I really don’t know if it is that I am a pessimist, or if I am just more willing to face facts than others are, but I keep hearing that there is an awakening going on in this country, that there is this quiet rage building against the assault upon our traditional values. However, as of yet I have not seen much in the form of action against those who assail these values. In fact, I have yet to encounter a significant number of people who even understand what these values are.
It seems wherever I go I hear people complain about the laws enacted by our government, yet I do not see those who enacted these laws held accountable for their breaches against their oaths of office, or at least voted out of office when they come up for re-election. And if, perchance, they do get voted out of office they are replaced by people who are just as corrupt as they were.
People seem to think that once our government passes a law which that there is nothing we can do about it. That in and of itself shows a fatal misunderstanding of how our system of government was supposed to function. As Thomas Paine said in his book The Rights of Man, “It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive that altho’ laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding generations, yet they continue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent.”
Although people may truly be upset about the things that their government is doing, far too many still go to the polls and vote strictly according to political party affiliation. Edmund Burke described a political party as “…a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours, the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. ”
I don’t necessarily agree that the national interest is a priority of these political parties, but I do agree with the that they are united upon certain principles. It’s just that, in my opinion, these principles which form the core beliefs of the political parties have nothing at all to do with upholding the Constitution or safeguarding our rights. George Washington once warned us of the dangers of political parties, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
When most people vote they are making their choice based upon comparisons between Republicans and Democrats, or more specifically, upon the principles held by the two mainstream political parties. What they should be doing is basing their vote upon comparisons between what the individual candidate says, and what the Constitution says. But that no longer matters as we have become a nation that no longer cares about the principles upon which it was founded.
This party loyalty, without regard to the principles contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights also leads me to ask a question, do you believe it is possible that a nation such as ours could perish? Before you answer think about what I am asking. I am not asking if you believe that the United States, or the people living within it, might suddenly just die off, or vanish off the face of the Earth like the lost continent of Atlantis. The reason I make the distinction is stated thusly; if you think about it, nations and empires come and go all the time. Look at the Roman Empire, although the city of Rome still exists, the empire itself has faded into the annals of history for centuries. So, with that in mind, I once again ask, do you think that it is possible for a nation to perish?
As George Washington was preparing to hand the office of president over to his successor he set the precedent of delivering a ‘farewell address.’ As he was our nation’s first president under the newly established system of government, all that he did during his time as president would become a benchmark by which all future presidents would be measured. It is therefore prudent that we take note of what he had to say for future presidents, and for posterity.
There are two quotes I would like to take a moment addressing, and they will be taken in reverse order from which they are found in his address. The first quote states, “Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.”
The second, which precedes that by one paragraph, states, “Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.”
You may be asking what do these two quotes have to do with the question as to whether it is possible that a nation may perish. I include them because when I ask whether a nation may perish you have to ask what is it that makes a nation? Is a nation merely a specific geographical area filled with people, or is it something more?
Washington felt that real Americans must exhibit patriotism, which according to Encarta’s Dictionary is defined as, “a proud supporter or defender of his or her country and its way of life.” (My emphasis) But Washington also stated that, at least during the time of his presidency, that the love of liberty was interwoven with every ligament of the hearts of the people who inhabited this country. Can these things be said about a large percentage of the people who live in this country today?
Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Confederate Army, once said, “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know where it is today.” It has been my experience that far too many people today have absolutely no knowledge of their countries history, nor the principles upon which it was founded. Therefore they have no sense of what it means to be an American. They foolishly believe that by virtue of their living within the geographical borders of the United States that they are Americans. No, being an American means much more than where you live, it means adhering to the principles upon which our nation was established.
Consequently, since most people do not know the history of their country, or the principles upon which it was founded, it is quite possible that those core beliefs held by the men who drafted our nation’s Constitution, and guided them in establishing our Republic, have, for the most part, vanished from the hearts and minds of the people who inhabit this land. If that be true, then it is quite possible that our Republic has died and what we now call America is something that those who founded it would not recognize.
How could this happen? It’s quite simple actually, our schools no longer teach our youth about the principles upon which this nation was founded. Instead our children are indoctrinated, or brainwashed for lack of a better word, into believing that our government is all powerful, that we are a democracy in which the will of a majority of the people is all is required for our government to enact whatever laws the people want, or which the government says is in their best interests.
Our government did not grow into this huge monstrosity that regulates every aspect of our lives and infringes upon our unalienable rights overnight, it happened slowly the same way a river erodes at a stone. And by virtue of the fact that we have not been taught to cherish our liberty we are far too willing to accept laws which diminish it.
In an 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “This is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of misery…”
Since we are taught to believe that are government is not one of limited powers, it is very easy for them to tell us what their interpretations are of the Constitution, and this includes the Supreme Court, whose rulings have far less to do with upholding the Constitution than they do with flowing with the tide of public opinion. Former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once said, “Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each wave of new judges blowing by each successive political wind.”
In the 1905 case of South Carolina v. United States, the Court ruled, “The Constitution is a written instrument. As such its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when it was adopted, it means now.”
Finally, in the 1969 case of Powell v. McCormack, the Court ruled, “The values of the Framers of the Constitution must be applied in any case construing the Constitution. Inferences from the text and history of the Constitution should be given great weight in discerning the original understanding and in determining the intentions of those who ratified the constitution.”
But today, it seems, no one is interested in the values of men who have been dead for over two centuries. They are more interested in what laws their government can enact which benefit, or protect them, often at the cost of a loss of liberty for all.
So, if what I say is true, that our government no longer adheres to, not only the Constitution, but to the values of our Founders, then what exactly is the purpose for our government? James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, delegate from Pennsylvania to the convention that drafted the Constitution, and one of the original Supreme Court Justices selected by President George Washington, once said, “Government…should be formed to secure and enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind.”
James Madison, father of the Constitution and our nation’s fourth president, said in an Essay on Property, (1792), “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well as that which lies in the various rights of individuals…This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”
The preamble to our nation’s Constitution is sort of like an opening statement which describes the purpose for which the document was written. It states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain, and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
One of the purposes was to secure the blessings of liberty to those who drafted it, and to their posterity. But what is liberty? According to Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law, “Natural liberty is the right which nature gives to all mankind, of disposing of their persons and property after the manner they judge most consonant to their happiness, on condition that they do not in any way abuse it to the prejudice of other men.”
Another of our nation’s founders, George Mason, declared that “All men are created equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing the obtaining of happiness and safety.”
Our Constitution does not promise you anything, it does not say that you are entitled to anything, particularly when it comes at the expense of others. Each of us is free to make our own choices in life, and if perchance those choices lead us to prosperity then that is good. But if our choices cause us not to obtain prosperity, or wealth, then we cannot ask that those who have achieved these things have a portion of their wealth taken from them so that we may share in their bounty. Ben Franklin said it best when he said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Samuel Adams once said, “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”
If you notice the term property is a common thread throughout the writings of our founders. John Jay, our nation’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court once said, “No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent.”
What is property, is it our homes, our vehicles, our clothing? The writings of John Locke were a major influence on our nation’s founders. In Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government we read, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a “property” in his own “person.” This nobody has any right to but himself. The “labour” of his body and the “work” of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”
Years later, a Frenchman by the name of Frederic Bastiat would write a treatise entitled, simply, The Law which described the purpose for which laws where to be written, and how they may be perverted. From his work I quote, “If every person has the right to defend—even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.”
Getting back to Locke for a moment, we read “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command to compass that upon the subject which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate, and acting without authority may be opposed, as any other man who by force invades the right of another.”
And one final time I’d like to quote from Bastiat’s The Law, “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property. But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.
Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.
When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.
It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.”
Therefore, if our government was established to secure the blessings of liberty to the people of America, then how can any law which takes from some the fruit of their labor, in the form of taxes, and provides to others things that they have not earned; or if the government enacts laws which limit our abilities to freely exercise our inherent unalienable rights, how can this government be of the legitimate kind?
Too many people freely toss around this word entitlement. If you ask me, I’d like to see that word stricken from the English language. The ONLY thing you are entitled to is a chance to succeed; there is no promise you will obtain it, only that you are given the opportunity. Laws that take from some so that others who are less fortunate are, as Bastiat said, plunder.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquire too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association–the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”
More than a century later, Theodore Roosevelt would say, “If an American is to amount to anything he must rely upon himself, and not upon the State; he must take pride in his own work, instead of sitting idle to envy the luck of others. He must face life with resolute courage, win victory if he can, and accept defeat if he must, without seeking to place on his fellow man a responsibility which is not theirs.”
That is the first principle we must return to if we are to have any chance of saving our Republic, the principle of self-reliance and responsibility for our own lives. Charity is fine, even George Washington admonished us to be charitable, “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.” But he did not say let the government take from you so that it can be given to others. That is theft, plain and simple.
And secondly, if our nation is to survive, we must stop allowing government to enact laws which infringe upon our inherent unalienable rights. Our nation’s second president, John Adams plainly stated that, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments: rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the universe.”
Fear has caused us to tolerate untold numbers of laws which do just that, repeal or restrain our God-given rights. We fear another terrorist attack so we allow our government to monitor our phone calls, our e-mails, and our banking transactions. We allow them to violate our right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects because we have been led to believe that it is better to give up a few rights to protect us from purported enemies that mean us harm. Yet James Madison warned, “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Madison also said, “It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”
Fear has caused us to pass laws which have restricted our right to keep and bear arms. We fear that guns will get into the hands of criminals or mentally unbalanced people, and therefore we punish everyone by making it harder to purchase guns, or by limiting the type we may own. Thomas Jefferson, quoting from Crimes and Punishment, by Cesare Beccaria stated, “It is a false idea of utility to sacrifice a thousand real advantages for the sake of one disadvantage which is either imaginary or of little consequence; this would take fire away from men because it burns, and water because it drowns people; this is to have no remedy for evils except destruction.
Laws forbidding people to bear arms are of this nature; they only disarm those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.”
In a 1783 session of the British House of Commons, their equivalent to our House of Representatives, William Pitt stated, “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.”
Have we become slaves because we have sacrificed our rights, our ability to enjoy the fruits of our labor without governmental interference? In a letter to John Cartwright, (1824), Thomas Jefferson said, “The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press.”
So, again I ask, are we free, or are we timid little slaves who care more about sporting events or other forms of entertainment than we do for preserving our liberty? Samuel Adams once wrote, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”
These are the principles we have forsaken. These are the principles which made America the greatest nation the world has ever seen. And it is because we have forgotten them, or chosen not to live them that we have fallen from grace and have become the pitiful place we are today.
In the beginning I asked if it is possible that a nation can perish. I think that yes it may, if it abandons the principles upon which it arose. Yet, as Thomas Paine once said, “Though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire.”
America could regain its former glory and stature, but we must be the ones who change. We must stop looking to government to do all these things for us and accept responsibility for our own lives, our own safety, and our own prosperity. Do I see it happening? No, but it is possible if enough people begin learning the principles which guided our nation’s founders and then applying them in our lives, and toward whom we cast our votes.
But, unless we do, as George Washington said, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” It’s in our hands people. If our Republic is to survive, we must be the ones who make the effort to save it.
And if you chose not to, I leave you a few words from Samuel Adams, “If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”