12) CHECKS: Are checks on the power of civil authorities important? What authority should be granted to civil leaders? How can government be restrained from usurping the rights of the people?

Prophetic Statements

First Presidency

Support good and conscientious candidates . . . who are aware of the great dangers facing the free world. 1

Brigham Young

I love the government and the constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals who administer the government. 2

John Taylor

The very genius of our Constitution and institutions is freedom. If there is a fault, it is the fault of party, sectional strife, or narrow bigotry; it is not in our institutions…. 3

Wilford Woodruff

There is no nation on the face of the earth that has the same liberty that is guaranteed to us by the Constitution of our country. 4

Harold B. Lee

We have heard much said about keeping out of debt and avoiding speculation. From the inspired lips of the late President Anthony W. Ivins [of the First Presidency] came these words (and they should be something of a condemnation to those who disregarded his words and should be something of a blessing to those who listened to and kept that counsel), referring to and warning against borrowing and going into debt:

I fear this, that under existing conditions we are gradually drifting toward a paternal government, a government which will so intrench itself that the people will become powerless to disrupt it, in which the lives and liberties of the people at large may be jeopardized. They are pouring millions of dollars in this time of need into sources for the benefit of the people…but it is going to result in this—I am going to make this statement—that if the present policy is continued it will not be long until the government will be in the banking business, it will be in the farming business, it will be in the cattle and sheep business, for many of these debts will never be paid. That will mean the appointment of innumerable agencies. The government now is overloaded with commissions and agencies, some of them administering the very laws that Congress itself has enacted. Someone else should be administering those laws. If you want to save yourself from the bondage of debt and political influences which are not of your own choosing, I ask you to think of what I have said. 5

Now, my brethren and sisters, we have men today who have told us repeatedly and also warned against the evil and vice…in our midst. We have been told that we must patronize and foster home industry, avoid speculation, and make savings in food and clothing for at least a year. We have had our leaders plead with us to pursue a course that would tend to keep us out of war. I admonish you in all sobriety and seriousness to listen and heed before it is too late.

Oh, may we not be those of whom the Lord complained: “In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.” (D&C 101:8.) Remember that the Lord said: “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:7) 6

Ezra Taft Benson

We honor our founding fathers of this republic . . . God raised up these patriotic partners to perform their mission, and he called them “wise men.” (See D&C 101:80.) . . . Our wise founders seemed to understand, better than most of us, our own scripture, which states that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority … they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39.) To help prevent this, the founders knew that our elected leaders should be bound by certain fixed principles. Said Thomas Jefferson: “In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

These wise founders, our patriotic partners, seemed to appreciate more than most of us the blessings of the boundaries that the Lord set within the Constitution. . . In God the founders trusted, and in his Constitution—not in the arm of flesh. “O Lord,” said Nephi, “I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; … cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (2 Ne. 4:34.) 7

We hear much–and will hear much more–about substantially increased federal aid to education. Proposals for federal aid to education have come from many persons and for various purposes…Whatever the purpose, unless the program is carefully guarded, it could lead toward federal control of education. If this happens, it will not be because the people wanted it so. It will result from responses to many small emergencies and from pressures of many special interests.

We must guard against federal control of education…Federal control of education, the impairment of free inquiry, and the extinction of many independent and church-related colleges—these can be the consequence of an increase in federal aid to education.

A program of general aid to education is unwise. I join with my associates on the Board of Education and the Board of Trustees of the Brigham Young University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in opposing the proposals for federal aid to education. This opposition was stated by Dr. Ernest L. Wilkinson, Administrator of the Church School System and Brigham Young University president, in a paper issued on May 23, 1961, which paper was placed in the Congressional Record.

Five reasons were listed, which I fully support:

1. Federal aid to education is inconsistent with the traditions of our country and the spirit of our Constitution.

2. The kind of federal aid proposed is unnecessary and will be of little help, while at the same time it will slow down progress now being made, and will ultimately mean a tremendous federal appropriation.

3. The state governments can more easily finance our education than the federal government.

4. Federal aid would wrest control from local communities and state governments and ultimately place it in the federal government.

