"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
 

When 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.


The Good News

The 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 "Sacred Honor."

 

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 in 1787.

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 Problems” (read 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 of Independence.

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 cheese.


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 fires!

 

*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.


Site Organization

At the risk of oversimplification, I have loosely defined these general categories of resources:

Links

- Public Policy Links

- Reference Links

- Advocacy Links

Op-Ed

- Op-Eds, Monographs, Columns, Letters, etc.

Quotes

- Quotations from the Founding Fathers and others






Links

Public Policy Links
Reference Links
Advocacy Links



  Op-Ed

Op-Eds
Monographs
Columns
Letters
etc.


  Quotes

Quotations
from the
Founding Fathers
and others

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