A Virtuous and Moral People
W. Cleon Skousen, in his book The Five Thousand Year Leap, tells of the heated debates occurring in the thirteen colonies between 1775 and 1776 over the issue of morality. Self-government was generally referred to as “republicanism,” and it was universally acknowledged that a corrupt and selfish people could never make the principles of republicanism operate successfully. These early Americans were, in essence, debating whether or not the people (citizens of the thirteen colonies) were sufficiently moral and virtuous to govern themselves.
Skousen then quotes Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Franklin wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” George Washington later praised the new American Constitution as the “palladium of human rights,” but pointed out that it could survive only “so long as there shall remain virtue in the body of the people.”
Washington and others believed in individual morality and virtue as identified with the Ten Commandments and obedience to the Creator’s mandate for right conduct. But Washington’s statement “virtue in the body of the people,” indicates the Founders believed in the necessity of “Public Virtue” as well.
Historian and author Gordon S. Wood points out that “public virtue” was a special quality of human maturity in character and service closely akin to the Golden Rule. Wood described what “public virtue” meant to the 18th American as quoted by Skousen, “In a Republic, however, each man must somehow be persuaded to submerge his personal wants into the greater good of the whole. This willingness of the individual to sacrifice his private interest for the good of the community – such patriotism or love of country – the eighteenth century termed public virtue.”
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense had been a best seller in the colonies. He followed up his initial success with many other writings assuring Americans that they were ready for independence and for self-government because the American people were “industrious, frugal, and honest.”
Skousen next points out that many Americans became self-conscious about their lack of “public virtue” because of their non-involvement in the affairs of government. What a change from today! The 18th Century American believed that they exhibited “public virtue” by interjecting morality into legislation and public affairs! TCG believes we would be far better off today with moral legislation.
Our Founders believed that we could not remain free and that our American experiment of “republicanism” would not survive if we were not a virtuous and moral people. The following are some quotes from our Founders to support this statement.
James Madison wrote, “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”
John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
George Washington declared in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Later in his Farewell Address Washington went on to say, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”
The next principle to be discussed is that our form of government can only exist with virtuous and moral leaders.
For greater information on this and other founding principles, please see The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen.