With reports of mask mandates coming back – and predictions of them becoming widespread in the near future – we’re glad to see a pretty significant number of people posting things online like: “only if we let them. DO NOT COMPLY!”
It’s important to note, however, that the same is actually true of every government act, “law,” rule, regulation, order or mandate.
As James Otis, Jr. put it:
“So long as people will submit to arbitrary measures, so long will they find masters.”
That foundational principle makes up the backbone of how the founders expected the constitution to ultimately be enforced.
John Dickinson, for example, who we could probably call the “Father of the Articles of Confederation,” asked that essential question in Fabius No. IV – when government goes beyond its limits, “what is then to be done?”
The answer, he wrote, “is to be instantly found… before the supreme sovereignty of the people.” [emphasis in original]
It is the DUTY of the people: “TO WATCH, AND THEIR RIGHT TO TAKE CARE, THAT THE CONSTITUTION BE PRESERVED; Or in the Roman phrase on perilous occasions – TO PROVIDE, THAT THE REPUBLIC RECEIVE NO DAMAGE.”
Yes, Dickinson did use all caps there too.
James Iredell, one of the first associate justices of the Supreme Court, told us the same:
“The only resource against usurpation is the inherent right of the people to prevent its exercise.”
Not just a mere good idea to try later, but the “only” way to stop a government that goes beyond its limits.
James Madison said the same in Federalist No. 49, citing Thomas Jefferson:
”As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory, to recur to the same original authority, not only whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of the government, but also whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others.” [emphasis added]
And Mercy Otis Warren agreed, “The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestible right to check the creatures of their own creation.”
That’s why she told us to “resist the first approaches of tyranny,” and James Otis Jr. warned that “if we do not resist at the first attack, it may soon be too late.”
Years later, Lysander Spooner noted that “the exercise of this right is neither rebellion against the constitution, nor revolution – it is a maintenance of the constitution itself, by keeping the government within the constitution.”
It’s up to us to keep the government in check, because, as Patrick Henry warned, trusting the fate of our liberty in the hopes that politicians will do the right thing only guarantees that liberty will be lost:
Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.
At the end of the day – Jefferson may have summed it up best:
“A free people claim their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift of their chief magistrate.”
This was all covered in some detail in a classic episode of our Path to Liberty Podcast. At the link below, you’ll find both video and audio versions of the show, plus reference links to other episodes, articles and source documents – so you can read, listen, and learn more, in context, on your own time.