Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Primer on Natural Law

by Murray Rothbard

[Editor's Note: Year by year, "natural law theory" has been gaining acceptance as the ontology of choice--or the last gasp--of not only social religio-conservatism but of classical philosophy as well.  Time for a reprise of our 2009 Natural Law Theory post.  

Who better to explain it than Murray Rothbard [1926-1995]? An interesting fellow---an atheist, a libertarian...and a Thomist,  meaning Thomas Aquinas' "Scholastic" system of looking at things. 

There's a common perception today that "reason" was somehow discovered in the West with the Enlightenment. But reason had a seat at the table long before David Hume and the skeptics, and although the Founders didn't quote Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) because he was associated with Roman Catholicism (boo, hiss), his influence carried through 500 years through the "Schoolmen" to the Protestants Hugo Grotius and Richard Hooker, then through Locke, and then to the Founding generation.]

From Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty (read the whole thing!):


AMONG INTELLECTUALS WHO CONSIDER themselves "scientific," the phrase "the nature of man” apt to have the effect of a red flag on a bull. "Man has no nature!" is the modern rallying cry; and typical of the sentiment of political philosophers today was the assertion of a distinguished political theorist some years ago before a meeting of the American Political Science Association that "man's nature" is a purely theological concept that must be dismissed from any scientific discussion.

In the controversy over man's nature, and over the broader and more controversial concept of "natural law," both sides have repeatedly proclaimed that natural law and theology are inextricably intertwined. As a result, many champions of natural law, in scientific or philosophic circles, have gravely weakened their case by implying that rational, philosophical methods alone cannot establish such law: that theological faith is necessary to maintain the concept. On the other hand, the opponents of natural law have gleefully agreed; since faith in the supernatural is deemed necessary to belief in natural law, the latter concept must be tossed out of scientific, secular discourse, and be consigned to the arcane sphere of the divine studies. In consequence, the idea of a natural law founded on reason and rational inquiry has been virtually lost.

The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door. To the first group, it must be said that they are reflecting an extreme Augustinian position which held that faith rather than reason was the only legitimate tool for investigating man's nature and man's proper ends. In short, in this fideist tradition, theology had completely displaced philosophy. The Thomist tradition, on the contrary, was precisely the opposite: vindicating the independence of philosophy from theology and proclaiming the ability of man's reason to understand and arrive at the laws, physical and ethical, of the natural order. If belief in a systematic order of natural laws open to discovery by man's reason is per se anti-religious, then anti-religious also were St. Thomas and the later Scholastics, as well as the devout Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius. The statement that there is an order of natural law, in short, leaves open the problem of whether or not God has created that order; and the assertion of the viability of man's reason to discover the natural order leaves open the question of whether or not that reason was given to man by God. The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti-religious.

Because this position is startling to most people today let us investigate this Thomistic position a little further. The statement of absolute independence of natural law from the question of the existence of God was implicit rather than flatly asserted in St. Thomas himself; but like so many implications of Thomism, it was brought forth by Suarez and the other brilliant Spanish Scholastics of the late sixteenth century. The Jesuit Suarez pointed out that many Scholastics had taken the position that the natural law of ethics, the law of what is good and bad for man, does not depend upon God's will. Indeed, some of the Scholastics had gone so far as to say that:

"...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has."


Dutch Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius declared, in his De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625):

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God."

And again:

"Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil."

[Maurizio Passerin] D'Entrèves concludes that:

"[Grotius’s] definition of natural law has nothing revolutionary. When he maintains that natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason, he does nothing but restate the Scholastic notion of a rational foundation of ethics. Indeed, his aim is rather to restore that notion which had been shaken by the extreme Augustinianism of certain Protestant currents of thought. When he declares that these rules are valid in themselves, independently of the fact that God willed them, he repeats an assertion which had already been made by some of the schoolmen."


