I have been under the weather since late Friday afternoon. This article began then, and has been fermenting in my head since. In between naps, doses of cough medicine, and my wife’s TLC and chicken soup, I scribbled down the outline for it. I am now feeling well enough to put my thoughts to paper. I am not 100%, so forgive any grammatical errors. But I wanted to get it done.
As Ben Franklin was leaving Independence Hall, he was asked by a woman, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin is quoted as responding, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It was only twelve years earlier that Patrick Henry had uttered the stirring words, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Among the people who occupied the original thirteen colonies, there were those who believed that liberty was so important, that it was worth fighting, and possibly dying for.
These two quotes may seem like they are worlds apart, but in actuality they are closely tied together. The final outcome of the Constitutional Convention was an experiment in which the people were to choose those who would represent them in a constitutional republic. It was by the character of the people we chose that would determine whether our liberties were to remain secure, or to be subject to constant threat of infringement.
I often wonder if our nation’s founders had too much faith in the people to whom they bequeathed the blessing of living in this county, under this system of government.
Our Constitution was not ratified easily. The verbal struggle that took place was often heated and filled with emotion. For instance, in the Virginia debates to ratify the Constitution, Patrick Henry is quoted as saying, “The honorable gentleman who presides told us that, to prevent abuses in our government, we will assemble in convention, recall our delegated powers, and punish our servants for abusing the trust reposed in them. Oh, sir! we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! ” Henry went on to say, “Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? ”
Think about those words for a moment. What power do you, or I, have against our government, when it decides to bring the full brunt of its force against us? None I say, none whatsoever.
To further quote Henry’s speech in the Virginia convention, “A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders? ”
I don’t think that even Patrick Henry could have envisioned the scope of the power that our government wields over our lives today. The IRS can ruin your life due to simple errors in completing tax forms so complicated you need to pay someone else to fill out for you. We have the FBI, the DEA, the and the ATF, not to mention the fully militarized SWAT teams of the local police, who enforce laws which anyone who has taken the effort to read, and understood the Constitution, will realize our government had no authority to pass.
The difference is, that now, the people of this country look to government to solve each and every problem that arises in this country. Yet, when our government was in its infancy, the people understood the limitations imposed upon it.
When James Madison was President, he vetoed a public works bill, sending it back to Congress with the following comments, “Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled “An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,” and which sets apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense,” I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.”
That was in 1817, but now, nearly two centuries later, we have Presidents signing bills authorizing the takeover of private industries, the health care system, and attempting to create jobs.
We have gone from a nation where our leaders understood the intent of the Constitution, and honored their oaths to uphold it, to a nation where our leaders misinterpret, or blatantly ignore it. How could this have happened in a nation where our system of government was established primarily to safeguard the people‘s liberty?
I think Patrick Henry foresaw the dangers of this new system of government, possibly more clearly than did James Madison. In Henry’s speech before the Virginia delegation, he stated, “Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.”
Even Madison was aware of the tendencies of people. In 1792, Madison had a short commentary published in the National Gazette. It was entitled, Who Are the Best Keepers of the People’s Liberties? In it, Madison listed qualities of those who supported the republican viewpoint, and those, whom he labeled anti-republican. One of the quotes assigned to the anti-republicans was, “The people are stupid, suspicious, licentious. They cannot safely trust themselves. When they have established government they should think of nothing but obedience, leaving the care of their liberties to their wiser rulers.” Forgive me for saying this, but that is what I see today, a nation filled with stupid people who trust their government to do what is right, and to safeguard their liberties.
There are those who say that there are these diabolical conspiracies at work to bring about our nation’s ruin. I don’t deny these conspiracies exist, in fact I am certain that they do.
However, these conspiracies could have been negated had we been the quality of citizen that Samuel Adams once described, “He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of this country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.”
In an essay published in the Public Advertiser, Adams is also quoted as saying, “[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
We, the American people are at fault for every problem this country faces. We chose people to represent us who are unwise and without virtue. We chose them, then left them alone to tinker with, and modify the intent of the Constitution, granting them almost unlimited powers.
I prefer to think of the people of this country, as did Madison, “You are destitute, I perceive, of every quality of a good citizen, or rather of a good subject.” It is by the fault of those who because they care so little for the affairs of their government, and so much for the trivial pursuits which keep them entertained, that our leaders have corrupted our system of government, that they have allowed these conspiracies to unfold.
The people of this country, although for the most part nice people, are woefully uneducated as to the principles upon which our system of government was built. They are severely lacking in honor, virtue, and pride in their being Americans.
When this nation crumbles, and crumble it will, it will be upon the shoulders of each and every person living here that the guilt will lie. I just hope they don’t interrupt your precious TV shows to announce the news to you.