Monday, May 28, 2018

Alexander Hamilton’s Natural Law Reading List

“If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend diligently to these, you will not require any others.”–Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted [1774]
Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui [1747]:
“Moral instinct I call that natural bent or inclination which prompts us to approve of certain things as good and commendable, and to condemn others as bad and blameable, independent of reflexion. Or if any one has a mind to distinguish this instinct by the name of moral sense, as Mr. Hutchinson has done, I shall then say, that it is a faculty of the mind, which instantly discerns, in certain cases, moral good and evil, by a kind of sensation and taste, independent of reason and reflexion.
Examples.II. Thus at the sight of a man in misery or pain, we feel immediately a sense of compassion, which prompts us to relieve him. The first emotion that strikes us, after receiving a benefit, is to acknowledge the favour, and to thank our benefactor. The first disposition of one man towards another, abstracting from any particular reason he may have of hatred or fear, is a sense of benevolence, as towards his fellow-creature, with whom he finds himself connected by a conformity of nature and wants. We likewise observe, that without any great thought or reasoning, a child, or untutored peasant, is sensible that ingratitude is a vice, and exclaims against perfidy, as a black and unjust action, which highly shocks him, and is absolutely repugnant to his nature. On the contrary, to keep one’s word, to be grateful for a benefit, to pay every body their due, to honour our parents, to comfort those who are in distress or misery, are all so many actions which we cannot but approve and esteem as just, good, honest, beneficent, and useful to mankind. Hence the mind is pleased to see or hear such acts of equity, sincerity, humanity, and beneficence; the heart is touched and moved; and reading them in history we are seized with admiration, and extol the happiness of the age, nation, or family, distinguished by such noble examples. As for criminal instances, we cannot see or hear them mentioned, without contempt or indignation.”
This is what separates man from the mere beasts.  Man knows what is good and what is not-good when he sees it. “Natural law” is rooted in man’s nature, not the Bible, nor in arbitrary positive law.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Samuel Langdon & the Revolutionary Zeitgeist

Samuel Langdon was probably the most notable 18th Century American preacher who taught the ancient Hebrews had a "republic." You can tell by the title of his sermon -- The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States -- what he was getting at. He sent the sermon to George Washington who replied with a thanksLangdon's 1789 letter, where he notes the enclosed aforementioned sermon, does a number of other interesting things:

1. It praises Washington as Christian in the context of crediting Providence for the American victory. Washington's response is devoid of explicitly Christian language, though it days say:
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 manifested in our behalf.... 
2. It harshly criticizes one General Lee (Richard Henry Lee?).
As soon as I was honored with an acquaintance with you at Cambridge, upon your arrival at my house with your Suite, I was ready to look up to heaven, & say, “Blessed be God; who hath given us a General who will not rashly throw away the lives of his Soldiers, or hazard the fate of his Country unnecessarily upon a single Battle, but will proceed with all wisdom & caution”! I plainly saw, even the very first day, that General Lee was disappointed, & affected to turn the eyes of the army upon himself. But how happy was it for the country, that a man void of all principles, both religious & moral, notwithstanding all his military accomplishments, was not entrusted with the chief command.
3. Lastly, it invokes prophecy:
But I view what God hath done, not as if he had a partial regard for us, Who, like Israel, have shewed ourselves an unworthy people, by growing more regardless of his gospel in the enjoyment of the multitude of his mercies; but as tending to bring forward some grand revolutions in the civil & ecclesiastical polity of the nations, agreable to the Prophecies of the new Testament, which now approach to their fulfilment.
Like his fellow orthodox colleague Ezra Stiles, Langdon was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution. And like the heterodox unitarians Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, Langdon apparently prophesized that the success of the French Revolution would usher in some kind of global republican reforms in matters of religion and politics.

Langdon again wrote to Washington in 1791; though I don't think Washington responded to this letter (if he did, I couldn't find it). Langdon wrote:
If I have proved from that divine prophecy that we live in the very times precisely marked out for the beginning of surprizing Revolutions in the world, it may serve greatly to confirm the truth of the holy Scriptures; & the honours which divine Providence has conferred on you will afford double satisfaction.
Langdon noted he enclosed another sermon which articulated his argument. It was probably the one entitled "Observations on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John. Which Comprehend the Most Approved Sentiments of the Celebrated Mr. Mede, Mr. Lowman, Bishop Newton, and Other Noted Writers on This Book; and Cast Much Additional Light on the More Obscure Prophesies; Especially Those Which Point Out the Time of the Rise and Fall of Antichrist . . ." You can find large parts of it online from the embedded search.

This link in particular has generous portions. The zeitgeist about which I write and find fascinating demonstrates how Protestantism and Enlightenment categories (like the "deism" that is arguably inconsistent with Christianity) have blurred lines, hence the categorization of this spirit as some kind of hybrid of Protestantism and Enlightenment, Christianity and Deism.

Men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin and ministers like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price took cover under the umbrella of "Protestant Christianity" while keeping their guard up against the "orthodox" who would deny them the "Christian" label. One area that drew together both wings of Protestantism was anti-Catholicism.

We see that evident in Langdon's sermon. 1. anti-Catholicism; in the context of 2. enthusiastic support for the French Revolution; and 3. a prophesying on the success of the FR where we would both see the taking down of the Catholic Church and a consequent universal establishment of republican politics and religion. (Paragraphs added by me for clarity.)
"The capital of the empire of Antichrist is repeatedly called Babylon in the Revelation. The name is figurative and mystical; Rome is the city really meant. * * * We are plainly informed in the 17th chapter what kings are to be employed in destroying the great harlot, the city and church of Rome; the very kings who at first agreed in one creed and gave their power to the beast. These kings will at length entirely change their minds and become the most zealous enemies to that ecclesiastical empire which they themselves had established. They will find out that Rome has caused insurrections against them and fomented rebellions and seditions; and that the religion they have promoted has drained away their wealth, encouraged and multiplied drones in society and impoverished and diminished their subjects. 
In the execution of vengeance, the river of wealth, which was continually flowing through Rome and the church, will be dried up. Vast revenues which the Popes formerly received have been greatly diminished bv the Protestant Reformation. Moreover, when the church of Rome is no longer mixed with the civil polity of the kingdoms, her sources of strength as well as wealth will be cut off and the way prepared for her utter ruin. Likewise, the dissolution of the numerous orders of ecclesiastics in the several kingdoms, which have been the gates and bars of Rome, will leave her exposed to a sudden assault which may at once bring down all her power. Of this we have already seen some approaches in the total suppression of the order of Jesuits and the methods taken in several Roman Catholic kingdoms for the abolition of convents. 
The banishment of the Jesuits, * * * with the suppression of convents, may naturally be considered among the things signified by the Sixth Vial. * * * The bishops of Rome had obtained a grant of supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction over all the western churches, A. D. 379, and immediately began to exercise it. Of this jurisdiction the illustrious Sir Isaac Newton has produced abundant proof in his observations on the power of the eleventh horn of Daniel's fourth beast."
Langdon also said:
The world is roused to a sense of civil and religious liberty by the spirit of America. France is searching the foundations of despotism and establishing on its ruins the freedom of a great nation; and God has given them a king; to be the restorer of liberty, and a second Washington to command their national troops. May we not look for events more and more remarkable until all the nations of Europe shake off the yoke of ecclesiastical tyranny and assert the rights of nations and of conscience?
The above, again, was written in 1791.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

First Things: "GODLY POLITICS"

