Rejecting the belief that governments possess unlimited power, America was founded on the First Principle that the protection of unalienable rights is the legitimate purpose and limit of government (roughly referred to limited government). The Declaration of Independence recognized this as a First Principle when it explained that “to secure these rights… governments are instituted among men…”
Founding Father Thomas Paine expressed the American sentiment when he wrote that “Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, not to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”
Thomas Jefferson, therefore, explained, “our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them.”
Because individuals relinquished some of their rights solely to secure their life, liberty and property, John Locke wrote, the government “can have no other end or measure when in the hands of the magistrates but to preserve the members of that society in their lives, liberties, and possessions; and so cannot be an absolute, arbitrary power over their lives and fortunes which are so much as possible to be preserved. . . .”
Thus, directly opposed to the proposition that the government is all powerful, because we have consented to the government to protect our unalienable rights, the government only has the power it needs to perform that function and auxiliary supports thereof – nothing more.
The Father of the Constitution, James Madison, ensured that it embodied the First Principle of limited government through the doctrines of enumerated powers (i.e., that the federal government only has the authority expressly given it in the Constitution) and federalism (the idea that all powers not given to the federal government reside in the states or the people).
From its founding, America embraced as a First Principle that the purpose and limit of the government is protecting the unalienable rights of its citizens.