An article courtesy of Res Pulbica in reponse to an earlier post Two Centuries, One Score, One Decade and a Half Ago….
“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.” Patrick Henry
People often assume that our Founding Fathers offer nothing in the way of guidance in dealing with contemporary issues. Such is the case in post on this website offered today. As the commentator notes, “More than likely, our founding fathers did not have a stance on these issues as they did not exist. Our forefathers could have never imagined the world we live in today. The technology, greed, anger and even stupidity that subsist present day could not be matched 235 years ago.” I beg to differ.
Of course, the people of the past have no idea what the future holds anymore than we will know what our country will be like 235 years from now. While the Founders could not have made comments on particulars, they certainly can, and do, speak to us now. They do so because the issues we deal with today are the same issues they dealt with. The particulars are different but the principles endure. As I mentioned in my last posts, the Founders bequeathed to us the truism that liberty and power are opposites; to wield power is to deny liberty and to have liberty is for government to lack power. With this core principle, which is as old as Western Civilization, we know how the founders would have generally reacted to our contemporary situations.
So, let’s examine some of the issues our commentator believes supposedly “too complex” for our founders and see how the lamp of experience might guide us.
1: Dumping millions of gallons of oil into such a pristine body of water such as the Gulf of
Mexico. First, colonial, and then state, government, just like today, enacted laws that prohibited the willful destruction of both public and private property. The principle behind these laws formed the English Common Law system that our nation inherited. While the devastation in the Gulf was terrible and probably unprecedented, the founders would have responded by enforcing the very laws they enacted to punish this behavior.
2: Thousands of babies being born daily to crack whores and without father . . . but there has to be programs in place to assist those in need with things such as healthcare, food and shelter.
This first part is a plague of modern society and it is one of our own making. The Founders believed the federal government had no role to play in this because this was a local and state issue. Hence, there was no need for federal intervention into this issue. That said, they had experiences with these sorts of things (sadly). Practically every state and locality had various ordinances and policies on how to handle delinquent parents and truly abusive parents. The notion of “wards of the state” is not a new one to us. It is an old English tradition (at the local town level) that came over with the Mayflower. Local towns, Churches, and charities often assisted single mothers and/or alcohol or drugs abusers (yes, drugs. Opium and Ludlum addicition were a major problems).
The founders did not believe this was the responsibility of the federal government. Rather, it was the business of state and local government. Each state and local government enforced what were known as “poor laws.” These measures, having predecessors in England, provided necessities for the poorest of people or those that were unable to care for themselves. Because they were not at the federal level, they could address the particular problems of individual rather than a uniform and wasteful system that our current systems operates. So, when our commentator asks, “How do you get rid of these programs when all it will really do is hurt those who need it most?” he is establishing a strawman. There is no need to be rid of these programs – they have existed since before our nation’s birth – but there is a need to administer them better. The federal government cannot do this; the rampant waste and abuse demonstrate this. But if we remember that our founders bequeathed us a federal system, we can then use State and local governments to administer these programs. They, not the federal government, know the real need of their people better. At the local level, it is easier to know who is in real need and who is merely abusing the system.
But more importantly, the founders believed that non-governmental institutes bore the real responsibility for caring for sick and poor; they believed Churches and charities should do this. And these institutions did. In fact, from the founding of our nation to the 1930s, Churches and charities administered more aid to the needy than state and towns did in poor laws. Unlike the federal government of today, there were no strings attached. This aid was given out of Christian love and it was given to believers and non-believers alike. In the nineteenth century, Churches and charities helped so many needy people that many observers called the United States a “the Benevolent Empire.” Imagine if we kept our government limited in nature and thus much lower in taxation, how much more our Churches and charities could do today because we keep more of our own money and can distribute it in a manner individual’s best see fit?
3: Companies blasting steroids and other harmful additives into chicken, beef and pork to enhance flavor and help the growing process so they can be harvested more rapidly to meet demand. The Founders believed in an open market, where various companies could produce its products and the people themselves decide what they would purchase. This is a key element of liberty; personal choice. If an individual does not want to consume these additives and steroids, that is their choice. They have options to buy free-range meets or to raise their own. Again, because the Founders believed in personal liberty, they would not have forced corporations to stop these practices; options exist that allow the individual to avoid those products. It was (and is) not the role of government to make these decisions for people.
