Q&A about the U.S. Constitution

What follows are some questions inspired from reading “The Charter of Liberty, The Inspired Origin and Prophetic Destiny of the Constitution” by William O. Nelson, Deseret Book, Copyright 1987.

(currently the answers are still a work in progress)

Q1: Which of the signers proposed a hereditary monarch for America’s new government?  How was this man indebted to the kindness of another signer of the Constitution, William Livingston?

Q2: A city in Ohio is named after the youngest signer of the Constitution. Who was he?

Q3: Which of the signers of the Declaration of Independence also signed the Constitution? (7 men signed both)

Q4: Which of the signers of the Constitution had favored a unicameral (one house) legislature?

Q5: Which of the signers of the Constitution had studied every known revolution in history and wrote that “all power is derived from the people – that their happiness is the end of government.”

Q6: Which of the signers were advocates of a strong central government?   Which were advocates of states’ rights and hence a more decentralized government?

Q7: Who was called the “penman of the Revolution” for having written many historic documents such as “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” in 1775?  Would this “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” provide arguments in defense of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution and the original Founders intent that individuals and not just militias have the right to bear arms (e.g. guns)?

Q8: Whose “Notes on Debate” were the most complete record of the Constitutional Convention’s proceedings?

Q9: Who introduced the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution?

Q10: Who suggested the six year terms for U.S. senators?

Q11: If senators are no longer elected by the states since the seventeenth amendment to the Constitution, do they still truly represent the states as opposed to the states’ masses?

Q12:  What amendment to the Constitution ensures that the states and the people retain all powers not specifically invested in the federal government?  What examples of the abuse of this principle have been demonstrated by today’s government?

Q13: What is the sole justification and reason for government’s existence, the absence of which justifies its overthrow and absolution?

Q14: What is the difference between civil law and common law?

Q15:What evidence is there that the majority of those who created the U.S. Constitution were devout Christians?

Q16: Why is faith in God an important defense of our personal freedoms and not the “Opium of the masses” that Marxists and Atheists deride it as?

Q17: Why was it important to the Founding Fathers that persons in each branch of government would come to office by different means (e.g. the president to be chosen by electors, the senators by state legislatures, representatives by the people, and the Supreme Court judges by the president with the consent of the Senate)?

Q18: According to the Constitution, how does the legislative branch check the powers of the executive branch?

Q19: According to the Constitution, how does the legislative branch check the powers of the judicial branch?

Q20: According to the Constitution, how does the executive branch check the powers of legislative branch?

Q21: According to the Constitution, how does the executive branch check the powers of the judicial branch?

Q22: According to the Constitution, how does the judicial branch check the powers of the other two branches of government?

Q23: What protections of individual rights existed in the Constitution before the Bill of Rights?

Q24: Why are the Bill of Rights considered part of the original Constitution, in contrast to the other amendments (i.e. the amendments beyond the 10th Amendment)?

A1: Alexander Hamilton was a proponent of an American monarchy.  He lef t the Constitutional Convention after this idea was rejected, but returned to sign the Constitution since he believed it to be better than anarchy.  He was indebted to William Livingston for having taken him in as a homeless boy.

A2: Dayton, Ohio is named after Jonathan Dayton, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution.

A3: Those men who signed both the U.S. Constitution and the Original Declaration of Independence were: Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, George Clymer and one other person.

A4: Benjamin Franklin favored a unicameral legislature.

A5: James Wilson had studied every known revolution in history and wrote that all power is derived from the people.

A6: Strong advocates of a strong central government (federalists) included: George Read, Richard Basset…

Strong advocates of states’ rights included:  Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Dickinson, Pierce Butler

A7: John Dickinson was the “penman of the Revolution” and wrote the “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms”.

A8: James Madison’s “Notes on Debate” were the most complete record of the Constitution’s proceedings.

A9: James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution.

A10: Hugh Williamson suggested the six year term for U.S. senators.

A11: The question of senators being true representatives of their respective state governments as opposed to the general populace of  their state is one that some still ask.  It is a question that challenges the flimsy logic of the seventeenth amendment in light of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

A12: The tenth amendment reserves  those powers not specifically delegated to the federal government to the state governments and the people respectively.

A13: The government exists only to protect the citizens’ rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.  When it oversteps this simple role and assumes other powers it has abused its authority and its citizens are no longer obliged to obey its laws except where common sense and conscience inform them of their duties to God and their fellow men under common law (i.e. God’s law).

A14: Civil law and common law are two forms of government.  While they can and do coexist in modern governments, they are really opposites just as light and darkness often coexist in a world of shadows.  Civil law is based on the Roman tradition of dictatorships whereby the people are subservient and dependent upon the state for their rights and powers.  Common law is the assertion that the people are sovereign and born with rights and powers.  Some of these powers the people delegate to the state (i.e. their government) for the mutual protection of such rights from unjust actions by enemies of their freedom.  However they still retain their rights and powers by reason of their divine creator who bestowed them as  inalienable upon all mankind regardless of the disposition of their governments. 

In essence one can quickly summarize the differences between civil law and common law simply as follows.  Civil law assumes that the government has all powers and rights not specifically denoted as belonging to the people, whereas common law assumes just the opposite, namely that all rights and powers not granted specifically to the government belong to the people.

