The Founding Vision
April 5, 2010
By Humphrey Stevenson
I caught myself reading the Declaration of Independence. I know, I know, old stodgy document written by a bunch of men who knew nothing about today; heck they never even had seen an iPhone. But, I found that it does have relevance in today’s world and maybe holds the solution to our problems. Let’s take note of a few passages:
Everybody knows this passage:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This is our Founders’ statement as to the existence and the rights of men. Notice that they stated that rights come from their Creator, not their government. The next passage tells us governments’ role in rights of men:
“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This passage tells us our Founders’ view of the purpose of government. It wasn’t to provide people things; whether that is food, clothing, shelter, retirement, health care or anything else. It was to secure the rights given to men by their Creator. They felt that when men were secure in their rights, they could provide for themselves.
It also tells us where our Founders thought governments acquire their power. Notice that the passage does not say that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. There are many governments that have power without consent (one a little too close to home for my liking). Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. So it is only when a government has the consent of the governed that its powers are just. I think this quote from Thomas Jefferson sums it up very well:
“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men 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.”
Now we see what our Founders thought should be done if the government gets out of control and no longer secures the right of men.
“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…”
Our Founders envisioned a beautiful system of government. They understood that total freedom is anarchy but total government is tyranny. So they came up with a way to have just enough government to have a functioning society. In my view, the Founders looked to the several States to govern the people and the Federal government was to primarily govern the interaction of the States with each other and the outside world.
The Federal government was an invention of the States and was put in place to act as an agent of the States. We have moved far away from that founding principle to a point where the Federal government is the principal governing force over the people and the States are simply agents of the Federal government.
A great example of this is the recent advertisements for the census. The primary message is “fill out the census so that your state can get its fair share of Federal funds to build schools and roads.” I’m all for building roads and schools but shouldn’t funding that be a state function? Why should the people of a state have to fill out a census form in order to get proper funding? The original function of the census was simply to apportion proper representation to each state based on population. But now it’s used to dole out Federal government loot; that they took from the states in the first place.
Near the end of the document, our Founders declared, “…that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states…” and therein lies the key. They did not look to a central, overarching government to rule the people. The Founders looked to the thirteen (now fifty) “free and independent” little nations. We must reclaim this vision and see the States as not just meaningless lines on a map (sorry, GPS) but as a group of free thinking individuals that have different wants, needs and desires from the free thinking individuals of another State. We must understand that any big government “solution” is doomed to failure and only ends up further restricting the rights of men (and women).