Sunday, February 28, 2010

Liberty is of Divine Origin

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts in the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. -- Every step, by which they have been advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."
--George Washington

The Founding Fathers proclaimed liberty to be an "unalienable right" bestowed by our Creator, as witnessed by their signatures to the Declaration of Independence which states: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- ." The Constitution states that it was ordained and established to secure the "Blessings of Liberty" to succeeding generations. According to Webster's Dictionary to "bless" is to invoke divine care, and to be "blessed" is to enjoy the bliss of heaven. Thus, both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence reference a divine connection with liberty. Numerous references may also be found in the writings of the framers which acknowledge divine inspiration and the hand of providence in the birth of the American nation and the establishment of the Constitution. Patrick Henry stated: "There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations." James Madison said: "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." Thomas Jefferson, in his First Inaugural Address, closed with the appeal: "May that infinite power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best." Charles Pinckney said: "Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war . . . could have brought it [the Constitution] about so complete, upon the whole." George Washington said: "We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained. . . ." If we fail to acknowledge this principle, we effectively disregard the works and faith of our Founding Fathers.

This first principle serves as the cornerstone for all others. Just as man alone cannot originate life, a people acting alone cannot obtain liberty without divine sanction. Similarly, like life itself, one cannot fully comprehend or appreciate liberty without reference to inspired principles. Liberty simply does not exist in a secular vacuum. Liberty is a divine promise -- it begets hope. John Foster Dulles stated: "Our nation was founded as an experiment in human liberty. Its institutions reflect the belief of our founders that men had their origin and destiny in God; that they were endowed by Him with unalienable rights and had duties prescribed by moral law, and that human institutions ought primarily to help men develop their God-given possibilities." Patrick Henry warned: "It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains . . ." Our currency states, "In God We Trust"; we pledge allegiance to "one nation under God"; and in the well known patriotic hymn "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," we sing, "Our father's God, to thee, Author of Liberty . . ." -- do we so believe?

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"
--Thomas Jefferson

By: J. David Gowdy

See: Seven Principles of Liberty

Monday, February 22, 2010

Washington's Farewell Address

George Washington, our nation's first President, was born on February 22, 1732. As General Washington, he led the Colonial Army to victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, making the Declaration of Independence a reality. He played a pivotal role in the forging of the United States Constitution in the Continental Congress. He was called upon by a grateful nation to serve as its first leader. Near the close of his second term in office, having determined to finally retire from public life to his beloved home at Mount Vernon, one final task weighed upon his mind -- he wished to impart his final counsel to his fellow citizens in the form of a Valedictory Address -- a discourse that he hoped might be read and remembered for generations to come. Within it he would set forth the fundamental maxims of American Liberty.

Washington's Farewell Address was carefully prepared with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Although titled as an "address," it was never given orally. President Washington delivered it to his Cabinet, and four days later, on September 19, 1796, it was published in Philadelphia. Years later, in 1825, when Thomas Jefferson was formulating the required reading list for the University of Virginia, he identified Washington's Farewell Address as one of "the best guides to the distinctive principles" upon which the United States Constitution is based. It has thus long been revered as one of our nation's Founding Documents. Abraham Lincoln echoed this sentiment when issuing this Proclamation on February 19, 1862:

"It is recommended to the people of the United States that they assemble in their customary places of meeting for public solemnities on the twenty-second day of February instant, and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Father of His Country by causing to be read to them his immortal Farewell address."

We hear much about "rights" in our time, but less of civic duty and personal responsibility. I believe that George Washington's Farewell Address sets forth the true principles of liberty and constitutes the "handbook of an American citizen's responsibilities." It teaches the importance of union to our republic, loyalty to the Constitution, respect among people and nations, the value of honesty and of public virtue. It confirms that morality and religion are indispensable to our happiness, and constitute the twin pillars of America's political prosperity.

What a boon to it would be to our nation if in all of our schools students were required to read and study his address! May we as citizens always read and ponder Washington's Farewell Address; and may we teach our children to learn from his example and to rember and honor America's "Founding Father."

