Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Locke Rush Headshot

What Has Happened to the Social Concern of the Founding Fathers?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

I am more confused than ever. I read and hear daily about the core values of our founding fathers. Mixed in with this is the strong undercurrent of their "Christian" values. Much of this verbiage comes from the right (be it the Christian or Republican) side, from those of us who are affluent and do not have to worry about putting three meals on the table each day.

The founding fathers, most of whom were Christian, saw Jesus as a role model, someone they could worship and emulate. As best they could, they sought to lead their lives in a manner that followed his example. I got to thinking: Who was Jesus? What were his beliefs? What did He do? We know He was poor. He had no house or property or possessions. What little food He received He gave to others. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and cared for the needy. His only wealth was God. He lived his life by the golden rule, "Treat others the way you would be treated."

A public figure (I do not remember who) said that we are not angels. We do not, or perhaps cannot, act the way Jesus did. But we recognize the goodness and service of His existence and turn to our government to provide these things. It makes no difference if the government is small or large, Republican or Democrat; it is the duty, in any civilized and developed country, for the people to feed the hungry, give shelter to the poor, and provide medical service to the sick.

And here it becomes even more puzzling. For months now, I have heard and read cries of outrage about how, through our recent healthcare legislation, we are practicing socialized medicine and have forgotten the core values of our founding fathers.

Recently, I was asked to give a short talk on my ancestor, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Surgeon General of the Continental Army, Secretary of the Treasury, arguably the preeminent physician of his time, the nation's first psychiatrist, and author of the principles now used in the treatment of mental illness. As I researched his life and achievements, I became increasingly aware of the humanity of this man. He set up the first Free Clinic in Philadelphia, where the poor were treated without charge (socialized medicine in the 1700s!). Each evening, he walked home from his work at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia and ministered to his ill patients -- most of them poor -- never charging a penny. For his services to the army during the war, he did not seek compensation. When an article defaming him was published, he sued the author, won, and gave to the poor the princely sum of $5,000. Dr. Benjamin Rush "walked the walk." He took it upon himself to serve others less fortunate when he could easily have capitalized on his fame and professional stature. On his deathbed, his last words to his son, Richard Rush (later to become Secretary of State) were, "Be indulgent to the poor."

Rush saw not only the need but the duty and responsibility of each citizen to help those less fortunate. It was a most natural and "Christian" thing for him to establish his Free Clinic. So when I read each day of those on the far right knocking health care legislation or bemoaning our loss of the core values of our founding fathers, I think back to my great, great, great grandfather, one of the leading lights of these founding fathers. I quote here his response to his political criticism:

The Amor Patriae (love of country) is both a moral and religious duty. It comprehends, not only the love of our neighbors, but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations. The SOCIAL spirit is the true SELFISH spirit, and men always promote their own interest most in proportion as they promote that of their neighbors and their country. (The Hamden Letter, October 20, 1773)

In essence, Dr. Rush judged community service, public service, medical service, and caring for one's neighbors and country as patriotism.