Part VII - Interviewing Past Presidents: Summary

Our past Presidents often expressed wisdom beyond their times

Mon, Jul 26, 2010 - 6:27pm

I chose the "interviewing of past Presidents" because from my study of History, I found that many expressed wisdom that was beyond their times. That wisdom had it been heeded, would have served this nation much better than the policies we have adopted over the last several decades. At the same time, these were often flawed men with personal weaknesses and so, I don't want hold any man too high. Instead, I look for the policies and the wisdom that rises above our more base instincts. If I had one President, I would hold in the highest esteem, it would probably be the "public man" I knew as the leader of our Revolutionary Army, George Washington. I am so impressed by his humility and the things he said in his Farewell Address in 1796, that it is difficult to put into words, especially what he said about "parties."

However, we find "greatness" in many of our Presidents, including many I didn't "interview." I tried to keep the interviews on track to mesh with the things we have going on now. There are more than Presidents that could be interviewed. For example, we are in a great debate and have been for decades about "the Bill of Rights" vs. State Rights," and a great interview would be with Chief Justice Marshall.

Chief Justice John Marshall:

"The power to tax involves the power to destroy."

In the case Barron v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833) Barron vs Baltimore, Chief Justice John Marshal had this to say about the Bill of Rights, which by the way, dealt with an imminent domain case.

Had the people of the several States, or any of them, required changes in their Constitutions, had they required additional safeguards to liberty from the apprehended encroachments of their particular governments, the remedy was in their own hands, and could have been applied by themselves. A [p*250] convention could have been assembled by the discontented State, and the required improvements could have been made by itself. The unwieldy and cumbrous machinery of procuring a recommendation from two-thirds of Congress and the assent of three-fourths of their sister States could never have occurred to any human being as a mode of doing that which might be effected by the State itself. Had the framers of these amendments intended them to be limitations on the powers of the State governments, they would have imitated the framers of the original Constitution, and have expressed that intention. Had Congress engaged in the extraordinary occupation of improving the Constitutions of the several States by affording the people additional protection from the exercise of power by their own governments in matters which concerned themselves alone, they would have declared this purpose in plain and intelligible language.

But it is universally understood, it is a part of the history of the day, that the great revolution which established the Constitution of the United States was not effected without immense opposition. Serious fears were extensively entertained that those powers which the patriot statesmen who then watched over the interests of our country deemed essential to union, and to the attainment of those invaluable objects for which union was sought, might be exercised in a manner dangerous to liberty. In almost every convention by which the Constitution was adopted, amendments to guard against the abuse of power were recommended. These amendments demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the General Government -- not against those of the local governments. In compliance with a sentiment thus generally expressed, to quiet fears thus extensively entertained, amendments were proposed by the required majority in Congress and adopted by the States. These amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them.

Barron v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833)

We could even find a current Justice that thinks along these lines in Justice Scalia.

Scalia was asked about the controlling power of the incorporation doctrine over the application of First Amendment law to the states.

The court has interpreted that as essentially sucking up the Bill of Rights and applying the Bill of Rights against the states," said Scalia. "And not the whole Bill of Rights, just some of the Bill of Rights, essentially those provisions that we like." (It is true that the Supreme Court has only incorporated some but not all of the Bill of Rights to apply to the states. The Fifth Amendment's requirement of grand juries in criminal cases and the Seventh Amendment's guarantee of jury trials in civil cases, for example, have not been applied to the states.)

In the talk, Scalia also said the incorporation doctrine was responsible for some of the court's "strange" decisions. "You know, can you have a creche and a menorah? Is it okay to have both a creche and a menorah and a Christmas tree? Or what if you have a Christmas tree and not a menorah? We never had these weird cases before, because it was not a matter of federal law. The federal Constitution did not cover it." Justice's remarks prompt a review of First Amendment interpretation by Tony Mauro

At the end of that article are some cases that began about 1925, that incorporated the Bill of Rights and applied them to the states even though the people had their own constitutions to protect their rights and the 14th amendment that gave Congress (not the Supreme Court) oversight to make sure they didn't abuse our "inalienable rights." That is, of course hours of debate in and of itself but, the point is, we had guidance from people, like our past Presidents and here, Supreme Court Justices, who lived and breathed the Constitution and respected it and knew how it allowed change and the healthy evolution of a republic.

