Caleb Strong is not a name familiar to most Americans today. Yet, this great man was one of America’s brightest Founding Fathers. He was a true luminary who played a huge, albeit forgotten, part in the early days of our Republic. For his birthday this January 9th, I want to pay tribute to this man by reminding people of the tremendous work he did for our nation and by sharing a few gems of wisdom from his brilliant mind.
Like many of our Founders, Caleb Strong began his professional life as a lawyer. He was a born-and-bred Massachusetts patriot who became intimately involved in political affairs as Massachusetts led the drive toward conflict with Great Britain and toward Independence. Strong came from Northampton, a town where his influential ancestor Elder John Strong once resided. I am proudly related to Caleb Strong through our common ancestor Elder John Strong – the first of the Strongs to settle in the New World. Caleb was faithful to his heritage and made a name for himself in his own day.
In 1774, Strong was selected as a member of the Northampton Committee of Safety. Committees of safety, along with committees of correspondence, were extralegal political units that assumed governmental duties in the colonies during the immediate pre-war years and throughout the Revolution. In a real sense, then, Strong was part of the first free government of Massachusetts state.
Caleb Strong wore many hats. Not only did he belong to the Northampton Committee of Safety, but he belonged to the Massachusetts Assembly. There he was appointed – along with fellow patriot John Adams – to the committee that helped craft the Massachusetts Constitution. During this same formative period, Strong also belonged to the state house of representatives, the state senate, and took a position as a county attorney, holding it for 24 years while simultaneously filling many other public positions to be noted.
The achievement I am most proud of Caleb Strong for was his participation in the Constitutional Convention that framed the U.S. Constitution. I consider the Constitution a sacred, inspired document that bears the seal of approval of Almighty God. It is part of my religious creed every bit as much as the holy scriptures. I revere the men who crafted it under the inspiration of Heaven, which includes Caleb Strong.
Strong’s two most notable contributions to the Constitution included his support of the Connecticut Compromise and his motion to have all money bills originate in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Connecticut Compromise, in case you did not pay attention in history class, was the deal between representatives of big states and small states which ensured an equal representation in the Senate and a proportional representation in the House of Representatives. This “Great Compromise” was so important that Strong observed, “If no accommodation takes place, the Union itself must soon be dissolved” (in W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America, 275). But with the efforts of men like Strong, a deal was struck that has become one of the hallmarks of our Constitution. Finally, the Origination Clause, or Revenue Clause, successfully promoted by Strong was an important feature that deepened the checks and balances built into our republican system.
Unfortunately for Strong, his signature is nowhere to be found on the Constitution because he was called home early due to sickness in his family. However, his participation in the historic Constitutional Convention should never be forgotten. And if his contribution in the cloistered Convention was not enough, then his outspoken support of the Constitution in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention surely marks him as a fervent devotee of the document.
Under the new form of government, the states each elected two senators. Caleb Strong, respectfully called the “first citizen” by his associates, was one of the first two senators elected in Massachusetts in 1789. He was an enthusiastic supporter of President George Washington and counted himself a lifelong Federalist.
Later, in 1800, Caleb Strong was elected as governor of his state. In all, he served eleven terms as governor, demonstrating his popularity among the People. During his tenure as governor, Strong delivered many speeches and memoranda to the public and to the state legislature. I wish to quote a few lines from a powerful speech that epitomizes the wisdom of this man. This excerpt is taken from pages 136-138 of the book Patriotism and Piety, which is a collection of Strong’s speeches from 1800-1807.
On January 17, 1806, Governor Strong spoke to the state legislature and shared some sage thoughts on government, laws, the public, how tyrants come to power, and what it takes to maintain Freedom. He foreshadowed the lying promises of modern communists – their pipedream of “hope and change” – and the attempts of traitors to hoodwink the public in order to centralize political power in their own hands. He explained that the American People must be left in peace and not hampered by a multitude of laws and bureaucratic red tape. He spoke of the folly of giving up the tried-and-true institutions and policies of our ancestors in favor of so-called “new,” or what we would call “progressive,” programs. And he spoke of the absolute necessity for virtue in a free state. I would to God that every American could internalize these principles!
Thus, to the Massachusetts state legislature, Governor Caleb Strong declared:
“The unnecessary interference of government with the private concerns of the people, will always be a source of mischiefs; their understanding is competent to the direction of their own affairs, and, when left to itself, will generally lead to measures the most beneficial, both to themselves and the publick.
“Frequent alterations of the law are likewise attended with inconvenience, as they sometimes produce effects which were not foreseen, and occasion greater evils than they were designed to remedy. They tend to weaken the government by diminishing the confidence of the people in the stability of its councils: for uniform measures alone can preserve its reputation, or procure durable advantages to the State. It is of importance to, that the laws should be understood by the citizens; but, if they are often changed, they will not be understood, nor indeed will their real tendency always be known . . . It would, therefore, be unwise to substitute new and opposite system, until experience has proved, that those which are already in use are manifestly inconvenient. . . .
