The Roman satirist, Juvenal, once asked the most annoying question that could ever fall upon the ears of a lover of big government: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies, who will guard the guards themselves?
Recently, while being interview by arch liberal, Alan Colmes, I was reminded of Juvenal’s question when Colmes asserted that it was fortunate that Americans lived in a nation with a government strong enough to “protect our liberties.” Liberals and other advocates of big government seem to have an unconditional faith in the “goodness” of big government. Having the government as our “guardian and protector” is a major earmark of modern-day liberalism. The problem with allowing government to define what is and is not “good” is that “we the people” are left out of the process of establishing and enforcing what is “good.” An Islamic jihadist, a Nazi, a Marxist, a secular humanist, or a Christian will never all agree on the definition of “goodness.” Yet, big government’s ruling elite will not only define said “goodness” but will use its unlimited power to force compliance to its definition of goodness. Furthermore, how can “we the people” be sure that those in power within a “big government” will exercise their power not for self-aggrandizement but for the benefit of the people?
If angels were in charge of big government, they, being angelic creatures, would always act in an honorable and upright manner. Under such conditions, no “check” upon government would be necessary. America’s Founding Fathers understood that since men were not angels they could not be trusted with unrestrained power over their fellow citizens—under such a condition, tyranny is the ultimate result. So how can a big government (or for that matter, any government) be forced to respect the civil liberties of free people? Under the concept of an all-powerful government, the liberty and the freedom of “we the people” are held in the hands of an elite cadre of powerful leaders of the government. Early in the history of these United States, Americans rejected the concept of an all-powerful central government. Rather than an all powerful government, Americans embraced the idea of a “division of power” within its government. Unfortunately, today most Americans understand this concept as the division of the Federal government into three equal and independent departments. Theoretically this division of power would prevent the accumulation of too much power in one department of the Federal government. Although that is a good start, said division will not check the overall growth of power of the Federal government itself. The most important and essential division of power established by America’s founders was the division of power retained by the sovereign States and those granted to the Federal government. The powers granted by the States (actually “we the people” of the States) to the Federal government were few and well defined, whereas all powers not granted by the States to the Federal government are numerous and not defined. This “non-definition” of retained rights by “we the people” of the sovereign States is acknowledged and protected by the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution, viz, “The enumeration in the constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Having just recently won their independence from a near all-powerful central government in London, America’s Founding Fathers were determined not to establish a central, i.e., Federal, government, which could not be “checked” if it began to abuse its power. As Jefferson and Madison clearly affirm in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves, the States did not create a Federal government to be their lord and master. No document in American history more fully answers the question, “Who shall guard the guards themselves?” than the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves. If not the midwife of American State’s Rights, these Resolves at least may be said to announce their birth! Under real State’s Rights, where interposition, nullification, and secession are acknowledged and practiced, a real and proper “check” is placed upon the Federal government. The head of the serpent of tyranny can easily be crushed by the heel of a free people when they are armed with the tools of real State’s Rights! Is it any wonder that sixty three years after these Southerners (Jefferson and Madison) wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves, another generation of Southerners rejected Lincoln and the Republican Party’s effort at abolishing the system of real checks? Southerners in 1860 understood that with the loss of these “checks and balances,” Lincoln was reestablishing an all-powerful central government over a once free people.
By overthrowing real State’s Rights, Lincoln ushered in a form of government that all patriotic Americans had fought to defeat in the War for American Independence. During the War for Southern Independence, the South assumed the mantle of defenders of the REAL America. Real America was a land where liberty always trumps government. As Patrick Henry noted, “The first thing I have at heart is American liberty, the second is American union.” Lincoln did not get that memo! For Lincoln, government was paramount and regardless of the cost must prevail. In this view, Lincoln differed little from King George III in the eighteenth century, Adolph Hitler, or any other twentieth century tyrant. Lovers of big government may differ in the degree of the exercise of power but the one thing they all have in common is their faith in the “goodness” of their big government.
On his radio show arch liberal Alan Colmes defended his faith in big government by asserting that “so much good has been done by the Federal government.” Mr. Colmes was left speechless when reminded that it was the Federal government that trampled upon the civil rights of African-Americans in Plessy vs. Fergurson. After all, it was not a Southern State court but rather, it was the FEDERAL Supreme Court which legalized racial discrimination in America; it was the Federal government that slaughtered American Indians at Wounded Knee; and it was the Federal government that threw law-abiding native born Japanese Americans into concentration camps in 1942. All governments are dangerous. The larger and more powerful the government, the greater the likelihood that evil, corruption, and ultimately tyranny will occur. Real State’s Rights provide tools for “we the people” at the local level to used in our defense against a tyrannical central government. No government, regardless of how small it is or how local it is, can be said to be free from abusive tendencies. Because of the tendency of men to abuse power, all governments must be subjected to the utmost scrutiny and control by a free people, or else their liberty, rights, and property will be sacrificed to the gods of big government. The men of 1776 and 1861 well understood this concept. Hopefully Southerners of this generation will relearn the lessons of their forefathers. With freedom’s lessons learned we can boldly proclaim that, “Like Our Ancestors, We Will Be Free.”
Juvenal’s warning about the need to “guard the guards” has been proven to be sound advice when dealing with those authorized with discharging the powers of government. Yet, Juvenal’s warning has been said to be a warning to Roman husbands who hired men to guard their wives and prevent infidelity while the husband was away from home. As Juvenal points out, how can a husband be sure that the guard he hires to protect his marriage union from infidelity is not the source of the problem rather than the answer to the problem? America’s greatest Anti-Federalist, Patrick Henry, warned Virginia and the South about the dangers of the new union being formed under the Constitution. Henry noted that he was not as concerned about the nature of the new government under the Constitution as he was concerned about the nature of the people, i.e., Northerners, with whom Virginia and the South was forming a union. “Who shall guard the guards” is just as important in a union of free people, as it was in the bedrooms of Rome. Those who depend upon the Federal government to be the guardian of their liberty are no wiser than Roman men who would hire strangers to guard their wives’ virtue. The marriage union of Roman men to women of low virtue proved to be problematic; likewise, the union between the South and its less than virtuous Yankee wife proved to be less than amicable. Both Juvenal and Patrick Henry were right!