5. Large federal aid programs will destroy local initiative and creativeness.

As thinking people, surely we must be aware of the price we pay when we place more and more of our lives in the hands of centralized government.

Said Dr. Wilkinson, in concluding his important statement:

“…American education has been long predicated on the foundation of local liberty and initiative. But now we face the possible threat of further federal involvement and control over our schools. We sincerely urge all members of Congress to reject this threat and defeat any measure which attacks the local autonomy of our outstanding American school system, and which also may encroach further upon the spirit of our inspired Constitution. 8

The function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, and anything more or less than this is usurpation and oppression. 9

A category of government activity which today not only requires the closest scrutiny but which also poses a grave danger to our continued freedom is the activity not within the proper sphere of government. No one has the authority to grant such power as welfare programs, schemes for redistributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish my goal? If I do have such a right, I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me. 10

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 joined together with their neighbors and hired 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. 11

The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority [D&C 121:39–40]. A Constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny. 12

In order to avoid a concentration of power in any one branch, the Founding Fathers created a system of government that provided checks and balances. Congress could pass laws, but the president could check these laws with a veto. Congress, however, could override the veto and, by its means of initiative in taxation, could further restrain the executive department. The Supreme Court could nullify laws passed by the Congress and signed by the president, but Congress could limit the court’s appellate jurisdiction. The president could appoint judges for their lifetime with the consent of the Senate.

The use of checks and balances was deliberately designed, first, to make it difficult for a minority of the people to control the government, and, second, to place restraint on the government itself. 13

Scriptures

Mosiah 29: 21
And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

Mosiah 29: 28–32
And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.

If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people.

And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.

2 Ne. 5: 18
And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.

2 Ne. 10: 10–14
But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.

And I will fortify this land against all other nations.

And he that fighteth against Zion shall perish, saith God.

For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words.

Alma 2: 2–9
Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be a king over the people.

Now this was alarming to the people of the church, and also to all those who had not been drawn away after the persuasions of Amlici; for they knew that according to their law that such things must be established by the voice of the people.

Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would deprive them of their rights and privileges of the church; for it was his intent to destroy the church of God.

And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another.

And thus they did assemble themselves together to cast in their voices concerning the matter; and they were laid before the judges.

And it came to pass that the voice of the people came against Amlici, that he was not made king over the people.

Now this did cause much joy in the hearts of those who were against him; but Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor.

And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king.

Supporting Statements

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

#1:

Again, and as another check upon the executive, in his conduct of international relations, the diplomatic representatives of the government must be, as we the people provided in the Constitution, nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. But the habit is growing of appointment by the President of quasi-diplomatic representatives, ‘ambassadors at large’ they call them, who ‘going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down’ — to use Job’s phrase — bring their harvests to the President. President Wilson was the first to give this device considerable importance when he sent the ubiquitous Colonel House to Europe. Col. House (not approved by the senate) with the President’s approval, committed us to enter World War I on the side of the Allies more than a year before Congress declared war. 14

#2:

God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself. In other countries it is to the individual that allegiance runs. This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom. It is one of the great principles that distinguishes this ‘land of liberty’ from other countries. 15

Theodore Roosevelt

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. . . . Every man who parrots the cry of ‘stand by the President’ without adding the proviso ‘so far as he serves the Republic’ takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the King could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent free man could take such an attitude. 16

References:

  1. First Presidency, Deseret News, November 2, 1964.
  2. Brigham Young, Journal History of the Church, 4.
  3. John Taylor, The John Taylor Papers, 1:195.
  4. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 25:11.
  5. Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1932, pp. 111-12.
  6. Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, 284-285.
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, LDS General Conference, April 1972.
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, The Red Carpet, 178-179.
  9. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report 1968.
  10. An Enemy Hath Done This, page 135.
  11. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 8.
  12. Ezra Taft Benson, CHB 21; Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson 600
  13. Ezra Taft Benson, CHB 20; Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson 607
  14. J. Reuben Clark, Church News, November 29, 1953
  15. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Improvement Era, July 1940, p. 444.
  16. Theodore Roosevelt, The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, Vol. 21, pp. 316, 321.

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