Monday, August 11, 2014

Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration Of Independence


















Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of President Lincoln: "Even those who only knew him through his public utterances obtained a tolerably clear idea of his character and his personality. The image of the man went out with his words, and those who read them knew him."  (Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876). James M. McPherson, a noted Civil War historian wrote, “The 'first cause,' the central vision that guided Lincoln … was preservation of the United States and its constitutional government … It was rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the ideals of liberty and equal opportunity that the Declaration had implanted as a revolutionary new idea on which the United States was founded.” (Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (Oxford University Press, New York, 1991), p. 115-116). Simply stated, Abraham Lincoln’s “polar star” and guiding principles were those found embodied in the Declaration of Independence. As he said in 1861, “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”  He spoke of the Declaration and its principles frequently throughout his political career. Not only did he speak of them, but he believed in them and relied upon them in his decisions. Following are a few references from Lincoln’s speeches and debates:

"Let us readopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it the practices and policy which harmonize with it. Let north and south -- let all Americans -- let all lovers of liberty everywhere -- join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations."
Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, (Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854)(cited as “CW”)

"[L]et us revere the Declaration of Independence; let us continue to obey the Constitution and the laws; and let us keep step to the music of the Union.”
 CW, Volume II, (Speech at Bloomington, May 29, 1856)

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”
 CW, Volume II, p. 500 (Speech at Chicago, July 11, 1858)

"'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This was [the Founders'] majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures...look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which [your] fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land..."
CW, Volume II, p. 544-546 (August 17, 1858)

“Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution.” 
Ibid.

“I think the authors of that notable instrument [the Declaration of Independence] intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal — equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”
CW, Volume III, p. 283-325 (Debate at Alton, October 15, 1858)

“They [the Founders who issued the Declaration] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all,—constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.”
 Ibid.

“All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
CW, Volume III, p. 376 (Letter to Henry L. Pierce, April 6, 1859)

“I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”
CW, Volume IV, p. 240-241 (Speech at Philadelphia, February 22, 1861)

“I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this [nation] so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.  It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.”
Ibid.

“[July 4, 1776] was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams  the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate — the only two of the fifty-five who sustained it being elected President of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action. This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history.”
CW, Volume VI, p. 319-320 (Response to a Serenade, July 7, 1863)

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….” 
Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Natural Law Principles













"The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" -- are the foundation of the political principles of American independence.  As set forth in the writings of Locke, Sidney, and others, it means that nature has inherent laws by which each individual has a conscience, accountability for one’s actions, and a duty to not harm others or their property.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stated that “the general principles of liberty and rights of man in nature and society” are to be found in the writings of John Locke and Algernon Sidney (Minutes of the Board of Governors of the University of Virginia, March 4, 1825). Following is a brief summary of natural law principles found in their writings and in the Declaration of Independence:

“All men are created equal” – all men and women as individuals are equal in their natural rights and equal before the law.

“…all men by Nature are equal, I cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of Equality: Age or Virtue may give Men a just Precedency: Excellency of Parts and Merit may place others above the common level: Birth may subject some, and Alliance or Benefits others, to pay an Observance to those to whom Nature, Gratitude or other Respects may have made it due; and yet all this consists with the Equality which all men are in, in respect of Jurisdiction or Dominion one over another, which was the Equality I there spoke of... being that equal Right that every Man hath, to his natural Freedom, without being subjected to the Will or Authority of any other Man." – John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 6, sec. 54)

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” – John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 2, sec. 6)

All men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – all men and women are born with a divine right to be free and to choose liberty or captivity, virtue or vice, happiness or misery.

"The principle of liberty in which God created us …includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, I:2:5)

“Liberty …is the gift of God and nature." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, I:17:44)

Virtue is necessary to establish and preserve liberty and happiness – as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson taught, there is an “indissoluble union between virtue and happiness,” and “virtue is the foundation of happiness.” Happiness is the purpose of life and the end of government.

