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Ron Paul's False Founding Narrative

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Rep. Ron Paul speaking to a crowd of supporters

Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas who has topped 20 percent in the first two Republican contests, is fond of claiming that the U.S. Constitution was written "to protect your liberty and to restrain the federal government," thus making modern laws -- from Social Security, to civil rights statutes, to health-care reform -- unconstitutional. But that isn't really true.

While the framers of the Constitution in 1787 undeniably cared about liberty -- at least for white men -- they were also practical individuals who wanted a vibrant central government that would enable the new nation to protect itself both militarily and economically, especially against European rivals.

The broad powers that the Constitution granted Congress were designed to let this central government address national problems that existed then as well as others that would arise in the future. For instance, the Constitution gave control over interstate commerce to Congress in order to counter economic advantages enjoyed by foreign competitors.

Far from Paul's assertions that the Founders wanted a weak central government, the Founders -- at least those at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia -- understood that a great danger came from having a national authority that was too weak, what they had experienced under the Articles of Confederation, which governed the nation from 1777 to 1787.

The Articles of Confederation embraced the concept of state "sovereignty" and called the United States not a government or even a nation, but "a firm league of friendship" among the states. The Confederation's Article II declared: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated." And very few powers were delegated to the federal government.

The result had been severe problems for the young country, ranging from the failure of states to make voluntary contributions in support of the Continental Army to opening regional divisions that foreign rivals could exploit.

So, in 1787, the framers of the Constitution -- led by Gen. George Washington, James Madison and others in the Virginia delegation -- scrapped the Articles and put forward a very different plan, eliminating state sovereignty and creating a strong central government with broad powers, including control over "interstate commerce."

The Commerce Clause wasn't some afterthought, either. It was part of the original proposal outlined on the Constitutional Convention's first day of substantive business on May 29, 1787. The Virginia delegation had one of its members, Edmund Randolph, include it in his opening presentation.

Virginia's plan laid out the framework that would later become the U.S. Constitution, transferring sovereignty from the 13 original states to "we the people of the United States" as represented by a new national Republic.

Economic Strategies

Beyond giving the central government authority over the common defense, foreign policy and currency -- as well as its own taxing power -- the Founders also recognized the need to coordinate American commerce so it could compete effectively with Europe and other nations around the world.

James Madison's convention notes on Randolph's presentation recount him saying that "there were many advantages, which the U. S. might acquire, which were not attainable under the confederation -- such as a productive impost [or tax] -- counteraction of the commercial regulations of other nations -- pushing of commerce ad libitum -- &c &c."

In other words, the Founders -- at their most "originalist" moment -- understood the value of the federal government taking action to negate the commercial advantages of other countries and taking steps for "pushing of [American] commerce." The "ad libitum -- &c &c" notation suggests that Randolph provided other examples off the top of his head.

Historian Bill Chapman summarized Randolph's point in his teaching materials as saying "we needed a government that could co-ordinate commerce in order to compete effectively with other nations." So, from that first day of substantive debate at the Constitutional Convention, the Founders recognized that a legitimate role of Congress was to ensure that the nation could match up against other countries economically.

Though the likes of Ron Paul have worked hard in recent decades at constructing an alternative narrative -- claiming that the Founders envisioned a weak national government and were big supporters of states' rights -- that storyline is simply not supported by the history. Key framers of the Constitution even objected to adding a Bill of Rights to the original document, accepting the first 10 amendments only later as part of negotiations over ratification.

Yet, on Tuesday, celebrating his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Paul told his cheering supporters that "the Constitution was written for a very precise manner. It was not designed to restrain the individual -- not to restrain you -- it was to protect your liberties and to restrain the federal government."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at more...)
 