Grotius's aim, d'Entrèves adds, "was to construct a system of laws which would carry conviction in an age in which theological controversy was gradually losing the power to do so." Grotius and his juristic successors—--Pufendorf, Burlamaqui, and Vattel—--proceeded to elaborate this independent body of natural laws in a purely secular context, in accordance with their own particular interests, which were not, in contrast to the Schoolmen, primarily theological. Indeed, even the eighteenth-century rationalists, in many ways dedicated enemies of the Scholastics, were profoundly influenced in their very rationalism by the Scholastic tradition.

Thus, let there be no mistake: in the Thomistic tradition, natural law is ethical as well as physical law; and the instrument by which man apprehends such law is his reason-not faith, or intuition, or grace, revelation, or anything else. In the contemporary atmosphere of sharp dichotomy between natural law and reason—and especially amid the irrationalist sentiments of "conservative" thought—this cannot be underscored too often. Hence, St. Thomas Aquinas, in the words of the eminent historian of philosophy Father Copleston, "emphasized the place and function of reason in moral conduct. He [Aquinas] shared with Aristotle the view that it is the possession of reason which distinguished man from the animals" and which "enables him to act deliberately in view of the consciously apprehended end and raises him above the level of purely instinctive behavior."

Aquinas, then, realized that men always act purposively, but also went beyond this to argue that ends can also be apprehended by reason as either objectively good or bad for man. For Aquinas, then, in the words of Copleston, "there is therefore room for the concept of 'right reason,' reason directing man's acts to the attainment of the objective good for man." Moral conduct is therefore conduct in accord with right reason: "If it is said that moral conduct is rational conduct, what is meant is that it is conduct in accordance with right reason, reason apprehending the objective good for man and dictating the means to its attainment."

In natural-law philosophy, then, reason is not bound, as it is in modern post-Humean philosophy, to be a mere slave to the passions, confined to cranking out the discovery of the means to arbitrarily chosen ends. For the ends themselves are selected by the use of reason; and "right reason” dictates to man his proper ends as well as the means for their attainment. For the Thomist or natural-law theorist, the general law of morality for man is a special case of the system of natural law governing all entities of the world, each with its own nature and its own ends. "For him the moral law . . . is a special case of the general principles that all finite things move toward their ends by the development of their potentialities." And here we come to a vital difference between inanimate or even non-human living creatures, and man himself; for the former are compelled to proceed in accordance with the ends dictated by their natures, whereas man, "the rational animal," possesses reason to discover such ends and the free will to choose.

Which doctrine, natural law or those of its critics, is to be considered truly rational was answered incisively by the late Leo Strauss, in the course of a penetrating critique of the value-relativism in political theory of Professor Arnold Brecht. For, in contrast to natural law,
"positivistic social science . . . is characterized by the abandonment of reason or the flight from reason. . .

According to the positivistic interpretation of relativism which prevails in present-day social science . . . reason can tell us which means are conducive to which ends; it cannot tell us which attainable ends are to be preferred to other attainable ends. Reason cannot tell us that we ought to choose attainable ends; if someone 'loves him who desires the impossible,' reason may tell him that he acts irrationally, but it cannot tell him that he ought to act rationally, or that acting irrationally is acting badly or basely. If rational conduct consists in choosing the right means for the right end, relativism teaches in effect that rational conduct is impossible.
Finally, the unique place of reason in natural-law philosophy has been affirmed by the modern Thomistic philosopher, the late Father John Toohey. Toohey defined sound philosophy as follows: "Philosophy, in the sense in which the word is used when scholasticism is contrasted with other philosophies, is an attempt on the part of man's unaided reason to give a fundamental explanation of the nature of things."

[Ed.---What's interesting is that James Wilson, the key Founder who was second only to James Madison in the drafting of the Constitution, goes even further, tying natural law to "the will of God." Indeed, the Founders cheated a bit, roping God into what was a "natural" argument, not Bible but reason.  If one reads James Wilson with Thomism in mind, it's clear that man's reason wasn't sitting on a shelf all those years, waiting for the Enlightenment to arrive.]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Who Was John Calder?

