If you raised Thomas Jefferson from the dead.

by Tom Wolpert on July 14, 2015

To say that we have strayed from our original beliefs and intentions with respect to self-government, is an understatement.  To say that the jurisdiction of the United States federal courts is broader than originally envisioned, is so meekly put as to suggest the hesitant objection of a vassal to his superior, at the time the superior asserted his rights to everything of value the vassal possessed.  If you raised Thomas Jefferson from the dead, and told him that marriage between men and men, and women and women, was just made legal, he might not react in an expected way.  He was never a big advocate for Judeo-Christian morality or orthodox Christian belief.  He might be amused or intrigued by such a step. But if you told him this decision was made by the United States Supreme Court, as a matter of federal constitutional law, and that the citizens of his beloved Virginia had no say whatsoever in this decision, that Virginia’s citizens were entirely stripped of any control or rights in the decision, as to marriage law in his own state, Virginia, he would rip out his own eyes in grief.   Every evil that he ever dreaded, every imposition that he ever resisted, as arising out of a federal system with a superior federal power, to substitute one despot, King George, for another, a federal government overwhelming and subordinating his native state in every meaningful right of liberty and self-government, would have come to pass.


Likewise, if you told Mr. Jefferson that in his beloved state, Virginia, money had an enormous influence on the outcome of politics, he might have shrugged and said, “Such is the world.”   If you told him that some of the purveyors of these monied interests were financial and corporate combinations, arising from outside his state, powerful, and irresistible, he might reply that was exactly why he bitterly opposed Alexander Hamilton’s schemes at every turn.  He might say “I told you so” and smile ruefully, knowing that he had correctly anticipated the outcome of events.  But if you told him that Virginians had no right at all, not even a theoretical right to correct this, that it had been decided by the United States Supreme Court, as a matter of federal constitutional right, that every corporation could inject unlimited amounts of money into any political contest, controlling or distorting even the most local political contest in the hinterlands of Virginia, then the Jeffersonian eye sockets that had been so recently stripped of their eyeballs, would weep bitterly, and long.


In the midst of his wailing, if you further explained to him, that there was no power at all to regulate the sale or possession of weaponry to its citizens, even if the vendor was a Virginia merchant, selling to Virginians who were avowed enemies of the social peace, he would sit down in grief.  But if you told him that his beloved Virginia had been stripped of the right to protect its citizenry through the intelligent control of her own duly elected representatives, by means of lawful enactments passed in regularly convened assembly, but rather that it was a matter of federal, constitutional law, determined by the United States Supreme Court, interpreting a federal, constitutional amendment, that enfeebled and emasculated Virginia’s powers of self-government to the point where they were nugatory, then he would have dug a hole in, to die a second time.  “What grotesque expansion of federal jurisdiction is this?” he would ask.  “Is this why we Virginians declared our independence?”


Finally, if you told him that the termination of human life in the womb was considered to be a matter of individual determination, he might or might not have reacted visibly.  His views as to individual rights, the rights of unborn children, the rights of women to terminate pregnancies, might not be easy to recreate in this imaginary scenario I have depicted.  But if you told him that, no matter what any individual thought, or believed or voted for or against, in his home state, no matter what the teaching of any individual’s church or spiritual leaders, that it absolutely did not matter – the only relevant, authorized, empowered decision maker as to the rights of the unborn children of Virginia, was not their mothers, or their fathers, or their community, certainly not their state, but rather was the United States Supreme Court, then he would bitterly denounce such an outcome with oaths so pungent that the demons would flee.


We have substituted government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with government of the federal courts, by the federal courts, and for the federal courts.  The process of self-government has been reduced to competing lawsuits, developed at the level of federal District Courts, adjudicated next by the various Circuit appellate courts, and finally resolved, disposing of all legal question or redress, by the United States Supreme Court.  We have no more power to petition the United States Supreme Court for a redress of grievances than we did as colonists have an effective means to petition King George.  At each decision of the United States Supreme Court, we are like juveniles led about by cunning adults – if the decision is for us, for our side, we rejoice in our victory.  All is well.  If the decision is against us, against our side, we mourn and say “Next time we’ll do better.”  Never at any point do we inquire of ourselves: “Is this how a calm and rational people engages in self-government?”  Of course the decisions of the United States Supreme Court bind all the land efficiently and uniformly, but so did the decisions of King George.  Of course the Justices of the United States Supreme Court are wiser than we are, but then, so was King George.  Of course loyalty demands that we abide by these decisions, because we are a law-abiding people – but then, did not King George make the same argument?  Self-government means that we bumble and stumble our own mistaken way through these difficult questions, rather than having the wise, the powerful, the distant, decide them for us.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: