"HISTORY SPEAKS" BLOG

The French vs. American Revolution: Why Religion Made a Lasting Difference

By Rick Chromey | February 25, 2024 |

French Revolution

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evil; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.”

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.”

Edmund Burke penned these words as part of his indictment of the secular French Revolution.

A core feature of this 18th century cultural revolution was an eradication of religion.

In the late 1700s, the whole world watched, including our Founding Fathers, as the French revolted to forge a secular government. One of the key features of this new political machine was a systematic persecution of pious French citizens and clergy…and eventually all who dissented against it.

Churches were shuttered, then converted into dens of “scandalous depravities.” The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasburg was refashioned into a Temple of Reason. The clergy were executed. Church services and all religious education outlawed. Crosses were forbidden and the graves of the saints were desecrated. Christian monuments, statues and icons were torn down and removed.

The purpose of the French Revolution was to de-Christianize France and replace the mother religion with a “secular civic religion of state worship.”

The French even changed how western culture kept time and scored history. First, they abandoned the biblical 24-hour, 7-day week and adopted a new calendar. The French made 1792 the first year in their calendar. They also replaced a “seven-day” week with a 10-day “decade” week with each day composed of 10 hours (and every hour of 100 minutes and every minute of 100 seconds). Because the secular French believed “10” was the number for humanity they created an entire system for time and measurement based upon these “10s.”

And their measurements still exist to this day…as the metric system.

It’s not surprising America’s Founding Fathers watched the French Revolution closely.

And they eventually rejected its fundamental philosophical premise that a good government required a wholly secular state. At the time American culture was 98% Protestant, deeply influenced by the First Great Awakening (1730-1770). In fact, while the French Revolution raged, America was teeing up a Second Great Awakening (1795-1835) that shaped and deepened the Christian culture of the 19th century.

As our Founders observed the secular French Revolution, including the fall of the monarchy and the repercussions of a godless culture, they grew concerned. During the 1793-1794 “Reign of Terror” over 40,000 were executed (most of them Christians). Consequently, the Founders were not silent in their opinions.

One feature of the French Revolution, our Founders recognized was the flaw of a pure democracy.

Ultimately, the American Founders preferred a representational government that looked more Roman “republican” than French “democratic.” But the key to any democracy, in part or whole, to survive was with a populace committed to civility and morality. Furthermore, in their study of history, no civilized culture could be moral without religion.

Essentially, a civil citizen possessed a core morality. But morality doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s the result of cultural moral codes rooted, historically, to their religious ideology. Just like it’s impossible to spell “good” without “g-0-d,” its equally unreasonable to think a godless culture can be “good” on its own.

To the contrary, whenever a religious nation (regardless of the deity) adopts a secular frame, it eventually collapses from within. The populace increasingly grows selfish, immoral, sexualized, violent and profane.

It’s why the Founders discovered little good in the secular French constitution and culture.

NOAH WEBSTER (1796): “The reason why severe laws are necessary in France is, that the people have not been educated republicans – they do not know how to govern themselves.” 

ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1799): “The praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity; – war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors. The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism…”

JOHN ADAMS (1799): “The people of the United States are still held in jeopardy by…insidious acts of a foreign nation [France], as well as by the dissemination among them of those principles subversive to the foundations of all religious, moral, and social obligations … I hereby recommend … a Day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.”

GOUVERNEUR MORRIS (1789): “The materials for a revolution in France are very indifferent… Everybody agrees that there is an utter prostration of morals; but this general proposition can never convey to an American mind the degree of depravity.”

Morris continued, “The great masses of the common people have no religion but their priests, no law but their superiors, no morals but their interest.

Three years later, Morris concluded: Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God. These duties are, internally, love and adoration; externally, devotion and obedience.”

Gouverneur Morris would speak more than any other delegate at the Constitutional Convention (173 times). He would pen the final draft of the U.S. Constitution. He also created the statement: “We the people of the United States.”

Historian William Federer noted: “Where secular France pulled away from God, America experienced a religios revival called the Second Great Awakening which spread across country.”

This Second Great Awakening in America imprinted American spirituality 19th century with a thoroughly Christian flavor.

From “frontier camp meetings” to college campuses to mission movements to the American West and beyond (Hawaii, China, Burma, Carribbean), America flexed its spiritual (Christian) muscles to heal, teach, serve, protect, pastor and lead countless people to Christianity.

Of course this view of America (as a Christian nation) is neither popular nor taught today.

People who point out America’s “Christian” roots–even with footnotes and clear evidence–are mocked, challenged, ignored, labeled and canceled. Their view of history is labeled as “fake” and misleading, even dangerous. They are also tagged as “Christian nationalists.”

But its this type of intolerance to true history that French secularists used to first revise, then censor, then cancel, and finally outlaw and eliminate the religious influences in its nation. It’s not unlike what we seeing in America today.

The irony? Since 1790, America has enjoyed a single constitution in its democratic-republic revolution in 1776. To contrast, secular France has had 14 constitutions, 5 republics and three revolutions.

But that may change.

Since 1960, America has slowly cut its Christian roots to grow secular wings. 

And as a result, we’ve now look like France in 1790…immoral barbarians and brutes. American cities are killing fields. Our media–television, movies, music, books, video games–promote violence, profanity and explicit sexuality. Without a moral center, our schools have devolved into propaganda zones for lifestyles once considered deviant, perverse or abominable.

Meanwhile, Christians and churches face persecution and prosecution like never before. Christianity is mocked, skewered, censored and cancelled. Who would’ve imagined any of this in 1960 (when over 70% of USAmericans attended church or synagogue)? But it’s only taken three generations to grow a crop of kids who don’t know God.

Our Founders were right. France has always been wrong (at least since 1790).

America’s greatness is rooted to its goodness.

And you still can’t, and never will, spell “good” without G-O-D.

 

 

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SOURCES CITED:

1. Edmund Burke “What is Liberty”: Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France” by edited by F.G. Selby (London: Macmillan and Company, 1890): 276. Downloadable at Google Books.

2. Edmund Burke “Men are Qualified for Liberty”: The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Volume 4 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 186):9 51. Downloadable at Google Books.

3. Noah Webster, “Political Fanaticism, No.III,” published in The American Minerva; September 21, 1796.

4. Alexander Hamilton Quote: Henry Cabot Lodge, “The Works of Alexander Hamilton,” Vol. 8, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1904), pg 425-426.

5. John Adams Quote: “Proclamation—Recommending a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” (March 6, 1799) https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/proclamation-recommending-national-day-humiliation-fasting-and-prayer

6. Gouverneur Morris Quote: To George Washington from Gouverneur Morris, 29 April 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-02-02-0125. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 2, 1 April 1789 – 15 June 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987, pp. 146–148.]

