Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Thomas Jefferson Survives" (The dying words of John Adams)

Jefferson Survives
The Spirit and Promise of the Founding Fathers
Planted in Our Hearts
April 26, 2008 (Philadelphia)
  • Intro
  • Purpose / Vision
  • Place
  • Religion / God [NOTE]
  • Washington’s Prayer
  • Words and Deeds
  • The Promise is to All
  • Servants
  • The Afterlife / Union
  • Debt We Owe
  • Testify

Two of the most important political events in history occurred not too far from here. Yes, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of these United States are paramount acts by such an extraordinary gathering of great and honorable minds.

However, I have in mind two other events. These two events illustrate how much impact the principles and actions of ONE MAN can have. They are the laying down of power -- unheard of in the annals of history.

The first happened when after defeating the most powerful army in the world – the British Army -- General George Washington returned to the Congress and gave up power. This is the congress which makes one think of how Captain Moroni must have felt in NOT receiving the aid and support it promised to give him. (Washington stayed up nights writing and pleading with Congress for support for the troops.)

The second event occurred when eight years after he was inaugurated he -- again unparalleled in the annals of history – turned over the seat of power to his successor of his own free will. He returned to his beloved Mt. Vernon from which he had been so long parted.

Napoleon lamented, “They wanted me to be a Washington.”

It is said that this was the first time in history that any country’s leader had given power over to another person, without dying of natural causes or being overthrown. (His handpicked successor was John Adams, not Thomas Jefferson. We’ll talk later about potential reasons for this choice.)

Many of the Founding Fathers exhibited such unselfish acts of true patriotism. John Adams spent years away from his beloved Abigail here in Philadelphia and later in Europe securing the treaties and funds and relationships to birth this great nation. In these sacrifices these two were not alone.


My overall objective here today is to urge us on to invest ourselves in becoming more informed and active citizens – that we might keep this great nation free. And great it should be, citing Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Ezra Taft Benson said that
“Our forefathers left us a free government which is a miracle of faith – strong, durable, marvelously workable. Yet it can remain so only as long as we understand it, believe it, devote ourselves to it, and when necessary fight for it.” – (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, Q of 12, June 2 1978)

As you all know, the Lord through Joseph Smith declares that the Constitution is divinely inspired and --ultimately -- for the protection of all people of the world. (Even Chris Matthews of MSNBC knows of the Mormon idea that the Constitution is inspired by God.)

My second objective today is that we might catch an increasing vision of how the place of God -- and devotion to God and righteous principles -- informed the Founding Fathers, and at least one Founding Mother which I will mention.

“Because,” paraphrasing Joseph Smith, “the things of God [or in this case, the things that mattered to our Founding Fathers] are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.

“Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation [or, if you will, a people to Freedom], must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity ­­ thou must commune with God.”

Here, I will suggest, again paraphrasing, we must commune with the Founding Fathers. And we can – at least in a couple important and kind of neat ways.


Consider the fact that today you may see many marble statues, you may see brick buildings*, that if you visited Lexington, Concord, or even, e.g., Gettysburg, you would tread where great souls once did great things.

The following words come from the hero of the second day of Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (who said this about the battlefield there, but the ideas of which apply to ANY great place):

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.

“And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."

I am not sure the actual spirits of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) still linger here. But I do know the spirit OF their great lives DOES live here.

At least through our imagination we can see through the years and though the fog of our modern world to see and truly appreciate these “great deeds.”

General George Patton, in Europe during World War II told his aide, while looking over an ancient battlefield, “I was here.” Brothers and sisters, we CAN go to these places in our mind’s eye, by engaging our minds and hearts into this living history.

This Vision can impel us on in our own quest to do what’s right and improve the world.

Both George Washington and John Adams only to name two felt keenly this overwhelming need to be of service. Why? Why did they feel such a passion? I am not sure. Today we will examine their commitment to their countrymen and their God.

[Let’s press on.]

So. What of their beliefs in, and action towards, God -- and the Churches of the day?

“Complicating the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers is the fact that, like a lot of us, their views changed over time. During the colonial period, there was a lot of gray area among believers. . . . Thinking in the Age of Enlightenment allowed for liberal interpretations of religious doctrine. Most of the new emerging denominations were still considered Christian as long as one followed the teachings of Christ. Individual religious beliefs also seemed to be going through a creative transformation, especially during the Great Awakening of [the early 1700s].”

