Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Integrity of America

Alright, dear readers, your very, very long wait for a new blog is to be rewarded. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to get something up! This is an essay that I wrote back in the Autumn of last year for a national essay contest put on by The Bill of Rights Institute. Unfortunately, I didn't win the competition, but it was very fun and incredibly educational. The question I had to answer was "What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?" After thinking about it a great deal, I decided that undoubtedly the most important civic value to the institution of our country is Integrity. So below is the essay that I composed and submitted to the contest. I hope you enjoy it! Tell me what you think!


The Integrity of America
by Gretchen Wolaver

Integrity is the pivotal value of America. Without it the structure of our society
crumbles. The Founding Fathers desired to design a system replete with liberty,
empowering citizens to pursue happiness without the intrusion of an oppressive
government. They knew that this idea could only be realized if the morality of each
individual was self-imposed, negating the need for excessive government regulations
to maintain justice. A person with strong morals, they believed, would find the will
from within themselves to do what was right.

The Bill of Rights is a potent example of this expectation. Consider the 1st
Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances.” Yet the Founding Fathers knew that without
the exercise of personal integrity these freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly
and petition would be abused.

Modern times have shown them to be right. I have been dismayed at how my
generation exhibits an increasing lack of integrity, especially in light of technological
empowerment. The internet has given my peers the power to broadcast lies about
others, often ruining their lives. Now our courts are attempting to decipher how to
bring justice to this new world of defamation. But how can they regulate something
as gigantic as the worldwide web without marring the First Amendment? This
modern crisis has underscored the importance of personal integrity to me, and has
deepened my resolve to speak out against such slanderous bullying.

Today’s political scene is riddled with slander and deceit as well. I cringe as
the mud flies. The restoration of integrity must begin at the top, with the leaders of
our government, who would do well to look to the Founding Fathers for inspiration.

Consider John Adams, for example, an honest and principled man who played
a momentous role in the founding of our nation. Esteemed for his undaunted pursuit
of integrity, his strength of character and conviction was fully displayed when he
took on the job of defending the British soldiers in the court hearings after the Boston
Massacre. The British sentries had shot and killed five civilians in self defense, but
no lawyer would take their case—none except Adams.

At the time, he was a leading Patriot about to run for public office. Even
though he needed the Patriot vote, he knew that defending the soldiers was the right
thing to do. Adams chose to side with justice and truth over the frenzy of popular
opinion. He not only took on their case, he saved their lives. On the third anniversary
of the Massacre, Adams wrote in his diary that defending the soldiers was “ of
the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and
one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” It’s in this same
disinterestedness for his own image that we see Adams’ sense of duty to his nation
over self. He exhibited a self-driven morality that helped to secure a just government
for his posterity, regardless of personal cost or gain.

Some might say that our country’s crucial value is not integrity, but freedom,
or justice. They may say that the Founders built our society upon these values to
secure a country where the tyranny and injustice from which they had suffered would
never happen again. This is a reasonable observation, but I would argue that integrity
must come first. Freedom and justice are rooted in love and respect for mankind.
When a nation’s robes of leadership are worn by hateful and irreverent people,
freedom and justice will increasingly be overcome by litigation, bureaucracy, and

When asked what kind of government he and the other Founders had
established, Benjamin Franklin replied, “You have a republic, if you can keep it.” To
sustain this Democratic Republic, we must preserve the same moral standards and
convictions, the same integrity that the Founding Fathers expected of themselves and
of us. It is a constant battle, but one that’s worth fighting. Integrity is vital to the
pursuit of the American dream, to the realization of a nation founded upon truth,
justice, and freedom. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a
moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”