Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Pledge of Allegiance

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Recited by school children across our nation since 1892 (as amended in 1923 and 1954), the Pledge of Allegiance serves as a reminder to each child and citizen of our individual duty to appreciate and uphold our constitutional republic, and of our mutual obligation to treat each other with civility and respect, without regard to any political, racial, religious or cultural differences. What is the meaning of the Pledge?

I pledge”… similar to an oath, a pledge is a solemn promise and undertaking in which we vow to do something, which may require personal sacrifice.

allegiance” … is an expression of loyalty and commitment to a union of citizens and to a cause greater than ourselves.

to the flag of the United States of America” … with its thirteen red and white stripes representing the original colonies of the American revolution, and fifty white stars on the blue chief representing all of the states of the union, the flag is a symbol of our national heritage. Whether carried into battle, flown above the Whitehouse, the U.S. Capitol, or our own home’s front porch, the flag is an emblem of our patriotism, devotion to our country and to equality & liberty.

and to the republic for which it stands”… on September 17, 1787 the framers of our government established a democratic republic under the Constitution of the United States of America based upon the consent of the governed (“We the People”), with a separation of powers and checks and balances in order “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” (Preamble). Our loyalty to the Constitution should be placed above politics, parties, and individual leaders.

one nation” … as George Washington stated, “It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity…” (Farewell Address).

under God”… our national unity is secured by the principle that we have each been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and that these liberties cannot be secure without “a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God…” (Thomas Jefferson).

indivisible” … the Constitution was designed to create a perpetual union of citizens and states. We must remember that a bloody civil war ensued and was fought when the nation allowed division to prevail.

with liberty and justice for all”… both civil and religious liberty are the inheritance of all Americans. Justice endures when founded upon virtue and honesty. Our nation’s laws and courts seek to establish and uphold fairness and truth, respectively, but cannot do so without individual integrity.

On June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the revised pledge bill passed by Congress, officially adding the words "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, and told the nation:

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning … In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war.[1]

[1] Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill To Include the Words "Under God" in the Pledge to the Flag," The American Presidency Project, June 14, 1954.

Note: On November 12, 2010, in a unanimous decision[2], the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston affirmed a ruling by a New Hampshire lower federal court which found that the pledge's reference to God does not violate non-pledging students' rights if student participation in the pledge is voluntary.[3]  A United States Supreme Court appeal of this decision was denied on June 13, 2011.[4]

[2] Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District (1st Cir. Nov 12, 2010). 

[3] Lavoie, Denise (November 15, 2010). "Court OKs NH law allowing 'God' pledge inschools". Boston Globe. Boston, MA: Christopher M. Mayer. Retrieved 2010-11-16. The constitutionality of a New Hampshire law

[4] Supreme Court of the United States (June 13, 2011). "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Petitioner v.United States, et al.". Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved 2011-06-15.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Founders' Message of Happiness

Our Founding Fathers were concerned with political issues of liberty, equality, law, and self-government. However, above the rest, they were concerned with what they firmly believed to be the ultimate purpose of life and government – the individual and aggregate happiness of the people. Following are a few quotes from the Founders with their teachings and counsel as to the sources and foundation of happiness.

"[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." – George Washington (First Inaugural Address, 1789). 

“The aggregate happiness of society, which is best promoted by the practice of a virtuous policy, is or ought to be the end of all government.” -- George Washington (Letter to Count De Moustier. Mount Vernon, November 1, 1790).

“[I]t is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety . . . .” –George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness ‑these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.” –George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?"  -- George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796).

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

“What more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens -- a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” – Thomas Jefferson (First Inaugural Address, 1801)

"If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy." - Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802).

The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue.” – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to M. Correa de Serra, 1814). 

 “Without virtue, happiness cannot be.”  – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Amos J. Cook, 1816).

"The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government." --Thomas Jefferson (Letter to A. Coray, 1823)

“The happiness of society is the end of government.” – John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776

“The form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.” – John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776

"To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea." – James Madison (Virginia Ratifying Convention, 20 June 1788).

 “A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.” – James Madison (Federalist No. 62, 1788).

“The diminution of public Virtue is usually attended with that of public Happiness, and the public Liberty will not long survive the total Extinction of Morals.” – Samuel Adams (Letter to John Scollay, 1776). 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Religious Liberty and the Founding Workshop

James Madison stated in Federalist No. 51 that “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.” And, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” (Minutes of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia, 1819).

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's is pleased to announce that its next continuing education workshop will be on the topic of “Religious Liberty and the Founding.” The program will include four, 50-minute sessions, each led by a moderator with an open discussion focused on original source documents.  Instead of lectures or presentations, the format of the "roundtable" will be a civic conversation that draws deeply on the documents with participation by all.  If you would like to participate in the roundtable, we ask you to prepare by doing the document readings (about 50 pages) and coming ready to discuss with your fellow teachers.  After you register we will email you the Reader (or mail if you prefer a hard copy).  Copies of the Reader will be provided at the conference as well.  The outline of the sessions and source documents are as follows:

1. The Foundation: The Declaration of Independence, Natural Rights, and Limited Government 

2. Religious Liberty in Virginia: George Mason v. James Madison: Toleration v. Freedom of Conscience in the Virginia Declaration of Rights; and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom 

3. The First Amendment: Free Exercise and the Establishment Clause 

4. George Washington & Religious Liberty: Letters to the Congregations 

WJMI welcomes the following panel of moderators to this conference:

Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor of Government at Regent University
Tony Williams, WJMI Program Director and Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute
J. David Gowdy, J.D., WJMI Founder & President
All class materials including the Reader, a continental breakfast, as well as a luncheon, are complimentary. The roundtable is primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, and U. S. History.  The Workshop qualifies for four recertification points or 4 hours.
The Roundtable will be held Friday morning, October 7th, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn near Charlottesville.  If you wish to attend, please Contact Us.

Image: First Prayer in the Continental Congress (1974). See: 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton & the Constitution

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were instrumental figures in the making and ratification of the Constitution.  However, they played very different roles at the Constitutional Convention and in the ratification debate that followed.  The differences resulted in their different characters and their respective public positions. 

Both Washington and Hamilton were nationalists who adopted a continental vision of America after the Revolutionary War.  They both lamented that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to govern the new nation effectively.  Congress did not have the power to tax or regulate trade, states almost went to war with each other several times, and states routinely violated the 1783 peace treaty.  Washington responded by hosting the Mount Vernon Conference to help Virginia and Maryland resolve some trade disputes.  Hamilton attended the Annapolis Convention which advocated a stronger central government and called for a Philadelphia Convention. 

Washington played a pivotal role before the Convention helping Madison create the Virginia Plan and the strategy to win a stronger government.  When the Convention opened, the delegates unanimously selected Washington as president of the proceedings.  Washington’s prestige as the great hero of the American Revolution ensured that any resulting document would bear his considerable stamp of approval even when the delegates exceeded their mandate to revise the Articles. 

Hamilton for his part clearly sided with the nationalists but was consistently frustrated and thwarted in his design when two anti-federalists outvoted him in the New York delegation (as each state had only one vote).  Hamilton played a highly controversial role in the Convention when he delivered a six-hour speech on June 18.  The Convention had been deadlocked between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, so Hamilton presented a more radically nationalist plan that would tend to moderate the Virginia Plan in the minds of the delegates.  The plan stretched the limits of republican government with a president and senate elected for life, but the strategic prudence contributed to the eventual Connecticut Compromise. 

On September 17, Hamilton appealed to the moderation of the other delegates he signed the new Constitution despite his reservations about some parts of it.  Washington affixed his signature to the document, thereby announcing to all Americans that he supported it as the law of the land.  The Constitution was then submitted to the representatives of the people in ratifying conventions in the states and the debate began between its supporters (Federalists) and opponents (Anti-Federalists). 

Washington and Hamilton were keen strategists who were fated to play different roles in the ratification debate.  Washington refused to enter into partisan debates and avoided the fray.  Instead, he wrote letters to friends in favor of the Constitution that he knew would be made public.  But, he obsessively read newspapers to follow the progress of the Constitution and avidly exchanged letters with correspondents to predict its chances for ratification.  Virginian James Monroe wrote of Washington, “Be assured, his influence carried this government.” 

On the other hand, Hamilton was a one-man wrecking crew.  He conceived of the Federalist essays and penned fifty-five of them, which were lauded by Thomas Jefferson as “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”  Hamilton also was instrumental in winning ratification in the New York Convention, where the Anti-Federalists outnumbered their opponents by a margin of three to one.  The persuasive force of his arguments, and the successful ratification of the document in Virginia, led to victory for Federalists in New York.  Hamilton, like Washington, closely followed the results in every state and even dispatched series of writers to speed news of the outcomes. 

Washington and Hamilton were key figures in the making of the Constitution and winning ratification.  This alliance would continue to bear fruit when Washington was unanimously elected the country’s first president, and Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury.  Together they helped breathe life into the new government created by the Constitution. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of five books on the American Founding period including Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Benjamin Franklin's Speech For Adoption Of The Constitution of the United States of America

DOC'r FRANKLIN rose with a speech in his hand, which he had reduced to writing for his own conveniency, and which Mr. Wilson read in the words following:
MR. PRESIDENT,  I confess, that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgement of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said, "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right -- Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavour to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign Nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavours to the means of having it well administered.
On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this Instrument. – 
He then moved that the Constitution be signed by the members . . .
Philadelphia, September 17th, 1787

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Benjamin Franklin: The Sage of Philadelphia

"…His origins were humble but respectable, the 15th child of a Boston tallow-chandler. He loved to read from an early age, and was formed by the writings of Plutarch and Xenophon, as well as Cotton Mather and Daniel Defoe. His reading of the anti-Deist tracts in his father's small library had the effect of making him a "thorough Deist." This, together with his fondness for Socratic disputation, garnered him a bad enough reputation that he felt compelled to leave Boston. Thus he became Franklin of Philadelphia, whose legendary industry and frugality, along with his skill as a writer, allowed him to prosper sufficiently in the printing business that he could retire at age 42.

This was the end of one career, but the beginning of many others. Public service was the creed of Cotton Mather and Daniel Defoe, and Franklin from his youth combined it with his gently biting wit. While a mere printer's apprentice in Boston he invented the persona of Silence Dogood, whose satirical pieces appeared in his brother's newspaper. Her satire had the serious purpose of exposing the moral foibles and hypocrisies of her fellow-citizens, to put them in the way of moral improvement. This task was taken up in later years by the likes of "the Busy-Body," and above all Poor Richard, all of whom used homespun wit to chide Americans to virtue.

…Franklin may have lost touch with American sentiment when he responded with resignation to the Stamp Act and was surprised at the violence of the colonial response. Though it was his job to defend colonial interests in London, he was slower than many back home to see the threats that that evolving colonial policy presented. Being a generation older than most of the revolutionaries, perhaps he was more loath to give up on what he once called "that fine China vase, the British Empire."  Still, Franklin was a quick study. Once he saw the colonial reaction to it, he became instrumental in the repeal of the Stamp Act. Once he saw the bullheadedness of George III and a succession of ministries in London, he took an increasingly stalwart position in favor of American rights—to the point that George III eventually came to see Franklin as the entire motive force behind American recalcitrance. When he finally returned to America in 1775, Franklin was ahead of most of his colleagues in the Continental Congress in seeing independence as the only viable course of action.

…In his Autobiography, Franklin claims that he came rather early to a set of fundamental moral beliefs that guided him through life. Shifts in his position on the empire, or even on the rights of the colonies, are not real changes if they represent nothing more than applications of the same moral outlook to different circumstances. Franklin's moral outlook was distinctive in some respects. Unlike many of his fellow-revolutionaries, he resisted seeing right and wrong in terms of rights, particularly rights of man. 

Franklin may well have underestimated the importance of theories of government, but his concern from his earliest days in Boston was the cultivation of the private and social virtues needed to support free government, whatever its form. If he made a distinctive contribution to the fashioning of the American experiment, it was this. Silence Dogood, Poor Richard, and even Franklin's Autobiography are all vehicles for spreading these virtues abroad. His view of the virtues themselves remained essentially constant through his life. Industry and frugality, and other virtues of economic self-reliance, are the best-known. Franklin understood that these must come first for people who begin life with little, and subsequent history has affirmed their importance to the success of free societies. But he was also concerned to cultivate virtues of public service, for a society of individualistic self-reliance needs these fully as much as the economic virtues.  

