“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” said President John Adams on October 11, 1798 in a speech to officers of the Massachusetts Militia. In 1798 America, “religious” of course meant “Christian.” It was not that the Founders were unaware of other faiths; indeed, Jews and “Mohammedans” had even served in the Continental Army during the revolution, but their presence in 1798 America was miniscule. But let me charitably extend the term “religious” to its modern usage in arguing that, if Adams was correct in his view, we are fast approaching the point where Americans are becoming ungovernable, at least by our present Constitution.
Although John Adams was serving as the equivalent of our Ambassador to Britain in the summer of 1787, and thus did not take part in the deliberations which produced our Constitution, he nevertheless knew a thing or two about Constitutions and how they were intended to function. Adams had almost single-handedly drafted the Massachusetts State Constitution in 1780 and in the summer of 1787 he published a lengthy “Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America” (read it at http://www.constitution.org/jadams/ja1_00.htm).
Adams knew that civil government was a balance of freedom and control, and that to maintain freedom and liberty at high levels required the vigorous operation of the other three forms of government, namely: church government, family government and self-government. Without the effective assistance of these other forms of government, civil government would itself be ineffective — and freedom and liberty would have to be constrained. So let’s examine these other forms of government.
Church government played an exceedingly important role in the lives of the people of the time. Nearly everyone in America could fairly be described as Christian, attended church, listened attentively to the hours-long sermons and took them to heart. The American Revolution, indeed the Declaration of Independence which preceded it, was birthed in the pulpits of America. The ministers of America were so successful in conveying the message of liberty they found in the Bible that the British labeled them “The Black Robed Regiment.” Adams again: “But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations… This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
Family Government was equally strong in early America. Americans understood that the model of the family illustrated by the Bible was in fact God’s perfect model. One husband, one wife; with the husband as the undisputed head of the family unit. That was God’s perfect design and it worked for centuries. It produced children who understood the concept of government on even this limited scale. Children learned the value of work, of education, of obedience and, from both church and family, the role of self-government. But the biblical concept of family is under attack today as never before; and, if progressives get their way, will be replaced altogether by an “anything goes” model. Those who believe in this model are even labeled as “bigots” by five of the Justices on the Supreme Court.
Self-government, the last but perhaps most important of the four forms of government, was hinted at by Adam’s phrase “moral and religious people.” A moral and religious people understand the principle and value of self-control, of gratification delayed; and see the Ten Commandments as, well, commandments. This type of citizen only requires a civil government of limited powers because order and control emanate from within. In fact, the extent to which a people are willing to govern themselves (i.e. self-govern), determines the extent to which they even need civil government. As Madison put it in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no [civil] government would be necessary.”
But what happens when a people begin to discard or are not even taught the principle of self-government in the first place? Certainly the principle of self-government is not taught in public schools today; it smacks of too much religious sentiment, and we can have none of that in public schools, can we? You will still find the principle of self-government taught in Christian schools, the few of them that remain; but of course the output of the Christian school system can’t compete with the droves of public school graduates entering the workforce.
Founder John Witherspoon summed it this way: “Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”
Given current cultural trends, I predict a one-way path for America: the more we abandon the biblical models of self, family, and church government, the more we will find our civil government stepping in to fill these voids; indeed happy to do so, because it means more power and more prestige for those in control. Soon, very soon, our Constitution will become a worthless scrap of paper and in need of wholesale replacement. What replaces it will not be pretty.