This is part 3 of a series of articles on principles of government as laid out in our founding.
This then brings us to the separation of powers in providing a system of checks and balances. We were given three branches to our governing bodies. We have the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, before there was a Federal Government, had already made use of three branches to separate to provide for checks and balances in government.
Simply stated, the legislative body is to make the laws, the executive branch is to approve the laws and the judicial are intended to prosecute the laws as well as to determine if the law is Constitutional. When these bodies function within the understanding of consent of the people and the true nature and purpose of government then that government should only create laws involved in the protections of the rights of the people, The Executive should only approve laws that meet that end and the courts only prosecute laws that also meet that end. When these bodies begin to function outside of this realm it begins to become destructive to the freedoms and liberties of the people. When a governing body stops holding, as its primary function, the protection of the people in the life, liberty and property, Tyranny will always commence.
There is, though often dismissed, a fourth check and balance to government and that lies in the consent of the governed…We the People. As stated, this branch of government is the most overlooked. Just government is a creation of the people. It is intended to serve the people in the protection of their natural rights.
It is human nature to be self-serving. In the protection of our own property, the owner of such property is serving their own interests but the individual has no real power over their neighbors when just laws are in place to prevent such actions.
John Locke explained it like this “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation”
If an individual has a natural right to protect their property, they also have the authority to delegate to a governing body to ability to make laws to protect that property. But a great deal of power in the hands of a few can easily be corrupted because of the natural self-preservation nature of the human spirit. If we can understand and accept that there must be laws to prevent us from doing harm to our fellow human beings, why would it escape our understanding that a governing body must be restrained from doing the same.
This becomes the purpose of a Constitution. It defines the limited powers of the governing bodies. The Constitution is intended to be a moral rule that is designed to be a document of negative rights to the governing bodies. However, even the best Constitutions can be abused and when this happens it then falls on the people to rise up and demand that the government correct this moral wrong. This is not only their duty, it is their moral right.
Let’s look at John Locke once again:
“And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of anybody, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject”. (Second Treatise, Chapter 13).
“But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and whither they are going, ’tis not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first enacted”. (Second Treatise, Chapter 19).
Now let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence:
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.
Now let’s look at the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:
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.
Perhaps we should begin to ask when we, as a people, began to ignore this most essential point in the preservation of our Sovereign and Individual rights in the preservation of our Life, Liberty and Property. Our founding documents warned us of the encroachments that would take place on our rights if the people did not assure that such a thing would happen. So did our founders:
Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.
All men have a right to remain in a state of nature as long as they please; and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another. If ever the Time should come, when vain & aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to prevent its Ruin
If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.
The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of Constitutional power.
If it be asked what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer, the genius of the whole system, the nature of just and constitutional laws, and above all the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.