Governing By Principle


"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom."

It's easy in a political campaign or a legislative session to focus on issues of the moment. But a statesman — one who is worthy of being lauded by future generations — will guard the foundation of freedom we inherited from those before us. He will not succumb to emotion or pressure to compromise that foundation in the name of short-term political gain. He will take seriously his responsibility as a steward of the foundation, carefully monitoring its stability and measuring its vulnerability to the proposals that come before him.

Such a statesman will lead, not follow. He will listen to his constituents, to be sure, but when they ask for something that would compromise the foundation, he will vote according to his responsibility as a steward, and he will explain to his constituents the long-term negative effect of their request. Similarly, a statesman will listen to the chosen leaders within his own political body (a committee chairman, presiding officer, etc.), but if they ask or pressure him to compromise the foundation, he will resist them as well. To do otherwise is to be a follower who is blown and tossed by the political winds, whichever direction they may blow.

Mississippi is in desperate need of leaders who will govern by principle. We need them now, and we need to cultivate more of them for our future. That's not to say there are none currently in office; but those who are already in office need allies who will fight the good fight alongside them, encourage them, and infuse them with a renewed passion for freedom. Together, they can explore principled ways to improve our state and serve their constituents—and do so in a manner that preserves the integrity of the foundation.

Our nation's Founders knew that the only way to form and maintain a stable nation was to build it on principles of freedom and to entrust it to men and women who would protect those principles from eroding over time. In 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, John Witherspoon, and others set their pen to the parchment that declared America's independence from Great Britain, they stood on principles about the nature of man, civil society, and government passed down from such minds as John Locke and Edmund Burke, and influenced by the precepts of the Bible. The result was a Declaration of Independence that is unrivaled in its timeless ability to inspire those who yearn for freedom.

Unfortunately, in recent generations, the ideas conveyed in that document have been largely forgotten or ignored—or, in some cases, treacherously abandoned. The freedom for which our Founders pledged their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" is endangered by a growing misunderstanding of the proper role of government in the lives of its citizens—and the proper role of citizens in the exercise of governing. This loss of grounding in the citizenry is not only reflected in many of its elected officials, but in many cases, drives those officials to ignore timeless principles and follow the impulse to "do something—anything!" to solve a temporal problem. The result is further erosion of the freedom and the type of government our Founders sought for us.

It doesn't have to be this way. By returning to the principles that guided our Founders, we can restore their vision, even as we apply it in modern ways to our generation. That can happen only if we have leaders in our homes, communities, and elective offices who understand the principles and live by them. The goal of this primer is two-fold: first, to inspire leaders to govern by principle with integrity, honor, humility, and restraint; and second, to equip citizens with the tools they need to hold their elected officials accountable to these timeless principles.

About this Publication: What it is and what it is not

This publication is a primer, not an encyclopedia. It is not intended to be the "be all and end all" on the proper way to govern, and it is not an exhaustive discussion of each topic. It is designed to be a reminder of—or, for some, an introduction to—the purpose of government as envisioned by our Founders. Although we believe the principles in this primer are foundational for a properly-functioning republic, and although we believe these principles can be used to test virtually any public policy proposal, we welcome the perspectives of others and are not above revising the wording or adding to these principles in future editions.

But before you judge these principles—favorably or adversely—be sure to read the descriptions in this primer. We intentionally kept each principle to one sentence, wording each one to encompass many other principles. It is likely that we have already addressed your concern. Because these principles are so closely linked to one another, it is possible your concern about one principle might be alleviated, or at least addressed, by the perspective offered in another.

This primer, with rare exceptions, does not discuss specific policy ideas. That is the function of other publications. We think any such discussion in this document would distract from its purpose, which is to focus on foundational ideas.

This publication is intentionally written in a conversational, informal tone. Our goal is to help you articulate these ideas and to encourage you to talk with others about them, so we have tried to present them in everyday language. We have drawn from a wide range of sources to inform the views we have expressed, and though we have not included footnotes, we will be happy to provide you the source of any particular statement.

Finally, the principles themselves are not original to us. We did choose the wording for most of the principles and all of the narrative (except where noted), but the ideas behind them have been proved worthy over centuries. We are particularly indebted to Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, whose Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy sparked the idea for this project. We are also grateful to The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, whose Founders Almanac has been a valuable resource to us and whose faithfulness to the Founders' ideals continually inspires us.

Choose Your Chapter

1. Government exists to protect rights, not to create them.

2. The legitimate power of government begins and ends with the people, while it's authority comes from the Creator.

3. Just because a problem exists doesn't mean government should try to solve it.

4. Long-term and cumulative consequences should be considered more carefully than short-term benefits.

5. Government has nothing to give anyone except what it takes from someone else.

6. Individuals are ultimately responsible for governing themselves and for the consequences of their decisions.

7. Free enterprise, not the government, is the engine of personal economic prosperity.

8. The free market should not be distorted by government-designed dictates or advantages.

9. Government has a responsibility to protect the foundational institution of society: the family.

10. Parents, not government, are responsible for the education and upbringing of their children.

Do you support these principles?


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