Friday, April 6, 2018

Know and Value Your Own Rights - Wise Words from Our First President

On March 4, 1789 the U.S. Constitution became the law of the land, and on April 30th George Washington was sworn in as the nation's first president.  For two long years, our founding fathers including James Madison, Andrew Hamilton,  George Washington, John Jay and many others worked long hours, discussing and debating the constitution article by article.   These men cherished the constitution, and defended it with their own lives and the lives of their families.  They knew what was at stake and dedicated their lives to defending the country and the constitution.  George Washington knew that the security of a free constitution could only be guaranteed "by the enlightened confidence of the people" and one of his very first requests to Congress was to teach the people to "to know and to value their own rights".

In his first annual address to Congress, our first President shared these very wise words:
"To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways - by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness - cherishing the first, avoiding the last - and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws. 
Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature."
Washington's language is often hard to understand, so here is a summary of his points.
  1. Know and value your own rights.
  2. Discern and fight off invasion against your rights.
  3. Distinguish between oppression and needful lawful authority.
  4. Identify unnecessary burdens versus burdens of urgency.
  5. Cherish the "spirit of liberty";  avoid immorality.
  6. Be vigilant about your rights, yet respectful of the law.
Today,  219 years later, it seems we have lost the enlightened confidence of the people.   We teach the basics of the constitution to our children in school.  We teach them of the three branches of government, and the terms of each office, but do we teach them to "to know and to value their own rights"?.  Do they know how to discern and fight off invasions of those rights?   Can they distinguish between oppression and needful lawful authority?    Do we teach our children to cherish the "spirit of liberty", while avoiding immorality?  Sometimes we get so caught up in the details of the latest tax bill or gun control legislation that we forget to focus on the basics.   It's time we take our founding father's words to heart and teach our nation to once again "know and value their own rights".

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