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A New Order For the Ages

U.S. Constitution document and American FlagAt Williamson College we discuss the concept of American exceptionalism and why it has become so controversial.  Perhaps those who resist the idea are reminded of hubristic tendencies by some, as well as ignoring imperfections in our nation’s history.  Yet, in spite of our blind spots, the fact remains that such a governmental system came, not from a king claiming divine right, but by We the people, is nothing less than, well, exceptional.

This system, with all its faults, endured a civil war to correct a horrible blight of injustice.  But the seeds for such a cultural repositioning, albeit latent, were found in the original documents that gave birth to this nation.  The implications of the motto on the Seal of the United States is telling, novus ordo seclorum:  “a new order of the ages.”

The father of the Constitution and 4th President, James Madison, may not have been a fervent Christian but, as historian and scholar, Ralph Ketcham, explains, “He [Madison] accepted its tenets generally and formed his outlook on life within its world view” (1990, p. 47).  A significant contribution by Madison and others was the view of all human life as inherently sacred.  This idea is replete within the Constitution as well as the Declaration that proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator…”

As Ketcham contends, from this perspective “Madison acknowledged that there is a nontemporal source of values, he insisted that the state live up to them, and he affirmed that individuals in a society were bound by more-than-earthly obligations.”

Ketcham, R. (1990). James Madison. Charlottesville, VA, University Press of Virginia.

Ed Smith, Ph.D., is President of Williamson College, a liberal arts Christian college located in Williamson County, Franklin, Tennessee.