ITS NATURE, GRAVITY, EFFECTS: IN LAW AND HISTORY
An Essay by John Charlton
(Oct. 2, 2009) — It’s a crime rarely heard of, little spoken, widely misunderstood. Yet it is the gravest of crimes against the common good, the public good and the civil order.
The Definition of Usurpation
The crime of usurpation occurs when any person unlawfully arrogates to himself power or authority, either in the form of an office, elected or appointed, or in powers not due that office.
Merriam-Webster’s On-line dictionary gives a precise definition:
Main Entry: usurpPronunciation: \yu̇-ˈsərp also -ˈzərp\Function: verbEtymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French usorper, from Latin usurpare to take possession of without legal claim, from usu (abl. of usus use) + rapere to seize — more at rapidDate: 14th century
1 a : to seize and hold (as office, place, or powers) in possession by force or without right <usurp a throne>
b : to take or make use of without right <usurped the rights to her life story>
2 : to take the place of by or as if by force : supplant <must not let stock responses based on inherited prejudice usurp careful judgment>
intransitive verb : to seize or exercise authority or possession wrongfully
The Legal Definition of Usurpation
The dictionary definition is very similar to the definition of the crime of usurpation had in law dictionaries:
The illegal encroachment or assumption of the use of authority, power, or property properly belonging to another; the interruption or disturbance of an individual in his or her right or possession. (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2)
In a consistently law-abiding, constitutional nation, as such was the United States, the crime of usurpation was unheard of. Politicians and officers of state and federal government entered into office lawfully and were severely checked against arrogating to themselves non-constitutional powers.
To understand the nature and gravity of the crime of usurpation, we must consider first the fundamental notions which underlie it.
The Definition of Justice
Usurpation is first of all an act violating justice. Justice requires, as the Greek philosopher Aristotle teaches, that what is owed to the other be rendered to him (Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, chapter 1). In both the moral order and the political or civil order, it is law which defines what is just, as Aristotle says: “all lawful acts are in a sense just acts” (ibid.). This concept of law, as defining what is just, is also the very basis for the Biblical notion of “the Law”, or “Torah” in the Old and New Testaments. And this is why this view of law, as defining justice, is the fundamental notion of the legal tradition in Western Civilization.
The End or Purpose of the Government
In his famous treatise on law — which was used by our Founding Fathers to write the U.S. Constitution— The Law of Nations, the Swiss political philosopher, Emmerich de Vattel, begins his discussion of the forms of government, nd of the kinds of law, upon the more principle consideration of the end or purpose of government:
The end or object of civil society is to procure for the citizens whatever they stand in need of for the necessities, the conveniences, the accommodation of life, and, in general, whatever constitutes happiness, — with the peaceful possession of property, a method of obtaining justice with security, and, finally, a mutual defence against all external violence. (Book I, Chapter II, § 15).
This harkens back to the ancient notions of government taught by Aristotle, who held that government was a necessary evil, on account of the existence together in one society of both just and unjust men.
It follows then, that each state or nation must define the manner in which it will regulate itself, so as to obtain these goals. Vattel explains in Book I, Chapter II:
§ 26. Of public authority.
We have seen already that every political society must necessarily establish a public authority to regulate their common affairs, — to prescribe to each individual the conduct he ought to observe with a view to the public welfare, and to possess the means of procuring obedience. This authority essentially belongs to the body of the society; but it may be exercised in a variety of ways; and every society has a right to choose that mode which suits it best.
§ 27. What is the constitution of a state.
The fundamental regulation that determines the manner in which the public authority is to be executed, is what forms the constitution of the state. In this is seen the form in which the nation acts in quality of a body politic, how and by whom the people are to be governed, — and what are the rights and duties of the governors. This constitution is in fact nothing more than the establishment of the order in which a nation proposes to labour in common for obtaining those advantages with a view to which the political society was established.
Two Kinds of Law, Office & Crime
Since civil law defines what is just, so far as the civil order is concerned, there must be in every state written laws, and these must be observed. Vattel distinguishes the same two kinds of law, which are admitted in the U.S. Constitution:
§ 29. Of political, fundamental, and civil laws.
The laws are regulations established by public authority, to be observed in society. All these ought to relate to the welfare of the state and of the citizens. The laws made directly with a view to the public welfare are political laws; and in this class, those that concern the body itself and the being of the society, the form of government, the manner in which the public authority is to be exerted, — those, in a word, which together form the constitution of the state, are the fundamental laws.
