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What did our Founding Fathers mean by having the “Separation of Powers” in the Constitution? Today we review the principles laid out by W.C. Skousen in his book the 5,000 Year Leap! We talk with his son Paul Skousen about his father’s work.
Skousen also mentions about this process by saying: Quote
“A popular pastime among political writers in ancient times was attempting to decide what form of government was best. Some argued for a monarchy, with a single, powerful ruler. Others preferred an aristocracy where the “best families” of the nation were allowed to rule. Yet a third favored a pure democracy where decisions were to be made by the whole people. Unfortunately, none of these systems furnished the security and justice which were expected of them.
Then came Polybius. Polybius was a Greek who lived 204 to 122 B.C.
Polybius is recognized as the greatest of all Greek historians. When Greece was conquered by Rome, Polybius was deported to the Roman capital. Previously, Polybius had rendered illustrious public service to the Achaean League, a confederation of city-states. However, he quickly recognized the advantages of the Roman Republic which had been set up to govern millions. Polybius became a friend and ally of Rome, traveling widely on military and diplomatic missions to Europe, Asia, and Africa. His rich practical and scholarly experience finally culminated in his writing forty books of history!
Polybius felt there was an element of genius in each of the three types of government being discussed by philosophers. A monarchy had the executive strength needed to direct the administration of the government, particularly in a time of war. An aristocracy, on the other hand, represented the vested interests of wealth and the developed resources of the nation.
A democracy, meanwhile, represented the interests of the masses of the population without which neither a monarchy nor an aristocracy could exist. Unfortunately, none of these systems, when allowed to govern, provided equality, prosperity, justice, or domestic tranquility for the whole society. Polybius felt he understood why this was so:
“Even more keenly than Aristotle, he [Polybius] was aware that each form carried within itself the seed of its own degeneration if it were allowed to operate without checks and balances provided by opposing principles. Monarchy could easily become a tyranny, aristocracy sinks into oligarchy [oppressive government by a few rich families], and democracy turns into mob rule of force and violence.”
(William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers, p. 110.)
To explain this further the book mentions that” Quote,
“It is interesting that James Madison had to spend five Federalist Papers (numbers 47 to 51) explaining that the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial departments should not be absolute, but should make allowances for a built-in system of checks and balances. He said the trick was to separate the powers and then delicately lace them back together again as a balanced unit.
Madison conceded, however, that keeping the three departments of government separated was fundamental to the preservation of liberty. He wrote: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
W.C Skousen also mentions in the book that this situation can occur without a written law…Quote
“The one weakness of the Anglo-Saxon common law was that it was unwritten. Since its principles were known among the whole people, they seemed indifferent to the necessity of writing them down.
As Dr. Colin Rhys Lovell of the University of Southern California states:”
“The law applied by any of these Anglo-Saxon assemblies was customary. Until the Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity, it was unwritten and like all customary law was considered immutable.”
(English Constitutional and Legal History, p. 7.)
“However, the Norman Conquest taught the Anglo-Saxons in England a bitter lesson. Many of their most treasured rights disappeared in a flood of blood and vindictive oppression. In fact, these rights were regained very slowly over a period of centuries and gradually they were written down. In 1215 A.D., during a national crisis, the sword was virtually put to the throat of King John in order to compel him to sign the Magna Charta, setting forth the traditional rights of freemen as well as the feudal barons who had been serving under King John. During that same century, the “Model Parliament” came into being, which compelled the King to acknowledge the principle of no taxation without representation.
Charles I was later pressured into signing the people’s Petition of Rights in 1628 and the English Bill of Rights was signed by William and Mary in 1689. Through the centuries, the British have tried to manage their political affairs with no written constitution and have merely relied upon these fragmentary statutes as a constitutional reference source. These proved helpful to the American Founders, but they felt that the structure of government should be codified in a more permanent, comprehensive form. It will be appreciated, therefore, that the tradition of written constitutions in modern times is not of English origin but is entirely American, both in principle and practice.”
Mr. Skousen further emphasized in the book that…Quote
“No principle was emphasized more vigorously during the Constitutional Convention than the necessity of limiting the authority of the federal government. Not only was this to be done by carefully defining the powers delegated to the government, but the Founders were determined to bind down its administrators with legal chains codified in the Constitution. It will be recalled that one of the reasons many of the states would not adopt the original draft of the Constitution was that they feared the encroachments of the federal government on the rights of the states and the people The first ten amendments were therefore added to include the ancient, unalienable rights of Anglo-Saxon freemen so there could be no question as to the strictly limited authority the people were conferring on their central government. Notice how carefully the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are worded:
The Ninth Amendment The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The Tenth Amendment The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The people felt that the hedging up of federal authority was absolutely essential because of their experience with corrupt and abusive governments in the past”
THIS WORK IS DEDICATED TO that generation of resolute Americans whom we call the Founding Fathers. They created the first free people to survive as a nation in modern times. They wrote a new kind of Constitution which is now the oldest in existence. They built a new kind of commonwealth designed as a model for the whole human race. They believed it was thoroughly possible to create a new kind of civilization, giving freedom, equality, and justice to all.
Their first design for a free-people nation was to encompass all of North America, accommodating, as John Adams said, two to three hundred million freemen. They created a new cultural climate that gave wings to the human spirit. They encouraged exploration to reveal the scientific secrets of the universe. They built a free- enterprise culture to encourage industry and prosperity. They gave humanity the needed ingredients for a gigantic 5,000-year leap!
– W. Cleon Skousen
Today’s quote is from James Baldwin
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”