Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Limited Government is a Founding Principle

“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” James Madison

“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson

The design of the government under the Constitution was not haphazard. Our Founding Fathers understood that governments can oppress people. They knew it from their own experience—and they knew it from their extensive scrutiny of governmental forms throughout history.

Concentrated power was more than dangerous … it was life threatening.

Despite the risk, they had no choice but to frame a workable government. What to do? A number of things, actually. To prevent the government from becoming overly powerful, the Framers agreed on eight measures:

  1. They enumerated specific areas where the national government could exert power. All non-enumerated areas were off-limits to the national government without constitutional amendment.
  2. They created three equal branches of government at the national level with power carefully balanced between them.
  3. They gave each branch checks on the exercise of power by the other two branches.
  4. They limited the taxing authority of the national government.
  5. They created a federal system with the states acting as a check on the national system.
  6. The term of office varied by government position.
  7. The members of each branch were chosen by a different method.
  8. The restriction against an established religion denied government the claim that it answered to a higher authority than the people.

Concentrated political power frightened the Founders. They believed that only by limiting government could liberty survive the natural tendency of man to dictate the habits of other men. They balanced separation of power with checks was designed to prevent tyranny. The system was meant to slow governmental actions enough to allow due deliberation. This frustrates those who want government to always “do something” about every problem, but it also hampers the government from doing something grievous that affects our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

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