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As years passed, it was customary for communities in the new land of America to set up local governments. Since the attraction of political power is a highly contagious disease anywhere, there were numerous instances of the political misuse of power. It is an axiom that politicians are always with us-and ready, willing, and eager to take over our lives.
However, despotic activities in the colonies must have seemed like “bush-league” stuff to the colonists after the experiences that they, their parents, and their grandparents had had with the tyrannical “pros” on the other side of the Atlantic. When these “locals” (sometimes governors appointed by the King of England) became too annoying, they were “ridden out of town” or the equivalent. Relatively speaking, the serious threat of coercive government among the American colonists had greatly diminished.
Don’t misunderstand. There were outrages in political leadership in certain places in the early days of the American colonies, some carried out under the cloak of superstition, others with different excuses. But, if a bad local situation threatened to become worse and continue into the foreseeable future, the oppressed could pick up their families and move to another colony or move to the unsettled land further west. For over a century, generations of new Americans learned to live free from their related European despotic governments. And they loved it!
But by the eighteenth century, transoceanic travel had become easier, and distances were shrinking. Governmental ties to the mother country were becoming closer, tighter, and more touchy-as a matter of fact, downright irritable. By July 4, 1776, the climax of this renewed oppression had been reached, and the people entered into war to prevent the reimposition of the old-style government from which their parents and grandparents had escaped.
Thomas Jefferson, writing why these Americans were declaring their independence from England’s king and government, stated the situation beautifully. Was distrust a theme of this declaration? It certainly was, together with the obligation to do something to rectify the situation when the distrust turned into reality.
It is must reading. For the sake of brevity, I will shorten and paraphrase Jefferson’s beautiful words: When your government becomes too onerous to bear; when, without your voluntary consent, others assume the power to make your peaceful decisions for you by whatever means, including the devices of majority rule; when others (government) are empowered to decide how much of your possessions and income you may keep for yourself and how much they may take from you; when these others assume power other than to protect your life, your freedom to act peacefully, and to own and keep safe your possessions; when the basic agreement under which the government of your society had been established is violated and you have no reasonable peaceful avenue of resistance, then it is natural law-God’s law-that you should rise up and change the factors that have produced such evil things. Each person has the right-equal with all others-to live peacefully and to act peacefully-and to establish a government that derives all of its powers from each person-and with no power whatsoever that each person does not first have as his own personal natural right. End of paraphrase.
It is well to remember that all governments have two basic characteristics which you may not have thought about:
1. The governed are all of the persons who reside within a stated geographic territory. None are excluded, nor can they opt out without permission, and sometimes such permission means forsaking one’s home and possessions. Government is not like a person choosing his dry cleaner or the supermarket where he buys his groceries. There may be hundreds of different dry cleaners or grocers chosen by the people living within one geographic community. But only one government is permitted.
2. Residents, past or present, have granted to or surrendered, under pressure from political leaders, the power to govern. For most of us, we are born into the agreement we have with our government via our “agent” parents and older ancestors. Good or bad, we inherit our position.
Since every resident will be ruled by the government of a geographic territory, it is critical for such residents to monitor carefully how much power the government leaders have. Does the government have the power to determine with whom you should marry? Does it determine where you should live, what occupation you should follow? Does it decide which doctor you may choose for relief from an illness? We should hope not. Can you see, however, that in today’s world some of these simple questions may not be that easily answered? And a great many more similar questions could be asked. Do you understand why the power of government-including its scope of action-must be precisely and painstakingly limited?
There was consideration given at the outset to our government being made a kingdom. Most were at the time. Some kingdoms exist today. Do the people choose their kings? No. That seemed sufficient reason to reject the idea of the United States becoming a kingdom. Of kings we had had enough. Political leaders must be disposable.
These were the questions facing the revolutionists in the 1770s and 1780s. The Americans would not tolerate the reimposition of despotic government. Now that they had freed themselves from the English king and his government, they had to take care not to fall bravely into the same trap, as they created a different form of government for their new society of free people.
Should they place their governing trust in a professional person or a group of persons? Not a king, of course, but a highly qualified person-an elite. Should they place their governing trust in themselves, their friends, and neighbors? Was there room for insightful distrust? Of the latter, the answer was yes. Still, which threat, in the first years following the Declaration of Independence, was the most feared? Kings? Or friends and neighbors? There was no doubt. Kings were the menaces. Until then, no one had had any experience with a president, congressmen, and democracy.
In a sense, most of the people had few or no qualms about their own people as rulers. The defeat of their former king gave them complete confidence. Kings are not to be trusted. But neighbors and friends surely could be trusted. The new government of the Americans would be of their own making. Not “others” in control-only “us.” Most were positive that coercion from governmental leaders was behind them forever.
Fortunately, some of the molders of the Constitution had the foresight to prepare some blocks for any person or group (king or otherwise) who would attempt to seize improper power. Distrust was a featured premise of the newly independent Americans. The new government of this new country was severely curtailed in its power, or so it seemed. For a number of years, under the watchful eyes of the Founders and the people, the government leaders behaved themselves.
The bottom line of the story was that, after a time, the American people ceased to distrust their government and instead fell in love with it. The general attitude of the American people toward their government became one of trust and love. Pledging allegiance was more than that-it was a pledge of love, often expressed in a “willingness to die for my country.”
We know today that the fear prompting distrust in the minds of a few of our nation’s Founders really was not as strong as it should have been. Their apprehension should have been deeper. As a result, they did not build constitutional defenses of a kind that would “cut down to size” the arrogant politician gracing our government today. The molders of our government back there in the 1780s and ’90s performed a splendid task but, unfortunately, not good enough to save us today. Although they tried their best, they could not foresee how their own people-their neighbors-could become evil when drunk with power. Their distrust of government-of democracy-was grossly inadequate.
The government of the United States of America is no longer, as it once was, a quality beacon of freedom-of free men-of severely limited government for the downtrodden of the world to seek out and emulate. Our politicians have shaped another kind of government. This government is huge, greedy, brazen, without the comprehension of morals, and unrelenting in its philosophy that private individuals cannot be responsible for themselves. It has the power to intimidate private persons who disagree with such politicians-and it exercises such power.
It is a government that has cemented in, as routine, a constant theft of our individual savings, via taxes and inflation. It is a government whose elected leaders of both political parties have enriched themselves in office, together with their cronies on the fringe; and they have learned how to perpetuate themselves in office. And the upset of a longtime incumbent often finds the new representative or senator turned into “one of them,” since the other perpetuated politicos possess all of the strings of power. They can threaten to ruin the newcomer unless he “plays their game.”
I encourage you with the strongest words to build a vigilant distrust of government and politicians. Distrust, acted upon, is the means of survival of a free society for our children and grandchildren. Only in a free society will people advance through the enterprise of free men and women developing better products, methods and ideas.
The warning merits repetition.
Government (operated, of course, by politicians) with more than the barest of minimal power is evil. Distrust it!
Part 1 | Part 2
This is Part II (of two parts) of a speech he delivered at Malone College in Canton.