Friday, May 31, 2013

Where does freedom come from? One answer from a Founding Father

"The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave ... These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament."

- Samuel Adams (1722-1803), American revolutionary and Founding Father, in The Rights of the Colonists, November 20, 1772.

One of the points that almost all of the American Founders agreed upon is that the key rights of human beings come not from the hand of the State but from the hand of God. While political, legal and social forms are necessary to properly incarnate those rights within a stable and enduring political order, the rights themselves have their origins in a source beyond the power of government

Monday, May 27, 2013

On Memorial Day, a reminder of who made our Republic a reality

Here's a good reminder of who secured our freedom as an independent Republic:  A Tradition of Sacrifice, From Yorktown to Ramadi.  As the author of this op-ed, a former Navy Seal, writes:
Let's remember on Memorial Day—and every other day, for that matter—that America did not become a nation without a fight. Last week, I found myself in Washington, D.C., admiring a bronze statue of George Washington. The statue shows him as a general, astride a horse, sword drawn at the ready. This was Washington as a true American leader, inspiring those around him by showing that he too was willing to risk death for the cause of victory. The statue brought to mind the thousands of soldiers who marched with him into battle against the British, facing seemingly impossible odds.  
It was not the Declaration of Independence that gave us freedom but the Continental Army. America was born from conflict, delivered by soldiers willing to pay with their blood the tremendous cost of freedom. 
The dead did not wish to be martyred. They no doubt longed to return to their homes and families. But they believed in the "glorious cause," something far greater than themselves. Despite knowing the dangers before them, they followed Gen. Washington into the fray even when victory seemed hopeless and the cause all but lost.
A special thanks to all the men and women who have served our country honorably in its defense, and especially those who have given the last full measure of their devotion to our country and its cause.  You have helped to preserve freedom not just here at home, but have defended it abroad, from Valley Forge to the Shores of Tripoli, from Bull Run to San Juan Hill, from Omaha Beach to the Berlin Wall, from Inchon to Afghanistan. Thank you.

Jeremy Belknap on Watts' Sabellianism

Rev. Jeremy Belknap was a notable Patriotic Preacher.  Isaac Watts influenced him away from orthodox Trinitarianism to Sabellianism (or modalism). Orthodox Trinitarianism, you see, teaches not just that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, but that they are three eternally distinct PERSONS, who together are ONE GOD.

Sabellianism believes in the full divinity of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, but denies they are eternally distinct persons.

Anyway we blogged about the story of Belknap on Watts here.  A taste from the mouth of Rev. Belknap:
"With respect to the idea of Personality, as applicable to the Father, Son and Spirit. Dr. Watts differed from many Trinitarians, as he denied (and I think with sufficient reason) that there are in Deity three distinct Infinite Spirits, or really distinct persons, in the common sense of that term, each having a distinct intelligence, volition, power, &c., thinking such a supposition inconsistent with the proper Unity of the Godhead; which is doubtless one of the most obvious and fundamental doctrines of revelation.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More on Watts on the Trinity

Whatever his exact position, I think it's safe to say he had problems with the orthodox notion of the Trinity.

From this link:
The Arian controversy of his time left its mark on Watts. His hymns contain an entire book of doxologies modelled on the Gloria Patri. But at the conference about the ministers at Exeter held at Salters' Hall (1719) he voted with the minority, who refused to impose acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity on the independent ministers. He did not believe it necessary to salvation; the creed of Constantinople had become to him only a human explication of the mystery of the divine Godhead; and he had himself adopted another explication, which he hoped might heal the breach between Arianism and the faith of the church. He broached this theory in 'The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity' (1722), and supported it in 'Dissertations relating to the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity' (1724-5). He returned to the subject in 'The Glory of Christ as God-Man Unveiled' (1746), and 'Useful and Important Questions concerning Jesus, the Son of God' (1746). His theory, held also by Henry More, Robert Fleming, and Burnet (DORNER,The Person of Christ, div. ii. ii. 329, transl. Clark), was that the human soul of Christ had been created anterior to the creation of the world, and united to the divine principle in the Godhead known as the Sophia or Logos (only a short step from Arianism, and with some affinity to Sabellianism); and that the personality of the Holy Ghost was figurative rather than proper or literal. None of the extant writings of Watts advances further than this; but a very pathetic piece, entitled 'A Solemn Address to the Great and Ever Blessed God' (published in a pamphlet called 'A Faithful Inquiry after the Ancient and Original Doctrine of the Trinity' in 1745, but suppressed by Watts at that time, and published in 1802), shows how deeply his mind was perplexed and troubled. He lays out all the perplexity before God, stating his belief in too very words of Scripture generally, with the plea 'Forbid it, oh! My God, that I should ever be so unhappy as to unglorify my Father, my Saviour, or my Sanctifier. . . . Help me . . . for I am quite tired and weary of these human explainings, so various and uncertain.' Lardner affirmed that in his last years (not more than two years at most, in failing health) Watts passed to the unitarian position, and wrote in defence of it; the papers were, as Lardner owned, unfit for publication, and as such were destroyed by Doddridge and Jennings, the literary trustees. Lardner declared also that the last belief of Watts was 'completely unitarian' (BELSHAMMemoirs of Theophilus Lindsey, pp. 161-4). The testimony, however, of those who were most intimate with Watts to his last hours is entirely silent as to any such change; and his dependence at death on the atonement (which is incompatible with 'complete unitarianism') is emphatically attested (MILNERLife, p. 315).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Isaac Watts' Unitarianism

A very interesting link here.  A taste:
“In The Glory of Christ as God-Man, Dr. Watts hazarded the opinion that ‘Michael is Jesus Christ, because he is called…the first of the princes, that is, the prime archangel.’4 Watts ‘confirms this sentiment’ that Christ and Michael are the same beings from Revelation 12:7. He continues, ‘Perhaps this Michael, that is Christ the King of the Jews, is the only archangel, or prince and head of all angels.’5 A little later he ventures the opinion that ‘Jesus Christ was that angel who generally appeared in ancient times to the patriarchs and to the Jews.’6 
“According to Watts, God constantly resided in this angel (Christ-Michael) and influenced this angel.7 God has now given this archangel, or prince and head of all angels, dominion and power over all things. ‘This government of Christ is frequently represented as a gift and a reward, and therefore must belong eminently to the inferior nature [of Christ], which alone is capable of rewards and gifts from God.’8 It is because God has exalted Christ to be intercessor that Christ can particularly assist man, and not because Christ can himself ‘bestow effectual succour and relief.’9 In keeping with the spirit of his century Watts proposes to give ‘A rational account how the man Jesus Christ may be vested with such extensive powers.’10 Christ, he declares, does not now know ‘every single thought, word, or action of every particular creature,’ but does know ‘all the greater, more general, and more considerable affairs and transactions of nations, churches, and particular persons.’11 Christ’s human soul is ‘the brightest image or copy of the divine nature that is found among mere creatures.’12 ...
This sounds similar to how the Jehovah's Witnesses view Christ.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bill of Rights to go on display

The New York Public Library announced this week it has entered into a partnership with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to exhibit in both venues for 100 years the duplicate original (I avoid calling it a "copy") of the Bill of Rights which has been in the Library's archives, rarely seen by the public, since 1896.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, timed to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the document's drafting, this parchment will be on display in Philadelphia; it will return to New York City in 2017. The two institutions will share the honor of exhibiting the founding document consecutively for the ensuing 94 years.

Oh, heck. Why am I typing all of this when you simply can click here to read all about it? But before I go, allow me to share the bland remarks of the insipid Mikey Bloomberg, CEO of NYC, who intones: "I hope that New Yorkers – and our visitors from across the country and around the world – will take the opportunity to visit the Library and see the document that made America the freest nation on earth." It was only two months ago when the Mayor of Malarkey infamously stated "I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom," in commenting on large cups of soda.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

A great article by Thomas Kidd here. Kidd discusses Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response. Volf, a Yale Professor, is one of the most prominent Christian academicians.

Volf, like George W. Bush, answers the question affirmatively. Kidd seems not so sure. America's "key Founders" (the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin) like Volf and Bush, answered the question affirmatively. 

(As noted many times before, these Founders thought uncoverted Great Spirit worshipping Native Americans worshipped the same God they did. And the Great Spirit, unlike Allah, doesn't even claim to be the God of Abraham.) 

I saw Volf speak live last year at the CPS Conference at Gordon College. (Video of said presentation below.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

From the man who brought us Daylight Savings Time...

The has a story posted on Benjamin Franklin's efforts to reform the American alphabet during the late colonial and early American Republic periods:  Benjamin Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet.  (Hat tip to Tea at Trianon.) As the piece explains,
Franklin developed his phonetic alphabet in 1768 but it wasn’t published until 1789, when Noah Webster, intrigued by Franklin’s proposal, included its description in his book Dissertations on the English Language. However, because, Webster lacked the type blocks to illustrate Franklin’s changes, the alphabet wouldn’t be seen until Franklin had new blocks cast to print the alphabet for his 1779 collection of writings, Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces. It was the ultimate test of Franklin’s scholarship and polymathy, a phonetic alphabet designed to have a “more natural Order,” than the existing system. His proposal, “A Reformed Mode of Spelling,” opens with an analysis of spoken English in the form of a table prioritizing the alphabet by sound and vocal effort. Franklin gave preference to “Sounds formed by the Breath, with none or very little help of Tongue, Teeth, and Lips; and produced chiefly in the Windpipe.”
Some of the letters look, well, more than a wee-bit strange. More important than Franklin's own work may have been his inspiration to Noah Webster in his efforts to improve and revise American English during the early Republic.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Christianity and prudence in the political theory of Gouverneur Morris

The always-interesting Imaginative Conservative blog has posted a solid essay by one of the great modern historians of the Founding period, Forrest McDonald, exploring the political theory of one of the most important Founders who is usually overlooked today:  The Political Thought of Gouverneur Morris.  While Morris has been largely ignored when compared to other major Founders, his impact on the Constitution and on the political debates of his day were crucial.  As McDonald notes, at the core of Morris's political theory was his Christian faith, although like most of the Founders he was not sectarian in his approach to religion:
The most pervasive influence on Morris’s thinking was the Christian religion. That statement would have met with shocked disbelief among his many enemies, if for no other reason than that his womanizing was well known. John and Samuel Adams and other New England arch-republicans despised him, and the rigidly puritanical Roger Sherman went so far as to say that “with regard to moral character I consider him an irreligious and profane man.” But no irreligious and profane man could have written, as Morris did to his Loyalist mother from whom he was separated during the war, “Let me earnestly recommend to you so much of religion, as to bear inevitable evils with resignation.” As for himself, he told her, “I look forward serenely to the course of events, confident that the Fountain of supreme wisdom and virtue will provide for the happiness of his creatures.” 
In the same vein, he wrote to a woman whose daughter had died, “Religion offers higher and better Motives for Resignation to the Will of our Almighty Father. Infinite Wisdom can alone determine What is best to give What to leave and What to take away. . .. Grief . . . turns our Affections from the World to fix them more steadily and strongly on the proper Objects and bends our Will to the Will of God.” Elsewhere he made numerous specific references to Jesus Christ as “Our Saviour.” 
Morris cared little for rituals and forms of religion, however, and he was extremely tolerant. Early in his career, in the convention that drafted the New York Constitution of 1777, he frustrated John Jay’s attempt to exclude Roman Catholics from a religious freedom clause. From France he wrote to Robert Morris that “I like real Piety as much as I detest the Grimace of that which is false. I think I have more Religion than formerly since I have been in Paris: perhaps because the People here have or appear to have so little.” He added that he did not consider himself “of sufficient Consequence to share in the immediate Attention of divine Providence,” but was confident of his own “good Fortune,” which, he said, was “but another Name for the same Thing.” In conversation with a Frenchman who insisted that every country had an established religion. Morris assured him that it was not so in America, and went on to “tell him that God is sufficiently powerful to do his own Business without human Aid, and that Man should confine his Care to the Actions only of his fellow Creatures,” leaving it to God “to influence the Thoughts as he may think proper.” 
As McDonald details, Morris believed that religion played a vital role in stabilizing the political order by instilling values and virtues in the people, as well as necessitating education of the populace.  Critically, religion reinforces the principle that rights and duties -- the constituent components of human liberty -- come not from the State but from a source transcendent to it. Liberty is not a gift from the government but from the hand of God.  As McDonald explains, for Morris there was a clear distinction between political liberty and civil liberty, public public government and private concerns. The ties that held the two in balance rest, in Morris' view, on "Obedience to the moral Law," a moral law that was geared towards human flourishing:
Morris believed that God gives every man the right to liberty (hence his regarding slavery as an abomination), and he believed that legitimate government derives its authority from the consent of the governed; but to these largely Lockean notions he added some fine distinctions to minimize their threat to political stability. He conceived of liberty as being of two orders. One was political liberty, meaning participation by the people in the enactment of legislation and in holding government accountable. The other was civil liberty, the right of individuals to be left alone, and especially to do with their property what they choose without interference from government. He saw political liberty as being necessary for the protection of civil liberty, but also as posing a danger to it: “Political Liberty considered seperately from civil Liberty can have no other Effect than to gratify Pride”; ”Where political Liberty is in Excess Property must be insecure and where Property is not secure Society cannot advance”; and ”A Nation of Politicians, neglecting their own Business for that of the State, would be the most weak miserable and contemptible Nation on Earth.” The remedy was to limit political liberty by checking the power of the legislative through the establishment of independent executive and judicial branches. This sounds quite Montesquieuan until one recalls that Montesquieu thought that free commerce would totally undermine a republic, whereas Morris believed that commerce, as the most dynamic part of civil liberty, was an indispensable agent promoting the advancement of civilization. Commerce, he said, “requires not only the perfect Security of Property but perfect good Faith,” and thus its effects were “to encrease civil and to diminish political Liberty.- For those reasons, and because the standards of behavior in commercial transactions were so high when conducted honorably, commerce could make possible an increase in the general stock of virtue and “Obedience to the moral Law,” which were “the best Means of Promoting human Happiness.”
Because human beings and human societies are different, there can be no one universal type of government for Morris.  Diversity in organization and political forms are a hallmark of human life, and thus no one form of government can be prescribed to guarantee human flourishing. Thus, Morris did not display reflexive hostility to monarchy, although like most of the Founders he did display misgivings about democracy's tendency for the population to be bought off by the powers that be. The corruption of government power to loot and redistribute wealth, whether from the few to the many or from the many to the few drew Morris's disdain. Honorable government and honorable individuals, acting in accord with virtue, were as McDonald explains, a key concept of political practice for Morris, and this concept linked Morris's ideas with those of Federalist Founders like Washington and Hamilton:
Morris, like Washington, Hamilton, and many another High Federalist. had as a polestar a principle that has generally been given rather short shrift by historians, namely honor, in the sense in which Joseph Addison used the term in his popular play Cato. True honor, Addison explained, operates out of desire for “the esteem of wise and good men.” He elaborated, “Religion embraces virtue, as it is enjoined by the laws of God; honour, as it is graceful and ornamental to human nature.” As a religious man as well as a man of honor. Morris was impelled by both. Hence he could write, in a letter to Senator Oliver Ellsworth thanking him for supporting the appointment as minister to France. “the favorable Sentiment of virtuous and judicious Men has ever appeared to me (next to an approving Conscience) the highest earthly Reward for our Exertions.” He could refuse to join a speculative enterprise that was certain to be profitable because it was based on inside information, say to one who talked of legal obligation that ‘There is a moral Obligation anterior and paramount to Law,” and tell another who was torn between the dictates of duty and conscience that he knew of “no Duty but that which Conscience dictates.” The sanctity of contracts, of giving one’s word, was integral to the concept of honor; early on. Morris wrote that among the French “there is one fatal Principle which pervades all Ranks. It is a perfect Indifference to the Violation of Engagements.”
McDonald's essay serves as a delightful short introduction to the thought of this important and yet overlooked American Founder.  Read it all.

The cautionary tale of Alexander Hamilton's faith

An interesting reflection on that topic is posted over at the blog Holy Aspirations:  A Look at the Faith of Alexander Hamilton.  For what it's worth, my own theory is that Hamilton's religious faith became stronger as his worldly ambitions were increasingly frustrated. Hamilton always had a theological cast of mind, but his embrace of orthodox Protestant Christianity (evidenced by his death-bed desire to receive the eucharist) was long-a-coming.  The collapse of the Federalist Party, the death of his son Philip in a dual, and his national humiliation in the Reynolds affair all contributed to Hamilton embracing faith more seriously.  As is so often the case, when the things of the world turn to dust, the things of the spirit take new life.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


That's the title to a working paper by William Ewald, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania and that you may access here. I haven't read it yet. But for those interested, dig in.

Mark David Hall On Key v. Non-Key Founders

I didn't know Mark David Hall, of George Fox University, had a blog (with fellow George Foxers). Check it out here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Long Before David Barton, We Had American Presbyterians (to conflate the kingdoms)

Read about it from DG Hart here.

Suggestions for Researching James Wilson's Life and Works

Galen L. Fletcher  
Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School 
July 22, 2011
Download here. I found this while googling today.

Atheist Experience on the Christian Nation Question

For their perspective, watch the video below:

James Wilson on Liberal Democratic Theory

That is small l liberal, small d democratic.

Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for reminding me of this magnificent essay, done in 1774, by James Wilson which contains a passage that pithily summarizes the liberal democratic theory that undergirds the Declaration of Independence.

Wilson noted:
All men are, by nature, equal and free: no one has a right to any authority over another without his consent: all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it: such consent was given with a view to ensure and to increase the happiness of the governed, above what they could enjoy in an independent and unconnected state of nature. The consequence is, that the happiness of the society is the first law of every government.c 
This rule is founded on the law of nature: it must control every political maxim: it must regulate the legislature itself.d The people have a right to insist that this rule be observed; and are entitled to demand a moral security that the legislature will observe it. If they have not the first, they are slaves; if they have not the second, they are, every moment, exposed to slavery. For “civil liberty is nothing else but natural liberty, devested of that part which constituted the independence of individuals, by the authority which it confers on sovereigns, attended with a right of insisting upon their making a good use of their authority, and with a moral security that this right will have its effect.”
Liberty and Equality, it should be noted, are the twin pillars of small l liberalism. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

William Blackstone and the American Revolution

It is difficult to over-estimate the impact that the work of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) had on the American Founding era, during both the revolutionary period & the formation of the early Republic.  For the men of those times, Blackstone served as the source of their knowledge of the English common law tradition, as well as one of the major theorists of natural law. The close study of Blackstone was for many American lawyers their only academic exercise before qualifying for the bar, and more copies of Blackstone's mammoth Commentaries on the Laws of England sold in the American colonies & early United States than sold in England itself.  To say that Blackstone was a major intellectual force in American life is almost an understatement.

With all that in mind, head on over the The Imaginative Conservative and read Richard Samuelson's essay on Blackstone's influence on our nation's struggle for independence: The Blackstonian Causes of the American Revolution. Samuelson does a very good job of demonstrating how the American Founders were shaped by Blackstone's theory of English constitutionalism while at the same time Blackstone's embrace of parliamentary supremacy made reconciliation between the rising American colonies and the Mother Country all the more problematic.  Indeed, much of Blackstone's theory of the English constitution worked to push the two sides in the run-up to the Revolution ever farther apart. This eventually forced the colonists into the position of either submitting to Parliament without the limitation of the traditional rights & liberties of the colonies intact, or throwing off the authority of the King in Parliament to assert their own independence. As Samuelson sums up his work:
Blackstone made colonists choose between being free and being British. The necessities of an empire run by Parliament from the imperial center became incompatible with the liberties of British subjects living on the imperial periphery. In his essay, “The Irrelevance of the Declaration,” Reid points out that once one gets past the first two paragraphs, the Declaration of Independence is nothing more than a common law indictment of King George. In other words, declaring independence from Great Britain was a final act of devotion to the Whig constitutional principles that Anglo-Americans had imbibed since their settlement. Americans assumed a separate and equal station with their mother country so that they could enjoy the rights of Britons, and continue the mission of a free, protestant people in America.
Read it all.