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True or False: Were the Founders right to be skeptical of government officials having...

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bethwh | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:34 AM via web

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True or False: Were the Founders right to be skeptical of government officials having too much power?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:37 AM (Answer #1)

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Absolutely.  The Founders of the United States were completely right to worry that government officials might take too much power if they were allowed to.

We can see many instances of corruption in the United States.  We can see instances, like that of Richard Nixon, where an American politician has used power for selfish reasons -- Nixon used power to punish his enemies and to keep power for himself.

We can see even more instances of the dangers of unchecked power in other countries.  Hitler is an extreme case, but he is nonetheless an example of what can happen if a political leader can have all the power he wants.

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 16, 2010 at 8:19 AM (Answer #2)

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There is a phrase that springs to my mind - absolute power corrupts absolutely. The framers were definitely right to be concerned about placing too much power in any one person's hands or even in any one branch of the government. The decision to balance the power among three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) is a sound on because each branch has a degree of checking power over the other. No decisions are made exclusively by one entity, which means that it would be very hard for the United States to become a dictatorship. This is one thing that the framers were especially cautious about having come from a monarchy, a unilateral ruling body that did not allow the freedom of choice that a democracy allows. All you have to do is look at what happens in society - ours or elsewhere - when the wrong person or ideology has complete control. The most obvious example is Hitler, but he is not the only one and this behavior is not limited to politics. It is, sadly, human nature!

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:13 AM (Answer #3)

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I think that their skepticism was based off their own experiences in leading to the Revolution.  The abuses of power by King George and British Parliament did much to convince the framers that when designing their own government, they had to create a limited form of government where little bad could be done in subverted by an individual whose agenda went again the public good.  This would be part of the reason why different individuals who have ascended power and acted against the public good could not bring down the entire system.  For instance, the previously mentioned formentioned example of President Nixon's testing of executive privilege and seeking to "get around" the institutional framework was unsuccessful because the Constitution sets up a design where government officials cannot abuse the power given to them without sanctions enacted from the political body.

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted June 16, 2010 at 12:34 PM (Answer #4)

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Founders of American constitution were absolutely right in being skeptical about government officials having too much power. It is basic tendency among most individuals to any power they have for personal gains, rather than general good. Even people who engage in large scale charitable activities, are frequently motivated more by desire for public appreciation and support rather than by desire for the good of the recipients of the charity.

Government officials are charged with the responsibility for securing and protecting the good of the public. For this purpose they need substantial power to take decisions and act in matters affecting individuals, groups and the entire society. Thus founders of constitution had to provide them with substantial power. At the same time they realized that this power can be used by individual officials and groups of officials for personal gains in a way that may affect the public adversely. Therefore they belt in a system of checks and balances over exercise of powers by the government officials.

The main instrument of such system of checks and balance is to separate the legislative, executive and judiciary functions of the government so that each arm of the government can keep a check over the other two.

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