American Minute with Bill Federer SEPT. 20 - 'Congress shall make no law...to infringe the rights of conscience.'
American Minute with Bill Federer
SEPT. 20 - 'Congress shall make no law...to infringe the rights of conscience.'- Fisher Ames
sat in the pew next to George Washington at St. Paul's Chapel in New
York during the religious service following Washington's Presidential
He helped ratify the U.S. Constitution and was a Congressman from Massachusetts.
On August 20, 1789, he proposed as the wording of the First Amendment (Annals of Congress, 1:766):
"Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience."
His name was Fisher Ames.
Fisher Ames compared monarchy to a republic, as recorded by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Essays, Second Series, (chapter 7, "Politics," p. 97, 1844; Library of America, 1983):
is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a
rock, and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would
never sink, but then your feet are always in water."
Of America's Republic, Fisher Ames wrote in an article titled "Monitor," published in The New England Palladium of Boston, 1804, (Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, Boston: T.B. Wait & Co., 1809, p. 272):
"We now set out with our experimental project, exactly where Rome failed with hers. We now begin, where she ended."
Warning against the temptation to increase government, Fisher Ames stated in "Speeches on Mr. Madison's Resolutions" (Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, Boston: T.B. Wait & Co., 1809, p. 48):
control trade by law, instead of leaving it to the better management of
the merchants...(is) to play the tyrant in the counting house, and in
directing the private expenses of our citizens, are employments equally
unworthy of discussion."
At the Massachusetts Convention, January
15, 1788, Fisher Ames warned that democracy without morals would
eventually reduce the nation to the basest of human passions, swallowing
"A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction."
Fisher Ames commented in "The Dangers of American Liberty," 1805 (published in Works of Fisher Ames: with a selection from his speeches and correspondence, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854, pp. 349):
"The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness, which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be, liberty."
Russell Kirk described Fisher Ames in The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2001, chapter 3, p. 81-85):
time runs on, Ames grows more intense. Democracy cannot last...When
property is snatched from hand to hand...then society submits cravenly
to the immorality of rule by the sword...
Of all the terrors of
democracy, the worst is its destruction of moral habits. 'A democratic
society will soon find its morals...the surly companion of its
Is there no check upon these excesses?...The
press supplies an endless stimulus to popular imagination and passion;
the press lives upon heat and coarse drama and incessant restlessness.
'It has inspired ignorance with presumption'...
'Constitutions,' says Ames, 'are but paper; society is the substratum of government'...
Like Samuel Johnson, (Ames) finds the key to political decency in private morality."
Aaron McLeod wrote in "Great Conservative Minds: A Condensation of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind" (October 2005, Alabama Policy Institute, Birmingham, AL, chp. 3, p. 9-10}:
was pessimistic about the American experiment because he doubted there
were sufficient numbers of men with the moral courage and charisma to
preserve the country from the passions of the multitudes and the
demagogues who master them.
He was convinced that the people as a
body cannot reason and are easily swayed by clever speakers and
political agents. In his words, 'few can reason, all can feel'...
Democracy could not last, Ames thundered, 'for despotism lies at the door; when the tyranny of the majority leads to chaos, society will submit to rule by the sword.'"
Aaron McLeod continued:
"To Ames, what doomed the American experiment was the democratic destruction of morals...
believed that justice and morality in America would fail, and popular
rule cannot support justice, without which moral habits fall away.
the free press nor paper constitutions could safe-guard order from
these excesses, for the first is merely a stimulus to popular passion
and imagination, while the other is a thin bulwark against corruption.
When old prescription and tradition are dismissed, only naked force matters."
George Washington died December 14, 1799.
Ames delivered a eulogy "An Oration on the Sublime Virtues of General
George Washington," February 8, 1800, at Boston's Old South
Meeting-House, before the Lieutenant Governor, the Council, and both
branches of the Massachusetts Legislature (Boston: Young & Minns,
1800, p. 23):
"Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits...
is founded on morals and religion, whose authority reigns in the heart,
and on the influence all these produce on public opinion before that
opinion governs rulers."
Fisher Ames wrote in The Mercury and New-England Palladium of Boston (Vol. XVII, No. 2,8, Tuesday, January 27, 1801, p. 1; John Thornton Kirkland, Works of Fisher Ames, 1809, p. 134-35; The Works of Fisher Ames, compiled by a number of his friends, T.B. Wait & Co., Boston, 1809, p. 134-135; Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames, Vol. II, New York: Birt Franklin, 1971, pp. 405-406; Frederick C. Kubicek, Evolution-Guilty As Charged, Shippensburg, PA; Treasure House, 1993, p. 125):
has been the custom of late years to put a number of little books into
the hands of children, containing fables and moral lessons...
Many books for children are...injudiciously compiled...the moral is drawn from the fable they know not why...
of the most admired works of this kind abound with a frothy sort of
sentiment...the chief merit of which consists in shedding tears and
giving away money...
Why then, if these books for children must
be retained...should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a
school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble.
reverence for the Sacred Book, that is thus early impressed, lasts
long - and probably, if not impressed in infancy never takes firm hold
of the mind.
One consideration more is important: In no book is
there so good English, so pure and so elegant - and by teaching all
the same book they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain
the standard of language as well as of faith."
James Kennedy summarized Fisher Ames words in "The Great Deception"
(Fort Lauderdale, FL: Coral Ridge Ministries, 1989; 1993, p. 3; The
Great Deception-a speech delivered December 1, 1992, Ottawa, IL):
have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education. We're
starting to put more and more textbooks into our schools. We've become
accustomed of late of putting little books into the hands of children,
containing fables and moral lessons.
We're spending less time
in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principal text in
our schools. The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any
other man-made book."
At age 46, Fisher Ames was elected Harvard's president, but he declined due to an illness which eventually led to his death.
On July 4, 1808, exactly 32 years to the day after America declared its Independence, Fisher Ames died at the age of 50.
One of the most famous orators in Congress, Fisher Ames was quoted in the Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Bela Bates Edward, editor of Quarterly Observer, Brattleboro, VT: Joseph Steen & Co.; Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.; New York: Lewis Colby, 1851, p. 78):
man ever did or ever will become truly eloquent without being a
constant reader of the Bible, and an admirer of the purity and
sublimity of its language."