7. Gouverneur Morris Quote “Religion is the only solid basis for all good morals”: The Life of Gouverneur Morris by Jared Sparks, Vol. 3 (Boston: Gray & Bowen Publishers, 1832): 483. Available for download at Google Books.

President’s Day: The Story Behind the Day America Celebrates Her Presidents

By Rick Chromey | February 19, 2024 |

President's Day

“HAPPY PRESIDENTS DAY!”

Celebrated on the third Monday of February, it’s one of 12 federal holidays (originally proclaimed in 1879). But the celebrations had been around much longer, initially to celebrate the birthday of the “Father of our Country” George Washington, and later the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln.

In fact, since 1862, the U.S. Senate has read George Washington’s Farewell Address aloud, as per public request to not forget the Founding Father’s admonitions on partisan politics and civil war.

But today hasn’t always been “President’s Day.”

In fact, depending on your state, there are 15 different names for this day. As mentioned, it was originally designated to honor George Washington’s birthday (Feb 22). And then Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb 12).

Consequently, in many states its still known as “Washington’s Birthday” or “Lincoln’s Birthday.”

However, other states felt it was better to honor all the presidents…therefore “President’s Day.”

Of course, the counter-cultural, non-traditional California took a more politically-correct path. They prefer a bland, generic and cumbersome tag: “The Third Monday in February” (to avoid honoring any particular president). With that logic, they should be consistent and do the same with the months of the year (to avoid honoring any particular Roman god, leader, festival or number).

The irony? California was the first state to organize a President’s Day celebration in 1951.

Ironically, one state has historically chosen not to celebrate President’s Day (or Washington/Lincoln’s birthday)…and it’s President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. No reason why.

Black History Month is also connected to this holiday.

After the Civil War, the Black community were grateful for their freedom from slavery. By 1900 dozens of Black communities were using February to honor the the birthdays of the slave emancipator Abraham Lincoln and Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. As part of these celebrations, Black historians used the opportunity to teach their history, and to honor other abolitionists (both Black and White) who worked tirelessly for their freedom, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, President John Quincy Adams, John Brown and anti-slavery publisher William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1926, Black historian Carter C. Woodson proclaimed the second week of February “Negro History Week.” For decades, it was an important time for Black children especially to learn their story. In the 1970s, after the Civil Rights Movement opened new doors and equalized opportunities for Black America, the week was expanded to a whole month.

However, the emergence of Black nationalism and “Black Power” eliminated the “white” part of their story. Black History Month was only for Black history and Black people, effectively kicking Lincoln and the White abolitionists, civil rights activists, politicians, and influencers who fought for Black equality to the curb).

Sadly, many Black Americans today won’t celebrate nor honor either George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or the other U.S. Presidents (save Barack Obama).

President’s Day is a Day to Celebrate Heroes

If you’re in the mood to celebrate on President’s Day, enjoy some cherry pie. The traditional treat that honors Washington’s legendary chopping down of a cherry tree (which he didn’t, of course).

Here’s an interesting fact: The “Purple Heart” award for America’s killed or wounded was instituted on Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932. Why? Because George Washington was America’s first general to award a medal for being injured in battle.

President’s Day isn’t just another day for federal employees to enjoy a paid holiday. Nor should it be a day our children–regardless of race–not learn about the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Proposed: U.S. President History Month

In fact, as a historian, I argue that February should rightfully be designated U.S. President History month. Four U.S. Presidents were born in February (Washington, William Henry Harrison, Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan). John Q. Adams and Woodrow Wilson died. It’s the month Washington was first elected U.S. President and Andrew Johnson was the first to be impeached.

With 46 (and counting) U.S. presidents, every day in February could easily focus on one, and sometimes two, presidents. The curriculum would gradually inform our youngest generations how these great men lived, led and died. For example, every child should learn their story (history). Every teen should understand their contributions to America (how they helped or hurt America). And every college student should examine their political philosophy and leadership practices.

President’s Day, Independence Day and Constitution Day (another forgotten holiday) should be America’s foundational “holy” days.

For without our leaders, our Declaration and Constitution, America would not exist.

It’s why we can never forget.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of an American Moses (Part 3)

By Rick Chromey | January 20, 2024 |

Martin Luther King speaks

 

In PART ONE, the individuals and events that influenced King’s childhood and adolescence were addressed. 

In PART TWO, Martin Luther King’s rise to inspire and lead the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

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By 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived up to his royal last name. His speeches were legendary and he had created an interracial movement for black civil rights in America.

Like the biblical Moses, King led his people through a new wilderness of social change that challenged old paradigms. It was in these moments that Martin leaned upon his influences, individuals who had walked a similar path and spoke into his life.

One of King’s influences was the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer founded Germany’s “Confessing Church”--a Protestant group that openly resisted Hitler and the Nazi regime. Ironically, Bonhoeffer’s social justice was influenced by  Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.—the black preacher of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, NY.

During his seminary years, Bonhoeffer lived in New York City and was exposed, for the first time, to black culture. He eventually joined, participated, served and preached at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Powell was his mentor.

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany deeply moved by the black church in America, especially its ability to navigate hardship and persecution.

Other great men shaped the adult Martin Luther King, Jr.

Others who influenced Dr. King included his good friend Billy Graham. In 1948, Graham launched a national revival ministry that eventually used television to broadcast its crusades. Graham’s astute ability to hold fast to his Christian faith and yet still interact, friend and work with the skeptic and doubter, impressed King.

Martin faced opposition not just by the white but also the black (Malcom X,  Stokely Carmichael, Black Panthers).  King later credited Graham with making his civil rights movement successful.

Another influencer was the author Henry David Thoreau (who wrote a book on civil disobedience in 1849).

Booker T. Washington’s works (and words) impacted King, likely more than anyone else.

Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute and author of Up From Slavery (1901), was a broad-shouldered, six-foot tall man who walked with poise and confidence. Just his presence earned respect.

With “close cut” neat hair, eyes that “gleam with kindness” and a firm jaw displaying courage and conviction, Washington was an impressive and successful man.

Washington penned:

I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race…I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.

Like King, it was Christianity that drove Booker T. Washington’s convictions. In a Columbus, OH address (May 24, 1900), Washington stated: “The men doing the vital things of life are those who read the Bible and are Christians and not ashamed to let the world know it.” 

King appreciated Washington’s ability to navigate the secular and sacred with passion. In his book “Putting the Most Into Life” (1906), Booker penned:

My observation has taught me that the people who stand for the most in the educational and commercial world and in the uplifting of the people are in some real way connected with the religious life of the people among whom they reside. This being true we ought to make the most of our religious life…

Booker’s success was noticeable, especially to Black Americans like King.