So there are many people that displayed great wisdom and were leaders and did and said things we should have continued to follow. But, no, we chose to believe we could somehow outsmart human nature and the thousands of years of natons that rose, peaked and declined. We have been in decline for decades and yet, we shouldn't have been. Our founders laid the foundation and a means (the Amendment Process) to build on that foundation and we ignored them.

Our founders had a great fear of a pure democracy and that is one reason they created a republic, where states retained the most power and the people retained power over the state under a State Consitution to limit its powers over them. It is why, before the 17th amendment, states appointed Senators to make sure the House didn't do something that would damage the long term health of the nation (said nation being the members, states, of that nation). One reason, I believe, that amendment was pushed as a "good idea" for "democracy" is because it took power away from the states, as did the 16th Amendment. I believe it may even have been pushed by the "power" behind the scenes that President Wilson spoke of. It is far easier to control a "central government," than 50 governments. Also, when that "central government" has its own funding. it is no longer under the power of the states, and is even easier to control.

We also have an Electoral College that in turn, elects the President.

In early U.S. history, some state laws delegated the choice of electors to the state legislature. Electors are free to vote for anyone eligible to be President, but in practice pledge to vote for specific candidates and voters cast ballots for favored presidential and vice presidential candidates by voting for correspondingly pledged electors.

If there is one thing really lacking in our high schools, it is the teaching of some basic fundamentals, like; the "real" Constitution and why it was written as it was and the real reason for the Bill of Rights as well as, checks and balances between the branches of government. It is why we were created as a republic even though often, a "central government," can do things "faster."

The founders weren't looking for "fairness," as much as, "justice," and the ability of people to change the nation through an amendment process that limited the risk to the long term health of the nation. "Fairness" would be borne out of a well and properly run nation with a sound economy and sound and stable policies based on the Constitution that only "we the people" could change. The "real" Constitutional "Welfare Clause" is not what has been the interpretation since the 1900's but, rather, more like what I just described. It concerned keeping the nation, as a whole, on sound economic and monetary footing so that the members of this great nation could have a foundation to build their own societies on knowing that in times of emergency or for national trade or other international issues, they had a sound government to turn to. It wasn't the welfare of the people but, the nation that had top priority. That allowed the welfare of the people to evolve in the states with a limited, sound, and "just" central government that didn't micro-manage that which couldn't be micro-managed.

I would also like our students to be taught basic budgeting, the power of saving and earning interest (when the government isn't manipulating it down). Those students will someday become the nation's leaders. With the right education and study of our past Presidents, history and our short comings as well as our triumphs, they would become great leaders and much better voters. We need this in the high schools because not all go to college but all become potiential voters.

It doesn't matter if it is tax, economic, monetary, trade or foreign policy. We had leaders that set the sound course a nation needs. We have veered from that course and now face a massive depression where, as our own Government Accountant Office warns,

....the federal government’s current fiscal policy is unsustainable. Continuing on this imprudent and unsustainable path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of living, and ultimately our domestic tranquility and national security.

We have had the warinings, the wisdom but, no longer the education we need for voters to heed those warnings. I hope, that if nothing else, you can see the wisdom in some of the things our past Presidents did and said. I hope you also see how we discarded the wise for the foolish things of the 1900's, espcially from the 60's on when we first started borrowing for each of GDP Growth, that helped create the crisis we are in.

Jan Paul Burr

Previous articles in this series:

Part I An Interview with President Washington and his concens about political parties and our relationship with other nations.

Part II An Interview with President Eisenhower on the military complex and his concerns

Part III An Interview with President Kennedy on his belief in tax cuts to grow the economy

Part IV An Interview with President Wilson on a dangerous "power."

Part V An Interview with President Jackson on "Central Banking."

Part VI An Interveiw with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on "Social Security."

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