Civic Virtues and the Founding Fathers.

Writing Assignment:
The American victory in the Revolutionary War created a new nation whose founding fathers hoped would be
a model of republican democracy unmatched in the history of the world. The men tasked with developing the
government system and governing documents for this new nation recognized the incredible potential for
positive growth, with a flourishing economy, overseen by a well-educated and well-intentioned citizenry.
However, most of the founders believed that in order to be successful, such a country must be governed by
men of high character with certain civic virtues who would put the good of the nation above their own
individual desires or interests. The following excerpts and quotes were written by some of our nation’s
founding fathers and great thinkers before, during, and after the revolutionary period. Consider the virtues of
civic and personal responsibility that these men are espousing in these excerpts/quotes and craft a response
based on the questions below.
For the first part of your essay, read the excerpts/quotes and address the following questions: What civic
virtues were being discussed by the founders? How do the ideas put forth reflect the issues America and
Americans faced while fighting the Revolutionary War and creating a new nation? Do the virtues expressed in
the documents still inform our modern understanding of what it means to be American? If so, how? Do you
believe these virtues apply in our modern world? Why or why not? Do you believe these virtues could apply in
your life? How? For the second part of your essay, read the final document, “What is an American” and
answer the following questions: Are the observations of Crevecoeur about Americans favorable or
unfavorable? From what you have read, do these observations seem accurate for Americans at the time? Do
these observations in any way reflect modern Americans? If so, how?
Conclude your essay by considering your own life. Think about a time when you were faced with a challenge
which required hard work to overcome. Were you a “sunshine patriot” who shrank from the challenge or did
you face the challenge head on? Were you proud of yourself in the end? After considering these questions,
but not writing about them, conclude your paper by answering this question: do you believe that we, as
individuals and as a nation, can find guidance and inspiration from these people and events of the past OR do
you feel that the world is so vastly different 220+ years later that these messages do not apply? Briefly explain
your response.
Civic Virtues Excerpts and Quotes
Political Essay – Samuel Adams
Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen onto any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.”
Source: Samuel Adams, Political Essay published in the Public Advertiser, 1749
The Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
The American Crisis, No. 1
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we may obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value…
It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death…
Source: Thomas Paine “The American Crisis,” No. 1, December 23, 1776
Federalist Papers Number 62
An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once by all prudent people as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly. His more friendly neighbors may pity him, but all will decline to connect their fortunes with his; and not a few will seize the opportunity of making their fortunes out of his. One nation is to another what one individual is to another; with this melancholy distinction, perhaps, that the former, with fewer of the benevolent emotions than the latter, are under fewer restraints also from taking undue advantage of the indiscretions of each other. Every nation, consequently, whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability, may calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic policy of its wiser neighbors.
Source: James Madison, Federalist Papers Number 62, February 27, 1788
Observations on the Constitution
Humility and benevolence must take place of pride and overweening selfishness. Reason, then rising above these mists, will discover to us, that we cannot be true to ourselves, without being true to others – that to be solitary, is to be wretched – that to love our neighbors as ourselves is to love ourselves in the best manner – that to give is to gain – and, that we never consult our own happiness more effectually than when we most endeavor to correspond with the Divine designs, by communicating happiness, as much as we can, to our fellow-creatures…Each individual then must contribute such a share of his rights as is necessary for attaining that security that is essential freedom; and he is bound to make this contribution by the law of his nature; that is, by the command of his creator; therefore, he must submit his will, in what concerns all, to the will of the whole society.
Source: John Dickinson, “Observations on the Constitution,” published in the
Pennsylvania Mercury and Universal Advertiser on April 17, 1788.
George Washington’s Inaugural Address 1789
Fellow Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection…On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance, by which it might be affected.
Source: George Washington, Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789; New York.
What is an American?
The next wish of this traveler will be to know whence came all these people. They are a mixture of English, Scottish, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen…I know it is fashionable to reflect on them, but I respect them for what they have done; for the accuracy and wisdom with which they have settled their territory; for the decency of their manners; for their early love of letters; their ancient college, the first in this hemisphere; for their industry, which to me who am but a farmer is the creation of everything. There never was a people, situated as they are, who with so ungrateful a soil have done more in so short a time…In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together…Urged by a variety of motives, here they came. Everything has tended to regenerate them: new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system; there they are become men: in Europe they were as so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mould and refreshing showers; they withered, and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war; but now, by power of transplantation, like all other plants they have taken root and flourished! Formerly they were not numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens. By what invisible power has this surprising metamorphosis been performed? By that of the laws and that of their industry….Whence proceed these laws? From our government. Whence that government? It is derived from the original genius and strong desire of the people ratified and confirmed by the crown…What, then, is the American, this new man? He is either a European or the descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country…He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds…Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigor, and industry which began long since in the East; they will finish the great circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit. The American ought to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest; can it want a stronger allurement? Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of bread, now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence exuberant crops are to arise to feed and clothe them all, without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. Here religion demands but little of him: a small voluntary salary to the minister and gratitude to God; can he refuse these? The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American.”
Source: J. Hector St. John de Crevecour, “What is an American?”
from Letter from an American Farmer, 1782.

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