In many ways, Booker T. Washington started the job of lifting the black “up from slavery” and now, six decades later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was going to finish the  work. His “dream” was a reflection of Washington, as well as other great Blacks, like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

But similar to the “King of Kings” he worshipped, Martin’s story  was soon to face a crucifixion.

On April 4, 1968, upon a motel balcony in Memphis, TN, the dream of a King died.

Dr. King and his entourage were finalizing preparations for their evening’s event in a room at the Lorraine Motel. At one point, Martin turned to the musician Ben Branch, who was slated to perform, and made a request: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

Then Martin stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 to catch the evening sunset. It had been a nice, warm Tennessee day. The time was 6:01 p.m.

A gunshot rang out over the din of the Memphis traffic passing in front of the motel. King fell to the balcony floor. Aides rushed to his side. A lone bullet struck his right cheek, tunneled through his spinal column and buried in his shoulder. He was still alive…barely.

Sixty-four minutes later, at a local emergency room, Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead.

He was 39 years old.

But his autopsy revealed a different truth. King “had the heart of a 60 year old” man.

In the end, Martin lived and died just like another of his influencers—Mahatma Gandhi—lived and died. Gandhi was assassinated twenty years earlier (January 30, 1948) and equally famous for his nonviolence social activism.

In 1959, King toured India for five weeks and studied Gandhi’s philosophy and practices. He concluded that Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.”

He also said of Gandhi:

Mahatma Gandhi was the first person in human history to lift the ethic of love of Jesus Christ, above mere interaction between individuals and make it into a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.

I have a dream, Martin preached in 1963.

A dream that all people would be judged, not by the shallowness of their skin color, but by the depth of their true character.

Martin Luther King, Jr. died before his dream was fulfilled. 

Just as the biblical Moses stood outside the Promised Land, unable to enter and experience its glorious views and benefits, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood upon a similar mountaintop. All he could do is look forward and point from the other side of Jordan’s waters.

Martin left his “dream” in the hands of future generations.

Perhaps one day…ALL people…black, white, red, brown, yellow or otherwise…will no longer be judged by the color of their skin…but the content of their character.

On that day, we will all be free.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re all free at last!

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of an American Moses (Part 2)

By Rick Chromey | January 15, 2024 |

 

In PART ONE, the individuals and events that influenced King’s childhood and adolescence were addressed. 

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Every prophet journeys through a season of preparation. Just as Moses spent years as a desert shepherd, Martin Luther King honed his message through years of education. As Martin’s influence grew, so did the opposition to his calls for social change.

As a son of the South, King knew the cost of his calling.

Nevertheless, a “dream” was bubbling within Martin’s soul. Like the ancient prophet Jeremiah, it was vision burning so hot within his heart he could not keep it to himself forever.

But his dream wasn’t yet ready for primetime. It needed time for the vision to gel, ruminate, mature and find its wings. For now, Martin Luther King was on a journey to learn, experience, understand, develop and prepare.

Between 1944 and 1955, King devoted himself to higher education. 

In the fall of ’44 King enrolled at Morehouse College…at the tender age of fifteen.

Morehouse was an all-black male school with a reputation for churning out preachers. Martin’s dad and granddad attended the school to achieve their qualification for ordination in their Baptist tradition. King declared his own calling into ministry in his junior year. He now believed the Church was the best way “to serve humanity.”

In 1948, he graduated with his BA in sociology at nineteen years of age.

King attended Crozer Theological Seminary (Upland, PA) for graduate work…and fell in love…with a white girl named Betty. It was a romance that even in the liberated north turned heads and wagged tongues. And now Martin talked of tying the knot.

That’s when Martin’s dad and his friends interrupted the relationship. They told the lovestruck King it was a terrible idea. Interracial marriage was poking the bear for social norms. It could hurt his young reputation. Or wound relationships with family, friends and congregants. It might even cost him the opportunity to pastor a church, especially in the South.

King soon learned how this relationship deeply hurt his mother. His dad and friends were right. Martin and Betty broke up. According to his closest friends, King never got over Betty. She was always his “love.” This experience taught Martin how certain racial lines were impassable. Even if something (like love) felt innocent and right, it required time to be socially acceptable.

In 1951, King graduated with his Bachelor of Divinity from Crozier. Four yeas later he finished his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University.

In 1954, King moved to Montgomery, AL to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He was only 25 years old. Fortunately, he didn’t move alone. A year earlier, King met and married Coretta Scott. Eventually, the couple had four children: Yolanda (1955-2007), Martin Luther King III (1957), Dexter Scott King (1961) and Bernice King (1963).

Montgomery, AL soon became the flashpoint for Martin Luther King’s emerging national vision.

Two separate bus incidents sparked the fire that spread King’s influence. Both involved black women who–like the younger King–refused to relinquish their seats to a white. The girls names were Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks.

Their resistance violated Jim Crow segregation laws. Parks’ arrest received more press and sparked the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott (led by King). The boycott lasted over a year. Racist agitators bombed King’s home. Then the Birmingham police arrested and jailed King on a petty speeding charge.

But that proved a blessing. The national media took up his story and suddenly King had a national platform.

In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Inspired by Billy Graham’s crusades, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference included other Montgomery clergy and civil rights activists. The stated goal of the S.C.L.C. was to “harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform.”

From that day forward, King laid his life on the line for his people. Similar to Moses in the Bible, King desired to lead his people out of the past. His vision pointed to a new Promised Land where civil rights, desegregation and racial harmony ruled the day.

Knife attacks, police arrests, jail, and hard labor prison sentences accompanied King’s calling.

One spring day in 1963, Martin’s movement took a turn in Birmingham, AL. The police released their dogs and sprayed firehoses upon a large S.C.L.C. demonstration march.  The  demonstration included dozens of black children as part of a “crusade.” The optics looked bad.

However, as usual, the law arrested and jailed King before the trouble touched him. But, in the end, King’s greatest contribution wasn’t on the street but from his cell. He wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail during his incarceration. It became an immediate critic’s choice. One writer called the book “one of the most important historical documents penned by a modern political prisoner.”

The Birmingham moment in April 1963 created the “March on Washington” four months later.

On August 28, over 250,000 people gathered in Washington, DC for a peaceful protest. There were several goals for the march.

First, to highlight continuing racial segregation in schools. Second, to promote meaningful civil rights legislation. And, third, to improve other protections for the discriminated black.

From the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington monument was a sea of humanity. Like ancient Israelites waiting for manna from heaven and a Red Sea miracle, the people waited for King to speak.

I have a dream,” Martin began, with a slight pause, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

Across the lawn of the National Mall, the congregants leaned into his words. Then King reached back into his memory bank. He tapped into those moments when racial bigotry and hate nearly consumed his soul. Then he baptized them in hope and raptured a new godly vision for his people.

