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Prophetic Statements

Wilford Woodruff

I have looked upon the Constitution of the United States as one of the best instruments ever devised by man for the government of the inhabitants of the earth. 1

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. 2

We are at the crossroads in American policy. We will build soundly for the future in a manner that leaves essential freedom of action in the hands of the individual American, or we will go the tragic other road-which is to encroach more and more upon the individual citizen’s control of his own life, and end only with a fully socialized America. My words are not one whit too strong. This is our choice. This is the decision we face. 3

I am especially mindful that the Constitution provides that the great bulk of the legitimate activities of government are to be carried out at the state or local level. This is the only way in which the principle of “self-government” can be made effective. As James Madison said before the adoption of the Constitution, “ (We) rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” 4 Thomas Jefferson made this interesting observation: “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.” 5 6

It is a firm principle that the smallest or lowest level that can possibly undertake the task is the one that should do so. First, the community or city. If the city cannot handle it, then the county. Next, the state; and only if no smaller unit can possible do the job should the federal government be considered. This is merely the application to the field of politics of that wise and time-tested principle of never asking a larger group to do that which can be done by a smaller group. And so far as government is concerned the smaller the unit and the closer it is to the people, the easier it is to guide it, to keep it solvent and to keep our freedom. Thomas Jefferson understood this principle very well and explained it this way:

“The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its sub-ordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.” 7

It is well to remember that the states of this republic created the Federal Government. The Federal Government did not create the states. 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

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 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. 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

Scriptures

Mosiah 29: 30-34, 38
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.

And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.

And he told them that these things ought not to be; but that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.

Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.

Mosiah 29: 29
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.

  1. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 24:237.
  2. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report 1968.
  3. Ezra Taft Benson, The Red Carpet, pp. 308-9; The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 578-597.
  4. Federalist, No.39; P.P.N.S., p. 128.
  5. Thomas Jefferson, Works 8:3; quoted in Prophets, Principles and National Survival, p. 128.
  6. Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government.
  7. Thomas Jefferson, Works 6:543; quoted in Prophets, Principles and National Survival, p. 125.
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, The Proper Role of Government.
  9. An Enemy Hath Done This, page 135.
  10. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 8.
  11. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 8.
  12. The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, page 9.
  13. The Red Carpet, pages 158-59.

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