For the founding fathers, virtue and public welfare were inseparably linked. In their understanding, a society lacking virtue was left without the ethical framework necessary to generate the moral character that allows for a healthy and happy society.
While overseeing the formation of his new nation, President George Washington advised his fellow citizens not to forget this indispensable axiom. At the start of his presidency, Washington warned in his first inaugural address, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
As his presidential administration came to a close eight years later, Washington reiterated this statement, asking rhetorically, “Can it be, that Providence [God] has not connected the permanent [happiness] of a nation with its virtue?”
The founding generation likewise believed that the American experiment of republican self-government and constitutionally limited civil government would only survive if the people remained virtuous.
John Adams, writing to the Massachusetts Militia, explained, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The blessings of a free and prosperous civil society can be preserved only if the people maintain their virtue. Our collective happiness depends on us advocating strong morals in the public square and imparting them to the rising generation.
Let’s recommit ourselves to this critical task. Our national welfare demands it.
The article was originally written for the Indiana Family Institute.