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God Helps Them That Help Themselves: The Founding Fathers Against Intrusive Government - With A Free Essay Review



During the late eighteenth century in America, many philosophers began to express ideas of Enlightenment and change in the government. One notable man would be Benjamin Franklin, a sophisticated Romanticist and major figure in the American Enlightenment. Thomas Paine, another historic figure and a revolutionary writer, speaks of the tyranny of British rule towards the colonists. Last but not least, Patrick Henry, an inspirational orator, supported liberty and American independence. The present era of America interprets one famous saying from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, “God helps them that help themselves,” as individuals that are responsible for their actions with the government being little involved. Since Franklin, Paine, and Henry lean towards revolution and reforming how the British govern the Colonies during their time, these figures would attest to the idea and interpretation of the quote.

The Renaissance theorist, Benjamin Franklin, stated that society should not aim for an absolute government but requires a general government as a base; therefore, he agrees with the evaluation of the given statement. Prior to the final draft of the Constitution, Franklin wrote a speech in honor for the occasion. He professionally agrees with the Constitution; which he states in his speech, “… with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government [is] necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and [I] believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism,” (Franklin, “Speech of Benjamin Franklin to the Constitution”). Franklin saw that the Constitution and the nation will never reach the impossible idea of perfection, but the United States now establishes an outstanding system that does not require the government to get too involved. He speaks the truth that the citizens must work diligently to keep their administration managed satisfactorily, or else people will just submit and complain to a repressive, rigid authority. In his own book, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin shares his experience against the selfishness of British tyrannical law. He mentions that “One of the pieces in our newspaper on some political point… gave offense to the Assembly… my brother's confinement [was punishment], which I resented a good deal,” (Franklin). Franklin shows that the Assembly uses fear and dominance against innocent people just because one goes against their ideals. Even in a small newspaper business, the government wishes to implicate their supremacy. His statement towards the Constitution and past experiences shows that Franklin believes in some rule being incorporated towards the public, within reason; thus he would support the interpretation of the quote.

The educated writer, Thomas Paine, understands and believes that authoritarian law would fail; therefore the evaluation of the given quote would be approved by him. “The Crisis no. 1,” one of his articles written during the American Revolution, shows Britain’s ruthless and oppressive conduct opposing the American Colonies. He exclaims, “Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but to BIND us in ALL CASES WHAT SO EVER … for so unlimited power can belong only to God,” (Paine). Paine points out that Britain has no right to govern the Colonies from thousands of miles away just because they contain the strongest military of that time. He describes Great Britain as though they see themselves superior and treat the Colonies as mere slaves. In addition, Thomas Paine created “Common Sense” to challenge the power of the British government and its royal monarchy. He points out that “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness,” (Paine, “Common Sense”). People create these two bodies; however, differences in origin exist between a society and a government. Paine speaks that the public gives opportunities to those who wish to associate their values and ideas within a community, while a government gives political direction to “control” the people’s wickedness. As the man who strongly admits that the British has involved its rule too far, Thomas Paine would support the interpretation of the quote.

The great and well-diction orator, Patrick Henry, would vouch for the examination of Franklin’s quote from Poor Richards’ Almanack, as he list the issues and faults of Britain’s autocratic rule. Prior to declaring independence in the Virginia Conference, Henry had such a stimulating speech that listed practical reasons as to why America must change how Britain belittles and rules over them. During his speech, he proudly roars out, “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” (Henry 266). Liberty denoted as freedom from an arbitrary or foreign law, is what the interpretation truly speaks of. As Henry uses such pathos and ethos, the Colonies are inspired to see that there is no reason to continue following such a demanding government that has failed to satisfy them. He especially uses logos during his remarkable declaration to account the main reason as to why Britain crossed the line. Henry declares, “…all this accumulation of navies and armies… are meant for us; they can be meant for no other… sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging,” (Henry 264). Great Britain worries enough with troubles in Europe, so there should not be such demanding watch in America. Majority of the Colonies probably realized it, but it took this one man to finally conclude that Britain just use their military to observe them like hawks. Patrick Henry supports American independence from not only Britain’s rule but away from any form of dictatorial government.

The Founding Fathers would comply with the idea of the quote, “God helps them that help themselves,” that whatever form of government in any civilization should not be so committed to trying to guide one’s life. Benjamin Franklin accepts that society will always contain natural faults and imperfections that are unavoidable, which no person or system can change, regardless of what they do. Thomas Paine writes that such a despotic rule from Britain will mostly show negative feedback from the people. Finally, Patrick Henry points out that the Colonies has a right to be a legitimate nation with their own form of government which please the people in a much less arbitrary law than Britain has done. Due to these great men, the present people of the United States of America interpret the citation in such a common and analytical manner.

