Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I was browsing through materials in the Kennedy Room recently when I came across a fascinating 1788 summary of the debates that took place in the SC House of Representatives on whether or not to consider the adoption of the current United States Constitution. One quote, a reply from Charles C. Pinckney of Charleston to James Lincoln of Ninety-Six District, particularly caught my eye. Remember that as it was originally adopted, the Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights.

"With regard to liberty of the press, the discussion of that matter was not forgot by the members of the convention; it was fully debated, and the impropriety of saying any thing about it in the constitution clearly evinced. The general government has no powers but what are expressly granted to it; it therefore has no power to take away the liberty of the press--that invaluable blessing which deserves all the encomiums the gentleman has justly bestowed upon it, is secured by all our state constitutions, and to have mentioned it in our general constitution would perhaps furnish an argument hereafter that the general government had a right to excercise powers not expressly delegated to it. For the same reason we had no bill of rights inserted in our constitution, for as we might perhaps have omitted the enumeration of some of our rights, it might hereafter be said we had delegated to the general government a power to take away such of our rights as we had not enumerated; but by delegating express powers we certainly reserve to ourselves every power and right not mentioned in the constitution."

The argument General Pinckney makes here is still strikingly relevant. The framers of the Constitution were so interested in preserving individual liberties that they deliberately left out a listing of rights in the Constitution for fear that rights beyond those listed might be eroded by future federal laws. The counter-argument to this, I suppose, would be that without the guarantee of certain rights by the federal government, states might take away individual liberties. Either way, it demonstrates the very high premium the framers of the Constitution placed on maximizing individual liberties and minimizing federal authority.

This is a tricky topic for me. On the one hand, I generally favor maximum local control. I sympathize with folks who worry about the decreasing power of local governments and the increasing power of national and international forces. This dovetails with my serious concern over globalization and the homogenization of cultures worldwide. I lament that, like so many Southerners of my generation, I have only a very minimal Southern accent and I'm frustrated by how similar Spartanburg's suburbs look to the suburbs of every other town in the United States. How much this has to do with the balance of power between levels of government is tough to say. I won't get into it here, but I think the answer has to do with the power of corporations and the power of government to limit them.

So I would be all about maximum local control (within the current framework) were it not for a few huge issues that cannot be solved on that level. Managing the issues resulting from globalization (such as runaway corporate influence) is one of those problems. The other is the environment. Spartanburg could become the greenest city in the world (ha!), and it wouldn't make a dent in the problems facing the environment. That's not to say that anyone should give up. Every effort is desperately needed. One way or another: it HAS to be solved. Or we go extinct. People need to get extremely serious about this. There is no counter-argument that can be made. Unsustainability = human extinction.

And that's a whole lot bigger than worrying about whether someone in Columbia votes for something or whether someone in Washington does.

By the way, every single representative of the Spartan District at the 1788 SC Constitutional Convention voted against adopting the United States Constitution, presumably because of the loss of local control.

1 comment:

Gary Henderson said...

This is especially interesting to me as I sit and watch the thing the framers of the Constitution were protecting die a slow death. I'm afraid the industry I love is on life support.