In an earlier article in The ByWay (newspaper serving Garfield, Piute, and Wayne Counties, Utah), I discussed the meaning of liberty (https://eclecticmusings.blog/2021/03/16/our-heritage-liberty-what-is-it-why-is-it-important/). Now I wish to address some serious threats to liberty, both as foreseen by our Founding Fathers, and as they currently manifest in society. Those threats are 1. lack of and/or inadequate/inappropriate education 2. becoming a lawless and immoral people lacking in self-restraint.
In his second annual speech to Congress, Dec. 5, 1810, President James Madison declared, “…it is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people…”
Fourteen years prior, President George Washington declared to Congress,
The more homogenous our citizens can be made in these particulars the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country? (emphasis added)
From these two quotes (of many possible), it can be clearly seen that the Founders considered education in the principles of liberty upon which the Constitution was established as vital to the maintenance of both liberty and union.
Where do we stand on this today?
When I was in high school in the 60’s, our Social Studies textbooks proclaimed that the Constitution was too difficult for most people to understand, therefore, interpretation of it should be left to lawyers and legal scholars.
The situation today has only gotten worse. Most adults today know very little of the Constitution and even less of the history of civilizations and the principles of liberty upon which it was based. A great many proudly declare their support for both the Constitution and liberty, but they have rarely, if ever, read it from beginning to end, and they certainly have not taught their children the principles of liberty – as evidenced by widespread public support for ever expanding government programs that have been handing out benefits of various kinds, at the expense of little bits of liberty, for generations. One must therefore conclude that we have failed, for multiple generations, to maintain the instruction and education needed in order to sustain either the Constitution, liberty, or union within the nation.
Benjamin Franklin in a 1787 letter stated quite succinctly, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
In a 1798 letter to the Officers of the Massachusetts militia, President John Adams wrote,
While our Country remains untainted with the Principles and manners, which are now producing desolation in so many Parts of the World: while she continues Sincere and incapable of insidious and impious Policy: We shall have the Strongest Reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned Us by Providence. But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World….Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. (emphasis added)
Morality, virtue, and religion were therefore deemed essential to the preservation of liberty and the Constitution. This nation now wallows in an abominable loss of all three, and in other vices President Adams admonished against, returning once more to an abysmal failure of the education of multiple generations in the virtues necessary to the maintenance of liberty and the Constitution.
Senator Benjamin Hill of Georgia in an 1879 address to the US Senate said, “Who saves his country saves himself, saves all things, and all things saved do bless him. Who lets his country die lets all things die, dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him.”
We, the people of this nation, are at a crossroads.
By our actions we will either utterly and completely dispose of the Constitution through our continued ignorance of both what it actually says and the principles of liberty on which it was based, or, we will make the choice to educate ourselves and our children as to the exact words of this great document, the principles on which it was written – as described by the very words of the men who wrote it, and the principles of morality, virtue, and religion necessary to its maintenance.
Through this series of articles, I will explore the principles of liberty, the Constitution itself (especially the Bill of Rights), and the words of the Founding Fathers in juxtaposition to some of the specific threats to liberty we face at present. It is my hope that in so doing, at least some may find answers to uneasiness or questions they may have had, and, may find that there are peaceful means to countering the unconstitutional forces at work in our country today, as opposed to some who are arguing for violence as a remedy. As Paul, the ancient Apostle, told the Corinthians, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17) May we choose liberty and the Spirit of the Lord!
To quote Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Comments & shares welcome.