Dr. Timothy D. Johnson, Lipscomb College
progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” This quote by Thomas Jefferson reflects an
understanding that no matter what period of history one looks at governments
always tend to expand their power and control. It has happened countless times in history,
and it is always at the expense of liberty.
Our Founding Fathers waged a classic struggle between liberty and power
and in so doing succeeded in subjugating government to the will of the
people. They won their struggle because
they understood some things that we have forgotten. The Founders knew that liberty and power
cannot coexist and that when either of the two expand, the other must of
necessity recede. They knew that since
government is an aggressive force and liberty a delicate flower, defenders of
freedom must be constantly vigilant.
are no longer taught about America’s founding principles of limited government
and personal responsibility. The growing
educational trend in recent decades is to champion big government as the giver
of rights and protector of liberty. This
concept is wrong. As Jefferson put it, “The God Who gave us life
gave us liberty at the same time.”
Furthermore, governments exercise power, but they do not protect liberty.
As I explain in, Liberty VS Power, when the colonists saw
the British government trying to exercise unprecedented power in the 1760s, a
spontaneous resistance movement emerged.
It was an eighteenth century version of the modern-day Tea Party Movement,
and it literally led to the Tea Party in 1773 which gives today’s movement its
name. In an effort to undercut this
resistance movement, the British press tried to discredit the protesters by characterizing
them as an angry mob, radicals, and rabble.
The resistance movement eventually flourished into a revolution and a
war for independence.
The new framework
of government that our Founders produced in 1787 was a remarkable
achievement. By separating power between
the states and the nation, dividing federal power into three branches, and
devising an intricate set of checks and balances, they created a Constitution
that bound the federal government by law and made it answerable to the
people. The Constitution is the law or
the framework that is supposed to keep the federal government in its place—that
is to say limited.
We often forget that the Constitution was not
written to govern people, it was written to govern government. Whenever you hear someone arguing that the
Constitution should be viewed as a “living document” whose meaning can change
over time, you know that person is in favor of big government. At the conclusion of the Constitutional
Convention a woman is said to have approached Benjamin Franklin and asked,
“What have you given us?” to which he responded, “A republic if you can keep
Timothy D. Johnson
is a history professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and the
author of Liberty VS Power which is
available at www.libertyvspower.com.