Patricia A. O'Malley
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Established 1993

Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice

Discover What’s Not In the Constitution

February 2, 2011

Teapartiers and many Republicans insist that any government action not specifically authorized by the Constitution is illegal. While the Constitution does limit the government’s power, the power that it allows is quite broad. The preamble to the United States Constitution clearly states the six purposes of our government:

  • to form a more perfect Union,
  • establish Justice,
  • insure domestic Tranquility,
  • provide for the common defense,
  • promote the general Welfare, and
  • secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Those six tasks outline an enormous responsibility. Pretty much anything can fit into that list.

It does not lend itself to "small government".

Before the 112th Congress convened, House Republicans announced their intention to read the entire Constitution on the House floor as the first official act of their numerical dominance. As it turned out, they didn’t read the whole thing. Despite vigorous objection from Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) and others, they left out the part about slaves counting as only 3/5 of a person for census and districting purposes. They just skipped right over it. How’s that for revisionist history?

The entire event lasted only 95 minutes. I watched all of it. Despite the fanfare and the spectacle, the preening and squawking, the House chamber was nearly empty all of the time. Those who make the most noise about cherishing our Constitution didn’t have the common courtesy or the public relations sense to sit down and listen to their colleagues read it. Teaparty darling Michele Bachmann didn’t even take a turn reading.

In one of the most interesting moments, teapartier Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who claims to have a higher national security clearance than the president of the United States, read the elastic clause, which authorizes Congress:
“To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof”.

Unfortunately, the irony is lost on them, and on too many Americans. Those “foregoing powers” are the six duties listed in the preamble. That means that Congress has the power to do pretty much whatever it wants to do. And if the public doesn’t like it, then we can lobby or replace our representatives. That is the way our founders designed our system.

I carry a copy of the Constitution in my purse because someone is always arguing with me about what’s in it.

People are often surprised to learn what’s not in the Constitution.

  • The words “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Christian”, “god”, and “creator” do not appear. Our founders wrote the Constitution from scratch, on paper, with a pen. There had never been anything like it before.
    Now, if they had wanted a theocracy, surely they would have said so.
  • The president and members of Congress are not required to take their oaths of office on a Bible.
  • The First Amendment does not guarantee us the right to say whatever we want, whenever we want, on any subject.
  • When tried for a crime, we are not entitled to a “jury of our peers”.
  • We have no legal right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”. 
    That’s in the Declaration of Independence, which is not a law.
  • There is no mention of an American flag, political parties, government offices, Smithsonian Institution, FBI, Freedom of Information Act, national highway system, public education, NASA, foreign aid, public assistance programs, lobbying, capitalism, Peace Corps, corporations, national flood insurance or disaster aid, or private property.
    The elastic clause empowers Congress to create or regulate all of those things.

In the main exhibit hall of the National Archives in Washington DC, you can see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. It’s very moving. A quote from Benjamin Franklin towers on the wall above them.

                                             “It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

If you really think you need to protect yourself from your government, then don’t idolize ignorance.

Read the documents that you claim to cherish so very much.
Go ahead.
I dare you.

For more information:
Read the Constitution
Read the Declaration of Independence
National Archives
The White House
The House of Representatives
The Senate

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