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ESSAY REVIEW

There are probably many reasons that one could advance in support of the argument that the men you cite in this essay supported the idea of limited government and promoted individual self-reliance. It seems strange, then, that you would take as the starting point and focus of your essay a proverb as old as the proverbial hills that Franklin happened to include in his Poor Richard's Almanack, back in the 1730s, long before the Revolution. The proverb appears in a long list of proverbs, arranged in random order ("Now I've a sheep and a cow, every body bids me good morrow." "God helps them that help themselves." "Why does the blind man's wife paint herself." And so on). And the proverb has to do, after all, with the nature of man's relationship to God, not to government, and it seems to be nothing more than pragmatic advice: if you want something done, don't sit around waiting for God to do it for you. That very pragmatic attitude to God, of course, runs counter to traditional beliefs about God's benevolence to undeserving and helpless humanity, even if today the proverb is thought to be supported by biblical authority. The proverb certainly supports the idea of self-reliance, but it's not a statement about the proper form of government or about the proper stance 18th-century Americans ought to have had towards British rule.

You being by claiming that "the present era ... interprets [that] famous saying" as pertaining to individual responsibility and limited government. You don't explain why you think that, however. Your essay, in fact, is the only essay I've come across that interprets the proverb in that way. There may well be many others (I’m not well read in this area!). In that case, if you want to maintain this claim about the modern interpretation of the proverb, then you ought to cite these other modern writings. Otherwise, I think that the quotation and your use of it are just a distraction from the argument that you want to make in the essay, and that you could make that argument much more effectively by looking at specific statements from the period of the American Revolution about the proper role of government. Doing so would have the added benefit of allowing you to abandon the question of whether Franklin, Paine, and Henry would agree with your version of the modern interpretation of the proverb. I think it is a very good idea to have a central, guiding question to help you organize the overall argument of your essay, but I think the question of what Franklin et al. would make of the peculiar interpretation of the proverb that you offer in your introduction is not a good question for this purpose. It is artificial and, if you'll forgive me for saying so, a little banal. Who cares, after all, what they would have thought about this proverb?

Unless it is the case, then, that there is a significant body of modern writing about the political meaning of that proverb (again, if there is, refer to it); or, unless it is the case that you've been assigned the improbable task of writing an essay about how Franklin et al. would have interpreted that proverb; I suggest that you abandon it and focus instead on a straightforward examination of the case for saying that the Founding Fathers supported the ideas of self-reliance and limited government.

If you are committed for one reason or another to sticking with the argument about how the men you discuss would have interpreted the proverb, however, then obviously you should focus your revision on improving that argument. Here are a few things that need work.

1. In your second paragraph, you quote a speech by Franklin (whom you call a "Renaissance theorist," which I assume is not what you intended to say). Your quotation is poorly integrated into your sentence. The sentence as a whole (including the quoted text) does not make grammatical sense. Moreover you cut off the quotation mid-sentence, leaving the reader with the impression that Franklin claimed the new government could "only end in Despotism," which of course, and as you know, is not what Franklin says in that speech. He says, rather, that the new form of government "can only end in Despotism ... when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government," which is to say, it is up to the people whether the government will end in despotism or not. Now that idea, that what becomes of the government will be up to the people, might be tangentially related to the idea of self-reliance that you want to advance, but your specific claim, the claim that Franklin is suggesting that the Constitution "does not require the government to get too involved" is not obviously supported by the quotation you cite, and you don't make any attempt to explain how the quotation might be read the way you read it. What you need to do, then, is complete the quotation, integrate it properly, and then explain why it means what you claim it means. I leave you decide whether the same kind of problem affects the second quotation (hint: it does!).

In the next paragraph, you discuss Paine, whom you call for some reason an "educated writer" (he was an educated writer, to be sure, but the point, being common knowledge, is hardly worth mentioning). The problem with this paragraph is that you demonstrate that Paine was opposed to the tyranny of British rule, which claimed "unlimited power." It seems to me that you want to turn an argument against tyranny into an argument in favor of limited government. Since the latter term ("limited government") is generally opposed not to tyranny but to what is sometimes called "big government," or generally the kind of government that takes an active interest in the welfare of the citizens (e.g., a social-democratic government), it seems unreasonable to assume that an opposition to tyranny amounts to a support of "limited government." Now (as I've just realised) "limited government" is a term that I've introduced here, and that does not occur in your essay. But it is the term that best describes the kind of government that I think you are talking about. You speak of a government not being too "involved." If you mean something other than what I've taken you to mean, you should probably explain more clearly what kind of government you are talking about (in fact, you should probably do that whether I've interpreted you correctly or not).

Finally, you turn to "The great and well-diction [?] orator, Patrick Henry" (it would be enough to say, "The orator, Patrick Henry"). The problem with this paragraph, insofar as it is intended to support your thesis about the interpretation of the Franklin proverb, is the same more or less as the problem with the previous paragraph. You are showing only that Henry was opposed to the heavy-handed attitude of the British to the colonies. There's nothing wrong with showing that, and it might not be a problem if you forgot the proverb and pursued a different line of argument, but as it stands it really doesn't support the case you want to make.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: jersanta
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