"If vice and corruption prevail, liberty cannot subsist; but if virtue have the advantage, arbitrary power cannot be established." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, II:30:241-242) [Copied by Thomas Jefferson in his Commonplace Book]

“… virtue [is] so essentially necessary to the establishment and preservation of liberty, that it [is] impossible for a corrupted people to set up a good government, or for a tyranny to be introduced if they be virtuous; and … where the matter (that is, the body of the people) is not corrupted, tumults and disorders do not hurt; and where it is corrupted, good laws do no good..." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, II:11:104-05)

"Virtue is the dictate of reason, or the remains of divine light, by which men are made beneficent and beneficial to each other. Religion proceeds from the same spring; and tends to the same end; and the good of mankind so entirely depends upon the two, that no people ever enjoyed anything worth desiring that was not the product of them; and whatsoever any have suffered that [which] deserves to be abhorred and feared, has proceeded either from the defect of these, or the wrath of God against them. If any [leader] therefore has been an enemy to virtue and religion, he must also have been an enemy to mankind, and most especially to the people under him." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, II:27:212).

“…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” – the people are sovereign and delegate their power to government to secure their rights, and their representatives are accountable to them.

"We are free-men governed by our own laws, and ...no man has a power over us, which is not given and regulated by them." –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, III:17:329)

"Those who delegate powers, do always retain to themselves more than they give, they [the people] who send these men [representatives], do not give them an absolute power of doing whatsoever they please, but retain to themselves more than they confer upon their deputies: they must therefore be accountable to their principals …" –Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, III:38:423)

Freedom is maintained by just laws – human laws based upon natural law preserve order and enlarge individual freedom.

"Laws are made to keep things in good order without the necessity of having recourse to force." --Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, III:13:306)

“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom: For in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom.” – John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 6, sec. 57)

The supreme law is the safety of the people – the primary object of government is to protect the lives, rights, liberties, and property of the people.

"If the safety of the people be the supreme law, and this safety extend to, and consist in, the preservation of their liberties, goods, lands, and lives, that law must necessarily be the root and the beginning, as well as the end and the limit, of all magistratical [governmental] power, and all laws must be subservient and subordinate to it." --Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, III:16:318).

"[Governmental] power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath no other end but preservation..." --John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 11, sec. 135)

Private Property is a natural right and is an appendage to liberty – the possession of our rights, and the ownership and control of the fruits of our mind and labors of our body is a natural right.

"Everyone has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his." --John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 5, sec. 27)

"Property is also an appendage to liberty; and it is impossible for a man to have a right to land or goods, if he has no liberty, and enjoys his life only at the pleasure of another, as it is to enjoy either, when he is deprived of them." --Algernon Sidney (Discourses Concerning Government, III:16:318)

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security” – the people have a right and a duty to resist and to overthrow tyranny.

"And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of anybody, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject."--John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 13, sec. 149)

"... whenever the Legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience ... [Power then] devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty, and, by the Establishment of a new Legislative (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own Safety and Security, which is the end for which they are in Society." --John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 19, sec. 222)

"But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and whither they are going, 'tis not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first enacted." --John Locke (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 19, sec. 225)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Washington, Jefferson & Madison?













By: Tony Williams and J. David Gowdy

The maxims of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute are “Virtue, Liberty, Knowledge” – three ideals that are deeply embedded in the American Founding and in the lives and writings of the three Virginia Founders and Presidents that we have chosen to represent the name of our Institute.

George Washington.  No one in the American Founding represents the ideal of virtue as much as the Indispensable Man, George Washington.  Washington embodied the idea of private and public virtue throughout his life.  He mastered himself to become the virtuous general, statesman, and first President of the United States.  He continually and unselfishly answered the call of his country, served the republic without pay, and retired to the comfort of Mount Vernon instead of seizing power.  At the end of the Revolutionary War, he returned his commission to the Congress and did not become a Caesar.  After establishing the precedent of two terms and rotation in office, Washington resigned from the presidency and did not become a king. 

