The following is one of the opening sections of The People's Primer, a project being put together by the Concerned Citizens Coalition, The Movement to Restore Sanity, and the Save America Movement. The goal is to create a document or series of documents, including The People's Primer, The People's Platform, and a Dictionary of Politically Polarizing Conversation Stoppers, as well as a website that attempts to bring people together, left right and center, around our common values, re-framing the conversation with a tone of reason, respect, and responsibility to create constructive dialogue aimed at enacting positive change in our society, and encourage people to take action to make this change a reality.
More on the project and how you can get involved (and please get involved, we need all the help we can get) here.
Below the break: Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Thoreau and Frank Lee Speaking give a brief explanation on the nature and role of government.
I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.These are the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau, from the opening lines of Civil Disobedience. The thought however was not necessarily original to Thoreau--similar sentiments had been expressed by Jefferson, Madison, Emerson, and John Louis O’Sullivan, among others. Indeed, this was and still is a pervasive and enduring philosophy that stretches back to the very founding of our country, and one that few Americans can find cause to argue with.
Perhaps the most important phrase here is “when men are prepared for it”--the implication being that we have not yet reached that point. Again, an echo of the words of Madison...”If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Men, of course, are not angels, and so, to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, in order to secure the inalienable rights endowed upon us all equally by our Creator, Governments are instituted among Men.
The purpose of our government, and governments in general, is explicitly laid out in the preamble to our United States Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.To put this in even broader terms, We the People have formed our United States Government for two reasons: first, to protect certain individual rights that we believe all human beings should be entitled to, and second, to promote the ideals that we commonly hold.
Now, we can and should have conversations about what is Just, and how to best go about ensuring domestic Tranquility and providing for the common defense, and what is in the people’s general welfare, and how our government should promote it, and what steps we should take to secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, but the most important thing to remember here is that whole “We the People” part. The government is not some other, outside force acting upon us. The government is us. “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln said. And not only are we the government, but we are its masters. Again, Madison: “The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived...” (The Federalist, No. 49). It is our government, and its purpose is supposed to be to contribute to a better quality of life for all people.