Between 1775 and 1776 there were many heated debates between the colonies on the topic of morality. These debates focused on whether or not the people were adequately virtuous and moral enough to govern themselves. Self-government, referred to as ‘republicanism’, was dependent upon a pure and unselfish people to operate successfully.
Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.’ George Washington also stated that the American Constitution could only survive as long as there remained virtue in the people.
What then is public virtue? It is human character and service that adheres to the golden rule. Even though the people hungered after independence, they feared that they were not good enough to make it work. By the spring of 1776, there were thousands of confident voices throughout the land proclaiming that there was enough public virtue to make the republican principles work successfully. This movement was catapulted forwarded by the writings of Thomas Paine, specifically his best seller “Common Sense.”
Many became aware of their lack of public virtue due to their non-involvement in the affairs of government. This accelerated the revolution because, as the people enjoyed a better life due to the changes that they made, they felt that they needed to hurry and cut their nation off from the corrupting influence of Britain. One American wrote, ‘Elegance, luxury and effeminacy begin to be established.’ David Ramsey declared that if Americans had not revolted ‘our frugality, industry, and simplicity of manners, would have been lost in an imitation of British extravagance, idleness and false refinements.’
Samuel Adams said, ‘The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy the gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people; then shall be both deserve and enjoy it. While, on the other hand, if we are universally vicious and debauched in our manners, though the form of our Constitution carries the face of the most exalted freedom, we shall in reality be the most abject slaves.’
There is a key to preserving a virtuous nation, and our founders knew it. It is called Principle #3
(The 28 Principles of Liberty are adapted from the book "The 5000 Year Leap" by W. Cleon Skousen. This article is also published at www.Myspace.com/angelsings www.LDSFreemen.com and the Cape Fair Cryer newspaper in Missouri.)