          Washington (and all of the Founders) also spoke often about virtue.  They believed that self-mastery was necessary for a self-governing people to enjoy the fruits of liberty and that those who governed the republic must also be virtuous.  He stated, “The aggregate happiness of society, which is best promoted by the practice of a virtuous policy, is, or ought to be, the end of all government.”[i]  Washington’s First Inaugural Address focused a great deal on virtue: “The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality . . . . There exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity.”[ii] Washington was, and always should be, "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen"[iii]

Thomas Jefferson.  In our minds, the Founding Father who best represents the idea of liberty is the author of the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the father of the University of Virginia, and the third President.  These great documents and institutions of liberty were emblematic of Jefferson’s defense of the human yearning for individual liberty and for freedom from government control of one’s political or religious opinions, and the individual right to pursue happiness how one chooses.  Jefferson was an Enlightenment thinker who had great optimism in progress rooted in human liberty.  As he wrote shortly before his death, “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”[iv]

Jefferson, along with the other Founding Fathers, however, believed in liberty under law.   Liberty would be guided by virtue, or it would become license, which would ruin the individual soul as well as the republic.  As Jefferson wrote, “Liberty…is the great parent of science & of virtue: and that a nation will be great in both, always in proportion as it is free.”[v]  Jefferson should always be remembered as the great advocate of human equality and liberty.

               James Madison.  This Virginian completing the triumvirate of Founders was the Father of the Constitution, the main architect of the Bill of Rights, and the fourth President.  The force of Madison’s statesmanship, lawgiving, and rhetoric was based upon his deep study in ancient and modern history and philosophy.  From his studies under Rev. John Witherspoon at Princeton University, his study of ancient and modern confederacies before the Constitutional Convention, his reading in political philosophy for his major contributions to the Federalist Papers, and his leadership with Jefferson creating the University of Virginia for educating future statesmen and citizens, Madison knew that knowledge was the basis of republican constitution-making and citizenship. 

Madison believed that the citizenry in a Republic must be educated in the principles of liberty and watchful of their government to prevent tyranny.  He wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”[vi] Madison should always be remembered as the chief architect of our individual rights, privileges, and liberties under the Constitution.

Studying the lives and writings of these three Founders – Washington, Jefferson & Madison – and those three founding ideals – “Liberty, Virtue, and Knowledge” – form the basis of the WJMI charter, “To Perpetuate the Study of the Teachings and Examples of the Founders of the Republic” and of our mission, which is, "To instill within educators and students of the rising generation, a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the Founding Fathers and the Founding Documents of the United States of America." We invite you to join us in this great cause.



[i] George Washington to Comte de Moustier, November 1, 1790. 
[ii] George Washington, “First Inaugural Address,” April 30, 1789, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/first-inaugural-address/
[iii]  Words from the eulogy written by Henry Lee for George Washington, adopted by Congress immediately after Washington’s death.
[iv] Thomas Jefferson to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/letter-to-roger-c-weightman/
[v] Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Willard, 1789.
[vi] James Madison to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The True Corrective of Abuses of Constitutional Power













William Charles Jarvis (1770–1859) was an American diplomat, financier and philanthropist best known for introducing the merino breed of sheep into the United States from Spain. He was appointed by President Jefferson as U.S. Consul in Lisbon, Portugal where he served ten years. Mr. Jarvis wrote to Thomas Jefferson and sent a copy of the "Republican"[1] where he apparently argued in an article published therein that the federal judiciary, or Supreme Court, are the “ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions.” However, Jefferson respectfully disagrees with Jarvis, discusses the separation of powers, and states his opinion that the people themselves are sovereign and thus to educate the minds of the people is the ultimate cure for any abuses of Constitutional power.

To William Charles Jarvis.
Monticello, September 28, 1820.

I thank you, Sir, for the copy of your Republican which you have been so kind as to send me, and I should have acknowledged it sooner but that I am just returned home after a long absence.  I have not yet had time to read it seriously, but in looking over it cursorily I see much in it to approve, and shall be glad if it shall lead our youth to the practice of thinking on such subjects and for themselves.  That it will have this tendency may be expected, and for that reason I feel an urgency to note what I deem an error in it, the more requiring notice as your opinion is strengthened by that of many others.  You seem, in pages 84 and 148, to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.  Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so.  They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.  Their maxim is “boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem,” and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.  The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.  It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.  If the legislature fails to pass laws for a census, for paying the judges and other officers of government, for establishing a militia, for naturalization as prescribed by the Constitution, or if they fail to meet in congress, the judges cannot issue their mandamus to them; if the President fails to supply the place of a judge, to appoint other civil or military officers, to issue requisite commissions, the judges cannot force him.  They can issue their mandamus or distringas to no executive or legislative officer to enforce the fulfilment of their official duties, any more than the President or legislature may issue orders to the judges or their officers.  Betrayed by English example, and unaware, as it should seem, of the control of our Constitution in this particular, they have at times overstepped their limit by undertaking to command executive officers in the discharge of their executive duties; but the Constitution, in keeping three departments distinct and independent, restrains the authority of the judges to judiciary organs, as it does the executive and legislative to executive and legislative organs.  The judges certainly have more frequent occasion to act on constitutional questions, because the laws of meum and tuum and of criminal action, forming the great mass of the system of law, constitute their particular department.  When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity.  The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough.  I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.  Pardon me, Sir, for this difference of opinion.  My personal interest in such questions is entirely extinct, but not my wishes for the longest possible continuance of our government on its pure principles; if the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other it may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the other.  I ask your candid re-consideration of this subject, and am sufficiently sure you will form a candid conclusion.  Accept the assurance of my great respect.
Th: Jefferson



