There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the founding of our Republic and the mindset of those who signed the Declaration of Independence and created the United States Constitution with the Bill of Rights. Our President has complained about the fact that it only contains “negative rights.” Similarly, his latest Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, has bemoaned the fact that our Constitution is primarily about “negative rights.” Just what do the President and his nominee mean by negative rights?
The answer is that they view government entirely different than did the Founders. To understand our Founders’ mindset we must understand what they believed and the principles that caused them to risk all to create a republican form of government. We must start by understanding that contrary to what is being taught in our schools today, our Founders were men of deep faith. Did you know that nearly half of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence had some formal seminary training and a number had seminary degrees? That’s how devout our Founders were, how serious they were about their faith. It’s a matter of record and fact, not speculation, that these men, including those who did not have formal seminary training, were driven primarily by their Christian faith.
The real difference between the vision of our President and the Founders is their view of human nature. Our Founders based their understanding of human nature on that of the Bible. The Bible repeatedly discusses the fallen nature of man. In fact, it is to rescue man from his fallen state that God established His plan of salvation. After sin came into the world, God devised a plan to make it possible for frail and corrupt men (and women) to be allowed to enter into heaven—God’s perfect home where there are no more quarrels, no anger, no abuse, no jealousy, no greed, no evil of any kind.
But the Bible makes it absolutely clear that man is inherently sinful. The great leader of the Old Testament, King David, said in Psalm 51:3-5, “…my sin is always before me… I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight… Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Similarly, in the New Testament book of 1 John 1:8, it says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” These are but two of many references to the fallen state of man in the Bible and the Bible was the most widely read book by our Founders. They read it, they knew it, they understood it, and most important of all, they believed it.
And while nearly all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the writers of the Constitution held this view of man, they also knew history well and knew that placing power in the hands of government often led to tyranny. Corrupt men cannot handle power whether they gain that power from wealth, from election, from inheritance, or from any other form. They seek to become like God and exercise power over other men and women.
This is the difference between the vision of the Founders and our President. It’s not a matter of being well-meaning or having good intentions, it’s a matter of understanding the fallen nature of man. The Founders knew well that placing power in the hands of a few or in the King led to oppression and despotism. That is why they intentionally placed what our President describes as “negative rights” into the US Constitution.
In contrast, President Obama believes the government should do things for its citizens like provide universal health care, keep Americans from eating the wrong food, tell them what kind of cars they should drive, regulate where they live, decide what they their children should learn in school, regulate what is politically correct and acceptable speech, decide who should be allowed access to the airwaves and the internet, alter the moral code in the interest of tolerance and fairness, and otherwise involve itself intimately in the lives of its citizens for their good. Our President and those on the left don’t like the limitations placed on the activities of government by the Constitution and thus deplore the fact that it only deals with “negative rights” which keep government from intruding into the decisions of free Americans. Obama sees the Bill of Rights as “negative” rights because they limit the power of government over the lives of American citizens. He (and liberals in general) ignores, dislikes, and mocks Article X of the US Constitution which states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” People who believe in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution are derided as “Tenthers,” as if they are kooks and screwballs.
In short, liberals don’t like to limit the power of government over your life. They have no fear of government. They apparently believe they have a special corner on intelligence, wisdom, benevolence, broadmindedness, and tolerance that is far greater than their fellow citizens, especially those they refer to as “the little people.” Accordingly, they believe they should have much, much more power over how you live your life. They can’t imagine that the growth of government will devolve into a dictatorship because they see man, or at least enlightened liberals, as good.
Liberals like to ignore the Declaration of Independence, but you cannot understand the vision of the Founders or understand the United States Constitution without reading and understanding the Declaration.
The Declaration, which was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson, explicitly acknowledged that our rights do not come from government, but from our Creator. The Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” To the Founders it was “self-evident” that their rights came not from government, but from God. The Declaration repeatedly refers to the danger of government taking away the rights of its citizens. Our Founders believed so strongly that unlimited government posed a great threat to their freedom that they concluded the Declaration with these words, “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They were men of honor and some lost everything they had including their life, their property, and their families.
They were willing to risk all for freedom. And they knew it was a great risk with long, long odds. It wasn’t just that the American colonies were weak and were up against the world’s greatest power of the day. Theirs was a radical experiment that tested whether, as Lincoln would later say, “a nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure.”
They knew they had no chance whatsoever of success unless blessed by God. They knew that only a nation comprised of men and women of virtue who put their trust in God could preserve the freedom they dearly won. John Adams said the American Revolution, “…connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” At another time Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
There is no common ground between the understanding and vision of the Founders and our President or those on the left. They put their trust in government. Our Founders put their trust in God.
It’s time to restore the vision of our Founders. Will we leave to our children a nation of virtue, freedom, and equal justice for all or will our legacy be a descent into totalitarianism? What will we choose, limited government and maximum freedom or big government and limited freedom? There is no other choice.Our nation is walking dangerously close to the precipice of an all powerful, big government. Will 2010 be the beginning of American renewal, or will it be the beginning of the end of the American dream? We must cast our votes wisely, not only in 2010, but also in 2012, so that the legacy we leave to our children resembles the legacy each of us received from those who came before us. Let us, as did our Founders, ask “Divine Providence” to restore the vision of our Founders for a nation of laws and limited government that values each and every human being and relies on God as the author of our freedom.