It’s a truth universally acknowledged that once a person is in a committed leadership position, the idea of transferring that power to an adversary, let alone a faithful disciple, is not pleasant. Yet we witness such peaceful transferences of power in America at every level of government. For centuries with rare exceptions, rulers have chosen to die before giving up power. What makes America so different?
It started with the example of a virtuous leader—George Washington. He had every opportunity to take advantage of this new republic and become its king. They offered the chance on a silver platter! Yet he refused on principle and it has influenced America’s leaders every generation since.
Washington acknowledged that the Constitution, which he and his peers had just sacrificed so much to create, dictated that “rulers are servants of the people and all sovereign authority to appoint or remove a ruler rests with the people” (Skousen, 1981, p. 143). He chose to follow the rule of law—rather than the rule of men’s whims—in an effort to keep peace and order supreme.
The European generally submits to a public officer because he represents a superior force; but to an American he represents a right. In America it may be said that no one renders obedience to man, but to justice and to law. ~Alexis de Tocqueville.
During the 1800 elections, when political tensions were high and the American republic was teetering, it again took the leadership of virtuous men to act on principle and keep our new Republic intact (Burns, 2003). Thomas Jefferson expressed the need for such a rule of law when he decreed, “let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution” (Jefferson in Skousen, 1981, p. 161). The accountability these chains provide have maintained the miracle of peaceful transition for two centuries.
Virtuous leaders recognize an authority higher than themselves, either the people’s law or nature’s God, and therefore place higher value on the principles that structure society than their own influence and power. It is these types of leaders that are necessary to keep society in harmony.
As an accountant, there will be many times when I will have to prefer the principles that guide my profession over my own or my client’s desires. Because of the influence I can have as a professional, I must be even more aware of the ethics behind each decision I make. The outcome of my work could affect many people from the investors in companies I audit to my colleagues and accountants-in-training who rely on a common reputation for excellence and integrity.
When money and emotions collide, it’s hard to be the voice of reason. It’s a test of determination to stand on principle when an opportunity to commit or overlook fraud presents itself, especially if that fraud would bring short-term benefit. But just like Washington, I will keep the long-term effects in mind and remember the principles, the law, that is in place for just such an occasion.
God gives power and He takes it away. Just so long as we remember that there is a higher authority than us, our greed for that power won’t get in the way of our obedience to who we serve. Just as presidents serve ‘We the People,’ we the people serve the Almighty God. We’d better not get in His way, either. If it’s our time to go, it’s a lot easier to just step down peacefully than put up a fight and get a heavenly whooping!
Burns, James MacGregor. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness. New York, NY: Grove Press.
De Tocqueville, Alexis. (2013). Democracy in America. Volume 1. Kindle Edition.
Skousen, W. C. (1981). The 5,000 year leap. National center for constitutional studies.