"A government of laws, and not of men"

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  1. GA Anderson profile image89
    GA Andersonposted 9 years ago

    Hah! Do you think John Adams meant this as "written in stone?"

    Do you think he intended it in the vein of a "Zero Tolerance" position?

    I don't! I think it should be our Golden Rule, and like gold I think if should have a little malleability.

    Yes, I admit it. In mass human dealings, I do think there will be instances where laws, at least the spirit of laws, demand some flexibility.

    And that thought has gotten me some hard looks and negative effects ever since I was a young man.

    When I was in the Jaycees...
    "The United States Junior Chamber (JCs or more commonly Jaycees) is a leadership training and civic organization for people between the ages of 18 and 40. Areas of emphasis are business development, management skills, individual training, community service, and international connections. The U.S. Junior Chamber is a not-for-profit corporation/organization as described under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(4) - wikipedia"

    I was an up and coming rising star. Unfortunately my above thoughts quickly brought my star to a crash landing. It would be hard to find a more conservative and constitutionally minded group of folks than the Jaycees.

    I was selected to compete to be Maryland's representative in the Public Speaking Competition at the National convention.

    The deal was; five minutes before you entered the panel room to compete, you were given the topic of the speech you were to make. That's it. Five minutes to formulate a three minute speech before a board that would decide whether or not you competed on the national level.

    Of course, if you won, even the state level - you were golden. I was ready to gleam.

    Then, they handed me my topic and started the countdown.

    That's right! Good ol' John Adams and his ""A government of laws, and not of men."

    My choice was to agree or disagree with it - and wow the panel with three minutes of validation.

    Yep, I disagreed. In my speech I stated that I agreed in principle but not in totality. I argued that in human dealings laws must have flexibility. Arbiters must have judgmental leeway. A society of men, (a generic reference), cannot be justly governed by an inflexible one-size-fits-all template.

    I could tell my goose was cooked almost as soon as I stated I disagreed - an explanation would not matter.

    And that is where I am and what I see to still be the case today.

    Rigid ADA-type regulations, inflexible mandatory sentencing, "Zero Tolerance  policies," (should I toss in Obamacare for a little peppery spice?),... etc. etc. etc.

    I believe the proof of many of our society's dumb stuff and injustices prove I was right.

    What say you?


    1. junko profile image70
      junkoposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I agree with you Anderson, we should have a government of men not words written in stone. Law makers in the days the words were written could not imagine America in the 21st century. After exchange of opinions and ideas base on the knowledge of the day, they wrote an opinion. I believe if they were still here among the 400 million Americans and the new world and were allow to give their opinions they would be amended opinions reflecting the reality of today.

      1. GA Anderson profile image89
        GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        That is not quite what I meant. I do agree we should have a government of laws. I guess your perception of my comments must of been what that speaking panel was thinking too.

        My point was/is that  - I do not disagree with John Adams, I believe he was right. But, to be just in a society of people, laws, (in my opinion), should be allowed to be enforced in spirit as well as "to the letter." I would even venture that, given my other readings of Adams, that is how he would have seen it too.

        A simplistic example; A law against spitting on the sidewalk. As intended it probably addressed gross and crude behavior, as well as sanitary and health issues. A habitual spitter, through either spite or crude disregard, should be nailed. A one-time, or accidental spitter should get a little flexibility, (again, my opinion).

        Living to the letter of the concept - a government of laws, both would be punished equally. I do not think that is just. I would also bet Adams would see it that way too.

        But, these are not Adams' times. My opinions on this were formed by life in the seventies, and I see the same issues today. Too many supposedly responsible people ducking the responsibility to be responsible.

        "It's the law" is an easy cop-out that requires no thought or effort.

        As for the Founding Fathers changing their efforts if they saw today's societies - I think they would do it exactly the same. They constructed a framework, not a fine print how-to manual. I think they were damn intelligent doing it that way - wording it as they did because they knew they could not account for future societies or governments, but so the foundations would still be solid.


        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          "But, to be just in a society of people, laws, (in my opinion), should be allowed to be enforced in spirit as well as "to the letter.""

          So we have the Supreme Court, highest in the land and composed of lifelong judges that often helped to write the laws.  With judges that cannot (or will not) agree as to what the "spirit" even is, but nearly always vote strictly along political party lines.  Absolutely pathetic, but a good indication of why we dare not give people the power to interpret or vary within the law.  If we get nothing but political ploys from those paragons of virtue, what can we expect from the cop on the beat?

