The Silent Dismantling of Our Republic
by interfering with regular, periodic elections.
(This article from the October 2011 Newsletter of the National Center for Constitutional Studies was reprinted with permission.)
by Earl Taylor, Jr., President, National Center for Constitutional Studies
One of the most feared aspects to the Founders in creating a government was the realization that men, who come into power either by force or by election, nearly always seek more and more power until they approach kingly status. Over a period of several decades, and with historical experience as well as their own good thinking, the Founders eventually employed several techniques to minimize the possibility of that happening in their new government. Separation of powers, checks and balances, frequent elections–all these devices were implemented to curb the human tendency to concentrate power in the few.
Return to the Original Source of Power
James Madison expressed that, since the people are the original source of authority to govern, they ought to be consulted on a periodic basis as to whom they should delegate some of this authority. Said he:
"As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter under which the [power of the] several branches of government … is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority … whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others."
But how often should the people be consulted?
"Where annual elections end, tyranny begins"
In order to check runaway politicians, early Americans, particularly in New England, wanted them to come back and report to the people very often and at the same time give the people a chance to decide whether they wanted their representative to continue to represent them or not. Many felt that if they left them unchecked for more than a year, strange notions might enter into their thinking and they would cease to be public servants.
Originally, several of the states, especially Massachusetts, had a penchant for annual elections. Their slogan was, "Where annual elections end, tyranny begins." However, experience soon demonstrated that delegates to a national Congress need training and experience to function effectively. Nevertheless, the Founders did not want to follow the pattern of the early parliaments in England, where the members of the House of Commons remained in office until a political crisis occurred and the majority party could not get a vote of confidence, thereby requiring a new election. The Americans wanted their representatives to return home and face the voters at regular intervals.
In the Constitutional Convention, the Founders decided that two years would be adequate for representatives to learn their job and perform it long enough before returning to the people to see if the people would want to keep them or send someone else. This two year period also provided the people with a regular interval in which to go about their business and a long enough period of time before they had to think about another election. The Founders know that in a democracy, where the people make all the decisions, they grow tired of constantly being involved and cease to have an active interest in the affairs of government. Two-year intervals seemed to be about right. Madison knew that going to the people too often in elections of any kind, whether changing constitutions, making new laws, or changing leaders would bring reactions of the people based more on emotion rather than methodic reasoning. Said he:
"The danger of disturbing the public tranquility by interesting too strongly the public passions is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society. Notwithstanding the success which has attended the revisions of our established forms of government [the ratification conventions] and which does so much honor to the virtue and intelligence of the people of America, it must be confessed that the experiments are of too ticklish a nature to be unnecessarily multiplied."
The Founders rejected a provision to recall Senators
During the Constitutional Convention the Founders considered including a provision whereby states can recall their senators from the nation’s capital. Even though a senator’s term is much greater–six years–they decided that the recall provision would throw too much contention into the system and would provide an avenue for unscrupulous factions to take control. Robert Livingston explains:
"… It would open so wide a door for faction and intrigue, and afford such scope for the arts of an evil ambition. A man might go to the Senate with an incorruptible integrity, and the strongest attachment to the interest of his state. But if he deviated, in the least degree, from the line which a prevailing party in a popular assembly had marked for him, he would be immediately recalled. Under these circumstances, how easy would it be for an ambitious, factious demagogue to misrepresent him, to distort the features of his character, and give a false color to his conduct! How easy for such a man to impose upon the public, and influence them to recall and disgrace their faithful delegate!
Then how do you get rid of a public official you don’t like?
Once again the Founders provided for the protection of the people against an errant public official. If the man commits a crime while in office and is convicted, most governmental jurisdictions require him to step down from his office. If he has not been convicted of a crime but still becomes objectionable to the people he is supposed to be representing, then the people need to insist that the checks and balances are working properly to prevent his doing too much damage while still in office. Then in just a short while, at the next regular election, he can be replaced.
The best answer is to restore Constitutional limitations!
Usually, when someone is thought to be unfit for office, that person is most likely doing the bidding of some special interest group and giving them special favors from his high post in the government. The amazing thing is that if public officials were kept within the bounds of the Constitution, there would not be any one public office holder with enough power to make it worth a special interest group trying to buy his vote! The answer to corruption, then, is what our answer is always: Restore the Constitution! It solves all issues!
The increasing use of the corrupting influence of recall elections
The increasing use of recall elections to try to correct problems in government, flies directly in the face of the Founders methodical program of peaceful, self-repair in good constitutional government. It introduces factions and gives them a voice. It disturbs the tranquility of the people by thrusting them into another election other than at the regular, established intervals. It introduces the weaknesses and dangers of a pure democracy the Founders warned us about 200 years ago.
The "Progressive Era" provides cover for the Recall tactic
The years between 1890 and 1920 were years of great change in America’s political structure:
• Ironically, these were the years when the Founders’ formula for freedom ceased to be taught in many American schools.
• It was a time when American history books were being rewritten and revised.
• It was a time when the word "democracy" had finally shed its negative feeling and President Woodrow Wilson declared the United States needed to "make the world safe for democracy" by doing what Americans had elected him not to do – get us into war.
• It was a time when very powerful forces took control of the public opinion-molding media.
• It was a time when anti-Founding Father forces began to take control of teacher colleges.
• It was a time when the federal government tentacles began reaching directly down into the pocketbooks of Americans.
• It was a time when the sovereign states lost their power in the machinery of the federal government and lost their ability to protect the people from an ever-growing federal government.
• It was a time when control of our money system was turned over to private interests.
• It was a time when churches began to embrace the soul-destroying doctrine of the social gospel.
• It was a time when parental responsibilities became confused and children were raised in other than traditional family settings as their father went off to war and the mothers went to work.
• All this, and much more is what some historians ironically call the Progressive Era!
It was during this so-called Progressive Era that powerful people wanted to use the power of uninformed people to their own advantage. They saw that such people could be persuaded by emotional appeal to make decisions that would begin to change the way the Founders set up our system to work. Techniques such as recall, initiative, and referendum began to be adopted state by state. These tactics leave the door wide open for factions and intriguing power brokers arguing that it would be more "democratic" if the people began to make more and more decisions. Few people realized these methods were already discussed and systematically rejected by the Founders.
Many good people are duped into participating in recall elections
If Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and others would advise not to participate in such anti-republican, masses-manipulating events such as a recall election, why are even good people persuaded to do so today? It is difficult to know the motivation of some people but when a whole raft of historical evidence points to trouble, one must wonder about the depth of their understanding of basic principles of freedom and liberty. They perhaps have never realized that–
• Recalls are elements of democracy, not republican government
• Recalls interfere with the regular, methodical pattern of elections.
• Recall disturbs the tranquility of the people
• Through the use of recalls the organizers are short-circuiting the normal established channels of checks and balances in an unnatural attempt to control political activity.
• The use of recalls has been a cover for unscrupulous people who wish to confuse and liberalize the electorate.
Recently, there have even been calls for postponing elections altogether so that government officials can supposedly have more time to solve problems without having to worry about taking time out to campaign for re-election.
Whether the proposal is to cut short a public officials term through recalls or lengthen it through postponing elections, these tactics should be viewed for what they are–an attempt to ignore and violate the beautiful Constitutional system and to instigate a parliamentary system of government based more on the rule by the whims of men rather than the rule of law. Our Founders wisely rejected such schemes 200 years ago.
Let us be faithful to their trust in us by retaining their proven system.
Earl Taylor, Jr.