Must America’s founding principles be changed to meet the challenges of our age? Are we defined by a place and a people or by the shared principles we embrace and preserve?
In his farewell address, George Washington warned, “Toward the preservation of your government…it is requisite…that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles.” Celebrating our Declaration of Independence involves honoring our founding principles.
Thomas Jefferson affirmed, "What is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. I own, I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy."
America stands for equal opportunity, not equal results. We prosper because citizens are free to create value instead of becoming burdens. But when President Obama works to “remake America” and tells Joe the Plumber of his desire to “spread the wealth around,” we wonder whether the property rights affirmed in our Bill of Rights are truly secure.
Benjamin Franklin warned, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” Espousing noble goals, liberals want to restrict peanuts on airplanes, determine what foods you can eat, and how much gas your car can use. Excessive regulations limit your liberty, choke our businesses, and explode the cost of government. Encourage safety, but value freedom even more.
John Adams asserted, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” George Washington added, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who would labor to subvert these great pillars…. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
The separation of church and state in our Constitution is not there to protect Americans from religion but to protect Americans from the government. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The intent was established in the U.S. Congressional Records in the summer of 1789 where it was stated that no one denomination of the Christian faith was to have precedence. “In God we trust,” but we want no one denomination defining who God is. Instead of zoning God out of our public life, our Founding Fathers celebrated faith’s value. They wanted freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
Benjamin Franklin criticized England’s welfare entitlements of his time, “There is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent…. You offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.” Franklin preferred “responsible” caring: "I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it…. Repeal that law (taxes), and you will soon see a change in their manners. Labor…will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them."
The American economy has served for over 200 years as the greatest anti-poverty program in human history because it encouraged work and discouraged idleness more than any other. America did this by guaranteeing its citizens the freedom to acquire property without being hindered by excessive regulations or redistribution policies. American “caring” shouldn’t be defined by the number of people “helped” by government but by how many no longer need it. Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.
No government check can match being touched and helped by local charities staffed by volunteers who care. When good works cease to be voluntary and “giving” through taxes becomes compulsory, charity gives way to confiscation and freedom to servitude.
Finally, George Washington reminded all in his first address to Congress, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” America, in order to defend its freedom and way of life, must continue to invest adequate resource to remain strong, progressive, and technologically sophisticated to match the enemies of our age. When politicians suggested limiting our standing army to 5,000 by law, Washington asked for an amendment to limit the size of the enemy to 3,000 troops.
Property rights, earned reward, individual responsibility, religious freedom, limited government, a strong military, and “we the people” empowered to turn liberty into our own version of the American Dream are what our Founding Fathers left as a legacy. In November, you’ll have the opportunity to define true north for the future of this great country. Pick your values compass wisely. Our future depends on it.