Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99
(continued from page 2)
I do, however, want to take issue with remarks he made about JFK's sex life, and in particular, morality: "The argument is made that recklessness in private life leads to recklessness in public affairs. But history shows no connection between private morality and public conduct."
It is this kind of thinking that has led to the moral crisis our nation now finds itself in. Our president has had sex in the White House with a girl barely out of her teens, has lied about it under oath, and the American peopledon't really seem to care. Although I agree with Mr. Schlesinger's statement about revisionist history regarding JFK, let's also apply that argument to the founding fathers of this great nation, and see what they said about private morality in public life. (I'll bet that most people growing up never read statements like these in their history class.)
"He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty betraying his country who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men." --Samuel Adams
"If we trifle with the injunctions of morality, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us. No government can be secure which is not supported by moral habits." --Daniel Webster
"In selecting men for office, look to his character. If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he betrays the interest of his country." --Noah Webster
"As governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. But if men be bad, the government be never good." --William Penn
Mr. Schlesinger is a brilliant man, but I would be apt to take the advice of the founders of this great nation over his opinion of morality. The founders sacrificed everything to start this form of government. And as a historian, Mr. Schlesinger is well aware that the majority of Americans favored remaining a British colony and not fighting for independence. And the majority of Americans favored leaving the Southern slave states alone. Thank God this country had men of principle such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who exhibited in their private and public lives the "moral habits" that Samuel Adams, William Penn, and Noah and Daniel Webster referred to.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. responds: I thank Mr. Ringuette for his kind words, and I agree with him in cherishing private as well as public morality. But history does not show that one guarantees the other. As I noted in my article, Martin Luther King Jr. was sexually wayward, yet he was an indisputably noble moral leader, while Pol Pot, by many accounts a dedicated family man, murdered hundreds of thousands of his countrymen. I don't think the adultery test tells us much about the qualities required for enlightened public leadership.
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