rare Levin understatement. But repealing the 17th Amendment, which provides for the popular election of U.S. Senators, would decidedly begin to right the balance in the American governmental ship of state.
The 17th Amendment was sold to Americans by Progressives as, in Levin’s words, “a cleansing and transforming expansion of popular democracy” when in fact it has turned out to be “an object lesson in the malignancy of the Progressive mind-set and its destructive impact on the way we practice self-government in a twenty-first century, post-constitutional nation.”
The United States Senate, as its name indicates, was designed to represent — the states. For 124 years it did so, producing along the way some of the nation’s greatest legislators including Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun, Kentucky’s Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. But as Levin points out, the idea in the early 1900’s was that since electing members of the House of Representatives by direct popular vote was working as designed — why not do this with senators?
The obvious answer brushed aside in the day was that the Framers had a reason for making the lower House chosen by popular vote and the Senate by state legislatures. Our Funders wanted both individuals and state governments to have “direct input in the national government” — the states that had, of course, created the federal government in the first place. To prevent, in the words of George Mason, the possibility that “the national Legislature will swallow up the Legislatures of the States.” The Founders wanted a direct flow of power from the institutions of state government into the process of making federal law.
The 17th Amendment decidedly undid this bedrock principle — and all too predictably the federal government did in fact “fill whatever areas of governance and even society it chooses.”
In point of fact, United States Senators today are not representative of the interests of their state governments — which are elected directly by the people (see the example of Virginia I show above). Instead they are beholden to, as Levin accurately notes, “Washington lobbyists, campaign funders, national political consultants, and other national advocacy organizations.” Or in other words: goodbye Boston, Albany, Harrisburg, Springfield, Lincoln, Little Rock, Atlanta, Austin, Sacramento, Carson City, Juneau and Jackson — hello K Street. And who, exactly, elected K Street lobbyists? No one, of course.
The fact of the matter is that the responsibility of the states in the national government as envisioned by the Founders has been stripped away, taking power once reserved specifically for states and turning it over to, as Levin notes, Washington’s “governing masterminds and their disciples.” Indeed, there is considerable irony in the furious anger from President Obama and liberals over the recent defeat of gun control legislation by the U.S. Senate. Who did they blame for the defeat? That’s right — the NRA. Not an elected state government. They blamed a lobby.
The repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment effectively created K Street and the modern “lobbyist/consultant industrial complex” America has come to know and hate today. To repeal the Seventeenth Amendment would effectively become an attack on that thoroughly “bipartisan” and distinctly well-heeled complex. Most assuredly, as Levin indicates, launching a battle royal between Washington elites and the rest of America.
An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices and Super-Majority Legislative Override
SECTION 1: No person may serve as Chief Justice or Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for more than a combined total of twelve years.
SECTION 4: Upon three-fifths vote of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Congress may override a majority opinion rendered by the Supreme Court.
SECTION 5: The Congressional override under Section 4 is not subject to a Presidential veto and shall not be the subject of litigation or review in any Federal or State court.
SECTION 6: Upon three-fifths vote of the several state legislatures, the States may override a majority opinion rendered by the Supreme Court.
There’s more in this amendment, but these sections listed above — designed to rein in what many perceive as an out-of-control federal judiciary will alone doubtless cause an uproar only marginally less vivid than the battle to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.
Levin notes the concerns various Founders and others had with the idea of the federal judiciary (to use a modern phrase) “going rogue.” He cites the prescient writings of New York Judge Robert Yates, an articulate opponent of the Constitution. As supporters of the Constitution rallied around The Federalist Papers, Yates (writing under the pseudo-name of Brutus) and others writing under pen names authored The Anti-Federalist Papers. In Anti-Federalist 80 (Essay no. 11) Yates warned:
”Much has been said and written upon the subject of this new system on both sides, but I have not met with any writer who has discussed the judicial powers with any degree of accuracy. And yet it is obvious, that we can gain but very imperfect ideas of the manner in which this government will work, or the effect it will have in changing the internal police and mode of distributing justice at present subsisting in the respective states, without a thorough investigation of the powers of the judiciary and of the manner in which they will operate. This government is a complete system, not only for making, but for executing laws. And the courts of law, which will be constituted by it, are not only to decide upon the constitution and the laws made in pursuance of it, but by officers subordinate to them to execute all their decisions. The real effect of this system of government, will therefore be brought home to the feelings of the people, through the medium of the judicial power. It is, moreover, of great importance, to examine with care the nature and extent of the judicial power, because those who are to be vested with it, are to be placed in a situation altogether unprecedented in a free country. They are to be rendered totally independent, both of the people and the legislature, both with respect to their offices and salaries. No errors they may commit can be corrected by any power above them, if any such power there be, nor can they be removed from office for making ever so many erroneous adjudications.”
And so it has turned out. Yates died in 1801, two years before Chief Justice John Marshall famously wrote in 1803’s Marbury v. Madison:
The judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the constitution.
