Declaring Rights in Virginia in 1776

The year 1776 is auspicious for the United States because that’s when we became the United States. Most of our attention in commemorating that event centers on the Declaration of Independence, and rightly so. I’ll have something to say about that document in a post next month.

Another document, which was at Thomas Jefferson’s elbow when writing the Declaration, came out of his home state of Virginia a month earlier, but far too many of our citizens are ignorant of it.

George Mason, along with other key leaders in Virginia who were fashioning the new government there in anticipation of independence, created the Virginia Declaration of Rights as a bold statement of the limits of civil government.

This Declaration made clear the following concepts:

  • Inherent rights (meaning those given by God) cannot be surrendered to the government.
  • Government derives its power from the people, who set its limits.
  • Oppressive government may be altered or abolished.
  • The branches of government must be separated to avoid tyranny.
  • The society operates on due process of law.
  • There will be no excessive bail or fines and no cruel or unusual punishments meted out by government (wording later to be included in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution).
  • No general search warrants were to be allowed (there must be specific cause for a search—anything else is an invasion of a person’s property).
  • Freedom of the press should not be restrained.
  • A militia of the people is a guarantor of liberty.

Sections 15 and 16 of this Declaration are worth quoting in full. Principles and character are the subject of section 15:

That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Notice how the Founding generation focused on the significance of the character of its citizens. The consensus at the time was that a free government would fail without fundamental principles and without a people willing to exhibit those key character traits mentioned in the document.

Then there is section 16:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

This is a clarion call for recognizing that civil government cannot dictate what an individual is required to believe. That’s between each individual and God. We should be free to follow our consciences. This statement comes fifteen years before the same concept was applied nationally in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Another interesting aspect of this section is how it ends: it calls for Christian forbearance, love, and charity for all. The inclusion of the word “Christian” is another testimony to the consensus of the era. The Founders saw Christian faith as the bedrock of society even as they allowed everyone to have their own liberty of conscience.

In my view, Biblical principles are the foundation of everything that is good in the governmental institutions established in America. That’s why I labor to reintroduce them to this current generation. Ignorance of that fact and rejection of those principles are the reasons we are witnessing the slow decay of our culture and the various dysfunctions of our governments.

Tweeterdumb

One of my main objections to the Trump nomination during the primaries last year was his character. I feared that as president he wouldn’t be able to control himself because he had never manifested self-control in his life. Whatever Trump wanted to do, Trump did, regardless of the consequences.

I was told by many not to worry about that since he would be surrounded by people who could rein him in. So how’s that going?

My fears have been realized over and over again. Trump’s thin skin gives his emotions dominance over his behavior. While there are many instances of this in his actions, the way he gets into trouble most often is through his tweets.

His Twitter account, which many have urged him to shut down (to no avail) is his way of getting back at anyone who crosses him. He claims it’s his way of getting his message out to the public, frustrating the mainstream media. Yet there’s very little substance in most of his tweets; the majority are varying levels of personal invective toward individuals or groups that either oppose him or are not fully on the Trump Train.

And they sometimes fan the fires of a controversy that would have died off if only he could let things go. That’s not wise; it’s an exercise in foolishness that undermines any good he might presume to do.

By the way, the political cartoons I’m using are not from the fevered brains of progressives; these cartoonists are conservatives who see the damage he is doing to the conservative brand.

Sometimes, Trump is just dead wrong on the facts. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the recent terrorist attacks, told the people that they were going to see more police and military on the streets, but not to be alarmed by that since they were there for protection.

What did Trump do? He tweeted the following: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'”

That comment ignored the context of the statement completely. Yet when it was pointed out to Trump that the “no reason to be alarmed” wording was related to the increase of security, he doubled down on his misinformed earlier tweet by sending out another one: “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”

I hope to be very clear here. I’m no fan of this Muslim mayor of London who has shown himself at odds with common sense in combating terrorism. Neither am I a fan of the mainstream media that seeks to destroy the Trump presidency. But in this case, Trump was obviously wrong.

And he refuses to acknowledge he was wrong, making matters even worse.

Again, this comes back to character, or the lack thereof. It also makes one wonder whether he is competent to handle the office he’s been given.

There have been other times when his surrogates have explained him to the public, only to have him tweet something that contradicts what they have said. Being on the communications team for this president must be one of the hardest jobs in Washington.

There is a growing sense that this administration has few accomplishments it can point to. Of course, the rest of the Republican party has played a part in that as well, but that’s for another post. Besides Neil Gorsuch (who has yet to be tested) and a few Obama executive orders being axed, what has this administration done compared to what Trump promised?

If you’ve taken the time to analyze Trump’s tweets, you will find they follow a clear pattern. Someone came up with a handy aid for how Trump tweets. I thought I would share it with you.

You’re welcome.

Lest I be misunderstood, I don’t want Trump to fail on the matters that concern me most: religious liberty, abortion, and government regulations. If he fulfills his promises on those issues, I will be pleased. Yet he is his own worst enemy, and his lack of emotional control may well be his undoing.

It’s well past time to get his act together. I’m simply not confident that he can do so.

The Coolidge Legacy

Yesterday was the anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s death in 1933. It passed by most people. In fact, if you were to ask a random one hundred people who Coolidge was, I’m afraid only a very few would be able to give an informed answer.

Calvin Coolidge, president of the United States from 1923-1929, brought character to the forefront of American politics. Vice president under Warren Harding, he had the presidency thrust upon him when Harding died suddenly. Upon first hearing the news, Coolidge and his wife immediately knelt by their bed and prayed. He was then sworn into the office by his own father in his boyhood home in Vermont where he was visiting.

Harding’s administration was in the throes of a number of scandals at the time, with the most infamous being Teapot Dome. Coolidge made sure the various investigations went forward and that the guilty were punished. He restored confidence in the government.

His entire tenure in office was a period of prosperity for the nation. Part of the reason for that was his philosophy of limited government and economic liberty. He acted on principle and did his best to keep the federal government under control.

Coolidge won election in his own right in 1924, and since he only completed a year and a half of Harding’s term, nearly everyone expected him to run again in 1928 and win without any trouble. Yet Coolidge declined to do so. He explained more fully in his post-presidential memoir why he made that decision, and his explanation reveals the heart of the man.

It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exultation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.

If only more politicians had that perspective, we would be in better shape as a nation.

Although Coolidge gained the reputation of being a man of few words, whenever he did speak, he was eloquent.

Samuel, Daniel, & Character in Public Office

On this election day, a few thoughts from Scripture.

samuelSamuel, the prophet and judge in Israel, upon his retirement from his post, did what most politicians today would call an uncharacteristic—and politically dangerous—thing. He gathered the leaders of the people together and made this announcement:

“Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right.”

What a dangerous proposition, asking everyone if they could point out anything in his life that was dishonest during his entire time in public service. Can you imagine anyone doing that now? The accusations, true or false, would fly. Yet here is how the people responded:

“You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”

Samuel said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and also His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said.

How wonderful to come to the end of a high position in society and be able to walk away with a clear conscience, to have lived a life that testifies to integrity in all matters. How wonderful . . . and how rare.

The prophet Daniel lived in exile in Babylon and in the Persian kingdom after Babylon fell. He gained high government positions through his talent and integrity. The new Persian king recognized what a treasure he had in Daniel. The book that bears his name records,

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

His integrity so angered them that they had to set a trap and find him guilty of continuing to worship the Lord after they tricked the king into making a law that no one was to petition any god but the king for thirty days.

The penalty for breaking that law was to be thrown into the lions’ den.

daniel-in-lions-den

We all know the end of that story, as God protected Daniel and brought judgment on his persecutors instead.

The examples of Samuel and Daniel show us what it can be like when people are devoted to God and won’t allow their integrity to be compromised. There can be such people in public office. Our task is to put those kind there as much as humanly possible.

These examples tell us that character does matter in government and that it should matter to those of us who choose government officials at all levels.

That’s all I have to say about that. I think that is sufficient on this election day.

On Political Courage

Here’s a thought. What if, at the Republican convention next week, the powers-that-be allowed a secret ballot to choose the nominee? What if the delegates truly had the freedom to vote according to what they believed best for the party and the country instead of being pressured by their political leaders to fall in line with Donald Trump?

Would that secret ballot vote be different than the public one? If so, what would that say about those delegates? What would it say about their adherence to principle? What would it say about their personal character? Where are the spines? Where is courage when it is needed?

History affords us examples of courage in voting. One comes readily to mind for me. President Andrew Johnson was brought to the Senate for an impeachment trial in 1868. The Republican party at that time, which controlled the Senate, sought to remove him from office over disagreements in policy.

Edmund RossIt would take a two-thirds vote for that removal. Everyone knew the vote would be close, and one Republican senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, would not commit to voting for removal. No one knew exactly what he might do.

Two days before the first vote, Ross had received a telegram from his home state that read, “Kansas has heard the evidence, and demands the conviction of the President.” It was signed by “D. R. Anthony, and 1,000 others.” Ross responded,

I do not recognize your right to demand that I shall vote either for or against conviction. I have taken an oath to do impartial justice . . . and I trust I shall have the courage and honesty to vote according to the dictates of my judgment and for the highest good of my country.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Anthony and his “1,000 others” retaliated. “Your telegram received. . . . Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.”

The roll call began. Ross had been warned by fellow Radical Republicans that a “no” vote would end his political career. When his name was called, Ross stood and quietly cast his vote—for acquittal. His vote effectively ended the impeachment proceedings.

Some newspaper editorialists decided that Ross could best be compared to Benedict Arnold, Jefferson Davis, or Judas Iscariot. As predicted, his political career did end swiftly; he lost his reelection bid.

In a letter to his wife one week after his momentous vote, Ross declared,

This storm of passion will soon pass away, and the people, the whole people, will thank and bless me for having saved the country by my single vote from the greatest peril through which it has ever passed, though none but God can ever know the struggle it has cost me.

Where are the Edmund Rosses in the current Republican party? Where is the courage needed to stop the most foolish nomination in the party’s history?

Donald & Hobbes 1

Donald & Hobbes 2

We need to be looking out for the nation instead. It’s time for real principle to come to the forefront.

Trump Meets the Evangelicals

Yesterday, 900-plus evangelicals met with Donald Trump to ask questions and try to figure out if they can support his candidacy. I know only some of the names of individuals who were present. The audience was mixed, I’m sure, in its attitude toward the presumptive Republican nominee.

Meeting with Trump

I don’t wish to unfairly criticize those who attended; in most circumstances, I too would want to have the opportunity to hear a candidate and get a better feel for him/her. Neither am I disdainful of any attempt to try to influence a candidate toward policies that I would favor as a Christian.

In most circumstances.

But this is not a typical circumstance, and the candidate is not typical either. I have followed Trump very carefully through the entire primary process, watching his manner and listening to his words. Based on what I already know about him from personal observation and a significant amount of reading with respect to his past, his business dealings, and his overall character, I would not have attended this meeting if invited.

Let me be clear: I was not invited.

There were Christian leaders there for whom I have great respect. Others present were ones for whom I have lost some respect due to their eagerness to jump on the Trump train and for their rather critical attitude toward those of us who are never going to join this misbegotten candidacy.

I have spilled thousands of words in this blog explaining my objections to Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Let me summarize why I cannot support him.

First, his personal character is abhorrent: self-centered, vindictive toward those who criticize him, petty, insulting, willing to lower himself into whatever gutter is nearby to destroy others. His divorces and his overall arrogance toward women is another factor; the remarks he makes about women (take Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, for example) are always focused on their looks. For him, that’s the measure of a woman’s worth.

6 or 7

He continues to think Planned Parenthood isn’t all that bad; he attacks the judge in the Trump University lawsuit (a clearly fraudulent university) because of his Mexican heritage; he cavalierly retweets comments from racist supporters; he expects American troops to follow his orders even if they involve the killing of women and children of the enemy; and he is a conspiracy nut, culminating in the bizarre idea that Ted Cruz’s father is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination.

His supporters within the Republican party are constantly having to say they don’t agree with his tirades; some are saying they just won’t comment on him anymore until after the election, since they are so embarrassed by him.

Campaign of Crazy

He is truly a loose cannon; one never knows what to expect next. Well, that’s not exactly true—it’s clear he’s going to continue to be a national embarrassment.

One Type

Those are my bedrock reasons for rejecting his candidacy, but those form the cornerstone for why his campaign is now such a wreck. He has no ground game ready to go; his fundraising has been nonexistent and the campaign is running on fumes financially; a lot of the money he has spent has gone to his own salary and other Trump organizations; he thinks he can just hold rallies and win the presidency; he is slated to lose big, and he will drag the party down with him, possibly losing both houses of Congress in the process.

To fix this, he fires his campaign manager. Now everything’s going to be fine, he promises. But who is really driving the campaign? There’s little an underling can do to redirect The Donald.

You're Fired

He has become so poisonous to the party that a new threat to his nomination is bubbling: an attempt to deny him the necessary votes at the convention. His actions have pretty much destroyed Republican party unity:

GOP Unity

So add to moral degenerate the appellation of incompetent.

