…And Speaking Of Character (A Companion Piece)

In my last article I spoke a lot about the manners and character of the people, and how there was sufficient evidence to support the belief, that as Jefferson said, a degeneracy in them would eat to the heart of our nation’s Constitution and its laws. I wanted to continue that article and go into what type character and manners would be required for our nation to survive, but it was already five pages long, so I ended it where I did. This, therefore, is a companion piece to that article, to be read with the things I said previously in mind.

Overall, we are an ignorant people, we Americans. We speak mightily about how we need to improve our educational system so that we can compete in the global economy, but schools are supposed to do much more than just educate our youth in math and science so they can work in the high tech job market. Education should also instill in our youth the principles of liberty, a good sound understanding of their system of government, and the principles that guided our nation’s Founders. In that, we have failed miserably. Our second president, John Adams said, “There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.” And as Thomas Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Ben Franklin once said, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” You may be ignorant when it comes to understanding our system of government, and the principles upon which this nation was founded, but you ARE also stupid if you vote for a candidate without fully understanding how our system of government is supposed to function, and more importantly, your role in, as Washington said, “…the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

There is an actor named Stephen Fry, who played Dietrich in V for Vendetta, and more recently Mycroft Holmes in the latest Sherlock Holmes film. From his autobiography, the Fry Chronicles, I quote, “There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don’t have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren’t lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers. Why? Because they are interested in those things. They are curious. If you are hungry for food, you are prepared to hunt high and low for it. If you are hungry for information it is the same. Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history. You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out. The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from one of the men in our nation’s founding era that I despise the most, Alexander Hamilton, yet it describes me to a T, “Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have is this. When I have a subject in mind. I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it… the effort which I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.”

People today do not care to devote the time to reading endless pages of documents relating to our nation’s founding. Yet they can, as Stephen Fry said, recite lyrics and football statistics until they are blue in the face. I find that both pathetic and sad, and it lies at the heart of why the character of the people of this, once great, nation have become so corrupt.

In a 1775 letter, Samuel Adams wrote, “No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.” Notice Adams states that virtue must also accompany knowledge if the people are not to be subdued, or enslaved for lack of a better word.

In his essay On the Education of Youth in America, Noah Webster states, “It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

As James Madison declared on the floor of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”

In 1833, former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story said, “Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.”

And finally, from the History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution Mercy Warren rights, “It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this, and to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government.”

Yet we have not done that, we have allowed principles which ARE destructive to the cause for which our founders bled to become commonplace. We have allowed political correctness to stifle free speech allowing for vile and corrupt behavior to become the norm. Our Founders would weep were they alive to see what America has become.

But where is this virtue to come by? Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence once said, “[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be had in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

As John Adams once said, “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.”

Ben Franklin may as well have been predicting the future when he said, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

And yet there are those who proclaim the battle cry of separation of church and state, yet they know not of what they speak. It was never intended that religion be kept out of our schools, only that government not promote, or support, any particular denomination. As I have quoted before, in Federalist 2 John Jay, who was to become our first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, declared, “With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion…” Jay also said, “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”

This nation was founded by good, honest, Christian men, who believed that to maintain virtue the people must obey the teachings found in Scripture. In 1778 James Madison addressed the General Assembly of the State of Virginia, and said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

And for those who STILL cry out separation of Church and State, I give you the following, taken from the 1844 Supreme Court case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, “Why may not the Bible and especially the New Testament be read and taught as a divine revelation in school? Where else can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?” This was a unanimous opinion by the way, not one Justice dissented. Yet how is it that in just over 100 years the precept that religion in school was acceptable become so radically altered to where religion has all but been purged from our children’s education?

Like it or not, THAT is where the virtue our founders spoke so frequently about was to be found, in the teachings contained in the Bible. IN an 1821 letter to S. Roane, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible.”

Well, the principles upon which this nation was founded HAVE been corrupted and the only way we can restore America to its former glory, if that is even possible, is by returning to them. You can place all the faith you want in men, and political parties, to do what is best for this country, but as Madison said, “To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” Just turn on your TV or listen to popular music and tell me where our virtue has gone…into the gutter if you ask me.

