Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.
Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." These opening words from "Common Sense," the legendary work by Thomas Paine credited with lighting the fuse of the American Revolution, are timeless and as applicable today as then.
The founders of this nation understood there was an ebb and flow to the rise and fall of societies and governments. They understood the need for government, but they also understood human nature. They knew that when a people burned with a passion for liberty, as they struggled under the yoke of oppression, freedom would follow. Likewise, their intimate knowledge of the classic empires of antiquity left no doubt in their minds that the chains of tyranny were forged when the people became complacent, apathetic and self-serving.
William Penn, founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, wrote in 1681, "Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too."
As a people settle into apathy and complacency, they abandon or neglect their responsibilities to society, to its preservation and its advancement. Institutions of government then must be devised to fill the subsequent void that results from dereliction of duty and abandonment of moral obligation.
In a republican form of government such as ours, two symptoms precede the final slide into tyranny and dictatorship. Representatives are elected to further the needs or ideologies of the individual rather than for the greater good, and apathy will become manifest in decreasing voter turnout that in turn allows those elected to be self-serving as well as be controlled by a similarly selfish minority.
For a republican form of government to flourish, to provide the best vanguard for freedoms and rights of the individual, the electorate and the elected must rely first on character and second upon law. Lax and incompetent representatives will rarely enforce or introduce good legislation. Moreover, even the most well crafted constitution cannot remain a bulwark of freedom or liberty without competent and moral leaders.
Noah Webster wrote, "When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will not be made for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded."
Not in condemnation but in honesty, give thought to these words as you consider the state of our nation today.
Our nation's founders designed the institutions of government around the concept that a constitutional republic based on the rule of law would provide the best opportunity for preservation and advancement of freedom. Additionally, it was seen as the easiest to repair provided the neglect had not been allowed to result in deep rot, that the zeal for liberty had not waned among the people and that the electorate was educated.
As an inundation of rhetoric begins in earnest, and as candidates vie for your vote with empty promises, consider these words from Daniel Webster. "I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe. The prospect of a war with any powerful nation is too remote to be a matter of calculation. Besides, there is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow. Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter, from the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and neglect."
In closing, I leave you with these words from John Hancock. "I conjure you, by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that ye pray but that ye act."