The Revolution

A Forum for Radical Political Change

Our Founding Father’s View of Government

Posted by timpj5 on July 8, 2008

Over the 4th of July Holiday, I was reminded of how our country came about. I started reading about the ideas and the thoughts of our Founding Fathers. Here are some quotes to ponder on:

“…a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which 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.” – Thomas Jefferson

This was the intent for the government of the United States of America to keep the peace and settle disputes and to stay out of the way and out of the pocketbooks of the American people. Man, we sure have “progressed”.

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” – Patrick Henry

I think government schools have done more to destroy this gold nugget. I wonder how many people think the Constitution enumerates the rights of the people when, in fact, the Constitution enumerates the limitations of government in regards to the rights of the people. And how many think the government should lend a “helping hand” when truth be told that extended hand is the same one that will hold you down.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” – Thomas Jefferson

Maybe all those in favor of Socialized Healthcare should read that one. Ronald Reagan, while not a founding father, put it this way, “Nations crumble from within when the citizenry asks of government those things which the citizenry might better provide for itself.” What a brilliant understanding of the role of government and human nature.

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” – Ben Franklin

This one should hit home in relation to our over-reaction to 9/11 and the new “security measures”. I would much rather deal with the occasional terrorist on a plane than the ones who accost me every time I go thru “security”. You may not agree with all of my points of view, but I hope you will ponder the words of the guys who crafted the basis for the grotesque mutation that is our Federal Government.

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35 Responses to “Our Founding Father’s View of Government”

  1. gummymint said

    This is good stuff. The founders knew their stuff.

  2. Dan said

    This is a very intelligent point and Obama needs to re-read the Constitution. The less government control the better, and the founding fathers knew this. Why does our current president not understand this point?

  3. Mat said

    For those that say “Obamacare” is too much government. Why is it that although insurance companies are not part of the government, the way they are holding people down is worse than government mandated health care. That’s the problem! It’s not that elected officials are trying to help people…it’s that insurance companies are way, way, way out of control.

    And that doesn’t need to be in the Constitution. I think our Founding Fathers would be upset if they knew that way the country is out of contol by some of the practices large corporations are allowing it to be run.

    • sarah said

      I agree the Founding Fathers would probably have a lot to say against it.

      • Neo said

        yeah…some of the gov. workers need to stop trying to tear down our system, and actualy build on it.

    • Scott said

      The Health Insurance companys are not the ones out of control. The people are out of control, if people would just by major medical that is pretty cheap. Everyone wants the insurance to pay the bill when they have a cold or a checkup. You don’t by insurance for your car to pay for oil changes, flat tires or new tires or regualr mantience. You don’t hear anyone complaining about car insurance

  4. wes butsch said

    The U.S. Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers are strong. Also remember:
    “…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
    THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. JULY 4, 1776
    We are not the party of “NO”. WE ARE THE PARTY OF HELL NO.
    Sara Palin

  5. timpj5 said

    Wes, couldn’t agree with your post more. Although, I’m not so sure I’d be quoting Sarah Palin, she talks a good game, but still supports John McCain which means she isn’t a true believer in limited government… she’s still paying him back for making her famous.

  6. Russell King said

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for inviting us to do the same. It appear to me that you have made a series of errors from which you would have been saved by just a better understanding of our founding documents and the Founder Fathers.

    1. Cherry picking quotations to fit your premise does not an argument make. It’s particularly funny that you quote Patrick Henry, because he stridently opposed the Constitution.

    But you need not hunt the historical documents for phrases that might fit your premise about how the Founders felt about government, because the Declaration of Independence spells our quite clearly what role the Founders envisioned for the government they were about to create (indeed, what they saw as the natural role of any government):

    “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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed…”

    Governments, it says, are created by humans to protect basic human rights. That’s quite a powerful affirmative and authoritative statement.

    According to the Declaration of Independence, your conclusion that the Founders’ intent for government was merely to “keep the peace and settle disputes and to stay out of the way and out of the pocketbooks of the American people” is false.

