True and False Standards of Patriotism-What True Patriotism Demands of the American Citizen by Founding Father Roger Sherman
FOUNDING FATHER ROGER SHERMAN
The only person to have signed all four of the most significant documents in the American Republic’s early history: the Continental Association from the first Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution, was ROGER SHERMAN.
“The first men in the Continental Congress were Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and Roger Sherman.”-Patrick Henry, Howe’s “Historical Collections of Virginia”
“Roger Sherman and George Mason were the greatest statesmen I ever knew.” Patrick Henry, Life of George Mason, Life of Patrick Henry, confirmed by William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry’s grandson.
“The question is, not what rights naturally belong to man, but how they may be most equally and effectually guarded in society.” Roger Sherman
“He was an extraordinary man—a venerable uncorrupted patriot.” Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, at Roger Sherman’s death
“never said a foolish thing in life.” Thomas Jefferson, wrote of Roger Sherman
“Sherman’s air is the reverse of grace, there cannot be a more striking contrast to beautiful action, than the motions of his hands…” John Adams 1775
“He deserves infinite praise, no man has a better heart nor a clearer head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; it is remarked that he seldom fails.” Speaking of Roger Sherman. Notes of Major William Pierce (Georgia) in the Federal Convention of 1787
The Executive should be able to repel and not to commence war.-Roger Sherman
Mr. SHERMAN said he considered the Executive magistracy as nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect. June 1, 1787
Character of Roger Sherman
In estimating the character of Mr. Sherman, we must dwell a moment upon his practical wisdom. This, in him, was predominant trait. He possessed, more than most men, an intimate acquaintance with human nature. He understood the springs of human action in a remarkable degree, and well knew in what manner to touch them, to produce a designed effect. This practical wisdom, another name for common sense, powerfully contributed to guide him to safe results, on all the great political questions on which he was concerned; and assisted him to select the means which were best adapted to accomplish the best ends. With the habits and opinions, with the virtues and vices, the prejudices and weaknesses of his countrymen, he was also well acquainted. Hence, he understood, better than many others, who were superior to him in their rapidity of their genius, what laws and principles they would bear, and what they would not bear, in government. Of the practical wisdom of Mr. Sherman, we might furnish many honorable testimonies and numerous illustrations. We must content ourselves, however, with recording a remark of President Jefferson, to the late Dr. Spring, of Newburyport.
During the sitting of Congress at Philadelphia, the latter gentlemen, in company with Mr. Jefferson, visited the national hall. Mr. Jefferson pointed out to the doctor several of the members, who were most conspicuous. At length, his eye rested upon Roger Sherman. “That,” said he, pointing his finger, “is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” Not less complimentary was the remark of Mr. Macon, the aged and distinguished senator, who has recently retired from public life: “Roger Sherman had more common sense than any man I ever knew.”
Another distinguishing trait in the character of Roger Sherman, was his unbending integrity. No man, probably, ever stood more aloof form the suspicion of selfish bias, or of sinister motives. In both his public and private conduct, he was actuated by principle. The opinion which appeared correct, he adopted, and the measure which appeared the best, he pursued, apparently uninfluenced by passion, prejudice, or interest. It was probably owing to this trait in his character, that he enjoyed such extraordinary influence in those deliberative bodies of which he was a member. In his speech, he was slow and hesitating. He had a few of the graces of oratory; yet no man was heard with deeper attention. This attention arose from the solid conviction of the hearers, that he was an honest man. What he said, was indeed always applicable to the point, was clear, was weighty; and, as the late President Dwight remarked, was generally new and important.
Yet the weight of his observations, obviously, sprung from the integrity of the man. It was this trait in his character, which elicited the observation of the distinguished Fisher Ames. “If I am absent,” said he, “during the discussion of a subject, and consequently know not on which side to vote, I always look at Roger Sherman, for I am sure if I vote with him I shall vote right.”
To the above excellent traits in the character of Mr. Sherman, it may be added, that he was eminently a pious man. He was long a professor of religion, and one of its brightest ornaments. Nor was his religion that which appeared only on occasion. It was with him a principle and a habit. It appeared in the closet, in the family, on the bench, and in the senate house. Few men had a higher reverence for the bible; few men studied it with deeper attention; few were more intimately acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel, and the metaphysical controversies of the day. On these subjects, he maintained an extended correspondence with some of the most distinguished divines of that period, among whom were Dr. Edwards, Dr. Hopkins, Dr. Trumbull, President Dickerson, and President Witherspoon, all of whom had a high opinion of him as a theologian, and derived much instruction from their correspondence with him.
If the character of a man’s religion is to be tested by the fruits it produces, the religion of Mr. Sherman must be admitted to have been not of this world. He was naturally possessed of strong passions; but over these he at length obtained extraordinary control. He became habitually calm, sedate, and self-possessed. Mr. Sherman was one of those men who are not ashamed to maintain the forms of religion in his family. One morning he called them together, as usual, to lead them in prayer to God: the “old family bible” was brought out, and laid on the table. Mr. Sherman took his seat, and beside him placed one of his children, a small child, a child of his old age; the rest of the family were seated around the room; several of these were now grown up. Besides these, some of the tutors of the college, and it is believed, some of the students, were boarders in the family, and were present at the time alluded to. His aged, and now superannuated mother, occupied a corner of the room, opposite to the place where the distinguished Judge of Connecticut sat. At length he opened the bible, and began to read. The child which was seated beside him made some little disturbance, upon which Mr. Sherman paused, and told it to be still. Again he proceeded, but again he paused, to reprimand the little offender, whose playful disposition would scarcely let it be still. At this time, he gently tapped its ear. The blow, if it might be called a blow, caught the attention of his aged mother, who now with some effort rose from her seat, and tottered across the room. At length, she reached the chair of Mr. Sherman, and in a moment most unexpected to him, she gave him a blow on the ear, with all the power she could summon. “There,” said she, “you strike your child, and I will strike mine.”
For a moment, the blood was seen rushing to the face of Mr. Sherman; but it was only for a moment, when all was a mild and calm as usual. He paused–he raised his spectacles–he cast his eye upon his mother–again it fell upon the book, from which he had been reading. Perhaps he remembered the injunction, “honor thy mother,” and he did honor her. Not a word escaped him; but again he calmly pursued the service, and soon after sought in prayer ability to set an example before his household, which should be worthy their imitation. Such self possession is rare. Such a victory was worth more than the proudest victory ever achieved in the field of battle.*
*The PERCY ANECDOTES, Revised Edition, to which is added, a Valuable Collection of AMERICAN ANECDOTES. Original and Select in two Volumes. Vol. 1. Harper & Brothers, 1839 pg. 116 Reprinted and Republished for the internet by Gunston Nutbush Hall 2019
TRUE AND FALSE STANDARDS OF
What True Patriotism Demands of the American Citizen by Roger Sherman
THE birthday of Washington, the one man of all recorded time to whom all civilized
nations have, with one voice, awarded the crown of true greatness, brings memories of heroic times and heroic deeds, and inspires one dominant thought and one most appropriate theme upon which we may dwell with pride and profit.
The thought is that we are Americans, standing in the midst of our heritage of this great land, with its unlimited wealth of resources and its boundless possibilities, with hearts swelling with noble yearning of patriotism born of the traditions and the memories we are so fortunate as to have had handed down to us.
The theme is Americanism. What is it? What have we which we should distinguish by that name? What are the typical ideas, principles, and ideals of which we, so far as in each of us lies, should be special custodians, and which, as they have come to us illustrated with many a tradition of wisdom under difficulty, of endurance, self-sacrifice, and of valor, we should guard, cherish, inculcate, and, in our turn, pass on to the ages yet to come? Noblesse oblige. With fortune’s favors comes responsibilities; traditions and opportunities, such as those of the descendants of revolutionary sires, carry with them grave duties to their country and to themselves.
Foremost among American typical ideas, we may place the ever present love of liberty, and with it its correlative obligation of obedience to law. The Anglo-Saxon, first among the peoples of the earth, has attempted to solve the problem of liberty subjected to law, and of law subjected to liberty. As there can be with us no law without liberty of the individual, so there can be no desirable liberty which is not restrained by law. The liberty to do right is for the individual, in all directions of growth and development, so long as he trespasses not upon the equal right of his fellow; the function of law is to lay its restraining hand upon liberty that dares to do wrong to the equal; for a wrong done to one is a wrong done to all, and a wrong to the state. Growing lawlessness is one of our great national dangers–lawlessness in high places; lawless business methods; lawlessness of public men; a standard of obedience which results only in evasion; a rule of conduct restrained only by a view of the opening doors of a penitentiary. Lawlessness begets lawlessness. The constant spectacle of legislators faithless to their obligations, to their constituents, and to the state; of corrupt politicians escaping punishment, and holding places once considered honorable, by grace of a dollar; of great corporations and combinations of capital, lifting themselves beyond the reach of the individual citizen, and, in some instances, beyond that of the commonwealth itself, can but breed other lawlessness, and tend to reduce society to its original condition–that of savage warfare, intensified and made more destructive to the innocent by the instrumentalities which modern science has made available.
