Friday, March 04, 2005

What would the Founders say?

C-Span had an interesting show from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Washington Journal this morning.

The first call-in topic was on what would the Founders think about America today?

I think that the Founders would, firstly, be impressed at how we've grown from a small strip of land on the Atlantic seaboard all the way across the continent. I think they would be amazed at our incredibly high standard of living, yet somewhat dismayed that there is poverty here. Back in their days, anyone with the least spark of industry could support a family, and heaven help them if they didn't. Government support for the poor and slothful? No, thank you.

Secondly, I think the Founders would be thrilled at how our republic, their little experiment, has not only survived but thrived (and has spread throughout the world) without the need for a king or prince, which was very much the norm in the day.

I think, however, that they would be shocked and appalled at how the national government has become the Leviathan it has become. Even Alexander Hamilton, who advocated a strong federal government, might be shocked at just how big it had become. Concurrently, the Founders would probably be distressed and surprised at how emasculated the States had become, since they were correct in believing that government was best when kept close to the vest. The States now are little more than the provinces the Founders were familiar with in Britain, no more than administrative districts for the crown. In their day, the States were co-sovereign. Not anymore, as a practical matter.

They would be surprised, and maybe a bit dismayed, at how large and powerful the office of the executive had become, and even more so at the unchecked and unrivaled power of the judiciary. They saw the Congress as being the first among equals.

I have no doubt that they would be shocked at how involved we have become in the world. The Founders, collectively, thought we were a breed apart and should remain apart, lest the disease of monarchialism and despotism so rampant in Europe infect this nation. They might, however, have altered that opinion when they saw how our brand of government has spread throughout the world instead of the world's, as they knew it, spreading to us.

Some have said the Founders would keel over at the thought of the US Patriot Act today. But remember that less than a dozen years after the Constitution was ratified, the Congress adopted the Alien & Sedition Act, which makes the Patriot Act look like child's play.

What would the Founders say? Maybe it's best that we not know. Some people may not like what they would hear.

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