Much of the recent revival of interest in the Constitution centers around the Bill of Rights and the war on terror, a subject I discuss elsewhere in this book. I could not be more sympathetic to these concerns. However, Americans must remember that the Constitution was designed not merely to prevent the federal government from violating the rights that later appeared in the Bill of Rights. It was also intended to limit the federal government's overall scope. Article I, Section 8, lists the powers of Congress. Common law held such lists of powers to be exhaustive.
According to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, all powers not delegated to the federal government by the states (in Article I, Section 8) and not prohibited to the states in the Constitution (in Article I, Section 10) are reserved to the states or to the people. Thomas Jefferson held that this principle formed the very foundation of our Constitution. It was a guarantee that the experience Americans endured under the British would not be repeated, and that political decisions would be made by their own local legislatures rather than by a distant central government that would be much more difficult, if not impossible, for them to control.
Jefferson's approach to the Constitution - which he adamantly believed could be understood by the average person and was not some secret teaching that had to be divined by immortals in black robes - was refreshingly simple. If a proposed federal law was not listed among the powers granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, then no matter how otherwise attractive it seemed, it had to be rejected on constitutional grounds. If it were especially wise or desirable, there would be no difficulty in amending the Constitution to allow for it. And according to Jefferson, we should always bear in mind, to the extent possible, the original intention of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution: "On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed."
"Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution," Jefferson advised us. "Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." Jefferson was afraid, in other words, that we would allow our government to interpret the Constitution so broadly that we may as well be governed by a blank piece of paper. The limitations the Constitution placed on the federal government had to be taken seriously if we expected to maintain a free society. There would always be a powerful temptation to allow the federal government to do something many people wanted, but that the Constitution did not authorize. Since the amendment process is time-consuming, there would be a further temptation: just exercise the unauthorized power without amending the Constitution. But then what is the point of having a Constitution at all?
Copyright ©2008 by Ron Paul. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, New York. All rights reserved.
The Revolution: A Manifesto is a New York Times bestseller. The author, Dr. Ron Paul, is a 10-term Republican congressman from Texas' 14th Congressional District. He garnered 1.2 million votes during the Republican presidential primaries this year and since suspending his candidacy has launched the Campaign for Liberty. More information can be found at CampaignForLiberty.com.