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Was the Declaration of Independence an Example of Secession, Revolution, or Both?

Patri Friedman of seasteading fame, has an interesting post reopening an old debate: whether the Declaration of Independence launched a revolution or a secession movement. This was a hotly contested issue in the 19th century, when southern secessionists claimed they were following in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers who seceded from the British Empire, while many northerners responded by drawing a sharp distinction between secession and revolution.

The truth is that the Declaration of Independence was both a revolution and a secession. There is little question that American Patriots sought to secede from the British Empire in the sense that they wanted to break off their part of it and form a separate nation. Certainly, they weren't trying to replace the existing British government with a new one, while keeping the empire intact. On the other hand, the American independence movement was also revolutionary in the sense that it sought to institute a radically new political system. The revolutionaries certainly were not trying to gain independence simply for the purpose of establishing a smaller country with a political system that largely copied Britain's. For example, the rebels sought to create a polity with far stronger protections for individual freedom, no hereditary aristocracy, and a much more democratic political system than existed in 18th century Britain (or any other European state). Historian Gordon Wood discusses these and other radical changes sought by the revolutionaries in his excellent book The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Of course, the new United States did not consistently pursue liberal principles across the board, as witness the continuation of slavery in the South. But it did pursue them to a far greater extent than the British government of the day.

In sum, therefore, the revolution-secession dichotomy fails to capture the true nature of the American independence movement, which was an attempt to use secessionist means for revolutionary ends.

MarkField (mail):
I think this misses the key distinction between the two. Southern disunionists always claimed that the Constitution allowed secession, i.e., that it was a legal step rather than a revolutionary one. AFAIK, none of the American revolutionaries ever made that claim about their separation from Britain. They always admitted it was a revolution and claimed the natural, not legal, right for that step.
7.3.2009 7:05pm
pluribus:
The use of the word "secession" conflates 1776 with 1861, which were entirely different events. The Southern independence movement of 1861 was described by its supporters as "secession." The colonial independence movement of 1776 was descroibed as "independence." Those who supported secession in 1861 claimed that their movement was constitutional on terms set forth in the founding document of 1787. It was not a revolution, but simply the exercise of retained powers. Those who supported independence in 1776 made no such claim. Those who today seek to justify 1861 claim that 1776 was "secession," although no such claim was made at the time. In the long lens of history 1776 seems much more justifiable than 1861. 1776 was a protest against taxation without representation. 1861 was a reaction to a perceived threat against the continuation of slavery. Describing the earlier event as "secession" represents an unjustifiable attempt to transfer the positive feelings about 1776 to 1861.
7.3.2009 7:09pm
pluribus:
I believe Mark Field and I were posting at the same time, and making basically the same point.
7.3.2009 7:09pm
Oren:

The revolutionaries certainly were not trying to gain independence simply for the purpose of establishing a smaller country with a political system that largely copied Britain's.

Indeed, the similarity of the Confederate Constitution to the US Constitution was always a puzzlement, since it deprived the South of a powerful rhetorical device.
7.3.2009 7:15pm
Perseus (mail):
I agree with Mark Field. American independence was an extra-constitutional dissolution of government (i.e. revolution), not the withdrawal of sovereign states from a league of states as the Southern rebels would later claim. Independence was the consequence of dissolving the government that delegated the executive and federative powers to the British Crown, which was also the critical link to the British Empire.
7.3.2009 7:22pm
MLS:
One can argue secession/revolution until they are blue in the face, but the simple fact remains at the end of the day that it is perhaps the best example I have ever read of prose telling a sovereign, a King no less, to "put it where the sun don't shine". Subsequent events teach us that the King of England was none too pleased with being "disrespected", and many lives were needlessly sacrificed to salve his wounded ego.
7.3.2009 7:35pm
Steven Den Beste (www):
Maybe my memory is going bad, but I vaguely remember that one thing they considered after Yorktown was to set up a new monarchy, with George Washington as king.

Washington himself squelched the idea, and that's one of many, many things we have to thank him for.
7.3.2009 7:53pm
Anderson (mail):
Field/Pluribus/Perseus nail it. Nothing to add.
7.3.2009 8:04pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Did the colonies even have a second estate? Or I guess since they were Protestants it would be first estate. My understanding is that they did not have anything near the changes France had in their revolution. And wasn't England already the most democratic country on earth (I guess second to Switzerland) at the time? In the early years the U.S still restricted the franchise to a very small set of property-holders, so it doesn't seem that different from England.
7.3.2009 8:43pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
The colonies were not equal members of the union they were a part of, and had no representation or recourse in law.

The Constitutionality of secession was disproven in Texas v. White, 1869.
7.3.2009 8:49pm
corneille1640 (mail):
In all this talk of "revolution" and individual freedom, I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that one of the proximate causes of the "Revolution" was the refusal by already lightly taxed colonists to pay minor tax on a luxury item (tea) that by some accounts actually lowered the price.

Taxation without representation is wrong, I guess, but a lot of property was destroyed and a lot of people lost their lives for the GRRReat PRRRincipul of saving a little extra money and a lot of pride. As long as the "voice of the people is heard," I guess it doesn't matter.

Don't get me wrong, the ideas used to rationalize the revolution were great, and the world is probably better off because there was and is an independent United States. And the US, because it was formulated on such high ideals, has been forced to follow them, at least in some circumstances. But I certainly don't think it was a just war.
7.3.2009 8:52pm
Some Dude:
It wasn't revolution because they didn't seek to overthrow the government in London and replace the leadership of the British Empire with their own people.
7.3.2009 9:02pm
Matthew Carberry (mail):
"No taxation without representation" was the bumper sticker for the actual principle involved.

In the end the details of the tax that broke the camel's back itself were meaningless, it was the fact that it, like so much Colonial-specific legislation, was levied on the Englishmen in the Americas but not also levied on the Englishmen in England.

The continuing disparate treatment of subjects/citizens of the Empire based on residency, systematized discrimination without legal recourse, was the principle in play.
7.3.2009 9:16pm
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
I would argue that the American revolution was conservative. The Colony's position was that they, like Englishmen in England, were entitled by Magna Charta to not being taxed by the king without approval by their elected representatives. They added that approval by Parliament, elected by people in England and Scotland, didn't count. The Glorious Revolution had established that if the King tried to subvert the government, he could legitimately be overthrown. (Some-- especially New ENglanders-- would say that the English Civil War had already established that. Others might point to such examples as Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, and Richard III as what happened to kings regarded universally as bad.)

So the Colonies would have been content with the status quo of 1750. The innovation of a Federal Government, a navy, and an army were just the unfortunate consequences of having to ditch an irresponsible King (remember that formally the British army and navy and colonies were under the authority of the King and his Government, not Parliament). And then it was necessary to restrain the Federal Government with a Bill of Rights.

Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.
7.3.2009 9:20pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I would also say that the question is muddied somewhat by the fact that the colonists weren't all that clear on what form of government they were after once the dust settled. It took them longer to figure that out than it did to win the war in the first place.
7.3.2009 9:41pm
corneille1640 (mail):

In the end the details of the tax that broke the camel's back itself were meaningless, it was the fact that it, like so much Colonial-specific legislation, was levied on the Englishmen in the Americas but not also levied on the Englishmen in England.


I see it somewhat differently. For one thing, the franchise in England was so much more restricted than in the colonies, and if I'm not mistaken, the English people in England had to pay higher taxes than did the colonists. True, the larger franchise in the colonies did not translate into representation in parliament, but it did translate into representation in the colonial assemblies, which had at least some (informal) voice in how the colonists were governed.

The colonists--or at least the plurality or minority who supported the "Revolution"--had their reasons for revolting. I was perhaps too glib to ascribe so much of it to the dispute over the Tea Act. Still, I don't believe such disputes--or the principle of a lack of legal recourse--rise to the level of requiring or justifying violent resistance. Obviously, the colonist plurality felt differently.

I am an American citizen, and I benefit perhaps more than most citizens from the legacy of the American Revolution or War for Independence or whatever one wants to call it. But that legacy, as I see it, is one of ultimate good proceeding from unjust circumstances. The American "Revolution" was an unjust war, in my view.
7.3.2009 10:08pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
"Minor tax on a luxury item"? Um, there were a lot more grievances than that, as partly enumerated in the Declaration. And in any event, the underlying principle at stake is that all legitimate authority requires the consent of the governed, and the colonists did not consent. When they stood up for their liberties, they were fired upon. I have a pretty tight understanding of JWT, and the revolution makes it, no problem.
7.3.2009 10:25pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Any war that is won* is a just war.

* Winning including having that victory accepted at the international level.
7.3.2009 10:27pm
JohnO (mail):
I say pish posh to the rebellion/secession dichotomy. The American Revolution was just because it succeeded; the Southern rebellion unlawful because it failed. As the Supreme Court put it:

Those who engage in rebellion must consider the consequences. If they succeed, rebellion becomes revolution, and the new government will justify its founders. If they fail, all their acts hostile to the rightful government are violations of law, and originate no rights which can be recognized by the courts of the natrion whose authority and existence have been alike assailed.


Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176, 186 (1877).
7.3.2009 10:38pm
MarkField (mail):

I was perhaps too glib to ascribe so much of it to the dispute over the Tea Act. Still, I don't believe such disputes--or the principle of a lack of legal recourse--rise to the level of requiring or justifying violent resistance. Obviously, the colonist plurality felt differently.


Well, there were some additional, important facts between the tea tax and the actual outbreak of fighting. Most significant were the fact that the King declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, the Intolerable Acts (e.g., here and here and here), the use of military force against the colonists, and various other of a "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinc[ing] a design to reduce them under absolute despotism".

All this came at least a year before the Declaration.


The American "Revolution" was an unjust war, in my view.


JMHO, but I think representation is a pretty important principle, one worth fighting for.


Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.


There was no executive under the Articles of Confederation. In any case, those weren't ratified until 1780, at which time the new nation was already 4 years old. That makes it hard to use the Articles to reason backward to the causes. It's the Declaration which is the formative document, and while that was centrist in the US, it was very radical indeed for the rest of the world.


The Glorious Revolution had established that if the King tried to subvert the government, he could legitimately be overthrown. (Some-- especially New ENglanders-- would say that the English Civil War had already established that. Others might point to such examples as Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, and Richard III as what happened to kings regarded universally as bad.)


This is a fairly liberal view of 1688-9, though it certainly was the majority view in America. The conservative theory was that James II abandoned his throne, which allowed his replacement. In England, the Tories never did agree to the theory you suggest (and even some Whigs were squishy on it).
7.3.2009 10:47pm
Dave N (mail):
The Constitutionality of secession was disproven in Texas v. White, 1869.
The Constitutionality of succession was disproven when the North decisively won the Civil War. White was just post war window dressing.
7.3.2009 10:51pm
corneille1640 (mail):

"Minor tax on a luxury item"? Um, there were a lot more grievances than that, as partly enumerated in the Declaration. And in any event, the underlying principle at stake is that all legitimate authority requires the consent of the governed, and the colonists did not consent. When they stood up for their liberties, they were fired upon. I have a pretty tight understanding of JWT, and the revolution makes it, no problem.

I should say that the "minor tax on a luxury item" statement was part of my assertion that the Tea Act (and by extension, the Boston Tea Party, Coercive Acts, and, eventually, Lexington and Concord) was one of the proximate causes of the war, not the underlying ideology or principle.
7.3.2009 10:56pm
Another realist:
The Constitutionality of secession was disproven in Texas v. White, 1869.


The Constitutionality of secession was disproven in Grant v Vicksburg, July 4, 1863.
7.3.2009 10:57pm
corneille1640 (mail):

Most significant were the fact that the King declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, the Intolerable Acts (e.g., here and here and here), the use of military force against the colonists, and various other of a "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinc[ing] a design to reduce them under absolute despotism".

It seems to me that almost all of what you mentioned happened after the colonists (or a small number of them) commenced their campaign to destroy property or kill British soldiers. The King declared the colonies in rebellion after Lexington and Concord, not before. The Coercive Acts were imposed after the mob inspired by the Sons of "Liberty" dumped the tea into the Boston Harbor.
7.3.2009 11:04pm
Dave N (mail):
Another realist,

Not to mention in Meade v. Lee the same week.
7.3.2009 11:06pm
Anderson (mail):
Not to mention in Meade v. Lee the same week.

See, nowadays Lee could've pled "ineffective assistance of Longstreet" and maybe gotten the battle reversed.

(Slandering poor Longstreet for a lame joke. I am so ashamed. --Okay, feeling better now.)

Re: the colonies' grievances, I tend to think that the Atlantic Ocean made some sort of break inevitable, once you had a critical mass of Anglo-Americans on the other side of the water, rather like it's inevitable that finches on an island with one kind of seed will grow different beaks from finches on another island with different seeds. How the colonists expressed the issue to themselves is, what's the word? ... epiphenomenal?
7.3.2009 11:20pm
interruptus:

I would argue that the American revolution was conservative. [...] So the Colonies would have been content with the status quo of 1750. The innovation of a Federal Government, a navy, and an army were just the unfortunate consequences of having to ditch an irresponsible King.

That's difficult to square with the writings and political beliefs of the leaders of the revolution, and in particular with the strong support many subsequently gave to the French Revolution. I mean, there is no amount of post-hoc analysis that can turn Thomas Paine into anything but a radical; even calling him a moderate liberal would be a stretch. But even those less radical than Paine generally sided, in their political philosophy, with the likes of Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire; rather than Burke, Hamann, and de Maistre.
7.3.2009 11:37pm
Oren:
I always thought it was the Seven Years War that removed the French and therefore obviated the need for British protection that was the main driver for the revolution. By succeeding so thoroughly, the British made themselves obsolete.

If there's anything conceivably worse in the minds of the colonists than the rule of the English King, it has to be the rule of the French King.
7.3.2009 11:47pm
Dave N (mail):
Anderson,

I tend to agree. However, it is interesting that Canada did not join in the Revolution but, instead, waited patiently for independence in 1867.

I have always found it interesting that even before the American Revolution, the two sets of British colonies on the North American mainland were very distinct. If the Canadian colonies were invited to the Continental Congress, that would be news to me.
7.3.2009 11:49pm
Danny (mail):
The American Revolution is sometimes dismissed in international circles as not being a real revolution because it wasn't "revolutionary enough". True, the French did change the names of the days of the weak and the system of measure, as well as abolishing all religion. But if you compare revolutions, the other revolutions were more radical at the outset, but they produced fewer lasting effects. The monarchy and state religion and traditionalism were restored in France after Napoleon. The United States created the modern world's first sizeable republic and introduced the concept of nationality as member of a political body rather than as an ethnic group / place of birth. In this sense the American Revolution was perhaps the most radical of them all. In any case, the American Revolution was a permanent one, unlike the others.

Hannah Arendt compared the three main revolutions, the American, the French and the Russian. She considered the American revolution to be a true revolution in contrast to the French revolution. This went against the current left-wing influenced thought. She has been criticized as being overly influenced by anti-French sentiment (as a Jew who fled Europe during the Holocaust) but I find her arguments to be anything but emotional. Her analyis of the American Revolution (as the rest of her work) is very convincing, IMO.
7.3.2009 11:51pm
MarkField (mail):

It seems to me that almost all of what you mentioned happened after the colonists (or a small number of them) commenced their campaign to destroy property or kill British soldiers.


Destruction of property was hardly a cause for declaring MA in a state of rebellion, which came in March 1774, a full year before Lexington and Concord. By the standards of the time (see, e.g., the Wilkes Riots or the Gordon Riots), the Tea Party was a tame affair. Property had been destroyed before (Hutchinson's house and others) with no such overreaction as the Intolerable Acts. And it's hard to argue for an American campaign to kill British soldiers when it was, after all, Gage who sent the troops out on April 18, 1775.
7.3.2009 11:58pm
Another realist:
If the Canadian colonies were invited to the Continental Congress, that would be news to me.


Letters to the inhabitants of Canada (1774, 1775, and 1776).
7.4.2009 12:20am
Dave N (mail):
Another realist,

Thank you for the link. I learned something new today.
7.4.2009 12:47am
Psalm91 (mail):
Will soon to be ex-governor Palin and husband rejoin the Alaska Independence Party? Talk about a Friday afternoon news drop......
7.4.2009 1:04am
Allan Walstad (mail):
It is completely obvious that the colonies seceded from the British Empire. The difference with Southern secession was that the Union had been entered into voluntarily to start with and the Southern states expected that they could leave it again. And I guess it falls to me, this time, to point out to the "it was all about slavery" crowd that the election of Lincoln made clear that the increasingly industrial North would pursue complete economic domination of the agrarian South via high tariffs. And it made clear in electoral terms a complete riff between the North and South. There was slavery in some of the states that remained with the Union. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves as a war measure, and only in the states NOT under his control at the time. The Revolutionary War cost lives, but Lincoln's war to hold the South cost the lives of two percent of the entire population at the time--by comparison, two percent of the current US population would be six million dead, or more than 2000 times the number killed in the 9/11 attacks.

The Constitutionality of succession was disproven when the North decisively won the Civil War. White was just post war window dressing.

And so--if the South had won the war, it would have proven secession was Constitutional? Is Constitutionality really a matter of might makes right? Window dressing, indeed.
7.4.2009 1:15am
AJK:


Letters to the inhabitants of Canada (1774, 1775, and 1776).



Cf article 11 of the Articles of Confederation:

Canada acceding to this confederation, and adjoining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States.
7.4.2009 1:33am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Allan Walstad,

In the world of international relations might makes right is the only practical measure I see being available. If you can get away with it, iy's all good.
7.4.2009 1:36am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
it's*
7.4.2009 1:37am
Desiderius:
"And it made clear in electoral terms a complete riff between the North and South."

Freebird!
7.4.2009 1:49am
Desiderius:
MarkField/Volokh in '16!
7.4.2009 1:51am
MCM (mail):
JMHO, but I think representation is a pretty important principle, one worth fighting for.


I don't think it's about representation at all. The entire "taxation without representation" argument is a canard.

Counterfactual: suppose each American colony had been granted 1 MP in, say, 1764 after the Seven Years' War ends. A year later the Stamp Act passes Parliament 205-62 instead of 205-49. A few years later the Townshend Acts are passed as well, despite colonial MPs voting against them.

Even if we imagine the colonies were given proportional representation, they'd still lose; Britain was about 3 times as populous as the colonies.

So do you imagine the colonies just decide to tough it out under burdensome British taxes? The taxes were going to happen, even with representation. Frankly, I don't think so. The gentlemen and merchants and intellectuals who led the Revolution had too much to gain by doing so.
7.4.2009 2:27am
Oren:

Is Constitutionality really a matter of might makes right?

Ultimately, yes. The legislation out of Congress and the decisions from the Court are not magically self-enforcing.

Orval Faubus learned this the hard way ...
7.4.2009 2:54am
David Schwartz (mail):
I don't think it's about representation at all. The entire "taxation without representation" argument is a canard.

Counterfactual: suppose each American colony had been granted 1 MP in, say, 1764 after the Seven Years' War ends. A year later the Stamp Act passes Parliament 205-62 instead of 205-49. A few years later the Townshend Acts are passed as well, despite colonial MPs voting against them.
That would still be taxation without representation. Taxation without representation means the people taxed are not the people represented, or to be more precise, the set of people taxed and the set of people represented are not the same.

For a simple contemporary example, a law taxing all goods shipped to and from Alaska, passed by the Federal government, would be taxation without representation. The law was not passed by the representatives of the people taxed but by some other body (that happens to include them and other people, but is *NOT* the people taxed).

You and a billion other people voting to take everything you own is not how representative government works. The set of people represented and the set of people affected must be substantially the same.
7.4.2009 6:13am
smooth criminal:

Field/Pluribus/Perseus nail it. Nothing to add.

And yet you still felt compelled to add something. Really Anderson, your comments have been a bore for a long time now. You used to post more meaningful and thoughtful comments. These days it's just poorly-done snark or else reflexive substance-free affirmations of ideological agreement - or disagreement. In a word: witless. If you have nothing to add, don't.
7.4.2009 8:15am
Jam:
Lincoln and "the union is my god" crowd were the real revolutionaries. They violaed the constitution, ratified by forece of arms, and "birthed" a new union. One not of the consent of the people in the several sovereign States but an union by the bayonet.

Sic Semper Tyrannis
7.4.2009 8:20am
Jam:
Were not the taxes imposed on the colonialists to pay for the soldiers, fighting the Indians and the French? Those taxes, in other words, was in support of the British finest, defending their Anglo-Saxon freedom?
7.4.2009 8:23am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
The several States are not, and never have been, separate sovereign nations.
7.4.2009 8:25am
pintler:

Even if we imagine the colonies were given proportional representation, they'd still lose; Britain was about 3 times as populous as the colonies.

So do you imagine the colonies just decide to tough it out under burdensome British taxes?


Indeed. This is why allocating extra power in the senate to small states is a wise thing. It's important that the small and distant parts of a nation not perceive themselves as being ridden over roughshod by a distant majority unfamiliar with local conditions.
7.4.2009 9:35am
AJK:

The several States are not, and never have been, separate sovereign nations.


What about Texas and Hawaii?
7.4.2009 9:58am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
And didn't Rhode Island try going it alone for a short while?
7.4.2009 10:34am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
Nit pick away. Neither the Articles of Confederation nor the Constitution comprise a compact between sovereign nations. Neither Texas nor Hawaii were independent while also being part of the United States.
7.4.2009 10:41am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Owen Hutchins,

I believe the argument is that they were sovereign before joining the US.
7.4.2009 10:51am
MarkField (mail):

And I guess it falls to me, this time, to point out to the "it was all about slavery" crowd that the election of Lincoln made clear that the increasingly industrial North would pursue complete economic domination of the agrarian South via high tariffs.


The key passages from the SC ordinance of secession:

"The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.


We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.


For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.


This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.


On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.


The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy."

There is no mention of the word "tariff".


Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves as a war measure, and only in the states NOT under his control at the time.


Yes, that's because Lincoln had a strong sense of the limitations of the President's war power and wanted to be certain that he could defend the Proclamation -- making it irreversible -- on the most secure legal ground.


Lincoln's war to hold the South cost the lives of two percent of the entire population at the time


Yep, and one of those who fought was my great great g'father, a Kentuckian born and bred who knew and understood the value of the Union. I remember that every year about this time.
7.4.2009 10:55am
rosetta's stones:
I gotta agree, the American Revolution was about something more than taxation without representation, and would have taken place even if the colonies had reps in the Brit parliament.

The Brits were always occupied on the Continent, and 3,000 miles of open ocean provided a significant obstacle, tempting the revolutionaries to take advantage.

Winning brings on legitimacy, and the Confederacy lost, so they never attained it. The rest is just details, including questions concerning semantics, like this blog post.
7.4.2009 10:58am
MarkField (mail):

MarkField/Volokh in '16!


I have a feeling Prof. V might have some thoughts on the order in which you've listed us. Still, the competition does seem to be dropping like flies.... Several million more such incidents and we're in.


Counterfactual: suppose each American colony had been granted 1 MP in, say, 1764 after the Seven Years' War ends. A year later the Stamp Act passes Parliament 205-62 instead of 205-49. A few years later the Townshend Acts are passed as well, despite colonial MPs voting against them.


It's impossible to refute a counterfactual, of course, but I think the psychology of representative government is pretty sound. When people believe that they CAN change the rules, even if they need to convince others of the justice of their cause, "all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
7.4.2009 11:02am
MCM (mail):
And didn't Rhode Island try going it alone for a short while?


Vermont, actually - but they weren't really trying to be an independent nation, they just didn't join the Union until they convinced New York to stop claiming Vermont as part of New York.
7.4.2009 11:49am
MCM (mail):
For a simple contemporary example, a law taxing all goods shipped to and from Alaska, passed by the Federal government, would be taxation without representation. The law was not passed by the representatives of the people taxed but by some other body (that happens to include them and other people, but is *NOT* the people taxed).


I see your argument but it just doesn't work that way in reality. It's completely untenable.

It's impossible to refute a counterfactual, of course, but I think the psychology of representative government is pretty sound. When people believe that they CAN change the rules, even if they need to convince others of the justice of their cause, "all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."


I certainly agree, but I don't the psychology of representation was really the issue. There were overwhelming economic and cultural reasons for independence, whether or not the colonies felt properly represented.
7.4.2009 12:05pm
Desiderius:
Rosey,

"I gotta agree, the American Revolution was about something more than taxation without representation, and would have taken place even if the colonies had reps in the Brit parliament.

The Brits were always occupied on the Continent, and 3,000 miles of open ocean provided a significant obstacle, tempting the revolutionaries to take advantage."

Except, you know, Australia. If a bunch of ex-cons with 16,000 miles of open ocean can't get it up for a Revolution, there had to be something more to the American case. I'd say the searing rays of the Enlightenment burning at its brightest. A closer look at the progress of the views of that Franklin fellow might shed more light on the subject.

MarkField,

"I have a feeling Prof. V might have some thoughts on the order in which you've listed us."

I get excited. But the hits just keep on coming. Damn, you're good. Truly a man with the common wealth ever at heart.
7.4.2009 12:10pm
MCM (mail):
Allan Walstad:

And I guess it falls to me, this time, to point out to the "it was all about slavery" crowd that the election of Lincoln made clear that the increasingly industrial North would pursue complete economic domination of the agrarian South via high tariffs.



Someone already quoted South Carolina's ordinance; Georgia also declared at secession:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property


Or Mississippi's:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery— the greatest material interest of the world.


Or Texas's:

Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery— the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits— a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.


So even if you don't think the civil war was about slavery, the states seceding definitely did. This whole "the war wasn't about slavery" is ridiculous revisionism.
7.4.2009 12:14pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):


Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.