The American, true to his country and its traditions, must therefore necessarily hold all citizens to obedience to law, and demand that all shall be alike amenable to it and equal before it. The lawlessness of power is most dangerous. The eternal vigilance that guards our liberties cannot avail without that constant watchfulness of the encroachments of power, which, history teaches us, precede the downfall of freedom; insidious and specious claims; usurpation masked behind false pretense or accepted truths, or public danger, real or imagined–usurpation, not always by the government or the throne, but by those greater forces behind the throne. Stability of the law and certainty of its equal enforcement are the sure safeguards against anarchy, which is but the ultimate development of all lawlessness. The support of law and order should be required of those in places of power with equal firmness as from the weak.
Not least among the traits of our ancestors were sturdy independence and self-reliance. Necessities of their existence–these entered into their daily lives and found expression in many of the provisions of the governments which they formed. These were among the earliest developments of that democratic spirit which recognizes the man for what he is and has done, rather than for his pretensions, his wealth, or his ancestry. As Daniel Webster pointed out in his oration, delivered at the two hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, the strength of our government depends greatly upon the system adopted by the first settlers of New England, by which the frequent division of estates was made certain, and the accumulation of great landed properties was declared to be against public policy. The equal distribution of wealth was aimed at, and the independence and mutual respect that grew up from small holdings of farms did much to build up and preserve our national character. When the soil is owned by great numbers of independent freemen, no foreign foe is to be feared. The American at his best does not need to be nursed or coddled. An open field and a fair fight are all the demands he makes of fortune or of his fellow man.
Simplicity of manners, and the secondary place accorded to mere wealth, were characteristics of the men and women who gave life to colonial independence, and molded our commonwealths into a national Union. In those days wealth brought culture, refinement, and comfort; but history of that era fails to record a single instance where it purchased a senatorship, a cabinet position, or a judgeship; or yet, where these were purchased for a subservient tool who was needed as an advocate of some great wrong. Our heritage is not one of luxury, nor are our lives devoted to the aping of foreign manners, with their attendants of foreign vices.
But, while we dwell with pardonable pride upon the early history of our country, recall with admiration the stern and simple virtues of those who made that history, and revere in silent thought the great patriot who led in that epoch-making struggle, we ought not to forget the demands of the present hour upon our citizenship, nor close our eyes to the impending dangers beneath we are drifting. Are our people walking in a fool’s paradise of mutual admiration, cheered on their way by constantly recurring pyrotechnic displays of adulation and choruses of self-glorification? Are we in danger of mistaking our self-satisfaction for patriotism? Do we even now realize the dangers of the sectional spirit, against which Washington warned his countrymen? Are there not too many excellent people who believe that, by reason of our soil, or climate, or race, or atmosphere, or form of government, the people of the United States are be be exempted from the calamities which history tells us have befallen other nations?
Is there not a feeling that, on this continent and in this age, men are in some unknown way to be freed from the consequences of vices and imperfections which destroyed mankind in the past, and that, for us, nature may have made special arrangements, and suspended the usual operations of cause and effect for the exceptional care of her favorite children of the West? No matter what happens, that the United States will be, in that purely American and most comprehensive phrase, “all right,” is the inward belief which enables the average citizen to go on from year to year, oblivious to the growth of dangerous evils, and complacently leaving them to the nursing care of his very particular friend, the professional politician. Yet, it is apparent that there are great numbers of people, increasing year by year, who are coming to realize that even republics may not always be perfect, and that the American Republic can be in some things improved, even if the form of government cannot be. The very patriotism which animates us, like the love of the parent for the child, leads us to see that there are diseases in the body politic which are not mere eruptions upon the surface, but are deadly in their character; and, though the infant is strong and its constitution perfect, it may not, nevertheless, be able to throw off sickness without a little care on the part of its natural guardians.
