A Great Moment in Our History
by Andrew P. Napolitano
by Andrew P. Napolitano
Recently by Andrew P. Napolitano: Liberty and Safety
Keynote speech at the Ohio Rally for State Sovereignty, August 1, 2009
Let me set down a couple of fervent beliefs that animate everything I do and everything I say.
I believe that God created heaven and earth and every single individual on the planet.
I believe that the God who gave us life gave us liberty and that freedom is our birthright.
I believe that the States created the federal government and not the other way around. And that the power that the States gave to the Federal Government – they can take back.
When we were colonists, and the King and the Parliament needed money from us, and they always seemed to need money, they devised ingenious ways to tax us. One of them was called the Stamp Act. The Parliament decreed that every piece of paper that the Colonists had in their homes; every book, every document, every deed, every lease, every pamphlet, every poster to be nailed to a tree had to have the King’s stamp on it. You think going to a Post Office is bad? You had to go to a British Government office and buy a stamp with the King’s picture.
Question. How did the King know that his picture was on every piece of paper in your house? The Parliament enacted a hateful piece of legislation called the Writs of Assistance Act which let the king’s soldiers write their own search warrants, and bang down any door they chose to look for the stamps or anything else that they were looking for.
It was the last straw.
We fought a revolution. We won the revolution. We wrote the Constitution. The constitution doesn’t grant power, it keeps the government off our backs.
When they were debating the Constitution in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, there were two great arguments – one by the Jefferson and Madison crowd and one by the Adams and Hamilton crowd. Jefferson argued, though he wasn’t physically there in Philly, as he did in the Declaration of Independence that our rights are ours by virtue of our humanity. That as God is perfectly free, and we are created in his image and likeness, we too are perfectly free. The big government crowd – yes they had them even in those days – argued that you can’t have freedom without government, and that government gives us our rights, and therefore, that government can take them away. This is not an academic argument. Jefferson and the natural law argument prevailed because the Constitution was written to keep the government from interfering with our natural rights.
And so, your right to think as you wish, to say what you think, to publish what you say, to travel where you want, to worship as you see fit, to keep and bear arms to defend yourself against a tyranny. And, after the right to life, the greatest and most uniquely American of rights – and I say this in front of the seat of the government – is the right to be left alone.
We wrote a Constitution to ensure that the government would never interfere with these rights. Think about it – if rights come from the government, then the government, by ordinary legislation, or presidential decree can take them away. But if the rights come from our humanity, then unless we violate someone else’s natural rights, the government cannot take our rights away.
This is not just a democrat, upper case D, or a republican, upper case R, problem. It’s a problem with government today. There’s a republican version of big government just as assaultive to our liberties as the democrat version of big government.
We fought a revolution because British soldiers could knock on our doors and demand that we house them, and demand that we turn over property to them because they could write their own search warrants. In the Patriot Act, the most hateful piece of legislation since the Alien and Sedition Acts, a republican congress and a republican president authorized federal agents to do the unthinkable – to write their own search warrants. And the republican administration didn’t even let members of the House of Representatives read the Patriot Act before they voted on it.
Why should the government be able to spy on us? We should be able to spy on them!
When some judge is rationalizing away our liberty, or some congressman is plotting to take away your freedom or your tax dollars, we should know what they do every minute that they do it.
I was speaking to a group of congressman from a neighboring state – I won’t tell you which state it was, but they don’t play football there – and they came up to me and said “this is the first time we have heard that the Patriot Act allows federal agents to write their own search warrants.” Remember, in the Constitution, we put in the 4th Amendment, the right to be left alone, to make sure that if the government had a target, no matter how guilty the target, no matter how widespread is the belief in the guilt of the target, no matter how dangerous is the target, the government has to go through a neutral judge with a search warrant before it can get to that target. These members of Congress said, “we didn’t know that the Patriot Act allowed the government to bypass the courts and write any search warrant they wanted.” Then I asked them a question I knew the answer to already – did you read the Patriot Act before you voted on it? The answer – no. What were you voting on? A summary we received. Let me guess who wrote the summary – some lawyers in the justice department, right? Of course.
