The Light of Liberty

The Light of Liberty.
The Light of Liberty.

The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” This unequivocally means that one group, or class, or race of people is not privileged—we all have the same level of liberty.

Following up the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States advocated as much personal and economic liberty as possible while enumerating eighteen—just eighteen!—limited powers of the Federal government. The message of both of these documents is essentially the same: back off! The United States had just freed itself from the bonds of a once friendly government turned despotic. They were not about to give their newly acquired powers to an individual (or group of individuals) that they trusted in that moment. No, the United States would give liberty to the people, and let them decide what to do with their lives. It was an experiment of liberty at an unprecedented scale. President Taft further elaborated on this idea of liberty to which the Founding Fathers subscribed:

“When I say liberty I do not simply mean what is referred to as “free enterprise.” I mean liberty of the individual to think his own thoughts and live his own life as he desires to think and to live; the liberty of the family to decide how they wish to live, what they want to eat for breakfast and for dinner, and how they wish to spend their time; liberty of a man to develop his ideas and get other people to teach those ideas, if he can convince them that they have some value to the world; liberty of every local community to decide how its children shall be educated, how its local services shall be run, and how its local leaders shall be; liberty of a man to choose his own occupation; and liberty of a man to run his own business as he thinks it ought to be run, as long as he does not interfere with the right of other people to do the same thing.”

And look at the fruits of liberty! When men and women are allowed to think, act and choose for themselves (through liberties secured—not granted—by the Constitution) they can create and achieve marvelous things. Liberty allows people to grow into greatness.

America has, perhaps, no better example of someone who harnessed the power of liberty than that of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who worked for the liberation of his people. For years, Douglass despised the Constitution for its “hypocrisy”—until he read it. Said he:

“…the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither…let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it…I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”

Frederick Douglass saw the Constitution for what it was: a light of liberty in a world darkened by slavery and oppression. Guided by this light of liberty, Frederick Douglass moved forward, into the dark unknown, and brought about the liberation of his people.

The example of Frederick Douglass is but one, isolated example. Many others have plunged into darkness to bring the torch of liberty to others. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the flames of liberty kindled by the Constitution have spread all over the world.

However, despite the obvious blessings of liberty, many have lost faith in the principles espoused by the Constitution as the lure of safety and security sounds more promising. Instead of embracing liberty, they seek to strengthen the power of government and use it as a moral force, as a means of “righting social wrongs” and creating equality. In response to this, I would ask proponents of a powerful government to consider the problems that come as a direct result of a government being used to make others “feel secure” instead of a government securing the liberties of others: wars of aggression (Vietnam and Iraq), internment camps (the concentration camps of American-Japanese), the obvious failures of our “social-safety nets,” hyper-inflation caused by stimulus packages and government spending (inflation is a hidden tax on the middle and poor classes), secrecy and surveillance methods, or actively persecuting unpopular minorities at various times (African Americans, Native Americans, American-Japanese, Mormons, Homosexuals, Communist sympathizers, anti-war protestors, et cetera).

The problems of powerful government far outweigh the problems of a government of limited power. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

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