Just days before the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a committee of patriotic Massachusetts citizens visited honest John Adams. They were seeking a quotable comment from the great statesman who had fifty summers before pushed, pressed, and prodded his reluctant fellow congressmen to vote for a complete break with England. “Independence Forever,” the physically frail but mentally sharp Adams cried.
On that famous fiftieth Fourth of July, 1826, John Adams and his dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, died. Jefferson’s last words were: “Is it the fourth?” Adams, in those days of horseback messages, did not know of Jefferson’s passing. He breathed his last saying, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
Millions of Americans in 1826 saw the hand of God in the incredible coincidence of having both great men die on the nation’s 50th anniversary. Millions of us still do.
Adams’ words are highly relevant today. We are witnessing a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court who thinks importing foreign law into our judicial rulings is “a good idea.”
The Constitution that this nominee would be bound by oath to interpret does not admit of foreigners’ notions of good ideas being employed to trump the rights of Americans as protected by our Constitution.
Article VI says this clearly:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
Perhaps we should amend Article VI to include “anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State or foreign nation to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
The reason the Founders did not put those words in the original Constitution would have been obvious to them—and should be obvious to us.
They had just fought a bitter and protracted War of Independence against Great Britain. It was no powdered wig and knee britches affair, despite how it looks in paintings. British soldiers and their Hessian mercenary cohorts terrorized Americans in New Jersey with a campaign of rape and pillage. Thousands of American boys died of disease and malnutrition in rotting prison ships—tied up off Manhattan Island.
No American would have dreamed then of applying foreign laws to the new United States. Our independence was blood-bought. We treasured it—as John Adams did—more than our lives.
It’s not surprising that this administration would choose such a nominee for the Supreme Court. President Obama is known to think American exceptionalism is, well, not so exceptional. Everyone thinks their own country is exceptional, he says. The Greeks think they’re exceptional. So do the Belgians. And the Turks.
The Founders would not have agreed. They proclaimed our new republic as a Novus Ordo Seclorum—a new order of the ages. They believed that America was to be “a beacon to the oppressed of many lands.”
The Founders had—in Jefferson’s elevated words—“a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” They did not show contempt for their neighbors among the powers of the earth. But they were firm in thinking the American experiment was special.
George Washington told us why. He said “the sacred fire of liberty” and the future of republican government had been entrusted to the American people by God. A republican form of government was guaranteed to the states by the Constitution. That form of government is one in which the people rule—and are not lorded over by unelected judges, not even those who come from Harvard.
Jefferson answered the argument that citizens of a free republic were too turbulent, too ignorant, too uneducated to rule themselves:
Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Have we now found angels in the form of judges? We may soon witness the elevation of one who thinks we have. For the rest of us, however, the Founders provided a surer guide. Let us have no foreign laws imposed on us. Independence Forever!
Robert Morrison is a senior fellow for the Family Research Council.