Monday, June 6, 2011

President Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer: June 6, 1944














My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas -- whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them--help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Perpetuating the Republic


Just outside of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia stands a statue of Thomas Jefferson, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, and “presented to the people” on May 25, 1910.  When I first visited the University in May 2004, as I admired this great work of art, I noticed the inscription on the upper base of the statue which reads:  “TO PERPETUATE THE TEACHINGS AND EXAMPLES OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE REPUBLIC.” I was profoundly impressed with the spirit and significance of this statement.  I reflected upon it much, recorded it in my journal, and later decided that this testimonial should serve as basis for the Charter of The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute.  

As conveyed by the words of this inscription, it is incumbent upon each of us to study and ponder America’s Founding Documents and the writings and lives of our Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson said: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”[1] He also stated: “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome direction, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”[2] The diffusion of knowledge and an enlightened citizenry are essential elements required to maintain liberty.  

We may ask, have we studied and learned the principles of the Constitution in the tradition of the Founding Fathers? Are the Constitution and principles of liberty expounded by the Founding Fathers being taught in our schools? Has their history been diluted? Abraham Lincoln stated: “Let it [reverence for the laws and Constitution] be taught in schools, seminaries and in colleges; let it be written in primers, in spelling books and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, enforced in courts of justice. In short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”[3]

        In his Inaugural Address on April 30, 1789, as our nation’s first President under the newly adopted Constitution, George Washington said: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”[4]  Vigilance in learning and imparting liberty's knowledge is part of liberty's price. 


[1] Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384.
[2] Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278.
[3] Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings: 1832-1858, Don Fehrenbacher, ed. (Library of America, New York, 1989), pp. 32-33.
[4]  Saxe Commins, ed., Basic Writings of George Washington (Random House, New York, 1948), p. 560.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Basic Principles of the Declaration of Independence

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. 

The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God -- are the foundation of the political principles of American independence.  As set forth in the writings of Locke, Sidney, and others, it means that nature has inherent laws by which each individual has a conscience, accountability for one’s actions, and a duty to not harm others or their property.  It is not the “law of the jungle,” nor license, but a moral code that binds us together in families and communities, manifest in English common law, and in religion. It recognizes the innate ability of all people and their magistrates to use reason and faith to choose virtue, the common good and civility, over vice and corruption.  

We hold these truths to be self‑evident” (Jefferson used the words in his first draft, “sacred and undeniable”) -- confirms that there are certain truths that all people are bound to acknowledge, such as the equality of the rights of man, including the right to govern his or her life and property. 

“…that all men are created equal" -- As John Locke wrote, “… all men by Nature are equal… cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of Equality… [but] in respect of Jurisdiction or Dominion one over another... being that equal Right that every Man hath, to his natural Freedom, without being subjected to the Will or Authority of any other Man." (Second Treatise on Government) We are all equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal in our natural rights, and equal before the law.

...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” A religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and the vast majority of American colonists believed in God, the Bible, and in the creation of man.  Even for "deists" like Jefferson, there was an acknowledgement that God is the author of liberty and of the natural rights of each person.  He wrote in 1774: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”[1]  Jefferson recorded that, “Happiness is the aim of life.  Virtue is the foundation of happiness.”[2]  Our natural rights are divine gifts and not subject to human grants.  The term “unalienable” means incapable of being sold or transferred.

“…the consent of the governed” -- Governments are properly the result of the choice of the governed.  As John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 2, “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.”  The people are sovereign and they delegate to government the power to rule. 

“… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Under the circumstances of “a long train of abuses” -- consisting of violations of individual and societal liberties and usurpations of power, there is a right and a duty to revolt against tyranny.

“… 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.”  The foundation of good government is based upon individual liberty and responsibility. Sidney stated in Discourses on Government (1751) that, "the safety of the people [is] the supreme law..." including the preservation of their liberties and lands, and all other laws must be subservient to that principle (III.16.318). John Adams wrote in his Thoughts on Government (1776) that, "The happiness of society is the end [or ultimate purpose] of government."