“I have a dream,” King voiced again in that familiar Baptist preacher tone, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

From the Lincoln Memorial, for 17 minutes, King’s words rose and rang as a clarion bell for change. A century earlier a white American president emancipated the slave. Now, a black American preacher reminded Americans of their true heart and core principles.

“I have a dream,” King thundered, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

A year later the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

King’s Civil Rights Movement of passive nonviolent protest was underway and he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In his acceptance speech he stated:

“… profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

This passive philosophy would be tested repeatedly over the next four years, from the Deep South of Selma, AL to the urban streets of Chicago, IL …but King never wavered.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of an American Moses (Part 1)

By Rick Chromey | January 14, 2024 |

Martin Luther King, Jr

In Black American history there have been many influential people.

Phyllis Wheatley. Sojourner Truth. Harriet Tubman. Frederick Douglass. Booker T. Washington. George Washington Carver. Jackie Robinson.

But few transformed America and his race more than Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s why every January, America stops to celebrate his birthday. He’s on par with Washington and Lincoln. But who influenced King? Why is Martin named after the Protestant Reformer? And what can we learn from his story?

Here’s the story behind the story you might not know about this social reformer. And it starts with his name. It wasn’t originally Martin.

Michael Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929.

He was born in a lineage of faith. His daddy (Michael Sr.) and granddaddy were Baptist preachers in Georgia. Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. were known as “Big Mike” and “Little Mike” by their family and closest friends. King grew up in the wooden hardback pews of his father’s Atlanta church…a congregation that he would one day also pastor…Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Originally Martin’s name was “Michael.” But Big Mike changed it to Martin after he attended the 1934 Congress of the Baptist World Alliance in Berlin, Germany. As part of that trip, the elder King toured historic German sites related to the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. At the same time, Big Mike was also exposed to a rising German Nazism.

Both Luther’s righteous rebellion against the political system of his day and Hitler’s fascist control over a people captured the Sr. Michael’s attention. He resolved to live and lead differently.

As a testament to that conviction, he changed his name to “Martin” Luther King, Sr. Then bestowed his new moniker upon Little Mike “Martin” Luther King, Jr. It was a father’s blessing, and also an anointing. The “junior” King would be set apart, much like Moses, to be used of God–an instrument for righteous change in an America that still treat blacks like they were segregated slaves in Egypt.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a student of the Bible…from his youngest days.

The “junior” Martin grew up reading the Bible aloud and listening in rapt awe to his “Mama” Jennie (grandmother) weave stories about biblical characters and events. He memorized dozens of Bible verses and hymns…as a preschooler. His favorite hymn? “I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus.” His deep knowledge of Scripture and ability to communicate served him well as an orator with a message.

A childhood friendship introduced King to racial bigotry.

At the tender age of six, King befriended a white neighbor boy. The two kids were inseparable…until their education forced the young boys to enroll in different schools. After that point, the white boy’s parents suddenly prohibited their friendship. The young King was deeply hurting and confused. His parents tried to console him, and explained the difficult racial divide between whites and blacks, especially in the Deep South.

Thats the day King learned about his people’s legacy of racism, segregation, and slavery.

Initially, King’s hurt went negative. He felt anger and bitterness. He vowed to “hate every white person.” However, his Christian parents quickly corrected that attitude. Instead, they encouraged the young Martin to love others, unconditionally, like Jesus. Nevertheless, in this experience, King learned to feel the pain of his people and tap the anger in a productive and positive way to transform America.

King’s adolescence proved a time of change and transformation…into a man, orator and protestor.

As a teen, Martin loved the opera and playing the piano and violin. His favorite subjects were English and history. King attended Booker T. Washington High School—the only all-Black high school in Atlanta—and posted a B+ average. But it was Martin’s public speaking ability that caught the attention of his teachers and peers. King’s young emerging baritone voice and deep vocabulary put him on a different level as a orator.

He not only sounded great to the ear but also spoke great words to the heart.

In 1944, King won his first speaking contest. In his speech he argued: Black America still wears chains. The finest negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man.” King and his teacher learned what that line meant on their bus ride home to Atlanta. Their white bus driver, in order to seat all the white riders, ordered King and his black teacher to abandon their seats…and stand for the ride.

It had already been a long day, so a long ride standing had no appeal. The adolescent King angrily protested and refused to give up his seat. However his instructor persuaded him to reconsider that decision. It was an illegal act (a violation of Jim Crow laws) and it could produce disastrous consequences from a beating to jail to lynching.

However, by 1944 lynchings had been on the decline since the mid-1930s (according to the Tuskegee Institute). In 1935, there were 18 lynchings of blacks, but only 17 combined between 1940-1943. In 1944, there were only two black lynchings.

Martin finally agreed to give his seat away. However, the moment left a bad taste in his mouth. He learned that day how some forms of social protest made things worst…and weren’t worth the price.

A few months later, King also experienced a different side (and kind) of America.

Martin headed to Connecticut to work a tobacco farm with some friends. It was his first time north of the Mason-Dixon line. King wrote his father how the integrated North was refreshingly different. To his surprise, he experienced “no discrimination” and found the “white people…were very nice.”

King further noted how blacks could “go to any place” they desired and “sit anywhere” they wanted. He was amazed that even “the finest restaurants” did not separate or refuse service to the black. He even happily attended a church where “Negroes and whites” worshipped together. This brief experience provided King a vision for what could be. It also proved not all whites were racist. In fact, to the contrary, they were welcoming, tolerant and helpful.

It was the America that Martin Luther King, Jr. would eventually cast as a “dream” for his people and homeland.

READ PART TWO

 

SOURCES:

  1. Wikipedia: “Martin Luther King, Jr.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.
  2. “Lynchings by State and Race: 1882-1968,” Tuskegee Institute: http://www.archive.tuskegee.edu/repository/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Lynchings-Stats-Year-Dates-Causes.pdf

 

July 8, 1835: The Day a Judge, the Liberty Bell and the Founding Era Ended

By Rick Chromey | January 10, 2024 |

John Marshall

One night a stranger sought refuge in a rural tavern.

Exhausted from his travels, the hungry, unkempt visitor longed for solitude. However, the man quickly realized he had interrupted a debate regarding the “merits of the Christian religion.”

In a long, contentious argument, several young men discussed biblical truth related to Christ’s divinity and God’s nature. The weary outsider remained silent.

“Well, my old gentleman,” someone at the bar yelled to him, “what do you think?”

The tired old man could no longer ignore the topic. As he rose to speak, every eye turned. For the next hour, the elderly gentleman lectured the bawdy tavern crowd into a stunned silence as he systematically and rationally destroyed every irreligious and agnostic argument presented by the young men.

Across the tavern, there were whispers.

