Founding Fathers Blog

And To Think It All Started With 10 Commandments

January 17th, 2013

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!

“I Cannot Live Without Books!”

July 20th, 2012

It is interesting and even fascinating to me how much respect and reverence our Founding Fathers had for books. Of course books were then very expensive and dear. And there was no modern technology to compete: no computers, iPads, internet, telephones, cars, refrigerators, radio or television. Still, they knew how important books were to their education, knowledge, getting ahead, and even sometime their very existence.

With apologies to Nancy Sinatra, the Founders of this nation knew “these books were made for reading, and that’s just what you’ll do. One of these days these books will make a scholar out of you!”

George Washington accumulated and read many books about agriculture, farming, fishing and even building. You may still see some of his book collection at his home, Mount Vernon.

Benjamin Franklin’s favorite books were the Bible and “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Franklin’s own book about electricity was the most popluar book in Europe and all the world for years. Ben was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, at an early age, which gave him an unusual access to a world of books. And he took advantage of it.

Patrick Henry didn’t take to books at an early age. He preferred fishing and hunting to learning. At least until he decided to study and become a lawyer.  We know he borrowed Thomas Jefferson’s lawbook, “Coke Upon Littleton,” wherein he made notes for his most impressive “Brutus” speech, which he gave after only 5 days as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Thereafter books became much more important to him.

John Adams, our second President, love and acquired many books. When John and Abigail were moving from Braintree to Boston, they leased a house on Battle Street, ironically enough called the “White House.” John set aside one of the rooms there to be his study. He agreed that he wouldn’t attempt to move his whole library, only those books he should need. Abigail responded:  “The books you don’t need have yet to be printed!”

When James Madison was preparing for the upcoming Constitutional Convention, he immersed himself in books about history, government, and nation building. At Madison’s request, his friend, Thomas Jefferson, then a minister to France, sent James two trunks of literary cargo from France. The trunks contained more than 100 carefully selected books. According to Jefferson these books were “the most useful reference books available.”

At that same time, John Adams, then a minister to Great Britain, wanted to have his impact on the Constitutional Convention. He wrote and sent to America his two volume work “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.” One scholar noted that “even a casual glance of the records of the Federal Convention will show that Adam’s book was used as a sort of reperatory by many speakers” at the Convention. Adams remarked to Abigail that every victory he had ever won had been through his word: spoken or printed.

The most prolific reader of books of all the Founding Fathers was undoubtedly Thomas Jefferson. Many thousands of books were stored in Jefferson’s library and throughout his home at Monticello. During the war of 1812, British troops had burned the city of Washington. Among other things, the Congressional Library was destroyed.

Because of this, Jefferson offered to sell his collection of books to the Federal government to become the nucleus for a new library of Congress. Jefferson’s was the finest collection of books in America, containing thousands of volumes which had been gathered over a period of 50 years. His collection was more than twice the size of the library which had been burned in the war.

Jefferson sold more than 6,700 books to Congress, but was paid only about half their value. It took 10 wagons to transfer the books to Washington.

Jefferson then began to collect books all over again. His new library grew to over 1,000 books before he died. He confessed to his friend and fellow Patriot, John Adams, “I cannot live without books!”

Jefferson had also written or compiled several books himself, including “Notes on Virginia,”  “The Jefferson Bible,” and “The Life and Morals of Jesus.” He revered the Bible, as did all of our Founding Fathers.

Books are not only a great source of information and inspiration, they can also provide relief from toils and troubles. Through books one can escape to any place on the planet and beyond, take part in adventures and discoveries, provide entertainment, and even turn your self into a scholar.

I love books. Like Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” Even with the new tools and mediums such as “Kindle”, books give me diversion, delight and happiness. I should tell you that some of my favorite books are “Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes,”  “Give Me Liberty,”  “The Illegal Trial of Christ,” and “You Can’t Take It With You–So How Will You Leave It Behind?”  all by Steven W. Allen.

These books were made for reading . . . and will make a scholar out of you!

Christopher Columbus and James Madison Stood by Their Decisions

October 13th, 2011

October 12 is officially Columbus Day. I hope you enjoyed it, and maybe even thought a little bit about Christopher Columbus! Columbus was a gifted sailor, mapmaker, navigator, and astronomer. One of his foremost characteristics was being persistent. He was decided that he could find a way across the oceans to sail East by going West.

