The President has issued a proclamation declaring November 2020 to be National American History and Founders Month.
Throughout this month, we recommit to protecting the great American story, one of a Nation that has promoted liberty and ensured freedom for millions. We know that when we collectively recognize and cherish our history, we are made stronger as one people. The divine truth our Founders enshrined in the fabric of our Nation — that all people are created equal — will, if we cherish and protect it, ensure the blessings of unparalleled freedom and prosperity for all posterity.
The President’s proclamation calls “upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) unreservedly endorses the spirit of this proclamation. We have fought for more than thirty years to restore an academy that cherishes America and its liberty; we are delighted and flattered when the White House echoes our call. We hope that every November will be declared a National American History and Founders Month—and that gratitude for our nation’s founders, who secured freedom and prosperity for their posterity, will inspire all aspects of American life.
The NAS is grateful to all America’s Founders, but we are especially devoted to higher education. We will therefore single out three of the Founders who represent our nation’s commitment to higher education.
Benjamin Franklin was the founder and first president of what would become the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin’s University pioneered non-sectarian education and was the first university in America to include a medical school. Franklin himself practiced as a scientist and inventor and provided a model for learned and productive amateur interest in all the arts and sciences. Americans owe their civic love of higher education to Benjamin Franklin.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and bequeathed to it another model of non-sectarian education as well as an extraordinarily beautiful campus, designed to promote a love of learning in every aspect of student life. Jefferson also bequeathed his library to the nation—the kernel both of the Library of Congress and the Library of Congress classification system, which every American academic knows at least in part. Jefferson’s love of natural science intertwined with his love of America; so as President he commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to make a vast scientific exploration of the peoples, plants, animals and geology of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase. Americans owe their knowledge of the land and the paths they take in every college library to Thomas Jefferson.
John Witherspoon transformed Princeton University into a first-rate academic institution by fundraising, modernizing the curriculum, and tightening admissions requirements. Witherspoon was a devout Presbyterian minister, a distinguished contributor to the philosophy of common-sense realism, an immigrant from Scotland who immediately became a staunch American patriot, and a public-spirited man who served as a legislative workhorse in the Continental Congress throughout the Revolution. Witherspoon is the model of the American university president, who combines faith, patriotic devotion, and the desire to make his university a jewel for his country.
The NAS does not mean to slight any other Founder by mentioning these three. But we believe these three do deserve our particular gratitude—and the gratitude of not only every American who works in higher education but also of every American who loves higher education. The NAS works to restore the American academy to the spirit of Franklin, Jefferson, and Witherspoon. An American academy that fails to revere our Founders and their spirit justly forfeits the respect of all Americans.
The National Association of Scholars is delighted to take part in National American History and Founders Month, and we hope that all Americans—especially all Americans in our colleges and universities—will do the same.