by Haley Shopp
Since its conception, one principle essential to the United States of America has been limited government. It was for this concept that the Revolution was fought: the colonists’ right to form their own government, small enough that individuals were in control of their own lives. When the British government began imposing heavy taxes on the American colonies, the forefathers fought for a government that allowed individuals to control their lives. An undercurrent of rebellion flowed among the colonists as Britain set harsher regulations on their American lands.
The Americans, whose distance from England had led to a strong independence, were not willing to acquiesce to British demands. They fought the Revolutionary War to gain their right to a completely free nation. The Declaration describes the need for oppressive governments to be abolished. The new nation was determined not to have a strong centralized government so as not to become oppressive. Americans were so focused on small government that they formed a confederacy, a loose alliance of independent states. This confederacy, unable to print its own money, make its own treaties, or impose any rules on its constituents, could not adequately function. The founding fathers realized adjustments were necessary, and met to revise the Articles of Confederation. The delegates who met decided that they needed to form an entirely new system.
While the founding fathers realized a stronger government was needed in America, they feared a government that was too powerful. They did not desire to have a king or a dictator, and they wanted to retain many of the states’ rights. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention recognized the need for a government in which the states were well represented but still able to work cohesively. These men who wrote the Constitution strove to compromise and work together, but above all they maintained a desire to keep government from interfering in the lives of citizens as much as possible.
As the Father of the Constitution, James Madison contributed to the compromises at the constitutional convention and positively influenced public support. He helped write the Federalist Papers, a series of essays published throughout the colonies that provided detailed reasoning behind the Constitution and explained to all Americans why the Constitution should be adopted. As debate over ratification of the Constitution continued, Madison and others feared that the Constitution still allowed for too much centralized power. Madison became a leading proponent of the Bill of Rights; ten amendments to the Constitution that would further limit the powers of central government. The Ninth Amendment says the “enumeration, in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”. This was the essential point of the Bill of Rights: that individual rights and liberties are assumed, they do not have to be granted by a central government, an important difference from any other government of the time. Madison helped to found the Republican, or Jeffersonian, Party, a party that was founded for the express purpose of keeping the government small.
The Constitution was ratified, aided by the publication of the Federalist essays. The Founding Fathers expressed that a key aspect of being an American was to be free from the constraints of government. America was founded as a reaction to a nation that was all-powerful; one that exercised its power in unfair ways. Once America broke free from Britain, its founders desired a government that allowed individual freedom.
As I have studied the formation of the U.S. government, I have realized that a limitation in government necessitates an increase in individual responsibility. If citizens desire to maintain small government, they must take responsibility to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them in a way that is completely independent from government. The Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va., recently held an essay contest for high school students on the topic: ”What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?” Over 50,000 students participated from all 50 states and U.S. territories. The winners and runners-up received cash prizes, with $5,000 awarded to each regional first-place winner. Eagle Publishing was proud to be one of the sponsors. HumanEvents.com will be publishing the top nine winning essays over the next two weeks. Every Saturday we will be spotlighting a winning entry. This is the fourth essay.
Recognizing a widespread need among my classmates, I established and run a math tutoring center at my school. I have taken the responsibility to use my talents in the area of mathematics to assist those who struggle to become better in this discipline. In this way, I hope to take part in a system that is uniquely American: to take personal responsibility to fix a problem, instead of relying on government for the answers.
The founding fathers sought to create a government that was radically different than others. They achieved this by establishing a system that assumed its citizens had God-given rights that did not need to be granted by government, creating a limited government they considered essential for preserving liberty.
Haley Shopp is a high school student who attends Grace Preparatory Academy in Mansfield, Texas.