Who was this slovenly man who spoke so eloquently in defense of Jesus? Finally someone dared to ask the old man, to which he replied:

“My name is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”1

John Marshall was born in Germantown, VA in 1755. During the Revolutionary War, he fought under George Washington’s command and near the war’s end, left the military to practice law. Eventually Marshall served in the Virginia House of Delegates, then the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1800, John Adams appointed him Secretary of State and a year later to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As chief justice, Marshall worked under six different presidents for 34 years—the longest tenure in U.S. history. He authored over a thousand legal decisions to carve America’s constitutional identity.

Most notably was Marbury vs. Madison (1803) that forged the principle of judicial review, allowing courts to “review” and rule against unconstitutional federal and state laws.

It was Marshall’s Court that ruled against Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act (1830) to relocate 46,000 Indians to the West so Southern slavery could expand on the vast acreage left behind.

In matters of religion, John Marshall proved enigmatic.

For most of his life he preferred Unitarian Christianity yet attended Episcopal services. He refused church membership yet considered himself “a sincere friend of religion.”2 Marshall was a by-product of the First Great Awakening that created a cultural “Christian” America.

It’s why Marshall endorsed Rev. Jasper Adams’ sermon pamphlet titled The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States (1833).3

Marshall penned his own surprising observation: The American population is entirely Christian. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity.“4

In early 1835, another clergyman named Alexander Keith further influenced Marshall. His work Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion persuaded the aging judge to finally abandon his Unitarian position.5 Shortly thereafter, Marshall traveled to Philadelphia for medical care.

Unfortunately, his health worsened, and John Marshall died July 6, 1835.

Two days later, his funeral was held, where he was eulogized for his integrity, intelligence, charity and faith.

Across the city of Philadelphia, bells rang to honor the storied judge, including the famed Liberty Bell. She was first rung on the same day 59 years earlier (July 8, 1776) to call a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

His death signaled the end of the Founding Father era.

After 1835, a new generation of American leaders emerged that couldn’t recall the American Revolution. Their generation faced new American problems like slavery, Reconstruction, immigration, Indian relations, and westward expansion.

For nearly a century, two “great” Christian revivals or “awakenings”—the First Great Awakening (1730-1770) and the Second Great Awakening (1795-1835)—had tattooed the psyche of a young nation.

In 1831, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noted their influence: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect … was the first thing that struck my attention...In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”6

Early America was a distinctly Christian culture.

But cultural change was coming (thanks to a secular French Revolution). The first fissures in the Liberty Bell surfaced in 1835. The same year John Marshall died, and the Second Great Awakening ended. Similarly, by the 1830s, secular ideas were finding root in a Christian nation. Coincidence? Two decades later, a secular minority population was evident.

That’s when Congress commissioned a committee to investigate America’s founding to squelch any question about “who we once were.” Their final judgment: “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle… In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”7

According to legend, it was John Marshall’s funeral that cracked the bell named “Liberty.”

In 1835, the “crack” of secularism appeared and the Second Great Awakening ended. The Founding Father era was over. America was destined to grow into its constitutional frame.

A century later various Supreme Courts systematically removed Christianity from America’s institutions, creating a spiritual void Americans filled with agnosticism, atheism, and secular humanism. The result has proven devastating.

In 1962, America’s schools removed prayer (followed the next year with the removal of Bible readings). From that point, America the Secular introduced a more profane, suicidal, violent, sexually-deviant, confused, psychotic, agnostic, atheist and addicted culture.

And the “Christian America” of John Marshall, George Washington and our Founding Fathers faded into history, along with the freedom, equality and justice rooted to biblical principle.

Founding Father Jedidiah Morse predicted this would happen:

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. All efforts made to destroy the foundations of our Holy Religion ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation… in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom… Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government – and all the blessings which flow from them – must fall with them.8

And to think it all started with a judge’s death and liberty bell’s crack.

 

 

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SOURCES:

  1. Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall, Volume 4, The Building of the Nation, 1815-1835 (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916): 70-71. Available for download at Google books.
  2. Ibid., 69.
  3. The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States: A Sermon Preached in St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, February 19, 1833, by Rev. J. Adams (Charleston: A.E. Miller Publisher), 1833. Available for download at Google books.
  4. Charles Hobson, ed., The Papers of John Marshall, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006): 278.
  5. Alexander Keith, Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion: Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy (Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes, 1826, 2nd ed.). Available for download at Google books.
  6. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1 (New York: George Adlard Publishing, 1839): 307.
  7. Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made During the First Session of the Thirty-Third Congress (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), pp. 6-9.
  8. Jedidiah Morse, A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America, Delivered at Charlestown, April 25, 1799, The Day of the National Fast (MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1799), p. 9.

George Washington and Valley Forge: How a Christmas Prayer Saved America

By Rick Chromey | December 24, 2023 |

The winter of 1777 should’ve been the end of the great American Revolution.

Everything was going wrong for our patriot forefathers at that time.

Throughout the fall of 1777, the British army had tightened its grip on the colonies. When Philadelphia was captured, the war looked over. It usually is when a capitol city is occupied. Our Continental Congress were now “wanted men” and forced to flee for their lives. Meanwhile, fear raced through the colonies as thousands of Americans were captured and confined on British “starving ships.” Most died on board. It was a trying, desperate time in early America.

On December 12, 1777 the fugitive Congress awarded Gen. George Washington “full power” to “direct…the operations of the war.”

A week later Washington retreated with 11,000 soldiers to Valley Forge, PA to wait for spring…and hopefully better days.

Washington’s rag tag volunteer army enlisted men from ages 12 to 60. Most were Europeans, but free blacks and Indians also served. By Christmas 1777, the weather had turned ugly. The bitter cold and snow proved deadly to man and beast. Horses perished by the hundreds. Over 2500 troops froze, starved or died from typhoid, pneumonia or dysentery. Over 500 women also died at Valley Forge that winter…and countless children too. Families often fought together. Wives kept the army fed, clothed and nursed. And now they were among the dying too.

George Washington noted that nearly 2900 of his men were “unfit for duty.” Most of his troops had no shoes. Many were barely clothed. Washington confessed that without “some great and capital change” his army would “starve, dissolve, or (need to) disperse.” If his army didn’t live to spring, Washington rightly feared their war of revolution was over.

At one point, it was so bad the Continental Congress debated replacing Washington as “commander-in-chief.”

Many politicians had lost faith in George’s abilities, but none of his men did. As one patriot soldier confessed, Washington’s army was fused together with a “spirit of liberty.” They believed in Washington. They believed in this revolution. “Give me liberty or give me death!”

George Washington needed a Christmas miracle in 1777.

And that’s when this man of deep and devout faith turned, once again, to his God. In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, the “Father of our Country” retreated outside of camp, knelt down in the snow and prayed.

Washington’s prayerful pose became one of early America’s most famous images. For nearly 200 years American children were taught how Washington’s prayers at Valley Forge turned the Revolutionary War to our advantage. U.S. Presidents routinely reminded Americans of Washington’s prayer. Artists and sculptors recaptured this prayer. In fact, paintings of Washington praying at Valley Forge were more popular  than his famed crossing of the Delaware. It was common to see this image in homes, schools, courthouses, businesses and churches.

George Washington praying at Valley Forge

George Washington recounted that terrible winter of 1777-1778.

“No history,” he wrote, “can furnish an instance of an army’s suffering such uncommon hardships as ours has done…to see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lay on, without shoes, by which their marched might be traced by the blood from their feet, and almost as often without provisions…marching through frost and snow, and at Christmas taking up their winter quarters within a day’s march of the enemy…is a mark of patience and obedience which…can scarce be paralleled.”

Washington’s desperate prayers and pleas worked.

When Virginia Governor Patrick Henry heard of the conditions at Valley Forge, he was furious. He petitioned Congress to do something immediately…and they did. Within days a new quartermaster had resupplied Washington’s troops with clothing, food, blankets, ammo and other supplies. In February a Prussian drill master arrived to train Washington’s volunteer army to become better soldiers. Morale immediately boosted.

Throughout that terrible winter, particularly at Christmas, a certain carol was sung.

Its opening lyrics stated: God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. This song reminded colonial patriots that God was in control and He alone provided the “rest.” With God on their side, what did they have to fear? Furthermore, they rode with the great George Washington–a patriot general who had already escaped death five times. Horses were shot out beneath him. His hat was shot off. His clothes were nicked and ripped by bullets.

However, a Lutheran clergyman named Henry Muhlenberg was more impressed by George Washington’s spiritual leadership. He wrote: “I heard a fine example today, namely that His Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each to fear God, to put away wickedness … and to practice Christian virtues...From all appearances General Washington does not belong to the so-called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness.”

Muhlenberg concluded: “Therefore, the Lord God has also singularly, yea, marvelously preserved [George Washington] from harm in the midst of countless perils, ambuscades, fatigues, etc., and has hitherto graciously held him in his hand as a chosen vessel.”

George Washington’s leadership and God’s Providence through that desperate winter eventually turned the War to the colonial patriots.

It inspired more patriot soldiers to enlist and lit a new fire under Americans to support the war. What was Washington’s response for God’s Provision at Valley Forge? He ordered a “religious day” of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” on April 22, 1778. Washington commanded all troops in his Continental Army to cease work and go to church for spiritual instruction and worship. Washington proclaimed: “To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to laud the more distinguished Character of Christian.”

America has faced many desperate Christmases since Valley Forge in 1777.  We’ve endured war and Depression, crisis and catastrophe, bitter cold and deadly disease. And yet through each historic trial, and an increasingly secularized culture, most Americans still pause to reflect on the Reason for the Season.

It doesn’t have to be Christmas for us to endure a winter of trial and trouble.

Perhaps Washington’s prayer life should be a model for us? And maybe that old carol that sustained the troops at Valley Forge should become our song?

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.

For Jesus Christ our Savior, was born on Christmas Day;

To save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,

O tidings of comfort and joy.”

John Howland: How One Pilgrim’s Miracle Rescue Created One of America’s Greatest Family Trees

By Rick Chromey | November 9, 2023 |

 

Consider this diverse list of notable Americans:

  • U.S. politicians and leaders H.W., G.W. and Jeb Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Sarah Palin
  • Poets Henry Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Actors Humphrey Bogart, Alec and Stephen Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Anthony Perkins and John Lithgow
  • Childcare expert Dr. Benjamin Spock
  • Founder of Mormon religion Joseph Smith, Jr.

Amazingly, they are all descendants of a Mayflower immigrant named John Howland.

On September 16, 1620 a group 102 “pilgrims” (actually English separatists) immigrated to America on the Mayflower ship to begin a new life. Their desire was to create a biblical community in the new world and serve, teach and evangelize the Indians in the area. John Howland was among them, as a servant to John Carver.

It was 66 days and 2,750 miles of travail and trouble.

Storm after violent storm pummeled the pilgrims and tossed their ship helplessly upon the white-capped waves. One gale was so fierce it splintered their primary mast, a critical piece for the sail that propelled them through the waters. The crew managed to scrounge up a “great iron screw” to hold the massive mast together.

One night the Mayflower was caught in yet another raging Atlantic storm.

Howland was working the deck when a rogue wave suddenly swept him overboard. The night was dark. The rain relentlessly pounded the ship. The ocean foamed with large white-crested waves. And the wind howled. Howland gasped for air and struggled to keep his head above water in the freezing cold Atlantic. Fortunately, someone had witnessed his accident and the  Mayflower crew quickly rushed to the ship’s side to look for him.

It was a moment of deadly desperation. And every second counted.

As the Mayflower slowly slipped further away, Howland swam for his life and prayed to God to spare his soul. And then it happened. His hand sensed a rope! Howland grabbed the lifeline–which proved to be the trailing rope the Mayflower pulled behind the ship exactly for moments like this one.

All Howland knew was his prayers were answered. God had sent a miraculous lifeline!

Holding on for dear life, he was now dragged through the rough ocean waters. Between waves that drowned him, Howland screamed for help, praying now to be spotted. The darkness gave little hope but the crew somehow sighted the drowning Howland dragging behind their vessel. They quickly pulled him to the boat and safely back on deck. For the next several minutes Howland gasped for breath, spitting up salt water that had filled his lungs.

Evidently that night was not Howland’s night to die.

In fact, miraculously, the young Howland lived to tell the tale…and many more.

John Howland was among the men who signed the historic Mayflower Compact and helped found the Plymouth colony. He also survived the first winter when pilgrims died at a pace of one to two persons per day (over half of the colony did not survive to spring).

He married Elizabeth Tilley a few years later and fathered ten children.

And then those ten kids had more kids and their grandkids had more kids…and, well, you get the picture…a family tree was planted.

John and Elizabeth Howland founded one of the three largest Mayflower families and their descendants have been “associated largely with both the ‘Boston Brahmins’ and Harvard’s ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Besides the descendants already named, there are even more, including country music artist Mary Chapin-Carpenter; U.S. Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and Sam Ervin; S.C.O.T.U.S Justice Robert Jackson; actors William Macy, Christopher Lloyd and Lillian Russell.

Millions, even billions of people, have been influenced by this single life…who somehow found a life rope in a tempest while drowning…then lived to change the world.

John Howland was also the last original adult pilgrim to die, at over 80 years of age. His tombstone reads “he was a godly man and ancient professor in the ways of Christ.” A pretty good epitaph for a life well lived…and a Mayflower miracle too.

It’s quite a pilgrim tale. And one worth sharing with your friends and family this Thanksgiving.

