Every once in a blue moon somebody will respond to one of my commentaries with something along the lines of, “You know Neal, you sure bitch a lot about how screwed up things are, but you never seem to offer any solutions.” This article is written with those people in mind, although what I have to say may not be what they wanted to hear.
Most people, not all, but most are simply looking for a candidate who has all the answers to the problems this country faces. They simply want to be able to elect somebody to handle things so that they can go back to enjoying their lives while they foolishly believe that the country is in good hands. Among those who feel this way the population is pretty much divided between the two main political parties; republican and democrat.
I could end this article right here with the following quote from Thomas Jefferson, taken from his Notes on the State of Virginia, “It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.” However, seeing as how I simply cannot resist, I will continue speaking with that thought in mind.
Our founding fathers, the guys who actually created this system of government, the guys nobody today seems to care much about, actually knew what they were doing. Over the course of their lives they studied history and the various forms of government that had existed and they understood the strengths and weaknesses of them all.
Our system of government was designed primarily to preserve and protect the liberty of the people who inhabited this nation, with the general management and protection of the country as its secondary purpose. It was never their intent that government be this all intrusive entity that regulated and controlled nearly every aspect of our lives. Remember, as John Adams said, we were to be a nation of laws, not of men. And remember what Abraham Lincoln said at the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address, that our federal government was a “…government of the people, by the people, for the people…”
Government was created by us, (at least our forefathers), with representatives chosen from among us, to serve us according to the Supreme Law of the Land. They were never intended to be our masters.
But, if we are a nation of laws, as Adams said, then there must be someone to enforce those laws when they are violated. That responsibility fell upon us, the people of this country. In his first Inaugural Address George Washington stated, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Washington realized that the ultimate success or failure of our nation rested not upon those who occupied the seats of power in our government, but upon the character of the citizens who voted for them.
As I said, far too many people simply want to vote for a candidate and then go back to their lives without giving the actions of their government another thought…until the next election that is. Consider this, in a speech given at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Patrick Henry asked, “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?”
In June of 1776 John Adams said, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.”
In 1788 James Madison declared, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”
In Federalist 51 Madison stated a simple truth, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Like it or not, it is the fault of the people of this country, and their ancestors, who neglected that awesome responsibility to, first, understand how their system of government was to work, and second, be the watchdogs over that government. In an 1823 letter to Hugh Taylor, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is the duty of every good citizen to use all the opportunities which occur to him, for preserving documents relating to the history of our country.”
I have difficulty getting people to read, and understand some of the articles I write. Some say they are too long, while others say the quotes I use are confusing. If they have problems with a five or six page article, how are we to expect them to read the Federalist Papers, which take up 487 pages? There are literally hundreds of documents that I have collected and saved to my computer that I would gladly print out for people to read, if only they cared to do so. But alas people would rather watch TV, play video games, or post pictures on Facebook instead of reading Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, or Thomas Paine’s, The Rights of Man. Does this sound to you like the character of people that our founders would have wanted to watch over the “…sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government…” as stated by Washington? I think not!
As Old Hickory, (President Andrew Jackson) said in his farewell address, “But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.” And that simply isn’t happening in this country, at least not in the degree needed to preserve our liberty.
In a supplement to a letter written to A. Stevenson, Thomas Jefferson said, “As the people of the United States enjoy the great merit of having established a system of Government on the basis of human rights, and of giving it a form without example, which, as they believe, unites the greatest national strength with the best security for public order and individual liberty, they owe to themselves, to their posterity and to the world, a preservation of the system in its purity, its symmetry, and its authenticity.”
There has been much ado recently on the internet regarding the matter of secession by states which have had enough of the federal governments intrusion into their internal affairs. I can understand their frustration, I honestly can, but is that the answer, will it solve ALL the problems this country faces?
As Jefferson said, we owe it to posterity to maintain our system of government in its purity, symmetry, and authenticity. The way our system was established gave both the people and the states equal representation in government with the people being represented in the House and the States in the Senate. In Federalist 62 James Madison said, “It is equally unnecessary to dilate on the appointment of senators by the State legislatures. Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.” Yet the states surrendered their say in government when they ratified the Seventeenth Amendment. Now they want to reassert their Tenth Amendment rights or go as far as to secede?