During his lifetime, Franklin was, except for George Washington, the most famous American in the world. It's widely accepted that large numbers of Americans supported the proposed Constitution of 1787 principally because they knew that Franklin and Washington endorsed it. Franklin loomed large in the American pantheon for generations thereafter, where he occupied a special place as Poor Richard, man of the people, [the] model “Everyman.” …Franklin played a critical role in the development of American liberty. He spent decades abroad, first in a futile attempt to defend American liberties in London, then in a successful attempt in Paris to secure French support during the War of Independence. French assistance, in money, naval protection, materiel, and finally even troops, was indeed critical to the securing of American nationhood. It required all of Franklin's diplomatic skill to deal simultaneously with the French court and with the often obstreperous and paranoid fellow-commissioners dispatched to Paris by the Continental Congress. Finally, he returned to the United States to play a secondary role in framing the new Constitution, but a primary one in securing its ratification.

Upon his "retirement," Franklin added more conventional forms of public service to his repertoire, entering the colonial legislature, serving as colonial postmaster (where he vastly increased the efficiency of the service), and ultimately emissary to London and Paris. It was in these years also that Franklin conducted the researches into electricity that gained him an international reputation, including membership in the Royal Society and other learned societies in Europe. It is not always appreciated today that despite Franklin's lack of formal training in the field, his work in electricity was pathbreaking and in every way worthy of the honors bestowed upon it. Yet, as both our biographers point out, he regarded this work (and his other scientific pursuits, from researching the nature of the Gulf Stream to developing the efficient and smokeless "Franklin stove") as another form of public service. In this respect, he was the very spirit of modern, technological science: knowledge accumulated for the purpose of improving human comfort and happiness.

…A similar distance between Franklin and many of his fellow founders was visible in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Franklin, now over 80 years old, played a relatively minor role. His views were generally more populist than his colleagues', and virtually all the positions he explicitly supported were rejected by the convention. Nonetheless, he supported the final document, he said, because none better could be expected, because the precise form of government is less important than how it is administered, and because republics depend more on the spirit of the people in any case than on the outline of their institutions. Abstract notions of government carried less weight with Franklin than the concrete result of good government."
From: The Winter 2002 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Article by Steven Forde: A review of Benjamin Franklin, by Edmund S. Morgan and Franklin: The Essential Founding Father, by James Srodes

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Statesmanship of George Washington

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a “statesman” as one who is versed in the principles or art of government; and a wise, skillful, and respected political leader.  Washington was all of this, and more. While not as well-educated as Jefferson or Madison, Washington (who did not attend college), in addition to a being an ardent student of farming, was a devoted reader and student of Western political philosophy and history.  At the time of his death, his library consisted of over 900 volumes, which in addition to agricultural books, included such classics as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Plutarch’s Lives, and Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. One of his favorite books, however, was not a treatise on agriculture but a play titled Cato by Addison. Washington loved the theatre, and like many other new Americans, appreciated the relevance of the play’s depiction of the Roman statesman Cato’s struggle between virtue and tyranny.  Of course, he read newspapers and the pamphlets of the Revolution, such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, of which he ordered copies for all of his troops. And, during the debate over the Constitution, he read the Federalist Papers, as well as many other essays.

He also surrounded himself with, and listened to counsel from, the great thinkers of the Revolution: Thomas Jefferson, his first Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury, and John Adams, the first Vice President.  Like President Lincoln’s cabinet, these men proved to be Washington’s “Team of Rivals.”  Washington also considered James Madison a trusted political confidant and corresponded with him often.  When Washington contemplated his retirement from public office (after his first term as President), he relied on Madison to draft his farewell address.[1]

Washington’s education in the principles of self-government were deeply rooted in religion and in his reading of the Bible.  As a prominent historian has stated, “Throughout his public life Washington successfully balanced public religion with religious liberty… [he] invoked the language of the Bible in private and in public his whole life.  It had a strong influence on Washington’s mind, and morals, and speech… [and] as a statesman.”[2]

