Essay 46 – Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

For those of us who spent our formative years in the suburbs of Long Island, including the Village of Setauket where I grew up, the name William Floyd is familiar, though I would venture a guess that very few are likely to know the story behind the name. As families travelled around those areas, or perhaps to the beach, including the famous Fire Island, the children would hear the familiar words, the “William Floyd Parkway.” I vaguely remember being aware of a historic home named for William Floyd as well, but I have no recollection of being taught who the man was, or what he did to earn such recognition. I may have been taught something in passing, but there is no doubt that as a young boy I was unlikely to pay much attention to such things. Our collective ignorance of Mr. Floyd’s life, however, does not detract from the distinction of it. It is only a shame, as there in our little village of Setauket we lived on ground trampled by history, a history in which William Floyd was a central character. It is also a shame that during those formative years, more effort was not made to teach us of the momentous events that took place where we lived and played. Perhaps, with some more effort and respect for the past, we all would have grown up more grateful and more respectful of our nation and its founders.

Even to those of us who traveled the road named for him, and lived in the town that his family founded, William Floyd did not achieve the lasting fame of George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or many others of the Founders and Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Yet together with them, he worked to bring about a new nation, conceived in liberty. He struggled and sacrificed, and did his duty, and his service to the future. He took the same pledge to risk his life, his (significant) fortune, and his sacred honor. Few know, however, of his life, and in that way, he was a man much like most of us. A man whose name, while respected during his time, will fade into history, and his years of service will go unappreciated by those who follow. He is one of the millions of American souls whose contributions comprise the fabric that has weaved itself into the tapestry of our nation.

Floyd was born in 1734 to a wealthy landowning family who had emigrated from Wales. His grandfather, Richard Floyd, founded the village of Setauket, where I grew up. The land was purchased by white settlers from the Setalcott tribe, one of the 13 native tribes of Long Island, which had its central location in that area at the time. William Floyd inherited significant lands from his father and, foregoing the educational opportunities available to a man of his wealth, he took to running those estates at only 21 years of age. He married Hannah Jones and they settled in to raise a family, steeped in the privileges of the landowning class. Floyd was a man of his times, which is a euphemistic way of saying that he owned slaves who worked his fields and tended to his operations. Slavery was then still a common practice around the world, but the concept behind it, especially the degradation of other humans before the law, had already begun to fall from favor. While this debate was prominent among the founders, Floyd, as far as history can tell us, was not an active supporter of abolition, and unlike many signers and political thinkers of those days, did not appear see a contradiction in the quest for liberty and the rights of man, and the slavery that supported his lifestyle. The census of 1820, a year before his death, still listed Floyd as a slaveholder (slavery did not end in New York until July 4, 1827).

Despite this glaring failing, Floyd was what we would call a reliable volunteer today. He was the person that the town turned to when they needed someone to run the committee, chair the meeting, represent the people at an event somewhere far away. Certainly, his wealth and status as a landowner must have first thrust him into positions of leadership, but it must have been his steadfast service and trustworthiness that kept him in positions of responsibility year after year, as the idea of a free and independent nation germinated across the colonies. Floyd was not a rabble-rouser, not a vocal rebel calling for revolution. He was a businessman, extremely wealthy, who sought independence from the abuses of England against his free enterprise. Respected by his community, he was appointed as a Colonel in the militia just as the Revolutionary War exploded across the Colonies. He would eventually achieve the rank of Major General, but his service was more organizational than combative. He was also selected to serve as a New York representative to the First Continental Congress beginning in September of 1774, and attended sessions in Philadelphia between then and 1776, when, along with the other original signers, he risked everything he had, and put his name to the Declaration of Independence. It was a risk that he took on freely, and one that he and his family would pay dearly for.

Many today are aware of the battles that took place on Long Island due to the popular television show “Turn,” a dramatic depiction of the events surrounding the capture, occupation, and eventually abandonment of Long Island by British forces. Many of these dramatized events take place in the Village of Setauket, and history records the Battle of Setauket as a major event in the war. As a boy I do remember being shown the bullet marks that are still visible in the old church and on the rock memorial that sits in the middle of the town. Floyd was in Philadelphia as a Delegate during this time, and when he returned to Long Island after the British left in 1777, he found his estate ransacked, his property stolen, and his lands plundered. His family had evacuated during the occupation, and the strain of the ordeal brought despair and sickness to his wife, who died in 1781.

Despair and loss, however, did not deter Floyd from his duties. Following his service in the Continental Congress, including multiple terms until 1789, Floyd was elected to the first United States Congress in 1789, serving one term. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York against the (still famous) John Jay. He was later elected as a Delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention in 1801 and to the State Senate in 1804. Having reestablished his estate, Floyd lived a long life, remarrying to Joanna Strong in 1784, and adding two additional children to the three that he had with Hannah Jones. He died in August 1821 at the age of 86. The William Floyd estate still stands on Long Island (although Floyd moved to Westernville, New York, in 1803), and is owned by the National Park Service as part of Fire Island National Seashore.

It was a life well lived, in times of struggle and change. Records from the time do not make much mention of Floyd. He was not a visible presence or vocal voice in the Congress. Records from the proceedings mention his presence, but his impression on other delegates might well be summarized in a contemporary’s letter to John Jay, that named William Floyd as one of the “good men, [who] never quit their chairs” (Grossman, 2014, p. 397). We should all be grateful to those, who like Floyd, never quit their chairs, and ensured the founding of our nation through their service and sacrifice.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

Bayles, Richard (n.d.), Long Island Indians and The Early Settlers http://longislandgenealogy.com/indians.html

Grossman, M. (2015). Encyclopedia of the continental congresses. Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/lib/vcu/reader.action?docID=3299586

Landy, Craig A. (n.d.), Legal history matters; When did slavery end in New York, Historical Society of the New York Courts, https://history.nycourts.gov/when-did-slavery-end-in-new-york/

National Park Service (2020). William Floyd Estate, Fire Island National Seashore, https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/williamfloydestate.htm

Revolutionary War (2020). William Floyd, Revolutionary War, https://www.revolutionary-war.net/william-floyd/

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Essay 45 – Guest Essayist: Robert Brescia

William Shakespeare said, “Some men were born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” It seems that Oliver Wolcott certainly had greatness thrust upon him in the events leading up to American independence, but also achieved greatness by his own stellar leadership throughout this crucial period in our national history.

Oliver Wolcott was born in Windsor, Connecticut on November 20, 1726. Often the case, we didn’t know then that a regular fellow from a small New England town would achieve such prominence as an American patriot. Not only did he eventually sign the United States Declaration of Independence, but also the Articles of Confederation as a representative of Connecticut. He served as the nineteenth

Governor of Connecticut and as a major general for the Connecticut Militia in the Revolutionary War under George Washington.

As the youngest of 14 children by colonial governor Roger Wolcott and Sarah Drake Wolcott, Oliver began showing his potential at an early age. He graduated from Yale College in 1747 at the top of his class. Shortly thereafter, military duties called – he led a militia company as a Captain in the French and Indian Wars, defending our northern border against French incursions. Returning to Goshen, Connecticut after the war ended, he practiced medicine with his brother, Alexander. On January 21, 1755, Oliver Wolcott married Laura Collins. They had five children together. Oliver then became a merchant and was subsequently elected as sheriff of Litchfield County, Connecticut, a role he sustained for the next twenty years. By 1774, Oliver was known as a wise and good leader especially in difficult situations. For these qualities and demonstrated leadership, he was appointed the town’s Counselor, a role he served in for twelve years. While he was fulfilling these duties, Oliver also took a position as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.

From the beginning of his service to Connecticut, and as a principal delegate to the Continental Congress, he took a strong stand and position against the wrongs that Great Britain had been perpetuating on the colonists. He became well known for these positions, vehemently supporting independence and freedom against tyranny. In February 1776, he stated: “Our difference with Great Britain has become very great. What matters will issue in, I cannot say, but perhaps in a total disseverance from Great Britain.”

Willing to fight for these strong beliefs of freedom and self-determination, Wolcott led Connecticut’s Seventeenth Regiment of militia to New York, joining George Washington’s army. At that moment, then Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull appointed Wolcott as a Brigadier General, commanding all the state’s militia regiments in New York, later being promoted to Major General. Oliver never wavered in his fierce opposition to Great Britain, describing the British in his memoirs as “a foe who have not only insulted every principle which governs civilized nations but by their barbarities offered the grossest indignities to human nature.”

Wolcott was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, serving as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Because he possessed such diplomatic skills, he was able to persuade the Indians to remain neutral in the Revolutionary War. It was this same set of skills that steered him into post-war pursuit of public service. He was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut in 1786, then Governor, succeeding Samuel Huntington, holding that position until his death in 1796.

His legacy can be characterized by the extraordinary amount and diverse nature of public service to his state and nation. In fact, historian Ellsworth Grant remembers Wolcott’s Revolutionary war efforts in stating that, “It is doubtful if any other official in Connecticut during this period carried so many public duties on his shoulders.” He was also remembered for his love of poetry and family.

Charles Goodrich had this to say about Oliver Wolcott in his book, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence:

Mr. Wolcott never pursued any of the learned professions, yet his reading was various and extensive. He cultivated an acquaintance with the sciences, through the works of some of the most learned men of Europe, and was intimately acquainted with history, both ancient and modern. He has the reputation, and it is believed justly, of having been an accomplished scholar. Mr. Wolcott was also distinguished for his love of order and religion. In his last sickness he expressed, according to Dr. Backus, who preached his funeral sermon, a deep sense of his personal unworthiness and guilt. For several days before his departure, every breath seemed, to bring with it a prayer. At length, he fell asleep. He was an old man, and full of years, and went to his grave distinguished for a long series of services rendered both to his state and nation. The memory of his personal worth, of his patriotism, his integrity, his Christian walk and conversation, will go down to generations yet unborn.

He did not sign the Declaration of Independence until later because of personal illness, becoming the penultimate signer, just before Matthew Thornton.

Robert Brescia, Ed.D., serves as a Board Director, Past Chairman, at Basin PBS Television. He has served in top leadership roles in education, corporate business, nonprofit, and defense with twenty-seven years of public service as an Airborne Ranger Cavalry Soldier, NCO, and Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army. Mr. Brescia was appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to the State Board for Educator Certification.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 44 – Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise
Public Domain Image https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Williams_(Connecticut_politician)#/media/File:William_Williams_(delegate).jpg "William Williams of Connecticut: Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Pinch Hitting for the United States of America – Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise"

Rick Miller, playing for Boston Red Sox, holds the 1983 American League record for the highest batting average in a season by a pinch hitter at .45714. Miller, however, is not New England’s greatest pinch hitter.

That title goes to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the redundantly, patronymically named William Williams. Williams, a successful soldier and merchant of Lebanon, Connecticut, was elected to represent Connecticut on July 11, 1776, seven days after the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

Oliver Wolcott had cast the vote on behalf of Connecticut, and Williams’ turn at bat came because the Declaration of Independence, although adopted on July 4, 1776, had to be prepared by clerks and circulated by messenger for signature later. The original Declaration of Independence thus bears William Williams’ name in addition to Oliver Wolcott’s.

Williams came from a good state. Connecticut is known as the Constitution State, and it gets that name due to the “plebesbyterian” genius of the early Puritans. Thomas Hooker, a Puritan contemporary of John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and John Cotton, led the adoption in 1639 of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in Hartford as a charter for the Connecticut River towns. The Fundamental Orders were the first charter government that did not refer to the authority of the King of England, but rather to the authority of God through the people.

As Hooker put it – fifty years before John Locke penned his Second Treatise on Government in 1689 – “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly in the free consent of the people … the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

Thus, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, animated by Hooker’s thought, anticipated by more than one hundred years the Declaration of Independence, which of course draws its authority from the laws of Nature and Nature’s God, the principle of equality, and the consent of the governed.

Williams came from a good family too, and married into an even better one. Williams was educated at Harvard, graduating in 1751 at age 20.  In 1755, Williams volunteered for the militia in the French and Indian War, and served in the Lake George area. Following the war, Williams spent his time in trade and government, rose to prominence, and in 1771, at the age of 40, married 25-year-old Mary Trumbull.

Mary was the daughter of Jonathan Trumbull, also a graduate of Harvard and Governor of Connecticut by royal appointment of the King of England. It is hard to imagine a better-connected New Englander than William Williams of 1771.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence all pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor” to the success of the Revolution. Many paid dearly with the first two, though all in time gained honor. Williams, when he signed the Declaration, had achieved a great deal as a pre-Revolutionary American and had much at stake.

Williams had built and continued to build a record of daring for an established man. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a society which fought for the rights of Americans and against British taxation, until it was outlawed by the Stamp Act in 1765. Forced underground, the Sons of Liberty popularized the practice of tarring and feathering for the punishment of officials and loyalists, and were sponsors of the Boston Tea Party.

In 1774, Williams published a pseudonymous letter to the King of England from America, on the subject of the Coercive Act. Williams’ need for a pseudonym is a reminder that a telltale symptom of tyranny is the suppression of speech. In any event, Williams had crossed a line in his letter, accusing the King of England of the most wicked intentions to oppress the American people.

There was never a doubt then, when William Williams got his turn at bat, he would swing for the fences.

William Williams, pinch hitter and American hero, died in Lebanon Connecticut on August 2, 1811.

Eric Wise is an attorney practicing in New York.

 

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Samuel Huntington was a patriot who devoted most of his life to serving his country. Moreover, he was a self-educated man who rose to some of the highest offices in the land by hard work and dedication.

Samuel was born on July 16, 1731 in Scotland Parish in the Town of Windham, Connecticut (today the Town of Scotland). His father, Nathaniel Huntington, had a 180-acre farm bordering Merrick Brook and was a successful, but not overly wealthy, farmer. His mother was Mehetabel Thurston, a very pious and virtuous woman. Together they raised ten children, four boys and six girls.

As the second son, Samuel saw his older brother sent off to Yale, while he stayed home to help on the farm. At age 16, his father apprenticed him to a cooper (a maker of barrels and casks) to learn the trade. Although he completed his training, his true interest lay in the study of law.

The only formal schooling Samuel received was from the common schools (community funded schools in early New England) in the immediate area. Not one to be put off, Samuel devoted his free time to reading as many law books as he could find, many supplied by two local attorneys, Eliphalet Dyer and Jedediah Elderkin.

On December 2, 1754, at the age of 23 and despite no formal schooling, Huntington was admitted to the bar in Windham. Six years later, Samuel moved to nearby Norwich, Connecticut to seek greater opportunities for his law practice. The next year, he married Martha Devotion, the daughter of his minister, and settled into domestic life. The couple did not have any children of their own, but when Martha’s sister Hannah, who had married Samuel’s brother, died in 1771, they raised their two children.

Huntington soon acquired a solid reputation and his legal practice flourished. By 1764, Norwich had selected him to represent their interests in the state General Assembly, an honor he held for the next decade.

The next year, Samuel was appointed the King’s Attorney (today’s District Attorney) for his area. In 1774, Governor Trumbull appointed Huntington to the Connecticut Superior Court, a post he held until 1784 when he was named to the Supreme Court.

After the battles at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, colonial leaders convened the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Connecticut chose Huntington to be one of its delegates to the conference. He took his seat in January 1776 and was a strong advocate for independence. Along with Oliver Wolcott and Roger Sherman, the other two delegates from Connecticut, he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence.

Huntington went home in 1777 and did not return to Congress until February 1778. In September 1779, when John Jay left for a diplomatic mission to Spain, Congress chose Huntington to replace him as President of Congress, a position of little power but indicative of the great respect his peers had for him.

His steady temperament and diplomatic personality had impressed his fellow delegates. Benjamin Rush considered Huntington “a sensible, candid and worthy man, and wholly free from State prejudices.”

In 1780, despite his wishes to the contrary, Congress selected him to be their President for another year. During this time, Huntington worked tirelessly to convince skeptical states of the need to adopt the Articles of Confederation, our first real constitution. That was accomplished on March 1, 1781 when the Articles officially became the law of the land.

In November 1783, Huntington left Congress for the last time, and returned home to Connecticut, but his public work was not done. He was chosen to be the state’s Lieutenant Governor in 1784 and 1785. Then, in 1786, Huntington was elected as Governor, a position he held until his death on January 5, 1796.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Samuel Huntington and what he did for America matter to us today?

Samuel Huntington was a man who devoted much of his life to the service of his country. From the age of 33 until he passed away in his 64th year, Huntington served in some public capacity, including state assemblyman, Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, President of the Continental Congress, and Governor of his home state of Connecticut.

During his time, this Signer of the Declaration of Independence was so highly regarded that he was awarded honorary degrees from Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale. Additionally, his acquaintances included George Washington, John Adams, and Ben Franklin. That is impressive for any man, let alone one who was self-educated and began life as a farmer. A man like that deserves to be remembered by us today.

SUGGESTED READING: Connecticut Congressman: Samuel Huntington by Larry Gerlach is a book published in 1976 as part of Connecticut’s Bicentennial Commission. It covers the entire life of this remarkable man.

PLACES TO VISIT: Samuel Huntington’s birthplace and childhood home in Scotland, Connecticut is open for tours. The beautiful grounds include the 18th century house, museum, and acres of farmland bordering Merrick Brook.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

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Essay 29 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

The Declaration of Independence has been called “American Scripture” because of the justifiable reverence by Americans for this foundational document of natural rights republicanism. The Declaration was a seminal moment in the history of America and of the world. However, this fact can sometimes cloud understanding of the historical context of the Declaration.

The colonists and British went to war at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The siege of Boston lasted some nine months before the British departed and prepared a massive invasion force of redcoats and foreign mercenaries for New York. Still, most American colonists were reluctant to separate and preferred reconciliation with the mother country. They identified as English and were loyal subjects of the king who thought the dispute could be ended once a ministerial conspiracy against American rights was ended.

The ravages of war and pamphlets such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense finally pushed the Americans to declare independence but not before much deliberation and a titanic debate in the Second Continental Congress. On July 2, the Congress adopted the resolution for independence and the Declaration of Independence two days later.

The war followed from a decade of tyranny, taxes, and violations of the colonists’ right to govern themselves by their own consent. The colonists continually sent petitions to king and Parliament to protest these oppressions and humbly ask for a redress of grievances. The right of petition was a traditional right of Englishmen with a long history reaching back to the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689). The colonists were angry about the violations of their rights and liberties but were just as irate that their petitions were ignored or treated with disdain.

The coming of the Stamp Act initiated a decade of petitioning king and Parliament for the rights of the colonists as Englishmen especially no taxation without representation. For example, the Virginia House of Burgesses agreed to a petition in December 1764 that was largely drafted by planter, Landon Carter. The petition emphasized that it was humbly submitted with “all due reverence” and “in a respectful manner.” Most importantly, it claimed the “freedom which all men, especially those who derive their constitution from Britain, have a right to enjoy.” The Burgesses asserted that “a fundamental principle of the British Constitution” was that “the people are not subject to any taxes but such are laid on them by their own consent.”

The Stamp Act Congress issued a Declaration of Rights in Oct 1765 in the form of a petition as a “dutiful and loyal address” and “humble application” for colonial rights. The petition began with several important points that appeared in almost all petitions throughout the 1760s and 1770s. It emphasized that the colonial subjects owed allegiance to the king, but the colonists were “entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.” Their rights were guaranteed by colonial charters, the British Constitution, and natural right. Therefore, the body made the usual assertion of no taxation without consent.

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act because of the complaints of British merchants not the various petitions that were carried across the Atlantic. The colonial boycotts significantly impacted the profits of British merchants who themselves petitioned king and Parliament for relief. However, in 1766, the Parliament coupled the repeal with the Declaratory Act reasserting its authority over the colonies. After the Stamp Act, the colonists dispatched hundreds of similar petitions with the above themes to Great Britain to protest the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, and the Coercive Acts.

In July 1775, in the wake of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Second Continental Congress coupled the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms with one last highly significant petition to the British. In the Olive Branch Petition, the Congress focused on the war raging between the colonies and the British. The Olive Branch Petition blamed the “artful and cruel” ministers advising the king for causing open hostilities. The colonists begged the king for a reconciliation for “stopping the further effusion of blood” with their British brethren and “restore the former harmony” with them.