The civil laws are those that regulate the rights and conduct of the citizens among themselves. (Book I, Chapter III)
Hence, since every violation of a law is a crime, by definition, there are two fundamental kinds of crime: those which violate a law enacted by a legislature, or those which are crimes against a civil law; and those which violate the fundamental laws which establish the very order or arrangement of government, those which are crimes against the Constitution.
Hence there are two species or kinds of the crime of usurpation: the theft of power or of authority conferred by the Constitution of a state, or the theft of power or of authority conferred by a legislatively enacted law in that state.
The Crime of the Usurpation of an Office
In the United States federal government, citizens enter into elected or appointed office either in virtue of arrangements prescribed by the U.S. Constitution, or those described by Congressionally enacted laws.
Most appointed offices receive their authority in virtue of a Congressional law which established them or modified their duties. Most elected offices are in virtue of the Constitution: these include the members of Congress, Senators and Representatives; the President and Vice-President. Some appointed offices exist in virtue of the Constitution, such as those of the Supreme Court and Cabinet.
Thus there are two kinds of usurpation in regard to offices: usurpation of a constitutionally established office, usurpation of a congressionally established office.
The Gravity of the Crime of the Usurpation of the U.S. Presidency
Since the Office of the U.S. President is a constitutional office, and that which is the pinnacle of authority and power among all the other offices; it follows that the usurpation of the U.S. Presidency is the greatest crime of usurpation which can be committed in the United States: because it violates the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution, and the supreme office created by that Constitution, and touches upon every aspect of the political order, since this office holds supreme authority over the military, and is the supreme representative of We the People.
Thus the crime of the usurpation of the Presidency is the greatest crime against the entire Nation, against the Constitution, against the citizens, and against the end or purpose of the government, which is the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of each citizen. Considering that the U.S. is the predominate world power, such a crime effects also all the inhabitants of the earth.
The Effects of the Crime of Usurpation of the U.S. Presidency
There can be no doubt that the crime of the usurpation of the U.S. Presidency would have the most dire effects upon all mankind, for the following reasons:
1. The United States of America is the dominant economy on earth, and as such the President can help or injure more people than any other official in government, by his decisions which affect the economy, either directly or indirectly.
2. The United States of America is the predominate military power on earth, and as such the President of the United States, who can declare a military action without Congressional approval, can provoke wars or assist the weak in a manner unparalleled by any other government official on earth.
3. The Unites States of America is the predominate nuclear power on the planet; at the touch of a button, literally, the U.S. President can destroy all life on earth.
But the usurpation of the Presidency also touches each U.S. Citizen and each American National. It does this first by transgressing the rights of every citizen and national to liberty, in that the U.S. Constitution grants to the people a method for the election of the President which is founded upon democratic, representational principles. When the office is stolen or entered into by an unlawful candidate, that right is transgressed; and the liberty of each one of us to exercise that right has been stolen.
Second, since the Federal Government is headed by the President, the entire Federal Government which pays allegiance to a usurping president, thereby becomes virtually illegitimate, that is, it is in de facto collusion with a criminal, and by such collusion every otherwise constitutionally lawful act it undertake is colored by conspiracy in the greatest of all constitutional crimes — short of an overthrow of the Republic itself. This violates the very nature of the state, since in the U.S. Constitution, it is “We the People” who create the state; therefore an illegitimate Federal Government deprives all citizens, ipso facto, of the government which they founded and which belongs to them and only to them.
Third, since the Federal Government is the unity of the national body politic, whereby the sovereign States stand together as United States, the usurpation of the office of President, by making the Federal Government, which adheres to the usurper, illegitimate, in a certain true and legal sense dissolves this union, and creates the very real potential for a violation of the rights of the several states by the same criminal conspiracy in the Federal government.
Thus it is clear that the crime of usurpation of the office of President is the most grave of all crimes, the one which affects in the most fundamental manner the liberty of all citizens, the rights of all the States, and puts in economic and mortal danger the lives of everyone on the globe. For this reason, one cannot take lightly the danger arising therefrom, and hence all U.S. citizens who owe allegiance to the Nation must with every possible and lawful means seek the prosecution of the criminals involved in such a travesty of justice, for the very existence of America is threatened.
In conclusion it is very proper to cite the words of our first President, George Washington, given during his final address, before retiring from office, who warned us of just this danger:
Let there be no change by usurpation; for . . . it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.