Well, I am quite certain the title “Warning: You May Not Be An American” got your attention. And for the rest of this article, it is without a doubt that I will be eliciting a whole range of emotions from those that read this to the end.
Surprise, anger, indignation are just a few of the reactions I expect will be included in the responses to what I am about to write. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and read until the end.
And then ask yourself…am I an American?
Let me place a few points upfront in order to dissuade you from making false conclusions about me, my intent, and my views on this matter. I have spoken with many people concerning this subject, and I almost always get the same knee-jerk reactions…conclusions that are just plain false. Here are the usual, ignorant, top-6 responses I get:
- “You believe you are an American and others are not.” Well, this is sort of true. To be honest, there have been times in my life, that I have not been an American, based on what I am presenting below. But through education, I learned that my ignorance led me to believe in and do things that were unAmerican.
- “Are you questioning my patriotism?” Well, sort of. Not that I am questioning your status as a United States citizen, nor your love of country, your service to country, etc. Where your heart is may very well be patriotic. That being said, WHAT you believe may be leading you to engage in very unpatriotic acts, at least in regards to being an American.
- “You are a purist and are only interested in one kind of American.” Again, no. As you will see, there is quite a variety of Americans. But make no mistake, there are core principles that define Americans that cannot be relegated to an afterthought or to compromise. We will discuss those shortly.
- “Even the Founders did not live up to the American principles you discuss below.” In some ways, many of them did not. So am I saying they weren’t Americans? It depends. I will discuss the dichotomy below between our Founders words, and their deeds on some occasions. And on what was their goal, and should be EVERY American’s goal.
- “Taxation is not theft.” Well, that is a very true statement! Taxation is the method governments use to have its citizens fund the legal and LEGITIMATE functions of government. As you will see below, we will cover the sole legitimate function of government (its purpose) and why the taking of the property of one person and giving to another who did not earn it is not the legitimate function of government.
- “You are a %$@#&*%&!!!” I expect that many will respond with name calling and personal attacks against me for pointing these things out. In today’s political climate, it is par for the course. But please note…people who do such things can pretty much be ignored as they bring nothing to the table, and are most likely feeling the sting of the truth being presented.
To begin our definition of an American, we must first see what the dictionary has to say concerning the word.
The problem with this definition is that it lacks political and historical accuracy. Here is what I am NOT talking about when referring to the word “American”….
- I am not using the word American to define a person solely based on their U.S. citizenship.
- I am not using the word American to define a person based on that they are born or naturalized in the Americas (otherwise, Colombians, Canadians, Costa Ricans, and Venezuelans are technically Americans).
So, what am I using to define us as Americans? My colleague, Richard Kelsey, released a GREAT discussion on American principles in his article on July 4th, America: We Have No Independence Without Liberty. I am going to try not to repeat what Richard said here, so if you haven’t read the article…you should.
The reasons our Founders were so great and that they should be venerated despite their failings is the fact that they were learned men. They were highly educated in history, politics and law. As a matter of fact, our Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were actually not that novel. If anything, our Founders were plagiarists, but not in the bad sense of the term! They took the political theories, the successes and failings of history…and combined them into what we can now refer to as “Americanism.”
An American is a U.S. citizen who believes in and holds dear the core principles that define Americanism. There, now you know. So let’s end the article, right?
Well, no. While I am not paid by the word, this will take a little longer to fully explain. The issue at hand is what are those core principles of Americanism that define us as Americans?
You see, America, in the political sense…was not just a bunch of people who squatted on some land and called it home. Being an American is not solely based upon your citizenship status, who your daddy and momma were, and/or where you live. When we are talking about Americans, we are talking about what has made all of what we have possible. It defines the criteria that has made this the greatest nation to every stride the face of the Earth…and it also calls out to us the abuse and neglect the last several generations have wrought in maintaining it.
Americanism can be defined, at least the core tenets, by the following words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Every American believes in and holds dear the principles outlined in those words EVEN IF at times, we have failed to live up to them. Let me make that crystal clear…while men and women are fallible and will at times, not live up to these principles…those principles outlined in those words are infallible and frankly, perfect.
A lot of people know these words. The issue is that they do not understand them. This is where we get disconnected and why we are having so many problems in our country with the government out of control and our liberty on life support. So, being the political scientist I am, let me boil those words down into four, easily understood American principles:
- Liberty (not freedom)
- Unalienable rights
- Rule of law
- Governments are instituted to protect unalienable rights
I am planning some more in depth articles coming up soon on these principles. For now, let me give a quick outline of each of them and what they mean.