I've often quoted Ben Franklin's letter to John Calder, dated Augt. 21. 1784 where he notes his opposition to PA's explicitly Christian state religious test for public office, one that Franklin, as acting governor of PA helped remove in part because he himself couldn't pass it!

There Franklin says:
I agreed with you in Sentiments concerning the Old Testament, and thought the Clause in our Constitution, which required the Members of Assembly to declare their belief that the whole of it was given by divine Inspiration, had better have been omitted. That I had opposed the Clause but being overpower'd by Numbers, and fearing might in future times be grafted on [it, I Pre]vailed to have the additional Clause that no [further or more ex]tended Profession of Faith should ever [be exacted. I ob]serv'd to you, too, that the Evil of it was [the less, as no In]habitant, nor any Officer of Government except the Members of Assembly, were oblig'd to make that Declaration. So much for that Letter. 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.
During the time in which they were establishing religious liberty, heterodox freethinkers like Franklin and the other key Founders felt comfortable sharing their religious secrets with certain trustworthy friends. As such, these "heretics" tended to converse amongst themselves. So it shouldn't surprise that John Calder turned out to share similar religious convictions as Franklin.

I want to again thank Bill Fortenberry for turning my attention to something important: this time it was John Calder's letter to which Franklin responded.

Here is a big taste:
I now enter unwillingly on a subject so insignificant, but I must necessarily say something of myself, as an apology for what it might else be impertinent in me to mention. On the dissolution of the Religious Society of which Mr. Radcliffe and I were the Ministers, which happened soon after you left England I declined the stated exercise of the profession to which I was educated, and have ever since been a private member of the Church of Unitarian Christians in Essex Street at the opening of which you was present. There only I sometimes officiate occasionally as Minister and never but when necessity requires it. In the mean while, in a comfortable retirement about a mile from town, my books have been my principal companions, and the culture of a garden my chief amusement. Here I have for some years inwardly cheriched the hopes of seeing you again and endeavoured to save all I can, to transport me and my companions to Pennsylvania, where whether I accompany them or not I mean they shall be ultimately deposited in the Library of which you was the founder. Turned as I am the     of life, being but a year younger than your very good friends and mine Dr. Priestley and Mr. Lee and urged by no grievous necessities nor unfavourable prospects here, perhaps even the Friends I mention will condemn my resolutions. But with such undisclosed views I have long secretly sighed for a sight of the American Constitutions and have been within these few days in possession of my wishes. I concern myself chiefly with the Constitution of the state in which my views terminate, and I rejoice that it hav in all respects the preheminence. In its Council of Censors there is a resource for the removal of the objection, for I have but one, and therefore after what I have said, I know you will forgive my taking the liberty of mentioning it on the way of query. 
Is the last clause of the Declaration in Sect. 10 of Chap. II reconcileable to the clause of the 2d Article of the Declaration of Rights which says, “Nor can any man who acknowledges the Being of a God be justly deprived of any civil right as a Citizen on account of his religious sentiments, or peculair mode of religious worship.” I cannot think that the State of Pennsylvania would have even endangered its welfare by admitting freely and universally to a denizonship in it, “all foreigners of good character” Christians or not Christians. 
But passing from this, there are Christians and sincere worthy Christians who after all their pains to make up their minds on the subject of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament especially, must express themselves as our friend Mr. Lee did on another subject, when he said I have been a great part of my life, endeavouring to understand it, but I cannot yet tell you what a Libel is. If the State of Pennsylvania wishes to grant citizenship to all foreigners of good character who are Christians, why establish a declaration which some Christian foreigners of good character must object to? Is it an incredible thing that a man be really a Christian, who is not yet a Jew? Or is it indispensibly requisite that a man must first be a jew before he can be qualified to be a good    of the State of Pensylvania? May not the Friends of Christianity have connected it injudiciously, and injured its cause by connecting it more closely with Judaism than its Author and first publishers did? Are not the Evidences of Christianity and the evidences of Judaism destinct? Why then complicate them with each other so odd as that they must necessarily stand or fall together?
 This is what the site says about Calder:
Clergyman, author. 
Member of the Club of Honest Whigs, of which Franklin was also a member. 
Employed by the Duke of Northumberland as his private secretary at Alnwick Castle and in London. In charge of the private library bequeathed by Dr. Williams to nonconforming clergy. 
Assistant to Ebenezer Radcliffe, pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Aldgate.
After the congregation was dissolved in 1774, he declined to exercise his ministerial functions and devoted himself to writing. 
A private member of the Church of Unitarian Christians. 
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The Club of Honest Whigs was disproportionately comprised of unitarians. That's why when Franklin told Ezra Stiles of his creed, he said, "I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to [Jesus'] Divinity..." [Bold Face Mine].  Franklin, no doubt, was referring to his unitarian cohorts in the Club of Honest Whigs.

