America is different from every other nation under the sun for a multitude of reasons. We are exceptional, special, and unique. This is not pride speaking; it is fact. One of the ways we are different is that in America the People are sovereign. In other words, regnat populus – the People rule.
Many nations have paid lip service to the idea of the People ruling. In ancient Greece, democracy was a cherished value. Unfortunately, democracy is also one of the most corrupt, unstable, and volatile systems ever devised. In this system, the People rule, but with no regard for law, morality, or fundamental rights.
In America, however, even the democratic notion of the People ruling is unique. Though the People in fact rule, the law is king. The People merely recognized the superseding rule of natural law. This is what the Declaration of Independence stated in clear terms when it mentioned “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It further specified some of the rights included in natural law in these words:
“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.”
The truest sovereignty of the People, then, is to recognize the natural law, to erect a government that secures and defends these natural law rights, and to ensure that the government perfectly and perpetually defends our unalienable. We again quote from the Declaration about the People’s sovereign relationship to government and the purpose of government:
“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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But 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.”
This paragraph explains that the sole purpose of government is to secure rights (i.e. natural law). When government fails to defend, protect, and guarantee Liberty, the People, who are sovereign according to natural law, have not only a right, but a duty, to alter, abolish, or overthrow said government and establish new systems for safeguarding their rights. In other words, the People rule.
The People, who rule within the confines of natural law and human rights, are the masters. They elect representatives. They rescind representatives. By this representative method, the People control – they approve or reject – everything that happens.
Samuel Adams explained the preeminence of natural law in the affairs of men:
“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First, a right to life; secondly to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.
“All men have a right to remain in a state of nature as long as they please. And in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another.
“When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.
“Every natural right not expressly given up or from the nature of a social compact necessarily ceded remains.
“All positive and civil laws, should conform as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity. . . .
““Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty” in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to, by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the law of nations, and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former. . . .
“The natural liberty of men by entering into society is abridged or restrained so far only as is necessary for the great end of society, the best good of the whole.
“In the state of nature, every man is, under God, judge and sole judge of his own rights and the injuries done him. By entering into society, he agrees to an arbiter or indifferent judge between him and his neighbors; but he no more renounces his original right, than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or indifferent arbitrations. . . .
“In short it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights, when the great end of civil government from the very nature of its institution is for the support, protection, and defense of those very rights: the principal of which… are life, liberty, and property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave” (Samuel Adams, “The Rights of the Colonists,” November, 20, 1772).
This explanation makes it clear that, at birth, humans have “certain unalienable Rights,” and that these cannot be renounced or justifiably taken away. Only violating another person’s equal rights allows a government to strip you of your own. Otherwise, the law of nature leaves you sovereign. People generally group together in groups, societies, and governments, however. In this arrangement, the sovereign individual agrees to go along with the group in return for the collective protection of his rights, including his right to life, Liberty, property, and self-defense.
While in a state of society that protects their God-given rights, people agree to go along with the will of the majority. Please carefully note what I said and did not say. I did not say that people are bound in all cases to do what the majority says. And I did say that People are bound by majority rule only while protected in their rights. After all, this is the stated purpose of government. If the pact is violated, it dissolves and the individual is again sovereign and the voice of the majority means exactly squat.
If a society is just and defends the rights of its citizens, then truly the People rule and the majority’s voice prevails. Thomas Jefferson explained this point endlessly, stating such things as:
“Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men” (Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on Residence Bill, 1790).
“I subscribe to the principle, that the will of the majority honestly expressed should give law” (Thomas Jefferson, The Anas, 1793).
“The will of the people… is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object” (Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waring, 1801).
