Those Who Pervert the Constitution

Many words have been spilled about today’s SCOTUS ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. Along with the plethora of opinions (of which everyone has one, though I’ll be keeping mine to myself for the time being) have come the predictable quote memes on the Facebook news feeds, thanks to our collective love of appealing to authority.

One meme in particular stuck out to me today, posted to the Facebook page of Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK):

I happen to applaud and agree with this quote. And it has the added virtue of being correctly attributed to our 16th president, unlike so many other Abraham Lincoln “quotes”.

These lines come from a speech Lincoln gave on September 16 & 17 in Kansas & Ohio, during his first presidential campaign. The country was in a state of increasing turmoil over the issue of slavery, with people deeply divided by strongly held convictions. In many ways, this parallels the current divide in our country over the ability for homosexuals to marry. It is somewhat ironic, then, that I have seen Lincoln quoted today by both proponents and critics of gay marriage.

So who has the better case for invoking Lincoln’s support? Let’s take a closer look at the context, shall we?

The Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling is far from its first controversial judgment. In 1857, the Court handed down the infamous Dred Scott Decision. Seven of the nine justices ruled that no slave or descendant of a slave could ever be considered a U.S. citizen. They also declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, meaning that Congress had no authority to tell states that slavery must be illegal (because this would be violating the 5th Amendment’s prohibition of citizens being deprived of their “property” without due process of the law).

Proponents of slavery saw this as a big win, and an opportunity to see a controversial practice legalized in more states. Abolitionists cried foul, stating that the institution of slavery was wicked, and that the nation had a moral obligation to prevent its spread. This became the most heated topic of debate between the two leading candidates in the upcoming presidential election: Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

Douglas, citing the principle of popular sovereignty, argued that individuals should have the right to determine for themselves whether or not they would own slaves, and that no one else had the right to object. The government’s responsibility was to protect the sovereignty of the states to determine for themselves whether slavery should be allowed:

Now, I hold that Illinois had a right to abolish and prohibit slavery as she did, and I hold that Kentucky has the same right to continue and protect slavery that Illinois had to abolish it. I hold that New York had as much right to abolish slavery as Virginia has to continue it, and that each and every State of this Union is a sovereign power, with the right to do as it pleases upon this question of slavery, and upon all its domestic institutions. … And why can we not adhere to the great principle of self-government, upon which our institutions were originally based. I believe that this new doctrine preached by Mr. Lincoln and his party will dissolve the Union if it succeeds. They are trying to array all the Northern States in one body against the South, to excite a sectional war between the free States and the slave States, in order that the one or the other may be driven to the wall.

Lincoln countered that slavery was wrong, and that national policy should discourage it. He claimed that what would actually send the nation to war was trying to exist as “half Slave, half Free” (from his famous “A House Divided” speech). But, like Douglas, he affirmed the Constitutional authority granted to the states to determine their own laws. This brings us to our pertinent quote, in it’s proper context (for even more context, read the entire speech here):

We expect upon these principles to ultimately beat them. In order to do so, I think we want and must have a national policy in regard to the institution of slavery that acknowledges and deals with that institution as being wrong. Whoever desires the prevention of the spread of slavery and the nationalization of that institution yields all when he yields to any policy that either recognizes slavery as being right or as being an indifferent thing. Nothing will make you successful but setting up a policy which shall treat the thing as being wrong: When I say this, I do not mean to say that this General Government is charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world, but I do think that it is charged with preventing and redressing all wrongs which are wrongs to itself. This Government is expressly charged with the duty of providing for the general welfare. We believe that the spreading out and perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare. We believe–nay, we know–that that is the only thing that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself. The only thing which has ever menaced the destruction of the government under which we live is this very thing. To repress this thing, we think, is, Providing for the general welfare. Our friends in Kentucky differ from us. We need not make our argument for them, but we who think it is wrong in all its relations, or in some of them at least, must decide as to our own actions and our own course, upon our own judgment.

I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists, because the Constitution forbids it, and the general welfare does not require us to do so. We must not withhold an efficient Fugitive Slave law, because the Constitution requires us, as I understand it, not to withhold such a law. But we must prevent the outspreading of the institution, because neither the Constitution nor general welfare requires us to extend it. We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade, and the enacting by Congress of a Territorial slave code. We must prevent each of these things being done by either Congresses or courts. The people of these United States are the rightful masters of both Congresses and courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

With all of the obvious parallels, why might both sides of the gay marriage debate see Lincoln as being in their corner? Well, that depends on how you see slavery in relation to gay marriage.

Are homosexuals the equivalent of slaves, being deprived of their rights by a waning majority who see them as second-rate citizens, waiting for their liberation by a President who finally affirms their equal standing under the law? Or is gay marriage an immoral institution that threatens the general welfare of America, leaving the government with the duty to prevent its spread?

Chances are, no matter where you stand on the issue, you can probably make a pretty compelling case for Lincoln’s support. This is why I’m so hesitant to rely on quotes from historical figures as a primary means of building a case for contemporary ethical and Constitutional problems. I just don’t think Abraham Lincoln is all that helpful on the issue of gay marriage.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that the one area in which Lincoln and Douglas at least appeared to agree was on the affirmation of the Constitution’s delegation to the States or the people the authority to decide on matters not delegated to the federal government. Which is why perhaps the greatest irony of all is that, fewer than four years after the Lincoln-Douglas debates ended, President Lincoln issued an Executive Order which emancipated slaves in the “rebellious states”, a clear violation of both his campaign promises and the 10th Amendment.

Considering how slavery is now universally (and rightly) abhorred by Americans, and how Lincoln has been perpetually venerated as a hero for “doing the right thing”, it should probably come as no surprise that all parties in the gay marriage debate seem to be content with nothing less than a national solution. And why not? Lincoln’s our guy, right?

Militia and the Second Amendment

So much has been said recently on the topic of gun control that I am hesitant to wade into the public debate myself. However, on the off chance that I’m not the only one who cares about the original intent of founding documents, I thought I’d share a few points of interest from my own study of the history of the 2nd Amendment, which, for the benefit of those who may not know it, reads as follows:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Militia vs. Standing Armies

During the long and contentious debate which preceded the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there were few points at which those who favored ratification (the “Federalists”) agreed with those who opposed it (the “Anti-Federalists”). One thing they did agree on was their fear of a standing army. Both factions were adamant that the new government must not establish a permanent, professional military. This, in fact, was one of the “usurpations” of which the King of Britain was accused in our Declaration of Independence:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike believed that a standing army was dangerous to liberty, as well as a colossal waste of money. The Anti-Federalists believed that Article I, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution granted Congress too much authority over those who would bear arms; they did not want the federal government to have a say in the training (“regulation”) of the militia, or to have the power to “raise and support armies”. The following three quotes are from three of the “Anti-Federalist Papers”, which were all written under pseudonyms:

“Where lies the security of the people? What assurances have they that either their taxes will not be exacted but in the greatest emergencies, and then sparingly, or that standing armies will be raised and supported for the very plausible purpose only of cantoning them upon their frontiers? There is but one answer to these questions. — They have none.” ~ Anti-Federalist, “John DeWitt” No. 3

“It is universally agreed, that a militia and a standing body of troops never yet flourished in the same soil. Tyrants have uniformly depended upon the latter, at the expense of the former. Experience has taught them, that a standing body of regular forces, where ever they can be completely introduced, are always efficacious in enforcing their edicts, however arbitrary.” ~ Anti-Federalist, “John DeWitt” No. 5

“There is no instance of any government being reduced to a confirmed tyranny without military oppression; and the first policy of tyrants has been to annihilate all other means of national activity and defence, and to rely solely upon standing troops.” ~ Anti-Federalist No. 28

The Federalists countered that there would be no point in having a Federal government at all if it was not given the ability to organize armed men for the common defense. They assured the American people that because the Constitution limited Congressional ability to appropriate money for an army to a period of only two years, this army could never be a serious threat to the liberties of the people since there would be little, if any, difference in the level of training in the use of arms between the army and the citizens. Here’s Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 29:

“If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.”

Eventually, of course, a compromise was reached. The Federalists got their Constitution (including the 8th section of the 1st Article), and the Anti-Federalists got their Bill of Rights (including the 2nd Amendment). Four years later, Congress voted to raise a trained standing army (to deal with the “Indian problem”), and we’ve had one ever since.

The Body of the People

When James Madison agreed to write the Bill of Rights, the precise wording of each of the articles was debated at length by Congress. Here is the version approved by the House and sent to the Senate:

A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, being the best security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

You’ll notice that the Senate shortened this by quite a bit before reaching the final version seen at the top of this post. The clause related to religious scruples was dropped out of concern that cowardly men might feign such scruples in order to be excused from service (though provision was eventually made for “conscientious objectors”).

Of particular interest today, though, is the clause “composed of the body of the People”, also struck from the Amendment by the Senate. While there seems to be much confusion today about who ought to be the recipients of the right to bear arms, this was not in question in 1787. The “body of the people” clause was removed for redundancy; it was understood that the militia was composed of the body of the People. (See the United States Code for the “official” definition of militia as the term is used today.)

