A Republic, If You Can Keep It

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

~ First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified 15 December 1791

There is a reason that the Founders specifically indicated that Congress was to make NO law with respect to these rights. It is because true liberty can only be achieved through the absence of law, not the presence of it. This is the very reason that John Adams said that our Constitution could only govern a “moral and religious people” – the “laws” required to maintain our Republic are not those passed in the various legislative bodies, the required laws must reside in our own bodies, in our hearts and minds.

There is an oft noted quote of James Madison referencing “voluminous laws” but citing only this small excerpt from Federalist #62 does a great disservice to the wisdom of Publius. What comes after is at least equally as important:

“The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.”

How true it is that laws are made for the few, not for the many, that it has become acceptable for laws to be selectively created to advantage this group or that, while trespassing on the rights of the majority to do so.

I do not argue that there should be no laws as that would imply anarchy – but I while I do understand that laws to protect basic rights and liberties are necessary (prohibiting murder for example), I also understand that laws that seek to govern all aspects of human interaction are like fractures on the surface of a frozen lake, radiating out from the initial point of stress in infinite and random directions. Their magnitude and reach are impossible to predict as is the degree of destruction and weakness they impart to the ice. You may be able to cross without falling though, you may not – and with every step you take, the fractures spread further and in even more unpredictable directions.

Such is the nature of law.

Publius (Madison) ended Federalist #62 thus:

“No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.”

The stability of which good Pubilus speaks is necessary for liberty. Contrary to our modern propensity to regulate all, Publius and the other Founders understood that since laws are made for the few, there is an inverse relationship between the amount of law and such stability.

The downfall of the American Republic lies in too many laws, not too few. It lies in the substitution of government control for self-control. I think this is what Ben Franklin meant when in response to the question of what type of government we created, he said:

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

More laws augur less stability and therefore, less liberty. An irrefutable truth is this: that which governs best is that which governs least.

3 thoughts on “A Republic, If You Can Keep It

  1. “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”

    –Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the U. S. House,

  2. Aspirations for a good people. A free people.
    For me, words alone can never describe:
    the awe,
    the amazement,
    the timelessness, and
    the accuracy of,
    America’s founder’s writings describing exactly how Liberty and Justice for all is obtained and preserved.

  3. Good sentiments….Good words.

    And YET ……….. Nothing stops the encroachment of the Federal Government from ignoring those Laws and those words.

    Arizona …tries to uphold immigration laws by EMPHASIZING Federal Law….. and it is ignored and the Federal Gov’t acts in violation and says the States have no authority….Yet the some of the Laws you 3 are referencing …Federal Immigration Law…and the 9th and 10th Amendment say the States DO HAVE a certain Sovereignity…. certain Constitutional Rights.
    Arizona… Tries to emphasize our Religious Freedom as espressed in those words you find amazing and awesome Texas ( and I strongly SHARE that with you )……. and in doing so, Arizona tries to thwart what has happened recently in Washington, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah…..WHERE in fact Neither Liberty Nor Justice was obtained or Preserved…..Just the oppposite. Christians were persecuted Legally and Financially for trying to live under those very Words you find Awesome and Beautiful.

    Illinois …ruled in the Star Trucking Company case ….. That muslim Drivers can sue because they were fired for refusing to carry alchohol in their Trucks….based on RELIGIOUS Freedom….. the EEOC was sicked on them via title 7 of the agencies “law”( a NON-elected Gov’t Agency),… So selectively religious freedom is valid for muslims especially to Punish Businesses…..but the opposite is true for Christians and businesses.

    The cases in these 5 states show that there is NO RELIGIOUS Freedom for Christians when it come to Commerce concerns…..that it is completely one -sided in favor of any religion not Christian. And thus the Constitution IS NOT being upheld … however beautiful the Words.

    The Lesson is that there needs to be Push-back….via the 9h and 10th Amendment. And positions like …”we don’t need more laws….” and etc do not do anything to Support nor excercise those Beautiful words……I would argue those positions ( that the Veto was a Good thing) in fact Undermine the Constitution and Bill of Rights….and even our Natural Rights. Thelaw that the Governor Vetoed was trying to UPHOLD our basic Rights as individuals and the Rights of the States. Because they are NOT being upheld now.

    And the Constitution NOT being upheld shows us that MORE action is needed VIA the States …..not LESS action.

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