Some say that large, centralized government began with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Others point to Woodrow Wilson and the expanded powers granted to him as part of his “new freedom” before World War I and during the war as part of his “war socialism.” Some go to Theodore Roosevelt, whose strong personality transformed the US Presidency from a largely symbolic figurehead to the active modern role it plays today, and whose later political efforts introduced a “new nationalism” into the American experience.
I often go even further into history and comment on the great powers seized by the Radical Republicans after the Civil War, the complications created by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, and the crony capitalism introduced by big government as they breathed life into big business through the subsidizing of the transcontinental railroads.
But honestly, if we are to find the actual beginning of big government, we must go to the dawn of time. It all comes down to man’s natural desire for power and the natural urge to accumulate more. This was something the founding fathers understood all too well.
Checks and balances were erected in the architecture of our government to ensure the natural disposition of man to pride would not lead to continued tyranny. They gave us a system wherein the common man could thwart tyrants without resorting to the sword. In the last century, this system has been under constant attack. In the present, this offensive has grown to include assaults from all political corners. The checks and balances, so carefully constructed, are now seen as roadblocks to political victory instead of bulwarks against abuse.
So, who is to blame for the modern attempts to subvert freedom in our day? I opened this article by discussing just a few of the individuals whose actions expanded the reach of centralized government. But blaming individuals in history or even individuals in the present time just might miss the mark. Ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame.
This government is for the people and by the people. It has only been by the pride and foolishness of the people that this government has grown into its Leviathan state. It will only be by the pride and folly of the people that this government will ever pass from the face of the earth. Even those whose hearts desire a return to the tenets of ordered liberty can become deceived. Too often, those who think of themselves as inheritors of American ideals place their trust in political leaders, expecting them to fight the good fight, while they go on with their lives.
In the theology of my Latter-day Saint faith, there is a prophecy that the US Constitution will one day hang by a thread. Whether that day is today, I dare not claim to know. But I can confidently say that the US Constitution hangs by far fewer threads than it did even a few years ago. But of those threads, I will say this: even if they are few, they have the capacity to be strong.
America is far more than a political structure. It is a belief carved on the heart, a belief in freedom and liberty. If we all keep these things close to our hearts and live up to them, we will weather whatever storms are brought by those whose actions could destroy this country and its founding values. Freedom-loving people are the threads that hold the Constitution together. We are the threads it hangs by. As a freedom-loving people, if we rely upon the strength of our convictions, we can be threads of iron.
Justin Stapley is a student at Utah Valley University and a research assistant at UVU’s Center for Constitutional Studies,