“That government is best which governs least.” (Or not all?)
THOREAU’S VERSION OF THE AXIOM ABOUT GOVERNMENT:
“I heartily accept the motto, — ‘That government is best which governs least.’”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
American author, philosopher, naturalist and social critic
In his essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849)
The quotation “That government is best which governs least” is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but without any specific source. No source is given because, as noted by Jefferson scholars and books like Not So!: Popular Myths About America From Columbus to Clinton, there is no record that Jefferson ever said it. Nor did Thomas Paine, another “Founding Father” who is sometimes wrongly credited with the quote.
Henry David Thoreau did use the line in “Civil Disobedience” (originally titled “Resistance to Civil Government”) and its appearance in that famous essay probably popularized the saying in its best known form. However, Thoreau seemed to be making it clear that he was citing an existing motto.
He may have been paraphrasing the slogan coined by American journalist and editor John Louis O’Sullivan. In 1837, O’Sullivan wrote “The best government is that which governs least” in the opening editorial for his periodical The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. He then used those words as the motto of the Review until it ceased publication in 1859.
Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson also penned an earlier version. In 1844, Emerson wrote in an essay titled “Politics”: “The less government we have, the better.”
Modern political conservatives are quite fond of the quote “That government is best which governs least.” But even most conservatives might not agree with what Thoreau went on to say about it in “Civil Disobedience.” He envisioned taking the axiom to its anarchic extreme, writing: “Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — ‘That government is best which governs not at all.’”
“Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — ‘That government is best which governs not at all.’”
I do not agree that we need no government at all.
I wholeheartedly believe that on all levels our governmental agencies have overreached there usefulness.
The liberals among us have brought about the ever increasing overreach.