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Wisdom from America’s Founding Fathers August 24, 2009

Posted by Daniel Downs in American history, civilization, government, moral relativism, morality, multiculturalism, politics, religion.
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In a previous article on Washington’s Farewell Address, I pointed out that its primary theme was national unity.

Accordingly, the wise founder-statesman will not design a system of government that multiplies political parties, a phenomenon that cannot but undermine the development of national character. He will not design a government that fosters frequent changes of government, which inevitably leads to frequent changes in laws and thereby undermine stability and the rule of law. Without stability and the rule of law nothing great and lasting can be accomplished.

In the final analysis, however, national unity ultimately depends on religion and morality. Here is what Washington says in the 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 the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the destinies of Men and citizens. . . . Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of in­vestigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Religion (the root meaning of which is to tie, fasten, or bind) and morality (which means to act out of a motive larger than self-interest) obviously blend well with the theme of national unity. Religion and morality—and Washington had primarily in mind the Judeo-Christian principles—emphasize the brotherhood of man under one God. The Judeo-Christian ethos restrains the divisive passions of men: it teaches moderation and concern for the well-being of others. It conduces to self-government on the one hand, and respect for authority on the other. By so doing it con­duces to the growth of a more perfect union.

By teaching the people some of the fundamental principles of American government, Washington facilitates the exercise of presidential leadership. Only if the people understand those principles can they be a people at once free and united. Accordingly, Washington urges statesmen to “Promote … as an object of primary importance, Institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened”.

In his last State of the Union Message, Washington urged the establishment of a national university. His rationale is worth recalling:

Among the motives to such an Institution, the assimilation of principles, opinions and manners of our Countrymen, by the com­mon education of a portion of our Youth from every quarter, well deserves attention. The more homogeneous our Citizens can be made in 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. . . . [W]hat duty [is] 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 their country?

James Madison also formally proposed the establishment of a national un­iversity when he became President. Like Washington, he recommended that the university be located in the nation’s capital, the better to promote not only the science of government, but “those national feelings, those liberal sentiments, and those congenial manners which contribute cement to our Union and strength to the great political fabric of which that is the foundation.”

Again and again we behold the theme of national unity. Today, American national unity is being undermined by atheism and moral relativism. Indeed, multiculturalism is a prominent theme of a myriad of universities. Anti-patriotic internationalism has become a pastime of countless academics. The abandonment of America’s founding principles, enunciated in Washington’s Farewell Address, could hardly be more striking.

Washington emphasized that the success of the American’s people’s experiment in republican government “will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.” But that success depended on national unity, whose achievement necessitated the civilizing influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg



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