America was founded by some of the most courageous men and women who ever lived on Earth. We owe them everything we have now and we would be wise to revisit the lessons they learned on their journey to freedom. America, as a constitutional republic, was the first nation ever founded on democratic principles. They had to start from scratch and imagine possibilities that had never even been conceived of before.The concept of personal liberty had only been theorized prior to America’s founding and despotism had reigned since time began. This is what Jefferson was talking about in my title quote; despotism, in all its forms, is relatively calm compared to freedom. Freedom is boisterous and unpredictable and always changing. Timid men prefer the predictability and security that despotism promises even without any personal freedom.
Thomas Paine spoke to the challenge of freedom when he said this, “Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” The founding fathers understood the gravity of the moment they were in and the challenge left them undaunted. They had suffered so long under a despot that they were willing to try anything to achieve their God-given liberty. The part that amazes me the most is their willingness to concede that any form of government could become tyrannical and they invested most of their time in seeking ways to minimize that possible outcome. George Washington recognized and voiced his concerns for future governmental despotism when he made this observation, “There is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of anarchy to the extreme of Tyranny…arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of Liberty abused to licentiousness.” His meaning is clear, when liberty is abused and morality no longer guides our decisions, then tyranny will take its place and all forms of government are equally capable of becoming tyrannical.
The founders were just as wary of government tyranny as they were of King George. James Madison spoke about the gradual loss of freedom with these famous words, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” He was trying to warn us that government cannot be left to its own devices for long because the love of power corrupts all humans eventually. Liberty, if it is to be maintained, has to be watched over and guarded with the collective concern of all the citizens. That’s why voting is so important and why low turnouts work in the favor of the ruling class. They do not fear the voters and they will gradually increase their power over us because we have failed to participate in the process of government.
Thomas Jefferson gave us a clear warning about the future of our democracy when he said, “The tyranny of legislators is at present, and will be for many years, our most formidable danger. The tyranny of the executive will arise in its turn, but at a more distant period.“I think we’ve reached that point. Our legislature has become so partisan and so dysfunctional that it has allowed the executive branch to govern by fiat. We now have three branches of government that create laws. We are teetering on the brink of despotism like never before and we need to be extremely careful about how we proceed. The ugly truth is we did this to ourselves. That’s how a democracy works. We allowed ourselves to be taken over by government because we no longer accept personal responsibility for maintaining our liberty. It took 200 years but everything the founders warned us about is coming true. Clearly, Ben Franklin was speaking the truth when he warned us that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We can argue all day about which political party is to blame for our problems but that’s not addressing the real issue. The real problem is US. We no longer accept responsibility for nurturing the tree of liberty that was planted for us by the founding fathers. If that tree dies we’re all going to be sorry because we’ve forgotten how horrible tyranny really is and how much freedom is really worth. Freedom is messy and complicated and frustrating at times but that’s because we have the freedom to choose our destiny. We can make our lives better or worse but we can’t give away that responsibility to our government. That’s just like leaving the gate open for the wolves to come in. The founders gave us all the tools to work with to keep freedom alive in the hearts of all mankind. Liberty is worth anything and everything but we have to work at it together.
When you go to vote this year, please ask yourself this simple question, “Who would the founding fathers want to keep the tree of liberty alive and well?”
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.