Our generation has confused freedom, as defined and understood by the Founding Fathers, with license. With regard to public discourse, however, one finds that speech is ever more limited by the current state of affairs. In examining our current public discourse and convention(s), it is necessary to delve into our own Republic’s history and those who established it, and the respective rhetorical philosophy they engendered.
Our Founding Fathers were men of great learning, products of the Enlightenment, and inculcated with the knowledge of the Classic Civilizations i.e. Greece and Rome. Having as their example the despotism of the English monarchy, the absolutism of the other European monarchies and the hegemony of the Roman Church, they strived to form a republic based on the best egalitarian ideals of Athens and the Roman Republic. As such, they were also well versed in the inherent weaknesses of each civilization. In addition, most all were products of the Reformation and well apprised of the recent history of the Roman Church. In truth, 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had seminary or Bible school degrees. They were desirous of founding a republic that was unencumbered by a state religion i.e. denomination, but one that had a strong Christian foundation. The veracity of this statement is well documented (and not the purpose of this writing); the organic record of the Founding Father’s writings is unequivocal regarding this intention. The raison d’être for this statement is germane to this writing, however. The Founding Fathers understood the difference between freedom and license. Furthermore, they understood that a democratic republic would not succeed if the people were not educated and moral. To quote John Adams (in a Presidential address to the military in October of 1798):
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Thus, the first public educational institutions in the Republic were all dedicated to the proposition that education is religious in nature and that the precepts of Christ be taught in all schools at all levels. The public school system was originally designed as a vehicle to promote responsible citizenry in accordance with these principles. At the university level, one need only read the charters upon which the institutions of Harvard, Yale and Princeton (to name but a few) were founded as evidence of this truth. Daily reading of the Holy Scriptures was mandated for the student as an integral part of education.
The survival of our constitutional Republic is incumbent upon the morality of the people. Freedom, by definition, is the ability to act and live as one chooses. The Founding Fathers understood that doing so, without moral restraint, involved serious consequences—both in ones’ personal life, and, by extension, for the Republic itself. They emphasized the concept that unrestrained actions lead to lesser freedom personally and tyranny politically. This is a lesson that our generation would do well to learn. Having dismantled the legal and social bulwarks that protected our Republic in former times, we now witness the demise of our civilization unabated and unhindered. Laws are passed to curb and regulate our behavior and society. Increasingly, the infringement and incremental encroachment upon our collective freedoms is facilitated by a government that is more than happy to increase its power under the guise of retaining law and order.
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