Thomas Jefferson penned those words in Paris in May of 1788, he was
expressing a truth of human nature well known to the Founding Fathers,
whose design of the Constitution in general, and the Bill of Rights
in particular, was intended to protect Liberty from Government. A
cursory glance at today's government reveals that the design of the
Founders has been thwarted. If you agree, this
site might be of interest to you.
second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence
begins: "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 ..."
I have had the good fortune to visit about
40 countries and on two occasions to live overseas, and based
on my experience, there is no place where a government respects
these self-evident truths, or where citizens enjoy these unalienable
rights, more than here in the USA.
The Declaration of Independence continues:
"That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted
among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of
the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the people to
alter or abolish it..."
Notice that the words are "alter or
abolish." The Founding Fathers believed that the extent
to which their government had become destructive warranted
action beyond altering it. They believed their government
needed to be abolished, and they committed to the task, pledging
to each other their "Lives, Fortunes" and their
The Bad News
Today our form of government has strayed
from its mission of securing our unalienable rights, and although
the breach is not sufficient to warrant abolishing the government,
it is sufficient to warrant altering it. Indeed, the major
threat to Liberty in the USA today is the size and intrusiveness
of the federal government, and it is incumbent upon us, “We
The People,” to bring the government back into line
with its mission of securing our rights, before it becomes
so destructive that our children, or their children, will,
like the Founding Fathers, find it necessary to exercise their
"... Right ... to abolish it."
Where we are today
September 17th is Constitution Day, the anniversary
of the day in 1787 when the Founding Fathers approved the final draft
of the US Constitution. One story of that day is that as the Founding
Fathers completed their work, a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia approached
the most senior delegate and asked, “Well, what kind of government
have you given us?” “A republic, Madam, if you can keep
it,” responded Benjamin Franklin. If Mr.
Franklin, or any of the Founding Fathers, were alive today, do you
suppose they would conclude that we have "kept it"? My answer
is no. At least, we have not kept the republic which was envisioned
The Constitution was supposed to restrict
the federal government. Thomas Jefferson wrote about restraining
the government by "the chains of the Constitution,"
and James Madison wrote that the "...powers vested in
Congress are specified and enumerated..." and that "The
powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal
Government are few and defined." But it didn’t
turn out that way. The system of restraints has failed and
all three branches of the federal government have strayed
far outside their constitutional boundaries. The result is
a behemoth, out of touch with We The People, and out of our
control. For proof, just consider the colossal size of its
financial operations; the vast scope of its activities; the
enormous tax burden imposed on the people; the incredible
power of the various agencies vested with executive, legislative,
and judicial authority, all under one roof; and the outrageous
extent of government interference in our daily lives, all
of which are outside the "few and defined" powers
granted by the Constitution. Clearly, the plan of the Founders
is in trouble.
In November of 2008 the US national debt was
approaching an incomprehensible (at that time!) eleven trillion
dollars, Medicare was facing insolvency during my lifetime,
and Social Security was facing insolvency within my son’s
lifetime. Nevertheless, given the opportunity to vote for
a Democratic presidential candidate who would increase yearly
federal spending by $293 billion, a Republican who would increase
yearly federal spending by $92 billion, or a Libertarian who
would instead cut annual federal spending by $200 billion,
the American voters selected the Democrat. Most history books
will list him as the first African-American president; I will
remember him as the first president to give us a trillion
dollar deficit. And unfortunately, I fear it will be the first
of many. I’m beginning to think that H. L. Mencken was
correct when he quipped, “Democracy is the theory that
the common people know what they want, and deserve to get
it good and hard."
How we got here
Typically, we charge the politicians, lobbyists,
bureaucrats, and judges for this sad state of affairs. In
1985 (when the population of the country was about 260 million)
the Orlando Sentinel Star published a piece by columnist Charley
Reese titled, “545 People Responsible for Country’s
it here), in which Reese blamed 435 members of the U.S.
House (at the time, Tip O’Neill was Speaker), 100 senators,
one president (Ronald Reagan was president) and nine Supreme
Court justices for all our woes: “Anything involving
government that is wrong is 100 percent their fault.”
Over the years, Reese’s column has been updated and
modified (officially, at least once; unofficially, no telling
how many times), and is widely circulated by e-mail broadcasts
every election season. The original column concluded: “
Don't be conned. Don't let them escape responsibility. We
simply have to … find 545 who will act responsibly.”
Later versions had endings such as: “They [the 545],
and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who
are their bosses … provided the voters have the interest
and incentive to manage their own employees”; and, “We
should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!”
I think the point is clear: although they
(the 545) share in the blame, the underlying cause is that
We The People have let it happen. We hired the 545, and we
can, and should, fire the ones who act irresponsibly. Unfortunately,
We The People have not had the interest or incentive to hold
each and every one of them accountable. And, although Reese
does not address it directly, perhaps the most tragic aspect
of this is that most Americans do not have the civic knowledge
necessary for meaningful participation in the political process.
As to our lack of interest or incentive,
only a few citizens actually “hire” the 545. For
example, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau: for
the 2008 elections, of the approximately 300 million citizens
in the USA (and these are round numbers), 206 million were
of voting age, of which 146 million were registered to vote,
of which 131 million actually voted, of which 69 million voted
for Barack Obama. In other words, 69 million votes out of
a possible 206 million votes (only 33% of the citizens of
voting age!) put Mr. Obama in office. That’s fewer than
the number of citizens who could have voted, but didn’t!
