Founding Fathers Blog

“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!

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 4

July 2nd, 2012

Thomas Jefferson explained that the object of the Declaration of Independence was:

“Not to find out new principles of new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we [are] compelled to take.”

The Declaration was intended to be an expression of the American mind. Jefferson wrote of his completed project:  “Whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it.”

The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest and truly inspired documents of all time. Have you read it lately?  Ezra Taft Benson, Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, uttered these profound thoughts:

“If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. If Americans should ever come to believe that their rights and freedoms are instituted among men by politicians and bureaucrats, then they will no longer carry the proud inheritance of their forefathers, but will grovel before their masters seeking favors and dispensations. . . . We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson as found in the Declaration of Independence:

“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'”

“Since God created man with certain inalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard  these rights, it follows that man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around.”

One wonders if we, the people, have perhaps forgotten some of these basic principles.

Now, you remember Patrick Henry who stayed home in Virginia instead of attending this Continental Congress?

He and Thomas Jefferson were friends and fellow Virginians. Tom was invited, when he was still studying for the law, to listen at the door of the Virginia House of Burgess, as Patrick gave what became know as his ‘Brutus speech.’ Many years prior to his ‘Give me Liberty speech.’  It has been said that Tom referred to that day as perhaps the most important day in his life–for on that day, as a result of that speech, a flame for freedom and liberty was lighted in his heart.

Patrick Henry did follow through on his resolve to see that the legislature should adopt a new constitution. And they did. It was on July 5, 1776, that Patrick Henry was sworn into office as the first governor of the new State of Virginia under its new State Constitution.

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “In matters of the Revolution, Patrick Henry was our leader. He left us all far behind.”  It may be that without Patrick Henry’s unconquerable spirit, we may not have had that resolution for independence from Richard Henry Lee. We may not have had that spark for freedom and liberty that led to the Declaration of Independence. We may not have realized our libery or freedom as a nation at all!

And yet all most citizens know about Patrick Henry is that he once said:  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Indepence Day – How It Happened – Part 3

June 28th, 2012

The draft of Jefferson’s declaration was submitted to the committee. Benjamin Franklin made a few suggestions and improvements agreed to by Jefferson. They were incorporated into the draft which was submitted to Congress on Friday, June 28, 1776.

It too, was tabled until a vote could be taken on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to break with Great Britain. That resolution was adopted by Congress on July 2. John Adams thought that day would become the day of celebration. The next day he wrote to his wife, Abigail:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men . . . . The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha [sic] in the History of the America. –I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty, It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [sic], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

As the new document was being debated, dissected, and even diminished, Thomas Jefferson squirmed in his seat. He sat silently, anxiously, as Congress edited his draft. Dr. Franklin, sitting beside Jefferson, noticed he was writhing a little under the criticism and shortening of his document. Franklin offered some words of consolation. “I have made it a rule” he said, “whenever in my power to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body.” Franklin then shared a story from his printer days.

“One of [my] friends, an apprentice hatter, had decided to open a shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard with a proper inscription.  He composed it in these words:  ‘John Thompson, hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money’, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments.

“The first man he showed it to thought the word ‘hatter’ was superfluous becasue it was followed by the words ‘makes hats’. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“The next friend observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted, because the customers would not care who made the hats, as long as they were good ones. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“A third friend suggested eliminating ‘for ready money’ because none of the local merchants sold on credit. Again Thompson bowed to the will of the majority, and now he had a sign which said: ‘John Thompson sell hats.’

“‘Sells hats,’ said his next friend, ‘why nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?’ Again poor Thompson conceded.

“Moments later, the word ‘hats’ went into oblivion when another friend pointed out that there was one painted on the board. And so he was left with a sign that said: ‘John Thompson’ beneath the painted hat.”

John Adams, speaking on behalf of the Committee, took up the defense of the paper. He supported the Declaration with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly for every word of it. Jefferson gratefully nicknamed Adams the “Colossus” of the important debate. Jefferson himself, never uttered one word in defense of his creation.

The formal Declaration, Tom’s writing, was approved in the late afternoon of July 4th, 1776. Only John Hancock as President of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, who attested as secretary actually signed it on that date. The other delegates affixed their signatures to the official engrossed copy on August 2, 1776.