In researching Calder, I also found this wiki on the Society for Promoting the Knowledge of the Scriptures. The site says this "was a group founded in 1783 in London, with a definite but rather constrained plan for Biblical interpretation.[1] While in practical terms it was mainly concerned with promoting Unitarian views, it was broadly based." Calder was affiliated with it along with many others, including Joseph Priestley and Richard Price. Their membership overlapped with that of the Club of Honest Whigs.

This political theological worldview, whatever we term it, captured the minds of many "key Founders" like Ben Franklin.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Edmund Burke, faith and religious liberty

William F. Byrne explores that topic over at The Imaginative Conservative: Burke's Wise Counsel on Religious Liberty. While Burke was an 18th century English statesman friendly to America but loyal to the crown, his views on religious liberty track closely with those of many of the American Founders, evidence perhaps of a deeper English tradition of religious liberty that was supportive of religious freedom while emphasizing the need for orthodox faith to function as a limitation on arbitrary government power:
We’ll never know exactly what Burke’s theological views, or private religious views, were. (At a personal level he never gave any sign of being anything other than a pious and orthodox Christian.) We do know that politically he devoted his career to fighting against “caprice.” To him caprice inevitably led to abuses of power, and to tyranny or anarchy. His fight was, effectively, against the postmodern sense of arbitrariness, which he saw appearing on the horizon. Burke teaches us that religion plays a critical role in fighting against arbitrariness or caprice. For him, a humane, stable, and free state requires not just religious tolerance and an acceptance of pluralism, but a broad embrace of a particular sort of religiosity—orthodox religiosity—in private and public life. Only religion of this sort can stand above society and the state while heightening our awareness of the sacred, thereby setting bounds to our politics and elevating our lives.
Read it all.

Clarity about the Declaration of Independence

This time of year those of us who are historically inclined tend to turn our thoughts towards the Declaration of Independence.  But there's a lot of confusion out there about what the Declaration is and what it isn't.  In my day job, I've published on the non-binding legal character of the Declaration, and over at the Law & Liberty blog Greg Weiner has published a helpful post reinforcing that point by pointing out the nature of the document: What the Declaration Doesn't Say. In words that echo the fundamental insights of men like Russell Kirk and M.E. Bradford, Weiner writes:
[T]he Declaration must be properly contextualized. It is a founding document but not a framing document, which is to say it does not have legal standing in the same way the Constitution does. When Justice Brennan, for example, grounded his activist jurisprudence partly in the ideals of the Declaration, he imported a document into constitutional law that simply has no place there. But this is not a liberal trope alone. As Ralph Rossum has shown, the Declaration plays a prominent role in Justice Thomas’ jurisprudence as well: the Constitution, in his understanding, was meant to fulfill the aspirations of the Declaration.
While there is no question that the Declaration is a key document in American history and expresses in a unique and almost sacred way the key principles of the American Revolution, it is not a constitutional document. It is a pre-constitutional one, establishing the conditions upon which the American Republic could frame its fundamental legal charters -- first the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution of 1789.  While the Constitution builds upon many of its insights (particularly in the due process clauses of the 5th and the 14th Amendments), the Declaration is not a legally authoritative document.

