I have often been tempted to believe that the greatest contribution of the British people to the world has been the concept of a private limited liability company. It was the development of this concept that created the environment for the invisible hand of capitalism to create the dynamic free economy. And it was that free economy not conquest or empire that lifted the masses of Western Civilization out of abject poverty.
Economically that concept maybe the greatest contribution of the British to the world, however, when viewed as a whole the greatest contribution of the British people is the reality of a limited government in the modern world. It is limited government which has allowed the freedom and independence necessary for humanity to do what humanity was created to do: exercise its individual free choice.
The people of Great Britain, the political forefathers of American liberty, fought for centuries to establish individual freedom. Beginning as abject servants of an absolute king they struggled to carve out a space for the recognition of personal independence. Through battles and death, fire and sword, through revolution and repression the people of Britain won inch by inch a space for humanity to breathe free.
Most of us have heard of the Charter of Liberties in 1100 which declared that the King was subject to the law. The Magna Carta of 1215 asserts the writ of habeas corpus, trial by one’s peers, representation of nobility for taxation, and a ban on retroactive punishment. The Petition of Right of 1628 asserts the specific rights and liberties of England that the King is prohibited from infringing. The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 is a procedural device to force the courts to examine the lawfulness of a prisoner’s detention. And finally, there was the Bill of Rights of 1689, the result of the Glorious Revolution, securing Parliamentary sovereignty over the King and courts.
Most of these were fought for and won for all British citizens back when the United States were 13 separate colonies proud to be part of the British Empire. Americans saw themselves as British. They believed that they had the same rights as any other British citizen and that they were not second-class citizens. It was their stand upon these rights which became the seedbed of the American Revolution.
When Americans claimed that they were British citizens with all the rights and privileges this entailed, they pointed to the charters given to the first settlers. The First Virginia Charter, signed by King James in 1606, stated clearly:
Wee doe, for us, our heires and successors, declare by theise presentes that all and everie the parsons being our subjects which shall dwell and inhabit within everie or anie of the saide severall Colonies and plantacions and everie of theire children which shall happen to be borne within the limitts and precincts of the said severall Colonies and plantacions shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunites within anie of our other dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and borne within this our realme of Englande or anie other of our saide dominions.
And, the “Charter of Massachusetts Bay” which was issued in 1629 that proclaimed:
Wee doe hereby for Us, our Heires and Successors, ordeyne and declare, and graunte to the saide Governor and Company and their Successors, That all and every the Subjects of Us, our Heires or Successors, which shall goe to and inhabite within the saide Landes and Premisses hereby mentioned to be graunted, and every of their Children which shall happen to be borne there, or on the Seas in goeing thither, or retorning from thence, shall have and enjoy all liberties and Immunities of free and naturall Subjects within any of the Domynions of Us, our Heires or Successors, to all Intents, Constructions, and Purposes whatsoever, as if they and everie of them were borne within the Realme of England.
Then after popular uprisings and resistance compelled the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act they passed the Declaratory Act (1766), which said that the British Parliament’s taxing authority, was the same in America as in Great Britain. American’s believed that they could only be taxed with the approval of their local assemblies. In this law, the Parliament also declared its complete authority to make binding laws on the American colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”
Patriots such as James Otis and Sam Adams in Massachusetts and Patrick Henry in Virginia called it treason. They insisted that this action destroyed all that their British ancestors had fought for. If you make a careful examination of the arguments of the Founders, before the Declaration of Independence, or if you look at the arguments set forth in that hallowed document, you will see that all of the arguments were based upon the ancient rights, which had been won by the British people. It was not until they realized that the solid foundation which they believed stood beneath their freedom was in reality a sand bar in the river of politics did they declare their independence and fight to win it.
Once they had won the long hard fight and proudly stood as 13 independent nations on the edge of what was becoming a trans-Atlantic civilization did they see that if they were to preserve the freedom they had won they needed something more than a tradition and stronger than a promise. This is when America made its first great contribution to the world: the concept of a written constitution. Yes, America you did build that.
From their British roots and the writings of the Enlightenment giants such as John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government (1689 and 1690), Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws (1748), Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762), Immanuel Kant’s What is Enlightenment? and his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations the Framers wrote a constitution to limit government. For they realized, without the binding chains of limitation, any government will inevitably accumulate such power that it will eventually trample upon the rights of its citizens. Sadly we have learned that even with a written constitution the same thing will eventually occur.
Our forefathers understood that any document which establishes a government and delineates which powers belong to it, and which expressly states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” is purposefully limiting the power of the central government. In addition, this document is extremely clear in dividing the powers of government into separate parts as described by Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws. In this work, Montesquieu proposed to separate the power of government among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. This approach presented a government which did not centralize all its powers in an executive. There should be no imperial presidency.
It was the genius of the Framers to construct a constitution which they believed was strong enough to stand the test of time and the lust for power among those chosen to represent the people. They believed as Madison said, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.” This is America’s great contribution to civilization: a government in chains so that the people could be free for when a government is free, the people are in chains.
Then along came the Progressive Movement, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and now BHO. They have used the fiction of a Living Document to turn the Constitution into a dead letter. They have progressed past the limitations on the government, not by following the amendment process but instead by ignoring and interpreting then calling precedent tradition. Inch by inch, step by step slowly they turned the greatest experiment in human freedom ever devised into another welfare state kleptocracy promising a worker’s paradise for those who don’t work by plundering those who do.
The blush is off the rose. The scam is plain to see. The emperor has no clothes, “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” You can’t spend more than you make forever. Eventually, the note comes due.
The political actions of our Framers followed the lead of philosophers so too the Progressives have followed their own philosophical leaders.
Marx taught them “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” He also taught that capitalism will wither away and then a dictatorship of the proletariat will build a worker’s paradise. His disciples attempted to put this into practice in that great prison-house of nations: the USSR.
Lenin taught them, “The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation” and “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency” and of course “The goal of socialism is communism.”
Stalin elaborated on this further, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed” and “Print is the sharpest and the strongest weapon of our party” and also “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”
Following these precepts, the enemies of freedom have captured the education system and systematically worked to dumb down our people. They have captured the major media and turned it from a watch dog to a lap dog swilling out propaganda to a populace entranced by bread and circuses.
It is our duty to keep the light of freedom alive, to teach our true History, and to instill in our children and in the minds of any who will listen that limited government is essential for freedom. Let us work to restore the limits so our children may be free.
Keep the faith. Keep the peace. We shall overcome.
Dr. Robert Owens, constitution limited government, Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Charter of Liberties, Magna Carta, Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus, Patrick henry, Sam Adams
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