Benjamin Franklin Epitaph

On this day in 1790, preeminent Founding Father, and “The First American,” Benjamin Franklin dies at age 84 in his adopted home of Philadelphia.

Franklin served as a legislator in Pennsylvania, as a diplomat in England and France, and this prolific patriot (who was also a printer, scientist, statesman, etc.) is the only person to have signed the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).

Even in his early twenties, his wit and wisdom was on full display. For today’s post, it’s especially noteworthy that in 1728 he wrote his own epitaph, revising and sharing it with friends throughout his life. Here is one such version, with a copy below:

The Body of Ben Franklin Printer,
Like the Cover of an old Book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its Lettering & Gilding,
Lies here Food for the Worms,
yet the Work shall not be lost:
For it will, as he believed, appear once more
In a new & most beautiful Edition,
Corrected and amended by the Author.

Benjamin Franklin Epitaph

Benjamin Franklin “lived a long time…”

At age 81, as the elder statesman at the Constitution Convention in his adopted home, Franklin urged the Assembly toward morning “prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on [their] deliberations.” In so doing, he made this famous quote, which inspired Our Benjamin Franklin shirt:

Jefferson Memorial with Cherry Blossoms

On this day in 1743, preeminent Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is born. That is, “created equal.”
Jefferson was the governor of Virginia, and drafter of the Declaration of Independence. He served as secretary of state under President George Washington, as U.S. minister to France, and as vice president under John Adams, He was the third president of the United States, founder the University of Virginia.

Read these compelling quotes found on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“…I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.”

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Thomas Jefferson Memorial with Cherry Blossoms
Of note: In Jefferson’s time “establishment” meant mandatory membership, mandatory attendance, mandatory taxes to support it. Furthermore, no one could hold public office unless he was a member.
Also, “separation of church and state” does not appear in any of our founding documents.

 

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg

On this day in 1789, Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg is elected as the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, from 1789-1791.

Two years later, he was also the third Speaker of the House (1793-1795). In total, he served in the House from 1789 to 1797.

Then, he was a member of the Continental Congress in 1779 and 1780. He followed that by serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1780 to 1783.

Later, he presided over the Pennsylvania ratifying convention of 1787 for the U.S. Constitution.

Finally, he was the first signer of the Bill of Rights. The second was John Adams.

Before all of that, Frederick Muhlenberg was a Lutheran pastor.

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg First Speaker of the House

 

Thomas McKean and son

On this day in 1734, Patriot and politician Thomas McKean is born in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

McKean was a delegate of Delaware to the Continental Congress. Thus, he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was also President of the Continental Congress in 1781. McKean also served President (Governor) of Delaware, Governor of Pennsylvania, and Chief Justice of Pennsylvania.

Be received

For all that, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was sharing this redemptive advice as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, which he did with a condemned man:

“You will probably have but a short time to live. Before you launch into eternity, it behooves you to improve the time that may be allowed you in this world. It behooves you most seriously to reflect upon your conduct, to repent of your evil deeds, to be incessant in prayers to the great and merciful God to forgive your manifold transgressions and sins, to teach you to rely upon the merit and passion of a dear Redeemer and thereby to avoid those regions of sorrow, those doleful shades where peace and rest can never dwell, where even hope cannot enter. It behooves you to seek the fellowship, advice and prayers of pious and good men, to be persistent at the throne of grace and to learn the way that leadeth to happiness. May you reflecting upon these things and pursuing the will of the great Father of Light and Life, be received into the company and society of angels and archangels and the spirits of just men made perfect and may you be qualified to enter into the joys of heaven, joys unspeakable and full of glory.”

Thomas McKean died in Philadelphia at the age of 83 in the year 1817. That seems fitting, given that the root words of Philadelphia are phileo meaning “to love” and adelphos meaning “brother.”

 

Thomas McKean and son

 

 

President James Madison

On this day in 1751, James Madison is born in Conway, Virginia.

He was a key drafter of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, as well the recorder of the Constitutional Convention. Accordingly, Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution.”
Furthermore, he was a key author of the Federalist Papers. Finally, Madison served two terms as the fourth President of the United States, from 1809 to 1817.

For all these towering achievements, James Madison stood at just 5′4″. I like him even more.

Divine Destiny

Here are portions of his Proclamation 20 – Recommending a Day of Public Thanksgiving for Peace from March 4, 1815:

“No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.”

“And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.”

James Madison

US Constitution

On this day in 1770, protesting colonists and occupying British soldiers clash in what we know as the Boston Massacre. This event is widely seen as the start of the American Revolution. It is also why we learn the name of African-American sailor Crispus Attucks, likely the first man to fall.

The British soldiers go on trial, though John Adams (born near Boston) and Josiah Quincy, Jr. (born in Boston) agree to defend them, demonstrating support for the colonial justice system. Then, upon conclusion of the trial in December 1770, the jury found just two of the eight British soldiers guilty of manslaughter.

In fact, the Algeron Sidney quote Adams used in closing his defense speech at the trial seems foundational to the Adams quote in second half of this post:
“The law, (says he,) no passion can disturb. Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis mens sine affectu; written reason; retaining some measure of the divine perfection.”

By Design

On March 4, 1789 government under the U.S. Constitution begins with the first session of Congress, held, at that time, in New York City.

Almost emblematic of the purpose Our Lost Founding, there is a connection here, despite the number of years between these events, but due to the consecutive dates:

John Adams, one of the aforementioned defense lawyers, Founding Father, the second president, etc., said this of Our Constitution in October of 1789 :

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (emphasis added)

So, the answer to the question in the title of this post is, frankly, quite a bit. Furthermore, that might explain a lot of the problems we experience in Our country today. Finally, it underscores the critical importance of rediscovering our lost founding.

Our Constitution

 

Articles of Confederation signature page

On this day in 1781, the Articles of Confederation are ratified. This document guided the United States until it was replaced by the Constitution in 1789.

The Revolution brought Americans from living under a sovereign king, to living in sovereign states, to becoming a sovereign people.
Providentially, all of this happened over the course of just two decades.
This transformation was the fruit of the collective effort to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
This government was founded on the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” acknowledging our “unalienable rights” from our “Creator.”

The Great Governor of the World

Indeed, here is the first half of the last paragraph of the Articles:

“And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union, Know Ye, that we, the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do, by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said articles of confederation and perpetual union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained.”

Articles of Confederation last page

Articles of Confederation

On this day in 1781 (or perhaps February 2nd), Maryland becomes the 13th and final state to ratify the Articles of Confederation. However, Maryland’s delegates did not sign until March 1st.

The Articles were essentially the first constitution of the United States. What they created was a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government.

Great Governor

Here is portion of the conclusion of the Articles:

“And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union, Know Ye, that we, the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do, by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said articles of confederation and perpetual union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained… .”

Soon, the need for a stronger federal government became apparent which led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The eventual result was the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789.

Lastly, a couple noteworthy “undersigned delegates” were John Hancock and Samuel Adams, both from Massachusetts Bay.

Articles of Confederation

George Washington first State of the Union address

On this day in 1790, President George Washington delivers the first State of the Union address. Washington delivered the speech to Congress at Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City.

As was fitting for the new nation, Washington’s brief address stands as the shortest State of the Union address ever. What follows are a few excerpts from  to his “Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives.”

Within our reach

“Still further to realize [your constituents’] expectations and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach will in the course of the present important session call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined;”

Sure and secure

“Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. …To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways… by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights;… to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness – cherishing the first, avoiding the last… .

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.”

Today, as during our founding, may we again seek the blessings of Providence through “exertion of [our] patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.”

George Washington first State of the Union address

Mayflower Compact

On this day in 1620, the Mayflower ship docks at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. This marked the culmination of an arduous journey to the New World. However, it also marked the start of a long winter, after which 50 of the 102 Mayflower passengers were dead.

Previously, on November 11, the Mayflower anchored across Cape Cod Bay. Then, before going ashore to begin scouting the area, the 41 male passengers wisely signed the Mayflower Compact.

“Covenant and combine”

Below is the full text of the Mayflower Compact. This document was a progenitor of the form of self-government found in the Constitution of the United States:

“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”

Mayflower Compact

Bill of Rights

On this day in 1791, the United States ratifies the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the Bill is “to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [Constitutional] powers,” thereby protecting individual liberties.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, formed the basis of the amendments in the Bill of Rights.

In fact, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mason would not sign the Constitution without concurrent passage of these protections.

Ultimately, Virginia was the last state to ratify the Bill of Rights.

Sect, Society, and Separation

Let us now scale that oft-misinterpreted “wall of separation between Church and State.”
First, with George Mason’s proposed wording for the First Amendment:

“All men have and equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no particular sect or society of Christians ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.”

Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson borrowed his subsequently famous phrase from a well-known Baptist minister of the time. In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, Jefferson assured them that Congress would not violate the first amendment by placing one denomination, or sect, above the others.

Clearly, then, the intent of the First Amendment was not to harm religion, or even to isolate it from the state. Nor was it intended to appease atheists or please pluralists. Clearly, quite the opposite.

Bill of Rights