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The Fourth Estate: Keeping the citizenry informed

Some may ask, what is the Fourth Estate and what does it have to do with our freedom?
The term “fourth estate” has various definitions. Some refer to it as the guardian of democracy or defender of the public interest, and it is generally referred to as the newspaper or mass media profession.

When our Founding Fathers created the Constitution and established the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) they recognized that freedom of speech, including the press, was an important factor in keeping the government in check and the people informed.

James Madison stated that, “Although all men are born free, slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant – they have been cheated; asleep – they have been surprised; divided – the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? That people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, and to be united, and that after establishing a government they should watch over it. It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently free.”

Madison’s statement implies that, as citizens, we have a responsibility to act and be involved in governmental affairs. The framers’ first assumption was that all just authority for government comes from the people, under God: not from a governing class, but from a vast number of citizens who make up the public. The original intent was that government was supposed to be the people’s creation, not their master.

But today, the opposite seems to be true. How often are we frustrated by governing rules that don’t make sense and hinder economic growth; of laws passed that are so restrictive that they kill the spirit of community which desires to move forward?

Thomas Jefferson, in his charge to citizens stated the following: “Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature.”

Neighborhood associations, grass root activists and citizen input are vital factors in keeping America healthy and strong. If the people elect wise and responsible leaders, and if elected officials pass laws that not only enhance but protect our freedoms, then economic stability will be a natural outcome. If we lead by example, once again, the United States can be a positive model to the world.

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