Ghosts of Our Republic
As I contemplate the ideas of liberty I find myself drawing from the advice, examples, and actions of the founding generation. Any dialog on freedom, liberty, and constitutional government would be aimless indeed without their influence. Thankfully, they have said much about these ideas. As we struggle to find our bearings as a nation and community, the fruits of the inspired system the founders organized are so apparent that it should be easy to convince American citizens, Idahoans specifically, of their wisdom and value today. At least one would think.
In Charles Dickens’ classic book, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge fails to recognize what many take for granted as the true spirit of Christmas. As the book continues, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who change his paradigm regarding the spirit of Christmas, and subsequently his own happiness and the enjoyment of many others as well.
Could we also benefit by a visit from the ghosts of our Republic’s past, present, and future?
If the ghost of our Republic’s past were to visit us today, what could he teach us? Would he show us the miracle that occurred in 1790 shortly after the ratification of the Constitution? Due to war and the economic and social exhaustion that comes after such trauma, Americans were warily optimistic about their ability to survive as a nation of free men. They held a heavy burden of debt. Their position as a new nation was tenuous. Yet due to the principles bound up in this new form of government, which secured each individual with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—George Washington was able to proclaim after only 3 years that “it would have been considered a species of madness” to have anticipated such results in so little time. Americans, by the advice and wisdom of the founders had placed our Republic on a trajectory of liberty and freedom that caused what one historian has called a 5000 year leap in technology and human prosperity.
The ghost of our Republic’s present would have a more solemn vision to show us as a nation. Moral decline and personal and national bondage through debt would cloud the vision. Ignorance of the meaning and purpose of republican principles due to apathy and a lack of true education would place heavy barriers to future prosperity in our path. The Constitutional lip service of our politicians would further our decline and make our government and the personal freedoms and liberty it was meant to protect seem doomed to follow the historical anecdotes of fallen empires. All this would be surrounded by a false sense of patriotism and a clamoring for rights without responsibility. A deepened entitlement mentality would erode personal liberty in a last ditch effort by authorities to keep society safe.
The ghost of our Republic’s future would contain two distinctly different possibilities based upon our attention to two simple matters. . . education and virtue! Not merely the professional training to make a living, but the education the founding generation possessed in sufficient quantities to lay hold upon liberty. Not personal morality alone, but public virtue. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” And in the words of John Adams: “only a moral and virtuous people can be free.”
Without these two indispensable supports to a republican form of government we will continue our maturation and decline into a virtual democracy paving the way into socialism and then some form of totalitarianism. Our denial of this pattern is supported only by our ignorance of historical cycles and precedent. It will happen, if we are not “eternally vigilant” as Jefferson wrote.
Less likely–due to our human nature–is the brighter vision available to our Republic—the vision of a moral and educational revolution that leads to spiritual faith, courage, and liberty. A second miracle where a president like Washington can once again, comment on our recovery as “a species of madness” to have foretold.
As we awake from this dream of reviewing the past, present, and future of our Republic will we, like Scrooge, make the changes necessary to affect a positive future, with liberty and justice for all? If not we had better buckle up, because history will repeat itself!
In this season of remembrance and gratitude, may we each feel the pull of our patriot fathers to make something of our lives to give to future generations of Americans, who, like us, will want to live free without the great cost of blood. This won’t happen by the simple wave of the flag and attendance at a parade, but by a firm and devoted study of the true principles of our Republic. Education and morality truly is the Cornerstone to Freedom.
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