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We find that state laws no longer matter, except when they excuse nonenforcement of inconvenient federal law or parts of the Constitution that the president does not like. We find that agents of the president, such as the Internal Revenue Service, go unpunished as former leaders are recalled, retired and rewarded with pensions.

We see veterans who defended our liberty held in minimal respect, facing enormous delays in promised medical benefits, heaped with novel taxes and kept from seeing monuments to their service.

All this is patently unsettling, even if we now live under a Constitution and electoral system that allows us to peaceably right a listing ship. Today, we need not make recourse to the only measure Jefferson, Franklin and early America had.

The truth is that, because of their sacrifices and insights, we are today free to vote out leaders who act like kings and their legislative minions. It does help, now and again, to see how easily power rides up on the backs of those who feel unaccountable.

If history does not exactly repeat itself, that is only because we have levers of a constitutional government to pull. The shadows from our Founding endure, reminding us why we feel ill at ease. That is why it is worth recalling the writings of the great men to whom we owe vigilance over our precious liberties.

Robert B. Charles, a former counsel to then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and an assistant secretary of state, heads the Charles Group LLC.