John Locke, pictured at right, who Thomas Jefferson believed was one of the three greatest men who had ever lived, inspired our founding fathers, perhaps like no other person.  One of the questions on which Locke reflected was why people submit to the power and authority of government.  His answer was simple and direct: to preserve their property. "The great and chief end . . . of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government," Locke wrote, "is the preservation of their property."

The first question that undoubtedly springs to mind when reading these words is whether our national government, with its massively stumbling bureaucracy, serves the function of preserving our property.  It is not an idle question, but an absolutely fundamental one.

We were once a wealthy nation, second to none in the history of the world.  But Congress, with the approval of the President, has depleted our wealth.  As of January 16, 2010, the United States of America is encumbered by a national debt of $12,265,068,374,338.26.  For those of you who are not accustomed to reading a number this large, it is over twelve trillion dollars!  There are 307,663,927 American citizens.  This means that each of them owes $39,865.15.  The debt escalates by the day.

"The government," you insist, "can always print more money.  "Yes, but the value of the currency will sadly plummet, when it does.  It will take more dollars to buy a loaf of bread, a six pack of beer, and to secure necessary services than before.  Those on fixed incomes will witness the diminution in value of their savings.  Those who work for companies will be paid with dollars worth less than when they were hired. Employers will notice a lessened demand for their companies' goods and services, since fewer people will be able to afford them.

"So," you allow, "we must pay the debt."  But from where does the money come?  Answer:  from your pocket and mine.  Today, a family of four would owe approximately $176,000.  How long would it take most families to repay that?

If you hired a professional financial advisor to oversee your wealth, and you discovered after he "assisted" you that not only were you penniless, but that you also owed an amount of money that you could not possibly repay, would you continue to employ this advisor?  It might not be far afield to suggest that you would wring his neck.

Locke considers whether people are bound to submit to a government which fails to preserve their property.  Consider his words:  "Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society [i.e., the preservation of citizens' property] . . . by this breach of trust they forfeit the power, the people had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty . . . ."

I am a simple man.  But it appears to me that John Locke is contending that citizens have a natural right to put their foot down and to oppose irresponsible government.  It is a right that goes beyond voting the Tweedledees out and the Tweedledums in.  It is, God help us, a right to revolution. Locke makes it clear, however, that "such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs . . . , but upon "a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices . . . ."  Have the American people reached this critical point with their government?  You be the judge.

Drums are beating fast and furiously, and an extraordinary sense of anticipation is filling the air as I write.  The words "nullification" and "secession" have crept back into our political vocabulary.  Some observers in the early 1830s thought that Andrew Jackson's demonstrated willingness to invade South Carolina for threatening to act upon a doctrine of nullification propounded by John C. Calhoun resolved that disputed issue of States' rights.  Others still think that the Civil War and its aftermath definitively concluded the argument over secession.  If history proves anything, it is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

For the time being, it is imperative, I believe, for American citizens to be reminded that they are not philosophically bound to submit to a government unresponsive to their wishes and driving them ever more deeply into debt.  The Tea Party movement's warning to government officials that "we are coming for you" constitutes a reminder of this truth.  The American people are not, after all, a bunch of sheep – or are we?

January 16, 2010