Program Particulars: The Inward Work of Democracy

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to web version of audio

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(02:49) Music Element

"Holy Order Song" from Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals, performed by Joel Cohen


Reproduction of the 1805 Rembrandt Peale oil painting of Thomas Jefferson

Reproduction of the 1805 Rembrandt Peale oil painting of Thomas Jefferson (Courtesy: New York Historical Society)

(08:08) Reading from the Declaration of Independence

Needleman says that Thomas Jefferson was an ambitious individual and a clever politician, but he also points out that Jefferson was a "representative of human rights." It was Jefferson, Needleman says, who insisted on including a Bill of Rights — the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. He was also the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence, of which the following excerpt was read during the program:

The unanimous declaration of the 13 United States of America. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.

The University of Chicago and the Liberty Fund sponsors The Founders' Constitution, a site that allows one to search for documents, letters, and speeches of America's founders."

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(08:22) Music Element

"Brave Wolfe" from Liberty! The American Revolution, performed by Mark O'Connor


(10:13) Reference to the Age of Enlightenment

Krista cites a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, "the laws of nature and nature's God," which Needleman says is a concept appearing during the Age of Enlightenment, sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement, occurring in the 18th century, that was grounded in skepticism of traditional beliefs and dogmas, and focused on the power and goodness of human rationality.

As Needleman points out, many of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment thought that the laws of nature at play in the universe were independent of any religious teaching. Consequently, they concluded that there must be a creator.

(11:43) Reference to Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a German philosopher who asserted in his classic work, Critique of Pure Reason, that God, freedom, and morality are necessities that exist, even though they cannot be proven through experiential knowledge but instead through the practice of pure reason.

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(12:21) Music Element

"Ninety-Third Psalm-New Britain" from An American Journey: Bound for the Promised Land, performed by The Waverly Consort


(14:27) Reference to Quakers

A religious group of Christian derivation, the term Quakers is the common name for The Society of Friends. Although the term appears earlier, it took root when the movement's leader, George Fox, instructed a magistrate in Derby to tremble at the name of the Lord. Fox believed that churches were abandoning their religious principles and that even reformation could not restore their faith.

Fox emphasized that the inner light takes precedence over external guidance. As such, followers relate directly to Christ without the intervention of clergy, liturgy, or traditional sacraments. Quakers believe meetings of two or more people can constitute a spiritual experience. Women are equal with men.

Quakers oppose war and will not take oaths. Quakers fought for the abolition of slavery, a woman's right to vote, prison reform, and caring for the mentally ill. There are approximately 250,000 Quakers in the world, about half of them residing in the United States.

In the On Being show, Science and Hope, the Quaker cosmologist George Ellis discusses how his faith and his research intersect, and why he became a Quaker. As Ellis says, he was attracted to the faith because they engaged in peace movements and other practical matters without having to believe in creeds and doctrine.

The Sister house of the Cloister, Ephrata, Pennsylvania 1741

Reenactors process into the Saal, or Meetinghouse (built 1741), at the Ephrata Cloisters. (Courtesy: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)

(14:54) Reference to German Mystical Communities

One of the German mystical communities in Pennsylvania that Needleman discusses in The American Soul is the Ephrata, which takes its name from the pre-Israelite word for Bethlehem. In 1732, Conrad Beissel founded the Ephrata Cloister in order to seek out the inner, solitary life.

In The American Soul, Needleman writes about the community's structure:

It was organized by Beissel into three "orders"—a celibate Sisterhood called the Spiritual Virgins, a celibate "Brotherhood of Angels," and a third order of married Householders, who were not required to give up property and family. His peasant's shrewdness in handling people was manifested in the creation of this resilient triadic structure, which was one of the chief factors that enabled the improvised community to withstand the shocks from within and without that assailed it in the ensuing decades.

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(19:26) Music Element

"Song of the Liberty Bell" from Liberty! The American Revolution, performed by Mark O'Connor


(18:23) Reading from George Washington's Farewell Address

The following passage was excerpted from George Washington's farewell address. It was not delivered orally by Washington but was published in the American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796 in Philadelphia:

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgement of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country. Let it always be remembered, to your praise, that in situations in which want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that the happiness of the people of these States be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

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(21:31) Music Element

"Nonesuch" from An American Journey: Bound for the Promised Land, performed by The Waverly Consort


(23:08) Book by Needleman

Needleman's work, The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, calls people to discover their inner beliefs and to re-think commonly used terms such as democracy, liberty, and freedom. He writes about the visions of iconic figures in American history such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman, and proposes that we reinvent a new American mythology.

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(23:13) Music Element

"When Bidden to the Wake or Fair" from Liberty! The American Revolution, performed by Mark O'Connor


(23:20) Reading from Common Sense

Read the complete text of Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, from which the following passage was excerpted:

Some writers have so confounded society with government as to leave little or no distinction between them, whereas they are not only different but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness. The former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections; the latter, negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse; the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron; the last, a punisher. Society is a blessing. At best, government is a necessary evil.

Liberty Tree at Annapolis
Liberty Tree at Annapolis

The Liberty Tree (1646-1775) was a famous elm tree that stood in the commons of Boston, Massachusetts Colony, in the days before the American Revolution. The tree was a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of England over the American colonies. In the years that followed, almost every American town had its own Liberty Tree. This is a photograph of the last surviving of the original Liberty Trees. It was located on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland and was destroyed in 1999 by hurricane Floyd. (Courtesy: Maryland State Archives)

(26:01) Reference to Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man and the pamphlet Common Sense, published the poem "Liberty Tree" in July 1775.

Liberty Tree In a chariot of light from the regions of day, The Goddess of Liberty came; Ten thousand celestials directed the way, And hither conducted the dame, This fair budding branch, from the garden above, Where millions with millions agree; She bro't in her hand, as a pledge of her love, The plant she call'd Liberty Tree. This celestial exotic struck deep in the ground, Like a native it flourish'd and bore; The fame of its fruit, drew the nations around, To seek out its peaceable shore. Unmindful of names or distinction they came, For freemen like brothers agree: With one spirit endow'd, they one friendship pursued. And their temple was Liberty Tree. But hear, O ye swains ('tis a tale most profane), How all the tyrannical powers, King, Commons, and Lords, are uniting amain, To cut down this guardian of ours; From the east to the west, blow the trumpet to arms, Thro' the land let the sound of it flee, Let the far and the near–all unite with a cheer, In defense of our Liberty Tree.

(27:00) Needleman's Definition of Founding Fathers

Needleman says that he not only considers people like Washington and Jefferson to be the founding fathers, but includes such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and several others because they are people whose thought formed American ideals.

View the exhibit, The Frederick Douglass Papers, which is curated by the Library of Congress. About 2,000 items and 16,000 images of the ex-slave and African-American abolitionist are presented. Items include speeches, articles, books, and photographs from the period of 1841 to 1964.

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(31:15) Music Element

"Sad Days" from Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals, performed by Joel Cohen


(31:32) Reading from The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The main purpose of the essays was to gain popular support for the Constitution then being proposed. The following passage was excerpted from Paper #51 of The Federalist Papers, published on February 8, 1788:

What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed and, in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

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(35:24) Music Element

"Liberty Tree" from An American Journey: Bound for the Promised Land, performed by The Waverly Consort


(35:43) Reading from The American Soul

The following passage was excerpted from the section, "The World of Ideas and the Disease of Materialism," of the first chapter of Jacob Needleman's The American Soul:

When we speak of the idea of America, we are speaking of many interconnected ethical ideas, both metaphysical ideas that deal with ultimate reality, and ethical and social ideas which altogether offered hope to the world. The idea of America, with all that it contained within it about the moral law, nature, God and the human soul, once reflected to some extent the timeless ancient wisdom that has guided human life since the dawn of history. America was a new and original expression in the form of a social and political experiment of ideas that have always been part of what may be called the great web of truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. It is necessary to recover this resonance, this relationship, however tenuous and partial, between the teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.

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(36:51) Music Element

"Liberty Tree" from An American Journey: Bound for the Promised Land, performed by The Waverly Consort


(38:46) Needleman on Lincoln

Needleman comments that Lincoln became humbled by power near the end of his presidency. In The American Soul, Needleman writes about his boyhood fascination with Lincoln's face:

This face was placed before us when we were very young. We were told he was a great man. We were also told wonderful things about Washington and Jefferson and, in my household, Franklin D. Roosevelt. But only with Abraham Lincoln did we actually sense greatness. I was drawn again and again to his face. We were told about his great deeds—freeing the slaves, holding the nation together. We were given the Gettysburg Address to memorize and study. But it was not what he did or said that astonished me. It was what was in his face. We were told about his honesty, his humble beginnings, his simplicity—the whole legend of Lincoln. But the legend did not move me. It was his face. But I didn't know why. And of course I was not alone in this; I don't think any of us knew, even as we grew up, what it was about Lincoln—because none of us really understood what it was about man that was, or could be, great. The ideal of individuality, as a concept, as a word, just grazed the surface of it and then slid off into other things—having to do with what a man or woman thinks or says or does; or having to do with his or her courage or honesty or ability to sacrifice. But for many of us, none of that is exactly what drew us to Lincoln. Or perhaps I should say that all of Lincoln's virtues drew their meaning from something that emanated from his face. Why? In the answer to this question lies the deeper meaning of the ideal of individuality that was such a beacon to the creators of this country. In the answer to this question lies the deeper understanding of selfhood that forms the basis of idea of America.

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(39:01) Music Element

"A Psalm of Life" from Mark Twain's America: A Portrait in Music, performed by Jacqueline Schwab


(39:14) Reading from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

In Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, he concludes:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Read the complete address that was delivered on March 4, 1865 from the east portico of the Capitol.

(40:59) Reference to St. Augustine

St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) is one of the most prominent figures of medieval philosophy whose authority and thought have had a lasting influence. Augustine is one of the main figures who merged the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions. Some of his best-known works are The Confessions and City of God.

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(44:52) Music Element

"Bunker Hill" from Liberty! The American Revolution, performed by Mark O'Connor


(45:02) Reading from Speech by Douglass

The following excerpt comes from a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5th, 1852, at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York, in celebration of the Fourth of July:

Americans, you boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization and your pure Christianity while the whole political power of the nation is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three million of your countrymen. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You're all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a 3-penny tax on tea, yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe that of one blood God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of the Earth and have commanded all men everywhere to love one another. Yet you notoriously hate all men whose skins are not colored like your own.

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(48:22) Music Element

"Duo for Flute and Piano" from Chamber Music with Flute, performed by Aaron Copland and Arthur Foote


Walt Whitmanin 1887. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Liberty Tree at Annapolis

Walt Whitman Photoprint autographed to R. Pearsall Smith (June 1887) (Courtesy: Library of Congress)

(48:50) Reading from Democratic Vistas

Needleman includes visionary figures like Walt Whitman in his list of founders of American democracy. In the May 2003 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, David Brooks writes in "What Whitman Knew" that Whitman's essay "is still the most trenchant explanation of American policies and ambitions."

The following passage was excerpted from "Democratic Vistas," which Whitman wrote following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

I say the notion of government, henceforth in civilized lands, is not repression alone and not authority alone, not even of law, nor the rule of the best men, but higher than the highest arbitrary rule, to train communities through all their grades beginning with individuals and ending there again to rule themselves. To be a voter with the rest is not so much. And this, like every institute, will have its imperfections. But to become an enfranchised man and now, impediments removed, to stand and start without humiliation and equal with the rest, to commence the grand experiment whose end may be the forming of a full-grown man or woman—that is something.

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(50:22) Music Element

"Copland: Outdoor Overture" from Family Album, performed by United States Marine Band


Voices on the Radio

is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and author of The American Soul.

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