the book, We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our
Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, by Matthew Spalding
(Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009).
you read the review you may like to watch this video about the
The video is produced by the Heritage Foundation which has been
advocating American First Principles for many years. You may
about Heritage at
is in a desperate place. Its existence as a constitutional
republic is in jeopardy. Matthew Spalding makes this analysis,
“A national government once limited to certain core functions
has an all but unquestioned dominance over virtually every area
of American life, restricted only by expediency, political will,
and (less and less) budget constraints” (p. 215).
should be read by every American who has a concern about the
future of their country. This is a book that every high school
student in America
should have as a textbook to read, study and digest. It would
be good study for all college students and it ought to be
required reading for all government elected officials. I would
give them a test on the contents.
Spalding has presented the reader with the essential principles
of the American founding documents and the thought of the
American founders. He has done so in a readable and
understandable manner so that a person with average intelligence
can easily grasp what he is saying.
is not a technical book, he has intertwined the thoughts of the
Founders in such a way that the reader quickly grasps that these
principles came from the Founders and were incorporated in the
Declaration of Independence and The United States
identifies the following ten foundational principles:
The founders viewed liberty as freedom “within the context of
constitutional and moral order”; not the freedom to do anything
and everything. The roots of this liberty was founded in their
British heritage. Religious faith, especially Protestant
Reformed Christianity, was the foremost force shaping their
ideas of liberty.
religious faith was crucial as the underpinning of American
liberty because it viewed liberty as a gift of God prior to
government. Government did not grant liberties; it only existed
to protect liberties. Human beings were created in the image of
God and this informed the founders understanding of human nature
and government (Spalding, pp. 14-15).
Equality. One of the fundamental natural rights of all men
is equality. All persons are to be given equal protection by
the law. The founders did not mean that all people would be
equal in terms of talents, abilities, wealth, property or
ambition. Furthermore, these rights are fundamental and not
simply anything that someone wants. These rights are
self-evident; they proceed “from an understanding of man and his
place in the nature of things” (p. 43). These rights pre-exist
government and ultimately limit government.
Jefferson wrote that their “rights derived from the laws of
nature, and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate” (p. 44).
Natural Rights. The Declaration of Independence lays
down the principle that “we hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”
These rights belong to all people by virtue of a common human
nature; a nature that is capable of judging right from wrong.
It is the “laws of nature and nature’s God,” the Creator that
gives these rights and so they are universal and for all time.
These are fundamental rights that cannot be justly denied or
interfered with by others.
of the Governed. If all men are equal then there is no
natural right to rule. Government must be established by a
voluntary agreement among the sovereign people. Popular consent
must abide by the rights and responsibilities of constitutional
agreement and the majority cannot do anything it pleases; the
fundamental rights of the minority are protected. The
enlightened consent of the people ultimately determines the
legitimacy of government.
Religious Freedom. Many religious groups came to America
for religious liberty. This developed in America a diversity of
religious belief and practice. There is no more fundamental
human freedom than the right to worship as one’s conscience
determines. The founders’ idea of religious liberty was that
government could not answer the questions of faith. There would
be no one official church or denomination of the nation. But
this never meant that there would be a complete separation of
politics and religion or that religion would be eliminated from
believed that religion was necessary for the success of popular
government therefore they gave wide freedom to the practice of
religion. George Washington argued that no nation would prosper
that “disregards the external rules of order and right, which
Heaven itself has ordained” (p. 59).
Private Property. Founder James Otis declared, “Can there
be any liberty where property is taken without consent?” The
Founders believed that property (and therefore free enterprise)
was an important part of liberty. The right to the fruit of
one’s labor was a precondition for the enjoyment of other
liberties. Property was not just viewed in economic terms; it
was the dynamic for allowing civil liberties to flourish. In a
republic property must be protected by law, including the
acquiring and disposing of property as one chooses. Property is
a line of defense against government that would take other
liberties from the people.
Rule of Law. Spalding calls this “the great foundation of
our Constitution” (p. 81). Governments as well as the governed
are to be subject to the law and everyone is to be treated
equally before the law. Thomas Paine wrote that in America “The
Law is King.” In order to put this principle into practice the
Founders produced the Constitution of the United States.
Americans wanted and received in this Constitution an “enduring
structure and process for securing their rights and liberties
and spell out the division of powers within government and its
overall limits” (p. 88).
Constitutionalism. The Founders produced a Constitution
that could be understood and debated by the common man. The
Constitution “preserved a republican form of government…and
avoided despotism and tyranny” (p. 100). It created a
government of delegated and enumerated powers. Government only
has those powers that have been given it by the consent of the
governed. The Constitution came into existence by a national
consensus and changes to the Constitution also required a
“deliberative, reasonable, and legitimate” national consensus
Washington counseled the new American nation that “the basis of
our political systems is the right of the people to make and to
alter their Constitutions of Government….But the Constitution
which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and
authentic act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon
all” (p. 116).
Self-Government. The Founders understood self-government to
include both political self-government and moral
self-government. The foundation of republican government is
people governing themselves, their families and their
communities. It was the institutions of family, religion and
community that developed citizen virtues in the people. As John
Adams observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and
religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of
any other” (p. 139). American virtues included self-reliance,
courage, risk-taking, competitiveness, knowledge of the meaning
of free government and liberty, self-restraint and respect
toward lawful authority (pp. 144-142).
In the American Revolution the people declared their
independence from Great
Britain and the creation of a new and independent country. The
Declaration of Independence claims that America is its own
sovereign nation among the nations of the world. The primary
function of the national government was to defend the American
people at home and abroad. Furthermore, the Declaration
appealed to a law higher than all other communities and nations;
the law of the Supreme Judge, Almighty God. America is unique
in that it was founded on universal principles, but it is also a
particular nation with its own history and circumstances.
American foreign policy should seek to apply these universal
principles to the practical realities facing the nation.
Prudence is key understanding of the Founders’
approach to foreign policy. George Washington advised the
country to seek self-sufficiency, command its own fortunes and
maintain its sovereign independence (p. 169).
One of the
most important chapters in the book is entitled, “A New
Republic: The Progressive Assault on the Founders’ Principles.”
The author shows how the Progressive movement of the early 20th
century sought to replace the Constitution with its own ideas of
good government. They denied that there was any such thing as
permanent principles and universal law. They asserted that all
ideas are relative to time and place. Old ideas are relevant
only to old times and we must change our ideas with the changing
times. The insights into our current cultural and political
decline in this chapter are worth the price of the book.
ends on a note of hope in his chapter, “American Renewal: The
Case for Reclaiming Our Future.” Spalding offers this advice,
“The change we need is not the rejection of America’s principles
but a great renewal of these permanent truths about man,
politics, and liberty---the foundational principles and
constitutional wisdom that are the true roots of our country’s
greatness” (p. 221). His book will help you begin to reclaim
those principles for yourself and those you love.