Compromises at the Constitutional Convention: Principled?

When is compromise right? When is it wrong? When I look at historical compromises, I try to apply this rule:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

Let’s take the Constitutional Convention as an example.

The delegates who comprised the convention that led to our current Constitution had to grapple with a number of controversial issues. The two most prominent were how to carry out proper representation and how to incorporate the existence of slavery within the document.

On the issue of representation, states with greater population argued that they should have more say in the making of the laws. After all, they had more people, so it only seemed fair to them.

The smaller states, however, fearing that they would always be outvoted on matters of concern to them that might not concern larger states, called for equal representation in the newly proposed government.

Who had the better argument?

In this case, both were making good points. Both arguments had validity.

Consequently, a compromise was forged that led to setting up two houses in the national legislature (as opposed to one in the Congress established by the Articles of Confederation). The House of Representatives would be allotted a proportional number of members based on each state’s population while the Senate would have two members from each state, thereby providing a chamber where the smaller states had an equal vote.

In my view, this was an acceptable compromise that answered the concerns of both parties. No one sacrificed a principle.

The other thorny issue was whether to count the slaves as part of the population of a state. If all slaves were counted, that would definitely give slave states a higher number of representatives in the House. The Southern states, therefore, favored this position.

Northern states, many of whom had already abolished slavery while others were in the process of doing so, thought that would be unfair. After all, as Gouverneur Morris of New York postulated in the debate,

Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included?

Fair question. What was to be done?

The convention came up with this compromise: count 3/5 of the slave population toward a state’s representation (not all the slaves, as the South desired); allow the Congress, twenty years hence, to pass a law that would prohibit the importation of more slaves into the country.

That latter provision was based on a sincere wish that most of those delegates had: the eventual elimination of slavery in America. They hoped that such a law would dry up the slave population over time.

Incidentally, twenty years later, Congress did pass that law.

Was this an acceptable compromise? People are divided on that. Personally, I would have welcomed a stronger stance against slavery, but I also understand the tenor of the times and the limitations on what that convention needed to accomplish.

The Constitutional Convention couldn’t hope to achieve unanimity on the issue of the continuance of slavery. What it could hope to achieve was to set up a working government that could then deal more fully with the issue.

That was accomplished. The sad fact that Congress, over the next few decades, didn’t come to grips with slavery as it should have is not something that should be laid at the feet of those at the Convention.

In fact, based on what they knew at the time, there was good reason to believe slavery was already on its way out. It was not as profitable as expected.

What changed? How about the invention of the cotton gin seven years later, which made slavery far more profitable?

Let’s not play a blame game that holds people responsible for something that happened seven years in the future. That would be like holding people in 2018 responsible for something that will occur in 2025 that alters the whole perspective of an issue.

We’re not really all that good at knowing what the future holds, given the millions of individual choices of citizens that will be made along the way.

It’s possible, therefore, to consider even that slavery compromise as a principled one, despite the disrepute it has earned over time.

The main lesson here, I believe, is to work toward compromises that move the ball toward what one wants to see eventually. Any step in the right direction should be welcomed.

Rule of Law & the Constitutional Convention

In our era, when the rule of law seems to be weakening, it’s instructive to look back at how our cornerstone document, the Constitution, came into being. The 1780s, under the Articles of Confederation, saw a loose-knit assemblage of states that were in danger of splitting apart permanently. Those with concern for the rule of law and who had a vision for a better system urged a meeting of all the states to address the governmental crisis.

Twelve of the thirteen states responded to that call—tiny Rhode Island excepted due to fear of being overwhelmed by any change in the government—and sent delegates to Philadelphia. They met in this building in the summer of 1787, newly called Independence Hall, the place where they also debated and passed the Declaration of Independence eleven years earlier.

Of the thirty-nine individuals who eventually signed off on the new Constitution, over half had some training in the law. Lawyer jokes aside, that’s rather important, and was doubly so at that time, since all of them perceived of law as emanating from God ultimately, and not man.

They held to the conviction that man’s laws had to be in concert with God’s laws; otherwise, they would be invalid.

Half of the delegates had either attended or graduated from college. While that might seem to be a low percentage from the perspective of the twenty-first century, that was a high percentage in that era.

Further, thirty-three had served in the Continental Congress during the Revolution, a mark of stability and experience in governmental affairs. This was not to be an assembly of radicals who wanted to change everything.

Then, by choosing George Washington to preside over the convention, they provided its deliberations a respectability that all Americans would have to take seriously.

