by Elle Seybold
on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 at 12:53pm.
During this period of turmoil, I have been reflecting on our history. I am troubled by the cultural shift in the U.S. It seems Americans have forgotten what it means to be an American, perhaps they don’t even know where we came from…
A couple months ago we celebrated our Independence Day, which is a secession holiday. After all, the right to alter or abolish a government and form a new one is the foundation of American political thought. It is rooted in the idea that the people are sovereign and not the government.
Declaration of Independence captures the essence of what America is supposed to be and the proper role of government in the American system: “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.”
America is decidedly unique – it is a country founded by a people who had all of the power. They chose to cede some of that power to create a limited government. In contrast, the rest of the world had a “king” who slowly ceded some of his power to the people. At the foundation of the United States, the people were the master, the government the servant. Its purpose was to secure the people’s rights.
By contrast, in the British system (and most other systems), the government was supreme. The government made the rules and the citizens were expected to submit. American colonists said “no” and wrote a Constitution that started with the words “we the people.”
Simply understanding this point is not enough. It behooves us to examine the Constitution. The powers given to the federal government are Article 1 Section 8, where eighteen powers were enumerated. It details that Congress shall have power to collect taxes, excise duties, pay for defense and the general welfare (defined to be something that benefits everyone equally, not aid at the expense of those who must pay for it) amongst other things (such as creating post offices).
In the Federalist Papers, Madison (#45) writes that the powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are “few and defined”. Those powers should be focused on external objects: war, peace, negotiations, foreign commerce.
This country was not created to provide for the people, it was created to allow the people to provide for themselves. There exists a tremendous distinction between securing our liberties and our rights and giving us stuff. The government is not here to provide you with things. The government is not here to educate you. The government is not here to take care of your health, to feed you, to clothe you, to house you. The government is not here to provide you with happiness. Rather, the government is here to allow you to pursue happiness on your own and secure your rights.
It seems odd to me that folks believe the government should give them things – particularly because it does not have anything of its own to give. In order to give something to one person, it has to take it away from somebody else. Perhaps we’ve gotten so removed we no longer understand this basic tenet. Governments are not instituted to use force to take things from other people and give them to you. Rather, they are instituted to protect what you have and ensure other people don’t steal it from you.
What is so troubling is that today, Americans don’t want freedom, they want free stuff. Yet, again, when the government gives you something they must take it from someone else. That diminishes freedom. The servant should not steal from the master.
We created the wealthiest country in the history of the world because of the freedom we enjoyed. Free markets created that. Had the economy remained at little government, imagine the advancements we would have made. We still achieved a lot despite the government created roadblocks.
I hope we can all remember that American independence is more than just being free from England. It’s about being personally independent. It’s about rugged self-reliance. I still believe in our citizens, but somehow, we must find our way back to these values. It is a hard road that lies ahead, and our intrepidness will be sorely needed.