- Published: 08 January 2012
"Educate Young and Old: For Liberty" - As Timely Today as When Originally Made
If only a single idea could be said to have been held in common by all of The Founders, none would have a better claim to this distinction than the idea that sound information and education constitute the essential and best foundation upon which to build securely and enduringly--for The Individual and for the people as a whole, for the nation. The writings of The Founders are filled with appeals and admonitions to make sure of a fair future for Liberty in America through widest possible use of sound information and education; and John Adams was second to none in this regard. An especially impressive appeal of this character was made by him as part of a 1765 writing: "A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law" which was first published as a series of essays in the Boston Gazette. Its value lies, in part, in its enduring quality--valuable in every year and generation and as pertinent today as when first published. This is so true, and its message is so important to the well-being of Man's Freedom from Government-over-Man in America today and in the future, that an extended quotation is believed to be justified. First he assumed to be true then a favorable situation which, it must be admitted, does not exist in America today:
"Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted. . . ."
True today as to independence from foreign rule, it is not true today regarding Individual Liberty: Freedom from Government-over-Man. This melancholy fact of deterioration of the situation of Free Man in America only serves to make more important the main part of his message:
"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government . . ."
After thus expressing the key idea, he continued by directing attention to one of the main areas of knowledge which should be fostered and inculcated:
"Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings,--the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured--the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation."
After this invitation to relive the harsh realities of those days in our imaginations, with emphasis however upon the sustaining things of the mind and heart and soul, he reached the key word, "liberty":
"Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage,--but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!"
By "learning" he referred not only to formal education but to all knowledge-gaining, in all its facets by all possible means. Then he focused attention upon the group which, in New England especially, was in that time--as before and later--so potently influential in helping to develop, nurture and propagate the ideas of "Liberty and Independence": Independence from foreign rule and Liberty of Man against Government-over-Man. This was the clergy. He appealed to them as follows:
"Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thraldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God,--that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness --and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!"
By "slavery" he of course meant, in part, subjection to tyrannous rule by a British king and Parliament. Here Adams was not urging the clergy to do something new for their group--some of them had been doing this for generations in America. Instead, he was emphasizing the need of more of the clergy to participate in this educational program in support of "Liberty and Independence" and all of them to give more attention to this cause, so crucially important to freedom of religion. He then called upon the Bar--the profession which was expected to take the lead actively in the fight and which, in every generation, is obligated to do so morally as well as otherwise; partly today because every member of the Bar--like every judge and other public official--is sworn to support the Constitution--necessarily in its true and original meaning (per page 194, ante) as intended by those who framed and adopted the initial instrument and later each of its amendments. He continued:
"Let the bar proclaim, 'the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power' delivered down from remote antiquity,--inform the world of the mighty struggles and numberless sacrifices made by our ancestors in defence of freedom . . ."
Next he came to the leading group in the realm of formal education, the colleges:
"Let the colleges join their harmony in the same delightful concert. Let every declamation turn upon the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity, turpitude, and malignity, of slavery and vice [meaning mainly governmental evils from the standpoint of Free Man]. Let the public disputations become researches into the grounds and nature and ends of government, and the means of preserving the good and demolishing the evil. Let the dialogues, and all the exercises, become the instruments of impressing on the tender mind, and of spreading and distributing far and wide, the ideas of right and the sensations of freedom. In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing."
He continued by warning of Britain's plan to enslave American colonists through the Stamp Act and other such measures; then continued:
"These are not the vapors of a melancholy mind, nor the effusions of envy, disappointed ambition, nor of a spirit of opposition to government, but the emanations of a heart that burns for its country's welfare. No one of any feeling, born and educated in this once happy country, can consider the numerous distresses, the gross indignities, the barbarous ignorance, the haughty usurpations, that we have reason to fear are meditating for ourselves, our children, our neighbors, in short, for all our countrymen and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart and many tears."
The distinguished clergyman, Jonathan Mayhew, was mentioned expressly by Adams with praise for his valuable writings in support of the cause of Man's freedom in America.
This message has great significance today for all parts of American society because of the pressing need at present for sound information and education, to the end that Individual Liberty may be made and kept secure under constitutionally limited government--respected in practice and preserved in full integrity for the sake of the present generation as well as for the benefit of Posterity, for whom the present generation is merely temporary trustee.
It is only through living the principles which The Founders lived, and serving the ideals which they served, that in each generation any and every American can, in truth, render all honor to The Founders.
Could they return to the American scene now and speak a word of warning in behalf of the cause of Individual Liberty, they would perhaps be satisfied to repeat the remark of Dr. Joseph Warren--President of the Massachusetts Congress and a Major General, killed in action at Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775--in his oration in Boston on March 5, 1775 (the anniversary of the "Boston Massacre" by British troops). His words were in effect addressed to every American of every generation, faced with the never-ending need for Friends of Liberty to be faithful, vigilant and active in support of the institutions and principles which are essential to Liberty's well-being:
"Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of . . . On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves."