Statesmanship Invitational 2015

by Admin on May 29, 2015

 

As you know, students attend GWU to learn the principles of liberty and virtue, and then how to apply those principles to move freedom forward.

State legislatures play a key role in this, which is why our flagship event, the Statesmanship Invitational, is a realistic mock-legislature at the State Capitol.

As in year’s past our students tackled 40 of the most controversial bills from Utah’s recent legislative session. But this year they were also ambushed around the clock by robust teams of reporters and lobbyists played by other students, as well as local businessmen and lawmakers.

The busy week culminated in a private meeting with Governor Herbert at the Capitol, with final debate on the Senate floor.

The simultaneous overlapping action of media interviews, floor debate and lobbyist pressuring was non-stop.

Staffers at the Capitol commented that the chamber came to life so realistically that it was practically indistinguishable from the actual session just weeks before.

We congratulate our students for a job well done!

 

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We’d like to take a moment to introduce you to our newest faculty member who will be teaching for us this coming semester at the Utah Capitol.  Gordon Jones is a seasoned veteran on the political battlefront for the cause of liberty who will lead our new hybrid class of on-campus and online students — a history class that will participate directly with the Utah Legislature during its seven-week session at the Capitol. This class includes special guests from the legislature as well as liberty promoting think-tanks. Again, this is available to both on-campus as well as online students, including non-traditional students who would like to audit. You can learn more about Gordon below.

Gordon S Jones B&W Headshot.jpg Gordon S. Jones holds masters degrees from George Washington University (M.Phil.) and Stanford (M.A. Ed), and a B.A. from Columbia. He is the co-founder of United Families of America which is now United Families International, an advocacy organization and that fights for preserving the traditional family and family rights both at home and abroad. He has worked for over 30 years in Washington, D.C. at the intersection of politics and public policy. A veteran of Capitol Hill, he served in both the House and Senate as personal and committee staff, as well as in congressional relations for a variety of departments, including the Department of the Interior and the Navy, and for several outside policy and political organizations and think tanks. He has taught political science and constitutional law at the university level for 10 years. In his spare time he enjoys his grandchildren and performing in community theater in Salt Lake City.

 

 

ST3510: World History III: Renaissance and Reformation

This course explores the driving forces and key events that shaped Western Civilization through the Renaissance and Reformation, continuing through the first European ventures in colonization that reshaped the cultures and governments of the world. Students will learn how leaders and institutions of this era shaped their societies and how the principles of human nature played out at various levels. students_in_gallery_caption.jpgThey will also learn about the lives of key characters, their strengths and weaknesses, what they stood for and how this translated into their actions and the consequences for society. Students will relate these lessons to modern issues, leaders and events and use the insights they gain to examine the inner workings of law-making at the State Legislature.

 

Texts:

  • Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence
  • Hunt, Martin, Rosenwein and Smith, The Making of the West
  • Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
  • ST3530 Reading Packet (with selections from Russell Kirk, Will Durant and others)


The registration deadline is Friday December 20thRegister online or contact Jeffery Francom for any questions at 855.586.6570 (ext 105) or registrar@gw.edu.

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Introducing new faculty member, Dr. Benson

by Admin on December 13, 2013

As we prepare for the beginning of a new semester, we’d like to spotlight another new faculty member, Dr. Bryan Benson.  With fifteen years of experience teaching at the university level, Dr. Benson just completed his first semester teaching at GWU and with strong positive reviews from students.
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Dr. Benson earned his PhD in Political Science from Boston College where he was the recipient of several fellowships and awards. His emphasis has been on the history of Political Philosophy and with particular interest in its classical roots in Plato and Aristotle. He taught political science at Boston College and later at Brigham Young University before joining the faculty at Western Governors University in 2004 where, in addition to serving on various committees, he chaired the Liberal Arts program. His commitment to the cause of freedom has been punctuated with a post graduate fellowship with the Liberty Fund and similar awards.

Beginning in January, Dr. Benson will be teaching Political Philosophy I & II, both daytime and evenings.

 

ST2310   Political Philosophy I: Classical & Medieval

This course investigates the principles found in the key political writings of the early great philosophers up through the Middle Ages. These establish the foundation for the European and Scottish Enlightenments and the ideas that culminated in the U.S. Constitution. Writings include those of Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

ST2320   Political Philosophy II: Enlightenment

This course investigates the principles and ideas found in the political writings of great philosophers from the Renaissance to the mid-1800s. Special emphasis is placed on the influence and fruits of the European and Scottish Enlightenments. Writings include those of Hobbs, Locke, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Hume, Burke, Blackstone, Kant, Rousseau and Mill.

To register for these or any other daytime classes click here.  For evening classes click here.  Feel free to contact Jeffery Francom for any questions at 855.586.6570 (ext 105) or registrar@gw.edu.

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Full-tuition scholarships now at GWU

by admin on August 2, 2013

 

With the arrival of President Boyle on campus, we are pleased to announce the creation of several new scholarships. These have been tailored to assist those students who are most committed to the cause of liberty.

The top award amounts will be for full tuition. Other amounts will also be awarded commensurate with student qualifications. All awards are renewable annually for up to four years. Returning and prospective students are both eligible. View our new scholarship page for more details on how to apply for these awards for Fall Semester.

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April was a month to remember for GWU students.  It began with our week-long simulation block culminating at the Utah State Capitol.  Near the end of the month Commencement 2013 was also held in the State Capitol.  See highlights from each below.

 

 

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The annual Statesmanship Invitational will take place on April 1-5, 2013.  This year’s event will be facilitated by state Senators and members of the Utah House of Representatives. You won’t want to miss it.  Click here for more details.

The GWU Statesmanship Invitational is a week long simulation which may consist of mock congresses or legislatures, moot courts and various other realistic situations where students take on roles and work individually and in teams to identify and solve problems. Scenarios are developed from historical, current and possible future events. In addition to the skills of researching, writing, communicating and teamwork, simulations help future leaders to prepare for, manage and respond appropriately during actual events.

The Statesmanship Invitational is designed for students at the college level. Advanced students of high school age and older adults are also welcome to participate. Simulation activities typically consume the whole of each day and evening. Details of the simulation scenario will be sent to participants a week before the event. See our website for information on how GWU uses simulations.

Learn more or register for the Statesmanship Invitational 2013 >>

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The following is a speech given on November 2, 2012 by Dr. Michael Platt as the keynote speaker at the GWU Open House in Salt Lake City, UT.  Click here for a printable version of this speech.

 

The Intelligent Design of God in the Declaration

Michael Platt studied at Deerfield, Harvard (BA), Oxford, and Yale (M. Phil and PhD). Over his career, he has chiefly taught Political Science, Philosophy, and Literature, and at a variety of institutions including Dartmouth, University of Dallas, Philosophic Institute, Germany at Heidelberg, Greifswald, Baylor, Schreiner and The International Theological Institute in Austria, among others. He has lectured widely In the United States, Canada, and Europe for over forty years. His work has been supported by St. Johns College (Santa Fe), the National Endowment of Humanities, and the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (Germany). When not teaching on campus, Dr. Platt is a resident of Fredericksburg, Texas. (full bio and other works)

America began with the word. Mere independence did not begin us and its announcement did not either.  American independence was actually declared on July 2nd 1776.  That evening John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the day just ending might be celebrated forever.  This prediction was premature.  What we Americans celebrate is not the day we declared independence but the day the Declaration of Independence was promulgated to the reasonable world.  Often on the annual return of that Fourth we have celebrated it by reciting it.  (In Little Town on the Prairie, it is casually remarked that the girls know it by heart.)  We are right to.  Its words have made us what we are.  Its truths contain, as the tree the many seeds, all that has come after, our liberty, our prosperity, our Constitution, our strife, our strength, our endurance, and our potential perpetuation.[i]

These truths, like golden apples in a frame of silver, are supported and protected by a very intelligent design.

I.      The Declaration is divided into seven parts, the first devoted to separation; the second to revolution; and the third to prudence; the fourth, much the longest part, is devoted to twenty-eight charges against George III; the fifth part attends to fellow subjects of the monarch; the sixth is a declaration of independence from Great Britain; and the seventh comprises the signatures of the representatives of the United States in Congress assembled.

To bring out the exceedingly intelligent design of this declaration this afternoon, we must move rather quickly.  Which means we must pass over some mysteries; in the first paragraph the mystery of what a people is and in the second what a person is, a mystery though it is ourselves, if we achieve self-knowledge.

Two things are remarkable in the title. It is the first use of the name “the United States of America.” Here it seems to be a plural. After our Civil War “United States” is always singular. “One and indivisible” as we Americans pledge, and we at George Wythe College pledge each class day.  Second, is that the title does not say what is being declared.

The familiar first paragraph, appealing to the reasonable world, is a single sentence whose subordinate clause, longer that the main one, contains the first reference to God, to “nature and nature’s God”.

What is nature?  Who is Nature’s God?    In this yoking phrase all the long struggle of our Western forefathers to harmonize Greek reason and Biblical revelation is epitomized. In the phrase, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” Nature comes first and then God.  Who is this God of Nature? Is this the God who is above Nature, who has brought Nature into existence, and is known to pious readers of Genesis as the Creator?  Or is this the God that belongs to Nature, that issues from Nature, or personifies Nature, or even the God that really is Nature, as a pantheist, a Spinoza, might recognize?  It is hard to say.  Closely examined, the phrase is ambiguous.  Thus while it will appeal to most of the Christian sects, the Jews, perhaps the Muslims, and probably most deists, it can shelter many an Epicurean, or even a skeptic, if he be not dogmatic and bold, and out of a decent concern for mankind, hold his tongue.  Thus it might include, in addition to Witherspoon and Wythe and the others, old Franklin and young Hamilton. Certainly, however, the phrase was meant to speak to the multitude of the people, overwhelmingly Christian.  Thus the nearby phrase “the powers of the earth” by bringing to mind the “powers of heaven” and the “powers of hell”, inclines one to identify the God of Nature and of Nature’s laws as the Biblical Creator God.

The most famous second paragraph of the Declaration contains the second of the four inclusions of God in our founding.

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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—

In this beautifully designed single-sentence paragraph, —try to order the sequence of the three named rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness any other way and you will get chaos— all depends on the endowment of the Creator God; likewise all four self-evident truths, that all are equal, that they have rights, that government is instituted to secure them, and that men may of right change the regime, all these too come from God. (That such change of government brings in an additional standard of safety and happiness, that government is judged by these ends as well as by rights, we have no time to examine now.)  The burden of the paragraph is that God’s design of man, made self-evident to man, makes self-government mankind’s domain, man’s right, and man’s charge.  According to the Declaration everything about government proceeds from God.

The next paragraph accords with God’s donation of this responsibility to mankind.  In it there is no mention of God, for considering whether it is prudent to make a revolution, man is exercising, or failing to, the prudence that is the very essence of the self-government God has endowed him to do.  Moreover, this paragraph says something unique.  Where there is tyranny, it is not only the right of the people to institute new government, it is their duty.

The section that follows, enumerating the 28 things that justify calling George III a tyrant and changing the government is likewise without a mention of God. It is up to man, not God, to judge whether there is tyranny,  but for later examination, let me note that the ordering of the charges goes from George’s violation of the legislatures of the colonies, to his violating of their courts, on to his abuse of his executive duties, unto making war upon the people.  Though those abuses have ceased, the portrait of that Tyrant is, along with Shakespeare’s evil ones, an enduring gift to us Americans, arming us to recognize tyranny when it arises.

