It has been commented that I have strayed from my purpose in writing, that instead of trying to educate and inform people that I have taken to criticizing and insulting them. I won’t deny that I have, of late, felt a deep sense of frustration and, even, anger that the things I have written have not been effective in changing the hearts and minds of the people to whom I was addressing them. Nonetheless, I have been remiss and I apologize for being so harsh and critical. With that in mind I would like to attempt to write a bit about the general thoughts and beliefs of the men who existed during the time our country fought for its independence, and established our system of government.
Although there is not a man or woman alive today who was present in the mid to late 1700’s, it was a unique time in the history of our nation, and in political thinking in general. There had always been philosophers and political thinkers throughout the ages, but there was something exceptional about the time when our nation came into existence. All through the ages most forms of government came about by many ways, most of which the people had absolutely no say in. As Thomas Paine wrote in his book The Rights of Man, “All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must either be delegated or assumed. There are no other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either….” Yet during the late 1700’s delegates from the thirteen original colonies gathered together in Philadelphia and drafted a Constitution which outlined a system of government.
You have to wonder, what guided these men? What were the beliefs they held which they introduced into the discussions on what shape, and how our system of government would function? Sure, there were some delegates who proposed another monarchy in which the executive, (the president), would hold office for his entire lifetime, and would have an absolute veto over any laws proposed by the legislative, (the Congress). But as we all know, that was not what they ended up producing. They created a perfectly balanced system in which a legislative body created law, the executive executed and ensured the laws where upheld, and a judicial which settled disputes in regards to the fundamental law of the land, i.e. the Constitution.
The Constitution itself is pretty straightforward as to how our system of government was to be established, and the powers it granted government, although today most people would be surprised to learn that most of what the government does is not among those powers.
Yet the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Again, quoting from Paine’s Rights of Man, “A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution. The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government. It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organised, the powers it shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the government shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the complete organisation of a civil government, and the principles on which it shall act, and by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore, is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a court of judicature. The court of judicature does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution.”
But I haven’t answered my own question yet, what was it that our Founding Fathers believed that guided them in designing this system of government. If I would have to guess, I would say that many were influenced by an Englishman named John Locke. I know for a fact that Jefferson styled much of the Declaration of Independence after Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Governments. In the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Now take a look at what Locke said in Section 149 of his Second Treatise, “… there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them: for all power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security.”
Strikingly similar, wouldn’t you say?
In the introduction to my copy of Locke’s treatise it says, “The central principles of what today is broadly known as political liberalism–individual liberty, the rule of law, government by consent of the people, and the right to private property–were made current in large part by Locke’s Second Treatise.” So if this work by an 18th century English philosopher was so influential to our Founders, don’t you think it might be a good idea to take a look to see what he said? I don’t know about you, but I found it fascinating, and I’ve read it four times already.
Locke begins at, well, the beginning, what state men are prior to the existence of any form of government. In Section 4 he states, “TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” Again, that sounds strikingly similar to something Thomas Jefferson said. In an 1816 letter to Francis Gilmer, Jefferson wrote, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”
This was the state that men were in before the existence or establishment of societies and of governments, of the perfect free will to do as they felt fit with their lives, as long as they did not interfere with others from doing the same. But what if others did interfere with the rights, or property of another? Well, Locke addressed that as well.
In Section 7 Locke states, “And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation…”
Then in Section 11 he adds,”… and thus it is, that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature…”
Furthermore, in Section 12 he states, “By the same reason may a man in the state of nature punish the lesser breaches of that law. It will perhaps be demanded, with death? I answer, each transgression may be punished to that degree, and with so much severity, as will suffice to make it an ill bargain to the offender, give him cause to repent, and terrify others from doing the like.”
And finally, in Section 17 he concludes by saying, “And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life: for I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him, as an enemy to my preservation, who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me, thereby puts himself into a state of war with me.”
This is how men dealt with offenses and violations of their right prior to their entering into civil societies, they took the law into their own hands and where judge, jury, and, if required, executioner. But not only could this be abused, it also was found to be lacking in that often one person could not provide himself adequate protection against the violations of their ‘natural rights.’ So men formed civil societies to better protect their rights.
But, as Locke would say in Section 23, “This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it.” So when men entered into civil societies they did not make themselves slaves unto those who would administer the law, they merely delegated them just enough power and authority to better safeguard their rights.
Or as he states in Section 123, “IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.”
By entering into a civil society some authority must be granted to someone, or a body of men, to enact laws to serve the purpose for which men entered into that society, i.e. the preservation of their rights. Yet, as Locke would say, that power which was delegated to this body could not be arbitrary, nor could it usurp powers which were beyond the purpose for which it was created.
In Section 135 Locke states, ” Though the legislative, whether placed in one or more, whether it be always in being, or only by intervals, though it be the supreme power in every common-wealth; yet, First, It is not, nor can possibly be absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people: for it being but the joint power of every member of the society given up to that person, or assembly, which is legislator; it can be no more than those persons had in a state of nature before they entered into society, and gave up to the community: for no body can transfer to another more power than he has in himself; and no body has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another. A man, as has been proved, cannot subject himself to the arbitrary power of another; and having in the state of nature no arbitrary power over the life, liberty, or possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind; this is all he doth, or can give up to the common-wealth, and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects.”
This is almost the same thing a Frenchman named Frederic Bastiat would say in 1850, “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.”
So, when a group enters into a civil or political society, they surrender their authority under natural law and give it to the magistrate, or servant whom is to act to preserve the rights of the people in said society. But what if your rights come under attack and you have no means of contacting the agent whose job it is to protect them? Well, in that case the right devolves back to you. In Section 87 Locke says as much, “But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it.” Although that is not explicit in saying such, I would take that to mean that if your life, or your property, is in danger, and you cannot expect an immediate response from those agents whose job it is to protect these things, then you have the right to protect them yourself, up to and including killing the person threatening you.
If you don’t believe that, just prior to the above quote from Section 87 Locke ALSO said, “Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it.”
As long as men remain in a civil or political society, and have surrendered certain of their rights to the body which they have established to preserve their rights, i.e. their life and their ability to own and enjoy property, and that said society functions as designed, the people must allow the government to do it’s job and not take the law into their own hands.
However, as is the case with human nature, people in power tend to try and amass more power unto themselves. Thus, in this instance, the legislative body has overstepped its power and is in violation of the agreement, be it a charter or a constitution, which granted them power. In our system the government we established has created numerous agencies which have the power of producing regulations which affect our lives adversely. This is done under the mistaken belief that the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution authorized the government to do WHATEVER it thinks is necessary to protect us, be it from crime, the food we eat, and, even, ourselves.
Yet the government cannot delegate its legislative power to another body that is not accountable to the people. In Section 141 of Locke’s treatise he states, “Fourthly, The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands: for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others. The people alone can appoint the form of the common-wealth, which is by constituting the legislative, and appointing in whose hands that shall be.”
And if the legislative acts outside its specified purpose, what authority do the people have? Well, as I previously mentioned in the similarity between our Declaration of Independence and Locke’s treatise, Section 149 states, “THOUGH in a constituted common-wealth, standing upon its own basis, and acting according to its own nature, that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them: for all power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. ”
I talk a lot using terms such as oppression, tyranny, and usurpation. I’m sure that many of you don’t really understand the difference between the words. In Section 199 Locke explains the difference between usurpation and tyranny, “AS usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.”
While we may foolishly believe that simply because we have the choice of voting for those who represent us in our system of government that tyranny cannot arise in America, think again. In Section 201 Locke warns, “It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies; other forms of government are liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many.”
I am always harping about violations of the Constitution, yet people seem to think that, if they even care, it is no big deal that our government does things which the Constitution does not permit. Yet it is the ONLY reason our government exists. Without it there would BE NO government. In Section 212 Locke declares, “The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of society, whereby provision is made for the continuation of their union, under the direction of persons, and bonds of laws, made by persons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them, can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one, or more, shall take upon them to make laws, whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection, and may constitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of those, who without authority would impose any thing upon them.”
Finally, in Section 222 Locke states what is the peoples right when the legislative authority seeks to pass laws which are contrary to its purpose, and which would enslave them under arbitrary power, “The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence.”
Yet some say that I talk of rebellion and am unpatriotic because I do not stand behind and support my government. Why should I when it does not stand behind and support the purpose for which it was created in the first place? They say that by openly disregarding laws which I feel are unconstitutional I will bring violence and death upon those who do so because our government is ready, and willing to enforce its laws at gunpoint, I have something to say.
If that happens, and blood is spilled by people who are tired of an overreaching government, then the blood will be on their hands, not ours. In Section 228 of his treatise Locke says, “But if they, who say it lays a foundation for rebellion, mean that it may occasion civil wars, or intestine broils, to tell the people they are absolved from obedience when illegal attempts are made upon their liberties or properties, and may oppose the unlawful violence of those who were their magistrates, when they invade their properties contrary to the trust put in them; and that therefore this doctrine is not to be allowed, being so destructive to the peace of the world: they may as well say, upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers or pirates, because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him who defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbours.”
We the people of this country entered into a political society by establishing a Constitution which granted the government certain defined powers. We did not create a government to babysit us and to care for us from cradle to grave. The purpose for which our government was created is explained in the Preamble to the Constitution, “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.”
Notice that it says secure the blessings of liberty and ensure justice. Now I would hope that those words are understood by my readers. But to be sure, liberty is defined as: the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely; the power to do or choose what you want to. And while we may think we understand what justice is, I’m not so sure we do.
In 1841 John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, came out of retirement to argue a case before the Supreme Court. In his opening argument Mr. Adams gave what I believe to be the best explanation/definition of the word justice that I have ever read. Mr. Adams declared that “Justice, as defined in the Institutes of Justinian, nearly 2000 years ago, and as it felt and understood by all who understand human relations and human rights, is—”Constans et perpetua voluntas, jus suum cuique tribuendi.” “The constant and perpetual will to secure to every one HIS OWN right.”
While I may have overloaded you with input, these are/were the beliefs held by the men who established our system of government. They may not be popular, or politically correct in today’s society, but they were commonly held beliefs in the 1700’s.
I honestly don’t know that even if the people begin believing in these things again we can restore our country to one of limited government. It may be too late. To use a football analogy, it is the fourth quarter with two minutes remaining. You are out of time outs and are down by 35 points and your opponent is in possession of the ball. Not much you can do at this point, is there?
While I’m not giving up, I am a realist. I see society today and I don’t see much interest in returning to the values our Framers held. Sure I see a lot of people mad at the government for screwing things up. But what I don’t see is anyone looking to return to the limited government as outlined by the Constitution. As long as we continue to accept mediocrity, and even corruption, in the people we choose to represent us, as long as we meekly obey the endless laws and regulations which run contrary to the purpose for which government was established, as long as we believe that there is that big a difference between the two parties in this country, I don’t see much hope for anything changing.
Hopefully some record will remain of the writers, myself among them, who tried to warn the people about the state of affairs in this country. Maybe future generations may learn from our mistakes. But as far as us saving this country, I don’t see any hope for that.
So enjoy what is left of your liberty, for that too will soon be gone…