One delegate showed up with a plan: James Madison, probably the best researcher in the nation on the issue of good and effective government, offered his Virginia Plan, which became the basis for the debate as the convention went forward.

Madison’s influence was strong throughout that summer. He spoke frequently (second-highest number of speeches) and kept a record of what everyone said. Later, after all the delegates had died, his notes were published, and that book is now considered one of the most valuable of all American historical documents.

Another man, too infirm to be a delegate at this time, nevertheless made his mark on the Constitution because he was Madison’s mentor. Rev. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, guided all of Madison’s intellectual pursuits. They had even worked together in the Continental Congress.

Witherspoon is credited, during his time at the college (later to be renamed Princeton) with graduating, along with the expected ministers, many men who later became governmental leaders. Four others at the convention, besides Madison, had studied under Witherspoon. Overall, the graduates during his tenure account for a future president (Madison), a vice president (Aaron Burr, but don’t hold that against Witherspoon), nine cabinet officers, twenty-one senators, thirty-nine congressmen, three US Supreme Court justices, and twelve state governors.

There is ample reason to accept the title many have bestowed on Witherspoon as “The Man Who Shaped the Men Who Shaped America.”

Some of what occurred at the Constitutional Convention will be the subject of a future post. Sufficient for today is the result: a system of government that gave precedence to the rule of law for a fledgling nation and that has helped that nation survive many tumultuous episodes. Regardless of our concerns with how our government may be functioning now, we can still feel some measure of confidence in its stability due to the wisdom of those who constructed it.

Bombs Away? A Reagan-Trump Comparison

President Trump has stirred the criticism pot with his military actions: striking an air base in Syria and using the largest bomb in the US arsenal to destroy terrorists’ caves in Afghanistan. It has led some to question exactly what authority a president has to use the military without first consulting Congress.

That’s an important question because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war, not any president unilaterally. Of course, Congress hasn’t passed an actual war declaration since WWII. All of our actions militarily since then have either been in conjunction with the UN (Korea, Persian Gulf War) or with tacit approval of Congress to defend American lives (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq). The latter were with congressional resolutions that fall short of true declarations.

Yet are there times when a president cannot wait for Congress to debate a matter because surprise is essential? Can the use of the military for one specific action be taken by presidential authority without a full declaration of war?

Let’s look at the Reagan years for a couple of examples.

In 1983, a militant pro-Castro faction overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, a moderate Marxist, on the island of Grenada. Reagan immediately understood the implications of the coup: if the new government survived, a third Cuba (Marxist Nicaragua was viewed as the second Cuba in Reagan’s mind) would have come into existence during his watch. Grenada would become another Soviet client-state in the Western hemisphere.

The new Grenadian administration brought in 600 Cubans to construct an airstrip that could accommodate large military planes. This worried not only the US but other island-nations in the region. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica came to the White House to share her concerns with Reagan and ask for help.

Another factor Reagan had to take under consideration was several hundred Americans who were attending a medical school on the island. He wanted to ensure their safety, but knew that if word got out that action was being contemplated, those Americans could easily become hostages. The threat of another Iranian-type hostage situation loomed.

So, for national security reasons and fear for the safety of American lives, Reagan chose to act swiftly and as quietly as possible. He did bring in congressional leadership, both Republican and Democrat, before taking action, informing them of the situation. He got the go-ahead from them to proceed.

On October 25, Reagan sent 10,000 U.S. marines and army airborne troops to invade the island. All resistance was eliminated after three days of fighting. At first, some members of Congress were outraged, but public support for the invasion soared as TV coverage featured interviews with the grateful American students.

Then there was Libya in 1986.

This radical Islamic state ruled by strongman Muammar Qaddafi had used its oil revenues to bankroll terrorists in Europe and the Middle East. On April 15, 1986, having concluded that Libya had supported and financed the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin frequented by American military personnel, Reagan ordered the bombing of five targets in Libya, including the presidential palace.

Reagan wanted to send a message to Qaddafi that he needed to back off his financial support for terrorism, and that he should think twice before aiding and abetting attacks that might kill and injure US soldiers.

Again, Reagan felt that giving advance warning for this punitive action would allow Libya to prepare for it and minimize the damage. He had already publicly proclaimed the US perspective on Libya and other nations directly involved with terrorism when he said in a speech that Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya were “outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, loony-tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich.” Of Qaddafi, he said, “He’s not only a barbarian, he’s flaky.”

In both of these instances, Reagan took into consideration national security and saving the lives of American citizens. Both actions were short-term, not full-fledged wars, and required secrecy for their success.

