A Person of Principles

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, August 28, 2011

Daniel 3:1-18 GNT

I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but this month marks the 225th anniversary of the birthday of a very famous Tennessean.  A famous Tennessean who was born just five miles from my boyhood home.  If you follow I-81 into Greene County, and then turn onto Highway 11E at exit #23, and follow 11E toward Limestone, you will find his birthplace.  A little log cabin on the banks of the Nolichucky River marks the spot of his birth.  As a boy, I loved to visit that log cabin and look in the front door to see the bearskin rug on the floor.  I loved visiting the gift shop that stood nearby.  It was a delight to go in there and smell the red cedar plaques and jewelry boxes and other trinkets and pick out a souvenir from among the flags, and pocket knives, and other frontier toys.  It was there that I bought my one and only coonskin cap.  If you haven’t guessed it by now, the famous Tennessean whose 225th birthday was celebrated on August 17th is Davy Crockett.

Now, why would a minister be interested in talking about someone like Davy Crockett? you might be asking.  Well, from a personal standpoint, the Davy Crockett birthplace was a familiar part of my childhood.  In addition to visiting the log cabin and gift shop, the park was the setting for a number of church picnics and family reunions.  As a family, we camped there a time or two.  As a teenager, I fished there a lot of nights with a high school buddy.  And it was there at the annual Davy Crockett celebration and talent show that I first stood before a crowd with my brother and first cousins and shared our musical talent with the world.  But none of these reasons is worthy of a sermon.  I know that.

No, what inspired me to piece together this sermon was what I learned about the life that Davy Crockett lived and some of the things he said and did for the cause of justice.  You see, as I looked at Crockett’s life, I realized that he was a man of principles.  There were certain principles that Davy held dear, principles that he lived for and would not sacrifice, no matter the cost.

As I thought about Davy’s principles and sought to relate that to the scriptures, I was reminded of the principles held by those three Hebrew men spoken of in the book of Daniel who would not bend their principles, no matter the cost to their lives.  Exiled from their homeland to a strange country with strange religious and political ideas, when commanded to fall down and worship a gold statue erected by the King of Babylon, they flatly refused.  Of all sins considered heinous to a faithful Jew, idolatry was the most heinous. And so, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego flatly refused.  Foreshadowing, perhaps, the furnaces of Auschwitz where thousands of Jews were burned to death, these three Hebrew men said, “Throw us into the blazing furnace if you will.  But be sure we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” Principles.  Principles for which they were willing to die, if necessary.  What a testimony and example to the world. 

And so, in a similar way, as I studied to learn more about Davy Crockett, this frontiersman who left such an indelible mark on our great state, I came to admire him more for the principles he held dear.  But in order to understand Davy Crockett and his principles, we need to know a little bit more about his life.

As already noted, Davy Crockett was born in what is now Greene County on the banks of the Nolichucky River on August 17, 1786.  A few years later, his family moved to what is now Morristown, Tennessee, and built a tavern.  That tavern still stands today and is the Crockett Tavern Museum.  When he was 13, Davy ran away from home after having gotten into a fistfight at school because someone made fun of the way he talked.  Fearing his father’s stern punishment, he ran away from home.  Davy stayed away from home for about three years, traveling around the state of Tennessee.  When he returned home, he went to work for a Quaker farmer named John Canaday (or Kennedy, as it is spelled two different ways ).  For a time Davy lived with this Quaker family, who became a positive influence on him, instilling strict values and principles and helping Davy to become honest, kind and ambitious.  Davy would begin his political career as he was elected to be a local justice of the peace and then a lieutenant colonel of the local militia.  In 1821, he ran for the Tennessee state legislature and won.  Six years later, in 1827, he ran for a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives and won.  He won a second term in 1829, but lost in 1831 because of his anti-Andrew Jackson stance.  And as everyone knows, Davy Crockett lost his life at the Alamo helping fight for Texas independence from Mexico.

But here is the piece about Davy Crockett’s life that I only recently learned that has led me to admire him so, something that makes him sermon-worthy.  Davy Crockett was vehemently opposed to the policies of then President Andrew Jackson, who was most responsible for the removal of the Cherokee Indians and the horrible piece of American history known as the Trail of Tears.  Thousands of Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws and others were driven from their homes and forced to travel on foot to Oklahoma in the cold of winter.  Thousands of them died along the way.  What a heinous sin.  What an ugly blight on the face of American history is the Trail of Tears.  And we have Andrew Jackson in large measure to thank for it, since he signed the Indian Removal Act into law. 

But Davy Crockett stood in opposition to both Jackson and his Indian Removal Act.  And here is what Crockett said, reminiscent of those three Hebrew men who would not bow: “It was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson. . . even at the expense of my conscience and judgement.  Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles.”  There’s that principle that I referred to earlier.  “I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House no matter who he is,” Crockett exclaimed.  As noted earlier, because of his opposition to both Jackson and Jackson’s Indian Removal policies, Crockett was driven out of Congress.  And he later said, “I have suffered myself to be politically sacrificed to save my country from ruin and disgrace and if I am never again elected I will have the gratification to know that I have done my duty. . . .  I would rather be politically dead than hypocritically immortalized.”  Regarding his vote on the Indian Removal Act, in 1834 Crockett said specifically, “I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.”

And so, we may have thought that Davy Crockett was just a killer of bears and wearer of coonskin caps.  No doubt but what larger than life stories have risen up around Crockett.  And Davy Crockett certainly was not a perfect man; he had faults like all of us.  But historical records speak for themselves.  In the spirit of the three Hebrew men who would not go against their consciences to commit idolatry or sacrifice their principles even to save their lives, Davy Crockett maintained his integrity and remained true to his principles and sought to do the humane thing by trying to protect the Native Americans from the atrocities they suffered.  One has to wonder how influential that Quaker family was on Crockett and the decisions he would make later in life.  It just goes to show that you never know how far your personal influence will extend. 

The question is, “Could we do the same?”  If faced with choosing between our own well-being and staying true to our conscience and principles—especially as it might pertain to the rights and well-being of the oppressed or downtrodden—could we do as Crockett did?

Oh, by the way, there is one more famous Crockett quote that I find inspiring.  It is probably his most famous quote.  And the quote is this: “Be always sure you are right  – then go ahead.”  Such is what Davy Crockett did in opposing the Indian Removal Act.  Be sure that in your convictions and principles you are right, that you are standing on solid rock.  Then go ahead.  May it be so with each of us.  Amen.

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About randykhammer

Minister and writer
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