The Olive Branch Petition was ignored just like all the previous petitions. On August 23, George III responded by declaring the colonies in a state of open rebellion. However, it still took almost another year of war before the colonists declared independence. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the listed grievances addressed the ignored colonist petitions:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

The American political regime was a republic that recognized the importance of representation and the right of petition. The Constitution created a national Congress that was close to the sovereign people and would receive their petitions and listen to their grievances. The First Amendment formally recognized the right of petition: “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right of petition has been the center of vigorous democratic debate and deliberation throughout American history. Abolitionists sent petitions against slavery and the slave trade as early as the First Congress in 1790 and in the 1830s and 1840s when petitions flooded Congress, and John Quincy Adams heroically battled against the Gag Rule. This one example demonstrates that the grievance about the right of petition was not an ancient complaint in a foundational document from hundreds of years ago with no relevance to today, but part of a vibrant democracy.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

 


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William Ellery of Rhode Island was a strong supporter of the American effort to gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Ellery was born on December 22, 1727 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the second son of William Ellery and Elizabeth Almy. His father was a graduate of Harvard and a successful merchant. Young William did not attend any formal schools, but instead his learned father provided most of his instruction.

He was a fast learner and went to Harvard at the age of 16. Ellery graduated four years later in 1747 and, by all accounts, was a good student. William soon returned to Newport and entered the family business. Two years later, in 1750, he married Ann Remington with whom he had seven children.

Ellery then moved on from his father’s employment and became a customs collector and then later the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. While in this capacity, William was able to become familiar with writs, deeds, and other practices of the legal profession. He found he enjoyed this field and began studying law. William passed the Bar and set up his own practice in 1770 at the age of 43.

When relations between England and her American colonies soured in the 1760s, Ellery became a vocal opponent of British oppression and joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of like-minded Patriots. He stated, “To be ruled by Tories (supporters of England) when you may be ruled by the Sons of Liberty is debasing.”

Interestingly, two of the first acts of resistance in the colonies occurred in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and were initiated by Ellery’s fellow Rhode Islanders. The first incident was the burning of the British ship Liberty, a craft used to collect maritime revenues, on July 19, 1769.  Then, on June 8, 1772, these same Rhode Islanders burned the British ship Gaspee, another customs vessel. In both cases, these ships had apprehended a boat owned by an American colonist for supposed customs violations.

When the Second Continental Congress was called in 1775 to address the deteriorating situation with England, Ellery let it be known he would gladly participate if needed. When Samuel Ward, one of Rhode Island’s delegates to this conference, died on March 26, 1776, state leaders selected Ellery to replace him.

Ellery joined this assemblage on May 16, 1776, and proudly affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence when it was officially signed on August 2, 1776. He wrote to his brother Benjamin, “We have lived to see a period which a few years ago no human forecast could have imagined – to see these Colonies shake off and declare themselves independent of a state which they once gloried to call Parent.”

He continued to be an active participant in Congress until 1785, especially in maritime matters. Because of his experience as a shipping merchant, Ellery was named to the Marine Committee and the Admiralty Court. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in November 1777.

Unfortunately for Ellery, his involvement in the colonial cause cost him quite a bit of money. Besides not being available to do work for his paying legal clients, when the British captured Newport in 1778, they sought out Ellery’s home and burned it to the ground. This incident is a reminder of what our Founders sacrificed and risked promoting our quest for independence.

When the new Federal government was instituted in 1789, President George Washington named William as the Collector of Customs for the Newport District. Ellery held this post through many administrations until his death in 1820.

When Ellery died on February 15, 1820, he was 92 years old, one of only three signers (Charles Carroll of Carrollton and John Adams) who lived into their 90s. In his lifetime he outlived two wives, fathered 19 children, served five different Presidents as a customs’ official, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He had quite a life.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should William Ellery and what he did for America matter to us today?

William Ellery was an early and strong advocate for American independence. Despite having a lucrative law practice, Ellery gladly gave his time and energies to the Second Continental Congress.

He was highly respected by his contemporaries and his advice was sought on many matters. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, Ellery did all he could to help his country when it needed him most. That sort of life deserves to be remembered.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our founding principles like those stated in the Declaration of Independence is We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding. Published in 2009, it is well worth reading.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island is a great place to visit. Housed in Founders Hall, which was originally built in 1819, the museum has displays on the history of naval warfare and the naval activities that took place in Narragansett Bay.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Roger Sherman was one of the most significant of our Founding Fathers but is little known and appreciated today. He was deeply involved in national affairs from 1774-1793 and signed five of our nation’s most important founding documents. No other early American leader signed as many. His rise from humble beginnings to a position of prominence among our nation’s finest is remarkable.

Sherman was born on April 19, 1721 in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, William, was a farmer and cordwainer (shoemaker) and taught Roger, his second oldest son, his profession. As was common with tradesmen’s children, Roger did not receive much formal education, only completing grammar school.

That said, William Sherman had an extensive library and Roger spent much of his free time reading and educating himself. Sherman showed a natural gift for mathematics and was able to teach himself surveying.

When Sherman’s father died in 1743, Roger moved the family to Connecticut where he was hired as the surveyor for New Haven County in 1745 and, later, for Litchfield County. He also met Elizabeth Hartwell and the couple was married on November 17, 1749. They had seven children together and their three oldest sons all served as officers in the Continental army.

The ever-aspiring Sherman next decided to study law on his own. By 1754, he was admitted to the bar and just a year later was appointed Justice of the Peace for Litchfield County and won an election to Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Elizabeth died in 1760, leaving Roger a widower with seven children. He soon met Rebecca Prescott, a twenty-year-old niece of his brother’s wife. They married in 1763 and had eight children together.

Over the next decade, as things started to heat in the colonies, Sherman held several political positions including Justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and became an advocate for the patriotic cause. The combination of his excellent record of service and his stance on the issues of the day led to his election as a delegate for Connecticut to the First Continental Congress in 1774, thus beginning his time on the national stage.

This legislative body met in Philadelphia to discuss their collective grievances with Parliament, primarily the recently enacted Coercive Acts which imposed harsh penalties on the colony of Massachusetts for their continued mischief. At this convention, Sherman agreed with and signed the two key documents created by this legislative body which signaled to King George that the colonists were not happy subjects.

One of these was a “Petition to the King” which outlined grievances against Parliament but largely held the King blameless, and the other was the Articles of Association (sometimes called the Continental Association) which implemented a boycott on English trade.

Congress adjourned in late October 1774 and Sherman returned home, but not for long. By May 1775, the relationship with England was getting worse and the fight at Lexington and Concord had already happened. Consequently, the colonies convened the Second Continental Congress and, once again, Sherman was chosen by Connecticut to represent the state.

A year into this convention, with no hope for a reconciliation with England, a Committee of Five was selected by Congress to draft what became our Declaration of Independence. This team comprised most of the heavy hitters of that era: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, as well as Roger Sherman. His selection gives clear indication of the respect Sherman’s peers had for him. Congress approved their draft and Sherman became one of its 56 signatories on July 4, 1776.

Another year passed and the war continued. Congress, on November 15, 1777, finally finished the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, essentially our first Constitution, which Sherman signed along with forty-eight others. Unfortunately, this system of government proved to be a failure and, in 1787, it was decided by our country’s leaders to convene a conference with the intention of improving it.

Sherman was selected to represent Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention and it was here he made his most significant mark. The conference was in danger of breaking down due to a conflict regarding how to determine representation in Congress. Large states like Virginia favored apportionment based on population and small states such as New Jersey wanted all states to have the same representation.

To break the impasse, Sherman crafted what came to be known as the Connecticut Compromise. It called for a lower house with representation based on population (the House of Representatives) and an upper house with equal representation (the Senate). Sherman’s plan was brilliant and quickly approved.

Finally, after much work, the delegates created and signed our current Constitution on September 17, 1787. By now, Sherman was 66 years old, the second oldest delegate at the Convention (Benjamin Franklin was the oldest), but there was no rest in sight.

After the new Constitution was ratified, Sherman was chosen to represent Connecticut in the House of Representatives in the first session of the new United States Congress in 1789. After serving two years, Sherman received his final political honor, being selected to serve as United States Senator for Connecticut, a position he held until his death on July 23, 1793.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Roger Sherman and all he did for America matter to us today?

Roger Sherman is representative of the many great Americans who sacrificed and worked so diligently to create America. While our schoolbooks typically teach us about a few monumental figures like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, the yeoman’s work of creating this wonderful country of ours was done by so many forgotten figures.

Moreover, Roger Sherman, a farmer’s son with limited formal education, is a shining example of what people from modest circumstances and with few opportunities can accomplish in this great country of ours by applying themselves. This sort of rags-to riches story can only happen in America and we need to be reminded of that fact.

SUGGESTED READING: “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” is an excellent book written by Mark Hall. Published in 2012, it details both Sherman’s life and the role religion played in the founding of our country.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 28 – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.” 

Abdicated: Renounced; relinquished without a formal resignation; abandoned.[i]

After skewering the Parliament for their obnoxious legislation, Thomas Jefferson returns now with more charges aimed at the King:

On July 5, 1775, a little more than two months after the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, assuring the King that the colonists remained your Majesty’s faithful subjects.” It was signed on July 8 and finally delivered to Britain’s colonial secretary, Lord Dartmouth, by the colonies’ representatives on August 21. The King would not receive it, just as he had turned away a previous petition. Instead, two days later, King George officially declared the American colonies to be in “open and avowed rebellion.[ii]

The “Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” branded the American patriots “Traitors” and encouraged British subjects to report to authorities any persons they discovered to be carrying on “traitorous correspondence” with the rebels (this was well before Twitter).

“The Americans have only to return to their allegiance,” said John Lind in his Answer, “and by that very return, they are re-instated under the protection of the King.”[iii]

England was not unaccustomed to rebellions. Going all the way back to the Norman Invasion of 1066, various rebellions and uprisings had to be dealt with in the aftermath. Certainly, the nobles’ rebellion of 1215 that produced Magna Carta is another prime example. Several Scottish uprisings in the centuries afterward gave the English considerable practice at putting down armed rebellion. Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745 attempted to install first James II and then his son “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to their “rightful throne.” The Jacobite rebellions finally ended when King George I was brought over from Hanover, Germany, to sit on the English throne. No, these “upstart American colonists” were certainly not unique in British history.

“waging War against us?”  In 1776, there would be plenty of that yet to come – as Jefferson was drafting these words, notice came to the Continental Congress that the British fleet was soon to arrive off New York City – but up to this point, the “war” had consisted only of the skirmishes at Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, and a couple instances of naval shelling. But, even without these, Jefferson would have been technically correct in his assessment: a naval blockade such as the King had imposed on American ports the previous year, was an act of war under international law.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

While most Americans can name a few of the significant land battles of the Revolutionary War: Long Island, Trenton, Saratoga, Yorktown, to name several, few could name one of the naval bombardments of coastal America nor any of the significant naval battles of the war.  The battle for Breeds (Bunker) Hill in June 1775 began with a ferocious naval bombardment of Charlestown. Falmouth, Massachusetts was attacked from the sea in October of that year. On New Year’s Day, 1776, British frigates bombarded Norfolk Virginia, burning a large part of the town to the ground.

As to naval battles, no doubt there would have been more if the Americans had more than a handful of ships. The greatest injury sustained from Britain’s vast navy lay in the cargo captured by British ships.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

While professional soldiers from the German State of Hesse-Kassel (Hessians) are commonly seen as the “mercenaries” Jefferson refers to, German soldiers from at least seven German states/regions made up the nearly 30,000 German professional soldiers hired by King George III, who, within the Holy Roman Empire remained known as the Prince-elector of Hanover (Germany). Individual Germans, notably, Frederick William Augustus and Baron von Steuben, volunteered their services to the Americans. After the war, only about 17,300 of the original 30,000 German soldiers opted to return to their homeland in the German states.  Many of the freed POWs chose instead to make a new life in America.

That these Hessians were truly professional soldiers is best exemplified by this excerpt from David Hackett Fisher’s wonderful book “Washington’s Crossing.” Hessian prisoners taken during the Battle of Trenton “were sent from Philadelphia to Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, and then on to western Virginia in 1777. They were escorted by a company of Pennsylvania militia. When they reached the Pennsylvania state line, all of the militia went home except the captain, who told the Hessians, ‘whose affections he had won by his humanity,’ that ‘they must march on without an escort, as he himself should hurry on to Winchester (Virginia),’ When he met them three days later in Winchester, every Hessian POW answered the roll call.”[iv]

In his Answer to the Declaration of Independence, John Lind dismisses the king’s hiring of foreign troops “to bring [the Americans] back to their duty” as a benevolent gesture of the King intended merely to reduce the risk to the lives of his “loyal subjects in Britain.” Later, Lind explains the hiring as a necessity since the British Army was simply not big enough for the task.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

“IMPRESS’MENT, noun. The act of impressing men into public service; as the impressment of seamen.”[v]

Great Britain had practiced impressment since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. “Press gangs” would roam taverns and pubs seeking those too inebriated to realize they were “joining” the Royal Navy. “When a seaman was confronted by the gang he was first given the opportunity to volunteer. If he accepted, he was later paid the bounty. Many seamen preferred to be pressed and to refuse the king’s shilling, since they could not be charged with desertion should they flee the service and later be caught.”[vi]  In the spring of 1757, three thousand British soldiers cordoned off New York City (it was a little smaller than) and plucked 800 “tradesmen and Negroes”out of the pubs and other favored gathering spots.   Four hundred of these were “retained in the service”.[vii]

Keeping a vast naval fleet manned and ready was hard enough in peacetime; it was impossible in wartime without the use of impressment.  Even the fledgling American Navy was forced to use impressment of American citizens in 1777.[viii] Yet, impressment of foreigners into service in the British Navy was against British law.[ix] In 1812, Americans would thus be protected, theoretically, from the practice; but the practice continued and became a major factor leading to the war. During the war for American Independence, however, Americans enjoyed no such protection.[x]  American sailors captured in a naval exchange with the Royal Navy could the next day find themselves fighting their own countrymen or, as Jefferson put it: fall[ing] themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” 

The “domestic insurrections” Jefferson refers to were slave rebellions.  There had been slave rebellions in the American colonies before so the British knew slaves, at least some of them, would fight their masters if given the opportunity.

The Stono Rebellion was the largest slave revolt to ever take place in the colonies. On Sunday, Sept. 9, 1739, supposedly a “day off” for slaves, about 20 slaves under the leadership of a man named Jemmy broke into a store, stole weapons and supplies and headed for the refuge of Spanish-ruled Florida, leaving 23 murder victims in their path.

But what Jefferson was most likely thinking of as he wrote these words was Virginia Governor Dunmore’s proclamation of November 7, 1775. The proclamation declared martial law in the colony and promised freedom for any slaves in Virginia who left their owners and joined the royal forces, becoming Black Loyalists.

In 1768, Britain decided to stop protecting the colonies from Indian attacks on the frontier. Various Indian tribes, eager to recoup land settled by the colonists, mounted attacks, some of them notoriously vicious.[xi]

This ends the complaints section of the Declaration of Independence.

As previously noted, the various complaints Jefferson raises in the Declaration, many the British had seen before, are an oft-overlooked section of this marvelous document. They show us in their reverse what good government is all about. And, it should not surprise us to find many of these “problems of government” solved in the Constitution.  The U.S. Constitution was an answer to problems. By understanding the problems, one better understands the solution.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people. CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at 

gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

[i] http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/Abdicated

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proclamation_of_Rebellion

[iii] John Lind, An Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress, 1776, p. 94

[iv] David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2004), 379

[v] http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/impressment

[vi] Roland G. Usher, Jr., Royal Navy Impressment During the American Revolution, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review , Mar., 1951, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Mar., 1951), pp. 673-688

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment#British_North_America

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment#British_North_America

[ix] https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/british-navy-impressment/

[x] https://www.nps.gov/articles/impressment.htm

[xi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enoch_Brown_school_massacre

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Stephen Hopkins was a Founding Father who was very influential during much of the 1700s in his home state of Rhode Island. In fact, he has been called “the greatest statesman of Rhode Island.” Moreover, he participated in all major pre-Revolutionary joint colonial conferences.

Hopkins was born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island on March 7, 1707 into a family with a long history in that area. His father, William, was descended from Thomas Hopkins who had moved to Providence from Plymouth in 1641 following Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.

His mother, Ruth Wilkinson, was the granddaughter of Lawrence Wilkinson who arrived in Providence in 1652. Stephen grew up on a farm in what is now the town of Scituate (it broke off from Providence in 1731) receiving virtually no formal schooling. Instead, he read all the classics and was instructed by his mother and other relatives in subjects such as mathematics and surveying. By all accounts, Hopkins was very bright.

In 1726, Stephen married Sarah Scott with whom he had seven children. Hopkins became a surveyor and was soon a leading citizen in Scituate and, in 1735, at the age of 28, was named president of the town council. He also represented Scituate in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1732 to 1741 and was named its Speaker in 1742.

Stephen moved to Providence in 1742 where his brother Esek lived and together they began a prosperous mercantile-shipping firm, including building and outfitting ships. His business acumen was largely responsible for transforming Providence into a thriving commercial center.

While growing his business, Hopkins was also growing his influence in state affairs. He served in the Provincial Assembly from 1744-1751 and became the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court in 1751. In 1755, Hopkins was elected to the Governorship of Rhode Island, a position he held for nine of the next thirteen years.

In 1754, at the start of the French and Indian War, colonial leaders met at the Albany Congress to discuss how to best organize their efforts against the French. Rhode Island selected Hopkins to represent their interests at this conference.

At this meeting, Hopkins met Benjamin Franklin who introduced the so-called “Albany Plan,” the first effort to unify the energies and resources of the various colonies. Hopkins strongly supported this proposal, but it was not approved by the King’s officials because the governors of the separate colonies and the Ministry back in England feared losing their power.

As the years moved forward and the relationship between the Mother Country and her colonies worsened, Hopkins became an outspoken proponent of the rights of American colonists. In 1764, Hopkins published a pamphlet called The Rights of the Colonies Examined which detailed those rights. He stated, “British subjects are to be governed only agreeable to laws by which they themselves have in some way consented.” The paper was widely disseminated and praised throughout the colonies.

Ten years later, in 1774, Hopkins was named as a representative to the First Continental Congress where he strongly advocated separation from England. At this meeting, Hopkins stated, “…powder and ball will decide this question. The gun and bayonet alone will finish the contest in which we are engaged, and any of you who cannot bring your minds to this mode of adjusting this question had better retire in time.”

Hopkins was also selected to attend the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Other than his long-time friend Ben Franklin, Hopkins was the oldest delegate there. He suffered from “shaking palsy” and when he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence, his signature appeared unsteady. However, Hopkins declared, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Soon thereafter, Hopkins, whose health was failing, returned home. He lived long enough to see his country finally attain its independence from England. When Hopkins passed away on July 13, 1785, America had lost one of her truest Patriots.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Stephen Hopkins and what he did for America matter to us today?

Stephen Hopkins was a man who devoted much of his life to helping his local community, colony/state, and country become a better place to live. Although he was self-educated, he attained the highest offices in Rhode Island, serving as that state’s Speaker of the General Assembly, Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Governor, and representative to both the First and Second Continental Congress.

Stephen Hopkins did all in his power to help create this great country of ours. We owe him our respect and gratitude for his efforts.

SUGGESTED READING: The Rights of Colonies Examined written by Stephen Hopkins in 1764 was one of the finest political pamphlets published in pre-Revolutionary America. It is an excellent read and recent reprints can be found online.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Governor Stephen Hopkins House is a museum and National Historic Landmark in Providence, Rhode Island. Originally built in 1707, Stephen Hopkins bought the house in 1742 and lived there for over forty years.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn. 

 

 

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ESSAY 27 – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter
House of Commons at Westminster, 1808, Parliament

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
– For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
– For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
– For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
– For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
– For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
– For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
– For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
– For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
– For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”

In an earlier essay in this examination of the Declaration of Independence, we encounter Mr. Thomas Jefferson beginning to lay out the “facts” he wishes a “candid world” to consider as the colonists make their case for independence. These facts begin by pointing to actions of the King alone (“He has refused his Assent to Laws…”). Now Jefferson turns his attention to actions for which the King required the assistance of Parliament: “Acts of pretended Legislation.”

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:”

This is one of the most overlooked sentences in Jefferson’s Declaration.  Readers quickly skip past this sentence to get to the “pretended legislation” they know Jefferson is about to highlight. And we’ll get to that legislation soon enough; yet, there is much to glean from this simple sentence. But first we will need to lay a foundation, beginning with identifying the main characters Jefferson mentions. “He” is obviously King George III; “others” refers to Parliament. Together, King and Parliament have subjected the colonies to “a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution.” Our constitution? In 1776, eleven years before the U.S. Constitution is drafted? What possibly could Jefferson mean?

One common answer is that Jefferson refers here to the British Constitution. He could be claiming that Parliament and the King have repeatedly ignored or violated the British Constitution, particularly the 1689 Bill of Rights which forms a major part of Britain’s “unwritten constitution.”[1] And this is certainly a fair reading of the sentence. But could Jefferson have intended a different meaning?

In his first draft of the Declaration, the sentence read: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions….”  Constitutions, in the plural, could only mean one thing: constitutions of the separate colonies, not the Constitution of Britain. But Jefferson is writing in June of 1776. At that time only three colonies had true constitutions; they had responded to a resolution of the Second Continental Congress, passed on May 10, 1775, which read:

Resolved, That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.”[i]

Adopting “such government” meant enacting a new constitution, and the colonies, at least some of them, soon began deliberating, and then writing. On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire became the first of the thirteen to approve its new constitution, thus separating itself from England a full six months before Congress would do so on behalf of all the colonies. Four days later, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was published in America. On April 12, South Carolina did likewise. On May 4, Rhode Island, concluding that its colonial charter described an adequate governmental structure they did not wish to re-design, nevertheless unilaterally declared independence from the Mother Country. Finally, on June 29, a day after Jefferson presented his final draft of the Declaration to the Congress, the Virginia Assembly approved its colony’s new Constitution.

So, which document or documents was Jefferson complaining had been violated: the English Constitution or the “Constitution” or constitutions of the colonies? Before answering, let’s be sure we understand what comprises a Constitution. For that we turn to Black’s Law Dictionary:

“The organic and fundamental law of a nation or state, which may be written or unwritten, establishing the character and conception of its government, laying the basic principles to which its internal life is to be conformed, organizing the government, and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, and prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers.”[ii] (Emphasis added)

If England was operating from an unwritten Constitution (and they were, and still are); could the colonies have been as well?

By 1776, many of the colonies had been self-governing for more than 150 years – Virginia since 1619. As Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College puts it: “They had built a society of self-government. They would live in no other kind.”[iii] Their charters comprised agreements between themselves and the King – there was no mention of Parliament in the Charters – and the colonial assemblies had seldom sought Parliament’s help in governing. Despite the occasional intrusion of the royal governor’s veto, for the most part, colonial self-government was working; the “character and conception of [their] government” was well established. Is it possible that the colonies had, by 1776, a well-established, but unwritten constitution? While we might expect recognizable differences in such a constitution from colony to colony, there must also have been a certain core of “basic principles to which [their] internal life [had been] conformed.” I believe it was this unwritten Constitution, rather than the English one, to which Jefferson referred. Dr. Arnn agrees.[iv]

Yes, the colonists were British subjects. Yes, they were subject to British law, but the King and his ministers and the Parliament had overlooked an important point: over the last 150 years the colonists had become a new people with a new taste for freedom enjoyed by few other people on earth, and they were not going to readily give it up to an emboldened bully called Parliament.

Others in this year’s 90-Day Study have no doubt highlighted the connection between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, a connection recognized even by the Supreme Court.[v] As we now review the “Acts of pretended Legislation,” we will encounter several examples of improper or otherwise “bad” government that were fixed, preempted if you will, in the drafting of the 1787 Constitution. Finally, I call your attention to a little-known document entitled: “An Answer to the Declaration of Congress” by British barrister John Lind. Neither the King nor Parliament answered Jefferson’s Declaration directly; they could not. To do so would, in their eyes, have given unwarranted credence to it;[2] instead they commissioned Mr. Lind to answer.[vi] As you might expect, Mr. Lind dismisses Jefferson’s allegation with a figurative wave of the hand.

Acts of pretended Legislation” points, as you might expect, to actual legislation recommended by the King and passed by the Parliament. I will refer to these acts where they can be identified.

  • “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.” Not only “among us” but IN OUR VERY HOMES! After the French and Indian War concluded in 1763, the British left troops behind in America as a prudent measure in case the Indians (or the French) decided ignore the 1763 Treaty of Paris, quartering them in barracks built for that purpose or in public buildings. The 1765 Quartering Act required colonial legislatures to raise the necessary tax revenue to support the soldiers lodging. But, after the violent Stamp Act protests of 1765, the next year the Quartering Act was amended to allow lodging troops in public buildings such as pubs and ale houses, with compensation to the homeowners of course. As protests continued and expanded, Parliament began to see that even more troops were needed to keep the peace. The 1774 Quartering Act[vii] enabled troops to take over private homes without the owner’s permission. In early 1775, Parliament sent another 10,000 soldiers to the colonies, to be placed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other seaports. Lind’s reply to the Quartering complaint was the equivalent of “What did you expect during a revolt?” The Founders abhorrence of the quartering system led to the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States. Soldiers with time off seemed to get into trouble without much effort, even to the point of murder. In 1768, British soldiers in Annapolis, Maryland, killed several citizens. The soldiers were tried but acquitted, a result which did not sit well with locals. Three years later, North Carolina Governor Tryon ordered troops to fire upon an angry assembly of citizens who had brought complaints to the court house, killing several of them. These soldiers were also arraigned for murder, and also acquitted. Need we mention the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770? The Administration of Justice Act of 1774,[viii] which Lind thinks Jefferson was referring to here, was commonly called the “Murder Act” by the colonists.
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world. Various Navigation Acts since the late 17th Century had attempted to funnel trade to and from the colonies through British ports to enable taxes to be levied and revenue to be raised. In 1733, the Molasses Act applied heavy duties to the trade of sugar from the (cheaper) French West Indies while leaving sugar purchased from the British West Indies duty free, producing a new enterprise in America: smuggling. Finally, in December 1775, the King issued a proclamation (the Prohibitory Act) closing the American colonies to all commerce and trade, to begin the following March. Under international law, this was an act of war.
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: The French and Indian War raised British national debt 70% over 7 short years. Even though the “Seven Years War” (as it was called in Europe) saw skirmishes also on the European continent and the oceans, Parliament saw the effort as basically bailing out the colonies; thus, the colonies would need to pay for their “salvation.” The Stamp Act of 1765 was one such effort. But, the issue of taxation without representation had been brewing for a long, long time.
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury. In 1674, during the reign of Charles II, the British formed a Court of Admiralty in America, bypassing the long-established colonial legal system. In 1764, a Revenue Act created a so-called ‘super’ vice-admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, presided over by a Crown-appointed judge. Instead of being tried by a jury of their peers, colonists were sent for trial by a single judge paid directly by the Crown. Lind claims the Admiralty Courts were merely a response to ubiquitous piracy in American waters.
  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences. On April, 1774, Parliament passed “A bill for the impartial administration of justice in the cases of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the laws, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England.” (Don’t you just love these simple law titles?) The Governor or the Lieutenant Governor could now order colonists to be transported to another colony or even to Great Britain for trial. If you wanted witnesses to testify in your favor, guess who paid their transport and lodging? Sound fair? It should come as no surprise, then, to find our own U.S. Constitution read: The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed. (Article 3, Section 2)
  • For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies. This “neighbouring Province,” you might guess, was Canada. In 1774, Parliament passed a bill giving support to French Catholics in Quebec and expanding Canada’s border to encompass land desired by other colonies. Parliament’s plan was to create a safe place to mass British troops in case of open rebellion.[ix]
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments. Attempts to confiscate colonial charters go back to at least 1686[x]. The Boston Port Bill of March, 1774 altered the Charter of Massachusetts and gave the King the right to choose the members of the Massachusetts Council. The King would now have complete control over the selection of judges and have the ability to appoint sheriffs. Popular town meetings were eliminated, and the election of jurors denied. Even some members of Parliament described the Act as “exorbitant usurpation.”
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”[xi] Colonial legislatures had been repeatedly suspended. When New York’s Assembly failed to comply with the 1766 Quartering Act, Parliament suspended the colony’s Governor and legislature in 1767 and 1769. The order was never carried out since the Assembly backed down and agreed to contribute the necessary funds to cover the quartering in that colony. “[I]n all cases whatsoever” could only refer to one thing: the Declaratory Act of 1766, passed as the Stamp Act was being repealed. Here, Jefferson uses the Act’s own words in ridicule.

One by one, Jefferson ticked off the acts of “pretended legislation,” exposing Parliament’s obnoxious meddling in colonial affairs. But, in so doing, he continued his exposition of the principles of good government begun earlier in the document. For example: if “transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences” is an example of bad government, Jefferson simultaneously points us to an example of good government: hold trials, if at all possible, in the locale where the crime was committed. And, what do we find in Article 3, Section 2 of our Constitution? “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed…” (Emphasis added)

Studying the Declaration of Independence is a worthy goal, if nothing more, simply as an example of good writing. But, it can be so much more. Thoughtful study of Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration introduces us, if inadvertently, to a treatise on good government. Thank you, Mr. Jefferson.

After skewering the Parliament for their obnoxious legislation, Jefferson returns (in our next essay) to the King, with more charges.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people. CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).


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[1] The British Constitution, to this day, is described as an “unwritten” Constitution. Unlike that of the United States, which encapsulates its constitution in a single document, thus making it a “written” constitution, Britain’s constitution is comprised of the Bill of Rights of 1689, Acts of Parliament, and Common law, law developed by the courts and judges through cases.

[2] Lind writes: “Ill would it become the dignity of an insulted Sovereign to descend to altercation with revolted subjects. This would be to recognise that equality and independence, to which subjects, persisting in revolt, cannot fail to pretend.”

[i] http://founding.com/founders-library/government-documents/federal-government-documents/resolutions-and-recommendations-of-the-continental-congress-1776/

[ii] Blacks Law Dictionary, 4th edition

[iii] Larry Arnn, The Founders’ Key (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2012), 31.

[iv] Ibid, 25.

[v] Gulf, C. & S. F. R. Co. v. Ellis ,  165 U.S. 150 (1897)

[vi] https://archive.org/details/cihm_20519/page/n5/mode/2up

[vii] 14 Geo III c.54 according to Lind

[viii] 14 Geo III c.39 aka The Administration of Justice Act, the colonists called this “The Murder Act”

[ix] 14 George III, c. 83 aka The Quebec Act, 1774

[x] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_Oak

[xi] 6 Geo III c 12), aka the Declaratory Act

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Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was an early voice calling for the American colonies to separate from England and declare independence. However, Gerry and his accomplishments are largely forgotten today.

Gerry was born on July 17, 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. At that time, Marblehead was one of the leading seaports in North America. Gerry’s father was a prosperous merchant operating ships out of that port, primarily exporting dried cod to the Caribbean and Spain.

Elbridge received an excellent education as a child from private tutors and then attended Harvard where he graduated with two degrees, the second of which came in 1764. Gerry soon thereafter joined his father and two brothers in the family business.

In 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, the first of several legislative measures to raise revenue by taxing the colonies. The recently completed French and Indian War had depleted the British Treasury and England hoped to remedy this situation partly on the backs of their American subjects.

Gerry became an early opponent of these acts by Parliament, and he soon allied himself with Samuel Adams and other leading political figures in Massachusetts. In 1772, Gerry was elected to the Massachusetts Bay legislature which proved to be the start of a successful political career.

In 1775, as relations between England and its American colonies deteriorated, Gerry was assigned to lead a Committee of Safety charged with supplying the Continental Army which was surrounding Boston and the British army located there. His experience in the shipping business proved to be a great asset.

When the Second Continental Congress was convened in 1776, Gerry was selected by Massachusetts to be one of their representatives. At the convention, Gerry was a strong advocate for separating from England. John Adams stated, “If every man here was a Gerry, the liberties of America would be safe.” When the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, Gerry proudly affixed his signature to this historic document.

Gerry continued to serve in Congress and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, but he left that assembly in 1780 over a concern that too much power was being concentrated in the central government. In 1783, Gerry was persuaded to return to the Confederation Congress which was meeting in New York. While there, Elbridge met Ann Thompson and the two were married in 1786. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the couple had ten children.

When issues arose due to weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, the states called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to fix them. Gerry represented Massachusetts but was against the proposed Constitution because he felt the new document vested too much power in the federal government.

Gerry worried the country would drift towards monarchy or aristocratic rule with the new system of government. He also felt the Constitution should include a bill of rights guaranteeing personal freedoms to the people. As it turned out, Gerry was one of only three delegates to the Constitutional Convention that refused to sign the Constitution (George Mason and Edmond Randolph were the other two).

Following the establishment of the new Federal government, Gerry served two terms in the House of Representatives (1789-1793). He chose not to seek a third term and returned home to care for Ann, who was ill, and help care for the children. During this interval, Gerry maintained good relations with then Vice President John Adams.

When Adams became President in 1800, Adams selected Gerry, along with John Marshall and Charles Pinckney, to act as commissioners to France to settle some maritime disputes. This delegation ended badly when French representatives demanded bribes before starting negotiations and the Americans left France in disgust. This episode was called the XYZ Affair with the initials representing the three Frenchmen who demanded the bribes.

Gerry returned home to criticism that he had handled the situation poorly. Following this controversy, Gerry spent the next decade unsuccessfully trying to get elected as Governor of Massachusetts. Finally, in 1811, Gerry achieved his goal and served in this capacity until 1812.

Interestingly, one of his final acts as Governor was to sign a bill which created Congressional districts that benefitted his party, the Democratic-Republicans. One was shaped like a salamander and a cynical correspondent dubbed this district a “Gerrymander,” a name which is still widely used today.

Finally, in 1812, Gerry was selected to be President James Madison’s Vice President for Madison’s second term. It was felt that Gerry could help Madison, a Virginian, secure Northern votes. While serving in this office, Gerry died on November 23, 1814 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence interred in our nation’s capital.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Elbridge Gerry and what he did for America matter to us today?

Elbridge Gerry devoted the better part of his life to the service of his country. Starting in 1770, when he sat on a commission trying to enforce a ban on British goods to when he died in 1814 while Vice President of the United States, Gerry faithfully served America.

This gifted man served in the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the United States House of Representatives, and as Vice President. That is an impressive resume. Largely forgotten today, Elbridge Gerry deserves to be remembered for all he did to help create this great country of ours.

SUGGESTED READING: If you want to read more about our founding era, an excellent book is “The Founding Fathers; An Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America.” Published in 2007 and authored by Encyclopedia Britannica, it has concise narratives of our nation’s critical documents and Founding Fathers, including Elbridge Gerry.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 26 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

It was an article of faith among English and American advocates of classic republicanism of the 18th century that the military must be subject to civilian control. In the United States Constitution, that faith is manifested expressly in the President’s role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, including of the states’ militias when called into service of the United States. Moreover, the President, with the consent of the Senate, appoints military officers. In addition, at least five clauses of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution assign to Congress various roles in controlling the armed forces of the United States and the states’ militias. One of those, prohibiting appropriations of funds for a term longer than two years, was seen by the framers as a cornerstone of control over the military. James Madison went so far as to claim in The Federalist No. 41: “Next to the effectual establishment of the union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies, is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support.”

A similar spirit was manifested in the Articles of Confederation. Article IX of that document gave to Congress the power to appoint the high-level officers of the land forces in the service of the “united states” and all officers of the naval forces. Congress also would make the rules and regulations for those armed forces and direct their operations.

It was the asserted refusal of the British to subordinate their military forces in the colonies to civilian control that created one of the points of conflict leading to the American revolution. Both the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen “united states” denounced the king’s “affect[ing] to render the Military independent of and superior to, the Civil power.” This was not in fact the case in Great Britain itself. The king and Parliament retained control of the military. Moreover, as opponents of the Constitution of 1787 pointed out later, military appropriations by Parliament were limited to a single year, even tighter than the proposed American restriction.

Therefore, the complaint was not against English constitutional custom regarding the relationship between the civil and military authorities, which was, in fact, quite republican in nature. The last time that the military in England was not under civilian control had been during the dictatorship of Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s. Instead, the charge against George III arose out of the Americans’ experience with the British treatment of the colonial governments, particularly the events in Massachusetts Bay.

As early as 1765, the Quartering Act required any colony in which British troops were stationed to supply them with provisions and lodging. If lodging in barracks was unavailable, the soldiers might be housed in certain private buildings, typically in inns and establishments that sold alcohol. As a last resort, the troops were to be housed in unoccupied other private buildings. The colonists saw this as a form of taxation to which they had not consented through their assemblies. Moreover, this act appeared to presage the stationing of a standing peacetime army on American soil, another abomination in the eyes of conscientious republicans.

The Act was put to the test in New York. In 1766, the colony’s assembly, which had acted under its own quartering law until the beginning of 1764, refused to comply with the Act. With the 1,500 troops in New York City obliged to remain on their cramped ships, Parliament voted to suspend the assembly in 1767, though no concrete action was taken to enforce the suspension. In 1768, the assembly agreed to provide the funds demanded by the British for supplies for the troops, except the expenses for beer and rum. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, acting on another vote by Parliament in 1769, thereupon suspended the assembly from further meetings. Once more, no further concrete action was taken, perhaps because a newly-elected assembly soon voted the full requisition.

The events of the mid-1770s brought about increasingly stern reactions from Parliament. The Boston Tea Party, in particular, was a catalyst for British resolve to bring the colonists to heel. The Boston Port Act of 1774 required the city to pay for the tea and for losses to British officials in the Boston riots. Until those obligations were satisfied, the port was sealed off to trade. The Act was enforced by British warships and several regiments of troops. More pointedly, the commanding-in-chief of British forces in North America, General Thomas Gage, was also appointed governor.

Gage replaced Thomas Hutchinson, a prominent local businessman and published historian. Hutchinson had deep family roots in New England, and his appointment was in line with emerging British policy to appoint reliable locals to these executive positions. Like many Loyalists, Hutchinson was torn between those family roots and his loyalty to the Crown. Attacked by both sides as too closely aligned with the other, his attempt to steer a middle course failed. Much of the blame was undeserved, but at a time when the utmost political sensibility and skill were required, Hutchinson too often was tone-deaf. Sam Adams and the other radicals blamed him for, well, pretty much everything. In turn, Lord North, the prime minister, blamed him for the deteriorating political situation in Massachusetts, which led to the appointment of General Gage. In another ironic twist, Gage eventually was removed from his offices, because the British thought him to be too lenient and sympathetic to the colonials.

The Massachusetts Government Act of May 20, 1774, altered the governing charter of Massachusetts Bay. Henceforth, the governor would appoint the council, which was previously elected by the colonial assembly. He also would appoint all lower court judges and nominate judges of the superior courts. Further, no town could call a meeting of its council more than once per year without the governor’s consent. In effect, this put both the judicial and legislative functions under more direct control of Gage, who, as noted, was the military commander.

Finally, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of June 2, 1774. This allowed the governor to order troops to be housed in private buildings without legislative authorization. From the British perspective, this was a reasonable imposition. It was to be used if no funds were appropriated by the colonial assemblies to find other quarters for the British soldiers, who had been forced to camp out on Boston Common for a long period. Recent historical research has determined that the Act, like its predecessors, only permitted quartering of troops in unoccupied buildings.

The locals, however, were convinced that the Act allowed troops to be housed in occupied homes. To them, this was yet another outrage against their liberties and a violation of what they saw as their ancient rights of Englishmen. After all, both the English Petition of Right of 1628 and the Declaration of Rights of 1689 had listed quartering of soldiers in homes without the consent of the owners or authorization by law among the grievances against the Stuart kings, Charles I and James II, respectively. It is no surprise then that, on independence, Article XXVII of the Massachusetts constitution of 1780 declared: “In time of peace no soldier ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; and in time of war such quarters ought not to be made but by the civil magistrate, in a manner ordained by the legislature.” At the time, “ought” meant a duty owed and was analogous to “must.” The Third Amendment to the Constitution contains an almost verbatim restriction.

The formal subordination of the military to the civil power remains today. In addition to the constitutional sections that deal with such subordination, an additional provision seeks to maintain at least a separation of the two. Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution prohibits anyone “holding any office under the United States [from being] a member of either house during his continuance in office.” Although the matter is not resolved, it appears from a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, United States v. Lane, that a member of Congress could not serve as an appellate military judge. Senator Lindsey Graham was a member of the U.S. Air Force Standby Reserve, as well as a Senator, when he was appointed to serve as a military judge. The court held that a military judge was an officer of the United States, and that the “Incompatibility Clause” disqualified Graham.