By: J. David Gowdy

To read his address, go to: Washington's Farewell Address

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Castle Hill, Virginia

Castle Hill is an historic, 600-acre plantation located at the foot of the Southwest Mountains in Albemarle County, Virginia, near Monticello and the city of Charlottesville, recognized by the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Castle Hill was the beloved home of Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794) (explorer, the physician of Peter Jefferson, and later guardian and close friend of Thomas Jefferson), and his wife, Mildred Thornton Meriwether (widow of Nicholas Meriwether III). Through his marriage to Mildred in 1741, Walker acquired the land comprising approximately 15,000 acres which would become the site for Castle Hill. The original clapboard, colonial residence was built by Walker in 1764. In its great square hall, the youthful, music-loving Jefferson once played the violin, while the still younger Madison danced. It was here in 1781, Walker's wife delayed the British Colonel Banastre Tarleton to give the patriot Jack Jouett time to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislators of Tarleton's plan to capture them.

Walker’s granddaughter, Judith Page Walker Rives was born on March 24, 1802. She inherited Castle Hill and married William Cabell Rives on March 24, 1819 -- her 17th birthday. They added the brick, federal addition to the home in 1824. Her husband served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1823 to 1829. From 1829 to 1832 William was the U.S. Minister to France, where he and Judith resided, and again from 1849-1853. He also served parts of three terms as a U.S. Senator. Judith wrote two novels. The first was “Tales and Souvenirs of a Residence in Europe” (1842) concerning their travels to France and abroad. The second was “Home and the World” (1857) where she gives a vivid picture of antebellum Castle Hill, and the life there through her descriptions of the fictional “Avenmore.” Judith Walker Rives died on January 18, 1882, and William Rives died on April 25, 1868. They are buried at Castle Hill.

Just after the American Revolution, a traveling author visited Castle Hill and wrote an account of his interview with Dr. Thomas Walker:

"One day, in a chat, while each was delivering his sentiments of what would be the state of America a century hence, the old man [Walker], with great fire and spirit, declared his opinion that, 'The Americans would then reverence the resolution of their forefathers, and would eagerly impress an adequate idea of the sacred value of freedom in the minds of their children, that if, in any future ages they should be again called forth to revenge public injuries, to secure that freedom, they should adopt the same measures that secured it to their brave ancestors.'"
Thomas Anbury (Travels Through the Interior Parts of America, 1776-1781)


By: J. David Gowdy

Sunday, February 7, 2010

John Adams: A Monument in our Hearts

As one of the Founders of the Republic, John Adams has probably been less-revered than Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, or even Madison. There is no monument to the farm-boy from Braintree, Massachusetts in our nation’s capital. “Modest, too, is Adams' presence inside the White House. He was the first resident of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but only a portrait and a few pieces of china and silver testify to his time there. Lincoln has his bedroom, and a West Wing room is named for Theodore Roosevelt, but Adams is remembered merely with an inscription on the State Dining Room mantel from a letter he wrote to Abigail on his first night in the White House. ‘May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.’” (Washington Times, March 14, 2008). As his fourth great-grandson, Benjamin Adams, of New York said, "He was difficult and cantankerous and not as charismatic as the Virginians. … He was a one-term president, and many of his greatest contributions to the country came before his presidency." (Id.) Yet, one cannot read his biography written 175 years after his death by historian David McCullough, or watch the HBO miniseries "John Adams" produced by Tom Hanks, and not become somewhat, or even deeply, endeared to this honest and devoted servant of his family, state and country.

As an earlier biographer, Samuel Willards, wrote of Adams in 1903, “Mr. Adams began to keep a diary when he was twenty years old, and with great gaps here and there, he continued it till 1796. Much of it has been published, furnishing valuable hints for the history of his times. But it has given opportunity for some harsh judgments about his personal character. He often accuses himself of faults, especially of what he calls vanity, meaning undue self-esteem. …But as we read this we should remember that he judged himself by the Puritan standards. The Puritans were very religious, and had very rigid codes of morals, and conscientiously adopted strict rules of personal conduct. …and there is no reason to think that self-esteem was greater in Adams than Jefferson or Hamilton, or Washington.”

