GLEN COVE, NY—The United States Constitution is the best designed constitution in human history for the protection of liberty. It effectively balances power among the branches of government and provides a system by which each branch checks the power of the others. Furthermore, it creates an effective balance between federal and state power. Despite this system, John Adams observed that the Constitution and its checks would only work if the American people remained virtuous. Once the leaders of America ceased fearing God, they would start finding ways to subvert the Constitution.
Every complex society is led by a class of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, judges, intellectuals, and other people who know how to influence it. Once this political or ruling class ceases to fear God, it will begin to enhance its power at the expense of the liberty of the people.
Judges have done this most brazenly. Those who drafted a constitutional provision to prevent federal interference with local civic religious exercises never imagined it would be twisted to forbid all local civic religion and prayer. Those who drafted a constitutional provision to prevent lawless deprivations of life, liberty, and property by state governments never dreamed that it would have been distorted to require the killing of innocent babies. More to the point, no judge who really feared God would have invented these perversions.
When politicians and bureaucrats stopped fearing that God would punish them for dishonesty and venality, they began to bind the people with incomprehensible and burdensome legal and regulatory schemes that classified activities located entirely on one farm or in one store as “interstate.” When journalists ceased to fear God, they ceased to protect the people’s liberty.
This phenomenon, and its opposite, have occurred throughout history. John I was a most unjust King of England, oppressing the Scots, stealing from his subjects, ignoring the rights of city governments, and forcing peasants to work without pay on his public works. Enough of the barons and bishops of England were afraid that he would bring God’s punishment down on the country that they forced him to sign a great charter of liberties. His prompt repudiation of his coerced signature was irrelevant. Most of the subsequent medieval kings of England voluntarily adopted most of its provisions because the ruling class of England continued for centuries to fear God.
By the time of Henry VIII, England had an elaborate legal system that placed great emphasis on due process of law. The ruling class had, however, lost its fear of God. Henry VIII was a competent theologian, but he could not control his desire to turn his wives in for newer models and to steal from the Church, including robbing the graves of saints. Only two great leaders of society in his day feared God more than they feared death — the martyrs Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More. All the rest went along with six wives for the king, the theft of all monastery property, and the sacrilegious theft of jewels and precious metals from reliquaries. All of these actions were clearly known to be contrary to God’s law, but the rulers of England had become more afraid of the king and each other than of God.
Henry VIII’s sins led to centuries of deadly religious persecution, civil wars, the killing of one king, and the unjust exiling of another. Indeed, as he faced death, Charles I described himself as a martyr for the people’s liberty. Half a millennium later, English law still bears the scars from Henry VIII. Of course, today the threats to liberty are much less deadly except for unborn babies and terminally ill persons, but they are far more pervasive.
America can learn from English history. The modern world has seen power grow more and more concentrated in Washington, generation after generation. As long as the people in power have no fear of God, they will invent more and more reasons to increase their power. They will increase it in the name of safety, and they will increase it in the name of liberty. They will increase it by appeals to greed and appeals to generosity. Until we can again acquire a political class in America that fears God and believes itself morally bound to respect the people’s liberty — and is courageous enough to do its duty as God gives them the light to understand it — we will continue to go deeper and deeper into a dark period in history.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.