Editor’s note: “Narrowing the Gap” is the next installment of of the joint KingstonBarn/CahillonKingston project I am calling “Coming to Terms”. You can read it here and on cahillonkingston.blogspot.com We encourage you to join in by commenting on both blogs. You can follow us both, too, and be immediately notified when a new post or comment appears in answer to yours.
We seem to be finding points of agreement in our discussion, which I feel is the goal. Without necessarily changing our core beliefs, we can find that common ground. If our elected officials could do that, be they Mayor Gallo and the Common Council or President Obama and Congress, maybe they could act where they agree, and leave the rest to debate. -KingstonBarn
While I disagree with your constitutional points, I am enjoying our debate. I am going to extend an invitation to some people I know through Facebook who are knowledgeable on the Constitution and ask them to join by posting comments. To be clear, the people I speak have varying interpretations. Some are conservative, some liberal, and some are libertarian. Libertarians’ interpretation of the Constitution are often the subject of fascinating debate. (I mean that in a positive way). I am not seeking to stack the deck, but rather extend this thoughtful and respectful debate.
To your comments …
I admit that my initial article is hyperbole to a point. The country is not dead, though I believe we are heading full speed toward being a socialist democracy. One of the methods being used to further this unworthy goal is redistribution of wealth.
The basic definition of “redistribution of wealth” is the transfer of money, wealth, or property from one of means to one of limited or no means in order to right a perceived social wrong. In theory, there can be the reverse which is sometimes referred to as “regressive redistribution”. I suppose one might actually refer to my definition above as “progressive redistribution”.
You argue that redistribution is constitutional because it can be accomplished via taxes or social welfare programs that the Supreme Court has upheld. I respectfully submit that the means may be constitutional, but the ultimate goal is contrary to the United States Constitution.
We can both agree that the term “redistribution of wealth” does not appear in the Constitution; however, I think it apparent that the intent of the framers of the Constitution makes clear that redistribution was never intended or desired. Allow me to provide some examples. I know Thomas Jefferson was not part of the constitutional convention, but he is largely regarded as a “founding father”. I have therefore included some of his quotes and writings.
“When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that is the end of the republic.” — Benjamin Franklin
“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816
“A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” –Thomas Jefferson
“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” — James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, in a letter to James Robertson
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.” — James Madison, Letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792
On another point, you stated that you selected Donald Trump because he has suggested a revolution. I can understand your concern over his use of the word revolution. However, I close by quoting James Madison from his speech to the ratifying convention of Virginia on June 16, 1788. He said, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
I believe the last four years and the re-election of Barack Obama, as well as the push for redistribution of wealth, constitutes “gradual and silent encroachments” of the freedom of the people of the United States of America.
I await your reply, sir.
KingstonBarn photo by Quentin Champ-Doran
I, too, find this discussion fascinating and fun. What began as a shared experiment has opened into a more sustained exposition of thinking than this format usually allows. I welcome opinions from anybody willing to join in. This affirms the basic premise of KingstonBarn; that we can have a thoughtful exchange that finds points of agreement. It’s only from there that we can find solutions.
On your points regarding redistribution of wealth, I agree to some of them. True, the phrase is not found in the constitution, but then, neither is your definition. I will concede to the first part, “transfer of money, wealth, or property from one of means to one of limited or no means…” At root, that is the true definition of redistribution of wealth, and the rest, about righting social wrong, is slanted modifier. I am not too sure of “limited or no means”, either, as you will see. Under this definition, all taxation is redistribution of wealth.
We tax, and we redistribute to make roads, buildings, bridges, monuments, ships, planes, and ammunition. We tax, and we redistribute to industries, corporations, universities, parks, small businesses, hospitals, prisons, states, counties, and municipalities. We tax, and we redistribute to contractors, soldiers, police, teachers, employees, vendors, farmers, consultants, politicians, artists, scientists, lawyers, and managers. And yes, we tax, and we redistribute to the unemployed, the underemployed, the survivors, the retired, the disabled, the veterans, the homeless, and the elderly.
Last Summer, my beautiful bride and I took the kids down to Gallo Park, just to sit and watch Sunday afternoon go by. We were sitting on the bench, marking the boats as they returned to their docks for the day. Not too much time passed before we had seen boats of every description motor in, from big yachts to small 14’ Sunfish two-handers. Here is how I know we are not anywhere near Socialism. There were many boats, all of them unique, tied up next to each other. Not once in all of that day, did a government official walk up and give me my boat.
The warnings of sliding down the slippery slope to Socialism have been coming for a lot longer than I can remember. I expect they will keep coming. That may be a good thing, because it’s possible that a small part of what keeps us from Socialism is that there are those that keep warning us about Socialism. Whether the cries come from Chicken Little or a coal mine canary is left for all of us to examine. I would bet, though, that the real reason is much closer to most people just plain would not tolerate it. Sure, the Socialist Party shows up on the presidential ballot every four years, but so does the Libertarian Party. If you are worried about how popular either philosophy really is, just count their votes.
The quotes you cite are certainly pertinent to this conversation, but I will say that they carry less import than the actions of the men who spoke them. Thomas Jefferson was categorically against big government until he was in charge of one. While he agreed the US Constitution made no provision for acquiring new territories (not unlimited powers… but only those specifically enumerated), Jefferson went ahead with the Louisiana Purchase and doubled the size of our country. He claimed that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional, but he prosecuted several of his enemies under those very same laws.
On a family trip to Monticello this past June, we were shown writings of Thomas Jefferson, and told he called slavery a “crime against humanity,” and “an abomination”. That was not long before we were invited to the slave shops and quarters, and we found out that he freed a grand total of two of his six hundred fifty slaves in his lifetime. The man who wrote, “…all men are created equal,” took action quite different from his writings and explanations.
Madison may have written explanations of “general welfare” in letters after the fact, but the phrase was, in the US Constitution, intentionally left for Congress and the Supreme Court to interpret and apply.
Your final quote is quite easy to agree with, and I will repeat it here. “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” But, none of what you claim is dragging us down the road to Socialism has been done in silence, and all of it has been vetted by the protections afforded in the US Constitution.
I know it’s been said before, but, I will say it again. The genius of the framers of the Constitution is not that they wrote the document and managed ratification. Their real brilliance was that they were aware they did not know everything, including the future. They allowed for change and interpretation according to the will of the governed.
I will repeat that I do not think government should give us everything, or control all aspects of our lives. In this discussion, I am not advocating for those programs ( though, of course I would, if asked). I am simply saying, here, that they are legal.
I again affirm your argument. The Constitution guarantees a Constitutional Republic form of government. I will also reaffirm that our social programs do not meet the bar of the definition of Socialism. Our Supreme Court has interpreted what Congress and the President have done, over the past 220 years, as constitutional or not. President Obama has done no more or less to change that than Presidents Reagan, Roosevelt, Lincoln, or Jefferson.
Greater minds than ours have disagreed on the powers and limits afforded by the Constitution. The fact that there are few, if any, unanimous decisions handed down by the Supreme Court is the simple, elegant proof to that statement.
*cahillonkingston content published with the author’s expressed permission.