Thursday, June 01, 2006

On the Concept of Term Limits - No. II

To the Citizens of the United States of America:

We have begun to address the issue of term limits, and in our first installment committed to show that term limits conflict with Liberty; that they encourage apathy and laziness and are inconsistent with self-government; that they exist already today in their right and proper form, yet remain unused; and that they create an inappropriate balance of power in our federal republic. We will prove the above with an understanding of human nature and that most effective teacher, experience, and demonstrate that term-limits are incompatible with the concepts of Americanism and Federalism.

On Liberty
How does one endeavor to define Liberty? The most appropriate definition must include that freedom to both act and think as one wishes, unrestrained by an outside force; Liberty is that state of being that mankind reaches when free to physically act as one wants, but also to think and exercise one's will without restraint.

Yet there is a qualifier. Liberty becomes license when one acts in contravention to the laws of Nature or Nature's God. License is the abuse of freedom, the difference being that license speaks more toward permission, or leave to do whatever one pleases, even if contrary to law or accepted norms.

For such a complex object, our attention turns to the Father of American Education, Federalist Noah Webster. Says he:

"LIB'ERTY, n. [L. libertas, from liber, free.]
1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.

2. Natural liberty, consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government.

3. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. Civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty.

The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberty of others.

In this sentence, the latter word liberty denotes natural liberty.

4. Political liberty, is sometimes used as synonymous with civil liberty. But it more properly designates the liberty of a nation, the freedom of a nation or state from all unjust abridgment of its rights and independence by another nation. Hence we often speak of the political liberties of Europe, or the nations of Europe.

5. Religious liberty, is the free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control.

6. Liberty, in metaphysics, as opposed to necessity, is the power of an agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, by which either is preferred to the other.
Freedom of the will; exemption from compulsion or restraint in willing or volition.

7. Privilege; exemption; immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant; with a plural. Thus we speak of the liberties of the commercial cities of Europe.

8. Leave; permission granted. The witness obtained liberty to leave the court.

9. A space in which one is permitted to pass without restraint, and beyond which he may not lawfully pass; with a plural; as the liberties of a prison.

10. Freedom of action or speech beyond the ordinary bounds of civility or decorum. Females should repel all improper liberties.

To take the liberty to do or say any thing, to use freedom not specially granted.

To set at liberty, to deliver from confinement; to release from restraint.

To be at liberty, to be free from restraint.

Liberty of the press, is freedom from any restriction on the power to publish books; the free power of publishing what one pleases, subject only to punishment for abusing the privilege, or publishing what is mischievous to the public or injurious to individuals." (Italicized emphasis mine. Source: Webster's 1828 Dictionary at

For our purposes, it is essential to focus in on Webster's third meaning of Liberty, and one particular phrase in specific: "A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression."

Term Limits Destroy Civil Liberty
Term-limits are in substance inherently opposed to Liberty. By definition, a term limit provides a statutory mechanism by which a candidate is prohibited from seeking office. The criteria for prohibition is that he or she has already served in such a capacity for a defined period of time.

The best example for refuting the foolish nature of term limits is one from our own history. Franklin Roosevelt was the last President to serve more than two terms, and largely the public returned President Roosevelt to office to maintain a consistent course in prosecuting the war against the Axis in the second World War. In grave matters such as war and national security, a citizenry would properly choose to reelect the executive who is best equipped to chart a course to peace; he or she that understands the conflict and can apply every God-granted ability and skill to the successful completion of hostilities.

It is pure conjecture to theorize on how differently WWII might have ended had the public not been able to return FDR to office four times. However, our current struggle against terrorism and Islamofascism may yet show us the error of our ways. The 2008 Presidential election may see a victor who applies an entirely different approach to the War on Terror. It remains to be seen - God Bless and keep America safe! - how such a change will affect our standing in the world and influence the fortunes of this Republic or Her enemies.

Necessary or Expedient for the Public?
This is the grave question we must ask ourselves with respect to restricting Liberty - and term limits are no exception. Upon examination, no reasonable person can answer in the affirmative with respect to the subject at hand. Some artful dissenters might offer as an example a long-tenured Senator or Representative; and yet, such an example fails to invalidate the rule. For the liberty to choose one's representatives in a republic goes both ways. Good representatives and bad may both be chosen, or not. Such circumstances, as they are, offer no valid evidence that term limits are either necessary or expedient for the public.

A system such as ours was designed without term limits because our Founders knew the value that a self-governing citizenry places on Liberty in choosing our governors.


Samuel Adams said...

A masterful exposition of the problem of Liberty in the question of term limits, Mr. Hamilton (per usual).

That last paragraph, particularly the part stating, "Some artful dissenters might offer as an example a long-tenured Senator or Representative; and yet, such an example fails to invalidate the rule. For the liberty to choose one's representatives in a republic goes both ways. Good representatives and bad may both be chosen, or not," brought a passage of Scripture to mind that I am considering using in an essay: Proverbs 28:2; and I would recommend reading Matthew Henry's commentary.

The Monarchist said...

Samuel, an excellent passage indeed! I'm eager to read this essay you're working on. I'll have to search for Mr. Henry's commentary in the interim.