- by John Albert Dummett Jr-
Prior to 1776 many Americans wondered if people were virtuous and moral enough to govern themselves. As far as they were concerned, corrupt and selfish people could never make the principles of Republicanism work successfully.
Benjamin Franklin believed that only moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom and self rule. He also believed that virtue and morality was a hard thing to maintain because as nations age they become corrupt which then requires a dictator to set things straight. This is unacceptable in a Representative Republic.
Morality is obedience to God’s mandate to exemplify the right conduct. Early Americans identified public virtue as a human characteristic akin to the ‘Golden Rule’ “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” This means that the individual should be willing to self sacrifice his or her own interest for the good of the community. A popularly based government can’t be supported without morality and virtue. Most Americans however thought that men were not moral or virtuous enough to make a republican form of government work. Fortunately for us, harsh and brutal policies of the British Monarchy in the late 1700s convinced enough Americans that there was enough public virtue exhibited in the colonies that Republicanism could flourish in America if given the chance.
Thomas Paine, who wrote “Common Sense”, assured Americans they were ripe for independence from British rule. Paine was certain that most Americans were industrious, frugal and honest enough and those who weren’t were few in number and could easily be overcome. Luxury and pleasure were easily combated at this time because most Americans were men of property and not easily swayed by the gleam of self indulgence.
In addition to a larger portion of the population owning property, over time, Americans began to feel guilty by their lack of public virtue, self interest and neglect in public affairs. A spirit of self sacrifice and reform spread throughout the colonies like a wildfire. As a result, the quality of life increased tremendously leading many to fear they would loose this new found prosperity if they did not separate themselves from British control and rule. A national purpose arose that animated all segments of colonial men and women.
The fear that British influence would erode away our sense of frugality and industry and leave us a cheap imitation of England was justified especially when all we truly wanted was to be free and independent from monarch rule. This forced us to declare independence and institute a form of Republicanism to suit our particular needs of government.
After the war of Independence many of our Founding Fathers feared future descendants would revert back to our old ways where virtue and morality took a back seat to luxury, power and despotism. Thomas Jefferson believed that virtue is never permanent and always needed to be continually exercised in the home, our schools and our churches. This is where the embers of virtue and morality are kept, allowing them a place to survive for future generations to discover and learn.
George Washington declared in his farewell address to the nation, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties 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…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (Padover, The Washington Papers. Pp. 318-19.)
Reprinted with the condition that we mention that John is running for POTUS as a Republican candidate in 2016.