The next section, devoted to relations with “our Brittish brethren” is also without a mention of God,  but please note, you with your portable phones, your flood of emails, your storm of tweets, and your willingness to trade your soul for celebrity on FaceTube, that our forefathers and foremothers, so cherished good letters, which Nietzsche rightly says are the best index of the culture of an era,  that they lament the coming interruption of their correspondence with friends in Britain. Make no mistake: they knew what friendship is. Read the letters of John and Abigail Adams and the late letters of Adams and Jefferson.

The next, the sixth part, of the document, which declares independence, contains the two final mentions of God, In the beginning God is “appealed” to as the “Supreme Judge of the World” to affirm the rectitude of “our intentions” and in the end of the paragraph, God is relied upon to protect the signers of the Declaration who pledge to each other their “lives”, their “Fortunes”, and their “Sacred Honor. Without these mentions of God the Judge and God the Provident, the Declaration would not be beautifully and intelligently designed.

Then follows the signatures, in clusters by state, though not so designated, a sign of our unanimous union, under God.

II.

It is now time to step back from the Declaration, view it in the context of the whole, and look down upon it from a high and melancholy perch, for we know that civilizations perish.[1]

Way out in a corner of Colorado, until recently accessible only by a three-day ride on horseback, are ruins left by a vanished people.  There at Mesa Verde, in the overhangs of the mesa, are over 600 family dwellings and several large buildings, built of stone, with only stone tools.  All were built about 800 years ago.  For centuries before these people had lived on top of the mesas.  Suddenly around 1200 A.D. they took shelter under the cliffs below the mesa, why no one really knows, and then equally suddenly, around 1273, these people abandoned not only their cliff dwellings, but the whole fertile mesa that they had inhabited for centuries.  Why?  No one knows?  Was it war, if so why are there so few skeletons with wounds?  Could it have been the twenty-three year drought that set in about 1273, visible to us in the compact rings in the trees living at that time?  If so, why did these people never return after the rain returned?  Or was it an event in the sky, a supernova, that their sages could not interpret except as a command to leave forever?  No one is so bold as to say “I know for sure.”

Very well, what if an inquiring stranger arriving on earth in eight hundred years, found the ruins of another American civilization, evidences of flourishing and civility, but with no account of how we disappeared, whether through sudden war, unknown pestilence, prolonged drought, or sheer loss of the reverences that unify a mere population into a people.  “Who were these Americans?” such an inquiring stranger might wonder.  And what if he had only the Declaration to learn what sort of a people we Americans were, what then would he, or she, or it, find?

Patient attention would naturally disclose that a divine being named “God” is referred to several times in the course of the Declaration.  First of all, God is referred to as the Creator; He creates man and gives him unalienable rights.  Second, God is referred to as a legislator; He legislates “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God”; he is nature’s God; nature is lawful; nature is filled with reason, it is so because God the law-giver legislated it so, and being so, it has a steady character, which He would presumably abridge only for special and unusual reason.  Third, this same God is referred to as the Supreme Judge of the world; to God in this truly awe-ful aspect, the people of the United States appeal for the rectitude of their intentions; God is then a party, a witness, to this Declaration; and He is the judge.  And, fourth and finally, God is referred to as the Providence who will surely protect this people, these United States, and these signers of this Declaration.[ii]

And what would such a inquiring stranger make of these observations?  How would he, or she, or it, interpret them?  Perhaps this way:

The four references to God are placed carefully.[iii] Each is fitted to the theme of its section.  God the natural lawgiver goes with separation; God the Creator of man, equal in his unalienable rights, goes with revolution; God the Supreme Judge goes with declaring independence, which will surely lead to war, a war God will witness and judge; and finally God the Provident goes with the confidence the Declarers have, that He will regard their prudence, protect their lives, preserve their fortunes, and bless their sacred honor.

These references also make, or partake of, a story.  Separation is, after all, the mode by which the Creator creates most of the things in Genesis 1, and independence is the result.  Later God gives the Law; He has made us discerning enough to receive it; and made us with choice to obey it or stray from it; thus we are responsible for our choices; still later He will judge us, and meanwhile He may intervene providentially as a Statesman endeavors to.

God then, the God of the Declaration, and of the people of the Declaration, is a Creator, who unites in Himself, the power of the legislative, the judicial and the executive.  We have seen this pattern before.  We saw it as the measure behind George III judging all his interventions, usurpations, and abuses.  George’s attempt to unite the legislative, judicial, and executive powers was not for the sake of the good, it was not for the sake of the governed, and it was not with their consent.  Unlike God, George did not respect the unalienable rights that are the foundation of the liberty of the American people.

There is more.  The God referred to in the Declaration is not only the standard by which to judge tyrants, He is also the pattern of all good government.  Had George not intervened in legislative and in judicial matters and had he, the executive, not made war on his own people, he would have been a good ruler.  The Declaration itself, then, recognizes the possibility that God could be pleased with monarchy, provided it be constitutional monarchy.  And yet, the same principles in the Declaration make it not at all fanciful to foresee in the future of the Americans the government to come in the Constitution of 1787, with We the people the sovereign creators, the legislative office next, then the executive, and finally the judicial, all separate “persons” of one sovereign, both distinguished and blended for the better expression of the sovereign people, a many for the sake of that one.

Imagine now our inquiring stranger 800 years from now searching out the deepest principles in the Declaration and asking:  How do the people of the Declaration know these things about God?  Do they simply assume them?  Do they know them from revelation?  Or through reason?  Or are some things known by revelation and some others by reason?

The Declaration answers by saying that certain things are true; in particular it names four things that are true.  Earlier we examined them, now let us do so more carefully, in the full light of the whole of the Declaration, with its majestic design.

Four truths and four truths alone are said to be self-evident by the Declaration: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by the Creator with unalienable rights; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that when a government destroys these ends, it is the right of the people to change the government.

First, let us note this: that among the self-evident things is the Creator.  Let there be no misunderstanding: the word Creator was not by our ancestors used loosely; the meaning of it and its cognates, create, creating, created, and creature, was limited, solemnly and strictly limited; for the men and women of that time, there was only one Creator and one Creation.[iv] America is, then, founded on a thesis in natural theology, that is, in an account of God (theos) in so far as He is evident to reason (logos), the natural power of man to know.  Not on supernatural theology, which depends on revelation, on things known through faith or miracle, but on natural theology, things that can be known by reason, is America founded.

Second, it is because of the Creator that all men are equal.  True, as Montaigne said, each man bears the form of the human condition.  That gets at it.  But falls short.  A biologist could say that.  Saying that the Creator made men equal, in that He endowed each with the same unalienable rights, means man owes both his existence and his character to the Creator.  No mere biologist would say that.  Even an undogmatic one, such as Aristotle or Adolph Portmann, wouldn’t.  They might say all men are equal, but they would not say they were created by God.  Nor would they say that each man is an image of the Creator.  The consequences of these additions to what “scientific reason,” ancient and modern, can know are immense.  Owing his being and his character to God, means man is not only in a dependent but in a graciously dependent relation to God.  He will then be, if he understands himself aright, filled with gratitude.

Third, the unalienable rights are a gift of God, more specifically an endowment; that is, the kind of gift that comes to you just because you are who you are, not because of something special you did.  They are a free expression of love, God’s love.  They are not something you had to deserve first.  The earth is then not “a place where when you go there they have to let you in” but “a place you haven’t to deserve, to be let in.”[v] Moreover, this endowment is in you; it is you, we might say.

***Thus, the rights understood by the Declaration are not the same as those prevailing in public discourse today in America.  The natural rights upon which just government is founded are, according to the Declaration, an endowment from the Creator.  They are a gift.  The same One who created men also endows each of them with rights.  Like our existence itself, these are gifts. Thus the suspicion that every orientation towards rights will put rancor in the soul, cause the man with it to transform all griefs into grievances, and think far more of what others owe him than of what he owes them, is, in the case of the Declaration that founded America, obviated.[vi] As is the correlative criticism, of Publius in the Federalist Papers that rights, as in Bills of Rights, presuppose a King and consequently have no place in a government whose sovereignty reposes in the people, for the rights that are understood to be a gift of the superior who is your Creator are not likely to stir up a spirit of unjust self-love.  Rights from God require care.  Like other gifts, they may be abused or neglected.  They may be squandered.  Once lost they may never be recovered.  Moreover, since they were given by the Creator, they may be withdrawn.  They are only unalienable between man and man and man and government.  In the face of God, there is no right to happiness, to liberty, or to life itself.[vii]

Moreover, what a man knows is a gift he may well wish to share.  And one he knows to be an endowment or an inheritance, he will surely wish to pass on to his posterity.  However unalienable by nature vis à vis man, such rights must be defended and protected, if they are to be inherited. No one can lose them, but the regime of liberty built upon their recognition can be lost. And howsoever inherited, liberty must also be acquired by that posterity.  Ultimately the blessings of Liberty come from God, intermediately they come from government (or the curses from bad government), and up close good government comes from good men, good men doing good, following good, and being good, such men as understand the truths held by the Declaration and most notably held by the signers who pledged their sacred honor.

Fourth, government is instituted by men to secure these rights, that men may flourish, have life, enjoy liberty, and be happy.  (The rights can be secured, not the things, for these things no one can secure for another.)  In other words, men are to go forth together to institute government.  Government is the work of man.  It fulfills God’s plan, it pleases Him, but it is the work of man.  God cannot govern for us.  Christ was asked to by his Disciples, asked to defend himself with legions of angels, and earlier the Devil offered him the rule of the Roman Empire, but He always refused to do for men what they can, and so must, do for themselves.  (This is, by the way, the most important reason the Declaration need not refer to or call upon Christ.  He came to save men’s souls, not to govern them; government is to make them free, as free as they can be, pursuing happiness.)  It is not only that man is to institute government, to secure these unalienable rights; man is also charged with judging government by its ends, safety to happiness, and if prudence allow, man is charged with the duty of changing government, even at the cost of life, liberty, and property.  It is their right, it is their duty.

Was it not the duty of some people until now?  At the time of the Roman Empire, was it then better to suffer evil than to oppose it?  We must wonder about the history of man; since God did not prompt the first Christians and many previous Christians to institute new government based on these God-given rights, did He first choose the English people to do so in their Glorious Revolution, and then, when they oppressed their American brethren, did He choose the American people to exercise self-government more perfectly, to become the model for other peoples, and when they waxed mighty even bring it to others, and even when failing to be a model, a city on a hill, still to for their principles to be a light house on a hill, to shine a way for others far away, even as it showed in what the darkness the Americans had chosen to dwell.

Fifth, government is to be judged by the divine standard.  It is to be judged by how much it secures the unalienable rights given by God and by the ends, safety to happiness, that have been written into the nature of things by Nature’s God.  Moreover, the very form of God, his parts, is the measure of good government.  Thus, the charges against George, arranged as they are, leading from legislative, to judicial, to executive abuses, show George to depart very far from the divine union of these separate powers in the God addressed in the Declaration.

Sixth, this means not only that bad government is measured by God, but that good government is in the image of God.  The first image of God, as we know from Genesis, where the Creation is recounted, is man himself.  Man and only man of all the creatures is in the image of God.  But according to the Declaration, the second, or at least another, image of God is government.  In good government as in God we find legislative, judicial, and executive powers.