          1. GA Anderson profile image89
            GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            I might have more faith in the cop on the beat. Hands-on beats book learning most of the time.

            As much as I respect the accomplishments and integrity of the majority of judges, any judges - they are not immune to the political and ideological pressures you are quick to ascribe to lessor lights.


            1. wilderness profile image95
              wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

              smile  Actually, I would trust the cop more, too.  Of course, I've never lived in Georgia, Chicago or any other place with a known corrupt force.  My locals are known to have a thing for new, young and inexperienced drivers, but as far as I know that's about it.  Truly, I think honesty is a thing of the past.

              1. GA Anderson profile image89
                GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                I do not think honesty is a thing of the past. I think it is being devalued by the path we have been taking for quite a few years now. This is one time I do not hesitate to plainly point the finger of blame at the liberal "feel good" and "we are all equal, and "politically correct" and, and and... agenda.

                What a statement it is now when someone that does the right thing is considered a hero. Try to stop a mugging - you're a hero, I remember when it was just the right thing to do. When we played sports we wanted to win - now they don't want kids to keep score because it might hurt someone's feelings. Remember win winners got trophies? Now participants get trophies. And schools, oh my... is there even such a thing as failing a grade now? Or do they just force each higher grade level to accommodate dumb kids as well as smart in the same classroom.

                Well, I certainly started a roll there. I would probably need a few thousand more words to finish it.
                The point is, well, you know what my point is. Our good character isn't gone, it has just become a minority.


                1. wilderness profile image95
                  wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                  Actually, I do find hope every now and then.  While hiking I picked up an empty water bottle someone dropped on the trail; several people thanked and complimented me on a good deed.  They obviously knew and appreciated what was right. 

                  Little things like that come forth every now and then.

    2. wilderness profile image95
      wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      A judge in my area recently tried a rape case where everyone in the country would have agreed the woman was raped.  Everyone, but not the law, where there was a loophole unintentionally left in.  The judge, nearly in tears, set the rapist free.

      Would you have rather the judge re-write the law to cover the loophole?  The jury?  Of would you leave it to the men responsible for writing laws - our legislators?  Will you do away with the separation of powers of our three branches of government?

      While I would absolutely love to see our "servants" given some leeway, we are a nation of laws, not a nation of people given the power to punish based on their personal set of morals and ethics.

      On top of that, we are not, IMO, developed as a nation or species to the point where individuals can and will use the power given them wisely.  Judges will set free their friends, politicians will pass laws beneficial to their friends, etc.  Only the most minor of variances from the law can be allowed because people are not smart enough to understand that are causing the problem when they slip just a little.

      1. GA Anderson profile image89
        GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        Your point is a valid one. And although criminal laws fall under the umbrella of my point, my intentions were the broader concept of governing a society - not just the specifics or injustices of criminal statutes.

        I think two things are most important to the success and endurance of human existence in the form of a society - faith and hope. Faith that we can always be and do better, and hope that we will.

        No, I do not want your judge to rewrite the laws, or a civil servant to decide which laws to obey or enforce. But I do want both to have the flexibility and responsibility to pursue options. As Spock said, "There are always possibilities."

        I would not have a problem with the jury - in your example- becoming a hung jury because they recognize the inequity of that particular situation, and their action would force reconderation. Or a civil servant, halting the process and bucking it up to the next level of authority with the tag that "it just wasn't right," whatever "it" was - forcing, again, recondieration.

        My point is twofold, first, I think we can and should be a government of laws, tempered by the judgement of men. Not the ink of a written edict. And second, I think our current concept of governance - the three branches, etc. already allow for this, but our natural traits of avarice, hubris, greed, and laziness, have led us to generally live by the easy way - the letter of the law.

        I retain the faith that there are among us folks with the integrity to judge and use power wisely, (still waiting for them to be the majority). Folks that would be just in instances where interpretation was a just choice.

        Just because they are not yet in evidence as a majority of our leaders and decision makers does not mean we should lose hope that they are there.

        I think it is possible that both our perspectives could be right. You just need a little more faith in man.


        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          I, too, think there are people out there with the integrity and honesty to handle power wisely.  Unfortunately they are not the ones that seek (and get) that power - they are the ones that don't want it and will go far not to be put in the position where they might get it.

