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America's Culture War: Founding Fathers

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School Refuses Lottery Funds

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Both public school and lottery officials across the country were stunned when the North Star Public Charter School near Boise, Idaho, refused to accept nearly $10,000 from the Idaho State Lottery—monies earmarked specifically for public education in that state. Education officials from California to New York are baffled, and have indicated they have never heard of a school turning down its share of the lottery. One lottery official blasted the school as “holier-than-thou types.” Why would any school take such a stand? The chairman of the school board at the North Star school gave as the reason for the board’s decision that “taking gambling money would conflict with the school’s mission of developing virtuous citizens” (Boone, 2004).

American civilization has declined to such an extent that most citizens would be shocked to find that the Idaho school occupies the same moral ground that the majority of Americans have occupied from the very beginning of our nation’s history. In fact, the Founding Fathers addressed the issue of gambling. For example, the Continental Congress passed a resolution on October 12, 1788, declaring their condemnation of gambling:

Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness: Resolved, That it be, and it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several states, to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof, and for the suppressing theatrical entertainments, horse racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners (Journals…, 1823, 3:85).

The laws of Connecticut included a prohibition against gambling:

Gaming is an amusement, the propensity of which is deeply implanted in human nature. Mankind in the most unpolished state of barbarism and in the most refined periods of luxury and dissipation, are attached to this practice with an unaccountable ardor and fondness. To describe the pernicious consequences of it, the ruin and desolation of private families, and the promotion of idleness and dissipation, belong to a treatise on ethics (as quoted in Swift, 1796, 2:351).

In a letter to Martha Jefferson in 1787, Thomas Jefferson commented on the degrading influence of gambling:

In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resources of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind (as quoted in Forman, 1900, p. 266).

In his proposal for a revision of the laws in his home state of Virginia, Jefferson offered the following “Bill to Prevent Gaming,” which restricted the holding of public office to non-gamblers:

Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible to any office of trust or honor within this state (1950, 2:306).

George Washington frequently addressed the deleterious effect of gambling on the soldiers of the Continental Army that he commanded. In General Orders issued on February 26, 1776, Washington admonished:

All officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers are positively forbid playing at cards, and other games of chance. At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of their God, and their Country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality (1931, 4:347).

The majority view of the nation and its Founders from day one has been that gambling in its various forms is a vice that is destructive of the moral fabric of society. As George Washington declared to his troops on May 8, 1777: “Few vices are attended with more pernicious consequences” (8:28). But that majority view has now become the minority view. If the Continental Congress was correct in its claim that “true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness,” then America is moving swiftly down a road that will result in “a general depravity of principles and manners.”

REFERENCES

Boone, Rebecca (2004), “Idaho School Turns Down Lottery Donation,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, [On-line], URL: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/apus_story.asp?category=1110&slug=School%20Lottery.

Forman, S.E. (1900), The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Indianapolis, IN: Bowen-Merrill).

Jefferson, Thomas (1950), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

Journals of the American Congress: From 1774 to 1788 (1823), (Washington, D.C.: Way and Gideon).

Swift, Zephaniah (1796), A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham, CT: John Byrne).

Washington, George (1931), The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office).




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