Levin notes importantly that Abraham Lincoln took the occasion of his first inaugural address in 1861 to speak out in favor of limits to judicial power. Lincoln went on at length that he did not “forget the position assumed by some that national questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court” But as a staunch opponent of the Court’s fateful 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford — in which Democrats led by Andrew Jackson appointee and slave-owner Chief Justice Roger Taney attempted to write slavery into the Constitution — Lincoln believed the Court had arranged affairs so that “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”
Contrast this with that exemplar of the Progressive movement and a liberal hero to this day — the Democrats’ Woodrow Wilson. Wilson the Progressive — and staunch segregationist — “endorsed flat-out judicial tyranny” says Levin. Wilson believed “the federal judiciary was to behave as a perpetual constitutional convention,” rewriting the Constitution at will and “nearly always promoting the centralization and concentration of power in the federal government.” Indeed, things are now so far off track with the federal judiciary that the liberal Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has urged the Court to “look beyond one’s shores” to international law when writing and justifying Court rulings. The Constitution? What’s that?
Levin writes that by “claiming authority not specifically granted by the Constitution, abuses of power would certainly follow, as they have.”
The notion that, for example, Roe v. Wade might have been overturned by three-fifths of the state legislatures had Levin’s amendment been in place in January of 1973 will doubtless cause a frenzy on the left. On the other hand, there is no doubt the Left would love for this particular Liberty Amendment to be in place right now — so they could try and repeal Citizens United.
Giving the Congress and the States veto power over Supreme Court decisions will surely roil the waters political.
We won’t run through all the other amendments in detail here. It’s safe to say that each in their own fashion will arouse considerable controversy.
Limiting taxation to 15% of income? Abolishing the death tax and prohibiting a value-added (VAT) tax? A failure by the Congress and the President to adopt and sign a budget no later than the first Monday in May mandates “an automatic, across-the-board, 5 percent reduction in expenditures” from the previous year’s budget? Individually reauthorizing “all federal departments and agencies….individually in stand-alone reauthorization bills every three years by a majority vote of the House…and the Senate” — or said departments and agencies automatically expire? Finally reining in the much abused Commerce Clause? Securing “the fundamental right to own and maintain property” from government regulatory takings by forcing the government to “compensate fully” any financial loss over $10,000?
Boy will this cause a loud howl from the progressives who have their way with we the people for so long.
While the Liberty Amendments are the heart of Levin’s book, it is critical to go back to the reason for this book — and the undoubted reaction to his proposals that is surely about to rain down on the book and its supporters, not to mention the author himself. Writes Levin in his Epilogue, appropriately titled The Time for Action:
“No doubt, in a twist of logic, the state convention process and The Liberty Amendments will be assaulted by the governing masterminds and their disciples as an extreme departure from the status quo and, therefore, heretical, as they resist ferociously all efforts to diminish their power and position. Paradoxically, it is they who distort the Constitutions’ text and trespass its purpose by actively pursuing its nullification and abandonment. History demonstrates that republics collapse when demagogues present themselves as their guardians to entice the people and cloak their true intentions…..Indeed, the closer the approach to constitutional restoration, should that day arrive, a torrent of fuming and malevolent rage will, predictably, let loose, alleging perfidy by the true reformers.”
The Liberty Amendments — all eleven of them — are a serious work of restoration and reform. They are ironically the very embodiment of that current liberal favorite: “Hope and Change” — turned back on the entire progressive concept of government. There is in fact no reason whatsoever that Americans must accept what Levin calls the “obtuse and defeatist notion of moderation that accepts the disposition of inevitable societal self-destruction without recourse to an available escape. Its irrationality is self-evident.”
It is all too apparent after a hundred-years plus of the Progressive “Second American Revolution” that the revolution is not only failed but dangerous. Exceptionally dangerous. Dangerous to everything from the larger financial underpinnings of America to the individual lives of Americans who must daily face this, that or the other onslaught from their own government.
The plethora of scandals from recent years — tellingly in both the Obama and Bush administrations —speaks to the fundamental recognition that the problem is the inevitable out-of-control nature of a massive, intrusive federal government apparatus. From the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused financial crisis of 2008 to recent headlines about the IRS, FEC, DEA, SEC, EPA, State Department, Food Stamps and more, all in a very real sense are nothing but the latest confirmation of just how massive and irrational the federal government has become. Indeed, the defense of President Obama by liberal allies in the IRS scandal is that surely one cannot expect the President to have any idea about what’s going on in his own government because the government is in fact so huge.
All the way back in 1964 in that famous speech A Time for Choosing (found here) that introduced Ronald Reagan to America as a political figure, Reagan saw all this coming. Said the future president in those famous closing lines:
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us that we justified our brief moments here. We did all that could be done.”
The challenge Mark Levin’s Liberty Amendments now poses to millions of Americans is exactly Reagan’s challenge.
Will we preserve the last best hope of man on earth?
Will, in Levin’s words, “we the people restore the splendor of the American Republic”?
Ronald Reagan’s A Time for Choosing has now become Mark Levin’s The Time for Action.
And Mark Levin has provided the blueprint.
I urge you to obtain a copy of Levin’s book and read it through. He not only presents the problem and offers the solution with one of his liberty amendments he does a fantastic job of giving the historical context and thinking (through the writing and speeches) of our Founders when they drafted and ratified the Constitution. Levine’s book should be read by anyone concerned about the direction of our Republic.