RIP Edmund S. Morgan

I'm getting to this a bit late due to my current work schedule, but here's the New York Times obit for Edmund S. Morgan, one of the major lights in scholarship about 18th century America: Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on the Puritans, Dies at 97.  That's a good run.  Morgan was a professed atheist who nevertheless acknowledged and studied the key role of religion in colonial America and the early Republic. Most critically, he took the ideas of the people of the past seriously, and looked at their own words and convictions in seeking to understand the motivation for their actions. As he is quoted by the Times as saying, "I argued that the American Revolution was really what the revolutionaries said it was." What a refreshing approach to looking at the people of the past!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Actually Maybe It STARTED Going Downhill WITH John Witherspoon

This is according to Gary North's thesisFor some time I've noted Gary North's book on America's Founding and Religion. 

I have three reactions to his thesis.

1. According to Christian Reconstructionist premises, Dr. North is right: The American Founding is not consistent with "Christian Reconstructionism" and was driven by a different political theology.

2. What Dr. North identifies as small u unitarianism was that political theology.

3. Isaac Newton played an important role in establishing that "worldview" -- the principles on which America's Founders built.

Every thesis I've seen, in my opinion, overemphasizes certain thinkers as key to the American Founding and under-emphasizes others. Dr. Gregg Frazer probably overemphasizes Joseph Priestley while under-emphasizing Richard Price and others. John Locke certainly was important, but has been overemphasized to the exclusion of others.

But an overemphasis, taken in context, still may shine a much needed light on an otherwise much neglected source. Dr. North's thesis does this with Newton's influence on America's Founders worldview.

I just found Dr. North's "position paper" from 1991 which defends his thesis against critics. Like much of what North writes, it entertains while providing useful ideas.

On reviewing books:
The art of book reviewing is no longer taught. In the 1950’s, college-bound students wrote book reports throughout high school. Book reviews were common in college. In graduate school, they were mandatory. They are basic to any academic specialty. Scholarly journals rely on them. 
Every review must summarize a book’s thesis. A scholarly review must do the following: (1) identify the author’s “school of thought”; (2) present any unique features of the book; (3) note any serious errors; (4) evaluate the author’s performance in presenting his thesis; and (5) assess the book’s importance, especially in the academic field. A “plain vanilla” review ends here. 
Then there is the hatchet review. The reviewer has several tasks in addition to what we have already covered: (1) concentrate on the book’s weaknesses and errors; (2) show how these errors undermine the book’s general thesis; (3) show that the author ignored an alternative interpretation of the facts that he did get correctly; (4) show how he ignored other books or literature that point out the alternative interpretation; (5) show what the author should have concluded. The master of the hatchet review in the field of modern history was the late A. J. P. Taylor, the most prolific historian in modern times, whose books fill a large bookcase. 
Then there is the smear review. This is the critic’s substitute for a hatchet job. Writing a smear review is thought to be necessary in the eyes of some critics when they are unable to produce an acceptable hatchet job. The marks of a smear review are these: (1) it accents minor errors, or possible minor errors; (2) it implies that these minor errors are representative of the author’s scholarship and the book generally (3) it presents completely bogus errors as if they were real – imputed arguments which make the author look like a fool or a charlatan; (4) it ignores anything in the book that reveals the invented arguments as fakes. 
A lot of critics write smear reviews, thinking they are mere hatchet jobs. What I find is that virtually all of the reviews published about Christian Reconstruction are either plain vanilla reviews (not too many of these) or smear reviews. I never see a well-executed hatchet job. This saddens me. I regard a well-executed hatchet book review as one of the high- arts of modern civilization. It is fast becoming a lost art.
Here is the money quote of the paper that ties it to the above title on John Witherspoon:
The thesis of the third section of my book is very, very clear: it was what Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, and Madison did with natural law theory that mattered politically. They transformed the colonies into an apostate civil society. They got Christian legislators to vote for, and Christian leaders to approve, a halfway covenant (the Declaration of Independence) and then an apostate covenant (the U.S. Constitution). My book discusses how Witherspoon and the other Christian advocates of natural law theory were suckered: first, into a halfway covenant by Jefferson; and second, into Madison’s apostate covenant.

