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Piety and Virtue
Christianity in American Society


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  • Two central elements of American education were "piety" and "virtue."
  • The Founders believed these features of the Christian religion were basic to American govenment.
  • Both of these have been removed from modern public schools.

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Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p.103.

In the twentieth century, this word "piety" generally implies strong religious observances; it meant that to the Romans, but also it meant more. A pious man, in the Roman understanding, was one who fulfilled his duties, religious and social—one who subordinated his own desires to the claims of others. "Piety is the foundation of all the other virtues," Cicero would write when the Republic was falling to its ruin.


St. Augustine, writing in City of God, V, 13, draws a distinction between piety and virtue:

in another place it is most unambiguously said of God, that He "maketh the man who is an hypocrite to reign on account of the perversity of the people." [Job xxxiv. 30.] Wherefore, though I have, according to my ability, shown for what reason God, who alone is true and just, helped forward the Romans, who were good according to a certain standard of an earthly state, to the acquirement of the glory of so great an empire, there may be, nevertheless, a more hidden cause, known better to God than to us, depending on the diversity of the merits of the human race. Among all who are truly pious, it is at all events agreed that no one without true piety—that is, true worship of the true God—can have true virtue; and that it is not true virtue which is the slave of human praise. Though, nevertheless, they who are not citizens of the eternal city, which is called the city of God in the sacred Scriptures, are more useful to the earthly city when they possess even that virtue than if they had not even that. But there could be nothing more fortunate for human affairs than that, by the mercy of God, they who are endowed with true piety of life, it they have the skill for ruling people, should also have the power. But such men, however great virtues they possess in this life, attribute it solely to the grace of God that He has bestowed it on them—willing, believing, seeking. And, at the same time, they understand how far they are short of that perfection of righteousness which exists in the society of those holy angels for which they are striving to fit themselves. But however much that virtue may be praised and cried up, which without true piety is the slave of human glory, it is not at all to be compared even to the feeble beginnings of the virtue of the saints, whose hope is placed in the grace and mercy of the true God.

Henry Paolucci, ed. The Political Writings of St. Augustine, p.105-107

Following in Augustine's footsteps, Webster, in his first edition (1828) explains:

3. Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws is virtue and religion. In this sense it is true,
That virtue only makes our bliss below.
Pope
Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.
Dwight
4. A particular moral excellence; as the virtue of temperance, of chastity, of charity.
Remember all his virtues.

Addison

5. Acting power; something efficacious;
Jesus, knowing that virtue had gone out of him, turned -- Mark iii.
 
10. Legal efficacy or power; authority. A man administers the laws by virtue of commission.
In virtue, in consequence; by the efficacy or authority.
This they shall attain, partly in virtue of the promise of God, and partly in virtue of piety.

Atterbury

The Founders believed Christian virtue exceeded all others.


The Colonization of Louisiana
Charles E. T. Gayarre
Halsey, Francis W., ed. Great Epochs in American History, Described by Famous Writers From Columbus to Roosevelt. 10 vols. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1912., vol.2, p.203

"His majesty sends twenty girls to be married to the Canadians and to the other inhabitants of Mobile, in order to consolidate the colony. All these girls are industrious and have received a pious and virtuous education. You will take care to settle them in life as well as may be in your power, and to marry them to such men as are capable of providing them with a commodious home." . . .


Benjamin Franklin, Two Tracts: Information to Those Who Would Remove to America and Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America (London: John Stockdale, 1784), p.24.
Americanization Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. America—Great Crisis in Our History Told by Its Makers: A Library of Original Sources. 11 vols. Chicago: n.p., 1925.vol.4, p.76

The almost general mediocrity of fortune that prevails in America, obliging its people to follow some business for subsistence, those vices that arise usually from idleness are in a great measure prevented. Industry and constant employment are great preservatives of the morals and virtue of a nation. Hence bad examples to youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practised. Atheism is unknown there; infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel. And the Divine Being seems to have manifested His approbation of the mutual forbearance and kindness with which the different sects treat each other, by the remarkable prosperity with which He has been pleased to favor the whole country.


