In his book “Transparent Government: What it Means and How you can Make it Happen,” Donald Gordan quotes Patrick Henry’s words from the June 9, 1788 Virginia Constitutional Convention:
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
Gordon, who teaches political history at Northwestern University writes, ” To practice democracy in a republic requires that we not abdicate our role as citizens.”
The author elaborated on Henry’s strong advocacy for transparency in the new government when he said “…to cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man, and every friend to this country.”
In fact, Gordon suggests that it would not be inaccurate to refer to Patrick Henry as “the father of transparency in government.”
Gordon also reminds the reader of the words of Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington that are often quoted by journalists:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.”
However, despite Jefferson’s appraisal of newspapers as a Fourth Estate, providing a system of checks and balances for a fledgling republic, Gordon is quick to point out that the founding fathers placed the primary responsibility for holding government in check squarely on the shoulders of citizens themselves.
In Part I: Making the Case for Transparency in Government, he writes:
“Jefferson believed in the superiority of newspapers over government. He would have been proud of the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters for the Washington Post, in uncovering the cover-up of the Watergate scandal. But Jefferson also understood that ‘the people are the only censors of their governors.’ The media certainly play a major role in keeping government honest, but in the end it is We the People who are inevitably responsible for keeping our democracy. It is better to have a thousand eyes than just a few focus on the workings of our government.”
Gordon calls the words “We the People,” the three most significant words in the history of the United States, explaining, “We are at once the government and the governed.”
Not giving ordinary people access to government meetings or documents is taking away what rightfully belongs to them.
It is stealing their liberty.
All the business government does, is the people’s business.
As a newspaper, these principles guide us, motivate us and temper us in the commission of our duties.
As citizens, these principles, and the words of our founders, should rally us and embolden us to hold government accountable at all times.
We encourage our county commissioners, chairman, members of the board of education, mayors and city council members to never lose sight of the very basic core values that are part and parcel of our constitutional republic and essential to our freedom as Americans.
— Editor Jim Zachary