Seventh, there is of course a difference between the image of God and God Himself.  In God these powers, which by us may be separately named and chosen in addressing God, are united.  Thus we read in Isaiah 33. 22: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”[viii] In good government these powers should be separated.  That is, no man is to be trusted with being, at the same time, law-maker, judge, and executor.  What in God is united, which is one in Him, is in good government, separated, dispersed, and parceled out among different men.[ix]

To recapitulate, it is to be noted that all of these truths about God and the people of the Declaration are evident; they are evident to reason; they are either self-evident, the four truths, or based on these four self-evident truths, and thus likewise also evident.  And for this too, God the Creator is responsible; He is responsible for a world through which truth runs, through and through, and for truth’s being evident to his best creature, Man, who He endowed with reason enough to see all this truth including the evidence of the Creator Himself.  It is no wonder then that, as Samuel Adams said, “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”[x]

Who is responsible for the Declaration, for its promulgation of new principles of government, and for its remarkable design, which our inquiring stranger has discovered?

On his tomb, at Monticello, one of the three things Thomas Jefferson had inscribed was “author of the Declaration of Independence.”  Although this is an exaggeration, we may pardon it.  As Lincoln said, “All honor to Jefferson.”  And yet not only truth but its precious consequences cannot let this exaggeration pass without comment.  Jefferson was not the author of the Declaration; the author of the Declaration was Congress assembled, and through them the United States that sent them and the people they spoke for.  Old Jefferson himself said, as did old Adams, that he had only written what all had been saying for some time.[xi] Although there was modesty in that admission, for to put what everyone has been saying into uncommonly vigorous, dignified, and felicitous words is a fine achievement, still there is truth in the acknowledgment.  Jefferson was the drafter, not the author, of the Declaration.  All praise to the noble drafter.

The acknowledgment is important because, appreciative as the Congress was of Jefferson’s drafting, it did not accept it all or think it complete.  About one fourth it altered, much to Jefferson’s silent vexation, somewhat soothed by Franklin sitting next to him, and in this the penultimate section, for example, Congress added the two mentions of God.  Now Thomas Jefferson was a man of many plans and many ideas, more rich than coherent, and among his ideas were many private opinions that departed from the main line of the many Christian churches.  Were Jefferson to be regarded as the author, rather than, as he was, the drafter of the Declaration, it would be natural to see in it a subtle expression of his ideas, rather than as the declaration of the whole Congress assembled and the people they spoke for, and thus to regard it as dubiously theistic.  Fidelity to the true circumstances of the composition of the Declaration precludes such an interpretation utterly.  Only by ignoring the known facts can one regard the Declaration as atheistic or even deistic.[xii]

It really is a wonder that so much contention, conversation, and thought in 1776 could have had such a harmonious result, in the Declaration, and then such a remarkable result in all since then, as the forest from the tree, and the tree from the single seed.  The Declaration is surely the most remarkable thing ever written by a committee.  And the way the two references to God added by the Congress to Jefferson’s draft make the whole a portrait of God with His three governing powers, and thus a sketch of good government, with separation of powers, is more remarkable still.  Perhaps then it is reasonable to believe that the Great Governor of the World was pleased to incline the hearts of this legislature (to employ the language of the Articles of Confederation) to add these references to Himself.  Did the Congress know that their additions completed the picture and made the pattern?  To be sure what ever one man can discern in the purposeful product of another, that other man can have done deliberately, but it is not necessarily so.  Whose purpose is evident then?  Certainly, if God can bring good out of evil, He can bring it out of good, in this case these good men, whose hearts were surely inclined His way.

Can mere men have achieved such a thing?  According to the understanding of all things held by the people of the Declaration, and explicitly affirmed in the Declaration, no mere people can achieve such a thing without the guidance and protection of God.

What are we to think then of the history of the American people since the Declaration?  Are we to judge from the result, from the flourishing of America, that He destined the American people to bring forth a more perfect and more God-pleasing government than any previous people?  Does America manifest a destiny from God?  Are we Americans a chosen people?  Or “almost chosen” as Lincoln said, ever mindful of the sin of presumption, and ever mindful of the caution that who God chooses, He holds to higher standards and accordingly punishes more severely than the unchosen.

Did God make a Covenant with us Americans?  The people of the Declaration seem to understand it that way, for they ask Him to judge the rectitude of their cause.  Of course we know that our ancestors did achieve their Independence.  May we infer that that was because He listened to their appeal, that He judged the rectitude their cause, and found it worthy?  But their cause was not just the immediate Revolution of Independence; the document is titled a Declaration; mere independence was declared two days before; the Declaration was a declaration of principle, and whosoever some features attached to that time fade, the principles do not change.

If so, it was not a Covenant for one generation only, and all later Americans must fear if that rectitude should vanish, in an unjust war, in the indifference of the people to their own Liberty, even the very first of their liberties, to life itself, unto the righteous slaughter of innocents, or if the people shirk the duty to govern themselves, repose in soft despotism, loss all reverence and ardor, then we must wonder if the God we asked to covenant with us might withdraw his support. If so, then all inheritors and beneficiaries of our Declaration must tremble, with Jefferson, to think that God is just, and pray and fast with Lincoln that every drop of blood drawn from the innocent be not paid, as would be altogether righteous, by others drawn by His terrible swift sword.

Some of the designs of the Lord seem evident in the course of human events, those of futurity are locked in His bosom.

 

Conclusion:

The truths of the Declaration are as self-evident today as when they were first declared.  It is as President Coolidge said one Fourth of July:  “If all men are created equal, that is final.  If all men are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final.  If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.  No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.  If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.”  President Coolidge was right to say so (in celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, now four generations ago (Philadelphia, **5 July 1926).[xiii] Since then the regimes that have denied the truths of the Declaration have visited misery on their slaves and their neighbors, and the Americans whose judicial interpretations hold that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not God-given rights of every human being, or that the Declaration has nothing to do with the Constitution, have not protected the lives, defended the liberty, and advanced happiness of Americans as they might.

We the descendants of the founders are right to be proud of our Declaration.  To be proud of it is to submit to it humbly.  We understand it to measure us, not we it.  It is by living up to the Declaration that we may mend our flaws, confirm our soul in self-control, and enjoy our liberty in law.  And if we ever crown the good it has brought us with loving brotherhood, so that all are judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin, then at last we will be in accord with the abstract but self-evident truths of the Declaration and worthy of the Creator above them.

The Declaration cannot be amended, it cannot be altered, it cannot be changed.  It can only be taken to heart, made more and more alive in our lives, and the source of still greater strength.  The Declaration is a declaration of principles and principles cannot be changed, they can only be neglected, or ignored, or abused.  If they are, they are already lost, and with them the people formed by them will be lost.

The words of the Declaration are the hills from whence cometh our national strength, they are the green pastures that comfort us; like a staff they support us; like a rod they chastise us; and they are the cup that will run over almost forever, if we remember them and, remembering them, live them.[xiv]

Dr. Michael Platt

Friends of the Republic

 


[1] « Nous autres, civilizations, nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles. ”  Paul Valery, La Crise of l’Esprit, Oeuvres de Paul Valery (Pleiade: 1957) 1:988-1000.


 

[i]           This interpretation was first written in the course of teaching Honors students at the University of Houston in 1994, especially Marcel Guerin and his attentive questions.  Since then it gained from lecture presentation at several schools, home-schooling groups, at Brigham Young, The Air Force Academy, Univ. of Illinois, Hillsdale, Williams, George Wythe College, a stint at the International Theological Institute (Gaming, Austria), and for three years running, the Armstrong Lectures at Thomas More (Ft. Worth).  And also from a close reading by Will Morrisey.  And there ahead, above, and before me always there have been George Anastaplo and Harry Jaffa; listening to them, you might wonder if the Framers were their uncles.  Sometime after I met their works and them, I attended the aristocratic classes of Leo Paul de Alvarez, and thanks to Glen Thurow, got to teach the same American government class soon after.  Many thanks to all.

[ii] An alien observer would, then, conclude just what most American Christians would.

[iii] I owe this observation to George Anastaplo, and also that these separate powers remind one of the Constitution.  As to interpretation of the observation, we differ.  According to George, these men saw the heavens and God himself in the image of the Republic they esteemed.  To me it is on the contrary more reasonable to suppose that these men measured all things political by the pattern of God, the monarch who is not only fit to rule a free people, but created all men free, capable of self-government and bound by duty, when prudence should permit, to institute it.  Anastaplo’s remarks will be found in his genial, rich, and patriotic The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1989), s. v.  The appendices to this commentary contain the documents of the founding.  An even larger collection, with excellent introductions, especially by Donald S. Lutz is Roots of the Republic ed. Steven L. Schechter (Madison House, 1990).

[iv] If they had used the expression “creative writing” it would only have referred to inspired scripture, to the Bible.

[v] I employ Frost‘s distinction from “The Hired Man.”

[vi] The suspicion is, nevertheless, well grounded.  As Nietzsche observed, modernity is the substitution of daily newspapers for daily prayers.  The former make us think of what’s wrong with others, the latter what is wrong with ourselves; the former fit with rights, what we are owed by others, the latter go with duties, what we owe others.  For the Nietzsche, “Eine Zeitung an Stelle der tägliche Gebete,” see the Nachlass (leftovers) of the 1880s; F. N., Werke in Drei Bänden, ed. Karl Schlechta (München: Hanser Verlag, 1956), III, p. 430.

[vii] The Lord can take you any time. (Psalm 37; Psalm 123; etc.)  He may justly lead us into temptation, turn us over to the Devil, or blot us out. (Job)  Hence, strictly speaking, for a Christian there can be no “right to life.”  There is of course a duty not to murder.

[viii] I am grateful to Richard Honaker who, after I delivered this essay to the Wyoming Home Schoolers Convention in 1995, pointed out this passage to me.  Might we describe the progress recorded in the Old Testament as God’s discovery, first that man, in the person of His chosen people, needed Him to become the Legislator as well as the Creator, then that they needed Him to provide judges, and finally even an executive or king, and yet that still more was needed, not an executive or messiah at all, but an example of service unto death.

[ix] Thus later in the Constitution, while the legislative, judicial, and executive powers will be somewhat shared, e.g. the president’s veto on legislation, still no man may at the same time serve in more than one branch, e.g. be a Representative and a cabinet member at the same time.

[x] Quoted from Coolidge, above, p. 449.

[xi] **give words.

[xii] There are even some books that give his version rather than the one Congress signed and even authors of books that accord his draft the attention that only the final Congressional version deserves (e. g. Gary Wills).  Such readers like to emphasize the heterodoxy of Jefferson’s theism, and ignore the fact that heterodox theism is nonetheless theism, that the man who worked at pasting together a composite Gospel must be presumed to accord some authority to Christ, must be seeking counsel from his (or His) teaching, and that the man who spoke of a fire bell in the night and said he trembled to think that God is just, most probably believed in God.

For the facts about the authorship of the Declaration, we have the document itself; for the fact of the composition we have the statements of the later Jefferson himself, cited in my text; and for the details of the composition, we have the careful work of Julian P. Boyd, especially his The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Various Drafts (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1945).

[xiii] Supplement to the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Covering the Second Administration of Calvin Coolidge March 4, 1925, to March 4, 1929, pp. 9581 – 9582.   Also to be found in his Foundations of the Republic: Speeches and Addresses, (New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926).

[xiv] In the Declaration you will find almost all of the things that constitute the United States of America.  Thus, throughout this commentary on the Declaration, it has been natural for me to refer to these constitutions, both the written and the unwritten.  For a fuller account of them, see my essay “The Thirteen Constitutes of America,” and the chapter it is modeled on, in George Anastaplo’s fine book, mentioned above.