However, the Lane court refused to address whether or not all service or status in the military reserve disqualified one from being a member of Congress. Presumably being an active member of the military would do so for various reasons, constitutional and practical. However, members of Congress have been officers in the reserves while simultaneously serving in their legislative capacity. Finally, the subordination principle does not apply to former military officers or to service in a non-legislative capacity, at least so long as the person is subject to removal by the president and civilian control over the military is retained.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.


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Robert Treat Paine was an American patriot who helped our country gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Paine was born on March 11, 1731, in Boston near Old City Hall. His father was Reverend Thomas Paine, a Harvard educated minister, and his mother was Eunice Treat, the daughter of a preacher, and granddaughter of Governor Robert Treat of Connecticut. Soon after Robert’s birth, his father left full-time preaching and became a successful merchant.

Robert received an excellent education at the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America. He was a bright child and finished at the top of his class. He entered Harvard at the tender age of 14 and graduated four years later.

Due to Robert’s father losing his fortune in 1749, Robert knew he had to make his own way in the world. After teaching for a year, Robert went to sea as a merchant ship captain from 1751-1754. His business pursuits were not very lucrative and, in 1755, he began to study law under Judge Samuel Willard, a relative in Lancaster, Massachusetts. To help make ends meet, Paine continued to preach part-time in nearby Shirley.

In 1755, the French and Indian War had started. As any adventurous young man might do, Paine took a three-month break from his studies and volunteered as a chaplain on an expedition to assault Fort Saint-Frederic (today Crown Point). While the attack did not amount to much, it was a good experience for Paine and gave him an appreciation for the military and the needs of an army.

Upon returning, Robert resumed his legal studies and, in 1757, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. He initially set up shop in Boston and four years later he moved his practice to Taunton, Massachusetts. His ability soon made Paine a leading citizen in Taunton and his business flourished.

In 1766, at the age of 35, Paine’s mind turned to romance, and he began courting twenty-two-year-old Sally Cobb. Four years later, the couple was married at the Cobb family house called “the Chapel” in Attleborough, Massachusetts. Robert and Sally had eight children and, surprisingly for the times, all survived to adulthood.

By 1768, Paine had gotten actively involved in the patriotic cause. He served as Taunton’s delegate at a colonial conference to discuss the landing of British troops in Boston earlier that year. While Paine took a moderate stance regarding separating from the Mother Country, he recognized that the abuses of the English could not be tolerated.

Two years later, on March 5, 1770, these same troops quarreled with a group of Boston citizens (more of a violent mob if truth be told). The result of this encounter was the so-called Boston Massacre, in which five civilians were killed by the soldiers. Because the District Attorney was sick, Paine was selected to prosecute the soldiers who were charged with murder. The opposing counsel defending the men was John Adams, our future President. Adams won the case, but Paine won wide praise for his efforts.

As relations between the colonies and England grew worse, the First Continental Congress was called in 1774 to try and rectify the situation. Paine was selected to represent Massachusetts at this meeting, and he signed the Olive Branch Petition to King George which asked the King to be more reasonable to his American subjects. This request fell on deaf ears.

In 1775, after Lexington and Concord, colonial leaders assembled once more in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. Paine was chosen again by Massachusetts to represent their interests. He took an active role in the debates and chaired a committee tasked with the logistics of supplying the Continental Army.

Paine proudly signed his name to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He wrote to his friend Joseph Palmer, “the issue is joined; and it is our comfortable reflection, that if by struggling we can avoid the servile subjection which Britain demanded, we remain a free and happy people.”

Returning home, Paine participated in many civic affairs. In 1777, he was named as Massachusetts’ first Attorney General, a position he held until 1790. Paine also served as an Associate Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1790 to his retirement in 1804. He died on May 11, 1814 at the age of 83.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Robert Treat Paine and what he did for America matter to us today?

By all accounts, Robert Treat Paine was a fine upstanding citizen who contributed to the greater good in his community. He was a good family man, and he had a deep-seated Christian faith. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, when his country needed him, Paine answered the call.

Despite having a lucrative law practice, he sacrificed his own work to help in the American cause at both the First and Second Continental Congress. Like so many forgotten Patriots, Paine quietly participated in the shaping of our new nation. We will always owe a debt of gratitude to these unsung heroes.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our war for independence is Robert Middlekauff’s “The Glorious Revolution; The American Revolution, 1763-1789.” Written in 2007, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is very readable.

PLACES TO VISIT: Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, where the First Continental Congress met, is a great place to visit. Located in Independence National Historical Park, it is just a stone’s throw away from Independence Hall. It is a smaller, but beautiful building and worth a visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

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Essay 25 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts
BattleofLexington1775WWollen

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

Here we observe yet another Grievance on the “evidence list” that the colonists are submitting to the world to prove their case for independence. This particular grievance may be the most impactful to them, their families and their daily lives. The British military were seen as an army of occupation in the colonies in the 1770s. They were also seen as an army that was depriving the colonists of their property without their consent, which led to the legal reasons behind the Declaration of Independence. British troops were also looked upon as a risk to the physical safety of the citizens of the colonies. Frequent confrontations occurred and the relationship between the mother country and her subjects was becoming more fragile every day. The colonists believed that the dangers and future threats that came from this occupation of a standing army was one of the most tyrannical behaviors of the king.

The above portion of the Declaration shows us the point in the document where this grievance, listed as a fact to a “candid world” described how King George III had held a military presence in a peaceful land and had the goal of terrorizing and harassing the people there. As a result of this military action and the other grievances stated in the Declaration, the colonies were moved to declare their independence in July of 1776. How did they arrive at this particular grievance? The colonists believed that the King acted as a tyrant by using his military forces to control, intimidate and dominate them, as well as their families, their livelihoods and their way of life. They also felt that he had unleashed his army on them, a defenseless people, with no army of their own to defend themselves.

The British had established a military presence in the 13 colonies since their inception in the 1600s. Military conflicts were a way of life in the colonies and they included wars with Native-Americans, the Dutch, Spain and France. The largest number of British troops were sent to the colonies during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and 60s. As a result of that conflict, Britain was plunged into tremendous debt and arrived at the conclusion that the colonies, who lived under the protection of the greatest military force on the planet, should pay for that protection from outside invasions and threats from Native Americans. That payment would come in the form of several Acts of Parliament resulting in taxation, bringing increased revenue to the British empire. When the colonists rebelled against these Acts and displayed behavior that King George III felt was dangerous and treasonous, he took action and sent more troops to the colonies to quiet the dissention. It did not work.

There were approximately 45,000 men in the British army in 1763. That number was roughly 48,000 at the start of the American Revolution in 1775. The army needed to be paid, fed and housed within the colonies and the British government took steps to do so through legislation such as the two Quartering Acts.

The first Quartering Act was created in 1765 as a way to make the American colonists pay for the housing and care of British soldiers. Britain felt that if their soldiers were going to be in the colonies protecting the citizens there, then the colonies should pay for it. The relationship between the soldiers and colonists was terrible in places like Boston, where soldiers had been brought in to enforce the laws. In some colonies that bordered the frontier, the protection of the British was received much more appreciatively, although the taxes and policies were still not. The tension-filled areas created great anger towards each other as a result. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was a direct result of this and led to the death of five colonists, which led to further anger and distrust on both sides. Tragically, British troops that were sent to keep the colonies in line and to protect them would eventually end up fighting a war here against them.

The second Quartering Act was part of the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts, passed in 1774 by King George III in response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The king was furious with the Tea Party participants and with the amount of money England lost because of it (over 1 million dollars in today’s currency). He wanted to make Boston pay for their actions and he wanted more soldiers in Boston to monitor the situation there. Eventually, the overflow of British soldiers led to a housing shortage for them. This Quartering Act stated that British soldiers could be housed in unoccupied buildings, barns, or “other buildings” that may be needed to house them. This Act was personal to the colonists in Boston, as well as all 13 colonies. It dealt with where to place British soldiers in the colonies among the people living there. Colonists did not want the British in their towns and definitely did not want British soldiers living with them. The anger at British troops being housed among the people of the colonies was so strong that Thomas Jefferson decided to include it in the list of grievances against King George III in the Declaration of Independence.

The increased aggression continued to mount on both sides throughout the 1770s and culminated in the “shot heard ‘round the World” on Lexington Green in April of 1775. From then until July of 1776, additional major battles were fought, including Bunker Hill and the Battle of Quebec. Hundreds of patriots had already died on battlefields in the 15 months leading up to the Declaration of Independence, as the “times of peace” had transitioned into times of war.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.


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If Americans know of John Adams at all, it is probably somewhat vaguely as a long-ago President. Adams’s tenures as Vice-President and President are not generally regarded among the memorable in American history. He was not charismatic, physically imposing, or politically adept. In seeming contrast to his Puritan roots, he also was rather vain. As a result, he did not come easily by loyal friends in the political world.

As Vice-President, he is probably best known for his efforts to devise titles for the President and others along the lines he had seen during his residence in the Dutch Republic, where top government officials were addressed as “His Highmightiness.” He proposed that the President be called some version of “His Excellency” or “His Majesty.” A Senate committee went further, reporting a proposal that the President should be addressed as “His Highness the President of the United States of America and the Protector of the Rights of the Same.” James Madison and many others raised objections about the monarchical tone, and, fortunately, the House refused to approve. For his diligent efforts in this matter, Adams was the target of many jocular “titles.” Senator Ralph Izard of South Carolina referred to the short, plump Adams as “His Rotundity,” and that biting remark stuck.

Despite some policy successes, including the build-up of the Navy, Adams’ single term as President was marked by foreign relations turmoil, such as the naval war with France, and domestic missteps, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams saw the office as a chore, and avoided his duties at a rate higher than any other occupant of the office. Samuel Eliot Morison relates that, in four years, Adams stayed away for 385 days, returning to his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Adams’ sojourns at their farm reflected a deep connection to their New England roots. In the 1770s and 1780s, there was probably no single American who was as influential in the overall development of revolutionary and constitutional theory as John Adams. His thoughts often reflected an enlightened Puritanism. During the Revolutionary War, Adams was a diligent and successful administrator. He was an ally and confidant of General George Washington, although, typical of the lack of mutual understanding among the elites from different colonies, Adams did not trust Washington unreservedly. Several times during and after the War, he was selected to undertake important diplomatic tasks. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, Adams was “always honest, often great, sometimes mad.”

Adams was an attorney. He had already made a name for himself, but still took a great professional risk, when he and two other attorneys defended a British officer and eight soldiers accused of murder in the “Boston Massacre” of March 5, 1770. After numerous provocations, and in fear of their safety, the soldiers had fired on a violent mob of colonials, five of whom were killed. The officer was tried for murder seven months later, the soldiers a couple of months after that. All were acquitted of the capital murder charges, although two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter. The trial produced one of Adams’ well-known quotations, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Adams’ stature as a member of the radical faction against the British helped him, as well as the soldiers, with the jury. So did his family connections. His cousin Samuel Adams was of similarly militant inclination against the British. Both cousins were trained in classical history and political theory. Both were skilled debaters, though neither was a particularly compelling oralist. But John was the more intellectual “office” type, while cousin Sam was the more hands-on troublemaker. John wrote resolves, treatises, and constitutions, while Sam focused on organizing protests and riots, writing proclamations, and distributing outlandish propaganda.

John Adams had become involved in the political struggle that would culminate in American independence, during the controversy over the writs of assistance that the British used to combat smugglers who sought to avoid the Sugar Act import duties. Writs of assistance were general search warrants whose open-ended nature the colonials saw as violations of their rights as Englishmen. James Otis, Jr., was hired to challenge these writs in Paxton’s Case in 1761.

Otis gave a long and forceful argument that the act authorizing these writs was void, because, “An act against the Constitution is void; an act against natural equity is void.” This was a novel assertion in English law. It challenged the supremacy of Parliament, and, contrary to long-established English constitutional custom, suggested that the courts could refuse to apply such an act to controversies before them. Otis lost his case. Still, his argument provided the germ for the gradual development of basic principles of American constitutional law about the relationship between constitutions and ordinary laws, and about the role of an independent judiciary. As to the writs of assistance, five years later, the British attorney general agreed with Otis about their invalidity. Today, they are prohibited under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Adams was well-acquainted with Otis and was in the audience at the trial. He was much impressed with the argument, which clearly influenced his later views of balanced government and his drafting of the Massachusetts constitution. Adams also promoted Otis as a leading patriot voice. Both joined in their opposition to the next issue, Parliament passing the Revenue Act of 1764. The colonial assemblies objected that such involuntary taxes were invalid, a sentiment that eventually was captured in the slogan coined by Otis, “No taxation without representation is tyranny.”

In the disputes leading to the Declaration of Independence, Adams emerged as a prominent political theorist for the cause. His work Novanglus, of February 6, 1775, rejected Parliament’s control over the colonies. Adams instead claimed that the colonies and Great Britain were separate states, united only through the person of the king in a dominion status similar to that of England and Scotland. Based on the American theory of representation, and the practical obstacles to American representation in Parliament, such as physical distance, the colonial assemblies governed the colonies, while Parliament governed Great Britain. In an apparent contradiction to this argument, he did allow that Parliament could be in charge of foreign policy and trade, but analogized this to a commercial treaty approved by the Americans explicitly or by custom, rather than an inherent power.

An important part of Adams’s theory in the Novanglus essay was that the colonies, separately and in union, had their own constitutions that were not subject to alteration by Parliament. There appeared the influence of Otis’ earlier arguments that distinguished between Parliament’s legislative powers and constitutional limits thereon. In separate publications, James Wilson and Thomas Jefferson, future signers of the Declaration reached the same conclusions, as well. All rejected the “empire theory,” under which Parliament exercised control over all parts. These three were part of the “radicals” who also opposed the First Continental Congress’ Declaration of Rights and Grievances adopted on October 14, 1774. Congress there had accepted Parliament’s inherent power over the colonies’ external commerce, while rejecting that body’s authority over other matters, such as revenue. Adams adamantly rejected the moderate federal structure that the Congress’ Declaration of Rights embraced. Instead, as he wrote in Novanglus, “I agree, that ‘two supreme and independent authorities cannot exist in the same state,’ any more than two supreme beings in one universe; And, therefore, I contend, that our provincial legislatures are the only supreme authorities in our colonies.”

As the drive to revolution became unstoppable, and the Second Continental Congress declared the colonial charters void, Adams wrote a letter to George Wythe of Virginia, which provided a written plan of government to be considered by that state. The letter eventually was published by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia as Thoughts on Government, and its influence on the Virginia convention’s work was evident to Adams’ contemporaries, and to Adams himself. As he wrote to James Warren, on June 16, 1776, “But I am amazed to find an Inclination So prevalent throughout all the southern and middle Colonies to adopt Plans, so nearly resembling, that in the Thoughts on Government.”

At the same time, the Second Continental Congress appointed Adams to the committee to propose a declaration of independence. The initial drafting task fell to his friend and future political rival, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson proposed that Adams write the declaration, but Adams demurred. It is said that Adams justified his refusal by telling Jefferson, “Reason first: You are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

With the war under way, Adams continued to serve in the Continental Congress. He, along with Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge, composed a delegation sent to discuss a political accommodation with the British after a disastrous American military defeat on Long Island. The conference was requested by Admiral Lord Richard Howe, the supreme commander of British forces in North America, and his brother General William Howe, the commander-in-chief of the British land forces. The Howe brothers were Whigs and not unsympathetic to the American cause. Nevertheless, nothing came of the conference, and, as loyal officers of the king, the Howes turned to their job of settling the matter militarily.

The condition of the American army was deplorable, from a dearth of supplies and a lack of training and discipline. Adams was appointed head of the Board of War, the analog to the Secretary of Defense today. He immediately pressed Congress to accede to General Washington’s requests to maintain the army. Adams proposed that an enlistee who joined for the duration of the war be given $20 plus 100 acres land. To maintain discipline, punishments for various offenses were raised. For example, drunkenness on duty became punishable by 100 lashes instead of 39. The number of crimes subject to the death penalty was increased, as well. However, these Articles of War, written by Adams and based on their British counterpart, also provided proper procedures for the accused. Finally, Adams proposed creation of a military academy for better military training for officers, but nothing came of that until after the war.

Adams initially opposed alliance with France, but the desperate state of the American quest for independence eventually caused him to change his mind. As the war wound to a successful conclusion, Adams arrived in Paris as part of the five-member American delegation. Because several members, including Adams, distrusted the French diplomats, the Americans on November 30, 1782, made a separate preliminary treaty with Great Britain. It took nearly a year for the French and British to agree to their own terms, and peace was finally achieved on September 3, 1783.

Adams, who was an Anglophile by family roots and political philosophy, quickly wished to reestablish close commercial and diplomatic ties with Great Britain after the war. He became the first American minister to London in 1785. When he was received by George III, he hoped that “the old good nature and the old good humor” between the two countries would be rekindled. The king was willing, but the government was not. Efforts to enter a commercial treaty failed, due in part to the weakness of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The foreign department dismissively suggested that the states send delegations, instead. Adams left the post in 1788, frustrated and disappointed.

In addition to his numerous administrative and diplomatic duties, Adams continued to lead on another political issue, that of drafting constitutions and developing theoretical foundations for them. His principal success was the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. The people of the state had rejected a constitution proposed by the legislature in 1778. Like other “first wave” state constitutions of the 1770s, that version had mixed different powers, vested primary power in the legislature, and contained no bill of rights.

Adams, like most of the era’s contributors to American constitutional developments, had read the classic ancient political writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius, as well as more recent ones, such as Locke and Montesquieu. In their original languages. Adams, cousin Sam Adams, and James Bowdoin were selected by the Massachusetts convention in 1779 to draft a constitution to be submitted to the people. The two other members left the task to Adams.

The completed work, The Report of a Constitution, provided several cornerstones for future American constitutionalism. He proposed a government whose structure was more balanced among three independent branches than the legislature-centric state constitutions rushed out by the state legislatures during the drive to independence in the mid-1770s. Indeed, Article XXX of the Declaration of the Rights in Adams’s constitution offered an almost cartoonish version of an unyielding separation of powers. The Declaration also enumerated a long list of rights the legislature was prohibited from infringing. Finally, influenced by The Essex Result, a petition written by Theophilus Parsons against the proposed constitution of 1778, this new constitution was produced by a convention selected solely for that purpose, rather than by a legislative committee. Moreover, it was approved by town meetings, rather than by the legislature itself. This distinction between the function and status of ordinary legislatures and constitutional conventions became a critical catalyst in the development of American constitutional theory going forward and in the emergence of the judiciary’s power of constitutional review.

Adams’s creation influenced the next wave of state constitutions, as well as the drafters of the United States Constitution in 1787. Though substantially amended since then, the Massachusetts constitution is the oldest still in effect today.

The final work of Adams about constitutions, and perhaps his most comprehensive, was A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, written in three volumes over the course of a little more than a year beginning in 1786. It was a response to criticism by Baron Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, a French government official, of the emerging systems of separation of powers in the American state constitutions. Turgot and others dismissed those constitutions as just the British structure with a republican gloss. Governors who were independent of the legislatures mimicked the king, and bicameral legislatures the British Parliament, with the senates taking the role of the House of Lords. The criticism stung, as Adams himself had drafted such a “mixed government” for Massachusetts.

Defence takes the form of a series of letters as if written by a traveler around Europe. At the time, Adams was the American minister to the English court. His focus became writing, his diplomatic obligations taking a subsidiary role. Summoning his vast knowledge of history and political theory acquired through diligent research, he examined numerous republican constitutions from antiquity forwards. He aimed to expose the weaknesses of the democratic structures and “pure” systems of government favored by Turgot. History, the record of human experience, not ideology, was the sole reliable guide for Adams. Only balanced governments had survived the test of time, a lesson applied to the young American republics.

Like Aristotle and Polybius, Adams feared that pure forms, especially democracies, were unstable and inevitably led to tyranny, because of man’s lust for power due to his fallen nature. Classic republics fared little better, because they, too, relied on human virtue to sustain them. Adams doubted that Americans possessed sufficient virtue, though strong government direction through support of religion and morality might have a positive influence. In early 1776, he wrote that there was “so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America” that put in question whether Americans had “public Virtue enough to support a Republic.” In contrast, much later he would say “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In between, his defense of the American state constitutions was founded on the practical recognition that virtue is not enough to ensure liberty.

Adams was not at the Philadelphia convention, but the first volume of Defence was well-known to many of the participants. Though Adams was criticized by some for what they saw as an abandonment of militant republicanism, the framers of the Constitution adopted a similar system. The “mixed government” of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1787 became the system of “checks and balances” of the United States Constitution which would augment reliance on the people’s virtue in sustaining liberty. As Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51, to preserve liberty while allowing government to function, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Essay 24 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

This Grievance in the Declaration of Independence focuses on the most visible aspect of “taxation without representation,” which was foundational to the American Revolution.

England was deep in debt after prevailing in the first worldwide war of the modern era. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) engaged all European countries, big and small, in a struggle for territorial and political dominance of the European Continent. It rapidly spread to battling over control of Colonies and trade routes throughout Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

What was known as the “French and Indian War” in North America was just a small part of this larger world war.

After the British victory, British Prime Minister, Lord Grenville (1763-1765), desperately sought ways to pay off the crippling war debt. Grenville chose to ignore the fact that American Colonists paid, fought, and died to defeat France in North America. Instead, he promoted the concept that the beneficiaries of the war (American Colonists) should pay for it. He also asserted that American Colonists should pay for retaining twenty battalions of British soldiers that remained to pacify the people conquered in the former French territories.

Grenville’s first step was to enforce existing customs duties. Many British Customs officials managed collections through intermediaries while remaining in England. Grenville forced them to relocate to America as part of his general crack down on smuggling, lax enforcement, and spotty revenue collection. Expanded numbers of Customs Officers became more aggressive in using search warrants, called “writs of assistance,” to track down smuggled goods. Warehouses were seized and ships were captured to bolster Royal revenue collection. Royal Customs officials became a permanent and pervasive presence in Colonial seaports along the Atlantic coast.

Benjamin Franklin cautioned that “what England gained from taxes would be lost in trade.” A post-War economic recession proved him prophetic.

The shortfall in Customs revenue led to the Stamp Act of 1765, the first internal tax levied directly on American Colonists by the British Parliament. Prior to the Stamp Act, taxes were only levied by local government through their elected officials. Now a government, 3,500 miles away, was asserting control, without the knowledge, approval, or oversight of the Colonists.

The Stamp Act imposed a tax on all paper documents in the Colonies. This included legal documents, playing cards, newspapers, and land titles. Stamps had to be purchased with British sterling, rather than local paper currency, causing additional economic hardship. Proof of payment required affixing a Royal Stamp on documents, thus the name.

The February 1765 Parliament debate on the Stamp Tax reveals the growing chasm between King George III and his proponents versus the American Colonists:

Prime Minister Grenville:

“and now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence until they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from heavy weight of the burden which we lie under?”

Colonel Isaac Barré [Member of Parliament and friend of Benjamin Franklin] responded:

“They planted by your care? No! Your oppression planted ‘em in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable…

“They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of ‘em. As soon as you began to care about ‘em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over ’em, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this house, sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon ’em; men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them….

“They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defense, have exerted a valor amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defense of a country whose frontier while drenched in blood, its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument …. The people I believe are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated.”

 

Barré’s reference to the “sons of liberty” became the moniker for the Boston Patriots for years to come.

Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. Hundreds of Royal commissioned “Stamp Agents” arrived in major towns across the American Colonies. They were met with riots and attacks. In October 1765, representatives from nine of the Colonies met at the City Hall in New York City to coordinate opposition, a forerunner to the Continental Congresses. In the face of mounting opposition, and concerns for the safety of Royal Tax officials, the Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on February 22, 1766.

While seeming to address Colonial concerns, Parliament linked repealing the Stamp Act to passage of the Declaratory Act. This Act affirmed Parliament’s authority to pass any Colonial legislation it saw fit, without input, notice, or representation. The Declaratory Act galvanized Colonial concerns about “taxation without representation,” first raised with the Stamp Act.

Charles Townshend (August 1766-September 1767) became Prime Minister and developed additional imperatives for taxing the Colonies. It was no longer just about paying war debt; it was about consolidating Imperial power.

Raising taxes, and trade-based duties and fees, would provide enough money for the British Crown to “reimagine” Colonial administration by directly paying Colonial governors, judges, and other senior officials. American-based officials would now owe their livelihood directly to King George III instead of the Colonists and Colonial assemblies. By “liberating” royal officials from their financial dependence on American legislatures, Townshend hoped to eliminate the most tangible obstacle preventing regular enforcement of parliamentary laws and royal directives.

Higher revenue from the American Colonies was also to provide enough funds for Townsend to reduce the British Land Tax, consolidating his Party’s support in future elections.

The “Townshend Acts” created new taxes on numerous consumer goods. The Acts authorized and funded the hiring of the much referenced, “multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” Legions of Royal tax collectors and Customs Officers arrived from England to establish new or expanded operations in every major Colonial trading center.

Townshend died before his initiatives swept through the Colonies. Widespread opposition and protests led to the repeal of most taxes in April 1770. The controversial tax on tea remained.

The Tea Tax, and the “swarms of Officers,” remained daily reminders of oppression by unaccountable Royal officials. Arthur Lee, serving as an observer for Massachusetts before the British Parliament, mused whether any Member of Parliament actually:

“know us, or we him? No! Is he bound in duty and interest to preserve our liberty and property? No! Is he acquainted with our circumstances, situation, wants, etc.? No! What then are we to expect from him? Nothing but taxes without end!”

The ever-expanding and intrusive presence of tax collectors and customs officers merited several mentions in the “Petition to the King” as part of the documents issued by the First Continental Congress in 1774, and became one of the grievances within the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.


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Samuel Adams believed that his ancestors’ voyage to America was rewarded by creating a society that “enjoyed more freedoms than anywhere in England,” writes Mark Puls in his biography of Samuel Adams. His family and other colonists lived under the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, a contract with the king that afforded them opportunities to pass laws and levy their own taxes. However, there was a tradeoff. The charter of 1691 turned Massachusetts, already relatively independent and autonomous, into a royal colony. William III was then the king of Britain and appointed his own governor and chief justice of the court, and the governor could veto legislation.

Adams was, at first, happy they lived with the same English liberties yet added privileges. Yet, when Britain began to expand their ruling hand, things changed. Adams became dissatisfied, resolutely opposed to British intervention and limits in their lives.

“Much of the credit for the Revolutionary stance of Bostonians belongs to Sam Adams and a group that came to be known as his ‘Sons of Liberty’ (or the ‘Boston Mob’ as some called them).” Boston in the 1760s was a hotbed of radical activism and violent protest against British colonial policy.

Adams was born on September 16, 1722 in Boston to his mother Mary Fifield and his father Samuel Adams Sr. He was the third child of twelve (only three lived past third birthdays). Samuel the younger cherished the stories of his Puritan ancestors who bore the difficult transatlantic journey to come to an untamed land seeking a better life.

Samuel Sr. and Mary raised their family in a house on Purchase Street, the church being the center of their universe. His father, a hard-working and successful malt shop brewery merchant, became a deacon. As a child Samuel was “unusually obedient” influenced by the religious piety and study of his mother and older sister who bore the same names. Deacon Adams, like any parent, wanted his children to have what he did not have.

Samuel first attended Boston Latin School, a feeder school for Harvard. Speaking Latin was a sign of refinement that set one apart in the blue-collar colonist society. He first considered ministry and in 1736, at 14 years age, entered Harvard to study theology. The prominent members of Boston society were merchants and ministers.

Samuel Fallows who wrote a book about Samuel Adams in 1903 said this,

“All the years have voices for them that will hear; and even the simple annals of the common place events have in them the heart of epic possibilities.”

Sam Adams was fascinated listening to his father, whose esteemed voice gained merit in political circles. Deacon Adams was a select member of the colonial legislature and political organizer. Leading men in Boston met at the Purchase Street home to seek advice while he helped form a popular party to offset the Loyalists. Younger Adams’ father was against Britain extending crown privileges, concerned the colonists would lose their rights.

Deacon Adam’s disputes intrigued his son. Intrigue turned to resentment when Jonathan Belcher, Royal governor and member of the Tory party, used his influence to put an end to the Land bank Deacon Adams started. It was hard times and many were poor and needed cash to invest in their farms, shops, businesses. Mechanics were desperate for tools and equipment and traders needed stock. The Land bank issued paper money replacing barter for trade.

Elitist Tory merchants and officials tied to Belcher formed a rival bank backed with silver deposits. They banned any member of the Land bank from using their offerings and removed Adams Sr. from his posts as a justice and soldier. Parliament issued an act to dissolve the Land bank in 1741. They applied a 1719 law “that held directors personally responsible for losses and cited another all-but-forgotten statute extending legislation in England to the colonies,” writes Puls. Despite protesting the act as “unconstitutional,” this threw the family into years-long legal battles and contentious efforts to hang on to the Adams estate that Adams Jr. would inherit.

The writings of John Locke enamored Adams. Locke maintained men and women were entitled to “life, liberty and property.” Also believing ‘government’ was bound to protect these rights. While at Harvard, he staged political debates, developing persuasive skills. He was unsettled on a career and his parents could not convince him to pursue a career in the ministry. Adams Jr. grew dislike for authority of any kind. He was independent in his convictions and motives.

He, with some friends, threw himself into a paper called the “Public Advertiser” publishing editorials and commentary from a Whig perspective. His first article argued that “[Loyalty] is founded in the love and possession of liberty.” Adams believed that allegiance should be given to laws not government leaders. He would become, along with John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, and Doctor Benjamin Church the four leaders of the Boston Whigs. The key principles of the Whig party were to defend the people against tyranny and to advance human progress. In modern times, Americans began calling the Whigs “patriots” because of their immense love for America.

The trajectory of Sam Adams.

Sam Adams was financially dependent on his father, unlike his successful cousin John Adams, an attorney of stature. John would gain much notoriety defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and winning a brilliantly-executed case using a jury of his own countrymen. Although cousins, the Adams’ were destined to become epic voices in the Revolution – they were very different in looks and approaches standing up to Britain. John was about the law and Sam was about protecting rights and property. John would join his cousin in the resistance when it was clearly evident one must accept the king’s laws, taxes and deteriorating rights. To oppose in open rebellion was a signal for great alarm. A future declaration from King George III promised any treasonous rebels death by hanging.

When Deacon Adams died in March 1748, son Samuel was lost and unstable having depended on his father for advice and money. This son of a maltster had no direction and now had to run the inherited brewery, plus manage the challenges of family and the fights to preserve their property. He developed a fondness for Elizabeth Checkley, the daughter of an esteemed pastor of the Old Congregational Church, and married her in October, 1749. Elizabeth gave birth to five children, but three did not live past infancy forcing a repeated cycle of grief. It was uncertain times as Adams embraced a lead in sowing the seeds of Boston’s unrest.

Adams continued to write articles about colonial rights diving deep into civic affairs by 1761. His concerns over property rights rapidly fueled his opposition to British imperial policies, thus turning him into “a fiery radical and rabble-rouser. He organized political opposition to the British in the Massachusetts colonial assembly and soon became the colony’s most effective Revolutionary propagandist.”

Although Adams suffered from a congenital palsy that made his lips and hands tremble, he was physically strong as an oak and “Every beat of his heart was for the liberties of his people.”

The core of resistance: British imperial policy and law.

Adams was against Britain sticking their noses deep into their lives. He knew as an elected tax collector from 1756-1764 the financial struggles that beset the people. His humanity got in the way of doing his job and a large sum of arrearages accumulated. The Tories turned this into an accusation against Adam’s honesty. Adams would go from an inefficient tax gatherer to become a leading patriot.

The Seven Years’ War from 1756-1763 (known as the French and Indian War in America) left England with enormous debt and defense burdens after gaining possession of French America and all India. The king tried to recover the losses from the labors of colonists. British Prime Minister Sir George Grenville set out to collect on the trade between America and the French West Indies.

The trade (that became smuggling) was essential for the colonists. Parliament demanded that all commerce be put through English hands. Officers of customs had authority to search houses of persons suspected of ‘smuggling.’ The people were outraged at the brash intrusion.

The Sugar Act was a tax imposed on the colonies in April 1764. It required the colonies to pay a tax to the crown for the importation of a variety of goods, primarily sugar. The tax schemes would go from sugar to royal stamps.

On the 24th of May of the same year, Adams submitted a paper to a town meeting of Boston which was “the first public denial of the right of Parliament to put the ‘Stamp Act scheme’ into effect,” writes Fallows.

Despite opposition, Great Britain imposed the Stamp Act in 1765. This was an outlandish attempt to raise revenue through direct taxation of all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, cards, almanacs, and dice. These documents had to be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Among the Stamp Act’s provisions was the charge of two pounds sterling for a college diploma. The tax had to be paid in British currency, not in colonial paper money.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry made one of his famous speeches before the Virginia House of Burgesses to encourage the passage of the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. Henry said, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III… Henry was interrupted by cries from the opposition to which he replied, “If this be treason, make the most of it.” He later offered a semi-apology. Fallows writes the utterances of Henry were like the blasts of a trumpet sounding the approaching Revolution.

James Otis, Advocate – general (official advisor) to the government took up with the colonists.

Adams took notes when he delivered a five-hour speech during which Otis voiced the infamous cry of “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

The colonists effectively nullified the Stamp Act by refusing to use the stamps. Riots, stamp burning, and intimidation of colonial stamp distributors took place. The Sons of Liberty formed in the summer of 1765 under the direct command of Adams. He called the ‘mob’ out whenever he determined that a protest was needed against British action. Adam’s Sons of Liberty destroyed the stamps wherever they encountered them. They tarred and feathered stamp agents, sacked homes and warehouses of the wealthy. Colonists passionately upheld their ‘Englishmen’ rights to be taxed only by their own consent through their own representative assemblies. For a century and a half prior, this was the practice.

The welcome news of the repeal of the Stamp act reached Boston on May 16th, 1766. Guns were continuously fired; blazing bonfires were kindled. Church bells poured out joyful peals. Yet Adams did not share in the celebration of Bostonians. To him there was a sting in the repeal. For in it – the Declaratory Act was contained giving Parliament the authority “to bind the Colonies and people of America in all cases whatsoever.”

Though British statesmen Pitt and Pratt first gained the love of the colonists for denouncing the Stamp Act, they made a distinction between taxation and litigation, saying “while Parliament could not tax it could legislate.” Adams knew that a brood of “obnoxious measures” were coming to rouse the colonies to open revolt.

Adams held firm the colonists owed no allegiance to Parliament.

He would continue to oppose British measures to suppress the colonists. In May 1766, Sam Adams, Thomas Cushing, James Otis and a wealthy influential merchant named John Hancock were elected as Massachusetts’ representatives, destined to play a vital role in the coming severance of the colonies from the Mother country.

In March 1770, patriot blood was shed in the Boston Massacre. Sam Adams issued a threat to Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson that it was at his own peril if he refused to remove the British regiments from the city.

The Tea Act passed by Parliament in 1773 gave the British East India Tea Company a monopoly on tea sales in America. Sam Adams played a vital role in organizing the Boston Tea Party.

“Samuel Adams was the patient, persevering, ever watchful leader. His conspicuous ability in drafting documents became more and more apparent, and not a paper of any note was put forth which was not written by his pen,” writes Fallows in his book, coining history as ‘romantic, mysterious, inviting the imagination.’

“Better tidings will soon arrive. Our cause is just and righteous and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection.” – Samuel Adams while encouraging wavering Continental Convention delegates in the gloomy winter of 1776-1777.

Among his accomplishments, he founded Boston’s Committee of Correspondence, which – like similar entities in other towns across the Colonies – proved a powerful tool for communication and coordination during the American Revolutionary War.

At first it was liberty within the laws of England for which Samuel Adams strove and that harmony be cultivated between Great Britain and the Colonies. But his views changed and he devoted himself body and soul as a firebrand for breaking the link that bound America to England, leading him to support and sign the Declaration of Independence.

Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning writer whose focus and passion is our United States active-duty military members and military news. Her Patriot Profiles offer an inside look at the amazing active-duty men and women in all Armed Services, including U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Reporting includes first-hand accounts of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight against violent terror groups, global defense, tactical training and readiness, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, next-generation defense technology, family survival at home, U.S. port and border protection and illegal immigration, women in combat, honoring the Fallen, Wounded Warriors, Military Working Dogs, Crisis Response, and much more. Starting in 2012, McKinney has won multiple San Diego Press Club “Excellence in Journalism Awards,” including eight “First Place” honors, as well as multiple second and third place recognition for her Patriot Profiles published printed articles. Including awards for Patriot Profiles military films. During the year 2020, McKinney has written and published dozens of investigative articles in her ongoing fight to preserve America the Republic, the Constitution, and its laws. One such story was selected for use in a legal brief in the national fight for 2020 election integrity.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

Father of the American Revolution, Puls, Mark, 2006. (Sam Adams early life)

https://www.reference.com/history/were-whigs-tories-revolutionary-war-f0692d22d7afbf8c

https://patriotshistoryusa.com/teaching-materials/bonus-materials/american-heroes-sam-adams-and-the-sons-of-liberty/

Library of Congress: Fallows, Samuel, 1835-1922.

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/26/mode/2up

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/28/mode/2up

https://www.britannica.com/event/Stamp-Act-Great-Britain-1765

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Resolves

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765

 

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Essay 23 - Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

The late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared that judicial independence is the “crown jewel” of America’s constitutional system. Given the paramount value the Founders placed on the right to a jury trial, this seems counterintuitive. Surely judges can’t make decisions “independently” from those made by juries, in most cases. (In criminal cases, juries have virtually unlimited authority to acquit; in civil cases, however, their decisions are subject to the judge’s review and may be set aside if they are patently unreasonable.) From whom should judges be independent, and to whose authority should they be accountable?

For the Colonists of the Revolutionary period, the answer was plain and simple: judges should be accountable to the people they serve, acting through their own legislatures, and not to the King alone. The Indictment, presented by the Declaration of Independence, charged that King George “[H]as made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

The experience of Massachusetts was still fresh in the minds of the Founders. An act of Parliament in 1773 had decreed that the salaries of judges would be paid by the King at his discretion, and forbidden them to receive salaries from the colony’s legislature. John Adams, a Bostonian and later contributor to the Declaration and America’s second president, observed, “This as the Judges Commissions were during pleasure made them entirely dependent on the Crown for Bread [as] well as office.” Adams explained:

It was by all Agreed, As the [Royal] Governor was entirely dependent on the Crown, and the [colonial] Council in danger of becoming so if the Judges were made so too, the Liberties of the Country would be totally lost, and every Man at the Mercy of a few Slaves of the Governor.

After the founding of the Republic, the focus shifted to the question of the new federal judiciary under Article III of the Constitution. The perceived danger of a centralized federal court system was a rallying point for anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution of 1787, so much so that Alexander Hamilton famously assured the new states that the judiciary would be “the least dangerous” branch, as it had no army or police force to impose its will, nor the power over the treasury. The question of accountability would be solved in two ways: First, Sec. 1 of Article III provided that “[t]he judicial Power of the United States[] shall be vested in one [S]upreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” thereby making all federal courts below the Supreme Court accountable to the people through their Congress. Further, Sec. 1 said, all federal judges “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.” For Hamilton, protecting the salaries of federal judges was as critical as protecting their jobs: “In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will,” he cautioned. So, for the Framers of the Constitution, the balance between independence and accountability in the federal judicial system would be struck by appointing judges with lifetime tenure and salary security, who could only be removed by impeachment, like the president.

In the states, this balance has been sought in different ways. Although some states have a similar system of appointment and job security, a majority of states select at least higher-level judges by popular ballot, although some mandate that elections be held on a non-partisan basis. This form of popular selection has given rise to its own set of problems stemming from judges’ need to represent majoritarian views in order to be elected by a popular vote. In some states, a compromise approach has been adopted, by which judges are initially appointed by the governor from a list of candidates drawn up by an independent “judicial selection commission” and then subjected to a popular “retention election” some years into their tenure.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide if the federal constitution has anything to say about the fundamental fairness of state judicial elections. One of the largest coal companies in America, Massey Coal Co. of West Virginia, was facing a jury award against it for fraud in the amount of 50 million dollars. One of the justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court had refused to recuse himself from hearing Massey Coal’s appeal, even though he had received election campaign contributions amounting to $3 million from the Chairman of the Board of Massey Coal. The supreme court of West Virginia twice heard the appeal, and twice reversed the judgment against Massey Coal by a vote of 3-2. The second time, the justice who received Massey Coal’s largesse rejected the results of a public opinion poll that showed that over two-thirds of West Virginians doubted his ability to be fair and impartial in the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded (albeit by a split 5-4 vote) that the federal constitution’s guarantee of due process of law required recusal under the circumstances. Echoing the Founders in the Declaration, and the Framers of the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s majority observed, “It is axiomatic that ‘[a] fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process….’ Under our precedents there are objective standards that require recusal when ‘the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decisionmaker is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.’”

So the federal guarantee of due process sets constitutional limits on the judicial selection systems of the sovereign states, the Court concluded. Massey Coal was a Rubicon so wide that many constitutional scholars and judges believe it should never have been crossed. But the lesson Massey Coal teaches is central to the federal system of dual sovereignty: that while states are not bound to emulate the federal judiciary’s means of calibrating judicial independence and accountability, whatever the means they choose to employ have to ensure the constitutional right to due process in all cases.

Steven H. Aden serves as Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel at Americans United for Life. Aden joined Americans United for Life in August 2017, overseeing all legal operations of America’s most effective pro-life organization. Aden is a highly experienced litigator, having appeared in court against Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dozens of times and appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws. A prolific author and analyst on sanctity of life issues and constitutional jurisprudence, Aden is admitted to the bars of the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Hawaii (inactive), and is a member of the bars of the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal circuit and district courts. He has practiced law since 1990 and earned his J.D. (cum laude) from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. from the University of Hawaii.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

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For a man remembered for his signature, John Hancock was so very much more. He was an early and influential voice for independence. He was a successful businessman and smuggler in Boston. He was a man who possessed a very likeable and strong personality that brought people together from all the colonies at the Second Continental Congress, helping to achieve unity and friendship between the men there. He was simply, one of the key figures in our nation’s birth and early history.

John Hancock’s famous signature on the Declaration of Independence represents his personality. It is fancy and flashy and it is full of pomp. There is a popular myth that Hancock signed it with a large flourish so King George III could read it without glasses; however, the document that he and the other members of Congress signed was to remain in the new nation and not travel to England, so the king would not have ever seen it. Hancock’s signature was the first signature on the signed document. He was serving as President of the Second Continental Congress at the time of the signing and he served in that capacity until 1780.

Hancock was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1737. He was also a childhood friend of John Adams, whose family lived nearby. After his father passed away, he was sent to live with his wealthy uncle who ran a very successful shipping business. He was raised as a very privileged young man and learned his uncle’s trade from him. As part of his apprenticeship, John Hancock traveled to London in 1761 and was in attendance for the coronation of King George III, whom he would help to declare independence from in 1776. Hancock’s uncle died in 1764 and John inherited everything from him. He was now instantly a very successful and extremely wealthy businessman at age 27. Hancock was a very vain and yet charitable man. He would give away as much or more of his fortune than he kept to local charities and he was very flamboyant in his dress and stuck out among the population of Boston for his fancy clothes and style. He was also involved in several committees and was active in every part of Boston’s activities.

Hancock became involved in the events in Boston that would ultimately lead to the Declaration of Independence in the 1760s. He was a huge opponent of the Stamp Act and wrote several letters in support of opposing it. The costs of increased taxation caused Hancock to increase smuggling goods into the colonies. Rather than pay the unjust taxes, he would avoid them by bringing in his products illegally. He was arrested for doing so in 1768, when his ship the HMS Liberty was confiscated by British officials in Boston for not paying taxes for the Madeira wine that was on board. Hancock was later found not guilty of smuggling, but his ship was taken from him. The Liberty was later burned in 1769 as a protest of these actions. This was one of the first violent reactions against King George III and his policies toward the colonies.

The taxation policies toward the colonies kept producing more anger in them. The anger led to protests and boycotts and eventually violence, culminating in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when five colonists were killed at the hands of British soldiers who were being harassed by them. Hancock hated the violence that began to erupt in 1770 with the Boston Massacre, but he understood that British policies were unfair to the rights of the colonists and needed to be changed.

Hancock eventually became public enemy number one to British General Thomas Gage, who was the commander of British forces in the colonies in 1774-75. Gage felt that John Hancock and Sam Adams were the two principal factors in bringing the rebellion to Massachusetts and the colonies. They were to be killed as soon as a rebellion started. In fact, there was a point that General Gage decided that if any colonist denounced their previous rebellious activity, they would be pardoned. The only two who would not be, were Sam Adams and John Hancock! Their lives were in danger constantly and bounties were placed on their heads. The British army also just did not want to merely shoot them, as that was too quick of a death. The British wanted them to hang so they would suffer more.

Hancock and Sam Adams were also part of the reason that the British soldiers marched toward Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Hancock and Adams were staying in Lexington that night and were alerted by Paul Revere that the British army was on the way to capture them. Hancock wanted to fight the British at Lexington when they arrived, but Sam Adams convinced him that it was not their place to do so and that their duty was in government. Later on, that morning, the two men escaped. Hancock would later spend his own money to help fund the Continental Army in 1775 and throughout the war. He took his generous nature and applied it to the entire nation.

John Hancock passed away in 1793, while serving as the governor of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts. His funeral was a huge event in Boston as one of their Sons of Liberty had passed. Church bells tolled, businesses closed out of respect to him and he was laid to rest in Boston as one of the main voices of independence and an enduring legacy as one of our key Founding Fathers. He once said, “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice. But I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.” His most public display of these words was his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”

Judges are powerful people. Those who preside over criminal courts have the power to fine or imprison convicted defendants, up to limits set out by statute. Depending on their roles, other judges have the power to impose fines for civil wrongs, or to decide weighty matters involving marriage and the custody of children. Lesser judicial offices include administrative judges who preside over disputes relating to compensation for injured workers, social security payments for the injured and elderly, or labor disputes between workers and employers. In light of the power they wield over our everyday lives, who can hold judges accountable? Today and tomorrow, Constituting America considers how the Framers of the Declaration of Independence answered this question, and how their answer led to a system of judicial independence that has become the envy of the world.

To King George and the English at the time of the American Revolution, the sources of authority for all Englishmen, wherever they were in a widening world, were the Crown first, and through him, the Parliament. The Declaration’s “Indictment” of King George III levied two charges that turned on the English government’s refusal to accommodate the Colonists’ demand for courts and judges that were based in the Colonies and answerable for their decisions to the people of the Colonies. First, the Signers of the Declaration charged, “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.” In other words, the King had stymied attempts to establish Colonial courts with any real authority. Criminal trials by jury were available, but often only in England, a daunting journey. After all, it was over 3,000 miles by slow sailing vessel to London, a trip that took four to eight weeks, depending on the wind, and was always hazardous. At the end of that, would a jury comprised of Londoners truly be a “jury of one’s peers?” And what about the right to call witnesses in one’s defense – the foundation of due process? If they couldn’t make the dangerous and lengthy trip with the accused, he was out of luck.

The right to trial by jury, which had been guaranteed in the English Bill of Rights since 1689 (and, in fact, included in the Magna Carta in 1215), was the spark that lit the flame of the Revolution. The right to a jury trial had been recognized in every Colonial charter. The trial of newspaperman John Peter Zenger in 1735 for “seditious libel,” based upon publishing a column critical of the Royal Governor of New York’s decision to remove a judge from the bench, resulted in a verdict of “not guilty” from a jury of Zenger’s peers. The resulting freedom to publish even controversial opinions led to a growing clamor in the Colonies for other liberties. In response, the British Crown began to restrict both the autonomy of Colonial courts and the right to a jury trial.

Two of the “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, enacted by Parliament and approved by King George to punish the Colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, included stringent limits on the right to a jury trial. The Massachusetts Government Act granted the royal governor the power to choose judges, and county sheriffs – also appointed by the governor – could appoint jurors, resulting in Royal control over the colony’s judicial system. The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice granted the governor the power to move a trial to another colony or to Great Britain if he determined that a “fair” trial could not be had at that location, thereby eliminating the right to a trial by one’s peers.

Things were coming to a head. Future president John Adams thundered, “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them, we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.” And Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, would later write to essayist Thomas Paine (Common Sense), “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

In the next grievance, we’ll consider the second charge against King George and his judges: that he had made judges “dependent on his will alone” for their jobs and salaries.

Steven H. Aden serves as Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel at Americans United for Life. Aden joined Americans United for Life in August 2017, overseeing all legal operations of America’s most effective pro-life organization. Aden is a highly experienced litigator, having appeared in court against Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dozens of times and appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws. A prolific author and analyst on sanctity of life issues and constitutional jurisprudence, Aden is admitted to the bars of the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Hawaii (inactive), and is a member of the bars of the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal circuit and district courts. He has practiced law since 1990 and earned his J.D. (cum laude) from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. from the University of Hawaii.


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Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was a man who excelled in all that he did, as a physician and surgeon, in the New Hampshire legislature, and as a judge. We are also indebted to Thornton for his efforts to help America gain her independence from England, including his signing of the Declaration of Independence.

This accomplished patriot was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland on March 3, 1714 to James and Elizabeth Thornton, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. Interestingly, Matthew was one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence born in Ireland, James Smith and George Taylor, both of Pennsylvania, being the other two.

In 1717, when Matthew was three years old, James emigrated his family to America in the present-day state of Maine. There, in 1722, Matthew’s young life almost ended when Indians attacked their settlement and the family had to flee in a canoe. Having enough of the wilderness, James moved his family to Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was here, at the Worcester Academy, that Matthew received his classical education. He did well in his studies and decided to pursue a life in medicine. While continuing to help his father on their farm, Thornton began his medical studies in nearby Leicester under the direction of Doctor Grout, a relative of the family.

At the young age of 26, Thornton moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire and set up a medical practice as both a physician and surgeon. His hard work and ability soon gained him an excellent reputation and his business flourished.

In 1745, he was appointed as a surgeon in the New Hampshire militia to accompany an expedition to capture Louisbourg, a French fortress in Nova Scotia. Under Thornton’s care only six men died of disease on this mission, a remarkably low number for that time period, and he was praised by his superiors.

For the next decade or so, Thornton applied himself to his medical practice in New Hampshire. By the mid-1750s, he was becoming more prominent in the community and began to think of life outside his work.

In 1758, Thornton’s life in public affairs began when he was elected as a delegate of Londonderry to the colonial assembly. Two years later, at the age of 46, he enhanced his personal life when he married 18-year-old Hannah Jack, a great beauty from Chester, New Hampshire. They had five children together, three boys and two girls.

As relations between England and America grew strained in the 1760s, Thornton was a vocal opponent of several British policies, including the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1775, following the fight at Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire’s Royal Governor, John Wentworth, fled the colony and Thornton was elected President of the Provincial Congress.

He soon was selected to lead a committee to draft a constitution for New Hampshire and their proposal was adopted by the legislature on January 5, 1776. Importantly, New Hampshire’s constitution was the first one adopted by any of the thirteen colonies. Thornton was then elected to be Speaker of the new state legislature.

In September of that year, Thornton was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was officially seated on November 4, 1776 and signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence (the formal document on parchment paper), making Thornton one of six men who signed the document after the initial signing date of August 2.

Interestingly, the order of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence was determined by the location of each state. Specifically, the signers were arranged from the northernmost state, New Hampshire, to the southernmost, Georgia. Because Thornton was a late signer, there was no room for him to sign near the other men from New Hampshire and, consequently, he signed beneath the Connecticut delegation.

Due to health issues arising from a reaction to a smallpox vaccine he received, Thornton resigned from the Continental Congress and returned home to New Hampshire in the spring of 1777. He resumed his duties as an associate justice of the state Superior Court, a position he held until 1782, despite having no law degree. Finally, in 1784, at the age of 70, Thornton was elected to the New Hampshire Senate.

Thornton fully retired from the public eye in 1786 and spent the last years of his remarkable life on a farm he purchased on the banks of the Merrimac River, near Exeter, New Hampshire. There, besides managing his farm, he operated a ferry across the Merrimac.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Matthew Thornton and what he did for America matter to us today?

By all accounts, Matthew Thornton was highly regarded by his contemporaries. In fact, his original gravestone was inscribed “An Honest Man.”  Besides being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thornton was a talented surgeon, served in the Second Continental Congress, was a judge, a Colonel in the militia, and both a state Representative and Senator.

Matthew Thornton spent the greater part of his life serving the public in some capacity. Starting with his time in the New Hampshire militia in 1745 until he retired from the state Senate in 1786, Thornton did what he could to make New Hampshire and his country a better place. A life like that is worth remembering.

SUGGESTED READING: The book Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire is an older book, written in 1903, by Charles Thornton Adams. It can be found on-line and is a nicely written, thorough account of Thornton’s life.

PLACES TO VISIT: The New Hampshire State House in Concord, New Hampshire, is one of the most beautiful state houses in the country. It is built in the Greek Revival style and topped with an incredible golden dome. It is open for tours and well worth a visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 21 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

In December 1773, King George III (reigned 1760-1820) suspended the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740. His intent was to strike at the heart of the economic engine fueling economic independence among the American colonies. His other goal was to extinguish momentum for independent thought and religious expression. These actions formed the basis for this grievance in the Declaration of Independence.

George II (reigned 1727-1760) was the last foreign-born King of England. He supported expansive and permissive immigration to the American Colonies. In his world view, expanding population among the colonies generated demand for British goods. Skilled immigrants would increase the productivity and profitability of colonial agriculture, bringing healthy returns among Royal Charter holders and their investors.

Just as important, the attraction of America as a land of opportunity and tolerance served as a “safety valve” for removing “free thinking” or “nonconformist” Protestants, and restive Scots and Irish, from the “home country” through legally approved immigration. Church of England supporters and Royalists were more than happy to be rid of them after nearly 200 years of strife.

England also benefited from helping oppressed minorities, such as the Huguenots (French Protestants), leave Europe. It allowed England to gain the “moral high ground” in the geopolitical power struggles of the time. Bringing Scandinavian and German peoples to America forged important alliances while enriching the economic and cultural mix of the Colonies.

On June 1, 1740, the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740 went into effect to streamline immigration and naturalization. It allowed any Protestant alien residing in any of their American colonies for seven years, without being absent from that colony for more than two months, to be deemed “his Majesty’s natural-born subjects of this Kingdom.” Over the course of several years, individual Colonies began to directly administer immigration and citizenship. Many colonies, led by Pennsylvania, expanded coverage to include Catholics and Jews.

Benjamin Franklin was an eloquent supporter of immigration:

Strangers are welcome because there is room enough for them all, and therefore the old Inhabitants are not jealous of them; the Laws protect them sufficiently so that they have no need of the Patronage of great Men; and everyone will enjoy securely the Profits of his Industry…

These new settlers to America create a growing demand for our merchandise, to the greater employment of our manufacturers…

Multitudes of poor People from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany, have by this means in a few Years become wealthy Farmers. They create a continual demand for more Artisans of all the necessary and useful kinds, to supply those cultivators of the earth with houses, and with furniture & utensils of the grosser sorts which cannot so well be brought from Europe. Tolerably good Workmen in any of those mechanic arts, are sure to find employ, and to be well paid for their work, there being no restraints preventing strangers from exercising any art they understand, nor any permission necessary.”

These free-wheeling immigration and citizenship policies came to an abrupt end when George III became King.

The King’s Advisors raised concerns that non-English immigrants had little connection or loyalty to the “Mother Country” or its ruler. In this world view, the expanding and diversifying colonial population was creating an independent challenge to the economic and political power of England.

King George sent secret agents to America to assess the condition and “state-of-mind” of the colonists. “A large influx of liberty-loving German emigrants was observed, and the King was advised to discourage these immigrations.”

Based upon these reports and recommendations, George III began to delay and obstruct new migration from England and other parts of Europe. In his Royal Proclamation of 1763, he prevented settlement west of the Appalachians, hoping to limit further agricultural growth. This angered those wanting to settle in the west, and ignited opposition from those with significant investments in western real estate.

King George, and his Prime Minister, Lord North, took additional actions to end immigration, naturalization, and expansion of the Colonial economy. In December 1773, they forbid Colonial naturalization of aliens, under any conditions. A ban on royal land grants was finalized in February 1774.

England’s far reaching assault on colonial naturalization laws and suspending the “Plantation Act” was considered intolerable, and therefore, was included in the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

Fourteen years later, the “Plantation Act of 1740″ would be the model for the “Naturalization Act of 1790,” the first immigration policy of the new nation.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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In 1776, 13 British colonies existed in America. Ask someone about the American Revolutionary era today and some colonies easily come to mind – Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York. The role of some colonies in the Revolution is not as well known.

New Hampshire is one of those less-well-known colonies. Almost everyone will agree that the American Revolution began on the greens of Lexington and Concord in April 1776, when British troops marched from Boston to find and destroy military supplies hidden there. Americans love the story of Paul Revere’s ride to warn the patriots there that “the Regulars are coming.”

Yet, just a few months earlier, in December 1775, Revere took a more perilous ride in deep snow to the New Hampshire coast to alert patriots that British troops and ships were coming to secure British military supplies there that were guarded by only a half-dozen British troops.  Hundreds of patriot militiamen mustered quickly, attacked the supply depot, captured and removed the munitions before a stronger British military contingent could arrive. Thus, New Hampshire citizens, whose state motto is “Live Free or Die,” might argue that the Revolutionary War began there and not in Lexington and Concord.

By the time of Revere’s more famous ride in April 1776, New Hampshire’s militias were as ready for war as those of Massachusetts.  As word spread far and wide of the British march and attack on Lexington and Concord, militiamen of New Hampshire mustered and hurried to support their patriot comrades in Massachusetts. New Hampshire Regiments were formed in May 1775 and in 1776. All or parts of the Regiments fought with distinction in major battles during the war to include the Boston Siege, Saratoga, Quebec, Trenton, among others. They were particularly effective in holding the line at Saratoga which became the major victory of the Northern Campaign.

William Whipple Jr. could not have anticipated his role in the colonies’ revolution and quest for independence. He was born in 1730 to a seagoing family. His father was a sea captain and his mother was the daughter of a distinguished ship-builder. Both families had become wealthy in their sea-related businesses.

Young William attended public schools and, unlike some of the more famous signers of the Declaration of Independence, did not attend college at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Rather, he followed his father to the sea, where ships, including the Whipple’s, often engaged in the profitable Triangle Trade, which delivered commodities from the American colonies and the West Indies to Europe, where the ships were loaded with manufactured goods for delivery to Africa and the American colonies. In Africa, slaves were often brought aboard the ships for delivery to the West Indies and the American colonies.

By the age of 21, young William commanded his own ship. The same year, his father died. While both his mother and father were wealthy from their families’ businesses, William, Jr., became wealthy in his own right as a ship’s Captain. In 1759, at the age of 29, William had amassed a fortune that had enabled him to retire from the sea. He then went into the merchant business with two brothers, where William, with his foreign trade experience on the sea, was able to expand his wealth in that business. Two slave boys worked for the Whipple’s business. One of them, Prince, would remain with William through all that followed.

William married in 1767, at the age of 37, Catherine Moffatt, daughter of a ship Captain. They had only one son, who died in 1773, about a year after his birth.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, William Whipple began his long career as a public servant. In June 1774 he was on a Committee to prevent the landing of tea in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He became a member of the Committee of Safety and was a member of the Provincial Convention held at Exeter.

In 1776, Whipple was sent by New Hampshire as one of its three delegates to the Continental Congress. With his seafaring experience and his family’s ship building experience, he was appointed to the Marine Committee. To run the British Navy’s blockades, the new country would need more ships and experienced ship Captains; Whipple’s background prepared him well for leading that effort. He also served as a superintendent of the commissary and quartermaster departments, attempting to bring efficiency to departments that seemed to have great difficulty supplying General George Washington’s forces with what they needed to fight the war.

Whipple was present in Congress during the drafting and editing of the Declaration of Independence and signed the Declaration, thereby putting his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor at great risk. He remained a member of Congress through 1779.

As the British military strategy evolved and threatened to end the revolution by cutting off New England from the rest of America, Whipple was appointed a General by New Hampshire’s Convention in 1777. He immediately set off for New York where British General John Burgoyne was moving troops south from Canada to isolate New England. He expected that his slave, Prince, would join his Brigade in the fight. But Prince retorted that a slave had no freedom for which to fight. Whipple is said to have immediately informed Prince that he was a free man, whereupon Prince joined his former master and fought the British throughout the war. Legend has it that, in Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Leutze symbolically identified Prince as the young black soldier sitting in front of Washington on the boat.

At the decisive battle of Saratoga, a significant turning point in the war, General Whipple’s New Hampshire troops fought valiantly and Whipple was appointed by General Horatio Gates to deliver the terms of surrender to General Burgoyne. Whipple was then directed to deliver General Burgoyne to Cambridge where Burgoyne would board a ship bound for England.

General Whipple fought the next year, 1778, with General Sullivan in Rhode Island, where he was almost killed as a British artillery round exploded near him. Having released his own slave, Prince, from bondage, Whipple expressed hope that, as the Revolutionary War moved south, southern slaveholders would also free their slaves, enabling the blessings of liberty in the Declaration that he signed to be accorded to all Americans.

In 1780, General Whipple was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature; in 1782, he was appointed as a Superior Court judge. He had heart problems, which continued to affect his health, leading to his death in 1785 at the age of 55. He is buried with his family, as well as Prince, his former slave, in North Cemetery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 20 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

When Thomas Jefferson accused George III, in the Declaration of Independence, of having refused for a long time to permit elections for previously-dissolved colonial legislatures, he had several examples for reference. As early as 1768, Governor Sir Francis Bernard dissolved the Massachusetts assembly on the order of Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, after the assembly had circulated a letter to the other colonial assemblies about the constitutional defects of the Townshend Revenue Acts. This effectively left Boston without a government for a year.

A year before, in 1767, the British government had ordered the New York assembly suspended when it refused to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765. As a result, New York was without a government for most of 1767 to 1769, until an election in the fall of 1769 produced a more pliant assembly.

In October, 1774, after Parliament had adopted the Massachusetts Government Act earlier that year, General Thomas Gage, the governor, dissolved the colony’s assembly. The Act had several parts that struck against the colony’s self-government. It repealed the Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1691, made the hitherto elected council appointive by the governor, and prohibited town meetings more than once per year unless the governor consented. The Act also made other provincial offices, including many judgeships, appointive rather than elective, and those officers could be removed at any time by the governor. To add insult to injury, the first governor selected, General Gage, was also the military commander. This move placed the military authorities in charge of civil government.

From the British perspective, the Act was necessary to curb the radical tendencies of this most radical province. Unfortunately for the British, their political tactics failed in Massachusetts and likely hurt their overall strategy of both pacifying the colonies and advancing their new model of imperial administration. Instead, the Americans simply circumvented the restrictions by electing an ultra vires provincial congress, which met at Concord, elected John Hancock president, organized an administration, voted taxes, collected arms, drilled a militia, and operated the courts. This assemblage governed Massachusetts until the state’s constitution of 1780 was approved. The colony effectively was independent, and the royal governor’s authority was restricted to the city of Boston.

Similar events transpired in other colonies. In Virginia, the royal governor dissolved the House of Burgesses in May, 1774. Led by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, a rump portion of that assembly called for elections to a provincial congress to meet in Williamsburg on August 1. By the end of 1774, all colonies except Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York had followed suit. Those three fell in line the following year. So, while Jefferson’s charge in the Declaration of Independence was historically correct, the dissolutions of colonial assemblies about which he complained also quickly became irrelevant as a matter of practical government. If anything, those actions by the king and Parliament did not impede self-government, they made it more profound.

The English king long had the power to prorogue (that is, “suspend”) or dissolve Parliament and rule by decree. Charles I had used it to prevent Parliament from meeting for years. As the constitutional position of Parliament strengthened against the king in the 17th and 18th centuries, that power had to be used judiciously, if at all. One of the political missteps by James II that led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was his dissolution of Parliament after that body had refused to repeal the pro-Protestant Test Acts.

For the Americans, this authority to prorogue or dissolve legislative bodies and to delay elections was a threat to the independence of their assemblies, the principal protectors of liberty, and distorted the emerging conception of a functional separation of powers. Thus, Article X of the Virginia constitution of 1776, prohibited the governor from proroguing or dissolving the legislature. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 carefully limited these powers to specified circumstances. The New York constitution was similar. The U.S. Constitution of 1787 goes further and restricts the president to only a limited power to adjourn Congress, but no power to prorogue or dissolve that body.

Jefferson’s observation that “the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise …” makes two points. First, it postulates that lawmaking, that is, the power to make rules that govern human actions, always exists. That power might be in Parliament, in the assemblies, the king, or the people as a whole. When the king declared the colonies in rebellion on August 23, 1775; when Parliament enacted the Prohibitory Act on December 22, 1775, which declared the colonies outside British protection, blockaded colonial ports, and made all colonial vessels lawful prizes subject to capture; and when the local assemblies were dissolved by the British authorities, the existing constitutional system had been abandoned. The actions of the Continental Congress and of the several former colonies separately in declaring independence and taking control of their fate by setting up new constitutional arrangements, was the inevitable result. After all, this was no different, in the eyes of Americans, than Parliament’s own actions in 1688-89 during the Glorious Revolution. Then, James II had abandoned the throne, which allowed Parliament to assume basic constitutional powers and create a new political order.

Second, the observation reflects Jefferson’s reading of John Locke and other social contract theorists. The British government’s abandonment of its constitutional relationship with the colonies had breached the contract on which the political commonwealth was based. Thus, the people were placed in a new “pre-political” condition. In this stage, each individual was sovereign over his or her own affairs. The legislative power had not been annihilated, but rested within each individual for himself or herself. As anticipated by the social contract theorists and reflected in the Declaration of Independence itself, these individuals would establish new forms of government in order better to secure their God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By the consent of the governed, the legislative power would then be exercised by the people collectively as in a democracy, or, more likely, by an assembly elected by the people as in a republic.

That the British actions, especially those of King George, amounted to a breach of contract was bolstered by the function of royal charters in the constitutional status and political operation of the colonies. Those charters gave certain powers of self-government to the Americans through their elected assemblies and established the constitutional rights and obligations of all parties, including the king. Moreover, the general neglect of colonial affairs by the government in London over more than a century had accreted various political powers to the local assemblies through repeated practice that reflected a gradual evolution of constitutional custom. By ignoring those arrangements or, more blatantly, revoking them, as had happened in 1774 to Massachusetts Bay’s Charter of 1691, the king and Parliament had breached those contracts. In turn, the Americans were relieved of further obligations to abide by those arrangements, although, curiously, Connecticut and Rhode Island continued to use their royal charters, with appropriate modifications, as their state constitutions into the 19th century.

Jefferson’s complaint that “the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within,” seems disingenuous, coming from the American side. After all, the “convulsions within” typically were the products of provocateurs such as the Sons of Liberty or of colonial mobs incited by the rhetoric and actions of those provocateurs. The Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, the Gaspee affair, and assorted other riots and acts of sabotage and unadulterated insurrection were deliberate actions by the Americans. The British responses, often ham-handed, might inflame tensions further, but they were reactive.

Nevertheless, Jefferson had a point. The principal purpose of government is to provide security against external and internal threats to the peace of the community. Whatever merit there is in today’s common perception that government is an indulgent parent that provides food, shelter and health care for all, if a government fails to fulfill the classic obligation of providing security, it will fall. In the Lockean social contract formulation, government is formed to secure one’s rights in one’s person and estate better than would exist otherwise. In Thomas Hobbes’s more pessimistic view of the human condition, security by any means is the be-all and end-all of government. Under either conception, failure to carry out that obligation is a breach of the social contract.

That same understanding of the core purpose of government is found in the Constitution. As John Jay wrote in The Federalist No. 3,

“Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to draw their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first….At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well against dangers, from foreign arms and influence, as against dangers arising from domestic causes.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Indeed, the adoption of the Constitution itself, in a manner contrary to the Articles of Confederation, was defended by James Madison in The Federalist No. 43 in language reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence,

“by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society, are the objects to which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”

The Constitution itself grants broad war powers to the president and Congress, along with the power of Congress of “calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” The president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as of the militia when called into service of the United States, is also authorized to protect the security of the people from foreign invasion and domestic causes. As needed, courts have interpreted those powers expansively. True, Americans pay at least lip service to the idea that even those governmental powers are limited in some way by the Constitution. Courts have held that there also does not exist a formally distinct “Emergency” or “War” Constitution. Reality, however, is harsher. Jefferson himself, as well as Abraham Lincoln, and any number of politicians and judges have consistently recognized the paramount principle of self-preservation and security of the society, to which, in the end, all other considerations will be subordinated. This calculation is pithily expressed in the aphorism, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

The British government failed to carry out that fundamental obligation of assuring peace and domestic tranquillity, either by resolute military action or, preferably, by deft political maneuvering to adjust the constitutional order to accommodate the major American grievances and halt the drift towards full separation. It does not matter which side gets the credit or blame for specific events or particular political steps. The constituted government has legitimacy to govern only if it satisfies the reason for which it is formed. Failure to do so forfeits that government’s legitimacy, and the people will seek to establish another by any means available to them, even a replacement of the entire constitutional order by revolution.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Josiah Bartlett was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, but he studied medicine and began practicing in New Hampshire. He could be a bit unconventional for his time. On several occasions, for instance, he bucked the system of treating certain fevers by bleeding patients. Instead, he used cooling liquids.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that his methods often worked better than those of his contemporaries? Bartlett’s practice thrived, and he was well-respected in his community.

As tensions with England began to rise, Bartlett was elected to New Hampshire’s legislature. He was serving as a member of that body during the Stamp Act controversy. One early historian notes that the Royal Governor attempted to bribe Bartlett into siding with the Crown, but Bartlett “rejected every overture.”

Indeed, Bartlett would serve the Patriot cause for years. In many ways, Bartlett’s service represents the kind of quiet, behind-the-scenes work that was so critical during our Revolution. These humble jobs don’t make for snazzy stories in history textbooks—yet where would we be without men such as these?

Bartlett was soon a leading member of the local Committee of Safety and a member of the state’s Provincial Congress. He was chosen to represent New Hampshire in the first Continental Congress, but he was prevented from attending when Loyalists burned down his home. Bartlett was chosen as a delegate again in 1775 and in 1776. On the latter occasion, he voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence.

He was the second person to sign that document, immediately after John Hancock.

Bartlett continued to serve the Patriot effort in many ways afterward. He still served in Congress, and he was a member of the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. He provided medical assistance to New Hampshire troops under General John Stark. These men won an important victory at the Battle of Bennington. Bartlett later became a judge and a Chief Justice on the New Hampshire Superior Court. He served as a delegate to the New Hampshire state ratifying convention as the Constitution was being considered, and he advocated for its adoption. He was later elected as the chief executive of New Hampshire.

When he retired in 1794, he sent a message to the Legislature expressing his “grateful sense of the repeated marks of trust and confidence that my fellow-citizens have reposed in me.”

He died a little over a year later, having spent most of his adult life in public service.

Tara Ross is nationally recognized for her expertise on the Electoral College. She is the author of Why We Need the Electoral College (2019), The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule (2017), We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College (2016), and Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College (2d ed. 2012). She is also the author of She Fought Too: Stories of Revolutionary War Heroines (2019), and a co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (2008) (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.). Her Prager University video, Do You Understand the Electoral College?, is Prager’s most-viewed video ever, with more than 60 million views. 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Excerpt originally published in its entirety at: https://www.taraross.com/post/tdih-josiah-bartlett-signer, used with permission.

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Essay 19 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

In the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress included a list of grievances against the king. The colonists complained that they had suffered “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” One of the complaints was that the king had fundamentally violated the right of the colonists to government by the consent of the governed. They asserted specifically that George III had “dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

The Declaration of Independence established free government in a natural rights republic based upon equality. From that equality flowed the idea that all members of the political regime equally gave their consent to a representative government. The Declaration stated the purpose of that government was to protect the rights of the people. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The American republican government was rooted upon a continuing consent of the sovereign people through their representatives in legislatures.

The American colonists consistently appealed to the principle of consensual government in the decade of resistance before the Declaration of Independence. The main argument of the American Revolution was “no taxation without representation.” The colonists were willing to pay taxes as British subjects. During the colonial period, colonial legislatures would tax the people by their consent and then offer some of the revenue to pay royal officials in the colonies or to the crown as a “free gift.”

However, the continued attempts at taxing the colonists in the Stamp Act (1765), Townshend Acts (1767), and Tea Act (1773), among other taxes, demonstrated to the colonists that the British ministry was bent on tyranny in the colonies. The British government was burdened by a massive debt incurred in fighting the Seven Years’ War and wanted the colonists to pay for thousands of redcoats stationed in forts out west. The Americans responded by demanding in countless pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, declarations of rights, and speeches that they could only be taxed by their consent.

The American colonists also forcefully resisted the taxes and other acts of tyranny, and asserted their rights in their colonial legislatures. In late 1765, General Thomas Gage stationed troops in New York and requested that New Yorkers comply with the Quartering Act by provisioning the troops. When the assembly refused several times over the next year, Parliament responded by passing the Suspension Act that suspended the New York legislature. Because the legislature would not submit to violations of property rights by a standing army in time of peace, the people were stripped of their right of self-government.

In 1767, the Townshend Acts introduced a series of taxes on the colonists for various goods including glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. In February 1768, the Massachusetts assembly adopted Samuel Adams’ proposal denouncing the taxes. It stated that the taxes were “infringements of their natural and constitutional rights” because the colonists did not give their consent. This Massachusetts Circular Letter appealed to other colonies to “harmonize with each other” in protesting the taxes. In London, the ministry was outraged by what it considered sedition and instructed Governor Francis Bernard to coerce the assembly to revoke the letter. When the assembly refused, Bernard suspended the legislature.

In Virginia, the House of Burgesses passed resolutions on May 16 that stated the “sole right of imposing taxes on the inhabitants of this his Majesty’s colony and dominion of Virginia, is now, and ever hath been, legally and constitutionally vested in the House of Burgesses.” The new royal governor, Lord Botetourt, responded, “I have heard of your resolves, and augur ill of their effect. You have made it my duty to dissolve you; and you are dissolved accordingly.”

The Burgesses marched down the street a short distance to the upper room of Raleigh Tavern where the people’s representatives appointed a committee to draw up a nonimportation agreement. They agreed to the boycott, which was drafted by George Mason with George Washington’s help, on the following day. For Washington, self-government was a moral principle and must be defended. “That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends.”

Perhaps the most infamous dissolution of a colonial legislature was introduced by the Coercive Acts which Parliament passed in 1774 to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusetts Government Act wiped out town meetings and altered the Massachusetts charter and government to place it under royal control. This “Intolerable Act” was a gross violation of colonial self-government.

True to form, Virginia royal governor, Lord Dunmore then dissolved the House of Burgesses for resolving to hold a Day of Fasting and Prayer in support of Boston on June 1 to “give us one heart and one mind to firmly oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American rights.” The Burgesses again marched to Raleigh Tavern and agreed to boycott British goods. The indefatigable colonists then answered a Massachusetts call for the people’s representatives to assemble in Philadelphia for a Continental Congress to deliberate on “wise and proper measures” to preserve self-government.

In Federalist #39, James Madison described the republican principle of consent: “We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period.” Madison’s quote represents the source of American resistance to British violations of colonial representative self-government and why the Declaration of Independence made its charge against George III.


Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including
Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

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“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately” is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The moment was not captured and preserved by Movietone News but, whether true or not, that sentence captures the gravity of the action those 56 men took when they signed the document that ended with the words “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Keep in mind that the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, was, in the summer of 1776, considering two closely-related but separate issues. The first was a declaration of independence and the second was the Declaration of Independence. The resolution to declare independence was introduced by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee on June 7 and was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. Its first and most important paragraph reads as follows: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

The resolution was the subject of “intense debate” until June 10th, after which the delegates decided to delay the final vote “for 20 days, until July 1, to allow delegates from the middle colonies time to send for new instructions.” (McCullough, 118-119)

Interestingly, Congress did not wait for the adoption of Lee’s resolution to appoint a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence. It appointed such a committee immediately. Known as the “Committee of Five,” it consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Notice the word is “draft,” not “write,” clearly meaning the product would be subject to review and editing by Congress.

It was clear from the start that Jefferson would be the principal author, but how that decision was made is not clear. David McCullough, in his 2001 biography of Adams, says Jefferson offered the job to Adams but Adams declined for several reasons (pp. 119-120). Jefferson was from Virginia, was younger (33 v. 40) and possessed, as Adams said, a “peculiar felicity of expression.” That said, it can be asked why Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, the author of the independence resolution, was not placed on the committee and then asked to chair it. The answer seems to be that Lee was a man of the spoken word whereas Jefferson was a man of the written word. When president, Jefferson discontinued delivering State of the Union addresses in person and it was not done again until Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice. Jefferson’s writing ability was well-known.  To borrow a phrase, it seems to have been a “self-evident truth” that Jefferson was the man for the job, and history affirms his choice.

Jefferson worked quickly, without access to his library, and produced a draft in about three weeks. The Franklin Institute website says that “Benjamin Franklin primarily served as the editor of the Declaration of Independence. His changes were believed to have been minimal, but, when the document went before the entire Continental Congress, the draft was more thoroughly changed by the larger body from Jefferson’s original text. The final document was passed on July 2, 1776 and ratified on July 4, 1776.”

While true, the above statement does not do justice to Franklin’s contribution. As the elder statesman not only of the committee but also of the Congress itself, Franklin knew and had helped make the history of the pre-revolutionary period. He had, for example, spent some 15 years in London, working with Edmund Burke, trying to explain to the British how their policies toward their North American colonies were driving them to independence. Thus, Franklin knew the truth of the grievances Jefferson listed in the document and, when he affixed his signature to it, it carried much weight.

The contributions of the other members of the committee do not seem to be many or significant. When finished, Jefferson gave copies to Franklin and Adams and asked for their input. They made “two or three” minor corrections in their own handwriting, whereupon Jefferson prepared a new draft and sent it to Congress. Two points should be noted here: (1) the Declaration’s climactic words in the first sentence of its final paragraph are lifted verbatim from Lee’s resolution: “ . . .  that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; . . . ” and (2) Jefferson did not make copies for committee members Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.  

At this point it was not clear that the work of the Committee of Five would amount to anything because the Lee resolution declaring independence remained unpassed. Without its adoption, the wording of the Declaration of Independence would not matter. Pursuant to its June 10, 1776 decision, Congress resumed debate on Lee’s resolution July 1. Delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania spoke against it, arguing that the risks and costs of independence were not justified. When he finished, there was no applause. (McCullough, p. 126)

Adams knew the burden of history lay on his shoulders and his response truly made him one of our great Founding Fathers. To quote McCullough, “No transcription was made. . . . That it was the most powerful and important speech heard in the Congress since it first convened, and the greatest speech of Adams’s life, there is no question. To Jefferson, Adams was ‘not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent,’ but spoke ‘with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.’ ” (p. 127)

A vote was taken and the measure passed, but not decisively. They decided to postpone the final vote until the next day to allow time for more “politicking.” On July 2 the measure was adopted with twelve states voting “yes” and one (New York) abstaining. McCullough concludes that, “It was John Adams, more than anyone [else], who had made it happen.” (p. 129)

Speaking of New York, Robert R. Livingston, a member of Congress from that state, did not support the Lee resolution but abstained rather than vote against it. There is no evidence that he participated in or made any contributions to the Committee of Five, and he did not sign the Declaration of Independence after its adoption. He did, however, later support the ratification of the Constitution and served as Minister to France under President Jefferson during which time he played a significant role in the purchase of Louisiana.

Neither is there any evidence that committee member Roger Sherman of Connecticut participated in or made any contribution to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, but he did vote for it and sign it. His great service came later when he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and proposed what is known as the Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise on the character and composition of Congress.

When we have our annual July 4 celebrations, we do not think of the events of July 4, 1776 as anticlimactic, foregone conclusions, but they were. The big day was July 2 when Congress adopted both Lee’s declaration of independence and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Joined by Washington, Hamilton, Pulaski, von Steuben, Lafayette and others in the long effort to achieve rather than simply declare independence, these men became a marked band of brothers trying to create “the first new nation.” (Seymour Lipset) Success was far from certain. Yes, they were fighting for their homeland on their homeland, but the 13 colonies were a large and diverse territory with different histories and interests and were not accustomed to thinking of a single, common good.

Granted, the Atlantic Ocean protected the colonies and was an obstacle the British had to overcome, but Britain was the world’s great superpower at the time and its navy was well equipped for the challenge.

The mother country took its colonial empire in North America very seriously. That empire was making it rich and powerful, and it would not relinquish its colonies without a fight. How serious it was is borne out by what it did in the 19th century when it went on to assemble the largest noncontiguous empire the world has ever seen.

This band of colonial brothers (Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, 2000) knew the task that lay ahead would be hard and bitter. Did they rely on the protection of Divine Providence? If we can believe what they said, they did. The last paragraph of the Declaration begins with the words, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; . . .”

