they should have stopped at “congress shall not.”

I think that public office should require a civics test, particularly testing the candidates’ literacy regarding the Constitution. I f you can’t pass a college-level forty-question test about the document that makes up your job description, you don’t get to be in Congress.

That would cut down on the number of times I want to punch my TV because some candidate, Congresscritter, or other Public Servant™ states that “the Constitution gives/doesn’t give  people the right to do XYZ.”

Technically speaking, that’s a correct statement. The Constitution doesn’t give any rights to anyone. The Constitution doesn’t address citizen rights at all because the Constitution isn’t a List Of Things Allowed To Citizens. It’s a List Of Things Allowed To Government. It lists all the things we let our government do on our behalf, and it lists the exact ways in which the government may do so.

The Bill of Rights, being a list of amendments to the Constitution, does address individual rights, but not in the way a lot of people erroneously presume. If the Constitution is a List of Things Allowed to Government, the Bill of Rights is a List of Things The Government May Definitely Not Fuck With, Ever. It doesn’t “give” those rights, it just enumerates them, and it restricts the government, not individual citizens.

That’s how we roll in this country, at least in theory. We don’t need government permission to do stuff—the government needs permission from us to do stuff. And if it’s not listed in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to do it, but that the government doesn’t have the delegated power to do it. Of course, the employer/employee relationship has gotten a bit muddled in the last few decades, hasn’t it? These days, it’s a sign of dangerous extremism when you suggest that our government has only limited powers, and that there’s some sort of document about that somewhere.


27 thoughts on “they should have stopped at “congress shall not.”

  1. ILTim says:

    Hell yeah!! I need to buy you a drink.

  2. ILTim says:

    This is, of course, relating to the Feral Government (aka, Federal) and leaves the choice open to the states to restrict as they please. Which should create a competitive market. A market which was completely destroyed by the ‘commerce clause’ >spit<.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      The states can only restrict if the restriction doesn’t violate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Otherwise the document would be patently useless to anyone not residing in the District of Columbia.

      • Co says:

        Not exactly. Federal governmental action is constrained by the limitations of Federal law wherever it takes place. The limits to actions by the states imposed under the federal constitution (in particular the bill of rights) depend on the extent that the relevant restriction has been imposed on the states under (If I recall correctly) the 10th and 14th Amendments, both of which were passed during Reconstruction.

        A particular state’s bill of rights can (and often is) interpreted differently than the Federal constitution’s analogous provision.

        • Mike S says:

          The 10th Amendment wasn’t a Reconstruction addition, it is part of the original Bill of Rights. The Reconstruction Amendments were 13, 14 and 15.

        • Tam says:

          the 10th and 14th Amendments, both of which were passed during Reconstruction.

          Shut up. Just shut up. You’re part of the problem, Mr. “The 10th Amendment Was Passed During Reconstruction” 😡

        • Zane says:

          Seems others have already taken care of it.

    • Dragon says:

      Actuallym Tim, it wasn’t the Commerce Clause that destroyed the competitive market between the several States…it was the adoption of the 14th Amendment, which fundamentally changed our system of government, making the individual States follow the dictates of the Federal Government, and imposed the Federal Constitution upon the States, thus overriding the States Constitutions, and making each state just like the other.

      Back in the days of the Founding, the States ere vastly different from one another, and a person could choose which state he wished to reside in by weighing the freedoms of the states against one another, and deciding which best suited his character.

      • LittleRed1 says:

        Interesting. I understood that the 14th Amendment was more-or-less set aside from the time of the “Slaughterhouse Cases” in 1873 until the 1950s. It was the use of the Commerce Clause to overturn “Plessy vs. Ferguson” that really started the federal power creep/lunge, although “Schechter” (aka the Sick Chicken case) and “US vs. Butler” (and the resulting 1938 amended Agricultural Adjustment Act) began pushing the Commerce Clause into places it should not have gone. That said, it has been a while since I last really studied the history of the Constitution, so you may be right on philosophical grounds, Dragon, even though actual enforcement lagged considerably.

