The act of declaring independence in 1776 took tremendous courage. The Founders were putting their lives and fortunes on the line--not to gain incredible power, but to tear incredible power down and bring lasting liberty to this nation. It was a liberty that would take constant vigilance. It was a liberty that would require Americans to resist the temptation to let government become a caretaker (and thereby a master instead of a servant). Today we are appallingly out of touch with the thinking and intent of those courageous leaders. Here's one nugget to help us remember. It comes from Thomas Jefferson in his letter to Thomas Cooper, 29 November 1802:
[I]f we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.Since there are plenty of butchered quotes from our Founding Fathers floating around, you can verify this quotation at the Jefferson Encyclopedia and see an image of the original document at the Library of Congress. The quotation comes from lines 3-5 of image of the last page of the letter.
For you lovers of Jefferson and his brilliant thinking on liberty, one example of a bad quote you may have seen is this:
My reading of history convinces me that most bad government comes from too much government.The Jefferson Encyclopedia takes up this bogus quote and reveals that the first time it was attributed to Jefferson was 1950, but that it is not to be found in his writings. It sounds like something he might have said, sure, but he doesn't appear to have penned this statement. Sadly, a large sporting goods company in my part of the world ran a half-page ad today in the local Post-Crescent newspaper featuring a series of statements allegedly from Thomas Jefferson, and that was the lead "quote." The second quote was a mangled version of the statement given above about wasting the labors of the people. Oh well, that's what we get for living in the Knowledge Era. That and 26% of Americans not even knowing from whom we declared independence.
By the way, if you look at the details of the poll, those from ages from 18 to 29--you know, those closest to the benefits of modern education and the information explosion--did the worst. 40% of them didn't know. I find that tragic. Think how bad the numbers would have been if the poll had asked anything serious about the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
With multi-generational ignorance about the basics of our origins and the workings of liberty, I fear that far too many Americans will have no appreciation for the principles behind the Declaration and those that were meant to be enshrined in our Constitution. I fear, for example, that few will appreciate the wisdom of George Washington's warnings in his great but rarely pondered Farewell Address. Consider these words about the danger of government encroachment by usurping power--something that is standard fare in our era, and rarely a topic of public debate:
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. 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 usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.This Fourth of July, why not resolve to better understand the principles of liberty that our Founding Fathers sought to protect? Why not seek to understand why the Lord in Doctrine & Covenants 98 would endorse the Constitutional law of the land and say that those principles belong to all mankind and that we should befriend them? The survival of our religion depends upon religious liberty and its preservation requires constant vigilance, in my opinion.