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Minds ready for citizenship

By Steve Farrell
web posted June 28, 2004

It's kind of scary.

Our 'free' society is chockfull of citizens, lawyers, congressmen, and judges, an increasing number of whom seem unqualified and unworthy to wield political power -- and yet do.

Including, shockingly, a significant percentage of eighteen year olds, who know little of reading, writing and arithmetic; of college students, who know little of love of God, family, and country; of immigrants, who know little of our laws, and much about our welfare; and of rich men, who vie for office in pursuit of prestige and power, who couldn't quote the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence to save their lives.

These and worse, vote and sometimes hold office! Is this all it takes to possess a piece of the political pie here in America? Coming of age, and residency?

John Adams

Founder John Adams, whose education by age 25 exceeded that of most any university professor today, and then some, in depth, breath and quality, in moral and political principle-nevertheless, worried about his duties as a citizen, "I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading." (1)

Few have ever read as much as he, before or since. This humble man, who ever thirsted for learning, was prepared as any man to judge. But his point is well taken.

How can we judge, if we have not applied ourselves to learning? How can we defend the constitution, if we've never studied the document or the intents of its writers? How can we be trusted to govern a country, if we can't provide for, or govern ourselves?

And what about rich men, what makes them more qualified to run for office than anyone else? Is wealth, qualification enough?

William Blackstone, the Englishman whose legal commentaries influenced our early courts, more than any other, had similar concerns.

William Blackstone

"[M]ost gentlemen of considerable property, at some period or other in their lives, are ambitious of representing their country in parliament." (2)

He had a bit of advice for such rich men. This is a "high trust." You must "remember its nature and importance." Many don't'; and so, do England much "mischief," causing "inconsiderate alterations in our laws."

Such men take the "majestic simplicity" of the natural law, and exchange it for "the rage of modern improvement," for "specious embellishments and fantastic novelties," and by so doing, "destroy" its "symmetry."

Don't you understand that those who serve in government are supposed to be "the guardians of the … constitution; the makers, repealers, and interpreters of the … laws; delegated to watch, to check, and to avert every dangerous innovation, to propose, to adopt, and to cherish any solid and well-weighed improvement; bound by every tie of nature, of honor, and of religion, to transmit that constitution and those laws to their posterity, amended if possible, at least without any derogation"?

"[H]ow unbecoming must it appear in a member of the legislature to vote for a new law, who is utterly ignorant of the old! what kind of interpretation can he be enabled to give, who is a stranger to the text upon which he comments!"

In short, the protection of the law is a solemn public trust. Blackstone thought it better, therefore, that something more than wealth be a qualification for office, something like a thorough acquaintance with the law. Within reasonable bounds, the same ought to hold true for people in all walks of life. All have some part in the law; all ought to be educated accordingly. (3)

He was making good sense. He then added, by way of comparison:

"It is perfectly amazing, that there should be no other state of life, no other occupation, art, or science, in which some method of instruction is not looked upon as requisite, except only the science of legislation, the noblest and most difficult of any. Apprenticeships are held necessary to almost every art, commercial or mechanical: a long course of reading and study must form the divine, the physician, and the practical professors of the laws: but every man of superior fortune thinks himself born a legislator."

How absurd!

He continues, "Tully was of a different opinion; 'it is necessary,' says he, 'for a senator to be thoroughly acquainted with the constitution; and this, (he declares,) is a knowledge of the most extensive nature; a matter of science, of diligence, of reflection; without which no senator can possibly be fit for his office.'"


One would think Adams and Blackstone were staring into 21st Century America, where representative government, in all too many cases, has turned into a reign of fools and 'born' legislators, where those who know nothing (or nothing good) of the laws they are sworn to uphold and defend, are granted power.

I don't know about you, but this worries me. How can they judge? How are they fit?

ESR senior editor Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, press agent for Defend Marriage (a project of United Families International), the author of the highly praised inspirational novel, "Dark Rose" (available at amazon.com), and a pundit at America's News Page, NewsMax.com. Contact Steve.


1. McCullough, David. John Adams, Simon & Shuster, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore, 2001, p. 223.
2. Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England, Introduction, Section 1, "On the Study of the Law."
3. Adams would have agreed with this comment from Blackstone. Said he, "Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people [is] necessary for the preservation off their rights and liberties." See McCullough, p. 223.

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