As the ink has gradually faded from the handwritten documents themselves, the words and meanings of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America have faded from the hearts and minds of Americans. These documents outline the ideals and beliefs that America was founded on and the men who wrote them cared so much that, not only did they write every word by hand and apply their own signatures to the bottom, they fought a war which, if they had lost, would have certainly cost them their lives and left them known only as traitors.
The Declaration of Independence, penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1776, clearly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility , provide for the common defence , promote the general Welfare , and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity , do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Almost 100 years later, Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, stated, “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
All of these statements hold one concept of importance, that of a government which is chosen by the people to uphold the best interests of those people. Unfortunately, over the last 200 years, the American government has taken on an entity of its own that has little concern for the welfare of the American citizens as a whole. This modern government is no longer made up of average citizens, but members of an elite group that often profits from the legislature it controls. It also has little concern for the people it governs, but shows great concern for the welfare of the very rich, the very poor and foreign countries and their diplomats.
The Tea Party Movement has recently set out to change this. Much like the original Boston Tea Party, when a group of men from Boston dumped boxes of tea into the harbor to protest the unfair taxation without representation, the new Tea Party Movement is equally upset. Formed in 2009 in response to the bank bailouts and healthcare reform bills of Preisdents Bush and Obama, the “Tea Party Patriots”, as they call themselves, set out to return the American government to the system that was intended by the founding fathers of this country when they wrote the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence
In 1776 Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a document declaring America’s independence from England. Fed up with the “tyranny” of England’s hierarchy, Franklin listed all of the ways in which the Prince of England was ignoring the best interests of the American settlers and treating them unfairly. When he was done, every one of the 56 American representatives signed below the closing statement, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”.
These 56 men, from each of the 13 original colonies, felt strongly enough about what they felt America should be to go up against a well-established government with a strong military to defend it. They pledged to each other, and to all Americans, then and now, that they were willing to give up their possessions, their money, and, if necessary, their lives to deliver freedom to America. Now, less than 250 years later, I am certain that they are appalled by what America has become.
Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, a quorum of delegates from 7 of the 13 states gathered to write the Constitution of the United States of America. These men sat down together to decide and put into writing exactly what the United States of America should be. Transcribed by James Madison, the Constitution of the United States of America outlines the Federal government; what it is, how it works, and what rights are guaranteed to the citizens .
The Constitution and subsequent amendments to it are detailed and specific. They guarantee specific rights to all Americans like the freedoms of religion, expression and assembly, the rights to bear arms and be tried by a jury of their peers, and the right to vote in elections; they outline the structure and inner workings of the Federal government and limit the powers of that government; and the last amendment to the Bill of Rights expressly states, “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” . Once completed, the Constitution was then signed by representatives of 12 states, including George Washington, the first President of the United States of America .
The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers were written anonymously, though credit is generally given to James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. The Federalist Papers were written to explain the Constitution to the average people who may be concerned about how the new government would work. The letters explained, in plain words, how the Constitution should be interpreted and what the Federal Convention intended the Constitution to mean.
In the very first of the Federalist papers Alexander Hamilton wrote, “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force” . I am certain that, today, he would deduce that, to his dismay, the latter is the case. Americans rely on congressional representatives that do not hear the concerns of their constituents.
Changes in Attitudes and Knowledge
Since the Revolutionary War, the attitudes of politicians have changed regarding the Constitution and other documents that were paramount to the founding of America. Where the founding fathers saw these documents as concrete sets of rules, rights, responsibilities and limits, many politicians today view them as a hindrance, and not worthy of their consideration or thought.
An excellent piece of evidence to prove this point is President George W. Bush’s response to proof from his cabinet members that his Patriot Act was unconstitutional. He was heard to say, “I don’t give a goddamn. I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way. … Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper” . For those words to leave the mouth of a president that has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution is deplorable, and a horrifying example of the deterioration of the American government and its leaders.
Not only do our leaders not care about the Constitution, many of them are not familiar enough with the documents of our founding fathers to discern between them or quote them accurately. President Obama has confused the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, stating that “We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal” . These errors are getting so commonplace that even Tom Tancredo, a candidate for Governor in Colorado has declared that he views President Obama as a threat to America .
These faux pas are not limited to our 2 most recent presidents. Other key political leaders such as Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner and numerous others have made similar mistakes. The fact is simply that these documents which were critical and pivotal in the founding of our country are not viewed with the importance that they should not only deserve, but demand.
The Tea Party Movement
The Tea Party Movement began in 2009 in a response to what its members saw as excessive government spending, out of control politicians and a collapsing economy . Viewing their complaints as similar to those of the original settlers over the tyranny of England, they chose to name their movement The Tea Party Movement, after the Boston Tea Party in 1776 .
According to their website, “Tea Party Patriots, Inc. as an organization believes in the Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. Tea Party Patriots, Inc. is a non-partisan grassroots organization of individuals united by our core values derived from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill Of Rights as explained in the Federalist Papers. We recognize and support the strength of grassroots organization powered by activism and civic responsibility at a local level. We hold that the United States is a republic conceived by its architects as a nation whose people were granted “unalienable rights” by our Creator. Chiefly among these are the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Tea Party Patriots stand with our founders, as heirs to the republic, to claim our rights and duties which preserve their legacy and our own. We hold, as did the founders, that there exists an inherent benefit to our country when private property and prosperity are secured by natural law and the rights of the individual” . The Tea Party Movement believes strongly, as did our founding fathers, in the ingenuity, perseverance, and dedication of the American people to make America work.
There are 3 key components of the Tea Party Movement. These “core values” are fiscal responsibility, a constitutionally limited government, and a free market economy . These values are also, ironically, found in one form or another in the founding documents of this nation.
There aren’t many adults in this day and age of credit card debt, education loans and mortgages that would consider fiscal responsibility a negative value. The banks, credit companies and even employers demand fiscal responsibility from the average citizen. Why would we not expect the same from our government and its leaders?
Fiscal responsibility in the government means much the same thing it does to the average person. The Tea Party Patriots believe that it is the government’s responsibility to lead this country with a balanced budget and controlled lending and borrowing . This means that, like all of us, the government should not lend out more than it can afford to lose, borrow more than it can afford to pay back or spend money that it does not have.
It is the belief of the Patriots, as well as many other Americans, that fiscal responsibility would lead to lower taxes, less wasteful spending and greater rewards for the citizens and the country . According to Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time” . This means that the government is responsible to the people for how their money is spent, and must make this information public. Of course, it is the responsibility of the individual citizens to access the information and analyze it for themselves.
Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution is, in fact, titled “Limits of Congress” . This entire section is dedicated to limiting the powers of Congress to performing the tasks assigned to it, such as protecting the rights of the citizens and the country. The last amendment in the Bill of Rights also states that “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” . It is from these words that the Tea Party Movement derives its belief in a constitutionally limited government .
The Constitution was written, in part, to protect the American citizens from an overbearing and controlling government. It clearly outlines the rights of the people, and charges the government with protecting those rights. If we, as American citizens, choose to relinquish those rights by allowing the federal government to pass unconstitutional laws by remaining silent, we cannot complain about the state of the nation.
We must return to a nation of equal justice and fair politicians that understand that by taking away the freedoms of the citizens, they take away their own freedoms, also. Politicians often fail to remember that they will not be in office forever, and that the loss of individual freedoms will affect them tremendously once they leave office and return to being an average citizen.
According to the Tea Party Patriots, “free market is the economic consequence of personal liberty” . This means that the “pursuit of happiness” that Benjamin Franklin stated that all people are endowed with relies on a free market economy where people are free to make and spend money, and to keep the money they earn. Businesses, as with individuals, must be allowed to succeed or fail based on their own merits. By demanding this free market economy, the welfare of the economy and the nation rests solely on the citizens.
While the Tea Party Movement may seem small and too diverse to make an impact, this is far from the truth. In the latest mid-term election, they are credited for the voter turnout being on par with the average presidential election, which is almost unheard of .
The founding documents of this great nation were not written without the future in mind. Our founding fathers were well aware that times change, progress happens, and that societies evolve. The Constitution was written with all of these things in mind. The Federal Convention wrote their words carefully to limit misinterpretation in the future. They provided enough elasticity to allow for progress without the need to forfeit the rights of the people to the government.
Perhaps the founding fathers put too much faith in the future of politics, believing that America would continue to be run by statesmen, as opposed to politicians. It is unconceivable to think that they could have dreamt of the world we live in today with lobbyists hounding Congress, terrorist using giant metal flying contraptions full of people as weapons and the immensity of the federal deficit. However, they created this country with a Constitution that would allow us, as a nation to deal with these things if we would only rely on the strength and power it gives us, as individuals, to make a difference.
The Tea Party Movement, like the founding fathers, believes in the strength and power of the individual, and in the strength created when a group of individuals come together with similar views. Every group in the Tea Party Movement, like each person, is a little different. It is through these differences, as well as their similarities, that they draw their strength.
The Tea Party Movement is considered to be extremely conservative, even by their own definition . After diligent research, I disagree. I know that things like limiting spending and limiting the government are traditionally conservative views, but in the sense that the Tea Party uses them, I don’t feel that “conservative” is an appropriate term.
The values of the Tea Party Movement are to return America to the great nation that the founding fathers envisioned. A nation where everyone is equal and free, where a person is an individual with the power to make their own future, regardless of their past, and where the government relies on the people instead of the people relying on the government. In short, the values of the Tea Party Movement are neither conservative nor liberal, they are simply American.
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