(This is part 2 of a series of articles intended to explain the foundational principles of just government as intended by our founders.)
In order for a government to function through the consent of the governed, a series of thorough checks and balances must be in place to prevent the governing body to exceed in power. The powers of the governing bodies must be free to provide for the security of those being governed and this should be their primary function. Before we can discern the checks and balances, we need to know what good Government is designed to do.
John Locke said that “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.” He would explain this in greater detail by saying “”To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”
Blackstone, another political philosopher that our founders were familiar, with stated “So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorise the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community. If a new road, for instance, were to be made through the grounds of a private person, it might perhaps be extensively beneficial to the public; but the law permits no man, or set of men, to do this without consent of the owner of the land. In vain may it be urged, that the good of the individual ought to yield to that of the community; for it would be dangerous to allow any private man, or even any public tribunal, to be the judge of this common good, and to decide whether it be expedient or no. Besides, the public good is in nothing more essentially interested, than in the protection of every individual’s private rights, as modelled by the municipal law.”
The security of the individual is then Governments prime function and that security lies in the protection of those three natural rights, the trinity of Life, Liberty and Happiness. Happiness is framed around individual property. In 1750 the colonists were impacted by a decision by Parliament to grant Writs of Assistance against the property of the Colonists. These writs allowed for indefinite search and seizure of the property of the Colonists. It was one of the fanning flames that led the colonists to declare their Independence. The most vocal to stand in opposition to the Writs was a lawyer in Boston by the name of James Otis. He understood that this was a breech of trust between the partnership of those who governed and those being governed and stated “Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.”
Property was understood within the context of anything belonging to an individual that they acquired through their own industry and intellect. It was most exemplified through the attaining of real estate but not limited to that physical property. Otis begins his argument by declaring that liberty is hinged to the protection of the right to the things which belong to that individual.
Moral law begins with the protection of the individual’s natural right to the things which belong to them. Moral law has nothing to do with granting or guaranteeing the individual material things but everything to do with protecting those things which the individual acquired through their own industry. We can see this exemplified in the simply statement “Pursuit of Happiness”.
Man, in his nature, will use his resources to obtain property by pursuing the things that brings him material happiness. This is their “Pursuit of Happiness”. A just government will allow this to go unhindered provided the individual is not using an immoral means to pursue their Happiness which would include the theft of another individual’s property. Wealth and Property was not to be obtained through theft or deception. As long as the individual obtains those things which make that individual happy through their own honesty and industry than those possessions, that property, was a moral right. When the individual exceeds that realm by exerting a force over another that denies them their property by theft or deception, the actions then become an immoral wrong.
Otis continued this argument by declaring that a man’s home (however humble) is paramount to his castle and while he is left alone in it (whilst he is quiet) he will live as a prince in his castle. This is the understanding that a home is not merely a place where one lives. It is the place where the property of the individual resides. A visit to an individual’s home can tell us much about the owner of that property. Going inside a person’s home is a glimpse into that person’s soul. The pictures on the wall, the books in their library, even their choices of décor in the home. These things reveal a glimpse into the individual soul. Perhaps this is why John Adams declared “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If `Thou shalt not covet’ and `Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”
Adam’s argument then establishes that one of the functions of government is to protect the things which belong to those they govern, not as a collective, but as individuals. Laws were required to protect the individual from acts of anarchy and tyranny. Anarchy would be theft by other individuals in society with no respect for the moral law. Tyranny would be a theft of property through force by demanding from the individual the things which rightly belong to them.
It is not the government’s responsibility to make us happy by giving us things. In order to give something to someone who has not obtaining through their own industry requires taken from another through theft by an act of anarchy (in violation of laws) or tyranny (using self-determined laws to force such theft). Both become an immoral wrong.
While it is not the governments duty to give us things, it is the government’s responsibility to guard those things which we, as individuals, have obtained in the pursuit of our individual happiness-guard us from these acts of anarchy and tyranny from others. Only through this means can we realize the balance of this trinity of individual rights realized through Life, Liberty and Property.
Anarchy is a rejection of the moral rights of others. Anarchy declares there are no laws to restrict the individual freedom to do as they will even if that means denying those same freedoms to another individual. Anarchy may exalt the Sovereign right of the individual but it does so at the expense of equal Sovereign right of others. This then corrupts the natural right into something unnatural and creates a society built upon an immoral wrong. Anarchy creates chaos where the powerful abuse the weak.
Tyranny is just organized Anarchy where the lead Anarchists develop the rules by which society will live without the consent of the people. It makes no difference where or how this exists, from the local civic organization to organized crime or to the local bodies of government. Tyranny exists wherever the people live in subjugation to those who govern them.
No clear thinking individual would willing submit to instantaneously becoming a slave to a system of government. The most powerful Tyrannies do not come into power and maintain that power suddenly but rather come in to power through a slow and steady encroachment against the Sovereign rights of the individual citizens. This sentiment can also be found in our Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
The individual who understands that their governing bodies are exerting a form of tyranny over them will often make the statement “I’m only one person, what can I do!” That is exactly what tyrants want you to believe. That is how they obtained their power….first they begin exerting a power over the people through deception claiming it is for the general good of the collective by making Individuals feel that they should sacrifice their personal Liberty and Sovereign state for the sake of everyone else. Then, once you realize what you have sacrificed, the tyrant must make you feel powerless in standing up to reclaim those natural rights. When the majority of society believes this to be true, Tyranny has a firm hold on society but it is a hold that cannot endure very long.
History has shown time and again that people will endure such actions for only so long before they will be so overwhelmed by their natural instinct to preserve that which is theirs to rise up in resistance to those who have enslaved them.
Again, this natural resistance arises because of a natural right within the Individual. This is why we read those words in our Declaration of Independence that state “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” or “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.” as we read in our Commonwealth Constitution.
The consent of the governed is required to make any governing body a just body. This is the only way that natural rights can surface and that society can flourish and prosper. It is the only way to ensure the protections of equal rights. Without such consent the natural rights of the Individual are denied and this then makes the government an unnatural government and this is a corruption of government to make it an immoral government. Government then should never be the arbitrator as to what is moral or immoral since government is a creation of the people. Moral rights are to be determined by simple principles based upon the Natural Rights of the Sovereign citizen framed around the protection of the sacred manifest and natural trinity of Life, Liberty and Property.