Getting back to basics: Why power must be reined in and widely dispersed

Constitutional scholar Gordon Wood, while speaking at Boyd Law School a few years ago, said the Constitution could be boiled down to just one word: “Mistrust.”

James Madison

The gist of the document is to hold a tight rein on power by dispersing it among many and setting liberties off limits to even the majority of voters.

As Congress and the president jockey for ways to manipulate the economy, to appoint a consumer protection czar with unprecedented powers and budget, to spend more and more on entitlements that redistribute money among the citizens, to control more and more of the private sector through law and regulation, perhaps it is time to harken back to the concepts on which this nation was founded.

In 1748 Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu laid down the blueprint that James Madison and other drafters of the Constitution embraced. He wrote:

“The political liberty of the subject is a tranquillity of mind arising  from the opinion each person has of his safety. In order to have this  liberty, it is requisite the government be so constituted as one man  need not be afraid of another.    When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person,  or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because  apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact  tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.

“Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from  the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the  life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control;  for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the  executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.    There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body,  whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers,  that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of  trying the causes of individuals.”

Madison echoed this rationale in Federalist Paper No. 51 when he wrote:

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

In Federlist Paper No. 47, Madison wrote:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

This is why that NPRI suit over executive branch employees sitting in the state Legislature is so important.

At the federal level, even those with the best intentions can monumentally screw things up. They need to be reined in and reminded of the principles on which this country was founded.

14 comments on “Getting back to basics: Why power must be reined in and widely dispersed

  1. James Lamb says:

    Excellent. Your quote from the Federalist Paper No. 47 is the perfect point and indeed the very point of the announced court action by NPRI. It should be carved in granite and placed in front of the Legislature building.

  2. In fact, James, NPRI used it in its press release. I used it in my blog on the suit and the R-J used it in its editorial. It is smack on.


  3. Athos says:

    I watched a movie entitled, “Ironclad” with Paul Giamatti as King John (the fella that signed the Magna Carte). I had no idea King John was forced to sign this agreement by armed men. And the lengths the King went to seek revenge and nullify his contract.

    My point is why can’t our legislators read and understand the same things we read? Are they reading something else? How can their interpretations of plain English be so distorted?

    The answer lies in having them give up the power.

    I wonder if they ever stop and reflect on the evil nature of their actions?

  4. Steve says:

    Better to state the real answer lies in not allowing power to consolidate amongst too small a group or even to one person.

    Spread the power out among as far and wide as possible. Among all political persuasions.

  5. I just ordered “Ironclad” from Netflix, thanks.


  6. James Lamb says:

    Athos- I remember learning in 7th or 8th grade that the Magna Carte was signed at the point of a sword. That was in the early 60’s when they still taught real history in schools. I don’t want to start a new thread, but what passes for history today in schools is “hog wash” pure and simple.

  7. Athos says:

    One of the basic tenants of Marxism, is taking over the schools and instructing defenseless children. Even our private schools are government controlled. These are used so that all children can be indoctrinated and inculcated with the government propaganda, like “majority rules”, and “pay your fair share”.

    With so much history, the excuse is “not enough time”.

  8. Pat says:

    I agree with all you guys but please stop and think a moment. Thems in government, at all levels, work very hard month after month to get to where they are, taking us to where we are.

    We only need to get to that second shot heard around the world. It’s a “Capital Hill” to die for and it’s a blowing in the wind………………

  9. You show see what passes for economics, James.


  10. Athos says:

    Pat, what are you talking about?

  11. Pat says:

    Athos, a lot of folks ask that. Talking about all forms of government slowly grind away at consolidating power over us not in government through regulations, laws, policy and penalties up to and including death. At some point in time the masses tip government over and it starts anew. The shot heard is the tipping point. We’re moving in that direction but I don’t think we’re any where near that yet, least not in my lifetime.

  12. Athos says:

    When the rot gets overpowering, things can move quickly.

  13. Athos says:

    Think of East Germany, 1989……

  14. […] Constitution was written expressly because the Founders did not trust government, and the Bill of Rights was added to even further tie its hands, such as the Fourth […]

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