Monday, July 30, 2012

Franklin and Jefferson on the Lord's Prayer

[Note: this is an expanded version of an earlier post that I wrote regarding Benjamin Franklin's version of the Lord's Prayer.]

Among the Founding Fathers, Franklin is usually thought to be one of the most secular.  This is a serious misreading of Franklin who, while not an orthodox Christian, was a strong theist who consistently thought of his religious views in relationship with the general teachings of Christianity regarding Providence, the power of prayer, and the Last Judgment.  Franklin even went so far as to update the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament for his own personal use, and that prayer definitely demonstrates Franklin's belief in a personal, Providential God who is the ground of the moral law and who cares for human beings.  
1.  Heavenly Father,
2.  May all revere thee,
3.  And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects.
4.  May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven.
5.  Provide for us this day as thou hast hitherto daily done.
6.  Forgive us our trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us.
7.  Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil. 
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, post-1784, quoted in The Founders on Religion:  A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 166.

If Franklin's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences a strong belief in a personal God who intervenes in human affairs and who answers prayer, the version provided by Thomas Jefferson in his own version of the Gospels, the so-called Jefferson Bible, is even more traditional -- deviating lightly from the version of the Lord's Prayer given in the Authorized King James Version.  Jefferson is often invoked by those hostile to religion as someone who was opposed to religion.  And it is true that Jefferson disagreed with orthodox Christianity and was a critic of organized religion for the most part.  But he also was a strong believer in a theistic idea of God, a deity who governs the world through Providence.  Jefferson's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences that belief.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. 
Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible:  The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Beacon Press: 1989), pg. 87.

When referring to the religious view of the Founders, it is easy to fall into anachronism on either side, either viewing the Founders as a whole as proto-evangelicals or viewing them as proto-free thinking "New Atheists."  Both views are incorrect.  Even the most secular of the Founding Fathers were strikingly religious by modern standards, and affirmed beliefs in strong-theism, of a personal God who intervenes in human affairs, responds to prayer, who authors a moral law, and who will hold each human being accountable for their violations of that law as well as for how they treat those who have sinned against them.  Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson both testify to this fact.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Throckmorton on Barton's Response

Warren Throckmorton has a new response to Barton's recent attack on his critics. I agree with Throckmorton that Barton misrepresents when Jefferson became heterodox. As Dr. Throckmorton writes:
The primary question of fact Barton addresses is Jefferson’s faith. He says Jefferson was unorthodox in the last 15 years of his life. Jefferson was unorthodox as an older man but he began his skepticism of the Trinity before 1788 (he died in 1826), if we can believe his letter to J. P. Derieux — a letter that Barton does not cite in The Jefferson Lies.

Whatever Happened to Hell? . . . A Response

By George W. Sarris here. This post could have been written by me. It wasn't; but I do take credit, however, for helping to spread the Benjamin Rush quotation in the post all over the Internet.

Friday, July 27, 2012

V&V Q&A with Drs. Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter on “Getting Jefferson Right”


The Blaze Series on David Barton

The Blaze is associated with Glenn Beck who has associated himself with David Barton. So we are dealing with something that is trying to rehabilitate Barton's reputation. Here is part 1 which explores the criticisms. And here is part 2 where Barton goes on the attack.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Meyerson in the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal, via Facebook, promoted this piece from July 5 by Michael I. Meyerson this morning, and I had to share it here.

Americans of all political stripes invoked the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July week. Some read the document and found, as Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz has, that it "rejected Christianity, along with other organized religions, as a basis for governance." Others saw the same language proving the opposite, that our nation was founded on "Judeo- Christian values." Such definitive statements do not tell the full story. The American Framers, in their desire to unite a nation, were theologically bilingual—not only in the Declaration of Independence but beyond.

Read all about it here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Elhanan Winchester on the Universal Reconciliation

Elhanan Winchester was specifically mentioned by Benjamin Rush as key in his conversion to theological universalism. The following is the text -- The Universal Restoration -- which makes what EW saw as the biblical case for the notion that all men will eventually be saved.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Burkean political principles of Alexander Hamilton

That's the topic of this detailed post over at The Imaginative Conservative: Hamilton's Legacy. As Michael Federici, author of the newly published Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, writes, Hamilton's political ideas were synthesized from a variety of sources, but chief among them was the great English statesman, Whig politician and grandfather of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. Federici provides a balanced portrait of Hamilton's approach to politics and the Constitution, noting both its strengths and its weaknesses. As Federici's post helps to demonstrate, Hamilton was a conservative statesman, a man with an imperfect but thoroughly grounded political and constitutional worldview, and a tireless proponent of government strong enough to preserve and protect the Union. He was no creature of abstract ideology like Jefferson, but, as Russell Kirk once pointed out, he was a prudential and principled worker in the vineyard of politics. Federici's post, and his new book, do much to dispel the distortions on both the Right and the Left about Hamilton.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Three American Founders on Catholicism

