Letter: What Our Founders Had in Mind
To the Editor:
The erroneous claim that America is “an experiment in democracy” appeared a few weeks ago in a Forum letter. Such a claim demonstrates what has become a typical lack of understanding that plagues many otherwise intelligent Americans.
Our Founders did not intend to create a democracy. Most of the signers of our founding documents abhorred the notion of democracy. Moreover, the word “democracy” appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In truth, the Founding Fathers were wary of allowing tyranny in any form, notably including the tyranny of the majority, which has historically arisen in democracies. Therefore, they drew upon the accumulated wisdom of the ages as manifest in works by John Locke (natural law), Montesquieu (separation of powers), Edmund Burke (liberty must be restrained to be enjoyed) and many others. The influence of Locke, in particular, is embodied in the Declaration of Independence — that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thus we witness the great importance placed by our Founders on natural rights that are inherent in our humanity.
Such rights are not created by mankind or by governments. Rather, they are provided to us by our creator and cannot justly be taken from us. The next line is also Lockean: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men ... .” Thus we learn that the only just use of government power is to secure the natural rights of the governed. To secure the natural rights of the individual, our Founders gave us a republic.
I submit that one cannot understand the founding heritage of our nation without first understanding the teachings of Locke. Rather than continue blithely on in the uninformed notion that our nation is a democracy, I recommend to all that they seek to understand the principle of natural rights. Only then can it be realized that America is an experiment, not in democracy, but instead in self-government.