Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.


April 26th, 2010

“[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be aid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children” Isaiah 54:13


April 25th, 2010

George Washington is one of the most influential founding fathers of our country. Some say he was a Christian, others a Deist, devout Episcopalian, Free Mason, etc. Anna C. Reed, a niece of one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote “Life of Washington” for the American Sunday School Union in 1842. The book was written within 50 years of Washington’s death, giving us one of the earliest biographies. After reading the following, you will have an answer to Washington’s faith. The following is an excerpt from “Life of Washington” [see endnotes].

On another occasion he [Washington] said, “My first wish is to see the whole world in peace, and the inhabitants of it as a band of brothers, striving who should contribute most to the happiness of mankind.” He knew that this could be effected only the universal influence of the precepts of Jesus, the Divine ‘Prince of Peace;’ and in answering the address of the clergy and laity of the Episcopal church, presented when he was first elected president, he said, “On this occasion it would ill become me to conceal the joy I have felt in perceiving the fraternal affection which appears to increase every day among the friends of genuine religion. It affords edifying prospects indeed, to see Christians of every denomination dwell together in more charity, and conduct themselves in respect to each other with a more Christian spirit than ever they have done in any former age, or in any other nation.”

The various addresses he received then, and his answers, fill three manuscript volumes. The close of his answer to the ministers of one religious denomination, will show the feelings which influenced him in replying to all; he said, “I assure you I take in the kindest part the promise you make of presenting your prayers at the throne of grace for me; and that I likewise will implore the divine benediction on yourselves and your religious community.” This declaration of Washington was not an unmeaning profession, and no doubt he literally fulfilled this promise to pray for those whose prayers for him were proffered. he was in the habit of communing with God, or he would not have made such an engagement. His practice was always in conformity with the opinions and feelings he expressed, and he had evinced his sentiments on Christian unity of a spirit when the American army lay encamped at Morristown. He called on the Rev. Dr. Jones, the pastor of the Presbyterian church of that village, and said, “Dr., I understand that the Lord’s supper is to be celebrated with you next Sunday; I would learn if it accords with the canon of your church to admit communicants of another denomination?” The doctor replied, “Most certainly; ours is not the Presbyterian table, general, but the Lord’s table; and we hence give the Lord’s invitation to all his followers, of whatever name.” The general replied, “I am glad of it, that is as it ought to be; but as I was not quite sure of the fact, I thought I would ascertain it from yourself as I propose to join with you on that occasion though a member of the Church of England, I have no exclusive partialities.” Dr. Jones assured him of a cordial welcome, and he took his seat with the communicants on the next Sabbath. Early in life, he was actively interested in church affairs; was a vestryman of Truro parish, in which was Pohick church, seven miles from Mount Vernon. He was also a vestryman in Fairfax a parish, the place of worship of which was in Alexandria, ten miles from his home. He had a pew in each church. On a day appointed for fasting, humiliation and prayer, he wrote in his diary, “Went to church and fasted all day.” Conforming not only to the spirit, but strictly to the letter of the appointment. His private devotional habits were in accordance with his invariable public ones. He usually rose at four o’clock and went into his library. His nephew, Mr. Robert Lewis, who was his private secretary when he was president, said that he had accidentally witnessed his private devotions both morning and evening; that on those occasions he had seen him in a kneeling posture, with a Bible open before him; and that he believed such to have been his daily practice. He adopted a grand-daughter of Mrs. Washington, and she resided in his family twenty years. In a letter, dated 1833, that lady wrote of Washington thus:

“It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o’clock, where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. he always rose before the sun, and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray ‘that they may be seen of men;’ he communed with his God in secret. When my aunt, Miss Custis, died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event, he knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectionately, for her recovery. He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little, generally never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war.” After some other remarks, she mentions her grandmother thus: “He knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence ever with me, as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me only as a mother can love, and never extenuating, or approving in me what she disapproved in others. She never omitted her private devotions or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian.? She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity. It is necessary that any one should certify General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity? as well may we question his patriotism, his heroic disinterested devotion to his country. His mottoes were, “DEEDS, NOT WORDS; and , FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY.’ ” [1]