    George Washington also demonstrated how false your conclusion is when he created a tax and then sent federal troops to slap down those who objected to it. He also expressed outrage and personal disdain of those who would dare oppose him in what he saw as his correct role. Other examples abound.

    Under the leadership of the Founders, the 1790s in America was an era of consistent, rapid growth in government power that produced some of the most tyrannical policies and hyperbolic rhetoric in American political history. It was an era of burdensome new taxes, heavy-handed enforcement of Federal will, unprecedented increases in government spending, curtailment of civil liberties, and the judiciary act of 1789 which, as historian Charles Beard has noted, “such were the agencies of power created to make the will of the national government a living force in every community from New Hampshire to Georgia, from the seaboard to the frontier.”

    The Alien and Sedition Acts became law and permitted the United States government to deport any foreign citizen that the government found displeasing, and imposed fines and jail terms for up to 5 years “for those who uttered or published ‘any false, scandalous, and malicious’ statement against the United States government or its officials.” (As determined, conveniently, by that government and its officials.) Partisan newspapers (there was, back then, no pretense of being objective, fair or balanced) demanded that “traitors must be silent,” and that “He that is not for us is against us. It is patriotism to write in favor of government – it is sedition to write against it.”

    There’s a heck of a lot more being done there, by the Founders, than merely keep the peace and staying out of our pocketbooks.

    3. The Founding Fathers themselves did not agree: a) that we should have a constitution, b) what should be in a constitution or c) even what the Constitution meant once they’d written it.

    Besides, the Founders did not think that what they thought should guide us forever more. Thomas Jefferson:

    “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment. … Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs … Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.”

    and

    “..(L)aws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

    To buy into your premise, we’d have to ignore too much:

    * there were violent disagreements among the Founding Fathers and the states;
    * the Founding Fathers didn’t just bitterly and violently disagree, didn’t just disrespect each other — some Founding Fathers despised each other (for instance, Adams didn’t like Jefferson, Jefferson was suspicious of Adams, and both hated and were disgusted by Alexander Hamilton);
    * Hamilton felt the Constitution was deficient in many respects (although he did work for ratification);
    * some opponents, like George Mason of Virginia and the anti-Federalist faction in the New York legislature, assumed that there would be another convention in a few years;
    * Founding Father John Lansing believed the delegates had gathered together simply to amend the Articles of Confederation and was dismayed at the movement to write an entirely new constitution and, in 1788, as a member of the New York ratifying convention, Lansing again vigorously opposed the Constitution;
    * Founding Father Robert Yates, with Lansing, walked out on the convention after 6 weeks, saying he opposed any system that would consolidate the United States into one government, and he had understood that the convention would not consider any such consolidation (Both Yates and Lansing warned that the kind of government recommended by the convention could not “afford that security to equal and permanent liberty which we wished to make an invariable object of our pursuit.”);
    * Jefferson was not at the convention and never was entirely comfortable with the new Constitution, believing it could be, at best, a useful tool if carefully applied;
    * that of 55 delegates attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, only 39 actually signed the Constitution;
    * that Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention and had to be forced to ratify (by just two votes) the Constitution through economic threats (Virginia, New York, and North Carolina can also be said to have been forced into ratification, knowing they could not survive outside the new union); and
    * several of the most prominent Founding Fathers changed their minds, over the following years, about the Constitution (For instance James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution,” was one of the most vigorous advocates for federal sovereignty, going so far as to propose a federal veto over all state legislation, during the convention, but later authored the Virginia Resolutions, the classic case for state sovereignty over all domestic policy. (The debate over states’ rights and the role of the federal government was long, heated and ugly, and it was resolved by a compromise that wasn’t accepted for its profound wisdom, but because it seemed it was the only way to “git ‘er done” — the only way to move forward as a single, unified nation.)

