Tag Archives: Revolutionary War

America’s Sacred Texts

By Jerry McDaniel

After several years spent studying American History and our founding documents, I came to the conclusion that the Founding Fathers left us a perfect plan for governing a free people. Most, if not all the major domestic crises faced by America since its founding could have been avoided had the leaders at the time, followed the precepts of our founding documents. Unfortunately, while the Founders gave us a perfect plan, that plan has never been administered by perfect men. The verdict of history and the Bible is that there are no perfect men, which brings us to the central question. If there are no perfect men, and yet we have a perfect plan of governance, how did we get it?

To appreciate fully the wisdom of the Founder’s plan it is necessary to view it as a single document consisting of three parts. (1) The Declaration of Independence gives the justification for our existence as a separate and independent people and the principles to enable us to govern ourselves successfully. (2) The Constitution presents the plan for governing, embodying those principles, and strengthening the whole while protecting the liberty and independence of all its parts. (3) The Bill of Rights clarifies and amplifies the intent of the Founders for particular elements of the plan.

These three parts of the Founder’s plan, collectively represent the most perfect and complete plan of government ever devised. Since its inception in March,1789 there have been many attempts to improve on the original as our political leaders moved away from its direction and chafed at the restrictions the plan placed on their ambitions. In each attempt to “update” the original, history has shown the effort to be of dubious benefit, with the unintended consequences sometimes far outweighing the intended improvements. For example, there have been seventeen Amendments to the Constitution since the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Most of those have produced marginal benefits with negligible damage to the original plan. Others have been used by revisionists to alter drastically the original plan, to the detriment of the American people and liberty, Amendments 12, 14, 16 and 17, are good examples.

The unity, cohesiveness, and durability of the Founder’s plan is even more remarkable when we consider the diversity of personalities, occupations, education, and interests of the hundreds of people who contributed to its formulation, including the Second Continental Congress, the Philadelphia Convention, and thirteen State Ratifying Conventions. One explanation can be found in the closing paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”. This phrase is much more than a rhetorical device to add solemnity to the document. It expresses the heartfelt faith of virtually all the Founding Fathers.

In our desire to view ourselves as a secular society ruled by a secular government, we overlook and often deny the most fundamental attribute of our national character; we are a religious people. According to a 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78.4% of all American Adults identify themselves as Christian. 4.7% identify as being affiliated with other than Christian religions and another 5.8% identify as being religious but not affiliated with any particular religious group. 88.9% of all American Adults consider themselves “religious”.  Admittedly, many of those who identify themselves as Christians are not “practicing” Christians, and many more would not meet the Biblical definition of Christian. However, that does not change the fact that we are a Christian nation and have been since our founding.

That is not to say that all the Founding Fathers would be considered as orthodox Christians by today’s doctrinal standards. It is fashionable in today’s secular America to discount the religious influence on the founding of America by pointing out inconstancies between the views of many of the more prominent Founders and what we might consider to be a proper Christian worldview. In doing so, we deny ourselves some of the most valuable lessons of history. There was a wide variety of beliefs then, just as there is now. The Framers that crafted our founding documents were members of Quaker, Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, and other Christian disciplines, and yet, there were certain beliefs they all held in common. Two of the most important religious characteristics of the Founders were their reverence for the Holy Bible and their faith in the Providence of God. They perhaps possessed the highest degree of Bible literacy of any group of political leaders before or since. The political speech of that era is replete with biblical references.

It is popular for historians to point to the writers of the Enlightenment Era such as John Locke or Montesquieu as providing the guiding principles behind our founding documents. The truth is that political writings of the time contain far more references to Biblical sources than to Enlightenment sources. In fact, Professor Daniel Dreisbach, an historian with American University claims there are more references to the book of Deuteronomy alone, found in the political writings of the Founders, than all of the Enlightenment writers combined. The Bible formed such a large part of the Founders thinking that they routinely referenced it in their speeches and correspondence without attribution, assuming that their audience would automatically recognize the reference. A classic example of this can be found in a speech by Benjamin Franklin to the Philadelphia Convention on June 28, 1787.

“…[T]he longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

In this short paragraph, there are at least three distinct biblical references, Psalm, 127, Matthew 10:29, and Genesis 11:8-10. Franklin also refers here, to the Providence of God in the “affairs of men”, as does George Washington in a letter to Brig. General Thomas Nelson in August 1788,

“The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

This was written just before the Presidential election of 1788 and after the completion of the Constitution. It is evident that he was referring to the Divine Hand of God in the Revolutionary War and the events following, including the Confederation and the outcome of the Philadelphia Convention. James Madison had the same thoughts in mind when he wrote Federalist 37. In discussing the difficulties of the Convention in reconciling the differing ideas, opinions and interests of so diverse a group, Madison wrote,

“It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”

I agree with Franklin, Washington and Madison in their conclusions that the plan of government set forth in our founding documents bears clear evidence of the providence of God in its creation. Lest I be misunderstood, let me point out that the Divine Providence of our founding is different from the inspiration of Scripture. In inspiration, God deals with individuals directly so that each book of the Bible has a single author. With Providence God works “behind the scenes” so to speak, using multitudes of people and events, often seemingly unrelated, to bring about His will. Providence can only be seen through the lens of hindsight. It is only through observing the formation and progress of our nation in history, that we can appreciate the Providence of God and that we can confidently declare our founding documents to be America’s Sacred Texts.

