Our Founding Fathers- What did they really say?

A couple of weeks ago, your local Grouchy Historian was invited to take part in a conversation sponsored by some new readers who belong to the Arizona Tea Party.  They have a pretty excellent web site with a very, very lively discussion on the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

Of course, Constitutional history and law are not subjects I am completely comfortable with, so I quickly had to get up to speed.  Enter my favorite place on the Internet, AMAZON, and of course, new books.

So I found this wonderful little gem, The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution.  Although it is a slim volume, it is packed full of so much goodness that it may take three blog posts to cover everything.

Where to begin?  Well, progressives, revisionist historians, and general liberal mischief makers and big government worshippers will say, "Oh, the Constitution, that ancient document was written by a bunch of white, male, slave holding rich men...what do they know?"  OR "Well, the Constitution is very vague, so we don't really know what it means, so let's just make things up the way WE THINK THEY OUGHT TO BE."  Neither of these is true of course, but our public school system is so broken when it comes to teaching history, most students today probably have no idea who James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were...but I bet they know who Caesar Chavez and Che Guevara were.   Sigh, but I digress.....as Mr. McClanahan lays out in clear, very compelling language, we can indeed discover EXACTLY what our Founding Fathers intended each and every Article and Clause of the Constitution to accomplish and how and why they argued about it during the Ratification debates exemplified by the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers which my new Arizona brethren debate with such zeal.

The first thing that I usually do when I read a book on a new topic or from a new author is flip to the bibliography to check the sources.  The author has drawn primarily from the magisterial works  The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution and The Debates in the Several State Conventions of the Adoption of the Federal Constitution.

The author writes the chapters topically, covering the legislative, executive and judicial branches, followed by some other topics of interest.  What I really like about the book is that the author lets our Founding Fathers do the talking as much as possible, with minimal analysis or pontificating by the author.

So let's dive right in....

The first thing I learned is the background to how Senators were originally chosen.  Clearly the founders had ONE overarching thing in the back of their mind when they formed our wonderful Constitution--What the overall role of the new national government was to be and how it was to relate to the states.  Our Founders jealously guarded the powers of the states, at least most of the Founders did, and the makeup of the Senate was intended to be a major balancing point for the new Federal government.

By having the state legislatures choose Senators, the Founders intended for Senators to represent their STATES first and not the interests of the government or other outside interests.  Of course, not everyone agreed with this plan, and some feared that Senators would become too entwined with the government.   George Mason said-"Is it not probable, that those Gentlemen who will be elected Senators will fix themselves in the federal town, and become citizens of that town more than of our State?" (p.26)

Hmm, profound, no?  So, now the 17th Amendment becomes more clear to me and why it is not necessarily a good thing, even though Progressives sold it as more democratic means of electing Senators.  I mean I have never done the math, but it appears to me that if we did not have the 17th Amendment, Obamacare, the Porkulus and much of the mischief of this Administration would not have come to pass.  Not to mention a good deal of other Progressive nonsense of the last 100 years or so.

The author also goes into some detail on the "Commerce Clause," "General Welfare Clause," and "Necessary and Proper Clause."  Now, again, I am not a constitutional lawyer or scholar, but I definitely commend the author for stepping through these topics and laying out in pretty clear terms why they were worded as they are and how far we have strayed from their original meeting, in particular how Progressives have distorted and downright LIED about the power that Congress should have.  It is interesting to note that originally Congress was only intended to regulate international and inter-state commerce.  There was never any intent for INTRAstate commerce to be regulated by Congress--that responsibility was to be reserved for the states.  So, for Progressives this is something that can not be tolerated.

The other very interesting discussion concerned the use of paper money and coinage.  Our Founders were very concerned with not only retiring the debt caused by the Revolution, but NOT incurring further debt, at least not lightly.  "Brutus," one of the primary authors of the Anti-Federalist papers, likely to have been Robert Yates, a New York judge, said it best-"I  can scarcely contemplate a greater calamity that could befal this country, than to be loaded with a debt exceeding their ability ever to discharge." (p.52)

Again, pretty darn prophetic huh?  Clearly our current Congresscritters should read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers again, cuz we sure are accumulating debt that we are likely to NEVER, EVER be able to pay back...at least not without becoming the Weimar Republic.  I, for one, do not relish the idea of dragging around wheel barrows of money.

Of course, as a historian, after reading this first section, I can understand why they were written, as our Founding Fathers ASSUMED that everyone clearly understood the division of powers between the states and the national government concerning taxes, commerce, and economic liberty.  Clearly, this is no longer the case.

There is much more to read and learn from this section, most of it material I did not really understand until I digested this section of the book.  Congress is only the first of the three branches of government that has overstepped its boundaries as originally intended.

More on the Executive and Judicial Branches to come....