In 1776, when the American founders crafted the Declaration of Independence, it included this grievance: “For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into the Colonies.”
It refers to the Quebec Act of 1774, which expanded the Province of Quebec’s territory into much of what is now Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota. These were western lands the colonists had their eyes on, upon which they had staked claims. The British had newly acquired Quebec following the French and Indian War, and King George III was setting up this separate government, just north of the colonists, and expanding its territory and freedoms. He made these decisions without consulting his constituents in the 13 colonies, or its representatives.
President Obama for many years said he couldn’t change immigration on his own. In 2011, he said: “I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. And believe me…the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how—that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
Last month, the president issued an executive order. He assured the nation the best way to solve our immigration problem is still through Congress, our elected representatives, but that Congress “has failed,” and “there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president.” He cited as precedent things other presidents have done like this. None approaches the scale of this action.
What about his earlier assertion that the Constitution doesn’t allow him to bypass Congress? President Obama doesn’t explain his reasoning. But, in fact, it is his duty to do so. The use of executive power is the ultimate use of force, and it is given to him alone in the Constitution. It is given only for constitutional purposes and only within the structure of separation of powers. It is the president’s duty to make plain his understanding of the Constitution, to be transparent and predictable in every matter that touches on the Constitution. He already said this matter does.
Two great statesmen, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, when accused of changing their minds on serious constitutional matters, took pains to explain exactly the limits of their actions and the constitutional authority for them. They stood and faced the charge of inconsistency and defended their case to their nations. But President Obama neither upholds these duties nor takes trouble to explain his inconsistency. He simply uses his power to organize his constituency to his advantage without consulting his constituents. This is the kind of leadership from which the colonists declared independence.
Free people choose and control their rulers. Despots choose and control their subjects.