  • Opposed to it:  "I have long been decided in opinion that a free government and the Roman Catholick religion can never exist together in any nation or Country." - John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson dated Feb. 3, 1821, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 41 
  • In favor of it:  "Being persuaded that there can be but one true religion taught by Christ, and that the R[oman] C[atholic] is that religion, I conceive it to be my duty to have my grandchildren brought up in it.  I feel no ill will or illiberal prejudices against sectarians which have abandon[ed] that faith: if their lives be conformable to the duties and morals prescribed by the Gospel, I have the charity to hope and believe they will be rewarded with eternal happiness, though they may entertain erroneous doctrines in point of faith." - Charles Carroll, letter to Harriet Carroll dated Aug. 29, 1816, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 42. 
  • Cautiously favorable toward it:  "I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their revolution and the establishment of their government or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic religion is professed.  And may the members of your Society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity." - George Washington, statement to the Roman Catholics in America, Mar. 1790, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 44.

Book review of Gregg Frazer's The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders

Gary Scott Smith has posted a review of Frazer's book over at The University Bookman: Founders' Faith: None of the Above.  Smith points out the strength of Frazier's approach to studying the faith of our nation's founding fathers -- he doesn't fall into the trap of trying to get the founders to fit into our own political and theological categories.

Russell Kirk's explanation of the difference between the American and French Revolutions

That's the topic of this interesting article by Darrin Moore posted over at The Imaginative Conservative. Well worth a read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review of Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots

There's been something of a trend in the last few years of biographers spending time and effort to recount the lives of American founders outside what some of us refer to as the "Top Tier" (Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton).  Books recounting the lives and work of Abigail Adams, John Jay, Samuel Adams, Charles Carroll, Thomas Paine and others are becoming more and more common.  And on the whole, that is a very salutary development. Our Revolution and Republic were made not only by a relatively few great men, but by many people working (sometimes at cross purposes!) to build and "secure the blessings of liberty" for themselves and for their "posterity" (to quote the Preamble of the Constitution).

One founder who has benefitted from this trend in biography is the great Virginian Patrick Henry. Once considered a "Top Tier" founder by most historians, Henry's overall status has declined since the 1930's, when a fixation on those founders of long-ranging national stature took hold on most prominent historians and biographers.  Fueled by the "Jeffersonian ends via Hamiltonian means" ideology of the Roosevelt administration, the focus on Jefferson in particular but also Madison and to a lesser extent Jefferson's nemesis Alexander Hamilton, shaped a good deal of popular history well into the current period.  Patrick Henry, a politician who was most at home in Virginia and who never aspired to the presidency, was left behind -- a quirky, Southern, states-rights kind of founding father who was increasingly overlooked by an historical profession that was more and more enamored by the power of nationalized government. 

One book that seeks to bring Henry back into the limelight is Thomas S. Kidd's biography of the great Virginian, Patrick Henry:  First Among Patriots (Basic Books: 2011).  Kidd, who teaches history at Baylor University, has published extensively on American religious history, and he brings a keen eye towards the deep principles -- some religious, some secular -- that formed the foundation of Henry's career as a lawyer, patriot and politician.  Kidd begins his biography with an overview of Henry's place in popular consciousness over time, detailing the ebbs and flows in the attention paid to him.  Once the narrative turns to Henry himself, Kidd provides a detailed and contextualized overview of the broader social forces at work in Henry's life.  Backcountry Virginia is described & explained, the impact of the Great Awakening is discussed and the beginnings of the crisis with Great Britain are set out -- all with an eye towards explaining how these broader forces worked to shape the social, theological and political environment in which Henry found himself.  Insightfully, Kidd's exploration of Henry's world never falls into the trap of ascribing Henry's character and beliefs solely to the surrounding culture -- instead Kidd paints a nuanced picture of the interaction of Henry's own distinct personality with the institutions and issues of his day.

And what issues they were!  As Kidd notes, Henry was in the thick of virtually all of the major trends and episodes in the late colonial, revolutionary and early republic periods in American history.  From the explosion in evangelical Protestant religiosity during the Great Awakening -- a religious fervor that without question accelerated the pace towards the Revolution -- to the fiery debates over American independence, Henry was there, consistently struggling against the notion of centralized government authority under the crown.  Then, after the Revolution's success, Henry took up again the banner against centralized authority by becoming a leader in the fight against the ratification of the current Constitution, preferring the looser form of national government provided by the earlier Articles of Confederation.  With the Constitution's passage, Henry became a leading voice against the Federalist majority during the Washington administration and the first part of the Adams' administration.  Then, alarmed at the growing radicalism of Jefferson and his emergent Democratic Republican political party, Henry made the choice to defend the principles of order and the rule of law against what he saw as the the corrupt and violent disposition of Jefferson & his disciples.  Even the passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts could not persuade Henry to join the Jeffersonians.  Instead, he held his tongue in spite of private opposition to the Acts, and endorsed fellow Virginia Federalist and future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall for a seat in Congress.  Thanks to Henry's support, Marshall won a narrow victory.  Thus was Henry's way paved towards a role at the end of his life as a major player in national &  Federalist politics.

The anti-Christian ideology of the French Revolution also moved Henry in a more conservative direction, as he realized that he forces unleashed by Revolutionary France had the potential to destroy the bonds of ordered liberty itself.  Up until that time, Henry had been active in fighting against the Federalists, going so far as to peacefully work towards the creation of separate republics in the west as American settlers spread out across the continent.  No more.  In his private correspondence, he began to identify more and more strongly as an orthodox Christian.  In one letter to his daughter Betsy, Henry distanced himself from the Deistic movement and lamented that he had made more public affirmations of his own Christian faith:
Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is aid by the Deists that I am one of their number, and indeed that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory, because I think religion of infinitely higher importance the politics, and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But indeed by dear child this is a character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast.
With the rise of the Democratic Republicans and French-influenced political ideology, Henry took stock of the times and make a momentous political move.  At first privately and then publicly, he shifted to the Federalist Party, allying himself directly with his former opponents.  From a critic of the Constitution he became one of its most ardent advocates, defending loudly the national charter that he had so resolutely opposed.  For Henry, what was at stake in the Federalist-Jeffersonian struggle was the notion that free and republican government was possible only with a virtuous and devout citizenry.  As Kidd reports, Henry wrote a scathing denunciation of the ideology of the French Revolution, going so far as to state that it was, in Henry's words, "destroying the great pillars of all government and of social life; I means virtue, morality and religion."  It was to prevent this acidic ideology from warping the American experiment in ordered liberty that Henry embraced the Federalist Party.

Kidd does a very solid job of describing the different intellectual components of Henry's political career.  As an historian of religion, Kidd pays particular attention to the spiritual beliefs that animated Henry, both in his private and public life.  Henry's commitment to both established religion and religious liberty are explored, with Kidd providing particular detail to Henry's early prominence as a trial lawyer defending religious establishment in colonial Virginia.  Kidd demonstrates that Henry's early support of establishment in Virginia was of a piece with his concern over centralized authority -- by emphasizing that it was the Virginia colonial government that established religion in the colony, Henry struck a blow against royal control of the Christian churches in Virginia.  Since the church was established by the colony rather than by the crown, the church was accountable not to the King but to the colonial government and its laws.  The clergy's civil appointments could therefore be revoked by the colonial government if the clergy sided with the King against the Virginia authorities.  Thus colonial establishment of religion, for Henry, was a key institutional limitation on the power of the crown, reinforcing the decentralized nature of the British Empire while at the same time strengthening local allegiances and local accountability.  As such, establishment was a tool that could be used to expand the liberty of the colony, providing a buttress to its efforts at local control.

In addition to detailing the efforts Henry made throughout his career to advance the cause of liberty, Kidd does not shy away from the great stain on Henry's political life, his defense of the institution of chattel slavery.  Like many of the founders, Henry was quick to denounce slavery in the abstract while clinging tightly to the institution in practice.  Henry's practical embrace of slavery included engaging in the odious slave trade, oftentimes clouded with a great deal of self-delusion about the moral virtue of the act of buying and selling his fellow human beings.  Kidd recounts one episode where Henry sought to purchase slaves from a neighboring estate he was attempting to buy.  "Henry was concerned that they [the slaves] were too expensive," Kidd recounts, "but in a magnanimous tone he wrote that 'they are so extremely desirous of staying with me, I consent to take them.'"  Henry here manages to turn his act of buying human flesh into an act of kindness towards those enslaved.  As Kidd notes, Henry's talk of liberty and his anti-slavery rhetoric aside, the Virginian "would never fundamentally alter his attitude about trafficking in slaves."  Enmeshed in an economic system built on slavery, Henry's own wealth and privilege were dependent on the peculiar institution.  "Land and slaves," as Kidd explains, "were Henry's means of securing his financial security."