Would you hire anybody to run your business that committed you to a violation of the very reason you’re in business if they didn’t even read the document by which they were making that commitment? Of course not.
The camera is the new gun. There’s nothing that government dislikes more than the light of day, and cameras recording what the government is doing, whether it’s on a street corner, or in there, or in Washington D.C., we have the right to know everything that they do and why they do it, and when they do it, and how they are taking our freedoms.
I have another one of my basic core beliefs. The individual has an immortal soul. Every individual is greater than any government.
Your government is based on fear and force. You don’t have to take my word on it. The 2nd president on the United States, John Adams, said “Of course the government is based on fear.” And the first president, George Washington, said “Government is not reason, it is force.” I think they knew what they were talking about.
Now fast-forward to modern times. Whenever the government wants something, it scares us. During the civil war, Lincoln tried civilians in this state where no battles occurred, by military tribunal. After he died the Supreme Court invalidated everything the military tribunals did. During the first world war, the Wilson administration locked up 2000 people called anarchists – same thing as enemy combatants. No trial, no charge, just jail for the duration of the war. In World War II, FDR locked up 150,000 Japanese Americans, people born in the United States, who got no trial and had no charges, and when the war was over were given $25 and told to go home.
Today we have federal agents. You know I get in arguments with my friends at Fox News, and one of them, I don’t have to tell you who it is, but is truly the most irascible person there. And he said to me, you know you have a problem with Guantanamo Bay, and you have a problem with the Patriot Act, what will you do if I get sent to Guantanamo Bay, will you visit me? And I say, Bill – no, because they’ll probably keep me there as well.
Government likes to say that it’s taking an oath to uphold the Constitution. In the years that I was on the bench, it seemed that every time government lawyers were in my courtroom, if the government was prosecuting someone who was legitimately guilty or whether it was a mistake, or whether somebody was suing the government because government contractors or government doctors, or government workers made a mistake – the government doesn’t come in to the courtroom to enforce the constitution, it comes into the courtroom to evade and avoid it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must be stopped.
This is a great moment in our history. A crowd of this magnitude on a beautiful day, in the boiling sun, in the most middle-American of great middle-American states…comes together not because the president is a democrat, not because his predecessor was a republican, not because a war is just or unjust, not because the Fed is stealing or printing – you’re here because you believe in human freedom.
It is the essence of our existence that we should be free. But remember this: the government hates freedom. It is an obstacle to every one of their designs. Whenever they write laws, whenever they take your tax dollars, whenever they regulate your private behavior, whenever they tell you how to spend your money, whenever they tell you what medicines to take, whenever they tell you what food to eat, whenever they tell you with whom you may or must associate, they are taking away your freedom and they love to get away with it. And they cannot get away with it any longer.
In the long history of the world, very few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its maximum hour of danger. This is that moment and you are that generation! Now is the time to defend our freedoms.
Jefferson was no saint but he was the greatest of our American presidents. He believed that the individual was greater than the state. He believed that the states were greater than the federal government. And when he wrote that our rights come from our creator, and that our rights are inalienable, he forever wed the notion of natural rights to the American experience and the American experiment. We must be vigilant about every right that the government wants to take away from us.
You’ve heard the president say, present president and his predecessor, “my first job is to keep you safe.” He’s wrong! His first job is to keep us free. It is his only job to keep us free.
Shortly before he died, Jefferson lamented, that in his view of the world it was the natural order of things for government to grow and freedom to be diminished; how ardently he wish that that wouldn’t happen. And in order to prevent it from happening he had a very simple remedy, “When the people fear the government, that is tyranny. When the government fears the people, that is liberty!”
August 4, 2009
Andrew P. Napolitano [send him mail], who was on the bench of the Superior Court of New Jersey between 1987 and 1995, is the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel. His newest book, coming in April, is Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America, (Nelson, 2009) His previous books are A Nation of Sheep, The Constitution in Exile and Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws.
Copyright © 2009 Andrew P. Napolitano