Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What should Limited Government look like?

Credit: Christopher Gadsden; Public Domain
Gadsden Flag, a symbol of the American Revolutionary Spirit

In answering this question, I looked into what those American Founding Fathers who favored a limited government had to say. Here are some quotes that I believe illustrate the answer.

On property rights...

"Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right." -- James Madison; from 'Property' published in National Gazette, 29 Mar. 1792

"It would be impolitic to set bounds to property acquired by industry, and therefore it is right to place the prohibition beyond the probable acquisition to which industry can extend; but there ought to be a limit to property or the accumulation of it by bequest." -- Thomas Paine; 'Rights of Man, Part the Second'

"The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation." -- Thomas Jefferson; letter to James Madison (1785)

On corporate influence...

"England exhibits the most remarkable phaenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of it's government and the probity of it's citizens... I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan (Nov. 16, 1916)

On corporate governance...

"besides the danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil Government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded ag[ain]st in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations, ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses." -- James Madison; Detached Memoranda (1819)

"The idea that institutions, established for the use of the nation, cannot be touched nor modified, even to make them answer their end, because of the rights gratuitously supposed in those employed to manage them in trust for the public, may, perhaps be a salutary provision against the abuses of a monarch, but it is most absurd against the nation itself" -- Thomas Jefferson; letter to William Plumer (1819)

On law and order...

"I have always believed that the best security for property, be it much or little, is to remove from every part of the community, as far as can possibly be done, every cause of complaint, and every motive to violence" -- Thomas Paine; 'Dissertations on First Principles of Government' (1795)

"It has been said too that our governments both federal and particular want energy... This is true, and it is an inconvenience. On the other hand that energy which absolute governments derive from an armed force, which is the effect of the bayonet constantly held at the breast of every citizen, and which resembles very much the stillness of the grave, must be admitted also to have it's inconveniences" -- Thomas Jefferson, 'Answer to Demeunier's Queries' (January, 24, 1786)

On free trade...

"Free commerce and navigation are not to be given in exchange for restrictions and vexations, nor are they likely to produce a relaxation of them" -- Thomas Jefferson: Report on Foreign Commerce, (1793)

On imperialism...

"the Romans fought for Empire. The Pride of that haughty people was to domineer over the rest of Mankind. But this is not our Object. We contend for the Liberty of our Country and the Rights of human Nature. We hope to succeed in so righteous a Contest; and it is our Duty to aquire such Habits, and to cultivate in those who are to come after us such Principles and Manners as will perpetuate to our Country the Blessings which are purchasd with our Toils and Dangers" -- Samuel Adams; letter to Alexander McDougall (May, 13, 1782)

On the infallibility of the market...

"Can any despotism be more cruel than a situation in which the existence of thousands depends on one will, and that will on the most slight and fickle of all motives, a mere whim of the imagination." -- James Madison; 'Fashion' National Gazette (March, 20, 1792)

On Faith...

"...earnest Supplication to God is hereby recommended... That every Nation and Society of Men may be inspired with the knowledge and feeling of their natural and just rights, and enabled to form such systems of Civil Government as shall be fully adopted to promote and establish their Social Security and Happiness"
-- Samuel Adams; 'A Proclamation For A Day Of Public Thanksgiving' (1796)

"That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other." -- James Madison; amendment to the 'Declaration of Rights of the State of Virginia' (1776)

On the purpose of political parties, and the meaning of republicanism...

"In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them. The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all. 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort. 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expence of another. 5. By making one party a check on the other, so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented, nor their views accommodated. If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism." -- James Madison; 'Parties' published in the National Gazette (23 Jan. 1792)

In summary, it seems that limited government is about limiting the positive role of government as nearly as possible to actual necessity. A little food for thought for those who beleive that our Founding Fathers got it right from the start.

About the Writer

Agit8r is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on What should Limited Government look like?

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By Agit8r on October 25, 2010 at 09:46 pm

Wow... they have Manifestos... want to violently overthrow the government... where have i heard this before *scratches head*

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By TonyBerkman on November 05, 2011 at 01:00 pm

Uhmmmm we have Manifestos and want to overthrow the government. I think its a novel concept.

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