    The debates in the state ratifying conventions further exposed the divisions of opinion. The main points of contention were:
    *the division of power between state and nation (what we have is not the result of a flash of divine insight, but of an uneasy compromise ground out over six weeks of rather painful debate and very hard bargaining between the large-state and small-state delegates);
    * a confederation of 13 sovereign states vs. a true national government (or some combination of both);
    * “we the people” vs. “we the states” (from whence does the federal government derive its power?);
    * the powers of the executive branch;
    * whether there was — or should be — an ultimate arbiter of the purposefully ambiguous language of the document;
    * the limits of free speech;
    * the existence, size and nature of the military;
    * the relationship of church and state; and
    * slavery.

    4. Your characterization of Obama’s lukewarm, highly Republican, private-market based health insurance reform law as “socialized medicine” reveals you as one who either painfully ignorant (of the law and of the meaning of the word “socialism”) or a partisan hack willing to fib for his side.

    By the way, long before Socialism was born Founding Father and President John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” authorizing the creation of a marine hospital service, and mandating privately employed sailors to purchase healthcare insurance. This legislation also created America’s first payroll tax, as a ship’s owner was required to deduct 20 cents from each sailor’s monthly pay and forward those receipts to the service, which in turn provided injured sailors hospital care.

    5. It’s an insignifiant error, but your assertion that the Constitution does not “enumerate the rights of the people” is also false. If fact, the Constitution itself says you are wrong when it says, referring to itself: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights…”

    Besides that, there are, indeed, affirmative statements of our rights in the Constitution — it is not merely a set of limitations on the government.

    For example: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

    And this: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Besides, our rights are enumerated by the expression of which among them may not be constrained by law and which among them may be constrained by law under certain circumstances. Given the radical nature of the structure of government created by the articles, many of us see the document as a powerful affirmative statement of both our rights and of faith in us to use them in governing ourselves.

  7. timpj5 said

    Russell,

    Very well thought-out response. I applaud your knowledge of history. I fear, however, you might have read a little too much into my post. I will respond to your comments in like manner…

    1) I suppose you’re the pot and I’m the kettle… or vice versa? I suppose “cherry-picking” quotes from the founding fathers isn’t left solely to me. Your characterization of George Washington also was incorrect as he did not “create” the whiskey excise tax in the 1790’s… that was a tax passed by Congress as part of Alexander Hamilton’s plan to centralize the national debt. Washington, for his part, merely enforced the law… as the president should… by quelling the insurrection.

    As you quite adequately described, the early era of governance by the Federal government was dominated by such legislators as John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, all of whom were staunchly in favor of a strong federal government. You are quite right, there were many hesitations and arguments as to the form or necessity of a Federal Constitution and yet, the Founders finally did agree to sign it. They believed we were better with one than without… As time progresses, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have been better served by the Articles of Confederation… which had their own flaws, but left more power to the States than our currently interpreted Constitution.

    2 (which you so adeptly skipped)… I don’t believe that I made any inferences to the fact that the Founding Fathers were all in one accord when they signed the Constitution. However, to believe that because the Founders disagreed that the document should not be adhered to as a means of protecting our liberties, would be foolish. The Documents power is derived from the idea that no single entity should become more powerful than the other (in terms of the branches of government) and that the States which themselves had to sign onto, should have the power to withdraw from their agreement to protect from encroaching federal mandates. The problem that no one seems willing to admit is that the nature of government is to preserve itself. That nature is what prompted the Founders to devise checks and balances… which were also, it seems, insufficient to protect from the consolidation of power.

    3) I don’t believe that I even mentioned Obama’s health insurance edict (in this post). Which proves that you obviously are reading into things that are not there and that you have an agenda as well. Just because I believe that, on the whole, the Founders understood the nature of good government doesn’t mean I agree with everything they all did.