And I haven’t even addressed the problem of his knowledge of issues, a deficit that led him to avoid a direct debate confrontation with Cruz one-on-one. He would have been massacred intellectually.

David French wrote an excellent piece a couple of days ago as this meeting with evangelicals loomed. It is an appeal we need to hear and heed:

American Evangelical Christianity does not exist for the purpose of placing one or two decent judges on the Supreme Court. It — along with its Catholic and Orthodox counterparts — represents the body of Christ on this earth. It is a flawed vessel, to be sure, but its moral witness is still of incalculable worth.

He concluded the article with this warning:

Evangelical leaders: If you back Trump, for the rest of your days, you will be forced to live with having had a hand in fracturing our nation on the basis of race, discarding the sanctity of marriage, and scorning honesty itself — all for the chance, the remote chance, that Trump will make one or two decent Supreme Court picks. You will be selling your integrity for the most meager of returns. . . .

Christians have had to take tougher stands in darker times before. They do so in other nations today. This decision, by contrast, should be easy. Trump is not worth your consideration or even one moment of your time. Let others bend the knee.

But . . . but . . . that means a Hillary presidency! Let’s be honest, it’s probably going to be a Hillary presidency anyway. Republicans have chosen the absolute worst nominee available; a number of others who were on the stages with Trump would have been locks to put away the worst Democrat candidate in that party’s history. Choosing Trump has now made that unlikely.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: don’t blame those who cannot, in conscience, support Donald Trump. The blame for this upcoming fiasco lies in the laps of those who became lapdogs for Trump.

Christians, to maintain their witness to the world of integrity, honesty, and moral character, should walk away from Trump. If they don’t, they will forever be linked to his sordid legacy.

My doctoral dissertation was on Noah Webster, widely considered America’s first schoolmaster. His Speller taught generations how to read; his 1828 Dictionary was unique, not only in its being the first produced by an American, but in its Biblical basis. Webster’s illustrations for words included Biblical citations and short homilies on the significance of some key words. His influence in early America was great.

Noah Webster Books

I’m highlighting him today because he offered insight to his generation when it came to choosing political leaders. His words are timeless; they apply to our current situation.

“In selecting men for office,” Webster urged, “let principles be your guide. . . . Look to his character as a man of known principle, of tried integrity, and undoubted ability for the office.”

To ignore lack of principle and integrity in a candidate is to violate the sacred trust given to us as citizens:

When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility; he not only sacrifices his own responsibility; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country.

Webster continued: “If rulers are bad men, it is generally the fault of the people.” After all, who puts men of depraved character in office? We can too often be deceived by them, he notes, but often we vote them in simply because they belong to “our” party. Here’s how he framed it:

Noah WebsterThey choose men, not because they are just men, men of religion and integrity, but solely for the sake of supporting a party [emphasis mine]. This is a fruitful source of public evils.

But as surely as there is a God in heaven, who exercises a moral government over the affairs of this world, so certainly will the neglect of the divine command, in the choice of rulers, be followed by bad laws and as bad administration.

I trust you know why I chose to emphasize that one phrase in the quote above.

By 1837, Webster was becoming distraught by what he was seeing in the culture and politics of his nation. He wrote to a friend,

Principles, sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, & perversion of truth can be arrested, neither liberty nor property will long be secure in this country.

And a great evil is, that men of the first distinction seem, to a great extent, to be ignorant of the real, original causes of our public distresses. Many of our greatest men are making vigorous efforts to remove present evils, but not an effort is made to correct the radical cause of our political calamities.

Webster’s concern in 1837 should be our concern today. Our principles have been corrupted; integrity is discounted; truth is being perverted. Yet we don’t address those fundamental issues. Instead, we rally to someone who either promises free stuff or who pledges to build a wall.

Webster’s prescription for the ills in our society is a return to Biblical principles and integrity of character. I agree with that prescription. That’s why I will never vote for anyone who lacks the very rudiments of those qualities. That’s why I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump.

WebsterNoah Webster was a man of his time, but the ideas he fostered are based on the Book that applies to all men at all times. If you wish to know more about Webster, his views, and his influence during his lifetime, my book, Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography, is available. You can find it on Amazon right here.

We are faced with virtually no good choice in this coming presidential election, so let’s keep in mind that government is not our savior. There is only one Savior. Our responsibility is to be faithful to Him and maintain our integrity. Stand for righteousness, then stand back and see what God will do.