Sufficiently Remembering the Captivity of Our Fathers

The other evening I happened upon a television movie that I had heard a little about and which only took a few minutes of viewing to totally captivate me into spending the next three hours to watch it. The title: Karol: The Man Who Became Pope.

While he was alive, I had a growing respect and admiration for Pope John Paul II. In trying to keep his church together, he seemed to always be a man of hope, of charity, of courage in standing for principles of morality and virtue and of basic human rights. Yet I had little idea of his early years which, no doubt, molded him into the man he became.

Karol Wojtyla was born and raised in Poland. He enjoyed the arts, particularly acting. He had a gentle spirit and seemed to always be one whom people loved because of his ability to inspire hope and confidence and goodness in others. During the Nazi occupation of his country, death was all around him as he witnessed the ruthless killings of his friends, particularly those priests of the Catholic Church whom the Nazis were attempting to annihilate. He felt called into the priesthood of his church because people needed comfort and guidance in a world of tyranny and murder. When the Russians drove the Nazis out, there was hope that peace would be restored. But that hope was short-lived when the Polish people realized the Russians were as ruthless as the Nazis. Furthermore, the attempt to stamp out religion seemed to intensify. Karol seemed to be able to stay just under the radar of the Russian spies who could never seem to connect him with any rebel or anti-government movement. His message to the people was always one of hope, courage, kindness, and faithfulness to God. Eventually, upon the death of the previous pope in 1978, Karol Wojtyla’s incredible talents for human compassion, love, and leadership were recognized as the church leadership reached behind the iron curtain into a communist country and named Karol to be the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination—Pope John Paul II.

As these tragic scenes in war-torn Poland were shown, the thought kept coming to my mind: this is what happens when there is no good government to protect the rights of the people. The people’s property, lives, religion, and families are all at risk. I found myself silently expressing gratitude for America where we can be free from fear and move and believe and do what we choose. But it is the memory of these tragedies of history, of which there are far too many, which seem to be necessary to bring us to a realization of what we have here and of the need to promote and perpetuate it.

The Vivid Memory of Living under Tyrannical Rule

It seems that the most effective leaders of people have been the ones who have a memory of the past. Not only the leaders, but it seems that a people are most likely to have peace and prosperity only as they remember what it is like to live under tyranny. They seemed to be more watchful of encroachments upon their liberty. They seem to be able to pick up more readily on dangerous trends in society and more readily give the warning sounds to others.

In ancient Israel, Moses wanted the people to “Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage….” (Exodus 13:3)

Later, when the people of Israel asked to have a king, the Prophet Samuel had to remind them what it is like to live under a kingly government where the rights of the people would be smashed and the people would become his servants and slaves. (1 Samuel 8:5-19)

When another group of people barely escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 589 B.C., a later leader admonished them, “…have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers?”

Americans really need not look outside our own history for examples of the brutality of tyrannical government. Thomas Jefferson outlined them for us quite well in the Declaration of Independence. A sampling from the Declaration of Independence will suffice. Among dozens of grievances against the king of England, Jefferson wrote:

  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury

Celebrating the Constitution –Freedom from Tyrannical Rule

As we know, the Constitution of the United States represents the first successful attempt in modern times to permanently reject tyrannical rule by setting up a system of government based on principles which are meant to limit the power of our rulers. But how will we keep our Constitutional system alive and vibrant unless we remember what tyranny is like and why it is to be repulsed? How will we guard against those who say these Constitutional principles are old-fashioned and not needed any more unless we have a vivid memory of the tyrannical rule from which our fathers were fortunate enough to escape? The principles of this document only come alive when viewed in contrast to the stark reality of what life is like without these principles.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson outlined the five fundamental principles of our constitution specifically designed to keep us from ever again falling under tyrannical rule. He wrote:

The major provisions of the Constitution are as follows.

Sovereignty of the People

First: Sovereignty lies in the people themselves. Every governmental system has a sovereign, one or several who possess all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. That sovereign may be an individual, a group, or the people themselves. The Founding Fathers believed in common law, which holds that true sovereignty rests with the people. Believing this to be in accord with truth, they inserted this imperative in the Declaration of Independence: "To secure these rights [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Separation of Powers

Second: To safeguard these rights, the Founding Fathers provided for the separation of powers among the three branches of government--the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Each was to be independent of the other, yet each was to work in a unified relationship. As the great constitutionalist President J. Reuben Clark noted:

It is [the] union of independence and dependence of these branches--legislative, executive and judicial--and of the governmental functions possessed by each of them, that constitutes the marvelous genius of this unrivalled document. . . . It was here that the divine inspiration came. It was truly a miracle.

The use of checks and balances was deliberately designed, first, to make it difficult for a minority of the people to control the government, and, second, to place restraint on the government itself.

Limited Powers of Government

Third: The powers the people granted to the three branches of government were specifically limited. The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority. A constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny.

The Principle of Representation

Fourth: Our constitutional government is based on the principle of representation. The principle of representation means that we have delegated to an elected official the power to represent us. The Constitution provides for both direct representation and indirect representation. Both forms of representation provide a tempering influence on pure democracy. The intent was to protect the individual's and the minority's rights to life, liberty, and the fruits of their labors--property. These rights were not to be subject to majority vote.

A Moral and Righteous People

Fifth: The Constitution was designed to work with only a moral and righteous people. “Our constitution,” said John Adams (first vice-president and second president of the United States), “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams, Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 185). (Excerpt from Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, Deseret Book Company, 1986)

The Documents Separating us from Tyranny Require
our Memory, our Loyalty, and our Support

Americans have enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. Generations of relative peace and prosperity may have lulled us to sleep. Many do not even understand what a loss of freedom would do to them. Some even believe our freedom can’t be lost because “this is America.” And so we ask the question again, “Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers?”

Our loyalty and support for these marvelous founding documents should be the same as those attributed to John Adams by Daniel Webster. Adams was one who knew firsthand the oppression of captivity and tyranny. When others were vacillating on whether to adopt the Declaration of Independence, the sentiments of John Adams were these:

“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at independence. But there’s a Divinity that shapes our ends…Why, then, should we defer the Declaration?...You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to see the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die; die Colonists, die slaves, die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold.

“Be it so. Be it so.

“If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready…. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

“But whatever may be our fate, be assured . . . that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood, but it will stand and it will richly compensate for both.

“Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires, and illuminations. . . .

"Before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence forever.”

Happy Constitution Week,

Earl Taylor, Jr.

PS – A special thanks to our supporters for the tremendous success of NCCS’s project to flood the nation and its schools with A More Perfect Union DVD and our Pocket Constitution.