As a young boy, I was stirred by the words of President John F. Kennedy when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
The prevailing attitude in present-day America is not that which was envisioned by President Kennedy. Far too many among our lethargic citizenry are a paradox; they consume energy drinks and assume the rest of the country owes them a living while they watch the world go by.
There seems to be more of a focus on a person’s rights as a citizen and what he is owed and less of a conversation that focuses on a person’s obligations and duties as a citizen. Is this due to a general lack of what the Founding Fathers referred to as “virtue?”
Virtue can be thought of as moral excellence. It is the “conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles.”
The Founders believed our nation would not survive unless its citizens were a virtuous people.
- Patrick Henry: Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.
- Benjamin Rush: “The only foundation for . . . a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
- John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- Samuel Adams: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”
Is a lack of virtue the germ that’s responsible for many of the social ills that plague us? The answer to this question may be seen in the somewhat prophetic statement of Benjamin Rush (1746-1813): “By removing the Bible from schools we would be wasting so much time and money in punishing criminals and so little pains to prevent crime. Take the Bible out of our schools and there would be an explosion in crime.”
In the Proverbs, Solomon said, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people (14:34).” If righteousness exalts a nation, virtue is the mortar that binds the bricks of its foundation.