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Guiding the ship of state

By Henry Lamb
web posted July 10, 2006

Now that the rockets' red glare, and the bombs have burst their green, blue and yellow displays in the air over crowds across the country, it's time to get down to the real work required by the document we celebrate.

Perhaps no more powerful words have ever been written than these:

"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 form the consent of the governed."

The idea that all men are created equal, and endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is, indeed, an understanding that should be celebrated universally. That governments are instituted to secure these rights, empowered by the consent of the governed, is no less profound. Most people on earth still have no understanding of this concept, and of those who do, only the most fortunate live where government exists to secure these "unalienable rights."

There can be no doubt that originally, the United States government was established for this purpose. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights very specifically limited the power of government, to ensure that the new institution did not infringe upon those unalienable rights with which every citizen was endowed by his Creator. Over the 230 years of U.S. independence, this concept has become blurred. The bright line that should separate government power from individual rights has grown dim, and is now routinely ignored by the government whose purpose for existing is to secure those rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that private property may now be taken from private citizens, not for "public use," as stipulated in the clear language of the Fifth Amendment, but for "public benefit," as may be determined by local, state, or federal governments, or a variety of other economic development agencies, endowed with the power of eminent domain.

The clear language of the Fourth Amendment declares the right of every citizen "...to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...," yet, the government demands that private property be registered with the government, and used only as the government permits. Guns, for example, may not even be owned in some jurisdictions, and ownership in most jurisdictions is severely restricted. Government is now moving forward to require that even farm animals be registered with the government, and movement of farm animals be reported to the government. The elected government of the United States has no higher responsibility than to protect its citizens from attack by those who would do harm, either intentionally, as did the September 11 terrorists, or inadvertently, as the waves of illegal immigrants are doing. The government is trying diligently to defend its borders from further attacks by terrorists. But it is doing little to stop the invasion of illegal immigrants.

It is as if the USS Ship of state is launching barrage after barrage of defense against terrorist enemies, while obvious cracks in the hull are allowed to let water pour in, which will eventually sink the mightiest of vessels.

The government is not to blame. The founders knew, full well, that the government they created conveyed great opportunity to its citizens. They knew, equally well, that those opportunities came with grave responsibilities. A government that is empowered by the consent of the governed will abuse and oppress the governed, as long as they allow it. Citizens have the never-ending responsibility to keep their government in check.

Since 1948, only about half the eligible people have even bothered to vote. Sadly, many, if not most, had little idea of the positions taken by the people for whom they cast a vote. With this level of apathy, it is amazing that the Republic has survived these 230 years.

Every citizen has the responsibility to be informed. At no time in history has it been easier to become informed. Every citizen has the responsibility to act on the information he has acquired: to elect representatives at every level of government who embrace, and promise to uphold the principle that government is empowered (and limited) by the consent of the governed. As the November elections approach, now is the time to learn which elected officials have ignored this principle, and work to elect new representatives, who know you care - and are watching.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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