Principles seem to be largely missing in criminal justice and law today. From the inception of this country, the founding fathers sought to encourage American society to be principled. For instance, the preamble of the Constitution is largely a list of principles upon which the nation was to be founded.

In that, we learn in the Preamble that they believed in the principle that all humans are equal in the sense that all have a right to the blessings of life, liberty, and the choice of how to pursue happiness. We also can appreciate the principles embedded in the opening words of the Constitution that the purpose of that document was to ensure the freedom hard-won by those men for future generations. They seemed to understand that laws could not ensure liberty, but rather adherance to the principles which keep society and government in check.

Earlier, in the Declaration of Independence, we read similar ideals. We read how these men reasoned on the situation very carefully, then came to the conclusion that there was no other alternative than to rebel against England and their King. This was no light matter, but the underlying principle of justice demanded they respond in kind to the abuses brought by King George and Parliament.  Still, they closed that document by reminding their English “bretheren” that they were still brothers and they would rather not fight them. This is a principle that remains in effect to this day as can be seen in how both nations continue to strongly support each other in times of need.

Some time later, Thomas Jefferson alluded to this issue when he stated that

“if we become a nation that compounds law upon law, then we will become a nation of men who ignore law.”

In this, he was effectively stating a principle. The principle being similar to that alluded to by Tacitus nearly 2000 years ago. He said,

“We were once a nation that feared lawlessness. Now we are a nation that fears law.”

Sound familiar?

Indeed, America has become a nation with far too many laws. This creates a scenario whereby the average man (or woman) can neither understand nor obey law. The average person unwittingly breaks numerous laws every day. Some people have gotten so jaded that they no longer concern themselves about the law. Still others blatantly ignore laws. In other words, we have become the very embodiment of the nation Jefferson predicted and Tacitus said of Ancient Rome.

Benjamin Franklin reading draft of Declaration...
Benjamin Franklin reading draft of Declaration of Independence, John Adams seated, and Thomas Jefferson standing and holding feather pen and paper, around table. Reproduction of a painting by J.L.G. Ferris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus, this set of pages is devoted to the development (or redevelopment) of principles in government and law. There can be no justice for criminals if everyone becomes a criminal. If everyone is a criminal, then law is worthless and society will suffer. There can be no respect for law without principles underlying the laws.

I once heard a State Trooper put it like this. He said that when he makes a traffic stop, he considers two things: The Letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law. The letter tells him what the law says but the spirit tells him what the law was intended to accomplish. If he deems that the person stopped was in compliance with the intent of the law, though he had clearly violated the letter of the law, then he let them go. In other words, he was applying principles (the spirit or intent) to the laws he was upholding. He never forget that he is first and foremost, a peace-keeper…the reason behind the laws is more important than the exact words dictated.

I have always tried to keep that in mind when deciding if someone has offended or harmed me in any way. I simply beleive that unless we learn to apply principles, we are going to reap hot coals onto ourselves as a society. I hope through these pages to explore this concept in detail and do my little part to make our Great Nation even greater.

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