Honoring the Lives of our Founding Fathers
Once again we have just completed our twelfth tour of important American History sites on the East Coast. Our group was made up of 31 high school juniors and seniors and ten adults. The week-long tour included Monticello, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Washington DC, Gettysburg, Hershey, Valley Forge, and Philadelphia.
I am convinced that the detailed and intense study of the Founders' lives is one of the best ways to help our young people think correctly about so many things in today's world. If we can make true history come alive for them and help them to see that those who lived 200 years ago were real people with real challenges, it seems to help them want to be more achieving in their lives. Our last evening on the tour is always reserved for a time of reflection and expression of what impressed them the most during the week. Without fail, the young people comment on how the Founders have come alive for them. They express the thought that if those people, living 200 years ago in conditions quite primitive compared to our conditions today, can accomplish so much, then surely we can rise to a much higher level of accomplishment in our own lives. When this is felt and expressed, the goal of an American History tour director has been reached.
The Richness of the Spirit of Thomas Jefferson
Our visits to Monticello and to the Jefferson Memorial are always highlights of the trip. We make sure the students take time to read the inscriptions on the memorial in Washington, D.C., which reflect the heart of the life and mission of Thomas Jefferson. Said he:
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We...solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
“Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”
Notice these four inscriptions speak of Jefferson's conviction that the plan of the Almighty in the lives of His children on this earth includes the necessity of them being free in every way to choose for themselves.
Monticello reflects Jefferson's love of learning and his love for nature and agriculture. A serious student could spend hours at Monticello on any one of the following subjects that was developed by Jefferson on his mountaintop plantation: Agriculture, American Indians, ancient Greece and Rome, archaeology, architecture, art, astronomy, bibliophile, botany, cuisine, economics, education, engineering, geography, languages, law, medicine, music, natural history, paleontology, religion, riding, surveying, weather, weights and measures.
At Williamsburg, we make sure our students tour the House of Burgesses or the old capitol building of Virginia. In the main room where the delegates met, one can envision Patrick Henry giving his famous “Caesar-Brutus” speech against the Stamp Act on May 29, 1765. It happened that day that a young lawyer named Thomas Jefferson listened to this impassioned plea and later claimed that this was “the day that changed my life.” Additional delegates who served as representatives in this Virginia assembly included George Washington, George Mason, George Wythe, and Richard Henry Lee.
It was also in this room that James Madison, after the Revolutionary War, tried to convince the delegates to agree to a stronger union than then existed under the Articles of Confederation. He was met with stiff opposition from those who insisted they were Virginians first, then Americans. This episode is portrayed in the NCCS film, A More Perfect Union.
The Saintly Example of George Washington
Who can compare with the magnificence of George Washington? Students are exposed to him on four occasions on our tour: Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Rotunda, and Valley Forge.
Our first exposure to him was at Mount Vernon. There in the magnificent Dining Room, especially built to entertain guests from near and far, is where Washington finally agreed to serve as our first president. We make sure the students understand that this was done the way the Founders wanted it to be done—no campaigning, no political parties, no speeches containing promises to be fulfilled. In fact, several unsuccessful attempts were made to convince Washington to serve until finally he was visited by the secretary of congress in this very room and told that he had been selected, unanimously, to serve as president. He, of course, reluctantly agreed.
In spending a few hours at Mount Vernon, it is not difficult to see why Washington did not want to leave again. To sit on his back porch and overlook the Potomac River is stunning. It was here that he had many conversations with domestic and foreign dignitaries and convinced them that his ideas were worth pursuing. To view his plantation layout, his agricultural insights and innovations, and even his self-selected tomb site, leaves one with a feeling he is walking on sacred ground.
As most Americans look at the Washington Monument, few realize that the crowning capstone of the monument is a single piece of aluminum weighing 100 ounces. It has four triangular sides which meet at the top point. No one sees it from the ground, or even from the lookout near the top of the monument. It is the highest point of all of Washington D.C. rising 555 feet from the ground. On the west face of the capstone is inscribed: "Corner Stone laid on bed of foundation, July 4, 1848. First stone at height of 152 feet laid August 7, 1880. Capstone set December 6, 1884"; and the east face (which faces towards the Capitol) reads "LAUS DEO” which is translated, “Praise be to God.”
Of course the most central painting in the Capitol Rotunda is the Apotheosis of George Washington —apotheosis meaning the raising of a mortal to the rank of a god; or the glorification of a person as an ideal. We have included a discussion of this in previous letters.
Independence Hall-A Place of Reverence
How fitting it is to end our week-long tour of American History at this special site in Philadelphia. Of course it was built as the Pennsylvania State House, but has become known for two events in American History which have better defined America's destiny than perhaps any other site on the east coast. It always has a sacred significance to me. I have been to a limited number of places where I believe communication from the heavens were manifestly given and described. This is one of those places. Dr. Skousen wrote also of those feelings:
Some of the Founders Sensed the Presence of
Heavenly Inspiration at the Constitutional Convention
A great many of the Founders confessed their dependence on God for the success of the Constitutional Convention. This was especially true of Franklin, Washington and Madison.
We have ample evidence that during his long life, Benjamin Franklin had come to depend upon this outside intelligence in a time of crisis. We have reason to believe this was precisely why Franklin wanted the convention to have regular prayers. They needed help from a higher source. He saw them wrestling with problems so complex that solutions were completely beyond the experience and intellectual capacity of the delegates.
Franklin's Plea for Prayer at the Convention
Notice that he gives this as his main reason for the suggestion that they start having regular prayers at the convention. Here are Franklin's words:
"The small progress we have made, after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other ... is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding."
This tells us two things about Franklin. First of all, he recognized the human limitations of every person at the convention, including himself. Secondly, he quite obviously knew from experience where to go to ask for a gentle sprinkling of inspiration. Therefore, he said:
"In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding?"
Franklin then pointed a finger of shame at the members of this convention by reminding them that in their great struggle with Great Britain during the Revolutionary War the meetings of the Continental Congress were always opened with prayer. Then why haven't prayers been held now? Just to refresh their memories he said:
"Our prayers, Sir, were heard -- and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending Providence in our favor."
Franklin concluded his plea -- which is one of the most eloquent speeches of the entire convention -- with a proposal. He said:
"I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service." ( The Majesty of God's Law , pp. 444-7)
Even though the convention eventually did not adopt Franklin's motion for public prayer, it seemed to have enough effect on the private lives of the delegates that caused Washington to later reflect:
"It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other, in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national government."
James Madison also wrote, saying it was "impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed as less than a miracle."
I personally consider Independence Hall as one of those places where the inspiration of heaven was made manifest to man and I try to communicate this to our tour participants. Our visit there is short, but usually makes a lasting impression. It represents the culmination of our tour of meaningful places where the great and wise of America once trod.
Earl Taylor, Jr.