The Moral Conditions of Citizenship
In 1796, George Washington did something extraordinary. He decided to return to his farm at Mount Vernon, and not accept a third term as President. In an era when candidates spend a billion dollars running for office, it is difficult for us to truly understand and appreciate our first President. Washington never wanted to be President. He never sought the office, and had to be persuaded to accept it if elected. Upon being elected, he confided in Henry Knox, that he felt like a prisoner being taken to his place of execution. George Washington became our first President not because he wanted the office, but because he believed that as a citizen, he had a moral obligation to serve his country.
Washington and the Founding Fathers had a concept of citizenship that seems to elude the modern world. To them, citizenship was about the willingness to sacrifice one’s individual interests in the service of one’s country. Washington never accepted a salary as Commander In Chief of the Continental Army, or as President. In true stoic tradition, he strove to live a life of self-discipline and restraint, subscribing to the belief that liberty and freedom enabled man to pursue happiness, and that true happiness could only be attained by living a virtuous and moral life.
The Founding Fathers understood that if our nation was going to thrive, it would have to promote good citizenship, and that good citizenship would require an education emphasizing civic responsibility and morality. To that end, Washington signed into law the Northwest Ordinance in 1789.
The Northwest Ordinance was first proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and except for the Declaration of Independence, is perhaps the single most important piece of legislation enacted by the Continental Congress. The ordinance established the process for admitting new states into the Union, and affirmed the rights of freedom of religion, habeas corpus, and trial by jury, that are the foundation of the Bill of Rights. It was also instrumental in the development of public education in America because it allocated public lands for schools. These lands would be the sites of elementary and secondary schools, and the land-grant universities that are today’s state colleges and universities. Congress justified the use of this public land because; “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
The Congress of the United States allocated public land so schools could promote good citizenship by teaching religion, morality, and knowledge? In today’s secular progressive society, this is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state. How could the Founding Fathers do this? What were they thinking?
Obviously, the Founding Fathers had a different understanding of the freedom of religion than the modern secular interpretation. Freedom of religion does not mandate the exclusion of religion from the public sector. On the contrary, it is intended to promote and encourage religious expression, not for the purposes of promoting any particular faith or religion, but to promote the Judeo-Christian ethic.
The Judeo-Christian ethic is a value system found in the Bible. It is centered on the belief that there is a divine Creator who endowed us with both a free-will, and the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It espouses that the Creator will hold us accountable for what we do and fail to do with the life and freedoms that he gave us. The Judeo-Christian ethic promotes; human dignity, the pursuit of truth, a love of justice, honesty, integrity, a work ethic, compassion for our fellow man, and above all else, personal responsibility. These are the values that the Founding Fathers knew were critical to the success of our nation.
It’s important to remember that the United States was a new type of nation, the first nation in history in which the people governed themselves. There was no ruling class to force their morality or rules of order upon the people. The survival and ultimate success of the infant United States was dependent upon the character and morality of its citizens, and not the power of the federal government. The Founding Fathers understood this, and knew that religion was instrumental in developing the moral conditions of good citizenship. This is why we have a first amendment, and why the early Congress believed that religion, morality, and knowledge were critical to good government and the happiness of the people.
Today, secular progressives are mounting an offensive to remove religion from the public sector. Under the banner of tolerance, they are replacing the concept of personal responsibility with the delusion that there are no consequences for our actions. Their goal is to supplant the truth that liberty and freedom are gifts that enable us to pursue a moral and virtuous life; with the lie, that liberty and freedom exist so we can pursue an unrestrained and immoral life. After decades of infiltrating the culture, the results of the secular progressive movement are evident; a forty-one percent illegitimate birth rate, a terminally dependent class, a concept of citizenship that places self above service, and a nation in decline.
Apparently, it’s not just the modern world that has difficulty understanding George Washington. He was somewhat of an enigma among his contemporaries. Upon learning that Washington intended to return to his farm at Mount Vernon, and not seek a third term as President, King George III of England remarked, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”