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When the Founding Fathers were crafting the framework for the constitutional Republic that would eventually emerge, they had already experienced the heavy hand of a powerful government under King George III of England. And they were familiar with the despotic policies of other governments as well.

The Framers leaned heavily on some of the greatest intellects and thinkers that preceded them, going all the way back to the ancient Romans and Greeks. They weighed and debated the smallest details of varying philosophies. They knew the serious consequences of vesting too much power in one hand.

So the Framers deliberately strove to move away from a monarchial style of government in their newly formed country by instituting a system that featured three separate and distinct but unequal bodies of power — the legislative, the judicial, and the executive branches of government.

Initially, under the Articles of Confederation, the government was organized without a chief executive officer — a recommendation strongly supported by Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Instead, this early government contained four departments or cabinet posts. However, it proved unsatisfactory.

Though having practical experience with the shortfalls inherent in a government lacking a chief executive, the Framers still feared that an executive office would tend to become increasingly tyrannical over time. James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, regarded a powerful executive branch as “the seed of tyranny” just as he feared the lack of an executive “as the well-spring of anarchy.”

To find a middle ground that would serve the new nation’s purposes without becoming dangerously powerful, they decided upon limiting the executive’s power.

As a result, the powers and duties granted to the president are rather few. Among the few powers granted to the executive is the authority to make sure that “the Laws be faithfully executed.” The Constitution does not specify how that is to be accomplished. So, most rely on history and the study of original intent to discern how this is to be done. In addition, the president has the authority to be commander in chief of the armed forces, with some interpretations limiting this authority to actual and formal declarations of war by the Congress.

The President of the United States is to conduct foreign affairs, negotiate treaties with other nations — although they must be approved by the Senate with a two-thirds majority — and he can nominate members of the cabinet and the judicial branch, meaning those who sit on the Supreme Court, appellate, and district court benches. These also must be approved by the Senate. He is also called upon to commission officers.

The President can initiate legislation, review, and sign or veto bills. He may also grant pardons as he sees fit except in cases of impeachment, and he must assess the state of the nation and address Congress as to his conclusions. If necessary, the president can convene both Houses or either of them. And he is to receive ambassadors and other public ministers.

Early presidents managed the Office of the Presidency with little or no help, because the Constitution did not provide for any staff. George Washington's cabinet had only three departments: State, War, and Treasury.

In 1857 Congress agreed to allocate money to hire a private secretary for the president. Since then the presidency has continuously grown in size and in power, in many ways vindicating the Framer’s concerns about the dangers of the executive branch.

Starting with only the Office of the President, today, the executive branch has ballooned into a collection of departments and agencies: the cabinet and various executive departments, and an extensive conglomeration of federal agencies.

What is government? What purpose should it serve? Should there be government at all? If so, how should it be structured?

Of perhaps equal importance: How did government arise? And what have been the consequences?

These questions have been asked for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

To help answer them, let’s start with a simple example of a shipwreck. Some 100 passengers all end up on the same uncharted island. Determined to survive, the castaways begin building small huts for shelter and gathering food.

A couple of the shipwrecked passengers, rather than work, decide to take the food gathered by another castaway. Whether they took it through force or fraud makes no difference. Their actions are a crime against Castaway 1’s right to property. If the castaway chooses to share voluntarily in an act of charity, then that is different.

Because Castaway 1 doesn’t like his property being stolen, he demands that they return the food. Castaways 2 and 3 not only reject his demand, they order him to work for them permanently. This action is a crime against Castaway 1’s liberty, because he does not owe them his labor. If he offers to do so voluntarily in an act of service, then that is another matter.

Castaway 1 refuses to work for them. Castaways 2 and 3 threaten to kill him if he doesn’t.

At this point, the victim has three basic choices. He can submit, thus becoming their slave. He can defend himself, and take his chances that he will beat them both with superior force. (No rational person will question the Castaway 1’s right to defend himself against their coercive actions.) Or, he can go to the other 97 castaways and plead for their assistance.

It’s important to keep in mind that the victim in this example has three basic rights the criminals tried to violate: life, liberty, and property.  It’s also important to remember that without those rights being protected, Castaway 1 will either end up in bondage to somebody else, or lose his life altogether.

Let’s assume that the victim decides he cannot win, so he goes to the others on the island. After making his case, the remaining castaways decide that if they don’t stop the two criminals, then it is possible that every other passenger could end up a victim, too. Some castaways wonder to themselves if others in the group might copy the criminals’ conduct, making things even more dangerous.

And so they decide to band together and appoint a person to be the full-time protector of their basic rights. They also draft a system of basic rules, or laws, each islander has to live by. Each one has specific, enforceable penalties for their violation. The rules go no further than in the protection of the those three basic rights.

The protector is also limited in his power to a few defined and specific functions spelled out in a charter. The islanders elect the toughest person among them to help keep the peace, so they can go about more productive uses of their time, but still retain their unquestionable right to protect their lives, liberties, and properties.

At that moment, these people have created a government. Its form is a constitutional republic, which is rule by law, with the government limited by a well-defined operating charter.

Now, what if things turned out differently? Suppose that when the islander approached his 97 other neighbors, they went through the same process, but with a twist. They agreed that whatever the majority wanted was the law. This was so even if it violated the victim’s unquestionable rights to life, liberty and property — in any degree.

Suppose that the majority (49 or more) decided that the victim should contribute either his labor or property to the less fortunate on the island, such as the two who were taking from him. Their choice of government would be called a democracy, which has no limits other than what the majority want.

There are other possible outcomes to this story. Suppose that a few of the islanders banded together, and were able to impose their will through force over the rest. Whether the person chosen to represent them was crowned a king (creating a monarchy), or given some other title (creating a dictatorship), is of little significance. In either case, a handful of people (called an oligarchy, or rule of the few), through their leader, use force to reign how they see fit. The rest of the islanders are at their mercy as to how heavy-handed that government will be. Their rights mean little before the power that the state exercises.

This simple story illustrates two vitally important points.

1) How governments arise is a direct reflection of the philosophies of the people that form them.

2) Whether people are secure in their basic rights to life, liberty, and property is largely a direct result of the type of government chosen, by whoever is in the position to make it.

Scientists, scholars, priests, writers, politicians and kings have all weighed in on this issue, explaining how and why government came about.

Some suggest that government arose through a “divine right” to rule. Perhaps a leader was able to rally to him a group of followers or a clever individual was able to utilize greater skill in order to rule his neighbors. Regardless of how it happened, inevitably those in power, or their successors, ended up using brute force to maintain their position.

The important point is that government was a means to exercise control over the lives of others. It was a master, not a servant.

Another view holds that groups of people may have voluntarily banded together for mutual defense against a common foe. From their own ranks were chosen those who would govern.

Unfortunately, as history shows, even when this path was chosen — a truly rare moment in time — the government almost always became the master, rather than remain a servant protecting the rights of the people to whom it was accountable.

This is why government for the few, by the few, and of the few has been the norm throughout time.

Early societies around the globe, leading ultimately to the formation of the first governments in places like ancient Sumer, Egypt and the Indus Valley, were all based on the view that government is the master, not the servant.

Historically, monarchy, of one flavor or another, has been the most common form of government. Power was transferred between administrations while retaining that power within the hands of the ruling family.

In the castaways story, with the example of government gone wrong, a small number of islanders would have been able to rule over the rest for generations to come. Unless, of course, those who wanted to be in control and have the same power plotted and planned to take over. But that would almost always result in assassination, war, and oppression, as history overwhelmingly shows.

The other example from the castaways story, that of a constitutional republic — with a government limited to specific powers of protecting rights — was a rare exception to the rule. In 1776, however, America’s Founders really did adopt this approach. Declaring their independence from the British monarchy, they formed the world’s most successful government based on the principles of a constitutional republic.

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