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The Fundamentalist Constitution, Andrew Jackson,
and the Balanced Budget Amendment

August 29, 2011
by William P. Meyers

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The idea of the Fundamentalist Constitution predates the Tea Party. In fact, it was one of the streams that swelled into the Tea Party a few years back. The basic idea is that the U.S. Constitution was written by God, is a continuation of the Hebrew Ten Commandments, and should be interpreted in a manner consistent with 18th century American religious thought. Those who subscribe to this view are also related to or known as "originalists" for the Original Constitution, or "tenthers" because they love the 10th Amendment, which of course was not even part of the original Constitution.

That view is easy to critique, yet is becoming increasingly popular because it fits well with the latter day fundamentalist Christian, free-market Money worshipping, God pits every woman against all approach to society beloved by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other patriarchs of the anti-federal movement.

I already wrote in The Fundamentalist Constitution, The Tea Party, and Federalist 62, that documentation from that era provides no support for the fundamentalist viewpoint. If anything, originalism in its current state makes a mockery of strict construction of the Constitution, which has always had its advocates and is supported, somewhat, in both the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers.

Reading President Andrew Jackson's first State of the Union address to Congress of December 1829, I found some compelling commentary. I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson. I am writing my Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson mainly to show how unethical the man was, and how that lack of basic human decency has always been at the core of the Democratic Party. Yet politics makes strange bedfellows. Given enough political issues, I am sure to agree with almost everyone on a thing or two. Jackson told Congress:

"I consider it one of the most urgent of my duties to bring to your attention the propriety of amending that part of the Constitution which relates to the election of President and Vice-President. Our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment, and they therefore consistently provided a mode of remedying its defects."

God, we are told by Creationists, always gets things right the first time. One creation, no experimenting with evolution. If President Jackson was correct that the framers deemed the Constitution, the blueprint for our system of government, an experiment, then the Fundamentalists have two choices. They can say that God foresaw the need for Amendments, as that would give politicians something wholesome to do. Or they could back off the God Wrote It stuff and argue from the traditional, conservative Strict Construction viewpoint, and so not reveal themselves to be lunatics.

Or they could argue that Jackson was wrong. But then they would have to explain why God let Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans and go on to become President.

While I frequently argue that Jackson was wrong on many issues (and a murderer, adulterer, thief, and yes, a man who made money pitting dogs in fights against one another), I would like to point out that, as a child soldier, Jackson fought in the American Revolution. It is what bent him so out of shape as a youth. When the Constitution was ratified in September 1788, young Andrew Jackson was twenty-one years old. He heard the controversy about whether or not to replace the Articles of Confederation with the new Constitution. He became a lawyer, and he came to know several of the Founding Fathers. Unless he had some reason for lying about it, he genuinely believed that Our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment.

The experimental method has led to some improvements over time. I certainly don't agree with everything the federal government has done or is doing, but I think that abolishing slavery and giving women the vote were experiments that have gone well. As Jackson wished, after President for Life Franklin D. Roosevelt made a mockery of precedent, now Presidents are limited in how long they can hold office.

So I'm not against amendments. I am against a Balanced Budget amendment. Strangely, the originalists in the Tea Party, and most Republican politicians in the House of Representatives, don't like the fact that the Original Constitution does not call for a balanced budget. I guess God forgot to send a Hebrew accountant to the Constitutional Convention to explain the issue.

Instead, Alexander Hamilton got his foot in the door. The man understood high finance the way Ms. Palin understands sled dogs. The way the Bachmann family understands how to shake down the government for money to house orphans. He actually studied how the British banking system and government finance worked. Imagine that. He engineered a starting off national debt by getting the Revolutionary War debts of the States assumed by the Federal Government. They (the States, or at least their politicians) were happy not to have to pay those debts. They were happy to let the Federal Government impose customs duties and taxes on alcohol and tobacco to pay off those debts.

Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson wanted to pay off the national debt that existed when he assumed the Presidency, which was largely a legacy of the War of 1812 and the intervening recession. Fortunately, an earlier Congress had passed a tariff or duty on imports, providing plenty of tax revenue. The debt was under $50 million (that's right, not billion or trillion) at the time, and about $12 million was paid off in 1829.

When the economy is strong, the federal government should spend less than it takes in and pay down the national debt. During recessions the government should spend more than it collects in taxes. That helps balance the business cycles that result from free market capitalism, and yes, it provides pensions for old people and aid to the sick and disabled. Make that into an amendment, and you can have my support.

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