Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Hand of Providence

When the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in May 1787, George Washington was elected to preside by a unanimous vote. He sought to do this in an impartial manner and took no active part in its debates, although his support was widely known and had a significant influence. Privately, he urged certain delegates to support the Constitution, writing "it is the best constitution that can be obtained...and...this, or a dissolution of the union awaits our choice." (Papers of George Washington (University of Virginia), Letter to Edmund Randolph, January 8, 1788). On one of the few occasions he spoke publicly during the four hot months in Independence Hall, he said: "If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God." (George Washington, as quoted by Gouverneur Morris in Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, March 25, 1787).

James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution wrote: "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." (The Federalist, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1983, no. 37, p. 222).

Alexander Hamilton, famous as the originator of The Federalist papers and author of fifty-one of the essays, said: "For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest." (Paul L. Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States, 1892, pp. 251-52).

Charles Pinckney, a very active participant and author of the Pinckney Plan during the Convention, said: "When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war . . . could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole." (Id., Essays on the Constitution, p. 412).

Benjamin Franklin in his speech for Adoption of the Constitution, said: “All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? 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?” (Speech to the Constitutional Convention, 28 June 1787; Manuscript notes by Franklin preserved in the Library of Congress).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of human liberty, rights and equality. Adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the signers of the Declaration pledged to it their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Jefferson said, “The Declaration of Independence... [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.”[1] The Declaration is America's first and foremost founding document. It sets forth our understanding of human rights based upon the principles of natural law, and the legitimate authority and purpose of government. The first three sentences constitute its most significant and oft-quoted words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 Writing to Henry Lee concerning the source of the principles of the Declaration, Jefferson said: This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c. [2] Abraham Lincoln said that ‘[these] principles … are the definitions and axioms of a free society.”[3] He concluded that that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times ….”[4] Indeed, the individual, natural rights of man and woman to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are universal. As we celebrate our nation's independence this 4th of July, may we read and reflect upon the words of the Declaration of Independence that declared to all the world that all men are created equal and that God is the "Author of Liberty."[5]
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[1] Jefferson to Samuel Adams Wells, 1819, ME 15:200.
[2] Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, ME 16:118-19.
[3] Abraham Lincoln to H. L. Pierce, April 6, 1859, Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), 3:375-76.[1] [4] Id.
[5] Samuel Francis Smith, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (1831).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Virtue & Happiness

"There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." --George Washington

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" --George Washington

"The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue." --Thomas Jefferson

“Happiness is the aim of life. Virtue is the foundation of happiness.” --Thomas Jefferson

"Without virtue, happiness cannot be." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thomas Paine: "Common Sense"


Published anonymously by Thomas Paine in January of 1776, Common Sense was an instant best-seller, both in the colonies and in Europe. It went through several editions in Philadelphia, and was republished in all parts of United America. Because of it, Paine became internationally famous.

Common Sense was "by far the most influential tract of the American Revolution....it remains one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language."

First and foremost, Common Sense advocated an immediate declaration of independence, postulating a special moral obligation of America to the rest of the world. Not long after publication, the spirit of Paine's argument found resonance in the American Declaration of Independence.

Written at the outset of the Revolution, Common Sense became the leaven for the ferment of the times. It stirred the colonists to strengthen their resolve, resulting in the first successful anti-colonial action in modern history.

Quotes from Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776):

“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”

“The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”

“The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth.”

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

“When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Liberty!


"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto the inhabitants thereof."
[Inscription on the Liberty Bell; Leviticus 25:10]

Liberty! The very word evokes hope and stirs the inner soul of man. Throughout the course of time, individuals and nations oppressed by the yoke of tyranny or bondage have cried out for liberty's reprise and have sought for the comfort of its soothing rays. Revolution and war have oft been its price. Few nations have ever obtained it, let alone maintained it. Why so rare this prize for which so much blood and so many tears have been shed? Is its definition misunderstood? What is liberty and how is it secured, or more portentous, how is it lost?

First, we must understand that liberty is based upon fundamental principles and not philosophies or policies. Principles, which are based on truth, are constant and timeless; philosophies and policies are variable and changing and are based upon theories, circumstances and opinion. Second, we must recognize that liberty is not free. It must be both earned and guarded. Lastly, we must realize that liberty requires public morality or virtue. The greatest, and probably most generally unrecognized, threat to our liberty today results from the gradual erosion of virtue. This decay has resulted from negligence and apathy on the part of many and from calculated attacks on the part of a few. The invasive roots of its opposing influences have crept deeper into the soil of our communities while we have slept, and in some cases, while we have been thwarted in our efforts to eradicate their causes. James Madison stated: "I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." When the policies and practices of the nation favor rights in exclusion of responsibility, and sanction vice at the expense of virtue, calamity is imminent. The impending consequences of the ruin of public virtue, which already cast a dark shadow across our nation, now loom on the horizon as a force destructive to our society, our government and our very peace and happiness.

I believe that except we become vigilant in understanding and upholding liberty's principles, we shall lose all which is attached to it: our national unity, our security, our peace and our prosperity. No person who loves liberty, can, in the face of the danger of its loss, stand idly by when life itself and the pursuit of happiness, hang so precipitously in the balance. A modern statesman, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said: "We stand in danger of losing our liberties, and . . . once lost, only blood will bring them back . . ." In order to preserve liberty we must not only pledge allegiance, but prove loyal in deed to the standards upon which it is founded. Our Founding Fathers mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the cause of liberty. May we commit anything less and stand worthy of its benefaction?

"[T]he preservation of the sacred fire of liberty . . . [is] finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People." George Washington

By: J. David Gowdy

Sunday, May 23, 2010

George Washington's Seven Principles of Liberty

Derived from his First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, and from his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796, George Washington understood, lived, and taught these great maxims or principles of liberty:

I. 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." (First Inaugural Address)

 II. Liberty has a Price "The independence and liberty you possess are the work of . . . joint efforts, of common dangers, suffering and successes." (Farewell Address)

 III. Liberty is secured by Government "Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian." (Farewell Address)

 IV. Liberty requires Unity "[Y]our union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other." (Farewell Address)

 V. Liberty is maintained by Obedience to Law "Respect for [this Government's] authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty." (Farewell Address)

 VI. Liberty is dependent upon Virtue "[V]irtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government." (Farewell Address)

 "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness." (Farewell Address)

 VII. Liberty affords the path to Happiness "[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." (First Inaugural Address)

 "Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" (Farewell Address)

Monday, May 17, 2010

James Madison's "Advice to My Country"

"As this advice, if it ever see the light, will not do it till I am no more, it may be considered as issuing from the tomb, where truth alone can be respected, and the happiness of man alone consulted. It will be entitled therefore to whatever weight can be derived from good intentions, and from the experience of one who has served his country in various stations through a period of forty years; who espoused in his youth, and adhered through his life, to the cause of its liberty; and who has borne a part in most of the great transactions which will constitute epochs of its destiny."

"The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is, "That the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened, and the disguised one as the Serpent creeping with his deadly wiles into Paradise."
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Written by James Madison in 1834 and discovered sometime after his death (he died on June 28, 1836).