Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

When a Democrat Understood


From a mere 172 years ago, a statement by a Democratic president–Martin Van Buren–on the constitutional limitations on American government.  Somehow it struck a chord:

All communities are apt to look to government for too much.  Even in our own country, where its powers and duties are so strictly limited, we are prone to do so, especially at periods of sudden embarrassment and distress.  But this ought not to be.  The framers of our excellent Constitution and the people who approved it with calm and sagacious deliberation acted at the time on a sounder principle.  They wisely judged that the less government interferes with private pursuits the better for the general prosperity.  It is not its legitimate object to make men rich or to repair by direct grants of money or legislation in favor of particular pursuits losses not incurred in the public service.  This would be substantially to use the property of some for the benefit of others.  But its real duty–that duty the performance of which makes a good government the most precious of human blessings–is to enact and enforce a system of general laws commensurate with, but not exceeding, the objects of its establishment, and to leave every citizen and every interest to reap under its benign protection the rewards of virtue, industry, and prudence.

Yeah.  What he said.  Come to think of it, Republicans could relearn this too.


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