Washington was especially fond of agrarian biblical metaphors such as “wheat and tares,” turning “swords into ploughshares,” and sitting in peace under a “vine and fig tree.” …Washington adapted those prophetic lines on several occasions as president. In a 1791 letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham, he combined the allusion from Micah with the New Testament verses Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7, predicting “wars and rumors of wars.” The “United States enjoys a scene of prosperity and tranquillity under the new government,” he told her, “that could hardly have been hoped for under the old . . . while you, in Europe, are troubled with war and rumors of war, every one here may sit under his own vine and none to molest or make him afraid.”[3] …Upon accepting his commission as commander of the Continental Army, Washington combined classical and biblical elements in his speech to Congress. Washington declared that “I have no lust after power but wish with as much fervency as any Man upon this wide extended Continent, for an opportunity of turning the Sword into a plow share.”[4]

We can see evidence of Washington’s statesmanship at two critical junctures of the American Revolution.  He understood the important difference between civil and military power and always acknowledged and respected from whence his authority came, and who he ultimately served, the people and their representatives.  When his troops were destitute of food, clothing and supplies during the bitterly cold winters at Valley Forge and again at Morristown, General Washington constantly appealed to Congress. He requested, cajoled, and complained, but he never used threats or compulsion.[5]  As French Major General wrote of Washington in 1782, “This is the seventh year that he has commanded the army and he has obeyed Congress: more need not be said.”[6]  

Then again, in 1783, after the Revolutionary War was finally over and the peace treaty was being negotiated in Paris with Great Britain, disgruntled Officers of the Continental Army privately met in Newburgh, New York on March 15th, to discuss their grievances and to consider a possible revolt, or military coup, against Congress. They were angry over the failure of Congress to honor its promises to the army regarding salary and pensions. The officers had heard that the American government was going broke and that they might not be compensated at all. Unexpectedly, Washington showed up at their unauthorized meeting.  He was not entirely welcomed by his men, but nevertheless, spoke to them … He pledged to help them obtain amends for their grievances. He encouraged them to “patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings.”

However sincere, his remarks were not very well received by his men. The question of a military overthrow of Congress still hung in the balance.  If Washington decided to join his men, he could march on Philadelphia and become King of America (and such was the history of leaders such as Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus).  After a long silence, Washington took out a letter from a Congressman explaining the financial difficulties of the government. After reading a portion of the letter with his eyes squinting at the small writing, Washington suddenly stopped. … His officers stared at him, wondering… Washington then reached into his coat pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses. Few of them even knew that he wore glasses, and were surprised.

"Gentlemen," said Washington, "you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." In that moment, Washington's men were deeply moved, even shamed, and many were quickly brought to tears, now looking with great affection at this aging man who had led them through so much. Washington read the remainder of the letter, then left without saying another word. … After a long silence, his officers voted unanimously to submit to the rule of Congress, thus preserving the rule of law in the fledgling Republic.

On April 30, 1789, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, Washington took his oath of office as the first President of the United States. ‘As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent,” he wrote James Madison, “it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.”[7]  As our nation’s first Chief Executive, Presidential historian Stephen F. Knott, has noted that, “Washington shaped many  …aspects of the presidency that we take for granted today. He created the president’s cabinet (and what a cabinet it was); he fulfilled his constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” …he established (in concert with James Madison) the precedent that the president alone possessed the power to remove executive branch appointees; and perhaps most importantly, he left a legacy of respect for the new office through his deft blend of accessibility and detachment – Washington’s frequent presidential tours of the nation allowed the people to see their president, although always at a distance. This was not a glad handing president who pandered to the people and tried to win their affection by presenting himself as a “regular guy.” Washington believed that the people wanted to look up to their president, and that a certain amount of awe toward the office, even in a republic, was an attribute that contributed to a respectable government.”[8]

A final observation on Washington’s statesmanship to consider was made by the secretary of a British Diplomat who said that Washington “[possessed] the two great requisites of a statesman, the faculty of concealing his own sentiments and of discovering those of other men.”[9] As John Adams recalled years later, “He possessed the gift of silence.”[10]  And, when it came time for him to step down as leader of the only free nation in the world, he did so humbly, returning “to the plow” at his beloved farm at Mount Vernon.