And this whole idea of secession, not that the federal government would ever allow it, (just remember the War Between the States if you don’t believe me), but the whole idea brings up many questions in and of itself. Say, for instance, Texas were to successfully secede from the Union. It would then become a sovereign state/nation of its own. Then let’s say that Mexico decided it wanted Texas back and invaded. Without the support of the Union Texas might not be able to hold off such an attack and would most likely be reclaimed as part of Mexico. Like it or not, there is wisdom in that old saying of strength in numbers, and we as a Union of 50 states are much stronger than a nation of separate squabbling little independent sovereign states.
After all, if people would take the time to learn about the period in our nation’s history when the Constitution was written and ratified then they would know that this was one of the reasons they created a stronger federal government, to settle disputes between the states that the Articles of Confederation did not grant the existing government the authority to handle.
No, secession is not the answer. If those states seeking secession were successful it may provide a temporary respite from the federal government interfering in their internal affairs, but it would not do anything to solve the root problem which is people in general, and what they expect government to do for them.
When I see the people of this country divided along, and fiercely loyal to their respective political party, I don’t hold out much hope for the future of this country. Throughout the history of this nation great men have voiced their displeasure with the concept of political parties.
Thomas Jefferson declared, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself.”
Nearly 100 years later, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests, which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”
Yet the people of this country fall in, rank and file behind these puppets their respective political party endorses, without giving the slightest thought as to whether they will uphold their oaths of office and support and defend the Constitution. That alone speaks volumes about the character of the people who vote for the men and women who sit in our nation’s government today.
One of the things our Founders truly understood was human nature. In Federalist 37 James Madison stated, “It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than promoted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.” Or, to put it more bluntly, Samuel Adams said, “Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.”
For a person to hold office in government, be it local, state, or federal, they first have to convince us, the people, to vote for them. Furthermore, while in office they are accountable to the people for their actions. Therefore, if corruption and abuse of power exists in government, it is either because we choose to be uninformed, or because we tolerate it. There can be no other reason. With information so readily available ignorance is a choice, not an excuse. That is why Madison said government is the greatest of all reflections on human nature, because government mirrors the overall state of the society it represents.
Let it be refreshed in your memory that it is Congress which passes the laws in this country, not the president. Therefore it is the Congress which the people should focus their attention upon. And, as our 20th President James Garfield wrote, “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature….”
I could go on and on for pages with quotes about what our founders, and assorted presidents said about the importance of the character of the people of this country, but that would simply bore you even more. Let it suffice to say that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Charles Yancey (Jan. 6, 1816)
We are ultimately responsible for the character of our government, and if our government is corrupt or inept, it is because we choose corrupt and inept people to fill the offices of our representatives, and, as Madison said, government is but a reflection of human nature.
For our country to change for the better the people of this country must change. They must stop expecting government to do all these things for them and exercise a little self-reliance and self-sufficiency. As Theodore Roosevelt said in a 1902 speech, “The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight; that he shall not be a mere passenger, but shall do his share in the work that each generation of us finds ready to hand; and, furthermore, that in doing his work he shall show, not only the capacity for sturdy self-help, but also self-respecting regard for the rights of others.” Also, as John F. Kennedy said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
In his farewell address to Congress, Ron Paul said the following, “Our Constitution, which was intended to limit government power and abuse, has failed. The Founders warned that a free society depends on a virtuous and moral people. The current crisis reflects that their concerns are justified.”
In a speech delivered to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, James Monroe may have been prophesying the future of this country when he said, “How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.”
Furthermore, from The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, (1776), John Witherspoon writes, “Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”
And in closing, two quotes we must all consider very closely. First, from The History of the United States, Noah Webster is quoted as saying, “Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God [Exodus 18:21]. . . . If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted . . . If our government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”
And finally, Samuel Adams said, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual–or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.”
If you want my honest, unbiased opinion, there is no solution to the problems this country faces. This nation has seen its better days and things will only get worse from here on out. It’s not that it couldn’t be changed for the better, it is just that I think it won’t. I don’t think the majority of the people have it in them to put forth the effort to change, or quite honestly, care to change. So things will only continue to get worse until it all comes crumbling down around our feet.
Does that mean I’m giving up? No, I am only being a realist based upon what I have observed in human nature. I am preparing for the eventual downfall, and if you were wise you would be too. But then again, if you were wise you wouldn’t be voting the way you do.
That is all, you can go back to your TV’s now…
November 23, 2012
~ The Author ~
Neal Ross can be reached for comments at email@example.com.
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