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It is a remarkable note in the history of the world that nations have only begun to prosper when a degree of goodness and virtue began to take hold among the people. It is also a sad commentary that nations have faltered in their progress when the level of goodness and virtue began to wane and even disappear among the people. With all of our advancements in research and learning, it is amazing that these two facts have been so ignored in our national education.
It remains an astonishing observation that in the midst of distressing problems facing America today at home and abroad, there is almost complete silence from our public officials concerning the need to strengthen and increase the level of morality and virtue in America. America’s Founders knew this was the only way to peace, prosperity, and freedom. Today’s leaders seem completely oblivious to this truth. Proposals and programs are being announced almost daily to correct certain ills in our society, but the airwaves are silent when it comes to encouraging Americans to renew their commitment to the only way to real national happiness.
During this month of September we celebrate once again the writing and signing of our Constitution – 226 years ago. It is appropriate that we review of the Founders’ experience and advice concerning the absolute necessity of maintaining a high level of morality and virtue in order to, as Madison said, “improve and perpetuate” what they gave us, for as Benjamin Franklin said:
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Historian Gordon Wood explained the Founders’ meaning of “virtue:”
“In a Republic, however, each man must somehow be persuaded to submerge his personal wants into the greater good of the whole. This willingness of the individual to sacrifice his private interest for the good of the community — such patriotism or love of country — the eighteenth century termed public virtue…. The eighteenth century mind was thoroughly convinced that a popularly based government ‘cannot be supported without virtue’.”
Notice in this definition there is no place for government force in establishing or maintaining virtue. It becomes a matter of persuasion, mostly emanating from one’s belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of one’s fellowmen.
In pre-Revolutionary War years, the colonists protested against King George by agreeing to non-importation acts. This meant that those businesses which relied on imported British goods would suffer, but to the freedom-loving Americans it would be worth the personal sacrifice for a much brighter and freer future out from under the tyranny of the king of England.
Virtue is identified with morality and with the divinely-proclaimed laws of right and wrong given in the Ten Commandments. Virtue means desiring to be obedient to the Creator’s mandate for “right conduct.” It is closely akin to the Golden Rule. It is the essential ingredient to righteousness.
In our quest for a higher level of freedom, prosperity, and peace in America, perhaps a personal assessment is in order from time to time to see how we are doing. Only as enough Americans improve in their private virtue will we see the result that “Righteousness Exalteth a Nation.”
It was just a few years later during the French and Indian War (1755-1762), that Franklin’s wisdom was put to the test. It is only one of many stories of history and one we have told before but certainly worth retelling.
The Power of God Saves Colonists From French Destruction
From 1755 – 1762 the Americans and the British were engaged in the French and Indian War. This war centered on who owned the land west of the Ohio Valley. Had the French won this war our country would of have been entirely different, it would have consisted mostly of what was then the thirteen colonies or the present eastern seaboard. The invisible fingerprints of Providence are to be found on several occasions. Early in the war the French sent a large fleet consisting of many ships and thousands of troops down the east coast to destroy any and all seaport cities. The following is what happened in Boston when it was discovered that this force was on its way to destroy the city.
At that time Boston was without the resources to defend itself. “Mr. Adams was as faithful a Congregationalist as anyone. But he could not quite be sure of his Uncle Peter’s ferocity where the old faith was concerned. If the French were coming, they were coming because, like all the nations of Europe, they coveted more than they had. Meanwhile it was good the Governor had proclaimed a Fast Day to pray for deliverance from this present peril. Everywhere men observed it, thronging to the churches.
“In Boston the Reverend Thomas Prince, from the high pulpit of the Old South Meeting-house, prayed before hundreds. The morning was clear and calm, people had walked to church through sunshine. ‘Deliver us from the enemy!’ the minister implored. ‘Send thy tempest, Lord, upon the waters to the eastward! Raise Thy right hand. Scatter the ships of our tormentors and drive them hence. Sink their proud frigates beneath the power of Thy winds.’
“He had scarcely pronounced the words when the sun was gone and morning darkened. All the church was in shadow. A wind shrieked round the walls, sudden, violent, hammering at the windows with a giant hand. No man was in the steeple, afterward the sexton swore it – yet the great bell struck twice, a wild uneven sound. Thomas Prince paused in his prayer, both arms raised. ‘We hear Thy voice, O Lord!’ he thundered triumphantly. ‘We hear it! Thy breath is upon the waters to the eastward, even upon the deep. Thy bell tolls for the death of our enemies!’ He bowed his head; when he looked up, tears streamed down his face. ‘Thine be the glory, Lord. Amen and amen!’ ‘Amen and amen!’ Said Massachusetts, her hope renewed. All the Province heard of this prayer and this answering tempest. Governor Shirley sent a sloop, the Rising Sun, northward for news. The Rising Sun found the French fleet south of Chebucto (now Halifax Harbor) and got chased for her pains. But she brought news so good it was miraculous – if one could believe it. The Rangers, a body of men commanded by Captain Gorman of the Boston, had gone, the end of September, to reconnoiter. The Rangers were mostly Indians, the French took them for Canadians and talked freely. Two of the largest French frigates had sunk in a storm, they said, on the Isle of Sable. The whole fleet was nearly lost, the men very sick with scurvy or some pestilential fever. Their great admiral the Duc’d Anville, was dead.
“A week later the news was confirmed by other vessels entering Boston from the northeastward. D’Anville was indeed dead; it said he had poisoned himself in grief and despair when he saw his men dying round him. Two thousand were already buried, four thousands were sick, and not above a thousand of the land forces remained on their feet. Vice Admiral d’Estorunelle had run himself through the heart with his sword. The few remaining ships, half-manned, were limping off to the southwestward, headed it was thought for the West Indies.
“Pestilence, storm and sudden death – how directly and with what extraordinary vigor the Lord had answered New England prayers. The country fell on its knees. Pharaoh’s host overwhelmed in the Red Sea was no greater miracle. A paper with d/Anville’s orders had been found, instructing him to take Cape Breton Island, then proceed to Boston – ‘Lay that Town in Ashes and destroy all he could upon the coast of North America; then proceed to the West Indies and distress the Islands.’ Storm and pestilence – why, it was like the destruction of the Spanish Armada! Governor Shirley said so, to the Massachusetts Legislatures assembled. Never had there been so direct an interference of Providence.
“‘Affavit Deus,’ said Shirley, ‘et dissipantur – The Lord caused the wind to blow and they were scattered.’ A day of Thanksgiving and prayer was proclaimed. From every pulpit the good news rang. Hip and thigh the Lord had smitten the Philistines. There was no end to the joyful quotation: If God be for us who can be against us?”(John Adams and the American Revolution, Pages 10-12)
Oh, that we would learn from our own history. Righteousness truly doth exalt a nation!