In a republic, as has been so often said as to to be a platitude, the government will be good or bad in exact ratio to the goodness or badness of the citizens who create it, for it rests upon their intelligence and political virtue. Above all, therefore, should we guard from all attacks our system of public education. Our public schools should be the nurseries of pure Americanism. Here should be taught—aye, to the exclusion, if need be, of other studies now occupying attention–American history, the principles of our form of government as laid down in our Constitutions and bills of rights, the practical duties of citizenship, and the need of their active performance. Needed reforms should not be left to the practical politician, for he moves to their accomplishment with lagging and reluctant step, accelerated only by the prodding bayonets of outraged citizenship. What he wants is votes, and he never “panders to the moral sense” of the community if he can avoid it.
And this brings us to the consideration of another characteristic of the early days–the moral sentiment which prevailed in the formative era, and entered into the struggle for independence, and the religious force always present in its inception and through its progress. In that epoch, the Ten Commandments had a place in politics, as well as in daily life. Call the early New England system a “theocracy” if you will, yet, in the discussions of public affairs, in the choosing of public officials, in the deliberations of the town-meeting, morals and religion were in their politics, and they heeded not the sneer that they were infusing politics into their religion. What though, seeing less clearly by the dim lights of their age, they sometimes became fanatics and persecutors, were they not right in teaching and practicing that the principles of religion and morality should govern men in the discharge of their duties as citizens, as well as otherwise?
Can we, in our day, hope long to maintain our system upon the plane of good government, if we sanction the methods now everywhere around us, permitting all the vile passions of barbarous-yea, of savage–man to be let loose in all manner of evil-doing every year, and call these elections? Shall we turn over our public schools–aye, our very homes–to the rule of law-breakers, and they who bear false witness?
Those who stand on the watch-towers of human progress are warning us that we are upon the border-line beyond which lie great political and social changes, and that the hour is close upon us when once again the American who loves his country must choose the ground upon which he will stand to fight again a battle for the race. The great pendulum of time has swung once again to the point of transition, and the hour hand points to the day–yea, to the very moment–when old ideas and formulas and time-worn methods no longer serve to still the beatings of the great heart of humanity, and man, with uplifted brow, and tingling nerve and bounding pulse, is about to march forward to another stage of his unknowable destiny.
What this change will be we know not. That it will be of the nature of a revolution cannot be well doubted. That there will be a more perfect Union is probable. That money will be less a god of our people we may sincerely hope. We hear the distant tread of myriad feet; the sound of strange cries is wafted to us from the distance, and, like the dumb beasts in the atmosphere of a coming storm, we stand silent and appalled at what we cannot avert. But we need not fear, for, whatever the coming change may bring forth, it will be in the interest and advancement of the cause of humanity and popular government; and they will come forth upon a still higher plane for the progress of the race. Law and order will be maintained, for the Anglo-Saxon is their guardian and protector, but they will be the law and order of a self-governed people, freed from industrial tyranny and the domination of the golden calf.
God grant that, when this hour strikes, we and each of us may be found anchored to the ideas and principles which America has given the world, and that we shall remember that names are nothing; the achievements or rank of ancestors or kindred are nothing; long descent is nothing; but the culture and growth of each individual in strength of mind and body is everything; fixed principles of citizenship, of morals, and of business conduct are everything; courage to assert and maintain conscientious and well considered convictions, and to do what we believe, is everything. A feeble race of men, drifting down the stream of time, the sport of shifting currents, and wrecked ever and anon upon the same shoals and rocks error and folly, cannot too soon perish. But a strong, conscientious, courageous, self-respecting people, standing firm for the right, for human progress, for human liberty, whether rich or poor, high among the rulers of nations or walking in the humble estate, commands and receives respect, and bears with it the seed and promise of continued life. Nor should we forget that sublime saying of the early Puritan Republican, who, having condemned his king to death, was equally as firm in resisting the usurpations of his successor, that “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”
In the veins of all the races that make up the manhood of America, there flows no drop of blood which has not been purified and make strong by rebellion against wrong. Whether Teuton, Celt or Saxon, Frank or Scot, in all ages and in all lands, on the plains and mountains of Europe, at Runnymede and Bosworth Field, from Blackwater to Bannockburn, from Lexington to Yorktown, these have wrung from the hands of overbearing power, civil and religious liberty and the crowns of honor. Sad will be the day when the American people forget their traditions and their history, and no longer remember that the country they love, the institutions they cherish, and the freedom they hope to preserve, were born from the throes of armed resistance to tyranny, and nursed in the rugged arms of fearless men.
Reprinted and Republished for the internet by Gunston Nutbush Hall 2019