JFK or Patrick Henry?

U.S. President John F. Kennedy reports to the nation on the status of the Cuban crisis from Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2, 1962. He told radio and television listeners that Soviet missile bases "are being destroyed" and that U.S. air surveillance would continue until effective international inspection is arranged. U.S. government conclusions about the missile bases, he said, are based on aerial photographs made Nov. 1. (AP Photo)

May 29 marked the 100th anniversary of John F. Kenney?s birth, which has triggered multiple Camelot retrospectives. Seldom do they omit JFK?s power to inspire, often illustrated with his most famous quote: ?Ask not what your country can do for you ? ask what you can do for your country.? However, while many find it inspirational, it has been put to more ominous use. And comparing those words with those of Patrick Henry, who shares the same birthday, illustrates why.

Kennedy?s speech was inspired by a Kahlil Gibran article whose Arabic title translates as ?The New Frontier.? It said, ?Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you, or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.? But Kennedy dramatically altered its meaning.

Clearly, politicians who benefit by abusing their positions are parasites. In America, with Washington supposedly limited by the Constitution to few, enumerated powers solely to advance the general welfare, such abuses are even more blatant. The same holds for everyone seeking special government treatment.

However, extending ?ask what you can do for your country? from politicians and special treatment seekers to citizens turns America?s foundation on its head. Asking citizens to sacrifice for the country, with the government a misleading proxy for society, implies we were made for government?s benefit, rather than it for ours.

That is how ?ask what you can do for your country? has been employed to create innumerable government policies helping some by imposing involuntary burdens on others, sacrificing America?s broad interests to political causes and favorites.

Kennedy was also addressing ?what together we can do for the freedom of man.? But financing the unjustifiable policies that dominate politics sacrifices others? life, liberty and pursuit of happiness rather than advancing freedom. And America?s federal government was explicitly limited to the few goals we actually share, such as defense against aggression and invasions of our common, inalienable rights, which describes liberty, not goals where some with shared interests force the costs of advancing them onto others, which is diametrically opposed to liberty. As Milton Friedman once put it, the latter is ?at odds with the free man?s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny ? .[It] implies the government is the master … the citizen, the servant.?

The words of Patrick Henry, America?s ?Orator of Liberty,? reinforces the large gap between JFK?s ?ask not? and the liberty which inspired both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Consider some of them:

Liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.

We wish to be free … we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending.

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Liberty is the greatest of all earthly blessings.

In the language of freemen, stipulate that there are rights which no man under heaven can take from you.

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

When the American spirit was in its youth … liberty, sir, was then the primary object … the foundation of everything.

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government ? lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.

No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by … frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

If our descendants be worthy of the name of Americans they will preserve and hand down to their latest posterity the transactions of the present times … to preserve their liberty.

Many have found JFK?s ?ask not? inspirational. But it has been utilized for many purposes that are directly opposed to American liberty. That is why we need to also remember the unmatched potential and inspiration liberty offers us, which Patrick Henry?s words make clear. We must recognize that rhetoric, however inspirational, does not advance American?s interest when it leads us away from liberty

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a research associate of the Independent Institute, a member of the FEE faculty network and the Heartland Institute?s Board of Policy Advisors. His books include “Apostle of Peace” (2013) “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies” (2014) and “Lines of Liberty” (2016).

A Supreme Court Litmus Test from Our Founders

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

As the March 20 start of confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch approaches, Americans have been hearing about litmus tests. For instance, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and?Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have set up a standard of ?being mainstream? in their eyes and respecting precedents they like, ignoring whether they violate the Constitution.

However, there is a far more relevant litmus test ? our founders? views of American government under the Constitution justices pledge to defend. They are worth reviewing as a primer for where attention should focus on any nominee for the Supreme Court.

Samuel Adams: The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution … it is our duty to defend them against all attacks … to maintain the rights bequeathed to us.

Patrick Henry: Liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.

Thomas Paine: A constitution is not the act of a government but of a people constituting a government … . All delegated power is a trust, and all assumed power is usurpation.

James Wilson: Government … should be formed to secure and enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind.

Benjamin Franklin: An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges and advantages, is what every part is entitled to.

Thomas Jefferson: A sound spirit of legislation … banishing all arbitrary and unnecessary restraint on individual action, shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another.

John Dickinson: We cannot be free, without being secure in our property … we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away.

George Washington: [Government] has no more right to put their hands into my pockets, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours.

John Adams: The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. ??Thou shalt not covet? and ?Thou shalt not steal? ? must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be … made free.

Richard Henry Lee: It must never be forgotten … that the liberties of the people are not so safe under the gracious manner of government as by the limitation of power.

James Madison: The powers of the federal government are enumerated … it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.

John Taylor of Caroline: Every innovation which weakens the limitations and divisions of power … makes [government] strong for the object of oppression.

Alexander Hamilton: A limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing. … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

Joseph Story: The Constitution of the United States is to receive a reasonable interpretation of its language and its powers, keeping in view the objects and purposes for which those powers were conferred.

James Otis: An act against the Constitution is void.

George Mason: Flagrant violations of the Constitution must disgust the best and wisest part of the community.

Mercy Otis Warren: Any attempt [to] subvert the Constitution … cannot be too severely censured.

Our founders clearly revealed their central purpose was defending Americans? rights and liberties against encroachment, particularly from overbearing government. That is the Supreme Court?s primary function. Therefore that should the central litmus test focus in evaluating Judge Gorsuch, as well as any other nominee, to the court tasked with preserving and protecting the highest law of the land.

Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, an Adjunct Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education Faculty Network. His books include “Lines of Liberty”?(2016), “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies”?(2014) and “Apostle of Peace”?(2013).