Monday, July 15, 2013

All Down Hill After John Witherspoon?

By D.G. Hart here.

Religion and the American Republic

By GEORGE F. WILL writing for National Affairs. A taste:
Some of the founders, such as Benjamin Franklin, subscribed to 18th-century Deism: a watery, undemanding doctrine that postulated a Creator who wound up the universe like a clock and thereafter did not intervene in the human story. It has been said that the Deist God is like a rich aunt in Australia: benevolent, distant, and infrequently heard from. Deism seeks to explain the existence and nature of the universe. But so does the Big Bang theory, which is not a religion. If a religion is supposed to console and enjoin as well as explain, Deism hardly counts as a religion.

George Washington famously would not kneel to pray. And when his pastor rebuked him for setting a bad example by leaving services before communion, Washington mended his ways in his characteristically austere manner: He stayed away from church on communion Sundays. He acknowledged Christianity's "benign influence" on society, but no ministers were present and no prayers were said when he died a stoic's death. This, even though Washington had proclaimed in his famous Farewell Address (which to this day is read aloud in Congress every year on his birthday) that "religion and morality are indispensable supports" for "political prosperity." He said, "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." He warned that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The longer John Adams lived, the shorter grew his creed, which in the end was Unitarianism. Thomas Jefferson wrote ringing words about the Creator who endowed us with rights, but Jefferson was a placid utilitarian when he urged a nephew to inquire into the veracity of Christianity, saying laconically: "If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."

James Madison, always commonsensical, explained — actually, explained away — religion as an innate appetite: "[T]he mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause and effect." When the first Congress hired a chaplain, Madison said "it was not with my approbation." 
Yet even the founders who were unbelievers considered it a civic duty — a public service — to be observant unbelievers. For example, two days after Jefferson wrote his famous letter endorsing a "wall of separation" between church and state, he attended, as he and other government officials often would, church services held in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Services were also held in the Treasury building.

Jefferson and other founders made statesmanlike accommodation of the public's strong preference, which then as now was for religion to enjoy ample space in the public square. They understood that Christianity, particularly in its post-Reformation ferments, fostered attitudes and aptitudes associated with, and useful to, popular government. Protestantism's emphasis on the individual's direct, unmediated relationship with God and the primacy of individual conscience and choice subverted conventions of hierarchical societies in which deference was expected from the many toward the few. 
Beyond that, however, the American founding owed much more to John Locke than to Jesus. ...
I think Will -- like a lot of folks -- doesn't quite get Franklin who was more theistic than deistic. Likewise, "Unitarianism" wasn't just John Adams' ending creed; it was the creed he held for his entire adult life.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monday, July 8, 2013

Religion and revolution: France and America contrasted

Over at Patheos.com Thomas Albert Howard takes a look at the French and American Revolutions' differing approach to religion:  July 4, July 14, and the Religious Questions. America's relative religious pluralism and diversity served to prevent a radically secular regime from arising from our revolution, while the situation in France with a religious tradition overwhelmingly allied with the ancien regime helped to foster a powerful anti-religious prejudice in that country's revolution.

Another example of the truth that America's Revolution built on customary principles of order, traditional rights and freedom of conscience, while the French Revolution began in abstraction and quickly degenerated into tyranny and and terror.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Michael Medved's Exquisite American Revolution Special

Part I of Michael Medved's American Revolution specials is running all weekend in 3-hour blocks starting at noon and midnight until Monday noon here for free.

