The nation commemorates its independence on the 4th of July, but it was on the 2nd of July that the Continental Congress adopted a resolution severing ties with Great Britain. Today, 231 years later, we still are living the great experiment known as democracy. Can a government, for the people, by the people and of the people, succeed? It remains an open question.
Certainly the answer is yes, if we remain sane. If we expect our government to solve all our problems, however, then we will fail. Many of us have ideas about what our government should do; it would be interesting to compare our expectations with those of the founding fathers.
So much political discourse today is about expanding government, giving it a bigger role in our culture. I don’t get the sense the founding fathers were interested in more government or bigger government. They just wanted more direct governance. They wanted the government to be close to the people, not across an ocean. You had to be very independent to come to America at all, so those early Americans weren’t looking for government to do more for them; they just wanted a government that would let them solve their own problems, pursue their own happiness.
Whenever I think about expanding government, I cannot ignore the words of God as recorded in the 8th chapter of 1 Samuel. The Israelites had been ruled by a loose confederation of judges since the time of Moses but as decades passed, they evolved to want something more formal, something bigger. They wanted a king. Samuel didn’t like the idea but God told him He would give them the king they wanted. But here is what God says about what it will mean to have a king (starting in the middle of verse 11):
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariots… He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When this takes place you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the Lord will not answer you.
Although this warning was specifically directed at a monarchy, I think it is applicable to any government that we expect to save us, as the Israelites expected a king to save them. And the more we coronate our president, the more we resemble those Israelites, and the more this warning seems to apply to today. Certainly our government does take our sons and daughters for its military, and it tithes our property to fund its own agencies. And certainly people complain about our president as much or more than ever.
The main responsibility of a good government is to promote justice. People can make their own success in a just society. The founding fathers sought justice, which was self-governance. It was unjust for a government in Great Britain to rule a people across the ocean, to tax them without giving them a voice in the governing process. Today, a good government protects human life, property, and freedom, and enforces laws that support contracts.
A government cannot guarantee everyone’s happiness. It cannot supply everyone with food, shelter and clothing. People have to supply those things by their own hard work. The government cannot guarantee everyone’s health, education and welfare. Oh, we want government to raise our kids for us, to keep us healthy, to guarantee us a good-paying job, to guarantee us a house, to guarantee us a college education, not to mention elementary and high school education, and as of late, we want it to pay for our drugs. We want it to take care of our aging parents, protect us from all discernable risk, and provide wireless internet access anywhere and everywhere. We want, want, want and the government is trying and, of course, it cannot meet our expectations. So we complain, complain, complain.
We have a lot more laws today than we had in 1776. The additional laws, the bigger government don’t guarantee any greater level of freedom. The more unrealistic we are about our expectations for government, the more disappointed we will be. Freedom, of course, comes from God, not from government. While we can be grateful for good government, we cannot take our independence for granted. The less we trust in God and the more we put our faith in government, the more we put our freedom in jeopardy.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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