Purpose of government

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    I see more an more controversy over what the purpose of government is, especially in light of the remarks Mitt Romney made concerning PBS. It doesn’t seem to matter that we have vastly overextended ourselves financially as a country. The cry is constantly that government should take a hand in furthering humanities, education, etc. Do you have some sources I could study for the original intent of the founding fathers for our government? I’d love to share a few quotes with these people (although I don’t know that it would do much good).


    Some might say that the Constitution had always been thought of as a living, breathing document that ought to change with the times. That the government powers were not limited to a mere list in Article I Section 8, but rather their powers were elastic and could be stretched for the good and needs of the people.

    TO THE CONTRARY, the founders did not believe this. Most important, the states ratifying the constitution did not believe this. They believed they were ratifying a document that gave the Federal government specific enumerated powers.

    James Madison said the Federal government’s powers under the constitution were “few and defined.” Edmund Randolph, future attorney general of the U.S. at the time of the ratification campaign, said the Federal government had only the powers “expressly delegated” to it. [These are straight out of Kevin Gutzman’s Ratification campaign lecture].

    I’m sure people on here will have some excellent reading recommendations, but a few that are probably good that I have not got around to reading yet are:

    The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution – By Kevin Gutzman
    The Founding Father’s Guide to the Constitution – By Brion McClanahan


    I recommend the lectures on the American Revolution and the Constitution in the U.S. History Class.

    Jason Jewell

    I don’t believe there’s any evidence that there was substantive support from the Founders for federal involvement in education or the arts. The one possible exception would be support for military academies. Certainly the burden of proof should be on the advocates of such programs to show that the Constitution authorizes them.


    Beth, you can find Thomas Jefferson’s opinion on these matters by looking at his “Memorandum on the Bank Bill” (1791) and/or “Kentucky Resolutions” (1798). James Madison’s can be found in his “Bonus Bill Veto Message” (1817), “Virginia Resolutions” (1798), and/or “Report of 1800.” All of these can be found online, though perhaps with slightly different titles.

    Besides Jefferson and Madison, you can find other founders’ opinions regarding the extent of congressional authority in my JAMES MADISON AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA; VIRGINIA’S REVOLUTION: FROM DOMINION TO REPUBLIC, 1776-1840; and THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION.


    If you want to look at a more general argument for the purpose of government, I would recommend Bastiat’s “The Law”. Here is a short quote, as he launches directly into what you are talking about:

    “Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.”

    This is a work that has stood the test of time and inspired many generations after him in the pursuit of liberty. It’s also quite short, easy to read, thrilling (to me at least), and free online.


    Having been in an argument with a “Constitutional Conservative” recently, where he tried to justify NASA and basic research as “Constitutional” under the heading of weights and measures, I’ve decided that government is how you make your neighbors pay for what you want. Limited government is how you keep your neighbors from making you pay for what they want. Or, just what Bastiat said:

    Government is the fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.


    Weights and measures, that’s a good one. I’ll have to write that one down so I don’t forget it next time I write something like this.

    I actually like that one. “Weighs and measures;” – I prefer lulzy arguments because at least then I get some lulz while they’re buggering me.


    Your friend’s use of the Weights and Measures Clause reminds me that I’ve often told people that if there were no 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, the Supreme Court would have said we have a right to buy and sell abortion services on the basis that the Constitution requires that presidents be at least 35 years old.


    Not that I believe the DOI is law but the thought here is worth something:

    “…Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

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