Is Limited Government a Thing of the Past?


“That government is best which governs least” is a widely held sentiment passed down throughout the ages of American history. And while certainty of its author is still regularly a question for debate, whether Jefferson, Paine or Thoreau; its idea clearly advocates in favor of restricted government powers. In fact, early on in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the founding fathers— framers of the Constitution— settled on our need to limit the reach of government.

Thomas Jefferson warned that; “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

Thomas Paine wrote; when the government fears the people, it is liberty. When the people fear the government, it is tyranny.

James Madison wrote; there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.

These earlier pioneers of the American experiment in Freedom understood that liberty is fleeting. If we are not vigilant we will wake up one day and find that government has over stepped its constitutional boundaries and we’ve tumbled down the slippery slope to a government to “big to fail.” Or is that, so big it can’t succeed?

What fascinates me (and at the same time frightens me) is that these warnings from our forefathers were echoed long before we had government run health care (Medicare, Medicaid, and on the horizon Obamacare).  These warnings were heralded long before we had payroll taxes and April 15th was just another day. There was no welfare, no department of Education, no HUD, no department of Health and Human Services, and the list goes on. I can only imagine what our forefathers would think of the size of government today.

I recall the incredulous remarks of the young women who proclaimed that with Obama as president she’d no longer have to pay her bills. She believed the government or the Obama administration would take care of her. She probably got this idea when then candidate Obama told Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher that it was necessary to “spread the wealth around.” I can hear the words of Ben Franklin warning from the grave that; “when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” Or of James Madison, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” Or Thomas Jefferson who said, “…democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

The founding fathers rightly believed that a government big enough to provide you all you need is big enough to take it away. They knew that government, and the people who ran it, had to be restrained by the rule of Law. Let’s be clear, this was not just any law but the Constitution, which would be the spectacles through which all other laws would be viewed and judged. The limiting of the federal government by the constitution is essential to understanding the framework of our government. Jefferson said, “I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’  To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” In quoting the tenth amendment Jefferson establishes its intent, that is, that the federal government be limited to those powers and duties enumerated in the Constitution, to go beyond that would give the government limitless power.

The survival of our Republic depends upon a set of laws that restrict the government, and at the same time protect the freedoms of us all. The primacy of the Constitution is explained by John C. Calhoun, former Vice President under John Quincy Adams, when he said; “to maintain the ascendancy of the Constitution over the lawmaking majority is the great and essential point on which the success of the [American] system must depend; unless that ascendancy can be preserved, the necessary consequence must be that the laws will supersede the Constitution; and, finally, the will of the Executive, by influence of its patronage, will supersede the laws.” The primacy of the Constitution protects us from bad laws and lawmakers. It is the constitution that keeps the three branches of government in check.

Unfortunately, it would appear that we have long since rejected the wisdom of liberty’s pedigree. The federal government has extended its reach into basically every area of our lives. It has infected the free market system so that it is no longer “free” but a “restricted” market. It has recently extended its influence into the car industry, housing market, banking and insurance. Most recently Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, called into question the pricing of health insurance premiums. The Obama administration felt the increases were too high. While the administration may have a valid point, where in the Constitution does it give the President, Congress or any cabinet member the right to mandate pricing practices? Except for illegal manipulation of the market by monopolies and/or collusion the feds should stay out of the market place of goods and services and allow for interstate purchasing of any item including health insurance. This would fall under the purview of Article I section 8 of the Constitution. Yet, we run into problems when government tries to regulate private businesses and over steps its authority. Can anyone point to an article of or amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the government to direct the activities of the free market system?

The collapse of the housing market and subsequent down turn of the economy were a direct result of government interference in our markets. Many in Congress felt that the banks and other loaning institutions were a barrier to home ownership. Liberals argued that people had a right to own a home and insisted that it was the government’s job to make this happen. Subsequently, Congress ignored free market principles to create a desirable result, which produced any number of unintended consequences. Social engineering by the government caused a housing bubble that, in effect, eventually burst.

Additionally, problems continue to arise from the fact that the Federal government is the largest employer in the United States. The Labor department estimates that the government employees over 2 million people, excluding the post office. It is estimated that this year that number will increase to 2.5 million. The average salary for a government worker is $74,406.00. Multiply the salary times the number of employees and you get over 148 billion dollars in salaries alone. This does not include benefits. These figures exclude the 1.5 million in the armed services, and as mentioned, the $850,000 in the US postal service.

Now, keep in mind the billions of dollars in liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—and you have the makings of a Republic our founding fathers would neither recognize, nor had envisioned. They would say that we are on the road to serfdom. Through cap and trade, health care reform, banking takeovers and off the chart federal spending we are headed to a totalitarian society where the government is not only expected to take care of you, but also tells you what you can and cannot do. The only way to arrest the inevitable decline of liberty, as we have come to know it, is to again bring to bear the full force that the Constitutional republic originally proposed. As James Jackson said, “We must confine ourselves to the powers described in the Constitution, and the moment we pass it, we take an arbitrary stride towards a despotic Government.”
James Jackson, First Congress, 1st Annals of Congress, 489

This country has been moving toward a despotic government since its radical beginnings. The founding fathers knew that keeping a Republic would require constant vigilance. In 1787, shortly after the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman interested in the proceedings approached Benjamin Franklin. “Well, doctor,” she asked, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” The revered champion of American liberty replied, “A republic, Madame, if you can keep it.” The increase of government intervention from the New Deal, the Great society and the era of “Hope and Change” have pushed us toward a government that ignores the Constitution and free market principles. These days, government is looked to in order to solve all of society’s ills—undoubtedly a role it was never intended to have.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. Ben Franklin

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