Constitution Sunday: “A Landholder” [Oliver Ellsworth] III

“A Landholder” [Oliver Ellsworth] III

Connecticut Courant (Hartford), November 19, 1787

Following are excerpts from Oliver Ellsworth’s article in the¬†Connecticut Courant:

“A government capable of controling the whole, and bringing its force to a point is one of the prerequisites for national liberty. We combined in society, with an expectation, to have our persons and properties defended against unreasonable exactions either at home or abroad. If the public are unable to protect us against the unjust impositions of foreigners, in this case we do not enjoy our natural rights, and a weakness in government is the cause. If we mean to have our natural rights and properties protected, we must first create a power which is able to do it, and in our case there is no want of resources, but only of a civil constitution which may draw them out and point their force.”

“Here we see the dangerous power of taxation vested in the justices of the quorum and even in Select men, men whom we should suppose as likely to err and tyrannize as the representatives of three millions of people, in solemn deliberation, and amenable to the vengeance of their constituents, for every act of injustice. The same town offices have equal authority where personal liberty is concerned, in a matter more sacred than all the property in the world, the disposal of your children. When they judge fit, with the advice of one justice of the peace, they may tear them from the parents embrace, and place them under the absolute control of such masters as they please; and if the parents reluctance excites their resentment, they may place him and his property under overseers.”

Ellsworth touches on an important point both during the debate of the Constitution and now: there is nothing inherently evil about the federal government, however, power can be misused. In fact, local government was just as likely to intrude on the lives of Americans, as a judge could place a child with new parents.

This reality is often forgotten. The federal government is uniquely positioned to use its power to help ordinary Americans. Prior to the creation of the federal government, when Ellsworth wrote this article, there was no such broad power in government. While that was disconcerting to some Americans, few could argue that the federal government should take the reduced role it had prior to the adoption of the Constitution.

Rather, the debate centers on the extent of governmental power. That is a debate that is likely to continue for many decades and centuries to come, and that is the best result for America.

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