“Get government off our backs” has been a rallying cry of the 1980s, but fifty years ago there
were similar calls to reduce the number of laws on the books. A 1931 editorial at the
beginning of the legislative session suggested:
“The Legislature ‘sits’–if they will just remain ‘sitting,’ sign the payroll bill at the end of the
session and busy themselves in the meantime in wielding the pruning knife on the foot-thick
statute book, they will please us mightily.
“But we have no misapprehension about the program. We are entirely confident that of the
hundred members in the house there will be ninety-nine who have a pet bill which he will
duly present to the sifting committee. It is a certainty that a large number of this number will
sift through the sifting committee and eventually, in all probability, be added to the long list
of laws now in the big book.
“We have heretofore discussed various senseless laws now in the books and suggest their
immediate repeal. There are laws which never have been enforced, because they are silly
laws. Why permit them to remain on the books? And there is a reason why these laws
should be repealed. The wise farmer culls poor producers out of the cow herd. The culling
process is carried further and includes innumerable articles, even reaching the home and
applying to carpets, rugs, furniture, and dishes. A broken-down chair goes into the discard
because it is a useless, room-taking article. A broken-down law is far worse than the other.
“It is presumed that law-abiding citizens will respect and obey ALL laws. There is no other
choice. We cannot pick out our favorite laws and obey them and refuse to obey others that
do not meet our personal approval. A law is defined by Mr. Webster as ‘a rule of action
established by authority,’ or an ‘edict.’ We must obey governmental edicts or the whole fabric
of our government is torn apart and chaos reigns.
“A disregard of any kind of law breeds disrespect for other laws and eventually disrespect for
government itself. It is not hard to follow the primrose path once one has taken the first step.
The other steps are increasingly easy. It is just that way with respect to the observance of
“We do not propose any laws for the consideration of the present legislature and we will be
glad to O.K. the payroll at the end of the session if they will just start right in now with the
culling process and fail to stop until the job is well done.”