When Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall after signing the Constitution, a woman approached him and asked a simple question. “Sir, what have you given us?” Franklin looked at her and immediately replied: “It is a republic if you can keep it.” That well-spoken truth surely applied to 1787 America, but what many people don’t realize is that it still applies today. Our inspired founding fathers knew that only righteous men and women can keep their liberty. When a people as a whole become more corrupt and less virtuous, they start to give up their freedoms. Liberty is a blessing that results from doing good and maintaining virtue.
What is virtue, and why is it essential to liberty? Virtue is a powerful word, meaning many things. One of the definitions of virtue in the Webster’s 1828 dictionary is this:
“…The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws…”
Virtue is the epitome of all things good, including liberty. The founders of America wanted to give their countrymen freedom, so they created a liberty-protecting government that would do just that. But they also knew that the only way for this government to uphold liberty was for the individuals it governed to be virtuous. Just like a machine only works when one follows the instructions, the American Republic only works when its people follow the guidelines set by God, or in other words, when they are virtuous.
When individuals have love for and obey their Creator, they are blessed with personal liberty. Why personal liberty? Waving a magic wand and suddenly changing the whole nation to be virtuous and moral is not an option, so the would-be reformers of mankind must start smaller. Before a whole country can have liberty, it is necessary that the individuals of that country gain their own personal liberty. Some may argue: “What difference can one virtuous individual make? A single person cannot change an entire country.” However, just as one step after another conquers a mountain, a person who is virtuous and free before God gains increasing height and strength as more people join him.
A people without virtue cannot have liberty. In fact, they will not even CHOOSE liberty. Contrary to what some believe, liberty is not a government handout. Liberty is a blessing: the result of choosing to love God and retain virtue. To have liberty as a country, a people must first have liberty in themselves. And the only way to find liberty in their souls is to have virtue—to choose to follow God because of their love to Him.