Of the Founding Fathers we find a few strong, what we might call, “orthodox” Believers, -- those who both attended church and believed in the Trinity, etc. We would find Deists, others who could be described as Deist-Christians, and a couple non-Christian Deists. Many or most Founding Fathers occasionally attended and/or supported the local Church.

Not many, if any, were Atheists; Skeptics, yes, but Atheists no. The list could be roughly delineated as:
  • Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen
  • Deistic-Christians/Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington [falls into his own special category], John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe
  • Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and John Jay, etc. Most orthodox Christians were Episcopalian (such as Hamilton), several were Presbyterian, or Congregationalists. A few were Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, and Roman Catholic. Some became Unitarians, such as Adams.
  • Others had no affiliation.
  • A few were opposited to organized religion and/or anti-clerical, such as Deists Paine and Ethan Allen.
  • Many were also Freemasons -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Roger Sherman, James Madison, and Charles Pinckney.
A contemporary Skeptic of Calvinism was none other than Asael Smith, the Prophet’s grandfather. He was raised a Congregationalist but as an adult became a Universalist, rejecting as did the majority of the Founding Fathers the double predestination of Calvinism – that some few were predestined to Salvation, while all others were predestined to Damnation. (And, that there is not a thing either group could do to change that. One could not resist Salvation, and the others could not receive Salvation.)

Later in life, when Asael heard that his son, Joseph Sr., was attending Methodist meetings in Tunbridge, he threw Thomas Paine's Age of Reason at him and told him to read it. Following this, Joseph Sr. had a vision which convinced him that no denomination "knew any more concerning the kingdom of God, than those of the world, or such as made no profession of religion whatever." Joseph, Sr. finally joined the Universalist church in Tunbridge along with his father and Jesse, his brother.

“Universalists . . . believed in Jesus Christ as a god of love who would save all of his children. Like all Universalists, Asael was more comfortable with a god who was more interested in saving than in destroying mankind. He believed that life continued after death.”

NOTE: It was his wife, Mary Duty, in her 90s, who traveled to Kirtland to be baptized into the Mormon Church, but died days after arriving and before being baptized. Both of the Prophet’s grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War, and it was at their knees that he learned to love his country. The Prophet said, a “Love of liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees.”

By the way, some of the harshest words written by the Founding Fathers about religion -- and religious leaders -- had to do with the Calvinist doctrine of mankind’s being “totally depraved” along with its doctrine that only a few Elect will be saved – through NO choice of their own. They also wrote and spoke against historical abuses of certain too-powerful clergy.

Generally, most of the Founding Fathers thought religion a good thing, even a necessary thing to sustain a nation.

James Madison says that it is a good thing there are so many different religions,

“Freedom arises from a multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.”

(Many Founding Fathers also saw the benefit of church attendance in learning morals.)

Some have doubted George Washington’s belief in God. To be sure, he was not vocal in expressing his specific beliefs. He was raised in the Episcopal Church, though not being confirmed, he became a Vestryman, and attended occasionally throughout his life.

His adopted daughter wrote, “My father was not one of those to act or pray so that he ‘might be seen by men.’ He communed with his own God in secret.”

Some scholars judge that Washington probably tended toward what might be termed a Deist-Christian. [Though privately he was a believer. See the book Sacred Fire which details his acceptance of Jesus Christ as Divine.] Once at a critical time in the budding nation’s history he publicly alluded to Jesus himself – one of the two or three times he did so publicly, from what I can tell.

Upon retiring from the military and returning power to the citizens he fought for, he offered this public prayer which he had printed and distributed to the several states. Note where he speaks of the “example” set by the “Divine Author” of our Religion.

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have [the United States] in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of [the United States] at large, and particularly for their brethren who served in the Field.

“And finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. Amen.” (George Washington’s Prayer for His Country, 8 June 1783)

During his inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of office, he summoned a Bible on which to take the oath, added the words “So help me God!” to the end of the oath, then leaned over and kissed the Bible.

