“[T]he Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without. . . your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions. . . Your constitution is all sail and no anchor.” – Thomas Macaulay, 1857.
What does Thomas Macaulay mean, “all sail and no anchor”? He means that America’s Constitutional Republic must hit the shoals and run aground. He means that the system itself is its own malignant tumor. He means what seemed promising in 1787 – full sail ahead into a bright and prosperous future – wind enough to move the ship but not to destroy it – sunshine and cumulus clouds – was embarked upon on a wooden vessel patched to leave harbor but carrying the seeds of its own demise.
When Macaulay wrote “all sail and no anchor” America was in the throes of a moral battle about slavery, and about whether new states coming into the Republic could decide, by vote, whether slavery would be allowed in that state. The Dred Scott decision had been rendered by the Supreme Court, denying the rights of citizenship to black Americans. The issues of the day were both Constitutional and moral. Two of our bundles of the Rule of Law – Constitutional and Moral – in a clash of momentous proportions.
Following Macaulay’s lead, then, is it the system that is cancerous or is it man himself that is cancerous so all systems devised by man would have to be cancerous, as well?
First, what of the system. Our governance relies on concepts embodied in four Founding documents: the Mayflower Compact (consent of the governed and voluntary obedience to its rule); the Declaration of Independence (unalienable rights from God – government created to protect those rights); the Northwest Ordinance (equality between the founding thirteen states and others that are later admitted); and the US Constitution (divisions of power and authority meant to prevent abuse of power and loss of individual rights).
What we are experiencing today is the indisputable corruption of a critical mass of the national apparatus of Constitutional power. Both Constitutional rights and unalienable rights are being abrogated. Political speech is being censored; peaceful demonstrations are being dismantled; unlawful surveillance is commonplace, and illegal political imprisonment a reality. Individual life and liberty are being trampled upon by the evermore coercive power of a Tyrannical state. The Declaration of Independence clearly says that: “[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (securing individual rights), it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This sounds good, but what is the legal mechanism by which we are to “alter or abolish it” other than periodic elections that may be too late?
The mechanism provided by the Founders to amend the Constitution is spelled out in Article V. The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times so far, the first ten as the Bill of Rights. The substantive amendments of 1913 shifted almost limitless power to the national government and are part of the reason, one-hundred years later, that we face the national crisis of corruption at this level that has triggered turning back to the Declaration of Independence for guidance.
An alternative to Congress reforming itself is also provided in Article V. That alternative bypasses Congress and the President and allows two-thirds (34) of state legislatures to petition Congress to call a Special Convention of States for the purpose of proposing amendments. Once proposed, three-quarters of the states (38) must ratify these amendments for them to become part of the Constitution. All of this takes a great deal of time and effort, but as one of the most important members of the Constitutional Convention, James Wilson, said, “The people may change the constitution whenever and however they please.”
But what is to be done in an emergency? What happens when two-thirds of the mechanism at the national level fail to secure public safety and death and injury have occurred? What happens when both Congress and the Executive fail to counter a full-scale invasion at the border and citizens are injured and their property destroyed? Article IV, section 4, of the US Constitution guarantees every state in the union protection against invasion, and against domestic violence in the state if the Governor or state legislature asks the national government for help. The only device for relief is a ruling by the Supreme Court on behalf of these states that would force adherence to the Rule of Law by the national Executive branch.
We, the citizen Sovereign, feel trapped on the equivalent of a patched-up wooden vessel crossing the Atlantic at the height of hurricane season. Huns and Vandals captain the ship.
Second, what of the nature of man himself? This is both the ultimate source of our distress and the ultimate answer to the problem. The Founders trusted that there were honorable men (and now women) in whom trust could be placed. The Founders believed that an Oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution would be honored by a President as a mark of reputation. The Founders hoped, knowing the fallen nature of man, that the oak beams and masts of the Ship of State, represented originally by a few good men, would inspire others generation after generation. The Founders prayed that God would guide and bless the nation through the humility and stewardship of its leadership.
If our Constitutional Republic is to survive, the quality of character in our citizens and in our leadership cannot be overstated. It begins with strong families, education that includes Moral Law, and adult examples of honor and integrity. All who serve in national public service take an Oath to abide by and protect the US Constitution. These servants must honor the Oath or be removed.
Thomas Macaulay is correct that our system is flawed, but humanity is flawed. A return to the authentic natural order of God first and man second might just help stabilize the Ship of State. A return to the authentic natural order places pressure on those who would lead us to find integrity, step aside, or be thrown out in disgrace. Our innate nature might be unavoidable, our Constitution might indeed be all sail and no anchor, but, if honored, is the best governance system yet devised. It is all too obvious that the alterations to save it must commence immediately.