In closing, I often hear people say that our Constitution is a living document. I agree, but not in the same way they mean. I believe that our Constitution obtains its life by the vigor and character of the people it was written for, not by the fact that it was subject to endless interpretation and modifications. By my interpretation the Constitution IS dead as the people of this country, for the most part, have lost their virtue and the spirit of liberty and would much rather prefer to be slaves to an oppressive government.

If our nation is to survive the people must first reawaken the character and virtue within themselves, and then vote for men of character and virtue to hold public office, and we must demand that these elected representatives remain faithful to the limits imposed upon them by the Constitution. Any other attempt to restore our nation is doomed to fail.

But just remember, especially those of you who at some point in your life have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, you WILL be held accountable for how well you upheld that oath, either in this life, or the one that follows. The rest of you, the ones who only want a government that gives you all these benefits, while at the same time stripping you of your liberty, may God have mercy on your souls. As Jefferson said in The Summary View of the Rights of British America, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have removed their only firm basis: a conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

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6 Responses to …And Speaking Of Character (A Companion Piece)

  1. Doug Indeap says:

    Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    That the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and, upon learning they were mistaken, reckon they’ve discovered a smoking gun solving a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion as noted earlier. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

    Lest there be any doubt on this score, note that shortly after the founding, President John Adams (a founder) signed, with the unanimous consent of the Senate (comprised in large measure of founders), the Treaty of Tripoli declaring, in pertinent part, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” No need to resort to reading tea leaves to understand that. This is not an informal comment by an individual founder, but rather an official declaration of the most solemn sort by the United States government itself. Note that the Constitution provides that treaties, apart from the Constitution itself, are the highest law of the land.

    The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

  2. Neal says:

    I agree that the Founders did not establish a government based upon religion, but if asked I would stake my life that they would have wanted the people of future generations to hold to some sort of moral guidelines that would keep us a virtuous people.

    But to say that they clearly prohibited religious instruction goes against the first amendment and the freedom to worship as one pleased. I wouldn’t want my child subjected to half the politically correct garbage taught at public schools because it offends me, and my sense of values. Why is it that they can push their values upon us, but we can’t ask that religion be taught in school? One of the many problems with mulitculturalism, that we are no longer a nation of people sharing the same heritage and religion.

  3. Doug Indeap says:

    With respect to your first paragraph, we’re largely in agreement.

    With respect to your second, it is important to distinguish between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    • Neal says:

      I totally agree with what you are saying. But I think the courts have taken it too far by not allowing kids to pray in schools. If the school mandates they pray, then I can see the court stepping in and putting an end to it, but if the prayer is totally voluntary then it is fine.

      Also religious decorations, if an employee puts one up then they have no justification to make them take it down, but if the government agency establishes a policy that religious, i.e. Christmas decorations, will be displayed, then the courts can stop it.

      But we have gotten so politically correct, so worried about offending someone, especially anyone who is NON CHRISTIAN, that we have infringed upon our right to individually worship as we please.

      • Doug Indeap says:

        Neal,

        I think the law may be closer to your view than you think. Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

        A word should be added about the common idea that this is somehow about people easily offended. We’re not talking about the freedom of individuals to say or do something others find offensive; each of us has that freedom. We’re talking about the government weighing in to promote religion. Under our Constitution, our government has no business doing that–REGARDLESS of whether anyone is offended. While this is primarily a constitutional point, it is one that conservatives–small government conservatives–should appreciate from a political standpoint as well. While the First Amendment thus constrains government from promoting (or opposing) religion without regard to whether anyone is offended, a court may address the issue only in a suit by someone with “standing” (sufficient personal stake in a matter) to bring suit; in order to show such standing, a litigant may allege he is offended or otherwise harmed by the government’s failure to follow the law; the question whether someone has standing to sue is entirely separate from the question whether the government has violated the Constitution.

        • Neal says:

          I’ll check out your link a bit later, I just got home from work and need to shower. When I mentioned about people being offended, I am speaking primarily about certain, very vocal, avowed atheists who seem to have made it their personal crusade to abolish ANY mention of God in schools, Michael Newdow for instance.

          These people have sued time and time again to ensure that anyone who believes in God, and prays or brings a Bible to school is denied their right to openly practice their faith.

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