“The Three Boxes of Liberty”
By Chris Horrocks
The founding fathers, of the United States, bequeathed to us a constitution, predicated upon inspired and enduring principles of government. The research and prayerful thought that went into this document is stunning, the wisdom extracted from the ages, is supernal. Embedded within it are many checks and balances, designed to preserve freedom. Understanding that the people were the only true keepers of the Constitution, and that government checks and balances, alone, were not enough for its preservation, they provided the people themselves with three sacred boxes, with which to defend their liberties from corruption and tyranny.
The three boxes are the Ballot Box, the Jury Box and the Cartridge Box. The ballot box is well known to most, though not widely exercised in some circles these days. This box is simply the box we use during each election, to ensure that our representatives are chosen by the voice of the people. It is fairly self-explanatory. We the people hold the power to select our own governing officials! Instead of being caught up in party politics we would be well advised to conscientiously choose those candidates who will best uphold constitutional law, keep their oath of office, and preserve the liberties and freedoms that were bought with blood and that have been entrusted to us. Too often, we take for granted our civic duty to vote. Voting is also a privilege: among the nations of the world – having open and free elections, as we do – is a rarity. A rarity we ought to cherish and a power we should use more deliberately.
The jury box is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood of the three boxes. The founders intended a jury of our peers to preside over and determine guilt or innocence in the case of any trial brought against an individual by the government. It was believed that a panel of citizens, selected from the community at random, and serving for too brief a time to become corrupt, would be more likely to render a just verdict, through judging both the evidence and the law, than officials who may be unduly influenced to follow customary legal practice, especially when that practice has deviated from its constitutional genesis. Today, most juries are merely instructed to serve as "finders of facts", whose function is to decide the reality of the evidence presented.
Thomas Jefferson held a high view about the power of the jury, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution” (Thomas Jefferson, 1789 letter to Thomas Paine).
The right of a jury to nullify bad laws and to serve as a bulwark against government using law to unduly control its citizens, was spoken of often in early America: In Georgia v. Brailsford (1794), Supreme Court Justice John Jay upheld jury instructions stating "you [jurors] have ...a right to take upon yourselves to ...determine the law as well as the fact in controversy." Jay noted for the jury the "good old rule, that on questions of fact, it is the province of the jury, on questions of law, it is the province of the court to decide," but this amounted to no more than a presumption that the judges were correct about the law. Ultimately, 'both objects [the law and the facts] are lawfully within your power of decision" (John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States, We the Jury by Jefferey B Abramson pp.75-76).
John Jay was a co-contemporary with Hamilton and Madison and assisted in writing the Federalist papers. He was truly one of the founding fathers, and it was his understanding, as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, of the United States, that the jury had the power to determine both the law and the facts of the case. It was common in early America for juries to throw laws out; appeals to the Supreme Court were unnecessary. People have common sense, and any twelve citizens can decide for themselves whether a law should be applied to someone, or not. In other words, a jury in early America under our Constitution has the power to throw a law out, or to determine the justness of a law, before applying that law to an individual case. This was the great wisdom of the founding fathers, a defense against tyranny. While today it goes untaught, and is almost never spoken of in a court room, because judges believe it is their job, or that of the appellate or Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the law for a given community, the power still rests with those twelve randomly selected citizens. If they refuse to find someone guilty of an offense, even in the face of surmounting evidence, they have effectively nullified the law. The power rests with the people, as intended by our founders and our maker.
The third and final box, and not by mistake, as it should be a last resort, when all other options are fully expended, is the Cartridge Box, or in other words the Second Amendment; the God-given right to keep and bear arms. These arms lawfully held by the people stand as the final defense against tyranny. The founders intended the people to be the greatest armed force in the world, both to defend America from foreign enemies, and to stand as an intractable deterrent of tyranny, from within.
The musket of the revolution and the Kentucky rifle of the early 1800s, were the “assault rifles” of their day; they were the most advanced and modern arms available to man. The founding fathers determined that we would always posses arms of equal power and efficacy to those of our government, and yet because citizens always outnumber standing armies, true power is preserved to the people, as intended by our maker.
Because this third box is so crucial to the balance of power, it needs to be defended and preserved by every citizen. The Founders did not give us the second amendment protection so we could hunt, or participate in recreational sports; this right was codified for one reason: to protect all other rights. It is this Author’s desire to never be involved in violence, I believe that like a policeman, or an army, the best and highest use of private arms is as a deterrent to tyranny. Actual use of arms is to be avoided, at all costs, save freedom herself. However, when unalienable rights are threatened, when life, liberty or property are being usurped whether by thief or tyrant, it makes no difference, violence, as ugly and unwelcome as it is, becomes justified; often even necessary.
Judicious and proper use of all three of these boxes; conscientious involvement in the electoral process; proud service when called upon for jury duty, with the knowledge that you determine whether the law is just before you determine someone's guilt or innocence; and remaining at all times ready to fight for freedom, by maintaining fitness with arms; these are the means and ways with which we were intended to protect and preserve our Constitution. The Constitution can not defend itself; we are its only Keepers.