Now I'm focusing on the part of the book where Metaxas describes how well the Founding Fathers knew their history. This is a parmount point because knowledge, along with wisdom and morality, is so important to leading our country, whether we are the voters or the players. We must know our history. Our Founding Fathers certainly did. In fact, it was so essential to have a proper education in the 18th century that one was rather scorned if they blew off their education, as in the case of Robert Carter III.
In the early 18th century "...the House of Burgesses first began to develop that broad range and depth of political talent that Virginia would exhibit in so much abundance during the Revolutionary Era." These were "...men of impressive learning and legislative ability." (Political Life in Eighteenth-Century Virginia by Jack P. Greene, p38)
Now let's look at one of Metaxas' quotes from If You Can Keep It:
On the simplest level, government exists to protect innocent people both from within, from those who would steal and rape and murder; and from without, from foreign powers that would do the same on a wider scale. In order to deal with the passions of human beings, some government is therefore necessary. (Metaxas, 28)
"...government exists to protect." (Metaxas, 28) This is in the Constitution. I learned this at a seminar I listened to in February, that was given by Constitutional lawyers Michael Farris and Jenna Ellis. More blogging on this later this year after I finish a Constitutional literacy course!
Metaxas then goes on to describe how throughout the beginning of time, kingdoms were formed by coups and uprisings, and taken down by despots and mobs.
No one in the history of the world had ever established "the idea that there could be a rebellion against a leader that would end not in a new leader but in a new kind of leadership altogether-a leadership that was accountable to those whom it led." (Metaxas, 30) Not only that, but everything remained orderly and peaceful. Metaxas goes into great detail about this when he shares an emotional but true story of George Washington when he resigned his commission after the American Revolution. Like the Cincinnatus of Rome, Washington's duty was done. He just wanted to go home.
Metaxas then explains that our Founding Fathers knew their history. They knew the history of the rise and fall of ancient regimes. They read the classics, including the original writings of the Greeks and Romans. James Madison, especially, had made a specific study of the governments of the world.
The Founding Fathers "...found themselves at a particular moment when circumstances allowed history to change forever, as though it had been plodding in two dimensions and suddenly it was possible to burst into a third. It was a singular moment in the history of the world." (Metaxas, 30)
The Founding Fathers "...understood that for an idea as wild as theirs to do more than burst onto the scene and then disappear again would take tremendous forethought and planning." (Metaxas, 31)
"A view of mankind as fallen meant that a government must be created that took this into account and whose very structure limited the power of any one part, lest that power grow and take over, devolving into tyranny. It was an observable fact of history that everyone wanted power and more power." (Metaxas, 32)
Because of their studies of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and of European writers closer to their time like John Locke and Montesquieu, checks and balances were put into our framework of government. "The founders would take the best of these ideas and improve upon them in some revolutionary ways to create the freest country that had ever existed-and more than that, the freest people." (Metaxas, 33)
So of course when we started our classical homeschool, we had to study the history our Founding Fathers did, and read some of the same books! First the Greeks!
These are ostraca that my son made for one of our history presentations when we studied the Ancient Greeks at the rhetoric level. After studying up on these I created an inter-active activity to better teach the concept that Patrick Henry of Colonial Williamsburg was always telling us about...tyranny in ancient Greece, so thus we needed to know our history so that we don't make the same mistakes. You can see actual ostraca with the history of ostracism here, which was the basis for our activity. You can read about our interactive activity here.
Below are some of our experiences with the following specific connections:
The Apology of Socrates and Patrick Henry
Plato's Republic and James Madison
Rome, the Campeachy Chair, and Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father Fascination for all things Greek and Roman
Cato, Romans, and George Washington
If You Can Keep It is available for preorder at Amazon. You can read more about it here at Eric Metaxas' website.