Reasons to Keep Arms

In a letter from prominent Anti-Federalist Samuel Nasson to his Federalist congressman George Thatcher, Nasson urges adoption of the Amendment, and lists several reasons for which citizens ought to have a Constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms:

“I hope that such may take place as will be for the Best Interest of the whole. A Bill of rights well secured that we the people may know how far we may Proceade in Every Department then their [sic] will be no Dispute Between people and rulers in that may be secured the right to keep and bear arms for Common and Extraordinary Occations such as to secure ourselves against the wild Beast and also to amuse us by fowling and for our Defence against a Common Enemy you know to learn the Use of arms is all that can Save us from a forighn foe that may attempt to subdue us for if we keep up the Use of arms and become well acquainted with them we Shall allway be able to look them in the face that arise up against us for it is impossible to Support a Standing armey large Enough to Guard our Lengthy Sea Coast and now Spare me on the subject of Standing armeys in a time of Peace they allway was first or last the downfall of all free Governments it was by their help Caesar made proud Rome Own a Tyrant and a Traytor for a Master… I think the man that Enters as a Soldier in a time of peace only for a living is only a fit tool to inslave his fellows.”

If you can wade through the antiquated/poor spelling & punctuation, you’ll notice three primary purposes for keeping arms: protection from wild animals, hunting/amusement, and defense against an enemy. You’ll also notice that the enemy against whom he most desired the ability to protect himself was his own government, should that government prove to be tyrannical.

Again, the Federalists shared this concern:

“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government…  if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.” ~ Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28

Later in the same paper, Hamilton seems unable to imagine a scenario in which the federal government could not be kept in check by an armed populace:

“For a long time to come, it will not be possible to maintain a large army; and as the means of doing this increase, the population and natural strength of the community will proportionably increase. When will the time arrive that the federal government can raise and maintain an army capable of erecting a despotism over the great body of the people of an immense empire, who are in a situation, through the medium of their State governments, to take measures for their own defense, with all the celerity, regularity, and system of independent nations?”

History Matters

Reinventing history to promote an agenda has become commonplace. Those pushing hard for bans on weapons seem to believe in the mantra of repeating a lie until people start to believe it. But no matter how often you hear that the 2nd Amendment only applies to flintlocks, that the right of a citizen to bear arms is reserved merely for hunting, or that average Americans owning weapons capable of protecting against the possibility of government tyranny is absurd, it’s simply not true, as the historical record clearly demonstrates.

I’ll leave you for now to digest all this and form your own conclusions. In my next post, I’ll sound off on some of the specific issues that have come to the forefront in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

*EDIT* Click here to go on to the next part of this series.

Sources

Here are some websites that have been helpful in my research for this post, but which were not directly quoted or cited above:

The Morning After P.I.L.L.

On the morning of November 5, 2008, I took the liberty of recording several post-election Facebook status updates for posterity. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “The world as we know it is coming to an end.”
  • “Good bye, America.”
  • “An Obama Nation is an abomination!”
  • “We may not have a country left in four years!”
  • “We’ve just elected the Anti-Christ.”

Sound familiar? You might call it the Morning After P.I.L.L. (Posting of Irrationally Lugubrious Lamentations).

Listen, I get the disappointment and frustration. I’ve been there (I just tend to experience it during the primary season rather than in November). What I don’t get is the weeping and gnashing of teeth that inevitably follows every election.

Yes, elections have consequences. Serious ones. But let’s not overreact! America is not going to disappear just because 3 million more Americans voted for Obama than Romney, just like it didn’t disappear during the last four years. There’s no reason for panic or name-calling!

Here’s something I wrote four years ago that is still true:

Am I disappointed that Obama will be our next president? Yes. Am I surprised? Not really. Am I worried? Not at all. I do not agree with his policies, but… he is my president, too. I would still rather live in an Obama America than any other country in the world. I pray for him, and for the decisions he will make. My president has no bearing on my ability or my requirement to live according to the Spirit. I will fail; my God will forgive.

I don’t doubt that the next four years will be hard ones (as these last four have been), but the occupier of the Oval Office has no bearing whatsoever on the way I am to live as a Christian. Might faithfulness require more sacrifice under some circumstances than others? Of course! For those Christians disappointed with the outcome of the election, it’s time to double down on our commitment to preach the gospel, to meet the needs of the poor and needy, to raise our children to know Jesus, and to seek the welfare of our nation, praying to the Lord on its behalf (Jeremiah 29:7).

Further election reflection can wait. I would, however, like to take a moment to affirm everything my buddy Jeff Wright wrote this morning, and to add one thing to it. I think it would go a long way toward improving the state of political discourse in America if we could more charitably attribute good motives to our political opponents. I don’t buy the rhetoric that Barack Obama “hates” America. I think he has very wrong ideas about what is best for our country and her citizens, but I don’t doubt that he genuinely wants to see America and Americans prosper.

Even if I’m wrong about the President, I know that’s how many (and likely most) of his supporters feel. Let’s start giving each other the benefit of the doubt and find ways to work together on the many areas where we can find some common ground. In the meantime, we can start figuring out how best to prepare for the next round of elections.

Over the next couple days, I do want to write a little bit about some of the down-ballot things that happened yesterday around the country (e.g., legalization of pot & gay marriage), but that kind of post deserves more thought than I can spare today.

“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will.” ~ Dan 4:25

2016: Obamney’s America

Many of you have seen the film 2016: Obama’s America (you know, the recent propaganda hit piece written by a dude who’s been travelling the country with a woman not his wife spreading the gospel of America’s moral superiority), but for those who haven’t, it’s one man’s attempt to portray what our country would look like after four more years of an Obama presidency.

With today being election day, I thought I’d give my own forecast of some things that might happen in the next four years depending on who gets elected President today. As a guy who doesn’t like either of the Republocrats at the top of the tickets, I still see some pros and cons either way.

If Obama Wins

I’m a socially conservative, libertarian-minded registered Republican, so it’s probably safe to say that I see far more bad than good that could come of an Obama second term. I don’t anticipate Fox News-level horrors, but four more years of out-of-control spending, warmongering, disregard for civil liberties, and anti-life agenda is not something I particularly want to experience.

The silver lining to an Obama win is that maybe — just maybe! — it will provide the shock that the GOP needs to stop nominating neo-conservative big government Keynesians and provide voters with a real alternative in 2016. Also, regardless of what happens in the presidential election, I think that liberty candidates will continue to be elected to the Legislature, providing a hedge against what the President can do. The Revolution will continue, likely even faster in an Obama second term.

If Romney Wins

First of all, I don’t want to completely white wash these two guys by saying they are “exactly the same”. They aren’t (and yes, I realize that I’ve used that bit of hyperbole before in this election cycle, but I’ve since thought better of it). While their positions are virtually identical on things such as foreign policy, they do differ — if only marginally — in some very important areas.

Seen in isolation, I’d say without a doubt that I would prefer four years of Romney to four more years of Obama. I don’t think a Romney administration would be substantially different, but the differences that did exist would be good ones.

The problem is, though, that we don’t have the luxury of thinking about the future in only four year increments. A Romney win largely maintains the status quo, and puts real change further off into the future. Here’s why:

I believe a Romney presidency would be just conservative enough to make most people who already identify as conservatives feel that progress is being made, but not enough to do much real good… convincing many that “conservatism” doesn’t work. His big-government, pro-war policies are bound to continue (if perhaps incrementally slower) our nation’s debt spiral and erosion of civil liberties. He has already promised to make extensive use of the executive order to grow the power of the President (which is apparently fine with “conservatives” as long as it’s a “conservative” who’s doing it), which is only going to frustrate and alienate more lovers of liberty. All this would very likely result in handing the Oval Office (and probably both houses of Congress) back to the Democrats in 2016, perhaps to someone even more liberal than our current President.

Listen: If Romney gets elected, I really hope I’m wrong. If he comes through as a real savior of our economy and champion of liberty, I’ll gladly eat as much crow as you like. I just don’t see it happening.

One last thing: As much as all the pundits say that the economy is THE issue in this election, I feel that most conservative evangelicals are still voting primarily based on the issue of abortion. Christians have been feverishly trying to convince themselves that they are pro-Romney (as opposed to only anti-Obama) since he won the GOP nomination, because they feel (rightly) that abortion MUST be stopped. But they’ve got an awful lot riding on how Romney will handle abortion. How will they feel if Romney is up for re-election four years from now and abortion is still legal?

Closing Thoughts

Of course it’s easy to say all this stuff now, especially knowing that at least half of what I’ve said will never be able to be reviewed for veracity. And though I’m skeptical about either man’s ability to lead well, I remain, on the whole, optimistic for my country’s future. People are beginning to wake up, and I believe the next few decades will be an exciting time of positive political change. And no matter who wins the election, Jesus Shall Reign.

