I originally posted this commentary as a Webmaster's Response to a Guestbook entry which I had adapted from an e-mail. I thought the response stood on its own, so I added it to Facebook Notes on 19 April 2014.
Please note: The Revolutionary War began on 19 April 1775 with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and its anniversary is celebrated in Massachusetts as Patriots' Day, albeit on the third Monday of the month.
Checks and Balances
by Matt Wallace
This page was last modified on 19 April 2014.
In a time when keeping a personal website seems to have taken on all the utility of flogging an equine cadaver, I'm gratified that Matt Wallace's The Compleat Heretic can still be more than a mere self-indulgence. And given the times and the ways, perhaps stumbling upon the ever-trenchant words of one of the Founders in a link suggested for my personal site by an appreciative mother helping her child learn about our government is no mere accident, but then I am a member of a species in which pattern-seeking ability was selected for, so . . .
Last week, I received an e-mail from a woman thanking me for my Government Connections page. She explained, "I am helping my child with research on government checks and balances and we found the information on your page incredibly helpful." The "incredibly helpful" info is my heavily hyperlinked entry for Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet which I celebrate: "Thomas is an electronic monument to the principle that a free people are capable of governing themselves and offers a wealth of information." The link she suggested,"Checks and Balances and the Three Branches of Government," offers a good introduction to the Constitutional principle of the separation of powers inherent in our government.
As a bonus, the article prompted me to consult my go-to copy of The Federalist (Regnery Publishing's Conservative Leadership Series, Volume 4) when it quoted James Madison: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." Interestingly, in the actual and fuller quote, Madison makes no distinction between the numbers involved or the form of government. Tyranny can arise from "one, a few, or many" and within any political system. A king in a monarchy, a dictator in an autocracy, or a junta after a revolution are obvious potential tyrants. And most troubling, democratic institutions are not immune; duly elected representatives, legally appointed officials, the electoral majority of the people exercising their right to vote, and perhaps even a minority misapplying the legal protections afforded the rights of citizens are all potential tyrants.
"No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
— James Madison, The Federalist, XLVII
The "objection" in question is that of opponents to ratification of the Constitution who fear the accrual of power in a central government. Bringing the finest rhetorical technique to bear, the "Father of the Constitution" not only acknowledges their argument, but affirms it as well. Madison then examines the mixing of powers contained in the constitutions of Britain and the American states, thus demolishes the premise of the argument by comparison with the even stronger safeguards against the feared "accumulation of all powers" provided by the Constitution's enumerated powers and the separation of those powers between three coequal branches empowered to check one another's abuse of power.
Of course, these safeguards are wholly unnecessary given that the People would never elect representatives nor tolerate appointment of persons who were hostile to, or merely disdainful of, the Constitutional limits to their power contained within the principle of enumerated powers.
And even if the People, through momentary inattention or misplaced hope or simple ignorance, were to permit such persons into government, surely those truly faithful and allegiant to the Constitution would employ the system of checks and balances in a timely fashion so as to minimize any injury to the People and their Welfare and Liberties.
And failing that, surely the People, using the most appropriate and effective means at their disposal, would exercise their Right, thus fulfill their Duty, to reestablish proper Constitutional government and secure their position as America's true and rightful rulers. First, the ballot box; failing that, the box magazine . . .
Happy Patriots' Day!