          So yes, I have faith in my fellow man - as individuals most of them are good, decent people.  It is the ones that search out power and control over others that seem to miss out on those attributes.

          1. GA Anderson profile image89
            GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            That does seem to be the case doesn't it. At least in too many instances.

            But we have known exceptions.I will offer one that I know will push a lot of buttons. I just finished a book on him. A book about the man more than about his politics. Ronald Reagan. He was a union supporting Democrat before he became a Republican. And he became a Republican before he considered entering politics.

            And to push even more buttons, I think we have had a lot more good person with good intentions presidents than we have had scoundrels - can I hold up Nixon as a scoundrel prototype?

            It is the intermediate and middle grounds - Congress and municipal levels where I think your statement is most true.


      2. junko profile image70
        junkoposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        I also believe Adam's concept was right at that time and could be right at this time if the laws written did not harm one group of people and not others groups. Such as Mandatory Sentencing. Crack Laws, Stand your Ground Laws. etc. These type laws should be altared or abolish and not defended by declaring "It is the Law". Adam is not here to amend what he wrote than about laws of the time but we are here today to amend unjust laws of these times.

        1. GA Anderson profile image89
          GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          And that wins you the Grand Prize trip to Sandals. Seven nights and six days, all meals and drinks included.

          That is my point. We have the power to do what is right. It is just too easy, and too many times too profitable,  not to.


    3. Credence2 profile image78
      Credence2posted 9 years agoin reply to this

      I have to concur with you on this GA, our constitution is not a straight jacket, some human judgement is to be expected and is unavoidable as part of the nature of any body of rigid rules and regulation.

      1. GA Anderson profile image89
        GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        See, I knew you were a reasonable person. There may be hope yet.

        But, I keep forgetting to ask... you were going to relate the story behind the short-lived Hawaii to Panama to mainland USA move. Panama to mainland isn't puzzler, but Hawaii to Panama is.


        1. Credence2 profile image78
          Credence2posted 9 years agoin reply to this

          Well, GA, we have been on the move quite a bit over the last 9 months.  I need to sit down long enough to complete the hub expose, but I gathered the reference materials and     
          it will be a great read.

          To make a long story short, as pensioner/annuitant with income comparable to a middle income earner, Hawaii's cost of living eventually did us in. It is terribly expensive. Panama allowed us the climate to which were accustomed at lower costs, and it is true. But , we found out to our dismay that many of the amenities that we took for granted living in the states were absent.  My wife has a myriad of health problems, medications and clean medical facilities were lacking. In the commercial world there is a take it or leave it attitude, while America is much more competitive, with the outcome of more and better quality goods and services. We came to the conclusion after 4 months in Panama, that cons were greater than the pros, so I return to the US via Colorado and find that Cheech and Chung has move here and that MJ vapor is now a component of the atmosphere in the area  I have relations in the area and things that are in storage so it was the place to begin. In pursuit of a warmer climate and less expensive housing, Florida is next on the agenda. Finding the best of both worlds, a nice climate, affordable housing, cost of living with the infrastructure that we have become accustomed to.  There are many Americans and Canadians that have moved to Panama and use the advertising to promote the benefits and entice more to come down, but is not for everybody.

          1. GA Anderson profile image89
            GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            Good luck to you. I was really puzzled by the Hawaii to panama move, seemed pretty radical, but now I understand your motive. I  look forward to your upcoming hub on this topic.


  2. junko profile image70
    junkoposted 9 years ago

    Yes, its Capitalism vs. Governance vs. The Law vs. The People. Who is winning or in charge?

  3. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    However, if a law cannot be enforced or cannot be expected to be enforced, then don't make it a law.  An unenforceable law takes away the power of the Law and I believe this is what Adams meant. Laws are made to be followed to the letter. My for instance is the seatbelt law:

    Recently, a cop actually turned on his siren because he noticed that I did not have on my seatbelt… I was incensed because this cop's first question was," Is this your car?" I just glared at him. He gave me the ticket of course, but I wondered at the time... if I had been more pleasant, or at least answered his question without an attitude, would he have not given me the ticket?

    But, It would not be fair to others if he did not give me a ticket, had I been "more pleasant." For instance, once, my mother got out of a ticket by being chatty and friendly with a cop. He told her she had a "sterling personality" and sent her on her way sans ticket. When others of less sterling personalities get tickets for the same offense is that fair?

