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America, God Shed His Grace on Thee

We have learned what our early American heroes and patriots prophetically did and wrote to proclaim and ensure liberty in their great experiment. But what did a few of those in Great Britain write concurrent with those times—in many instances with prophetic foresight? Why did they think America would win independence and succeed?

For this I have turned again to our little book Prophetic Voices Concerning America written by Charles Sumner and printed in 1874.

The Great Disruption

A young French philosopher and Jesuit Abbé Raynal wrote these observations in 1770:

“So everything conspires to produce the great disruption of which we are not permitted to foresee the precise time. Everything tends thither,—the progress of good in the new hemisphere and the progress of evil in the old. Alas! The prompt and rapid decline of our morals and our strength, the crimes of kins and the sufferings of the people, will render universal this fatal catastrophe which must detach one world from the other. The mine is preparing beneath the foundations of our rocking empires….While our people are weakening and succumbing to each other, population and agriculture are increasing in America. The arts transported by our care will quickly spring up there. The country derived from nothing, burns to figure in turn upon the face of the globe and in the history of the world. O posterity! Thou wilt be more happy, perhaps, than thy unfortunate and contemptible ancestors!”

The Fate of America is Cast

This from David Hartley who was signatory to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. He noted this in 1775:

“The fate of America is cast. You may bruise its heel, but you cannot crush its head. It will revive again. The new world is before them. Liberty is theirs. They have possession of a free government, their birthright and inheritance, derived from their parent state, which the hand of violence cannot wrest from them. If you will cast them off, my last wish is to them, May they go and prosper!”

He Who Governs Least May Govern Best

A large part of the agitation and grievances voiced by the colonies stemmed from their lack of freedom to self-govern.  Jonathan Shipley, Bishop of St. Asaph, and who was also friends with Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton noted in 1773:

“And the success they have met with ought to be to us a memorable proof that the true art of government consists in not governing too much.”

How Prosperous Will They Become?

“The colonies of North America have not only taken root and acquired strength but seem hastening with an accelerated progress to such a powerful state as may introduce a new and important change in human affairs.”

“The vast continent itself, over which they are gradually spreading, may be considered a treasure yet untouched of natural productions, that hereafter shall afford ample matter for commerce and contemplation. And if we reflect what a stock of knowledge may be accumulated by the constant progress of industry and observation…it is difficult even to imagine to what height of improvement their discoveries may extend.”

Economic Result

Perhaps the most prescient economic work of 1776, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith opened wide the doors of this new experiment. While the verbal jousting and debate was in full swing in 1776 he suggested there should be proportionate taxation and representation in parliament that would eventually result in the transfer of empire.

“The distance of America from the seat of government, the natives of that country might flatter themselves, with some appearance of reason too, would not be of very long continuance. Such has hitherto been the rapid progress of that country in wealth, population, and improvement, that, in the course of little more than a century, perhaps, the produce of America might exceed that of British taxation. The seat of the empire would then naturally remove itself to that part of the empire which contributed most to the general defense and support of the whole.”

Harmonizing Happiness

To this last question I now pivot. What is the formula that will continue this experimental climb in self-governance, prosperity, and happiness?

In a letter to Zabdiel Adams dated June 21, 1776 John Adams wrote: “Statesmen my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain lasting liberty.”

Twenty-two years later his perspective had not changed. “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Military Address October 11, 1798 

Thirteen years later, fundamental truths have not changed: “Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all government and in all the combinations of human society.” John Adams letter to Benjamin Rush, 1811  

I end with this observation in a letter from Adams to Jefferson July 8, 1813:

“While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill—little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

Any advancement we have made over the millennia is due in great part to the prodigious individuals of the founding era. They educated themselves in history, philosophy, and morality to discover and harmonize the principles of free government. Absent our doing the same we cannot and will not maintain the level of happiness we now enjoy.

Image credit: A correct view of the late battle at Charlestown: June 17th, 1775 by Robert Aitken

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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