But, remember, Washington directed his countrymen to a higher example than his; he said that he earnestly prayed they might follow that of “THE DIVINE AUTHOR OF OUR BLESSED RELIGION;” and the Bible, the sacred book which makes known that example, you should value as the crown of all your blessings; for in it, you may learn how to secure their continuance through this short life, and how to obtain that blissful gift of God, “Eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”


Anna C. Reed, Life of Washington, Pages 270-275, 277; Copyright 2009, Attic Books, New Leaf Publishing Group, P O Box 726, Green Forest, AR 72638 (Second Printing 2010); Published by permission. Orginally published in 1842, American Sunday-School Union, now known as American Missionary Society, http://www.americanmissionary.org; Life of Washington retains the original 1842 printing in a beautiful, highly readable bound book. If you love early American History and our country’s Christian foundation, this is a ‘must’ book. You may order the book at $16.99 at http://goo.gl/firB

[1] Letter written by George Washington’s adopted daughter (also his step-granddaughter) Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis. It was written in 1833 in response to author Jared Sparks [who compiled a set of Washington’s Writings] request for info on Washington’s religious beliefs for a book he was writing that was published under the title “The Life of Washington”.


April 22nd, 2010

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. From Treasury Department records, it appears that the first such appeal came in a letter dated November 13, 1861. It was written to Secretary Chase by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, and read:

Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.

As a result, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto, in a letter dated November 20, 1861:

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.
You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

It was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States. This meant that the mint could make no changes without the enactment of additional legislation by the Congress. In December 1863, the Director of the Mint submitted designs for new one-cent coin, two-cent coin, and three-cent coin to Secretary Chase for approval. He proposed that upon the designs either OUR COUNTRY; OUR GOD or GOD, OUR TRUST should appear as a motto on the coins.

In a letter to the Mint Director on December 9, 1863, Secretary Chase stated:

I approve your mottoes, only suggesting that on that with the Washington obverse the motto should begin with the word OUR, so as to read OUR GOD AND OUR COUNTRY. And on that with the shield, it should be changed so as to read: IN GOD WE TRUST.

The Congress passed the Act of April 22, 1864. This legislation changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin. The Mint Director was directed to develop the designs for these coins for final approval of the Secretary. IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

Another Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865. It allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary’s approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” Under the Act, the motto was placed on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, and the gold half-eagle coin. It was also placed on the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin and the quarter-dollar coin, and on the nickel three-cent coin beginning in 1866. Later, Congress passed the Coinage Act of February 12, 1873. It also said that the Secretary “may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto.”

The use of IN GOD WE TRUST has not been uninterrupted. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. Since 1938, all United States coins bear the inscription. Later, the motto was found missing from the new design of the double-eagle gold coin and the eagle gold coin shortly after they appeared in 1907. In response to a general demand, Congress ordered it restored, and the Act of May 18, 1908, made it mandatory on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. IN GOD WE TRUST was not mandatory on the one-cent coin and five-cent coin. It could be placed on them by the Secretary or the Mint Director with the Secretary’s approval.

The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908.

