Blue background and red and white wavy stripes with white stars. Headshot of CEO David Harmer. Text on the image reads, "We the People of the United States, in Order to Form A More Perfect Union."

By David Harmer

“The great struggle of our times is one of spirit. It is a struggle for the hearts and souls of men—not merely for property, or even merely for power. It is a contest for the beliefs, the conviction, the very innermost soul of the human being.”

So said General Dwight D. Eisenhower, president-elect of the United States, addressing the board of directors of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge on this date in 1952. Eisenhower’s assertion recalls that of John Adams: “What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people—a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations.” (Capitalization and punctuation modernized.)

Think of it: Less than a month before his inauguration as 34th president of the United States, Eisenhower set aside the urgent work of forming his administration to address the leaders of the Foundation of which you are now a key supporter. And rather than taking the safe course, offering benign platitudes and uncontroversial compliments, he spoke of first principles, explicitly grounding his view of international leadership and domestic priorities in America’s founding ideals.

“These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he observed, eliciting laughter. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell . . . friends [and] supporters of . . . the Foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.”

For the nation to be strong, Ike said, its people had to be strong; and “we must be strong first in our spiritual convictions,” because “our form of government is founded on religion.” He hastened to clarify that he was endorsing no particular denomination or faith, simply recognizing that the Founding Fathers were trying to translate “a religious concept . . . into the political world,” namely “the Judeo-Christian concept . . . that all men are created equal.” Speaking extemporaneously, he elaborated:

“Our ancestors who formed this government said in order to explain it, you remember, that a decent respect for the opinion of mankind impels them to declare the reasons which led to the separation. And this is how they explained those: ‘We hold that all men are endowed by their Creator’—not by the accident of birth, not by the color of their skins or by anything else, but ‘all men are endowed by their Creator.’ In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith.”

“There,” Ike continued, “is the basic doctrine to which we must always cling.” He explored the doctrine’s implications: first, that America’s strength in world leadership relied not on imperialism but “integrity, with a belief in the dignity of man”; second, that what we seek to “pass on to our children and grandchildren” isn’t guaranteed riches, but the guaranteed “opportunity to live in dignified fashion with their God and with their fellow citizens.” “That,” he added, “is all our government was ever expected to give to each of them.”

In his candid call for faith, Eisenhower is again echoing his presidential predecessor John Adams, who said: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (Capitalization and punctuation modernized.)

As the year draws toward its close, may we each reflect on the blessings of freedom, consider their ultimate Source, and renew our commitment to the personal virtue that undergirds civic virtue.

On behalf of the board and staff of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, I extend to you and yours warmest wishes for a holiday season both merry and meaningful.

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