Opportunity and Absence of Coercion

Building a Great Nation, Part 4

Building a Great Nation, Part 4

Freedom: Opportunity and Absence of Coercion

Freedom is the opportunity to apply free will in personal goals and religious worship. 

Freedom allows the ability to try, but it no way offers a guarantee of success. And for those who do not succeed or try in a free society, the government is not authorized to redistribute the wealth which comes from the labors of others.

The Founders left that individual charity, families and churches be at the local levels. From the earliest colonial days, local governments took responsibility for their poor. However, able-bodied men and women generally were not supported by the taxpayers unless they worked. 

Opportunity and Help for Those Without

1786 portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown. (AP Photo)

Jefferson reflected the views of most of the Founders in his proposed Virginia “Bill for Support of the Poor.” 

Jefferson explained those not eligible for help as…

“able-bodied persons not having wherewithal to maintain themselves, who shall waste their time in idle and dissolute courses, or shall loiter or wander abroad, refusing to work for reasonable wages, or to betake themselves to some honest and lawful calling, or who shall desert wives or children, without so providing for them as that they shall not become chargeable to a county.”

Constitutionally, government was not authorized to redistribute the wealth (the labors of the people). Government could only do what individuals could do.  The individual could not justifiably take from a neighbor to give to themselves or others whom they considered in need, nor could the government.

Freedom is essentially an accumulation of right choices.  People who have mastered their mind, body, appetites, who have persevered despite challenges, who have taken responsibility for their own choices and consequences have been able to prosper. The key is that they had the opportunity to try, which the founders strived to provide in the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution.

There is no constitutionally-authorized safety net that guarantees the government, or some other entity will bail them out.  There are no entitlements, other than an opportunity to try.

The Opportunity to Try

Freedom in the economic realm is known as a free market or as capitalism. It has been said this way:

“Capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth and communism is the equal distribution of poverty.”  

Under communism and socialism, there is no incentive for people to excel or produce more than the minimum required.

General George Washington at Trenton Battle of the Assunpink Creek print oil painting on canvas

The United States Constitution is the Charter for Freedom; it allows freedom to prosper because it restricts government intervention or coercion if followed as intended.

George Washington warned of a tyrannical government, saying*,

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”*

In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson also addressed the government taking from one and giving to another,

“Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.” [Thomas Jefferson March 4, 1801]

And later in 1824, Jefferson wrote to William Ludlow,

“I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.”

The Opportunity and the Opportunity to Plunder

The founders considered redistribution of wealth plundering, best described by an economist and statesman Frederic Bastiat. In 1850, Bastiat wrote a pamphlet “The Law”. In it he stated, Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property. But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

Thomas Paine’s Book, The Rights of Man

Thomas Paine also addressed government plunder in his Rights of Man, 1791.

“If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement, we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute.”

Ayn Rand photo from Adam Smith Institute

Opportunity and the Role of Government

Ayn Rand best summed up the problem, the same problem the founders were trying to curb in establishing a limited government: 

“There are two potential violators of man’s rights; the criminals and the government.  The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two–by forbidding to the second the legalized version on the activities of the first. . . . the government was set to protect man from criminals–and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government.

“The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.”

Those Individual Rights provide a Creator-given opportunity to live, work and benefit from one’s own toil and enjoy the freedom of one’s labor.


Related Reading from The Founding Project:  https://thefoundingproject.com/work-why-leave-pants/ and https://thefoundingproject.com/ants-like-authoritarianism-argue/


https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/first-inauguration….https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0032…..https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0032…..https://www.constitutionpreservation.org/articles/april-2-2014/government-not-reason….https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/spurious-quotations/…..https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-4523….https://www.ushistory.org/paine/rights/….https://aynrand.org/novels/the-virtue-of-selfishness/The Virtue of Selfishness, Man’s Right by Ayn Rand 

*-Editor’s Note:  There is some question as to whether it was George Washington made the quote about government or if it was said by another.  https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/spurious-quotations/

Lynda Bryant Work
About Lynda Bryant Work 5 Articles
Lynda Bryant Work brings numerous years of journalism experience to The Founding Project. Lynda’s writing career began as early as her teens, writing for equine publications. As an adult, her journalism career took her from journalist for a Texas newspaper and advanced to positions as Editor-in-Chief and currently she is News Editor for a large local news media. In addition to her journalism experience, Bryant Work also pursued medical studies for several years and spent several years doing clinic work. Lynda is also a certified paralegal, but even when working in other fields, she continued to work as a freelance writer and ended up returning to journalism. Lynda enjoys creative writing and has written hundreds of poems. She is the proud mother and grandmother of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild and resides in Texas.

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