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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Washington's Farewell Address: Religion and Morality

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

Washington's Farewell Address
Part Seven of 13
Religion and Morality

In the next section of the Farewell Address Washington addresses the necessary supports for a republic. He found them in religion and morality. For a people to be free, and to have minimal government involvement in their lives, that people must be able to control their own passions and impulses. If the people cannot restrain their vices, then they are not fit to govern the nation. Remove these vital supports and what is built upon that foundation will collapse. In this Washington was not alone. His vice president, and our second president, John Adams, said,

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

And Charles Carroll, the last of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence agreed,

“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

Washington ends with a further call for a support of our republic, education. Washington’s secretary of state, and our third president, Thomas Jefferson, agreed,

“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 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.”

Printed in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796:

“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 should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”

While our Founders wisely chose not to establish a nation church as was done in Europe, they did not keep religion out of government as some claim. They would not for that would deny people of faith their right to a say in their government, and it would undermine what the Founders had built. Let us not forget their sage advice.

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