I suppose one COULD analyze it this way as what ACTUALLY happened. However, one would have to ignore the rhetoric of the DOI and many of the letters and addresses of the Founders: They were clear; it was a REVOLUTION. Most Americans, at the beginning thought the French Revolution was a continuation of the American. Then as time went on, opinions changed. The FR MIGHT be a good example of what happens when you follow the RHETORIC of the DOI to its logical conclusions.
7.4.2009 12:28pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Also, for orthodox Christians reading this, the dominant understanding throughout history on Romans 13 is that revolt is categorically forbidden. That would make the DOI an anti-biblical document. So much for the claims that the American Revolution was based on the Bible (it wasn't).

Also the failure of the French Revolution, following the rhetoric of the American Revolution to its logical conclusions, might rightly instruct Christians just what happens when one embraces the "revolution" that is forbidden in Romans 13.

My friend Dr. Gregg Frazer (PhD Claremont Grad. University and Prof. of History and Poli Sci at the Master's College -- an evangelical institution) has stated the rebellion in which the FFs engaged in was a sin worthy of death.
7.4.2009 12:32pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):

My friend Dr. Gregg Frazer (PhD Claremont Grad. University and Prof. of History and Poli Sci at the Master's College -- an evangelical institution) has
stated the rebellion in which the FFs engaged in was a sin worthy of death.


Perhaps that is why the signers of the DoI pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. And plenty of them paid that bill when it came due.
7.4.2009 12:40pm
Ken Arromdee:
In the world of international relations might makes right is the only practical measure I see being available. If you can get away with it, iy's all good.

That is lawyer thinking (not unexpected for this site, I suppose). It would be like saying that someone who robbed a bank and wasn't convicted "has not robbed a bank".

Certainly discussion of law routinely includes statements like "I think so-and-so law violates the Constitution" even if there's every sign the government has gotten away with it.
7.4.2009 12:41pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Ken,

I see international relations as perhaps the purist embodiment of a group trying to leave the state of nature. Right now agreements are made but there is very little enforcement mechanism. And even what enforcement mechanisms that do exist, if they are successfully resisted then provide legitimacy to whatever the precipitating action was.

Look at Tibet as an example, where I recently read that the UK is at last acknowledging Tibet as part of China. According to some that's not just bank robbery it's stealing an entire country.

If uou have the strength to get away with something at the IR There just isn't the level of organized society at the IR level to bring most of those who flout its commands to any sort of heed. Others might complain but the cost of enforcement is just too high in nearly all cases.
7.4.2009 12:58pm
MarkField (mail):

There were overwhelming economic and cultural reasons for independence, whether or not the colonies felt properly represented.


I don't necessarily disagree with this, but as Desiderius points out, there is Australia. And Canada.


And didn't Rhode Island try going it alone for a short while?


Vermont, actually - but they weren't really trying to be an independent nation, they just didn't join the Union until they convinced New York to stop claiming Vermont as part of New York.


RI and NC were late to the party, as it were. I guess their legal status is a little unclear between July 1788 and May 29, 1790 and Nov. 21, 1789, respectively.
7.4.2009 12:59pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Soronel Haetir,

Your point is irrelevant. You could pledge your "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" to something that is unbiblical. Indeed that sentiment of "sacred honor" seems to stem from their noble pagan Greco-Roman worldview, ala Publius and Cato.
7.4.2009 1:25pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I also want to note that I don't argue what the FFs did was incompatible with some broader understanding of "Christianity" and the Bible. Indeed, the FFs (including Jefferson and Franklin) were professed Christians. It's just there is this "Christian Nation" movement led by David Barton, Peter Marshall, and the late DJ Kennedy that tries to argue for a "Christian" founding in the way they -- evangelicals and fundamentalists -- understand the term "Christianity." My friend Dr. Frazer is one of the leading intellectuals who argues, no, according to the way "born again Christians" understand "Christianity," America didn't have a "Christian" Founding.
7.4.2009 1:29pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Dr. Frazer also argues the way 18th Century American Churches understood "Christianity" (even the non-evangelical churches like the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans were all "orthodox") America didn't have a "Christian" Founding and the key FFs were not "Christians."

My blog American Creation has engaged in extensive study on whether the DOI is compatible with historic Christianity. Romans 13 was actually a MAJOR theological obstacle for the Founding Fathers to overcome. And they overcame that obstacle in large part by arguing Locke and "Nature" (i.e., what man discovers from "reason") and cleverly explaining away Romans 13. However there was a long intellectual tradition that stemmed back from Aquinas, and before him Aristotle, of "discovering" essences in "Nature" from "reason." This was where Locke "discovered" the "state of nature" (he sure as Hell didn't find it in the Bible).
7.4.2009 1:33pm
Desiderius:
Jon Rowe,

"Also, for orthodox Christians reading this, the dominant understanding throughout history on Romans 13 is that revolt is categorically forbidden."

What is this, hoary old chestnut day? I think John Witherspoon might want to have a word with you.

See also this thread.

As for your friend being evangelical, it is difficult to conceive of a less evangelical comment than your own on this day in this forum.
7.4.2009 1:37pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Desiderius:

My friends' evangelical bona fides are not only beyond reproach but exceed Witherspoon's. He and I have both studied Witherspoon in meticulous detail and following the work of Mark Noll, show that Witherspoon's case for revolt came from Locke and "Nature" not the Bible. John Witherspoon was an enlightenment rationalist as well as a Calvinist Christian. He was politically and spiritually schizophrenic. When he preached his sermons, he was a Calvinist. When he taught politics to his students at Princeton, he taught then enlightenment rationalism and the natural law. His politics were not based on the Bible.
7.4.2009 1:43pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Desiderius:

In that thread you directed me towards, I commented the following quoting Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden, the three preeminent historians of America's religious history, esp. of the Founding era. Quoting myself, quoting those three scholars:


Witherspoon the naturalist and rationalist, not Witherspoon the Calvinist influenced James Madison et al. As Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden point out in "The Search For Christian America," though Witherspoon, in Scotland, defended orthodoxy against Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Francis Hutcheson, in his Lectures he "turned instinctively to the books of his erstwhile theological opponents, Hume, Hutcheson, and other philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment." [The Search For Christian America] pp. 88-89
7.4.2009 1:46pm
Desiderius:
Jon,

"My friends' evangelical bona fides"

There is nothing good nor faithful in coming into a libertarian forum on Independence Day and declaring that the American Revolution was against God's will and the biblical teaching through which you discern it. For your next act, will you be yelling fire in a crowded theater, with your proof text from Exodus 13 at your side?

Thankfully, your take flies directly into the face of the entire logic of the Reformation itself and the not less studied views of legions of your fellow believers - no doubt you can find there more welcoming fora for your intellectual preening.

Then again, you do have the Quakers on your side, though it is perhaps an uncomfortable fact that the DOI was signed in Pennsylvania. God works in mysterious ways.
7.4.2009 1:58pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Thankfully, your take flies directly into the face of the entire logic of the Reformation itself and the not less studied views of legions of your fellow believers - no doubt you can find there more welcoming fora for your intellectual preening.

Then again, you do have the Quakers on your side, though it is perhaps an uncomfortable fact that the DOI was signed in Pennsylvania. God works in mysterious ways.


First off, I am not a Christian and I made clear that revolt could be squared with various versions of "Christianity" like a heavy natural law, rationalistic like Christianity. The DOI seems in tension with evangelical, fundamentalist, Sola Scriptura, Christianity.

Second, what "GOOD" that comes from my participation here is illuminating the history of political theology, a subject matter about which I know quite a bit. It is what it is, whether one likes it or not.

And third, I have a Hell of a lot more than the Quakers on my side, but the majority of history of Christendom, including Luther and Calvin.

Here are a few choice quotes from Calvin:

"We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes."

"[W]e must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him...."

"[I]f you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid."

"Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God."

"And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer."

-- Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion"

For more see the following. (Where I took the quotes; however, I have gone back to the original and read them in context.)
7.4.2009 2:09pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
Jon, the discussion is interesting, but please explain to those of us who are not versed in theology why the issue matters in 2009.
7.4.2009 2:17pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Very good Q. If one doesn't care about metaphysics or theology, I suppose, it doesn't matter. However, if one believes PRINCIPLES of the United States as somehow "ordained" from above (either in a natural, revealed, or BOTH sense), then it does matter.

This is a question that should interest those who take Leo Strauss' concern seriously that we must strongly consider the politics of Reason and Revelation (it should be no wonder than Dr. Frazer's PhD is from Claremont Graduate University). One could be even a pomo atheist (as many Straussians are) and take the politics of Reason and Revelation seriously. However if one doesn't take those politics seriously, the issue is likely to bore you.

The Founding Fathers, though, did take the politics of R &R seriously.
7.4.2009 2:28pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
I am not sure what I take seriously, but I have trouble with thought systems in general. I get a sense from your remarks that it somehow would be "wrong" in a theological sense for us to adopt a constitutional amendment that would eliminate what you would consider a basic principle of American life. Consider an amendment, adopted in the prescribed manner, that, say, limited the right to bear arms, gave special rights to the religious, or authorized the creation of a nobility. Could it ever be seriously contended that such an amendment is unconstitutional just because it went against the principles on which this country was founded?

Or am I reading far too much into what you are saying?
7.4.2009 2:42pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Not sure how we got off into a debate about evangelicism and such.

I have always been taught that the indpendenc movement was largely fueled by three sources: 1) Lockean Natural Law Theory, 2) the admiration of several founders for Greco-Roman republicanism, and 3) economic resentments - particularly the British laws requiring the colonists to send their raw materials to England and pay for finished products sent back to the colonies.

I cannot see how Enlightenment views could have influenced the revolutionaries at the time of the war, although it certainly had an impact on later developments in the newly founded U.S.
7.4.2009 2:47pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Chris,

#1 (Lockean natural law) IS enlightenment.

Troll_dc2,

This might sound like a cop out, but it depends on whether the DOI is part of the "organic law" that gets constitutional status or not. If we JUST have the Constitution, and not the Declaration as part of our "Law" (with a capital L) then indeed, we could via the positive law pass and ratify an amendment that "limited the right to bear arms, gave special rights to the religious, or authorized the creation of a nobility."

But IF the DOI is part of our "Law," we could not. I believe that the DOI IS part of our "Law," but that is a matter of dispute. Of the current Supreme Court, only Justice Thomas, so far, believes this.
7.4.2009 2:56pm
hospis (mail):
The Saxon colonial insurrection in America was nothing more than a continuation of the Saxon insurrection in England; as Saxons assumed rights from the Norman Crown in 17th century so assumed Saxon colonials rights from the same Crown. Note the English authors who most influenced colonial directors and incitors: both Hobbes and Locke were Saxons impressed and influenced by the English Civil War. Note too the Crown's lenient conduct in America; compare UK's occupation of America with it's occupation of Transvaal: UK never menaced Saxon colonials with extermination as it did with Dutch Boers; which leniency indicates consensus between Saxons in Parliament and Saxon brothers in America.

The American Civil War was an attempt by Scotch-Irish to assume rights from Saxons. Prominent Scotch-Irish directors and incitors like Jackson and Calhoun long discerned inferior status of their tribe and perceived any increase in federal authority as both an invasion of their tribe's space and an assumption of their rights; thus Scotch-Irish insistence on "States' Rights" was nothing more than code for Scotch-Irish independence from not only Saxon England but also Saxon America.

History professors and other scribes create a maze of convoluted insubstantial theories and other fictions of their imagination, while those who cogitate clearly and expertly perceive correctly using quotidian but true prism of Force and Interest. Saxons assumed trade and manufacturing rights from the Crown by force of arms; what Saxons did differed not at all in substance from what Mugabe did in Zimbabwe; describing such a violent assumption of rights as a "revolution" is nothing more than justification.
7.4.2009 3:01pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
hospis, you have reduced everything to tribalism. Did the participants in these struggles do so? Can you cite some authoritative sources of information to support your perspective?
7.4.2009 3:08pm
troll_dc2 (mail):

This might sound like a cop out, but it depends on whether the DOI is part of the "organic law" that gets constitutional status or not. If we JUST have the Constitution, and not the Declaration as part of our "Law" (with a capital L) then indeed, we could via the positive law pass and ratify an amendment that "limited the right to bear arms, gave special rights to the religious, or authorized the creation of a nobility."

But IF the DOI is part of our "Law," we could not. I believe that the DOI IS part of our "Law," but that is a matter of dispute. Of the current Supreme Court, only Justice Thomas, so far, believes this.



Suppose we follow the procedures of the Constitution and adopt an amendment of the sort that I suggested. Suppose you are the final decider of what can be done and what is forbidden. How would you argue that the DOI limits the amendment process? Does this mean that the DOI prevails to the extent that it conflicts with the Constitution? If so, would the drafters of the Constitution and the people who ratified it agree with that proposition? Or are their beliefs immaterial? (This raises an interesting question as to what Original Intent would focus on, but that is another issue.)
7.4.2009 3:15pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Does this mean that the DOI prevails to the extent that it conflicts with the Constitution? If so, would the drafters of the Constitution and the people who ratified it agree with that proposition? Or are their beliefs immaterial? (This raises an interesting question as to what Original Intent would focus on, but that is another issue.)


This is the million $$ question. It's really complicated and I don't have the time, space, or motivation to answer it here. For this "natural right" proposition, I would suggest, among others Harry Jaffa, Justice Thomas, Roger Pilon and Randy Barnett. For the opposite proposition, I would suggest Alan Dershowitz, Justices Holmes &Scalia, &Robert Bork. You can find quotations from the historical record that go both ways. On a personal note, I think the natural right trumps the Constitution is what the Founding stands for, but not all learned scholars agree with this (8/9 of SCOTUS disagree).
7.4.2009 3:24pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Jon Rowe,

I would say the only point that the DoI becomes ultimate Law is the point at which whatever is going on becomes intolerable and a new order is crafted. That is the only rule that the DoI actually puts forward.

As for the theological argument, I find it rather boring, much like the argument over the origin of life or the universe as a whole, at some point it becomes unknowable what actually happened.
7.4.2009 4:14pm
Mike Giles (mail):
"Except, you know, Australia. If a bunch of ex-cons with 16,000 miles of open ocean can't get it up for a Revolution, there had to be something more to the American case. I'd say the searing rays of the Enlightenment burning at its brightest. A closer look at the progress of the views of that Franklin fellow might shed more light on the subject."

Unlike the Australians, the American Colonists had been the recipients of two hundred years of "benign neglect". For the majority of that time the Colonials had pretty much run their own affairs, in some cases fighting their own wars. A few seats in Parlement wouldn't have come close to what they were used to and expected as "representation". And many British actions (such as closing the far side of the Alleghenys to settlement), made it plain that the wants and needs of the colonists would always come second to the interests back in London.
7.4.2009 4:53pm
David Hardy (mail) (www):
"Also, for orthodox Christians reading this, the dominant understanding throughout history on Romans 13 is that revolt is categorically forbidden. That would make the DOI an anti-biblical document. So much for the claims that the American Revolution was based on the Bible (it wasn't). "

That wasn't the dominant understanding in the colonies (even among colonists who did not class Paul as a scoundrel and traitor), which is why VA wrote into its constitution that "the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."

The divine judgment was in any event soon apparent:

George III died blind and insane and rejected by his son and successor.

George Washington died in honor.

Ben Franklin died about 800 years old, having boinked over 25% of the female population of the US and Britain, and 42% of that of France.

Who was favored and who was punished should be obvious here.
7.4.2009 5:40pm
StanS:
1) Desiderus - It seems odd that one who claims to be honor a libertarian blog, would try to shut down someone else for reasonably expressing a view different from yours.

Thank you for your take, John Rowe.

2) The colonists did not want to sit in Parliament, they wanted there own colonial assemblies to be parliaments.

3) The King did not have to send troops here, at all. And the King was given multiple chances to retract his offences. When he decided to occupy cities and to wage war on his subjects, they were right tear down his government.
7.4.2009 5:48pm
A. S. Rosser (mail):
Back to the original question: revolution or secession? I think it may have been both.
A political revolution can be thought of as a revolution of the wheel of life. That is those on the top of the wheel are replaced by those at the bottom. Politically in England, the Civil War was a revolution, that is rule of the monarch was replaced by rule by his subjects. The restoration was largely a completion of a 360 degree revolution, with Charles II reclaiming, at least in theory, many of the powers his father had claimed. The Glorious Revolution, by placing sovereignty firmly in Parliament, was a revolution.
The colonies, of course, as dependencies of England, were influenced by all of the forgoing.
Revolution? Removal of sovereignty from the (by now) United Kingdom to the individual colonies and their creation, the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.
Secession? The philosophical basis of American political thought being that of Hobbs, Locke, and Paine, the continuance of the common law, the continuance of the individual colonies' (now states') governments, and the placing in the new Constitution of the legislature first (an echo of Parliament's position).
The French Revolution is also a turning of the wheel, but it also looks to England's Glorious Revolution and its aftermath for often unacknowledged inspiration (via, in part, Voltaire's 'vacation' there and well as Montesquieu.)
7.4.2009 6:13pm
StanS:

Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.



Replacement of the Monarch is a revolution. Charles I, Cromwell, James II, the Whigs, George III and the American founders, all agreed on this.
7.4.2009 6:13pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
Are we better off in the long run because we declared our independence from Britain? Would we have become independent at some point even if the declaration of 1776 had not been issued?
7.4.2009 6:20pm
Kathianne (mail):
I may be repeating, but it seems to me that the revolution has zero to do with the reasons to do with the civil war, which is what I infer from the post. I don't know if the abuses of the English reached an acceptable level for breaking from the Mother Country, but obviously for those at the time, it did.

To come in later times and try to equate, sorry, not going there.
7.4.2009 6:26pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

That wasn't the dominant understanding in the colonies (even among colonists who did not class Paul as a scoundrel and traitor), which is why VA wrote into its constitution that "the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."


I think John Adams claimed that 1/3 of Americans were loyalists, 1/3 were Whigs and 1/3 were on the fence at the very beginning. That's whey there needed to be ARGUMENT on behalf of the cause. And when the ministers rallied the people (for instance the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew -- the "morning gun" of the revolution) they turned to Locke and Nature, not Calvin or Rutherford. They did deal with the Bible, but not as ultimate authority; they usually dealt with it in self serving, clever ways like explaining away Romans 13.
7.4.2009 6:34pm
comatus (mail):
"He has abdicated government here," it says in the Declaration, bringing in a third possibility, that independence, legally, was neither secession nor revolution, but establishment of a nation state where none had existed. All commenters must keep firmly in mind that the definition of a state, and of terms such as liberal and conservative, were new and tentative at that time, and most definitely do not mean the same to you as to the sinning FF's.

In the document, the colonies call themselves "free and independent states," in the plural, claiming "they have full power." An anti-secessionist argument that relies on the colonies never being independent entities fails on this point. No further argument on that from me; I honestly have not made up my mind on secession. But that right there is weak.
7.4.2009 6:58pm
Southern Man:
To the "it was all about slavery crowd". I'll take a stab at explaining the "states rights" point of view. The proximate cause of the war certainly was slavery, but the principles underlying the debate are directly related to the principles of self government, right to self determination, state sovereignty, constitutional authority, etc.. To say that the war between the states would have happened without the immediate debate in regard to slavery is of course absurd. To deny that the Southern states had joined the Union under a very explicitly defined set of conditions in regard to powers reserved and delegated, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, is equally absurd. Furthermore a number of states specifically reserved the right to secede/withdraw, including incidentally South Carolina.

Go read it all for yourself here:

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/17th.asp

The issue was decided by force of arms rather than constitutional process (amendment). The 13th and 14th amendments were not even proposed until after the war.

The remaining vestiges of the "Republic" have been steadily eroded ever since, and any rational analysis of our present government can only conclude that it is operating far beyond the bounds of any legitimate constitutional authority. The limitations on federal power have eroded steadily through the years, punctuated by the Civil War, and the major power grabs since (FDR, LBJ, perhaps now BHO?, commerce clause, Roe v. Wade, etc.). This country ceased to be governed by anything remotely resembling the Constitution many many years ago, and the full story of the U.S. Civil War is a major part of how that came to pass.

If you are largely satisfied with the present state of affairs in terms of how the U.S. government functions... congratulations, your victory is nearly complete. Please think of me when that day arrives that you are deprived of life, liberty, or property by the unchecked power of the state... coming soon to a town near you.

Happy "Independence" day!
7.4.2009 7:04pm
MarkField (mail):

In the document, the colonies call themselves "free and independent states," in the plural, claiming "they have full power." An anti-secessionist argument that relies on the colonies never being independent entities fails on this point.


I assume that we all agree that, legally, the colonies were not "free and independent states" as long as they were under British rule. Thus, they could not possibly have been such prior to July 1776.

The next step is to decide what legal status they attained by the DOI. Let's get the words exact: "these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do."

While I think the language is nicely ambiguous, and probably intentionally so, the natural reading is that the status of "free and independent" applies to the united colonies. If we take their actions afterwards as indicative of the correct interpretation, we see that they never did act as independent sovereigns -- all foreign policy and military decisions were made by the Union in Congress.


the principles underlying the debate are directly related to the principles of self government, right to self determination, state sovereignty, constitutional authority, etc.


I think the irony of such arguments by slaveowners is pretty obvious.


The issue was decided by force of arms rather than constitutional process (amendment).


And those who fired the first shot might well have taken that into account.


The remaining vestiges of the "Republic" have been steadily eroded ever since


To the contrary, the country is more republican now than it has ever been. Leaving aside the issue of women and their undoubted right to participate in a true republic, in Madison's words, "In proportion as slavery prevails in a State, the Government, however democratic in name, must be aristocratic in fact. The power lies in a part instead of the whole; in the hands of property, not in numbers." Only the abolition of slavery made a true Republic possible; only the heroism of MLK and the political acumen of LBJ made it actual.
7.4.2009 7:37pm
Don Meaker (mail):
The Ameican Revolution was what it was. That it is imperfectly described by the terms seccession and revolution shows that our terms need work.

Even if seccesion was a legal right in 1861, theft of US property, entering in an illegal compact between states, and firing on US soldiers performing their duty would not have been a legal way to exert such a right.

An assertion that you are owed wages by a bank does not give you authority to rob it.
7.4.2009 7:57pm
SamW:
The southern states agreed that,

The national government of the United States shall, "provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union [and] suppress insurrections" Art. 1, Sec. 8, para. 15.

Moreover, the states are prohibited from forming confederations: "No state shall enter into any . . . confederation". Art. 1, Sec. 10, para 1. Or make any alliance with another state: "No state shall . . .enter into any agreement or compact with another state". Art 1, Sec. 10, para 3.
7.4.2009 8:17pm
comatus (mail):
Good to see staunch defenders of the Union cause still walking about, and as an Ohioan I'm not the best singlehanded defender of the Confederacy, but really, this is getting silly. The federal government never had *sole* authority to call out state militias; the coastal forts were not federal property until just before the insurrection began; southern states claimed that the seizing of these forts was the cause of the separation, and none of the states joined a federation before seceding. The original argument (whoever wins is right) carries a lot more weight. I forget, did anyone try decreasing the congressional contingent of the slave states, the voting-rights solution presented in the Constitution?

I'd feel comforted were there as much support for the Revolution here as there is for the Union. At least some of the regulars are "officers of the court," sworn to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic--an oath taken, as I recall it, without mental reservation, blog nics notwithstanding, and for keepsies, you know, you said you really believed that. If the South was guilty of treason, most of the commenters above are at least worthy of suspicion.
7.4.2009 9:59pm
Desiderius:
StanS.

"1) Desiderus - It seems odd that one who claims to be honor a libertarian blog, would try to shut down someone else for reasonably expressing a view different from yours."

Stan, if I believed he were offering his view in good faith, I would not have done so, and my riff on the term "evangelical" was indeed ill-chosen for this forum for some of the same reasons that I question that good faith, i.e. the likelihood that many here would lack familiarity with the discipline for which he claims to speak. Alas, all I have to offer is familiarity, not scholarship, but that familiarity extends to several scholars at least as accomplished as his "friend," and they would not only take issue with his view, but also the manner in which it was presented.

I see his original post as roughly akin to stepping into an environmental forum on Earth Day with the revelation that his "friend" the Libertarian professor had determined that the dominant orthodox Libertarian view on the environment was malign neglect backed with a single supposedly determinative quote from Ayn Rand. It just ain't so, no attempt at context is offered, and it libels Libertarianism among a crowd not inclined to be entirely sympathetic to Libertarianism.

Of course there are authoritarian traditions within any religion, and the early churches for which the New Testament was written had little choice in the matter*, but to claim that it is the dominant orthodoxy, especially within the American and/or Reformed tradition, is just wrong.

And to be wrong in just that way in just this place at just this time is highly suspect. To do so ex cathedra, as he originally did, is offensive. As is his psychoanalysis of John Witherspoon. BTW, I am an enlightenment rationalist as well as a Calvinist Christian, and I'm not alone. Nor crazy. Often.

* - for instance, he flogs his proof text from Paul written in a position of utter weakness. What about Moses? These questions were at the heart of the Reformation, and to pretend them away as he does would make the most corrupt medieval cardinal blush.
7.4.2009 10:02pm
MCM (mail):
To the "it was all about slavery crowd". I'll take a stab at explaining the "states rights" point of view. The proximate cause of the war certainly was slavery, but the principles underlying the debate are directly related to the principles of self government, right to self determination, state sovereignty, constitutional authority, etc.. To say that the war between the states would have happened without the immediate debate in regard to slavery is of course absurd. To deny that the Southern states had joined the Union under a very explicitly defined set of conditions in regard to powers reserved and delegated, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, is equally absurd. Furthermore a number of states specifically reserved the right to secede/withdraw, including incidentally South Carolina.


