The Founders' Message of Hope
It was in this very month, 184 years ago, that the aged Thomas Jefferson took pen in hand and composed a message for all future Americans. Just eight months before he died, he had become alarmed at the obtrusiveness of the federal government upon the rights of the states and the people. He drafted a document to be adopted by the Virginia General Assembly entitled Declarations and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, on the Principles of the Constitution of the United States of America, and on the Violations of them.
This great Founder had already noticed a beginning departure from the balanced, limited government of the Constitution, and so he wrote, "...the federal branch has assumed in some cases, and claimed in others, a right of enlarging its own powers by constructions, inferences, and indefinite deductions from those directly given, which this assembly does declare to be usurpations of the powers retained to the independent branches (states), mere interpolations into the compact, and direct infractions of it."
As though writing to all Americans in the present and future generations, Jefferson then explained why we should be willing to make any sacrifice necessary to correct this imbalance in order to make this great freedom experiment work. Said he:
"We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, to our federal brethren, and to the world at large, to pursue with temper and perseverance the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in society, governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and peace...."
Then, as though peering down the corridor of America's history to 2009, Thomas Jefferson gives his best advice to those of us who wonder what we should be doing in our present crisis. What he said really encompasses the mission of the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS) and should be the objective of every individual citizen who loves liberty. Said he:
"...and further to show, that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, we are not at once to despair but that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will reform its aberrations, recall it to original and legitimate principles, and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government." (See The Making of America , p. 239)
"...recall it to original and legitimate principles."
Before and after NCCS was organized in 1971, Dr. W. Cleon Skousen and his staff spent years pouring over hundreds of volumes of writings of the Founders, attempting to glean from them the golden threads of thinking that ran through them all-principles that could be identified as the Founders' formula for freedom, prosperity, and peace. Gradually it came together and they began to teach the Founders' message in a seminar format with handouts, binders, and other study materials. Eventually, the complete package was published in books during the 1980s-books such as The Five Thousand Year Leap and The Making of America.
"...the watchfulness of its sounder parts."
Dr. Skousen's original call to action is one that many friends have responded to over the years. Surely these are those indentified by Jefferson as the "sounders parts" of our society. Dr. Skousen's plea to family and friends was this:
"From the very beginning I laid down a rule that none of this hard-earned money from our contributors would go to myself or any members of our board."
He further said:
"We keep a spirit of sacrifice in this program. We don't talk about ourselves as belonging to this faction or that faction. We just talk about how to save the Constitution. In one of our seminars, we had the chairman of the local Democratic Party sitting next to the chairman of the Republican Party and both of them were saying, 'that's right.' That's what the Constitution will do for people. And that's the way it ought to be. We ought to have every party saying: We can do it better than the other party. That's what it ought to be about--who can restore the Constitution better!"
In the introduction to one of the first study courses, Dr. Skousen explained:
"This study course was especially designed for those who realize there is something seriously wrong in America today, but feel they are too busy to find out what can be done about it.
"If the Founding Fathers were here, they would undoubtedly assure us that we can do something about it. They would probably say it requires three things:
A fairly comprehensive understanding of the Founders' original success formula based on a free-market economy and a Constitutional form of government. Also,
A good understanding of what has been happening to the Founders' success formula since 1900. And finally,
A sincere desire to restore the free-market economy and Constitutional government in the tradition of the Founding Fathers.
"If you are this kind of person, we think you will enjoy this course because it was written especially for you.
"Notice, however, that you have to help write the book. Nearly every major point has a word missing. You have to fill in the blank as you go along.
"Did you know that if you just listen to the presentation, you might enjoy it, but when it is all over you will only be able to recall 2 to 3 percent of it. Now you know the reason for the blanks. They keep you alert and help emphasize each point as you fill in the words. If you faithfully follow the outline and fill in each blank as you go along, you will find that you can refresh your memory from this study outline and come out with a total recall of approximately 75 percent! This is called 'programmed learning.' It is one of the most efficient ways to study we have found.
"You might also be interested in knowing that I and the members of the Board of Directors of the Freemen Institute [now NCCS] receive no compensation for the work we do. We provide for ourselves by other means, and serve in this cause simply because we, like you, love America and intend to preserve the heritage which made America the first free people in modern times. "
Over the first three decades NCCS taught seminars in various numbers each year, usually one or two each month. It is an interesting commentary on human nature that mankind will generally "live and let live" as long as there is no perceived threat. It seems we generally ignored the advise of James Madison who said:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.... This danger ought to be wisely guarded against."
