Wisdom From America's Founders-III

"A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have."--Thomas Jefferson

The founders of this country were not necessarily rebelling against a "big" government; they were rebelling against one that they believed had exceeded its constitutional authority.  Even though England did not have a written constitution, as we do (and as most of the colonies did), there were certain traditions that had been in place for generations which the Americans believed were inviolable, and thus part of the “constitution” to which Parliament must adhere.  One of those inviolable traditions (or, "self-evident truths") was “no taxation without representation.”  When Parliament desecrated that, the colonists revolted.  And, the cliché, “the rest is history.”

Again, it wasn’t that the British government was so huge; indeed, given the distance between England and America and the slowness of communication at the time, King and Parliament were hardly intrusive at all, certainly as compared with governments today.  The problem was not size, it was what the English government could become if it were allowed to extend its authority beyond its constitutionally recognized limits (recognized by the Americans, but not by the British).  If a government is allowed to take one step beyond its constitutional restraints, then, logically, it can take two…and three…and four…where does it stop?  X plus 1 implies x plus 2 implies x plus 3, ad infinitum.  This is what concerned our founders and why they insisted, when they formed their own government, on having a written charter (constitution) clearly delineating exactly what the American government could, and could not, do.  That way, if there were any dispute on any matter, one could simply go to the constitutional text and see what it says.  Our Constitution is not hard to understand; succeeding generations of politicians, loving power, have corrupted it, or simply ignored it.  We had a “civil war” over that issue—and the wrong side lost, at least from the constitutional standpoint.

So, as Jefferson said, if government gets so big as to provide all the wants and wishes of the populace—“entitlements”—then there is the fear it can take anything and everything it wants.  As discussed in an earlier post in this series, the American government has been slowly doing that very thing over the last 100 years.  With no constitutional restraints that it does not impose upon itself, there has been no hampering what it has done, and continues to do.  We have allowed the national government to define its own powers—the worst nightmare of Thomas Jefferson AND the southerners.  And if Washington defines its own powers, those powers can, ultimately, become unlimited.  What “rights” we now possess as Americans are possessed only by the grace and favor of the federal government.  And what Washington gives, Washington can take away.  Only politicians will never take away anything that will buy themselves votes.

I fear especially for religious freedom.  One has only to look at the history of the last two centuries when tyrannical, absolutist governments (the French during their revolution, the Soviet Union and other communist dictatorships) totally denied freedom of worship and persecuted those who tried.  Our government, of course, has been making inroads in this direction.  We think it could never happen in America.  But, “a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”  And that doesn’t mean only material gains.  There was a reason why the French, Soviets, i.e., totalitarian governments persecute(d) religion (and try to destroy the family)—one is to have no higher allegiance than to that government.  Total, complete obedience is demanded (indoctrinated through propaganda and education), and obviously religions teach total, complete obedience to a higher authority (and families might train their children in ways the government does not wish.  Government controlled education is part of the undermining of the family.  It can’t happen in America?)  Thus, a totalitarian regime must destroy religion.  It is within its very nature.

No, we have not reached that point in America yet—and hopefully we never will.  But the federal government today, as noted, has no restraints except those self-imposed.  Voting hasn’t cured that, indeed, democracy is the cause.  And if our government gets so big…as to give us everything we want--from health care to education to retirement…then it will be strong enough…to take everything we’ve got.