Thomas Jefferson said: People get the government they deserve. When he said that, he was telling his fellow citizens that it was up to them to demand the best from their government . . . they, the people, were to be in charge. If they were not, then the government would not be the servant of the people, the people would be the servants of the government.
Jefferson and the founders developed our Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. It requires the people to pay attention, to ensure the government acts in accordance with the duties that are spelled out in it. The powers are divided into Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches. Laws are to be developed in the Legislative Branch; the House of Representatives and the Senate. Laws that are passed in those bodies are given to the Executive Branch, the president, to either be approved or vetoed. Those that are signed by the president are duly enacted laws and are to be followed. If an affected party believes a law does not comply with the Constitution, that party may challenge the law in the Courts, the Judicial Branch. In some cases those challenges may make their way all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court of the United States for a determination of the law's constitutionality. If the law is found to be unconstitutional, it cannot be enforced. Over time, we have seen erosion in the separation of powers and in the spirit of the Constitution which gave the power to the people. Some examples:
The Legislative Branch responsibilities are covered in Article 1 of the Constitution. In its original form, Section 2 of that Article specified that members of the House of Representatives were to be ". . . chosen every second year by the people of the several states . . .", and Section 3 called for the Senate to be ". . . composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof . . . ".
A significant change was made to Article 1, Section 3, in 1913, when the 17th Amendment was ratified. That Amendment changed from the appointment of senators by their state legislatures to ". . . elected by the people thereof . . ." That simple change literally upset the proverbial apple cart. No longer did men come forth and volunteer to serve a term or two as a matter of civic duty and then return to their farms or factories. The change ushered in the "professional politician" that we know today. Every one of our longest serving senators came after that amendment was ratified. Twenty five senators have served six terms (36 years) and eight were in office over forty years; Robert Byrd, Daniel Inouye, Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy, Carl Hayden, John Stennis, Patrick Leahy (still serving), and Ted Stevens, with Byrd serving more than 50 years.
During that time the Senate became somewhat of a powerful and elite "club" that has avoided and sidestepped many of its duties. For example, although our country has been at war numerous times since World War II, the Congress has not issued a single declaration of war since 1942; they have provided the president with funding necessary to carry out wars but have not shown a willingness to stand and be counted. It is a matter of record that the Congress has also avoided the rigor of hammering out legislation on difficult issues, preferring to let the people bring such issues before the Judicial Branch for resolution, where one swing vote could decide an issue, such as abortion. It is hard to believe that our founders would have envisioned the people accepting such an arrangement. Further, our legislators have allowed departmental "regulations" to have the force of law. In 2013 alone, there were over 80,000 pages of regulations written by unelected federal bureaucrats, most of which were implemented without the Congress even viewing them. That is being ruled by the non-elected!
Another significant change to the Constitution concerned taxes. Article 1, Section 8 provided Congress with the power to lay and collect taxes. Taxes needed to cover the federal budget were levied on the states, in proportion to the state's census. That was changed by the 16th Amendment ,which was also ratified in 1913. It gave Congress the power to " . . . lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or remuneration." Perhaps more than any other change, this amendment neutered the states and the citizens. With the passage of the 16th Amendment, the states lost their muscle and the people became essentially subservient to the federal government.
Because of these and some other issues, we no longer have the government envisioned by our founders. We have allowed the federal government to usurp our states' rights, and those of the citizenry. Sadly, we now have people running for president who will only make things worse.
Jefferson was right!
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
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