 

America began with the word. Mere independence did not begin us and its announcement did not either. American independence was actually declared on July 2nd 1776. That evening John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the day just ending might be celebrated forever. This prediction was premature. What we Americans celebrate is not the day we declared independence but the day the Declaration of Independence was promulgated to the reasonable world. Often on the annual return of that Fourth we have celebrated it by reciting it. (In Little Town on the Prairie, it is casually remarked that the girls know it by heart.) We are right to. Its words have made us what we are. Its truths contain, as the tree the many seeds, all that has come after, our liberty, our prosperity, our Constitution, our strife, our strength, our endurance, and our potential perpetuation.[i]

These truths, like golden apples in a frame of silver, are supported and protected by a very intelligent design.

I. The Declaration is divided into seven parts, the first devoted to separation; the second to revolution; and the third to prudence; the fourth, much the longest part, is devoted to twenty-eight charges against George III; the fifth part attends to fellow subjects of the monarch; the sixth is a declaration of independence from Great Britain; and the seventh comprises the signatures of the representatives of the United States in Congress assembled.

To bring out the exceedingly intelligent design of this declaration this afternoon, we must move rather quickly. Which means we must pass over some mysteries; in the first paragraph the mystery of what a people is and in the second what a person is, a mystery though it is ourselves, if we achieve self-knowledge.

Two things are remarkable in the title. It is the first use of the name “the United States of America.” Here it seems to be a plural. After our Civil War “United States” is always singular. “One and indivisible” as we Americans pledge, and we at George Wythe College pledge each class day. Second, is that the title does not say what is being declared.

The familiar first paragraph, appealing to the reasonable world, is a single sentence whose subordinate clause, longer that the main one, contains the first reference to God, to “nature and nature’s God”.

What is nature? Who is Nature’s God? In this yoking phrase all the long struggle of our Western forefathers to harmonize Greek reason and Biblical revelation is epitomized. In the phrase, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” Nature comes first and then God. Who is this God of Nature? Is this the God who is above Nature, who has brought Nature into existence, and is known to pious readers of Genesis as the Creator? Or is this the God that belongs to Nature, that issues from Nature, or personifies Nature, or even the God that really is Nature, as a pantheist, a Spinoza, might recognize? It is hard to say. Closely examined, the phrase is ambiguous. Thus while it will appeal to most of the Christian sects, the Jews, perhaps the Muslims, and probably most deists, it can shelter many an Epicurean, or even a skeptic, if he be not dogmatic and bold, and out of a decent concern for mankind, hold his tongue. Thus it might include, in addition to Witherspoon and Wythe and the others, old Franklin and young Hamilton. Certainly, however, the phrase was meant to speak to the multitude of the people, overwhelmingly Christian. Thus the nearby phrase “the powers of the earth” by bringing to mind the “powers of heaven” and the “powers of hell”, inclines one to identify the God of Nature and of Nature’s laws as the Biblical Creator God.

The most famous second paragraph of the Declaration contains the second of the four inclusions of God in our founding.

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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—

In this beautifully designed single-sentence paragraph, —try to order the sequence of the three named rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness any other way and you will get chaos— all depends on the endowment of the Creator God; likewise all four self-evident truths, that all are equal, that they have rights, that government is instituted to secure them, and that men may of right change the regime, all these too come from God. (That such change of government brings in an additional standard of safety and happiness, that government is judged by these ends as well as by rights, we have no time to examine now.) The burden of the paragraph is that God’s design of man, made self-evident to man, makes self-government mankind’s domain, man’s right, and man’s charge. According to the Declaration everything about government proceeds from God.

The next paragraph accords with God’s donation of this responsibility to mankind. In it there is no mention of God, for considering whether it is prudent to make a revolution, man is exercising, or failing to, the prudence that is the very essence of the self-government God has endowed him to do. Moreover, this paragraph says something unique. Where there is tyranny, it is not only the right of the people to institute new government, it is their duty.

The section that follows, enumerating the 28 things that justify calling George III a tyrant and changing the government is likewise without a mention of God. It is up to man, not God, to judge whether there is tyranny, but for later examination, let me note that the ordering of the charges goes from George’s violation of the legislatures of the colonies, to his violating of their courts, on to his abuse of his executive duties, unto making war upon the people. Though those abuses have ceased, the portrait of that Tyrant is, along with Shakespeare’s evil ones, an enduring gift to us Americans, arming us to recognize tyranny when it arises.

The next section, devoted to relations with “our Brittish brethren” is also without a mention of God, but please note, you with your portable phones, your flood of emails, your storm of tweets, and your willingness to trade your soul for celebrity on FaceTube, that our forefathers and foremothers, so cherished good letters, which Nietzsche rightly says are the best index of the culture of an era, that they lament the coming interruption of their correspondence with friends in Britain. Make no mistake: they knew what friendship is. Read the letters of John and Abigail Adams and the late letters of Adams and Jefferson.

The next, the sixth part, of the document, which declares independence, contains the two final mentions of God, In the beginning God is “appealed” to as the “Supreme Judge of the World” to affirm the rectitude of “our intentions” and in the end of the paragraph, God is relied upon to protect the signers of the Declaration who pledge to each other their “lives”, their “Fortunes”, and their “Sacred Honor. Without these mentions of God the Judge and God the Provident, the Declaration would not be beautifully and intelligently designed.

Then follows the signatures, in clusters by state, though not so designated, a sign of our unanimous union, under God.

II.

It is now time to step back from the Declaration, view it in the context of the whole, and look down upon it from a high and melancholy perch, for we know that civilizations perish.[1]

Way out in a corner of Colorado, until recently accessible only by a three-day ride on horseback, are ruins left by a vanished people. There at Mesa Verde, in the overhangs of the mesa, are over 600 family dwellings and several large buildings, built of stone, with only stone tools. All were built about 800 years ago. For centuries before these people had lived on top of the mesas. Suddenly around 1200 A.D. they took shelter under the cliffs below the mesa, why no one really knows, and then equally suddenly, around 1273, these people abandoned not only their cliff dwellings, but the whole fertile mesa that they had inhabited for centuries. Why? No one knows? Was it war, if so why are there so few skeletons with wounds? Could it have been the twenty-three year drought that set in about 1273, visible to us in the compact rings in the trees living at that time? If so, why did these people never return after the rain returned? Or was it an event in the sky, a supernova, that their sages could not interpret except as a command to leave forever? No one is so bold as to say “I know for sure.”

Very well, what if an inquiring stranger arriving on earth in eight hundred years, found the ruins of another American civilization, evidences of flourishing and civility, but with no account of how we disappeared, whether through sudden war, unknown pestilence, prolonged drought, or sheer loss of the reverences that unify a mere population into a people. “Who were these Americans?” such an inquiring stranger might wonder. And what if he had only the Declaration to learn what sort of a people we Americans were, what then would he, or she, or it, find?

Patient attention would naturally disclose that a divine being named “God” is referred to several times in the course of the Declaration. First of all, God is referred to as the Creator; He creates man and gives him unalienable rights. Second, God is referred to as a legislator; He legislates “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God”; he is nature’s God; nature is lawful; nature is filled with reason, it is so because God the law-giver legislated it so, and being so, it has a steady character, which He would presumably abridge only for special and unusual reason. Third, this same God is referred to as the Supreme Judge of the world; to God in this truly awe-ful aspect, the people of the United States appeal for the rectitude of their intentions; God is then a party, a witness, to this Declaration; and He is the judge. And, fourth and finally, God is referred to as the Providence who will surely protect this people, these United States, and these signers of this Declaration.[ii]

And what would such a inquiring stranger make of these observations? How would he, or she, or it, interpret them? Perhaps this way:

The four references to God are placed carefully.[iii] Each is fitted to the theme of its section. God the natural lawgiver goes with separation; God the Creator of man, equal in his unalienable rights, goes with revolution; God the Supreme Judge goes with declaring independence, which will surely lead to war, a war God will witness and judge; and finally God the Provident goes with the confidence the Declarers have, that He will regard their prudence, protect their lives, preserve their fortunes, and bless their sacred honor.

These references also make, or partake of, a story. Separation is, after all, the mode by which the Creator creates most of the things in Genesis 1, and independence is the result. Later God gives the Law; He has made us discerning enough to receive it; and made us with choice to obey it or stray from it; thus we are responsible for our choices; still later He will judge us, and meanwhile He may intervene providentially as a Statesman endeavors to.

God then, the God of the Declaration, and of the people of the Declaration, is a Creator, who unites in Himself, the power of the legislative, the judicial and the executive. We have seen this pattern before. We saw it as the measure behind George III judging all his interventions, usurpations, and abuses. George’s attempt to unite the legislative, judicial, and executive powers was not for the sake of the good, it was not for the sake of the governed, and it was not with their consent. Unlike God, George did not respect the unalienable rights that are the foundation of the liberty of the American people.

There is more. The God referred to in the Declaration is not only the standard by which to judge tyrants, He is also the pattern of all good government. Had George not intervened in legislative and in judicial matters and had he, the executive, not made war on his own people, he would have been a good ruler. The Declaration itself, then, recognizes the possibility that God could be pleased with monarchy, provided it be constitutional monarchy. And yet, the same principles in the Declaration make it not at all fanciful to foresee in the future of the Americans the government to come in the Constitution of 1787, with We the people the sovereign creators, the legislative office next, then the executive, and finally the judicial, all separate “persons” of one sovereign, both distinguished and blended for the better expression of the sovereign people, a many for the sake of that one.

Imagine now our inquiring stranger 800 years from now searching out the deepest principles in the Declaration and asking: How do the people of the Declaration know these things about God? Do they simply assume them? Do they know them from revelation? Or through reason? Or are some things known by revelation and some others by reason?

The Declaration answers by saying that certain things are true; in particular it names four things that are true. Earlier we examined them, now let us do so more carefully, in the full light of the whole of the Declaration, with its majestic design.

Four truths and four truths alone are said to be self-evident by the Declaration: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by the Creator with unalienable rights; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that when a government destroys these ends, it is the right of the people to change the government.

First, let us note this: that among the self-evident things is the Creator. Let there be no misunderstanding: the word Creator was not by our ancestors used loosely; the meaning of it and its cognates, create, creating, created, and creature, was limited, solemnly and strictly limited; for the men and women of that time, there was only one Creator and one Creation.[iv] America is, then, founded on a thesis in natural theology, that is, in an account of God (theos) in so far as He is evident to reason (logos), the natural power of man to know. Not on supernatural theology, which depends on revelation, on things known through faith or miracle, but on natural theology, things that can be known by reason, is America founded.

Second, it is because of the Creator that all men are equal. True, as Montaigne said, each man bears the form of the human condition. That gets at it. But falls short. A biologist could say that. Saying that the Creator made men equal, in that He endowed each with the same unalienable rights, means man owes both his existence and his character to the Creator. No mere biologist would say that. Even an undogmatic one, such as Aristotle or Adolph Portmann, wouldn’t. They might say all men are equal, but they would not say they were created by God. Nor would they say that each man is an image of the Creator. The consequences of these additions to what “scientific reason,” ancient and modern, can know are immense. Owing his being and his character to God, means man is not only in a dependent but in a graciously dependent relation to God. He will then be, if he understands himself aright, filled with gratitude.

Third, the unalienable rights are a gift of God, more specifically an endowment; that is, the kind of gift that comes to you just because you are who you are, not because of something special you did. They are a free expression of love, God’s love. They are not something you had to deserve first. The earth is then not “a place where when you go there they have to let you in” but “a place you haven’t to deserve, to be let in.”[v] Moreover, this endowment is in you; it is you, we might say.

