Can We Preserve What They Wrought?

Today we live in a land choice above all other lands. We live amid unbounded prosperity—this because of the heritage bequeathed to us by our forebears—a heritage of self-reliance, initiative, personal industry, and faith in God, all in an atmosphere of freedom.

Were these Founding Fathers and pioneer forefathers to counsel us today in their fundamental beliefs, so manifest by their acts, what would they say to us?

First: They would counsel us to have faith in God. It was by this faith that they were sustained in their privations, sacrifices, and suffering. They placed their trust in God. He was their defense, their refuge, and their salvation. Their faith is perhaps best expressed by the father of our country, George Washington: “The success, which has hitherto attended our united efforts, we owe to the gracious interposition of Heaven; and to that interposition let us gratefully ascribe the praise of victory, and the blessings of peace.” (To the Executive of New Hampshire, November 3, 1789, Writings, 12:175.)

Yes, it was this faith in God that sustained them in their hours of extremity. We too will need this same faith to sustain us in the critical days ahead.

Second: They would counsel us to strengthen our homes and family ties. Though they did not possess our physical comforts, they left their posterity a legacy of something more enduring: a hearthside where parents were close by their children, where daily devotions, family prayer, scripture reading, and the singing of hymns were commonplace. Families worked, worshiped, played, and prayed together. Family home evening, now a once-a-week practice among the Saints, was to our pioneer forebears almost a nightly occurrence.

Can we not see in their examples the solutions to problems threatening families today? Were we to pattern our homes accordingly, divorce would be eliminated, children would be welcomed and guided, and love between parents and children would abound. There would be no generation gap. Family unity and solidarity, crowned with love and happiness, would prevail.

Third: They would counsel us in the dignity of work, to practice thrift, and to be self-sustaining. Theirs was a philosophy that neither the world nor government owes a man his bread. Man is commanded by God to live by the sweat of his own brow, not someone else’s. In his First Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson counseled us toward a wise and frugal government, one that “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned.”

The Founding Fathers would be in complete agreement with this counsel from Brigham Young: “Beautify your gardens, your houses, your farms; beautify the city. This will make us happy, and produce plenty.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 302.) “To be slothful, wasteful, lazy and indolent . . . is unrighteous.” (Ibid., p. 303.) “Learn to sustain yourselves; lay up grain and flour, and save it against a day of scarcity.” (Ibid., p. 293.) “. . . If you cannot obtain all you wish for today, learn to do without.” (Ibid., p. 293.) “Be prompt in everything, and especially to pay your debts.” (Ibid., p. 303.)

Finally: These noble founders and pioneers—our benefactors—would counsel us to preserve the freedoms granted to us by God. They knew that the foundation of this nation was spiritual, that the source of all our blessings was God. They knew that this nation can only prosper in an atmosphere of freedom.

Those intrepid forebears knew that their righteousness was the indispensable ingredient to liberty, that this was the greatest legacy they could pass on to future generations. They would counsel us to preserve this liberty by alert righteousness. Righteousness is always measured by a nation or an individual keeping the commandments of God.

In the outer office of the Council of Twelve hangs a painting by Utah artist Arnold Friberg, depicting George Washington, the father of our country, on his knees at Valley Forge. That painting symbolizes the faith of our forebears. I wish it could be in every American home.

In the 1940s, while serving as the executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C., I saw in a Hilton Hotel a placard depicting Uncle Sam, representing America, on his knees in humility and prayer. Beneath the placard was the inscription “Not beaten there by the hammer and sickle, but freely, responsibly, confidently. . . . We need fear nothing or no one save God.”

That picture has stayed in my memory ever since. America on her knees—in recognition that all our blessings come from God! America on her knees—out of a desire to serve the God of this land by keeping His commandments! America on her knees—not driven there in capitulation to some despotic government, but on her knees freely, willingly, gratefully! This is the sovereign remedy to all of our problems and the preservation of our liberties.

Yes, those valiant patriots and pioneers left us a great heritage. Are we prepared to do what they did? Will we pledge our lives, our possessions, our sacred honor for future generations and the upbuilding of God’s kingdom on this earth?

Hear the challenge made to us—their descendants and beneficiaries—at the dedication of “This Is the Place” monument, at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, July 24, 1947:

“Can we keep and preserve what they wrought? Shall we pass on to our children the heritage they left us, or shall we lightly fritter it away? Have we their faith, their bravery, their courage; could we endure their hardships and suffering, make their sacrifices, bear up under their trials, their sorrow, their tragedies, believe the simple things they knew were true, have the simple faith that worked miracles for them, follow, and not falter or fall by the wayside, where our leaders advance, face the slander and the scorn of an unpopular belief? Can we do the thousands of little and big things that made them the heroic builders of a great Church, a great commonwealth?” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Address at the Dedication of “This Is the Place” Monument, July 24, 1947; in Improvement Era 50:626.)

There should be no doubt what our task is today. If we truly cherish the heritage we have received, we must maintain the same virtues and the same character of our stalwart forebears—faith in God, courage, industry, frugality, self-reliance, and integrity. We have the obligation to maintain what those who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor gave to future generations. Our opportunity and obligation for doing so is clearly upon us. May we begin to repay this debt by preserving and strengthening this heritage in our own lives, in the lives of our children, their children, and generations yet unborn.

(Source: Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, published 1977)

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