The United States government was founded on the ideas of individual liberties, self-determination, and minimalist government. Our Founding Fathers were influenced by the work of philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. These great men emphasized that government should no longer be the large, overbearing entity that it had become in Europe. However, their work is starting to be overturned, and we are now on the path towards the very problem our nation once struggled against. It is time we stop fighting about who should be in power, but instead discuss how much power they should be given.
The government has grown like a cancer over the course of our nation’s history. Our Founding Fathers spent weeks drafting the U.S. Constitution to be certain it was as ambiguity free and clear as possible. However, instead of following the strict guidelines laid out in the Constitution, our government has slowly eroded the foundation of this nation and stripped away much of what originally made the U.S.A. so revolutionary. The first major blow to the guidelines of the U.S. Constitution was the establishment of the First National Bank in 1791. The establishment of a national bank was a direct violation of the 10th amendment, which prevents the federal government from taking any power not directly delegated to it in the Constitution. While this infraction was largely a well meant one, it set the precedent for the federal government blatantly ignoring the Constitution.
Another major blow to the U.S. Constitution was the New Deal programs set into place by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930’s. These programs were meant to help the nation recover from the Great Depression, but the new social programs killed the economy and left it stagnated for years. In fact, on May 6, 1939, Henry Morgenthau, the Treasury Secretary under Roosevelt, declared the New Deal a complete failure stating, “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work…. I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started…. And an enormous debt to boot!” What happened in this case was that while the government did provide relief to the nation, they did so by borrowing huge sums of money and plunging the nation into debt. Due to this, the Roosevelt administration increased taxes on businesses, causing them to fire workers and hemorrhage profits. These unemployed people then got government aid and perpetuated the unemployment cycle. This disaster would never have happened if FDR had followed the U.S. Constitution. In this case, the government far overstepped the 10th amendment. Unfortunately, this failure has failed to be recognized by many big government advocates pining for more welfare and social benefits. Our nation is still in debt due to its huge deficit in spending on social programs.
The government has made some huge mistakes throughout our history, but what is worse than these massive failures are the day to day abuses of power most people simply overlook. Take, for example, executive orders. The Constitution has no provision for this practice, yet in our nation’s history, over 13,000 executive orders have been enacted. The biggest problem with this is that there is no check and balance system in place for dealing with executive orders. This means that through an executive order the president can push any law or policy through without opposition. Fortunately, most presidents have been very responsible with this power and only used it in the direst of consequences. However, President Roosevelt signed over 3,000 executive orders in his time in office, among other democratic presidents like Woodrow Wilson, who have made light of this power.
Another example of day to day abuses of power in the U.S. government are the numerous violations of the 4th amendment (right against unreasonable searches and seizures) in the name of “safety.” The Patriot Act is, perhaps, the most severe and widespread infringement of individual rights by the U.S. government. This act, signed into law by George Bush in October of 2001, was a reactionary policy to the devastation caused by the September 11th attacks. This act may have been passed with good intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a violation of the Constitution that was ignored due to state-sponsored nationalism. The Patriot Act gave the FBI the right to search telephone, email, and financial records without a warrant or court order. It also infamously gave the NSA permission to wiretap and perform mass collection of phone records without a warrant. Luckily, this act came under heavy fire from critics and has been revised to be much less intrusive in recent years.
Violations of the Constitution are not at all uncommon, and are one of the least partisan aspects of government. Whether done for the sake of “safety” or “prosperity,” a large majority of these infringements do more harm than good. The founding fathers of the U.S.A. had a beautiful vision for a government that would protect its subjects, not exploit them. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of this goal as a nation, and the people’s complacency has led the government to accumulate far too much power. A simple change between Republican or Democrat government is not enough ensure prolonged prosperity for the nation. The only way to return to what made this country so great is to stop being complacent and protesting our government’s missteps, instead of accepting them as the norm. Our nation’s founders would not be proud of what this country has become.
* Reagan Carriker is a young high school debate student. He holds very far-right libertarian beliefs and has no formal background in politics.