In a recent post, I quoted John Adams, our 2nd President, as saying, “…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Why would Adams say our Constitution is wholly inadequate to the government of any other than a “moral and religious” people? Because this kind of people know how to govern themselves under God, and people who can govern themselves under God generally practice the kind of internal regulation necessary for a constitutional republic to work: voluntarily adherence to Higher Rule of Law.
Strong, external control was something the founders were trying to get away from, and what they did not want repeated on the west side of the Pond. But with a “moral and religious” populace, maybe a government “by the people” could work. Maybe individuals practicing internal self-governance under God could bring peace, order, and, as George Washington put it, “political prosperity” to the new nation.
The Protestant Reformation in Europe forged the idea that everyday people were capable of knowing God's thoughts about human behavior via the Bible. The extention of this idea vis-á-vis civil government was only logical. As Calvin Coolidge said, “It was the principle of personal judgment in matters of religion for which the English and Dutch were contending, and which set the common people to reading the Bible. There came to them a new vision of the importance of the individual which brought him into direct contact with the Creator. It was this conception applied to affairs of government that made the people sovereign.”
Daniel Webster, Secretary of State under three presidents during the 19th Century, summed it up this way: “Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits. Living under the heavenly light of revelation, they hoped to find all the social dispositions, all the duties which men owe to each other and to society, enforced and performed. Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”
But what happens when citizens elevate “self-government” and cast the “under God” part aside?
Enter the 1960s.
[See comments for references.]