Next up in our tour through the Constitution are Article 1, Sections 5 and 6. They are both relatively easy to understand so I encourage you to read the full text of both sections on your own. But as with so many parts of the Constitution, there is a lot we can learn from them.
One of the goals that I have for my posts here at TheBlaze is to raise some questions that will get you thinking about how government works and why. There is a certain science to government and we need to start studying it and taking it seriously again. We should expect our children to be doing a serious exploration of the subject of government in the same way that we expect them to study math or science. It is honestly that important.
Government isn’t just a matter of picking which policies we would like to live under or which policies we think are “fair.” There are some approaches to government that lead to a stable, prosperous society and others that do not. We have to know the difference between the two or we will never get the type of government that we want.
In this way, creating a government is a lot like preparing a nice meal. When you decide to cook dinner for your family, you don’t just randomly throw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl without considering how they would taste together. If you did, there’s no chance at all that you would come out with something edible.
Instead, you decide what dish it is that you are trying to cook ahead of time. Then you pick the ingredients that will create that dish and prepare it in a way that you know will lead to what you are looking for. Cooking requires at least a basic understanding of ingredients and the proper way to prepare them.
Government isn’t any different. If we just start randomly throwing a bunch of policies into our government without thinking about how they will work together, there is no chance that we will end up with the type of government we want.
That’s why its necessary for us as citizens to study the science of government. We need to understand how government works in the real world so that we can choose policies that will create the type of country we want to live in.
[sharequote align="center"]Shouldn’t we put as much emphasis on studying government as we do on math and science? [/sharequote]
Let’s look at a very basic example of how that would work. One fact of life that we absolutely know to be true is that there are some bad people in the world. Beyond that, we know that bad people tend to be attracted to places where there is a lot of money and power - like government. Because of that, governments are sort of like bad people magnets. Unless we want our government to be co-opted and used for destructive purposes, we need to take steps to protect ourselves from the bad people in the world.
So as we’re creating our recipe for government we have to understand that every time that we add in a portion of power for the government, we always have to stir in at least an equal portion of protection of the people. If we don’t, our end product is going to leave a very bitter taste in our mouths.
In Article 1, Sections 5 and 6 of the Constitution we see several examples of the Founders trying to find that balance between power and protection. In Sections 1 through 4 they created Congress and gave it the power to create laws in our country. Once the structure of Congress had been designed, the Founders then had to figure out how to prevent bad people from hijacking the lawmaking process and disrupting the government.
Let’s look at a couple of the ways they did that.
Article 1, Section 5
Article 1, Section 5 states that both houses of Congress “may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.” In other words, if a representative decides not to attend a session of Congress the other representatives can force him to be there.
Why is that important?
A majority of the members must be present before either the House or the Senate can conduct any substantial business. So in some situations, a group of Congressmen could stop their house from being able to vote on an important issue by simply refusing to show up. But according to Article 1, Section 5, if members of Congress do try to disrupt the lawmaking process that way, the other members of Congress can choose to physically force them attend the session so business can continue.
If you want to get a clearer picture of how this would work and why it’s necessary, take a look at what happened in 2011 when several state senators in Wisconsin tried to prevent a vote by fleeing the state.
Article 1, Section 6
Article 1, Section 6 states that members of Congress “shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony, and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same.” What that means is, outside of very extraordinary circumstances our Representatives and Senators cannot be arrested while they are on their way to a session of Congress.
In this case, again the Founders are trying to guard against someone illegitimately preventing Congress from voting on an important issue. Imagine that you are a bad person who is in a position of power. If there is an important vote about to take place in Congress, it could be pretty easy for you to change the outcome of the vote by making sure that a couple of your opponents just “happened” to get arrested on their way to Congress.
But Article 1, Section 6 takes that type of dirty trick out of play.
As odd as they might seem today, these types of precautions are necessary because there are always going to be people who will try to misuse or abuse every power that is granted to government. It’s just a reality of life that there are ambitious people in the world who will do anything necessary to control the power of government.
Our Founders understood that well. They were also very familiar with the numerous dishonest tricks that had been pulled to keep the Parliament in England from being able to do business. So the men who wrote our Constitution knew they would have to take steps to prevent similar things from happening to our Congress.
That’s what we see them doing in Article 1, Sections 5 and 6. Each clause in those two sections was shaped in some way by an effort to prevent that aspect of our government from being manipulated.
Guarding our government against the bad people in our world wasn’t just a theoretical discussion for the Founders. It was something they took seriously.
We would be wise to learn from their example and get serious about studying governments from the past so that we will know how to protect ourselves in the future.
Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio and visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com.
Feature Image: Courtesy of Author.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.