We Still Hold These Truths
Rediscovering Our Principles,
Reclaiming Our Future

by Matthew Spalding

Review by
Sarah Emily Jordan

Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)
Wilmington, Delaware, 2009

267 pages

February 2011

The principles behind American exceptionalism

The United States of America is an exceptional nation for many reasons. We begin to learn how the United States became the exception in history rather than the rule when we examine its foundation, its revolution, and its independence. Matthew Spalding in his book We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, outlines the principles that the Founders of this nation relied upon in their formation of this country. In order to carry forward the unique and exceptional quality of our nation we must look to our history, we must understand the foundational principles, and we must work to restore those principles.

Spalding specifies ten principles which serve as the foundation:

  • Liberty
  • Equality
  • Natural Rights
  • Consent of the Governed
  • Religious Freedom
  • Private Property
  • The Rule of Law
  • Constitutionalism
  • Self-government
  • Independence

Throughout the book Spalding discusses these principles, their positive effects on this nation and the need to relearn and reapply them for restoring and maintaining our freedom today. Spalding also does a good job of discussing the Progressive movement, and its negative effect on our freedoms.

The introduction to We Still Hold These Truths is titled "Curiosities in Glass Cases". These "curiosities" that he speaks of are the foundational documents held in the National Archives. I personally have had the chance to visit the National Archives rotunda and to see The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States in their original form. I have to say I was a bit taken aback by how strongly the feeling of freedom sunk into my heart in the presence of these sacred documents. I will be forever grateful for the men and women who sacrificed so much to win this nation's independence and to establish a country where its citizens can enjoy God given freedom. I felt that at the time and continue to feel the incredible importance of honoring our Founders, of honoring ourselves and honoring future generations by sustaining where possible and restoring where necessary the principles that have upheld the greatest nation on earth.

Spalding throughout his book quotes the Founders and other important leaders. He ends his introduction with a quote from President Harry S. Truman, and his own insight:

Liberty "can be lost, and it will be," Truman observed, "if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but nearly as curiosities in glass cases." This cannot — this must not — be allowed to happen. We may take some comfort in recognizing that every generation finds it necessary to relearn our history and the heritage of freedom as it was with our forefathers, so it is now our task to ensure that the principles of liberty are securely enshrined in the hearts and minds of the American people. (p. 5)

I will not attempt to discuss all ten principles, but I would like to highlight some key concepts. The Founders of our country were very well versed in history, philosophy, and religion. They also gained a lot of insight through their own experience with a tyrannical government. They declared this country an independent nation and had to decide how a new country would be governed:

Key debates — about the legitimate process of representation and, beyond that, about the ultimate source of their rights — led to the definition of three closely connected foundational principles: that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed; that the source of constitutional legitimacy is found in equal natural rights; and that these rights are grounded in the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. (p. 30)

It is essential to understand, defend, and promote these principles in our country.

Spalding provides a good outline of the necessity of freedom of religion and its essential role in our Founders' beliefs, inspiration and morality:

Among the American Founders, there was a profound sense that faith and freedom were deeply intertwined. "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time," Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." They also believed that God favored liberty and their cause: Anyone of "pious reflection," wrote Madison in Federalist 37, could not fail to perceive "a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." (p. 52)

When other nations and revolutions have turned first to weapons of protest, the Founders of our country first turned to God. They continued to rely on Him and made Freedom of Religion the first of our freedoms recognized and established. Our protection of the Freedom of Religion is absolutely necessary.

Spalding's discussion of Progressivism and its damage is outstanding. Progressivism is an ideology that is antithetical to the Founders' view of America and freedom:

The objective of the new thinking, and a major cultural component of modern-day liberalism, is to transform America from a decentralized self-governing society based on a framework of limited government, free markets, and traditional cultural institutions into a great progressive society, built around a homogeneous national community focused on national ideals and the achievement of social justice. By this is meant not a just society but a society in which equal justice — understood especially to mean economic egalitarianism — is brought about in every aspect of society." (p. 204)

Spalding goes on to detail some of the deconstruction that has been attempted by the Progressive agenda, such as defining the Constitution as a "living" document as well as taking hold of education. There has been much damage, and the farther we go down the Progressive road the harder it will be to restore freedom in America. However, his final chapter is a great discussion how to do just that.

Matthew Spalding esteems our nation highly, and makes that obvious in We Still Hold These Truths. He concludes his excellent work with this —

We Americans have the immeasurable benefit, the providential gift, of having inherited a great country, built on the rock of human liberty, with a firm confidence that free men and women are capable of self-government.

All nations change over time. We have wandered far for many years. Yet our constitutional faith has not been erased from our consciousness. Nor has it been defeated in our politics. Our principles always await rediscovery, not because they are written on faded parchments in glass cases, but because the immutable truths of liberty are eternally etched on the human soul.

Do we still hold these truths?

In times of peace and war, prosperity and poverty, political consensus and social unrest, every generation of Americans is challenged to vindicate the sacred cause of liberty.

This is our noble task now. Let us act worthy. (p. 239)

Understanding the principles that led to the founding and sustaining of our nation is essential if we are going to restore freedom in America. We Still Hold These Truths is an excellent book to help any reader understand those principles. I highly recommend it.


© 2011 Sarah Emily Jordan

Sarah Emily Jordan blogs at
The Conservative Independent Rant

The Heritage Foundation's site
for We Still Hold These Truths

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