Embers of hope for our times lie in the original Harvard Charter and its updates of 1636-1780. The greatness of what we were then as a people and what we held dear shines in the language of the Charter throughout. In addition, themes of the founders’ commonly held Christian faith are very unabashedly connected to education. Here are a few examples:
In 1642 as the college was being officially incorporated it was made clear that the “Duties of the Board” involved being “empowered to make…statutes…for guiding the college in piety, morality, and learning…”
In the 1650 Charter the unselfish Christian purpose of donors to the college is described. “Whereas through the good hand of God many…persons are moved to give…gifts (for) the education of the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge and godlynes (sic).”
Again in 1780 the Charter makes clear the reason for the creation of Harvard University itself. Reference is made to Chapter V of the Constitution of Massachusetts, “Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty six, laid the foundation of Harvard College, in which university many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of GOD been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualify them for public implements, both in Church and State: And…the encouragement of arts and sciences, and all good literature, tends to the honor of GOD, the advantage of the Christian religion, and the great benefit of this and the other United States of America…”.
The vital bond of education, Christian virtue, and liberty is spelled out clearly in that same 1780 Massachusetts Constitution:
“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions… to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments, among the people.”
It appears that the founders of Harvard University would vigorously agree with Benjamin Franklin that, ”Learning to serve God, family and country should be the aim and end of all true learning.”
The spirit of the Harvard Charter is the soil in which we were all planted, an ember that still lives. It’s gotten a little parched and a little dim but what we’ve known as truth before can be known and loved again. A majority of Americans share the belief that liberty is in the air that we breathe and the gift we WILL give to our children . We’ll weather, “by the blessing of GOD”, these difficult times!