4: The daily threat of being blown away in this great nation we call the United States of America by some terrorist who is upset with our way of life and is willing to kill himself as long as he can take a few of us rotten Americans with him. This is the easiest to answer. When the Founders encountered a true enemy, who threatened, maimed, and killed Americans, they responded by attacking and destroying those enemies. In 1794, Indians in the Northwest Territories were defeated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers thereby ending the threat they posed. In 1801-1809 the United States destroyed the Barbary Pirates. These Muslim Terrorist often kidnapped and murdered Americans (as well as other Europeans) both in the name of Allah and greed. Like most countries, the United States paid the Pirates a tribute. But, after increasing atrocities, President Jefferson and Madison dispatched the Navy and Maries, and at the Battle of Triopoli, and several other pitched battles, we destroyed them. After 1811, the Barbary Pirates were never a threat to the United States or anyone else. What lesson can we learn from the Founders? Destroy the enemy; use all available resources to do so.
5: Our commentator also mentioned several other items, such as pyramid schemes and notes that the Founders had no idea about such great “complexities.” That is simply not true. The Founders were very familiar with frauds of all sorts – even if those frauds lacked the fancy nicknames like “pyramid” and “ponzi.” Among the first major pieces of legislation in our nation’s history was the “Statue of Frauds,” which penalized fraudulent behavior. Also, several of our founders ran speculating schemes identical to pyramid schemes. James Wilson, the 2nd appointment to the Federal Supreme Court ran a land speculation scheme exactly like that of a ponzi scheme. When he it was realized and creditor and debtors became to call in their loans and question what had happened, Wilson fled. He died in a debtors prison, facing charges of fraud. Robert Morris, known as the “Financier of the Revolution,” engaged in a similar scheme in the 1790s and met a fate similar to Wilsons. In 1793, the entire Legislature (to a person) of the State of Georgia was bribed by the Yazoo Land Company in order for that Land Company to obtain the land of what is modern day Alabama AND Mississippi. When the people of Georgia realized this, they voted out the entire legislature. It seems that the Founders were indeed familiar with our modern “complexities.”
6: The Housing Crisis. Of course, a large part of the housing crisis was caused by our attempt to live beyond our means. In large part, though, this was made all the easier because of government schemes and regulations. Freddie and Fannie are government created entities. In 1978, and again in the 1990s, the government mandated that both institutions begin offering loans to lower income families at artificially reduced rates. On top of this, the government began pushing home owner ship for lower income families. The result was an artificial, government created market that did not reflect the realities of a real market system. When that artifice began to crumble, it took with it the entire system. The reason for this is that government had secured these poisonous loans meaning that companies that purchased them knew the federal government backed and secured the loans. This does not leave those companies blameless, of course, but imagine what would have happened had government remained limited and confined as our founders intended? False markets based on false promises would not have occurred and perhaps avoided this whole crisis.
In this hasty reply, I hope I have demonstrated that our founders were quite familiar with issues we assume to be new to us, or too complex for their supposedly simpler times. While some of the details are the quite different, the core principles remain. What appears the most radically different is that we expect government answer all our answers rather than take responsibilities for ourselves. Of course, this is just further proof that we are not a people with liberty.
I conclude my response to our commentator with two disturbing comments made by the author. First, he equates not wanting to be forced on pain of law to do something – such as purchasing health insurance or paying into a system that is crumbling or paying higher taxes to support government waste – as a symbol of selfishness? How is that so? How is it inherently selfish to not want to be forced to do something or contribute to something that you know if broken and false? But most disturbing was this statement: most people need to be saved from themselves. This implies that self-government is impossible, unworkable, and, in the end, that people are simply too stupid to make their own choices and face those consequences, all of which requires a stronger government far removed from the people.
But if the people cannot govern themselves, who, pray tell, will save us from government?