Read more about the principles of the Declaration in the mind and heart of Abraham Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence


[1] Thomas Jefferson, Rights of British America, 1774 (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition) (ME) 1:211.
[2]  Thomas Jefferson to William Short, October 31, 1819, ME 15:223.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our Duty to Conscience


In England of old, under the common law, there developed two courts: courts of law and courts of conscience. A court of conscience -- or “court of equity” -- administered justice according to the system of equity, and according to the rules, principles and procedures of chancery; as distinguished from a court having jurisdiction in the common law.  In practice, these courts (with clerics as chancellors) approached cases in equity with the flexible application of broad moral principles to fact-specific situations for the sake of justice.  For them, as it should be for us, “equity” was defined as “a moral sense of fairness based on conscience.” Duty to conscience is the foundation of fairness and justice, and forms the basis of moral principle.  That is the test of every man in every generation...

Sir Thomas More was born in London in 1478 . . . entered Oxford to study law . . . then entered Parliament. He attracted the attention of Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts. However, he resigned in 1532 when Henry VIII persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. In 1534 he refused to take an oath and render allegiance to the King as Head of the Church of England. . . His lands and estate were taken from him.  Then he was arrested and was confined to the Tower of London. Thomas was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience . . . The king knew that many people admired More and what he was doing. Even the king did not really want to put him to death. As a final attempt to get More to change his mind, King Henry sent More’s wife and his daughter Meg to see him in prison. They urged him to take the oath to preserve his life. In the play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Meg reminded her father that he had always taught her that God regards the heart, not the words of the lips. Then she pleaded with him to “say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.” More replied, “What is an oath but words we say to God?” Then cupping his hands he continued: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again” (Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons [New York: Random House, 1960], p. 140). 

More was beheaded on July 6, 1535.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

No Liberty without Virtue

By: J. David Gowdy

To our Founding Fathers it was obvious, or “self-evident,” that self-government, or a democratic republic, could only be perpetuated by the self-governed.  Reflecting these precepts, a contemporary German writer to the Founders, J. W. von Goethe, stated: "What is the best government? -- That which teaches us to govern ourselves."[1] And, a later, prominent 19th Century minister, Henry Ward Beecher, simply said: “There is no liberty to men who know not how to govern themselves.”[2] Self-governance consists of self-regulation of our behavior, ambitions and passions.  To this end, the Founders fundamentally believed that the ability to govern ourselves rests with our individual and collective virtue (or moral character).

John Adams stated it this way, Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”[3] In this regard, the revolutionary war was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society,”[4] as it was against financial oppression.  While the Founders and American colonists were very concerned with their civil liberty and economic freedom, demanding “no taxation without representation,” they were equally concerned with their religious liberty, particularly in preserving their rights of individual conscience and public morality.[5]  With respect to the vital need for virtue in order to establish and maintain a republic, the Founders were in complete harmony:

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,”[6] and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.”[7]

Benjamin Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” [8]

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”[9]

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”[10]

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”[11]

Patrick Henry stated that: “A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom.”[12]

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[13]

Virtue ennobles individual character and lifts society as a whole. Virtuous principles eschew prejudice and discrimination, confirming that “all men are created equal.” Virtue encompasses characteristics of goodwill, patience, tolerance, kindness, respect, humility, gratitude, courage, honor, industry, honesty, chastity and fidelity. These precepts serve as the cornerstones for both individual happiness and societal governance.

Image: Virtue conquering Tyranny (Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia)

[1] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders (MacMillan & Co., New York, 1906), Maxim No. 225.
[2] William Drysdale,ed., Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Selected from the Writings and Sayings of Henry Ward Beecher (D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1887), p. 72.
[3] John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, April 16, 1776. A. Koch and W. Peden, eds., The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams (Knopf, New York, 1946), p. 57.
[4] Marvin Olasky, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue (Regnery Publishing, Washington D.C., 1996) p. 142.
[5] See, e.g., Id., Olasky, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue; Richard Vetterli and Gary Bryner, In Search of the Republic: Public Virtue and the Roots of American Government (Rowman & Littlefield, New Jersey, 1987).
[6] Victor Hugo Paltsits, Washington’s Farewell Address (The New York Public Library, 1935), p. 124.
[7] Washington to Marquis De Lafayette, February 7, 1788, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, (U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington D. C., 1939), 29:410.
[8] Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, (Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, Boston, 1840), 10:297.
[9] Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 20, 1788. Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1891) 3:536.
[10] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1819. ME 15:234.
[11] William V. Wells, The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams (Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, 1865), 1:22.
[12] Tryon Edwards, D.D., The New Dictionary of Thoughts - A Cyclopedia of Quotations (Hanover House, Garden City, NY, 1852; revised and enlarged by C.H. Catrevas, Ralph Emerson Browns and Jonathan Edwards, 1891; The Standard Book Company, New York, 1955, 1963), p. 337.
[13] John Adams, October 11, 1798, letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts. Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, (Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, 1854), 9:229.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and Education

Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer in the value of education, particularly in its role in both strengthening and preserving the American republic.  He felt that his crowning achievement was as founder and “Father of the University of Virginia” (from the epitaph that he directed to be inscribed on his gravestone).  Jefferson “had faith in the ‘common man’ and his ability to elect wise and virtuous leaders if that man were educated to do so.”[1]  Jefferson wrote the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, the Bill for Establishing a Public Library, and the Bill for Establishment of a System of Public Education, among others.[2]  He stated:

“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”[3]  

No other founder labored as long, or as diligently, during his lifetime to establish a regular school system accessible to all citizens and youth.  He wrote:

“I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it.”[4] 

For Jefferson, the purpose of education in a republic is:

“To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, ... and a sound spirit of legislation, which ... shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; … to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them precepts of virtue and order ...” [5]

            With these thoughts and convictions in his heart, Jefferson’s last great dream was to found a public university in Virginia.  Beginning with his first concept in 1800, and after the investment of much of his personal time, money and labor, and lobbying to the state legislature with the valuable assistance of several influential friends, the University of Virginia was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia on January 25, 1819, and opened for classes in March 1825.

 That same year, Jefferson’s long-time friend and collaborator, James Madison, wrote to a mutual friend concerning Jefferson, the University, and the diffusion of knowledge:

“Your old friend, Mr. Jefferson, still lives, and will close his illustrious career by bequeathing to his Country a magnificent Institute for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge; which is the only guardian of true liberty, the great cause to which his life has been devoted.”[6]


[1] Meg Brulatour, Background for the State of Education in New England: Post-Revolutionary War to Mid-19th Century (Essay, Virginia Commonwealth University).
[2] Steven Tozer, Paul C. Violas, Guy B. Senes, School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives., (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1995), pp. 30-31.
[3] Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Bergh, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 Volumes, (Washington, D.C.: 1903-1904), 5:396 (Memorial Edition, cited as “ME”).
[4] Id., Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1810, ME 12:393.
[5] Thomas Jefferson, Report for the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818 (Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library).
[6] James Madison to George Thomson, June 30, 1825, The Writings of James Madison, 4 Volumes (J.B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1865) 3:492.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Principles and Practices of Virtue

Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend Robert Skipwith, brother-in-law of Martha Wayles Skelton (Jefferson's bride-to-be), concerning how we learn "the principles and practices of virtue." He felt that by observing acts of charity or gratitude we may desire to replicate such acts ourselves. He also believed that history itself was insufficient to excite the "sympathetic emotion of virtue" and that fiction may also serve to "carry home to the heart every moral rule of life." In the same letter, Jefferson responds to Skipwith's request for a "List of Books for a Private Library." Volumes recommended by Jefferson include topics in fine arts, criticism, politics, trade, religion, law, modern and ancient history, natural philosophy and natural history. Following are excerpts from his letter written in 1771:

“I answer, everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity, and conceive an abhorrence of vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and in the instance of which we speak the exercise being of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously...

Considering history as a moral exercise, her lessons would be too infrequent if confined to real life. Of those recorded by historians few incidents have been attended with such circumstances as to excite in any high degree this sympathetic emotion of virtue. We are therefore wisely framed to be as warmly interested for a fictitious as for a real personage. The field of imagination is thus laid open to our use and lessons may be formed to illustrate and carry home to the heart every moral rule of life.

Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, Monticello, Aug. 3, 1771.