America – the Great Experiment in Self Governance
American Minute with Bill Federer
He sat next to George Washington in the pew at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York during the religious service following Washington’s Presidential Inauguration.
He helped ratify the U.S. Constitution.
His name was Fisher Ames.
Fisher Ames was a Congressman from Massachusetts where, on August 20, 1789, he proposed as the wording of the First Amendment (Annals of Congress, 1:766):
“Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.”
Fisher Ames compared monarchy to a republic, as recorded by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Essays, Second Series, (chapter 7, “Politics,” p. 97, 1844; Library of America, 1983):
“Monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but then your feet are always in water.”
Of America’s Republic, Fisher Ames wrote in an article titled “Monitor,” published in The New England Palladium of Boston, 1804, (Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, Boston: T.B. Wait & Co., 1809, p. 272):
“We now set out with our experimental project, exactly where Rome failed with hers. We now begin, where she ended.”
Warning against the temptation to increase government, Fisher Ames stated in “Speeches on Mr. Madison’s Resolutions” (Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, Boston: T.B. Wait & Co., 1809, p. 48):
“To control trade by law, instead of leaving it to the better management of the merchants…(is) to play the tyrant in the counting house, and in directing the private expenses of our citizens, are employments equally unworthy of discussion.”
At the Massachusetts Convention, January 15, 1788, Fisher Ames warned that democracy without morals would eventually reduce the nation to the basest of human passions, swallowing freedom:
“A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction.”
Fisher Ames commented in “The Dangers of American Liberty,” 1805 (published in Works of Fisher Ames: with a selection from his speeches and correspondence, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854, pp. 349):
“The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness, which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be, liberty.”
Russell Kirk described Fisher Ames in The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2001, chapter 3, p. 81-85):
“As time runs on, Ames grows more intense. Democracy cannot last…When property is snatched from hand to hand…then society submits cravenly to the immorality of rule by the sword…
Of all the terrors of democracy, the worst is its destruction of moral habits. ‘A democratic society will soon find its morals…the surly companion of its licentious joys’…
Is there no check upon these excesses?…The press supplies an endless stimulus to popular imagination and passion; the press lives upon heat and coarse drama and incessant restlessness. ‘It has inspired ignorance with presumption’…
‘Constitutions,’ says Ames, ‘are but paper; society is the substratum of government’…
Like Samuel Johnson, (Ames) finds the key to political decency in private morality.”
Aaron McLeod wrote in “Great Conservative Minds: A Condensation of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind” (October 2005, Alabama Policy Institute, Birmingham, AL, chp. 3, p. 9-10}:
“Ames was pessimistic about the American experiment because he doubted there were sufficient numbers of men with the moral courage and charisma to preserve the country from the passions of the multitudes and the demagogues who master them.
He was convinced that the people as a body cannot reason and are easily swayed by clever speakers and political agents. In his words, ‘few can reason, all can feel’…
Democracy could not last, Ames thundered, ‘for despotism lies at the door; when the tyranny of the majority leads to chaos, society will submit to rule by the sword.’”
Aaron McLeod continued:
“To Ames, what doomed the American experiment was the democratic destruction of morals…
Ames believed that justice and morality in America would fail, and popular rule cannot support justice, without which moral habits fall away.
Neither the free press nor paper constitutions could safe-guard order from these excesses, for the first is merely a stimulus to popular passion and imagination, while the other is a thin bulwark against corruption.
When old prescription and tradition are dismissed, only naked force matters.”
George Washington died December 14, 1799.
Fisher Ames delivered a eulogy “An Oration on the Sublime Virtues of General George Washington,” February 8, 1800, at Boston’s Old South Meeting-House, before the Lieutenant Governor, the Council, and both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature (Boston: Young & Minns, 1800, p. 23):
“Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits…
It is founded on morals and religion, whose authority reigns in the heart, and on the influence all these produce on public opinion before that opinion governs rulers.”
Fisher Ames wrote in The Mercury and New-England Palladium of Boston (Vol. XVII, No. 2,8, Tuesday, January 27, 1801, p. 1; John Thornton Kirkland, Works of Fisher Ames, 1809, p. 134-35; The Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, T.B. Wait & Co., Boston, 1809, p. 134-135; Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames, Vol. II, New York: Birt Franklin, 1971, pp. 405-406; Frederick C. Kubicek, Evolution-Guilty As Charged, Shippensburg, PA; Treasure House, 1993, p. 125):
“It has been the custom of late years to put a number of little books into the hands of children, containing fables and moral lessons…
Many books for children are…injudiciously compiled…the moral is drawn from the fable they know not why…
Some of the most admired works of this kind abound with a frothy sort of sentiment…the chief merit of which consists in shedding tears and giving away money…
Why then, if these books for children must be retained…should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble.
The reverence for the Sacred Book, that is thus early impressed, lasts long – and probably, if not impressed in infancy never takes firm hold of the mind.
One consideration more is important: In no book is there so good English, so pure and so elegant – and by teaching all the same book they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain the standard of language as well as of faith.”
D. James Kennedy summarized Fisher Ames words in “The Great Deception” (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Coral Ridge Ministries, 1989; 1993, p. 3; The Great Deception-a speech delivered December 1, 1992, Ottawa, IL):
“We have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education. We’re starting to put more and more textbooks into our schools. We’ve become accustomed of late of putting little books into the hands of children, containing fables and moral lessons.
We’re spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principal text in our schools. The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any other man-made book.”
At age 46, Fisher Ames was elected Harvard’s president, but he declined due to an illness which eventually led to his death.
On July 4, 1808, exactly 32 years to the day after America declared its Independence, Fisher Ames died at the age of 50.
One of the most famous orators in Congress, Fisher Ames was quoted in the Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Bela Bates Edward, editor of Quarterly Observer, Brattleboro, VT: Joseph Steen & Co.; Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.; New York: Lewis Colby, 1851, p. 78):
“No man ever did or ever will become truly eloquent without being a constant reader of the Bible, and an admirer of the purity and sublimity of its language.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.