The Constitution - "...its only keepers, the people."
During this past month, my wife, my daughter, and I spent eight days in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). This large Caribbean island was the site of Columbus' third voyage landing. Many monuments and other structures have been erected to memorialize Columbus. The largest, El Faro de Colon, or The Columbus Lighthouse, was constructed for the 1992 celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' landing in 1492. It is interesting that inscribed on the face of this monument are several Old Testament scriptures and several other quotes of Plato, Aristotle, and Seneca, all referring to some great distant land or people or culture to be discovered yet in the future.
We were privileged to visit many people in many different situations. Some lived in the most humble of circumstances, with nothing but a tin or rotting wood roof over their heads. Others had better living conditions but still not approaching what most enjoy in the U.S.
During some of the discussions with those few who could speak a little English, I was anxious to discuss the political and economic situation in the D.R. To no surprise, I heard from some a great desire to go to the United States. Of course, the only way to legally get to the United States is to have an immediate family member already in the U.S. or to have a work contract with a U.S. company. Most have neither of these and so are left with trying to get here in ways we consider illegal. Dominicans who do try usually attempt to get to Puerto Rico, a U.S. possession just east of the D.R. A few others try to get to Venezuela and then make their way up through Mexico and attempt to cross the border in to the U.S.
With several of these Dominicans, my conversation went like this: "You seem to have freedom in your country. You seem to buy and sell what you want and travel and live where you want. You seem to have freedom of religion. You seem to be able to do what you want. Why do you want to go to America?" Their replies were most interesting. They said to me, "It looks like we are free but there are not many jobs here and it is so expensive to live here. If you want to start a business, the government requires a huge sum of money for permission. Few people have that much money and so most people who have businesses just pay some government official and he will let you do it." It also seems to be common knowledge among some people that money given to the D.R. in U.S. foreign aid, which has been about $70 million per year, never goes to the people. They say the leaders keep it. The people also know that their country has a constitution with a three-branch government--a legislature, a president, and a judiciary.
I asked what they hoped to find in America. They said in America there are more jobs so that I can support my family. There is more freedom to work and to start a business. In America, they said, the government doesn't take all your money. You can save and build. One person said to me that in America it just seems to work better.
Such is the hope of many people in the world. They continue to look to America as their only hope.
My conclusions are that even though they have a form of good government, even modeled after ours, there are major problems mostly stemming with the lack of morality and virtue among the people and leaders. The monetary system is based on paper money and thereby is prone to huge inflation caused by leaders who just print more money for their needs. It takes 33 pesos to now equal one US dollar. There is wholesale corruption among government workers which leads to bribery for favors in business. There is little enforcement of law and order as seen by the fact that nearly everyone has bars on doors and windows and driving is chaotic. Heavy taxation discourages people from working and saving.
I am sure most of those people do not realize the root cause of their problems in that country. They think they are free but they know things are just not working and they want to escape. Or they become vulnerable to more socialist ideas which deceptively promise a better life. They are currently involved in a presidential election and the streets are filled with campaign slogans and promises of all kinds.
Shades of our own problems?
During these conversations I thought these people sure have an idealistic picture of conditions in the U.S. I thought how we are facing some of the very same difficulties in our own land-and for the very same reasons. Our Founders built our system to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people" and yet many are finding it is not working for them either. Our monetary system is not the one required by the Constitution and is on the brink of collapse. Nearly every day we hear of corruption in high places and among other influential people. Law and order is breaking down to where more security is required in our homes and businesses. We, too, are in the midst of a presidential election only to find that those most likely to be elected are promising solutions that sound more like old deceptive socialist platforms than the Founders' proven constitutional solutions. The situation brings to mind the statement of James Madison concerning the importance of basic goodness or virtue in the people:
"Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [ridiculous] idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend upon their [our elected officials] virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them."
The solution will come only from a moral, virtuous, and informed people
In keeping with Madison's feelings, in the end the people must recover themselves. He further said:
"As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter under which the [power of the] several branches of government ... is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority ... whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others."
Thomas Jefferson had great confidence in the people to correct serious errors in their government. He would say to local and state governments today that they do not have to completely submit to federal pressures and programs. In fact, local governments should be the ones to stand up and say enough is enough
The following are incredible observations and advice from Jefferson. To me, they stand without the need of comment. Jefferson is both bold and comforting in his expressions of confidence in the people in recovering from seemingly impossible odds. Please read and ponder his council to those of us who are concerned about our beloved country:
Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.
The influence over government must be shared among all the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe..
The spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless.They will be forgotten.and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights.
It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.
I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors; and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty.
The people, especially when moderately instructed, are the only safe, because the only honest, depositories of the public rights, and should therefore be introduced into the administration of them in every function to which they are sufficient. They will err sometimes and accidentally, but never designedly and with a systematic and persevering purpose of overthrowing the free principles of the government.
Say.whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
The spirit of 1776 is not dead. It has only been slumbering. The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played on by some fact with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves. But time and truth have dissipated the delusion and opened their eyes.
The lesson we have had [i.e., from Federalist excesses] will probably be useful to the people at large by showing to them how capable they are of being made the instruments of their own bondage.
The firmness with which the people have withstood the late abuses of the press, the discernment they have manifested between truth and falsehood, show that they may safely be trusted to hear everything true and false, and to form a correct judgment between them.
My confidence.in my countrymen generally leaves me without much fear for the future.
A people having no king to sell them for a mess of pottage for himself, no shackles to restrain their powers of self-defense, find resources within themselves equal to every trial. This we did during the Revolutionary War, and this we can do again, let who will attack us, if we act heartily with one another.
Lay down true principles and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendancy of the people.
Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law.
[A] people [can become] so demoralized and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control..Their minds [are] to be informed by education what is right and what wrong, to be encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned, indeed, but irremissible; in all cases, to follow truth as the only safe guide and to eschew error, which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government.
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. (All quotes excerpted from The Real Thomas Jefferson , pp. 574-578)
Former Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, expressed similar confidence in the people's ability to weather the storm and recover our beloved Constitution when he said:
"I have faith that the Constitution will be saved.. But it will not be saved in Washington. It will be saved by citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened.men and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles of the Constitution." ( The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner , 1986, p. 30-31)
In our efforts to save the Constitution, let us not forget the many other elective offices to be filled periodically. It can be a powerful and persuasive check for state governments to say to the federal government, "No, we won't take your money and nor be bound by the strings that come with it." That takes courage-it takes Founding Fathers' type of courage, but there are people, who, if they were elected to these offices, would do just that. Some states have or are now considering, for example, telling the federal government they are opting out of the intrusive No Child Left Behind education law. There are many other ways the people can begin to assert themselves.
Judging from the increase in requests for seminars around the country to study the Constitution in the tradition of the Founders, the people are responding to restore this precious document of freedom. Please consult our website to learn about having seminars in your area.
Earl Taylor, Jr.