These words were spoken by Gerald Ford in an address to Congress on August 12, 1974. He reiterated them as part of his closing remarks of the Republican National Convention of 1996, held in San Diego, California.

The full context of the quote (from the convention) is as such:

What is it, in a few words, that all Republicans believe? We believe - along with millions of Democrats and Independents - that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

This is the core of the conservative philosophy: that business and privatization and Adam Smith's invisible hand will fix all of the ill wills of society, and government should be limited to arbitration and ensuring equality in treatment.

This direct form of anti-government, and specifically, anti-big government, is a relatively new philosophy in world politics. During the early rise of civilizations, there was a certain clamor towards wealth, which afforded people important cultural gaps such as literacy, political power, and control of information. It was just this such power that led to feudalism and the divine right of kings during the Middle Ages.

With the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the people began asserting themselves as being able to represent and maintain their own power structure in society. This document, while important, remained largely an empty symbol until Cromwell's revolution. About this time private property and the laws to govern it became a heated debate in England and other places. Theorists such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes saw that power in the past had corrupted, and only a societal contract to voluntarily forfeit powers to government could be sustained over a large period of time.

This philosophy greatly influenced Rousseau as he wrote his Social Contract, discussing the mutual exclusivity of order and freedom and the proposed proper balance between the two.

Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

All of these writers and others influenced the revolutionaries in America in the late 1770s. See the following quotes for evidence:

Were we to be directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
Thomas Jefferson
Man will ultimately be governed by God or tyrants.
Benjamin Franklin
Power over a man’s substance is power over his will.
Alexander Hamilton

It is important to note that these men were the progressive thinkers of their day. It is also important to note that these men, our founding fathers we respected so much, were also the wealthiest men of our country, and could speak easily of such things. These men had seen both sides of the coin - the prosperity and growth resulting from political and social freedom, and the strangulating influence of pernicious governmental oversight prior to the American Revolution. Still, the philosophy of less government continued on in American politics, finally erupting with the popular sovereignty issues regarding slavery in the newly formed territories of the West, which eventually led to the Civil War.

After the defeat of states' rights, federalism slowly began taking shape. Soon, moral progressivists such as Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson were replaced by social progressivists such as Jane Addams and Robert LaFollette. These people believed it is in the state's and society's interest to take care of those less fortunate in the world: Addams spent years working with orphans and foster homes, while LaFollette aimed to get minorities better treatment in society.

The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it.'
Abraham Lincoln

Despite this move towards progressivism, the evolution of libertarianism continued onwards. Over the years, this change began with John Stuart Mill, whose seminal work On Liberty questioned the government's right to legislate any actions that had no victims. Later, Henry David Thoreau preached pacifism through his work Civil Disobedience, and the importance of providing for one's self in Walden. Soon the libertarianism of politics shifted into the closely-related field of economics; figures such as Ludwig Von Mises promoted limiting government by limiting its source of income - primarily through taxes and additionally by removing government's ability to set bank reserves limit and controlling the money supply.

Instead of the function of governing, for which it is radically unfit, the proper office of a representative assembly is to watch and control the government.
John Stuart Mill
Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.
Henry David Thoreau
State or government is the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion. It has the monopoly of violent action.
Ludwig Von Mises

Gangster crime, the reckless stock market crash, and the rise of Communist sympathizers as a result of the Russian Revolution all led America in a different direction, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal sealed America's fate as a primarily statist society. Later presidents such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon added force to the government's repertoire via national security measures and the infamous military-industrial complex. Eventually this came to a head in the late 1960s, with the Kent State University shootings, the Vietnam War, and Watergate.

Ford's comments came shortly after his pardon of Nixon. He was pointing out the inherent danger in power and the usurping of freedom. An extremely conservative and libertarian President and Congressman, Ford's philosophy soon became that of the whole party. Unfortunately, the national defense paranoia that the Cold War had initiated remained, and libertarianism was pushed to the wayside while Ronald Reagan sent America into the largest deficits it had ever seen.

Ford's words still ring true in an era where only 38% of the American populace vote for the most powerful position in the world. It is vital to remember that you make the most difference in your life, far more than any actions government may take on your behalf (if they take any at all!) In the words of my roommate and fellow Everythingian:

If you can mobilize the people, who needs laws? Who needs government?
Michael Crawford

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