In 1784 a bill was introduced into the Virginia State Legislature which would have taken taxes, which were collected in the form of an assessment, and used them to fund religious teaching. Should the bill pass, those paying this assessment would have been allowed to designate which sect, or minister, to which their taxes would go.
James Madison opposed this bill, and in opposition to it he wrote what many consider to be his finest work, his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. In it Madison maintained that, “… in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.” He felt that by enacting a law which imposed an assessment upon the people the Legislature would be taking the matters of religion out of the hands of the people and giving, at least a portion of it, to the Legislature.
But there is something else that Madison said in that document that I would like to draw your attention to. In his remonstrance against this assessment Madison reminded the people of Virginia of their recent opposition to the tyranny of King George III by saying, “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties–we hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
Before I go any further I want to sidetrack a little bit and talk about a movie. In the Hollywood film National Treasure, starring Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger, there was a scene when Cage’s character, Benjamin Gates, is standing in front of the Declaration of Independence reciting a passage from it to his cohort Riley Poole. Gates then says, “People don’t talk like that anymore.” I’d like to take that a step further; people don’t think like that anymore either.
You know, our Founding Fathers were not perfect men; the only perfect man to ever walk the Earth was Jesus Christ; so it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to say that our Founders all had their flaws and foibles. Yet that does not diminish the fact that as a generation they accomplished something great; the breaking of the bonds of tyranny over a people and the establishment of a system of government they hoped would secure the liberty they had obtained for future generations yet unborn.
Those we call our Founders did not have all the modern day conveniences and contrivances we do, their lives consisted of their families, their devotion to God, (most of them anyway), and their steadfast defense of their rights. What free time they did have was not spent glued to some electronic device, it was spent immersed in books. Many of them, even the ones I despise such as Alexander Hamilton, were self taught in the knowledge they had. Hamilton himself once said, “Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have is this. When I have a subject in mind. I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it… the effort which I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.”
It was this expansive knowledge of history, philosophy, and political systems that allowed them to evolve from the thinking that rights are bestowed upon people by their government to the belief that rights are inherent in every human being, and that governments are instituted to protect those rights; not destroy them. This line of thought was taken, somewhat, from men like John Locke, whose Second Treatise on Civil Governments had a bit impact on their thinking.
That is why Madison said what he did when he wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance; “The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.” Madison realized that once a people allow a precedent to be set for the violation of their rights that it would be much harder to resist future encroachments upon those rights; that it was better to resist them from the first attempts at encroachment than it was to wait until precedents had been set, or they became strengthened by continued exercise.
If you were to undertake a study of the events which ultimately led to the War for Independence, you will see that many did not wait until King George, or Parliament repealed the laws the Colonists believed violated their basic rights; they resisted them from the get go. Although those laws, or decrees if you will, had the name of law, according to many of the Colonists, including the Son’s of Liberty, they were invalid on their face because they were a violation of their most basic rights…so they resisted them in the best manner they could.
That resistance came in many forms, such as the Boston Tea Party where the Son’s of Liberty dumped 342 chests of tea belonging to British merchants into Boston Harbor. But other forms of resistance also took place. Some simply refused to comply with the laws passed by King George and Parliament, while others vandalized the offices of those charged with enforcing the King’s laws, and some even went so far as to physically assault those who sought to enforce those laws upon them. Of course the final, and ultimate, act of resistance came when the people of Boston formed up en masse and resisted, with deadly force I might add, the attempts of the British Redcoats to confiscate their arms at Lexington and Concord.
That is the spirit of liberty that beat in the heart of those who rose to the occasion and fought for their independence from a tyrant. Yet just over a decade later Patrick Henry would bemoan the loss of that same spirit, “Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”
Today I would have to say that out of 1,000 people you might be lucky to find 10 in whom that same spirit of liberty still lived, and that’s being generous with my numbers. Today people look to their government to solve all their problems, when government itself is the source of most of their problems; that and a serious lack of the will to accept complete and total responsibility for their own lives.
Just take Social Security for instance; how many of you would become angered if I suggested that Social Security be abolished; that you accept complete responsibility for planning for your own retirement? They say that Social Security is the third rail of political discussion; that any attempt to modify or abolish it results in the death of the career of any politician foolish enough to suggest it. Yet why have we tolerated the government accepting the role of caretaker over our retirement, and so many other things for that matter?
We are told not to confront intruders into our homes, to dial 911 and then hide and cower away; hoping that law enforcement arrives in time to protect us and our property. Is that the nature of free men, to place the responsibility for protecting us and our property onto the shoulders of some government employee; be it federal, state, or local? Is it a sign of being free that if we do take matters into our own hands we may be found guilty of a crime and sent to prison…for what, defending what is rightfully ours?