(for further explanation of these concepts see J. Reuben Clark’s treatise “Let Us Not Sell Our Children into Slavery” in the book “Stand Fast by Our Constitution”, copyright 1973, published by Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah)

A15: First of all none of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention were atheists.  Secondly, some of them openly acknowledged the hand of God in having helped them accomplish their work in framing the Constitution.  Others openly and humbly implored God’s aid in helping them establish a Constitution that would stand the test of time in preserving a sovereign people with liberty and justice for all, truly a nation under God.  Here is one such example provided by Benjamin Franklin who, although too weak to speak had James Wilson read the following proposal:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks…is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding.  We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it…In this situation…gropings as it were in the dark to find political truth…how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?…I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?

We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.  And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.

A16: The importance of faith in God towards the defense of our personal freedoms is aptly illustrated in William O. Nelson’s own words concerning three immutable principles needed in preserving the spirit of the Constitution (pg. 75-76 of “The Charter of Liberty, The Inspired Origin and Prophetic Destiny of the Constitution):

The first fundamental is that all people are created by God and possess at birth inherent rights pertaining to life, liberty and property.  This philosophy is rooted in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity and naturally fosters regard and respect towards one’s fellows.  When this belief is upheld, honesty, integrity, and respect for the property and possessions and person of others is demonstrated in personal relationships.  When this belief does not prevail, as it does among many societies and governments, the social consequences are apparent.  People are seen as creatures of the government, and the state as the benefactor of their rights.  President Ezra Taft Benson has profoundly written about the implications of this philosophy:

“When human law is regarded as the only source of men’s rights, any leader may act capriciously toward his fellow beings.  He may deny privileges such as free expression and require even the forfeiture of life.  The 20th century has witnessed monstrously evil consequences justified with euphemisms such as resettlement, pograms, reeducation, until a final solution was decreed.

Likewise, consequences of agnosticism are enormous, particularly when this value is fostered by the state.  How does a nation take a stand against the moral evils of totalitarianism if leaders do not recognize a source of law higher than man’s?  On what grounds may we morally object?  The inhumanity of man toward his fellow man is the result of a forgotten relationship to God.  When such a value is obscured, the relationship toward one’s fellow beings also becomes ambivilent!”

A second fundamental is that all people, as creations of God, are to act and not to be acted upon.  By the use of their agency, they are accountable to determine their own fate and destiny, even if wrong.  This includes the freedom to reason, speak, make economic and spiritual decisions, and provide for their own and their family’s welfare without the dictates of government.  This freedom unleashes their initiative, inventiveness, and creative potential.  Personal and national prosperity soon follow.  But when these rights are denied expression, people become spiritually enslaved, human progress is inhibited, and misery follows.

A third fundamental is that religious liberty is inextricably bound to political and economic freedoms.  The four great freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, are interrelated and cannot be treated separately.  As Samuel Adams noted, they rise and fall together.  The Reverend John Witherspoon, president of Princeton and signer of the Declaration of Independence, similarly stated, “There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.  If we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.”

A17: By making these various offices subject to different political pressures the dangers of oppression by either the majority (pure democracy) or minority (oligarchy was mitigated by a beautiful combination of direct and indirect representation in a Republic under God.  Modern proposals to make our government either an oligarchy or pure democracy have been made.  The promoters of an oligarchy style government base their arguments on the idea that the world is so complex these days that we need to be ruled by “experts” who supposedly know better than the rest of us and yet lack the humility to question the rashness of throwing out time-tested traditional institutions or approaches.  Those promoting pure democracy use the example of ancient Athens and claim that its impracticality has been overcome with modern technologies such as the internet.  They fail to see that pure democracy can lead to a rule by the mob akin to the French Revolution’s Jacobin dark side.

A18: The legislative branch checks the powers of the executive branch in the following ways:

  1. It can reject presidential appointments and administrative agencies by a majority vote.
  2. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to ratify treaties.
  3. Only Congress can declare war.
  4. The House of Representatives can impeach a president.
  5. The Senate can try officers of impeachable offenses.

A19: The legislative branch checks the powers of the judicial branch in the following ways:

  1. Congress can abolish lower courts.
  2. The courts’ appellate jurisdiction is subject to such regulations as the Congress shall make.
  3. Congress can impeach federal judges (does this include Supreme Court judges?)

A20: The executive branch checks the powers of legislative branch in the following ways:

  1. The president can veto any legislation by Congress unless a two-thirds vote of both houses overrides this veto.

A21: The executive branch checks the powers of the judicial branch by appointing federal judges.

A22: The judicial branch checks the powers of the other two branches of government by declaring legislation by Congress or acts by the president as unconstitutional.

A23: Four basic rights were guaranteed by the Constitution even before the Bill of Rights were introduced:

  1. Right to a trial by jury.  Before 1895, the jury had the implicit power to not only find the facts of a case, but to find individuals innocent if they felt a law was oppressive or excessively harsh. Since then judges have adviced the juries to only find the facts of their respective cases, i.e. to rule guilty or innocent regardless of their opinion of the law itself.  Sadly this judicial advice is misguided and even perverted since the implicit power of the jury to find a man innocent or guilty based on their opinion of the law itself had traditionally prevented abuses of power by the king and other authorities in English history.
  2. The right to habeas corpus (can’t be illegally detained without being brought before a court to determine whether one is being held lawfully).
  3. Congress is forbidden to pass ex post facto laws, i.e. a person may not be punished for violating a law that didn’t exist when the action occurred.
  4. Congress is forbidden to pass a bill of attainder.  This means that only a court can punish an individual, not a legislative body.  In early English history, legislatures had circumvented the courts and punished individuals directly through bills of attainder.

A24: The Bill of Rights are considered part of the original Constitution since the Constitution was only ratified by the states after a Federalist promise to append a bill of rights was made.  These Bill of Rights were approved on December 15, 1791.

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