***Thus, the rights understood by the Declaration are not the same as those prevailing in public discourse today in America. The natural rights upon which just government is founded are, according to the Declaration, an endowment from the Creator. They are a gift. The same One who created men also endows each of them with rights. Like our existence itself, these are gifts. Thus the suspicion that every orientation towards rights will put rancor in the soul, cause the man with it to transform all griefs into grievances, and think far more of what others owe him than of what he owes them, is, in the case of the Declaration that founded America, obviated.[vi] As is the correlative criticism, of Publius in the Federalist Papers that rights, as in Bills of Rights, presuppose a King and consequently have no place in a government whose sovereignty reposes in the people, for the rights that are understood to be a gift of the superior who is your Creator are not likely to stir up a spirit of unjust self-love. Rights from God require care. Like other gifts, they may be abused or neglected. They may be squandered. Once lost they may never be recovered. Moreover, since they were given by the Creator, they may be withdrawn. They are only unalienable between man and man and man and government. In the face of God, there is no right to happiness, to liberty, or to life itself.[vii]

Moreover, what a man knows is a gift he may well wish to share. And one he knows to be an endowment or an inheritance, he will surely wish to pass on to his posterity. However unalienable by nature vis à vis man, such rights must be defended and protected, if they are to be inherited. No one can lose them, but the regime of liberty built upon their recognition can be lost. And howsoever inherited, liberty must also be acquired by that posterity. Ultimately the blessings of Liberty come from God, intermediately they come from government (or the curses from bad government), and up close good government comes from good men, good men doing good, following good, and being good, such men as understand the truths held by the Declaration and most notably held by the signers who pledged their sacred honor.

Fourth, government is instituted by men to secure these rights, that men may flourish, have life, enjoy liberty, and be happy. (The rights can be secured, not the things, for these things no one can secure for another.) In other words, men are to go forth together to institute government. Government is the work of man. It fulfills God’s plan, it pleases Him, but it is the work of man. God cannot govern for us. Christ was asked to by his Disciples, asked to defend himself with legions of angels, and earlier the Devil offered him the rule of the Roman Empire, but He always refused to do for men what they can, and so must, do for themselves. (This is, by the way, the most important reason the Declaration need not refer to or call upon Christ. He came to save men’s souls, not to govern them; government is to make them free, as free as they can be, pursuing happiness.) It is not only that man is to institute government, to secure these unalienable rights; man is also charged with judging government by its ends, safety to happiness, and if prudence allow, man is charged with the duty of changing government, even at the cost of life, liberty, and property. It is their right, it is their duty.

Was it not the duty of some people until now? At the time of the Roman Empire, was it then better to suffer evil than to oppose it? We must wonder about the history of man; since God did not prompt the first Christians and many previous Christians to institute new government based on these God-given rights, did He first choose the English people to do so in their Glorious Revolution, and then, when they oppressed their American brethren, did He choose the American people to exercise self-government more perfectly, to become the model for other peoples, and when they waxed mighty even bring it to others, and even when failing to be a model, a city on a hill, still to for their principles to be a light house on a hill, to shine a way for others far away, even as it showed in what the darkness the Americans had chosen to dwell.

Fifth, government is to be judged by the divine standard. It is to be judged by how much it secures the unalienable rights given by God and by the ends, safety to happiness, that have been written into the nature of things by Nature’s God. Moreover, the very form of God, his parts, is the measure of good government. Thus, the charges against George, arranged as they are, leading from legislative, to judicial, to executive abuses, show George to depart very far from the divine union of these separate powers in the God addressed in the Declaration.

Sixth, this means not only that bad government is measured by God, but that good government is in the image of God. The first image of God, as we know from Genesis, where the Creation is recounted, is man himself. Man and only man of all the creatures is in the image of God. But according to the Declaration, the second, or at least another, image of God is government. In good government as in God we find legislative, judicial, and executive powers.

Seventh, there is of course a difference between the image of God and God Himself. In God these powers, which by us may be separately named and chosen in addressing God, are united. Thus we read in Isaiah 33. 22: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”[viii] In good government these powers should be separated. That is, no man is to be trusted with being, at the same time, law-maker, judge, and executor. What in God is united, which is one in Him, is in good government, separated, dispersed, and parceled out among different men.[ix]

To recapitulate, it is to be noted that all of these truths about God and the people of the Declaration are evident; they are evident to reason; they are either self-evident, the four truths, or based on these four self-evident truths, and thus likewise also evident. And for this too, God the Creator is responsible; He is responsible for a world through which truth runs, through and through, and for truth’s being evident to his best creature, Man, who He endowed with reason enough to see all this truth including the evidence of the Creator Himself. It is no wonder then that, as Samuel Adams said, “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”[x]

Who is responsible for the Declaration, for its promulgation of new principles of government, and for its remarkable design, which our inquiring stranger has discovered?

<< 335 Could skip>> On his tomb, at Monticello, one of the three things Thomas Jefferson had inscribed was “author of the Declaration of Independence.” Although this is an exaggeration, we may pardon it. As Lincoln said, “All honor to Jefferson.” And yet not only truth but its precious consequences cannot let this exaggeration pass without comment. Jefferson was not the author of the Declaration; the author of the Declaration was Congress assembled, and through them the United States that sent them and the people they spoke for. Old Jefferson himself said, as did old Adams, that he had only written what all had been saying for some time.[xi] Although there was modesty in that admission, for to put what everyone has been saying into uncommonly vigorous, dignified, and felicitous words is a fine achievement, still there is truth in the acknowledgment. Jefferson was the drafter, not the author, of the Declaration. All praise to the noble drafter.

The acknowledgment is important because, appreciative as the Congress was of Jefferson’s drafting, it did not accept it all or think it complete. About one fourth it altered, much to Jefferson’s silent vexation, somewhat soothed by Franklin sitting next to him, and in this the penultimate section, for example, Congress added the two mentions of God. Now Thomas Jefferson was a man of many plans and many ideas, more rich than coherent, and among his ideas were many private opinions that departed from the main line of the many Christian churches. Were Jefferson to be regarded as the author, rather than, as he was, the drafter of the Declaration, it would be natural to see in it a subtle expression of his ideas, rather than as the declaration of the whole Congress assembled and the people they spoke for, and thus to regard it as dubiously theistic. Fidelity to the true circumstances of the composition of the Declaration precludes such an interpretation utterly. Only by ignoring the known facts can one regard the Declaration as atheistic or even deistic.[xii] <<skip to here???>>

It really is a wonder that so much contention, conversation, and thought in 1776 could have had such a harmonious result, in the Declaration, and then such a remarkable result in all since then, as the forest from the tree, and the tree from the single seed. The Declaration is surely the most remarkable thing ever written by a committee. And the way the two references to God added by the Congress to Jefferson’s draft make the whole a portrait of God with His three governing powers, and thus a sketch of good government, with separation of powers, is more remarkable still. Perhaps then it is reasonable to believe that the Great Governor of the World was pleased to incline the hearts of this legislature (to employ the language of the Articles of Confederation) to add these references to Himself. Did the Congress know that their additions completed the picture and made the pattern? To be sure what ever one man can discern in the purposeful product of another, that other man can have done deliberately, but it is not necessarily so. Whose purpose is evident then? Certainly, if God can bring good out of evil, He can bring it out of good, in this case these good men, whose hearts were surely inclined His way.

Can mere men have achieved such a thing? According to the understanding of all things held by the people of the Declaration, and explicitly affirmed in the Declaration, no mere people can achieve such a thing without the guidance and protection of God.

What are we to think then of the history of the American people since the Declaration? Are we to judge from the result, from the flourishing of America, that He destined the American people to bring forth a more perfect and more God-pleasing government than any previous people? Does America manifest a destiny from God? Are we Americans a chosen people? Or “almost chosen” as Lincoln said, ever mindful of the sin of presumption, and ever mindful of the caution that who God chooses, He holds to higher standards and accordingly punishes more severely than the unchosen.

Did God make a Covenant with us Americans? The people of the Declaration seem to understand it that way, for they ask Him to judge the rectitude of their cause. Of course we know that our ancestors did achieve their Independence. May we infer that that was because He listened to their appeal, that He judged the rectitude their cause, and found it worthy? But their cause was not just the immediate Revolution of Independence; the document is titled a Declaration; mere independence was declared two days before; the Declaration was a declaration of principle, and whosoever some features attached to that time fade, the principles do not change.

If so, it was not a Covenant for one generation only, and all later Americans must fear if that rectitude should vanish, in an unjust war, in the indifference of the people to their own Liberty, even the very first of their liberties, to life itself, unto the righteous slaughter of innocents, or if the people shirk the duty to govern themselves, repose in soft despotism, loss all reverence and ardor, then we must wonder if the God we asked to covenant with us might withdraw his support. If so, then all inheritors and beneficiaries of our Declaration must tremble, with Jefferson, to think that God is just, and pray and fast with Lincoln that every drop of blood drawn from the innocent be not paid, as would be altogether righteous, by others drawn by His terrible swift sword.

Some of the designs of the Lord seem evident in the course of human events, those of futurity are locked in His bosom.

Conclusion:

The truths of the Declaration are as self-evident today as when they were first declared. It is as President Coolidge said one Fourth of July: “If all men are created equal, that is final. If all men are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.” President Coolidge was right to say so (in celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration, now four generations ago (Philadelphia, **5 July 1926).[xiii] Since then the regimes that have denied the truths of the Declaration have visited misery on their slaves and their neighbors, and the Americans whose judicial interpretations hold that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not God-given rights of every human being, or that the Declaration has nothing to do with the Constitution, have not protected the lives, defended the liberty, and advanced happiness of Americans as they might.

<< could be skipped 114 >> We the descendants of the founders are right to be proud of our Declaration. To be proud of it is to submit to it humbly. We understand it to measure us, not we it. It is by living up to the Declaration that we may mend our flaws, confirm our soul in self-control, and enjoy our liberty in law. And if we ever crown the good it has brought us with loving brotherhood, so that all are judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin, then at last we will be in accord with the abstract but self-evident truths of the Declaration and worthy of the Creator above them. <<skip to here>>

The Declaration cannot be amended, it cannot be altered, it cannot be changed. It can only be taken to heart, made more and more alive in our lives, and the source of still greater strength. The Declaration is a declaration of principles and principles cannot be changed, they can only be neglected, or ignored, or abused. If they are, they are already lost, and with them the people formed by them will be lost.

The words of the Declaration are the hills from whence cometh our national strength, they are the green pastures that comfort us; like a staff they support us; like a rod they chastise us; and they are the cup that will run over almost forever, if we remember them and, remembering them, live them.[xiv]

Dr. Michael Platt Friends of the Republic


[1] « Nous autres, civilizations, nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles. Paul Valery, La Crise of l’Esprit, Oeuvres de Paul Valery (Pleiade: 1957) 1:988-1000.


[i] This interpretation was first written in the course of teaching Honors students at the University of Houston in 1994, especially Marcel Guerin and his attentive questions. Since then it gained from lecture presentation at several schools, home-schooling groups, at Brigham Young, The Air Force Academy, Univ. of Illinois, Hillsdale, Williams, George Wythe College, a stint at the International Theological Institute (Gaming, Austria), and for three years running, the Armstrong Lectures at Thomas More (Ft. Worth). And also from a close reading by Will Morrisey. And there ahead, above, and before me always there have been George Anastaplo and Harry Jaffa; listening to them, you might wonder if the Framers were their uncles. Sometime after I met their works and them, I attended the aristocratic classes of Leo Paul de Alvarez, and thanks to Glen Thurow, got to teach the same American government class soon after. Many thanks to all.

[ii] An alien observer would, then, conclude just what most American Christians would.

