Democratic Icon: Liberty Is Rooted in Religious Principles

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 12, 2020 | 4:33am EST
Democratic presidential hopefulS Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders at their third Democrat primary debate in Houston, Texas on September 12, 2019. (Photo by Robyn BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefulS Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders at their third Democrat primary debate in Houston, Texas on September 12, 2019. (Photo by Robyn BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Only a month before, the top local newspaper had been promoting the fact that one of the 10 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in an urban northeastern congressional district was also "one of the few women vet candidates for political office in the country."

Even so, she lost the primary.

Now, on the Fourth of July, the man who had defeated her was the principal speaker at the city's historic town hall.

He was preceded by the mayor and introduced by his grandfather.

He did not deliver the typical Democratic message.

"Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American thought and action," he said.

He wanted the crowd to know that he believed in God-given rights and the autonomy of the individual — not collectivism and the dominance of the state.

"Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual," he said. "It was this religious sense which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence."

In our greatest leaders and our greatest historical moments, this Democrat argued, it was the "essential religious idea" of our founding that triumphed.

"Our earliest legislation was inspired by this deep religious sense," he said.

"Our first leader, Washington, was inspired by this deep religious sense," he added.

"Lincoln was inspired by this deep religious sense," he continued.

"Thus," he said, "we see that this nation has ever been inspired by essential religious ideas."

But now, he argued, the very principles on which our nation had been founded were being attacked not only by foreign adversaries but also by forces within America.

"Today," he said, "these basic religious ideas are challenged by atheism and materialism: at home in the cynical philosophy of many of our intellectuals, abroad in the doctrine of collectivism, which sets up the twin pillars of atheism and materialism as the official philosophical establishment of the State."

This northeastern urban Democrat believed that American idealism was rooted in our combined traditions of property ownership and religious devotion — both of which could be traced back to the first colonists who settled on this continent. He argued that secular materialists — seeking to control America's future — denied the greatness of our past.

"In recent years, the existence of this element in the American character has been challenged by those who seek to give an economic interpretation to American history," he said.

"They seek to destroy our faith in our past so that they may guide our future," he said. "These cynics are wrong, for, while there may be some truth in their interpretation, it does remain a fact, and a most important one, that the motivating force of the American people has been their belief that they have always stood at the barricades by the side of God."

"The right of the individual against the State has ever been one of our most cherished political principles," he said.

"The American Constitution has set down for all men to see the essentially Christian and American principle that there are certain rights held by every man which no government and no majority, however powerful, can deny," he said.

He was not certain which side would win: Would it be the secularists and statists or the religious individualists?

But he was certain that battles were coming.

"We cannot assume that the struggle is ended," he said. "It is never-ending. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It was the price yesterday. It is the price today, and it will ever be the price."

"The characteristics of the American people have ever been a deep sense of religion, a deep sense of idealism, a deep sense of patriotism and a deep sense of individualism," he said.

"Let us not blink (at) the fact that the days which lie ahead of us are bitter ones," he warned.

"May God grant," he said, "that, at some distant date, on this day, and on this platform, the orator may be able to say that these are still the great qualities of the American character and that they have prevailed."

But did this northeastern urban Democrat prevail? Did his party support him and his vision? Was he ever elected to anything?

Four months later — in November 1946 — he was elected to the United States Congress. Fourteen years after that, he was elected president of the United States.

His name was John F. Kennedy.

Would Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg stand by him today?

(Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of


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