Pay No Attention to This Day
by Harry Browne
September 17, 2003
This day isn’t important.
There are far more significant days in the year:
. Labor Day, when we pretend to care about other people’s jobs while
frolicking at the beach.
. Election Day, when we pretend we’re making a difference by voting.
. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Susan B. Anthony Day, when we
pretend to be politically correct.
. Memorial Day, when we pretend that we live in a free country because
of all the people who were killed in the government’s senseless wars.
. Flag Day, when we pretend the government is America.
. Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day, when we pretended that World
War I made the world safe for democracy).
. National Teachers Day, when we pretend our children are getting an
. Earth Day, when we pretend that making the government more powerful
will make the environment cleaner.
. United Nations Day, when we pretend to believe all those inane
statements about world peace.
Today doesn’t seem to come anywhere near those days in importance.
You see, today is supposed to be Constitution Day. And no one really
cares about the Constitution anymore.
What It Was
The Constitution was supposed to spell out what government can do and
what it can’t do. The government’s few legal functions are listed in
Article 1, Section 8. It was a revolutionary document, in that no
government in history had ever had its duties and restrictions so
Despite frequent violations of the Constitution by the government, the
document did its job reasonably well for the first hundred years —
making America the freest country in history.
As late as 1887, when Congress passed a bill providing federal relief to
drought-stricken Texas farmers, Grover Cleveland vetoed it, saying, “I
can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”
But that was about the last gasp for limited, Constitutional government.
Because the Constitution wasn’t self-enforcing, it depended on the good
intentions of politicians — something Thomas Jefferson specifically
warned against in 1798 when he said, “In questions of power, then, let
no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief
by the chains of the Constitution.”
Michael Cloud put it more succinctly in recent years: “The problem isn’t
the abuse of power, it’s the power to abuse.” So long as the politicians
have the power, they’ll abuse it. And the Constitution was intended to
prevent the politicians from getting the power to abuse.
But by the end of the 1800s, too many Americans had lost their fear of
government and politicians. The introduction of government schools had
made it almost certain that most children would never learn the
importance of binding down government with the chains of the Constitution.
And so government was transformed in the public mind from a
necessary-but-dangerous evil into “the great fiction, through which
everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else,” as
Frédéric Bastiat described it.
More and more, the Constitution became a political toy, to be tossed
about, invoked, ignored, or misrepresented — whatever suited a given
politician’s agenda at any given moment.
The income tax amendment in 1913 hammered the final nail into the coffin
of limited, constitutional government. Now the politicians had not only
the authority, but also the unlimited revenue, to do whatever they
wanted. It seems very, very unlikely, for example, that Americans would
have been dragged into World War I if the government hadn’t had the
unlimited revenue to finance it.
Even the Bill of Rights — which eliminates all ambiguity by spelling
out specific things the government may not do — was relegated to
second place behind the needs of politicians. By the first World War,
the Supreme Court had decided that the words “Congress shall make no law
. . . ” don’t really mean that “Congress shall make no law . . . ” They
mean only that the government must have a “compelling interest” in doing
something. Not surprisingly, the government employees on the Court
almost always decide that the government does have a compelling interest.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Those conservatives who still care about the Constitution say that it
should be taught in the schools. As though government employees will
emphasize the original purpose of the Constitution in restraining
government. Instead, they’ll give snap quizes on such weighty questions
as “How many years in a Senator’s term?” or “Who appoints the Supreme
If the American people are to learn the importance of limited,
Constitutional government, we have to teach them ourselves.
But people aren’t interested in academic lectures on constitutional
government. They’re far more interested in their own lives — and
That’s why repealing the federal income tax is our best tool. We can
offer them the reward of never paying income tax again in exchange for
giving up any unconstitutional federal programs.
The next time you want someone to understand the importance of the
Constitution, try approaching him this way . . .
If we repeal the federal income tax and yours is an average American
family, you’ll have at least $10,000 a year more to spend or invest.
What will you do with that money?
. Will you put your children in a private school, where they can get
whatever kind of education you want for them?
. Will you help your favorite cause or charity in a way you’ve never
been able to do before?
. Will you start that business you’ve always wanted, plan a better
retirement, send your children to college?
All you have to do in return is to restrict the government to the
Constitution — giving up whatever pittance unconstitutional government
provides to you personally.
If you try this, you may be surprised to find that the Constitution
isn’t such a hard sell after all.
And maybe someday Constitution Day will mean something again.