Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

America’s Sacred Texts

By Jerry McDaniel

After several years spent studying American History and our founding documents, I came to the conclusion that the Founding Fathers left us a perfect plan for governing a free people. Most, if not all the major domestic crises faced by America since its founding could have been avoided had the leaders at the time, followed the precepts of our founding documents. Unfortunately, while the Founders gave us a perfect plan, that plan has never been administered by perfect men. The verdict of history and the Bible is that there are no perfect men, which brings us to the central question. If there are no perfect men, and yet we have a perfect plan of governance, how did we get it?

To appreciate fully the wisdom of the Founder’s plan it is necessary to view it as a single document consisting of three parts. (1) The Declaration of Independence gives the justification for our existence as a separate and independent people and the principles to enable us to govern ourselves successfully. (2) The Constitution presents the plan for governing, embodying those principles, and strengthening the whole while protecting the liberty and independence of all its parts. (3) The Bill of Rights clarifies and amplifies the intent of the Founders for particular elements of the plan.

These three parts of the Founder’s plan, collectively represent the most perfect and complete plan of government ever devised. Since its inception in March,1789 there have been many attempts to improve on the original as our political leaders moved away from its direction and chafed at the restrictions the plan placed on their ambitions. In each attempt to “update” the original, history has shown the effort to be of dubious benefit, with the unintended consequences sometimes far outweighing the intended improvements. For example, there have been seventeen Amendments to the Constitution since the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Most of those have produced marginal benefits with negligible damage to the original plan. Others have been used by revisionists to alter drastically the original plan, to the detriment of the American people and liberty, Amendments 12, 14, 16 and 17, are good examples.

The unity, cohesiveness, and durability of the Founder’s plan is even more remarkable when we consider the diversity of personalities, occupations, education, and interests of the hundreds of people who contributed to its formulation, including the Second Continental Congress, the Philadelphia Convention, and thirteen State Ratifying Conventions. One explanation can be found in the closing paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”. This phrase is much more than a rhetorical device to add solemnity to the document. It expresses the heartfelt faith of virtually all the Founding Fathers.

In our desire to view ourselves as a secular society ruled by a secular government, we overlook and often deny the most fundamental attribute of our national character; we are a religious people. According to a 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78.4% of all American Adults identify themselves as Christian. 4.7% identify as being affiliated with other than Christian religions and another 5.8% identify as being religious but not affiliated with any particular religious group. 88.9% of all American Adults consider themselves “religious”.  Admittedly, many of those who identify themselves as Christians are not “practicing” Christians, and many more would not meet the Biblical definition of Christian. However, that does not change the fact that we are a Christian nation and have been since our founding.

That is not to say that all the Founding Fathers would be considered as orthodox Christians by today’s doctrinal standards. It is fashionable in today’s secular America to discount the religious influence on the founding of America by pointing out inconstancies between the views of many of the more prominent Founders and what we might consider to be a proper Christian worldview. In doing so, we deny ourselves some of the most valuable lessons of history. There was a wide variety of beliefs then, just as there is now. The Framers that crafted our founding documents were members of Quaker, Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, and other Christian disciplines, and yet, there were certain beliefs they all held in common. Two of the most important religious characteristics of the Founders were their reverence for the Holy Bible and their faith in the Providence of God. They perhaps possessed the highest degree of Bible literacy of any group of political leaders before or since. The political speech of that era is replete with biblical references.

It is popular for historians to point to the writers of the Enlightenment Era such as John Locke or Montesquieu as providing the guiding principles behind our founding documents. The truth is that political writings of the time contain far more references to Biblical sources than to Enlightenment sources. In fact, Professor Daniel Dreisbach, an historian with American University claims there are more references to the book of Deuteronomy alone, found in the political writings of the Founders, than all of the Enlightenment writers combined. The Bible formed such a large part of the Founders thinking that they routinely referenced it in their speeches and correspondence without attribution, assuming that their audience would automatically recognize the reference. A classic example of this can be found in a speech by Benjamin Franklin to the Philadelphia Convention on June 28, 1787.

