Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Noah Webster - "Schoolmaster of the Nation"

Noah Webster (1758-1843) is the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.” It has been said that 'no single American has contributed so much to American education as Noah Webster...”

Webster was an educator, statesman, lexicographer and the “Schoolmaster of the Nation.”

He served his country as a soldier in the Continental Army during the American War for Independence. Webster was elected and served nine terms in the Connecticut General Assembly. He served in the Legislature of Massachusetts for three terms. While serving in the legislature of Massachusetts, Webster sought to have funds appropriated for education. Furthermore, Webster also served as a judge.

Webster believed that government had a responsibility to:

“Discipline our youth in early life in sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties.”

Throughout the 19th Century, Webster was known by more Americans than anyone except George Washington. This was primarily due to his infamous “Blue-backed speller” and his “American Dictionary of the English Language.” Webster published self teaching textbooks through which he sought to make America intellectually independent from Great Britain and Europe. He chose to produce educational materials which would impart the principles which gave birth to the liberties we enjoy in America. Noah Webster realized that the quality of education in America would have a profound effect upon the success of our Republican system of government. He knew that the responsibility to educate ones children rests upon the parents and the individual. He firmly believed the foundation upon which sound education is established is found in the Bible.

“In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed.. No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Noah Webster wrote his infamous “Blue-backed Speller” in 1783. The title of his Primer is actually “The Elementary Spelling Book” which is affectionately spoken of as the “Blue-backed Speller.” His American Spelling Book was first written in 1780 when he taught in New York.

This single book did more for American education than any other single book except the Bible. The Speller was written to instill in the minds of the reader, “the first rudiments of the language and some just ideas of religion, morals, and domestic economy.” A publishing record was set when a million copies of the Blue-backed Speller were purchased in a year for one hundred years. Americans throughout the country learned the letters of the alphabet, morality, and patriotism from his dictionary, spellers, catechisms, and history books.

The fundamental premise of the Speller is that “God's word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.” His Speller contained a “Moral Catechism” which contained rules from Scripture upon which moral conduct was founded. The Blue-backed Speller included a catechism, a paraphrased account of creation from Genesis, and a considerably large section from the Sermon on the Mount. Included in the Speller are selections such as “He who came to save us, will wash us from all sin; I will be glad in his name.”

Webster completed his masterpiece An American Dictionary of the English Language – with pronouncing vocabularies of Scripture, classical and geographical names” after twenty-six years of research and work. He mastered twenty-eight languages by the time he completed and published his dictionary in 1828. The dictionary contained 70,000 entries and 20,000 new definitions. Webster created an English vocabulary that had standardized spelling for the first time in English speaking history.

A selection from the Preface of his magnificent work proclaims:

“In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people. 
To that great and benevolent Being, who, during the preparation of this work, has sustained a feeble constitution amidst obstacles and toils, disappointments, infirmities and depression; who has borne me and my manuscripts in safety across the Atlantic, and given me strength and resolution to bring the work to a close, I would present the tribute of my most grateful acknowledgments. 
And if the talent which He entrusted to my care, has not been put in the most profitable use in his service, I hope it has not been “kept laid up in a napkin” and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.”
New Haven
Noah Webster 

 The monumental work reflects the Christian character of a humble man who diligently worked to create a scholarly work for the benefit of American citizens.

He generously utilized scriptural references and defined words utilizing scripture. His dictionary contained the greatest number of definitions based upon the Bible than any other secular volume. His 1828 version of the American Dictionary contained a luxuriant measure of the Holy Scriptures. The context of a word to be used was clarified by verses from the Old and New Testament.

An example of this clarification is in the definition of the word “faith.”

Being justified by faith. Rom. v.
Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. xi.
For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Cor. v.
With the heart man believeth to righteousness. Rom. x.
Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Rom.
Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Rom. xiv.
Children in whom is no faith. Deut. xxxii.

The definition of the word “property” is given:

"The exclusive right of possessing, enjoying and disposing of a thing; ownership. In the beginning of the world, the Creator gave to man dominion over the earth, over the fish of the sea and the fouls of the air, and over every living thing. This is the foundation of man's property in the earth and all its productions...The labor of inventing, making or producing any thing constitutes one of the highest titles to property. It is of the greatest blessings of civil society that the property of the citizen is well secured.”

