The unprincipled

Before men are put forward into the great trusts of the State, they ought by their conduct to have obtained such a degree of estimation in their country, as may be some sort of pledge and security to the public, that they will not abuse those trusts. It is no mean security for a proper use of power, that a man has shown by the general tenor of his actions, that the affection, the good opinion, the confidence, of his fellow-citizens have been among the principal objects of his life; and that he has owed none of the gradations of his power or fortune to a settled contempt, or occasional forfeiture of their esteem.

—Edmund Burke. Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents, 1784.

The expression ‘pillar of the community’ describes a person who is sensitive to how the world perceives him. Such a person has a psychological need to know he is not harming or burdening others. All good, law-abiding citizens fit this description. Their respect for the law reflects their respect for their community. Their reputation is important to them, and they would be ashamed to be discovered doing something untoward, much less illegal or dishonest. Such people are fit to hold public office. By contrast, renegades who display contempt for their fellow man, for the law, and for the common standards of decency are not fit to hold public office. Their lack of shame indicates they might seek personal gain at the public’s expense, break their election promises or betray the principles they espoused in order to get elected.


Every good political institution must have a preventive operation as well as a remedial. It ought to have a natural tendency to exclude bad men from Government, and not to trust for the safety of the State to subsequent punishment alone.

—Edmund Burke. Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents, 1784.

In 1997 the city of Port Huron, Michigan appointed a ‘colorful’ mayor, Gerald ‘Ajax’ Ackerman. Ajax was a former jailbird, former drug addict, and a former alcoholic, wore a ponytail and had two earrings in his left ear. He took the name Ajax from a street warrior in a biker movie. The electorate should have known that he was not a fit and proper person to hold elected office. He was arrested while in office and convicted on ten felony counts of criminal sexual conduct with children, including interfering with girls as young as eight years old, and sentenced to thirty-eight years in prison.

The mere fact that a person is released from prison into a society signifies nothing about his fitness to hold positions of trust. The pedophile is not fit to work as a teacher, the embezzler is not fit to work as a bookkeeper, the drunk driver is not fit to work as a bus driver. Basic prudence dictates that elected office, the greatest trust of all, must be reserved for those who have demonstrated the greatest worthiness throughout their life. Thus the Constitution should have a provision that prevents ex-felons from holding public office.

Career politicians

The worst and basest of men are ambitious of the highest places, which the best and wisest reject.

—Algernon Sidney. Discourses Concerning Government, 1689.

The best leaders are never to be found among career politicians. Rather they are those, like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ronald Reagan and Ron Paul, whose career lay outside of politics but who became involved in public affairs out of a sense of civic duty. Once term limits are introduced, more of these people will step forward—they are presently kept away by a desire to avoid being tainted by association.


We must not conclude merely upon a man’s haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not unfrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty.

—Samuel Adams. Essay published in The Advertiser, 1748.

In the United States nothing is more common than to hear socialist politicians talking about liberty, independence, and rights. However, these must be regarded as deceitful platitudes because nothing is more incompatible with liberty, independence, and rights than socialism.

The dissolute

Shun all men of narrow fortunes … shun all men involved in debt, all men of ill morals, and debauched, and dishonest lives; all gamesters, and all men who spend more than their income. Their extravagance makes them necessitous, and their necessities make them venal.

—Thomas Gordon. Cato’s Letters No. 70, About the choice of free representatives, Saturday, March 17, 1722.

Some people are addicted to the base gratification of their senses. They consume substances they know are harmful to them and to their integrity, or they engage in sexual exploits that would destroy their reputation if discovered. People with traits such as alcoholism, drug and tobacco use, gambling, defalcation and adultery make poor trustees: regardless of their charisma or any other personal quality, the fact that they cannot control their own lives makes them ill-suited to govern the affairs of others.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove