If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Our founding fathers on the size of government!
Sitting at my desk, I wondered how the founding fathers of this great nation viewed how strong our federal government should be. I know that at the end of the Revolutionary War the 13 Colonies became 13 States and each was a country on their own under a system called the “Articles of Confederation.”
The “Articles of Confederation” were created because of the widespread fear of a strong central government at the time they were written and peoples’ loyalties to their own states. The articles kept the national government as weak as possible. But the central government under the articles was too weak to enforce the laws and could not raise money to pay off the debt of the Revolutionary War.
A piece written by Jeremy Anderberg tells the story about our second president John Adams; “While figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington may come more readily to mind when we think of America’s revolutionary period and founding, but the foremost proponent of the cause of independence was truly John Adams. Nobody made more speeches with more vigor for the side of liberty. Because of this, he was put on a five-man committee to draw up a Declaration of Independence, and became that document’s most ardent advocate.”
“Adams refused to accept bribes of any sort, didn’t play into the political system of patronage and favors, and absolutely abhorred the budding ‘parties’ which were forming.”
Adams was a supporter of a strong central government, but did not like political parties. Adams was a profuse writer and left us with many short items that we can quote and the one that I like is; “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Our first President George Washington strongly felt that political leaders should be free to debate important issues without being bound by party loyalty.
There was no White House or federal capitol when Washington became president on April 30, 1789 and the presidential home and office was in New York.
His cabinet was made up of men that had feelings both ways about the size of the government. His Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, pushed for a strong central government and his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson desired to keep government small and center more power at the local level where citizen’s freedoms could be better protected. Washington felt that the central government had to be strong and be able to enforce the laws it created.
In 1791 Washington signed a bill authorizing congress to place a tax on spirits. Protesters turned out in full scale against the federal law then known as the “Whiskey Rebellion.” Washington summoned the militia from several states and he personally took command marching the troops into the area of the rebellion and demonstrated that the federal government would use force when necessary to enforce the law. This was the only time that a sitting president lead troops into battle. The rebellion collapsed shortly after the militia was assembled.
Washington’s home was at Mount Vernon on the Potomac River in Virginia. He held slaves and the estate was in the family for several generations and when he owned the estate it consisted of more than 8,000 acres. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to slaughter.” George Washington
Thomas Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence and built an estate called Monticello where he lived.
Jefferson thought the national government should have a limited roll in citizen’s lives. During his two terms in office, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory. That purchase of 820,000 square miles doubled the size of the United States at a cost $15 million dollars.
Although Jefferson promoted individual liberty, he was a slave owner. He kept records of everything that happened at the 5,000-acre plantation. He owned over 6,000 slaves over the course of his life.
He served as the third President from 1801 to 1809 and retired to Monticello where he kept a large library and in 1815 he sold his 6,700 volume personal library to Congress for $23,950 to replace the books lost when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. Those books formed the foundation of the rebuilt Library of Congress.
“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretence of taking care of them.” Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the same day as John Adams, which was the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He died deeply in debt and his heirs had to sell his belonging and estate to cover the debt.
Alexander Hamilton, was one of the founding fathers, but never served as president, but was a great defender of the Second Amendment. He is quoted as saying: “The constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceful citizens from keeping their own guns.”
James Madison, the fourth president served from1809 to 1817. “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Another quote is “The essence of government is power, power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” James Madison.
Our fifth president was James Monroe who put forth the Monroe Doctrine, which, was a policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas. He largely ignored all party lines in making federal appointments.
“The best form of Government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.” James Monroe
We must also talk about Ben Franklin, who was one of the founding fathers, but was 83 when Washington became president in 1789. He was a great foreign ambassador who got munitions from France for the Revolutionary War. He was a person with a wide knowledge of many different subjects and did this with only two years of formal education. He was a hit writer as a teenager and spent half of his life in retirement. He designed a musical instrument used by Mozart and Beethoven.
“He who lies down with dogs will rise up with fleas.” Ben Franklin
I must finish this piece with the only person that served two separate terms as President. Grover Cleveland who was the 22nd and 24th president, serving from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897. He had a feeling that would not fit today’s needs of the citizens.
Cleveland used the veto far more often than any president up to that time. In 1887, Cleveland vetoed, the Texas seed bill. After a drought had ruined crops in several Texas counties, Congress appropriated $10,000 to purchase seed grain for farmers there. In his veto message, he espoused a theory of limited government, saying:
“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”
Some of the information for this article was obtained from Wikipedia.
Thanks for reading! ~Carlton