Christianity and Freedom in the Founding of the United States
I am going to do something that I rarely do on this blog and post on a topic that touches on both politics and Christianity. This type of thing is now frowned upon in the popular culture in the United States. It wasn’t always that way but that was then and this is now.
As I write this it is February 2012 and there is a bitter political battle shaping up for the presidential election this November. At the moment there are two men who are front runners for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. I am not going to endorse either candidate (like anyone would care J). What I am concerned about is some of the fighting over [Christian] morality and its place in government.
Apparently Rick Santorum did an interview a while back where he stated that if it were up to him he would outlaw online gambling. This interview is being used by those who support Romney to show that Santorum, a “social conservative”, is anti-freedom. It is difficult to overstate how messed up I think this is. Not only do I not believe that gambling is a right guaranteed under the Constitution but I believe that we no longer understand what freedom was to the Christian men who wrote that Constitution.
I cannot describe this debate as anything other than silly. In fact I did something I haven’t done in a long time and posted comments on a blog saying that it was silly. Obviously many “conservatives” disagreed with me and said that people like Santorum are trying to impose “their morality” on the rest of us. I hate to say it but there is no such thing as a law that isn’t an expression of morality. I challenge anyone to show me a law that is amoral!
Just so my opinion is on record, I actually do not believe that gambling is necessarily a sin. However I do believe that the state run lotteries have taken advantage of a lot of people that cannot afford to waste their money. It is bad public policy and not a right protected under the U.S. Constitution.
The definition of freedom that modern Americans use is: the right to do anything that we want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. That is a modern conceit that would have been totally foreign to the founders of this once great nation. I know of two bedrock principles that the American Founding Fathers used to define freedom:
1) The freedom of religion. In Europe many of the churches were “state churches” that were officially sponsored, and manipulated, by the government. Many of the people who came to the American colonies were seeking to worship without state harassment.
2) The freedom to own property. The aristocracies in Europe had this nasty habit of taking the property of the peasants whenever it suited them. This was a terrible injustice that our founders sought to correct.
I had heard that the American Founding Fathers defined freedom as “the right of a man to enjoy the fruits of his honest labor” so I searched for it on the internet. I believe I found it and some other quotes from the founders that I would like to share with you.
Before I share the quotes I found with you, along with some other resources, I want to state my own subjective opinion clearly. I can prove that I have ancestors that fought in the War for Independence, the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. These men all believed that they were fighting for freedom but would be surprised to find out they were fighting for gambling along with any other vice that “doesn’t hurt anyone else.” My forefathers didn’t sacrifice so there can be a crack house on every block and a prostitute on every street corner!
Here are a couple of resources that anyone who stumbles upon this post may find interesting. First, there is a collection of political sermons from the American founding era that are available online. They are dense sermons but they do show a mindset completely different from my debauched contemporaries.
- Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
- Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 2 (1789-1805)
I know of one Christian organization that has spent a lot of time digging into the Christian roots of our founding and that is American Vision. They have produced a lot of books and other material that are very worthwhile (see their list of American history books here). The problem I have with them is that they hate dispensationalists, like me, with an un-Christian fervor that really puts me off. I have decided to purchase a used copy of “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States” from an Amazon book seller so I don’t have to support them directly.
Now, here are the quotes I went looking for earlier:
“No man would become a member of a community in which he could not enjoy the fruits of his honest labor and industry. The preservation of property, then, is a primary object of the social compact…. The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.” (Justice William Paterson VanHorne‘s Lessee v. Dorrance, 2 U.S. 304, 28 F.Cas. 1012 C.C.Pa. 1795.)
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (George Washington, Farwell Address, Writings of Washington, Vol. 35, p. 229.)
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (John Adams, October 11, 1798.)
The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Republican governments could be supported only by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.” (John Adams, 1775.)
“A Republic must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.” (John Witherspoon)
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity;—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption;—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” (Edmund Burke, A Letter From Mr. Burke To A Member Of The National Assembly, 1791.)
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, ME 2:227. 1782.)
“The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy the gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people; then shall we both deserve and enjoy it. While on the other hand, if we are universally vicious and debauched in our manners, though the form of our Constitution carries the face of the most exalted freedom, we shall in reality be the most abject slaves.” (Samuel Adams, The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams, 1:22-23.)
“But neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. Here therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.” (Samuel Adams, The Life of Samuel Adams, 1:22.)
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” (John Quincy Adams)