Really? Then maybe the states that were seceding should have said that instead of saying "we're seceding to protect our right to own slaves".
7.4.2009 10:29pm
Desiderius:
To anticipate one objection, of course the Christianity of many of the Founders themselves was far from orthodox, if Christian at all*, although most, like Franklin, were reaping the harvest of an orthodox upbringing and society, as they themselves noted from time to time.

But certainly there was no shortage among those pulling the triggers and supplying the musketballs who considered themselves orthodox Christians, and Greatly Awakened ones, to boot.

"He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity, will revolutionize the world."

- Ben Franklin

* - nothing wrong with that, quite a bit right, far as I can tell, just step away from the airbrush please
7.4.2009 10:33pm
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
A good thread. Several commentors were skeptical of my claim that the Revolution was conservative. It was, though. Thomas Paine was far from mainstream. The conventional view in both Britain and America was that the King could impose taxes without the consent of the legislature, and if he did, he should be resisted with violence. English tories may have claimed they supported absolute obedience, but in 1688 they didn't offer any help to King James and were clearly happy with his overthrow.

The Americans said that the appropriate legislature was the colonial legislatures; the British (including Blackstone, I think) said that the appropriate legislature was Parliament.

Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps everyone (I've just been reading Jefferson) made the parallel with England and Scotland in 1700, two nations with two legislatures and a common king. That was very common in Europe-- a king would often hold several titles simultaneously, like a businessman who was president of several companies. Thus, while the King was the executive of the Colonies, Parliament was not the legislature. For it to become the legislature would take something like the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland, a merger of legislatures approved by both sides. The Colonies would not have approved such a merger without big concessions on trade rules (as I recall, free trade with England and han proportional representation were inducements for Scotland to merge).

The Declaration is a conservative document. It says a lot about government being for the good of the people, but that is conventional Lockean Whiggism, not revolutionary sentiment. It has no objections whatsoever to the old government system. Rather, it objects to innovations introduced by George III. There were those in Congress who also objected to the restrictive trade laws that existed even before George III, but the Declaration omits those as grievances. Instead, the argument is that rule by a law-abiding king is unobjectionable, but that the present king is, with the acquiescence of Parliament, attempting to become a tyrant over the Colonies, and has thereby forfeited his authority. Indeed, "He has abdicated Government here," the same argument applied to the flight of James II in 1688. The Crown being vacant, the Colonies could have chosen a different king-- Frederick the Great, for example-- but instead they chose to become a republic. (Recall that the Calvinist Netherlands offered their throne to Queen Elizabeth of England during their revolt from Philip II, who tried to conquer them with troops from his bigger kingdom, Spain. She turned it down, and they decided to become a republic instead.)

To see this, look at the Declaration. It is mostly about the bad innovations of George III, and makes no objection to the legitimacy of the pre-1763 link with Britain.

When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ... The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, ...

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us....

A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.
7.4.2009 10:50pm
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
On the parallel with the American South:

(1) As a commentor pointed out, actual hostilities began because South Carolina fired on Federal troops and seized Fort Sumter.

(2) I bet secession would have been allowed if the only seceders had been South Carolina and Georgia, the only early seceders who were part of the 13 Colonies (Virginia and North Carolina only seceded after hostilities began). The legal position of the western seceders was much weaker, since they were all, except Texas, federal land from which states had been created. Indeed, Louisiana was acquired from France precisely because the U.S. didn't want to have a foreign country control access to the Mississippi. Any defense of the Confederacy has to realize that secession of Louisiana was far more objectionable than secession of South Carolina. Indeed, the Republicans would have welcomed getting rid of South Carolina's two senators.
7.4.2009 10:58pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

the Libertarian professor had determined that the dominant orthodox Libertarian view on the environment was malign neglect backed with a single supposedly determinative quote from Ayn Rand. It just ain't so,


You must have misunderstood what I originally wrote. When I noted "dominant" view among evangelical or orthodox Christians, I did not mean that such view (that the American Revolution was a sinful rebellion) is dominant today in 20-21 Century American evangelical or conservative Christian circles (although there is a strong remnant; John MacArthur for instance is one of the most prominent evangelical theologians in the nation and he holds this view; my friend Dr. Frazer belongs to MacArthur's Church and teaches at the college where MacArthur is President).

Rather I meant *dominant* looking at the ENTIRE 2000 years of Christendom. Christianity is a Hell of a lot older than America. If folks understood the history of Christendom and the three *big* revolutions (the English, American, and French) you'd understand that these three events were a watershed in Christendom regarding Romans 13 and it's not clear from a strict orthodox biblical perspective (i.e., the Bible is the infallible word of God), than the "revolutionary" understanding of Romans 13 is correct. From the plain meaning of Romans 13's text, the revolutionary perspective seems to flip it on its head.
7.5.2009 12:26am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

he flogs his proof text from Paul written in a position of utter weakness. What about Moses? These questions were at the heart of the Reformation, and to pretend them away as he does would make the most corrupt medieval cardinal blush.


We've dealt with Moses (and every other single biblical text that has been erroneously cited to justify "biblical rebellion," which is an oxymoron) as well. Moses didn't rebel. We've done our homework. As Dr. Frazer wrote:


God sometimes uses people to accomplish His ends, but often He does not. In the case of Moses, GOD sent the plagues which caused Pharaoh to let the people go -- not Moses. Moses did not lead a revolutionary army. He spoke God's words to Pharaoh and watched God work along with everyone else. Ultimately, he didn't even disobey, but rather obeyed Pharaoh's command to take the Israelites and leave (Exodus 12:31-32).
7.5.2009 12:33am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

As is his psychoanalysis of John Witherspoon. BTW, I am an enlightenment rationalist as well as a Calvinist Christian, and I'm not alone. Nor crazy. Often.


Ha! I didn't necessarily mean "schizophrenic" in the literal sense. Still I was citing Frazer and I think he was citing Noll, Hatch, and Marsden, who are the top three conservative Christian academics on American religious history. I noted that one could be, like Witherspoon was, an orthodox even a Calvinist Christian and argue for a right to rebellion; but one would have to jettison the strict "Sola Scriptura, the Bible is all we need" perspective common in evangelical Christianity to reach that conclusion. The right to rebellion cannot be found without, a the very least, a naturalist, rationalist, supplement to one's understanding of Scripture.
7.5.2009 12:39am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Finally, Desiderius, you are probably right that "there was no shortage among those pulling the triggers and supplying the musketballs who considered themselves orthodox Christians...."

However I don't believe the following quotation from BF supports your assertion:


"He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity, will revolutionize the world."


To Franklin, who in all likelihood understood himself to be a "Christian" not a "Deist" for most of his life, "primitive Christianity" was not "orthodox." "Primitive Christianity" was one of those Founding era buzzwords for unitarian Christianity, how Franklin and the other key Founders (J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, G. Morris, perhaps even Washington) understood themselves. That is, "Christianity" without original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible....I'll let you folks decide whether this qualifies as "Christianity."
7.5.2009 12:44am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Eric,

I agree with most of what you wrote except this: "The Declaration is a conservative document."

Much of what the DOI says (what you reproduced) was "conservative." However the following is not; the following is revolutionary in an anti-traditional, subversive sense:


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


Lino Graglia, I think gets it right when he describes how NOT conservative the DOI's religious rhetoric is:


What [the Declaration] is, of course, is a document meant to justify revolution — that is, illegal action. Having no human law to rely on — being in defiance of authority — revolutionaries necessarily come to rely on the law of God, who, happily, rarely issues a protest.
7.5.2009 12:50am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Jon Rowe,

Just a question, but how do you square the biblical account with the growing archeological evidence that the Israelites were actually mercenaries of some form and left with bloodshed rather than fleaing? I do find that evidence odd however, why would people hide such events?
7.5.2009 1:20am
Heh:

To Franklin, who in all likelihood understood himself to be a "Christian" not a "Deist" for most of his life, "primitive Christianity" was not "orthodox." "Primitive Christianity" was one of those Founding era buzzwords for unitarian Christianity, how Franklin and the other key Founders (J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, G. Morris, perhaps even Washington) understood themselves. That is, "Christianity" without original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible....I'll let you folks decide whether this qualifies as "Christianity."


Having read a good deal of his works, I think Franklin was pretty clear what he meant when he used the term "Primitive Christianity".

Franklin never decided, or if he did never wrote, whether he believed Jesus was the son of God or not (he wrote once or twice about this). But he felt strongly, and said a few times, that if you just take the things Jesus himself said and professed and followed it, ignoring other peoples interpretations or add-ons, that it would be the best thing for man.

Several other of his peers used the same phrase to refer to Quakers or their beliefs, as I think it was William Penn who wrote something with Primitive Christianity in the title.
7.5.2009 1:27am
Heh:

That is, "Christianity" without original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible....I'll let you folks decide whether this qualifies as "Christianity."


It's also worth noting that you lumped things into Christianity that not all Christians believe in. Realistically neither the Catholics or the Orthodox Christians buy into the Sola Scriptura stuff.. I mean, that was one of the tenets of the Reformation after all..

I think it's totally within the realm of Christianity to just take Jesus words and works and run with them, as Franklin suggested. With all the fractions in Christianity, there's room for one that just says "Jesus was a cool dude, and we should do the things he said we should" :)
7.5.2009 1:48am
Perseus (mail):
"Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive."

Replacement of the Monarch is a revolution. Charles I, Cromwell, James II, the Whigs, George III and the American founders, all agreed on this.


I'd add that no one bothered to make a Tory-like argument that George III had "fallen from the crown" or abdicated the throne as James II supposedly did.
7.5.2009 5:23am
Desiderius:
Jon Rowe,

"it's not clear from a strict orthodox biblical perspective (i.e., the Bible is the infallible word of God), than the "revolutionary" understanding of Romans 13 is correct. From the plain meaning of Romans 13's text, the revolutionary perspective seems to flip it on its head."

So we've gone from it's clear that it's not to it's not clear that it is. Good that we're now agreed.

The plain meaning of Romans 13 does not stand on its own among scripture any more than your original comment stands on its own apart from your subsequent clarifications. Sola Scriptura does not imply the charge of the light brigade of sole passages of scripture.
7.5.2009 7:27am
rosetta's stones:


"I gotta agree, the American Revolution was about something more than taxation without representation, and would have taken place even if the colonies had reps in the Brit parliament.

The Brits were always occupied on the Continent, and 3,000 miles of open ocean provided a significant obstacle, tempting the revolutionaries to take advantage."





Except, you know, Australia. If a bunch of ex-cons with 16,000 miles of open ocean can't get it up for a Revolution, there had to be something more to the American case. I'd say the searing rays of the Enlightenment burning at its brightest. A closer look at the progress of the views of that Franklin fellow might shed more light on the subject.


The ex-cons had not nearly the agglomeration of wealth and wealth production, nor the arable land and climate, nor the requisite critical mass of population, nor the mature systems of self governance, nor the recent experience of fighting off the last vestiges of a multi-national colonial tussle, leaving only 1-man standing... to be defeated or not, as circumstances and divine providence arouse.

All of the above contributed to the gold and cold steel required to win a war... and all the Franklinsteinian pamphlets and full pulpits combined cannot win without gold and cold steel, brought to bear upon a fertile ground which enlightens men to become willing to further leaven it with their blood.

The 3,000 miles created the broken communications that propogated Yorktown, and packaged the result into a dispatch, that struck as a thunderclap to the Brit parliament, forcing their reconsideration of matters.

A better example for your point might be India, but they too had not the cohesion to fight off the mighty Brit empire, and the other colonial powers didn't seem to contest them as much, as they had in NA. Canada, same way, and it's somewhat fragmented yet today, and was held together and made prosperous only under the Jack. I grew up with pictures of Elizabeth on several walls of our house in Detroit, and on numerous knicknacks... and on the funny money occasionally passing about. And in Canada, that image wasn't so sparse as that. Take that away, and the boot, and Canada goes another way for sure... and may yet. So may the US.
.
.
.

Reading through this discussion, I think the blog topic might require an addendum, querying whether the American Revolution was in fact the first Civil War here in the colonies.
7.5.2009 10:07am
celtnorse (mail):

This grounding of intent is not a small matter, since in real time, one of the most extraordinary things about the DoI and the events that followed it, is that the founders were driven by a sober comprehension of two things. First, that what they were doing, if successful, would have a profound impact not only on the destiny of the citizens of the new country, but on the entire world. And second, that they were not facts on the ground did not leave them all that favorably disposed to success. The first speaks to the essence of their ideals (and thus what actually drove them), and the second to their sincere commitment to them (as opposed to being riddled with hidden agendas as some would posit). Their letters not only for public consumption, but to friends and even to each other reinforce this so obviously that to state otherwise is to engage in the utmost of revisionist folly.