[1] “…the copy of your Republican” mentioned by Jefferson likely refers to the Bunker Hill Sentinel and Middlesex Republican newspaper which was published in Charlestown (Boston) Massachusetts beginning in June 1820.
 [emphasis added]

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Virginia Declaration of Rights












In early May, 1776, Congressman John Adams co-sponsored a resolution calling of the colonies to “adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and America in general.”

On May 15, Congress adopted the resolution with a preamble Adams wrote that asserted that the people in their colonies were sovereign and governed themselves by their own consent.  The preamble virtually amounted to a declaration of independence from Great Britain.  The preamble read:

It is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said Crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order as well as for the defense of their lives, liberties and properties, against the hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies.

On that same day, the delegates to the Fifth Virginia Convention (the governing body of the colony) assembled in Williamsburg and instructed its delegates in Philadelphia to “propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain.”  The Convention then drafted a declaration of rights and a constitution based upon Congress’ resolution.  Patrick Henry, James Madison, and George Mason were among the notables appointed to the committee to draft the declaration of rights. 

The resulting Virginia declaration of rights was one of the most significant expressions of American Founding principles.  Its Lockean principles of self-government would shape Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia a month later and the American Constitution and Bill of Rights over a decade later. 

When it was adopted on June 12, 1776, the declaration averred the universal principle that all humans have certain fundamental rights by nature that government cannot violate.  The slaveholders of Virginia recognized the import of these universal principles for slavery and added the section about not being divested of those rights “when they enter into a state of society.”   The declaration read, in language that would influence the Declaration of Independence:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The declaration supported the Lockean idea of a social compact that the sovereign people formed a representative government with the purpose of protecting their rights.  It stated, “That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants.” 

The declaration upheld the principle that the same people had a right to rebel against tyrannical government that violated their rights and form a new government.  In language that strongly shaped the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia declaration stated: “Whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.” 

The declaration included several principles of a constitutional republic that would undergird the American system of self-government.  For example, it contained a the ban on “descendible” or “hereditary” privileges and offices.  The declaration also asserted that, “the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative,” supporting the ideas of Montesquieu for a separation of powers that would influence James Madison at the Constitutional Convention.  An important characteristic of government by consent was to have “frequent, certain, and regular elections” which were fixed and free.

The declaration also placed stringent limits on the power of government and reserved those powers to the consent of the people.  The people could not taxed without their consent, the government could not suspend laws without the consent of the people, and the accused had many rights that the lawful government was bound to respect – know the cause of an accusation, confront witnesses, enjoy a fair and speedy trial by his peers, not incriminate himself, not lose his fundamental rights without due process, or be arrested without a warrant.  These formed the basis of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments in the Bill of Rights. 

Additional protections in Virginia that would eventually influence the Bill of Rights were no excessive bail, no excessive fines, and no cruel and unusual punishments.  In a strong statement of the importance of the connection between a free press and republican liberty, the declaration stated: “That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” 

Besides a clause for an armed people forming a militia for the “safe defense of a free state,” the declaration affirmed its opposition to “standing armies, in time of people . . . avoided as dangerous to liberty” and a military that was “under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.”  Thus, it helped shape the Second Amendment and asserted principles that General George Washington would embody in his actions resigning at the end of the Revolutionary War. 