    1. GA Anderson profile image89
      GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      Even though I disagree with you, you have provided a good example to discuss that disagreement.

      ps. for clarity, the discussion was not whether a law could be enforced, it is about how or whether it is enforced.

      Your seat belt violation... it is from my experience and acquaintance with law officers that I know they do have discretion to determine their action - verbal warning, written warning, ticket with a fine.

      It makes complete sense to me that an officer greeted by an honest and pleasant personality could feel the spirit and purpose of the law is served by a warning lecture. Or, if the person were say, a young new driver, or someone the officer felt would benefit from a more forceful response - a written warning. And lastly, the person that is one or many of the following; a jerk, a habitual offender, someone perceived to think they are above the law, or any of dozens of reasons the officer would feel rated a fine to get the point across. In these type of laws I think we must trust the law officer's reasoning.

      So, your seat belt example, although it could be seen as a trivial law - is a good example of my point. With my above rational, where is the harm, where is the unfairness, and most of all, where is the damage from administering the spirit of the law?

      But jump the the other extreme of Wilderness' example of a rapist(?) going free via a legal loophole... in his jury trail example he says the judge's hands were tied, and I agreed. I also agreed I did not want judges rewriting the laws - on a case by case basis. But, I also said I would not have a problem with a hung jury completely disregarding the law due to their perception of this real inequity.

      The result - at least the problem, (the loophole) would be exposed for possible reconsideration. The point being, where is the damage from considering the spirit of the law, (his example conceded guilt), and returning a hung jury instead of following the letter of the law and freeing a guilty man on a technicality?

      Of course efforts could be made to turn my explanation around and say that leeway could be used against innocent people too - but I think not, because in my rational I am crediting the "law benders", the "spirit adherers" with common sense and rational judgement. And if they did not have those traits, then repeat steps 1 thru 3, rinse and repeat until any particular situation lands in the lap of someone that does have those traits.

      Bottom line - to your no, I say yes. Let common sense and rational judgement be our standard, in partnership with our laws - not the ever mythical "fair."


      1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
        Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        Thank you for your efforts to enlighten...
        But, I still say No. A law is made to be enforced across the board.
        That is why we have judges to to determine the quilt of the law breaker. A law cannot be a little bit broken. It is either broken or not. I have no idea about wilderness's for instance, as he did not give enough details.
        And the proof is in the details.

        To say otherwise is confusing for all.

        1. wilderness profile image95
          wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          Intentionally so, for the whole point was that a judge was nearly in tears about setting a man free; a man she very clearly felt was guilty of the crime but could not convict because of an unintended loophole.

          What I should probably have added was that the legislature changed the law within a matter of a couple of weeks, unbelievably quick when both houses had to agree and get the governors signature.  For the judge was absolutely correct; the man was guilty of rape as the law intended it to be defined but a loophole set him free.  The loophole is now gone but those legislators have to live with the fact that their error set him free.  The people, however, do NOT have to live with knowing they hired a judge willing to overstep her bounds and job description to make law herself.  She did not - she did the exact job she was supposed to do.

          1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
            Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            How dare they create loopholes!
            How dare they!
            Where was the check?

            1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
              Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

              What made it an "unintended" loophole that was also an "error?" Seems very odd. I guess it is off topic at this point. Just curious.

              1. wilderness profile image95
                wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                ??  That it was unintended would seem to indicate it was also an error.  I can't imagine an unintentional negative effect that would NOT be an error.

                1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
                  Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                  ...what exactly was the 'unintended' aspect?

                  1. wilderness profile image95
                    wildernessposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                    The legislators did not foresee the exact circumstances of the rape and left a loophole whereby the rapist was set free.

  4. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    A government of men following laws is the ideal. Laws and respect for the laws should be foremost. Justice is the end. To go soft ever, to vacillate, to show favoritism, to excuse is wrong. Warnings are one thing, over-lenience based on willy nilly impulses or moods etc. are quite another.

  5. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    James Madison wrote:
    "I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful exercise of its powers. If the meaning of the text be sought in the changeable meaning of the words composing it, it is evident that the shape and attributes of the Government must partake of the changes to which the words and phrases of all living languages are constantly subject. What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense!" – Letter to Henry Lee (25 June 1824)
    ("Metamorphosis" is regarded here as detrimental.)

