Spirit of Governments

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On February 18th, 1792, James Madison posted an anonymous squib in his newspaper, the National Gazette. He asked:

May not governments be properly divided, according to their predominant spirit and principles, into three species of which the following are examples?

First. A government operating by a permanent military force, which at once maintains the government and is maintained by it; which is at once the cause of burdens on the people and of submission in the people to their burdens. Such have been the governments under which human nature has groaned through every age. Such are the governments which still oppress it in almost every country of Europe, the quarter of the globe which calls itself the pattern of civilization and the pride of humanity.

Secondly. A government operating by corrupt influence; substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty; converting its pecuniary dispensations into bounties to favorites or bribes to opponents; accommodating its measures to the avidity of a part of the nation instead of the benefit of the whole: in a word, enlisting an army of interested partisans, whose tongues, whose pens, whose intrigues, and whose active combinations, by supplying the terror of the sword, may support a real domination of the few under an apparent liberty of the many. Such a government, wherever to be found, is an impostor. It is happy for the new world that it is not on the west side of the Atlantic. It will be both happy and honorable for the United States if they never descend to mimic the costly pageantry of its form, nor betray themselves into the venal spirit of its administration.

Thirdly. A government deriving its energy from the will of the society, and operating by the reason of its measures on the understanding and interest of the society. Such is the government for which philosophy has been searching, and humanity been sighing, from the most remote ages. Such are the republican governments which it is the glory of America to have invented, and her unrivalled happiness to possess. May her glory be completed by every improvement on the theory which experience may teach; and her happiness be perpetuated by a system of administration corresponding with the purity of the theory.


James Madison had the corrupted British government in mind within his second category.

But, does it not well describe what our once republic has become? Our pols quietly enrich themselves over decades, pass laws to help supporters and punish opponents, pass laws that burden the people yet exempt themselves, illegally assign law making power to partisans unaccountable to the people. He feared the sword; we fear a corrupt judiciary, IRS and regulatory agencies. Against the sword we could defend our lives and honor. Instead we must kneel before bureaucrats and lawsuits from government lawyers who can take everything we own at no risk to themselves.

Madison said such government was an impostor. How true. The sole purpose of government is to secure our God given rights. We have descended into what he feared, a shell of a republic that “mimics the costly pageantry of its form,” and betrayed itself.

The events of 1776 and 1787 didn’t just happen. Then, as now, avarice and ambition, man’s tendency to abuse power for personal enrichment is active in all governments at all times. By comparison, lady liberty is somnolent. If never awakened, she will eventually die in her sleep. Through Article V, the sovereign American people can regularly nudge her awake, and together they can take stock of the health and condition of free government.

We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.