“[T]hat peace, safety, & concord may be the portion of our native land, & be long enjoyed by our fellow citizens, is the most ardent wish of my heart; & if I can be instrumental in procuring or preserving them, I shall think I have not lived in vain. in every country where man is free to think & to speak, differences of opinion will arise from difference of perception, & the imperfection of reason. but these differences, when permitted, as in this happy country, to purify themselves by free discussion, are but as passing clouds overshadowing our land transiently, & leaving our horizon more bright & serene. that love of order & obedience to the laws, which so considerably characterizes the citizens of the United States, are sure pledges of internal tranquility, and the elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert1 a constitution dictated by the wisdom, & resting on the will of the people. that will is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect it’s free expression should be our first object. I offer my sincere prayers to the supreme ruler of the universe, that he may long preserve our country in freedom & prosperity, and to yourselves, gentlemen, & the citizens of Columbia & it’s vicinity the assurances of my profound consideration & respect” (Thomas Jefferson to the citizens of Columbia, South Carolina, March 23, 1801).
“It is my principle that the will of the majority should prevail. If they approve the proposed constitution in all its parts, I shall concur in it cheerfully, in hopes that they will amend it whenever they shall find it works wrong. This reliance cannot deceive us, as long as we remain virtuous” (Thomas Jefferson to Uriah Forrest, December 31, 1787).
The fact that majority rule only works when the People are virtuous will be touched upon later. The point, however, is that government must operate by common consent and the will of the majority must prevail. That is the only basis of a sane and fair government.
Jefferson also explained that though the voice of the majority is to be respected when just, the minority must also be protected or else tyranny exists.
“[T]his being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression” (Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801).
“I believe with you that morality, compassion generosity are innate elements of the human construction; that there exists a right independant of force; that a right to property is founded1 in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings; that no one has a right to obstruct another, exercising his faculties innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his nature; that justice is the fundamental law of society; that the majority, oppressing an individual is guilty of a crime, abuses it’s strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society; that action by the citizens in person, in affairs within their reach and competence, and in all others by representatives, chosen immediately, & removable, by themselves, constitutes the essence of a republic; that all governments are more or less republican in proportion as this principle enters more or less into their composition; and that a government by representation is capable of extension over a greater surface of country than one of any other form” (Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816).
I couldn’t resist sharing the larger context that these quotes came from because of the wisdom demonstrated in them. The key, however, is that the will of the majority must be rightful; that is, in accordance with natural law and God-given rights. If the will and voice of the majority does not uphold the rights of all members of the society, it is inherently unjust, inherently contradicts the natural law, and breaks the pact that society is based upon. In this sense, and this sense alone, do the People rule.
The mere fact that the People have a right, and a duty, to overthrow government when it becomes corrupt and when it begins trampling our natural rights, establishes their preeminent position. The majority, then, should take both credit and blame for the good and bad that happens in the society they rule. And if they claim they don’t rule it, that is a preposterous fiction and demonstrates either their lack of will or understanding.
What happens in a regnat populus society when the majority acquiesces to the abuses of a despotic minority? What happens when the majority turns to wickedness and immorality? What happens when the majority become ignorant or otherwise incompetent? Turn on the news and you will see exactly what happens – despite wise checks and balances in the most brilliant constitutional system ever created – when the People becomes ignorant, incompetent, immoral, wicked, and acquiescent with evil.
The People rule, so their default state must be competent, wise, manly, reasonable, just, disciplined, informed, and virtuous. How can a group composed of individuals who can’t govern themselves be expected to govern a vast society? It is impossible. An influential Founding Father who has largely been forgotten, Caleb Strong of Massachusetts, gave us this thought:
“[W]e are generally apt to ascribe too much to the efficacy of laws and government, as if they alone could secure the happiness of the people; but no laws will be sufficient to counteract the influence of manners which are corrupted by vice and voluptuousness; and it is beyond the power of any government to render the circumstances of the citizens easy and prosperous, if they want the habits of industry and frugality. – Government is necessary, to preserve the public peace, the persons and property of individuals; but our social happiness must chiefly depend upon other causes; upon simplicity and purity of manners; upon the education that we give our children; upon a steady adherence to the customs and institutions of our ancestors; upon the general diffusion of knowledge, and the prevalence of piety and benevolent affections among the people.
“Our forms of government, are, doubtless, like all other institutions, imperfect; but they will secure the blessings of freedom to the citizens, and preserve their tranquility, as long as they are virtuous; and no constitution, that has been, or can be formed, will secure those blessings to a depraved and vicious people.”
We see this playing out in America today. The U.S. Constitution is beautifully written and is still the nearest to perfect political document that exists anywhere. It has secured more rights to more people than any system ever has and it has produced the strongest and most prosperous society that has ever existed. Yet, it is still just a piece of paper. The key of it all is the fact that the People rule. But what do they rule? First and foremost, they rule themselves.
The American People are still generally good-hearted folks. However, in the past, our ancestors were exponentially more virtuous, pious, godly, religious, selfless, disciplined, upright, honest, honorable, knowledgeable, self-governing, self-sufficient, independent, loyal, competent, courageous, and Christian than we are today. Because they ruled themselves more proficiently and mastered their passions and vices better than we do, there was no necessity for a bloated bureaucracy and sprawling government to interfere in every aspect of our lives.
Principled, upright, respectable regnat populus is only possible when the People are principled, upright, and respectable. Benjamin Franklin wisely observed: “[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters” (Benjamin Franklin to Abbes Chalut and Arnoux, April 17, 1787).
Do we need masters today? Do we need someone to saddle us, put a bit in our mouth, and command us? Do we need to be dominated, kicked around, and made to comply with this or that because we’re too weak, ignorant, or inept to do it for ourselves? Unless we are virtuous and moral as individuals and as a society, we are precisely those “corrupt and vicious” serfs who “have more need of masters.”
Thomas Jefferson once offered this word of hope regarding the great American experiment that we are betraying in 21st-Century America:
“The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. may it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them” (Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826).
This was one of the last things Thomas Jefferson ever wrote in this world. He passed on into immortal exaltation only ten days later. He graduated from this life with the hope and satisfaction that America presented the world with a shining example; that everyone could now see the contrast between a people ruled by kings and tyrants and a society where the People rule.
The Sage knew that no race or group was born to be enslaved or lorded over just as no group was born to rule. The only legitimate right of rule rests with the People in their sovereign capacity acting in accordance with natural law and the rights inherent in all human beings. The choice in 1776 was the same choice before us today – the choice “between submission or the sword.”
We must either timidly submit before the throne of tyranny or we must fight for our rights as freemen. Being true freemen, however, requires us to exercise self-rule. Regnat populus is utterly impossible unless we humble ourselves before God, rid ourselves of vice, and become an honest, honorable, and moral People again. The place where the battle is the fiercest and the most decisive is in our own hearts and minds.
I urge you to draw the sword of the Spirit and fight in the chamber of your soul against corrupt ideas, intellectual dishonesty, immorality in all its horrid hues, seedy infidelity, disloyalty to spouse or heritage or country, lack of conviction disguised as “tolerance,” laziness of body and mind, identity-eroding scientific bastardizations like Darwinian evolution, soul-destroying vices like drugs, porn, and 24/7 social media use, false intellectualism instead of indomitable faith, and enslaving philosophies like communism-socialism.
Regnat populus is right and just, but it is only wishful thinking unless each of us steps up and becomes more than we currently are. We must be better, do better, and live better. We must repent, change our bad habits, and replace vices with virtues. We must forsake decadence and dirtiness for holiness and purity. We must exercise self-rule, self-discipline, and self-control if we ever hope to take control of a society built upon the novel notion that the People rule.
Regnat populus is only the motto of one state in the Union, Arkansas, but it is unofficially the slogan of America. Our exceptional nation was founded on the idea that the People rule, that the law is king, and that the rule of kings and tyrants was an obsolete aberration of the natural law.
At the present, we are diving headlong backward into the abyss of vice with its corresponding rule of tyrants. But this fall is not set in stone. Yes, we have an uphill battle and blood that will be shed, but we can still restore the Republic, recreate America, and establish a constitutional system that will secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is our right to do so and it our privilege to be a part of the fight.
Win the fight in your mind and in your heart and you will be an effective asset in the battle for America. Live a life a virtue and you can buck the would-be masters who are attempting to ride you like dumb cattle. Rise up against tyrants and in the holy cause of Freedom per your heritage as an America. If you do this, if enough of us become principled patriots, we may once again institute regnat populus as the rule of the day and bear off our country triumphant.
August 2, 2022