The day after she heard of Washington’s death, Abigail Adams wrote to her sister:

“No man ever lived, more deservedly beloved and respected. The praise and I may say adulation which followed his administration for several years, never made him forget that he was a man, subject to the weakness and frailty attached to human nature. He never grew giddy, but ever maintained a modest diffidence of his own talents, and if that was an error, it was of the amiable and engaging kind. . . . Possessed of power, possessed of an extensive influence, he never used it but for the benefit of his Country. Witness his retirement to private life when Peace closed the scenes of War; when called by the unanimous suffrages of the People to the chief Majestracy of the Nation, he acquitted himself to the satisfaction and applause of all good men. When assailed by faction, when reviled by party, he suffered with dignity, and retired from his exalted station with a character which malice would not wound, nor envy tarnish. If we look through the whole tenor of his life, history will not produce to us a parallel.”[11]

[1] George Washington (GW) to James Madison, May 20, 1792, Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York; James Madison to George Washington, June 21, 1792, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. 
[2] Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Associate Professor of Government, Regent University, “Washington & Religion,” Presentation at Christopher Newport University, February 21, 2014 (
[3] GW to Catherine Macaulay Graham, July 19, 1791
[4] GW to the President of Congress, Dec. 20, 1776
[5] Richard Brookhiser, Rediscovering George Washington: Founding Father, (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996), p. 39 (cited as Brookhiser).
[6] JTF, Vil. II, p. 63 (the French officer was Marquis de Chastellux).
[7] W. Abbott, ed., The Papers of George Washington (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1987), 2:216-17.
[8] Stephen F. Knott, “George Washington: The Indispensable President” (Article, February 20, 2014,
[9] Brookhiser, p. 79.
[10] Page Smith, John Adams, (Garden City: Double Day & Co., 1962), p. 1084.
[11] Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, Philadelphia, December 22, 1799.

Image is of "Washington at Peace" (A. Stirling Calder) with figures at his side representing Wisdom and Justice, on the Washington Arch in Greenwich Village, New York (

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"The Moral Challenges for the 21st Century" by Lady Margaret Thatcher

Lady Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) “was the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and the first to lead a major Western power in modern times. Hard-driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative Party to three straight election wins and held office for 11 years — May 1979 to November 1990 — longer than any other British politician in the 20th century. The strong economic medicine she administered to a country sickened by inflation, budget deficits and industrial unrest brought her wide swings in popularity, culminating with a revolt among her own cabinet ministers in her final year and her shout of “No! No! No!” in the House of Commons to any further integration with Europe. But by the time she left office, the principles known as Thatcherism — the belief that economic freedom and individual liberty are interdependent, that personal responsibility and hard work are the only ways to national prosperity, and that the free-market democracies must stand firm against aggression — had won many disciples. Even some of her strongest critics accorded her a grudging respect.” (New York Times, April 8, 2013). She spoke of the principles of individual liberty and economic freedom on a visit to the United States twenty years ago. Following are excerpts from her speech “The Moral Challenges for the Next Century” given at Brigham Young University on March 5, 1996.

Liberty, that great political idea—sanctifying freedom, and consecrating it to God; teaching men to treasure the liberties of others as their own; to defend them for the love of justice and charity more than as a claim of right—has been the soul of what is great and good. (Quoting Lord Acton)

America, my friends, is the only country in the world actually founded on liberty— the only one. People went to America to be free. The Founding Fathers journeyed to this country across the perilous seas not for subsidies—there weren’t any—not to make a fortune even, but to worship God in their own way and by their example to perpetuate freedom and justice more widely….They believed, each and every one of them, in the sanctity of the individual. That, after all, is our faith: that each and every person matters equally, and that each of us is accountable to his God for his actions and for the use of his talents.

Those Pilgrim fathers came with the faith that infused the whole nation. Yours is the only nation founded on liberty. And you’re founded on liberty because of that faith.

Indeed, Sir Edward Gibbon, who also wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, the birthplace of democracy. What he wrote has great meaning for us—we should heed it. He said, speaking of the Athenians: In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and they wanted a comfortable life. And they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. The Athenians finally wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free. That should be an object lesson to us all.