Benjamin Franklin. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, p.90

It will be remark'd that, tho' my scheme was not wholly without religion, there was in it no mark of any of the distinguishing tenets of any particular sect. I had purposely avoided them; for, being fully persuaded of the utility and excellency of my method, and that it might be serviceable to people in all religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have any thing in it that should prejudice any one, of any sect, against it. I purposed writing a little comment on each virtue, in which I would have shown the advantages of possessing it, and the mischiefs attending its opposite vice; and I should have called my book THE ART OF VIRTUE, because it would have shown the means and manner of obtaining virtue, which would have distinguished it from the mere exhortation to be good, that does not instruct and indicate the means, but is like the apostle's man of verbal charity, who only without showing to the naked and hungry how or where they might get clothes or victuals, exhorted them to be fed and clothed.—James ii. 15, 16.


I have read your [Thomas Paine's] manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against the doctrines of a particular Providence, though you allow a general providence, you strike at the foundation of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship Deity, to fear [his] displeasure, or to pray for [his] protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that, though your reasonings are subtile, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.

But, were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a proportion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced and inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is, to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be received into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification from the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance. If men are as wicked as we now see them with religion, what would they be if without it.
—Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 10 vols. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905–7). vol. 9, p.520. (1786.)


Bancroft, George. History of the United States of America From the Discovery of the American Continent. Rev. ed. 6 vols., 1882, vol.3, p.474, Chapter 36: "The Crisis, February-May 1774"

A love of liberty revealed the same truth to John Cartwright. The young enthusiast was persuaded that humanity, as well as the individual man, obtains knowledge, wisdom, and virtue progressively, so that its latter days will be more wise, peaceable, and pious than the earlier periods of its existence. He was destined to pass his life in efforts to purify the British constitution, which, as he believed, had within itself the seeds of immortality. With the fervid language of sincerity, he advocated the freedom of his American kindred, and proclaimed American independence to be England's interest and glory.


George Bancroft, History of the United States, vol.4, chapter 4: "The First American Congress, September-October 1774," pp.64-65

To the proposal that congress the next day should be opened with prayer, Jay and Rutledge objected, on account of the great diversity of religious sentiments. "I am no bigot," said Samuel Adams, the Congregationalist; "I can hear a prayer from a man of piety and virtue, who is at the same time a friend to his country;" and, on his nomination, Duche, an Episcopal clergyman, was chosen for the service. Before the adjournment, Putnam's express arrived with the report that, after a bloody attack on the people by the troops at Boston, Connecticut as well as Massachusetts was rising in arms. The next day muffled bells were tolled. At the opening of congress, Washington was present, standing in prayer, and Henry and Randolph and Lee and Jay and Rutledge and Gadsden; and by their side Presbyterians and Congregationalists; the Livingstons, Sherman, Samuel Adams, John Adams; and others of New England, who believed that a rude soldiery were then infesting the dwellings and taking the lives of their friends. When the psalm for the day was read, Heaven itself seemed uttering its oracle. "Plead thou my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me; and fight thou against them that fight against me. Lay hand upon the shield and buckler, and stand up to help me. Bring forth the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me. Let them that imagine mischief for me be as dust before the wind. Who is like unto thee, who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him? Lord! how long wilt thou look on? Awake, and stand up to judge my quarrel; avenge thou my cause, my God and my Lord." After this, the minister, with the earnestness of the best divines of New England, unexpectedly burst into an extempore prayer for America, for the congress, for Massachusetts, and especially for Boston.


