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Founding Fathers Respond To The Issues of Today

The Audacity of Truth

It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. ..For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it – Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men – Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775.

Written by Lawrence Sellin

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them – Patrick Henry.

Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them – Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833.

Second Amendment

Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States – Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787.

[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, — who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia – George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778.

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man – Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment, quoted by Thomas Jefferson in Commonplace Book, 1774-1776.

Education and Low Information Voters

Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people – Thomas Jefferson.

Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence – Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833.

Limited Government

I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious – Thomas Jefferson.

An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation – John Marshall, McCullough v. Maryland, 1819.

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress. … Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America – James Madison.

Controlling National Debt

But with respect to future debt; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19 years – Thomas Jefferson.

There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises. To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable. Sir, in my opinion, it would be hazarding the public faith in a manner contrary to every idea of prudence -James Madison, Speech in Congress, April 22, 1790.

Restoring Honest Government

The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first – Thomas Jefferson.

The House of Representatives…can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as the great mass of society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interest, and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny – James Madison, Federalist No. 57, February 19, 1788.

Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it – John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.

If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 33, January 3, 1788.

If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin – Samuel Adams.

Author Bio

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of “Afghanistan and the Culture of Military Leadership“. He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

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