Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's Horsa to him, or he to Horsa?

That's a question to which Bradley J. Birzer alluded in our last post. Wayne Dynes answers and it is not pretty. A taste:
... Yet Jefferson’s interest in the Saxon heritage went far beyond matters of philology. He held that the forward movement of British settlement in North America was a continuation of the original migration of Hengist and Horsa. It was all part of the vigorous expansion of a superior group of people. Jefferson even went so far as to suggest that the form of government being adopted in the emerging United States represented a restoration of the sublime Anglo-Saxon principles. It was now North America that represented these verities, not a corrupt England under the rule of foreign monarchs.

Thomas Jefferson held that the basis of the common law was shaped in the immediate aftermath of the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in the mid-fifth century. Since England was not converted to Christianity until two centuries later, the common law is by definition pagan.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Yet another Jefferson irrelevancy, not published until after his death, and alluded to only in private letters after he'd left public life.

That he needed to keep it hidden shows the religious-political landscape rejected these musings.

Indeed, when they were finally published, they were rejected by that next generation, including leading jurist Joseph Story.


Salem, September 18th, 1824.


I am greatly obliged to you for the copy of your oration which you recently sent me. I have read it with increased interest. I agree, that something of the fascination of the delivery is lost, but it appears to me more than compensated by the extraordinary pleasure of dwelling again and again upon those passages, which awaken the mind to its most profound thoughts, and delight it by their uncommon felicity of expression. Decies repetita, placebit. . .

I had not seen Mr. Jefferson's letter, my own newspaper having been mislaid or miscarried, until after you referred to it. His reasoning is plausible, but upon looking into the original authorities, I think his construction of the word untenable.

It appears to me inconceivable how any man can doubt that Christianity is part of the Common Law of England, in the true sense of this expression, which I take to be no more than that Christianity is recognized as true, and as the established religion of England. Upon what other foundation stands her whole ecclesiastical system? Yet that system is as old as any part of the Common Law which we can clearly trace. Can you believe, that when heresy was punishable with death, and Statute Laws were made to enforce Christian rites and doctrines, it was no part of the Law of Law of England, that to revile the established religion was a crime. Prisot did not make, or declare the law, in the case referred to; he spoke to a fact. In his age, England was overrun with all sorts of ecclesiastical establishments, nunneries, and monasteries, and Christianity constituted a great part of the public concern of all men. To suppose it had not the entire sanction of the State, is, with reverence be it spoken, to contradict all history.

I am very truly and affectionately, yours,


Jonathan Rowe said...

Where does Horsa fit into this all?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Trying to claim the common law is pagan in origin, and strictly speaking it was. However, English common law was evolved over 1000 years, and Christianity was there for more than half of it.

Sort of like how canon law had its origins in Roman law. True, but an incomplete account of the whole.