The Warnings of Benjamin Franklin
Franklin served as one of the foremost architects in structuring the Constitution, and while most of the Founders were congratulating one another on their remarkable charter of liberty, Benjamin Franklin injected this note of prophetic insight. "I agree to this Constitution ... and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other."
The Warnings of George Washington
One of the most significant doctrines set forth in the Farewell Address was Washington's extremely insightful warning concerning the peril of allowing candidates to be nominated and national policies to be promoted by competing political parties. In fact, he prophesied exactly what would happen if the American leaders ever fell into the seductive trap of trying to run the nation with opposing parties. He said: "They serve to organize factions ... to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party,often a small but artful and enterprising minority.... "Let me ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party...." Almost prophetically he anticipated the encroachment of one branch of government over the others. He said: "It is important ... that ... those entrusted with its administration ... confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department any encroachment upon another.... The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create ... a real despotism." Nothing aroused the wrath of Washington more than arrogant bureaucrats actually changing the fundamental structure of government by sheer despotic assertion of administrative power. He said: "If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpations; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."
The Warning of John Adams
Among the warning voices of the Founders none was more forceful in proclaiming the need for a virtuous people to make the Constitution function than John Adams. He said: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
The Warnings of Thomas Jefferson
During his two terms as President, Jefferson detected some evil and subversive trends which were luring the American people away from the original Constitution. Notice how direct he was in pointing the finger of accusation at the judiciary for corrupting the original constitutional plan: "Our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit, by consolidation first, and then corruption.... The engine of consolidation will be the federal judiciary; the two other branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments." In other words, the Supreme Court uses its judicial mandates to draw more and more power to Washington; then the Congress and the Executive use this new power to shatter the Constitution and corrupt the dual federalism which was designed to balance the political powers between the government and the states. Once Jefferson's distant cousin, John Marshall, became chief justice of the Supreme Court, Marshall set himself and his associates up as the "final arbiter" on all constitutional issues. Nowhere in the Constitution was the federal judiciary given the power to enforce its will on the states or the other two federal departments. Jefferson had the Supreme Court in his gun sights when he wrote: "The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting with noiseless foot and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step and holding what it gains, is engulfing insidiously the [state] governments into the jaws of that [federal government] which feeds them."
The Warnings of James Madison
Madison was known to be the philosophical soul-mate of Thomas Jefferson, but sometimes his contemporaries considered him somewhat paranoid and suffering from fears for the nation that would never happen. But the passing of time was to prove him more insightful than many of his contemporaries had thought.
He said: "If Congress can employ money indefinitely, for the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, the establishing in like manner schools throughout the union; they may assume the provision of the poor.... Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America."
The Warnings of Abraham Lincoln
At the age of twenty-eight, Abraham Lincoln gave one of the great speeches of his life. He had been asked to speak at the Young Men's Lyceum at Springfield, the capital city of Illinois. He chose as his subject, "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions." The date was January 27, 1837. Lincoln deplored the spirit of lawlessness that was increasing among the people. He said: "There is even now something of ill omen amongst us. I mean that increasing disregard for law which pervades the country -- the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice. The disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours ... it would be a violation of truth to deny." He was not afraid of invasion from without, but he saw the ominous possibility of self-destruction from within. He said: "At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide."
The Warnings of Alex De Tocqueville
In 1830 a young judge from France arrived in America. His name was Alexis de Tocqueville. He came to study the American system. He and his friend soaked up more information about the great American experiment in ten months than most scholars absorb in a lifetime. Returning to France, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a two-volume work entitled, Democracy in America . De Tocqueville saw the people of the United States passing through several distinct stages.
First of all, he saw the strength of character and moral integrity that would make them prosperous. But as they became self-sufficient he saw that they would be less concerned about each other and much less concerned about the principles that made them a great people. This would leave them vulnerable to the manipulation of clever politicians who would begin to promise them perpetual security if they accepted certain schemes contrived by some of their leaders.He then described what modern students have been led to identify as "democratic socialism.": "That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. "For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances -- what remains, to spare them all the care of thinking and the trouble of living." "After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. "The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided -- men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till [the] nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." Are not these warnings sobering? Can we not see every one of them in fulfillment today? Yet in spite of all these dire predictions, the Founders assured us there is a manifest destiny for America that would cause her to rise from the ashes. It is this prophecy that keeps us going. Is each of us doing all we can to help? Have you had a seminar for your friends in your area yet? Can you spare a little of your resources to help us continue? Thank you for all you do or will do.