Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE RESERVED RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
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THE RESERVED RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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THE RESERVED RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE
December 13, 1834.
The President of the United States, in his last Message to Congress, has the following remarkable sentiment, which we shall make the subject of a brief commentary: “To suppose that because our Government has been instituted for the benefit of the people, it must therefore have the power to do whatever may seem to conduce to the public good, is an error into which even honest minds are apt to fall.”
Whoever has watched with attention the course pursued by the General and State Governments ever since their first organization, must, we think, have been struck with the conviction that one of the great practical evils of our system arises from a superabundance of legislation. It is probable, nay certain, that putting the acts of Congress and those of the State legislature together, they amount to some thousands annually. Is it possible that the good people of the United States require to be hampered and pestered by such a multiplicity of fetters as this; or that they cannot be kept in order without being manacled every year by new laws and regulations? Every superfluous law is a wanton and unnecessary innovation of the freedom of action, and impairs the RESERVED RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE. Let us inquire what these rights are.
All governments are originally instituted for the protection of person and property; and the people, in their formation, only delegate to their rulers such powers as are indispensable to these great objects. All the powers not thus delegated are retained by the people, and may be denominated their reserved rights. In defining the objects of government, all writers agree that they are those which we have just specified, namely, the protection of the rights of person and property. Whatever is necessary to these purposes, the people have given away, whatever is not necessary they have retained. Protect their persons and property, and all the rest they can do for themselves. They want no government to regulate their private concerns; to prescribe the course and mete out the profits of their industry. They want no fireside legislators; no executive interference in their workshops and fields; and no judiciary to decide their domestic disputes. They require a general system of laws, which, while it equally restrains them from violating the persons and property of others, leaves their own unimpaired.
For the attainment of these primary objects in the formation of government it can never be necessary to confer privileges on one class of a community which the others do not equally enjoy. Such privileges would be destructive of the great end of all governments, since they tend to create, or at least strengthen those inequalities of wealth and influence from which originate those dangers to person and property against which all governments were intended to guard. Such a course inevitably tends to increase the vigour of the strong, and the imbecility of the weak by comparison, thus exposing the latter to successful invasions of their rights of person and property.
Among the rights expressly reserved to themselves by the people of the United States, was a complete equality of civil privileges. This right is inherent in every people, and when not expressly relinquished, remains with them as a matter of course. But in respect to the people of the United States, it is not merely tacitly reserved, it is guaranteed, and asserted, and recognized in the constitution of our general government, as well as in those of the states, as their great fundamental principle.
The only case in which the people of the United States have delegated to their representatives the right of interfering in their private business and pursuits is that of commerce, and the reason is obvious. Such a power was necessary in the government, to enable it to establish a uniform system of regulations and imposts, and to make commercial treaties with foreign nations. Without it there would have been no regular or permanent system of foreign trade; each man might make his own private arrangements without conforming to any rule and thus the government would be reduced to the alternative of either leaving our ships and commerce to their fate, or going to war to protect those whom it could not controul. And this power to “regulate” the pursuits of industry extends no further. It was not necessary to the purposes of a good government, in relation to any other class of the community, and was never conceded by them either virtually or verbally.
Yet if we analyse the course of legislation in the United States, ever since the adoption of the various constitutions of government, we shall find that legislative bodies have been regularly and systematically employed in frittering away, under a thousand pretenses, the whole fabric of the reserved rights of the people. Nine tenths of their legislation has consisted of infringements on that great principle of equal rights without whose eternal barrier no nation can ever long maintain its liberty. The representatives of the people have gradually usurped and exercised all the rights which, if our government was administered in its purity, would be left for the people to exercise. Their vocation has consisted, not in making general, but special laws; not in legislating for the whole, but for a small part; not in preserving unimpaired the rights of the people, but in bartering them away to corporations. Corporations for purposes of charity—for men cannot give to the poor unless they are incorporated; corporations for purposes of education—for children will not learn their A B C nowadays, unless under a system of exclusive privileges; corporations for spinning and weaving—for the wheel will not turn nor the shuttle go, unless they are incorporated—corporations for this, that, and for every purpose which the ingenuity of money making man can devise. Each one of these not only enjoys privileges denied to every other citizen, and of which none but monied men can partake, because the foundation of all these corporations is money, money, money; but each one of these also violates the reserved right of the great body of the people. It is either legislating away for a certain period, or forever, a part of their sovereignty, or it is interfering with the pursuits of individual industry, by raising up a rival fatal to its prosperity.
In this way our national and state governments have, until lately, been employed in filching away the reserved rights of the great body of the people, to give or sell them, to little knots of monied men, and thus enable them by the aid of certain privileges, to combine more successfully against individual rights and individual industry. The people were placed between two fires. On one hand Congress was establishing a great Bank, and giving away tens of millions to great corporations in all quarters; on the other the states were forging another set of fetters in the shape of all sorts of privileged bodies, each one ruling its little district; each one swallowing up the business of private individuals; each one prescribing the prices of goods and the rates of labour, and each one a rotten borough, returning members of Congress. At one time these rotten boroughs, like those of England, returned a majority of the members of Congress! Can we wonder then that protection and prohibition, internal improvements, and corporate privileges, were almost the only words heard in that honourable body? Can we wonder that the voice of the people was as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and that but for the honest, fearless, high minded, and clear headed Andrew Jackson and his worthy counsellors, not a vestige of the reserved rights of the people would have survived the practical operation of the principle repudiated by that great and wise man, namely, “that because our government has been instituted for the benefit of the people, it must therefore have the power to do whatever may seem to conduce to the public good.”
Under the sanction of such a principle, a government can do any thing on pretense of acting for the public good. It will become the mere creature of designing politicians, interested speculators, or crack-brained enthusiasts. It will gradually concentrate to itself all the reserved rights of the people; it will become the great arbiter of individual prosperity; and thus before we know it, we shall become the victims of a new species of despotism, that of a system of laws made by ourselves. It will then remain to be seen whether our chains will be the lighter from having been forged by our own hands.