“…[T]he longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that 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? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

In this short paragraph, there are at least three distinct biblical references, Psalm, 127, Matthew 10:29, and Genesis 11:8-10. Franklin also refers here, to the Providence of God in the “affairs of men”, as does George Washington in a letter to Brig. General Thomas Nelson in August 1788,

“The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

This was written just before the Presidential election of 1788 and after the completion of the Constitution. It is evident that he was referring to the Divine Hand of God in the Revolutionary War and the events following, including the Confederation and the outcome of the Philadelphia Convention. James Madison had the same thoughts in mind when he wrote Federalist 37. In discussing the difficulties of the Convention in reconciling the differing ideas, opinions and interests of so diverse a group, Madison wrote,

“It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”

I agree with Franklin, Washington and Madison in their conclusions that the plan of government set forth in our founding documents bears clear evidence of the providence of God in its creation. Lest I be misunderstood, let me point out that the Divine Providence of our founding is different from the inspiration of Scripture. In inspiration, God deals with individuals directly so that each book of the Bible has a single author. With Providence God works “behind the scenes” so to speak, using multitudes of people and events, often seemingly unrelated, to bring about His will. Providence can only be seen through the lens of hindsight. It is only through observing the formation and progress of our nation in history, that we can appreciate the Providence of God and that we can confidently declare our founding documents to be America’s Sacred Texts.

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Liberty or Bondage?

“…In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, … … and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other”.
~ Ben Franklin on last day of Philadelphia Convention September  17, 1789

The nomination by the Republican Party of Mark Kirk, the liberal, big-government, pro-abortion, anti-family candidate for the U.S. Senate is an insult to every patriotic conservative in Illinois.  His nomination was a repeat of the 2008 Presidential race when the party establishment gave us John McCain as the Party’s choice and cannot be expected to end any differently than that campaign did.

A lot of voters seem to have been taken in by Kirk’s sudden conversion to fiscal conservatism and overlooked his social liberalism considering him a moderate. Fiscal conservatism plus social liberalism does not equal moderation.  It equals a morally confused individual whose views stem from ambition and convenience not principle.

The problem is that so few voters and not enough conservatives understand the fundamentals of republicanism or the role of the Constitution in our form of government.  Too many of us believe that it is the role of government to create jobs and solve our health care problems or any of the other real or manufactured problems we face.  No one would deny that these problems need to be solved, but it is not the role of the federal government to solve them.  There is two reasons why this is important.

One, the government cannot solve problems it created in the first place. The housing crisis, the energy crisis, the education crisis, the health care crisis and the prolonged recession all came about due to well intentioned but ill-advised, extra-constitutional government policies.  Specifically, they were created by policies that fall outside the proper role of government.

Two, the core principle of republicanism is the rule of law.  The Constitution is the law designed to govern the functions of government.  Whenever the government violates that law, the country suffers.  This is the undeniable verdict of two hundred years of our history.  Nowhere in the Constitution is there any authorization for the federal government to be involved in any way in education, health care, housing, banking, insurance, or manufacturing.

The futile expectation of voters for the federal government to fix our economic or other problems is only prolonging their solution, which is to return to the constitutional republican form of government our Founders intended for us to have. If the American People cannot take the time to learn about the mere 4,400 words in the Constitution and continue to sacrifice their liberty for an illusionary security they believe government can provide in their personal and financial life then perhaps we have reached the stage Ben Franklin was speaking of in the above quote.

The choice is simple.  We either return to our Constitution or succumb to the tyranny of socialism.  The two are incompatible and cannot co-exist.

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Obama's Flawed Constitution

liberty-bellPresident Obama has expressed, on several occasions, his belief that the Constitution is a flawed document.  He has also indicated a primary goal of his administration is to change the way things are done in America to match the principles on which he believes the nation was founded.  Millions of Americans cheer his efforts, believing they will make their lives easier and more rewarding.  Since more than sixty percent of Americans approve of his job performance after four months in office, pursuing his goal to remake America, it is important to understand just what the founding principles of our nation really are.

We will not find a definition of those principles in the Constitution although we do find examples of them.  At the same time, we find several places where the Constitution seems to contradict those principles.  The Constitution is a political document.  As such, it reflects compromises on issues that many of the framers did not agree on. The two most important were those between the federalists and the republicans and between the slave holding states and the anti-slave states.

The founding documents of America are actually three distinct documents written at different times and for different purposes.  They are The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787) and The Bill of Rights (1789).

The Declaration of Independence, often referred to as the nation’s charter, was based on a republican philosophy and contains the founding principles for our form of government.  The first principle is that a legitimate government receives its powers from the people.  The second is that all men are created equal. The third principle is that of unalienable rights endowed by God, not granted by government.  The fourth is that the only purpose of government is to protect those rights in a secure and stable civil society.

