Monday, July 18, 2011

Gary North on the Fourth of July

Dr. North always has something interesting to say.


I will say it, loud and clear: the freest society on earth in 1775 was British North America, with the exception of the slave system. Anyone who was not a slave had incomparable freedom.

Jefferson wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:

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.

I can think of no more misleading political assessment uttered by any leader in the history of the United States. No words having such great impact historically in this nation were less true. No political bogeymen invoked by any political sect as "the liar of the century" ever said anything as verifiably false as these words.

I think North would have a point; except that hyperbole is an accepted rhetorical device, which is the way I read Jefferson's words. But I would agree, if not given a hyperbolic reading, it does seem quite ridiculous.


Michael Heath said...

Mr. North employs his own hyperbole claiming that "anyone who was not a slave [in British N.A.] had incomparable freedom".

Phil Johnson said...

What about the complaint that Colonists wanted the same rights as British citizens everywhere? Was that bogus? I don't think so.

Daniel said...

One of the complications that is often ignored is that England ignored the colonies for a long time. They had a level of freedom that was near to Locke's state of nature. So the colonies had to grow their own governments.

As England re-asserted power, freedoms that had existed were being taken away. Jefferson's standard of freedom from the King is not, "how do we measure against the average European?", it was "how do we measure against the freedom we had previously?" Those government which had been effectively accountable to no one became subject to a far away Parlament. Injuries and usurpations indeed.

Jonathan Rowe said...


That's a good point; no doubt Americans had a legitimate beef. And when you go to war to resolve disputes, the rhetoric can get quite heated.

I was looking at John Wesley's assessment of the situation. He seemed to agree Americans had a beef insofar as they were being treated unequally, but it didn't rise to the level of going to War. I think the line he used was Americans were being given 9/10 of the rights of Englishmen. But I'll have to double check the primary sources.

Unknown said...

Michael has a good point. Interesting though Jon. Something definitely worth pondering on.

Joe/King of Ireland

Tom Van Dyke said...

Daniel has a good point too. The colonies were on their own until they needed British protection. Then Britain said, what the 'ell, let's cash this investment in.

George Whitefield, the Brit preacher, the best-known preacher on either side of the Atlantic [Ben Franklin was his pal and publisher] warned the colonies this was coming

“After the Seven Years’ (French and Indian) War ended in 1763, Whitefield arrived in America for his sixth tour. On April 2, 1764, he held a private conversation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Samuel Langdon and other established ministers that alarmed Americans already worried about their liberty. Whitefield was quoted as saying:

“I can’t in conscience leave the town without acquainting you with a secret. My heart bleeds for America. O poor New England! There is a deep laid plot against your civil and religious liberties, and they will be lost. Your golden days are at an end. You have nothing but trouble before you. . . . Your liberties will be lost.”

Whitefield outlined the secret plans (as he said) of the British Ministry to end colonial self-government and to establish the Anglican Church (William Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress and Establishment of the United States . . . [2d ed., 3 vols. New York: Samuel Campbell, 1794], 1:102). This episode galvanized the clergy in their opposition to British policy, especially when the intelligence proved true and the 1765 Stamp Act was adopted."

---- Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) [1991]

Glenn Beck liked this quote a lot. But remember, just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean they're not plotting against you.

Phil Johnson said...

The comment, "you never had it so good," as some sort of a palliative to shut a people down is the ultimate insult against a person's rights.
I side 110% with Thomas Jefferson. The Brit monarch was a tyrant. We see tyranny's ugly face today.

James Stripes said...

Throughout America's history since Jefferson's words, the words with the greatest impact rarely have been true. Hyperbole and lies sell programs; the truth kills them.

Phil Johnson said...

the truth kills them.
You'd like to think so, James.

Jason Pappas said...

I think the teleological nature of Jefferson's statement is interesting: "... having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny ..." Technically, it says what the King is aiming at and not that he has achieved his aim of absolute tyranny. I take this to read that the colonies are being pre-emtpive of tyranny in addition to regaining those liberties already lost.

Bailyn, in "The Ideological Origins ...", has a section called "A Note On Conspiracy" on page 144. He discusses the widely shared view that the King was plotting to deprive the colonies of their liberties. It was also shared by oppositional elements within England.

He also argues that the Loyalists and King George III also had their view of a conspiracy among the colonists to create an "independent empire" for ulterior motives. This conspiracy predates the Stamp Act and merely uses the taxation issue as a ploy. The King's claims were addressed by a committee headed by John Dickinson and James Wilson.

Thomas Hutchinson followed the King's line and said "if no taxes or duties had been laid upon the colonies, other pretenses would have been found for exception to the authority of Parliament." p155 He believed the "Chiefs of the rebellion" found grounds "to irritate and enflame the minds of the people", or in the language of the Cold War, dupe the people.

Bailyn ends the chapter with a quote from Edmund Burke, 1769. The result "was an 'escalation' of distrust toward a disastrous deadlock: 'The Americans have made a discovery, or think they have made one, that we mean to oppress them: we have made a discovery, or think we have made one, that they intend to rise in rebellion against us ... we know not how to advance; they know not how to retreat ...'"

Phil Johnson said...

In order to flesh out any comments by Thomas Jefferson, it is helpful to understand the significance of the man. He was not just one of the Founders; but, he was a significant force in the history of scholarly thought.
What scholars have been influenced by what he was both in his writing and his achievements? It is wrong to think that his position stands by itself back there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? He caused the world to change trajectories. And, so he continues to be alive in the thinking of all kinds of people.

secular square said...

It might all turn on what Jefferson meant by tyranny. Today we associate tyranny with the gulag or with concentration camps. Aristotle's original use of the term denoted a deviant constitution in which one person ruled for his own interests or benefit. He contrasted it with a legitimate constitution in which one person ruled for the good of the people. (He made the same contrasts between aristocracy and oligarchy and between polity and democracy). And the revolutionaries did accuse George of corrupting Parliament through placemen and pensioners and the creation of new peers in the House of Lords in order to of "grease the wheels" on behalf of his legislative agenda. The kings's support for supremacy of a corrupted Parliament over the colonies may fit such a definition of tyranny.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Interesting point about George III packing the House of Lords, Mr. Square; I'm unfamiliar.

Edmund Burke's conciliatory efforts in Commons certainly went unrequited.
I do recall him standing up for the rights of Ireland and India as well. Perhaps Britain saw the American colonists in the same diminished light as the papists and wogs?