The same event recounted in William Jackman, History of the American Nation, 9 vols.,vol 2, Chapter 26: 1766-1774 Causes Which Led to the Revolution—Cont., p.425

It was suggested that it would be becoming to open their sessions with prayer. This proposition was thought by some to be inexpedient, since perhaps the delegates could not all join in the same form of worship. At length Samuel Adams, who was a strict Congregationalist, arose and said: "I will willingly join in prayer with any gentleman of piety and virtue, whatever may be his cloth, provided he is a friend of his country." On a motion, the Rev. Mr. Duche, a popular Episcopal clergyman, of Philadelphia, was invited to officiate as chaplain. Mr. Duche accepted the invitation. A rumor, in the mean time, reached Philadelphia that General Gage had bombarded Boston. When the Congress assembled the next morning, anxiety and sympathy were depicted on every countenance. The rumor, though it proved to be false, excited feelings of brotherhood, hitherto unknown.

The chaplain read the thirty-fifth psalm, and then, carried away by his emotions, burst forth into an extemporary prayer to the Lord of Hosts to be their helper. "It seemed," says John Adams, in a letter to his wife, "as if Heaven had ordained that psalm to be read on that morning. He prayed, in language eloquent and sublime, for America for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially for the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here."

When the prayer was closed a long and death-like silence ensued, as if each one hesitated "to open a business so momentous." At length Patrick Henry slowly arose, faltering at first, "as if borne down by the weight of his subject;" but the fires of his wonted eloquence began to glow, as he recited the colonial wrongs already endured, and foretold those yet to come. "Rising, as he advanced, with the grandeur of his subject, and glowing at length with all the majesty and expectation of the occasion, his speech seemed more than that of mortal man." He inspired the entire Congress with his liberal sentiments; they found a response in every heart when he exclaimed: "British oppression has effaced the boundaries of the several colonies; the distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American." When he closed, the members were not merely astonished at his matchless eloquence, but the importance of the subject had overwhelmed them.


George Bancroft, History of the United States, vol.4, chapter 25: "How South Carolina Advanced to Independence, February-July 1776," p.396

On the twenty-third of April the court was opened at Charleston, and the chief justice after an elaborate exposition charged the grand jury in these words: "The law of the land authorizes me to declare, and it is my duty to declare the law, that George III., king of Great Britain, has abdicated the government, that he has no authority over us, and we owe no obedience to him.

"It has been the policy of the British authority to cramp and confine our trade so as to be subservient to their commerce, our real interest being ever out of the question; the new constitution is wisely adapted to enable us to trade with foreign nations, and thereby to supply our wants at the cheapest markets in the universe; to extend our trade infinitely beyond what has ever been known; to encourage manufactures among us; and to promote the happiness of the people from among whom, by virtue and merit, the poorest man may arrive at the highest dignity. The Almighty created America to be independent of Britain; to refuse our labors in this divine work is to refuse to be a great, a free, a pious, and a happy people!"


Jay A. Parry and Andrew M. Allison, The Real George Washington, p.231

While he waited, Washington issued strict orders to ensure that his troops were preparing themselves spiritually for the coming difficulties. "All chaplains are to perform divine service...every...Sunday," he declared, and he ordered "officers of all ranks" to set an example by attending. "The commander in chief expects an exact compliance with this order, and that it be observed in the future as an invariable rule of practice. And every neglect will be considered not only as a breach of orders, but a disregard to decency, virtue, and religion."
General Orders (28 June 1777), The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., 39 vols. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1931-44. vol 8, p. 308.


Debates in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, of the Adoption of the Federal Constitution WEDNESDAY, February 6, 1788.
Jonathan Elliot, ed., Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 2, p.170.

