Response to DeMille-Brooks Lawsuit

by Board of Trustees on December 11, 2015

Given the strength of our documentation and protocols when investigating invalid degrees, we were surprised on December 10 to receive a legal complaint of defamation from Oliver DeMille, Shanon Brooks and Monticello College. We are presently seeking legal analysis and will respond with more detail if needed.

On the initial reading, however, the allegations appear to be a bizarre and frivolous attempt to deny and halt our revoking of illegitimate degrees, and to prevent us from keeping the public informed.  In some ways this may descend even below the level of a frivolous lawsuit. To see DeMille and Brooks now seeking to undermine our efforts to clean up their academic offenses shows a stunning disregard for the alumni, who have been leading the work to repair this damage for several years.

Meanwhile, no university revokes degrees for light or fictitious reasons.  Policies are followed and solid documentation is standard. We will not be deterred from completing our final disciplinary actions on illegitimate degrees of the past.  Moreover, identifying the former administrators who participated in or committed these acts is part of basic evidence reporting, and failure to fully disclose this would have weakened and destroyed what is a standard cleanup process.  Our duty is to the students, alumni and the public. The facts of record speak for themselves and we fully expect this lawsuit to be dismissed.

We have also shared the lawsuit filing with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, the regulators with whom we have worked closely over the years to clean up the problems we inherited.

Meanwhile, our students and alumni continue to need their degrees validated as they enter graduate schools each year, and advance in their chosen fields and public service. As always, protecting the integrity of legitimately earned credentials for the just benefit of alumni and students will remain our top priority.

To summarize, DeMille and Brooks’ new implication that our cleanup has been merely a plot to discredit them is ludicrous.  For our volunteer board, this lengthy cleanup has only occurred as a costly endeavor of personal sacrifice. Our duty is simple—to give an accurate accounting to all George Wythe stakeholders, and to clear those alumni who diligently earned their degrees.  We will continue undeterred and not allow baseless, frivolous distractions to delay our cleanup progress.

Response to Tribune article on George Wythe University

by Board of Trustees on October 21, 2015

Update 10/22/15:  Since receiving our response below, the Tribune has made some minor corrections to their story.

This morning the Salt Lake Tribune published an article on the winding down of George Wythe University. We read with interest and while some of it was accurate, we were quite disappointed in a number of misleading statements that were 180 degrees from the truth. These had both the specific and cumulative effect of painting a false image, particularly of the present situation and future plans.

The facts of record are below with explanations:

We will not merge with a “for-profit unaccredited” school
We were shocked to see the Tribune’s statement that GWU would “likely merge with another for-profit, unaccredited school.” The Tribune was fully aware that this kind of school is the precise opposite of our plans. During our recorded interview we spoke clearly about how important accreditation was to us and our students, including the problems of unaccredited schools. The word “another” also implies that GWU is likewise a “for-profit” school, which we are not, and never have been. The Tribune fully knew this, having even received our IRS form 990. Indeed, we would prefer intentionally closing the school as soon as the cleanup is completed before letting it be acquired by a for-profit unaccredited college. In fact, a non-profit institution with full accreditation has always been our only consideration.

We don’t believe the state should “save” unaccredited schools
The Tribune claimed that we “believe the state should play a role in saving future unaccredited schools.” Quite the opposite. GWU is exploring legislation that would protect students, not schools, and certainly not to “save unaccredited schools.” The legislation would add safeguards that protect the integrity of student records, to help prevent administrative fraud during any years a school is without accreditation.  We were shocked that the Tribune twisted this in reverse, despite even having a copy of draft legislation, and despite our clear conversation about accreditation being a priority.

It was GWU who approached the Division for help with the clean up, initiating it on our own
The Tribune carefully portrayed all of our actions to clean the school and fix problems as simply corrective actions imposed on us by the Division of Consumer Protection. In reality, it was we who approached the Division to ask for help in solving complex problems with student records, etc., and to clean up the messes left by previous administrations (see our 2015 Cleanup Statement). The Division has always worked with us in a spirit of cooperation, not as adversaries.

The attempt to discredit the Board using misrepresentation
The Tribune claimed that two board members, “didn’t make themselves available for a personal credit check as required.” Every board member fully “made himself available” providing all the information for their personal credit checks. Only in the school’s bank processing was there a problem, which required two forms to be re-submitted by our office staff. Those board members were never even aware of this technical problem. Our settlement agreement with the state, which the Tribune has, explains this event, and never suggests in any way that the two board members had any knowledge of the procedural error by the school. There is no basis for the Tribune to imply that any board members refused to make themselves available for anything. Yet they did more than imply it, they even claimed it.

Acquisition discussions have been ongoing for 4 years, contingent upon successful cleanup
The Tribune implies that under the threat of the state forcing a closure of the school we have only recently begun to explore the possibility of acquisition. Yet the Tribune was well informed that we have been on this trajectory since 2011 as the final stage of a thorough institutional cleanup. Discussions with potential acquisition groups have been ongoing, awaiting the completion of this work. This was both explained and delivered to the Tribune in our 2015 announcement which they received before the publication of their article.

The school is not revoking “only a handful of the worst degrees”
The Tribune stated that we are seeking only to revoke “a handful of the most egregious degrees,” implying that some remainder of the most egregious degrees will be overlooked. They have no basis for this supposition of laxity. Three degrees have already been revoked and they ignore this (see our initial cleanup announcement in 2013). Eight more are slated for revocation hearings. In addition, 79 degrees with various problems (mostly awarded before 2001) will receive corrective or disciplinary action, which the Tribune knew. Yet they portrayed the effort as being less than a full cleansing.

GWU alumni already gain admission into graduate schools
The Tribune insinuates that we are hoping that acquisition will allow our students to get into graduate programs. The truth is that plenty of our alumni have already entered top tier graduate programs at Harvard, UCLA and the like, even without accreditation. See a list of examples here. Nearly all alumni who have sought to get into graduate programs have been able to. Those who go on to study law do particularly well, and that has become the primary niche of the school.

Our education is actually quite orthodox
The education at GWU is far from unorthodox, it’s simply a classical liberal arts college in the Great Books tradition. One can find this at numerous colleges across the nation, such as St. John’s, Thomas Aquinas, Columbia College and quite extensively in the honors programs at many colleges and universities. Our main distinction is our mission statement, which alters our application of this approach. We therefore use original sources and the Socratic method “to build men and women of virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage who inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.” We promote the search for truth just as our peer colleges do, but we take it a step further to apply it in the modern world to help promote goodness and liberty for all people.

The real story
The Tribune missed a great opportunity. The editors had the chance to set politics aside for a moment and tell a truly remarkable rescue mission. The real story is that the alumni and faculty of a deeply troubled school took over its board in 2009, expelled the founders, revoked degrees, are cleansing the records, and are protecting the students from further harm. Imagine a plane with 300 passengers that had been hijacked and damaged. Today the passengers themselves have gained control of the plane, and are bringing it in for a safe landing. They’re guided step-by-step by those in the control tower — a handful of diligent public servants at the Division of Consumer Protection.

This is not something that happens very often, if at all. It’s also a rare example of a struggling private organization and their government regulators working together tirelessly, rather than in opposition. Instead, the Tribune seems to have hoped to create a straw man of sorts, a hammer for bruising their ideological opponents. In their zeal they missed the true story, and a real opportunity for seeing beyond politics. Meanwhile, the once noble profession of journalism in which the public places its trust decays another notch.

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GWU’s Final Chapter – The Cleansing of Valid Degrees

by Board of Trustees on October 16, 2015

Summary
As the George Wythe University Board of Trustees we are pleased to announce the upcoming verification and affirmation of GWU degrees through the permanent separation of those that are invalid. After six years, the completion of the institutional and academic cleanup of the University’s historical problems is coming to a close. Our detailed internal audit of student records is complete, and final disciplinary and corrective actions are underway. An external review for accuracy will mark the final step. This will leave only the valid degrees to bear the George Wythe name, exonerating the majority of graduates who have worked hard for their legitimate and properly earned credentials.

This public redemption allows the alumni to utilize their degrees without the previous burden of being connected to invalid ones, particularly the substantial number our investigation has uncovered that were issued illegally in the 1990s. This finally paves the way today for a clean public record, plus the acquisition of George Wythe students and records by another institution in order to serve them indefinitely as full service custodians. This will also increase opportunities for students to transfer into other colleges if they choose, while finally putting the George Wythe brand and its history to rest in a peaceful, cleansed and dignified manner — a goal we have pursued since 2011. Having been in discussions with five groups, we anticipate a formal announcement will be made next semester on the final cleanup report as well as a preliminary acquisition announcement contingent upon the successful cleanup. Meanwhile, as corrective actions continue, this minority of alumni affected are in the process of being located and contacted. Finally, new legislation for preventing the kind of fraudulent acts inflicted upon the school by its early administrators will be introduced this coming legislative session, drafted by the board, faculty and students.

