The earliest human records appeared about 3,000 or 4,000 BC – Sumerian cuneiform on clay tablets in the Mesopotamian Valley.
This was followed by Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus, and Chinese characters on bamboo books.
Writing was first an accounting method for scribes to keep track of all the king owned.
Then it was used to keep record the the king’s decrees, genealogies and astronomy.
Only kings, elites and scribes could read.
The thousands of cuneiform and hieroglyphic characters were not only difficult to learn, commoners and slaves were not allowed to learn them.
It was a form of control, as kings wanted people who would blindly obey them, not think for themselves.
America experienced something similar to this prior to the Civil War when Southern Democrat States made it a crime to teach slaves to read.
Anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss wrote:
“Ancient writing’s main function was to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings.”
Kings ruled by honoring and rewarding those who obeyed them and by dishonoring and striking the fear of death into those who did not.
The first well-recorded instance in history of an entire nation ruling itself without a king began when Israel broke away from Egypt’s Pharaoh around 1,500 BC.
When Moses came down Mount Sinai, he not only brought the Law, he brought the Law in a 22 character alphabet that was so easy to learn the entire nation was able to read the Law.
Israel is, perhaps, the first instance in history of an entirely literate population.
E.C. Wines wrote in The Hebrew Republic (Philadelphia: c1853):
“A fundamental principle of the Hebrew government was education; the education of the whole body of the people…
An ignorant people cannot be a free people. Intelligence is essential to liberty. No nation is capable of self-government, which is not educated to understand and appreciate its responsibilities…
Upon this principle Moses proceeded in the framing of his commonwealth…
There is reason to believe, that the ability to read and write was an accomplishment, more generally possessed by the Hebrews, than by any other people of antiquity.”
Wherever there is a king, friends of the king are ‘more equal’, those not friends with the king are ‘less equal,’ and those who are enemies of the king are dead – it is called ‘treason.’
For Israel’s first four centuries it did not have a king, being ruled instead by the Law.
The Law declared there was no respect of persons in judgment; rich and poor were to be treated the same; male and female made in the image of the Creator; even the stranger living among them was under the same Law that they were under.
This was the beginning of the concept of ‘equality’, as there was no royal family to seek favors from, no superior or inferior class, no caste system.
Not only was Israel free, they could maintain their freedom because all could read the Law.
Their experiment in self-government was dependent on one thing – the priests teaching the people to read the Law.
When the priests neglected doing this, everyone did what was right in their own eyes and the country fell into moral chaos.
In response, Israel got a totalitarian ruler, King Saul, who a short time later killed most of the priests, with the notable exception of the priest Abiathar escaping to David.
The pattern was clear – for a country to maintain order without out a king, there needs to be an educated and moral citizenry.
This was understood during America’s colonial era, where education and morals were a high priority.
After Independence, large numbers of immigrants arrived in America. The response was to create ‘common’ schools for them.
The ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’ was Noah Webster, who died MAY 28, 1843.
Noah Webster attended Yale, founded as a Puritan Congregational school, but when the Revolutionary War started, he left for four years to fight.
After graduation, Noah Webster became a lawyer and taught in New York.
Dissatisfied with children’s spelling books, he wrote the famous Blue-Backed Speller, which sold over one hundred million copies. Early editions had a “Moral Catechism” with rules from the Scriptures.
For generations, American school children learned letters, morality and patriotism from Webster’s spellers, catechisms, history books, and his Webster’s Dictionary.
Noah Webster served 9 terms in Connecticut’s Legislature and 3 terms in Massachusetts’ Legislature where he lobbied for funding of public education, arguing the government should:
“Discipline our youth in early life in sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties.”
Noah Webster stated:
“Society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention.
Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government.
Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature…for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system…”
“The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind…
The education of youth…lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.”
Noah Webster stated:
“To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important;
to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”
Noah Webster wrote:
“Practical truths in religion, in morals, and in all civil and social concerns, ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction…
Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be;
and without both kinds of knowledge, citizens can not enjoy the blessings which they seek.”
Noah Webster wrote in ‘On the Education of Youth in America’, printed in Webster’s American Magazine, 1788:
“In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all.
In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect…
Select passages of Scripture…may be read in schools, to great advantage…
My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.”
In ‘Advice to the Young’, included in his History of the United States, 1832, Noah Webster wrote:
“The brief exposition of the Constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government…
that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion…
Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are imperfectly understood, or negligently practiced…”
Noah Webster added:
“To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens than any other improvements in our system of education.”
Noah Webster wrote in The History of the United States, 1832:
“All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”
Noah Webster wrote:
“Moral evils constitute or produce most of the miseries of mankind and these may be prevented or avoided.
Be it remembered then that disobedience to God’s law, or sin is the procuring cause of almost all the sufferings of mankind.
God has so formed the moral system of this world, that a conformity to His will by men produces peace, prosperity and happiness; and disobedience to His will or laws inevitably produces misery.
If men are wretched, it is because they reject the government of God, and seek temporary good in that which certainly produces evil.”
Noah Webster published his translation of the Holy Bible in 1833, stating:
“The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is ‘good’, and the best corrector of all that is ‘evil’, in human society; the ‘best’ book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the ‘only book’ that can serve as an infallible guide to future felicity.”
In ‘Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education’ (New Haven, 1823), Noah Webster wrote:
“It is alleged by men of loose principles…that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations.
But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine.
They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness…
And it is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens, that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breeches of trust, peculations and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves;
which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government; and which will tend to reconcile men to monarchs in other countries and even our own.”
Noah Webster wrote:
“Men may devise and adopt new forms of government; they may amend old forms, repair breaches, and punish violators of the constitution; but there is, there can be, no effectual remedy, but obedience to the divine law.”
In his 1834 work titled, Value of the Bible and Excellence of the Christian Religion, Noah Webster wrote:
“The Bible must be considered as the great source of all the truths by which men are to be guided in government, as well as in all social transactions….
The Bible (is) the instrument of all reformation in morals and religion.”
In the preface of his American Dictionary of the English Language, republished 1841, Noah Webster wrote:
“If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and Christianity.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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