To be continued….

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 2

June 26th, 2012

The committee for the preparation of a draft of a declaration of independence was made up of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. They met together to decide which of them would write the intial document for consideration. It was proposed that Benjamin Franklin, the oldest, wisest, most experienced of the team should be the scrivener. He declined, arguing that it wouldn’t be proper or smart for him to write the original document, as his son, William, had remained a loyalist, and was then the Governor of New Jersey.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had received recognition as writers, so it seemed likely that one of them should be selected. Jefferson noted only, the committee “desired me to do it.”

John Adams left a more interesting account.

“The sub-committee met. Jefferson proposed me to make the draft. I said: ‘I will not. You ought to do it.’

[Jefferson] Oh, no! Why will you not? You ought to do it.’

‘I will not.’

[Jefferson] ‘Why?’

‘Reason’s enough.’

[Jefferson] ‘What can be your reasons?’

‘Reasons are: first-you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second-I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third-You can write ten time better than I can.’

‘Well’, said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.'”

Jefferson wrote his masterpiece in 17 days, after his attendance at the congressional meetings during the day.

Tom was a young attorney, 33 years of age. He turned to “neither book nor pamphlet to pen his timeless words.

To be continued…

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 1

June 24th, 2012

One of our great National Holidays is coming up soon–Independence Day! This year it falls on the 4th of July. Oh yeah, every year it falls on the 4th of July–that’s the day we celebrate.

Most of us remember that we celebrate this Holiday to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That magnificent inspired document by which our Founding Fathers declared that the 13 colonies of Great Britain are now free and independent states.

A new country was created!

However, it seems to me, that many of us Americans have forgotten some interesting and significant details that transpired in connection with this historic event. Some that we learned in 8th grade, and some that our teachers never got around to explaining to us. So I’m going to remind you of just a few.

The Continental Congress, made up of representatives from each of the 13 colonies, met in Philadelphia in 1776 to consider the hositilies taking place in Massachussets and now New York. You’ll recall that at the last Continental Congress, George Washington was unanimously appointed as the Commanding General of the brand new United Colonial Army.

Some of the same delegates that were present at the First Continental Congress, were appointed by their respective colonies to continue their representation. These include Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Richard Henry Lee. Notably absent were George Washington, now conducting a war, and Patrick Henry, two respected, inspiring and influential Virginians.

We know why George Washington wasn’t there. Patrick Henry was elected to return, but he declined to attend. He had been convinced by reading a pamphlet written by none other than John Adams, that the time had come to make certain that each of the colonies declared themselves independent and adopted their own new State Constitutions. Patrick Henry was determined to advance such a Constitution through the legislature, or House of Burgesses in Virginia. This he would do instead of returning to the Continental Contress. He thought John Adams was correct in his reasoning.

However, Henry knew that the Continental Congress also needed to conduct some serious business. Therefore, he convinced Richard Henry Lee, who would attend the Congress, to present a proposal, a resolution that the Colonies now declare themselves free and independent States. Lee went to Philadelphia and indeed presented this important resolution.  That proposal may not have even been raised for discussion had not Patrick Henry insisted that it be introduced by a fellow Virginian–Richard Henry Lee.

The proposal was introduced on June 7, 1776. The President of the assembly, John Hancock, could see that most of the delegates were still unsure of separation from the mother country, despite the hostilities. But they were advancing to that conclusion. As a result, the proposition was tabled until additional reasoning could be considered.  But so that as little time as possible should be lost in the event that Lee’s proposition was approved, John Hancock appointed a committee to prepare a draft of a declaration, should one be called for.

To be continued…..

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill

September 29th, 2010

He didn’t become a player on the national stage like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. But he did serve in the House of Burgesses with both of them. And one of them, Thomas Jefferson, said that the speech given by this Founding Father, on his fifth day of membership in that House lit the flame in him that let him know that the colonies were on their way to Independence. His name is Patrick Henry. His last resting place is at Red Hill in Virginia.

Patrick Henry’s Home at ScotchTown

September 25th, 2010

Patrick Henry and his wife Sarah (he called her “Sally”) lived for a few years at ScotchTown. Sally became mentally and physically ill and died here. But do you know the rest of the story?

Watch this video to find out:

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.

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