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About the Author
My fellow Americans, on the 17th day of September, 1987, we commemorate the two-hundredth birthday of the Constitutional Convention, which gave birth to the document that Gladstone said is “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”
I heartily endorse this assessment. It would be erroneous for us, however, to conclude that the document was the sole genius of the Founding Fathers. Theirs was a combined wisdom derived from heavenly inspiration, knowledge of political government from ages past, and the crucible of their own experience.
We pay honor—honor to the document itself, honor to the men who framed it, and honor to the God who inspired it and made possible its coming forth.
SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES
To understand the significance of the Constitution, we must first understand some basic, eternal principles. These principles have their beginning in the premortal councils of heaven.
The Principle of Agency
The first basic principle is agency. We understand that the purpose of the council in heaven was to announce and present the plan of redemption for the salvation of all of God’s children. The council was called so that every man and woman could sustain the provisions of the Father’s plan, which required that all people obtain mortal bodies, be tried and proven in all things, and have opportunity to choose of their own free will to obey the laws and ordinances essential to their exaltation.
Because a fallen condition was an essential part of this plan, an infinite, eternal sacrifice was also required to redeem us from this state. We are all familiar with the facts: how Lucifer—a personage of prominence—sought to amend the plan, while Jehovah sustained the plan. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained how this difference led to the war in heaven: “The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down.”
The central issue in that council, then, was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. Because Satan and those who stood with him would not accept the vote of the council, but rose up in rebellion, they were cast down to the earth, where they have continued to foster the same plan. The war that began in heaven is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments. Proof of this is found in the long history of humanity.
When the first worldly government began as a theocracy, Adam’s descendants soon departed from this perfect order and degenerated into various political systems. The result has been human misery and, for most of humankind, subjugation to some despotic government.
Look back in retrospect on almost six thousand years of human history! Freedom’s moments have been infrequent and exceptional. From Nimrod to Napoleon, the conventional political ideology has been that the rights of life, liberty, and property were subject to a sovereign’s will, rather than God-given. We must appreciate that we live in one of history’s most exceptional moments—in a nation and a time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom as we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than one percent of the human family.
The Proper Role of Government
The second basic principle concerns the function and proper role of government. I should like to outline in clear, concise, and straightforward terms the guidelines that determine, now and in the future, my attitudes and actions toward all domestic proposals and projects of government. These are the principles that, in my opinion, proclaim the proper role of government in the domestic affairs of the nation:
[I] believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them.
[I] believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. . . .
[I] believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments. (D&C 134:1–2, 5.)
In other words, the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.
The Source of Human Rights
The third important principle pertains to the source of basic human rights. Thomas Paine, back in the days of the American Revolution, explained: “Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class of men to another. . . . It is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise than in the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man.”
The great Thomas Jefferson asked: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”
The feelings of these great men are in keeping with the revelations of God through His prophet, who said: “Men are free according to the flesh . . . and they are free to choose liberty and eternal life . . . or to choose captivity and death.” (2 Nephi 2:27.)
Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition, and religious conviction all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist Frederic Bastiat phrased it so succinctly, “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson, as found in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
People Are Superior to Governments
The fourth basic principle we must understand is that people are superior to the governments they form. Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created. We are superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Government is nothing more nor less than a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge certain responsibilities we have authorized. It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power nor privilege to do anything. Its only source of authority and power is from the people who have created it. This is made clear in the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, which reads: “WE THE PEOPLE . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Governments Should Have Limited Powers
The final principle that is basic to our understanding of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers. The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So the question boils down to this: What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized form of government?
In a primitive state, there is no doubt that every individual would be justified in using force, if necessary, for defense against physical harm, against theft of the fruits of his labor, and against enslavement by another.
Indeed, the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was spent defending all three—defending themselves, their property, and their liberty—in what properly was called the “lawless West.” In order for people to prosper, they cannot afford to spend their time constantly guarding family, fields, and property against attack and theft, so they join together with their neighbors and hire a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves—nothing more. Quoting from Bastiat: “If every person has the right to defend—even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right.”
The proper function of government, then, is limited to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. No individual possesses the power to take another’s wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either. The creature cannot exceed the creator.
My attitude toward government is succinctly expressed by the following provision taken from the Alabama Constitution: “The sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Article 1, Section 35.)
THE CONSTITUTION AND ITS COMING FORTH
With these basic principles firmly in mind, let us now turn to a discussion of the inspired document we call the Constitution. My purpose is not to recite the events that led to the American Revolution—we are all familiar with these. But I would say this: History is not an accident. Events are foreknown to God. His superintending influence is behind the actions of His righteous children. Long before America was even discovered, the Lord was moving and shaping events that would lead to the coming forth of the remarkable form of government established by the Constitution. America had to be free and independent to fulfill this destiny. I commend to you as excellent reading on this subject Elder Mark E. Petersen’s book The Great Prologue (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975). As expressed so eloquently by John Adams before the signing of the Declaration, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.” Though mortal eyes and minds cannot fathom the end from the beginning, God does.
Every true American and true friend of liberty should love our inspired Constitution. Its creation was a miracle. In a letter to Marquis de LaFayette, on February 7, 1788, George Washington stated: “It appears to me . . . little short of a miracle, that the Delegates from so many different states (which States you know are also different from each other, in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well founded objections.”
A book needed to be read by every faithful Church member and American.
by Benjamin - reviewed on December 25, 2010
I am 18 years old I am very concerned with the state and future of my country. Reading the inspired words of Ezra Taft Benson truly strengthened my testimony of the Divine Constitution and our need to defend and uphold it as Americans and Church members. God made this country so. It is now our obligation to bring it back to where it was. This book is great for everyone. Short, sweet and to the point.
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