As in several other statements before and during the Revolutionary War, the Virginians proclaimed that republican self-government was rooted upon the virtue of the people and natural law.  “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Although George Mason sought to include the revolutionary and Lockean idea of religious tolerance into the document, Madison amended the statement to be a broad statement of religious liberty of conscience as a fundamental natural right.  The declaration stated:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights is studied every year by schoolchildren in Virginia, but it should be studied by students and citizens everywhere as one of the core documents of American liberty and Founding principles standing alone and as a document that laid the foundation for our other most important Founding documents. 
_________________________________________
Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

Image: Adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, oil painting by Jack Clifton. Virginia State Artwork Collection: acquired: 1974, Library of Virginia.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jefferson & Madison and the Principles of American Government














Early in the year 1825, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison corresponded on the subject of a government textbook for the school of law at the recently chartered University of Virginia, which would be opening for classes in March of that year.  Jefferson was the Rector, and his close friend and political collaborator, Madison, was a member of the Board of Visitors.  Declining to prescribe a textbook for any other subjects such as science or mathematics, Jefferson felt that he and Madison were qualified as the “best judges” as to the principles of government that should be taught at the new university. The following two letters ultimately served as the basis for the Resolution of March 4, 1825, adopted by Jefferson, Madison, and the other members of the Board of Visitors, that sets forth an immensely valuable, and profoundly significant description of the authentic sources of the principles of American government and of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison
Monticello, February 1, 1825
Dear Sir
…In most public seminaries a text-book is prescribed to the several schools as the Norma docendi in them; and this is frequently done by the Trustees. I should not propose this generally in our University because I believe none of us are so much at the heights of science, in the several branches, as to undertake this, and therefore that it will be best left to the Professors, until occasion of interference shall be given. But there is one branch in which I think we are the best judges, and the branch itself is of that interesting character to our state, and to the U S. as to make it a duty in us to lay down the principles which are to be taught. It is that of Government. …I think it a duty to guard against danger by a previous prescription of the texts to be adopted. I enclose you a resolution which I think of proposing at our next meeting, for your consideration, with a prayer that you will correct it freely, and make it what you think it ought to be…
Affectionately yours.
Thomas Jefferson

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson
      Montpellier, February 8, 1825
Dear Sir
…I have looked with attention over your intended proposal of a text book for the Law School. It is certainly very material that the true doctrines of liberty, as exemplified in our Political System, should be inculcated on those who are to sustain and may administer it. It is, at the same time, not easy to find standard books that will be both guides & guards for the purpose. Sidney & Locke are admirably calculated to impress on young minds the right of Nations to establish their own Governments, and to inspire a love of free ones; but afford no aid in guarding our Republican Charters against constructive violations. The Declaration of Independence, though rich in fundamental principles, and saying every thing that could be said in the same number of words, falls nearly under a like observation. The "Federalist" may fairly enough be regarded as the most authentic exposition of the text of the federal Constitution, as understood by the Body which prepared & the Authority which accepted it. Yet it did not foresee all the misconstructions which have occurred; nor prevent some that it did foresee. And what equally deserves remark, neither of the great rival Parties have acquiesced in all its comments. It may nevertheless be admissible as a School book, if any will be that goes so much into detail. It has been actually admitted into two Universities, if not more — those of Harvard and Rhode Island; but probably at the choice of the Professors, without any injunction from the superior authority.

With respect to the Virginia Document of 1799, there may be more room for hesitation. Though corresponding with the predominant sense of the Nation; being of local origin & having reference to a state of Parties not yet extinct, an absolute prescription of it, might excite prejudices against the University as under Party Banners, and induce the more bigoted to withhold from it their sons, even when destined for other than the studies of the Law School. It may be added that the Document is not on every point satisfactory to all who belong to the same Party. Are we sure that to our brethren of the Board it is so? In framing a political creed, a like difficulty occurs as in the case of religion though the public right be very different in the two cases. If the Articles be in very general terms, they do not answer the purpose; if in very particular terms, they divide & exclude where meant to unite & fortify. The best that can be done in our case seems to be, to avoid the two extremes, by referring to selected Standards without requiring an unqualified conformity to them, which indeed might not in every instance be possible. The selection would give them authority with the Students, and might control or counteract deviations of the Professor.

I have, for your consideration, sketched a modification of the operative passage in your draft, with a view to relax the absoluteness of its injunction, and added to your list of Documents the Inaugural Speech and the Farewell Address of President Washington. They may help down what might be less readily swallowed, and contain nothing which is not good; unless it be the laudatory reference in the Address to the Treaty of 1795 with Great Britain which ought not to weigh against the sound sentiments characterizing it.

