Minority Report


Filed Under : Government, U.S. Constitution

The Honorable August E. Johansen is U. S. Representative from the 3rd District of Michigan.

Two recent incidents, perhaps minor in themselves, raise a serious question in my mind as to what Big Government in the United States is doing to the attitude of some American citizens toward their government and, more important, toward their own citizenship.

One was the remark of a member of a delegation of constituents from the Third District who called on me here in Washington to discuss a controversial national issue. Toward the end of our visit this individual commented that he appreciated my having put the group at ease by receiving them courteously and discussing the matter in a friendly manner, saying that the group had felt some apprehension about discussing the subject with their congressman.

The other incident involved a recent witness before the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service who, two or three times during his testimony, used the phrase, “Of course, I am just one of the ‘little people.’”

What I have to say about these incidents is in no sense a criticism of these individuals. Instead, it is an expression of concern over what is happening in or to our government to create this sort of feeling on the part of our citizens.

The great men who founded this government and who wrote our Constitution had, in times past, been “subjects”—subjects of the government and the king. They were determined that in the government they were creating neither they, nor anyone else, would ever again be a “subject.” They believed that the government was to be the subject or the servant, and that the people were to be sovereign citizens, possessing God-given dignity and rights.

More than that, they wrote the Constitution for a double purpose: to protect those rights from the power of the government itself and, through the processes of orderly self-government, to protect those rights from violation or abuse by their fellow-citizens.

To this end they undertook deliberately to set limits on the powers of the federal government, to divide and diffuse those powers both within the federal government and between the federal and the state governments. They adopted a Bill of Rights which specifically undertook to deny to government those powers over the citizen which would again make him a subject.

Perhaps we need to rediscover and reaffirm some of these basic principles of Americanism. With the trend of recent years toward more and more reliance upon centralized federal government as the answer to all our problems thereby lessening self-government close at home where the citizen can most effectively exercise his sovereignty and control over his public servants—perhaps we are in grave danger of creating something so big and so powerful that the idea creeps in insidiously that those who, for a time, exercise the authority and responsibilities of government have indeed become the masters.

In any event, no citizen ever should entertain doubts as to his privilege and duty to assert his lawful rights before his government, and particularly to express his views or “petition for redress of grievances” to those whom he elects as his representatives in the legislative branch of government.

No American citizen should ever demean himself or his citizenship by the unworthy phrase, “one of the little people.”

And while all Americans should respect the lawful processes of Constitutional government, no citizen should ever abdicate the high privilege of the “minority report” and the right of lawful dissent. []

A news release of March 28, 1956.

It must be conceded that there are rights in every free government beyond the control of the state. A government which recognized no such rights, but held the lives, the liberty, and the property of its citizens subject at all times to the absolute disposition and unlimited control of even the most democratic depository of power is, after all, but a despotism of the many—of the majority, but none the less a despotism. The theory of our governments, state and national, is opposed to the deposit of unlimited power anywhere.


Samuel Freeman Miller, Associate Justice of the
Supreme Court, in Loan Assn. v. Topeka, 1875.


June 1956

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