Government is not all-powerful. I know that’s a surprise to government bureaucrats and people in blue states (and too many in red ones). This article will cut through the fog of lies and lay out, in a very concise format, what government legitimately can and can’t do – which powers it actually has and doesn’t have.
We need to start by asking and answering some basic questions: Where does government get its power from? From whom is its authority derived? And what is the purpose of government? The Declaration of Independence answers these questions. The Founding Fathers etched the following truths in stone:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
From this statement, we learn that government exists for the express purpose of securing the individual’s God-given rights, such as life, Liberty, property, speech, self-defense, and so on. We learn that governments don’t spring up out of the ground, but are created by people. They create them, as noted, to safeguard their rights. Governments are subservient to the people who create them. They may be abolished by the People at any given time – and especially when the government oversteps its obligation to secure people’s rights.
To reiterate, government gets 100% of its authority from you. As James Madison put it, “the people are the only legitimate fountain of power” (Federalist No. 49, February 5, 1788). Thomas Jefferson, concurring, affirmed: “I consider the people who constitute a society or nation as the source of all authority in that nation” (Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on the Treaties with France, April 28, 1793). Therefore, if you want to know what a government can and cannot do, simply determine what you justly can and cannot do. If you do not possess a certain power or authority, neither does government. It’s categorically impossible for government to rightly claim prerogatives and powers that its creator does not have.
Additionally, people acting together in groups does not magically endow the group, or government, with extra privileges and powers. Joint action adds zero authority to anything! Acting with your neighbor doesn’t suddenly grant you privileges you lacked as an individual acting alone. Society cannot justly do a single thing individuals are forbidden from doing. If it is wrong for an individual, it is wrong for the group and for the government.
To make this clearer, let’s consult some basic examples.
Do you have a right to kill another human being for no reason? No. Therefore, government does not possess the authority to take a life without justification.
Do you have a right to kill someone in self-defense? Yes. Therefore, government has the authorization to kill in self-defense; that is, to defend its people against foreign invasion and to secure the rights of citizens, with lethal force when necessary, against criminals.
Do you have a right to seize and imprison someone without cause? No. Therefore, neither does government have that right.
Do you have a right to take money from your neighbor? No. Therefore, neither does government have a right to take money. The obvious exception to this is taxation. In the case of taxation, however, the People collectively consent to giving up a small portion of their income to help the government fulfill its purpose of securing their rights. When it exceeds this purpose, it becomes common theft.
Do you have a right to take money from someone and give it to someone else? No. Therefore, neither does government have a right to take your money and divvy it out to someone else in the community – even for allegedly “charitable” purposes.
Do you have a right to take someone’s property? No. Therefore, neither does government have a just authority to confiscate property. A possible exception is when someone uses their property in such a manner as to infringe upon the rights of other people. For instance, a person cannot acquire property at the head of a river and dam it off so that other people down river suddenly are deprived of their equal share of the water usage. And so forth.
Do you have a right to tell another person what they can and cannot say? No. Therefore, neither does government have that authority. As in the last case, there are exceptions. Slander and libel laws prevent people from lying and intentionally harming the reputation of another individual. You have no right to lie about people. Liars are essentially murderers – murderers of truth, killers of reputations, and destroyers of lives. Just laws protect people against this type of abuse. Similarly, public decency laws protect people against profane language, threats, and so forth.
Do you have a right to control another person’s body? No. Therefore, government doesn’t have authority over another’s body.
Do you have a right to tell your neighbor what they can and cannot put in their body? No. Therefore, government doesn’t possess any such authority. That being said, certain substances, such as alcohol, impair the individual’s judgment and frequently lead them to mindlessly harm, maim, and kill innocent people. Alcohol is one of the leading causes of death, disease, and violence in our nation. Inasmuch as it is a legitimate threat to individual safety, to say nothing of its danger to society by subverting families and morality, government has a legitimate power to protect the rights of its people. You cannot, however, make a similar argument for everything that someone might deem a “threat,” such as fatty foods or guns.
Do you have a right to tell others who the can and cannot marry? No. Therefore, government has no right to dictate in this matter either. The only exception is to prohibit that which is not only unnatural and morally reprehensible, but which demonstrably undermines the stability of the nation and its innocent children. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage is one such example. Lest you protest, remember that the Declaration of Indepedence referenced “the laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” as the foundation of our entire civilization. To institutionalize violations of the laws of nature is to throw out the entire Declaration of Independence and the very concept of America.
Do you have the right to tell someone what they can and cannot build, do, or grow on their property? No. Therefore, government cannot tell people what they can and cannot do on their property – excepting, of course, criminal activities that violate other people’s rights.
Do you have a right to dictate what other people can and cannot wear? No. Therefore, neither can the government claim authority to dictate in this aspect. Public decency laws apply, however.
Do you have a right to deprive your neighbor of his means of self-defense? No. Therefore, government cannot justly take away a peaceable individual’s means of personal protection. To acknowledge, as the Declaration of Independence does, that our rights come from God is to simultaneously acknowledge that we have an equal right to defend them. You cannot take away this right without jeopardizing all other rights.
Do you have a right to force your neighbor’s children to go to a public institution to study? No. Therefore, neither does government possess authority to separate children from their parents and force them to study in a public school.
Do you have a right to force another person to inject substances into his body? No. Therefore, government has no such power.
Finally, do you have a right to force your neighbor to stay in his home, wear a face mask, or close his business? No. Therefore, government has no right to force peaceable citizens to stay in the homes, wear masks over their faces, or close their businesses and cut off their livelihoods.
Our list of examples could go on almost indefinitely. You can clearly see the picture, however. The key point is that government is only authorized to do what you, the individual, can do. Nothing more. If you have no authority to do something, then neither does government!
The U.S. Constitution has actually simplified this concept by including a short list of enumerated powers. These powers – about 18 in number, depending on how you want to break up the list – are the only things Congress is authorized to do. They are specific, not broad. They cover individual items, not entire classifications of things. They define what Congress can do, and, by implication, dictates they cannot do anything more.
For instance, We the People have delegated to Congress the authority to “provide and maintain a Navy,” to “establish Post Offices and post Roads,” to “coin Money,” and so on. Beyond these rigid bounds, the Congress cannot legitimately go. The same goes for the other branches of government and their limited, specified powers.
It is crucial for us as free individuals to know where our public representatives derive their authority. It is indispensable to comprehend what government can and can’t do. When we understand that government does not inherently possess any authority except that which the individuals in society give it, then we can more easily recognize and prevent abuses of that authority. When we understand this cardinal point, we’ll also understand that we are the true source of power and that our nation’s destiny is in our hands. All political power springs from We the People. Never forget it.
I close by quoting once more from the Declaration of Independence. Internalize the words. Really believe them. Reclaim your rights. Exercise your sovereignty. Know that government is accountable to you, not you to the government. And God give you the courage to rise in defense of Freedom like our forefathers before us!
“. . . to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
May 11, 2020