Ideas Of Liberty For A Free People – Guest Essayists: W. David Stedman And LaVaughn G. Lewis

, , , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.51]

The Spirit That Enabled A People To Transform Their Ideas Of Liberty Into A New Concept Of Constitutional Government For A Free People

“…one must understand something of the spirit of the people who had been experimenting successfully with liberty for over 165 years when the Constitution was framed.”

From 1620, the settlers of America were motivated by a passion for liberty. British statesman Edmund Burke, in 1775, traced the astounding economic development and the unparalleled spirit of liberty of the Americans when he appealed to Parliament for conciliation with its colonies (See: Part VIII – Burke Speech on Conciliation). He said: “…it is the spirit that has made the country…

Examining some of the reasons for the spirit, he continued:

“Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit…. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it…. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces…. The Southern colonies are much more strongly and with a higher and more stubborn spirit attached to liberty than those to the northward.”

Burke’s comments shed remarkable light on the American spirit exhibiting itself, even to those in foreign lands, by the time of the American Revolution. His observations are significant for they reveal something important about a people already established in the eyes of the world as lovers of ordered liberty and participants in outstanding progress. Burke described what he called the “temper and character” of the people, saying, “In this character of the Americans a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole….” Among the reasons for their “untractable spirit,” he said, was their “education.”

“In other countries the people … judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle.”

In other words, Burke observed that in most of the world, people could only begin to understand an oppressive or bad idea in government after it had been employed to harm them. Americans were different, he said, for they were taught to understand the principles-ideas and principles inherent in human nature, both good and bad-bad ideas before they could be used to oppress them. Possessing such understanding, he said, Americans could detect “misgovernment at a distance and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.” James Madison later expressed it this way:

“The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much, soon to forget it.”

It is clear that Americans were educated in the ideas of liberty for several generations. As late as 1830, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed among the general population of America the same high degree of education and understanding of basic principles. “It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic….” Even in outlying areas, he said, the American “will inform you what his rights are and by what means he exercises them….”

Such understanding was the primary purpose of the education provided to early generations. As Thomas Jefferson stated:

“The most effectual [effective] means of preventing the perversion of power into tyranny are to illuminate …the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”

According to Jefferson, the people’s study of history would “qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it to defeat its views.”

By 1787, after having endured a long and traumatic struggle for independence and freedom from a government that had become increasingly abusive and oppressive, their understanding of the nature of mankind as revealed through history and their examination of ideas and principles necessary to liberty had equipped them to undertake the establishment of a government for a free people – a government having its very foundation set in the knowledge that the rights and liberty of people are endowed by their Creator and are, therefore, unalienable.

With this concept and these principles firmly fixed in their minds, and with a “stubborn spirit attached to liberty” they were ready, in 1787, to prepare a Constitution for the United States of America.

David Stedman is the retired Chairman of Stedman Corporation. Stedman was a founder of the National Center for America’s Founding Documents and the National Foundation for the Study of Religion and Economics. Stedman is Co-Editor with LaVaughn G. Lewis of Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty. A frequent lecturer on topics relating to the Constitution, America’s free enterprise system and role of the “business statesman,” Stedman holds earned degrees from Duke, Harvard, and Georgetown Universities and is a Distinguished Alumnus of Duke University.

LaVaughn G. Lewis is a former teacher. She served at the Stedman Corporation as Assistant to the Chairman and as researcher and writer. She is Co-Editor with W. David Stedman for Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty, and is a graduate of Pfeiffer University.