In the world they lived in, it must be understood that there had already been several generations of "revolutionary" events. England/Britain had already been profoundly changed by several waves of transformative ideas (a not often acknowledged fact being that England was actually ahead of the curve in absorbing the revolutionary ideas of equality and the rights of man, than the other, generally more rigid European states which would go through their processes in the decades that would follow). Most had a strong sense of what ordered Liberty meant, as opposed to illusory freedom leading to anarchy. The eminently quotable Paine, though often cited as evidence of the radicalism within the founders, is in fact the unchecked firebrand within, not the author of, the American Revolution. In the main, even in the disagreements, there is a prevailing belief that the creation of a State that drew its power from the people, and was itself highly constrained, yet established a society that sought order and rule of Law as coequal with Liberty, was TRULY revolutionary. (Its my opinion actually, that this revolution is possibly the most clearly reevolutionary in all of human history, and is certainly the only true revolution in modern times.)

To the main question here, the question of whether the DoI defined a Revolution or a secession, there are two ways of looking at this. Obviously, and other posters have made the point, since the DoI did not seek to overthrow the State in London, if one uses a tightly defined literal definition, it was not a revolution, and in the same vein, it was a war of secession. But the word revolution is not so readily constrained by tight literalism (where secession, being quite specific, is). The war was a secession by definition, but it was a Revolution by nature. Its ends were far broader than mere secession, and as such (and as stated above), the war WAS a revolution, because of what would be birthed by it. Its true perhaps that there was no clear view as to precisely what would be the final framework for independence, but this is not as important as it might seem (and as some make it out to be). Because the fact is that the thinking of those who were there at the time, committing their honor, fortunes and lives to the case, had a pretty good sense of it in flavor, even if were not yet formalized in a recipe.

In that, it should be stressed that it was indeed the philosophies of the likes of Burke and Hume and Locke (who does not deserve overall to be grouped with the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau IMO) far FAR more than those who informed the French Revolution of the following decade, that influenced the thinking of the framers. So those who make the seemingly counter-intuitive point that it was a "Conservative" Revolution, are I believe, right in the main. The principles for the outcome were constraining rather than "liberating", and soberly sought to define liberty in terms of virtue in a meaningful framework mindful of "posterity" (itself a metaphysical rather than material concept, especially as they saw it), rather than unleashing propensities in nature (such as those based on Rouseeaus's "noble savage"). Seen in this way, the American Revolution was almost the diametric opposite of the French one, and this is made even more the case based on the intent of the major players in each case. The obvious intent of the "framers" of the French version, were indeed quite profoundly different. (One could take this argument on to a very interesting set of analyses of the distinct differences in the histories of Europe versus the US that followed, but that is a discussion best had elsewhere.)
7.5.2009 10:27am
celtnorse (mail):

I think that any discussion of the true nature of the War for American Independence in order needs to first ground itself in the actual intent and understanding of those who instigated it. As is so often the case, revisionist theories cite materialist arguments and a variety of anecdotal facts in order to recast the motives of the major players, even at the cost of acknowledging the obvious understanding that these players certainly had of the origin and implications of their actions. There are a number of commenters here that have taken this tack (corneille1640 for example), and it is an unfortunate fact that this particular flavor of revisionism tends to follow the same intellectual path. Some of the Founders would have recognized the deconstruction by virtue of a classical education, but would have labeled it differently (Sophistry among other things I think, which is not to say that all who put such arguments forth are themselves sophists... they may merely be subject to it).

This grounding of intent is not a small matter, since in real time, one of the most extraordinary things about the DoI and the events that followed it, is that the founders were driven by a sober comprehension of two things. First, that what they were doing, if successful, would have a profound impact not only on the destiny of the citizens of the new country, but on the entire world. And second, that they were not facts on the ground did not leave them all that favorably disposed to success. The first speaks to the essence of their ideals (and thus what actually drove them), and the second to their sincere commitment to them (as opposed to being riddled with hidden agendas as some would posit). Their letters not only for public consumption, but to friends and even to each other reinforce this so obviously that to state otherwise is to engage in the utmost of revisionist folly.

In the world they lived in, it must be understood that there had already been several generations of "revolutionary" events. England/Britain had already been profoundly changed by several waves of transformative ideas (a not often acknowledged fact being that England was actually ahead of the curve in absorbing the revolutionary ideas of equality and the rights of man, than the other, generally more rigid European states which would go through their processes in the decades that would follow). Most had a strong sense of what ordered Liberty meant, as opposed to illusory freedom leading to anarchy. The eminently quotable Paine, though often cited as evidence of the radicalism within the founders, is in fact the unchecked firebrand within, not the author of, the American Revolution. In the main, even in the disagreements, there is a prevailing belief that the creation of a State that drew its power from the people, and was itself highly constrained, yet established a society that sought order and rule of Law as coequal with Liberty, was TRULY revolutionary. (Its my opinion actually, that this revolution is possibly the most clearly reevolutionary in all of human history, and is certainly the only true revolution in modern times.)

To the main question here, the question of whether the DoI defined a Revolution or a secession, there are two ways of looking at this. Obviously, and other posters have made the point, since the DoI did not seek to overthrow the State in London, if one uses a tightly defined literal definition, it was not a revolution, and in the same vein, it was a war of secession. But the word revolution is not so readily constrained by tight literalism (where secession, being quite specific, is). The war was a secession by definition, but it was a Revolution by nature. Its ends were far broader than mere secession, and as such (and as stated above), the war WAS a revolution, because of what would be birthed by it. Its true perhaps that there was no clear view as to precisely what would be the final framework for independence, but this is not as important as it might seem (and as some make it out to be). Because the fact is that the thinking of those who were there at the time, committing their honor, fortunes and lives to the case, had a pretty good sense of it in flavor, even if were not yet formalized in a recipe.

In that, it should be stressed that it was indeed the philosophies of the likes of Burke and Hume and Locke (who does not deserve overall to be grouped with the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau IMO) far FAR more than those who informed the French Revolution of the following decade, that influenced the thinking of the framers. So those who make the seemingly counter-intuitive point that it was a "Conservative" Revolution, are I believe, right in the main. The principles for the outcome were constraining rather than "liberating", and soberly sought to define liberty in terms of virtue in a meaningful framework mindful of "posterity" (itself a metaphysical rather than material concept, especially as they saw it), rather than unleashing propensities in nature (such as those based on Rouseeaus's "noble savage"). Seen in this way, the American Revolution was almost the diametric opposite of the French one, and this is made even more the case based on the intent of the major players in each case. The obvious intent of the "framers" of the French version, were indeed quite profoundly different. (One could take this argument on to a very interesting set of analyses of the distinct differences in the histories of Europe versus the US that followed, but that is a discussion best had elsewhere.)
7.5.2009 10:28am
celtnorse (mail):
Sorry... first post was missing the first paragraph. Risks of typing in notepad and then cutting ans pasting. If the siteowner would be so kind as to delete the first post... and then this one... any small virtue in the full one will at least waste less time. :-)
7.5.2009 10:31am
Jam:
While I think the language is nicely ambiguous, and probably intentionally so, the natural reading is that the status of "free and independent" applies to the united colonies. If we take their actions afterwards as indicative of the correct interpretation, we see that they never did act as independent sovereigns -- all foreign policy and military decisions were made by the Union in Congress.

Didn't the Colonies issue declaratoins of independence independently?

Also, what would you had suggested then? That the COlonies each fight for their independence without taking advantage of helping each other in the task?

Because they worked together to achieve their respective independences does/did not make them subject to a central authority.
7.5.2009 11:07am
Jam:

Even if seccesion was a legal right in 1861, theft of US property, entering in an illegal compact between states, and firing on US soldiers performing their duty would not have been a legal way to exert such a right.

An assertion that you are owed wages by a bank does not give you authority to rob it.


The seceded State had every authority/right to get the foreign government out of their jurisdiction. Whatever happened to the forts owned by the Crown after the Unanimous Declaration, during and after the war?


(1) As a commentor pointed out, actual hostilities began because South Carolina fired on Federal troops and seized Fort Sumter.


The hostitlites began when Lincoln dealt in bad faith with the Southern delegation and sent resupply ship with armed escort with full understanding that it was the begining of the war.
7.5.2009 11:14am
MarkField (mail):

The conventional view in both Britain and America was that the King could impose taxes without the consent of the legislature, and if he did, he should be resisted with violence.


I believe you left out at least one "not" (between "could" and "impose"). I wouldn't be so sure that the doctrine of non-resistance was unconventional. The exact proportion of Tories/Whigs in 1688/9 is impossible to define, but believers in non-resistance certainly formed a large subset of the English population and very possibly a majority. This was NOT the case in America, where Whiggish views were far more common.


Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps everyone (I've just been reading Jefferson) made the parallel with England and Scotland in 1700, two nations with two legislatures and a common king.


Yes, but he made this argument fairly late in the game (1774). Part of the disagreement here may be a focus on different time frames.


The Declaration is a conservative document. It says a lot about government being for the good of the people, but that is conventional Lockean Whiggism, not revolutionary sentiment.


One of the problems I have with this (others I mentioned above) is that Locke himself was a revolutionary. He was, after all, in exile in 1688, hanging out in the Netherlands with the most radical of James II's opponents. For a great book on this aspect of Locke's career, see this book.
7.5.2009 11:16am
Jam:

The southern states agreed that,

The national government of the United States shall, "provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union [and] suppress insurrections" Art. 1, Sec. 8, para. 15.


And when they seceded they withdrew consent from that.

Also, it was the north that invaded the south. It was the southern States' duly elected governments that called their citizens to defend themselves from the invaders. It was no insurrection.

If memory serves me, Lincoln violated the Constitutin by usurping Congress authority by calling the militia. the uS Congress, retroactively, called the militia in violation against the prohibion against ex post facto laws, in
violation of the restriciotions as to when they can "call forth" the militia. In addition, the Central government could not emply that militia until there was an "Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence." Which happen to be the definition of insurrection. And there was NO insurrection.
7.5.2009 11:25am
Jam:

Moreover, the states are prohibited from forming confederations: "No state shall enter into any . . . confederation". Art. 1, Sec. 10, para 1. Or make any alliance with another state: "No state shall . . .enter into any agreement or compact with another state". Art 1, Sec. 10, para 3.


Interesting point, isn't it? Since that is exactly what happened in 1789 when 9, of 13 former Colonies, violated the Articles of Confederation when they ratified a new Constitution forged in deceit and in secret.

As an evangelical myself, Romans 13 was not violated by the Colonies in their bid for independence. But ratificatin of the Consitution of these united States of America was.
7.5.2009 11:31am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
D wrote:


Jon Rowe,

"it's not clear from a strict orthodox biblical perspective (i.e., the Bible is the infallible word of God), than the "revolutionary" understanding of Romans 13 is correct. From the plain meaning of Romans 13's text, the revolutionary perspective seems to flip it on its head."

So we've gone from it's clear that it's not to it's not clear that it is. Good that we're now agreed.


Perhaps I should have been more clear with my assertion. I concede that there are "orthodox Christians" who claim to strictly follow the Bible AND who believe that revolt is permitted. However I was trying to note the IRONY that Romans 13 seems to CLEARLY FORBID revolt. I attribute that irony to a lack of spiritual discernment or "thought" about Romans 13 and other texts of the Bible.
7.5.2009 11:33am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Jon Rowe,

Just a question, but how do you square the biblical account with the growing archeological evidence that the Israelites were actually mercenaries of some form and left with bloodshed rather than fleaing? I do find that evidence odd however, why would people hide such events?


That's a good Q. I'm not dealing with archeology but with what the Bible says. On a personal note, I don't hold the Bible to be infallible.
7.5.2009 11:36am
Jam:

(2) I bet secession would have been allowed if the only seceders had been South Carolina and Georgia, the only early seceders who were part of the 13 Colonies (Virginia and North Carolina only seceded after hostilities began). The legal position of the western seceders was much weaker, since they were all, except Texas, federal land from which states had been created. Indeed, Louisiana was acquired from France precisely because the U.S. didn't want to have a foreign country control access to the Mississippi. Any defense of the Confederacy has to realize that secession of Louisiana was far more objectionable than secession of South Carolina. Indeed, the Republicans would have welcomed getting rid of South Carolina's two senators.


Once a piece of land gets a political definition, and the Federal government decided to accept tht political entity into union as a State, it does not matter that it was not one of the original 13. At that point that States has equal rights among all the other States in union.

Furthermore, the Federal government had no authority to acquire territory. The territory they had authority over are very specific land areas at the time of the ratifiction of the Consitution. There is no general authority for the Federal governments to conquer or purchase lands outside of the Consitutionally allowed places (within States) and for specific purposes.
7.5.2009 11:37am
Oren:

At that point that States has equal rights among all the other States in union.


It has equal legal status, no doubt, but the point was that its moral status vis-a-vis secession is considerably weaker, since it never existed as an independent state.

Secession is not a legal act, it's a (putatively) moral one.



Furthermore, the Federal government had no authority to acquire territory.
Uhuh.