The Coming of the Revolution: Why They Fought ~ The Boston Tea Party
What happened in Colonial America to sow the seeds of revolution? The British won the French and Indian War in 1763. It was a popular victory in the colonies and should have guaranteed British control of North America. What went wrong? How could a tax of a couple cents on sugar, which no one paid anyway, stir so much anger? What was The Stamp Act and how did it impact relations between the Americans and the mother country? And what was the point of dumping all that tea into Boston Harbor? How did that happen? The answers to these questions reveal facts which changed the world. This is the beginning of the story of the Greatest Nation on God's Green Earth!

More than just the Tea Party, all the indignities and controversies that led up to the Final Break.  Tune in, give it a listen.  You might even get pulled in to listen to the whole thing.  



Dude's good.  Click here.

Life in the year of America's independence

I'm getting to this a bit late, but the Wall Street Journal published a short op-ed by historian Thomas Fleming explaining in rather broad terms what life was like in the American colonies at the dawn of American independence.  An interesting take to provide some perspective on just how prosperous and middle class America was even when it was just a part of the British Empire: What Life Was Like in 1776.

One point in Fleming's discussion provides the answer to a long-standing question that I have had, namely, how did some of the most patriotic subjects of the British Empire move from being enthusiastic supporters of the Crown to breaking free and setting up a new country allied, at least on paper, with their historic enemy France? As Fleming writes:
By 1776, the Atlantic Ocean had become what one historian has called "an information highway" across which poured books, magazines, newspapers and copies of the debates in Parliament. The latter were read by John Adams, George Washington, Robert Morris and other politically minded men. They concluded that the British were planning to tax the Americans into the kind of humiliation that Great Britain had inflicted on Ireland.
Thanks to the flow of information from England, the colonists ceased to trust believe that the Empire was looking out for their interests. Increased transparency, in other words, lead to the erosion of people's trust in government, as people got a good look at what the government was up to. The more things change...

Self-Evident Truths and American Independence

By Brandon Watson here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Remembering Fisher Ames

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) is one of most important of the lesser-known Founding Fathers, and Stephen B. Tippens, Jr., has posted an overview of his political career over at The Imaginative Conservative.  Well worth a read:  Fisher Ames, Founding Father and Arch-foe of Democracy. While Ames was no fan of democracy, he did support the idea of a republic and one of my favorite quotes about civic order is attributed to him in Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Politics (1844):
[A] monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but then your feet are always in water.
Can't much argue with that!

Independence Day After Glow

From D.G. Hart here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

John Adams on the foundations of free government

From one of the key statesman of the revolutionary period and the second president of the United States:
Religion and Virtue are the only Foundations, not only of Republicanism and all free Government, but of social felicity under all Governments and in all Combinations of human Society. 
- Letter to Benjamin Rush, Aug. 28, 1811, taken from The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: 2005), pg. 191.

Here is something for Mark....

And I suppose Tom too.

We can all debate what GW meant by "liberal" and "pure spirit of Christianity."

As to the former, the notion that mankind should progressively become more "liberal" -- something in which George Washington and the other Founders believed -- is an enlightenment idea and ideal that captured the age. Whatever GW meant by "pure spirit of Christianity," I doubt he meant Nicene orthodoxy, but something else.

Check it out.

Happy 4th of July! Ohio Public School Nixes Barton Constitution Course!

Ed Brayton tells us about it here.

The American Revolution is not just a moment in time

The American war is over; but this far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.
- Benjamin Rush, Letter to Price, dated May 25, 1786.

Who deserves praise for the success of the American Revolution?

