On the wall in my law office, next to my grand bookcase full of law books, I had a framed cartoon. It wasn’t a very large cartoon, but it made a point. The cartoon drawing showed a man, presumably a lawyer, standing in front of an enormous bookcase, full of law books. The man’s image of a thought balloon held these words: “And to think it all started with just 10 Commandments!”
On July 4, 1776, 56 representatives from the original 13 colonies in America chose to begin a new nation. They declared our independence from Great Britain with an inspired document. That was the beginning of the United States of America.
Eventually the leaders of the new nation realized that they needed a new “rule book” with written rules to govern the new nation. Fifty-five representatives from these States created a new rule book. They provided the States with the new Constitution of the United States, adopted September 17, 1787. This new Constitution was 4,543 words long.
These Founding Fathers created a government that was so structured that all the power was to lie in the hands of the People. The People were to remain supreme and the government was to have ONLY those powers granted to it by the People and written into this Constitution. This was a brand new concept. It had never before been attempted.
As one of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
And James Madison, who is known as the Father of the Constitution warned future generations: “We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Commandments of God.”
Thomas Jefferson, another Founding Father, and the author of the Declaration of Independence, told us that “The natural progress of things is for Liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”
The oldest, and perhaps wisest of this group of stalwart men, added this sage advice: “I agree to this Constitution . . . because I think a general Government necessary for us . . . and may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism (tyranny or dictatorship), as others have done before it, WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” (Emphasis added).
James Madison added to his above utterance: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary, and if angels were to govern men, then neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place obligate it to control itself. Without a doubt, the primary control on the government will be its dependence on the People, but experience has taught mankind that other precautions will be necessary as well.”
The authors of the Constitution believed as long as citizens were taught correct principles, were moral and religious, they would govern themselves and would do well. But as Franklin espoused, when the people became less religious, less moral, and more corrupt, then they would require more government, more laws, more rules and regulations. Then the government would become more tyrannical.
It’s a little bit like I used to tell my children as they were young: “There are no rules until you break them!”
That’s why the original States agreed in their unalterable compact, or contract, what would be required as new states would be added to the Union. The Northwest Ordinance, which was agreed upon at the same time as the Constitution in 1787, held that “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Did you get that? In order to have good government, we must teach morals, religion, and knowledge in our schools. So why have we allowed the teaching of God, morals, religion, and character to be removed from the curriculum of our schools? Good government cannot be had without these subjects being inculcated in our children.
Because citizens are no longer taught morals, religion or character, they have less reliance on “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” as George Washington put it. Inevitably this leads to the need for more external controls by government. More laws, more rules, more regulations are passed each year by our Congress.
Publius (the anonymous author of the Federalist Papers, now known to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) were worried about this contingency. As they expressed in the Federalist Papers: “Our governments seem the most susceptible to the disease of too easily writing and passing an excessive number of new laws.” Isn’t that exactly what’s happening now? Bills before Congress are so large and so complex and passed so quickly that some representatives and Senators have confessed that they are not able to even read them, much less understand them, before voting on them to pass into law.
Publius also warned: “it will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”
Benjamin Franklin established the University of Pennsylvania, and its motto, which is “Laws without morals are vain.”
John Adams proposed that : “Statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People . . .they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”
Rather than passing more complex and incoherent laws on guns, or health care, or marriage, or the environment, or even financial institutions, wouldn’t it be wiser and make more sense to listen to and spend more money on following the counsel of our first President, George Washington? This might require us to return to teaching about morals, character, religion, and yes, even God. Here’s what George Washington advised in his Farewell Address as he retired from the Presidency:
“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 duties of men and citizens…Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputations, 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.”
And to think, it all started with just 10 Commandments!