Earlier Madison had encouraged his own Virginia citizens to not be lulled into a feeling of security. Said he:
"It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties . We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences [of governmental abuses] in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle [on which the abuses were based]. We revere this lesson too much ... to forget it." See The 5000 Year Leap, pp. 166-167)
America had been lulled to sleep by the prosperity and seeming peace enjoyed for decades. Then, beginning about two years ago something started to happen to awaken America's "sounder parts" like never before since the Revolutionary War.
Americans Apparently Needed a Wake-up Call
Events of the past year or so have awakened concerned citizens from one end of this land to the other. Many have come to realize that America is in a path to disaster and they hardly know what to do about it. Petitions and protests may be useful, but citizens are realizing that is not enough. They are realizing they must be better educated. They are turning to NCCS in large numbers for help. Dr. Skousen and those who encouraged him to begin this work predicted this would happen! A literal explosion has taken place in the demand for seminars on the Constitution. During the year 2008, NCCS taught about 30 seminars. By the time 2009 is completed, we will have taught over 78 seminars this year alone. We are currently receiving inquiries for seminars for next year at the rate of one or two per day. While we continue to update and improve the constitutional study course, now called The Making of America Seminar , it still contains the marvelous principles and constitutional elements originally outlined by Dr. Skousen and his staff at NCCS. Scheduled seminars may be seen at www.nccs.net/seminars , following the link to our calendar.
Needless to say, the political activities of the past year or so have stirred the hearts and souls of America's "sounder parts." One recent seminar attendee expressed the thoughts of many who attended this year for the first time:
"We attended an eight-hour "Making America Seminar" in Grand Rapids this past Saturday and found it to be an excellent program. We agreed that we should approach our group about trying to bring the program to the Big Rapids area.
"The AM session of the seminar presented a well-documented, fascinating (and entertaining) background into the efforts by our founding fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, etc.) to create our form of government and the Constitution that we have today. The speaker used a mix of storytelling, audience involvement in a work-book, informal "lecturing", and audience Q&A to paint the picture in a very understandable manner.
"It was surprising (for me at least) to find out that the founding fathers (led by Jefferson) went into the original Constitutional Convention with 25 years of having studied the ancient writings of Greeks and others (Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, etc.) from 1500 BC on up through their own time....including the Bible!.....each being read in its ancient language to avoid 'interpretation!' It was very factual with extensive references, from books from all ages of history, and references to journals, records of the daily meetings, and articles written at the time of the Convention, etc.
"The PM session covered the details of the Constitution as it was finally written. References documented the original intent of the founding fathers with commentary and discussion of views about the interpretation vs. original intent of the Constitution that has crept in over the years and the controversy that continues to increase in intensity.
"The audience discussion increased as the program moved further into the Constitution and its Amendments and the instructor was skillful in cooling potentially heated comments where he reminded the group several times that the seminar was all about creating awareness, understanding principles, and providing information for citizens to make informed decisions. It was not about naming names, making a guilty list of Republicans vs. Democrats, nor a discussion of any manner of extreme measures to resolve issues.
"What the seminar focused on was that the people can still be in complete control, that the real issue that deserves attention is addressing complacency and the fact that a couple of generations have missed being taught about the responsibilities of We, the People in the government process and that the real issue is the need to awaken the sleeping giant.
"We purchased the several audio CDs of the program and audio CDs of several books and other materials."
"...and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government."
Next year is an election year. It will be the busiest year NCCS has had in helping to fulfill the corrective formula of Thomas Jefferson. We can't also help but think it will be a time that W. Cleon Skousen looked forward to as thousands of true Americans study the Founding Fathers' success formula for freedom, prosperity, and peace in order to one day be able to restore government to a place within its rightful limits.
May this Christmas season bring peace to our world as we remember the words which Thomas Jefferson wrote at this season 1820:
"I hold the precepts of Jesus, as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man. I adhere to the principles of the first age, and consider all subsequent innovations as corruptions of His religion, having no foundation in what came from Him..If the freedom of religion guaranteed to us by law in theory can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by His pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity." (The Real Thomas Jefferson , p. 366)
Earl Taylor, Jr