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  • Constitutional Impediments to War

    by Founder on December 29, 2008

    in Voice of the People

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    In the last half of the eighteenth century, there came together men of learning and integrity such as the world has not seen before or since. They were to pledge their sacred honor to bring to this land, a nation, overseen by God and a government instituted upon the consent of the governed.

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    Our Founders knew of war.

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    Thomas Jefferson said: “I abhor war and consider it the greatest scourge of mankind.”

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    And James Madison: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it compromises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these precede debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people… (There is also an) inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and …degeneracy of manners and of morals…No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

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    So what did the founders do to guard us from the scourge and dread of war? They set in place our Constitution as the supreme law of our land. It contains at least five impediments to war.

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    1. Article I Section 8 The Congress shall have the power to declare war…

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    George Washington said, “The constitution vests the power of declaring war to congress.”

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    And James Madison: “The Executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.”

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    The point of having Congress declare war was to separate the powers of declaration and command between the Congress and the President. Congress was expected to bring forth the varied concerns of the people and carefully debate before committing to war. It has been well established that one branch of the government does not have the legal right to delegate its responsibility to another branch.

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    2. The Congress shall have the power to raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that use shall be for a longer Term than two years;

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    The Founders were very much against a standing army in time of peace and sternly debated forbidding the government from having one. The English Bill of Rights forbade a standing army; but our Founders compromised and allowed a Federal Army to be raised but that such support was to be re-evaluated every two years.

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    Patrick Henry said: “…that standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided…”

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    James Madison had this to say: “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe champions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

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    And Henry St. Tucker: “Whenever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.” (1768 Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England)

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    3. Congress shall have the power to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

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    And in Section 10… No state shall, without the Consent of Congress, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, …or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

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    The defense of the United States was to rely on a small Federal Army and large State Militias. The Federal Army could venture out of the country, but the Militias were to stay within the United States and provide a massive un-conquerable defensive force.

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    George Mason explained: “I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except for a few public officers.”

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    And in the words of James Madison: “The highest number to which a standing army can be carried in any country does not exceed one hundredth part of the souls, or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This portion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five of thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Besides the advantages of being armed, it forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.

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    And: If tyranny and oppression are to come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

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    The 2nd Amendment reads: A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

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    4. No state shall emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a tender in Payment of Debts;

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    This prohibition and others, plus the fact that the government was not granted any power to create paper money forbade government from using anything but gold and silver, or warehouse receipts redeemable for gold or silver, as money.

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    Daniel Webster affirmed this saying: “Congress has no power granted to it in this respect but to coin money and regulate the value of foreign coin, it clearly has no power to substitute paper or anything else for coin as a tender in payment of debts and in discharge of contracts.”

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    Every one of our wars has been financed by violating this law. Government pays for war by creating money out of thin air either by printing it or borrowing it from banks that create it out of thin air. One reason they do this is to dishonestly conceal the cost of the war from the people. The people are tricked into paying for the war in higher prices rather than taxes. In reality, the higher prices are a tax, depriving us of our property without due process. But there are other insidious reasons. Borrowing the money from bankers allows the bankers to collect massive amounts of interest. The interest payments greatly increase the hidden cost of war while instituting bankers as one of the primary beneficiaries of and lobbyists for war. The newly created money also suppresses the interest rate which leads to economic malinvestments and the business cycle.

    Another danger of paper money is that while on a gold standard, foreign exchange rates are fixed, off it they float. In breaking down the system of fixed exchange rates, paper money causes autarky (economic isolation), which aggravates international tensions and often leads to war. Autarky was not to be the American way.

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    As Thomas Jefferson explained, our foreign policy was to be: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”

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    Paper money combined with the greed of the Military- Industrial Complex are the primary un-spoken motives for war.

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    Finally, 5. The Constitution grants government no power to conscript.

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    The impediments to war were well illustrated during the war of 1812.

    The most common reason given for our declaring war on England in 1812 is that they were engaged in acts of impressment of American seaman (the seizing of persons or property in service of the King) In fact, impressment was not a reason to wage the war.

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    Consider that most of the seamen sailed from New England, but the New England States were violently opposed to the war as the war represented a far greater threat to American shipping and seamen than impressment. The French restrictions on American shipping were in principle worse than the English acts but we didn’t declare war on France. The logical way to assert our rights on the sea would have been to build a Navy but none was built. When England heard that war had been declared against them, she was surprised. Parliament had just ended their policy of impressment. The English felt secure that when news of that reached America the war declaration would be rescinded. It was not.

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    Those promoting the war were from the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia. They argued that impressment insulted the county’s honor; but the truth was that their motives were a lingering hatred for the English along with imperialist ambitions to conquer Canada. And one more thing.

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    At that time we were on a gold standard but the banks operated on a fractional reserve basis. This means that although the banks guaranteed that they would redeem any paper warehouse receipts for gold, they found that they could loan out more receipts than they had gold, because people didn’t tend to notice. Their banks were more aggressive in expanding their paper notes than New England banks, and hoped to make profits by creating paper money out of thin air, and loaning it to the government to pay for the war. The Southwestern States took the lead in opposing war taxes. Without the tax revenue they hoped the government would borrow the money from their bankers. Their plan worked.

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    The President acted to raise an army to attack Canada but as he had no authority to conscript he raised only a small number. When Congress tried to pass a conscription bill, four New England states met at convention in Hartford and declared that they would secede from the Union. The President called out the Militia and ordered it to invade Canada, but the New England states pointed out that the Constitution forbids the use of the Militia for foreign invasion. The Federal Army attacked Montreal and was beaten while the Militia formed across the river in Vermont and refused to cross as they were only a defensive army.

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    Although the Federal Army was losing the war, the bankers were more successful than they had imagined. The banks became so profitable that their number increased from eighty-eight in 1811 to two hundred and eight in 1813. They issued $170,000,000 in notes primarily as loans to the government with only $15,000,000 in gold and silver backing.

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    But by 1814 the people feared that the banker’s couldn’t redeem their money, and they ran to withdraw their gold. The bankers could not redeem the gold and went into default. By 1814 every bank suspended their specie payments. Notes were being sold at seventy – five cents on the dollar and any further issuance would have signaled that the banks had no intention of resuming gold and silver payments. The United States either had to make peace or make bank notes a legal tender. The Constitution wouldn’t allow a legal tender law so that alternative was rejected. By the end of 1814 America was at peace.

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    Violation of the Constitution lead to the War of 1812; but the Constitution’s existence in fact, and in the hearts and minds of the people, allowed that injustice to be quickly and honorably corrected. As we now suffer under the abuses of the War in Iraq, let us understand that our government entered into, and continues to wage this war in violation of these impediments and these warnings of our Founders. Let us demand that our Supreme Law be adhered to and once more be able to say, that America is at peace.

    T R, March 15, 2008

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