Afternoon.—Hon. Mr. TURNER. Mr. President, being advanced in life, and having endeavored, I hope, with a faithful attention, according to my ability, to assist my country in their trying difficulties and dangers for more than twenty years; and as, for three weeks past, my state of health has been such as to render me unable to speak in this assembly,— I trust I shall be heard with some indulgence, while I express a few sentiments at this solemn crisis. I have been averse to the reception of this Constitution, while it was considered merely in its original form; but since the honorable Convention have pleased to agree to the recommendation of certain amendments, I acknowledge my mind is reconciled. But even thus amended, I still see, or think I see, several imperfections in it, and some which give me pain. Indeed, I never expect to see a constitution free from imperfections; and, considering the great diversity of local interests, views, and habits,—considering the unparalleled variety of sentiments among the citizens of the United States,—I despair of of obtaining a more perfect constitution than this, at present. And a constitution preferable to the Confederation must be obtained, and obtained soon, or we shall be an undone people. In my judgment, there is a rational probability, a moral certainty, that the proposed amendments will meet the approbation of the several states in the Union. If there is any respect due to the hoary head of Massachusetts, it will un-doubtedly have its proper influence in this case. The minds of gentlemen, throughout the nation, must be impressed with such a sense of the necessity of all-important union, especially in our present circumstances, as must strongly operate in favor of a concurrence. The proposed amendments are of such a liberal, such a generous, and such a catholic nature and complexion,—they are so congenial to the soul of every man who is possessed of patriotic regard to the preservation of the just rights and immunities of his country, as well as to the institution of a good and necessary government,—that I think they must, they, will, be universally accepted. When, in connection with this confidence, I consider the deplorable state of our navigation and commerce, and various branches of business thereon dependent; the inglorious and [p.171] provoking figure we make in the eyes of our European creditors; the degree in which the landed interest is burdened and depreciated; the tendency of depreciating paper, and tender acts, to destroy mutual confidence, faith, and credit, to prevent the circulation of specie, and to overspread the land with an inundation, a chaos of multiform injustice, oppression, and knavery; when I consider what want of efficiency there is in our government, as to obliging people seasonably to pay their dues to the public, instead of spending their money in support of luxury and extravagance, of consequence the inability of government to satisfy the just demands of its creditors, and to do it in season, so as to prevent their suffering amazingly by depreciation; in connection with my anxious desire that my ears may be no longer perstringed, nor my heart pained, with the cries of the injured widow and orphans; when I also consider that state of our finances which daily exposes us to become a prey to the despotic humor even of an impotent invader,—I find myself constrained to say, before this assembly, and before God, that I think it my duty to give my vote in favor of this Constitution, with the proposed amendments; and, unless some further light shall be thrown in my way to influence my opinion, I shall conduct accordingly. I know not whether this Convention will vote a ratification of this Constitution, or not. If they should do it, and have the concurrence of the other states, may that God, who has always, in a remarkable manner, watched over us and our fathers for good, in all difficulties, dangers, and distresses, be pleased to command his almighty blessing upon it, and make it instrumental of restoring justice, honor, safety, support, and salvation, to a sinking land! But I hope it will be considered, by persons of all orders, ranks, and ages, that, without the prevalence of Christian piety and morals, the best republican constitution can never save us from slavery and ruin. If vice is predominant, it is to be feared we shall have rulers whose grand object will be (slyly evading the spirit of the Constitution) to enrich and aggrandize themselves and their connections, to the injury and oppression of the laborious part of the community; while it follows, from the moral constitution of the Deity, that prevalent iniquity must be the ruin of any people. The world of mankind have always, in general, been enslaved and miserable, and always will be, until there is a greater [p.172] prevalence of Christian moral principles; nor have I any expectation of this, in any great degree, unless some superior mode of education shall be adopted. It is education which almost entirely forms the character, the freedom or slavery, the happiness or misery, of the world. And if this Constitution shall be adopted, I hope the Continental legislature will have the singular honor, the indelible glory, of making it one of their first acts, in their first session, most earnestly to recommend to the several states in the Union the institution of such means of education as shall be adequate to the divine, patriotic purpose of training up the children and youth at large in that solid learning, and in those pious and moral principles, which are the support, the life and soul, of republican government and liberty, of which a free constitution is the body; for, as the body, without the spirit, is dead, so a free form of government, without the animating principles of piety and virtue, is dead also, being alone. May religion, with sanctity of morals, prevail and increase, that the patriotic civilian and ruler may have the sublime, parental satisfaction of eagerly embracing every opportunity of mitigating the rigors of government, in proportion to that increase of morality which may render the people more capable of being a law to themselves! How much more blessed this than to be employed in fabricating constitutions of a higher tone, in obedience to necessity, arising from an increase of turbulent vice and injustice in society! I believe your excellency's patience will not be further exercised by hearing the sound of my voice on the occasion, when I have said, May the United States of America live before God! May they be enlightened, pious, virtuous, free, and happy, to all generations!


Proclamation.
A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING.
[From Sparks's Washington, Vol. XII, p.119.]

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A. D. 1789.
GO. WASHINGTON.

Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents, George Washington, vol. 1, p.56


George Washington
Farewell Address

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, George Washington, vol. 1, p.213


For the benefit of graduates of government secular schools, the following sentence has been broken up into 10-second sound bites.

John Adams
Inaugural Address.
IN THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, PA

On this subject it might become me better to be silent or to speak with diffidence; but as something may be expected, the occasion, I hope, will be admitted as an apology if I venture to say that

  • if a preference, upon principle, of a free republican government, formed upon long and serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after truth;
  • if an attachment to the Constitution of the United States, and a conscientious determination to support it until it shall be altered by the judgments and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it;
  • if a respectful attention to the constitutions of the individual States and a constant caution and delicacy toward the State governments;
  • if an equal and impartial regard to the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of all the States in the Union, without preference or regard to a northern or southern, an eastern or western, position, their various political opinions on unessential points or their personal attachments;
  • if a love of virtuous men of all parties and denominations;
  • if a love of science and letters and a wish to patronize every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution for propagating knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in all its stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the only means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments;
  • if a love of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration;
  • if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufactures for necessity, convenience, and defense;
  • if a spirit of equity and humanity toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and our citizens to be more friendly to them;
  • if an inflexible determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been adopted by this Government and so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and applauded by the legislatures of the States and the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress;
  • if a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both nations;
  • if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and remove every colorable pretense of complaint;
  • if an intention to pursue by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation, and if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the Legislature, that they may consider what further measures the honor and interest of the Government and its constituents demand;
  • if a resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world;
  • if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all and never been deceived;
  • if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of my own duties toward it, rounded on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age;
  • and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect.

With this great example before me, with the sense and spirit, the faith and honor, the duty and interest, of the same American people pledged to support the Constitution of the United States, I entertain no doubt of its continuance in all its energy, and my mind is prepared without hesitation to lay myself under the most solemn obligations to support it to the utmost of my power.

And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of His providence.
    MARCH 4, 1797.

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.222-23


Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, p.314-15

442. How far any government has a right to interfere in matters touching religion, has been a subject much discussed by writers upon public and political law. The right and the duty of the interference of government in matters of religion have been maintained by many distinguished authors, as well by those, who were the warmest advocates of free governments, as by those, who were attached to governments of a more arbitrary character. Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion, will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, [p.315] and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to Him for all our actions, founded upon moral accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well-ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And, at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a Divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgement in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship, according to the dictates of one's conscience.

459. If this Work shall but inspire the rising generation with a more ardent love of their country, and unquenchable thirst for liberty, and a profound reverence for the Constitution and the Union, then it will have accomplished all that its author ought to desire. Let the American youth never forget that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capable, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, of property, of religion, and of independence. The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order; and its defences are impregnable from without. It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour, by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keepers, THE PEOPLE. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.


John Adams, Fourth Annual Address, November 22, 1800.
Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.295

It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and imploring His blessing.

May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears be forever held in veneration! Here and throughout our country may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever!

Address of the Senate to John Adams, President of the United States.
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.298-99
The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
    SIR: Impressed with the important truth that the hearts of rulers and people are in the hand of the Almighty, the Senate of the United States most cordially join in your invocations for appropriate blessings upon the Government and people of this Union.