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The Limited Powers of Congress

(Enumerated Powers) From Article I, Section 8, U.S. Constitution

The defining characteristic of the American government that makes it unique among the governments of the world is the mixture of federalism and nationalism.  During the twelve years between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 it became evident that the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” under which the states operated was not adequate to meet the needs of the Confederation.

The three primary problems with the Articles of Confederation was the difficulty of raising revenue, inability to regulate interstate and international trade, and the absence of a mechanism for enforcing compliance with the laws established.  The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 was called to address the deficiencies in the original agreement.  It was decided by those attending that the best course of action would be to rewrite the document.

At the time there were two schools of thought concerning the role and size of government.  The federalist thought the new nation should have a strong central government, however, the anti-federalists feared that a strong federal government would lead to eventual tyranny and the erosion of state sovereignty which was highly valued by most citizens. The task for the framers was to devise a government with enough authority to function effectively while protecting the ability of the various states to run their own affairs as sovereign states.

The compromise arrived at was a Constitution granting the necessary powers to the central government for carrying out functions of a national nature, such as, national defense, issuing money and certain other functions that could not be adequately performed by the individual states and limiting it to those delegated.  The primary powers granted to the federal government are found in Article One, Section Eight under the headings of “general welfare” and “common defense.”

These powers include the power to levy taxes, borrow money and make laws for purposes specified below:

For The General Welfare:

1. International and interstate commerce (trade)
2. Naturalization
3. Bankruptcy
4. Coin Money, establish its value
5. Weights and Measures
6. Punish counterfeiting
7. Postal Service
8. Issue patents and copyrights
9. Establish Federal Courts
10. Govern District of Columbia
11. Purchase real estate for necessary buildings

For the Common Defense:

1. Define and punish Maritime and international Crimes
2. Declare War
3. Make rules for, and fund Military Services

This list represents the sum total of the functions the federal government is constitutionally authorized to do.  The limitation on Congress by the Constitution is further emphasized in Amendment Ten of the Bill of Rights.

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
~Amendment 10, U.S. Constitution

Any taxes levied or laws passed for purposes other than those listed are unconstitutional and therefore unlawful.  Following is the text of Article One, Section eight with comments on some of the controversial clauses.

Article I, Section 8: The Enumerated Powers

The introductory clause in Section Eight empowers Congress to impose taxes.  The question of what is and is not a legitimate taxing power of government was a major factor leading to the Revolutionary War and eventually to the formation of the Constitutional government under which we now live.  Under the Articles of Confederation which served as the Constitution for the central government of the original thirteen states from its ratification in 1781 to the formation of the new government in 1788, there was no way to force the various states to support the federal government with their taxes.  Therefore, the government could not pay its debts and had difficulty financing the Revolutionary war.  The inability to raise revenue created great hardships for General Washington’s Army.  They often were without proper food, clothing or Arms. This was the main problem that prompted the formation of a new government.

Clause One: Introductory Clause

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

This clause establishes the purposes for which the federal government is empowered to lay and collect taxes; “To pay the debts” incurred by government and “provide for the common defense and general welfare.”  The phrases “provide for the common defense and general welfare” are not separate powers, they are simply broad descriptions of the limited purposes for which the federal government is authorized to levy taxes.

The remainder of Section Eight enumerates the specific powers that fall under these two broad categories.  Any taxes imposed by the government that are not necessary for the implementation of these specific powers are unconstitutional, unlawful and constitute a form of tyranny.

Clause Two: Defense and General Welfare

“To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;”

This clause falls under the heading of general welfare, although the primary reason for borrowing money at the time, was to pay for the cost of defense, i.e., fighting wars.  Although not specified in the Constitution, the Founders subscribed to the philosophy that debts should be paid by those incurring them.  Thomas Jefferson believed it was immoral to take on public debt that could not be repaid during the lifetime of the generation in which it was incurred.  According to his formula, a generation consisted of a period of nineteen years.  The current policy of acquiring debt that will fall on future generations would be roundly condemned by all of the Founders.

Clause Three: General Welfare

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

The “Commerce Clause” is, by far, the one most frequently used by Congress and the courts to extend the tentacles of the federal government illegally into virtually every element of the U.S. economy.  The original purpose of the clause was to insure free trade between the states.  Prior to the Constitution, many states practiced a kind of “protectionism” with legislation dealing with commerce favoring the individual state.  For the first hundred years, from 1787 to 1887 the interstate commerce clause was understood to apply only to the buying and selling of goods between individuals and businesses in one state and those in another.

It was not until passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 that Congress began to involve itself in the intrastate commerce of the various states.  According to the structure of the Commerce Clause, Congress has no more authority to dictate economic policy within the boundaries of a state than it does the internal affairs of foreign nations or the Indian Tribes.

“Commerce“, as used in the Constitution and by contemporary writers of the time, had reference only to “trade” or “exchange of goods” and certainly did not apply to the design of products or the processes of manufacturing as it often is used today.

