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Wise words can be found in the pages of your local newspaper

With all the bickering in Washington and the power struggles over stimulus bills, bank bailouts, earmarks for pet projects, companies too big to fail, cabinet nominees too important to pay taxes, Senate seats for sale, mid-term pay raises for Congress despite the 27th Amendment, billions for universal health care, mortgage bailouts, trillion-dollar deficits, foreign wars, illegal immigration, etc., etc. — it is refreshing to read in a newspaper some common sense grounded in philosophy and a keen knowledge of history.

Take this letter published in the Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury. The writer starts with a quotation from enlightened French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who said "every law that the people have not ratified in person, is void; it is no law. The people of England think they are free. They are much mistaken. They are never so but during the election of members of Parliament. As soon as they are elected, they are slaves, they are nothing. And by the use they make of their liberty during the short moments they possess it, they well deserve to lose it."

The writer then questions the wisdom of people in congressional districts resigning their judgment and wishes to one person for two years, a person “who, perhaps, may go from home sincere and patriotic but by the time he has dined in pomp for a week with the wealthy citizens … will have lost all his rigid ideas of economy and equality. He becomes fascinated with the elegancies and luxuries of wealth. … Objects and intimations like these soon change the champion for the people to an advocate for power; and the people, finding themselves thus basely betrayed, cry that virtue is but a name. We are not sure that men have more virtue at this time and place than they had in England in the time of George the Second. Let anyone look into the history of those times, and see with what boldness men changed sides and deserted the people in pursuit of profit and power. If to take up the cross and renounce the pomps and vanities of this sinful world is a hard lesson for divines, ’tis much harder for politicians. A Cincinnatus, a Cato, a Fabricius, and a Washington, are rarely to be found. We are told that the Trustees of our powers and freedom, being mostly married men, and all of them inhabitants and proprietors of the country, is an ample security against an abuse of power. Whether human nature be less corrupt than formerly I will not determine — but this I know: that Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, and the nobles of Venice, were natives and inhabitants of the countries whose power they usurped and drenched in blood.”

He signs himself simply “A Newport Man.”

The letter was published March 17, 1788. Today it has been gathered into a collection of letters and essays called the Anti-Federalist Papers, mostly anonymous missives arguing against the passage of the proposed Constitution generally, with many advocating at the very least a Bill of Rights.

You can find some really powerful words in the pages of your local newspaper.

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