There are actually two basic definitions of the word “statesman”. The first is descriptive of those who represent a state in a larger government. The second is a term of honor and recognition that the person is one who puts principle above politics and works for the good of the whole nation as well as caring about the considerations of those in his “state”. The term originates in the Roman republic where the Senators met to deliberate policy and actions that would serve the interests of the nation and the Roman citizens. In our own history, it applied to those who were chosen to represent the states by the legislature of each state. Because they were not elected, they did not have to face re-election, but they did have to fulfill the wishes of their state legislature or they could be recalled or replaced.
Because these people were representatives of the state governments, they were likely to take more time and effort to deliberate about laws and policy. They were a check and balance on the sometimes frivolous or ill-considered actions of the House of Representatives. This is how the second definition came about. Statesmen were those who were wiser and more concerned about the future than they were their careers and getting re-elected. Being called a statesman was a badge of honor and respect. When serious questions arose, these are the wise and thoughtful people you would ask to work on the solutions. Some senators did not fit this description, but many did and our country was better for it.
When people face re-election every two years, they tend to promise many things in order to get re-elected. The Senate countered this tendency because they normally served for six years and had to answer only to the state legislature they represented. This was one of the choices our founders made that was sheer genius. When the House voted for “a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway” or other such giveaways, the Senate would normally say “Sorry, we can’t afford that” and they would vote it down. Since it requires the approval of both legislative bodies, proposed legislation that was wasteful or careless rarely went to the president for signature. This process kept us out of significant debt and didn’t require taxing the people, and it kept the people free, happy and prosperous most of the time.
Then came the infamous actions of 1913, when the 16th and 17th Amendments and the Federal Reserve Act were passed. We all know that the 16th Amendment created the IRS and the income tax (which was originally a tax of one percent of the top one percent of the people). But the other parts of the plan were to create the Federal Reserve and the 17th Amendment. The Federal Reserve is not a part of the government but is owned by private bankers. They print money with no backing and then loan it to us. We are then expected to pay them both principle and interest on what they printed. The 17th Amendment took the choosing of Senators away from the state legislatures and gave it to the voters. Sadly, this removed the last impediment to putting our country into debt and allowing the bankers to control interest rates and inflation. That is kind of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.
When we say we need statesmen instead of politicians, we are speaking of the critical need for people of vision, thoughtfulness, wisdom and foresight instead of people who serve their own interests, often at the expense of the citizens of our country. Since all of our representatives are now chosen by popular vote, we need to work harder than ever to encourage great people to run for office. Then we need to support them, vote for them and challenge them to do the right things Our current system does not often result in the election of statesmen. We, individually and collectively, need to look within ourselves to see if we are part of the solution or part of the problem. Do we actually take the time to discover what those running for office stand for or do we simply vote without thought or preparation? It’s time to think about it.