Tag Archives: founding documents

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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Still Waiting For That Republican Form of Government?

liberty-bell“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…” ~~Article 4, Section 4, U.S. Constitution

Throughout our history, the one thing all American Patriots have agreed on is that republicanism is the ideal political philosophy for our form of government.  The Framers not only believed in this principle, they also knew what it meant.

Like patriotism, freedom, liberty, democracy and deity, republicanism is an abstract term and therefore difficult to precisely define.  Most modern nations lay claim to the label of “Republic”, yet few are governed by republican principles.  It is obvious that the Soviet Socialist Republics that made up the Soviet Union, The Republic of China, and the United States of America do not have the same form of government.  Yet, they all bear the name “Republic”.

If Thomas Jefferson, THE champion of republicanism found its definition elusive, it is no wonder that the average American has difficulty in wrapping their mind around the concept.

“It must be acknowledged that the term republic is of very vague application in every language… Were I to assign to this term a precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally according to rules established by the majority; and that every other government is more or less republican in proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the citizens. Such a government is evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent of a New England township.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816

In searching the Founding Documents and other writers of the era to discover the idea the Framers had in mind when they wrote Section 4 of Article IV, we come up with two principles that seem to define its core meaning: The rule of law, and representative government. Neither of these is adhered to, in the constitutional sense, by our government today.

The Rule of Law

It is true that the rule of law is necessary for an ordered society.  It is equally true that the rule of law has throughout history, been the primary tool of tyranny.  Therefore, it is evident that the Founding Fathers did not simply have in mind a “nation ruled by law and not by men” when they devised a republican form of government for our nation.  What they meant by “republican government” was a government ruled by laws derived from a Constitution written and approved according to the collective will of all the people, clearly setting forth the authority and duties of government and restricting it to those powers only.  Article VI of the Constitution declares it, along with its duly ratified Amendments to be “The Supreme Law of The Land” and “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby”.

In order for a Constitution to be effective as a basis for government it must be (a) written, (b) permanent, and (c) unchangeable other than by lawful amendment procedures.  The claim by our present Administration that the Constitution is a “work in progress” to be altered and “perfected” by each succeeding generation is a contradiction of the very meaning of the word itself.  It undermines the foundation of republican government and places the liberties of our citizens at the mercy of whatever group of politicians that happens to be in power at any given time.

Article I of the Constitution declares, “ALL legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”  Through the years, Congress has devised the means for escaping responsibility and accountability for particularly onerous and unpopular laws by establishing bureaucracies and departments within the Executive Branch with “rule making” (legislative) powers.  The torrent of regulations and rules flowing from these bureaucratic, regulatory agencies, sometimes by executive order and frequently by judicial mandate, are direct violations of both the letter and spirit of the Constitution which gives ALL legislative powers to the Congress.

Representative Government

Closely associated with the principle of “rule of law”, is that of “representative government“.  It was clearly the intent of the Framers that law governing the activities and welfare of the people would be made by representatives, chosen by them, to serve in this capacity for a short period of time.  While Congress collectively may be said to be elected by the people, individually each member is elected by less than one percent of the total population.

It is this fact, among others, that prompted the Framers to place strict restraints on the powers of Congress, limiting it to matters of national necessity.  James Madison summed up the powers of the national government in Federalist No. 41.

“That we may form a correct judgment on this subject, it will be proper to review the several powers conferred on the government of the Union; and that this may be the more conveniently done they may be reduced into different classes as they relate to the following different objects:

  1. Security against foreign danger;
  2. Regulation of the intercourse with foreign nations;
  3. Maintenance of harmony and proper intercourse among the States;
  4. Certain miscellaneous objects of general utility;
  5. Restraint of the States from certain injurious acts;
  6. Provisions for giving due efficacy to all these powers.”

These “enumerated powers” are spelled out in Article I, Section 8 and emphasized in the Tenth Amendment.  For a commentary on the more controversial ones click HERE.

The idea of a federal legislature, not accountable to the collective will of the people, making laws affecting the lives all the people regardless of their unique circumstances and needs, was precisely what the Founders were attempting to avoid when they established a republican form of government with clear boundaries between the powers of the national and state governments.

This principle has been so corrupted over the past century that we now find ourselves in the absurd position where citizens of our poorest states are taxed to fund the profligate spending of those in some of our richest states; Where frugal and productive citizens find the fruits of their labor confiscated from them “by law” to provide luxuries to citizens in other states who are less productive and less frugal than themselves.

That a Congresswoman elected by a fraction of the citizens of one state can dominate legislation and spending affecting the citizens of all states, or that a Senator from one of our least populous states can impose his will by legislation on the most minute details of the lives of more than three hundred millions of citizens would be unthinkable by our Founding Fathers.

It is these perversions of government that have led to revolutions in the past and will again in the future, if allowed to go unchecked.  Whether the revolution takes place at the ballot box or in the streets remains to be seen.

A Conservative Message With Meaning

minute-man-2-lithoA panel of Supreme Court Justices will meet tomorrow to consider one of many lawsuits attempting to force Barack Obama to show that he meets the Constitution qualification for President; “No Person except a natural born Citizen,…shall be eligible to the Office of President.” (Article II, Section 1)

I have no opinion as to the validity of the claim that Obama was actually born in Kenya and is not a “natural born citizen” as required by the Constitution.  I have seen no convincing evidence either way.  What bothers me is Obama’s “I don’t need no stinking Constitution” attitude.  The question could be put to rest immediately by simply producing a valid birth certificate.  The fact that he steadfastly refuses to do so shows a contempt for the Constitution unworthy of a President.

Further evidence of this attitude toward the Constitution is shown by his selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution states “ No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time.”

Presidents routinely sidestep this requirement by finding a variety of loopholes.  One technique is simply to decrease the salary to what it was at the time the Senator or Representative first took office.  In the Case of Hillary, they will probably point to the fact that the increase in salary the Secretary of State was not instituted by Congress, but rather as an adjustment by the Executive Branch to compensate for increases in the cost of living.

Both of these examples may seem to be trivial matters, but they do demonstrate a fundamental fact about attitudes regarding the Constitution.  The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document to most Americans, and a nuisance to most politicians.  Therein lies our dilemma—and the answer to revitalizing the Republican Party.

Most American citizens instinctively know the Constitution is important in protecting our liberties, however, due to deficiencies in our education system few have more than a rudimentary knowledge of its contents.  If Republicans were suddenly to start defending the Constitution instead of joining their Democratic colleagues in looking for loopholes, they would find an overwhelming support from the American people.

The reluctance to defend the Constitution is not limited to just Democrats and Moderate Republicans.  Conservative politicians may complain when those in power violate the Constitution in ways they do not approve, however, complaining is not defending.  We protest that conservative leaders are not effective in articulating the conservative message.  The reason they are not is that they fail to link the conservative message with the Constitution.

Most people get their perception of government from politicians, either in campaigns, or when they appear in interviews on TV.  With the unceasing message from both sides of the aisle, that the purpose of government is to solve all our problems, is it any wonder that citizens have a distorted view that does not include the principles in our founding documents.

A conservative message of limited government and low taxes is meaningless to the average American unless they understand why it is important to them personally.  The best way to get this message across is by explaining how these principles are connected to our founding documents and two hundred years of history.  The challenge of education today is not technology but civics.  The one group with the best opportunity to educate the public regarding the Constitution is the politicians, and it is up to us to demand that they do.