Having applied for instructor certification with the Institute on the Constitution, I was observed teaching (and passed with no corrections!) and then asked to complete an essay. One of the questions was this:
“What is one of your favorite quotes from our Founders?” I used a favorite quote from founding father Roger Sherman.
The founder who we hear least about but probably should get to know better is Roger Sherman. Thomas Jefferson said of him,
“That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who has never said a foolish thing in his life.”
The above quote is on a loop in my brain. I try to think of how anyone in the public eye could be that amazing of a human being. Were our Founders remembered as better men than they were? Or were human beings of yesteryear that exceptional? Was Sherman?
The Founders, as we have learned, knew that all humans were prone to sin. They knew that power cannot be concentrated in the hands of a few, which is what gave rise to the three branches of government and the checks and balances in our Constitution today. So it couldn’t be that men of superhuman character founded our nation. Only one man who ever lived matched that description.
While “Give me liberty or give me death” is a remarkable statement from a young Patrick Henry with actions of bravery to back it up, Sherman’s extraordinary self-control seems to be a stand-out, until we read this quote:
“[He] exhibits the oddest shaped character I ever remember to have met with. He is awkward, un-meaning, and unaccountably strange in his manner…. yet the oddity of his address, the vulgarisms that accompany his public speaking, and that strange New England cant which runs through his public, as well as his private speaking, make everything that is connected with him grotesque and laughable….” (Source: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829; Rev. Charles A. Goodrich)
Rev. Goodrich follows up with some glowing comments and a memorable epitaph for Sherman. Still, I find it hard to square up Jefferson’s remark with the Reverend’s painfully honest assessment of Sherman’s virtues and quirks. So, I found photos that show the same tree three weeks apart. In one picture, the tree is full of quirks and oddities. Within weeks, it flowered, then turned fully green. It does this every year.
My mind fast-forwards to today. This morning alone, I have read accounts and seen pictures of man’s inhumanity to man. Sadly, much of it is due to poor leadership on the planet today. Secularism, humanism, and affluence have made our world a worse, not better, place. Since the life of leaders set the course for their people, is it a small wonder that the nations falter?
Maybe I just answered my own question as to why Sherman’s quote is the one that stood out to me. I don’t see world leaders rise to a level of never saying a foolish thing. Avoiding foolishness is a character issue. Quirks and oddities are mannerisms that are learned and can be unlearned. However, character takes lifelong development and a ton of self-control.
I hope the senior instructor who reviews my complete essay agrees.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