Thursday, October 16, 2008

Power in the Republic

The continuing challenge of any people and government is to maintain a balance of power with adequate controls to ensure the safety and felicity of the people. The entire treatise of the Federalist Papers serves as reference to the need to delegate and diffuse governmental powers in order to ensure our safety and felicity from potential external and internal harms.

James Wilson wrote: "Liberty and happiness have a powerful enemy on each hand; on the one hand tyranny, on the other licentiousness [anarchy]. To guard against the latter, it is necessary to give the proper powers to government; and to guard against the former, it is necessary that those powers should be properly distributed." Woodrow Wilson said: "The history of liberty is a history of the limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it." Both the limitation and balance of power lie at the heart of the Constitution.

More than any other form of government, the maintenance of our republic requires wise and virtuous leaders, who respect the Constitution and the principles of delegated power. James Madison said, “The aim of every political Constitution, is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust." Under the Constitution, "We the People" are the ultimate determinants of who will be our leaders ...

When the Constitution was signed by the members of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, it then went to the several states for ratification. The states each held their own ratifying conventions wherein they debated its provisions. In one such convention held in North Carolina in July 1788, a representative named William Goudy (who may be a distant relative), spoke on the subject of tyranny:

“Mr. Chairman, I wonder that these gentlemen, learned in the law, should quibble upon words. I care not whether it be called a compact, agreement, covenant, bargain, or what. Its intent is a concession of power, on the part of the people, to their rulers. We know that private interest governs mankind generally. Power belongs originally to the people; but if rulers be not well guarded, that power may be usurped from them. People ought to be cautious in giving away power. These gentlemen say there is no occasion for general rules: every one has one for himself. Every one has an unalienable right of thinking for himself. There can be no inconvenience from laying down general rules. If we give away more power than we ought, we put ourselves in the situation of a man who puts on an iron glove, which he can never take off till he breaks his arm. Let us beware of the iron glove of tyranny. Power is generally taken from the people by imposing on their understanding, or by fetters [shackles].”

--William Goudy (July 21, 1788, “The Debates in the Several State Conventions, (North Carolina), on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution”, Elliot's Debates, Volume 4, page 10).

Just as our founding fathers, we as citizens “ought to be cautious in giving away power” or in allowing it to be "taken" from us.

By: J. David Gowdy

1 comment:

Penny said...

Thank you David for sharing this. I will enjoy reading your posts!