Let's start this journey with the establishment of some basic definitions and concepts.
There is absolutely nothing mysterious about our Founding Documents. The Founders were straight-forward, very wise men who said what they meant and meant what they said. They give us all kinds of information to fully understand their meaning and intentions. A law degree is NOT required to fully understand these relatively short documents. The Founders knew the average person needed to be able to understand these documents so they wrote them in plain language that was understandable by the average person of their day. If they could understand it, so can we.
We are a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy. Websters 1828 defines republic as “a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people…” A Constitutional Republic is a republic where government representatives are restricted and limited by a Constitution. Remember, a democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner. We are NOT a democracy.
The function of a Constitution is to limit and restrict the government. Websters 1828 states “…In free states, the constitution is paramount to the statutes or laws enacted by the legislature, limiting and controlling its power; and in the United States, the legislature is created, and its powers designated, by the constitution.” Even the dictionary knows government needs to be controlled and limited.
The term federal refers to our “form” of government, not just the name of it as in federal government. Federal refers to a “federation” of the States which formed an alliance and gave to the “federal government” specific powers through their established Constitution.
Websters 1828 lists three basic forms of government, self government, family government, and civil government. There are also other entities that have government in their forms, churches, charities, sports associations, trade associations, and others.
The reason for mentioning this here is to show some of the concepts our government is founded upon. The founders knew and understood the above definitions. They knew that in a free Country as the one they were establishing, government had to be decentralized and limited. When these concepts are not followed, the end result is, as we are now seeing, a national government that is eliminating other forms of government to make the civil form and therefore itself, more powerful. This is the definition of a tyrannical government and NOT the intention of the Founders. James Madison stated in Federalist 45, paragraph 9:
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those that are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people…”
Keep this concept in mind as we continue. The Constitution is the law of the land. It establishes and limits the federal government. It is not open for change except through the established procedures within it. Who can determine the meaning better than the ones that wrote it. Anything contrary to the Constitution is lawlessness, plain and simple.
There are some who say the Constitution is evolving, a living document. Within the Constitution there is no indication that was the intent of the Founders other than the ways they included with the Documents for how to change and amend them. Common sense says that if the documents were ever evolving and judges had the final say, then We the People and the States would no longer be in control of the federal government. It would fall to whoever was sitting on the court at the time. This would mean no established standard of law other than how the political wind was blowing at the time of the decision. This is definitely not how the Founders established things. That is evident in the above statement by James Madison. The States and We the People are to be in control. We will see more and more of this concept as we progress.
Websters 1828 defines govern as:
“To direct and control…either by established laws or by arbitrary will…Thus in free states, men are governed by the constitution and laws; in despotic states, men are governed by the edicts or commands of a tyrant…”
We the People, as States, are the creator of the federal government. The President, Vice President, Senators, Representatives, judges, and anyone in the federal government are our “creatures.”
Hamilton said in Federalist 33, paragraph six:
“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed (the Constitution), and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify...”
Many of the concepts tossed around today are totally foreign to those established by the Founders and those that are actually in the Founding Documents.
This leads to the concept of rights. Where do they come from. If We the People have “rights” how can some federal judge take them away? Let's talk about what the Founders meant and thought about the rights of We the People.
We will see more later as we get into our detailed investigation of each of the Founding Documents but the concept of rights in the Founding Documents begins with the Declaration of Independence. It states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
Websters 1828 defines unalienable as “Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights.” It also defines right as “Just claim; immunity; privilege.”
So with these definitions, “unalienable right” means a privilege that may not be transferred. In short, it's permanent. That is significant and you need to remember that as we progress. Just because we give the federal government power to do things for us based on their enumerated powers does NOT mean that we EVER give up our “unalienable rights.” We can't because they are permanent.
Some hold the view that our rights come from government or were established by the Bill of Rights. Neither of those views are correct and we will see why more and more as we progress through these Documents. The Founders certainly did not hold those views as is evidenced by the statement above and many others.
If government “gives” a right then it can also take it away. How could a right be unalienable (not transferable) if it could be taken away by government? The answer, of course, is it can't. Therefore, government does not give us our rights. We had those rights before the establishment of the government. The rights are not the government's to take away.
So, we have established a few things that we can build on as we progress through the Founding Documents. You will see the Founders are very consistent on all of these concepts and never waiver.