Happy 4th of July!  As we celebrate this national holiday here in the US, who do we have to thank for our freedom and independence?  Of course, the men and women of our armed forces, who have defended the American Cause from the colonial era to the present day deserve thanks.  And the Founders deserve our gratitude.  And the ranks of the ordinary citizens who have worked and built our country deserve thanks as well.  And beyond them and us, Someone else deserves praise, as the Father of Our Country emphasized towards the end of the Revolution:
If my endeavours to avert the evil, with which this country was threatened, by a deliberate plan of Tyranny, should be crowned with the success that is wished; the praise is due to the Grand Architect of the Universe who did not see fit to Suffer his Superstructures, and justice, to be subjected to the ambition of the princes of this World, or to the rod of oppression, in the hands of any power upon Earth.  
- Letter to Watson & Cassoul, Aug. 10, 1782, taken from The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: 2005), pg. 18.

Amen to that, Mr. Washington. Amen to that.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The settlement of America as a nation was "as Israel of old"

I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their counsels, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
- Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third president of the United States, Second Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1805.

David Barton Just Ought to Get It Over With...

And convert to Mormonism. The "Americanist" political theology is far more consistent with Mormonism that was birthed in America, than traditional orthodox biblical Christianity.

Providence and American independence

Upon the whole nothing appears to me more manifest than that the separation of this country from Britain, has been of God; for every steep the British took to prevent, served to accelerate it, which has generally been the case when men have undertaken to go in opposition to the course of Providence, and  to make war with the nature of things. 
- John Witherspoon, Sermon delivered at a Public Thanksgiving after Peace,  Nov. 28, 1782, taken from The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: 2005), pg. 19.

Matt Reynolds' Review of Thomas Kidd's book God of Liberty

As we get ready to celebrate the 4th of July, here's Matt Reynolds 2011 piece in Books & Culture Review with his review of Kidd's book.  Well worth a read. Kidd is one of the up and coming historians who are continuing to deepen and broaden our understanding of the role of religion in the late colonial and early republican periods in American history.

Update:  Books & Culture Review requires a subscription to read the whole article, but here's a link to the entire article, courtesy of Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion.

Patrick Henry's appeal to the God of Hosts

Leading up to the big day tomorrow celebrating the American Cause, here's a quote from Henry's famous 1775 "Liberty or Death" speech in favor of American independence, where Henry argues for appeal to God to support the American fight for freedom:
Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. 
If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gratitude for American independence

The man must be bad indeed, who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently maintained in our behalf.
- George Washington, Letter to Samuel Langdon, Sept. 2, 1789, taken from The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton: 2005), pgs. 18-19.

John Adams and the date of American independence

The Founding Father and second president of the United States originally thought that July 2 would be the date upon which American independence would be commemorated, rather than July 4.  This blog's very own Brian Tubbs tells the story, over at the American Revolution Blog: John Adams Declares July 2 as America's Birthday.

FWIW, Adams may have been wrong about the date, but his ideas for commemorating America's independence are spot on.

Springboro School District to Offer David Barton Course in Constitution

Oy vey. Warren Throckmorton tells us about it here.

Update:  See this source too.

Update: And see this for some context.

Library of Congress online exhibit on Religion and the American Revolution

The good folks at the Library of Congress have put together an extensive set of exhibits on the role of religion in the American Founding.  As we start the run-up to celebrating Independence Day, it might be interesting to wander over and take a look at the exhibit dealing with the American Revolution:  Religion and the American Revolution.  Well worth a look for the patriotically inclined. I had no idea, for example, that one of the spark-points in the Patriot cause were rumors that the British were going to set up an Anglican bishop for the colonies.  Talk about the law of unintended consequences -- once American liberty was secure the land would soon swarm with bishops -- Anglican, Methodist, and (to many of the old colonists the most dreaded of all) CATHOLIC bishops!

The River of Freedom rarely runs a predictable course.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

Looking at "American Creation" broadly, here's wishing our neighbors to the North a happy and festive day celebrating the founding of their country out of the northern parts of the continent that we were unable to conquer or settle.  So, to the plucky Quebecois who have held on to their language and culture, and to the descendants of the American colonists who for some strange reason preferred George III to George Washington, and to those immigrants and their children who flocked to the northlands to pursue their own version of the Canadian dream, happy Canada Day!  May God keep Canada glorious and free.