The 2011 Question: How to properly retire GWU while best serving the students
When the Board began its intervention in 2009, it was a repair mission to fix the problems at George Wythe University for the benefit of the students and alumni. By 2010 compromises in the integrity of academic records had been discovered, making it an aggressive rescue operation, even requiring the removal of the school’s founders. By 2011, repairs through new policies and practices had progressed, but it became clear to everyone that fatal damage had occurred to the school’s reputation in deeper ways just being discovered by the board, and raising funds for a school saddled with GWU’s administrative history — even though wholly unrelated to current practices — was next to impossible.

Normally a classical liberal arts college with GWU’s mission would have no difficulty raising a few million dollars annually at the very least. Instead, however, the brand’s growing public connection to fraudulently issued degrees under its previous administrations made this unviable. After our newly appointed president, Shane Schulthies, spent the early summer of 2011 traveling to several states to speak with potential donors and other academics, he reported in the next board meeting the feedback he received on the school’s reputation in the donor world: that there was no realistic chance of future funding. This mirrored the online discussion of questionable actions by Oliver DeMille and Shanon Brooks increasingly coming into view. Given this roadblock, President Schulthies proposed that we should file that month to begin the process of closing the school.

The main concern, however, was that an abrupt closure would be devastating to students. At the time, dozens were at various stages toward graduation, and with accreditation paused there were few transfer options — none at all in the Western U.S., and none whatsoever for MA and PhD students. Moreover, closing at that time would leave the valid degrees tainted perpetually with the same status as the invalid ones — calling everyone’s degrees into question indefinitely. This would be a gross injustice to the majority of students and alumni.

Three options: Starvation, Closure, Acquisition
Meanwhile, the board had been conducting an investigation to determine the scope of compromised degrees. It had also begun consulting with a variety of organizations and academics steeped in the classics from other universities, plus a select handful of elected officials. From these conversations it was decided that if the school could complete a thorough student records audit, and clean up all lingering problems in those records, it could prepare itself for merging with or being acquired by another institution. This is by far the most common solution for colleges in distress because it provides a positive and respected transition for students. Combined with the records audit and cleanup it also restores credibility to the majority of alumni degrees as they are proven legitimate.

It was also of interest to these academics that while preparing for such a merger or acquisition, the school could additionally introduce a handful of fresh innovations, prototyping these new concepts during the final steps of our cleanup process. Our successful achievement of all these steps could justify their joining in the acquisition as well.

The first of these innovations had already been started — to weave into several classes a thread of ethical training for conscientious conduct in government and business. Masters level texts introducing case studies of conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas were explored first under President Schulthies. In later semesters, elements of these and additional resources became a thread that began to run through several classes in each year of a student’s program. The expectation was for this approach to have a more lasting effect than a stand alone ethics class.

Moving the campus close to the state Capitol was another of these innovations. This provided rich opportunities to observe the inner workings of government up close during the legislative session, and to learn the many lessons of leadership in the real world of applied politics. Soon, the leadership ethics module expanded as well to examine the many faces of corruption and especially affinity fraud — particularly when predators seek to exploit ideological similarities. These and other innovations were implemented to test for proof of concept, all while completing the cleanup.

The Key Problem Solvers
Perhaps the most valuable benefit of moving to Salt Lake City was our close proximity to our authorizing agency, the Division of Consumer Protection, which allowed us to consult frequently on how to properly resolve all lingering degree and transcript problems. We approached them for assistance in 2012, and to our pleasant surprise, the Division took their mission of protecting the interests of the students as seriously as we did. They were nothing short of stellar in their ability to help come up with solutions. Every conversation during this new phase was positive, even heartening. Encouraged by the Division’s commitment to finding answers, we pressed on with new zeal for solving the most vexing problems once and for all. With a mutual interest in the welfare of our students, they became our ground-based control tower helping guide the school in for a safe landing. Together in their office we finally arrived at the remedies we implement today.

With the Division’s help, each year permitted more students to graduate so that fewer would need to be transferred. Before moving to Salt Lake we had already closed the MA and PhD programs to new students, but the non-traditional students who were enrolled part-time progressed at a slower pace. Since graduate level credit is more difficult to transfer, even into an acquiring institution’s programs, these were at the greatest risk of being stranded. After discussing this dilemma with the Division in 2014, we examined three dozen graduate programs and created two new degrees modeled after programs at Georgetown and the College of William and Mary — an MA in Liberal Arts, and a PhD in American Studies. More streamlined and flexible, these allowed our students to transfer over and accelerate their pace to graduation. Their approval by the Division was a major benefit for these students.