23 I owe this observation to George Anastaplo, and also that these separate powers remind one of the Constitution. As to interpretation of the observation, we differ. According to George, these men saw the heavens and God himself in the image of the Republic they esteemed. To me it is on the contrary more reasonable to suppose that these men measured all things political by the pattern of God, the monarch who is not only fit to rule a free people, but created all men free, capable of self-government and bound by duty, when prudence should permit, to institute it. Anastaplo’s remarks will be found in his genial, rich, and patriotic The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1989), s. v. The appendices to this commentary contain the documents of the founding. An even larger collection, with excellent introductions, especially by Donald S. Lutz is Roots of the Republic ed. Steven L. Schechter (Madison House, 1990).

[iv] If they had used the expression “creative writing” it would only have referred to inspired scripture, to the Bible.

[v] I employ Frost‘s distinction from “The Hired Man.”

[vi] The suspicion is, nevertheless, well grounded. As Nietzsche observed, modernity is the substitution of daily newspapers for daily prayers. The former make us think of what’s wrong with others, the latter what is wrong with ourselves; the former fit with rights, what we are owed by others, the latter go with duties, what we owe others. For the Nietzsche, “Eine Zeitung an Stelle der tägliche Gebete,” see the Nachlass (leftovers) of the 1880s; F. N., Werke in Drei Bänden, ed. Karl Schlechta (München: Hanser Verlag, 1956), III, p. 430.

[vii] The Lord can take you any time. (Psalm 37; Psalm 123; etc.) He may justly lead us into temptation, turn us over to the Devil, or blot us out. (Job) Hence, strictly speaking, for a Christian there can be no “right to life.” There is of course a duty not to murder.

[viii] I am grateful to Richard Honaker who, after I delivered this essay to the Wyoming Home Schoolers Convention in 1995, pointed out this passage to me. Might we describe the progress recorded in the Old Testament as God’s discovery, first that man, in the person of His chosen people, needed Him to become the Legislator as well as the Creator, then that they needed Him to provide judges, and finally even an executive or king, and yet that still more was needed, not an executive or messiah at all, but an example of service unto death.

[ix] Thus later in the Constitution, while the legislative, judicial, and executive powers will be somewhat shared, e.g. the president’s veto on legislation, still no man may at the same time serve in more than one branch, e.g. be a Representative and a cabinet member at the same time.

[x] Quoted from Coolidge, above, p. 449.

[xi] **give words.

[xii] There are even some books that give his version rather than the one Congress signed and even authors of books that accord his draft the attention that only the final Congressional version deserves (e. g. Gary Wills). Such readers like to emphasize the heterodoxy of Jefferson’s theism, and ignore the fact that heterodox theism is nonetheless theism, that the man who worked at pasting together a composite Gospel must be presumed to accord some authority to Christ, must be seeking counsel from his (or His) teaching, and that the man who spoke of a fire bell in the night and said he trembled to think that God is just, most probably believed in God.

For the facts about the authorship of the Declaration, we have the document itself; for the fact of the composition we have the statements of the later Jefferson himself, cited in my text; and for the details of the composition, we have the careful work of Julian P. Boyd, especially his The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Various Drafts (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1945).

[xiii] Supplement to the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Covering the Second Administration of Calvin Coolidge March 4, 1925, to March 4, 1929, pp. 9581 – 9582. Also to be found in his Foundations of the Republic: Speeches and Addresses, (New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926).

[xiv] In the Declaration you will find almost all of the things that constitute the United States of America. Thus, throughout this commentary on the Declaration, it has been natural for me to refer to these constitutions, both the written and the unwritten. For a fuller account of them, see my essay “The Thirteen Constitutes of America,” and the chapter it is modeled on, in George Anastaplo’s fine book, mentioned above.

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The Capitol is our Campus

by Admin on January 18, 2013

 

The Utah legislative session has commenced! This is one of the primary reasons we moved the school to Salt Lake City — so that students can observe and experience the struggle over the principles of liberty up close in real life. This is where the stakes are highest.

Because Utah’s legislative session occurs during the middle of the semester, GWU holds four special classes each week in rooms at the Capitol itself. During each two-month session, on-campus students enjoy the added benefit of closely observing and even participating in the legislative process, and then discussing their experiences immediately afterward in class. Relating these observations to their studies is a unique opportunity for insight and growth. Committee and strategic caucus meetings before and after class are part of this experience, as well as floor debates in the House and Senate chambers. These are supplemented by frequent, behind the scenes private briefings in class by legislators, other government officials and representatives from think tanks.  The high-stakes drama of state lawmaking unfolds in the student’s presence.  By holding classes in the Capitol itself, students are able to take advantage of these enormous opportunities. They witness the lessons of a classical liberal arts education taking on flesh and bone in this intense, real drama for both good and ill. Especially for those experiencing this for the first time, it’s a rich 45 days.

To help students succeed in this environment, we have also instituted a Capitol Dress Code.  With the orientation tour of the Capitol facilities complete, students will be updated with a daily e-mail explaining bills to track and the most important and interesting committee hearings to attend. This experience at the Capitol during the legislative session will also assist students during the Statesmanship Invitational later this semester.


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In response to the story published by Mother Jones this morning on Mitt Romney and George Wythe University, the GWU Board of Trustees finds serious journalistic negligence with Mother Jones’ distortion of the facts surrounding George Wythe University and Mitt Romney’s participation in the school’s 2009 gala.

First, although Mitt Romney was gracious enough to introduce Mr. Beck via video at the event, the Board of Trustees is not aware of any endorsement of any kind. Furthermore, there was no contact or dialog between the school and Mr. Romney either prior to or after the video introduction itself.

Second, George Wythe University has a strict policy of not accepting or awarding any life experience credit whatsoever. The awarding of credit for life-experience documented outside of coursework was permitted only by the early administrators of the school such as Oliver DeMille. Such officials were asked to resign from the institution years ago, a fact that Mother Jones was fully informed about prior to their publication date but intentionally neglected to disclose. The former tolerance of such credit has been unequivocally condemned by the school, just as we likewise condemn the irresponsible and deceptive pseudo-journalism of Mother Jones.

Third, GWU only graduates a handful of students yearly, and over twenty alumni have been admitted to graduate schools across the nation, including Harvard Graduate School of Education, Michigan State University College of Law, George Washington University Law School, UCLA Law School, Pepperdine University School of Law, Washington & Lee University School of Law, and many more. A sample of these has been published on the GWU website for years, and this was expressly pointed out to Mother Jones during their interviews.  GWU alumni who go on to study law do particularly well, and that has become the primary niche of the school. Of course, this flies in the face of the narrative Mother Jones wanted to tell of the school somehow being a “diploma mill” and so they intentionally omitted it.

Fourth, George Wythe University is a classical liberal arts college with an expansive and rigorous curriculum based largely on the Great Books of Western Civilization. Primary sources are its academic foundation, chiefly arising from works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Tacitus, and the rest of the classical canon from antiquity up through modern times. Any works by Cleon Skousen formerly included in the curriculum would have comprised an infinitesimal fraction of student readings, and of which students would always be free to challenge, and often do in such a rigorous and open academic setting. Indeed, students study Adam Smith alongside Karl Marx, C.S. Lewis alongside Nietzsche—always to contrast opposing views. Mother Jones was once again in full possession of the facts, particularly about Skousen’s writings, which was confirmed via phone call, but they still attempted to brand the school with Skousen’s works, even though they were deleted from the curriculum over two years ago. This again amounts to nothing more than hack journalism on the part of Mother Jones.

Fifth, Mother Jones’ citing of obscure writings of DeMille to draw some imaginary conclusion about the school’s teachings demonstrates yet further disregard if not contempt for the facts. Mother Jones was made fully aware during the interviews that GWU had divorced itself entirely from Oliver DeMille. GWU is a classical liberal arts school and none of DeMille’s writings are in the curriculum. Moreover, no one has any recollection of DeMille’s obscure and speculative political missives ever being part of the curriculum at any time in the history of the school.

Sixth, when Mother Jones called, we expressly informed them over the phone and in writing that two degrees were in the process of being revoked. We also told them that if they were interested in knowing the names of the individuals after our board meeting scheduled for the following day, they could include that information in their article. It’s clear, however, that Mother Jones realized that such details would thwart the narrative they wanted to tell about GWU being a “diploma mill.” Hence, their rush to publish. Shortly after that phone conversation, at 6:11 PM on Tuesday, the board member they interviewed sent them the full announcement including the fact that degrees were being revoked (not something that “diploma mills” ordinarily do). Still, Mother Jones intentionally omitted those facts from their story, despite their utter relevance and timely arrival, but chose other, less relevant details to mention from that announcement instead.

One of those degrees revoked was the doctorate awarded to former congressman Mark D. Siljander. Ironically, Siljander was a major part of the Mother Jones story. Of course, we also called Mother Jones following the board meeting and left a message stating that it was now permissible for us to share the names. Rather than seek to obtain such detail, they avoided it. Of course, Mother Jones also knew that any degree revocations didn’t align with the narrative they wanted to tell.

Seventh, Mother Jones also cites an offhand comment made by an attorney named Beth Phillips who worked for the Department of Justice during Siljander’s sentencing memo. While Phillips’ conclusions about Siljander’s degree were very similar to our own independent findings when revoking his degree, her offhand comment that GWU was a “well known diploma mill” was mere conjecture on her part with no basis or bearing, and in no way was an official “label” by the Department of Justice of any kind as purported by Mother Jones. No proceedings have ever been pursued or even filed by the Department of Justice toward GWU in any way. This stretching of facts and meaning borders on journalistic libel.

If Mother Jones had any journalistic integrity, they would have told an evenhanded account of the story of George Wythe University—perhaps even of its curriculum being rigorous enough that its hardworking students and alumni get into top graduate schools despite accreditation being unfinished. Mother Jones’ irresponsibility and lack of diligence is especially egregious by virtue of the fact that they had expressly received all of this information days prior to publication.

Here you will find our official statement which we prepared over the summer.  It details the completion of the school’s four year transformation, including the revocation of degrees.

Sincerely,
The George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Introduction

George Wythe University is a four year classical liberal arts college based largely on the Socratic seminar and Oxford tutorial models.  It is similar in rigor and curriculum to other Great Books colleges like St. John’s College, Shimer, Thomas Aquinas College, etc.   Its BA degree prepares students primarily for graduate programs in law, political science, economics and education.  For a number of years it has been undergoing site visits for accreditation through the American Academy for Liberal Education in Washington D.C.  Typically, a dozen or so students graduate each year from its small student body.  Meanwhile, over 20 alumni have now been admitted into ranked graduate programs such as George Washington Law School and Harvard’s graduate school of education.  The MA and PhD programs are rigorous as well, but have not yet been presented to an accrediting agency.  The school has ceased admitting new students into these programs until accreditation of the undergraduate program is complete.  Events in the school’s early years, however, cast a shadow on current graduates that, in fairness to them, has needed to be rectified. With several milestones now complete, the board of trustees is prepared to announce the results of its work.

 

 

Roots of Initial Discoveries

During its first 16 years, from 1992 to 2008, George Wythe [College] had been managed by Oliver DeMille, (Mr.) Shanon Brooks, and Donald Sills.  During the first half of this period the school was a DBA of Coral Ridge Baptist University of Jacksonville, Florida, and initially operated under its policies and procedures.  These operational standards, however, were inadequate and the school became independent in December 2001.  Thereafter, it was governed by the board of trustees of George Wythe Foundation.  Once independent, substantial improvements were implemented through new policies, but a number of troubling leadership habits persisted from its early years.

