An area museum's embrace of world currents

Robin Montgomery

Much has been made about the actions of government officials, from the police to the mayors, president and others in the societal crisis of our time, the riots, the shootings and other actions of violence. Few words, however, have focused on the responsibility of we, the people. Little notice has been made of the proviso in the Declaration of independence, which places the final responsibility for government success in the hands of society. Let’s begin our discussion with a review of that document.

The declaration begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Then the key for our purposes: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, securing their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

What does to secure these rights from the consent of the governed mean? Beginning in the early 20th century, with evolutionary progressivism on the rise, the words meant a government finding legitimacy in terms of evolution. Consider the following excerpt from a book by Woodrow Wilson called the New Freedom: “All that progressives ask or desire is permission--in an era when development, evolution is the scientific work--to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principles.”

Wilsonian progressivism, then, followed the premise that “consent of the governed” in the Declaration of Independence meant whatever was popular at any given time. This was in line with the French Revolution of 1789 which was and is very popular in progressive thought. For that revolution made popular the concept of popular sovereignty. This meant that in a democracy the people were sovereign, under no obligation to a higher power. Certainly, the French Revolutionaries felt no obligation to the Transcendent God for one of their first acts was to attack Christianity.

Yet the French-Wilsonian view is largely what we have been taught in our secular institutions for over a generation. The founding fathers however, recognized that the survival of our government depended upon a society with Christian-based discipline and a penchant for forgiveness, a society based on the truth of the Transcendent God. Hence Leaders from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Adams, et al, down to leaders in early Texas, like Sam Houston, Mirabeau Lamar and Stephen Austin all expressed the same message. They all agreed that “Intelligence and Virtue” were the keys to a democratic society in sync with the meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

Particularly expressive are the words of Mirabeau Lamar, known as the Father of Texas Education: Lamar stated that, “If we are to establish a Republican government upon a broad and permanent basis, it will be our duty to adopt a comprehensive and well-regulated system of mental and moral culture.” He then added, “A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy, and while guided and controlled by virtue is the noblest attribute of man.”

The context of these calls for virtue makes clear that Christianity was the means they saw as the key to generating a society disciplined to handle the awesome freedoms granted in the Declaration of Independence. Their wisdom found credence in the giving vent to the desires of the natural man reflected in the utter chaos and tyranny which followed in the wake of the French Revolution. Wedded to French Revolution style popular sovereignty, with ever decreasing recourse to the religion of our founders, the concept of citizen responsibility would become a fading and alien root.

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