Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, January 22, 2023
“A Republic, If You Can Keep It” (Part 2 of 3)
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: In last Sunday’s RR, I briefly commented on the United States’ birth as a secular nation founded on Biblical viewpoints by men who were mostly devout Believers.
The title of this RR comes from Benjamin Franklin. At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin was asked what type of government had been formed. Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In this week’s RR, I will address how well we kept the republic under Scriptural guidelines for the first few decades, as assessed by a visitor from France, Alexis de Tocqueville.
In next week’s RR, I will address some dangers our republic faces that may cause the United States to fail. A question of utmost importance is: Will it be necessary for the United States to collapse before the Antichrist’s regime rises to power? In other words, would the United States (and her ever-ready willingness to engage in wars throughout the world) be a hindrance to the Antichrist’s regime?
THE UNITED STATES AND FRANCE IN THEIR INFANCY: Journey back in time with me to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The United States was formed as a nation in 1787, following a war which pitted a ragtag, hastily organized militia of farmers and backwoodsmen (American colonies) against the most formidable armed forces of that time (Great Britain, with Hessian mercenaries). The American colonists won this Revolutionary War against all odds. Surely, God chose to raise up America as a nation, a principle established in Daniel 2:21.
The United States enlisted a total of about 200,000 soldiers and sailors during this war. America’s battle casualties were 4,435 dead and 6,188 wounded. An estimated 20,000 Americans died of non-combat causes. (Infections were deadlier than the enemy’s bullets and cannon balls.) These poorly-trained, poorly-equipped American troops faced the formidable armed might of British and Hessian (German mercenary) troops in a war that lasted from 1775 until 1783.
The surrender of British Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia occurred in 1781. (Actually, an arrogant Cornwallis breached military protocol and directed a junior officer surrender his sword. Washington rebuffed Cornwallis’ insult by having a junior officer accept the sword.) Cornwallis’ surrender convinced the British Parliament that future war with the colonial rebels was futile. Peace negotiations ensued, culminating in the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The thirteen British colonies in North America had finally secured independence from Great Britain!
The colonists undertook the most difficult post-war task of creating a new government, which ended with the writing of a Constitution in 1787. One important feature of the Constitution is that it can be amended. The first ten amendments– the vitally important Bill of Rights– were adopted in 1791.
In Europe, France was a country in turmoil. France’s monarchy had been overthrown in 1789. The following years were marked by a series of republican and imperial governments. In 1830, the regime of France’s King Charles X was overthrown in a popular uprising, and France once again became a republic.
AN OBSERVANT FRENCHMAN VISITS THE UNITED STATES: The French government was interested in the new United States because both countries had warred against the British Crown and both countries emerged as republics at about the same time in history.
It was only natural for France and the United States to desire to learn from each other. Both countries existed in “uncharted waters,” and both countries had been born out of revolution. However the United States had avoided the post-revolution violence and chaos that had gripped France. What was the difference? Could France learn from the United States and calm her political and popular chaos?
Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville, usually referred to as Tocqueville, was a French aristocrat, diplomat, political scientist, political philosopher, and historian. He was born in 1805 and died in 1859.
Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831 to study the American penal system. He remained in this country less than ten months, but traveled widely in the eastern part of the country from Canada to New Orleans. His travel included two cities in Tennessee– Memphis and Nashville.
Tocqueville was impressed with certain aspects of life in the United States, life which differed from life in his native France. He admired American individualism, pride, and the role of religion. He published his observations in two volumes (1835 and 1840) in Democracy in America. Although admiring much about America, he also found disturbing faults.
Tocqueville’s observations are most interesting and even relevant today. He had much to say about America’s religious life. Since this is an RR, I will concentrate on this Frenchman’s view of religion in a United States in her infancy.
JUDEO-CHRISTIAN FAITH IN EARLY AMERICA: Discussing this topic is like sticking a hand in a buzzsaw. Practice of faith was spotty and irregular before, during, and shortly after the Revolutionary War. Historians seem to interpret America’s early religious practice in ways that fit their preconceived thinking.
Some colonists were devout Believers. Other colonists have been described as being notably “unchurched and un-Christian.” Waves of enthusiasm (“Awakenings”) rippled through the newly formed nation. One discouraged pastor who sought to evangelize early Americans wrote: “There are American families in this part of the country who never saw a Bible, nor heard of Jesus Christ…. The whole country, from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico, is as the valley of the shadow of death.”
I will not dwell on faith in the early United States, except to say that religious convictions were mixed and confusing (even by today’s standards). Even so, there developed sufficient faith among many early Americans by the 1830s that a visitor from France, Alexis de Tocqueville, was highly impressed.
Do not be led astray by numbers. God does not campaign to win a popularity contest or an election. Remember an important aspect of God’s work with His children: He always has used remnants (the few), not majorities (the many), to accomplish His work.
Yeshua started His ministry with only twelve disciples, but was rejected by most of His country men and women (Matthew 23:37-39): [Yeshua said] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Numerous examples are present in the Holy Writ showing God’s use of a small number of faithful people to accomplish His will in mighty ways. It was established by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah, chapter 53) that the Messiah would be despised and rejected by men, a grieving Man of sorrows, oppressed and afflicted, and sacrificed to suffer the death we should experience.
ROLE OF RELIGION (FAITH) IN EARLY AMERICA, ACCORDING TO TOCQUEVILLE: Some of Tocqueville’s views on religion in the early United States include:
● “In America religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to civil freedom.”
● “The gradual development of the equality of conditions is therefore a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress.”
● “It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo-American society. In the United States religion is therefore commingled with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism; whence it derives a peculiar force.”
● “Laws cannot succeed in rekindling the ardor of an extinguished faith, but men may be interested in the fate of their country by the laws.”
● “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
● “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
● “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
● “On close inspection, we shall find that religion, and not fear, has ever been the cause of the long-lived prosperity of an absolute government.”
● “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.”
● “Patriotism and religion are the only two motives in the world which can permanently direct the whole of a body politic to one end.”
● “[Patriotism] is in itself a kind of religion: it does not reason, but it acts from the impulse of faith and sentiment.”
● “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
● “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”
Tocqueville had many other notable quotations about religion in America and numerous other subjects. His Democracy in America is an interesting read, and is still pertinent to today’s society.
CONCLUSION: After starting to write this week’s RR, I had difficulty finding a way to end it. I must read the finished RR to see what I actually wrote. I guess I have been trying to say, although difficult to decipher from the text above, is that a remnant of Believers founded the United States as a secular republic following the Bible’s teachings, a remnant kept the Light of the World (Yeshua) burning as a lighthouse for the world, and the United States is now letting that Light dim. Sadly, we are fulfilling prophecies of end-time faith. Each of us should try to remain in the remnant of the faithful to be willing to keep the Light always bright. Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 22-Jan-2020 29th of Tevet, 5783
Ex 10:1-11 1 Ki 10 Ps 109 -110 Lk 22:1-38 (Php 2)