“The Proper Role of Government” by Martin Van Buren, Nominated by John McClaughry

July 1, 2019

As we celebrate Independence Day this week, EAI will be publishing a series of blog posts from Americans who helped shape the meaning of liberty in the US over the past two and half centuries. This series of remarks is nominated by John McClaughry, vice president of EAI.

By Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States from 1837-41

Those who look to the action of this Government for specific aid to the citizen to relieve embarrassments arising from losses by revulsions in commerce and credit lose sight of the ends for which it was created and the powers with which it is clothed. It was established to give security to us all in our lawful and honorable pursuits … It was not intended to confer special favors on individuals or on any classes of them, to create systems of agriculture , manufacture or trade.

All communities are apt to look for government or 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 … wisely judged that the less government interferes with private pursuits the better for general prosperity.

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.

– Martin Van Buren 
Message to Congress on the Independent Treasury bill, September 4, 1837

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