A law passed by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-140) and approved by the President on July 30, 1956, the President approved a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress, declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States. IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. The first paper currency bearing the motto entered circulation on October 1, 1957. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was converting to the dry intaglio printing process. During this conversion, it gradually included IN GOD WE TRUST in the back design of all classes and denominations of currency. [1]

[1] United States Treasury, History of the Motto “In God We Trust”; http://goo.gl/a1oi [edited]

ENDNOTE: For more on “In God We Trust” from a Christian perspective go to:



April 19th, 2010

On April 30, 1789, from the balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington took the oath of office as President of the United States. The president and Congress shared space in Federal Hall with the New York Society Library. The library had been founded in 1754 by a group of six young New Yorkers – five lawyers and a merchant – in the belief that “a Publick Library would be very useful, as well as ornamental to this City…”

The library was available as a resource to its 239 subscribing members, among them Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and John Jay, and to the president, members of Congress and justices of the Supreme Court. Occupying a room on the top floor, the library was the only institution in Federal Hall not mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

The Library’s charging ledger for 1789-92, bound in leather and weighing 18 pounds, was misplaced for years and then found in 1934 in a trash pile in the basement of its fourth home at 109 University Place. (Since 1937, the library has been in its fifth home at 53 East 79th Street.) Today the ledger is a priceless, but crumbling possession, recording titles of books taken out and the names of borrowers.

June 24, 1789. The first entry in the ledger records that the Reverend Dr. Lynn borrowed “Animated Nature” by Oliver Goldsmith. Dr. Lynn served as chaplain to the Congress. He was fined seven pence for returning the book late.
July 31. “Elements of Criticism – 1 – Ovo. H. Vice-president-self.” Shorthand for Vice-President John Adams himself appearing at the library to take out volume 1 of “Elements of Criticism” (octavo size), a philosophical work by Lord Henry Kames. Volume returned on Aug. 17.

Aug. 21. Volume 2 taken out by “Doork” for “H. Vice-President.” This time, instead of personally coming to the library, the vice-president sent the doorkeeper to collect the second volume of “Elements of Criticism.” No record of volume 2 being returned.

October 5. “Law of Nations [&] Commons Debates – volume 12 – President.” Here the ledger records that President Washington took out “The Law of Nations” by Emmerich de Vattel. Also, volume 12 of the House of Commons Debates. The ledger does not record whether the president came in person or sent a messenger, nor is there any record of either volume being returned, or the president or vice-president being fined.

Alexander Hamilton borrowed two novels, “The Amours of Count Palviano and Eleanora” and, as recorded in the ledger, “Edward Mortimer (hist. of) by a lady.”

In 1789, Aaron Burr took out “Revolutions in Geneva”; a volume of Swift; and “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Gibbon. In 1790, he turned to Voltaire, reading nine volumes and then to the 44 volumes making up the series, “An Unusual History,” self-described as a history “from the earliest account of Time, compiled from original authors.” His lighter reading included the novels, “Mysterious Husband” and “False Friend.”

On Feb. 1, 1790, in a building on Broad Street called the Exchange, the U.S. Supreme Court held its first session. The New York Society Library charging ledger records books borrowed by Chief Justice John Jay. These included:

Literature. The works of Jonathan Swift; “Don Quixote”, Voltaire’s, “Candidus, or “All For the Best,” as the volume is noted in the ledger; “The Fair Syrian, a novel”; Frances Burney’s, “Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress”; “Arabian Nights Entertainments, consisting of one thousand and one stories, related by the Sultaness of the Indies” and John Aubrey’s “Miscellanies,” a collection of stories on ghosts and dreams.
History. Plutarch’s, “Lives”; “Lives of the Admirals, and other Eminent British Seamen”; “The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada”; “The History of the Revolution of South Carolina, from a British Province to an Independent State”; and “An Essay on the Life of the Honorable Major-General Israel Putnam.”

Travel. Captain James Cook’s, “A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Round the World”; “A Tour through Sicily and Malta”; “Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Paris of the East-Indies, containing an accurate description of whatever is most remarkable in those countries”; “A Voyage Round the World in the Years 1766-1769,” by the Comte Louis Antoine de Bougainville; “A General Description of China, containing the topography of the fifteen provinces which compose this vast empire”; “Travels in Spain”; “Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in 1768-1773”; and “Travels in North America in the Years 1780-1782”, by the Marquis Francois Jean de Chastellux.

