Monday, December 14, 2009

The DOI is NOT a Document of Interposition

I disagree with my co-blogger King of Ireland's assertion that:

The DOI is a legal document that presents the Christian case for interposition. Up until Parliment [sic] attempted to nullify their rights as Englishmen the representatives of the colonies argued from their rights as Englishmen. When those were taken away they appealed to natural rights.

While one perhaps could make what the American Founders DID "fit" with interposition, one cannot make what they said in the DOI fit. For those unaware, John Calvin in his Institutes on the Christian Religion Book 4, Chapter 20, dealt with the Bible (mainly Romans 13, but other verses and chapters as well) Christians and government. There Calvin strictly interprets Romans 13 to argue submission to government is categorical because God demands it. Obedience to government is conditioned on rulers not making men affirmatively or by omission sin. So for instance, if government tells a Christian not to exceed 55mph you obey simply because government said so. If government says stop preaching the Gospel, you disobey but submit to their lawful authority when they come to arrest you and accept the civil legitimacy of the punishment no matter what it is. I know this sounds harsh, but it is what John Calvin taught and Calvin was a harsh dude. [For more see Dr. Gregg Frazer's article on the matter.]

To Calvin, the Bible categorically forbids revolt. No exceptions. Calvin did discuss the ability of intermediate magistrates to interpose and remove a tyrannical King; but he stressed it must be done pursuant to some positive legal mechanism, like the Congress impeaching the President pursuant to the provisions in the US Constitution. Again, revolt is still forbidden. Therefore if the Continental Congress could make the argument, which they seemingly did in parts of the DOI, that King George and Parliament were violating British law AND if there were some recognized legal method under British law for declaring independence, perhaps what the FFs did could "fit" with such a notion of "interposition."

Needless to say, William Blackstone, the recognized authority over British Common Law argued there was no lawful right whatsoever to revolt against the Parliament and King like America later would do. The DOI is an anti-Blackstonian document in that respect.

But even if it were possible to make what America did "fit" with Calvin's notion of interposition, it is impossible to make what they said in the DOI fit. That document states:

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,...

Sorry but this is a call for revolt against the positive law, not interposition by lawful magistrates consistent with governing positive law. The above quoted rhetoric says the opposite of what Romans 13 seemingly on its face says and is entirely foreign to John Calvin's interpretation of Romans 13.


Mark in Spokane said...

The Declaration is not a legal document. While it is a cherished part of our nation's heritage and provides a strong grounding for our nation's political culture, it is not nor has it ever been held to be a legal document. The Courts have held consistently that it is not a legal document. One of the primary (although by no means only) legal errors of the Confederates was to claim that the declaration had some kind of legal effect in creating a right to rebellion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well Mark...8 of the 9 members of the Supreme Court agree with you. Justice Thomas does not.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Christian case for interposition

For the record, "Christian" and "Calvinist" are not synonymous.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This discussion gives a deeper window into what Hamilton is saying in The Farmer Refuted

as he defends the colonies' charters,

"that they are [e]ntirely, discordant with that sovereignty of parliament,"

and further, disputes the criticism of the new Continental Congress being an illegal body. Whether this new congress translates to an "interposition" I dunno, but apparently its legitimacy contra parliament was of high concern.

The rest, as we all know, is a natural law argument for liberty and consent of the governed.

Daniel said...

The first phrase of the DoI sounds like a nod is being made in the direction of interposition. But if that is the argument being made in the rest of the document, it is Calvinism infused with (and transformed by) Enlightenment principles.

Tom, would Hamilton, in the bit you quote, be referring to the emergent governments in America during the period when the mother country was uninterested in this continent? Those governments arose out of necessity but had no legal basis in any grant of King or parliament.

King of Ireland said...

I am on my BlackBerry right now so I cannot comment much put I will refer people to my comments on Positive Liberty. I will paste them later. In short, Jon did not read Calvin careful enough. I also find no relevance in what the modern court thinks. It mattered what the founding generation thought. I think so many are schooled in the Harvard narrative it is hard to see other views.

Mark in Spokane said...

There is no evidence that any of the early American courts viewed the Declaration as a legal document either. Constitutionally, the courts relied on the first constitution -- the Articles of Confederation. When the current constitution was ratified, the Courts relied on that document as the fundamental charter. The Declaration was not used.

