And Involuntary Servitude
in and around the Beltway, a local talk-radio host started the day
with a bright idea: Lets put welfare recipients to
This brainstorm was inspired, as you might guess, by the news footage of
rioting and looting in New Orleans.
The idea of nonmilitary
national service has a stubborn charm for many Americans
who should know better. Even William Buckley has endorsed it. So do some of
my liberal friends. If the government is paying people money, shouldnt
it be able to require something of them in return? Even rich people
occasionally speak of giving something back to the
What we are talking about here, of
course, is slavery, more delicately called involuntary
servitude not giving something back, but taking something
that isnt yours. Military conscription, or the draft, falls under the
same heading, a violation of the unalienable right to life and liberty.
American courts have always
exempted the draft from the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition against
slavery. The courts do the same for taxes. If the government owns you and
your labor, including your property, the thinking seems to run, it isnt
But the essence of slavery
doesnt lie in who owns you; it lies in the mere fact of your being
owned at all. The key term is involuntary. Private chattel slavery has
been replaced by state slavery, disguised by the genial rhetoric of
democracy. Slavery becomes giving something back, everyone doing his part,
and so on. One writer speaks loftily of an ethic of common
All such talk obscures the
essential element of force organized state coercion under the forms
One caller to the talk show got it
right: national service, he pointed out, is unconstitutional; and
so are welfare programs, which the government has no authority to create.
The U.S. Constitution was an
ingenious but unsuccessful attempt to specify and thereby limit the powers
of the Federal Government. By listing those powers in Article I, it implicitly
(and, in the Tenth Amendment, explicitly) forbade the exercise of other,
unlisted powers. This was supposed to guarantee lawful government.
But the Federal Government has
been trying to circumvent its own Constitution ever since. One essential
method has been to make its own courts the final judge of how broadly its
powers are to be construed. This allows the courts, in effect, to rewrite the
contract without the consent of anyone else, making the Constitution, as
Jefferson put it, a blank paper by construction.
And of course if the Constitution
means whatever the Federal Government wants it to mean, its not
going to inhibit the Federal Government. Its whole purpose is defeated. That
government will be free to claim all the powers it wants which is
exactly what has happened.
The Thirteenth Amendment
forbids slavery and involuntary servitude. But if Federal
courts rule that the draft and confiscatory taxes dont fall under
that prohibition, then the amendment will be almost useless in protecting our
freedom from the Federal Government itself.
In this way the government has
been able to get away with claiming thousands of powers never
constitutionally granted to it, and with ignoring most limits expressly placed
on it. The Constitution has virtually ceased to exist, and the government can
pass laws that are themselves lawless.
If the Federal Government violates
the Constitution, there is an obvious remedy: The people should be free to
defend themselves by declaring that it has forfeited its lawful authority and
refusing to obey it. This simple solution is called secession.
But of course this is forbidden.
The government claims an unconditional right to our obedience, no matter
what it does or demands. In principle, we are its slaves. Yet it tells us not
only that were free, but also that its defending our freedom
when it wages wars and drafts us to fight those wars.
These are the simple, bare bones
of the situation. Most Americans are content to be government slaves and
parrot the slogans were taught. But a growing number, fortunately,
want to think the whole business through again.
The Constitution isnt the
solution to the whole problem; it may be part of the problem itself. But it
does lay down the principles the government purports to be observing, and
we can begin to address the real problem by studying it closely.
|P.S. Readers interested in this issue may want to visit the website of
Against the Draft, which cautions us about accepting the idea of
national service for our youth. Write or call them at:
Mothers Against The Draft
P.O. Box 656
Sparks, Nevada 89432
(775) 356-9009 or (775) 356-0727