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How to Understand the Constitution Without Really Trying

Ben Franklin US Constitution quote

Here’s an excerpt from our new book, The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution

A constitution is a contract. It’s also a rule book. One could also describe it as an etiquette guide in which bad manners are answered with real consequences. In short, it outlines the expected behaviors of all parties involved in the consent-based government we discussed in the previous chapter.

The easy way to think about a constitution of a consent-based government system is to compare it to a lawn mowing service contract with little Jimmy Husqvarna down the street. Yes, I chose an analogy where the role of our government is played by a 12-year old on purpose. It’s in everyone’s best interest for your lawn to get cut on a regular basis. It’s in your best interest to do important stuff like arranging the food in your pantry alphabetically rather than laboring behind a lawnmower. It’s in your neighborhood association’s best interest for your lawn to be maintained, so they don’t have to send nasty letters. And last, but not least, it’s in your 12-year old neighbor’s best interest to make 25 bucks so he can hurry up and buy the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto.

So, if we want to model modern little league soccer and make everyone a winner, we must establish a contract. While it may not be written down, it’s still an agreement. The kid agrees to mow the lawn. You agree to pay him. The neighborhood home owner’s association becomes depressed because they have no reason to send you nasty letters. Almost everyone is happy because all parties are voluntarily consenting to this mutually beneficial arrangement.

But what happens if your adolescent horticulturist fails? Maybe he’s stuck on level 19 of Assassin’s Creed and can’t get away from the X-Box, or maybe he finally left the basement and discovered girls. Whatever the cause, since you have a consent-based contract, it’s your prerogative to find another teenage lawn hand. You voluntarily agreed to hire that little weasel who only edges every other week so you can voluntarily agree to un-hire him too.

The Constitution is basically a voluntary consent contract between the people and the government. The people agree to be governed because it makes sense, but the government has to behave because the people are only voluntarily agreeing to be governed as long as the government doesn’t act like a weenie. That sounds like circular logic, and in a sense, it is. That’s OK, however, because the circle can be broken for cause.

As to the rulebook concept, the Constitution sets forth exactly how the government will operate. Not only does it define the structure of the government, but it also clarifies the limits of power granted by the people to the government. Getting back to little Jimmy Husqvarna, it’s analogous to our lawn mowing agreement specifying that he’ll edge and trim every week, use only a Fisher-Price approved lawnmower and promise not to dump the grass clippings on the neighbors’ lawns.

In fact, the Constitution is largely written in such a way that all authority is assumed to belong to the people except that which is expressly granted to the government by the language in the Constitution. Technically speaking, if the Constitution doesn’t establish government authority, then it doesn’t exist. That’s in theory, of course, because we all know how much government’s role and authority has bloated over the past 200 years.

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Matter of Fact…

James Madison was a seriously busy guy during the Constitutional Convention. Not only did he do the summer reading and come prepared with an outline, but he also took copious notes during the entire proceedings. After his death, the government purchased his journal for the sum of $30,000. That was a lot of coin back in 1837. Often going to the level of detail of who said what when, it makes for fascinating reading.

The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution is available in print and Kindle format from Amazon.

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The Great $5 Bill of Rights Robbery

The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution

The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution

Here’s an excerpt you might enjoy from our new book, The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution

There were fourteen original copies of the Bill of Rights, one for the federal government and one for each of the 13 original colonies. Only eight states still have their copies: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. One of those only recently reclaimed theirs. At the end of the Civil War, one of Sherman’s soldiers broke into the Capitol Building and stole the North Carolina copy. He took it home to Ohio and later sold it to a local grain salesman for five dollars. In 2003, the FBI recovered the copy in a sting operation when a collector tried to sell it to the National Constitution Center for the sum of four million dollars. By 2007, after some fancy legal maneuvers, it was returned to North Carolina.

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The Second Continental Congress… You Know Things Are Bad When…

The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution

You know things are really bad when people thing that forming another Congress will make them better.

“Just a couple of months after the shooting started, Congress reconvened. After all, if you’re going be at war with a major world power, you ought to at least form some committees. The first action of the Second Continental Congress was to order Philly Cheese Steaks for lunch, but right after that, they resolved to create an army. Sure, there were already plenty of farmers with guns running around harassing the British, but no one had yet addressed important decisions like uniform colors. Recognizing that most armies had generals, the second move of the Second Congress was to hire one. You know the name — George Washington. Washington agreed to take the job under the condition that he not be paid, although it’s unclear if his agent secretly negotiated the whole picture on the dollar bill thing.”

Excerpt From: The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution: The historically accurate and decidedly entertaining owner’s manual.

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How The Chicago Cubs Won The Electoral Vote

Image courtesy Yahoo Sports.

Image courtesy Yahoo Sports.

The real kick in the pants about the 2016 World Series is that the Chicago Cubs didn’t win. They tied with the Cleveland Indians.

There’s a lot of angst about Hillary Clinton currently being ahead in the national popular vote, even though Donald Trump won the electoral vote. While there are hundreds of thousands of votes yet to be tallied, she may very well end up with more total votes than Trump. But it doesn’t matter, because the popular vote isn’t how we elect Presidents.

The best explanation of the electoral college that I’ve heard was from former Texas State Representative, attorney, and Constitutional speaker Rick Green. He explains the reasoning for the electoral system by comparing it to America’s favorite pastime. No, not texting, baseball. The guy who invented the World Series (was that Pete Rose or Al Gore? I can never remember…), decided that the World Champions should be the team that played the best over a series of games, in different cities, with different players in and out of the game throughout the series. That’s why the series is determined by the best of seven games with teams playing in both home cities. The champion should be the team that plays the best overall, under different circumstances.

Suppose for a minute that the winner of the World Series was the team that scored the most runs over seven games. That sounds logical, right? Well, actually not. In 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series over the New York Yankees four games to three. Strangely enough, the Yankees scored 55 runs during the series, but the Pirates only scored 27. The Yankees should have won, right? Nope, because the Pirates won four games. Matching up against different pitchers, on different nights, in different parks, the Pirates played a better overall series and became the champs. Just because, during a couple of the games, the Yankees lit up a couple of pitchers and ran up the score, should they have won the series? I don’t think so. In fact, this scenario happens in baseball playoff and world series situations about 15 percent of the time.

The electoral college works on exactly the same theory, which is why the Founders created this model in the first place. If the President was determined simply by the raw number of popular votes nationwide, then New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago would determine the winner every four years and at least 46 states would be subservient to four, where over 50% of the population lives. No candidate would ever land in any state other than the four most populous. Fortunately, the Founders believed that a President must appeal to citizens throughout the nation, not just heavily the most heavily populated areas. The more well-rounded the presidential candidate, the better for all. The Founders also recognized that every locale was different, and citizens thereof had different desires, goals, and priorities not to mention accents. That’s one of the reasons that there is such a heavy emphasis on local representation and government at the state level.

Oh, and the Cubs? They scored 27 runs throughout the 2016 World Series. The Indians? Also 27, hence the tie. However, the rules of the game deem the winner as the team who wins the best out of seven games.

And that’s how the Chicago Cubs won the electoral vote.