Arguably the most popular president of the modern era, “The Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan, once said the fundamental political issue of his day was “[w]hether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

At the time a newcomer to politics, Reagan was campaigning on behalf of conservative illuminary Barry Goldwater, who laid much of the groundwork for the political movement Reagan later capitalized on. As he explained in his speech, the future president had recently undergone a political transformation of sorts, stepping away from longtime political leanings due at least in part to the unsustainability of the welfare state.

As he explained in 1964: “No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income. Today, 37 cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector’s share, and yet our government continues to spend 17 million dollars a day more than the government takes in. We haven’t balanced our budget 28 out of the last 34 years. We’ve raised our debt limit three times in the last twelve months, and now our national debt is one and a half times bigger than all the combined debts of all the nations of the world. We have 15 billion dollars in gold in our treasury; we don’t own an ounce. Foreign dollar claims are 27.3 billion dollars. And we’ve just had announced that the dollar of 1939 will now purchase 45 cents in its total value.”

SEE ALSO: “A Time for Choosing”: Ronald Reagan’s Self-Governance Speech

Reagan challenged the notion that a government that tried to “help us,” “provide for us” or “be our all in all” was merely being benevolent. Instead, he argued, it was actually trying to control our lives. Resoundingly, that message resonated with the American people and launched Reagan into political stardom.

In the decades following his now-famous 1964 speech, the rising star continued to push to keep the “little intellectual elite” out of our lives and replace its influence with self-governance. His excellent communication skills and clear political convictions made him the premier spokesperson for a movement with renewed interest in returning decision-making power to the little man.

During his 1981 inaugural address, Reagan re-emphasized the same sentiment he had shared at the start of his political journey nearly 20 years earlier:

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.”

SEE ALSO: Reagan’s Inaugural Words: An Inspiration and Warning for Today

Throughout the remainder of his powerful address, he continued to lay out his belief that America is “a nation that has a government — not the other way around.” He argued that our system of governance “has no power except that granted it by the people” and later added, “that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.

Sprinkled throughout with great wisdom and advice, Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address is required viewing for any student of history, especially those of us who have carried the Gipper’s fight to reduce the power of the national government into the present-day. We can also learn from the example of his presidency.

Reagan wasn’t a perfect president, of course. Despite his vocal opinions on government spending, the debt increased greatly during his presidency (thanks, in part, to his increase in military spending). Nevertheless, the 40th president cut taxes, reduced welfare spending, eliminated undue government programs, chipped away at inflation and unemployment, and led the nation through a season of general prosperity.

In 1984, he was re-elected by an unprecedented landslide, garnering 525 out of 538 electoral votes. His overall success proved (1) that limited government politics actually work and (2), that they were deeply popular with everyday Americans of both political parties.

Now, only a few decades after his remarkable presidency, his genuinely conservative principles, sorely lacking on both sides of the aisle today, are refreshing and in desperate need of revival.

For those of us in the Article V Convention of States movement, his wise words serve as a reminder of exactly what we’re aiming at in our endeavor to limit the size and scope of the federal government.

SEE ALSO: We stand in the shadow of heroes. Let’s act worthy of them.

Ronald Reagan was a firm believer in self-governance. He believed in the capacity of the American people, under God, to reclaim liberty–provided that they did not depend on the government to give it to them. Additionally, he believed that the states should use Article V as a solution to stop an out-of-control federal leviathan.

“Fortunately, our Nation’s Founders gave us the means to amend the Constitution through action of state legislatures,” he wrote. “Unless we act quickly, the people in the White House and those running Congress will bankrupt America.”

On another occasion, he observed that “the Convention is a safety valve giving the people a chance to act if Congress refuses to.”

Working within the federal government, Ronald Reagan made an incalculable impact on the nation, but its longevity was limited. Within years of his departure, the swamp had already returned in full force. The lessons he taught us were quickly forgotten.

Thankfully, however, we still have Article V.

As we seek to call history’s first Convention of States and finish the work the Great Communicator began, may Reagan’s wisdom guide us, reminding us that government was made to “work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.