Providence is defined as:

"The care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures...Some persons admit a general providence, but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is understood by God himself."

Unfortunately, thousands of Scriptures have been removed from secularized contemporary dictionaries that bear his name but reflect humanistic thought.

Webster created the “American Dictionary of the English Language, a “Grammar,” his “Blue-backed Speller,” and The Webster Bible. He custom tailored the King James Bible for the American reader.

In 1833, Webster translated the Common Version of the Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testament, with Amendments of the Language. Webster made the following declaration in the preface to his Bible:

The Bible is the Chief moral cause of all that is good, and the best corrector of all that is evil, in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the only book that can serve as an infallible guide to future felicity...It is extremely important to our nation, in a political as well as religious view, that all possible authority and influence should be given to the scriptures, for these furnish the best principles of civil liberty, and the most effectual support of republican government. 
The principles of genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that Book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.
There are two powers only, sufficient to control men and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration, these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.
Noah Webster
New Haven, 1833 

Furthermore, he continued to write on several topics: religion, politics, education, music, economics, commercial interests, medical and social commentary, and science. Noah Webster was the first American to promote a Constitutional Convention and personally presented a document to George Washington supporting the proposition which he composed. Through his efforts, copyright legislation was included in the Constitution of the United States. He was largely responsible for Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution concerning copyrights.

He became the founder of a college, served in state government, published a magazine and a newspaper.

A dedication to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College appears on the second page of Webster's American Spelling Book – Containing an easy Standard of Pronunciation. The Grammatical Institute of the English Language contained the American Spelling Book which was published in 1790.

The dedication to President Stiles declared:

“This first part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language is, with permission, most humbly inscribed, as a testimony of my veneration, for the superior talents, piety and patriotism, which enable him to preside over that seat of literature, with distinguished reputation, which render him an ornament to the Christian Profession, and give him an eminent rank among the illustrious characters that adorn the revolution.”

Webster writes in the preface to his dictionary published in 1848:

"If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and Christianity...”'
“And if the talent which (God) entrusted to my care, has not been put to the most profitable use in his service, I hope it has not been 'kept laid in a napkin,' and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.”

Concerning education, Webster declared:

“Education is useless without the Bible.”
“The Bible was America's basic text book in all fields.”
“God's Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.”

In 1823, Webster wrote these words in his textbook:

“It is alleged by men of loose principles, or defective views of the subject, that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations. But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine. They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness. 
But if we had no divine instruction on the subject, our own interest would demand of us a strict observance of the principle of these injunctions. And it is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens, that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breeches of trust, peculations and embezzlement of public property which astonish even ourselves; which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government; and which will tend to reconcile men to monarchs in other countries and even our own.”

In 1832, the History of the United States was authored and published by Noah Webster.

"The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles in the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.
The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles , which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence' which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.
The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws...All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.
When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty;
If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes;
Corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.
If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”

In 1832, Noah Webster wrote in Advice to the Young:

“The 'Advice to the Young,' ...will be useful in enlightening the minds of youth in religious and moral principles, and restrain some of the common vices of our country...To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens than any other improvements in our system of education.”

Throughout his life, Webster affirmed this following declarations:

“For this reason society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government.”
“Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature; not merely the institution of schools, but the furnishing of them with the best men for teachers. A good system of education should be the first article in the code of political regulations; for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system.”
“The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind. It is always better to be vulgarly right than politely wrong.”
“The education of youth [is] an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.”
“Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are...negligently practiced. To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens, than any other improvements in our system of education.”
“By taking revenge, a man is even with his enemy, but by passing it over, he is superior.”

Webster was a loving father to his seven children. Before his death in 1843, Noah Webster made this public profession of faith:

“I know whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.”

Gleaned from "America's Providential History" by Mark A. Beliles & Steven K. McDowell.
Also: "America's God and Country - Encyclopedia of Quotations" by William J. Federer

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