Founders Corner

Dr Gutzman: The Founder’s Generation…

todaySeptember 8, 2009 1

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Begin Mike Church Show Transcript

Mike:  What is the difference between the men that were in public life at the turn of the 18th Century – from 1760 to 1800 or 1810, say – what is the difference between those men and the citizenry at large, for that matter, and between us?  And the big difference, I think, and I’ll get your take on this, is that that generation grew up with a fear, a palpable fear of government.

Dr. Kevin Gutzman:  Right.

Mike:  They were terrified of it and did everything they could to mitigate it.  We have large portions of the population that don’t have such fear.  Would you say that that’s correct?

Kevin:  That’s right.  Well, you know, in the late 18th Century, limited government meant freedom.  Freedom was limited government.  And nowadays many people have trust in the government.  They think that the government can be relied on to provide them all kinds of benefits, and they don’t think there’s really any trouble or any problem, potential difficulty, in extending the government’s reach and increasing the government, especially the federal government’s authority.  I think it’s really notable that people today are so distant from the idea that giving the government more power is itself a diminution of citizens’ liberty.  So how people today would define liberty, I don’t know.  I guess they think that it means something to do with pornography and abortion and getting to vote.  But, you know, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, liberty meant that the government just left you alone.

Mike:  Yes, yes.  You wanted to be a tobacco farmer?  Farm tobacco.

Kevin:  And if you wanted to smoke it, go ahead, yeah.

Mike:  Go ahead.  Imagine that.  Imagine that.  You know, I was reading the – and you’ll hear some of this in “The Spirit of ‘76.”  But my God, the greatest speeches ever given on limited government were given by Mr. Henry in the ratification convention in Virginia.  And I thought one of the most poignant exchanges was when he said, “When we decided to wage a great war against a great nation, did you want your federal government then?  Were you thirsty for consolidation then?  No.  We sold all and purchased liberty,” he said.  We gave everything up to purchase liberty.  He used the word somewhere on the order of 50 times in that speech.  I counted them.  What happened to that?  Where – not where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio; where have you gone, Patrick Henry?

Kevin:  Well, it’s very interesting.  At another point in that debate, Mr. Henry, Governor Henry said that people’s chief concern should not be with security or with having an impressive government or with the opinion of foreigners of the United States.  Instead they should worry foremost about liberty.  And in case you were worried about some future problem that might befall the United States, the way this resolved that issue was not by creating a gigantic edifice of government that could in theory respond to any eventuality, but rather leave the people free until the problem arose and then have a temporary solution, which is of course what had happened in the Revolution.

Mike:  Right.

Kevin:  So Henry thought you should always err on the side of freedom.  Well, people today seem to think that you should err on the side of Cash for Clunkers, so…

Mike:  Tummy tucks.

Kevin:  That’s right.  But, well, there was a friend of mine when I was in graduate school, getting a master of public affairs at the LBJ school, he said are we going to have federal funded butt tucks?  And of course now it seems that’s not a joke.  Really you can’t parody this, you know, it’s just – whatever absurdity you try to set out for humor’s sake will soon become reality.

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