In the last chapter of the book, Kidd provides a even-handed evaluation of the political principles that undergirded Henry's views.  Detailing the use and in some cases the abuse of Henry's memory by both liberal and conservative partisans, Kidd does a solid job of conveying the complexities of Henry's views and how different his concerns were from those of the modern era.  At the same time, Kidd notes that Henry was of all the major founders the most religiously orthodox, holding to the basic tenants of Anglican Protestantism.  Henry also held a solid conviction in the need not only for localized government but also for public morality -- for the governing structures of a society to be grounded on virtue and the common good.  As Kidd writes, if Henry were to come back today, his message would be challenging to all the major players in our political climate. "True freedom, he might warn us, lies not in doing whatever we want.  Freedom is doing what we should do, for the sake of community and the republic."

Patrick Henry deserves far more attention today than he is getting.  Kidd's book goes a long way in correcting that problem.  It is well worth reading.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Locke and Evangelical Preachers

Joseph Loconte of King’s College (in the Empire State Building) has an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal called “They Preached Liberty.” A sample:
The "fighting parson" was a common sight in the American Revolution. Why? Because American Christianity—anchored in a Protestant understanding of religious freedom—gave its blessing to democratic self-government. For many evangelical ministers, unconstrained British rule not only represented an oppressive monarchy that trampled on their civil rights. It supported a national church, the Anglican Church, which they feared would impose its doctrines and practices on the colonies if given half a chance.
Where did they get their ideas?
In this, preachers such as Elisha Williams of Wethersfield, Conn., drew as readily from political philosophers as they did from the Bible to defend a "natural and unalienable right of private judgment in matters of religion." English philosopher John Locke was quoted frequently in evangelical sermons ...
However, Loconte denies the influence of the Enlightenment:
It is now widely assumed that religious toleration—a hallmark of the secular, democratic West—grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment. This may be true in much of Europe, but not in the United States.
Locke, the founder of British Empiricism, is generally considered a founding figure of the Enlightenment although I’ve seen the term used in a restricted sense. It appears that I wasn't the only one confused by this argument. David W. Opderbeck, Seton Hall University School of Law, writes in a letter to the editor:
Well, could it be that the evangelical preachers were interpreting their Bibles through the eyes of the quintessential Enlightenment philosopher John Locke? Indeed they were. More careful historians of early American evangelicalism have demonstrated the ties between certain strands of Enlightenment thought and early evangelical theology ...
It's well worth reading both Loconte's article and Opderbeck's letter.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bp. John Carroll's prayer for the United States government

I've posted on this before, but I thought that since it was Independence Day that it would be a good time to post on it again. John Carroll came from a prominent Maryland Catholic family. His brother Daniel Carroll signed both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. His cousin Charles Carroll was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Carroll had a critical role in the early American Republic as well, although not in the political sphere.  John was a Catholic priest and eventually was ordained the first Catholic bishop for the young United States of America.

In 1791 he composed the following prayer to be said in all Catholic parishes throughout his diocese (which at the time was the entire United States).  The prayer was a demonstration that the ancient Catholic faith -- the oldest Christian religious tradition -- was compatible and at home with the principles of the new American Republic.
We pray Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name. 
We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation. 
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

"A nation was born in a day"

From one of the great orations on Independence Day, by a leader who did much to ensure that liberty would become more than just a word on paper, but a living reality for all Americans:
The interest, which in this paper has survived the occasion upon which it was issued; the interest which is of every age and every clime; the interest which quickens with the lapse of years, spreads as it grows old, and brightens as it recedes, is in the principles which it proclaims. It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude. It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people. It proved that the social compact was no figment of the imagination; but a real, solid, and sacred bond of the social union. From the day of this declaration, the people of North America were no longer the fragment of a distant empire, imploring justice and mercy from an inexorable master in another hemisphere. They were no longer children appealing in vain to the sympathies of a heartless mother; no longer subjects leaning upon the shattered columns of royal promises, and invoking the faith of parchment to secure their rights. They were a nation, asserting as of right, and maintaining by war, its own existence. A nation was born in a day.
- John Quincy Adams, Speech on Independence Day, July 4, 1821.

America founded as a republic, not a democracy

The difference is important, as Bradley J. Birzer explains over at The Imaginative Conservative:  Americana Res Publica: No Revolution.  As Birzer writes:
[T]he Republic was neither purely a commercial nor libertarian one. Indeed, the American founders crafted not a commercial republic, but a virtuous republic, allowing for commerce and liberty to serve as a means by which man could use each of his gifts wisely and for the common good (the good thing; the res publica).   
While not all of the founders belonged to orthodox Christian denominations or even subscribed to Jewish or Christian orthodoxy, they each accepted most of what the Judeo-Christian context and heritage had bequeathed to them.   
Their understanding of liberty was not the collectivist or primivist liberty of Rousseau or the atheistic and abstract liberty of Locke, but the liberty of St. Paul as described in his letter to the Galatian Christian community, the freedom to do what one ought to do.  
For most patriots, one could find the best definition of liberty in the prophetic writings of Micah (4:4), as our own John Willson has reminded us many times. “But they shall sit every man under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid,” the Jewish prophet had written.
The distinction between a democracy and a republic has been lost on most of us in the modern period.  It would be salutary if we could recover the idea of republicanism (with a small "r") that motivated most of our Founders.

Providence and the American Revolution

"Upon the whole nothing appears to me more manifest than that the separation of this country from Britain, has been of God; for every step the British took to prevent, served to accelerate it, which has generally been the case when men have undertaken to go into 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, November 28, 1782, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, James H. Hutson (editor) (Princeton University Press: 2005), pg. 18.

The American Revolution as vocation

"The American Revolution was the grand operation, which seemed to be assigned by the Deity to the men of this age in our country."

- Patrick Henry, letter to Henry Lee, June 27, 1795, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, James H. Hutson (editor) (Princeton University Press: 2005), pg. 17.

Randy Barnett on the Declaration of Independence

He's got a post over at the Volokh Conspiracy explaining the basic premises of the Declaration of Indepedence.  Well worth a read on the 4th of July.  As Barnett summarizes the basic principles undergirding the Declaration:
The assumption of natural rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence can be summed up by the following proposition:  “first comes rights, then comes government.”  According to this view: (1) the rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but preexist its formation;  (2) The protection of these rights is the first duty of government; and (3) Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights — or its systematice violation of rights — can justify its alteration or abolition; (4) At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are “inalienable,” meaning they are so intimately connected to one’s nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so.  This is powerful stuff.
Indeed it is.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Key Political Insight of Fisher Ames, Founding Father

"To say that government isn’t the answer to our nation’s problems is to presuppose the wrong incentive for erecting government in the first place. Fisher Ames would know that. And that's why he’s relevant." So writes Stephen B. Tippins, Jr. over at The American Conservative in this profile of a sadly overlooked founding father, Fisher Ames:  Died on the 4th of July.  Ames was a leader of the Federalist Party during our Republic's infancy, and aside from being one of the pithiest founding fathers, he was a leader in the fledgling House of Representatives.  Here's a very brief political biography of Ames, courtesy of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, and here's a slightly longer profile of his political views, courtesy of the Acton Institute.

As Tippins points out, Ames' strongest contribution to political thought is his understanding that democracy, understood in its classical (and negative) sense is incompatible with a strong state -- tyranny would result.  This insight explains his solid opposition to the Jeffersonian project, which combined democratic ideology with a powerful general government (despite Jefferson's deceptive rhetoric to the contrary).  The necessary role of the state in securing the conditions where virtue can flourish -- virtue which is essential in the population of a republic -- is undermined by democracy classically understood.  Radically democratic institutions will not provide the ethos of restraint necessary to reinforce civic virtue in the people, and without such civic virtue, republics cannot function.  This key insight from one of the most conservative of our founding fathers has been increasingly hard to find in modern American political life, not only on the Left but also on the Right. As Tippin concludes his article:
Anti-statist conservatives forget that we left the state of nature in the first place because the souls of men, which are inherently depraved, need nurturing, and only institutions can provide that. But democracy will not tolerate institutions of restraint, political or otherwise. Fisher Ames warned us well, if only we could recall his words.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Must Listen: Should Christians Have Fought in the US War of Independence?

Here. I witnessed "the panel" that Dr. Gill refers to because I was on it. I was one of the "yes" votes; I'd pick up arms and fight against the British, but since I am not a Christian (at least not in the "orthodox" sense; I am a baptized Catholic) I don't have Romans 13 on my conscience. I am kind of like Jefferson; since I don't believe St. Paul wrote divine revelation with the Holy Spirit -- 3rd Person in the Trinity He -- guiding Paul's pen, it wouldn't be an issue for me. Though I wouldn't go so far as Jefferson did and term Paul's writings "corruption"; I have more respect for St. Paul than Jefferson did.