The question of bad government

Wilmington StarNews editorial board recently wrote what they think is “bad government” using the North Carolina State legislature as an example because it is tardy in passing a budget, and debating Medicaid reform and sales tax issues. They cite the Preamble to the State Constitution declaring its establishment for a “better government of this State.” (Link below)

In the same way, the U. S. Constitution was established to “form a more perfect Union” of the States. The 1776 Declaration of Independence noted that governments are “instituted among Men” to secure our God-given rights—including life, liberty and property. Nobody in those days thought that government was “good.” But they hoped they could make it better by limiting its scope and power.

Our founders were suspicious of strong, central government. That’s why they created one with limited, enumerated powers with most of the power retained by the States and the people. The best they could hope for or promise was that a republic could be better than the usual tyrannical European-style monarchy—if we could keep it, as Benjamin Franklin warned. Of course, we haven’t. And recently State and local governments have followed the central government in interfering with our lives and usurping our liberty and property.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson observed: “When (governments) get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

In 1802, Jefferson wrote: “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.” And, he wryly noted, “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

Later, he wrote: “(T)he qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training, and for these they will require time and probably much suffering.”

We’ve suffered enough.

In William Penn’s Preface to a first constitution for the State of Pennsylvania, he wrote: “Governments like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men, than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.”

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1849 Civil Disobedience essay: “I heartily accept the motto,–“That government is best which governs least.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed in his essay Politics: “Hence the less government we have the better— fewer laws and less confided power.”

Senator John Sharp Williams, in a 1912 lecture at Columbia University, said, “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government has grown out of too much government.”

History also shows that Americans have on two occasions seceded from powerfully bad governments willing to militarily destroy them and take their freedom because of economic jealousies.

Many of the State legislators in North Carolina believe in getting this government more fiscally responsible and less destructive to our liberties. Interest groups and their supporters continue to force their greedy hands deeper into the public purse and demand more government.

American governments have become corrupt. Not as bad as many in the world, but increasing we see spending to appease interest groups and attract votes; government and business cronyism; excessive taxation; unreasonable regulations;  bloated, aggressive bureaucracies; huge federal debts and deficits; court injustices; constitutional violations; ignoring our immigration laws; social dependencies; excessive laws and other improper uses of government.

After decades of watching governments’ grow—becoming more expensive and intrusive—I conclude that all government is bad because as the French economist, Frederic Bastiat said, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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