Just to the Right: The Absence of Angels
It’s been established that only “a virtuous people” can support a republican form of government. Now, begs the question, what kind of leaders should “a virtuous people” elect in a representative democracy?
James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution” and the fourth president of the United States wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
One thing the Founders understood very well was human nature. From birth man is singularly focused on gaining power and wealth. Unless Law or a strong internal moral code is present, man will turn into a predator.
The Founders worked diligently to set up a form of government that would protect the US from a dictator. Constitutional Law at the federal, state and local levels of government set up three separate and equal branches of government, with appropriate checks. Their hope was that “a virtuous people” would elect the wisest, most experienced, and moral of leaders to public office. Failing that, the Constitution would further delay the establishment of a dictatorship in the United States.
Jefferson believed that a person should rise to higher office on personal merit, not wealth or reputation of one’s ancestors, represented by what he called an “artificial aristocracy”. Jefferson wrote, “There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents….natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.” Only those, who exemplified a high level of morality, talent and patriotism, should be elected to public office.
John Adams, the second President of the United States, believed politics was a “divine science” and that one should aspire to public office for no other reason than honor. Adams wrote, “How is it possible that any man should ever think of making it [the divine science] subservient to his own little passions and mean private interest? Ye baseborn sons of fallen Adam, is the end of politics a fortune, a family, a gilded coach, a train of horses, and a troop of livery servants, balls at Court, splendid dinners and suppers?”
Translated in today’s language: we don’t elect kings in the United States. Not at the local, state or federal levels of government – ever. Adams advised that one should prepare for public office by studying the “science of government” – the study of legislation, administration and the art of negotiation.
Adams wrote, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” Those, who aspire to public office based on a sense of honor, are a stabilizing force in society producing peace.
Benjamin Franklin served many years as an ambassador in Great Britain and France. He observed in the British government that high salaries for public office attracted the immoral and dispelled the virtuous from serving in public office. He wrote, “It will be the bold and violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers.”
Franklin believed that, “The honor of serving the public ably and faithfully is deemed sufficient.” He lifted up Washington as an example of this principle. Washington wouldn’t accept his salary as Commander-in-Chief during the Revolutionary War or his presidential salary, even though Mt. Vernon had been destroyed during the war and was not a producing plantation when he became President.
The people wanted to make Washington a king, so he refused to serve a third term setting the precedent for others who would follow him. That is until Franklin Roosevelt became president, serving four terms and, shortly after his death, resulting in the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which codified two terms for the presidency.
Franklin further opined, “….we see the revenues of the princes [office holders] constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater the need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans [special interests], and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure.”
FDR inserted socialist ideology into US politics, the first step in setting up a dictatorship. Prior to WWII, Roosevelt wanted to tax people’s income at 100%, but Congress would only allow a 90% tax on incomes, extending the Depression another six years.
Question: Are the majority of today’s politicians rulers or honorable men?
by Jacque Martin, who contributes ‘Just to the Right’ each month to The Sun Times. Reprinted here with permission of the author.