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Acton Lecture Series: Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding

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More audio from this year’s Acton Lecture Series. In “Virtue and Liberty in the American Founding,” Dr. John Pinheiro examines the American Founders’ understanding of liberty as rooted in a classical and Christian understanding of virtue. His talk touched on the reasons why George Washington argued that public happiness could be attained without private morality and why John Adams wrote that, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

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Dr. John Pinheiro
Dr. John Pinheiro is associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College in Michigan. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Pinheiro co-edited volume 12 of the Presidential Series of the Papers of George Washington and is author of Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War. His publications also include articles on Washington and the Jacksonian Era in academic journals. Consulting Editor for the Polk presidency at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, Dr. Pinheiro also hosts “Past is Prologue” on WPRR, 1680AM, Grand Rapids. His scholarly interests include American identity and evolving American views on republican citizenship.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • What an important topic for our times. The Truthsavvy site just posted an essay that relates to our current economic times. The debate public over Free Markets is missing the aspect of virtue and morality in the mix. The result is that the U.S. free markets, especially embodied in Wall Street, are exploitative and causing great economic hardship in the U.S. and around the world.

    You can read “Are “Free Markets” Really Free Without Morality?” here:


  • C.Conwell

    Virtue and Morality are all that prevents anarchy. While working inside a large jail I saw a level of morality which existed among the prisoners. Unwritten rules regarding behavior were strictly enforced in often brutal ways. Nevertheless, this sub-society found it necessary to have a standard of morality. Given the choice between anarchy and structure they chose structure. Was this a result of the deisre to promote the common good or self-preservation? Thus the question for us all is: do members of a society merely pursue “morality and virtues” for the purpose of self-preservation? I.E. because they wish to have others treat them acordingly? In the absence of Christian virtues do we devolve into a level of behavior of self preservation similar to that which I witnessed in the jail? Alan Greenspan recently stated that no laws will ever stop Wall Street greed so long as the culture remains without moral restraint.