Friday, October 20, 1995

Part 3: Government - The Constitution

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

The last letter presented the idea that the legitimate function of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.  To perform this protective function a government must be give a certain amount of power.  The difficulty lies in controlling and limiting the use of that power.  Here is what Ezra Taft Benson had to say about the use of government power "I believe it a violation of the Constitution for government to deprive the individual of either life, liberty, or property except for these purposes: (a) Punish crime and provide for the administration of justice; (b) Protect the right and control of property; (c) Wage defensive war and provide for the nation's defense; (d) Compel each one who enjoys the protection of government to bear his fair share of the burden of performing these functions."


 The constitution was inspired by God.  In D&C 101:80 the Lord states "... I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose."

Control of Government Power

 The founders of the constitution knew the principle that would later be taught in D&C 121:39, "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."  However, they also knew that a government must be given power so that it can carry out it's duty to protect life, liberty, and property.  They had fought the war of independence, with great difficulty, under the Articles of Confederation, because it gave the federal government almost no authority.  So as they set up the constitution, they knew the government need to have controlled authority.  To control the power, the Constitution created a government that was limited, distributed, and representative.

 Limited:  The powers granted to the federal government are written specifically into the Constitution.  Whenever the federal government acts constitutionally it is possible to state which article, section, and paragraph of the constitution gives it the authority to act. Because many people were rightfully concerned that the government would get out of control, the Bill of Rights was added.  The Bill of Rights does not actually grant rights to the people.  It presupposes the existence of these rights and prohibits the government from infringing upon them.  Amendment nine then says "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  In other words, just because the constitution does not list a right of the people, this does not mean it does not exist.  And just in case any one misunderstood that the federal government is supposed to be limited Amendment ten was added that says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

 Distributed:  The power of the government is supposed to be distributed in two ways.  First, as we learned in school, there are three branches of government with checks and balances between them.  The second way that government is distributed is between the federal, state, and local levels.  Thomas Jefferson said "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the functions he is competent to.  Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the state governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties; and each ward direct the interest within itself.  It is by dividing and subdividing theses republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself, by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.  What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun?  The generalization and concentration of all cares and power into one body."

 Representative:  By voting the People of this country are given the ability to select who they want to run the government.  This allows the people to direct and control the government.  However, the will of the people can not be allowed to override the proper limited functions of government.  Even if a majority of the people desire the government to implement an unconstitutional program, it can not legitimately be done.  The constitution created a democratic republic; not a pure democracy.  The right to vote carries with it the responsibility to make wise choices.  A second form of representation is contained in the right to a trial by jury.  If the government creates an unconstitutional law, then each time it attempts to enforce the law, it must convince 12 jurors that the law should be valid.  Thephilus Parsons, a early chief justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts explained it this way: "The people themselves have it in their power effectually to resist usurpation without being driven to an appeal to arms.  An act of usurpation is not obligatory; it is no law; and any man may be justified in his resistance.  Let him be considered as a criminal by the general government, yet only his own fellow citizen can convict him; they are his jury, and if the pronounce him  innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of usurpation."


 Our federal government currently performs many functions that are beyond the bounds of the authority listed in the constitution.  There are many factors that have contributed to this situation.  The Supreme Court has often interpreted the constitution in ways that were never intended.  The states gave up their check on federal power when they ratified the 17th amendment.  They continue to give up their autonomy when they accept federal funds.  Judges tell juries that they can not judge the law; they must convict if the law was violated, even if the law is immoral.  The people of this country no longer understand or care about a limited constitutional government.  We elect whomever promises to give us the biggest piece of the pie.  Most of us either have not read or do not understand the constitution.  I have include a copy of the constitution so that you can read it.  In the next letter I will discus in detail areas where our government has overstepped its constitutional limits.

Sunday, October 01, 1995

Part 2: Government

(from a series of letters I wrote in 1995)

In This letter I will begin the section on government.  This letter will cover the basic principles of government.  These principles are general and apply to all governments.  In following letters I will continue the section on government by discussing the Constitutional implementation of the principles of government, and things that governments should not do.

Government Should Be Based on Principles

In regard to questions about government proposals Ezra Taft Benson said "Decisions of this nature should be based upon and measured against certain basic principles regarding the proper role of government.  If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence" (An Enemy Hath Done This. p. 126).  Government like everything else can be proper or improper.  There are valid and invalid uses of government power.  We cannot justify government action based on results alone.  We must consider whether it is right or wrong on a more fundamental, or moral, basis.  The idea that the ends can justify the means is false.
Government is Force

Before we consider the principles that we should base government on we must consider what government is.  When an individual breaks a law, force in some way will be applied.  The individual will usually be jailed of fined.  We say the law is enforced.  If government laws and regulations did not have penalties associated with them, they would just be suggestions.  George Washington said: "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence -- it is force!  Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."  Government is the institutionalization of force.

Government Gets Authority from the People

Now we come to the question of the source of government authority.  As members of the church we understand the concept of a line of authority.  We do not accept the idea that someone or some group can get authority unless it is given to them by someone that already has authority.  So, as we consider government authority we have two choices, either a government is given authority or governments are in some way special and they just have authority.  Although, many people use phrases like "eminent domain" to try to say that governments do not need to be given authority, I cannot think of any reason why we should accept this idea.

So, if we accept the premise that government must be given authority, we must consider the question of who or what can give government authority.  People create governments, so the only available source of legitimate authority is the people.  Because government gets is legitimate authority from the people, the only powers that the government can have are the same powers that individuals have.

President Benson said "Government is nothing more or less that a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge responsibilities which have been authorized.  It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or privilege to do anything.  Its only source of authority and power is from the people who have created it." (The Constitution, a Heavenly Banner, p. 7)

Proper Role of Government

Individuals can only use force to defensively protect life, liberty and property (see previous letter).  Government is force. Legitimate government authority is derived from individual authority.  Therefore, we conclude, the only legitimate role of government is to defensively protect life, liberty, and property.

Ezra Taft Benson said "I hold that the Constitution denies government the power to take from the individual either his life, liberty or property except in accordance with moral law; that the same moral law which governs the actions of men when acting alone is also applicable when they act in concert with others; that no citizen or group of citizens has any right to direct their agent, the government, to perform an act which would be evil or offensive to the conscience if that citizen were performing the act himself outside the framework of government" (An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 144 emphasis original)

Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a declaration of our beliefs with regard to earthly governments and laws in general.  Each of the twelve verses begins, like the Articles of Faith, with the phrase "We believe."  I recommend reading and studying the entire section.  I will conclude this letter by quoting verses 2 and 5.  Notice how the proper role of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of individuals.

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.