Flipping Horace Mann: How America’s Public School Pioneer Felt About Religious Instruction

By Rick Chromey | October 4, 2023 |

Horace Mann Founder of Free American Public Education“No person, then, in the whole community, could have been more surprised or grieved than myself at finding my views in regard to the extent and the limitation of religious instruction in our public schools attributed to a hostility of religion itself, or a hostility to the Scriptures, which are the “lively oracles” of the Christian’s faith.” (1)

Horace Mann, the pioneer of American free and public education. penned these words as part of an extensive “secretarial” report to the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1848.

Mann had battled for twenty years in his Massachusett’s public schools…over religious instruction.

But what many misunderstand today is Mann never argued against religious education in public schools. Rather, he preached against teaching one particular sect’s doctrines above all others. To understand Mann’s comments in 1848, we must remember Massachusetts was colonized by a specific Protestant religion (Puritan). This was not an uncommon rule for nearly all the states. Pennsylvania was Quaker. Virginia was Anglican. Rhode Island was Baptist. Georgia was Methodist. Maryland was Roman Catholic. Consequently, these colonies grew to favor and legally adopt their specific forefather’s doctrines as their state’s religion of choice.

This explains why the “united” States of America originally constituted beneath a banner citing freedom of religion.

The national Congress could not create a federal religion like each state had in place at our founding (because no state would’ve agreed to that idea!). Ironically, once federal “freedom of religion” (not “freedom from religion” as secularists today argue) was established, many states corrected their own constitutions in the early 1800s. For example, in Mann’s Puritan/Pilgrim Massachusetts…

  • Until April 21, 1821, the test of eligibility for public office was swearing an oath to believe in the highly sectarian, state-sanctioned Protestant (Puritan) religion.
  • Until March 10, 1827, all Massachusetts schools used their classrooms to proselytize children in the Protestant beliefs of their Puritan forefathers (even if the parents were not believers in that brand of Christianity themselves).
  • Until November 11, 1833, every Massachusetts citizen was taxed (by its constitution and laws) to support the Protestant religion, even if the taxpayers were of the Catholic, Muslim, or another faith.

It was within this Massachusetts religious context that Horace Mann worked tirelessly to reform “common” or public schools to be non-sectarian.

The problem wasn’t religion or even Protestant religion, for Mann. The problem was a specific brand of Protestant religion–once sanctioned by the state of Massachusetts as the only true religion.

One of the great myths propagated today about Horace Mann–by both the Christian and secularist–is that Mann desired to create a purely secular school, but that’s not true. In fact, it’s patently false. In 1827, the state of Massachusetts prohibited any sectarian education. The State wasn’t against teaching the Bible or its values, but rather promoting and proselytizing one sect or brand of Christianity exclusively. And there was reason to be concerned.

In Mann’s tours of his states’ schools, even twenty years after the prohibition of sectarian education, Horace still found “theological libraries,” and “oral instruction as strictly and purely doctrinal as any every heard from the pulpit or from the professor’s chair.”(2)  Mann even discovered that a catechism (devoted to propagating one particular sect of Christianity) was secretly being distributed among Massachusetts schools. Many schoolmasters refused to meet with Horace, even accept his offers for “needed assistance.”

Despite these religious power plays, Horace Mann still believed in using the Bible as a text to teach morals, values, history and other subjects.

In fact, he retained his own congregationalist Christian belief despite severe opposition from the religious people within his state. Mann wrote: “[In] regard to all affirmations or intimations that I have ever attempted to exclude religious instruction from  school, or to exclude the Bible from school, or to impair the force of that volume…always have been, without substance or semblance of truth.”(3)

“…That our public schools are not theological seminaries, is admitted. That they are debarred by law from inculcating the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of any one religious denomination amongst us, is claimed…” Mann continued, “But our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals, it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible; and, in receiving the Bible, it allows it to do what it is allowed to do in no other system,–to speak for itself.”(4)

Horace Mann was no secularist and never advocated for a purely secular education.

To the contrary, he valued the Christian life and appreciated the Bible for its source of positive and productive morals, values and principles.

And until the 1950s, in a post-WW2 American culture, these Christian values and Biblical morals were taught widely in America’s public schools. However, in the early 1960s,, a left-leaning S.C.O.T.U.S. (without legal precedent) initiated the erasure of religion in our public schools by offering its “opinion” regarding removal of prayer (1962) and Bible reading (1963). The age of secular public schools was now in session.

It makes you wonder what Horace Mann would think of his public schools today? What would he think of a learning culture that has devolved into chaos, disrespect, violence, abuse and apathy?

What we see today is nothing more than the fruit of a secular school system that produced a secular graduate and citizen. Schools are just a microcosm of wider society. Do you like what you see? Would our Founding Fathers approve? Would Horace Mann endorse it?

Perhaps we should give Horace Mann the last word: “Again: it seems almost too clear for exposition, that our system, in one of its most essential features, is not only not an irreligious one, but that it is more strictly religious than any other which has ever yet been adopted.”(5)

 

 

+++++++++++++++++++

  1. Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Board of Education: 1845-1848 by Horace Mann (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1891): 309. Downloadable at Google Books.
  2. Ibid., 307.
  3. Ibid., 311.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 314.

America the Republic: Why We Were Never Constituted as a Pure Democracy

By Rick Chromey | August 15, 2023 |

Plato

Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about our democracy or democratic  form of government. Some political commentators use fear to suggest our “democracy is in peril” if certain people from the opposing political party are elected. Unfortunately, this type of fear mongering has been around since America was constituted.

The problem with that critique? America was founded as a republic, not a democracy.

In fact the Founding Fathers were adamant that America was, is, and should never devolve into a democracy (where the majority rules). Listen to their words:

 

  • James Madison: Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

 

  • John Adams: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

 

  • Fisher Ames:A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way. The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness [excessive license] which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.”

 

  • John Quincy Adams: “The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.

 

  • Dr. Benjamin Rush: “A simple democracy . . . is one of the greatest of evils.

 

It’s clear our Founders were adamantly against a democratic rule of government.

That’s  because they were well-versed in history, including the writings of Plato. In Plato’s “Republic” (penned circa 380 BCE), Plato revealed the five stages of human government. These stages can individually last for long periods of time or they can be burned through in short order, depending on how the nation is constituted or re-constituted.

For example, since 1789–when America created its national constitution–France has re-constituted fifteen times. When Plato’s stages are laid against American political history, it would seem we traveled largely in the first two stages for most of our national life. However, we have quickly passed into the third and could move into the fourth. Let’s review Plato’s five stages of government or how a national politic is born, matures, devolves and dies.

