I went back to read Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address a day or two before our new President, Joe Biden, took the oath of office, in search of a touchstone, and our third President’s words are as relevant today as they were more than two centuries ago.
“[W]ith all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens —a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”
After all the tumult our country experienced recently, Jefferson gives us the opportunity to refocus our thoughts on our nation’s first principles.
Taken together, the Declaration and the Constitution form a framework, without which our system of government can’t survive. Some of that framework is plainly written in the documents and some of it is apparent in the design of our government (i.e., the separation of powers). Those principles are timeless and essential, derived from right reason and the Founding Fathers’ sound knowledge of political history. Those principles are designed to form a government of a certain character. For all the lofty speech he was capable of, President Jefferson chose to describe the character of good government in very simple and humble terms. A happy and prosperous people require a government that:
Restrains men from injuring one another,
Leaves men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and
Shall not take the fruits of man’s labor from him.
Simple enough to say. But how far we have strayed from this list! And before our righteous indignation gets the better of us, straying far from principle has not been a one-sided drift.
Throughout our nation’s history, many leaders who possessed the awesome privilege and responsibility of exercising governmental authority over our land made both intentional and unintentional steps down the road that removes us further from liberty—further from what our republic is intended to be. That’s as true with modern Democrats and Republicans as it was with the Federalists and the Whigs in our founding era.
But—and this is what struck me while reading Jefferson’s words—in the times when we drifted, strong, clear, and courageous voices called us back to principle and reversed our course time and time again. Though we know they were imperfect men, Jefferson, Madison, and the other architects were some of those voices. They were followed in history by Lincoln, Coolidge, Reagan, and so many others who reminded America what she was intended to be.
So, don’t be dismayed. While our nation might be struggling right now, we will follow the same path back to liberty that we have followed in past times of crisis. That path begins when we put principle over politics.
Jefferson and his fellow patriots gave us a brilliant example of what it looks like to be committed to principle. They put systems in place that guard majority and minority rights. His generation fought the British on the battlefield, and you, along with us, are fighting for those same principles in the courtroom. Thank you for all you are doing to support Mountain States Legal Foundation in its work to defend liberty and the Constitution in these times.
I draw courage from remembering that America has come through greater crises in her long history than that which we now face. We simply cannot be faint of heart. We must base our actions on principle, not party. We must pin our hopes on our country, not on a single man, much less a single election. We must continue to fight for the principles of liberty and the rule of law with endurance that is worthy of the beautiful land we are blessed to call our own.
Above is a slightly edited version of Cristen’s January letter to MSLF Freedom Club members, which we think is timely and important enough to also share here. Please follow this link to learn more about how you can be a member of the Freedom Club.