OPINION – My friend Robert’s comment on Facebook got right to the point. It said, “We need another Magna Carta type event today, led by the states towards the Federal Government.”
The original event he refers to took place nearly 800 years ago in a meadow near Runnymede in England. It was there that a collection of influential barons forced King John, at sword point, to admit that his powers over the citizenry were not absolute. The king wisely affixed his seal to the document that would become known as the Magna Carta or Grand Charter.
Prior to that time, people were considered unconditionally subject to the king’s commands. This meant that the king exercised virtually unlimited power over the people and their property.
“The king was considered sovereign and supreme and the people were considered subordinate and inferior,” Jacob Hornberger explained.
If the king said to drop everything and go fight for him, the citizens were obligated to do so. If the king took a fancy to your daughter or your property, he could order her or it seized and have you imprisoned for no reason whatsoever. Naturally, this type of unchecked power invited abuse at the hands of the ruler.
The actions of the nobles were instrumental in advancing the idea that legitimate government recognizes and respects the individual rights of the people. They set in motion a series of governmental reforms culminating in the Declaration of Independence and, ultimately, our Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson made the case in the Declaration that the individual is sovereign and government is rightly subordinate to the citizenry. He stated that our rights exist independent of government and that legitimate government is created to secure and guarantee our innate rights. The Constitution codified this principle by calling into existence a limited federal government with specifically listed powers.
But that’s certainly not how our national government operates today.
Truth be told, our government has more in common with King John than it does with the founders. It shares his penchant for ruinous wars, unchecked power running roughshod over individual rights, and taxing us excessively in return for more control over our lives and property.
Like King John, our government is pushing us into a corner where it will eventually become necessary to take corrective action. But who will stand for the people as the barons did at Runnymede?
The nobles took action because the lawlessness of their king had become intolerable. The king refused to limit himself and it took a coalition of concerned individuals to stand up to him and demand — under threat of violence — that he agree to act in their best interests too.
As individuals we find it very difficult to even access, much less to persuade, the members of our federal government. This means that simply working within the system has become increasingly ineffective. The only time our elected officials even feign a degree of interest in good government is when they are facing reelection. Also, a great number of those who make up the federal government are unelected bureaucrats.
If a modern Magna Carta moment is approaching, it will likely be the states that will have to draw their figurative swords and demand that our national government respect its limits.
The choice is very clear: either our government has unlimited powers over us, or it does not.
The issue that will provide the catalyst for such a move remains unknown at this point. It could involve land issues, firearms laws, education, or backlash against the burgeoning surveillance state. It’s very likely that the Affordable Health Care Act may be the flashpoint that galvanizes enough states to stand up to the federal government’s self-proclaimed supremacy.
States that are overly dependent upon federal money will be the first to waver and then surrender so as not to lose a place at the trough. However, states that are willing to forgo that money, with its accompanying strings and conditions, will be in a far stronger position to negotiate their point.
This underscores the indispensable need for solid, principled leadership at the state and local levels. The reasons the barons were able to put King John in his place was because they were justifiably angry at the abuses they suffered, and they were willing to present a united front.
For this to happen today, we’ll have to be willing to set aside some of our pet differences in order to unite. Let’s hope that dialogue begins soon.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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