In mid 2007, six trustees—mostly recent additions—grew increasingly skeptical of the state of affairs they were discovering. This expanded into a majority in the months between December 2008 and February 2009 as the board gained its first accurate view of the situation, first with regard to financial mismanagement, then administrative integrity.  These discoveries led to a major rift between the growing board and the school’s founders that soon led to their removal and the painstaking corrections of their actions.

The most grievous discovery was that Oliver DeMille had, during the previous governance under Coral Ridge, approved two doctoral degrees based primarily on experiential credit and without any coursework.  In addition, DeMille’s own credentials were called into question when critics investigating his past revealed two illegitimate degrees he had received in the early 1990s.  Despite ceasing his use of these degrees at a later date, DeMille’s degrees from Coral Ridge Baptist University also became suspect of being awarded primarily for the same type of experiential credit. This would be consistent with how he himself awarded the aforementioned degrees which have now been revoked by the GWU Board of Trustees.  In any case, DeMille’s awarding of degrees without coursework was improper and inexcusable.  It undermines the hard work and achievements of the rest of the alumni and students who legitimately earned their degrees through rigorous coursework, and we condemn it.

The following account describes the administrative misconduct that necessitated board action.

 

Initial Board Action

The first discovery was that incomplete and misleading statements and financial reports were being presented to the board by the administration.  Details began to emerge in December of 2008 as the previous chair, Don Sills, was replaced by one of the new trustees, Diann Jeppson.  In that same meeting, the board had been pressed by Brooks (then president) to move the entire undergraduate program to Monticello, Utah, claiming that the accreditation agency had given their approval to such a move.  A phone call for verification by the board revealed Brooks’ claim to be false, and that the agency in fact viewed such a move negatively.  Three weeks later, the board was surprised to learn that the school would be insolvent in a matter of months.  In January 2009, Jeppson led a board investigation of the school’s management and operations, including interviews of all faculty and staff and a comprehensive internal audit of all corporate contracts.  Particularly troubling were the discoveries that accounting practices were in disarray and that Brooks had consistently withheld information about contracts and finances regarding the Monticello campus he had proposed two years earlier.

This resulted in a unanimous decision to immediately remove Brooks from administration and appoint an interim president to replace him in February 2009.  DeMille’s chancellor role was also eliminated.  Although these steps were motivated by discontent over poor leadership, the board was also keenly aware of the predicament of the students.  Having worked hard for their degrees, the students deserved that their reputations, now inseparably connected to the institution, be preserved.  Because of this, great care was taken to avoid creating a spectacle during the leadership transition.  Consequently, both former administrators were allowed to remain on the board in temporary, more restricted roles, with Brooks being reassigned over the fundraiser gala where it was assumed he would be harmless but still potentially useful.  Three months later in May, however, despite the advantage of having a national radio personality as keynote, the event failed to net any gains even under Brooks’ supervision.  During this period, the board also drafted a new strategic plan for the school, detailing a set of sweeping corrections that called for the elimination of both real and potential conflicts of interest and numerous other steps that provided no room for Brooks and his previous management behavior.  This was ratified the day before the gala.  With the writing on the wall, Brooks’ resignation from the board followed within a week, sparing the drama of his forcible removal.

As the board continued its investigation, a number of egregious actions were discovered that the board felt could potentially justify legal action. These include Brooks deeding away 50 acres of donated land without board knowledge and concealing his encumbering of the school with $230,000 in debt to private individuals, again without board authorization.  Audits further revealed that he failed to reconcile bank accounts and wrote roughly $20,000 in untraceable blank checks.

During these same months, a minority of board members also gained their first inklings of DeMille’s misdeeds with regard to his own degrees and at least two degrees previously awarded by the school back in the early 1990s.  By 2010, enough evidence had emerged to justify an initial transcript audit of student records, during which a handful of transcripts originating under Coral Ridge were flagged and DeMille was asked to resign from the board.

The remainder of the transformation was a daunting task.  Over the initial two years, the newer trustees replaced all institutional leadership, restructured the board, created functioning committees, banned life experience credit, corrected accounting procedures, refined the curriculum, and executed a detailed plan to resolve all lingering conflicts of interest and other problems inherited from previous administrations and governance.  Today, not a single trustee prior to the group of new arrivals since late 2006 remains.

 

Preserving Viability During the Transformation

The state of affairs inherited from Books and DeMille was severe enough that the school faced closure beginning in early 2009.  For the sake of students and alumni it was essential to preserve institutional viability during the cleanup period that followed.  A few nuances surrounding these preservation efforts warrant explanation.

Given the board’s discoveries with regard to DeMille in particular and his selective compromising of transcripts and degrees, the board’s new leadership faced a serious dilemma.  It is impossible to close a college quietly, no matter how small.  If the school closed at that time, the final label attached to each of the hard working students in the ensuing media spectacle would have been that of a diploma mill, despite the fact that most student transcripts were valid—earned properly and honestly.  After all, a closed school would lose its voice, and, consequently, any opportunity to redeem and vindicate the degrees earned by those students.  Over 200 alumni and 400 other students at various stages of earning their degrees would fall victim.

Soberly, the new trustees made a conscious and deliberate choice.  Only by keeping the school open to rectify the problems it had inherited, once and for all, could each deserving student’s degree and reputation be protected.

This presented a second dilemma.  The board’s duty and commitment was to cleanse the school and its alumni of the checkered past of its founders.  Yet a delicate balance was required between timing the publicity of the founders’ misdeeds and allowing institutional strength to recover from the very damage they had inflicted.  The challenge was that within the GWU community a following of personalities instead of principles had developed alongside the passion for the classical liberal arts.  For many, their first encounter with the standard mentoring models of this kind of education happened to occur through GWU, DeMille or Brooks.  Consequently, many of these individuals had innocently and erroneously assumed that the Socratic seminar and the elements borrowed from the Oxford tutorial model (using classics and mentors) were not available elsewhere.  By means of this particular introduction, a loyalty to personalities had formed among thousands of people.  Given this, the board realized that many would struggle to distinguish the school from its founders.  While supporters with broader experience were able to make that distinction on their own, it became necessary to shift the public’s focus toward the fundamental principles of classical liberal arts education, independent of the personalities delivering the message, and to implement a more calculated and gradual debriefing of the greater GWU community.

For this reason alone, DeMille was nominally retained on the board of trustees during the first year of this period, primarily in a dormant role, which was facilitated by the health problems he was experiencing.  This timing eased the transition for those who still saw him as a figurehead.  He was permanently removed from the board in the summer of 2010 at the board’s insistence.

 

Final Cleanup Steps

Today, the board is comprised of those who performed the cleanup and newer trustees.  It is experienced in nonprofit management and ethics.  All audits are now clean and accounting and transcript systems have been standardized.  A comprehensive corrective overhaul has been achieved.

Revoked degrees
Meanwhile, our internal investigation found two degrees from the early days of the school that have failed scrutiny of the faculty and board. These degrees were improperly awarded by Mr. DeMille and, in accordance with policy, have been revoked.

We are especially concerned that any alumnus would use a credential to misrepresent themselves as an having expertise for which they are not properly qualified. The potential risk for causing public harm is real and justifies a public response.

The first of these degrees was awarded to a book author by the name of Ann Blake Tracy in 1995. Tracy’s student file contains conclusive evidence that the PhD authorized by Oliver DeMille was never earned by any coursework, but was simply awarded for Tracy’s presentation of a book she had already published entitled “Prozac: Panacea or Pandora.” There is no record of Tracy enrolling in, attending, or receiving grades for any regular classes. Notwithstanding this, Tracy’s degree was granted on equal terms with the degrees other students earned by completing formal PhD coursework, practica and supervised dissertations. Records also exist for her payment of tuition fees, which negates the possibility that it was an honorary degree. Still, favors for Tracy were granted, such as a 50% scholarship discount and allowance for delayed payment on her balance. From the correspondence on file, DeMille also displayed strong personal support for Tracy’s activism on the risks of anti-depressant drugs. Based on the available evidence, it is impossible to determine whether this ideological agreement contributed to their motives, but there is no excuse for this type of exception. It is unjustifiable and reprehensible.

The second degree was awarded to former Michigan congressman Mark D. Siljander in 1997, who ultimately became a close associate and friend of DeMille. Convicted in 2010 for lying to federal agents about his collaboration with an Islamic terrorist organization, this misconduct alone is sufficient cause for revoking his degree on grounds of violating the code of moral integrity and character this board requires to bear the name of the institution as one’s alma mater. Our investigation revealed, however, that Siljander’s PhD in International Business was another illegitimate and illegal exception carefully arranged by DeMille, and which never involved any coursework. Instead, Siljander’s file contains conclusive evidence that his degree was awarded for two improper sources of credit. First, Siljander was allowed to apply the same 56 hours of credit for which he had already been awarded his MA at Western Michigan University. Second, Siljander’s dissertation was comprised only of a post facto written description of his startup business venture that relied heavily upon his previous service as a congressman, combined with a marketing packet which the business utilized. For this he received 30 hours of life-experience credit. There is no record of Siljander enrolling in, attending, or receiving grades for any classes. Of particular interest is a letter on file from Siljander in 1994 lamenting the difficulty he had been experiencing while trying to earn a living as a former congressman without adequate credentials. In this letter, Siljander expressly suggested that he and DeMille could arrive at a creative solution with regard to these previously used credits in conjunction with life-experience credit in order to be awarded a PhD. He concluded by underscoring his capacity to benefit to the school in the future.

Again, this is an affront to the other alumni and students at GWU who earned their degrees by enrolling in and completing formal PhD coursework, practica and supervised dissertations. As with Tracy, this is unjustifiable and reprehensible. According to policy, these degrees have been revoked.

Separating non-conforming degrees
The board also discovered that transcripts and degrees earned when the school was under the governance of Coral Ridge Baptist University followed two different protocols. These overlapped for a span of several years leading up to the change in governance in 2001. The older of these protocols is incompatible with current policies, credit accounting and grading structure.  Such records are being separated out and designated as Coral Ridge Baptist University degrees only, and will not bear the George Wythe College or George Wythe University names.  Our intention is to return those degrees to the custodians of other CRBU degrees as their original parent institution.  Transcripts under the more recent system are generally compliant with those generated after 2001 and will be retained.  During the time that GWU remains the custodian of these degrees, they will not be kept in the same system as GWU degrees.

Recovery from inherited debt
With regard to finances, all unauthorized debt created by the previous administrations has either been resolved or restructured. Now that the institution has sufficiently recovered from the negligence inflicted upon it, it can finally speak openly and boldly for the benefit of its students and alumni without also causing them injury.

 

Lessons in Accountability and Integrity

It is the opinion of this board that the public should be safeguarded from the kind of mismanagement, deception and irresponsibility that the school previously suffered under DeMille and Brooks.  We condemn their actions in the strongest terms and without reservation.  The board stands with all who prize accountability and transparency in higher education, especially leaders who steadfastly honor the sacred trust of others and refuse to take shortcuts when pursuing their goals.  GWU students and alumni should look to the mistakes of the school’s former administrators and glean the valuable lessons to be learned.  Meanwhile, the GWU pedagogy continues to bear the same historic legacy as other classical liberal arts colleges—independent of any administrator, mentor or professor, past or present.

While the university’s more recent leaders have sacrificed greatly to right the wrongs of the past, students should look back over generations to the namesake of the school for their inspiration.  The man George Wythe was diligent in all he did.  He served with utter integrity.  This virtue was central to how he raised a generation of equally humble and honest statesmen.  This is the legacy to emulate.  He was grateful and content to serve with no boasting, exaggeration or fanfare, but only for the promise of virtue, diligence and integrity in his students.  Such should be the humble and courageous goal of every alumnus with regard to their classical education at George Wythe University.