During the Revolutionary War, a Federation of the thirteen states was formed to carry out the war and perform other functions of a national nature, under the Articles of Confederation.  The Federation had no taxing powers, no means of regulating commerce between the states, and no mechanism for enforcing laws passed by the Congress.  The Articles of Confederation proved inadequate as a blueprint for governance, and the states authorized a convention in 1787 for the purpose of amending the Articles to correct many of the defects.

The Convention, meeting at Philadelphia, was dominated by Federalists who wanted a strong central government with the states in a subordinate relationship to the federal government, much like the relationship between counties and towns to state governments.  The minority, known as the anti-federalists, was strongly opposed to the Constitution as written.  Fearing it gave too much power to the central government, they demanded a Bill of Rights.  Many of the Founding Fathers we revere today were on opposing sides in the debate.

Federalists Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and James Madison, among others, were strongly opposed to a Bill of Rights.  Federalist No. 84 by Hamilton was written in opposition, arguing that adding a list of specific rights guaranteed by the Constitution was not only unnecessary but dangerous to the welfare of the union.  Many of the strongest advocates for a Bill of Rights were not delegates to the Convention. Thomas Jefferson was in France on a diplomatic mission during the debates and unable to contribute personally.  However, in a letter to his friend James Madison he expressed a strong concern that the Constitution did not contain a bill of rights.  Patrick Henry, another strong anti-federalist refused to attend the Convention and therefore did not take part in the debates.

However, after the draft of the Constitution was presented to the states for ratification, Henry became one of the dominant leaders in the anti-federalist opposition along with Samuel Adams, and John Hancock of Boston.  Failing in their efforts to get a Bill of Rights included in the Constitution the anti-federalists worked diligently in their state legislatures to secure assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added as amendments to the Constitution as a condition of ratification.  In this, they succeeded.

The discord in the Philadelphia Convention can be seen by comparing the title of the Declaration with the signing statement of the Constitution.  The full title of the Declaration boldly proclaims it to be “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America”.  By comparison, the Constitution simply says in the last paragraph,

“Done in Convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the Twelfth in witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names.”

This ambiguous wording was drawn up by George Mason and presented by Benjamin Franklin as a way of encouraging delegates to sign the draft and maintain the impression of unanimity on their behalf.  Notice, it is the Convention itself, not the signing of the Constitution that claims the “unanimous consent”.  On the day of signing only 43 delegates representing twelve states were present, including George Washington, President of the Convention and William Jackson, Secretary.  Three of the forty-three delegates that were present refused to sign; hardly a unanimous agreement.

Five states ratified the Constitution shortly after it was presented to the states.  However, it bogged down in Massachusetts.  Only after Samuel Adams and John Hancock had negotiated “the Massachusetts Compromise”, did the Massachusetts Convention vote for ratification. The compromise, recommending amendments to be considered by the new Congress, should the Constitution go into effect allowed delegates to vote for ratification with the prospect of a Bill of Rights being added later.

The Adams-Hancock compromise probably saved the Constitution from certain defeat.  Other states followed their example in their ratifying conventions.  Without the Bill of Rights, there would be no basis in law to protect our rights and restrict the powers of Congress.  The Tenth Amendment is the cornerstone of our founding documents and the basis for the doctrine of “enumerated powers”.  Even with the addition of the Bill of Rights, there were still contradictions between the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

These differences were not to be reconciled for another hundred years.  Only after the Civil War at a cost of more than 500,000 lives in battle and the addition of Amendments 13, 14 and 15, was the principle that “all men are created equal” recognized in the Constitution.  Today the Declaration and the Constitution, with its amendments, are in near perfect harmony. Unfortunately, from the beginning, the federal government has seemingly violated the letter and the spirit of the Constitution at will with little if any opposition from the people as a whole.

For the past seventy-five years we have witnessed the wholesale violation of the Constitution by Congresses, courts and Presidents, none more so that our current President and Congress.  When President Obama speaks of “perfecting” the Constitution or “remaking America” he is really talking about discarding the Constitution and tearing down all the traditions and customs that have made America great.

The warning uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Philadelphia Convention has an ominous ring to it today.

“Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

Have the American people been so corrupted by the allure of socialism as to be incapable of any form of government other than despotism, as Franklin suggested?  The next few months and years will answer that question for many generations to come.