Article One of the United States Constitution 

Recent months have found me posting articles dealing with our system of government.  I have included articles on civics, federalism, and the preamble to the United States Constitution.  Now I move forward with this series by discussing Article One of the Constitution, the legislative branch.

The founders created a bicameral legislature consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate.  The term for a representative is two years while a senator's term is six years. The number of representatives from each state is based on population while each state has two senators.  Members of the House are more closely associated and connected with typical citizens from the districts that they represent while members of the senate tend to be more highly educated, reflective people who understand and safeguard the principles of freedom and democracy central to our way of life.  Qualifications for holding office in our national legislature are few, reflecting the trust that the founders placed in the hands of citizens in a free society.  First, there is an age requirement of twenty five in the House and thirty in the Senate.  Second, there is a citizenship requirement of seven years in the House and nine years in the Senate.  Finally, members of the House are required to live in the districts that they represent and senators must reside in the state that they represent.  That is it.  There are no further requirements.  It is much more difficult to become qualified as a public school teacher than an elected member of the United States Congress.

The United States Congress is granted eighteen powers that are listed in Section five of Article One.  Eight powers that are denied to Congress are listed in Section nine of Article One.  I will not specifically list the powers granted or denied, but urge you to read them on your own.  If you do not have a copy of the Constitution from which to consult, well shame on you. Every citizen should have a copy close at hand.

Since the Constitution was ratified in 1789, there have been representatives and senators who have brought both honor and dishonor to the legislative branch.  Always attempting to be an optimist, I close by listing a sample of names who have served the legislative branch with honor.  They were not perfect, and you may not have always agreed with their views.  Still, if you research the people on this list, I believe that you will see that they served with honor and held a deep respect for the great American experiment in freedom.  My list includes John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Tip O'Neill, Henry Hyde, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Arthur Vandenberg, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ben Sasse, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Sam Nunn, and Harry Truman.  Many others could be included on my list, but this will hopefully promote thought, discussion, and reaction.

Thanks for reading.

 

The Preamble to the United States Constitution 

Most institutions, businesses, and community organizations have a mission statement designed to declare their goals and beliefs.  The United States Constitution also begins with a mission statement.  It is called the preamble.  Students of my generation were required to memorize the preamble, and many of us can still recite the noble statement without sneaking a peek.  I doubt that is true today, but you can prove me correct or not by asking the young people in your lives.

For thirty years in public education, I taught a unit on the Constitution, always beginning with a lesson on the preamble.  A way to teach this 52 word statement is to connect the first six words and the final twelve words into one sentence that reads “We the people of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Every word in between that sentence states the purposes for the Constitution.  With that sentence in mind, it is now possible to examine those purposes.

First, “in order to form a more perfect union.”  Note that the Founders did not say a perfect union for they understood that we live in an imperfect world and that trying to form a perfect union simply leads down the path to a utopian dead end.  Rather, their goal was the realistic one of trying to form a more perfect one or perhaps at least one that is less bad.

Next  they called for justice.  Simply put that is a nation that is fair, one that tries  for a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to work toward their individual dreams.  

Next, “domestic tranquility (peace) and common defense.”  Simply put, the government's greatest obligation is to keep its citizens safe from foreign foes and from each other.  This is only possible if society is, for the most part, civil and responsible.

Next, “promote the general welfare.”  This calls for our government to create a place where people can work to provide themselves with life's necessities and hopefully enough extra to enjoy what makes them happy.

Finally, “secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.”  Posterity, of course, refers to those who come after us.  Each generation is responsibility for making this a reality.  Liberty is always one generation away from extinction.  

It is my hope that you will join me in reminding those around you of the important ideas in the brief preamble to our Constitution, which by the way, is the oldest continuing Constitution in the world today.