As for Justice Thomas -- I am not familiar with him arguing that the Declaration is a legal document. He has argued in favor of natural law theory as a part of constitutional adjudication, but that isn't the same thing are arguing that the Declaration is a legal document.

I revere the Declaration to no end -- but it isn't a legal charter. To try to make it so does not do it justice. It is more than a legal document...

King of Ireland said...

I meant to say it uses a legal argument for relieving a tyrant of his duties. That legal argument is called interposition and Calvin clearly supports it in the writings that jon cites. Frazer and jon's only counter argument is a dogmatic view of Romans 13 is the infallible word of God and any other interpretations are heathen rationalist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Daniel, I'm just hanging in the discussion, presenting possibilities. Not my area of expertise.

My guess is that Hamilton is examining the colony charters given by the Crown. Since parliament doesn't muscle its way into primacy until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the charters predate that, the colonies owe parliament no obedience.

The Continental Congress [and the state gov'ts before it] take the place of parliament, and if parliament could rightly wrest sovereignty from the Crown in 1688, then so could the continental congress.

The Farmer Refuted is from 1775, but it seems to me that the D of I is a legal document, as it's proclamed by

"the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled"

"interpositionally" entitled and empowered to take on the Crown just as parliament did in 1688.

[The D of I is then a legal document; its applicability under the Constitution of 1787 then becomes a separate legal matter.]

Just my guess, mind you. But revolt for its own sake and leading to anarchy was a theological no-no, as no action can be righteous while ignoring forseeable ill consequences. By having a legitimate body in place, congress, the colonists cleared that theological hurdle.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In fact, the grievances in the D of I are all directed at the Crown. Of parliament, they take a single notice:

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.

Their legislature. Not ours. Unwarrantable jurisdiction. The colonies owe no obedience to parliament, only the Crown which gave them their charters. And of the Crown, as the D of I says in one place,

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

That was the same theological/legal solution Britain used in 1688. Charles II wasn't booted, he "abdicated."

Joe Winpisinger said...

First I think Tom has provided some great insight with his comments in this section. No need to repeat what he has argued much better than I could.

That leaves me to focus on some of the responses I gave on Positive Liberty:

The idea of “interposition” goes a lot further back than Calvin to pre-Aquinas Catholics for one. It also was used by all of the following named by John Adams below:
“”(Source, Charles F. Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams [1851] Vol. 6, p. 3-4)
There have been three periods in the history of England, in which the principles of government have been anxiously studied, and very valuable productions published, which, at this day, if they are not wholly forgotten in their native country, are perhaps more frequently read abroad than at home.
The first of these periods was that of the Reformation, as early as the writings of Machiavel himself, who is called the great restorer of the true politics. The “Shorte Treatise of Politick Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects owe to Kyngs and other Civile Governors, with an Exhortation to all True Natural Englishemen, compyled by John Poynet, D. D.,” was printed in 1556, and contains all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterwards dilated on by Sidney and Locke. This writer is clearly for a mixed government, in three equiponderant branches, as appears by these words:
“In some countreyes they were content to be governed and have the laws executed by one king or judge; in some places by many of the best sorte; in some places by the people of the lowest sorte; and in some places also by the king, nobilitie, and the people, all together. And these diverse kyndes of states, or policies, had their distincte names; as where one ruled, a monarchie; where many of the best, aristocratie; and where the multitude, democratie ; and where all together, that is a king, the nobilitie, and commons, a mixte state; and which men by long continuance have judged to be the best sort of all. For where that mixte state was exercised, there did the commonwealths longest continue.”
The second period was the Interregnum, and indeed the whole interval between 1640 and 1660. In the course of those twenty years, not only Ponnet and others were reprinted, butHarrington, Milton, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, and a multitude of others, came upon the stage.The third period was the Revolution in 1688, which produced Sidney, Locke, Hoadley, Trenchard, Gordon, Plato Redivivus, who is also clear for three equipollent branches in the mixture, and others without number. The discourses of Sidney were indeed written before, but the same causes produced his writings as did the Revolution. Americans should make collections of all these speculations, to be preserved as the most precious relics of antiquity, both for curiosity and use.”

–John Adams

Joe Winpisinger said...