Liberty (not freedom)
All of us are born free men and women. While there are several definitions out there for the word “freedom,” I like this one to understand the context of what I am stating: “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.” But using freedom and liberty as synonyms misses the point that the Founders were making, and misses the differences between freedom and the American principle of liberty.
So what is liberty, in regards to the American principles? Well, freedom is the ability to do anything we want. Which means, we are free to lie, steal, cheat, murder…and a host of other actions that we define as negative. Liberty says: “while I am free to lie, steal, cheat, murder…I will not.”
You see, I read somewhere that liberty is freedom PLUS responsibility.
Too often, opponents of Americanism will state that we want liberty to mean that we leave grandma starving in the streets…that we have no responsibility to our fellow man. Of course, that lie is just one of a myriad of lines taken by the Left in order to discredit Americanism. President John Adams eloquently refuted such notions and outlined this principle when he said about our country and our Constitution:
“[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”
“[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Does that sound like a guy who is for letting poor kids die without healthcare? President Adams perfectly outlined why we should never defend freedom…but should defend liberty, even with our last breath.
This second principle is actually the brother of the first. You see, our Creator bestowed upon us rights. As such, the only person or entity that can deny or take back those rights is the one that issued them in the first place. Since we were made in the image of God, we hold rights which no man or woman can legitimately disparage or deny. Even if you do not believe in God, our Founders outlined these rights in regards to what is known as Natural Rights. Taking from the works of John Locke, our Founders (particularly President Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence) hung the ENTIRE American experiment on these rights. Here are just a few excerpts from our Founders on the subject.
“I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.” President John Adams, 1765
“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Colonel George Mason, The Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776
This is why, arguably, the most important amendment to the entire Constitution is the 9th Amendment, which states: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This is the legal recognition of the unalienable rights of all men and women.
So what is an unalienable right? How do we know when it is a right, and not just a wish or a want? I like to define rights in this way: a right is something we have just by being a human being and requires nothing from anyone else, except noninterference. I also like to add to that definition the caveat that a right cannot disparage or deny a right held by someone else.
What do I mean by that? Well, we should all agree that I have an unalienable right to life. One day, my doctor says I need a kidney transplant in order to live. So, I take you by gunpoint to the hospital and force you to give me one of your kidneys. In this case, I violated your rights. My right to life did not give me the legitimate power to deny you the right to your property (your kidney).
As I stated above, I will be discussing the principle of unalienable rights and how they apply to what we are doing today in later articles. For today, just please understand that ALL U.S. citizens must believe in and protect each and every person’s unalienable rights in order to be able to call yourself an American.
Rule of Law
In order for rights to be protected, in order for liberty to flourish, we must be able to live together. The laws we make and adhere to must be such that they enhance liberty and protect unalienable rights. Which means, that they must be set in stone. What I mean by that is that a law is what it says on paper AND what the lawmakers stated it means. Those two things define the law…they are the keys to understanding any law. As Congressman, Supreme Court Justice, and signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution James Wilson stated in 1790:
“The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.”
In upcoming articles, we will be discussing how we have gotten away from such a simple principle, and as such, how liberty has waned because of it.
All U.S. citizens that want to be Americans must be for the rule of law, not the rule of men.
Governments Are Instituted To Protect The Rights Of The Individual
This is probably the most forgotten and neglected of the core principles of Americanism. While many pay lip service to liberty, unalienable rights, and the rule of law…most fail miserably on the “Are you an American?” test in regards to the purpose and role of governments.
The sole legitimate purpose for government…ANY government…is the protection of unalienable rights. Period! Please take that into your brain matter, let it swish around in there, and coat & bake that into the core of your being.
We need government in order for us all to live together and at the same time, keep our liberties and rights intact. This is why the reference from President Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence is key.
Please remember…governments have no unique powers. What I mean is that governments only have delegated powers. Delegated from whom? Well, the people of course! We delegate certain powers and responsibilities to government to do on our behalf, in order to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare of its citizens (it seems I read that somewhere).
So ask yourself this question: if I do not have the power to come to your home, forcibly take $500 from you, and give to someone who didn’t earn it from you so they can eat and have medical care…how does the government have such a power? If I cannot deny your right to your property, how is it the government can do so?