Prior to the election of 1936, the Supreme Court routinely declared New Deal legislation passed during Roosevelt’s first term, based on the “Commerce Clause,” unconstitutional.  In 1937, by threatening to “pack” the court with more “progressive thinking” Justices, Roosevelt succeeded in intimidating the court to look more favorably on his progressive legislation.  Since that time the federal government has expanded its power to the point where it is today.

Clause Four: General Welfare

“To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;”

Early immigration and naturalization laws were based on the belief that “the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  In 1924 legislation was passed imposing quotas on immigration from various countries, in an effort to preserve the cultural makeup of America.  Quotas generally favored immigrants from European countries and were repealed in 1965.

The general problems with current naturalization and immigration laws have to do with assimilation.  Attempts to encourage assimilation have been replaced in favor of multi-culturalism, bi-lingual education and multi-lingualism in official government documents and communications, leading to the “balkanization” of the American culture.

Clause Five: General Welfare

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

Clause Six: General Welfare

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

Clause Seven: General Welfare

“To establish Post Offices and post Roads;”

This clause does not place Congress in the construction business, building roads and post offices.  Early post offices in sparsely populated areas were often located in privately owned businesses, usually the “general store” but frequently in other types of businesses as well.  As late as the mid-1950s, for example, a local post office was located in a private business in the 2900 block of Belmont Avenue in Chicago.  If my memory serves me correctly it was a “mom and pop” variety store.  Establishing post roads usually meant nothing more that the designation of existing roads as “post roads”.  Such a designation gave the postal service the right-of-way in the use of those roads for transporting mail.

Authorization to purchase or build post office buildings is found in the “other needful buildings” clause in number seventeen.

Clause Eight: General Welfare

“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;”

This clause, also in the general welfare category, limits federal government involvement in science and the arts to the issuing of copyrights and patents.  The use of tax money for projects like NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts, are not constitutional expenditures.  The same is true for R & D spending in non-defense related projects.

Clause Nine: General Welfare

“To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;”

Clause Ten: Common Defense

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

Clause Eleven: Common Defense

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

The granting of Letters of Marque and Reprisal referred to the act of authorizing an agent of the issuing government to search, seize, or destroy assets or personnel of a foreign nation in retaliation for a violation of the “laws of nations”, short of a declaration of war.

The use of Letters of Marque was ended by the Treaty of Paris in 1856 and Reprisals against battlefield casualties, shipwreck survivors, prisoners of war and civilians, as well as certain buildings and property is now forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.

There is no language requirement for a declaration of war in the Constitution or statutes.  In the war against Iraq, the declaration was given by Congress in a resolution authorizing the President to use “all necessary force.”

Clause eleven also grants to Congress the power to make rules governing the capture and treatment of prisoners of war.

Clause Twelve: Common Defense

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

Clause Thirteen: Common Defense

“To provide and maintain a Navy;”

Clause Fourteen: Common Defense

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

Clause Fifteen:
Common Defense

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

Clause Sixteen: Common Defense

“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;”

Clauses ten through sixteen all fall under the general category of “providing for the common defense” in Clause One.  For the most part, they have not been a source of controversy, except for clause eleven giving Congress the power to declare war.  There, the primary source of controversy here is that there is no “mystical script” given by which Congress is expected to wield the power.

Clause Seventeen: General Welfare

“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”

Clause seventeen establishes the District of Columbia as the seat of government and gives the exclusive legislative powers over it to Congress.  By not establishing the seat of government within the boundaries of an existing state or providing it with an independent legislature the Founders recognize the advantages inhabitants and officials of the National Capital would have over those of the states.  The act of granting voting membership to the District of Columbia in either the House of Representatives or the Senate would clearly be a violation of the intent of this clause.

Another important limitation imposed by this clause is on the purchase of land within the boundaries of individual states.  Under this clause the federal government is empowered only to purchase land that is necessary for the erection of “needful buildings” necessary for conducting the activities authorized in the enumerated powers.  All purchases require the approval of the legislatures of states involved.

National Parks, nature preserves, wet lands, and wilderness areas do not fall into this category, therefore are not among the powers granted by the Constitution.  When the federal government claims for itself sovereignty over any land or natural resource within the territory of an existing state, that claim is unconstitutional.

Clause Eighteen: Concluding Clause

“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.”

This is commonly referred to as the “Elastic Clause” or the “necessary and proper clause”.  It is used by opponents of the Constitution to expand the reach of the federal government into areas never intended by the Founders.  Those who do so ignore the construction of the clause which clearly limit the laws authorized to those powers already enumerated in clauses one through eighteen (foregoing powers).

The phrase, “all other powers” refers to certain others, mostly administrative, found in other parts of the Constitution such as, the ratification of treaties, self-management of the membership and procedures of the two houses of the Legislature, confirmation of Executive appointments, the power of impeachment, etc.  None of these miscellaneous powers affect the daily lives of citizens.

What is conspicuously missing from this list of Congressional powers are references to, education, energy, natural resources, healthcare, and the multitude of other subjects over which the federal government has assumed control within the past century.

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