The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States;
7.5.2009 11:49am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

The plain meaning of Romans 13 does not stand on its own among scripture any more than your original comment stands on its own apart from your subsequent clarifications. Sola Scriptura does not imply the charge of the light brigade of sole passages of scripture.


As Gregg Frazer put it:


The Bible mentions some form of the words "rebel" or "revolt" more than 100 times -- and all in the negative. In most cases, the condemnation could hardly be stronger (e.g. I Samuel 15:23).
7.5.2009 11:49am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Franklin never decided, or if he did never wrote, whether he believed Jesus was the son of God or not (he wrote once or twice about this). But he felt strongly, and said a few times, that if you just take the things Jesus himself said and professed and followed it, ignoring other peoples interpretations or add-ons, that it would be the best thing for man.


I think he wrote enough that one could conclude he was a unitarian who disbelieved in the Trinity. Some unitarians thought of Jesus as "savior" or "son of God" in a non-divine sense. Jefferson hung out with Joseph Priestley and Richard Price (i.e., the unitarian "dissenters" in England) and used Priestley's term "corruptions of Christianity" in his letter to Ezra Stiles. Priestley defined those corruptions by name and they were original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement and plenary inspiration of scripture.

I agree if we lower the bar for anyone who thinks Jesus was the greatest moral teacher, a man, though not divine himself, but who lived his life on a divine mission, we could throw Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin in the "Christian" box and get a "Christian" founding. However that's not how the "orthodox" promoters of the "Christian America" thesis define "Christianity." They define that system as "heresy."
7.5.2009 11:55am
SamW:

Because they worked together to achieve their respective independences does/did not make them subject to a central authority.


Of course, it did:


But reasoning on this subject is superfluous, when our social compact in express terms declares, that the laws of the United States, its Constitution, and treaties made under it, are the supreme law of the land; and for greater caution adds, "that the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." . . .

In our colonial state, although dependent on another power, we very early considered ourselves as connected by common interest with each other. Leagues were formed for common defense, and before the Declaration of Independence, we were known in our aggregate character as the United Colonies of America. That decisive and important step was taken jointly. We declared ourselves a nation by a joint, not by several acts; and when the terms of our confederation were reduced to form, it was in that of a solemn league of several States, by which they agreed that they would, collectively, form one nation, for the purpose of conducting some certain domestic concerns, and all foreign relations.

The most important among these objects, that which is placed first in rank, on which all the others rest, is "to form a more perfect Union." Now, is it possible that, even if there were no express provision giving supremacy to the Constitution and laws of the United States over those of the States, it can be conceived that an Instrument made for the purpose of "forming; a more perfect Union" than that of the confederation, could be so constructed by the assembled wisdom of our country as to substitute for that confederation a form of government, dependent for its existence on the local interest, the party spirit of a State, or of a prevailing faction in a State? Every man, of plain, unsophisticated understanding, who hears the question, will give such an answer as will preserve the Union. Metaphysical subtlety, in pursuit of an impracticable theory, could alone have devised one that is calculated to destroy it. . . .

This right to secede is deduced from the nature of the Constitution, which they say is a compact between sovereign States who have preserved their whole sovereignty, and therefore are subject to no superior; that because they made the compact, they can break it when in their opinion it has been departed from by the other States. Fallacious as this course of reasoning is, it enlists State pride, and finds advocates in the honest prejudices of those who have not studied the nature of our government sufficiently to see the radical error on which it rests.

The people of the United States formed the Constitution, acting through the State legislatures, in making the compact, to meet and discuss its provisions, and acting in separate conventions when they ratified those provisions; but the terms used in its construction show it to be a government in which the people of all the States collectively are represented. We are ONE PEOPLE . . .

The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which ale the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant. But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation because it would be a solecism to contend that any part of a nation might dissolve its connection with the other parts, to their injury or ruin, without committing any offense. Secession, like any other revolutionary act, may be morally justified by the extremity of oppression; but to call it a constitutional right, is confounding the meaning of terms, and can only be done through gross error, or to deceive those who are willing to assert a right, but would pause before they made a revolution, or incur the penalties consequent upon a failure.

The States severally have not retained their entire sovereignty. It has been shown that in becoming parts of a nation, not members of a league, they surrendered many of their essential parts of sovereignty. The right to make treaties, declare war, levy taxes, exercise exclusive judicial and legislative powers, were all functions of sovereign power. The States, then, for all these important purposes, were no longer sovereign. The allegiance of their citizens was transferred in the first instance to the government of the United States; they became American citizens, and owed obedience to the Constitution of the United States, and to laws made in conformity with the powers vested in Congress. This last position has not been, and cannot be, denied. How then, can that State be said to be sovereign and independent whose citizens owe obedience to laws not made by it, and whose magistrates are sworn to disregard those laws, when they come in conflict with those passed by another? What shows conclusively that the States cannot be said to have reserved an undivided sovereignty, is that they expressly ceded the right to punish treason-not treason against their separate power, but treason against the United States. Treason is an offense against sovereignty, and sovereignty must reside with the power to punish it. But the reserved rights of the States are not less sacred because they have for their common interest made the general government the depository of these powers. The unity of our political character (as has been shown for another purpose) commenced with its very existence. Under the royal government we had no separate character; our opposition to its oppression began as UNITED COLONIES. We were the UNITED STATES under the Confederation, and the name was perpetuated and the Union rendered more perfect by the federal Constitution. In none of these stages did we consider ourselves in any other light than as forming one nation. Treaties and alliances were made in the name of all. Troops were raised for the joint defense. How, then, with all these proofs, that under all changes of our position we had, for designated purposes and with defined powers, created national governments-how is it that the most perfect of these several modes of union should now be considered as a mere league that may be dissolved at pleasure? It is from an abuse of terms. . . . But it has been shown that in this sense the States are not sovereign, and that even if they were, and the national Constitution had been formed by compact, there would be no right in any one State to exonerate itself from the obligation. . . .

In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, having signed the same with my hand.

Done at the City of Washington, this 10th day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, and of the independence of the United States the fifty-seventh.

ANDREW JACKSON.

President of the United States of America
7.5.2009 12:06pm
AverageJoeLE (mail) (www):
Consider how much we should be celebrating "America's Birthday." http://bit.ly/Pxe6m How old is America REALLY?
7.5.2009 12:15pm
Desiderius:
Jon Rowe,

"I am not a Christian"

"I attribute that irony to a lack of spiritual discernment or "thought" about Romans 13 and other texts of the Bible."

Now there's a combination one doesn't see every day. Perhaps next you'd like to grace us with your views on the depth of spiritual discernment of Buddhist monks in Burma.

BTW, you can claim to speak to 2000 years of strict orthodoxy or Sola Scriptura, but one cannot have both. Thus I am compelled to take a view of orthodoxy just a skosh broader than yours - one that encompasses action as well as thought, and extends so far as to include Franklin himself, but not, say, Marx.

Thus ends our discussion of exegesis/hermeneutics/ ecclesiology, as I suspect that the gathered multitudes have long grown weary of it.
7.5.2009 12:19pm
hospis (mail):
SaW's recent post citing Andrew Jackson confirms my first post's arguments. Note how Jackson rambles on for over 100 lines about what could've been expressed concisely in 10 or less: typical Scotch-Irish bullshit.
7.5.2009 12:24pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Desiderius:

Some of the most prominent biblical scholars and scholars of orthodox theology are atheists (which I am not). But I have cited scholars, indeed those who have mentored me on this issue, from Calvin to Drs. Gregg Frazer and John MacArthur whose orthodox evangelical Christian bona fides are beyond reproach.
7.5.2009 12:33pm
Heh:

I think he wrote enough that one could conclude he was a unitarian who disbelieved in the Trinity.


One of the marvels of Franklin is that many religions considered him "one of theirs". He classified himself at one point as a Deist, but I suspect he was no more a Deist than a Unitarian than a Quaker.

The reality is that he was someone that, from his Puritan background, saw the actual words and deeds of Jesus as penultimate, and disliked the interpretations and add-ons that many had put in after Jesus died. However, he was one of the biggest proponents that even with all the negative, people needed organized religion to guide them and keep them along a proper path. It's a very interesting set of beliefs, but once arriving there Franklin was able to hold that line for decades up to his death.

You spoke about his friends, but the reality is that argument can be made in the many opposite directions, as he had many closer friends of other religions. Just because Franklin hung out with someone, did not mean he subscribed to their views on any given subject, just that they were friends or that he was working on something with them :)
7.5.2009 12:37pm
Heh:

SaW's recent post citing Andrew Jackson confirms my first post's arguments. Note how Jackson rambles on for over 100 lines about what could've been expressed concisely in 10 or less: typical Scotch-Irish bullshit.


hospis for the win :)
7.5.2009 12:38pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

BTW, you can claim to speak to 2000 years of strict orthodoxy or Sola Scriptura, but one cannot have both. Thus I am compelled to take a view of orthodoxy just a skosh broader than yours - one that encompasses action as well as thought, and extends so far as to include Franklin himself, but not, say, Marx.


Sola Scriptura reformed Protestantism is a subset of orthodoxy. For the overwhelming history of orthodoxy until the revolutionary watershed era, the view was that of unlimited submission to authorities. As Harry Jaffa has noted:

"for more than a millennium and a half of the history of the Christian West, the prevailing opinion was that political authority descended from the top down, from God to kings and rulers, and that the obligation of the ruled was simply to obey."

This was the position of the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, and Calvin and Luther.

And btw, Franklin was not "orthodox."
7.5.2009 12:42pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Heh:


However, he was one of the biggest proponents that even with all the negative, people needed organized religion to guide them and keep them along a proper path. It's a very interesting set of beliefs, but once arriving there Franklin was able to hold that line for decades up to his death.

You spoke about his friends, but the reality is that argument can be made in the many opposite directions, as he had many closer friends of other religions. Just because Franklin hung out with someone, did not mean he subscribed to their views on any given subject, just that they were friends or that he was working on something with them :)


No I am actually speaking of Franklin's actual words. In his letter to Ezra Stiles:

I believe in one God, creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts as to his divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure. [bold mine]


So what we can see from the letter is Franklin believes in God, believes Jesus of Nazareth (note how he doesn't call Him Christ) was the greatest moral teachers and like the dissenters of England (the unitarians) he has "doubts" as to Jesus' divinity. And he uses the terms "corrupting changes" which were defined by his spiritual mentor Joseph Priestley as original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, and plenary inspiration of scripture.
7.5.2009 12:52pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
But if you want to deal with more specifics I've read virtually everything Franklin wrote on religion (admittedly the record is thick and there are things I have forgotten and new sources here and there that pop up). But I know as much about the personal religions of the "key Founders" (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin) as any PhD expert in the matter or the "big names" who write widely sold biographies.

If you want to get to some specific examples of Franklin's heterodoxy, 1) he rejected original sin, 2) he rejected the infallibility of the Bible, and 3) he held (like Jefferson and J. Adams clearly did, and GW probably did) men were justified thru works, not grace.

On original sin:


But lest they shou'd imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook'd, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call'd, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam's first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. 'Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. 'Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father'd upon the Christian Religion as deliver'd in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr'd from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel.


On the infallibility of the Bible:


To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib'd to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.


In that same source Franklin intimates his unitarianism.


By the way how goes on the Unitarian Church in Essex Street? and the honest Minister of it, is he comfortably supported?


Here is another source to the unitarian minister Richard Price (a very important influence on the FFs) where Franklin seems to intimate his own unitarianism. His term for unitarianism is "rational Christianity."


Sir John has ask'd me if I knew where he could go to hear a preacher of rational Christianity. I told him I knew several of them, but did not know where their churches were in town; out of town, I mention' d yours at Newington, and offer 'd to go with him. He agreed to it, but said we should first let you know our intention. I suppose, if nothing in his profession prevents, we may come, if you please, next Sunday ; but if you sometimes preach in town, that will be most convenient to him, and I request you would by a line let me know when and where. If there are dissenting preachers of that sort at this end of the town, I wish you would recommend one to me, naming the place of his meeting. And if you please, give me a list of several, in different parts of the town, perhaps he may incline to take a round among them.


Finally, here is Franklin on justification, how men are justified through works, not grace:


Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.