By Curt Biren here. A taste:
Citing Midrash Rabbah - Devarim, John Milton argued against monarchy and for republican government. Milton insisted that “God did not order the Israelites to ask for a king … but ‘God was angry not only because they wanted a king in imitation of the gentiles … but clearly because they desired a king at all.’” 
Milton’s views resonated with many of his contemporaries, including the English politician Algernon Sidney. For Sidney, monarchy “was purely the people’s creature, the production of their own fancy, conceived in wickedness, and brought forth in iniquity, an idol set up by themselves to their own destruction, in imitation of their accursed neighbours.” 
In 1776, during the momentous debates leading up to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense. Influenced by Milton, Paine argued against monarchy and for republican government. Referring to 1 Samuel, Paine wrote, “These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty has here entered his protest against monarchical government is true, or the scripture is false.” 
This history tells a story very different from the conventional Enlightenment account. The political institutions of America and throughout the West today reflect at least in part the Christian Hebraists’ careful study of the Bible and related texts and commentaries. Our republican form of government was not conceived in strict separation from religious discourse, but rather as part of an extensive deliberation concerning what godly politics requires of us.
As I noted in the comments,  one question to consider is whether this is sound theology. It doesn't seem apparent that the Bible as a whole condemns monarchy; likewise it doesn't seem, either, that the ancient Hebrews understood themselves as having a "republic" (which was an Ancient Greco-Roman institution).

The contemporary scholars the original piece sources (Eric Nelson and Yoram Hazony) admit that Christians didn't "see it" in the biblical texts until certain rabbinic commentaries were discovered. And then the usage of this understanding by 17th Century European republicans -- and then Thomas Paine in the 18th Century -- seemed entirely opportunistic.


Likewise, as it pertains to America, the line of thought mentioned above was no doubt influential; but it was of a number of different strains of influence others of which perhaps didn't view the concept of "republicanism" as an authentically Hebraic thing. 
Did "Publius" in the Federalist Papers have this understanding? Not from what I remember.

Further, I note Eric Nelson stresses that key to the thought of the Hebraic republicans was economic redistribution through a revised understanding of Agrarian laws that in principle limited how much wealth individuals could own and redistributed for the sake of balance. Just as the notion that the ancient Hebrews had a "republic" was part of a revised understanding of the Old Testament, so too was the notion that the Old Testament's redistribution of land constitute a type of "Agrarian law."

As I understand it, both the concepts of "republican" forms of government AND "agrarian laws" derive solely from the pagan Greco-Roman tradition and that such concepts were "read in" to the Old Testament. I could be wrong in my humble understanding. But, according to Dr. Nelson's research, the two rise and fall together: all of the notable 17th and 18th century figures who argued the ancient Hebrews had a "republic" also argued that God instituted an original agrarian law in the Old Testament. And that BOTH the ancient Hebrew's "republic" and "agrarian law" models could provide instruction for the then present in Europe and later in America.

Finally, I note that the more liberal republicans who didn't rely on the notion that the ancient Hebrews had a republic also didn't seem to buy into the present need for Agrarian laws. James Madison is instructive here. He was more classically liberal than republican. His views on property left no room for Agrarian laws. And he, as far as I know, like the other two authors of the Federalist Papers never indicated he thought the ancient Hebrews had a "republic." 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ezra Stiles to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794

I finally came across the entire letter from Ezra Stiles (President of Yale, 1778–1795) to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794. You can access that and another letter here. (I can access it through my institution.) You may be able to see a portion of the letter in Edmund Morgan's book that terms Stiles "A Gentle Puritan."

Stiles ironically doesn't come off so gentle in that letter. There Stiles, fervently supporting both, connects the American Revolution to the French Revolution and called for MORE use of the guillotine.

Stiles is interesting in that he was, as far as I can tell, a traditional orthodox Trinitarian Christian. The narrative with which we are familiar posits that it was enlightenment deists and unitarians -- many of whom understood themselves to be "Christians" as well (indeed, many of them ministers!) -- who posited the more cutting edge, controversial notions of the time.

With Stiles, though, it looks like we have a notable orthodox Trinitarian Christian who was like minded with Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, etc. I don't think he was alone in this regard (Samuel Miller of Princeton, for instance).

It's no wonder that Ben Franklin trusted Stiles with his religious secrets.