May 27, 2011 – Amendment VII of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: W. David Stedman and LaVaughn G. Lewis, Co-Editors, Our Ageless Constitution

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

 

The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.41]

Trial By Jury Of Peers Under Laws By Consent Of The People

The Constitution’s Ultimate Protection For Individuals From Government

“What a fine…consolation is it for a man, that he can be can be subjected to no laws which he does not make himself, or constitute some of his friends to make for him…What a satisfaction…that he can lie under…no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property…the necessaries, conveniences, or ornaments of life, which Providence has showered on him, but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbors…”

–John Adams

 

Americans often say they’re “innocent until proven guilty.” Most, however, give little thought to the very real Constitutional protections devised by the Founders for securing individual liberty from intrusion by arbitrary government power. Incorporated into their Constitution were two great methods of defending liberty:

 

  • Representation in the Lawmaking and Taxing Body

The PEOPLE, through their elected representatives, choose the laws by which they agree to be governed.

  • Trial By A Jury Of Peers

The PEOPLE, through a jury of twelve peers, have the final say about their guilt or innocence under those laws.

 

The people who settled this nation and who formed its government believed strongly that these were the two most important principles on which to build a Constitution for a free people.

As a matter of fact, the Continental Congress of 1774 had declared them to be the bulwarks of individual freedom and essential to the defense of all other freedoms, saying:

“The first grand right is that of the people having a share in their own government by their representatives chosen by themselves, and…of being ruled by laws which they themselves approve, not by edicts of men over whom they have no controul…

“The next great right is that of trial by jury. This provides that neither life, liberty nor property can be taken from the possessor, until twelve of his…countrymen…shall pass their sentence upon oath against him.”

John Adams called these two “popular powers…the heart and lungs…and without them,” he said, “the body must die…the government must become arbitrary.”

 

The  7th Amendment Defined

The Sixth Amendment assures that Americans receive a jury trial in criminal cases.  Similarly, the 7th amendment guarantees that same right for Americans in civil cases.  Unlike criminal cases, civil suits don’t require unanimity of the jurors – a simple majority can suffice – and per its terms, the 7th Amendment also provides that any conclusions of fact reached by the jurors cannot be set aside by a judge.

 

The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.176]

Our Ageless Constitution

“The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its components are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order…”

–Justice Joseph Story  –  Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1789                                                                                                                                                          

The Qualities of Agelessness

America’s Constitution had its roots in the nature, experience, and habits of humankind, in the experience of the American people themselves-their beliefs, customs, and traditions, and in the practical aspects of politics and government. (See: Part I-Roots and Genius) It was based on the experience of the ages. Its provisions were designed in recognition of principles which do not change with time and circumstance, because they are inherent in human nature.

“The foundation of every government,” said John Adams, “is some principle or passion in the minds of the people.” The founding generation, aware of its unique place in the ongoing human struggle for liberty, were willing to risk everything for its attainment. Roger Sherman stated that as government is “instituted for those who live under it…it ought, therefore, to be so constituted as not to be dangerous to liberty.”And the American government was structured with that primary purpose in mind—the protection of the people’s liberty.

Of their historic role, in framing a government to secure liberty, the Framers believed that the degree of wisdom and foresight brought to the task at hand might well determine whether future generations would live in liberty or tyranny. As President Washington so aptly put it, “the sacred fire of liberty” might depend “on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.” That experiment, they hoped, would serve as a beacon of liberty throughout the world.

The Framers of America’s Constitution were guided by the wisdom of previous generations and the lessons of history for guidance in structuring a government to secure for untold millions in the future the unalienable rights of individuals.

W. David Stedman is the retired Chairman of Stedman Corporation. Stedman was a founder of the National Center for America’s Founding Documents and the National Foundation for the Study of Religion and Economics. Stedman is Co-Editor with LaVaugn G. Lewis of Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty. A frequent lecturer on topics relating to the Constitution, America’s free enterprise system and role of the “business statesman,” Stedman holds earned degrees from Duke, Harvard, and Georgetown Universities and is a Distinguished Alumnus of Duke University.

LaVaughn G. Lewis is a former teacher. She served at the Stedman Corporation as Assistant to the Chairman and as researcher and writer. She is Co-Editor with W. David Stedman for Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty, and is a graduate of Pfeiffer University.