Did not Samuel Adams once say, “Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can…”? He did not say, in the best manner they can according to the laws passed by their government. Thomas Jefferson once said, “…rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’; because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”
If it is our right to defend our lives, our property, and yes, our liberty from those who would deprive us of them, how come we sit back and tolerate laws that punish us should we choose to exercise that right? Is that the nature of free men in modern day America, to ask permission to exercise a right, and to sit idly by when we are told we no longer have that right?
In some instances we are told we cannot collect rain water; as though government itself is the producer and sole owner of that water; and we can be fined if we do so. We cannot hunt or fish without a license from government; as though government itself created the wildlife that populate this country. We cannot be armed for our own defense outside our home unless we have obtained a permit to do so; yet the 2nd Amendment makes no mention, has no adjoinder saying we must obtain a permit to exercise this right.
We must obtain permits to build, or modify our homes. I wonder how Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would have reacted if they had to obtain a permit every time they sought to make an addition to Monticello or Mount Vernon?
We cannot open a business without first obtaining a license and adhering to a multitude of governmental rules and regulations. Our right to worship as we please has even fallen under the jurisdiction of our government by virtue of the Supreme Court’s rulings on prayer in school. Yet in his Notes on the State of Virginia Thomas Jefferson writes, “The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
If prayer is a personal relationship between the person praying and their God, then how can government deny them that basic right just because others find it offensive? Is not that the ultimate form of censorship; telling someone they cannot talk to another person simply because others find the act of doing so offensive? Yet that is what the SCOTUS has done when it has upheld bans on prayer at public places such as schools; simply because prayer offends the non-believers.
It is that same mindset that has led to the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from public places and the tearing down and defacing of monuments dedicated to those who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the War of Northern Aggression; or the Civil War as you know it. Today it seems that all that is required for the deprivation of a right is that a majority, and sometimes even a very loud and vocal minority of the people take offense at something; and POOF, THAT RIGHT VANISHES.
That certainly doesn’t sound like the spirit of the people Madison spoke of when he said, “The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
What all of this is leading to is, when are you going to realize that your government does not care about defending the liberty that it was instituted to secure and protect? When are you going to say enough is enough? Where is your personal line in the sand; when government agents come knocking on YOUR door to arrest you for exercising one of YOUR rights? Let me tell you, if you wait that long it will be too late to resist.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Tyranny does not have just a foothold, its entire body has wormed its way inside and your rights are now privileges; subject to the arbitrary will of your government. We have forsaken what Madison said about denying the principle and have gone so far as to openly embrace the belief that our rights are subject to the will of the majority or some dictate passed by a group of elected officials.
I’m beginning to think that people measure their freedom by the extent to which they feel safe and comfortable in their lives; and that they believe it is the function of government to provide that comfort and security for them. Anyone, including me, who threatens to disrupt or take away that illusion of freedom is deemed a threat and is to be ignored or insulted. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again, “Most Americans wouldn’t know real freedom if it came up and introduced itself to them.” In fact, most Americans fear true freedom. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke of this decades ago when she wrote, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”
The thing about it is that you have the right to become slaves to an authoritarian form of government if that is your wish; but you don’t have the right to drag me along with you! Way back in 1793 the Supreme Court ruled that, “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people; and they are truly the sovereigns of the country, but they are sovereigns without subjects…with none to govern but themselves.”
You have the right to govern yourself, or be governed by others to your heart’s desire, but you don’t have the right to force anyone else into submitting to your vision of what power government may exercise over the rights of others. If you believe that you do, then you are saying that you have the right to subject others to bondage to a system of government that deprives them of their rights and their liberty; and eventually those who cherish their liberty WILL begin fighting back; it is only a matter of time.
That’s where the problem lies today, and that is where it began in 1789 when our government was first put into operation; the argument over what purpose this government should serve. There were those in 1789 who sought to expand government beyond those specific powers found in Article 1, Section 8; and what we are experiencing today is the logical extension of the belief that our government was NOT limited by the Constitution or Bill of Rights.
You can only push a person so far before they are faced with the decision to submit entirely to the authority of a bully, or they fight back. You may not see it now, but there are those of us who see the government we live under today is far worse than the one Jefferson spoke of when he wrote, “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers (administrators) too plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.” (Source: Rights of British America, 1774)
The time quickly approaches when the modern day Son’s of Liberty will be forced to either fight, or accept servitude; and if I know them like I think I do, I know which course of action they will take…and believe me, you don’t want to be around should that happen.
This could all be avoided if people would just take to heart the words of Thomas Jefferson regarding the function of government, “A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” (Source: First Inaugural Address, 1801)
But I fear it is too late in the game, that people’s ideas and beliefs are too firmly entrenched to be ripped out and replaced with the belief that government was supposed to leave you free to your own devices and not interfere with your rights and liberty. I fear that the time is coming that those who understand that government is beyond salvage will be called upon to take up their arms and fight it, or submit to unilateral tyranny over the people of this country; and may God have mercy on America should we perish in that conflict.
As Jefferson also said, “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
By my count, America is about is about a century and a half overdue…