Daily Dose

The Foundation

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” – Samuel Adams, A February 12, 1779 Letter to James Warren

What did he/she say?

“The great challenge of democracy, as the Founders understood it, was to restrict and structure the government to secure the rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence — preventing tyranny while preserving liberty. The solution was to create a strong, energetic government of limited authority. Its powers were enumerated in a written constitution, separated into functions and responsibilities and further divided between national and state governments in a system of federalism. The result was a framework of limited government and a vast sphere of freedom, leaving ample room for republican self-government.

Progressives viewed the Constitution as a dusty 18th-century plan unsuited for the modern day. Its basic mechanisms were obsolete and inefficient; it was a reactionary document, designed to stifle change. They believed that just as science and reason had brought technological changes and new methods of study to the physical world, they would also bring great improvements to politics and society. For this to be possible, however, government could not be restricted to securing a few natural rights or exercising certain limited powers. Instead, government must become dynamic, constantly changing and growing to pursue the ceaseless objective of progress.

The progressive movement — under a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, and then a Democratic one, Woodrow Wilson — set forth a platform for modern liberalism to refound America according to ideas that were alien to the original Founders. “Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence,” Wilson wrote in 1912. “All that progressives ask or desire is permission — in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.” – Matthew Spalding, A Republic, If You Want It

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