I leave you with the remarks of Doug Wilson (seen in context here), a pastor in another solidly red state who believes Romney will win in a landslide. While he says he “would greatly prefer a Romney presidency to another round of… Obama”, he chose not to vote for Romney for pretty much the same reasons I did:

I am not voting for him for three reasons — he doesn’t need my vote here in Idaho, he doesn’t need my vote if this turns out to be the landslide I believe it will be, and he does need my opposition (and that of all my fellow teabots) from day one of his presidency. And in order to provide that opposition, I need to be gearing up for it. I am gearing up for it by not voting for the man I believe will win handily.

Not voting for him places me in a better position to say, on day one, that not only did I not want Obamacare, I don’t want what Romney is going to replace it with.

Whoever wins today will need accountability and prayer, and will get both from me.

Combing the Net – 6/14/2012

Boy Beats Asthma By Playing the Euphonium — Add this to the list of benefits of playing a musical instrument! (HT: Curtis Prichard on FB)

Squealing vs. Killing — A great article from Judge Andrew Napolitano about “leaked” information regarding the President’s “kill list”. Many are upset with those who have let this information go public, much in the same way that there was much outrage when WikiLeaks first went live. But the judge asks a great question:

So, who has violated the Constitution and federal law, who has caused more harm and who has performed more of a disservice to the nation: those who leaked the truth to the media, or the president, who caused death and destruction among those he hates and fears?

Becoming Well-Spoken: How to Minimize Your Uh’s and Um’s — I’ve made great strides in this area over the years, but still have some work to do. Good advice from The Art of Manliness blog.

16 Ways to Find a Wife — A humorous list with a serious point. (HT: Challies)

Ditch the Diploma: Why College Graduates Are Questioning Their Education — More evidence of the education bubble, which is causing a college education to become one of the least profitable investments a person can make. (HT: David Murray)

Man, I love LEGO’s! This is a fun clip based on the movie “Inception” (HT: Z)

Combing the Net – 5/30/2012

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who’s the Biggest Spender of All? — An interesting CATO Institute analysis of the numbers behind a recent Wall Street Journal editorial which claimed that Obama is not the binge spender he’s often portrayed to be. Note that this is measuring the growth in annual spending, not the total amount spent.

The Pauls Build a Libertarian Machine — While it’s fun to watch the delegate counts in the GOP presidential primary season, it’s important to remember that there’s something bigger going on in our generation. Electing Ron Paul as president has never been the highest priority, which is why this election season won’t be a disappointment when (as is virtually guaranteed) Dr. Paul does not become our next Commander-in-Chief. All over the country, liberty-minded young people are becoming re-engaged in the political process, and many conservative-libertarian candidates are poised to win elections at the national, state, and local levels.

Dear Digital Son — A graduation message from an analog  father to his digital son, encouraging him to keep social media in its proper place, and to invest his time in things and relationships that last. Touching and witty!

How Al Mohler Uses Social Media — Social media isn’t all bad, though! Good insight here from a man whose Twitter feed, blog, and podcast have been very beneficial to me. “Leader, if you don’t engage social media in a responsible & credible way, for anyone under 29, you don’t exist.”

Piper and Meyer Talk Succession for the First Time — The way Bethlehem Baptist Church has implemented this succession plan to transition from John Piper’s pastorship to Jason Meyer’s is a great encouragement!

Connecting Theological Depth With Missional Passion — I’m very excited that our church is among the many that has signed up to help pilot The Gospel Project curriculum! Several of our classes (including the one in which I teach) will be using this curriculum during the month of June. At the above link, you’ll hear project editors Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax discussing their approach to theology and missions that fueled the creation of this curriculum.

Is Pluto a planet? I vote yes!

Anyone But Obama

This post is dedicated to everyone who feels obligated to vote for a mainstream GOP candidate solely to get Obama out of office, yet who insists that Republican policies, rhetoric, and tactics are fundamentally different from what the Left has to offer.

Flashback to 2004:

Listen. If the main qualification most voters look for before casting their vote is that someone is *not* somebody else, then this election is probably going to go about as well for the GOP as the 2004 election went for John Edwards, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and all the other “not-Bush’s” who considered themselves shoe-ins against an unpopular Chief Executive.

Ironically, I seem to remember all the right-wing aficionados on talk shows and Facebook criticizing the Obama campaign for running on a “platform of change” four years ago. “‘Change’ is not a platform,” they said. I agree. But how is all the “anybody but Obama” rhetoric broadcast daily on Facebook and talk radio different in any way?

How long until we start seeing campaign slogans like this from Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich?

Maybe not long at all…

If you have a principled reason to vote for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum, then please, by all means, do it! Just don’t vote for one of those guys as the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., still evil) or because of “electability” (which I’ll address in a more reasoned post soon).

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” ~ John Quincy Adams