Science. Comte de Buffon’s “Natural History”; “Chambers’, Cyclopaedia, or General Dictionary of Arts and Sciences”; and “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man.”

Chief Justice Jay must have had his own collection of law books, for few of the books borrowed by him from the New York Society Library are law-related. What stands out when examining the library’s charging ledger is both the breadth of his interests and his wide reading in literature, history, travel and science. May we, as lawyers, be encouraged by his example to expand, through reading, our own horizons.


William J. Dean, Book Selections of Founding Fathers, New York Law Journal (2007)

As it appears in the New York Society Library web site at http://www.nysoclib.org/articles/ny_law_journal.html

Endnote: Article edited for brevity

George Washington racks up $300,000 late fee

April 18th, 2010

He may have never told a lie, but George Washington apparently had no problem stiffing a Manhattan library on two books.

Borrowed book and notation

Two centuries ago, the nation’s first President borrowed two tomes from the New York Society Library on E. 79th St. and never returned them, racking up an inflation-adjusted $300,000 late fee.

But Washington can rest easy.

“We’re not actively pursuing the overdue fines,” quipped head librarian Mark Bartlett. “But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back.”

Washington’s dastardly deed went unknown for almost 150 years.

Then in 1934, a dusty, beaten-up ledger was discovered in a trash heap in the library’s basement.

On its tan pages were the names of all of the people who had borrowed books from the city’s oldest library between July 1789 and April 1792.

At the time, the city was the nation’s capital and the library – then located at Wall and Broad Sts. – was the only one in town.

Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay all borrowed books, the ledger shows.

They returned them, too.

The library’s boldest bold-faced name wasn’t as cooperative.

On Oct. 5, 1789, Washington borrowed the “Law of Nations,” a treatise on international relations, and Vol. 12 of the “Commons Debates,” which contained transcripts of debates from Britain’s House of Commons.

Beside the names of the books, the librarian wrote on the ledger only, “President.”

The entry, written with a quill pen, contains no return date.

The books were due by Nov. 2, 1789, and have been accruing a fine of a few pennies per day ever since.

This week, Bartlett and his staff became even more convinced the books were filched when librarian Matthew Haugen stumbled upon the long lost 14-volume collection of the “Commons Debates.”

Sure enough, Vol. 12 was missing.

“It’s hard to know what could have happened,” Bartlett said. “There are as many questions for us as there are answers.”

Sources: NY Daily News.com, President George Washington racks up $300,000 late fee for two Manhatten library books, Rich Schapiro, April 17, 2010, 4:00 a.m. and New York Society Library website, http://www.nysoclib.org/ and The Associated Press


April 15th, 2010

[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

Source: Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, June 12, 1776

No Intermeddling and No Flagrant Usurpations

April 14th, 2010

James Madison

Founding Father and U.S. President James Madison is often called the “Father of the Constitution”, having written most of it at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He then wrote over one-third of the Federalist Papers, essays that were intended to sway public opinion to ratifying the new Constitution.

Significantly, Madison has often also been referred to as a primary source for the separation of church and state. He, and others, has been used to justify acts such as removal of prayers in schools, or limiting religious expression by teachers in public schools. Those court decisions have had the effect of chilling free speech in the classroom, at least in regards to religion.

Madison certainly came out in opposition of anything that directed tax monies from taxpayers to go directly to churches. For example, there was a move in Virginia in 1784-85 to create a special tax to pay ministers of churches. Eventually the popular bill let each taxpayer decide which church should receive his share of the tax. Madison, a Virginian, saw problems with this down the road, and didn’t think the government had any business directing church funding. He opposed it vigorously, even working to get the bill’s principal supporter elected governor so he could not vote for the bill.