As to our lack of civil knowledge, in 2006, ISI (the
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt
educational organization) conducted a scientific survey of civic learning
among American college students. The results were published with the
revealing title, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s
Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions. The
average college freshman failed the civic literacy test with a score
of 51.7%. The average senior failed with a score of 53.2%. In 2007
ISI once again tested colleges students nationwide, and the results
of this second survey were published with the informative title, Failing
Our Students, Failing America: Holding Colleges Accountable for Teaching
America’s History and Institutions, and it corroborated
the results of the first. The average score among freshmen in this
second round of testing was 51.4%; the average among seniors, 54.2%.
Not one school - including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton - could boast
a "C" average. Harvard seniors, who did best, earned an
average score of only 69.56%, or a “D+” (take the 60 multiple
choice question test yourself here).
For their 2008 study on the kind of knowledge required
for informed citizenship, ISI broadened the field beyond college students
to include American adults (both private citizens and elected officials),
ranging from those with no high school diplomas to those with advanced
degrees. The results of this survey were published with the “déjà
vu all over again” title of, Our Fading Heritage: Americans
Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions (take the
33 multiple choice question test yourself here).
Some “no surprise” findings of
the 2008 ISI survey:
71% of Americans failed the test, with an
overall average score of 49%, or an “F.”
Fewer than half of all Americans can name
all three branches of government, a minimal requirement for
understanding America’s constitutional system.
Only 24% of college graduates know the First
Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for
the United States.
Earning a college degree does little to increase
knowledge of America’s history, key texts, and institutions.
In fact, college educators themselves scored only 55%.
Only 54% of college graduates can correctly
identify a basic description of the free enterprise system,
in which all Americans participate
Elected officials typically have less civic
knowledge than the general public. On average, they score
44%, five percentage points lower than non-officeholders.
30% of elected officials do not know that
“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration
Destination for tomorrow
Politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and
judges certainly share in the blame for the current sorry
state of affairs, but the underlying cause is that We The
People have let it happen, and the underlying cure is for
We The People to turn things around. We can start by identifying
fellow citizens who fall into that group of 71% of the population
who can’t pass the ISI basic civic literacy test, and
by helping them to better understand the historical, economic,
political, and ethical values upon which our republic was
built, and the principles and documents on which our freedom
stands. Such understanding is central to informed participation
in civic life. A couple of Thomas Jefferson quotations seem
appropriate here: "If a nation expects to be ignorant
and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never
was and never will be" and "I know no safe depository
of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves;
and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their
control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to
take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
The next job (and perhaps the tougher job) is for We The People
to elect public officials who understand that their first
duty is to divest themselves of the unconstitutional powers
which We The People have allowed to accumulate in their offices.
When elected and appointed officials pledge to "support
the Constitution" they must be held to their promise.
Their interest must not be in making government more efficient,
but rather in reducing its size to the “few and defined”
powers as described by James Madison and as listed in the
Constitution. Their objective must not be in spending our
tax dollars more wisely, but rather in spending less of them,
as Jefferson understood when he wrote: “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.” Legislators and the executive must
be guided by the admonition of William Giles (1762 - 1830)
of Virginia, who insisted on the floor of the House of Representatives
that it was not the purpose nor the right of public officials
to "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but
to what the Constitution and their duty require."
Supreme Court Justices and Federal Judges must stop acting
as executives and legislators, and they must be held to the
judicial powers which are specified in the US Constitution.
The interference, by politicians, bureaucrats, and judges,
with the rights of individual citizens and individual States,
must be restricted by adherence to the Constitution.
The first line of text in the page header of this Web site
(“I will support and defend the US Constitution against
all enemies, foreign and domestic”) is an abbreviated
extract from an oath of office taken by every member of the
US military, every member of Congress, every one of the Supreme
Court Justices, the Vice President, and various other Federal
and State civil servants. And even though the basis for these
oaths, Article VI of the US Constitution, makes such oaths
obligatory, we know from their actions that most public officials
treat the oath as merely a nugatory ceremonial matter, which
is a serious malfeasance. Those “domestic enemies of
the state” include all the politicians, bureaucrats
and judges who do not understand, and act, like their job
is to protect our God-given inalienable rights, and not to
invent new ones, or to regulate the amount of water in our
toilets, or to control the size of the holes in our Swiss
Until We The People change things, we will continue to be the victim
of that trait of human nature which the Founders recognized, and Jefferson
articulated, when he warned: "The natural progress of things
is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
Reversing the "natural progress of things"
Our work is cut out for us. As Ben Rogge *1
once wrote: "Given man's nature, freedom will always be in jeopardy
and the only question that need concern each of us is if and how well
we took our stand in its defense during the short period of time when
we were potentially a part of the struggle."
It seems to me we have two choices: either we reeducate
the current crop of public servants *2 who are
violating the US Constitution, or we replace them. The opportunity
to replace them comes along only periodically (elections, appointments,
and impeachments) but the opportunity to reeducate them is always
present. Fortunately, there is much information and many resources
available on the internet - organizations, foundations, institutes,
educational establishments, grassroots groups, and individual patriots
- to help get the job done. Several of them are listed at this site.
If you’re not already, I encourage you
to become a Samuel Adams–style pyromaniac. As you may
recall, Samuel Adams was the Revolutionary patriot who opined
“...it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather
an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's
minds." I invite you to get out there and set some brush
*1 Benjamin A. Rogge (1920-1980) Dean and
Professor of Economics at Wabash College.
*2 Congress.org features an award-winning software
program that makes it easy for citizens to write (via e-mail or USPS)
their elected officials. Check it out here.
At the risk of oversimplification, I have
loosely defined these general categories of resources:
- Public Policy Links
- Reference Links
- Advocacy Links
- Op-Eds, Monographs, Columns, Letters, etc.
- Quotations from the Founding Fathers and