STAGE ONE: “ROYAL AND ARISTOCRATICAL”

This government is both good and just. Virtue and hard work mark it. There’s a pursuit of truth and wisdom. The politicians and rulers are motivated by helping the people, even to the sacrifice of their own health and wealth. They rely upon history, religion, science and the arts to create a beautiful, positive and productive (royal) culture for all to enjoy.

STAGE TWO: “TIMOCRATICAL”

This government is still good, and often indistinguishable from Aristocratical, but its virtues now lean toward honor and fame. Some of the rulers enjoy the political limelight and are now swayed by either flattery (being loved) or fear (being hated). Some now have little experience “governing” or “leading,” because their “fame” created political opportunity. They never built a business, led an organization, managed a company or governed a state. As a result, these rulers are prone to greed, ambition and arrogance.

STAGE THREE: “OLIGARCHICAL”

With greed, government (the ruling class) quickly moves toward creating and keeping power. They write laws, draft orders and invent rules that benefit them (while appeasing the public–through entitlements–to think they’re governing to their benefit). Virtues are only useful to retain power. The rulers also create a new “ruling [political] class” based upon ignorance (uneducated) and inexperience, because such surrogates are easier to manipulate and control. The goal? To create two states (or classes): the rich and the poor. Government no longer fixes problems but creates them to keep the populace salivating for another handout or quick fix. National debt rises to pay for all the entitlements to keep the people satisfied.

 

STAGE FOUR: “DEMOCRATICAL”

At this point, the next rule of government rises: pure democracy. The people rise up and overwhelm the oligarchy by sheer numbers. This is when the State begins to die. Democracies never last. They can’t. Every man does what is right in their own eyes. It’s how kings rise (someone popular enough to mass the people). The national order devolves from unity (“e pluribus unum” or “out of many, one”) into disunity (“e unumus plurib” or “out of one, many”). Democracies are all about inclusivity and tolerance, but only if its beneficial or pleasurable to the majority. Plato wrote, ironically, that “tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society” because it produces the lowest forms of sexual debauchery, violence, profanity and greed.

 

STAGE FIVE: “TYRANNICAL”

It’s in this social, irreligious and political vacuum that the final stage is set for a true tyrant. This is when the king becomes a lover of power. That’s when the city-state melts into anarchy and chaos. Initially this individual is attractive to the populace. He makes lots of promises. He steals from the rich to give to the poor. He’s kind, benevolent and caring. He dismantles the former “ruling class” (to the pleasure of the people) and creates a clique of one (propped up by mesmerized supporters). He eliminates all political enemies...and that’s when he becomes rapidly “unpopular.”

But by now it does not matter. When the people murmur or protest, he eliminates them too. Eventually he eliminates all undesirables from his kingdom. Power is no longer a means, but the end. Tyrants also keep wars going…so their people always need a leader. Finally, tyrants enslave his own people to service his needs.

Was Plato right? And could he be describing America’s future?

If you review other “republics” throughout history, his insights are telling. The decline and fall of “republics” like Greece and Rome are our best examples…the greatest “republics” ever created by man…until America came along. What made our nation different from former republics is its mild use of “democracy” or “we the people” to keep the ruling class in check. Consequently, we have “separation of powers” in our government (legislative, executive, judicial), all controlled by “we the people.”

If America becomes an oligarchy or democracy or tyrannical, it’s because “we the people” let it happen.

We seeded our own destruction. We caused our own ruin.

When America was in revolution against the British, across the pond France was having it’s own revolution. But unlike the French Revolution, which chose to center it’s new constitution upon a secular state, America did the opposite. It penned a “declaration of independence” and constituted as a “nation under God” with liberties (freedom to speak, assemble, report, “church”), justice and equality for all Americans. Our Founders didn’t get these ideas from Plato or the Enlightenment, but rather from the Bible.

Our Founders knew a moral and virtuous populace was a good thing.

  • BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

 

  • GEORGE WASHINGTON’S: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

 

  • DR. BENJAMIN RUSH: “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid on the foundation of religion. Without this there can no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments…The religion I mean to recommend in this place (America) is that of the New Testament.

 

  • JOHN ADAMS: “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 through the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net…our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

 

For most of America’s history, even those of different faiths (other than founding Protestant Christianity) recognized the uniqueness and strength of a “freedom of (not from) religion.”

America was attractive to the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, the Muslim and the Jew, the Buddhist and Hindu, because it respected their commitments to morality, values and a faith in a “higher power.” All faiths found a space to worship as they pleased in America.

America operated fairly well, although at times with some awkwardness, in navigating the assimilation of different faiths, but in general, always worked it out. What the Founders’ feared, however, finally happened in the 1960s as American took a step toward a new secular state. As atheists, in particular, and other irreligious and nonChristian groups, attacked the foundations of “Christian America,” they did so at the peril of collapsing the very “free” system they desired. The secularist didn’t want to assimilate, but dominate. They didn’t want to tolerate religion but eliminate it. Religion denounced their sexual lifestyles, critiqued their godless habits and prohibited their vile (and illegal) activities. The Founders also knew what would happen when America lost its religious moorings.

On the final day of the Constitutional Convention (September 18, 1787) in Philadelphia, a lady approached the highly-regarded Benjamin Franklin and inquired whether their constitutional meetings had produced a monarchy or a republic.

Franklin famously replied, “A republic…if you can keep it.”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Can we keep our republic?

It begins by recognizing America was never created as a pure democracy and a republic founded upon “morality, virtue and religion.” At best, we are a “democratic republic” (with the emphasis upon “republic”). But if Plato’s stages are historically valid, America is already an oligarchy, and careening (if politicians of a certain party desire) towards a democracy.

But a pure democracy would be disastrous for America (and it’s unlikely we’d last another 20 years as one, given our state of present social, religious and virtuous decline).

America is too great to lose to a tyrant (either from within or from without).

But that’s coming…unless we change course and return to a more virtuous, moral and religious state. We need to rediscover and restore the America our Founder’s established. And as with any restoration process that will not be easy.

We must change our course or one this is clear: Our current generations will become America’s Final Generation.

The clock is ticking.

 

 

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SOURCES:

  1. Madison quote: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, The Federalist on the New Constitution (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 53J
  2. Adams quote:  John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850), Vol. VI, p. 484, to John Taylor on April 15, 1814.
  3. Ames quote: Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809), p. 24, Speech on Biennial Elections, delivered January, 1788; and Ames, Works, p. 384, “The Dangers of American Liberty,” February 1805.
  4. J.Q. Adams quote: John Quincy Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution. A Discourse Delivered at the Request of the New York Historical Society, in the City of New York on Tuesday, the 30th of April 1839; Being the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1789 (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839), p. 53.
  5. Rush quote: The Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Buttereld, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press for the American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 523, to John Adams on July 21, 1789.
  6. Benjamin Franklin story:“America’s Bill of Rights at 200 Years,” by former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, printed in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Summer 1991, p. 457.