But believing that Government should not be involved in religion is the polar opposite of Government prohibiting freedom of religion, or more distinctly, the prohibition of the expression of religion. Madison apparently believed Government should not be involved in religion (though if you look at the context of the culture and times in which he lived, he would have never dreamed of creating a government that promoted a vacuum of religion). But he also did not believe in Government prohibiting the free exercise of religion. As Virginians considered whether or not to ratify the U. S. Constitution he wrote, some suggested he include a clause in it to establish the protection of religion. He argued it already did protect it:

Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment–I believe it to be so in the other states. There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom.

Even the tiniest little bit of  “intermeddling” would be a “flagrant usurpation.” Merriam-Webster defines “usurpation” as “to seize and hold (as office, place, or powers) in possession by force or without right.” If government interfered with religion at all, it would be a most flagrant seizure and taking of power, without right, and by force! He was saying, literally, that government would take the place that it had no right to take—the place of power to determine or limit religious expression.

Furthermore, he pointed out that even a bill of rights would not protect people from being taxed to outright support certain religions:

Is a bill of rights a security for religion? Would the bill of rights, in this state, exempt the people from paying for the support of one particular sect, if such sect were exclusively established by law? If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.

In his mind, there was never any doubt that men would be able to freely discuss and take part in religion as they wished. He never even mentions those who were outside religion as having the right to supersede and direct those who were practicing religion. And with a multiplicity of sects—diverse groups of believers in different denominations—freedom of religion would be guaranteed by the sheer numbers of different churches, with no sect taking precedence over other groups. But others wished to see freedom of religion clearly delineated in the American government, and so it became part of the U.S. Bill of Rights as the First Amendment. As the First Amendment has been twisted in the last 50 years to enforce the limitation of the freedom of expression of religion, Madison may been right in that even an official government recognition of religious freedom in the form of a bill of rights would not be enough to protect the freedom to express religion.

End Notes:

About James Madison

Virginia Ratifying Convention:

Madison’s Speech at the Ratifying Convention
James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention
12 June 1788Papers 11:130–31
The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment I (Religion), Document 49
The University of Chicago Press
The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962–77 (vols. 1–10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977–(vols. 11–).

Usurpation definition:


April 12th, 2010

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was “A man of profound and intense religious feeling,” his White House secretaries Hay and Nicolay wrote in their monumental Lincoln biography. In fact, Abraham Lincoln is considered the last of the Founding Fathers and one of the greatest public religious figures in American history. The Bible “is the best gift God has given to man,” he once said; “But for it we could not know right from wrong.” Lincoln was devout–intensely devout–with a difference. [1]

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for that day.” [2]

[1] A Religious Idea Called “America,” by David Gelernter, Yale University; American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research Bradley Lecture, March 2006
[2] Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.


April 9th, 2010

“[A] wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” [1]

[1] Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801


April 9th, 2010

Part of our efforts in presenting early American Christian history is to know and understand the Constitution of the United States.

That being said, there is a national debate going on about recent health legislation passed by Congress. A major issue is that parts of this health bill are unconstitutional. One glaring part is about every citizen being required by law to purchase health insurance and being subject to penalties if they do not. The reply to this is the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution contains that power. The National Center for Constitutional Studies disagrees and recently issued this reply:

Background of the Power of Congress to Regulate Interstate Commerce

One of the challenges facing the states after the Revolutionary War was raising money to pay their expenses and debts. Most states knew taxing the people would be futile because the people had no money and they had just fought a war over the subject of oppressive taxation. So some states decided to set up taxes on commerce, that is, goods coming into or leaving the state, either at the ports or the inland borders. This tactic, however, tended to set states up as individual nations rather than as a common market. It would pit state against state and would lead to discriminatory taxation on certain industries.

Virginia was one of the principal offenders in this respect. While the Constitution was up before the convention of the various states for ratification, Washington wrote to Lafayette that his own state had recently tried to pass “some of the most extravagant and preposterous edicts on the subject of trade” that had ever been written.

But the other states were also gouging their neighbors with discriminatory regulations of commerce. Rhode Island , for example, met all of her expenses out of duties levied at one port where commerce had to enter from other states. New York also demanded oppressive duties on all imports coming through her major shipping channels. It was apparent that if the regulation of commerce were left to the states they would soon degenerate into isolated economic fiefs with each one using discriminatory and retaliatory regulations against surrounding states.

The question had to be resolved as to how to keep states from setting up these tariffs and regulations on goods flowing into or out of a state. To leave this to the states to solve might lead to civil war. It would certainly lead to dissolution of the union. There was no other way to keep a state from setting up these restrictions than by giving the authority to do so to a neutral entity, and that was the federal government.

James Monroe of Virginia (while serving in Congress from 1783 to 1786) had unsuccessfully tried to include the federal regulation of commerce in the Articles of Confederation. He is also credited with suggesting it for the Constitution. Madison felt it was “necessary to preserve the Union,” for “without it, it (the Union ) will infallibly crumble to pieces.”

So by the time the Constitutional Convention was held in 1787 it was clear to many of the delegates that unless the regulation of interstate commerce was placed in the hands of the national government, the states would wreck the union with their petty regulations designed to promote local prosperity at the expense of the general welfare.

Emphasis was on Maintaining a Free Flow of Commerce Among the States

Giving the national government the power to regulate interstate commerce, as a constitutionally delegated power proved to be the answer to maintaining a common market among the states. The commerce clause has consistently served as a barrier to the suppressive efforts of individual states to favor their own industry or economy. In more than 2,500 cases which have been brought before the state and federal courts, tax laws, license laws, and regulations of an infinite variety enacted by state legislatures have been held invalid as interfering with the free flow of interstate commerce.

As Economics Professor Gary Galles of Pepperdine University recently wrote: “The Commerce Clause was designed to take that abusive power from the states by giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce; ‘regulate’ meant ‘to make regular or normal’ or ‘to remove impediments….” ( Washington Times , March 27, 2010)

As with most constitutional provisions, the United States was the pioneer in discovering the advantages which the free flow of commerce among its several states contributed to national economic prosperity. Australia followed the opposite policy until 1900, when she conceded that provincial or state barriers to commerce were repressive. Brazil , Canada , and other nations with modern constitutions have generally followed the American Constitution in this respect.

It is crucial to note that, in the Founders’ formula, the whole power to regulate interstate commerce dealt only with matters to ensure the free flow of goods, or in other words, transportation of interstate commerce, not with any control over the production, manufacturing, or sale of goods going interstate. As W. Cleon Skousen explained:

Doctrines relating to the protection of the states’ sphere of power were set forth by the Supreme Court in the Sugar Trust Case. The court’s decision stated:

Production is always local, and under the exclusive domain of the states.

Commerce among the states (interstate commerce) does not begin until goods commence their final movement from their state of origin to that of their destination.

The sale of any product is merely an incident of its production and is therefore under the domain of the state because its effect on interstate commerce is merely incidental

Combinations or associations organized for the sale and distribution of goods are under the regulatory power of the state since the effect on interstate commerce is indirect, not direct.

As Justice George Sutherland pointed out in Carter v. Carter Coal Co.:

“Much stress is put upon the evils which come from the struggle between employers and employees over matters of wages, working conditions, the right of collective bargaining, etc., and the resulting strikes, curtailment and irregularity of production, and the effect on prices; and it is insisted that interstate commerce is greatly affected thereby. But … the conclusive answer is that the evils are all local evils over which the Federal Government has no legislative control. The relation of employer and employee is a local relation. As a common law it is one of the domestic relations. The wages are paid for the doing of local work. Working conditions are obviously local conditions. The employees are not engaged in or about commerce, but exclusively in producing a commodity…. Such effect as they may have upon commerce, however extensive it may be, is secondary and indirect.” ( The Making of America, p. 406)

Changing Emphasis from Commerce to Regulate

In the decades following the passage of The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and usually under the pressure of war and depression, the Supreme Court twisted or reversed traditional cases on interstate commerce and introduced the unconstitutional doctrine that the federal government may regulate anything that affects interstate commerce directly or indirectly. (For a list of cases, see The Making of America , pp. 403-408) One must ask: “What doesn’t affect interstate commerce indirectly?” This has resulted in usurpation of power in the form of sweeping federal regulations over nearly every aspect of American life. These doctrines include:

Anything affecting the “current of commerce” from manufacturing to distribution is under federal authority.

