I’ve had this article in mind for quite some time, but I was having a difficult time trying to decide just how to proceed. There is too much for just one article, so I hope you will bear with me as I lay the groundwork and then move on to the main issue.
The title for this comes from a book (and later a movie) published in 1974 by Cornelius Ryan which told the story of the Allied Operation Market Garden during WWII. In September 1944, the operation was an attempt to break through German lines at Arnhem across the river Rhine in German-occupied Netherlands. The mission failed. The title was taken from a comment made by British Lt General Frederick Browning who told Field Marshal Montgomery that, “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”
In the book and movie, the idea of going too far, too fast put the Allies in a precarious position. I want to make an association with our Republic, but first, I need to remind everyone of that which we have departed.
We have all seen the quotes and memes telling how our republic depends on people and leaders of virtue to succeed. Does the idea of a person with virtue sound like someone you’d like to hang around with? Perhaps we don’t understand what the founders meant- John Adams said, “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”
To our founders, it was “self-evident” that our republic could only be successfully accomplished by self-governance. Henry Ward Beecher, a 19th-century minister, declared, “There is no liberty to men who know not how to govern themselves.” What is this virtue? Is it people who have no vices, no sin, no fun? Is it people who go around with a frown and force everyone to do what they do? Hardly, in fact, we will learn it is progressivism that demands conformance with an established “approved” behavior.
Our best look at a public person and the definition of virtue is Benjamin Franklin. Now if you know anything about Franklin, you know he had an illegitimate son and had some quirks, such as “air baths” where he would sit naked in a window to allow the sun and air to reach places not normally reached! That’s hardly the picture of a prudish old maid we might have in mind.
If you follow my writing, you know I frequently quote Paul Harvey when he said, “Increased liberty requires increased responsibility.” I think we tend to think that the ultimate liberty of freedom is anarchy, and that we must have laws to control people. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what our founders understood. Our control comes not from laws and government, but from within. Yes, there are those who will not restrain themselves. The purpose of laws is not to control people, but a method to punish those who will not restrain themselves.
The Apostle Paul laid it out quite simply that just because it might be legal, does not mean it is a good idea. Control yourself; do not let your environment control you. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (I Cor 6:12 NASB)
Franklin made a list of “Thirteen Virtues.” He not only wrote them down, but he also made a list and kept track of his progress or lack thereof. This is a time proven method for changing behavior; we see it used in diets and addiction programs. All successful people have a method for self-tracking, accountability, and self-improvement.
Let’s look at Franklin’s list.
Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Chastity. Rarely use venery, but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Looking at Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues, we do not see things that are extreme. He’s just telling us to be good people. As we look at social media, watch the news, and listen to many of our politicians is there not a chance that if these virtues were employed, we might not have many of the issues that plague our republic?
Franklin was the youngest of 17 children. His father was a candle maker, so young Ben had to make it on his own. He worked as an apprentice to an older brother who had a printing business. He left Boston and his family for Philadelphia and started his own printing shop. By the time he was 42, he was very wealthy, and he retired. Franklin gave away patents, started the first hospital and more. He did not live as an elitist- one who felt a need to rule “lesser” people. No, he lived and taught through his writings in a way to lift others up, but he knew they would have to do it by choice.
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
While this quote is often used to address poverty and welfare, it is clear that Franklin was convinced that people were better off when they took charge of their lives. As Adams said, when we have better individuals, we have a better nation.
I want to challenge you, and myself, to make a list of our own. In my novel, Spare Time, I try to encourage each of us to change how we live and think, and to return to the people we need to be. I will close with some appropriate quotes by some of our founders. In Part Two I’ll discuss the nation’s “Bridge Too Far.”
Benjamin Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”
Samuel Adams said: “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.”
Patrick Henry stated that: “A vitiated [impure] state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom.”
John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”