The Final Deep Cleaning
Meanwhile, discussions with potential acquirers continued to hinge on one detail: a completed student records audit and cleanup report. This task proved to be larger and more complicated than originally imagined. Our first pass through the data yielded our 2013 preliminary report announced here. While evaluating degrees we often uncovered surprises, however, which would increase the scope of the audit. By the end, each degree would require investigating and verification on 46 separate questions, always performed by at least two auditors together. Since today the school runs primarily on pro bono and volunteer effort, this detailed work required much more time than expected.

We are happy to report, though, that our internal audit is now complete, and this recent summer we presented our findings to the Division. It should be kept in mind that this was not a requirement made by them, but a plan we initially proposed and then together improved after exploring how thorough cleanups are conducted — deciding that this was best procedure for validating the good degrees earned by students. Although the law states that the Division will hold a copy of student records for ten years, after our corrective actions and the third party both validate the degrees with a clean bill of health, the student records can then pass the scrutiny of a permanent acquiror for indefinite custodial care and servicing.

It should be understood that for private colleges like ours the Division carries the same authority as the Board of Regents. Stories occasionally circulate about the Division being over-reactive, overreaching and anti-business. This has not been our experience. Instead they patiently and diligently helped us solve problems for cleaning up the messes of the school’s early administrators. After our report they mentioned that they’d never experienced a school that approached them to solve problems of this nature and undertake a cleanup on their own. We attribute this to the fact that we are an intervention board cleaning up the prior messes of others, and so our goals align naturally with the Division’s in a plain manner — to help innocent student victims recover from many years of deception, and to prevent it from happening again.

Findings
Our findings from the student records audit indicate that the majority of degrees (91%) awarded under George Wythe Foundation ownership (2002-2015) are academically and legally sound. Of the 99 degrees awarded under DeMille while the school was under the prior governance of Coral Ridge Baptist University (1992-2001), 74 degrees require either corrective or disciplinary action due to deficiencies mainly consequent to life-experience credit exceeding legal limits. These range widely in severity. They also include seven graduate degrees currently slated for revocation hearings, as well as the three that were revoked in 2012. Of the degrees earned by students on campus, problems were rare during any year or period. The vast majority of administrative misconduct occurred with degrees awarded through the distance program during the Coral Ridge years, which ended in 2001.

Alumni are in the process of being contacted and revocations, disciplinary and corrective actions are currently underway with the affected students. At the completion of the third party verification for accuracy, our final audit report will be presented to the public and the separation of George Wythe degrees from invalid degrees will then become permanent.

Formalizing the Teachout with the State
For six years this has been a tedious, grueling and expensive process, especially with the endowment and majority of the school’s funds having been siphoned away by 2009. Since donations have been difficult to come by, new board arrivals intervening to help with the cleanup have had to use their own funds or have volunteered large amounts of time. Over this period the personal sacrifices by the cleanup board, their families and the staff have exceeded $500,000. With funds winding down toward the end of this process of teaching out our students, at one point last year funds briefly dipped to zero during the summer when the budget is always the slimmest. This triggered a flag in the Division’s processes and so we arranged a meeting to give them an update. After explaining that we needed more time to complete the cleanup and teachout, they sought a way to facilitate this by formalizing it in writing through a settlement agreement so we could extend for another year. After we reported our finished internal audit this year and the final corrective paths some alumni will need to remedy their degrees, they extended another year, although most alumni requiring corrections will need less than that. However bumpy the road, we have finally arrived, and George Wythe degrees will soon be free of their struggle.

Occasionally we encounter someone under the impression that the George Wythe brand should continue on. We understand this feeling, but such people have never seen the student records audit or understand the depth of the financial damage the school inherited. They also lack an understanding of fundraising. While this final cleansing will be complete, and degrees remaining with George Wythe will be certified independently as legitimate, the former connection to DeMille and Brooks cannot be erased from the school’s history. The donor world upon which universities depend is naturally sensitive to matters of integrity, and those sensibilities and habits do not change. Nor should one fault those sensibilities. Trust is the most delicate feature of all relationships, even institutional ones.

