The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is that a constitution should be written in such a way as to be a permanent protection for the people from the human weaknesses of government leaders. This does not mean that government is responsible to protect us from ourselves or our own bad choices.
The Founders of our nation seemed to understand the principle contained in the following statement written by the Prophet Joseph Smith: "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."
The following quotes from some of our Founding Fathers indicate that they understood that the leaders we elect are still mere human beings. Thomas Jefferson stated, "It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism; free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power; that our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no farther, our confidence may go… In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." ("The Kentucky Resolution of 1798," Annals of America, 4:65-66; emphasis added.)
George Washington also indicated his belief that government was something that had to be tightly controlled by the Constitution when he said, "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." (Quoted in Jacob M. Braude's Lifetime Speaker's Encyclopedia, 2 Vols., 1:326.)
James Madison also indicated that he had more faith in the people than in the leaders they choose when he said, "It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices [chains of the Constitution] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? … If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. [But without controls] in framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." (The Federalist Papers, No. 51; emphasis added.)
We can see that the Founders were very concerned about controlling the natural tendency of men with power to abuse the rights of the governed. This natural tendency is a permanent part of human nature and it never changes. It is "the nature and disposition of almost all men" to use their power to "exercise unrighteous dominion."
Some of the ideas and quotes for this post came from The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen, pp. 119-122.
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