Upon a Need of Virtue to Self-govern: Penning a United States Constitution for a Free and Independent Nation
When in the course of human life, it becomes necessary for a mother to dissolve the political bands between a child and their selfish ways, and to take full responsibility for civilizing her child and assume her powers within her home, the separate and equal station which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a deep realization occurs, if she is not willing to bring virtue and civility to the next generation, no one will. This is the beginning of a republic, in each home. Ironically, this scenario leads the reader to believe that the mother is our government and the child is her citizens, and yet it is the other way around. The greatest attribute of the Constitution of the United States of America reflects her citizens as the parents, the givers of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
How do people collectively provide for themselves liberty? An infrastructure, a culture valuing self-government is the only way. A republic at the core. As a human bears the image of their Creator in spirit and their parents in physical appearance, a republic mirrors its founders in the design of practical infrastructure as well as the “DNA” of heart and motive. In America, this “DNA” was the balance between tyranny and anarchy. Resembling homeostasis in the body, the boundaries given to the government by the Founders exemplified the potential for health for its people. Such is a republic, who welcomes this balance, not admonishing correction nor romanticizing chaos, experiences health and well-being.
Welcoming balance, the United States Constitution stands as a reminder that homeostasis can be achieved, not effortlessly, but attainable. It requires maturity to sustain the direction and maintain the right course. It requires self-government of individuals. Abstaining from the vices of power, the people directed by the Founders’ words stay the course. Imperfect men, who could not right all wrongs, understood that a virtuous nation required leadership from virtuous citizens. Three men considered, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Taylor of Caroline, were willing to protect the ramparts against the tyranny of England, for during their lifetime a government was born, one that would require maturing so that all its members, male and female, light skinned and dark skinned, Christian and non-Christian would find freedom on the same soil.
John Adams understood the unique situation in which they found themselves – to choose their own government. He passionately stated, “While I live, let me have a country, a free country.” It was this vision that defined his life. And yet, he was a Federalist, believing that “the greatest dangers to any polity came from unbridled democracy and an unrestrained aristocracy capable of becoming an oligarchy.” (1) He wanted a strong executive branch to steer the nation like a parent. In his “Discourses on Davila,” he recognizes both the need and the concern for ambitious men. As a republic, the people would parent, and yet Adams wrestled with the need for a strong head. Adams believed that America needed ambitious, determined men held in check by humility, to lead.
Thomas Jefferson understood that real power flows from the consent of the governed, as stated in The Declaration of Independence. A government, whose precedent is fundamental law, would simply reflect the will of the people. Without precedent, no other government in history had modeled natural law. So therefore, a prerequisite of government needed to be established, one in which divine law was part of the culture and understood by all. Believing that America needed a limited government, Jefferson’s greatest contribution was precision rhetoric, clearly communicating that the government would be limited through the state constitutions and the ratifying of the Constitution.
John Taylor of Caroline entered public service to uphold republican values. He did not agree with fixed social order, rather in popular sovereignty, the right each man possessed to govern himself. He was most concerned with a decline of virtue because of power, and held character as the sole anchor for the advancement of America. For Taylor, the laws of nature suggested political equality, and therefore all men were created equal. Defending freedom, Taylor focused on ending tyranny through his Anti-federalist semantics. Historically, there are those born to “hold a post” for others, while in their own right still very flawed. To his own demise Taylor profited from slavery, and while he considered it an evil, he did not consider ending slavery as part of popular sovereignty. Holding the post, Taylor believed America needed to be led by the laws of nature, sustaining personal sovereignty, and yet he did not have the revelation of sovereignty for all.
Disregarding the vision of Adams, the precision of Jefferson and the focus of Taylor would be to disregard the imperfect men who helped pen our most perfect document. The providential boundary lines of the Constitution recognize the need for a strong executive, legislative and judicial branch, all three balancing one another, and the Bill of Rights as the reminder that Congress shall not behave like an immature child. Although these men did not end slavery, they helped form the republic that would empower a people to do so. In the words of John Francis Mercer, a delegate to the Federal Convention from Maryland, said on the floor of the Convention, “It is a great mistake to suppose that the paper we prepare will govern the United States. It is the men whom it will bring into the government and interest in maintaining it that is to govern them. The paper will only mark out the mode and the form. Men are the substance and must do the business.” (2) Remarkable men, upholding a remarkable document, necessary then and now.
Andrea Criswell is a wife and mother of four, who teaches homeschool students in northwest Houston. A graduate of Texas Tech University and Asbury Theological Seminary, she teaches Christian Worldview classes, high school biology and a love for the United States Constitution.
1. Taylor, James. “John Adams: Life Before the Presidency.” Miller Center, https://millercenter.org/president/adams/life-before-the-presidency. Accessed 20 May 2022.
2. Corwin, Edward S. “Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution.” CORE, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/217205672.pdf. Accessed 20 May 2022.
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