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The articles of Confederation were after the const... by Ryan Rework on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 1:15:06 PM
that you are confusing the Articles of Confederati... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 1:56:58 PM
According to your interpretation of the Commerce C... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 9:20:08 PM
Mark, thanks for pointing out this glaringly broad... by Peter Duveen on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 3:31:15 PM
meant to set exchange rates.... by John Sanchez Jr. on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 9:20:49 PM
Set is the key word. It does not mean move them ar... by Peter Duveen on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 10:32:11 AM
Benjamin Franklin made it perfectly clear that the... by Robert Tracey on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 1:43:17 PM
your monomania notwithstanding. Ron Paul is an il... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 2:03:18 PM
[[franklin]]People have been saying online that pe... by Michael Dewey on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 3:49:39 PM
lacking the pithiness of most of his quotes and mi... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 5:19:39 PM
(But don't want to lose this thread.)  I'm ve... by Michael Dewey on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 5:46:32 AM
Here's where Paul went off base in that reply, whi... by Jim Arnold on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 8:12:08 AM
I can deal with Paul's views that Govt. need not m... by Michael Dewey on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 9:28:33 AM
Come on, the government is the corporations. I gue... by Bruce on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 8:25:44 AM
To the (very large) extent that it's true that the... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 11:59:03 AM
Do no harm to your workers, consumers or Mother Ea... by Michael Dewey on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 7:20:02 AM
the term "international bankers," which was a crea... by Richard Girard on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:54:39 PM
Franklin quote #1: "In the Colonies we issue our o... by Scraps OfFreedom on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 7:54:59 PM
These are listed in WikiQuotes as misattribut... by Gary Williams on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 2:22:45 AM
"In an evil hour, the British Government took away... by Scraps OfFreedom on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 8:10:25 PM
should support Barack Obama over Ron Paul.One will... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 9:59:00 PM
Obama= education Paul= abolish the department of E... by Lynne Kringler on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 12:50:30 AM
Lendman has done three annual reviews on Obomem. ... by Mike Preston on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 1:05:09 AM
Lendman is the absolute authority? And I hope tha... by BFalcon on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 8:18:29 AM
Let's see.  Since the Dept. of "Education" wa... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 9:44:31 PM
Anyone whose political perspective allows them to ... by Gary Williams on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 1:36:57 AM
I wish there was a way to give a thumbs down, your... by Bruce on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 8:11:51 AM
the nation isn't progressive, it's a military dict... by Diane V. McLoughlin on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 6:24:34 AM
you should begin to despair now.... by John Sanchez Jr. on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 7:55:18 AM
He is the only one to offer a change of Foreign Po... by Michael Dewey on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 11:30:51 AM
"Then in 1913 we lost"Actually, as someone whose a... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:07:20 PM
as well as alternative candidates, the most likely... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 4:20:53 PM
... I would be the first to support one.  The... by Scraps OfFreedom on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 1:16:08 PM
There is nothing in in the constitution that says,... by marko polo on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 2:14:52 PM
Insurance and health care are two different subjec... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:26:17 PM
The self-styled "strict constructionists" of the C... by Jim Arnold on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 2:16:24 PM
You can't deny that  states are getting pisse... by Scraps OfFreedom on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 1:55:36 PM
It's so cool that opednews.com obtained a time mac... by S O'B on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 3:49:40 PM
and most particularly James Madison, Alexander Ham... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 5:25:57 PM
Screw Ron Paul. Let's let Obama win. That way we... by Robert Tracey on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 7:43:30 PM
Alexander Hamilton was a Rothschild mole. Deny it ... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:20:57 PM
Your retort accusing Sanchez of "using" the Federa... by Gary Williams on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 1:29:00 AM
Fascist? How do you even pretend to support the U... by BFalcon on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 8:30:51 AM
would have been George W. Bush. The last before hi... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 4:28:30 PM
Ron Paul's main issues are the interminable wars a... by Peter Duveen on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 6:24:59 PM
Not all "from the left" hate banks...we hate Fraud... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:40:08 PM
david, Keep playing your silly games. While you're... by Lynne Kringler on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 12:59:30 AM
Fascism ( /ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a radical authoritar... by Lynne Kringler on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 1:04:24 AM
"Mussolini claimed that Italian Fascism's economic... by Joe Giambrone on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 2:47:00 PM
I am not explaining anything as I hold The Treason... by Mike Preston on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 9:45:19 PM
"It is hard to get support in this place?"I just w... by Mike Preston on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 11:06:19 PM
but the Constitution holds that it must be testifi... by John Sanchez Jr. on Monday, Jan 16, 2012 at 10:37:20 AM
Robert,Based on the other articles and publication... by Scraps OfFreedom on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 7:27:22 PM
Why did you misrepresent the 10th Amendment? Why d... by Jim Arnold on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 3:11:12 AM
My sincere apologies for mis-stating the precise&n... by Scraps OfFreedom on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 12:05:51 PM
The differences between "rights" and "powers" are ... by Jim Arnold on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 9:51:42 PM
"The powers not delegated to the United States by ... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 4:50:11 PM
(@Sanchez): "There is no mention of "specific enum... by Scraps OfFreedom on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 1:02:19 PM
Yes, the "key framers even objected to adding a Bi... by David Hastings on Friday, Jan 13, 2012 at 9:54:56 PM
Thanks for doing the hard work of actually adressi... by Peter Duveen on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 2:46:33 PM
Your comments are more pointy than pointed. It was... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 4:33:40 PM
Both are CONs, because a Constitution is to set do... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 6:06:58 PM
participating in this shouting match, knows what t... by Lester Shepherd on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 at 2:31:09 PM
All this huge Govt does appear to be working very ... by Michael Dewey on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 4:16:54 AM
People like this Elizabeth Warren, or Sanders are ... by Michael Dewey on Sunday, Jan 15, 2012 at 4:26:19 AM
"To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and a... by Joe Giambrone on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 2:29:52 PM
Rather than having the government offer a VOLUNTAR... by Joe Giambrone on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 2:31:04 PM
Your, and his, entire case relies on a "presumptio... by Joe Giambrone on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 2:31:46 PM
Interesting that Paul would 'overlook' the Article... by Leslie Piper on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 at 9:09:43 PM
Thanks to the Fed, we no longer can take care of o... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 at 6:40:39 PM
I believe that's Lee Harvey Oswald in the middle.A... by Jim Arnold on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012 at 7:20:53 PM