Image: American conservatives should not turn their backs on the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in the Constitution merely due to one bad election.
Ashley Sam, Guest Writer, The Golden Hammer
Americans who supported the re-election of Donald Trump should not throw out the United States Constitution as quickly as some appear ready to do.
The delegates who wrote the Constitution between May and September, 1787, at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, confronted many of the same issues with which Americans must deal today: states with small populations versus large, whether a national government should rule over states, slave states versus those states which didn’t permit slavery (an issue similar to whether the Census Bureau should count illegal immigrants for the purpose of apportionment of representatives to the United States Congress), and how best to protect the rights of individuals for which so many had lost or risked their lives during the American Revolution, which had ended just a few years earlier.
One of the thorniest issues facing the Constitutional Convention delegates was whether the national government should have the authority to protect the rights and liberties of individual Americans. James Madison of Virginia was a proponent of the inclusion of a “bill of rights” but the delegates came to a consensus that state governments would exist under the new Constitutional structure to protect rights of individuals from attempted intrusions by the national government. As a result, the United States Constitution didn’t include a Bill of Rights applicable to the states, and, when Madison proposed the first amendments to the Constitution in 1789, Congress specifically rejected his idea to make those fundamental rights enforceable against state governments.
Only after the American Civil War and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 did the Bill of Rights become enforceable against the actions of states through the Amendment’s “Privileges and Immunities Clause.” One of the fundamental principles over which Americans fought the Civil War was the principle of state rights to manage and control their own governance and destiny. Neither the surrender and collapse of the Confederacy nor the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment resulted in overturning the fundamental right of states to govern themselves, including, without limitation, management of their elections of delegates to the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and the Electoral College.
Eight years after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the United States suffered one of its most bitterly-disputed national elections in 1876. In response to widespread allegations of electoral irregularities and downright fraud, the Congress established a federal electoral commission to investigate and determine the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, many members of Congress and many jurists objected to that commission, because the idea of the federal government intruding upon state elections was so strongly in opposition to the fundamental principle of the Constitution that the states should govern themselves. The Compromise of 1877 saved the United States from ever having to rely upon the outcome of the federal electoral commission’s investigation. Rather, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as representatives of the state governments, fashioned a grand compromise, which sidestepped the attempted to federalize elections 144 years ago.
The Founding Fathers, and particularly the Grand Committee within the Constitutional Convention which met during July, 1787, under the leadership of Benjamin Franklin, ultimately fashioned the compromises which have successfully governed Americans through heated political battles and through wars abroad for 232 years.
Nothing in the United States Constitution would stop American conservatives from fashioning a remedy to address electoral irregularities, if that has become the new priority of such individuals. The remedy, however, must come through the individual states who govern their own elections. Those governments are much closer to the people of their jurisdictions. Their state legislators are far more accessible than the pointy-headed members of the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives. Nothing has altered the wisdom of the principle that state governments, being much closer to the people, are more likely to protect the rights and liberties of individuals and the sanctity of the votes of individuals.
Electoral reform will require a lot of work in the fifty-one jurisdictions involved in the election of America’s Chief Magistrate and the election of the members of the Senate and House. Experience reveals, however, that activism is far more effective when individuals are closer to their homes, the precise reason the Founding Fathers fashioned the compromises between national power and state power as they did.
And let’s be clear: those individuals who advocate military commissions, military overthrows of elections, military tribunals, or the use of force or violence to achieve electoral outcomes are anti-conservative, anti-Constitution, and anti-American. America is a land of ideas, especially the fundament principles espoused in the Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence. America is not a land where political outcomes come about through the use of force, for once the British lost and the colonies won, the determination of those outcomes has only occurred through civil means.
Ashley Sam is an American philosopher and historian.