Commerce includes all aspects of selling, trading, and trafficking, as well as interstate transportation. Therefore, the federal authority extends to every aspect of commercial activity connected with interstate commerce.

The federal government can regulate any activity which affects interstate commerce either directly or indirectly. It can therefore fix prices, wages, working conditions, health conditions, and the retirement of employees.

All interstate industries automatically come under federal authority for the purpose of intervening in strikes and labor relations. As the Supreme Court said: “When industries organize themselves on a national scale, making their relation to interstate commerce the dominant factor in their activities, how can it be maintained that their industrial labor relations constitute a forbidden field into which Congress may not enter when it is necessary to protect interstate commerce from the paralyzing consequences of industrial war?” This now includes all major industries in the country.

A Graphic Example – the American Hamburger!

In 1980, U. S. News and World Report published a Pictogram entitled, “Your Hamburger: 41,000 Regulations.” It reads:

“The hamburger, staple of the quick, inexpensive meal, is the subject of 41,000 federal and state regulations, many of those stemming from 200 laws and 110,000 precedent-setting court cases.

“These rules, cited in a three-volume study by Colorado State University, touch on everything involved in meat production—grazing practices of cattle, conditions in slaughterhouses and methods used to process meat for sale to supermarkets, restaurants and fast-food outlets. Together they add 8 to 11 cents per pound to the cost of hamburger.”

And that was 30 years ago!

In a cut-away graphic, the report gave several examples, two of which are: “Ketchup—to be considered Grade A fancy, it must flow no more than 9 centimeters in 30 seconds at 69 degrees Fahrenheit” and, “Pickles—Slices must be between 1/8 and 3/8 inches thick.” ( U. S. News and World Report , February 11, 1980, p. 64) (This Pictogram can be viewed at www.nccs.net/seminars . Scroll down the right side to Webinar Archives – Part 3, let it load, then slide over to 1 hour and 20 minutes into the presentation.)

Mandatory Health Care Invents even more
Authority in the Interstate Commerce Clause

As stated earlier, the proponents of the Health Care legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by the President cite the Commerce Clause as authority for doing such a thing. As we have just shown, any honest student who reads the Founders’ must admit there is no authority in the Constitution for such legislation, but, of course, the proponents like to cite Supreme Court cases to show how the authority has been added to the “living constitution” by the federal judiciary.

However, in citing court cases, no one can cite a single case in the history of the United States where it has been held constitutional for the federal government to require every person in this country to purchase a product or a service. This is exactly what this new legislation requires. Furthermore, it provides for a penalty to be paid if such health insurance is not purchased. This provision is so far beyond any authority in the history of this country, that it is difficult to envision even the Supreme Court of today approving such laws. The lawsuits are being filed. People are challenging. States are challenging. It seems that if by some irrational means the majority of the court does go along with this edict, which is far beyond even a liberal interpretation of the Commerce Clause to this point, there may be wholesale numbers ready to invoke the following paraphrased idea in the Declaration of Independence:

“…and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind [Americans] are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing [changing] the forms to which they are accustomed [that is, the form by which the people give Congress its power]. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government [or abusive power], and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Surely, this will push modern Americans to the point we reached in 1776.[2]

[1] National Center for Constitutional Studies, 37777 West Juniper Road, Malta, ID 83342; www.nccs.net
[2] Background of the Power of Congress to Regulate Interstate Commerce, by Earl Taylor, Jr.