We meet you, sir, and the other branch of the National Legislature in the city which is honored by the name of our late hero and sage, the illustrious Washington, with sensations and emotions which exceed our power of description.

While we congratulate ourselves on the convention of the Legislature at the permanent seat of Government, and ardently hope that permanence and stability may be communicated as well to the Government itself as to its seat, our minds are irresistibly led to deplore the death of him who bore so honorable and efficient a part in the establishment of both. Great indeed would have been our gratification if his sum of earthly happiness had been completed by seeing the Government thus peaceably convened at this place; but we derive consolation from a belief that the moment in which we were destined to experience the loss we deplore was fixed by that Being whose counsels can not err, and from a hope that since in this seat of Government, which bears his name, his earthly remains will be deposited, the members of Congress, and all who inhabit the city, with these memorials before them, will retain his virtues in lively recollection, and make his patriotism, morals, and piety models for imitation. And permit us to add, sir, that it is not among the least of our consolations that you, who have been his companion and friend from the dawning of our national existence, and trained in the same school of exertion to effect [p.299] our Independence, are still preserved by a gracious Providence in health and activity to exercise the functions of Chief Magistrate.

Reply of the President.
CITY OF WASHINGTON, November 26, 1800.
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.299
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate:
For this excellent address, so respectful to the memory of my illustrious predecessor, which I receive from the Senate of the United States at this time and in this place with peculiar satisfaction, I pray you to accept of my unfeigned acknowledgments. With you I ardently hope that permanence and stability will be communicated as well to the Government itself as to its beautiful and commodious seat. With you I deplore the death of that hero and sage who bore so honorable and efficient a part in the establishment of both. Great indeed would have been my gratification if his sum of earthly happiness had been completed by seeing the Government thus peaceably convened at this place, himself at its head; but while we submit to the decisions of Heaven, whose councils are inscrutable to us, we can not but hope that the members of Congress, the officers of Government, and all who inhabit the city or the country will retain his virtues in lively recollection and make his patriotism, morals, and piety models for imitation.


Gerald Ford
Toasts of the President and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, July 7, 1976
Public Papers of the Presidents, Ford, 1976, p.1986, Item 656
Our first Ambassador to England, John Adams, foresaw that future when he spoke to your great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Charlotte, and said, "Permit me, madam, to recommend to Your Majesty's royal goodness a rising empire and an infant virgin world. It will, in future [ages] be the glory of these kingdoms to have peopled that country and to have sown there those seeds of science, of beauty [liberty], of virtue and [of] piety, which alone constitute the prosperity of nations and the happiness of the human race."


Thomas Jefferson, Notes for the Biography of George Wythe.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 1, p.169–p.170

No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than George Wythe. His virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity inflexible, and his justice exact; of warm patriotism, and, devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country, without the avarice of the Roman; for a more disinterested person never lived. Temperance and regularity in all his habits, gave him general good health, and his unaffected modesty and suavity of manners endeared him to every one. He was of easy elocution, his language chaste, methodical in the arrangement of his matter, learned and logical in the use of it, and of great urbanity in debate; not quick of apprehension, but, with a little time, profound in penetration, and sound in conclusion. In his philosophy he was firm, and neither troubling, nor perhaps trusting, any one with his religious creed, he left the world to the conclusion, that that religion must be good which could produce a life of such exemplary virtue.


President Abraham Lincoln
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 16.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE,
WASHINGTON, February 18, 1862.

I. The following concurrent resolutions of the two Houses of the Congress of the United States are published for the information of the Army:
. . .
Resolved, That the President of the United States, Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, be requested to direct that orders be issued for the reading to the Army and Navy of the United States of the Farewell Address of George Washington, or such parts thereof as he may select, on the 22d day of February instant.

II. In compliance with the foregoing resolutions, the President of the United States, Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, orders that the following extracts from the Farewell Address of George Washington be read to the troops at every military post and at the head of the several regiments and corps of the Army:

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.

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5, p.3306, 3308



 



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