 

Concluding Remarks

In short, for the past four years GWU has operated under a fundamentally new governing board.  Our intervention plan toward a viable institution was developed under the helpful guidance of generous individuals in peer institutions, management consulting, state government, and our accreditation agency.  This was the only path to fulfilling our mission—by operating under the best practices expected of all classical liberal arts colleges.  Any other approach would have left the alumni unfairly handicapped for life.  Although difficult, it has been a worthwhile privilege to serve these excellent and deserving students.

The real tragedy, of course, is that none of this had to happen.  Shortcuts are never necessary.  Academic integrity is no secret.  The greatest stewardship of a college president is to protect the honor, credibility and reputations of the students and alumni in his trust.  Anything that undermines this is inexcusable.  Likewise, ethics and best practices in non-profit management are no mystery. They comprise simple, well-established patterns that the original founders of GWU could have implemented decades ago had they only played by the rules, acted honorably at all times and adhered to integrity from the beginning.

Meanwhile, the new trajectory of the school has opened the door to leadership of a higher caliber.  The curriculum, while already strong, has been further refined and fortified.  Accountability and testing standards are also more rigorous, and our alumni continue to place in highly ranked graduate programs.  More than at any previous time, we confidently look forward to a bright future of preparing diligent, earnest students for meaningful lives as humble and capable leaders.  May they continue in their commitment to serve their fellow man with virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage.

Sincerely,

The George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees

Diann Jeppson, Chair
Fred Hunzeker, Treasurer
Julie Earley, Curriculum Committee
Monte Bledsoe, Special Committee on Contracts
Chandra Brown, PR Committee

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why hasn’t the board pursued legal action against Brooks and DeMille?

This has been considered many times.  A number of egregious actions took place that could justify a legal response. These include Brooks’ subsequent positioning of diverted and lost GWU expenditures and resources to benefit his current proprietary school in Monticello, Utah.  At minimum, this is certainly a breach of ethics.  We determined, however, that neither Brooks nor DeMille possessed the kind of assets that could recover the substantial losses to the school and its students.  We concluded that cutting our losses and keeping resources focused on making necessary institutional corrections during the transition period was the higher priority.  Any need to pursue justice, if actually viable, could wait until after the school had recovered.

 

Meanwhile, Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection has also taken notice.  Even though GWU had dismissed Brooks eighteen months earlier, the Division added a stipulation to the school’s licensing requirements that included the permanent banishment of Brooks from ever returning to a position of authority over handling funds at the school at any time in the future.  The board agreed wholeheartedly and signed the agreement without reservation.

 

Why did it take so long for the board to take action?

The initial board was assembled by DeMille, Brooks and Sills through the appointment of people who already trusted them.  For change to take place, the removal of the school’s founders was essential, but they still occupied the roles of board chair, university president and chancellor.  Additionally, DeMille usually served as “acting chair” due to Sills rarely being present.  This locked in an administrative conflict of interest, which was only questioned as the new trustees began to rise in numbers toward a tipping point.  Once fresh leadership was in place on the board, cleaning up the administration could finally begin.

 

Why were some degrees offered in the 1990s that were not in the catalog?

Under the DeMille administration during the Coral Ridge years, several degrees were named by listing the student’s emphasis as the degree name itself.  This was not only confusing and inappropriate, it violated the school’s religious exemption and was unlawful.  The degrees originally named in this manner were all awarded prior to 2001 while the college was under Coral Ridge.  These are now under review in order to correct them retroactively to a basic “liberal arts” degree, with each student’s emphasis only attached as an appendage.  Florida and Utah statutes are being consulted to ensure that the proper naming rules are applied. These will also be separated and removed from the larger body of GWU degrees.

 

Should there really be a Constitutional Law degree?

Doctoral students themselves were the first to complain about this misnamed degree, citing their frustration having to explain to others that it was not a degree for practicing law.  Today it has been properly renamed Constitutional Studies and officially updated with the state of Utah.

 

A few doctoral degrees are known to have dissertations that appear to be unrelated to their degree names.  Are these included in the degrees under review?

Yes.  Previous administrations took unjustifiable liberties with those degrees and they are included in the group under review.  Misaligned dissertations will require corrective measures to be taken to ensure that no confusion remains.

 

Does the breach of ethics by the founders render moot the value of the mission statement of the school? (To build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.)

The mission statement was not created by the school’s founders, but by two committees of trustees, students and faculty.  The verbiage arose from these committees over separate retreats in 1995 and 1996 for that purpose.  The tradition of reciting it before class arose directly from a student as well.  The mission statement is not the product of any single person.  Its value and mandate are timeless.  For students, alumni and the educations they received, the words are as true now as before, if not more so.

 

What was the financial impact of former leadership’s actions?

In 2007 the previous administration still maintained undue influence over the board of trustees.  Despite growing resistance on the board, with considerable misgivings it ultimately succumbed to pressure to accept a Monticello campus proposal. This was for a more limited campus than what the administration later presented to the public. After lobbying to utilize the school’s modest endowment, the previous leadership encumbered the school with an additional $230,000 in debt related to the project, also without board approval.  Recovering from this while keeping the doors open required exceptionally lean operations in order to maximize cost savings.  This came at great personal sacrifice to faculty, staff and some of the newer trustees to a sum of several hundred thousand dollars.

 

Why couldn’t the school simply raise funds to cover costs?

Although previous leadership injured the school with needless debt, even more serious was how they damaged institutional reputation, and, as a consequence, the capacity to raise funds.  Over time, their misconduct surrounding diplomas and irresponsible management became known in the major business and donor communities.  Despite the founders being removed, such groups and individuals still associated the school with the founders’ names.

It soon became clear to the newer trustees why the school had historically struggled to earn the trust of major donors. It was plain to all that in order to fundraise on the scale of successful peer institutions, a complete institutional cleansing, purging and rebranding would need to take place.

 

Was the board united at all times in these decisions and plans?

Not at first.  It’s important to realize that trustees often became aware of the founders’ indiscretions at the same time as the public.  Quite understandably, some struggled with denial for a time while newer trustees were immediately appalled and highly concerned for the school.  Meanwhile, several of the top alumni had recently entered law school and other graduate programs, with numerous others on similar trajectories.  With all student degrees at risk, this is what prompted those trustees who remain on the board today to take action and make the sacrifices necessary to salvage the institution.

 

Why was Andrew Groft chosen as interim president to replace Brooks?

The mentoring pedagogy at GWU is based largely on the Socratic seminar and Oxford tutorial models. This results in closer administration/faculty/student relationships than usually found in higher education. When the board of trustees removed DeMille and Brooks from their leadership roles, a familiar name to students was needed to serve as interim president as a placeholder.  Due to Andrew Groft’s familiarity in the classroom, he fit this requirement.  He was approached and agreed to serve temporarily for a year while we made other improvements and sought a more permanent replacement.  When that year was completed, his successor, Dr. Schulthies, was asked to replace him.

 

Did Andrew Groft’s legal issues occur while serving as president?

No.  His offense occurred several months after he stopped working for the school.  We have no evidence of such misconduct during the time he worked for GWU.

 

Why was Shane Schulthies chosen as president?

Dr. Schulthies matched the goals of the board more closely than any of the candidates interviewed.  His experience helped the board usher in a potent curriculum enhancement in which leadership ethics became a central focus of classroom simulations throughout a student’s years at GWU.  This unique addition was an extension of his earlier role as chair of the Human Subjects Committee at BYU, which enforced ethical standards in all studies involving human subjects at their three campuses.

 

Hasn’t Diann Jeppson, the chair who led the board’s transformation, also co-authored a book with DeMille and promoted his work?

Diann Jeppson had a business relationship with DeMille in the past, but she has discontinued that relationship.

 

Do you still use Skousen’s 5000 Year Leap in the curriculum?

Skousen’s works are no longer used in our curriculum.  As a classical liberal arts college, we prioritize the use of original sources whenever possible.  The writings of Skousen are too far removed in that regard, generally being consumer texts for the lay reader.

 

Who was Shanon Brooks’ supervisor during the financial mismanagement of his term as president in 2008? Didn’t he act on his own, independently from DeMille?

DeMille was the direct supervisor over Brooks at all times of his employment with the school. Even when Brooks was briefly promoted to President in 2008, he still answered solely to DeMille, whose title was correspondingly raised to Chancellor. At no time in the school’s history has Brooks ever acted without the full legal and administrative accountability to DeMille as his only direct supervisor and employer.

 

Contradictory accounts of DeMille’s resignation from the board have been circulated. Was his departure in fact the result of board action? Didn’t he resign on his own for health reasons?

The following account has been carefully reviewed and verified by the Board of Trustees and the presiding administration at the time for accuracy:

During 2009 and 2010, DeMille served in two positions. One was administrative (chancellor) and the other was on the board of trustees. DeMille’s primary responsibility as chancellor was direct oversight of the president. In early 2009 when the first evidences of administrative misconduct began to come to light, DeMille resigned from this role on his own, citing health problems. The board simultaneously eliminated the position of chancellor altogether and DeMille’s role on the board became more dormant.

By mid-2010 the board had accomplished a great deal of institutional cleanup, written new policies, hired a new president, and was preparing for even more assertive steps. This need intensified when the Utah Division of Consumer Protection performed an audit on GWU that year. Based on the track record of the previous administrations, they put the school on notice that it was going to be closed. By this time, however, DeMille had not attended a board conference call for over a year and rarely answered board e-mails, rendering his role primarily inactive while the rest of the board conducted the cleanup. Despite this, one of the Divisions’ central concerns was that they didn’t believe we were, in fact, truly a new governing body. Since DeMille was still listed as a trustee at that time, and the only remaining trustee who had filled administrative roles during the years investigated, his resignation was a key action necessary for establishing the fact of new governance, and to therefore prevent the closure of the school.

In the board discussions that ensued, DeMille’s health was never cited as the reason for him to resign. Board dialogue exclusively dealt with completing its cleanup goals, redeeming the institution with state authorities and salvaging the reputation of the school. The procedure decided upon to remove him was to first use persuasion by asking him to leave willingly so that he could avoid the public spectacle of being voted off the board. Our primary concern was to spare the students unnecessary controversy and turmoil while we completed this necessary change. The board chair, Diann Jeppson, and recently appointed GWU President, Dr. Schulthies, were jointly assigned the task.

In the board discussion surrounding the decision, however, the board’s intentions were inadvertently included in an e-mail copied to the DeMilles. This was met with a prompt phone call from the DeMilles to the board chair. In that conversation, Jeppson explained that to save the school from closure, DeMille had to resign in order to demonstrate to state authorities that the new governance was, in fact, not under his influence. The chair then repeated this in an immediate follow-up email to the DeMilles. In her response, however, and out of politeness, Jeppson did attempt to soften the demand by adding references to DeMille’s health and acknowledging his contributions to the school. This was understandable, given her personal friendship and her dilemma of still having business ties with DeMille at the time. She still made it clear, however, that the board was insisting on DeMille’s departure for the sake of the school’s survival.

This communication was followed by a phone call between the DeMilles and President Schulthies. In this call, Schulthies repeated the formal request for DeMille’s resignation in clear and direct terms, again with no mention of his health. He expressly informed them that the board was united in their purpose, and that if DeMille didn’t resign, the board would vote him off without his resignation. DeMille then formally resigned via email, although citing his health as the reason. His resignation was then shared with the proper authorities at the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and his name was removed from the board roster. This was an essential step toward restoring trust and credibility with the state of Utah’s authorizing agency in order for GWU to continue operating during 2010.