Saturday, November 14, 2009
Virtue and Morality
In order for a nation to survive under a system of self-government, commonly called republicanism, the citizens must be virtuous and morally strong. The Founders of this nation understood that this is a true principle and that the Constitution could not be maintained without virtue and morality. Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters" (Smyth, Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 9:569). George Washington praised the American Constitution but explained that it would only last "so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people" (Saul K. Padover, ed., The Washington Papers, Harper & Brothers, NY, 1955, p 244). James Madison said, "Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary, fantastic, unreal, absurd] idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend upon their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them" (Quoted in Jonathan Elliott, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 5 vols., JB Lippincott Company). Samuel Adams wrote the following in a letter to Richard Henry Lee: "I thank God that I have lived to see my country independent and free. She may long enjoy her independence and freedom if she will. It depends on her virtue" (Wells, Life of Samuel Adams, 3:175). John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other" (Quoted in John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1966, p 189). A prophet also spoke about the importance of virtue and morality in nations. Gordon B. Hinckley, late President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote: "The violation of moral virtues in this age, as in any age, brings only regret, sorrow, loss of self-respect, and in many cases, tragedy" and will "destroy not only individuals but also the nations" where virtues are missing. "The challenge to recognize evil and oppose it is one that every moral, virtuous person must accept" (Standing for Something, pp 32-33, 39). So, what is virtue and morality? Virtue has been defined as "general moral excellence; right action and thinking; goodness or morality; chastity" (New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2d College Ed., p 1587). Morality has been defined as "moral quality or character; rightness or wrongness, as of an action; right conduct; virtue in sexual conduct" (New World Dictionary, p 925). It is the responsibility of each individual to live a virtuous and moral life. We must become more moral in our hearts, minds and lives. The teaching of virtue and morality begins in the home with parents teaching their children by word and example. A good parental example encourages children to learn the same. President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught that "most people will not commit desperate acts if they have been taught that dignity, honesty and integrity are more important than revenge or rage; if they understand that respect and kindness ultimately give one a better chance at success" ("Family Values in a Violet Society," Deseret News, Jan. 16, 1994, A12, as quoted in "Finding Peace," Ensign, Mar. 2004, 4). As we teach virtue and moral principles to our children, our family will become stronger. As more and more families become virtuous and morally strong, our communities and nation will grow stronger and our Constitution will become more secure. The idea for this post as well as the quotes from Founders are from The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Scousen, pp 41-46.