Jimmy Lai 

Jimmy Lai is on trial in the once great city of Hong Kong.  It is not a real trial but more like a sham trial without a jury or defense attorney of Lai's choosing.  To many, perhaps even you, the name Jimmy Lai means nothing.  Should that be the case, it is not surprising since coverage of the trial is buried in the press if mentioned at all.  So let me fill you in on Jimmy Lai.  He made his  first fortune in the clothing business and then as publisher of the now closed Apple Daily newspaper.  A vocal critic of China, he became a target of the mainland government.  Jailed since 2020, he appeared this week at his trial looking to be in good spirits though quite thin.  You need to know that Jimmy Lai is a man of faith, a devout Christian.  He also has a deep conviction on the concept of freedom.  For these beliefs and convictions, he likely will spend the remaining years of his life in prison.  Influential people from all walks of life should be advocating for Jimmy Lai, but for the most part they are not.  Their silence is deafening.

So what to do?  How can regular people help Jimmy Lai?  Let me put it this way.  Many of you know that I have long admired and been influenced by the writings of the late Michael Novak.. In one of Novak's books, he talks to his daughter about the power of prayer, especially when legions of the faithful lift the name of someone in need.  I ask you to join me in invoking the name of Jimmy Lai when you have your private prayer time.  Thank you.

Federalism 

This explanation of federalism and its significance is taken from my new, yet unpublished book.  I hope that it is useful to you.

It was clear from the beginning that Dr. Anita Cortright was a serious historian for she wasted no time with introductory humor or cute anecdotes.  Rather, she moved directly into the topic at hand.  Remaining at the podium where the sound system was most effective, her eyes moved back and forth across the audience creating the feeling that all were included.  Only occasionally did she glance down at the notes held neatly in the portfolio resting on the podium.  Reading glasses, held around her neck by a thin silver chain, were available but rarely needed.  It was apparent from her first words that she was thoroughly prepared.

“Many people,” she began, “have only a vague understanding of federalism.  This is unfortunate because freedom is fragile and federalism is freedom's most vigilant protector.  Stated simply yet accurately, federalism means that some powers are held by the national government, that is in Washington, while other powers are given to the individual states, thousands of counties, municipalities, and finally, as stated in the final words of the Tenth Amendment, to the people.  You see,” she continued, “the founders were convinced that governmental power is a threat to individual liberty; that the use of power must be limited; and that the division of power helps to restrict it thus preventing abuse.  Federalism allows local actions in matters of local concern while allowing national action in matters of wider concern.  This format acknowledges that, while some issues require a unified national response, other traditions, needs and desires vary widely from one region to another.”

Using these opening remarks as a springboard, she launched into the heart of her presentation touching on the specifics of delegated powers, powers reserved, concurrent powers, and powers denied.  Dr. Cortright was careful to clarify each power with specific examples.  One theme that threaded itself throughout the lecture was that the natural tension of federalism can be a healthy aspect of a democracy, or if the tension becomes too severe, it can lead to hostility-even violence.  The talk was strengthened with examples of historical events that included Madison's Federalist paper number forty eight, the presidential election of 1800 which she referred to as the Second American Revolution, the Hartford Convention, Calhoun and the Doctrine of Nullification, and the writings of Lord Acton.  As she spoke, Alvord Spring wished that he had brought along a pen and notebook.  There were so many details that he hope to pursue later.

When the lecture ended, Alvord felt as though he had received a civics lesson on a subject long absent from his thoughts.  It had helped that he had recently finished reading Thomas Bailey's History of the United States.  He left the room impressed by the speaker's knowledge and clarity. He was intrigued that she never once hinted at her personal views.  Exiting the room he picked up a pamphlet highlighting the work of the Center for Historical Studies.

Food For Thought 

The writings of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sachs have long been an inspiration to me.  Recently while reading an essay by James Freeman I discovered that, included in his essay, was a quotation from Rabbi Sachs.  I give you that quotation now.

“One reason religion has survived in the modern world despite four centuries of secularisation is that it answers the three questions every reflective human being will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I?  Why am I here?  How then shall I live?  These cannot be answered by the four great institutions of the modern West:  science, technology, the market economy, and the liberal democratic state.  Science tells us how but not why.  Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power.  The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make.  The liberal democratic state as a matter of principle holds back from endorsing any particular way of life.  The result is that contemporary culture sets before us an almost infinite range of possibilities, but does not tell us who we are, why we are here, and how we should live.”

