In this third installment of our series highlighting the thoughts of conservative and libertarian leaders on American Independence and the Founding, we asked: What do you think was the most important idea of the Founders? (This series will continue until July 4.)
Jamie Radtke, Chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation: In my opinion, one of their most significant achievements was the idea of a written constitution. Our U.S. Constitution was designed to serve as a limitation on federal powers, which is what makes it unique and powerful. It provides for a federal separation of power among three branches of government as was advocated by the French philosopher Montesquieu in his work, The Spirit of the Laws. Thus, unlike a parliamentary form of government, power is divided among an independent legislature, a chief executive and an independent judiciary. Additionally, the Bill of Rights guarantees the fundamental rights of the people and the states and further defines the boundaries of power of the federal government. This brilliantly composed document struck a remarkable balance of affirming our natural rights while establishing justice, safety, and a well-ordered society.
The Founders were sensitive to government’s proclivity to usurp the power of the people and therefore were very intentional in how they crafted these constitutions to safeguard our individual liberties. It is now our responsibility to preserve the original intent of the Constitution, restore federalism, and protect the unique treasure that was given to us by our Founding Fathers.
Matthew Mayer: President of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions: Without a doubt, the single greatest idea of the Founders is the system of checks and balances established in the Constitution. From 1787 to 1913, this amazing system allowed America to rise from a largely agrarian country to one of the world’s powers on the eve of World War I. During those 126 years, the federal government really was largely constrained and the states played dominant roles in the lives of their citizens. All of that changed in 1913 when Americans unwisely passed the 17th Amendment that fundamentally changed the balance of power between the states and the federal government. With the direct election of U.S. Senators, states lost the only real check they had on the growth and usurpation of power by the federal government. That seemingly insignificant change made to reduce corruption at the height of the Progressive Movement, ironically has resulted in an unchecked federal government with almost limitless powers and the attendant corruption that comes with great power.
ObamaCare illustrates this reality perfectly as states are left to try to undo what their own senators voted for/rammed through despite the costs ObamaCare will pose on states. Now, states desperately cling to the pre-1937 interpretation of the Commerce Clause—it only took 20 years or so for the federal government to realize the power it gained in 1913—and senators ignore the wishes of their constituents—the states, not the people in the states—knowing that the diffusion of the cost is outweighed by the concentration of the benefit. If we want to get America back on course, we should repeal the 17th Amendment, thereby making state legislative races far more important than they are today.
Matthew J. Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives: America’s founding was shaped by the radical declaration that our right to private property was and is inherent and inalienable. This hostile idea, embodied in our Founding documents, challenged the historical practice of man’s rights being determined, limited, and granted by the state. This reorientation of the grantor of rights—from our Creator rather than those in authority—dramatically redefined who was sovereign while simultaneously placing chains on the powers of government. The state would now be the protector—rather than the arbiter—of man’s inherent and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the fruits of his labors.
Ginni Thomas, President of LibertyCentral.org: While the Founders understood that men were not angels, they also recognized the inherent danger of powerful, centralized government. The simultaneous recognition of both of these principles is remarkable and formed the philosophical foundation for our system of limited Constitutional government. This foundation provided for the greatest degree of individual liberty within a robust independent civil society that could form, naturally, a just and successful society.
Thomas J. Gaitens, Florida Tea Party Leader: The phrase “Endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” has to be the most significant idea, revolutionary idea. This simple yet profound idea is the seed by which LIFE, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS spring. Furthermore, it is this principle that brings us the irreplaceable conclusion that “Governments are instituted among men …” This concept of unalienable rights, known as the rights of man is the building block of Liberty. Our Hale rallying cry, of “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” embodies this and has been our chief export for 233 years. Failure to understand this byproduct of our Founding is failure to understand American Exceptionalism.