The further the departure from direct
and constant control by the citizens,
the less has the government of
the ingredient of republicanism…
Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in a letter, dated May 28, 1816, to writer, Virginia delegate, and U.S. Senator, John Taylor. They were in response to receiving and reading Taylor’s book Enquiry into the Principles of Our Government in which Jefferson points to:
“The sixth section on the good moral principles of our government, … Besides much other good matter, it settles unanswerably the right of instructing representatives, and their duty to obey.”
In researching Jefferson’s quote, I came across this in Taylor’s Enquiry into the Principles of our Government (did I mention Taylor was a limited government democrat):
“A moral code, can only be perfected, by providing new remedies against crimes, when old ones become insufficient. The right to life is not destroyed, by an imperfect remedy for its preservation; and if the oath of loyalty to our sovereignty, with the punishment of rejection on a new election, are imperfect remedies for preserving the sovereign right of instruction, new remedies, and not an abandonment of the right, can only preserve our moral code, called political law.” — pg.419
Did you catch that about ‘our sovereignty’? The American People’s sovereignty. Not the government’s sovereignty. Not an elected officials’ sovereignty. Not Congress’s sovereignty. Not judicial sovereignty. Not even the President’s sovereignty.
“We The People” have the sovereign right to an oath of loyalty. The sovereign right to give instruction. The sovereign right to seek new remedies. The sovereign right to preserve our moral code. The sovereign right to perfect our political laws.
And our government, our Congress, our Presidents, our elected and appointed officials all have a “duty to obey” us.
WOW. When and how did we become merely ‘voters’ and ‘constituents’?
Later in that same letter to John Taylor, Jefferson expressed his frustration at not having a chance to better strengthen the hands of the American people in their government.
“If, then, the control of the people over the organs of their government be the measure of its republicanism, and I confess I know no other measure, it must be agreed that our governments have much less of republicanism than ought to have been expected; in other words, that the people have less regular control over their agents, than their rights and their interests require. …Much I apprehend that the golden moment is past for reforming these heresies. The functionaries of public power rarely strengthen in their dispositions to abridge it, and an unorganized call for timely amendment is not likely to prevail against an organized opposition to it.” –Thomas Jefferson
So, the defining issue for our republic is We The People’s ability to control our government. Not representation. But control — by the people. The “organs of government” are our agents. Agents are not people who think for us. Or act for us. They act on our behalf. They follow our instructions. They don’t replace us. Because only we can know best where our own interests lie. And only we have a vested interest in preserving our rights and freedoms.
Amazing to realize Jefferson’s words are nearly 200 years old and yet he foresaw what has come to pass. We are now seeing, feeling and living the results from our lack of control over our government. Our republic has devolved into a government whose interests are not aligned with our own – but with Wall Street. And Corporations. Our agents have become politicians whose interests lies not in preserving our rights and liberties, but their own wealth and political power.
The words of John Taylor are just as old, and yet his thoughts about “publick duties”, curbing “publick vices” and the political uses of ‘force and fraud’ could have been written today.
More from the Enquiry into the Principles…
“In every state of society, the vices of the individuals who administer the government, will, in relation to publick duties, be as great, and probably much greater, than will be the vices of those who do not administer it, in relation to private duties. Solicitations and excitements to avarice and ambition, will be offered to publick officers by the view of a rich nation, constituting temptations to vice, superior to any which can occur in private life. Therefore, political law should not only keep pace with municipal law, to provide for this new state of society; but the former ought to outstrip the latter in energy, in the same proportion as the violations of publick duties are likely to outstrip those of private, by reason of the superiority of the temptation.” [snip]
“The political elements, force and fraud, are begotten by national opulence, because nations have only provided new municipal laws to control the private vices produced also by this opulence; and have neglected to provide new political laws against the more injurious publick vices arising from the same cause. For private vices, they have provided the prison and the gallows; for publick vices, wealth and power. Can these contradictory remedies for similar evils be both effectual?”[snip]
But the United States have aimed at a policy, possessing capacity for regulating publick, as well as private duties; considering that government as weak, which can only regulate the latter; and that as strong, which is able to regulate both. … A policy by which the nation is considered as the executive of political law, and the avenger of violations of publick duties; and the government as the executive of municipal law, and the avenger of violations of private duties. — pg. 160-161
Imagine that. The moral code of our nation is measured not just by the municipal laws enacted, but our political laws as well. As the “avenger of violations of public duties,” We The People have spectacularly failed. We allowed our political laws to wither on the vine. And, in so doing, abdicated our power to our agents.
Just as John Taylor predicted, the political elements, force and fraud, have brought us to our knees and the contradictory remedies have created mass foreclosures, endless unemployment and an unresolved financial crisis. Without strengthening our political laws and redressing “violations of public duties” by our agents, Main Street will continue it’s downward spiral.
Which leads me to a rather fortuitous email I received just recently (h/t BGD and SueP).
Congressional Reform Act of 2011
1. Term Limits.
6 years only.
— Two Three-year Senate terms
— Three Two-year House terms
2. No Corporate, Wall Street or Special interest Campaign Contributions.
All campaign finances for our Senators & Representatives are limited to small contributions ($1,000 or Less) by individual citizens of the state they represent.
3. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
4. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.
5. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan.
Just as the American people can.
6. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
7. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
8. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
9. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.
The American people did not make those contracts with Congressmen. Congressmen made them for themselves.
Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators that would serve their term(s) and work for the American people, then go back home and work for themselves.
Regardless of ones party affiliation, it is hard to find much fault with the purpose or the need of the Congressional Reform Act of 2011. And while the particulars may need further debate, this reform act seems as good a place as any to start the conversation on reforming Washington and returning our government back to “WE THE PEOPLE” at both the state and federal level.
Of course this also will require like minded reforms for aids, lobbyists and pretty much everything dealing with the functioning of the congressional offices, political parties and voting procedures.
As well as the Executive and Judicial branches…
As Taylor wrote:
“The policy of the United States was contrived for advancing the prosperity of an entire society; but it cannot be preserved against the power and arts of soldiers, statesmen, or separate interests of any kind, except by discerning the principles of government calculated to dispense general good, with the same acuteness by which the creatures of legislative partiality, discern whatever will transfer wealth and power from nations to themselves.”
Whether we were taught wrong, got distracted, or simply forgot our role in this grand experiment, we share some of the blame. We are not just “Voters,” we are SOVEREIGNS. It is not just our right and responsibility, but it is our duty to instruct and demand obedience from our government agents. We are not their constituents, we are their employers.
Only “We The People” can ensure that the United States retains our Founders goals. Only “We The People” have the power to ensure our laws protect us from the “force and fraud” of our agents. Only “We The People” can assure our American Exceptionalism remains devoted to “the prosperity of an entire society” and not just a few.
We have now reached a point where the corporations are afforded protections equal to citizens under the law and congress is shielded from investigation and prosecution by a widening assertions of criminal immunity.
This is our republic. We need to step forward and do our jobs.