The General Responsibilities of Freedom
Freedom requires a specially qualified people.
The individual conduct of people living under the Supreme Court's Constitution is of less concern than it is under the Framers' Constitution. This is because under the Supreme Court's Constitution the people are subject to greater government control and are less free to make their own choices.
But the Framers' Constitution requires a specially qualified people for it to function successfully. Such qualifications are made necessary by the greater freedom the people enjoy under the Framers' Constitution.
This chapter considers the type of people a society must have in order for freedom to continue.
Meaning of freedom.
Many people today have a very different concept of freedom from that of the Framers of the Constitution. Today the principal focus of the idea of freedom is on the right to do as you please free of those in authority making rules or setting boundaries on what you can do.
There is an element of truth in that concept. It is true that freedom involves the right to make one's own choices and that the Framers described freedom in terms of inviolate rights to life, liberty and property, subject to a minimum of control by compulsion political government where necessary for the common good. Even that minimum of control was to be subject to strict limitations to prevent abuse by those in authority.
But from the Framers' point of view, freedom meant much more than the right to do as you please protected by negative restrictions on political government designed to preserve inviolate rights to life, liberty and property.
Meaning of self governing.
The larger, positive aspect of freedom from the Framers' point of view is to be self governing.
To be self governing meant partly that much of government would not involve compulsion political authority at all but rather voluntary maintenance of order and solution [p. 72] of societal problems by the people themselves because of their inward motivation entirely apart from political government.
To be self governing also meant major and continuing involvement by the people in the political process. That included a detailed knowledge of the Constitution and devoting substantial time and effort to learn about candidates and issues and to convey opinions to officials and to question them about their actions.
Thus freedom in the tradition of the Founding Fathers involved much more than just light heartedly doing as one pleased. Instead it involved voluntarily assuming heavy and continuing individual responsibilities. Those responsibilities included the following:
Governing self and family.
The first responsibility assumed by citizens of a free society is righteous government of oneself and one's family. The family is the smallest multi-person unit of government and the one where the rising generation receives much of its training in righteous government.
Voluntary civic service.
Another major responsibility of a free people is devotion of time and means to voluntary civic organizations to solve societal problems without involvement of compulsion political government. That effort was considered to be of great importance because it deprived compulsion political government of what might otherwise have been an excuse for expanding its authority.
A few quotations from de Tocqueville concerning his observations in the United States in the 1830's will confirm that before the days of pervasive government Americans really did devote major effort to voluntarily helping others.
I must say that I have often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and I have remarked a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to each other. (Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, Vol. II, p. 112)
In this next quotation de Tocqueville comments on the influence of free institutions in encouraging service to others.
The free institutions which the inhabitants of the United States possess, and the political rights of which they make so much use, remind every citizen, and in a thousand ways, that he lives in society. They every instant impress upon his mind the notion [p. 73] that it is the duty as well as the interest of men to make themselves useful to their fellow-creatures. (Ibid.)
In this quotation de Tocqueville comments on how service to others becomes habitual in the United States.
Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice; what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one's fellow-citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired. (Ibid.)
In this next quotation de Tocqueville discusses how people in the United States formed all sorts of voluntary associations without government involvement and used those associations to accomplish public service objectives they considered to be desirable.
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds,religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; and in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it be proposed to advance some truth, or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. (Ibid., p. 114)
By way of comparison de Tocqueville points out that in other countries these activities would be the province of government or nobility, but in the United States they were done by the people themselves.
The possibility that the government may supplant the voluntary associations and the danger to freedom if that should happen are recognized by de Tocqueville, who wrote:
The more (government) stands in the place of associations, the more will individuals, losing the notion of combining together, require its assistance . . . . No sooner does a government attempt to go beyond its political sphere . . . than it exercises, even unintentionally, an insupportable tyranny; for a government can only dictate strict rules. (Ibid., pp. 116-117) [p. 74]
Active political participation.
Another responsibility of free people is active participation in the political process including gaining a sound understanding of the Constitution and true political principles and seeking to encourage and influence others to understand those principles and support policies and programs in harmony with them.
In a republic it is not enough to be informed yourself. It is also necessary to show others the rightness of your position and convince them to vote for it.
This is a constant struggle as the people of the United States are continually bombarded with ideas and proposals that sound good but are not. Actually most such impressive sounding suggestions are based on the principles of the Adversary, who was so convincing that he induced a third of our brothers and sisters to follow him, even though doing so meant forfeiting opportunities for long term blessings they might otherwise have received.
The necessity for promoting true political principles was emphasized by Joseph Smith, who said:
There is one thing more I wish to speak about, and that is political economy. It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. (History of the Church, Vol. V, p. 286)
Promotion of moral and religious society.
An indispensable responsibility of free people is general promotion of a moral and religious society without which freedom cannot exist. See Chapter 4 entitled "The Indispensable Ingredient" in The Elders of Israel and the Constitution, by Jerome Horowitz.
Today many of our people favor secularizing the United States. They argue that we are now a diverse people of many different beliefs and that therefore the United States should not be identified with any particular point of view. Superficially that argument may seem impressive. But I suspect that most of those who adhere to it are unaware that they are helping to undermine their own freedom.
The source of freedom.
The Declaration of Independence affirms that the concept of freedom is derived from the belief that God created men with the right to be free. [p. 75]
If people stop believing in God they lose the ideas that provide the foundation of their freedom. The necessity of continued belief in God for freedom to continue was emphasized by Thomas Jefferson in these words:
Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? (The Declaration of Independence and What It Means Today, by Edward Dumbauld, p. 59)
Who is qualified to be free?
There is another reason religion is necessary for freedom to continue. Freedom involves removing external controls on people's conduct. If the people lack enough inward religious motivation to act morally, the absence of controls will produce anarchy.
After stressing the necessity of faith in a democratic republic, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity? (Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, Vol. I, p. 318)
In the absence of a sufficiently moral citizenry for our free constitutional system to function as intended, the alternative to anarchy is compulsion under which order is maintained by force. Under either anarchy or compulsion, the winner would be Lucifer since he would have succeeded in preventing the Lord's inspired constitutional system from functioning.
In Doctrine and Covenants 98:4-7 regarding the responsibility of Latter-day Saints to befriend the constitutional law of the land, the Lord emphasizes in verse 7 that "whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil." That evil is what our people will reap if they are not sufficiently moral for our constitutional system to function. The "more" is oppressive government regulation and control. The "less" is the anarchy that results from insufficient government restraint on an unrighteous people.
Some may feel that sufficient morality can exist through education without religion. But, the reality of human nature indicates otherwise as George Washington reminded us in his Farewell Address.
Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structurereason and [p. 76] experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
The great skittishness about religion today is largely due to the Supreme Court reversing the American tradition concerning religion. Americans should be aware for example of the Holy Trinity Church case decided in 1892 (143 U.S. 457). In that decision a unanimous Supreme Court declared the United States to be a Christian nation. (See The Elders of Israel and the Constitution, by Jerome Horowitz, p. 31)
Willingness to be tolerant of the beliefs of others should not be misinterpreted to include giving up the freedom to live in a manner consistent with one's own beliefs.
Individual state governments.
While the focus of this work is on the United States Constitution, it is appropriate in this chapter on the general responsibilities of freedom to include a few comments on state governments as parts of the same larger system of political organization.
The United States Constitution specifies the division of powers as between the federal government and the state governments and emphasizes the limited nature of federal powers. While it also contains certain specific limitations on state powers, it makes clear that there are many unspecified powers remaining in the states and the people.
At the time the federal Constitution was framed there had already been much development of state constitutions. The United States Constitution itself clearly recognizes the right of the people of the individual states to develop and change their own state forms of governmentprovided the system they adopt is "a Republican Form of Government." (Constitution, Article IV, Section 4.)
However, the human nature tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion was recognized as a universal principle applicable at the state level as well as the federal level. While the right of the people of each state to establish their own system of government was recognized, the great objective was to be preservation of freedom and there was clear awareness that freedom could be undermined by concentration of power in the state governments as well as the federal government.
Consequently, the freedom principles underlying the federal Constitution were regarded as general principles that were also applicable to the state governments. This included the concept of separation of powers and making decisions at the level nearest the people involved in the particular decision.
In conformity with this concept of avoiding undue concentration of power in the state governments, which were sometimes referred to as the little republics, it was contemplated that decisions pertaining to internal county matters would be made by the particular county; decisions pertaining to internal city matters would be made by the particular city; and [p. 77] decisions pertaining to internal township matters would be made by the particular township. This concept was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in these words.
The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government to entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself: by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body. ("The Little Republics", by M. Samuel Sherwood, p. 72; The Complete Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol VI, p. 543)
The above comments on applicability of the separation of powers concept at the state and local level should not obscure recognition of local applicability of other freedom principles and particularly the overriding great freedom preserving principle of minimal government made possible by a people who as a whole act righteously because of their inward religious commitment. This great fundamental principle of free government as well as other freedom principles were regarded as applicable to all levels of government, from the greatest to the least.
Another important responsibility of free people is unceasing recognition of the human nature tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion over others and awareness that freedom is won at great cost and must be constantly defended.
Human nature has not changed since Daniel Webster made the following statement accurately characterizing how things really are.
There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters. (Of Men and Not of Law, by Lyman A. Garber, p. 170) [p. 78]