When I first began studying the Constitution in an effort to better understand how our system of government was supposed to operate I looked to the Federalist Papers as the definitive explanation of our Constitution. That was years ago and I have since come to realize that the Federalist Papers are utter bullshit; a well written ad campaign designed to sell the Constitution to the people of New York. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain some real gems as far as quotes go, it only means that they are slick essays that promote the so-called benefits of the Constitution while glossing over its deficiencies – of which there are many.
One of the quotes I particularly like is found in Federalist 51, written by James Madison: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
One could learn a lot about what is wrong in America if they would actually stop and think about what that quote means. The first part of that quote basically says that government is a mirror that reflects the overall morals and virtues of society; so if government is corrupt so is the society as well. While that may not be a 100% accurate statement regarding the people that constitute society, the problem is that with a democratic process such as ours, if the majority is corrupt and lacking morals and virtue, then the government will reflect those attributes as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone in America is evil; I’m simply saying that their beliefs regarding what their system of government is supposed to do may be corrupt. Thomas Jefferson spoke of this corruption of principles in a letter to Spencer Roane back in 1821, “Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible.”
It may seem as if I have strayed off topic again, but actually all this leads up to the second part of Madison’s quote in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
An angel is a supernatural being who acts as an intermediary between God and man. They carry out God’s will on Earth and deliver messages to man for Him. Jacob wrestled with an angel in the Book of Genesis and it was the angel Gabriel who delivered the message to Mary that she would give birth to Christ. I’m no Biblical scholar, so I can’t tell you whether angels are as pure as Christ was, but the meaning of Madison’s quote implies that, for the most part, angels are above reproach.
So what does Madison mean when he says if men were angels no government would be necessary? The answer to that depends upon what each person believes is the purpose for which governments are instituted among men. If you believe that government exists to create jobs, build roads, and provide you will all manner of benefits, then the quote makes little sense. But, if you believe, as I do, that government should exist to preserve and protect the liberty of the governed, then the quote makes a great deal of sense.
If you believe that government should exist to promote liberty and protect the lives and property of the governed, then if men were angels there would be no need for government; as all men would respect those things without requiring a government to enact laws doing it for them. In other words, if men were angels there would be no crime; people would not be stealing from one another, killing each other, or depriving them of their God-given rights.
It is only because men are not angels that we need government to act as a lawmaking entity that can punish those who do not respect the life, liberty and property of their fellow human beings. Which leads us directly into the second part of that quote regarding angels, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
If angels were to govern men we would not need to worry about them doing things that deprived us of our right to life, liberty and property, for they would be incapable of doing anything that threatened those things; therefore we wouldn’t need to concern ourselves with how to control their actions.
No man alive today, regardless of what they may think about themselves, is without sin. According to the tenets of Christianity we are all born into sin since Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are given a means to return to God if we would but accept Him into our lives and strive continuously to live as close a Christ-like life as we can.
If one were to think about it, even before Christ came to the Earth God had been giving man laws to live by in order to perfect themselves. What are the Ten Commandments if they are not laws which protect the life and property of others; as well as rules regarding the keeping of the Sabbath Day holy and how people should honor and respect their God? Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not bear false witness, (lie); all these laws are laws that speak to the virtue man was to strive for in their lives.
If Americans would only adhere to those simple rules I’m betting that upwards of 90% of the problems this country faces would simply vanish. Think about it, if men would simply stop killing each other, if they would stop stealing from one another, if they would stop lying about each other, and if they would stop coveting that which wasn’t theirs, then how many of our country’s problems would simply go away? And if they went away, possibly we could do away with government; for there would be no need of a coercive force to impose morality and virtue upon us by legislative acts – that is of course unless government sought to serve an ulterior, more sinister purpose – such as depriving man of their lives, their liberty and their property.
Although each of us is born into sin, we are not born with corrupted principles – those must be taught to us either by our parents and peers, or by our schools. Therefore, if our parents, or our schools do not teach us morals and virtue, to respect the lives, liberty and property of others, then is it any wonder we have a society that is corrupt, and a government that is reflective of that society?
People think they can vote, and then leave the governing to those they elect. Expecting government to control and limit their actions to those that only serve to protect and defend our lives, liberty and property is naive, at best; foolhardy is closer to the truth. Why do we need laws punishing us for crimes such as theft, rape and murder if mankind was capable of restraining his own actions? Since government consists of men, do you honestly think that those who make up government are not susceptible to the same temptations we, as individuals, are?
Government can enact all manner of laws which provide severe punishment for those who disobey them; yet where in the Constitution is that power reciprocated so that we can punish them when they overstep their authority and make a tyrannical use of their power?