    To yet again disprove your point, however, I will address the “Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”. The act, as you incorrectly surmised, did not mandate that sailors purchase health insurance… as I’m fairly certain such a product did not exist in the 1790’s. It did, however, levy a tax on sailors that was a payroll tax, as such, and allowed the US Treasury to collect this tax and to reimburse medical centers for their expenses. It also allowed the Treasury to spend any excess funds on marine equipment in the area of collection (ie, Maryland taxes were spent in Maryland, etc). Again, I would be against this as well… just because John Adams and the early Congress decided it was a good idea doesn’t mean I do. Frankly, John Adams was much too influential in the formation of the US Constitution… I would have preferred Jefferson and Franklin’s version much more.

    Back to the subject of Obamacare and/or socialism… I don’t know why you decided to throw the term “highly Republican” into your comment. I can’t tell if you’re referring to the form of government known as Republicanism or the Republican party. If you’re referring to the party, I can’t disagree… I simply don’t care which party came up with it. Furthermore, Obamacare certainly is a form of socialized medicine. It levies a tax and imposes penalties on individuals to coerce them to purchase an insurance product as a means of being a lawful citizen. It also prevents insurance companies from running their company in a profitable manner and imposes heavy taxes on them. In this case, the healthcare reform laws are more akin to Fascism than socialism… although they are two sides of the same coin. Fascism, while not controlling the means of production, merely insists on the proper uses of that property in benefit of the State. Government intervention into private business is most certainly a form of socialism.

    And I think we all know that Obama and many in the Democratic party would have pushed thru a single payer, Socialist health care system if they could have. Fortunately, there weren’t the votes and the people would have rioted in the streets.

    4) Again, you’ve cherry-picked a single line from the Bill of Rights and yet you’ve failed to understand what that right actually does. While the language of that line certainly indicates a “positive” right it merely highlights the negative right of the government to whisk you away in the middle of the night on trumped up charges and locked away in Guantanamo on the judgment of a single man (ie. the King). You are correct though… this is a positive right. 1 positive, personal right defined in the entire Bill of Rights.

    I personally do not adhere to the notion that our rights should be allowed to be constrained by law under certain circumstances. Either they are rights or they aren’t. A right cannot be that which imposes or infringes on the rights of others. But that argument is for another time.

    Thank you for your response…

  8. gabe said

    When the rich received the tax extension was that not government involvement? I don’t want your response because I know that as long as you guys get what you want your happy. As long as you get yours you don’t want anyone else to get any help. I would agree with all of your points but you can’t pick and choose when you think its ok for government to get involved. I did not want government giving tax breaks to the rich. Goverment is bailing out rich companies. I don’t want government spending billions “to spread democracy.” What a joke we have to work on our own democracy before we can “force it on the world.” Now that a few people are forced to get health care its a problem. I don’t want government involved in a drug war that is a joke. If you cut that, cut the tax breaks to the rich and cut defense. We are not the police of the world. We can’t even police our own country.

  9. James George said

    I think we are living in the times of ‘The Losing Fathers’. In this time of age when we have so much, we forget what we all must do, control our govt. Byu not doing so, we are passing more problems on to our children.

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  14. herb brooks said

    the founding fathers who wanted “rights for everybody” didn’t even trust the common man to vote for their own presidents (hence the electoral college). they were extremely hypocritical

    • timpj5 said

      Herb, the founders understood that democracy is a dangerous concept when left in the hands of an un-educated populous. Frankly, there are many in this country that have no business voting… those who are illiterate, uneducated or simply don’t care enough to pay attention to the candidates. I don’t want people who don’t have anything to lose voting, as they will only vote for me to lose what I’ve worked hard for to be given to those who haven’t.

      Additionally, they didn’t want “rights for everybody”, they encouraged the defense of our basic human rights against encroachment by government, especially unelected government officials. I don’t find that to be hypocritical… I find it to be prudent.

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    • timpj5 said

      Tam,

      Thank you for your comment. To be honest, I had frankly gotten out of the habit of writing on this blog and was disheartened by the state of our government. For me, it takes quite a bit of time to write, review and research topics (if need be) so that I produce accurate info. That time is difficult to cultivate with kids! I will most certainly try to write more in the future…

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