Bob Meade - A gift from our founders

  • Published in Columns

As this is being written, we are only a few days from July 4th, the day we celebrate our Declaration of Independence. While families and friends watch parades, displays of fireworks, have picnics and cook-outs, and enjoy various water activities, we recognize that those things resulted from the courage and brilliance of our founders. Those men challenged what at that time was the greatest power in the world . . . and we are grateful.

Some interesting things that followed the Revolution were the Constitution and, importantly, it's "Bill of Rights". In looking at those first 10 amendments, we find that the most important was the First, as it gave "rights" to the people to worship as they wished, to speak freely, to have a free press, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government to address our grievances. In short, it bestowed power and was to become a government of, by, and for the people.

While all the amendments in the Bill of Rights were and are important, the Tenth Amendment may be the one that, in my opinion, has been the most abused. It reads, "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."

The First Amendment bestowed the "rights" to the people, and the Tenth Amendment affirmed that the Federal government's "rights" were limited to what was delegated to it in the Constitution. Our founders did not want a government that mimicked the government that had been ruling them, and they challenged and fought the greatest power in the world to gain their freedom and independence.

As our country evolved, 17 more Amendments have been added; many of them useful, and some questionable. For example, on the positive side,

— In 1804, Amendment XII was ratified and established the rules for the Electoral College in determining the positions of president and vice president. It was modified by Amendment XX in 1933. The importance of the amendment is that it helps to prevent what is often referred to as the "tyranny of the majority", where a few, very populous states would have enough votes to negate the will of the people in a large number of smaller states. There have been four occasions where those who did not receive the popular vote, received the Senate or Electoral College vote. Those were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush. (In the case of President Bush, the initial vote count was challenged by his opponent, Albert A. Gore, but Florida's electors cast their ballots for Mr. Bush. However, the final tally of the votes in Florida showed that Bush had also won the popular vote.)
— In 1865, Amendment XIII was ratified. It abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. It should be noted that 630,000 people died in the Civil War, a war that was intended to save the union. President Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" became effective in the beginning of 1863, and it expanded the aims of the war to include the freeing of slaves.
— The fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870 gave citizens the right to vote, regardless of their race, color, or previous servitude, and in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited denying a person the right to vote because of their gender.
— When George Washington was asked to run for a third term, he responded, "Two terms is enough for any man." That held true until Theodore Roosevelt sought a third term but was defeated and when Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a third and fourth term and won. In 1951, Amendment XXII was ratified. It limits the president to two terms and essentially helps to avoid an "Imperial Presidency" from taking place. Perhaps similar type limits could be imposed on the House and Senate which would rid us of the tenure like positions that now exist.

In my view, there have been some amendments that have not served the people well, but have placed more power in the hands of the federal government. For example,

— Prior to Amendment XVI, which was ratified in 1913, the federal government could not "lay and collect taxes" on individual citizens, it could only tax the states who would then determine how to collect the money needed to pay the federal government. This amendment may have been well intended as a means of relieving the states of their duty as a tax collector, however, the unintended consequence of it has been that it imposes the awesome power of the federal government on individual citizens and has removed the power of the state to challenge the budgeting and spending of the federal government.
— Article. 1, Section .3, of the Constitution states there would be ". . . two Senators from each State, (chosen by the Legislature) thereof . . ." In 1913, Amendment XVII was passed changing that to read ". . . elected by the people thereof . . ." Perhaps more than anything else, this amendment ushered in the "professional politician" and took away what used to be . . . that people would leave their farms or factories and devote a term or two doing their public service and then return home. Virtually all of the longest serving Senators and Representatives came after this amendment was passed.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)