“Almost every nation, at some period of their existence, have enjoyed the privileges of a free State; but how few have preserved them! – they have been lost by the inconstancy of the citizens, or forfeited by their vices. In many republicks, repeated variations in the modes of government have taken place, as different parties happen to predominate, until the people became weary of changes, and preferred the quiet of absolute power, to the tumults of perpetual revolution. In the minds of some men, there seems to be a restlessness which renders them dissatisfied with any uniform course of things, and makes them eager in the pursuit of novelty; they abound in projects, and are ever meditating some fanciful change in the plan of government, which their imaginations represent as useful. But men of great ambition are still more dangerous; they commonly make the fairest pretences to principle, though they are actuated only by self-interest. If the constitution or laws of their country present obstacles to the accomplishment of their wishes, they employ every artifice to alter or abolish them; and, if individuals oppose their attempts, they are equally artful and solicitous to destroy their influence, and render them odious to their fellow-citizens.
“Few men, even in a prosperous community, are fully satisfied with their condition; a great part are easily induced to believe, that there is something wrong in the government or laws, which might be rectified to their advantage; they therefore readily embrace any specious proposal to effect an alteration. The crafty and ambitious know how to avail themselves of this disposition to change, and encourage their followers to expect, that the amendments they propose will perfectly suit their case, and produce the very blessings they wish; in this way, they not only effect their immediate object, but acquire an influence which enables them afterwards to accomplish the most destructive innovations. Such persons encourage hopes, that can never be realized, and excite complaints, which the most wise and benevolent administration is unable to remove.
“Indeed, we are generally apt to ascribe too much to the efficacy of laws and government, as if they alone could secure the happiness of the people; but no laws will be sufficient to counteract the influence of manners which are corrupted by vice and voluptuousness; and it is beyond the power of any government to render the circumstances of the citizens easy and prosperous, if they want the habits of industry and frugality. – Government is necessary, to preserve the public peace, the persons and property of individuals; but our social happiness must chiefly depend upon other causes; upon simplicity and purity of manners; upon the education that we give our children; upon a steady adherence to the customs and institutions of our ancestors; upon the general diffusion of knowledge, and the prevalence of piety and benevolent affections among the people.
“Our forms of government, are, doubtless, like all other institutions, imperfect; but they will secure the blessings of freedom to the citizens, and preserve their tranquility, as long as they are virtuous; and no constitution, that has been, or can be formed, will secure those blessings to a depraved and vicious people.”
What wisdom and foresight! My heart beats proudly to know that I am related, however distantly, to such a man as Caleb Strong. He was a true patriot and the epitome of a Son of Liberty. If Americans today internalized the principles contained in this short excerpt, our nation would experience a revival and we could save our Republic.
I give my own political witness that Caleb Strong’s words are accurate. Indeed, they are timeless. Unless we want to barter away the rest of our Freedoms, as we have done now for over a century, we must cling to the right institutions of our ancestors, never trust or follow traitors who offer false promises when in reality they merely seek power, and reform our habits and morals and manners. If we do these things, we can save our Republic. Strong knew whereof he spoke – he lived through the American Revolution. He understood what it takes to found a mighty nation. And the same principles that founded America can save her.
Along with his fellow Founding Fathers, Caleb Strong helped craft a blueprint for national success – the U.S. Constitution. We must learn it, cling to it, and defend it. We must become a virtuous People. We must develop discernment so that we might see through the lies of communists in sheep’s clothing who offer us the world in exchange for our sovereignty, our rights, and our power. We must be vigilant even when life is tumultuous. Nothing good ever happens without sacrifice. We must be willing to stand up and be counted, and to sacrifice anything we need to, in Liberty’s cause.
I proudly stand with Caleb Strong, this wonderful Founding Father. I pray that his name will no longer be forgotten, but that it will be remembered alongside the noble names of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, and Henry. I honor him and his legacy.
May we come to echo Caleb Strong’s wish “that we may unitedly pay our grateful and affectionate homage to the Author of all good, for His distinguishing kindness to our forefathers, and to us; in providing them a refuge from oppression, and protecting them when surrounded with innumerable dangers; in blessing them with civil liberty and the light and influence of the gospel, and disposing them to nurture their posterity in the love of learning, virtue and rational freedom” (Patriotism and Piety, 23). If we turn our hearts to the Lord and follow in the footsteps of our honorable forebears, men like Caleb Strong, our nation will once again become a refuge of law and Liberty, a haven of peace and stability, and a beacon of light to the darkened world.
January 8, 2019.