Raising the Standard of Liberty
One religious leader of the nineteenth century described the Constitution of the United States as, "a glorious standard, it is founded in wisdom, it is a heavenly banner, and is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of its liberty, like the cooling shade and refreshing water of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land: it is like a great tree under whose branches, men from every clime, can be shielded from the burning rays of an inclement sun." ( Times and Seasons , Vol. 1:9)
As affairs in the world and nation become more uncertain, those of us who have studied the great founding document of our nation know that it provides the answers to nearly every problem we are grappling with today. As people across our nation are becoming more concerned and worried, the field of people interested in the Founders message seems to be maturing and more ready to harvest. Are we ready to raise the standard of liberty higher than ever so that all may recognize its brilliance and benefit by its cooling shade and refreshing water?
Preparing Students to Raise the Standard of Liberty
Two weeks ago we traveled again with 48 students and teachers to the Washington D.C. and Philadelphia area to study and enjoy the historical moments which come alive there. I have always stressed to my students the Founders' philosophy that our nation will not survive as a republic without two things: moral and religious strength and a working understanding of the principles of our Constitution. Let me tell you of an experience we had relating to each of these points.
Washington's' Prayer at Valley Forge
Tucked away at the far end of Valley Forge is a home which George Washington used as his headquarters during the trying winter of 1777-78. The home is said to have been owned by Isaac Potts, a Quaker. Apparently, it was not in his nature to be pleased that the army had taken over Potts's mill and home, because as a Quaker, he despised all war, including this one.
This is the story of how Isaac Potts evidently changed his mind, as he later told it to his children and as has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the story I tell to my students as we are standing among the beautiful trees outside the home which served as Washington's headquarters:
"In 1777, while the American army lay at Valley Forge, a good old Quaker by the name of Potts had occasion to pass through a thick wood near head-quarters. As he traversed the dark brown forest, he heard, at a distance before him, a voice which as he advanced became more fervid and interested. Approaching with slowness and circumspection, whom should he behold in a dark bower apparently formed for the purpose, but the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the United Colonies on his knees in the art of devotion to the Ruler of the universe! At the moment when Friend Potts concealed by the trees, came up, Washington was interceding for his beloved country. With tones of gratitude that labored for adequate expression, he adored that exuberant goodness which, from the depth of obscurity, had exalted him to the head of a great nation, and that nation fighting at fearful odds for all the world holds dear.
"He utterly disclaimed all ability of his own for this arduous conflict; he wept at the thought of that irretrievable ruin which his mistakes might bring on his country, and with the patriot's pathos spreading the interests of unborn millions before the eye of Eternal Mercy, he implored the aid of that arm which guides the starry host. Soon the General had finished his devotions and had retired. Friend Potts returned to his house and threw himself into a chair by the side of his wife.
"'Hegh! Isaac', said she with tenderness, 'thee seems agitated; what's the matter?' "Indeed, my dear,' quoth he, 'if I appear agitated 'tis no more than what I am. I have seen this day what I shall never forget. Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken, and still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him portion some great thing for this country.'" ( Memorial of Thomas Potts, Jr ., 1874, pp. 222-223)
A Conversation with Thomas Jefferson
One of my favorite places to visit in Washington is the Jefferson Memorial. Within the huge marble columns stands a twelve foot bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson - the man who was able to enunciate the principles of constitutional liberty better than anyone else. We stood with awe as we read his most meaningful writings engraved on the walls of that edifice. After a few minutes of reflection, I invite the students to join me around the backside of the marble walls. I ask them what it would be like if Jefferson would step down from his place and talk with us. I then excuse myself for a moment and return wearing enough different adornments to let them know they could be seeing Thomas Jefferson! Having previously enlisted the help of a student, we then have this conversation which I have committed to memory. The student begins with:
"Mr. Jefferson, you're alive!"
"Oh yes, my friend. I have always been alive in one way or another."
"Do you like your beautiful memorial?"
"Yes, its a lovely monument. However, I fear this generation may have turned my memorial into a mausoleum."
"What do you mean, President Jefferson?"
"You have buried our beautiful vision of a constitutional America."
"Oh no, Mr. Jefferson. We love the Constitution. We have it in a beautiful humidified case over in the National Archives Building."