My Response Part II:

"Yours and Frazers chief evidence seems to be what Romans 13 “seemingly on its face says” . At best he gets a tie on that one. I have presented reasonable arguments from scripture that many others have used and an insight I had on Othniel that I have never heard before that are just a valid as Frazer’s take if not more. That is the theological case and he cannot claim his interpretation is infallibe. All he can do is name call and say that those who disagree were not Christian. Historically, mine and Locke’s interpretation of Romans 13 are the same and he influenced the Declaration greatly.
So other than countering with Frazer’s dogmatic view of Romans 13 any other evidence that this was not an interposition? Locke used a lot of the arguments of his predecessors who used “interposition” in the English Revolutions. His whole
First Treatise was a theological argument against Filmer’s use of the Bible to prove Divine Right of Kings was from God.
Compare all the those mentioned by Adams to Pre-Calvin Politically Liberal Theologians and to Locke and you will see the same argument used over and over again.

Joe Winpisinger said...

The smoking gun:

You have to read what Calvin said in full context:
“I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and perhaps there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets). So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fradulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardains.”
Compare this with:
“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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But 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”
Calvin stated a little later that the King at the time of Daniel had essentially forfeited his right to rule and Daniel did not have to obey him anymore because the King had offended God. Calvin does not agree with Frazer either!
I have stated numerous examples from the Bible that show that Romans 13 cannot be absolute. God himself tells several people to depose Kings that had become tyrannical. Of all the interpretations the “Deist” Locke in HIS COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF ROMANS gives the most reasonable and balanced one I have heard. If it is even possible to have another valid interpretation of Romans 13 then your are wrong here at the very least and possibly Frazer’s thesis lies dead in the water. If it is such a small part of his thesis why does it keep coming up as the question changes from if men were Christian to if the ideas were Christian.

Amos is smart and is no Barton do not get sloppy."

Joe Winpisinger said...

Jon stated in response to my comments about Calvin's own words that he himself linked:

I might see if I can get Gregg to come in because I am going to be quite busy until Friday. But I would argue Calvin said “you can depose a tyrant if done lawfully” which is more precise than the way you put it."

I replied:

"That is the exact definition of interposition. That is exactly the way I put it by using that word. It is a historically Christian political theology for removal of a King by lower magistrates. Calvin agrees with me."

All of this is easily verifiable by going back to the arguments of Locke, Sidney, Hooker, Pre-Aquinas legal scholars under Pope Gregory, the dude who wrote Vindicae contra Tyrannos. Heck, even Calvin himself says when it is okay to depose a King.

I think we will start with him. I will give people a few days to take in this information and then I will post how Calvin's words on this subject are very close to mine in many regards when I was debating Frazer on Romans 13.

Joe Winpisinger said...

All of the above comments are from "King of Ireland" I forgot to log out of my real estate blog. I think all of you know my real name anyway but just in case.


I apologize for choking you out the other day after asking you to chime on on my "Christian Ideas' theme. I knew I should have waited. In that spirit, I think your points about Hamilton are brilliant at first glance. I want to post of Calvin to underscore some of the points I made here but I want to coordinate with you so we can cover both angles and give them their proper due. Your call, the floor is yours if you want it. If you prefer to wait or defer let me know. I am going to read Hamilton tonight and mule over what you said.

We can work on splitting up some of the works that Adams cites in his quote too if you want. I think we need some posts to look at them and compare their reasoning with the DOI. I think you have some insight and ways of looking at this stuff I will never see because my mind works differently.

Let me know..

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yah, Joe, letting things breathe is good. Tocqueville got choked off and he's central to the case.

As for Calvin, I'm only mildly interested, as Blackstone's link to Aquinas is much more solid & relevant, and Hamilton quotes Blackstone and natural law theory as well in The Farmer Refuted. As Dr. Frazer has noted, Calvin seems more of an obstacle to revolt. However, both the Glorious Revolution and the American one seemed to negotiate their way past him theologically, and this would point to how seriously the eras took his objections.

Vindiciae contra Tyrannos [watch your spellings, plz] of 1579 seems a fine place for you to get your bearings, since the Huguenots were Calvinists. Run w/it. I'll comment whenever helpful.

King of Ireland said...


Sorry about Tocqueville, I finally had a few days of nothing to do and should have written up the Amos post and saved it.

I want to pursue Calvin because if you can prove supported interposition Frazer's argument has no teeth at all. It is just part of who I am to attack the biggest dog of the pack first.

With that said, I agree that we can learn a whole lot more from the rest.

On a side note:

Amos states that he thinks that even Luther believed in interposition. He came against the peasant revolt because it was mob rule not because he disagreed that the King they were revolting against was not a tyrant and did not need to be deposed. I did not check it out but it is interesting how much these biased historians leave out. It is almost like someone out there does not want us to learn about where the ideas of equality and individual rights came from.

King of Ireland said...

Spelling is due mostly to Blackberry. It is hard to type on my touch screen. I will try harder.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, indeed, the peasants ARE revolting.

As for the spelling, it's a must for the mainpage. As for comments sections, esp over at PL, it makes you look subliterate [or drunk] and undercuts the credibility of your arguments.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If you don't use Firefox, download it. It works better than IE and it has an automatic spell check. If you misspell a word, it shows in red.

King of Ireland said...

I do spell check for the main page stuff. Sometimes some of the stuff I quote has spelling mistakes but I leave it in. As far as PL I will try and watch it. Mobile blogging is a great thing but it is harder to be as accurate typing on a phone. Sometimes it is hard to see what you wrote as well. The perils of technology.

If you ever see a mistake in a main page post of mine feel free to go in and correct it. I leave on my stuff on editable mode.

Pinky said...

I have always used Mozilla Firefox; but, recently, it has come under attack by another internet program that wants to be used. Just this morning, the program has disabled Firefox. I'm using Internet Explorer to make this post.

Daniel said...

I think you are onto something re Hamilton. And it isn't just the Glorious Revolution that muddies the status of the colonies (or that can be used to muddy the status).

The colonies had a certain quasi-independence for about a century. They were barely in the political loop. That had to have formed attitudes and perspectives. By 1776, the colonies were not the same entities that their charters reflected and Britain did not have the same govenment.

For Hamilton to look back to those original charters was a very interesting move. (And I think you are correct that he is). It provides a legal argument. It allows a focus on a politically unpopular king. And it raises the question: if we are without legitimacy, then what is the legitimacy of parliament?

Daniel said...

The claim that the DoI is (or is not) a legal document can have many meanings. Clearly, on its terms, it purports to be a legal document. An assembly claiming the authority to do so purports to sever the legal relationship between colonies and Crown. It is a legal document if the assembly had legal authority.

Mark points out that it has never been accepted as a legal document -- in the sense that it does not create law. To the extent that it is a legal document, it is one of limited effect

jimmiraybob said...

Daniel - "It is a legal document if the assembly had legal authority."

Did they have a an established, independent legal authority to rebel? It seems to me that this is what the revolution was about. If the revolutionaries had failed to rouse public support toward war/rebellion or the British had won wouldn't the affair have been written off as a failed insurrection/rebellion and the DOI branded as insurrectionist/rebelion propaganda?

King of Ireland said...

While this interposition argument makes for some interesting discussion about legal views(see The Doctrine of 98 discussions both at the time of the Ky and va resolutions and more modern arguments for interposition, nullification, and even secession) all that really matters in the discussion of Christian ideas and the founding is what Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and the Congress thought they were doing.

With that said I think Hamilton is an interesting angle to this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB, I think that the congress met publicly and not like some terrorist group is a claim to legitimacy.

Daniel said...

I would strengthen that argument with the fact that the members were delegates of established government institutions. Those institutions may have had some issues of legitimacy themselves, but they had been in place for a very long time.

King of Ireland said...

To answer the two over arching questions I brought up about Christian ideas all that matters is if they were trying an interposition and where they thought the idea came from.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, King, all you have to do is show their concern that independence be theologically legitimate. I think all the chatter about Romans 13 points in that direction.


Cheers, JRB. Makes sense to me, especially since they reject parliament's attempt at exercising an "unwarranted jurisdiction."

King of Ireland said...


I think Adams quote about Mayhem is a good start. I think that it had a legal aspect back then as well. Common law and the rights of Englishmen were saturated with theology. You see men like Lew Rockwell using these same arguments today as legal without possibly knowing that these arguments are Christian and rooted in Biblical principles. I will do some digging you ask a good question. I also am going to find which church they Lori's guy went and what type of sermons he may or may not have heard about the cause of Independence. I have my suspicions

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.