American Genesis: Fundamental Principles

             As if advocating worship wasn’t enough, the Framers also set a course to promote moral values within government; this was done by encouraging public morality within their constitutions. They affirmed that the citizenry represented had a right to require their leaders to live in a moral manner. Massachusetts Part I, Article I, Paragraph 18: 

             “A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government. The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives, and they have the right to require of their lawgivers, and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them in the formation and execution of all laws for the good administration of the Commonwealth.” 

             Were these unconstitutional principles after the U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791? Not at all. In 1830, Massachusetts’s lawmakers amended their state Constitution. There were no changes to the language regarding religion, morality, and the promotion of worship. How dramatically governments have changed since then! 

             During the 1988 presidential primaries, Democratic candidate Gary Hart found his formerly first place bid for the White House had suddenly plummeted to last place when his extra–marital activities were made public. In contrast, four years later, Bill Clinton was elected president with 43 percent of the vote—with polls showing most the American people holding the position that Clinton’s past (and potentially future) indiscretions did not disqualify him for the land’s highest office. In his subsequent eight years in office, as his extra-martial affairs and other failures became known, the American public still regarded him highly. Piety, religion, and morality as a part of the American conscience has whittled away leaving a moral void in politics—and it didn’t take long. 

             New Hampshire, one of the original 13 states, was admitted into the Union in 1788. Her first Constitution under the federal government was ratified in 1792—the year after the U.S. Bill of Rights was put into effect. 

             New Hampshire’s constitution is not unlike the other first constitutions, but in many respects, makes the case for private education, and moral values in stronger terms than the previously featured Maine and Massachusetts documents. New Hampshire’s constitution, like virtually every other, recognized “natural rights”—rights which every person has in and of themselves. Natural rights are rights, which the Framers believed should not be infringed by the government. In Part I, Article I, Paragraph 2, the first New Hampshire Constitution reads: 

             “All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights—among which are, the enjoying and defending of life and liberty acquiring, possessing, and protecting; in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness.” 

             In Paragraph 4, the concept of natural rights was expanded: 

             “Among the natural rights, some are in their very nature unalienable, because no equivalent can be given or received for them. Of this kind are the rights of conscience.” 

             Paraphrased, we see that there are rights, which cannot be replaced. Not that a thing a right guarantees cannot be replaced, but the right itself has no equivalent. These rights are built into the fiber of human nature. It is natural and right for a person to want to enjoy the quality of life he has, defend or hold onto his existence, liberties, and happiness. 

             “The natural liberty of man is to be free of any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule…which liberty is only abridged in certain instances not lost to those who are born in or voluntarily enter into society; this gift of God cannot be annihilated.”3 

             While God’s gift of the liberties of man cannot be annihilated, it can certainly be oppressed. 

             “Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and reason…” 

             What we believe determines how we live. Take away opinion based upon observed evidence and you take away more than conscience—you do away with life founded upon principles of morality and reason. 

             Colonel Ethan Allen who fought during the revolutionary battle of Ticonderoga “Was an open unbeliever in Christianity. He not only wrote the first formal attack on the Christian religion which was ever written in America, but he adopted the notion that the soul of man, after death, would live again in beasts, birds, fishes, etc, with many other notions still more singular. It is said that though his wife was a pious woman and taught her children the truths of Christianity, one daughter inclined to the same strange opinions of her father. When [she was] about to die” she asked Col. Allen, ‘Shall I believe in the principles you have taught me, or what my mother has taught me?’ The father became agitated, his chin quivered, his whole frame shook, and after waiting a few moments, he replied, ‘Believe what your mother has taught you.'”4 

             Governments may have given some support to Christianity, but differences existed. Man, however, like Col. Allen, could be persuaded at one time or another by life’s turmoil, of the securities found in Jesus Christ. 

             New Hampshire’s framers understood that in order to maintain the rights of conscience they intended; those rights must receive some kind of official support—recognition that their advocacy is necessary to maintain a stable society. Like other states, New Hampshire provided for private values in public education. Part I, Article I, Paragraph 6, sounds in no way like a “secular” admonition: 

             “As morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles, will give the best and greatest security to government, and will lay, in the hearts of men, the strongest obligations to due subjection…” 

             Stopping here, we should consider the language: The concept that proper subjection to good government comes through the propagation of values “rightly grounded on evangelical principles,” is completely unlike the concept of secular neutrality found in courts, schools, and legislatures today. Consider this clause’s phrase, “security to government.” The knowledge that the people will be under the subjection of their government without cause for rebellion is was based upon public morality, encouraged by the state—not any kind of governmental police powers.

             Even after the establishment of the Federal Constitution, there were occasional rebellions by factions within one or two states. President George Washington found it necessary at one point to militarily put down a tax rebellion in Massachusetts. 

             This century’s habit of revising its view of American history has fostered a notion among many people that the War for Independence was not a revolution in the true sense of the word, rather, a rebellion against due authority, and thus, a violation of the biblical standard of obedience to governing authorities found in Romans 13. How could men such as the Founding Fathers, so familiar with the Scriptures, condone and actually instigate such behavior? Before answering the question, a proper view of what actually took place is necessary. Was the American Revolution a true revolution or was it a rebellion without biblical support?

             Contrary to the notion that America was in rebellion to the Mother Country of Great Britain, Americans were, in fact, originally seeking two things—loyalty to the King, and redress against the British Parliament. The colonies asserted the Parliament had no legal authority, based upon the British Constitution and Law of Nations, to dictate policies for the colonies. John Adams, in his January 1775 Novanglus VII wrote: 

             “Some of these colonies, indeed, most of them were settled before the Kingdom of Great Britain was brought into existence. The union of England and Scotland was made and established by [an] Act of Parliament in the reign of Queen Anne, and it was this union and statute, which erected the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Colonies were settled long before in the reign of Kings James and Charleses. What authority over them had Scotland?. . . .If the English Parliament were to govern us, where did they get the right without our consent, to take the Scottish Parliament into a participation of the government over us?” 

             America, already had a parliament of its own—the assemblies and legislatures of the colonies; and in the Continental Congress. The British Parliament’s act was assuming authority over that of the colonies. Instead of rebelling, the American colonies spent many years appealing to the King as their recognized leader, each time reaffirming their loyalty to him, while begging for satisfaction of their complaints. Sadly, the King did not respond in kind. Regardless, the colonies remained loyal—even during the revolution. For example, New Jersey’s 1777 constitution closed with this clause:

             “…if a reconciliation between Great Britain and these colonies should take place, and the latter be again taken under the protection of and government of Great Britain, this charter shall be null and void…” 

             New Hampshire’s Part I, Article I, Paragraph 6 went on to establish what we previously examined—state promoted, privately supported, public schools with a firm foundation in Christian traditions and morality—without outside interference from governmental or non–religious groups. 

             The Founders seemed to have complete agreement upon two fundamental principles, the need for Christian morality, and its promotion through education. There were other concepts agreed upon, such as forbidding judicial activism, but none seemed so important as morality, religion, and their public instruction. Nothing else offers the hope of preventing crime, family breakdown, the need for government programs, and limitations on personal freedoms. In the words of Founding Father Daniel Webster, 

             “The cultivation of the religious sentiment represses licentiousness…inspires respect for law and order, and gives strength to the whole social fabric…”1

Tomorrow: Separation of Church & State.

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