The Jeffersonian Perspective

Commentary on Today's Social and Political Issues
Based on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson


Government Serves the People

The fundamental question is this: Does government and its bureaucracies serve the people, or does it serve its own interests? Do elected officials use their powers honestly to meet the needs of all their constituents, or do they reserve their efforts to further their own interests and those of their supporters?

This much is certain: we know that the tendency in all governments is for their agents to use their powers for their own enrichment. As Jefferson wrote,

This is why our Founding Fathers designed our government so that the people can exercise as much control as possible over their agents. They realized that...

But to exert that control, it is necessary that the people be attentive to how their agents are conducting the public affairs, for as Jefferson said in another place,

So, it should not be surprising if sometimes public officials do not heed the voice of the people and go about doing whatever they wish, using their power and authority to enrich themselves and those closely allied to them. But what are their constituents to do when that happens?

The first remedy is to petition those officials, either individually or as a group. And if they are unheeding, the next remedy is to educate the people and to make the power of the people felt at election time. Interested citizens should band together and identify the elected officials who are not performing properly, make an issue of their inattention to the public will, run candidates to oppose them on these issues in the next election, and throw them out of office. That is the way our system should work. Here is Jefferson again:

Elected officials are ordinary humans, and like people everywhere, they will often do whatever they can get away with, whatever their power seems to allow them to do with impunity. Fortunately, in this blessed country, we are provided with remedies to right the wrongs perpetrated by government officials and agencies.

The purpose of our government is to do what is for the best interests of the people. Not what is best for business, or for the economy, and especially not what is best for elected officials themselves and their supporters, though we would hope that what is good for all the people will in the long run be good for those other interests also. It is a matter of first priorities, and the best interests of the people should certainly be the first concern. Unfortunately, when elected officials get into power, they too often forget these things and need to be reminded from time to time by the people who elected them. They sometimes think that because they were able to garner to themselves government power, they are entitled to use it for the benefit of whoever got them where they are. "To the victor goes the spoils."

If the people make a petition for a redress of grievances and it is ignored, that should be considered a breach of the public trust. If there are provisions for a recall election, that might be the proper remedy. But surely at the very least, in the next regular election, those with leadership ability should campaign in opposition to the offending officials, and especially they should run on the very issue of a violation of the public trust and an ignoring of the public will.

All too often, elections are run as a popularity contest, and candidates avoid issues because issues turn some people away. But when an issue is as strong as ignoring what is the will of the people, surely this should be the focus of a campaign. If those who feel strongly will band together and persuade one of their number to run and then support them vigorously, such a situation could be turned around.

There is much talk these days about limited government, and the need for government bureaucracy to be made smaller and less pervasive. But the limits that our Founding Fathers were chiefly concerned about were that government be limited by the will of the people.

And also,

When government is not limited by this principle, there arises a distrust of government and a prevalence of the anti-government sentiments that we see and hear so much today. Therefore, the best thing we can do for our country and for our communities is to stand up against these misuses of power, to educate the people, and to replace these agents with those who respect the people's will, which is the foundation of government.

Cross References

To other essays in The Jeffersonian Perspective

To Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government: Table of Contents

© 1996 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.

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