For much of history, justifying the ruling government went no further than the point of a sword. As John Adams described, “In the earliest ages of the world, absolute monarchy seems to have been the universal form of government. Kings, and a few of their great counselors and captains, exercised a cruel tyranny over the people. . . .” Rulers mostly governed through fear – there were no citizens, only subjects beholden to the ruler. Such government still exists – Vietnam, Burma, North Korea, and Cuba are just a few examples where oppressive regimes continue to rule the people by the barrel of a gun.
The Founding Fathers, however, believed that the rule of law is a fundamental First Principle of a free and just government. John Adams explained the Founders’ understanding when he wrote that good government and the very definition of a republic “is an empire of laws.”
In America, the government governs the citizenry according to the law, not by the whims or fancies of our leaders. By requiring our leaders to enact and publish the law, and to adhere to the same law that applies to each citizen, the rule of law acts as a potent barrier against tyrannical and arbitrary government.
The rule of law also requires that the same law govern all citizens. Founding Father Samuel Adams observed that the rule of law means that “There shall be one rule of Justice for the rich and the poor; for the favorite in Court, and the Countryman at the Plough.”
By requiring both the government and the people to adhere to the law, the rule of law serves as the foundational First Principle for protecting our liberty.