Anti-Fraud Legislation
Finally, we are also drafting legislation to be sponsored this coming year with very simple measures that would likely have prevented the tampering with transcripts, fraudulent degrees, conflicts of interest and similar misconduct that compromised the integrity of George Wythe by the early administrations and ultimately inflicted injury upon its students. After all, none of this had to happen. Likewise, it shouldn’t be allowed to repeat elsewhere. The state of Utah has every reason to be a model of honesty and integrity. The solutions under consideration are simple and being crafted by our board, faculty and students alike, and partially modeled after laws in other states. The details will be presented in forthcoming announcements.

Conclusion
It should be remembered that the typical students who choose classical liberal arts colleges in the tradition of the Great Books do so for the curriculum itself; the chance to study and discuss deeply. People don’t whimsically devote time to compare Plato and Aristotle, Confucius and Augustine, Hume and Popper, Hayek and Marx and dozens more in the classical canon, and beyond, in order to find shortcuts and avoid hard work. Nor did our students. They sought an educational experience for itself in a community of serious learners, and simply expected proper recognition of their degrees.

The overwhelming majority of GWU students and alumni acted in good faith and can be proud of their education. With it they have advanced to pursue graduate studies at top tier programs and other worthwhile pursuits. It is these students that we have worked so hard to exonerate and protect. We love them and are grateful for their support during these lengthy cleanup years. Their words of encouragement and appreciation have lifted our spirits and given us the strength to persevere. We look forward to sharing further announcements on the final cleansing of their alma mater’s reputation. The historical record will show that students allowed to hold degrees from George Wythe did not cheat, but were honest and diligent. We especially thank those officials in the Division of Consumer Protection, the Utah legislature, the Governor’s office and elsewhere who never gave up on the students.

Sincerely,
The George Wythe Foundation Board of Trustees   –   October 16, 2015

Dwight Williams – Chairman
Chandra Brown
Michael Hansen
Fred Hunzeker
Sheldon Shumway
Rhonda Trone

 

Questions & Answers

If GWU and the Division’s goals are aligned together on this cleanup, why does the Division use enforcement action that seems punitive against the school?
Hypothetically speaking, if GWU were to infuse large amounts of cash into its accounts, the primary basis for the settlement agreement could naturally be petitioned. We’re not interested in that. If you ask the Division you’ll find that there are no consumer complaints, and they are not faulting the school’s academics. But when a school’s finances struggle and dip below thresholds, or if a routine deadline is missed, the Division is obligated to follow its procedures and explain the details. However, GWU, as a legal entity, must technically still be treated as its history would warrant, irrespective of whether the administrators who damaged the institution no longer remain. For example, the recent settlement agreement directly refers back to a 2011 settlement, citing “misuse of charitable donation funds, and material misrepresentations” uncovered in the state’s investigation into the years 2007-2008 when DeMille and Brooks were running the school. As explained to us, this lingering history perpetually burdens the school with “repeat offender” status, and this will trigger higher scrutiny no matter how we change its future leaders. This illustrates why it’s important to retire GWU fully, along with its ID number, on which both we and the Division mutually agree wholeheartedly.

While the Division dutifully follows the law, their actions were thus by no means adversarial to us personally, but merely procedural and intended to help serve our students under their watch. We continue to labor harmoniously with them, with nothing changing in our aligned teachout goals, and to put this ordeal behind us all by retiring the George Wythe name. In fact, the current settlement is actually an extension of the previous year’s agreement. The additional year was added after listening to our completed student records audit report and learning the number of students still needing time to remedy their degrees or to graduate. The settlement reflects this mutual intention, which we’ve discussed numerous times with them while planning the next steps.

What happened to GWU’s accreditation efforts?
Although the administration often discussed accreditation from at least 1998 onward, it’s difficult to conceive that it was taken seriously by anyone aware of the life-experience credit being issued by DeMille — assuming they understood accreditation standards. As students increasingly pinned their hopes on accreditation, in 2006 a respected accrediting agency, AALE, was contacted and the first formal discussions were initiated. GWU staff took this task seriously but were only just learning about the standards. Two site visits later, the distractions of mismanagement surrounding the potential Monticello campus had stalled further progress. By 2011 with the existence of improper credit beginning to be realized, it was becoming clear to at least some that it might not be possible without a major systemic cleanup in the student records. As the internal student records audit was performed over the last four years it became quite obvious. If attempting to apply with the GWU name and legal identity, only with the current cleanup completed and a number of years of perfect operation would the possibility even begin to reappear, regardless of the accreditation agency.

How are Coral Ridge degrees going to be separated from George Wythe degrees?
Degrees from the Coral Ridge years certified as valid will retain George Wythe classification while all remaining unrevoked degrees unable to pass validation after remediation efforts will be annotated as such, then reclassified back to Coral Ridge degrees under their original parent organization designation. These records will be separated and stored permanently through an independent archival service. An additional copy of these records will be sent to Coral Ridge Baptist University through its parent organization.

If George Wythe intends to be acquired, why would you agree to teach out your students?
Acquisition has always depended upon our successful cleansing of the student records and degrees. Naturally, this still remains the case. Hence, reducing our numbers as we have since 2011 has been a safeguard for them, and also means less disruption, in any case, both for our students and the acquiring institution. Additionally, unless two programs are perfectly aligned, differences can result in a loss of credits toward graduation. Graduate students stand to lose the most when transferring to another school, even an acquiring one. Consequently, we hope to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone through this process.

Where can I find more information about the Board’s cleanup?
For details on all of our clean up efforts, visit this page.

More questions and answers will be posted in the future.

____________________________________________________

Comments:

 

This is an EXCELLENT email!  I feel so incredibly grateful for your work!  I have been blessed by my education at George Wythe in the past and especially now.  Thank you for picking up this ball and carrying it across the goal line!

– Melanie Ballard, MA student

 

Well Done!

The work that the board has done on the announcement and supporting documents, explanations and Q&A’s is excellent, and I applaud everyone for their diligence, sacrifice and hard work in compiling this important information for the public

The explanation of why the board chose to clean up and seek merger or acquisition is especially well written, and I am so glad that at last this is an open and public announcement.

– Alumnus, Class of 2004

 

BRAVO!!! BRAVISIMO!!!!!!

I wish I had funds to donate to heal a portion of the sacrifice you have rendered in this unselfish cause. I am astounded by what has been going on behind the scenes all this time. As it is I can pray that you will be richly blessed in ways well beyond internal satisfaction.

An enormous THANK YOU from the mother of a former George Wythe student, now twice blessed.

– Parent of a former student

 

I’m a graduate from 2006. I just want to say thank you for all you are doing to make sure we are acquired by a reputable institution. I did work hard for my degree and since earning my degree I have watched and waited in anticipation for GWU to become accredited. Knowing this will now never happen but that my degree will be transferred to another institution actually brings me much peace. After my graduation I decided to do some research of my own about DeMille and was shocked by the things I found about him. Any removal from his name and his practices is a great thing in my opinion.

Although having a degree from GWU has not stopped me from progressing academically, I’m graduating from BYU in 2016 with my JD/MBA, I will be happy to put my GWU years to rest under an accredited institution.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and efforts in mine and other students behalf.

– Steve Washenko, Class of 2006

 

Hi! I just read the latest update on the progress with cleaning up GWU. Wow! What a tremendous accomplishment, and at what a tremendous price. Well done!

-Kelli Poll, former student

 

A Tribute to George Wythe and Statesmanship

I want to say good by to George Wythe Univerisity. Thank you for expanding my depth of mind and person, enlightening me, giving me a library, perspective—an education. I was given more than a comprehensive oral exam, more than a piece of paper; I began to find myself. Thank you for my mentors Lydia, Stan, Erin, Shane, Jennifer, Gary, Dr. Smailes, Mr. Wilson, and many others who devoted time to helping me through my education and expansion of my mind. Thank you to my classmates for giving me perspectives, insights, and understanding, especially with regards to our educational choices. Thank you authors of the past. The learning will continue and you will always be remembered.

– Aurelia Stewart, Class of 2013

 

Hello from 6000 miles away in Uruguay.  I just read the GWU letter.  I am in awe of the amazing work that has been done. . . . Today, in this letter, I honor you.

– Vicki Jo Anderson, Alumnus and parent of a GWU Alumnus

 

THANK YOU!!!!! for all your amazing work with GWU. I am continually amazed at your consistency and fortitude and grateful for your efforts to make this all right in the end. My best wishes to you as things progress during the next few months!

– Former student (2003-2012)

 

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Statesmanship Invitational 2015

by Admin on May 29, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We congratulate our students for a job well done!

 

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

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

 

 

ST3510: World History III: Renaissance and Reformation

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

 

Texts:

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


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

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Introducing new faculty member, Dr. Benson

by Admin on December 13, 2013

As we prepare for the beginning of a new semester, we’d like to spotlight another new faculty member, Dr. Bryan Benson.  With fifteen years of experience teaching at the university level, Dr. Benson just completed his first semester teaching at GWU and with strong positive reviews from students.
Bryan                       Benson_cp.jpg
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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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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