Trump’s decisions have to be evaluated in that same light. I have no problem with the Afghanistan bombing, as it is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate terrorism aimed at America. It would be nice, though, for Congress to go the whole way for a declaration of war and make it more constitutional. Yet I realize that it is difficult in this situation because terrorism is not confined to one nation; it is a continuing problem that pops up everywhere.

As for Syria, I have mixed feelings. Trump apparently decided to go ahead with that bombing because of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. He saw pictures of the results and was horrified. Who wouldn’t be?

But was there a direct danger to American citizens over Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Was our national security threatened by this terrible action? We are a compassionate people who want to stop atrocities, but can we do that everywhere in the world? Aren’t atrocities occurring in many nations? Where do we strike and where do we not?

Decisions need to be made on the basis of national security and saving American lives first and foremost. Other reasons may enter in as well, but there needs to be a compelling need to act; we can’t merely make emotional decisions.

My concern is that Trump often makes decisions based on emotion. He has little understanding of constitutional authority and limitations; neither does he care to learn.

While I can inwardly cheer that the bombing in Syria sends a message, I can wonder about the wisdom of that decision and whether it really accomplished its purposes.

My concerns about how Trump makes decisions and whether he has any bedrock principles have never gone away. I’m also concerned that too many Americans don’t care about those principles. Yet without a proper understanding of the rule of law, we are in trouble.

Going Nuclear in the Senate

Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the Supreme Court is coming to a vote in the Senate shortly. Democrats on the Senate Committee who grilled Judge Gorsuch came our uniformly against him. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader in the Senate, says his party will filibuster the nomination despite Gorsuch receiving the American Bar Association’s highest rating. That organization is not exactly ruled by conservatives.

So why the filibuster tactic? What is Gorsuch’s crime? Could it be that he simply believes judges should interpret rather than create law? Could it be that he thinks there’s something called the Constitution to which he is accountable?

Schumer and his fellow Democrats are being 100% political . . . and 100% childish and irresponsible.

Let’s be honest: Democrats don’t care one bit about constitutionality. They’re all about doing whatever they deem best while ignoring the rule of law. And let’s go one level deeper: they want to continue to allow unborn children to be slaughtered and Biblical morality overall to be excised from American society.

Now, they would never say that. But their actions make it clear that’s where they’re coming from.

Back in 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid stopped all filibusters on cabinet-level appointees and federal judge appointments below the Supreme Court. He didn’t want to have to round up 60 votes to stop debate. That rule-altering precedent was fine to Democrats at that time.

Now that the Republicans are on the verge of doing the same thing for the Gorsuch nomination, we hear cries of “rule of law” from the very people who normally are impervious to such concerns.

For some silly reason, the move to allow a majority vote to stop debate has been called the “nuclear option.” Forgive me if I think such a decision is somewhat short of a nuclear anything. Use the word “nuclear” in relation to something and you can raise all kinds of hysteria.

Democrats should think twice before employing a filibuster on a highly qualified Supreme Court nominee. Of course, saying they should think twice is giving the benefit of the doubt that they’ve thought once already.

The Democrat party has become the refuge of every unconstitutional and immoral public policy. It is filled with radicals who would like to transform America into their idea of a non-Christian utopia. It didn’t used to be this way.

When this latest Senate battle is finally over, I will heartily welcome Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. May he remain faithful to how he has ruled in the past, and may he help restore judicial integrity to a system that is in danger of collapse.

The Gorsuch Hope

The Senate vote for Neil Gorsuch to take his place on the Supreme Court will be coming up soon. As with all Court nominees that Republicans promote, I am both hopeful and cautious about how that nominee will actually perform. So many have had what appeared to be conservative credentials upon first glance, then somehow find a way to look askance at the Constitution once they take their place on the Bench.

Gorsuch has an unblemished record on religious liberty decisions. He seems to have a solid understanding of the First Amendment, which is a decided plus for those of us who believe that Christian faith has had a rough time lately under the Obama regime.

Democrats have carried out their typical whining strategy, starting with no small degree of petulance that Republicans didn’t allow Obama’s Court nominee to go forward for a hearing just prior to the last election. I have no problem with the GOP’s decision to forego that hearing for an administration on its way out. All the Democrats’ talk about how “moderate” that nominee was is smoke.

But they are playing the resentment card regardless:

They are now threatening a filibuster when the nomination comes to the full Senate. Two Democrat senators, from states that now have conservative majorities, have already broken ranks and say they will be voting for Gorsuch. It’s amazing what fear of losing one’s seat can accomplish on occasion.

At Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate committee, he scored points for his calm, even manner and his devotion to the rule of law. Democrat objections fell rather flat.

All attempts to paint Gorsuch as some kind of extremist were a little silly. But that’s to be expected from silly people:

Personally, I’m concerned that the church Gorsuch attends is very liberal. I’m wondering how he will decide on cases that involve the homosexual agenda, same-sex marriage, and abortion.

Will he become another David Souter, who ended up voting liberal most of the time? I doubt that. How about another Anthony Kennedy, who can never be relied upon? Again, I’m hopeful that won’t be the case. If anything goes awry with Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch, it might be instances of disappointment in the manner of John Roberts on Obamacare.

Yet, given his track record, I remain a supporter of his nomination. I pray he will get to the Court, and then I pray he will show himself as the staunch defender of the Constitution that so many of us have reason to believe he will be.

Breaking the Education Stranglehold

Republican congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky has introduced a bill to abolish the Department of Education. The bill is quite simple, consisting of one sentence: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

The probability of this bill going anywhere is nearly zero. The NEA and others who feed at the federal trough won’t allow it. All Democrats get money from the NEA, as do many Republicans. Beyond the funding, there’s also the undying belief that government-sponsored and -controlled education is necessary to the survival of the republic.

My view is the opposite: government-sponsored and -controlled education is the reason we are in such a mess educationally. One size does not fit all, and the federal government’s bureaucracy has no idea how to carry out real education, especially since it removes the Christian element.

Here’s the truth historically and constitutionally: there is no authority in the federal Constitution for the government at that level to be involved in education at all. The Department of Education is foundationally unconstitutional and should be scrapped.

But who pays attention to the Constitution anymore?

My view is that states, which have given themselves authority to delve into education, also make a mess of it, primarily because it’s not a proper function of government. No level of government should be telling citizens what education is and how it should be carried out.

Education is a function of the family, and parents should have complete liberty to decide how and where their children will be educated.

Pipe dream? Probably. But that doesn’t change the Scriptural mandate that puts parents in charge of their children. Neither does it negate the efforts of legislators like Rep. Massie to draw our attention to the basics and try to move the needle away from government oversight.

This latest effort to disengage government from education will fail. Yet it is worth making the attempt. Every time we do, we inform and educate the public about the proper role of government and the significance of parental choice.

Betsy DeVos is the new secretary of education. I’m sure she would rejoice if she were the last one because she grasps the importance of educational choice. It will be interesting to see if she can make any headway at all in breaking the stranglehold that the NEA has on education.

Healthcare & the Constitution

America is counting down the days remaining in the Obama administration. What more damage can he do in the next two weeks? Well, keep in mind he’s been able to accomplish quite a bit during his tenure and he doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Let’s summarize:

The first target for Republicans will be Obamacare. Obama himself continues to act as if it’s doing just fine. The reality is somewhat different:

Democrats in the Congress are trying to rally the troops to defend the centerpiece of Obama’s vision, but their hope may be illusory:

They are going with the old tried-and-true strategy that they have used on every Republican from Ronald Reagan to the present day:

I remember back in the 1980s when Democrats sought to convince the public that Reagan was going to throw old people out on the streets to die. Not that long ago, Paul Ryan was pictured as pushing an old woman in a wheelchair over a cliff. Perhaps this time the public will tire of that overused and thoroughly dishonest tactic.

So Republicans have the knives out to remove Obamacare from the public life, but there is not unanimity in the ranks over how to do it, whether anything is worth keeping, or how to replace it.

My solution for this is not a popular one. How about going back to the Constitution and reading it one more time? If we do so, we will see that there is no authority in that document for the federal government to legislate on healthcare whatsoever. Why not allow the market to work and then let states deal legislatively with anything that needs correction?

I understand the politics, all the accusations that Republicans would have to face if they followed my advice, but that would be the constitutional thing to do. Unfortunately, constitutionalism won’t even be considered.

The nation has become so dependent on federal outlays and policy from on high that it will take a massive re-educational effort to change that outlook.

Democrats can always play on that and promise the world, while those few Republicans who do take the Constitution seriously seem to have the more difficult task explaining why the government should be kept out of this.

Even though this last election is being portrayed as a rejection of government interference, far too many people have become, in the insightful words of C. S. Lewis, “willing slaves of the welfare state.” They want what is “theirs” from the government.

And Democrats are always on the lookout for creating more government dependence:

Have we really learned our lesson as a nation? Will principles ever make a comeback?