In 1788 Patrick Henry warned of this fatal flaw within the Constitution, stating, “Where is the responsibility — that leading principle in the British government? In that government a punishment, certain and inevitable, is provided: But in this, there is no real actual punishment for the grossest maladministration. They may go without punishment, though they commit the most outrageous violation on our immunities. That paper may tell me they will be punished. I ask, by what law? They must make the law — for there is no existing law to do it. What — will they make a law to punish themselves? This, Sir, is my great objection to the Constitution, that there is no true responsibility — and that the preservation of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves.”
If we, as a people, are too ignorant, or too busy to look into the character of those we elect, or the constitutional justification for the promises they make while campaigning, what is to stop those we elect from overstepping their just authority? If we allow our corrupted principles to guide us in determining who would make the best president or congressman/woman, if we ignore the limits imposed upon government by the Constitution, then who is ultimately to blame if our government turns out to be rotten and corrupt? We are, that’s who. If our principles, our morals, our virtue is corrupt, then our government will reflect that; and no amount of voting is going to change that.
While you may be perfectly content to live under the authority and jurisdiction of such a government there are those, like me, who do not consent to its authority to micromanage our lives and confiscate our wealth for things we do not support. Therefore, it can truly be said that this government does not represent us, and therefore we are slaves to a system we no longer consent to.
If the voting public had any virtue whatsoever they would not agree to a system that deprived a minority of the people of their right to life, liberty and property; no matter how much it benefitted the overall public good. But then again it does not surprise me that this doesn’t bother most people, for they have been brought up to believe we live in a democracy; which means the majority will takes precedence over the will of a small minority who still seek to be free of an oppressive government – which only proves that there has, as Jefferson warned, been a corruption of principles.
Almost all of the leading Founders made statements about how liberty, or government, could not exist long in a society without virtue. Here are but a few of those quotes:
– Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. ~ Ben Franklin
– To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea. ~ James Madison
– No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government. ~ Thomas Jefferson
– Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue. ~ Samuel Adams
– A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. ~ Patrick Henry
As I stated moments ago, you may be content to live under a system of government that does not respect the lives, liberty and property of the governed, but I am not. It is too bad that we couldn’t do what Lysander Spooner suggested and make those who wish to live under a system of government personally responsible for whatever crimes their government commits on their behalf.
Better still, I say we do the following, “If any considerable number of the people believe the Constitution to be good, why do they not sign it themselves, and make laws for, and administer them upon, each other; leaving all other persons (who do not interfere with them) in peace? ”
After all, as Spooner goes on to say, “Until they have tried the experiment for themselves, how can they have the face to impose the Constitution upon, or even to recommend it to, others?” But then Spooner explains why that will never happen, “Plainly the reason for such absurd and inconsistent conduct is that they want the Constitution, not solely for any honest or legitimate use it can be of to themselves or others, but for the dishonest and illegitimate power it gives them over the persons and properties of others.”
That’s why I have to laugh at the Republicans and Democrats who bicker with each other and fight for control of this system of government. They do not do so to preserve and protect the lives, liberty and property of others, they do so in order that they can gain control over the lives, liberty, and property of those whose ideology differs from theirs; leaving the truly freedom loving people of America stuck without any representation in government…in other words, screwed!
Our government has become one which two opposing factions seek control of so that they can impose their views upon the remainder of society; it no longer serves the purpose for which it was established, in fact the original purpose for which our government was promised to serve never crosses the minds of most voters; all they care about is electing those who can impose their views upon others.
If the lives, the rights, and the property of all members of society are not equally protected, then you cannot say that freedom exists in America; not when one portion of society suffers under a government which limits and restricts those things from even the smallest minority. As Ayn Rand said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
So only a people without virtue would seek to deprive their fellow human beings of their rights, and that is why, no matter who you vote for, nothing is going to change; or as Pete Townshend sings, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Virtue and morality are both the compass and rudder which guide our country towards liberty; and without them we are a ship floating adrift an ocean of greed and disregard for the lives, liberty and property of those we disagree with.
And that’s why we’re screwed; because to truly fix what’s wrong in this country would mean to take a long hard look into a mirror and seek to find our own flaws and fix them first. That is simply too much to ask of most people, so basically we’re screwed.
They say the truth is a bitter pill to swallow, so why don’t you go grab yourself a soda or some sweet tea to wash that bitter taste out of your mouths; I know you need one right about now…
August 28, 2019
~ The Author ~
Neal Ross, Student of history, politics, patriot and staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Send all comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked Neal’s latest column, maybe you’ll like his latest booklet: The Civil War: (The Truth You Have Not Been Told). Life continues to expand for this prolific writer and guardian of TRUE American history.