A speech given to the Consent of the Governed Rally in Jefferson City, January, 2011:
This morning I come to talk to you about federalism. Why do I here on these steps in Jefferson City speak to you of federalism? I speak to you of federalism because this nation is at a cross roads. There are many in this nation who speak of bipartisanship and compromise. These are veiled terms for the relinquishment of your liberty. Indeed, there are many in this nation that propose that the states give in to any edict the federal government imposes. I come to speak against this idea.
I speak to you of federalism because we must recover the true meaning of federalism, a meaning of relationship and life under God. The meaning of the word “federal” comes from the Latin word for faith or trust. The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines federal as “Pertaining to a league or contract; derived from an agreement or covenant between parties, particularly between nations.” These definitions speak of relationship and faith and trust. Why is this understanding of the word important? It is important because we have forgotten this aspect of federalism. It is an understanding that our founding fathers had and drove their actions.
Our founding fathers were students of history and tradition. They were students of western civilization. They looked to the past for enlightenment on their authority to act. They studied history. They read Cicero. They read Locke. But they also read the Bible. And they found their source for the idea of covenant in the Bible and the covenant God who wrote the Bible.
Indeed, western tradition, Christendom as some have called it, took on the unique practice of writing covenants to govern themselves. They bound their kings to such charters. The founders studied these documents. They studied the Magna Charta, the great charter. They studied the Solemn League and Covenant. They knew the Mayflower Compact. These traditions informed them on how they understood their actions during the founding years of this country.
Consider the words of the Magna Charta and how they inform the meaning of our Declaration of Independence:
Henry by the grace of God King of England, . . . Know that we, at the prompting of God and for the health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the glory of holy Church and the improvement of our realm, freely and out of our good will have given and granted to . . . all of our realm these liberties written below to hold in our realm of England in perpetuity.
You should note two things. First, the great charter is a document of relationship. It sets forth the liberties of the people in relationship to the king. Second, the great charter is a document based on God’s authority and prompting. The charter recognized that the people had rights in their relationship to him because the king was prompted by God.
Many years later, those that settled Plymouth entered into the Mayflower Compact. The same themes can be heard in that covenant: “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, . . . do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation . . .” They formed relationship in a Body Politic by the grace of God.
These two themes of relationship and reliance on God would forge the covenantal ideals of our founding fathers. You can hear these same ideals in our Declaration of Independence.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The Declaration of Independence is a covenantal law suit setting forth the grounds for which the Colonies would dissolve their relationships with Great Britain and do so in the presence of God. Their actions had profound and eternal consequences and they knew it. It ultimately took a bloody war to expel the invading forces of the tyrant King George, but it was not the war that severed the bands of relationship. It was the covenantal law suit found in the Declaration of Independence.
After securing their freedom from Great Britain, the 13 original independent colonies formed a weak relationship under the Articles of Confederation and struggled with that relationship for a dozen years. It was only with the Constitutional convention that the colonies formed a stronger relationship in these terms: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
With this statement the colonies established new political bonds, a new relationship, one with another. It would be a more perfect union, a strong relationship amongst the former colonies, now states.
Many are saying today that the states should give into the federal agent established by the U.S. Constitution. That is not what I see. I see a strong relationship among strong states written in the U.S. Constitution. A strong relationship does not depend on weak parties to the relationship. A strong relationship depends on strong parties giving faith, trust and exercising their best judgments in the relationship for the liberty of the people. I see strong states working together to guide their federal agent in the way it should go.
The state of Missouri joined that union in 1821. What is Missouri’s responsibility as it goes forth this year? The apostle Paul in Romans 13 declares that the civil magistrate is the servant of God. This term servant is the same word from which we get deacon. The service the civil magistrate is to provide to God is to punish the evil doer and defend the doer of good. A civil magistrate has no authority to make economic choices for a people. A civil magistrate must defend the right of all people to make their own economic choices. The state must execute justice and you cannot execute justice when you take from some simply to give to others.
The state of Missouri has one further obligation in these troubled times. When a party to a covenant is unfaithful to its covenant, it is the responsibility of the other party or parties to call the unfaithful one back to faithfulness. The federal agent in our national covenant has strayed from its commitment to the U.S. Constitution. It is time for Missouri, along with the other strong states in this union, to call the federal agent back to faithfulness to the U.S. Constitution.
In closing, I would like to commend my good friend state Senator Jim Lembke for his commitment to these principles. Senator Lembke has a practice in which he almost never fails to take a copy of the Missouri Constitution wherever he goes. He gives witness to the fact that the Missouri Constitution is his guidebook for his job. For that practice, I am grateful. Our Missouri state legislators should add one more practice to their daily routine. They should carry and study the U.S. Constitution. In the days to come, the federal agent will need their guidance on how to bring itself from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. The U.S. Congress will need the aid of the state of Missouri. This is aid we Missourians must provide. God bless America and God bless the state of Missouri. Thank you.