Flight 93 Memorial 

On a beautiful sunny day in early August, Kate and I traveled to Shanksville, Pennsylvania,  to visit the memorial site honoring the victims of Flight 93.  Flight 93, you will recall, crashed into the Pennsylvania field when heroic Americans stormed the cockpit and took down the terrorists who were flying the plane towards the United States Capitol.  The Americans on that plane had learned through frantic phone calls that other terrorists had already attacked New York City, the financial hub of our nation.  They were also aware that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, the nation's military defense hub.  An attack on the Capitol, the political hub of America, would have allowed the terrorists to complete their assault on three symbols that represent the history and success of our country.  Upon arrival, we entered the Memorial grounds and approached the ninety three foot tower honoring Flight 93.  Within the tower were forty wind chimes representing the forty Americans who died that day.  The day of our visit featured calm winds and the chimes were silent, but we were told that, when active, the chimes create the sensation of people's voices.  We parked and walked along a walkway leading to an overlook of the field below.  Far in the distance a large boulder is positioned in the exact spot where the plane crashed.  The scene was overwhelming.  We next entered the Memorial Building.  It is a large structure that takes visitors on a complete journey of the events of September 11, 2001.  The place was crowded with guests visibly consumed with what they were seeing.  Everyone spoke quietly.  There was no laughter.  There was no coarse language.  Everyone knew that they were in a special place.  When I completed the tour I moved to a quiet spot and simply watched.  I saw many people, men and women, wipe tears from their eyes.  I had envisioned that this place would be special, but I had no idea of the powerful emotions that enveloped me.  I found myself thinking to the Capitol that these heroes had saved that day.  The Capitol where great persons had debated great issues; the Capitol where Abraham Lincoln had asked that we bind up the nation's wounds; where Franklin Roosevelt asked for war to halt the advance of fascism; where John Kennedy asked us what we could do for our country.  And that was when I wiped the tears from my own eyes.  Many people visited the site that day and of one thing I am certain.  We are all better people for having gone there.

Civics 

A SOCIAL SCIENCE DEALING WITH THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENS.  That is the dictionary definition of the word civics.  Educators bemoan the lack of knowledge of basic facts and principles on which our country was created.  Late night comedians do street side interviews to illustrate the shocking deficiencies of average citizens on our form of government.  It is alarming to discover that civic education, once learned in elementary school, seems like a foreign language to so many.  In that vein, I have decided to discuss the issue of “civics” here on my newly launched website.  My goal is to promote inquiry, the truest form of education.  So, let me begin.  Who are the American founders?  Who paved the way for a system of government under which our nation has lived for two and a half centuries?  From the earliest colonial settlements you might want to review the writings of John Smith, William Bradford, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson.  How did the beliefs and perspectives of these early settlers build the foundation for what would become a new nation?  Later in the colonial period when the issue of independence from Great Britain reached fever pitch, a new generation of founders arose.  What do you know of the signers of the Declaration of Independence?  There were fifty signers.  How many can you name?  Do you know the risk they took by signing the document?  Can you trace the impact of John Locke and George Mason on Thomas Jefferson as he penned the famous Declaration?  When the war for independence finally ended, our first government, The Articles of Confederation, proved weak and ineffective.  This led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where a new form of government was established.  Do you know that the thirty three signers of the Constitution were essentially a new group of founders?  Only six signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Can you name some of the signers of the Constitution and recall specific contributions from them?  The document under which we live has lasted for more that two hundred and thirty years.  No nation on earth has a constitution that has existed for so long.  It is a system known as Federalism.  Federalism will be the subject of my next article.

Welcome 

Hello and thank you for visiting my website. This section will be populated by short pieces focusing on current events, history, and political behavior. Those of you who remember my monthly newsletters will be familiar with the style and content. Stay tuned.