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Citizens need to enroll in Constitution 101

By Staff | Apr 23, 2010

Our interdenominational Monday morning group has been going through Faith & Doubt by John Ortberg. In his discussion of skeptics, cynics and rebels, he offers a very profound conclusion: people believe what they want to believe.

This observation about religion can also be applied to politics, especially in this day of hearsay universities flourishing on the streets of misinformation. We have all sorts of uninformed folks quoting the Founding Fathers and what they intended. All they are doing is repeating what others have told them, motivated primarily by what they want to believe.

Former U. S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), a native of Cando, recently offered these sidewalk constitutional lawyers some good advice when he proposed they go to the source and read The Federalist Papers to understand the U. S. Constitution.

Written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, staunch advocates of a strong central government, the 85 papers were written to convince the New York ratifying convention delegates that the new central government was in everyone’s best interests.

Of the three, Hamilton wrote two-thirds of them, even though he was thoroughly disgusted when the Constitutional Convention didn’t give his idea for an even stronger central government serious consideration. Later, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton got revenge by using all of his powers to strengthen the role of the national government. He was a nationalist of the first order.

Former Congressman Armey was right when he noted that many people now talking about the Constitution have never read The Federalist Papers. Even more important, none of them have read the detailed notes of convention proceedings compiled by James Madison, a source document even more seminal than The Federalist Papers.

There are other important documents, such as the slew of anti-federalist papers written by the states’ righter’s of the day who offered their best arguments against the formation of a stronger Union. (Tea Party advocates would find these especially enlightening.) The biographies of the key founders, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Wilson, Hamilton, Madison and Jay, are also instructive.

Rather than study historical source documents, our sidewalk experts would rather cling to what they want to believe and not what the Founding Fathers intended. Most of their misinterpretations are used to undergird predetermined agendas, not the least of which are libertarians, militarists, nationalists, capitalists, Christians, centralists, social reformers, street demonstrators and scores of others heading crusades and causes. They all misrepresent the Constitution and the Founding Fathers to get to what they want to believe.

Having taught university courses on federalism and the origin of the Republic, I am not very patient with these unfounded pronouncements, parroted by people who have never read any of the authentic documents for themselves. Until they do so, their arguments aren’t worth the time of day.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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