"I know, but that is only the paper wrapping. Where are the inward parts? Where is the spirit and the meaning which we left with you to make the dead letters of the written script come alive? The bone, sinew, nerve, and fundamental organs of the Constitution have been eviscerated."
"Well, Mr. President, I don't see how you can say that. We talk about the Constitution a lot. Even the Supreme Court mentions it. The President talked about it just the other day."
"Yes, people often speak of the dead. And with reverence, compassion, and affection, of course. But I am not talking about the corpus of the Constitution. I am concerned that you have enshrined the vital substance of the Constitution with the dead and forgotten past. Now these magnificent problem-solving precepts are out of sight and out of mind just when you need them the most."
"President Jefferson, I can't think of any part of the Constitution which we have lost. We love the Constitution."
"Then I will ask you a series of questions: What have you done with our doctrine of the Creator's natural law and the endowment of mankind with certain inalienable rights? Your illustrious Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme Court pronounced such notions naive and a psychological illusion. This doctrine is therefore no longer argued in your courts.
"What happened to your vertical separation of powers which emphasized strong, local self-government? That doctrine has become so dim in the pattern of American life that it threatens to become obliterated.
"What happened to your horizontal separation of powers? I see more agitation between factions in Washington than a genuine separation of powers between the three branches of government.
"What happened to government 'of the people?' Your Congress is harassed and lobbied almost exclusively by special interest groups. I often see the welfare of the people so completely ignored that I wonder who is really running things.
"And what happened to the famous doctrine of checks and balances? We warned you that the purpose of government is to coordinate, not consolidate. Where power is consolidated there are no checks and balances, just growling and quarreling over the shankbones and scraps of the budget.
"What happened to the doctrine of a government limited to specifically enumerated powers? Your Tenth Amendment is violated daily.
"What happened to our goal of eliminating the national debt? Yours is the first generation of Americans to squander the next generation's inheritance. Your next generation is literally 'in hock,' as you say. It is immoral to stack the debts of one generation on the backs of the unborn. Isn't that taxation without representation?
"What about your monetary system? I personally warned you not to abandon the people's money to the control of private interests in violation of the Constitution. For several generations your money managers have been violently churning you up and down in a series of tragic boom-and-bust cycles. We told you that this kind of money-mongering could rob you of your inheritance and leave your children homeless on a continent their fathers bought with their blood.
"And what about your foreign relations? We promised in the Monroe Doctrine that the United States would not meddle in the affairs of other nations. Now you are meddling in the affairs of nearly every nation on earth and trying to buy their friendship with money you don't even have.
"What about your defense of the Western Hemisphere? If you do not protect the freedom of your neighbors from this gigantic invader you will eventually fight this same enemy in the streets, in the fields, and on the prairies and plains of the United States.
"And what about this enemy? On what grounds did you help provide the money, credit, and technology to build this world-conquering military juggernaut into the most monstrous threat to freedom that has ever existed on the face of this planet?
"And what about your children? Even in colonial days we educated our children better than many thousands of the children today who emerge poorly prepared even after twelve years of compulsory education."
"Well, President Jefferson, you certainly talk as though we haven't been very good stewards of our American legacy."
"I suppose you might gain that impression."
"But President Jefferson, we are struggling and sacrificing and paying the highest taxes in the history of the United States."
"I know. And getting further behind every year."
"But President Jefferson, we really do want to make a success of America. Have you any suggestions?"
"Yes, when all else fails, read the instructions." (written by W. Cleon Skousen)
Let Us Raise A Standard.
In the spirit of Washington and Jefferson, my students have accepted the assignment, as part of their final exam in class, to commit at least ten people to study and love the Constitution of the United States. Furthermore they will commit these ten to commit ten others each to do the same.
Enclosed in this mailing is a copy of the Constitution, newly printed by NCCS, on which Washington is offering a pen for you to sign your name as a commitment. In addition, you will find a card on which there are ten lines. Will you follow the example of these students in committing ten people to do the same? Does this not bring to mind the words of the song:
Give me some men who are stout-hearted men
Who will fight for the right they adore.
Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men
And I'll soon give you ten thousand more!
My students will be reporting their experiences in class the last two day of class this semester. What powerful testimonials I am waiting to hear. Perhaps you could share your experiences with us at NCCS as you undertake this most noble task of raising the standard of liberty.
God bless you.
Earl Taylor, Jr.