  6. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    James Madison: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." – Federalist Paper No. 51 (1788-02-06)

  7. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    The spirit of the law existed when it was agreed upon. After that… mandatory agreement IS REQUIRED.

    1. GA Anderson profile image89
      GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

      As I said, yes and no. Nope, agreeing to the spirit of a law is not the same as agreeing to the finished product. I agree with the spirit of an agreement that as a nation we should have some type of national health care availability. I definitely do not agree with the finished product of that agreement - Obamacare.

      ps. I know that was a cheap shot at Obamacare, but i think the example fits my contention.


      1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
        Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

        GA, what are you really trying to say?  We should not have implemented PPACA until it was clear what it entailed. It is being unraveled as we go.  It should not be a situation where they pull the sting as we walk away…
        Pretty soon we will all be naked...  And why?
        Because we did not have a law, clear cut and followable or even fair. The problem is in the law itself. Thats all.

        1. GA Anderson profile image89
          GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

          I am going to politely duck a response to the ACA question. Been enough of those threads already.

          It was my fault for using it as an example of why I disagreed with your "agreement in spirit, agreement in law" statement. But even that is not the point of my OP.

          I am not advocating anyone pick and choose which laws they want to obey. And I am not advocating that law enforcers pick and choose which laws they enforce.

          I am advocating that too many times it is the obvious common sense, and just, thing to do for a law enforcer to apply the spirit of the law rather than adhering strictly to the letter of the law.

          I know it is a fine line of logic, and a fine line between just and unjust, but my reasoning is that we are not machines. One size, again in the sense of justice, does not always fit all. Blind equal administration to forestall any inequality - across such a broad spectrum possibilities, would seem to be inequality itself.



          1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
            Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

            I need a for instance.
            For instance...

            1. GA Anderson profile image89
              GA Andersonposted 9 years agoin reply to this

              Kathryn Hill thinks I should own up to being wrong about, either my point of the OP, or my point about John Adams agreeing with me. Or perhaps both.

              I am not sure I can do both. I do admit that my contention that our rule of laws structure needs  to include room for flexibility with the application of the laws - in some instances, could be more harmful than beneficial. I see it as a very shady area. Our system already includes this flexibility in a lot of areas in our criminal justice system, but those were not the only laws I was thinking of.

              So, if we must have black and white decrees, then yes, I want the rule of law. In a black and white world my contention would be detrimental rather than a fair balancing. But I don't think anything encompassing a mass of human beings can ever be just black and white, so I remain committed to thinking the undeniable gray areas require flexibility.

              As for John Adams agreeing with my perspective - I think I am right, but nor adamantly so. Perhaps my readings about him and perceptions of him, aren't adequately informed.  So I will qualify that contention with a hesitant, "I think" until I can look a little deeper. I will admit to being wrong if I discover, (or someone can point out), I misread the man. But I will also come back and crow if I can show examples that demonstrate I am right.

              I think you are right to challenge these contentions. I just hope I can validate them with a little more study.

              ps. as you requested in another response, "I need a for instance..." I will also try to find a non-partisan, non-criminal justice, non-emotion driven, example for you. But it is too late for that tonight.


              1. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
                Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years agoin reply to this

                What you do not want is to have a law misinterpreted...in other words, not interpreted in the spirit in which the law was created. Misinterpretation is probably more often the case. The spirit of the law must be perceived accurately.

                  "American lawyer, politician and 2nd President of the United States In his 7th “Novanglus” letter, published in the Boston Gazette in 1774:
                      "The concept of  'a government of laws, and not of men' reflects a political philosophy that dates back to the ancient Greeks. But the phrase itself was enshrined in history and quotation books by John Adams.
                     Prior to the start of the American Revolution, Adams used it in one of his “Letters of Novanglus,” which argued that Great Britain’s treatment of American colonists violated their rights under British law. In the seventh Novanglus letter, Adams wrote that “the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire...a government of laws, and not of men.”
                http://www.quotecounterquote.com/2010/0 … en-is.html

                You must understand the difference between an empire and a republic.

  8. Kathryn L Hill profile image78
    Kathryn L Hillposted 9 years ago

    Other interesting quotes about laws:
    "It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."
    James Madison

    "The more laws, the less justice."
    Marcus Tullius Cicero


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ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)