We Hold These Truths: What a Party Platform Should Look Like
Since its formation in 1854, in the midst of a great crisis that threatened to tear the country apart, the Republican Party has stood forthrightly for America’s principles and constitutional institutions: for political liberty under the rule of law, for national independence, for a vigorous framework of economic opportunity, and for equal rights and justice for all Americans.
The platform on which Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860 was brief and clear, speaking directly to the American people about the principles of the nation and the choices before them. It united the party around the core principles and a few policies to which they were dedicated. Our predecessors at Hillsdale College were involved in writing the early Republican platforms, and we follow their historic example in considering how such a platform might read today:
Resolved, that we, the delegated representatives of the Republican electors of the United States in convention assembled, in discharge of the duty we owe to our constituents and our country, unite in the following declarations:
1. That the cornerstone of American government is the principle of human equality enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, under which all are equal in the rights with which they are endowed by their Creator, and that legitimate governments are instituted to secure these unalienable rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
2. That the Constitution of the United States, which derives its authority from the people it represents and by whom the powers of government are delegated, was ordained and established “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” and that essential to these ends is the separation of the powers of government among three branches to establish a necessarily powerful but fundamentally limited federal government.
3. That these principles and this form of government have established the longest enduring society of free men and women in history, that its greatness stems from the conformity of its practices to its principles, and that we rededicate our country to its principles and commit to policies that harmonize with them.
4. That all laws in the United States shall henceforth guarantee equal rights to every American and special privileges to none, and that, as the people are the rightful sovereigns, government in all of its actions must represent them and pursue their interests and common good.
5. That the rule of law and the separation of powers must be restored such that only Congress, and not the regulatory agencies now too numerous to count, makes laws, that the president preserves the rule of law by enforcing all laws properly made, and that the judiciary upholds laws consistent with the principles and form of the Constitution. The rule of law must be and shall be reestablished as a transparent, predictable, and binding framework of governance.
6. That the federal government today regulates virtually every aspect of our daily lives, giving rise to a class of experts and political elites that govern in ways that are increasingly undemocratic and anti-republican and undermine constitutional self-government, and that Congress, the president, and the judiciary must assert their rightful constitutional powers to rein in, control, and otherwise diminish the vast administrative state that threatens to overwhelm the American people and destroy their economy and long-term prosperity.
7. That the federal government has become vastly centralized and nationalized despite the fact that the authority over most domestic policy is properly reserved to the states and to the people, and that federalism must be restored in order to preserve the proper constitutional authority, bringing as well enormous budgetary savings, policy innovations, and increased accountability of government.
8. That it is the fundamental responsibility of the national government, and its core constitutional function, to “provide for the common defense”—which means, first and foremost, protecting the American people and their national independence—and that to do this the United States must be able and willing at all times to defend itself, its people, and its institutions from conventional and unconventional threats to its vital interests at home and abroad. Military action should be undertaken cautiously, only for the national interest, and when undertaken it should be pursued fiercely and with utmost speed.
9. That agreements with other nations, including trade agreements, should be made in the interest of the American people, and that no agreement should be pursued that undermines American sovereignty or the well-being and prosperity of the American people.
10. That each nation has the responsibility and obligation to determine its own conditions for immigration, naturalization, and citizenship, and that, while Americans remain a generous people, individuals do not have a right to American citizenship without the consent of the American people; nor does this generosity mitigate the duty, imposed on the United States government, to control its borders through fair and just means. Secure borders, especially in a time of terrorist threats, are crucial to national security.
11. That the constitutional right of citizens to keep and bear arms is of extraordinary importance in this dangerous age, and shall not be infringed.
12. That the economic policies of the federal government should aim to make the American economy vibrant and employment available to all, and that the relationship between private property and public benefit shall be emphasized and defended as a primary vehicle to reduce poverty and promote the common good, such that each has the right to the rewards of his labor and that every member of society can work hard, pursue opportunity, and advance.
13. That America’s vast investment in the social security of its citizens must be secure and protected, and that the social safety net for those in need must be preserved and improved in fiscally responsible ways that do not constitute an inhibition to work.
14. That we stand committed to the education of all, recognizing that the responsibility for education should be in the states, in public as well as private and religious schools, and is best left in the hands of parents and local control. As in industry, the content of one’s character and the merit of one’s accomplishments should be the sole standards of achievement in American education.
15. That unborn children, possessing life, shall be protected by law, and that failure to protect the life of the unborn is failure to protect the right essential to all.
16. That in upholding equality before the law, the federal government must protect the freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the freedom of association, so that families, schools, churches, and other institutions of civil society can sustain and cultivate the virtues and character required for republican government. As our first freedom, the religious liberty of all citizens must and shall be guarded as a matter not of tolerance but of right.
17. And, finally, trusting in the American people and having set forth the principles and policies for which the Republican Party stands, we invite all citizens of this great country to join us in pursuit of a better America.
Larry P. Arnn is President of Hillsdale College. Matthew Spalding is Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs for Hillsdale College at the Kirby Center in Washington, DC. Both write in their private capacities.