Now, these great men were not perfect. In my life I have seen great historical figures go from being almost worshiped, to a deconstruction into almost irrelevance, and back to a reasonable estimation of their almost miraculous accomplishments. The Miracle of Philadelphia, two of them.

Still, they had faults. The great Washington held slaves, but freed them upon his death and provided for many of them till they died. He and Jefferson both desired to do away with Slavery, but could not figure out HOW to do it. So, in essence, though this was a tough thing for blacks (and for women for other reasons), they created, as Martin Luther King, Jr. termed it, a Promissory Note to those people not immediately covered in the rights and privileges of the Constitution – but which were announced to the world in the Declaration.

We might cite the paradoxical nature of both the Declaration and the Constitution as harking to a way to vouchsafe – ultimately --- to all peoples their God-given Natural Rights by securing what stability and rights which could be agreed upon by the great minds of the day of competing and contending interests.

This nation was created – with purpose – formed and crafted on certain Eternal ideas and principles, including that of respect for the individual liberty of conscience.

Regarding religion, or none at all, George Washington wrote:

“The bosom of America was to receive . . . the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges . . . if they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of ANY sect, or they may be Atheists.”

Joseph Smith later said it this way:

“If I esteem [someone] to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way, too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better.”

Along a similar line, The Prophet Joseph taught:

“The Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, . . .

“He . . . will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India.”

Patrick Henry, Orator of the Revolution commented:

“It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” – Patrick Henry, May 1765 Speech to the House of Burgesses

Benjamin Franklin noted that:

“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” -- Constitutional Convention of 1787

Regarding the promise of Liberty to all, the Prophet Joseph declared in the year he was martyred:

“Born in a land of liberty . . . I ever feel a double anxiety for the happiness of all men, both in time and in eternity. My [thoughts] . . . have for a long time troubled me, when I viewed the condition of men throughout the world, and more especially in this boasted realm, where the Declaration of Independence holds “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 pursuit of happiness,” -- but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours; . . .

“Our common country presents to all men the same advantages; the same facilities, the same prospects, the same honors, and the same rewards; and without hypocrisy, the Constitution, when it says, “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure the domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, to [sic] ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America,” [means] just what it [says] without reference to color or condition . . .”

On this topic, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

He went on to say, that the time had “come to cash this check - a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

And so this promise goes to all.

Now, I will mention a few of my favorite Founding Fathers: a kind of Top Ten:

Honorable Mention: Abigail Adams, faithful counselor and Friend to her husband, John Adams. I’ll also mention their able son, John Quincy Adams. He is a fascinating transition between the Founding Fathers and our day. As a young teen he apprenticed in the most extraordinary diplomatic positions. Later he formally represented the United States across Europe. He was the real author/creator of what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. After serving as president he served for 16 years in the House of Representatives.

10. Benjamin Franklin, printer, writer, scientist, inventor, diplomat -- the first American (and the polar opposite Adams in their diplomacy overseas).

9/8. Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, urging us on -- and acting -- to light the fire of Independence. Samuel Adams played a critical role in the earliest days of the Revolution, sparking the people to desire Independence.
7. George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights.
6. Thomas Paine, English pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical, classical liberal and intellectual for rationally putting forth strong reasons for Independence, and in sustaining us with inspiring words in our deepest trials.

5. Alexander Hamilton, a self-made man, for setting the stage for America to change from an agrarian society to a modern industrial nation.

4. James Madison, Father of the Constitution.

3. Thomas Jefferson, a Renaissance man for the complex, comprehensive, and compelling life he led -- and for the stirring way he formally announces our Independence to the world.

2. John Adams, for pushing, and pushing, and pushing some more – all the way through to Independence; Jefferson called him the Atlas of Independence. With Jefferson, they were called the North and South Poles of the new Union. George Washington let it be known that this stalwart, Adams, was his desire to succeed him as U.S. President. [I believe Washington desired Adams’ for his firm belief in a strong executive, desiring to give the new nation a bit more stability. Then, we’d get to Jefferson.]

