14) PEOPLE: Where are the powers of government derived? Should leaders be servants of the people or should the people be servants of the government?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph Smith

Let the people of the whole Union, like the inflexible Romans, whenever they find a promise made by a candidate that is not practiced as an officer, hurl the miserable sycophant from his exaltation. 1

David O. McKay

You are not just a cog in the wheel of the state. To be such I think is the greatest danger in the world today, and I find some in our Church who rather favor that. They think the state is our protector (provider?) It isn’t. The state as a servant, is here to protect you in your work, on your farm and in your business, and to see that justice is administered, and you have a right to that protection. The state has not anything that you do not give it. The government has no means but that which you give it, and we give it to the government so that it will protect each individual in his right. That is a fundamental principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 2

Ezra Taft Benson

The function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, and anything more or less than this is usurpation and oppression. 3

It is obvious that a government is nothing more or 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 which have been authorized. It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or 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 to the Constitution of the United States, which reads: “WE THE PEOPLE… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

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 governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government. 4

To me the Constitution is divine. It embodies eternal principles. If we believe that our rights were given us by God, and man created governments to maintain those rights, it follows that men are superior to governments and should remain master over them, not the other way around! 5

Though the people support the Government, the government should not support the people. 6

Another standard I use in deterring what law is good and what is bad is the Constitution of the United States. I regard this inspired document as a solemn agreement between the citizens of this nation which every officer of government is under a sacred duty to obey. As Washington stated so clearly in his immortal Farewell Address:

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. – But the constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.” 7

Our struggle is freedom vs. Socialism. The amount of freedom depends on the amount of socialism. America was built on the principle of self-reliance, individual action, voluntary charity, faith in God, and in themselves. Today these principles are not dominate in the lives of the people. Too many Americans believe it is the responsibility of the government to take care of their every need. The government cannot give anything to the people, that it does not first take from the people. 8

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. 9

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. 10

The proper function of government 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, or 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. 11

In general terms, the proper role of government includes such defensive activities as maintaining national military and local police forces for protection against loss of life, loss of property, and loss of liberty at the hands of either foreign despots or domestic criminals. It also includes those powers necessarily incidental to the protective function, such as the maintenance of courts where those charged with crimes may be tried and where disputes between citizens may be impartially settled; the establishment of a monetary system and a standard of weights and measures so that courts may render money judgments, taxing authorities may levy taxes, and citizens may have a uniform standard to use in their business dealings. 12

Critics of independence, self-help, and self-reliance have their own theory. These critics believe that the national government can do most things better for the people than they do for themselves as individuals or through their state and local governments. I believe the closer to home you keep government the more effective it will be–and it will cost less.

These critics also believe that federal employees in Washington know more about your school, your farm, your business, your job, than you, the people, do in your own communities on your farms, in your businesses. You and I know that is not true–and we do not believe it. 13


Mosiah 2: 12-16
I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you; neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you—

And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.

Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—

Jacob 1:10
The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—

Supporting Statements

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

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 shall be. Under His plan the only allegiance we owe as citizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up.…This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom. 14

  1. Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 207.
  2. David O. McKay, Prophets Principles and National Survival, p. 1107.
  3. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report 1968.
  4. Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government.
  5. Ezra Taft Benson, Four Pillars of a Moral Nation.
  6. Grover Cleveland quoted by Ezra Taft Benson, An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 135.
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government.
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, Four Pillars of a Moral Nation.
  9. An Enemy Hath Done This, page 135.
  10. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 8.
  11. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 9.
  12. An Enemy Hath Done This, pages 131-32.
  13. The Red Carpet, pages 158-59.
  14. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., The Improvement Era, 43, [July 1940] 444.
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