Thomas Paine in his book "Common Sense" wrote that the only way a republic can survive is if the people are "industrious, frugal, and honest." He also wrote that if the people don't become virtuous, and instead yearn for "luxury, indolence, amusement and pleasure" the nation will become corrupt and it will collapse.
In fact, the founders saw arrogance and indolence in the British system that caused the King to tax the American Colonists without due representation. This was one of the reasons to justify the separation from the Mother Nation.
Yet the founders also knew virtue was not a right, as I wrote about here. It was not something you were born with. It was not something that would always be there from generation to generation. It had to be taught. It had to be earned. It had to be learned. It had to be nurtured. It had to be inculcated into every generation starting with the young, and there would have to be constant reminders about it. It must be retaught and retaught throughout one's life.
It had to be obtained during the course of life as Thomas Jefferson noted when he said, "Virtue is not hereditary."
Religion was the topic of many of the letters between Jefferson and John Adams. They discussed how the young country could not afford to keep a military nor a police force, and therefore the only way to prevent people from committing crimes was to inculcate the values of the Bible and God in every American.
This method worked. It was for this reason that the Bible was taught in schools, and the "In God We Trust" was ultimately inscribed on coins and that the Ten Commandments was printed on the walls of Congress.
They also knew that any person, with a good guide, can become a virtuous person. For this reason they believed it was important to have a good educational system that taught about God. They believed that if a person grew to fear the Devil they would automatically be a virtuous people.
Likewise, if people were to attend religious services every week they would be reminded of the importance of virtue. Virtue would likewise be nurtured by readings of the Bible, and this is why most of our Presidents have referenced the Bible in their speeches.
They wanted moms and dads to talk about virtue, and teachers, and leaders in the community and pastors and priests in churches in each community. Virtue must be taught from generation to generation and must --must -- remain a powerful part of the community.
In his Farewell address, George Washington said:
"Let it be simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education... reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."People must be taught to be honest, and just, and fair in their speech and their work and in paying their dues to society. This was needed for the republic to succeed -- and it's still needed.
- Skousen, Kleon -- National Center for Constitutional Studies, "The 5,000 Year Leap: The Miracle That Chanages The World," 1981, 337 pages
- Fagan, Patrick F., "Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability," American Heritage, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/12/why-religion-matters-even-more-the-impact-of-religious-practice-on-social-stability, accessed 11/6/14