|The United States is like a fleet of 50 ships. If one ship caught fire, the fleet would come to its rescue – throw its passengers a lifeline – no matter if the fire had started in that ship’s engine room or from a missile strike. The fleet would provide whatever was necessary to protect the passengers and crew.
Broadly interpreting “violence,” the framers of the Constitution included Article IV, Section 4 so that people in each state could rely on the full strength of their United States to protect them from harm that threatens their safety.
Today this includes modern forms of violence, because the framers allowed for future possibilities when they wrote the Constitution.
This is not about a current Administration’s policies. Nor about a federal government that is itself often the problem. It is about We the People – our right and responsibility to protect each other.
The most important reason why people form a government is for safety and protection. Even the word government originates from an ancient word meaning “to steer or pilot,” as with a ship or an airplane. First and foremost, our American ship of state must be guided safely toward its destination.
What is America’s Goal?
According to the Declaration of Independence, it is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Furthermore, it is the “Right of the People” to organize their government so its powers are “most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
According to the Constitution,. “We, the People of the United States” are to:
- Form a more perfect union
- Establish justice
- Insure domestic tranquility
- Provide for the common defense
- Promote the general welfare
- Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity
All of these goals require one important thing: a government with the power to protect its citizens. The people who created the government of the United States understood this, and they spelled it out clearly in Article IV, Section 4, which essentially says: The United States shall protect us against violence.
What is Violence?
Violence is whatever violates a person. It is not limited to war or terrorism. It comes in many forms: a rifle butt or bullet to the head; neurotoxins or heavy metals that kill brain cells.
Violence is any harm done to someone or to a group of people. Today, it can be caused by biological weapons, nuclear contamination, or chemical pollution. Contaminated food, water, or air are all forms of violence that can threaten safety and life – some more slowly and subtly than others.
Foresight and Provision
The framers wrote the Constitution knowing that America would be a very different place in the future. They used language that would make sense in centuries to come. Because they understood human nature and knew we are our own worst enemy, they made sure that the Constitution provided a legal way for us to protect ourselves, even from self-inflicted harms.
They realized that danger could originate from inside our borders as well as from outside. Therefore, no matter the source of violence threatening the safety of Americans, they gave the federal government the power to protect – and the obligation to do so.
Heart of the Constitution
Article IV, Section 4 was not an afterthought. It is not an Amendment to the Constitution. It is the essential rationale for our federal government’s very existence. The intention and responsibility expressed in this clause is at the core the U.S. Constitution.
From his study of the Constitutional Convention, former environmental attorney Michael Diamond sees in the domestic violence clause even more than the lifeline that ensures our basic need for safety. It also embodies the fundamental responsibility we have toward one another.
The United States (We) Shall Protect Us
In a sense, Article IV, Section 4 is a “Bill of Responsibilities” – a counterpoint to the Bill of Rights that followed. Today, we demand our rights as Americans, but overlook our responsibilities.
This is not about a government that is so often counterproductive, incompetent, or corrupt. It is not about anonymous bureaucrats making irresponsible or selfish decisions.
A United People Protect Each Other
It is about a national team effort to protect each other. We the people have been given the mandate to determine the action needed to ensure our own safety. If we unite.
Diamond cautions that “representational government (as we have it) without citizen involvement insures failure. Every person and every organization must devote some portion of every day to assuring survival in this environmental crisis. There can be no passengers – only crew – on a sinking ship.”
This clause can “become the glue that allows people to come together as one to change the face of this country and world. . . It is the means by which we can change this greed-driven world to one of love and concern as we put into effect the obligation of us all, using Article IV, Section 4, to care for and protect each other.”
Never before has humanity faced the new forms of violence that assault us today, but there’s no doubt that the founders would point to the lifeline they left us and say, “Here is the power to protect yourselves. Use it!”