He devised a plan and prepared a presentation to obtain funding. He first presented this plan to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. It was rejected. With dogged determination he went to Portugal and laid out his plans to the King. It was rejected. He moved on to France and showed the possibilities to their Monarch. It was rejected. He traveled to England and made another attempt to convince someone to support his ideas. It was rejected.

He returned to Spain, no dice. Then back again to Portugal. Again the answer was no. To Spain again. No. Then back to France, where he was turned down once again. He determined to try the Spanish royalty once again. After his fourth presentation to Queen Isabella, the Queens Confessor and advisor told her there might be something to Christoper’s idea. It wouldn’t hurt anything to try it. The war with the Moors was finally over and their treasury could now afford taking a chance with Christopher. He didn’t want too much after all. He did want to be known, if successful, as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

Well, you know the rest of the story. He found a new world. He became a hero. His vision was complete.

James Madison had some of the same characteristics. He was also persistent. He knew the American Articles of Confederation weren’t working for the fledgling Nation. He studied nation building, governments, and past history. His friend, Thomas Jefferson, sent James two trunks of “literary cargo” from France at his request for books relating to governments and history.

He studied these materials and everything else he could get his hands on. He became a brilliant scholar and knew more about the laws of nations than anyone else of his time. He called for a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation to overcome the difficult problems that were then facing the young nation.

Madison was able to convince the most prominent leaders of the various states to attend their new Convention in Philadelphia. George Washington was the most admired leader of his time, but he didn’t want to attend this Convention. Madison stayed after him, pleading with George to come, until Washington decided he couldn’t let his friend and neighbor down in this request.

Madison prepared what was called the “Virginia Plan” for redesigning the government. He made many speeches on behalf of his plan at the Convention. Madison chose a spot near the front of Independence Hall, where the meetings were taking place, and appointed himself to be the secretary of the Convention. His records give us the best description of the debates and the ultimate decision to adopt the new U.S. Constitution. It was eventually adopted unanimously at the behest of Benjamin Franklin.

Now it was up to each of the 13 States to ratify the new form of government. Madison, together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote commentaries and editorials in support of the new Constitution. When Patrick Henry was beginning to win his arguments that the new Constitution didn’t protect the average citizen well enough, Madison promised to go back to Congress when the Constitution was approved and fight for an addition of a “Bill of Rights” to more fully declare the rights of the nations citizenry. He did. Twelve new amendments were approved by Congress and sent to the States for ratification. Ten were ratified. This became our “Bill of Rights,” the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

So you see that the dogged determination of our Founding Father, James Madison, led to the inspired document which became the blueprint for the government of these United States of America. And the dogged determination of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Christopher Columbus, led to the discovery of this land of freedom. Shouldn’t we take some time to reflect on the lives of these two great decisive heroes, and their passion for their inspired plans, and their relentless determination? Without them things would certainly be different for all of us.

Thank you Christopher and James for being so persistent.

James Madison’s Home – Montpelier

September 26th, 2010

James Madison’s home – Montpelier
What a wonderful sight to see the window to the study where the Father of the Constitution did his research. That research which eventually led to the drafting and signing of that marvelous document upon which the new nation, The United States of America was founded. You can see that window of the upstairs study, just over the front door to the mansion. Just watch this video.

Labor Day Quotes from Founding Fathers

September 3rd, 2010

With Labor Day quickly approaching, I thought maybe you’d enjoy some favorite quotes from some of the Founding Fathers (and a few others) relating to labor.

“Well done is better than well said.” Benjamin Franklin

“Success has ruined many a good man.” Benjamin Franklin

“The best investment is in the tools of one’s own trade.” Benjamin Franklin

“Commerce and industry are the best mines of a nation.” George Washington

“The private virtues of economy, prudence, and industry are not less amiable, in civil life, than the more splendid qualities of valor, perseverance, and enterprise, in public life.” George Washington

“It is a point conceded, that America, under an efficient government, will be the most favorable country of any in the world, for persons of industry and frugality, possessed of moderate capital.” George Washington

“I flatter myself, that opportunities will not be wanting, for me to show my disposition to encourage the domestic and public virtues of industry, economy, patriotism, philanthropy, and that righteousness which exalteth a nation.” George Washington

“I never in my life believed that I had any talents beyond mediocrity. I have always be sensible (sensitive), to my mortification, that all I have done has been accomplished by the severest and most incessant labor.” John Adams

“But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence to life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credibility of people as was ever practised.” John Adams

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone, it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Patrick Henry

“A mind always employed is always happy. . . .It is our own fault if we ever know what ennui (the condition of being bored) is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resources of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind.” Thomas Jefferson

“I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.” Thomas Jefferson

“Our wish . . . is that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good, that . . . equality of rights [be] maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry or that of his fathers.” Thomas Jefferson

And Thomas Jefferson about James Madison: “[Madison] acquired a habit of self-possession, which placed at ready command the rich resources of his luminous and discriminating mind, and of his extensive information, and rendered him the first of every assembly afterwards, of which he became a member.

“Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor.” Ulysses S. Grant

“As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.” Abraham Lincoln

A Few Random Thoughts From the Founding Fathers

July 26th, 2010
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” -Benjamin Franklin
“I believe He (God) is pleased and delights in the Happiness of those he has created; and since without Virtue Man can have no Happiness in this world, I firmly believe he delights to see me Virtuous because He is pleased when he sees me Happy.” -Benjamin Franklin (capitalization as he wrote it.)
“Of all the dispositions and  habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports. . . . (R)eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. -George Washington
“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” -George Washington
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  -John Adams
“I pray heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.” _John Adams to Abagail Adams, 2 November 1800 (referring to the Executive Mansion, now known as the White House; this passage is carved on a mantelpiece in the East Room.)
“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society; and . . . to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” -James Madison
“I wish I could leave you my most cherished possession, my faith in Christ. For with Him you have everything, without Him you have nothing.”  -Patrick Henry
“I too have made a wee little book . . . which I call ‘The Philosophy of Jesus.”  It is . . . made by cutting the texts out of the book (the Bible) and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time and subject. . . . . It is a document in proof tha I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of Jesus.” -Thomas Jefferson 


Liberty or Not — That is the Question

May 17th, 2010

When any attention is paid to our nation’s founding documents, much attention is paid to the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, especially to the phrase “promote the general Welfare.” It seems to me that too little attention is paid to the words immediately following that phrase.  The words “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” perhaps currently need much more attention by the citizenry and its representatives.

Are we trying at all to secure the “Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” when we go on unbridled spending sprees? Are we selling our Liberty for a mess of pottage? Are we purchasing our security for a loss of our Liberty, our Liberty and that of our children?

Instead of binding our Liberty with the chains of massive debt in exchange for some security, shouldn’t we be binding our representatives with the chains of the Constitution?

Support candidates and propositions of either political party. But be sure to choose men and women who are aware of the great dangers inherent in massive spending. Choose those who are truly dedicated to the Freedoms and Liberties for ourselves and our children as protected by the Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers.

Those we select to represent us should be required to pledge a sincere allegiance to the cause of Liberty–a Liberty which aims at the preservation of both personal and property rights.

Some may say that the Constitution should change with the times. Experience has proved that the principles of the Constitution are sound. They are tested by time. They are still sound today. They have an impressive track record. Our Constitution is the oldest governing document in the world. It has created a country with unmatched Liberty, Freedom, growth, and prosperity.

 James Madison is called the “Father of the Constitution.” It is a title he strongly deserved. In the amazing time that reached from the Annapolis Convention (September 1786) to the ratification by Virginia (June 1788) he sheparded the acceptance of the Constitution by the citizens of the Nation and their leaders.  He defended the call to the Constitutional Convention in Congress, and persuaded George Washington to attend it.

Madison did his extensive research into the nature of governments and confederacies to determine a plan. He drafted the Virginia Plan, which became the basis for the Constitution. He played a key and indispensible role in transforming that plan into the finished draft. He argued in defense of drafting the Constitution in the “Federalist Papers.”

He went to Richmond, Virginia, to debate Patrick Henry (of “Give me liberty, or give me death” fame), who was opposed to its ratification. Although Henry was a more polished orator, Madison was well-founded in the principles of government and governing documents. Madison prevailed over Henry and won his States ratification.

Madison later wrote: “The principles and modes of government are too important to be disregarded by an inquisitive mind, and I think are well worthy of a critical examination by all . . .”

Let us give our choices and the words “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” our critical examination.

Keep For Your Leaders Men of Virtue

April 2nd, 2010

James Madison is often called “The Father of the Constitution.” He had some compelling things to say about those we choose as our leaders.

Here is one of my favorite quotes of his:

“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society; and . . . to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.”

James advice remains worthy of our admiration and respect today.

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