There can be no freedom or liberty without a rule of law because otherwise, as you know, it would be the freedom of the strong to oppress the weak. There is something very unique in the character of the people of Britain, and they brought that uniqueness here and added many other things to it— right from the year 1215, when we had the great Magna Carta, when the barons squared up to a king because he was taxing them and taxing them. They said, “We’re not going to pay you monies unless you first redress our grievances.” And they didn’t.

It is now an election time, I gather, over here. I say this to you: Expediency and pragmatism are never enough. When I had to pull Britain around, we worked out our principles, once again renewed them, worked out our policies from our principles, and then implemented our programs. And they were all of a piece because we had the faith on our side, and we knew that what we were doing was fundamentally right.

I should perhaps say also, not only are pragmatism and expediency not enough, but followership isn’t enough either. You know, some people look at their opinion polls. I never did. I thought I was better off without them. But some people practice followership. There was in the last century a politician in France, Ledru-Rollin, who had his own definition of leadership. After a big meeting in an open square one day, he went back to his office, saw a group of his own people moving away, and said to his companion, “There go my people. I must find out where they’re going so that I can lead them there.” No, if you are going to chart the way into a better future, you must have a compass of enduring values and principles to steer by.

What about capitalism and free enterprise? When I first came into politics, we used to hear the left wing denigrating free enterprise. They suggested that a command and centrally controlled economy maximizingthe powers of government and minimizing those of the people would produce better results—because, after all, government knew best and could plan everything….Now that is the ideological battle of this century. But I think those of us who believe as passionately as we do in a free society should put the case of capitalism much more positively than that it merely performs better. Capitalism is economic liberty. It is a vital element in the network of freedom. It is a moral quality, for it reflects man and his right to use his God-given talents.

You get the best results by men and women exercising their God-given talents and working together and responding to the needs of the market in a community of work. Of course, the market’s never been unfettered. It requires a framework of law, regulations about weights and measures, regulations about accurate description, and so on. This will change with the circumstances, but these laws must never stifle the spirit of enterprise.

Many years ago, Edmund Burke, the great commentator, philosopher, and member of Parliament, had it right when he criticized measures to secure economic equality. He said this: “It is the character of egalitarian measures that they pull down what is above. They never raise what is below. Beware dependency on the state.” This was in 1770. Beware dependency on the state. Once used to such support, people would never be satisfied to have it otherwise.

But, my friends, freedom has responsibilities as well. As we look ahead, some people are taking the freedom and leaving the responsibilities. This is giving us one of the most serious problems, one of the most acute problems, of the future. The values and virtues we prize are honesty, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility to one’s family, a sense of loyalty to one’s employer and staff, and pride in the quality of one’s work. All these flourish in a climate of enlightened politics. But these qualities are threatened in the West by a lack of respect for the rights, freedom, and property of others—and thought for others. This manifests itself in two ways: in rising crime and violence, as people go and take what they want and have no sense of morality towards others, and also in the breakdown of the family arising from a vastly increased number of children born to single parents.

No government at any level, or at any price, can afford, on the crime side, the police necessary to assure our safety unless the overwhelming majority of us are guided by an inner, personal code of morality. And you will not get that inner, personal code of morality unless children are brought up in a family—a family that gives them the affection they seek, that makes them feel they belong, that guides them to the future, and that will build continuity in future generations….Indeed, I would say, the greatest inequality today is not inequality of wealth or income. It is the inequality between the child brought up in a loving, supportive family and one who has been denied that birthright.

Now, my friends, we must never be complacent. We must never think that there will be perpetual peace. That is what they thought after World War I. We must be vigilant to see that we are fully and strongly equipped should anyone dare to, or want to, attack us. Dictators are frightened by the strength of others. They are attracted by weakness. Let us be vigilant to ensure that the great heart, as Winston would have put it, has his sword and armor to guard the pilgrims on their way.

May I finish with the words from a great hymn [we used to sing it in school]

I vow to thee, my country—all earthly things above—
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love...

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently, her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.

[“I Vow to Thee, My Country,” music by Gustav Holst and words by Cecil Spring Rice]