  3. ATLien says:

    Um, no. the 10th was introduced by James Madison, which would have been hard to do in the 1870s

    • Co says:

      Chill out, Tam. My bad for citing the wrong amendment, but the substance is correct. This is a blog, not a brief.

  4. Co says:

    You’re absolutely correct. The 10th was adopted in 1791:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    This makes it pretty clear that the Federal government’s power is limited to the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

    I should have said the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868.

  5. aczarnowski says:

    The number of people currently getting this wrong is approaching critical. I suspect this post will be regularly linked from my outbox. Probably with exclamation points.

  6. Tam says:

    They should have stopped with “Congress shall make no law…” 😉

    • John Frazer says:

      Sure. We’ll just accept everybody’s word as to their good intentions and innocence. We don’t need laws because everybody else loves their neighbor and would never harm anyone.
      This is as bad as the peace-niks who wish us to stop being prepared for war and just be nice to each other.

      “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals? The contrary of this has been inferred by all accurate observers of the conduct of mankind…” — Alexander Hamilton The Federalist Papers No. 15

      • Gnarly Sheen says:

        Remind me again how many people have been killed by governments and how many have been killed by individuals acting on their own?

        • John Frazer says:

          And as most of us here know, the purpose of government is to preserve rights, and the purpose of founding legal documents of governments is to limit the government to that which is necessary to address egregious violations.
          If things are wrong in our system now or in specific instances in the past, it doesn’t mean the founding document and laws or the vision of the founders was wrong.

      • Chris C. says:

        Perfect. You quote Hamilton, who began trying to undermine the Constitution as soon as his proposal for a permanent, extremely powerful executive (read: king), with the power to appoint state governors and veto state legislation was defeated. Now that the followers of Hamilton have triumphed, we have such a friendly, responsible, mature government, right? The people in government are so much more constrained, disinterested, reasonable, and just, right? Remember, government is made up of the same flawed people that you can find in Hamilton’s quote. So why give power to those who cannot possibly be trusted with it?

        • John Frazer says:

          If we get control of the reins of our country, then we’ll be OK to go ahead into the future. It’s never status-quo, liberty is what Sam Adams called an “animated contest” so we always need to be ready to change things as the hoodlums in suits try to take over again.
          We went astray from the root ideas of the founders within 3 years of the ratification of the constitution (Hamilton led the troops against the Whiskey Rebellion)
          I see very little point or coherence in arguments for the original intent of the constitution (limiting government, as we give it authority to act on our behalf within strictly confined bounds), while denigrating the very core concepts it’s grounded upon.
          if you want to tear it down and write something else, then say so. It’ll be a radical extremist proposal to some, but it’s what the system is for (see the DoI)

          Hamilton’s comment (above) is still valid, and the problem today is that the ones in power are the ones violating the “the dictates of reason and justice”. Are people saying that we’re incapable of running things to a decent balance between too much government and too little?
          If so then anything we try will lead to a doom.

          The purpose of the constitution was to address the flaws in the Articles of Confederation. As most confederations, too little controls.
          One of the problems today is too much power given over to those in office. Doesn’t mean the concept of government by consent of the governed is a dead idea. We’ve got over 200 years of example of what not to do.

        • Chris C. says:

          John Frazer,
          We have little common ground. I am not in favor of “control”, other than self-control. I do not trust anyone with the power to “control” other people (and I think much of history bears that out), and I don’t want any such power myself. You cannot cure alcoholism with “hair of the dog”.

  7. Rick R says:

    It has always amazed, tickled, and at the same time saddened me that Naturalized Citizens have a better grasp of this country and it’s founded purpose.

    As usual, well said Marko

  8. Marko, not a bad start, why not simply expand that test to include voting in addition to holding office?

  9. sixmilepress says:

    RE: Bill of Rights

    “If you don’t believe this story, that’s OK.”

  10. Stretch says:

    All potential candidates who fail the civics test will, of course, be publicly flogged, tarred, feather, and run out of town on a rail. If they score below 50% they should be hung, drawn, and quartered.
    Ya, I’m just a rank sentimentalist with a soft spot for the old traditional ways.

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