Saturday, May 22, 2010

The foundation of education in a republic

"The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty." 

- Benjamin Rush (1735-1813), American Founding Father.


Phil Johnson said...

The link claims that Rush was an opponent of George Washington and that he tried to get him relieved of his Commander-In-Chief position.
Does anyone know on what the opposition was based?

jimmiraybob said...

Pinky - Does anyone know on what the opposition was based?

I think this sums it up the way that I've read it elsewhere:

"Rush campaigned for the removal of Gen. George Washington early in the Revolutionary War, as part of the secretive Conway Cabal, losing Washington's trust and ending Rush's war activities.

Author Dave R. Palmer wrote this about Rush and his actions:

(He) weighed in with words more poisionous than most, penning a cryptic assessment of "the state of disorders of the American Army." Washington, he claimed, was a puppet in the hands of a few officers at headquarters. The major generals were a sorry lot. The soldiers ragged and undisciplined. There was "bad bread, no order, universal disgust." He also told John Adams that officers referred to Gates' army as "a well-regulated family", but called the forces directly under Washington "an unformed mob." He went on to contrast Gates, at the "pinnacle of military glory", to Washington, who had been "outgeneraled and twice beaten." He was not reticent to share his views with others near and far.[1]

"Rush later, after the fact, expressed regret for his actions against Washington. In a letter to John Adams in 1812, Rush wrote, "He [Washington] was the highly favored instrument whose patriotism and name contributed greatly to the establishment of the independence of the United States."


The letter in question was forwarded to Washington who apparently recognized the handwriting as that of Rush. Washington was not amused.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The above is true, except the last, since Washington died in 1799.

For some reason, John Adams found it necessary to tell Rush that Washington had allegedly said

‘He had been a good deal in the world, and seen many bad men, but Dr. Rush was the most black-hearted scoundrel he had ever known.”

This internet article continues

It is important to note that Adams, knowing the type of man that Washington was, only mentioned the comment to expose it as nothing more than fallacious gossip. However, Dr. Rush did not accept the anecdote as unfounded and expressed privately that he was deeply hurt by the comment. Revisiting the incident years later, he wrote, “When Calvin heard that Luther had called him ‘a child of the devil,’ he coolly replied, ‘Luther is a servant of the most high God.’ In answer to the epithet which G. Washington has applied to me, I will as coolly reply, ‘He was the highly favored instrument whose patriotism and name contributed greatly to the establishment of the independence of the United States.” That said, one wonders if such sentiments pre-dated the quips and gossip recounted in his letter, as years earlier, while Washington lead the continental army out of valley Forge, Rush and several other members of congress created a society known as the Conway Cabal, whose primary goal was the ousting of Washington from command. Only after the Cabal’s failure did Rush lament his involvement in it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I can't find any evidence Luther called Calvin a "child of the devil," either, although Rush tells the story in a February 12, 1812 letter to Adams.

Also in that letter, for those interested like Pinky, Rush says that Washington's unsuitability as C-in-C was a view shared by Patrick Henry and a number of colonels and generals, including future general Alexander Hamilton.

James Hanley said...

Is there any evidence that the quote of Rush posted here actually has any truth value?

Tom Van Dyke said...

How nice to hear from you again, Dr. Hanley, off more comfortable ground for you.

Dr. Rush's appears to be an a priori claim, although his use of "virtue" may or may not be in the Christian, as opposed to pagan [Greco-Roman], sense. Socrates got the hemlock for his impiety toward the gods of The City [polis]; Rome found Christianity's monothesism intolerant in a polythestic theo-polity.

In the classical world---and Hobbes sees it the same way---religion is a function of the state, for the civil peace.

Rush writes elsewhere that he'd prefer the young American skulls full of mush to be educated in Islam or Confucianism than no religion atall, as Jonathan Rowe notes here:

[However, there's insufficient evidence Rush actually understood either---the content of all religions are not equal---his point was more rhetorical and theoretical.]

The "pagan" Stoics were certainly on the right track via reason and natural law [see Romans 2]; they were were embraced from the first by the early Church [Tertullian called him "our Seneca"] and were gathered in as 'right reason"---subsumed---by medieval Christian thought, as was Aristotle.

And the irony here, or the closing of the circle---is from George Washington himself, who, virtually alone among the Founders, was clearly a Stoic. In his Farewell Address, Washington argues as Dr. Rush did, and by citing "experience," argues a posteriori:

"Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

You are manifestly such a gentleman as Washington describes, Dr. Hanley, possessed of a refined education, and with a mind of peculiar structure. Rush and Washington simply argue that folks like you are unique, or at least, uncommon. If men were angels---or at least reasonable demons---government would not be required.

Anonymous said...

I have been studying Benjamin Rush for 2 years now. I have read his autobiography, his letters to Adams Washington and everyone else. I have found no evidence he was ever in any conspiracy. He was fed up with soldiers dying because in his opinion, the Medical Director of the army - William Shippen - was not doing his job. Rush got so fed up he wrote to Washington. When Washington did not take immediate action he wrote to others citing the quotation from Conway, calling Washington a weak general.
It's true he wished Gates had become commander instead of Washington - but all this talk of "conspiracy, hate, intrigue" etc... is not true. Read L.H. Butterfields "Letters of Benjamin Rush" - it's all there.