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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Why Mission-Based Scholarships?

by President Boyle on August 6, 2013

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Back in May I had the privilege of speaking at Commencement for George Wythe University in the Utah State Capitol. It was a delightful, even emotional experience for me, one that revived fond memories of my own college years as a student serving at the legislature in those same hallowed halls only a brief eon ago. I was especially moved to see the determined optimism in the graduates’ faces against the backdrop of their families—their commitment to the cause of liberty and virtue, prepared now to embark with a sense of mission in service to their fellow man.

Our purpose at George Wythe University is to advance the cause of liberty. The requirements for this are virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, without which liberty would fail—as has occurred many times throughout history. But how can small numbers of such leaders impact a society enough to truly make a real difference?

It is no secret that government, media and education shape our society disproportionately to any other sectors today. The positions of influence within these three have become the main battlefronts for society’s hearts and minds, preferences and tastes, even its understanding of right and wrong. If we are serious about reshaping society, then we must be equally serious about engaging on those battlefields where the stakes are highest for generating influence. As I noted in a previous article:

Imagine the impact of sending out an army of wise, good and principled attorneys who then become lawmakers and even judges; firmly grounded teachers who then start entire schools; fearless reporters and writers steeped in the principles of liberty who possess the skills to not be silenced, some who even go on to produce documentaries and feature films. The impact of all of these would reach into the thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions.

Providing a way for a student to focus his commitment through a scholarship can be a powerful way to help him prepare. The sense of mission can propel a young person on a course to be of great use. Notwithstanding this, our lives are organic and not entirely our own. The journey often changes course with many surprises, and it’s those surprises that prepare us even further. The vital element, however, is being committed to embark on a path.

Allow me to offer a personal example.

Reflecting on the early steps of my own journey, although I certainly worked hard, I cannot take credit for the remarkable experiences and opportunities that came. 1975 was a banner year for me. My ambition at the time was to eventually serve as an elected official in order to shape public policy for conservative values. As a college student I had served at the Utah legislature, but had since transferred to Princeton. During the coming years I would meet a series of mentors who would shape my future in ways I could never anticipate.

As one introduction led to another, soon I was asked to join the staff of U.S. Senator Wallace Bennett, and then began working as National Chairman to the March of Dimes youth program. The position mainly involved weekend fly-outs to other national youth groups to lead service projects, but it also familiarized me with President Ford’s staff in Washington D.C.

Then one day, an unexpected and very early morning call came from the White House, asking me if I would serve on President Ford’s Advisory Commission on Refugees. I was asked in rather point blank manner to be in Washington the next week to meet with the President of the United States. Saigon had barely fallen and the country was shaken, and one issue confronting us then was how to handle resettling our friends from South Vietnam. Shortly afterward, I was on “Air Force Two” headed to tour a Vietnamese refugee resettlement camp at Fort Chafee, Arkansas. Keep in mind that these refugees had fought diligently to preserve freedom during the Vietnam War only to finally lose it. These relationships and experiences left an indelible mark on me as time passed.

As the 1970s rolled into the 80s and beyond, I earned a number of advanced degrees that supported my conservative values, specifically for religious liberty. This included a law degree from Columbia, Burger_Boyle_caption.jpgwhich ultimately led to the privilege of being selected to serve as a law clerk at the United States Supreme Court for Chief Justice Warren Burger. There I learned the inner workings of the Court, including its strengths and weaknesses. As one assignment led to another, I also become acquainted with not only the other Justices and the cabinets of the Presidents, but also personally with President Ronald Reagan. My duties further led to meeting with Presidents Carter and Nixon as well, but I’ll save those stories for another time. The lessons I learned from Reagan are worth explaining.

My acquaintance with President Reagan began in the Oval Office in 1987 and ended with two three-day work sessions in 1990. I had been asked to assist in the production of a documentary on the Constitution and the Presidency, which the James Madison Foundation now uses for constitutional education.

In office and out, President Reagan was both shrewd and dependable, but above all one notices while being around him for any length of time that Reagan as an individual radiated spiritual peace. I certainly felt almost a healing power in his presence.

Watching him answer questions I also realized again how false the media portrayals of President Reagan could be when he was wrongly painted as somehow not intellectually quick. Now, I could see how someone not paying full attention might make such a misjudgment. Sometimes Reagan’s depth of substance led to his picking over his words so carefully that he could appear not to know what to say. Such an impression however was false. President Reagan would, in the sessions of answering rigorous constitutional questions, typically pause and think before speaking. Where a shallower person would be glib and loquacious, while really saying nothing, Reagan, in fact, would utter statements with substance. Focus, not a lack of brain power, led to President Reagan’s style of expression.

Anyone around him for any length of time absolutely knew this. Unlike presidents before and after, those closest to President Reagan were inspired by the man to complete personal loyalty. reagan_boyle_caption2.jpgHe was a beloved leader for who he truly was, and I know I loved him too.

He was also a vivid example of a servant on a mission for influence that switched tracks: a film actor, of all things, turned governor and then the president to mark the fall of European Communism. But his foundation was real. Ronald Reagan, I feel qualified to conclude, was a constitutional scholar who also had internalized the substantive values of that Constitution. We are only now beginning to get historical perspective on his greatness. There is therefore hope for those of us who are similarly grounded, but who may not always be ready to express ourselves when a particular answer involves the application of our most fundamental political and spiritual values.

Consistently humble and sincere, time with him was an education in virtue, both private and public.

Over time my aspirations to become an elected official changed. It became clear to me that my true purpose was to advise and to teach. Nonetheless, it was my initial commitment that set me on the trajectory, one filled with unexpected opportunities to serve, to make a difference, and to learn from the wisest of fellow servants. The crossover benefits to myself and to others could not be planned though, since this was not really in my hands, but the hands—as is true of all of us—of a greater wisdom above.

Coming forward to the present, my calling, as before, is yet again to advise and to teach—but this time with lessons from the voyage: to help students setting out on their own. Today the stakes are greater than ever. If we fail this generation, the culture will not sustain.

It was with this in mind that we at the University created mission-based scholarships. I know from experience that good things happen when we set ourselves on highly-aimed trajectories. Part of that includes being in the right place at the right time.

In 1765, the inquisitive 22-year old Thomas Jefferson was still in many ways a regular college student. Although studying the law under George Wythe at the time, he had not yet “caught fire” to be launched on the great trajectory of his future.

On May 30th of that year, Jefferson was engaged in the favorite pastime of any other student at William and Mary—entertaining himself at the House of Burgesses by watching the legislative debates. On that day, however, he was fortunate enough to see the newly-elected delegate, Patrick Henry, deliver his Caesar-Brutus speech as he presented his resolutions against the Stamp Act.

By Jefferson’s own account, he was standing in the doorway, riveted to every word, when a spark ignited within him.

For the rest of his life Thomas Jefferson would refer to that moment as the catalyst for his commitment to the cause of liberty and to good government. From that time forward, evidence of his growing passion increased in his journals, studies and activities—a passion to become manifest in his deeper exploration of the natural “inalienable” rights of man, and the philosophies supporting this central tenet.

His ensuing friendships with Patrick Henry and many others intersecting through the hub of Williamsburg set the stage for much of the history we all know. But the serendipity that led to these opportunities was magnified first by proximity to a state legislature.

It should also come as no surprise that so many statesmen emerged from that same college, just minutes from the halls of Virginia’s government. Combined with good mentoring, state legislatures are the seedbeds, laboratories and incubators of statesmanship.

Today, new statesmen do exist. And as before, they can often be found in state legislatures, even if only in small numbers. With our classes held within a short walk, and sometimes even inside the Utah Capitol, the sharpest legislators are not only able, but are quite willing and eager to participate with our students as they did so generously this past school year. As with my own experiences, and those of the young Thomas Jefferson, the mentors are always ready. hyland.jpgThe nexus for the magic of Williamsburg is what we have now replicated at George Wythe University. It is a prototype for even greater things to come.

With student life enmeshed with the Capitol, opportunities abound—but still only to a point. The key ingredient is found in the heart of the committed student.

This is where the scholarship steps in. It has become a truism that no reliable correlation exists between a student’s potential, his preparation, his commitment—and his ability to afford tuition. Moreover, this type of education often requires upward of 60 hours of study per week. With this load, we recognize how difficult it can be to maintain the depth needed in a student’s inquiry and study—and how particularly challenging this achievement can be when excessive hours are needed for employment.

Meanwhile, the key battlefronts of influence where freedom will either advance or retreat—government, media and education—remain under-manned from the side of those who champion liberty and virtue. This is another reason for our creation of these scholarships.

When the young Thomas Jefferson stood in that doorway at age 22, he had no way of knowing his true trajectory, but he did have an interest in the law and the rights of man, and to study seriously under the wisest teachers. My own experience was nowhere as illustrious as his, but I did have aspirations to serve. And although my path took courses I could never have predicted, it was the effort plus my education that helped put me in the right places at just the right times for those new opportunities to arise.

This is not to disparage those who wish to gain a classical education simply for its own benefit. By all means, such is a worthy endeavor. Mission-based scholarships, however, form a structure for building future statesmen—whether it feels to us at the time that we are on our own trajectories, or if we discover at some point that other purposes were in store. In either case, the key is the commitment of the student to embark. Providence can steer his momentum.

In today’s battle the hour is late. The call to rise up is both literal and urgent. Those with the mettle of commitment and love of country written upon their hearts are needed, particularly in the sectors of greatest influence. It is for you and your future service that we have created these scholarships, to magnify your impact to its fullest.

May God bless you as you join us in this cause.

President Ashby D. Boyle

View the explanation and terms of Mission-Based Scholarships >>

Ashby D. Boyle II is the President of George Wythe University. Dr. Boyle served as a Law Clerk to the 15th Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the United States Supreme Court. He also was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the President’s Advisory Committee on Refugees after the fall of Saigon. Additionally, he served on the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Boyle graduated with Honors from Princeton University and received law degrees from the University of Cambridge in England, as well as the Columbia Law School in New York City, where he was an editor of the Columbia Human Rights Journal and a Charles Evans Hughes Fellow. He went on to receive from Yale a Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A., where he also taught a variety of courses. Dr. Boyle is a practicing attorney in both New York and Utah. Learn more about President Boyle here.

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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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Message from the President

by President Boyle on August 1, 2013

When accepting a position as University President, it’s natural to be asked questions. The most compelling of these for me is the simplest. Why choose to lead this institution?

The reasons are many, but to provide the best understanding I need to tell a story from the years when I taught at Yale.

In a discussion group for a class entitled “Religious Ethics and Modern Moral Problems,” it so happened one day that for an example of altruism I used the story of the Good Samaritan. This might seem mundane enough of an example, but at my mention of this story, the class gasped. Room temperature dropped. I felt a distinct chill. All of my friendly and extraordinarily intelligent undergraduate students stared. Blankly. Silently.

Something, even I could realize, had just gone terribly wrong. I was, after all, a long way from home, and to boot suffered from foot-in-the-mouth syndrome. Perhaps I had thought “Good Samaritan” but said in actuality something completely unrelated, like “the ethics of class naturalism will be your mid-term; you can sign-up for an office visit after class.”

As I searched their faces, it became plain what had happened. The students had drawn a blank and were experiencing “Yale anxiety,” a problem at the University that is a function of an undergraduate’s self-loathing fear of a low grade point average. Unfamiliar with the story, they were stumped. Inadvertently, I had caused the whole class “brain freeze.”

We then read the story of the Good Samaritan.

The class came alive with questions. After all, these were bright students whose intelligence tests at around the 99th percentile. But my own wake-up call about scriptural and moral illiteracy was that day ripened into a fixed concern. Indeed, future lawmakers, educators, and leaders in the media—the most powerful influencers that shape our society—will continue to rise up by passing through our elite universities.

We can find scriptural illiteracy nowadays without looking for it. Examples abound. I recall a random “person on the street” question broadcast on a late-night talk show (Jay Leno’s). The question was who wrote the four New Testament Gospels. A young woman, obviously sincere, responded to the question: “John, Paul, George and Ringo.”

Whether in the ivy-covered ivory towers or on Santa Monica Blvd., the Good Samaritan has clearly suffered trivialization within our culture through secularization, perhaps destined to become known as only an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question (“Genius Edition”).

Of course, scriptural literacy wasn’t lost in a day. Once a default tome of the classical canon and the beginning of any liberal arts education, the Framers of the Constitution were well versed in such matters, as were practically all college graduates even up through the mid-20th century. Indeed, questions of morality and the relationship between man and God were central to the comprehensive, classical approach to learning. And for millennia, Western Civilization had depended upon our asking such questions. Yet here before me were the nation’s brightest, most gifted and advantaged students at the upper crust of the education universe—and they had been deprived of that discussion and the ensuing enrichment. Moreover, it is impossible to fully and contextually explore ancient and modern philosophies in the absence of the big questions asked about Deity throughout history. We must always return to those fundamentals that humbly remind us of the nature of man and why virtue and goodness matter. This urgency was underscored by our second president, John Adams, as he famously wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Indeed, virtue is a condition for preserving liberty itself, and the vital portions of the classical canon that make us ponder it cannot be omitted.

Meanwhile, the key societal battlefronts where virtue and liberty advance or retreat have long been lamented for being dominated by forces antagonistic to them. Consequently, the urgency at GWU is to establish a solid classical foundation in its students and to groom effective leaders of opinion, future statesmen and societal influencers capable of reversing this trend.

Since the 1990s, advocates for conservatism and liberty began calling for a fresh approach to America’s culture war by placing new institutions parallel to their capitulated counterparts—to compete with them toe-to-toe for the hearts and minds of the mainstream public. From news media to entertainment to education, today the first goal has become to restore at least a semblance of ideological balance within the Millennial generation. Shaping public policy is critical, but shaping public opinion is paramount. It is the only realistic means of tipping the culture back with lasting traction.

The purpose of GWU is to build statesmen. In turn, those statesmen will reclaim ground lost on those key influential battlefronts where the damage has been greatest. These are also the sectors that wield the most potent levers of persuasion for shaping and shifting society. Simply put, they are:

Law and government
Education (at all levels)
Media (both news and entertainment)

The most promising persuasive force for shifting public opinion in favor of preserving liberty will come from principled leaders, prepared as the Founders were with classical educations, and placed in these three sectors. Fortified with virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, they will be prepared to win the trust of society. A strategically designed classical foundation is central.

But this kind of preparation is not easy, and it is not for everyone. It is immensely rewarding, but it is intense. The hours of study, the simulations, the delivery of speeches, the oral exams, the research, the writing, the high-stakes internships with lawmakers, attorneys, schools and media outlets—this all requires a serious commitment. It is typically the hardest thing a student will have done in his life. But as anyone who has done it can attest, it is worth the effort.

Meanwhile, there is neither talent nor time to waste.

For many years I had the privilege to serve at both the White House and the Supreme Court. My close up encounters in the battle over American society and culture were frequent. However, my experiences in the classroom, first as a student and later while teaching at Yale, illustrated a root cause of the problem: the secularization of our society, beginning with education, supported by media, reinforced by legislation and then, finally, confirmed by the courts—and subsequently every sector that looks to those courts as the great teacher of what is right, good and correct.

That said, it’s only a matter of time before the Supreme Court might be cornered into acknowledging that our new national religion is Secularity.

As of this writing, two federal Courts of Appeal have heard cases attacking Secularity as our nation’s established religion. One of those appeals came from a district court’s holding that, yes, it is now the case that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was violated by a school board’s establishment of Secularity as a religion. Grove v. Mead School District, 753 F.2d 1528, 1534 (CA9 1985).

So, events have overtaken my chance to be an alarmist.

Ratified by numerous Supreme Court decisions, the United States of America has now become a secularized nation.

I may seem biased and disrespectful of the Court in criticizing it. My defense is that if one feels that I am disrespectful, then it’s time to re-read Shakespeare’s King Lear.

As a former law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I am saddened. But those who love the Court the most cannot keep up the flattery. Specifically, the Supreme Court under our system of constitutional government is the only federal entity charged by the Constitution, as the Court will allow, to protect religion as a substantive value, which is a sacred duty imposed under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

Decades of wrong decisions have built, brick by brick, a new wall of separation—but this wall separates the Justices from this very duty imposed under the Religion Clauses by the Constitution.

Not even the constitutional heroism of its minority of stalwart conservatives could finally move the Supreme Court into a place from which religious liberty, morality and even freedom itself could find safe harbor. In recent rulings we have seen this trend accelerate.

Incremental reform means taking back one precedential brick at a time every six or seven years. In the alternative, as Robert Bork wrote in Life Magazine back in the 1960′s, “The Supreme Court needs a new philosophy.”

Given the momentum against us, brick by brick deconstruction may well be a fool’s errand. “You’d have to be crazy to think that,” to quote a Justice who shall remain nameless.

Instead, we need to fight theory with theory, ideas with ideas. But where? Both in the preparation of new attorneys and judges for the courts, and within the culture. After all, all power ultimately rests with the people, even whether to preserve the Constitution at all. This is, in fact, doable. The battlefronts for the hearts and minds of our society, including our courts, need not be surrendered forever.

This is why I have accepted this position at George Wythe University. It combines the best of the classical Great Books programs of institutions like St. John’s and Thomas Aquinas College, as well as many of my classes at Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Cambridge—and adds the real world application of extraordinary simulations and internships. Keeping one’s moral compass attuned as well, this is a potent combination. As President Lincoln noted, “The philosophy of the classroom today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow.”

Chosen carefully for commitment and talent, each of the select graduates we prepare can have an enormous multiplier effect. Imagine the impact of sending out an army of wise, good and principled attorneys who then become lawmakers and even judges; firmly grounded teachers who then start entire schools; fearless reporters and writers steeped in the principles of liberty who possess the skills to not be silenced, some who even go on to produce documentaries and feature films. The impact of all of these would reach into the thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions.

In the words of the indomitable Winston Churchill, “This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.” Let me add that it is also a time to recognize the source of our courage and confidence—because peace of mind comes whenever we engage fully in an utterly worthy cause, especially when defending those inalienable rights endowed by the Creator of us all. It is a cause in which we are all honored and humbled to participate.

 

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Ashby D. Boyle II is the President of George Wythe University. Dr. Boyle served as a Law Clerk to the 15th Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the United States Supreme Court. He also was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the President’s Advisory Committee on Refugees after the fall of Saigon. Additionally, he served on the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Boyle graduated with Honors from Princeton University and received law degrees from the University of Cambridge in England, as well as the Columbia Law School in New York City, where he was an editor of the Columbia Human Rights Journal and a Charles Evans Hughes Fellow. He went on to receive from Yale a Ph.D., M.Phil. and M.A., where he also taught a variety of courses. Dr. Boyle is a practicing attorney in both New York and Utah. Learn more about President Boyle here.

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GWU Board Announces New University President

by Board of Trustees on July 26, 2013

Four years ago George Wythe University began an intensive administrative overhaul and cleanup of both its financial practices and academic records. Today we are pleased to announce the president who will complete final details of the cleanup process and lead GWU into a bold and bright future, Dr. Ashby Boyle II. As General Counsel for the University over the summer, Dr. Boyle is intimately familiar with the full history of the school, from its origins in 1992 to its painstaking turnaround starting in 2009—up to the present. Few match his understanding of GWU’s past, or his commitment to its future.
Dr. Boyle
Dr. Boyle holds a total of seven degrees, which he earned at Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Cambridge, and he is intimately familiar with the classical canon of Western Civilization that comprises GWU’s expansion of the Great Books curriculum. A former adviser to President Ford and law clerk for Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court, Dr. Boyle also taught religious ethics and other subjects at Yale for five years. Utterly committed to the cause of liberty, he has received awards and fellowships to conduct research on Spain’s transformation from a fascist dictatorship to a constitutional form of government, to teach property law, and to publish a critique of religious jurisprudence at the Supreme Court. He is also a practicing attorney in New York and Utah. Dr. Boyle is uniquely qualified to both lead and teach at an institution devoted to mentoring the classics for the virtues of statesmanship. You can learn more about Dr. Boyle in his official bio.

Dr. Boyle also brings a host of valuable associates gained over his illustrious career—an asset of reputation and future recommendations that will significantly benefit GWU students as they seek opportunities in their quest to move the cause of liberty. Both administratively and legally, few people are as qualified as Dr. Boyle to serve as president of GWU to complete its cleanup, and to lead its students into a bold future.

As we celebrate new leadership, we would be ungrateful if we did not affectionately thank our most recent president, Dr. Schulthies, for paving the way for this development. During his tenure, President Schulthies introduced a vital ethics component into the curriculum and he raised the academic bar to the present level. At the same time, he tirelessly sacrificed to work on solving the serious administrative problems he inherited, a labor for which we are all deeply grateful and indebted. We anticipate great things of him in his next administrative role as Headmaster of John Adams Academy in Roseville, California. As a favorite instructor among students, we are also pleased that he will remain on the GWU faculty to teach via live video feed into the classroom of future semesters—a use of technology we now utilize with other select faculty as well.

Meanwhile, we are delighted today to announce the appointment of President Boyle. With Fall Semester rapidly approaching he is busily preparing new faculty and expanding our alliances at the State Capitol the Courts and with the media. Having participated in this year’s Statesmanship Invitational as well as Commencement (the highlights from which you can view here), plans are already underway to further enhance these and other inspiring events. We now look forward to a fresh new horizon that is richer than ever—one filled with even greater opportunities for our students as they fulfill their missions while moving the cause of liberty.

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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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