The Golden Mean
W. Cleon Skousen. The Golden Mean. Outline for a speech given to the faculty and students of the Brigham Young University Law School in Provo, Utah on October 16, 1975.
Introduction: There is probably no single area in which the Brigham Young University Law School could make a more significant and singular contribution than in the area of Constitutional Law. At the present time there is scarcely a single major problem facing the United States which is not related in some fundamental way to the breakdown of Constitutional principles. In the New Era for May 1975, page 19, you will find the actual prophecy of Joseph Smith concerning the threat to the Constitution. It can be divided into three parts:
A. That some day the Constitution would be on the brink of ruin.
B. That the nation would then turn and lean upon this people as a staff to save the nation from destruction.
C. And that this people would bear the Constitution away from the brink of ruin.
At the present time this school and this people are not prepared to perform any such yeoman service. In fact, many of you, like myself, may discover that in your undergraduate studies and your pre-law training you were actually saturated with doctrines and concepts which are inimical to those of the American founding fathers. Hence the need for all of us to carefully and humbly, regardless of any previous indoctrination or training, seek out and accept God’s “golden mean” of just and righteous government.
I. The American Constitution was born in anguish and travail.
A. Many people do not realize that immediately after winning the Revolutionary War, which established the American people as the first free nation in modern times, there was almost a total collapse of the so-called “Perpetual Union” under the Articles of Confederation.
1. A military revolt drove Congress from Philadelphia.
2. Inflation during and after the war forced the Continental dollar down to 2 cents so that not even the government would accept it in payment of debt.
3. The union was threatening to divide itself into three separate nations — New England, the Middle States and the Southern States.
4. Individual states were isolating themselves from one another with import taxes, prohibitions against the interstate flow of commerce, and acts of overt hostility portending eventual military conflict.
5. Open civil war had broken out in Massachusetts where citizens were being jammed into debtors prisons and those who resisted were being shot or condemned to death for treason.
B. George Washington wrote to James Madison on November 5, 1786, the following: “No day was ever more clouded than the present…. We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion…. How melancholy is the reflection…. What stronger evidence can be given of the want of energy in our government than these disorders…. A liberal and energetic constitution, well guarded and closely watched to prevent encroachments might restore us.”
C. On December 26, 1786, the following sentiments were expressed to General Henry Knox: “I feel, my dear General Knox, infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders, which have arisen in these states. Good God, who would have foreseen, or predicted them?”
D. On February 3, 1787, only about three months before the Constitutional Convention met, Washington wrote: “If … any person had told me that there would have been such a formidable rebellion as exists, I would have thought him a bedlamite, a fit subject for a madhouse.”
E. All this was changed with a piece of paper. The success of the Constitution in solving the most pressing problems of the American people is borne out by the following quotations:
On June, 1790, Washington wrote to the Marquis de La Fayette who had been with him at Valley Forge: “You have doubtless been informed from time to time of the happy progress of our affairs. The principal difficulties … seem in a great measure to have been surmounted…. Our revenues have been considerably more productive than it was imagined they could be…. I mention this to show the Spirit of enterprise that prevails.”
On March 19, 1791, he wrote to La Fayette: “Our country, my dear sir (and it is truly yours) is fast progressing in its’ political importance and social happiness.”
July 19, 1791 was the occasion for a letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham in which he said: “The United States enjoys a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government, that could hardly have been hoped for.”
On July 20, 1791, Washington wrote to David Humphrey: “Tranquility reigns among the people, with that disposition towards the general government, which is likely to preserve it…. Our public credit stands on that high ground which three years ago it would have been considered a species of madness to have foretold.”
II. The Founders discovered God’s “Golden Mean” for a just and righteous government.
A. Between May and September of 1787, a small body of men hammered out the famous Constitution of the United States. In several modern revelations God has expressed his views concerning the work of these men. He said:
1. The Constitution was written by “wise men” whom God raised up for this very purpose and also for the purpose of redeeming the land from tyranny by force of arms and the shedding of blood.
2. God, as the great ruler of the universe, suffered the Constitution to be established in order to maintain the rights and privileges which belong to all mankind.
3. This was so that men could live in freedom and exercise their free agency in determining their destiny and their future.
4. It also allows them to be accountable for their own acts rather than those imposed upon them by tyrannical rulers.
5. It was designed to wipe out the institution of slavery and human bondage.
6. It must be realized that men are free because God made them so.
7. Therefore the Constitution was designed to keep them free.
8. Men are commanded by God to observe the Constitutional law of the land and support it.
9. The exercise of power and authority provided in the Constitution for the maintenance of the rights and privileges of all mankind is considered “justifiable” before God.
10. Men are expected by the Lord to involve themselves in “befriending” the Constitution and preserving it.
11. The founders were so successful in discovering the golden mean in the center of the political spectrum that the Lord pronounced anything “more or less” than this as evil.
B. In the Constitutional Convention the founders discussed the two extremes of the political, spectrum which were to be avoided. At one extreme was anarchy or no government and at the other end was too much government or tyranny. Somewhere in between was the “Golden Mean” for which they were searching.
C. The first Constitution of the United States was called the Articles of Confederation and was too close to anarchy. Many of the difficulties during and after the Revolutionary War were related directly to the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation.
D. The Constitution written in 1787 is the one which God pronounced so perfectly balanced in the center of the political spectrum that anything which provides more government or less government than this is denounced as “evil.”
E. The task of the founders was to establish a government strong enough to protect its people but so hedged about with checks and balances that it could not abuse the people. The founders had confidence in law but not the man (even good men) who might be set up to administer the law. The Constitution was therefore designed to curb the instinct in men to expand power and authority. As the Doctrine and Covenants states:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
F. It was the exercise of “unrighteous dominion” which the Constitution was designed to prevent. That is why this charter of freedom will never become obsolete because circumstances may change but human nature does not. This was what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said:
“It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism — free government is founded in jealousy and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions; to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power…. In questions of power, then, let not more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
G. James Madison explained in The Federalist the goal of the founders in trying to discover the balanced center of the political spectrum:
“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections of human nature? … 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 [to operate within specified limitations].”
H. King Mosiah made the same point when he set up the inspired constitution of his day:
“The judgments of man are not always just. Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments … then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you…. [but] because all men are not just, it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
“For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed…. [and] ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood….
“Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people judges, that ye maybe judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.
“Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right, but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is evil.”