Sunday, March 28, 2010

Honesty is the Best Policy

Honesty is a cornerstone of a free society. Without honesty, there can be no trust, and without trust all that we depend on in our republic -- government, banking, commerce, education, etc. -- would all eventually crumble. Thomas Jefferson said that, “Honesty and interest are as intimately connected in the public as in the private code of morality.” The ‘interest’ he refers to is the self-interest we all have in earning a living and preserving the fruits of our labors, as well as in sustaining our private and public relationships.

With respect to trust in our government leaders, Jefferson referred to dishonest governors as “rouges.” He said, “rogues set out with stealing the people's good opinion, and then steal from them the right of withdrawing it, by contriving laws and associations against the power of the people themselves.” In order to maintain a republic, there must be a great measure of honesty and trust between those elected as our representatives and the electorate. Our elected leaders serve as the head to the body of the people. They must not “steal the people’s good opinion” and turn their power against the people themselves. This, Jefferson hoped would be “the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force.”

But the honesty required must be mutual (between both leaders and citizens) in order to achieve the desired results of security, peace and happiness. This Jefferson confirmed, stating, “I have such reliance on the good sense of the body of the people and the honesty of their leaders that I am not afraid of their letting things go wrong to any length in any cause.” Unfortunately, things do go wrong because of the choices and acts of dishonest persons. There are many evidences and stories in our day of dishonesty and its effects in our culture and government. We may ask ourselves, “What are some of the consequences of dishonesty in our society?” In our business dealings? In our personal and family relationships? Upon reflection, truly we can agree with with Jefferson, that “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

May we resolve to be honest in all of our dealings, and may we hold ourselves and our leaders to the highest standards of honesty, in order to prosper and remain strong as a nation.

"Honesty is the best policy." --George Washington

By: J. David Gowdy

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Loyalty to the Constitution

John Adams wrote: “Moral … and political virtue, cannot be too much beloved, practiced, or rewarded; but to place liberty on that foundation only would not be safe … that form of government which unites all the virtue, honor, and fear of the citizens, in a reverence and obedience to the [Constitution and] laws, is the only one in which liberty can be secure, and all orders, and ranks, and parties, compelled to prefer the public good before their own; that is the government for which we plead.”[1] Abraham Lincoln addressed this subject in his Address titled, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” Regarding this speech, one historian has written, “If ever Abraham Lincoln addressed the requirements for a successful republic ... he did so in a speech delivered on January 27, 1838, to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.”[2] Lincoln directs our hearts to the import and obligation of devotion to the cause of liberty, and appeals to every American to “pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor” in support of the Constitution:

“I know the American People are much attached to their Government; —I know they would suffer much for its sake;—I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come. Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;—let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the [Constitution and] laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;—let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;—let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”[3]

As citizens of the American Republic, our loyalty to the Constitution should be placed above politics, parties, candidates, or elected leaders.

By: J. David Gowdy
[1] George W. Carey, ed., The Political Writings of John Adams (Regnery Publishing, Washington, 2000) p. 296.
[2] Lucas E. Morel, Lincoln’s Sacred Effort: Defining Religion’s Role in American Self-Government (Lexington Books, Oxford, 2000), p. 23.
[3] Id., pp. 25-26 (emphasis added).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers were written following the Constitutional Convention by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, as eighty-five essays addressed “To the people of the State of New York” and published in the New York newspapers between October 27, 1787 and April 4, 1788, under the pen name of "Publius" (a collective pseudonym for Hamilton, Madison and Jay), in support of the new Constitution, arguing for its superiority over the Articles of Confederation. The Federalist was also intended to influence Americans in all thirteen states to approve the new Constitution. To this end, the authors were willing to set aside their political differences in pursuit of the common goal of ratification.

Concerning the Federalist Papers, George Washington said, “[they] have thrown new light upon the science of government; they have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner as cannot fail to make a lasting impression.”1 And, Thomas Jefferson stated that they constitute “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”2

The Federalist is, by far, the most authoritative text and commentary for interpreting the Constitution and provides significant insights into the intent of the framers. The Papers essentially detail the “how” and “why” behind each article and provision of the Constitution -- providing for us a thorough description and analysis of the structure and meaning of the Constitution. They address the political themes of: (i) federalism, (ii) checks and balances, (iii) the separation of powers, (iv) pluralism, and (v) representation. Significantly, however, the Federalist reveals that the key to our American system of government (a Republic) is channeling and “checking” human nature in respect to ambition and power among leaders, and encouraging civic virtue among the people, in whom the power resides. Clinton Rossiter, a noted historian and constitutional scholar summarized the message of the Federalist:

"[T]he message of The Federalist reads:
no happiness without liberty,
no liberty without self government,
no self government without constutionalism,
no constitutionalism without morality – and
none of these great goods without stability and order."3

Rossiter’s conclusion is that the Federalist is "the most important work of political science ever written in the United States." Hence, it could be stated that no other work is of greater value to students, teachers, and citizens in our journey to learn and appreciate the applied genius that is the Constitution of the United States of America.

By: J. David Gowdy
1 George Washington to George Armstrong, April 25, 1788, The Writings of George Washington, Jared Sparks, ed. (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1847) 9:352.
2 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, November 18, 1788, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ME 7:183.

3 Clinton Rossiter, ed., Federalist Papers (Mentor Edition, 1961), Preface.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Liberty has a Price

"The independence and liberty you possess are the work of . . . joint efforts, of common dangers, suffering and successes."
--George Washington

Despite a natural tendency to believe that liberty is a gift to be autonomously received and enjoyed, without price or reassessment -- liberty is not free. Liberty must be both earned and guarded. Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address said that: "The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to [the] attainment" of our liberty and form of government. Charles Caleb Colton said: "Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed." Alfred Denning, an English jurist, stated: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." And, Boyd K. Packer, a prominent religious educator, said: "Freedom is not a self-preserving gift. It has to be earned, and it has to be protected." Thus, in order to be obtained, liberty must be earned or won, and in order to be maintained, liberty must be effectively re-earned and re-won in the hearts of each generation.

What is the relationship between liberty and its price? First, liberty is freedom from oppression or bondage. Thus, liberty is procured through deliverance or redemption from bondage. For our forefathers, this bondage was the religious and economic oppression of Great Britain's rule over the original Colonies. Such circumstances would also be analogous to the plight of many who have been led to America's shores. Secondly, redemption from bondage requires sacrifice. America's liberty was originally bought by the sacrifice of men's blood shed in the Revolutionary War. It has been re-bought by sacrifice and blood shed in subsequent wars, including the Civil War and World Wars. Finally, liberty is upheld by remembering and honoring such sacrifices -- which requires both knowledge of, and gratitude for, such sacrifices. If the Founding Fathers could speak to us today regarding liberty, rest assured that their message would include reference to the horrible price paid at Valley Forge, Morristown, Camden, and Yorktown, etc. Others of a later time would speak to us of Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor. Only by vicarious remembrance and sincere gratitude for the heavy price paid for the gift of liberty, which we so abundantly enjoy, can we truly appreciate its value and fulfill our duty to uphold it for future generations.

Of those who pledged "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor" as signers to the Declaration of Independence, five were captured as traitors and tortured before they died; twelve had their homes ransacked and burned; two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War; another had two sons captured; and nine died from wounds or the hardship of the war (quoted from Ezra Taft Benson). Are we equally as willing to pay liberty's price?

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry

By: J. David Gowdy

See: Seven Principles of Liberty

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