After all, the most effectual safeguard against heretical intrusions into the School of Politics, will be an Able & Orthodox Professor, whose course of instruction will be an example to his successors, and may carry with it a sanction from the Visitors.
Affectionately yours,
James Madison

Sketch [Resolution for the Board of Visitors].

And on the distinctive principles of the Government of our own State, and of that of the United States, the best guides are to be found in — 1. The Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental act of Union of these States.  2. The book known by the title of the "Federalist," being an Authority to which appeal is habitually made by all & rarely declined or denied by any, as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed & those who accepted the Constitution of the United States on questions as to its genuine meaning. 3. The Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1799, on the subject of the Alien & Sedition laws, which appeared to accord with the predominant sense of the people of the U. S.  4. The Inaugural Speech & Farewell Address of President Washington, as conveying political lessons of peculiar value; and that in the branch of the School of law which is to treat on the subject of Government, these shall be used as the text & documents of the School.
__________________________
[Abbreviations and spelling modernized]
Photo of the Rotunda (c) 2014 by Anna Quillon [used with permission]




Monday, April 28, 2014

Thomas Jefferson and the United States Military Academy at West Point


















“The United States Military Academy[1], also known as West Point, was established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

In January 1821, Professor Jared Mansfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson from West Point:

"The Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy, impressed, with a high sense of the great services, you have rendered the Nation, & that this Institution, with which they are connected, originated under your patronage, & presidency, are anxious for some special, & appropriate memorial of your person, which may descend to posterity."[2]

The library at the U.S. Military Academy, Mansfield informed Jefferson, had portraits of George Washington and of Jonathan Williams, the academy's first superintendent. Would Jefferson, Mansfield asked, "gratify them" by sitting for Thomas Sully, one of the "best Portrait Painters of our Country," at Monticello?

By 1802, when President Jefferson established the United States Military Academy, he had fully embraced the importance of "useful sciences" in education and in the protection of the young nation. Two years earlier, Jefferson had written to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, asking: "What are the branches of science which in the present state of man, and particularly with us, should be introduced into an academy?" Du Pont proposed an all inclusive plan of national education with primary schools, colleges, and four specialty schools -- medicine, mines, social science and legislation, and "higher geometry and the sciences that it explains." With engineering "urging forward the other sciences," this school would be of the greatest benefit to the nation, du Pont explained. As he told Jefferson: "No nation is in such need of canals as the United States, and most of their ports have no means of exterior defense."

Just two months after Jefferson's inauguration, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn announced that the president had "decided in favor of the immediate establishment of a military school at West Point and also on the appointment of Major Jonathan Williams" to direct "the necessary arrangements, at that place for the commencement of the school."

On March 16, 1802, Jefferson affixed his name to the Military Peace Establishment Act, directing that a corps of engineers be established and "stationed at West Point in the state of New York, and shall constitute a Military Academy." The academy's sole function would be to train engineers, and Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin, was named superintendent. On July 4, 1802, the U.S. Military Academy formally opened for instruction. "Our guiding star," Superintendent Williams said, "is not a little mathematical School, but a great national establishment.  We must always have it in view that our Officers are to be men of Science, and as such will by their acquirements be entitled to the notice of learned societies."

In the War of 1812, the enemy British did not capture any works constructed by a graduate of West Point, and perhaps, as historian Henry Adams suggested, "had an engineer been employed at Washington -- the city would have been easily saved."

Jefferson's military academy, Adams wrote, had "doubled the capacity of the new little American army for resistance, and introduced and scientific character into American life." Jefferson himself said that he "ever considered that establishment as of major importance to our country, and in whatever I could do for it, I viewed myself as performing a duty."

Note: Today, the Thomas Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson commissioned by the "Superintendent, Officers, Professors, Instructors, & Cadets of the United States Military Academy" hangs at West Point.

FOOTNOTES
[1] This article is from www.monticello.org and is based on Christine Coalwell, "West Point: Jefferson's Military Academy." Monticello Newsletter, 12 (Winter 2001).
[2] Jared Mansfield to Thomas Jefferson, January 26, 1821, NWM