1. Of course, George Washington, the only truly indispensable Founding Father.
  • He won the war; then laid down military power.
  • He inspired almost superhuman trust amongst fellow Founders that we could overcome our differences and come together to craft a Constitution; he turned down talk of monarchy. He was the glue which held the Constitutional Convention together.
  • He was trusted to hold the executive power, then again, he laid down political power.
  • His friend Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee called him, “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of his Countrymen.” Unparalleled.
As she got old, Abigail Adams remarked:

“When I look in my glass I see that I am not what I was. I scarcely know a feature of my face. But I believe that this Mortal body shall one day put on immortality and be renovated in the World of Spirits. Having enjoyed a large portion of the good things of this life and few of its miseries, I ought to rise satisfied from the feast, and be grateful to the Giver. -- (To John Adams, May 10, 1817)

Benjamin Franklin commented on our nature as spirits:

“We are spirits. That bodies should be lent to us [to] assist us in acquiring knowledge, or dong good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God.”

Regarding an afterlife, a few years before he died, John Adams famously said,

“I do not know how to prove physically, that we shall meet and know each other in a future state; nor does Revelation [as interpreted by the clergy] . . . give us any positive assurance of such a felicity. My reasons for believing it, as I do most undoubtedly, are that I cannot conceive such a being could make such a species as the human, merely to live and die on this earth.

“If I did not believe in a future state, I should believe in no God. This Universe, this all would appear, with all of its swelling pomp, a boyish firework. And if there be a future state, why should the Almighty dissolve forever all the tender ties which untie us so delightfully in this world, and forbid us to see each other in the next?”

Sullivan Ballou, a Union soldier who died in the Battle of Bull Run (or the Battle Manassas) spoke these poignant words of comfort and solace to his soon-to-be-widowed wife. He speaks of the debt he feels he owes to those who fought the Revolution. Listen to his dedication to his wife, his family, and especially his country.

"My very dear Sarah: The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days -- perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

". . . If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

"But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows . . . .

"I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee. . . .

"A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

"Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
"The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. . . . If I do not [return to you], my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

"Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

"But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours -- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

"Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again... ... O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children. Sullivan"

John Adams’ and Sullivan Ballou’s hopes are made perfect in LDS doctrine and temples.

Summing up, I respectfully submit we owe a similar debt to our own ancestors, to our Founding Fathers, and to our posterity to carry on this sacred fight for Liberty.

And with Martin Luther King, we can say:

“This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’

“And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.

“So let freedom ring . . . From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

“And when this happens ­­ when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

And finally, we Mormons, can know with perfection what Thomas Jefferson mused upon. That:

“The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored; such as it was preached and practiced by Himself. Very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment . . . .”

“The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers . . . .

“Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been grafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages.”

As you might know, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 – the Fifty Year Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A little more than a year later, Moroni, came to further progress toward the long awaited Restoration.

We are all part of that Restoration. Paraphrasing Patrick Henry, “If this be [The Restoration], make the most of it!”

Brothers and sisters:

I know that the Founding Fathers were inspired by God;

That God speaks through modern-day prophets;

And that we have an obligation to actively support that nation.

# # #
Bio for Scott L. Vanatter

Born in Kansas, raised in southern California. When in elementary school, his parents bought a brand new World Book Encyclopedia. Would read for fun; especially about U.S. Presidents. About age 12 started reading the whole newspaper, including the World News, and Opinion/Editorial section. By age 15, started a decades-long habit of reading two newspapers per day.

As a senior in high school joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Immediately became interested and immersed in church history. A year and a half later, began full-time mission in the Australia Sydney Mission, serving with President Earl C. Tingey. (While on mission, read Fawn Brodie’s, “No Man Knows My History.”) Now serving in second bishopric.

Four weeks after return from mission, married his childhood sweetheart. Parents of two daughters, Carrie and Sydney -- now grandparents of three grandsons.

Graduated with a finance degree from California State University, Fullerton. Career in sales for Fortune 500 companies; in recent years with technology, consulting, and merger & acquisition firms. Currently vice president, enterprise sales for software company with headquarters in Fairfax, VA.

Started two political action committees in southern California. Has since dabbled in politics and fundraising. With wife, loves to visit U.S. and Church historical cites. Both especially love and appreciate George Washington. (Bought personalized California license plates in the 80s: Nauvoo.)

Goals: Continue reading/researching; complete various writing projects (historical/biographical, doctrinal). Expand and perfect various websites. Serve mission with wife.


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