One concept that needs to be taught in every grade school in this country is the right of property. It is THE CENTRAL right from which all rights emanate. I can hear you now “Jay, even our right to life is a property right?” Absolutely! We have the unalienable right to ourselves, as well as what we do with ourselves. That is what we mean by property rights.
Each and every person in this country instinctively knows that what I am saying is correct. We were told by our parents when we were young not to take the property of others, that it did not belong to us.
The concept I would like to see every child taught is this…there are only THREE ways to gain the property of another person:
- Do something to earn it from the other person.
- They willingly give you their property even though you didn’t earn it (inheritance, gift, charity).
- Steal it.
Please tell me how over 60% of the Federal budget funds programs that do not fall within the first two of those listed above. How is Medicaid “earning it from the property owner”? How is welfare “receiving another person’s property by them willingly giving it to the recipient”?
You see, over 60% of the Federal budget (and we can delve into state and local budgets also) is the government forcing one person to serve another. It is legalized theft. If I do not have the power to force you to help another person in need, the government certainly has no power to do so. As stated above, ALL powers of the government are delegated from the people.
Our Founders were very clear on this. Public benevolence, or in other words, using taxation to provide charity is not benevolent, is not charity and it is something akin to evil. The taking of the property of one person, even if the government is doing it, and giving to another who did not earn it is immoral, it is theft, and it is unConstitutional. Here is President James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, addressing the matter directly:
“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
“Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
So, since it was not in the Constitution at the time it was written and ratified, someone please point me to the amendment where the states gave to the Federal government this power. Never mind, please do not waste our time…it doesn’t exist.
Now as I said earlier, many will want to say that I want grandma to die on the streets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember what I stated above about liberty? If not, go back and read it. All four of these core principles work together. You cannot just keep 2 or 3 of them.
The following two statements outline immoral and unAmerican actions and we should always be against both:
- It is immoral and evil to take from one person and give to another who did not earn it.
- It is immoral and evil to not help a person in need if you have the means to help.
Again, we will go into this further in subsequent articles. But I want each of you to understand that in order to be an American, you cannot support most of what our government is doing today.
Based on what I have laid out above…can you consider yourself an American? Our Founders laid out these principles, yet in their actions (e.g. slavery) they fell far short of them. Does that mean they weren’t Americans? The short answer is…maybe. You see, using the example of slavery…it was the norm at that time throughout most of the world. What the Founders were trying to do was to establish the principles outlined above, and then to move this place and these people on the path towards the ideal…towards the American principles. If you don’t believe this or understand this, I encourage you to read up on what the Founders said about slavery, and what they said about their own failings.
So, yes, I consider most of the Founders to be Americans. And as I stated in the beginning, I have failed to live up to and support these core principles at many junctures in my life. Some of it was because of ignorance, other times because of selfishness.
But if I am going to be a man of honor, to live up to the oath I took on December 9th, 1983 (when I enlisted in the Army) and protect and defend the Constitution and the American principles it is based upon…then I have to face up to my failures to keep that oath and to do better tomorrow.
In my walk with God, I have a saying I like to remind myself of in this regard. At times, I fail. And like a child, I fall and skin my knee. But always, the Lord picks me up, dusts me off and we “begin again.”
Too many in this country fail to be Americans, fail to live up to those core principles, fail to try to move forward towards perfecting America. They are, in fact, enemies of those principles and would like nothing better than they be destroyed. Others, through ignorance, believe their actions and beliefs to be inline with Americanism, yet if they took the time to really study what they are doing, they would realize that they are a part of the problem and that they are working to destroy liberty, unalienable rights, and the rule of law. They are working to destroy America.
We must educate the ignorant and help them become Americans. And we must fight with every means at our disposal against those that mean to destroy the American experiment.
Only when we begin again on a daily basis will we turn things around and become America again.
Are you an American? The odds are that you are not. But the good news is you can be one starting right now. Just educate yourself…and then begin again.
Author: Jay Shepard
Jay Shepard is the Executive Editor of Committed Conservative.
Jay is currently a security analyst and business owner. Jay served 21 years in the U.S. Army, mostly in the infantry. Jay also served as an Army inspector general for four years.
Jay has a Bachelors of Science in Political Science from James Madison University, and a Masters of Public Administration (concentration National Security) from Troy University.
Jay has run several successful state-wide political campaigns, and has been an outspoken advocate for the Constitution, the core American principles, the Convention of States, and military policies.
Jay’s passion is everything to do with the founding of our country, and with baseball. Jay has coached over 30 years at the youth to prep levels.