A Statesman’s Guide to Proper Lawmaking


Just ten years before Thomas Jefferson died and after many years of observing people in offices of political power, he commented: “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers….” He could have made the same observation in our day nearly two centuries later. Evidence is plentiful to show that when people are elected to public office and especially after they have been in office awhile, they begin to feel they have authority to do about anything they want as long as they can get enough votes to do it.

Any honest student of the U. S. Constitution can easily outline the limits of power of the federal government. That document gives Congress, for example, the power to do about 20 things which can be itemized quickly by reading Article I, Section 8. The 10th Amendment clearly limits the federal government to those express powers outlined and says that all other powers remain with the states and the people. Although the tenth amendment is violated daily on the federal level, no Congressmen can plead innocent of knowing the tenth amendment prohibitions – they are there for all to see.

But what about the vast area of government activity on the state and local levels? Are there specific delineations of powers in state constitutions and city charters so that there can be no misunderstanding as to the powers delegated to these levels of government?

About twenty years ago I undertook the laborious task of reading every bill that was introduced into the legislature of my state. Even though most bills die in committee, I wanted to know what legislators in my state were thinking. I soon discovered that most legislators must think there are no bounds to their lawmaking. I was astonished to see a bill for about any wish any political person ever had. Would you like to give a home to all the poor people? There was a bill to do it! Would you like to provide health care for all the so-called poor people? There’s a bill! Would you like to regulate mothers as to what they can feed their children? There’s a bill! Do you want to save people from their own “stupidity”? There’s lots of bills to do that! You name the idea – any idea, and there probably has been a bill introduced to cover it.  I was amazed. I went again to my state�s Constitution to see if there were perhaps some limitations put on lawmakers as there are on the federal level. Even though most state constitutions are many times longer than the U.S. Constitution, there are few clearly defined limits as to what legislators should be doing and what should be off limits to them. I could not agree more strongly with Jefferson’s observation that our legislators are seriously lacking in understanding as to what their role really is.

Whether limits of power are spelled out in constitutions or not, honest legislators should be bound by higher principles of conduct toward those whom they serve. These higher principles should ring so loudly in the ears of public officials that even in the absence of specific written limits, they should know their bounds.

It is hoped that a discussion of these higher principles will provide a better understanding of the proper role of government and the proper role of an elected public official within that government.

The Origin of Human Rights

Any discussion of government power will always lead the honest student back to the question “Where did our human rights come from?” There can be only two possible answers to this question. Either they were given by God or they are granted by government. If one concludes they are bestowed by government, then one also must accept the idea that these rights can be denied by government. The Founding Fathers flatly rejected this concept and in the Declaration of Independence declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They further defined the “pursuit of happiness” as the right to have and enjoy the fruits of one’s labors.

Volumes have been written attempting to prove that human rights were God-given, but to the Founders it was so logical and self-evident, the discussion need not be carried further. All individuals have the same God-given rights.



Earl Taylor, Jr.