If you look at all of this in overall context you see Franklin is turning Christianity into a generic moralizing unitarian creed. Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest moral teacher and if men are good people, even if they are not consciously "Christians," they are "Christians." This is almost exactly as Jefferson, J. Adams, and probably GW and JM believed.
7.5.2009 1:19pm
SamW:
Hospis: It is true, that although we know little of Jackson's ancestory, he is belived to be of primarily Celtic derivation (Scotch-Irish). On the other hand, Jackson's proclamation of December 1832, owes much to his Secretary of State, Edward Livingston, of Scotch, Dutch and Anglo-Saxon derivation (ie., Celto-Germanic). How this works out for your ethno-determinism theory of history, I don't know. ;)
7.5.2009 1:55pm
hospis (mail):
Anyone who credits John MacArthur to be a Christian isn't a Christian himself, since MacArthur is an illiterate enraged hate-monger. That Christian Identity gang members often cite MacArthur illuminates MacArthur's audience and demonstrates MacArthur's enraged tone. On Larry King (Jews seem to provide their Media faculties to the the most derisive hateful idiots who describe themselves as "Christian") MacArthur openly insulted Ravi Batra and shamelessly displayed contempt; evidently, MacArthur believes that the Bible teaches arrogance contempt vanity. Also, MacArthur--as no Christian ever had the audacity to do--believes he interprets Scripture perfectly and that God's design is revealed fully in the Bible. I find as a reader of Christian literature incredible that God could make known to as sinful a creature as Man his Design rendered in an alphabet of exactly 26 letters. Incredible. Let me cite Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. No need is any more to be said of John MacArthur.
7.5.2009 1:57pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
JR,

I fail to see how Franklin knowing people of various relgious thinking lends any support to his being one of their number. From everything I've seen of him, Franklin would very likely have responded in much the same manner were it any other flavor of Christianity being inquired about, including going to the service.
7.5.2009 2:18pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Anyone who credits John MacArthur to be a Christian isn't a Christian himself, since MacArthur is an illiterate enraged hate-monger.


Well I am not a Christian and I DO credit MacArthur with being a Christian; AND I credit Bob Jones and the Pope as Christians and Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and anyone who believes in the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ. Fundamentalist and the "orthodox" are people too.

I am even willing to lower the bar and include Mormons and theological unitarians, those folks who deny the virgin birth and resurrection, "Christians" (because many folks who believe this call themselves "Christians"). It's just we need to make clear our definitions, especially when arguing the "Christian Nation" controversy which is my forte.
7.5.2009 2:34pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Soronel Haetir,

Because I showed much more than that.
7.5.2009 2:36pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

MacArthur openly insulted Ravi Batra and shamelessly displayed contempt



I had never heard of this guy so I looked him up. And Wiki said the following:


Batra's writings should be considered in terms of the philosophy of his mentor, Sarkar, who has had a profound influence on him. The ideas of Sarkar are in the tradition of Hindu idealism - a cosmology stating that the universe, both inanimate and animate matter, is permeated with a singular consciousness, a living God. The basic premise is that the souls of all life forms have a singular embedded motive over the evolutionary eons, going from birth to death to birth again, to develop their consciousness. Once they reach the level of human reflective consciousness it is their duty to seek to ultimately unite it with the God consciousness.


On a personal level I have no problem with this; but one should be able to see how the "orthodox" whether of the Protestant, Roman Catholic or Capital O bent WOULD have a problem with this and call it "not Christianity" and a "false" religion. That's what orthodox Christians believe: Christianity is true other religions are false; Christ's -- the 2nd Person in the Trinity -- blood Atonement is the ONLY way men are saved.

We have to be careful what we mean when we state the term "Christian"; because to many people this at the very LEAST is what they mean. And one should be able to understand why if one held to orthodox Christianity one might sound hostile towards what they regard is a false religion leading men to Hell, or in the Roman Catholics case perhaps Hell or a longer time in purgatory.
7.5.2009 2:44pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
One other thing about Franklin:


The reality is that he was someone that, from his Puritan background, saw the actual words and deeds of Jesus as penultimate, and disliked the interpretations and add-ons that many had put in after Jesus died. [Bold mine]


I can agree with this as long as we are clear as to what those ADD ONS are (by the way, this was exactly Jefferson's view, another "Christian Restorationist" who wanted to "restore" the "primitive simplicity" of Jesus' words, sans the "corruption" added on like everything St. Paul had to say):

Original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and infallibility of the biblical canon. Those were the "add ons" Franklin, Jefferson and the other key Founders had a problem with.
7.5.2009 2:49pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
John Rowe,

The only statement of fellowship in what you quoted would be the inquiry about whether the particular pastor was well supported. I don't see this as a statement of endorsement given that I've seen plenty of indication that Franklin was patron to a wide variety of religious thinkers.

There may well be material indicating his personal beliefs, I just don't see the two passages about financial support for the one pastor and where another service might be found as material to that question.
7.5.2009 3:18pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I've seen plenty of indication that Franklin was patron to a wide variety of religious thinkers.


You have to look at the larger picture and understand the larger context. The unitarians of that era on the one hand railed against the trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines, but on the other hand sought fellowship with trinitarian believers, provided the trinity and those orthodox doctrines were downplayed.

The orthodox, on the other hand, wanted no fellowship with unitarians; they viewed unitarianism as a soul damning heresy. So mere creedal indifference towards unitarianism OR trinitarianism is itself a sign of unitarianism.

Virtually NO ORTHODOX Trinitarian person of that era would have stated:


By the way how goes on the Unitarian Church in Essex Street? and the honest Minister of it, is he comfortably supported?


The "orthodox" did not consider UNITARIAN MINISTERS to be "honest" and certainly weren't concerned that they were "comfortably supported?"

Franklin's non-sectarian support for religion was so broad that it extended to Muslims. Again here is Franklin conflating Islam with the orthodox Christianity of his friend George Whitefield:


Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.


The orthodox of that era (and most today!) don't believe Muslim Mufti's should be preaching Mohammedanism in Christian Churches.

Franklin was no deist. But he wasn't an orthodox Christian either. He was a "unitarian" or to use my friend Dr. Frazer's term, a "theistic rationalist" which Frazer defines as some place between Deism and orthodox Christianity with rationalism as the predominant element.
7.5.2009 3:34pm
rosetta's stones:

typical Scotch-Irish bullshit.


Ok, rant away on theology, and I can't speak to the unwashed Irish heathens, but any reference to "bullshit" arising from the Scots' lineage is gonna bring on the blade weapons.

Everything you touch or read has been influenced by them. They are your betters. Deal with it. ;-)
7.5.2009 4:42pm
Desiderius:
"typical Scotch-Irish bullshit."

Yeah, we kicked your boot-lickin' Tory asses in '76 and if you want to bring it again, we'll kick 'em again.

=^)

"quotidian but true prism of Force and Interest"

How'd that work out for Stalin?
7.5.2009 5:09pm
Jam:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States;


As I also stated, Territory in the Constitution has a very specific meaning:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Statecessions.png

Still, there is no general delegated power to acquire lands outside of the States in union.
7.5.2009 5:22pm
Desiderius:
Jon Rowe,

Look, I feel for you guy. You've obviously put in a lot of work on this and I think I'm actually somewhat sympathetic with where you're going if I understand it correctly - that evangelicals need to lay off the politics for a bit and work on getting their game together instead of immanentizing the eschaton all the time.

I'm working on similar things from the Left side, or what's left of us.

Like I said, though, this is a singularly inauspicious forum for such a discussion.

P.S. Franklin's heterodoxy is, of course, the dominant orthodox position. On that one matter, and a few more, but none that you list, I am heterodox myself.
7.5.2009 5:31pm
Jam:

(snip)
In none of these stages did we consider ourselves in any other light than as forming one nation.
(snip)
In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, having signed the same with my hand.
(snip)
Andy Jackson


This proclamation from Sam Houston's puppeteer.

Andy is wrong and just justifying his abuse of power.

But if quote other we must then here is Mr.Federalist himself:
Gibbons vs Ogden
Mr. Chief Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court
...
As preliminary to the very able discussions of the Constitution which we have heard from the bar, and as having some influence on its construction, reference has been made to the political situation of these States anterior to its formation. It has been said that they were sovereign, were completely independent, and were connected with each other only by a league. This is true. But, when these allied sovereigns converted their league into a government, when they converted their Congress of Ambassadors, deputed to deliberate on their common concerns and to recommend measures of general utility, into a Legislature, empowered to enact laws on the most interesting subjects, the whole character in which the States appear underwent a change, the extent of which must be determined by a fair consideration of the instrument by which that change was effected.
...


At any rate, we are talking about secession and not nullification, another issue in which he was wrong:
Virgina Resolution
Kentucky Resolution

Another quote: "The Union: Next to our Liberty, the most dear!"
7.5.2009 5:44pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Desiderius:

Yes I think you get where I am coming from. If you are of the "Left," I am interested in someone whose describes himself as a Calvinist, enlightenment rationalist, and of the "Left."

I think the key FFs were the "liberal Christians" of their day -- "liberal" in the classicial, not necessarily the "modern" sense of the term. Today, issues such as same sex marriage and abortion are the "hot button" issues that divide the church. During the Founding era, it was issues like the Trinity and eternal damnation. Just as there are those today who claim if you are pro-choice, or in favor of same sex marriage (or a homosexual yourself) you can't be a "Christian," back then it was if you denied the Trinity (and other orthodox doctrines) you weren't a "Christian" even if you called yourself one. From my studies, even Franklin and Jefferson (the two key FFs most likely conceded as "Deists") I think understood themselves to be "Christians" as opposed to "Deists," albeit "Christians" who denied the Trinity, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible and other orthodox doctrines.
7.5.2009 7:13pm
Perseus (mail):
The Declaration is a conservative document. It says a lot about government being for the good of the people, but that is conventional Lockean Whiggism, not revolutionary sentiment.

Conventional Lockean Whiggism was revolutionary. And a "dissolution of government" as Locke termed it is a form of revolution or regime change.
7.5.2009 7:13pm
MarkField (mail):

Conventional Lockean Whiggism was revolutionary. And a "dissolution of government" as Locke termed it is a form of revolution or regime change.


And once again we agree.
7.5.2009 7:37pm
Desiderius:
Perseus,

"Conventional Lockean Whiggism was revolutionary."

And furthermore, continuously revolutionary - the true gem of the American Exception, now thankfully, slowly, becoming less exceptional every year due to the efforts of men and women like Dr. Samuel Moffett, the finest I have ever had the honor of meeting.

There are now four times as many Presbyterians in Korea as in the United States.
7.5.2009 10:51pm
Dave N (mail):
If you are of the "Left," I am interested in someone whose describes himself as a Calvinist, enlightenment rationalist, and of the "Left."
That pretty much describes the dominant view within the Presbyterian Church (USA).
7.5.2009 10:57pm
Desiderius:
JR,

"I think the key FFs were the "liberal Christians" of their day -- "liberal" in the classicial, not necessarily the "modern" sense of the term."

Liberalism is more than merely classical, and the "modern sense" of the word too shall pass.

Far as I can make out, this is a liberal blog in the truest and most time-tested sense of the word.

And, yes, the FF's were "liberal Christians" of their day. They were far from alone. Thank God.
7.5.2009 11:22pm
Desiderius:
One last thought on the topic of Franklin. It is difficult to conceive for us today just how much of a rock star he was, and not just in the colonies, but on the continent as well, due to his work on electricity and his noble savage glamour which he played to the hilt, which of course increased his renown all the more in the colonies. It was relatively late in the game that Franklin switched to the revolutionary side, but when he did, feeling his honor, and that of what he was coming to see as his country's, had been offended on his late visit to England, his ire likely had a similar affect as later Hitler's offense of Chamberlain's honor had on Britain.

Rosey,

Good points on Australia, but by the 1850's they had plenty of gold, yet were still, nearly to a man, over the moon for their queen. Outstanding book here. Alas, nearly my only source on the matter.
7.5.2009 11:34pm
Desiderius:
Dave N.,

"If you are of the 'Left,' I am interested in someone whose describes himself as a Calvinist, enlightenment rationalist, and of the 'Left.'"

"That pretty much describes the dominant view within the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

There is a faithful remnant that would fit that description, but our Leftism is now old and threadbare, though not yet so discredited that the aspersions it has cast on the other three descriptors can be with confidence countered, let alone dispelled. The Marxian disease hit us hard.

The cavalry is, however, on the way character-wise, and I have faith that the ideas will eventually follow.
7.5.2009 11:44pm
Dave N (mail):
Desiderius,

The snark toward the Presbyterian Church (USA) was deliberate. As a former member of that denomination, I agree with your description. I did not say that the view was shared by a majority of Presbyterians, but it certainly is the public face that has helped drive hundreds of thousands away from the denomination.
7.6.2009 10:29am
rosetta's stones:
"Good points on Australia, but by the 1850's they had plenty of gold, yet were still, nearly to a man, over the moon for their queen."

Plenty of gold, perhaps, but little ability to defend the mines. You, too, would be quite comforted by the Queen's portrait, if it also meant a Royal Navy battlecruiser made port in Perth, once in a while.

Heck, Canada was still over the moon for the crown, in 1950! And my relatives all swooned over Lady Di for crisakes, when she first deigned to call on them. It all seems to be over now for the crown, though, finally and mercifully.
7.6.2009 11:45am
Desiderius:
Rosey,

"It all seems to be over now for the crown, though, finally and mercifully."

Just you wait.
7.6.2009 5:28pm
Desiderius:
Dave N,

Don't write the old girl off just yet. Each new generation brings its own take, and this one seems to have a critical mass that has finally figured out that the Old Deluder has the affliction of the comfortable quite well in hand, and neither needs nor wants assistance from the likes of a church called into being rather to comfort the afflicted.
7.6.2009 5:48pm

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