I recently spent some time with my daughter who attends college in Maryland. She was amused by the subject matter of some of her liberal arts classes. We began discussing one of her history classes where some time was spent “learning” about our founding fathers. What she learned about the founders was all focused on the flaws of these men; whether based in fact or revisionist history. This teaching reflects the popular view, shared by our current President and his administration, that America is no different than any other nation on the globe…that our nation is “fundamentally flawed,” after all, look at the flawed men that built it.
For example, what my daughter remembers about Alexander Hamilton, one of the primary founders of this nation, is that he was a womanizer. Not only a womanizer, explains her feminist professor, but a hypocrite at that. After all, how could a man who is free to have affairs with other men’s wives feel that his sense of morality is at stake over a duel with Aaron Burr? These questionable accounts are all too typical in America’s classrooms and textbooks. I have read the same type of story about George Washington, claiming a torrid affair with his married friend Sally Fairfax. Most credible sources will tell you that is a terrible lie.
I am not trying to give the founders some divine status or even suppose them a level of perfection that they did not have. We must understand that our nation was not founded upon people, but upon principles. The people that gave us our exceptional American principles were flawed vessels just like you and me. However, the really amazing part of this history is that flawed men understood that the foundation of an enduring nation must be liberty moored in morality. Consider these words by Alexander Hamilton:
Equal pains have been taken to deprave the morals as to extinguish the religion of the country [France], if indeed morality in a community can be separated from religion…The pious and moral weep over these scenes as a sepulcher destined to entomb all they revere and esteem.
The politician who loves liberty sees them with regret as a gulf that may swallow up the liberty to which he is devoted. He knows that morality overthrown (and morality must fall with religion), the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bounds of social duty. (emphasis original)
The Stand, No. III (April 7, 1798)
Our founders knew that Liberty is a combination of two equally important parts – it is FREEDOM under the constraints of MORAL LAW. Liberty cannot survive where there is pure freedom. Pure freedom gives man the right to do whatever is right in his own mind: cheat, lie, rob, murder. Pure freedom is anarchy. At the same time, Liberty cannot survive with moral law alone. Moral law not mingled with freedom is theocracy. Theocracy in the hands of men is tyranny in the name of religion. Our founders attempted give us this balance and secure the blessings of liberty for us in our founding documents. When we abandon our founding documents and disregard our moral foundations, liberty is in peril.
Thomas Jefferson gave us this warning, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?”
While Benjamin Franklin warned America’s founders directly:
“In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection…. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of Superintending Providence in our favor…have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?…. God Governs in the affairs of men And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
Patrick Henry said “Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.”
As an exceptional nation built upon exceptional principles, we cannot deny that we are built with a foundational understanding of an exceptional God. Thomas Jefferson reminds us that, “We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it; and He will give them their effect in His own time.”
Because of our historical understanding that our nation was built on the principles of freedom and morality, America has always been the haven of rest when tyrants oppress their own. She is the vineyard of innovation and opportunity. This is the nation that opens its arms to the tired, to the poor, to the oppressed, to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. No other nation can claim this legacy, no other people has this birthright. This is the shining city upon a hill, and we cannot hide our light under a bush.
The focus of our education should not be on the flaws of the men who gave us this nation, but on the exceptional nation that they gave us. We have an exceptional nation where “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.” A nation birthed by the principle that the power of the government is to be held BY the people and not where the government holds power OVER the people. A nation that believes the principle that says all are free to worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and all are equally free, “Jews, Turks, pagans, AND Christians.” A nation that has prospered based on the principle that ideas and hard work open the door to prosperity regardless of bloodline, skin color or social status. A nation that has remained free based on the principle that liberties remain secure by maintaining the right to defend self, property, and Liberty.
In the profound words of Daniel Webster, “Is our Constitution worth preserving? Guard it as you would guard the seat of your life, guard it not only against the open blows of violence, but also against that spirit of change…Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism.”~ An Anniversary Address by Daniel Webster July 4th 1806
So in this time of Thanksgiving, let us maintain a true focus on what is important. In this day it is so popular to denigrate America for every little flaw. Why not take back a bit of American Exceptionalism? Why not embrace what makes us different from every other nation on the globe? America is an exceptional nation because we are built on exceptional principles. Principles of Liberty, freedom, morality, and equality as derived from our Creator.
May God continue to bless this America, established upon the principles of Liberty.