The popularity of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” offers us all an opportunity to consider the wisdom of one of our most prolific Founding Fathers — while we wait in line for tickets.
Alexander Hamilton, like the rest of our Founders, provided the solution to dysfunctional, overreaching and costly government, long before it became dysfunctional, overreaching and costly.
In a speech to the New York Ratifying Convention in 1788, Hamilton said: “Good constitutions are formed upon a comparison of the liberty of the individual with the strength of government: If the tone of either be too high, the other will be weakened too much. It is the happiest possible mode of conciliating these objects, to institute one branch peculiarly endowed with sensibility, another with knowledge and firmness. Through the opposition and mutual control of these bodies, the government will reach, in its regular operations, the perfect balance between liberty and power.”
Isn’t this what is missing today, a perfect balance between liberty and power?
None of the presidential candidates talks about liberty. Hillary Clinton is captive to the notion that big government, not individual liberty, is best. “Fighting for us” is her campaign slogan, as she seeks to out-promise — and outspend — Bernie Sanders’ socialist proposals of free stuff for everyone and a 90 percent tax rate on high earners to feed the government beast. As for Donald Trump, who knows?
James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
Jefferson and Hamilton debated how strong the national government they were creating should be, but it is fair to say both would be shocked at the monster it has become.
It was Hamilton who reiterated the purpose of government, which Jefferson articulated in the Declaration of Independence, when he wrote in Federalist, no. 15, “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”
Even a microwave dinner comes with instructions. When the instructions are followed it produces a satisfying meal. America comes with an “instruction book,” it’s called the Constitution. It is precisely because government has escaped its boundaries that we are in trouble — economically, politically and in virtually every other way. Coupled with a growing number of Americans who believe they are entitled to other people’s money and the fruits of their labor — instead of using their success as models for their own — the result is the equivalent of a burned microwave dinner.
In that same 1788 speech, Hamilton addressed the necessary balance between the national government and the states: “The State governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will forever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties, indeed, can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation.”
That is no longer true. The federal government consistently overturns state laws that do not conform to its unconstitutional dictates, i.e., transgender bathroom laws, illegal immigration statutes, restrictions on abortions. It is one of many reasons why things are out of balance.
The solution is simple. The Founders gave it to us in the Constitution. If the federal government would return to its boundaries, which provide a safe harbor against excess, many of the problems we are facing would either be solved or well on their way to resolution.
In the musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author and star of the show, sings: “The ten-dollar, Founding Father without a father/got a lot farther by working a lot harder/by being a lot smarter/by being a self-starter.”
Today, where does one hear in our political conversation anything about self-starting? It’s all about the government and not about the individual.
If we won’t learn from history, perhaps the musical can teach us.
Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.