At critical times during the Revolution, John Adams probably did as much, or more, for American Independence as did Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, or Madison. He defended the rule of law after the Boston Massacre, representing the accused British Soldiers with his potent argument that “facts are stubborn things.” Concerning Adams’ role in the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated, “John Adams was our Colossus on the floor. He was not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent but he came out occasionally with a power of thought and expression, that moved us from our seats.” He was the one who nominated George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He was the one who, in the “Committee of Five,” insisted that Thomas Jefferson, not he, write the Declaration of Independence. He surely lived as he taught, “Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” May we study and remember John Adams, his service and sacrifices for American liberty, and erect a monument for him in our hearts, as well as for all of the Founders of the Republic.

J. David Gowdy

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Consent of the Governed

The Declaration of Independence states, “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…” Abraham Lincoln concluded that that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times …” and that “The [Constitution] was made, not to conceal, or destroy the [Declaration of Independence]; but to adorn and preserve it. The [Constitution] was made for the [Declaration] -- not the [opposite]." The Founding Fathers acknowledged that the dual purpose of the Constitution was to establish a national government of separate and limited powers. The Founders were not only in accord with the principle that the sovereign power of self-government resides in the people, but that, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Their convictions taught them that every man was “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” the foremost being liberty. These principles of inherent or divine rights are known as “natural law,” or “natural rights.” John Jay, author of several of the Federalist Papers, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, stated: “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of Government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” Thus, any power asserted by the federal government which is not delegated (expressly or clearly implied) to it by the People is either non-existent or usurped. This constitutes the difference between liberty and tyranny.

By: J. David Gowdy

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas at Monticello

“As it is for many people today, Christmas was for Jefferson a time for family and friends and for celebrations, or in Jefferson's word, "merriment." In 1762, he described Christmas as "The day of greatest mirth and jollity." Although no documents exist to tell us how, or if, Jefferson decorated his Monticello for the holidays, Jefferson noted the festive scene created by his grandchildren. On Christmas Day 1809, he said of eight-year-old grandson Francis Wayles Eppes: "He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out 'a merry Christmas' 'a Christmas gift’ Etc."

 “During Jefferson’s time, holiday celebrations were much more modest than those we know today. Socializing and special food would have been the focal points of the winter celebrations rather than decorations or lavish gifts.” For example, visiting and receiving friends was most common, as Martha Jefferson Randolph wrote to Jefferson on January 1, 1796, “We have spent the holidays and indeed every day in such a perpetual round of visiting and receiving visits that I have not had a moment to my self since I came down.”

 “The customs that we think of today as traditional ways of celebrating Christmas, particularly the decorating of evergreen trees and the hanging of stockings, derived from a variety of national traditions and evolved through the course of the 19th century, only becoming widespread in the 1890s.”

“References indicate that at Monticello, as throughout Virginia, mince pie—filled with apples, raisins, beef suet, and spices—was a traditional holiday dinner favorite. Jefferson wrote to Mary Walker Lewis on December 25, 1813: "I will take the liberty of sending for some barrels of apples, and if a basket of them can now be sent by the bearer they will be acceptable as accommodated to the season of mince pies." Music also filled the scene. The Monticello music library included the Christmas favorite "Adeste Fideles."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Thankful People

Over a year following the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and after experiencing a hard winter, the new colonists enjoyed a bountiful harvest. Early in October of 1621, the Pilgrim Governor, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.

After the founding of our Republic, on October 3, 1789, an historic proclamation was issued by George Washington during his first year as President. It sets aside Thursday, November 26 as "A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer." The text of his proclamation follows:

“WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best."

Seventy-four years later, on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Tuesday of November as a national holiday (subsequently changed to the fourth Thursday).

As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

At this harvest and Thanksgiving season, may we as Americans continue to be a thankful people, and as Washington implored us toward the Almighty, “may [we] then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country.”

J. David Gowdy