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"But neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man."Sam Adams went on to say that public officials should not be chosen if they are lacking in experience, training, proven virtue, and demonstrated wisdom. He said the task of the electorate is to choose those whose "fidelity has been tried in the nicest and tenderest manner, and has been ever firm and unshaken." While this young man had the best of intentions, I am sure, and we did have an enjoyable visit the rest of the way, I couldn’t help asking myself, Where is this young man’s experience? His training? His proven virtue? His demonstrated wisdom? How has his fidelity to principle been proven to be firm and unshaken? According to Adams, these qualities should be developed before seeking public office.
“May we not even say, that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?"John Adams had the same feelings about those who served in political office. They were repulsed by those who wanted these offices for their own gain (or should we say for a career). John Adams observed:
“How is it possible that any man should ever think of making it (political office) subservient to his own little passions and mean private interests? Ye baseborn sons of fallen Adam, is the end of politics a fortune, a family, a gilded coach, a train of horses, and a troop of livery servants, balls at Court, splendid dinners and suppers?”
"For there is really no other occupation in which human virtue approaches more closely the august function of the gods than that of founding new States or preserving those already in existence."Since the Creator endowed each individual with liberty and agency, would He not be very concerned that a society be so structured and led, so that these liberties may be preserved? In other words, such leadership may be termed a godly function!
"Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.”The uniqueness of politics is that it gives to office holders the power over other peoples’ lives and over other peoples’ money. No other occupation or business provides this kind of control. And that is why political power is so corrupting. Few men or women can handle it very long without gradually beginning to exercise unrighteous dominion over others. It is a fact of human nature.
"In America, salaries, where indispensable, are extremely low; but much of public business is done gratis. The honor of serving the public ably and faithfully is deemed sufficient. Public spirit really exists there, and has great effects. In England it is universally deemed a nonentity, and whoever pretends to it is laughed at as a fool, or suspected as a knave."In the Constitutional Convention, Franklin gave a lengthy discourse on this subject. He warned that high salaries for government offices are the best way to attract scoundrels and drive from the halls of public office those men who possess true merit and virtue. He asked:
"And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers.”His next statement has turned out to be prophetic:
“Sir, though we may set out in the beginning with moderate salaries, we shall find that such will not be of long continuance. Reasons will never be wanting for proposed augmentations; and there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them.”
“To bring the matter nearer home, have we not seen the greatest and most important of our offices, that of general of our armies, executed for eight years together, without the smallest salary, by a patriot whom I will not now offend by any other praise; and this, through fatigues and distresses, in common with the other brave men, his military friends and companions, and the constant anxieties peculiar to his station? And shall we doubt finding three or four men in all the United States, with public spirit enough to bear sitting in peaceful council, for perhaps an equal term, merely to preside over our civil concerns, and see that our laws are duly executed? Sir, I have a better opinion of our country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake, and execute well and faithfully, the office in question.”A preview of the current salaries paid to state legislators of the fifty states confirms the truthfulness of Franklin’s prediction. If one groups the ten states with the highest paid state legislators, he will find that, on the average, they have not only the highest salaries and benefits, but also the highest number of staff members, the longest legislative sessions, the highest number of regulations on commerce, and the highest state taxes. By contrast, the group of ten states whose legislative salaries average the lowest, also have the fewest benefits, the shortest legislative sessions, the fewest staff members, the lowest amount of regulations on commerce, and the lowest state taxes.
"As every freeman, to preserve his independence, (if he has not a sufficient estate) ought to have some profession, calling, trade, or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no necessity for, nor use in, establishing offices of profit; the usual effects of which are dependence and servility, unbecoming freemen, in the possessors and expectants; faction, contention, corruption, and disorder among the people. Wherefore, whenever an office, through increase of fees or otherwise, becomes so profitable, as to occasion many to apply for it, the profits ought to be lessened by the legislature."