Also consider Franklin’s plea at the Constitutional Convention in the same room 11 years later when he said,

“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”

These beautiful words are beyond improvement. Notice Franklin used the word “truth.” We should take him at his word. If not all born again themselves, that these early patriots were imbued with Judeo-Christian values is supported not only by Ellis, cited above, but also by Donald Lutz in his The Origins of American Constitutionalism (1988) and by Dreisbach et al in The Founders on God and Government (2004).

What would have happened to our patriot forefathers if they had lost the war for independence? It would not have been pretty. Franklin’s prediction most likely would have come true. If not, the difference would have been that they were summarily lined up and shot rather than hanged.   It is very doubtful that Cornwallis would have been as magnanimous with Washington as Washington was with him or that the British would have bothered with the legal niceties required by trials. Thus, they did lay their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line. Thanks be to God!

Winfield H. Rose, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Murray State University.

 

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Essay 18 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner
Carpenter's Hall In Old City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Public meetings and public records have been fundamental to representative government since its inception. They are the basis for resolving differences, forging agreements, and holding public officials accountable. They are integral to a free society.

It is not surprising that the British Crown’s assault on these fundamentals is among the top Grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

The escalating protests over onerous and draconian British Colonial policies and taxes crested with the “Boston Tea Party” on December 16, 1773. Sons of Liberty activists dumped over a million dollars (in 21st Century value) of tea into Boston Harbor.

Lord North, the British Prime Minister (1770-1790), retaliated with harsh measures to suppress dissent and disrupt the culture of self-government, which he viewed as the root cause of the chaos.

On May 2, 1774, North declared Massachusetts was “in a distempered state of disturbance and opposition to the laws of the mother country.”

On May 20, 1774, Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act, which nullified the Massachusetts Charter of 1691. Under the Act, Royal Governor Thomas Gage dissolved the Massachusetts provincial assembly. He then required them to meet in Salem, citing Boston as “unsafe.”

The move to Salem had the intended effect of forcing Massachusetts’ legislators to travel and find food and lodging in a small town of 1,600 instead of among the 16,000 population of Boston. The infrastructure for supporting legislative operations were nonexistent (stenographers, printers, legal offices, media, and messengers). Worse, there was no provision for moving any of the colony’s official records to Salem. Any research or reference entailed a day’s travel each way from Salem to Boston and back again. It achieved the British goal of “fatiguing them [legislators] into compliance with his measures.”

Similar actions were taken against the elected assemblies in Virginia and North Carolina. North Carolina’s legislature was forced from their colonial capital of Brunswick to meet in New Bern. In Virginia, Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses and refused to call them back into session. In defiance of the Governor, the colonial representatives reconvened at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg.

Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech was presented during another banned session held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond (March 23, 1775).

The dislocation and dissolution of these Colonial Legislatures led to the same disruption and “discomfort” experienced by Massachusetts’ elected representatives. The goal of punishing opposition and suppressing dissent was achieved by forcing elected officials into “places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records.” It certainly interfered with the colony’s public business and prevented officials from “access to information necessary to conduct it.” Eventually, all Colonial Governors dissolved their legislatures.

The British Parliament also moved to eradicate local town meetings because, “a great abuse has been made of the power of calling them, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been used to treat upon matters of the most general concerns, and to pass dangerous and unwarrantable resolves.”  Ongoing local meetings were replaced by annual meetings only called with the Colonial Governor’s permission, or not at all.

A series of five punitive acts were passed by Parliament intended to restrict public discourse and punish opponents. It was England’s hope the “Intolerable Acts” would intimidate rebellious Colonists into submission. The “Acts” ignited a firestorm of outrage throughout Colonial America. More importantly, it generated a unity of purpose and inspired a willingness for collective action among leaders in the previously fragmented American colonies.

The First Continental Congress met in the Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia from September 5 – October 26, 1774. All colonies, except Georgia, were represented. They issued the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” which established a philosophy of government, and list of contentious issues, that would be echoed in the Declaration of Independence less than two years later.

The delegates created the “Continental Association,” which invoked non-importation, non-consumption of British goods, and non-exportation of American goods to England until the “Intolerable Acts” were rescinded.

King George and Lord North responded with a major show of force in Boston. As British troops became increasingly visible on the city’s streets, Governor Gage created a network of informants to identify and arrest dissidents.

Alerted to weapons being stockpiled in Lexington, Gage launched the fateful sortie that led to the “shot heard around the world.”

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.


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“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

As we reach the end of the Declaration of Independence, we see in this section that the Framers have ended the document with great care to show who they were and what this new nation was going to be. The Second Continental Congress placed many of Richard Henry Lee’s words and ideas from his resolution of independence from June 7, 1776 in this section of the Declaration during the editing portion of the document. The words that Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed were the start of our independence process and the nation that emerged from that process. The process of the Declaration began with Lee’s resolution and ended with his words included in this final paragraph.

The United States was created in this document and the members of the Second Continental Congress tell us how serious they were in creating it, as well as telling the World how they would defend it for themselves and future generations of Americans. The United States is now its own nation and can conduct itself accordingly. The signers are also letting the world know they acted with the best intentions and they appeal to God for the final verdict on those intentions. They end this conclusion of text by stating that they fully understand that if they do not succeed, they will be charged with treason and executed. They were willing to give everything so that our new nation had a chance at survival. They are giving a well thought out legal argument and an exclamation point to the end of the Declaration. Eventually, 56 delegates will sign their name to it, creating the document that we see today at the National Archives.

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare…”

Here the 56 members of Congress will declare their independence to the World and they will state than mankind will not be the final judge of their revolutionary actions, but the Supreme Judge of the world will judge their actions, the Revolutionary War, their intentions and the righteousness (rectitude) of them. They believe that they are acting selflessly and for the cause of freedom for themselves and future generations. They are also representing their colonies and the inhabitants of them by being their representatives in Philadelphia. These actions will impact the citizens as well as the Framers of the Declaration and the members of Congress are well aware of that as they conclude this document.

“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved..”

The United States is its own sovereign entity. They have every right to break from Great Britain and establish themselves as their own country. The British Parliament and king had mistreated the colonists and taxed them without their consent or a voice in the British parliament. As a result, the colonies left a tyrannical and unjust government to form their own system of government that they believed was more just and conducive to their overall and future happiness. There would be no connection to the king or Parliament in the future.

“..and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

How we will proceed as a new nation is proclaimed here. The United States will have the power of declaring war and peace, be in control of their own financial dealings and trade with other nations. They will have all the powers that nations had as they begin to forge their own path on the world stage.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

This pledge to each other at the end of the Declaration shows that the Founders trusted in each other and in God to protect them, their military forces and their new nation. They were ready to fight the most powerful army and navy in the world and they were willing to die if necessary. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” The Framers of the Declaration could not afford disunion in their ranks. If that took place, their cause could be lost. The members of Congress were unified. They promised to give their lives, their financial well-being and their honor to do what it took, even it meant losing everything dear to them. Victory was also not assured in the summer of 1776. It was, in fact, highly unlikely. These were intelligent men who had everything to lose and they accepted that possibility. Some did lose everything in their cause including their lives and fortunes.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.


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Essay 17 - Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

With the population growth in the colonies, the local assemblies and legislative bodies grew in numbers and power. In New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina and Virginia, King George restricted the size of assemblies thereby denying new communities representation in the colonial assemblies. The colonists took it as their right to have their interests represented in a legislative body. Denying this denies their right to govern.

The colonists had been allowed to decide how they would be represented in localities. By voiding this practice, there was a breach of trust that threatened the colonists’ ability to pursue the public good as they understood it. John Locke wrote, “Governments are dissolved…when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.” In this formulation, King George effectively dissolved the government by breaching the trust of the colonists. However, while this is a valid position, it is thin justification as it would give far too much leeway to those looking to dissolve the bonds between themselves and government.

Thomas Jefferson makes clear in the Preamble that a single violation of trust is not enough to justify a move to independence. To create a thicker justification, we must look at a tangentially related issue. Within the act of denying representation is lack of adherence to the rule of law as defined by long accepted practices in accordance with the public good. Instead of adhering to the practices of expanding representation in the assemblies when population growth dictated it prudent, King George replaced common practice with his will to control. Furthermore, rather than following standard practices—such as going through parliament or the colonial governments—to change the law, he acted with singular caprice.

By expanding their assemblies to accommodate population growth, the colonies were following the procedures and processes that had been in place up to that point. King George’s actions did not follow precedent and had no recourse to the common good or legal principle, but represented his will to control. This capricious decision based on nothing more than his will to exert power is a violation of the fundamental principle of what gives government legitimacy. When the King works for his good only it is a dereliction of duty and gives those governed the right to dissolve the bonds of government.

King George has acted not in the best interests of those he governed, which is what grants him authority to rule, but has acted in his own best interests in contradistinction to the good of the colonists. This is a consistent theme which ties all twenty-seven grievances together, and which receive their philosophical justification in the Preamble. Embedded within this grievance is an assumption of coequal branches of government with divided powers which substantiates the claim that the Declaration of Independence can be viewed as a governing document—one that bridges the common law and the codified constitution traditions. An executive—in this case a King—does not have the right to alter the legislature without a law being passed by that legislature which assumes a level of equality and divided power between two branches. It’s a tacit overthrow of monarchical rule and a presumption of equality that will define James Madison’s later project.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott.

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Essay 16 – Guest Essayist: John McCurdy

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them”

Everyone knows what paper money is. Even in the days of credit cards and Apple Pay, there is something reliable about a greenback, often with a founder’s face on it: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, or if you’re really lucky, Benjamin Franklin.

But paper money wasn’t always so reliable. The federal government only started issuing the paper currency about a hundred years ago. Before that, paper money carried with it a great deal of risk. Instead of the government, local banks printed paper money. But if that bank went out of business, your money wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on!

Paper money was a big deal when men like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were founding the United States. With very little gold or silver in America, people needed a reliable medium of exchange to purchase goods and services.

Several colonial governments tried to address this issue. In 1690, Massachusetts issued the first paper currency in America, something it called “Tax Anticipation Notes.” These notes could be used as money. A merchant would accept them in exchange for kettles or Bibles because that merchant knew that the Colony of Massachusetts was guaranteeing the value of the notes.

When Great Britain went to war with France in the 1750s, many American colonies followed Massachusetts’s lead. They printed paper money and used this currency to pay for soldiers, weapons, and forts. As had been the case in Massachusetts, colonial merchants were happy to accept these notes because they knew that the government guaranteed their value.

But, British merchants hated colonial currency. Many British traders had extensive networks that stretched from India to Africa and the Caribbean. In such global trade, they did not trust paper money from Massachusetts or elsewhere in America. As a result, they pressured the British government to prohibit the colonies from printing their own money. In 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act that did just that.

The Americans did not like the Currency Act because it took large amounts of money out of circulation. This was a particular problem when Parliament demanded that the colonists pay taxes to Britain. How could Americans pay their taxes with no money?

In 1765, Parliament passed a law requiring the colonists to pay for British soldiers stationed in North America. People living in New York especially hated this new law, so they came up with a compromise. What if they agreed to pay the soldiers with paper money?

In December 1769, the New York legislature voted to issue £120,000 in paper money. Of this, £2000 would go directly to the British army. The legislature then sent this plan to the New York Governor Cadwallader Colden as he had to sign the bill before it became law. Colden was unsure of what to do. The bill clearly violated the Currency Act, but if he vetoed the bill, then there would be no money for the troops. Ultimately, Governor Colden signed the bill into law, but first he attached a suspending clause.

Suspending clauses were typical in colonial America. Essentially, they stated that the law would not take effect until the king’s advisers had a chance to review the legislation and either approve it or reject it. The British government viewed this as a necessary means of keeping colonies from violating British laws like the Currency Act. The Americans, however, had a much darker view of suspending clauses. They saw them as way for the king to take away their rights by canceling laws passed by the legislatures.

That is what this passage in the Declaration of Independence refers to. Although the document does not mention paper money, the Currency Act, or New York, many people made this connection in 1776. The charge condemns King George III for not allowing the colonial governors from simply passing or vetoing laws. Also not stated is the implication that Americans would be better off choosing their own governors who could make their own judgment about bills passed by the legislature without looking to England for advice.

In the case of the New York’s paper money law, the king’s advisers allowed the colony to print its own currency. However, this money could only be used by the government to pay for things like supplying soldiers. This left a lot of Americans unhappy and moved them toward independence six years later.

Nearly two hundred and fifty years later, we have forgotten this part of the Declaration of Independence, but the issue of money continues to be important. Appropriately, it is the nation that the Declaration of Independence created that guarantees that our “Benjamins” are worth $100.

John G. McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution. He regularly teaches courses on early American history.


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Essay 15 – Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

In the first grievance, we get a comprehensive view of the reason for declaring independence. While there are other grievances, and there are those that fall into a different category of grievance, the refusal to abide by law, and for the Crown to replace will for law, is the foundation of all claims justifying the move to independence.

The Preamble provides a statement about severing ties with Great Britain, a rebellious, and thus, lawless act. The Declaration of Independence was an act of treason from the view of Great Britain. To those unwedded from the historical record, or who have allegiances to the Crown, the signers were nothing more than disgruntled colonists looking to break away from Britain for no reason other than self-interest. The reason why most of us today do not view it as such is because the rebels were successful, and the U.S. has become the greatest republic on historical record. But that sort of post hoc justification is shallow and without merit. The goodness of the Declaration, and the intentions of the signers, is best found in the grievances as therein lies a justification for independence through the pursuit of the public good as achieved intentionally through the rule of law and proper governance.

There is a difference between just and unjust rebellion and the signers are making the case that their actions are just because of their commitment to the law and King George’s refusal to abide by law and accepted practice. John Locke, the obvious muse of Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “The difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite…Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins.” By positioning their actions within the context of law, those signing the Declaration position themselves within a tradition that authorized the dissolution of government when the rule of law was no longer in force.

The Declaration is usually read as a philosophical document rather than a governing document. A political theory can certainly be distilled from the Preamble and the grievances, but the grievances themselves serve as a governance structure. More than a theoretical justification for independence, or an articulation of high-minded ideals that a government ought to embody, the grievances lay out in practical terms how a government should function by providing the contrasting vision of legitimate government. An illegitimate government is ruled by an executive that refuses to assent to the laws; therefore, a legitimate government must have an executive that adheres to and enforces duly passed legislation.

Embodied with the first grievance is the political principle that laws passed by a representative body should be assented to by the executive body. Thus, the assumption is that there needs to be a separation between the legislative and executive functions of government and that those two bodies are equal. It also posits that the laws, and not the caprice or whim of those in government, ought to restrict the actions of the government. The primacy of the rule of law is clear throughout the Declaration, but the first grievance gives us a clear articulation of a separation of powers as being essential to—if not an assumed trait of—legitimate government. While itself a governing document, it does anticipate the modes and orders that would be codified in the U.S. Constitution.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott.

 


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Essay 14 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. 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. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The Declaration of Independence serves as the cornerstone of our nation, and the men who created this statement of natural rights did not do so lightly. Their causes to break from Great Britain were not “light and transient causes” and they wanted to make sure that the world who was going to be reading this declaration would understand the events and circumstances that brought the colonies to the point of separation in the summer of 1776.

The above portion of the Declaration shows us the point in the document where the necessary change that is required by the colonies should be independence, as well as showing how we have arrived at this point and who is to blame. The document had previously stated that we were separating from Great Britain and started to explain the justification for doing so. It also details that the colonies are not taking this usurpation lightly, but have strong reasons for doing so. The Declaration details that most people throughout history have been content to suffer under oppressive forms of government, but these men are not. In this section, the writers of the Declaration are submitting to the world why they will not be suffering under the rule of King George III any longer.

A long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism..”  – The colonies had been enduring what they felt were abuses and usurpations (abuses of power with no right to do so) for years. The French and Indian War had ended in 1763 and the British Empire was heavily in debt as a result. The British felt that the American colonies were going to have to shoulder some of the burden of paying this debt.

The colonies were also told where they could and could not settle by the Proclamation of 1763, which told the colonists that they could not settle West of the Appalachian Mountains. The colonists were outraged by this and the subsequent taxes and acts that followed from 1763 through the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775. The colonists, as British subjects, also felt that their rights under the English Constitution were not being recognized or respected. Some colonists also believed that King George III was abusing his power at the expense of the colonists and that, because of this, he was not fit to be their king.

“..it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

After realizing that their king had betrayed them, the colonists now felt that they needed to do something about it. They believed that not only was it their right to get rid of the king and the British Empire as their rulers: it was their duty! They felt called to do this for themselves and the future generations of their new nation. The king’s actions had led the colonists to this place in history and their sense of betrayal was felt very heavily. The colonies then adopted measures to prevent these actions from continuing. Those who boycotted British goods and protested the king and Parliament’s legislation believed they were being deprived of their rights as free Englishmen and that they deserved representation by the British Parliament as a voice for their concerns as well. They took action when those rights were not given to them and those actions would lead the colonists towards revolution.

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

Most colonists had tried to maintain patience throughout the various acts of Parliament and the effects and consequences that had resulted from them. That patience partially came from the fact that most colonists believed a reconciliation would occur with the King. They wanted that to happen. They were British subjects and hoped for an amicable reunion. However, after several acts, taxes and policies that the colonists felt were unfair and oppressive of their rights as English subjects, they had had enough and felt that it was time to do something to remedy it. The colonist arrived at the conclusion that they needed to change their situation. By the summer of 1776, after over a year of open warfare, it was difficult, if not impossible to reconcile with the mother country. The colonists wanted to escape an oppressive government that they believed was not respecting them or looking out for them; they wanted a better life for themselves and their future ancestors. The results of that oppression now made it absolutely necessary for the colonists to change their form of government from a monarchy to, eventually, a republic.

“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.”

In the recent years of history (the 1760s and 1770s), the actions of the King and Parliament indicated to the colonists that England was trying to oppress them. An objective of these actions was to harm and mistreat the colonies. Furthermore, King George III also had an objective to rule as a tyrant. As a result of these actions, the colonies were now going to leave the British Empire.

“To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The Declaration will now be transitioning to a list of grievances that will give the evidence to the world that will show how the colonists had been suffering under this monarch and his actions. These facts attempt to prove that the king is an oppressive ruler and an unfit king to these colonies. They will also attempt to show that he has been and will continue to be, an oppressive and tyrannical ruler, which is why we are declaring our independence.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

 

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Essay 13 – Guest Essayist: The Honorable David L. Robbins

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

The above passage in the United States Declaration of Independence, warns of revolution for “light and transient causes” by overthrowing government, long established. The British Monarchy dates to 1066 when England was conquered by the Normans. And, while some monarchs were removed forcefully, the monarchs ruled England since this early beginning. The Declaration of Independence was challenging a “long established” government that ruled England for 710 years, and the members of the Second Continental Congress were aware there would be challenges in forming a new nation.

The American revolutionary leaders included many well-educated, wealthy, businessmen. They all realized signing this document would be signing their death sentences if the revolution was unsuccessful. Plus, their links to England were not casual, but well embedded in colonial life. Family, customs, education, language, business, and even religion were long-term bonds between the colonies and England. But, actions by England had become insufferable.

The Founders of America did not necessarily want to change the whole world, even though they did, but after years of insufferable treatment by King George, his government and military, they believed they had to attempt to throw off the “forms to which they are accustomed.” The Founders pulled material from many different sources to form a new government, but they didn’t necessarily have all the answers to form a successful government to replace the British monarchy.

The initial Articles of Confederation were deemed inadequate by 1785, just two years after the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1786, Congress met and debated the Constitution of the United States. While the Constitution was deemed immensely superior to the Articles of Confederation, several states refused to ratify the new Constitution without additional assurances which produced the first ten amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution of the United States is an incredible document. It has survived over 230 years and after the original ten amendments, only 17 additional amendments have been approved, fewer than one every 13 years. Through the election of Representatives, Senators, and the President and Vice-President, this document permits peaceful change in our government via elections every two, four, and six years. Most of these “mini-revolutions” have been peaceful. However, the history of change in the United States has not always been peaceful.

The U.S. Civil War was about drastically different visions of government, society, and treatment of people. While these may not have been viewed as “light and transient causes,” the impacts were devastating to the entire country. The U.S. Civil War lasted over four years from April 12, 1861 to May 9, 1865 and cost over 655,000 lives.  It ended with massive changes and new amendments to the Constitution. The U.S. Revolutionary War, by contrast, resulted in approximately 25,000 American deaths and approximately 50,000 in total.

In 1968, the United States was in turmoil during a presidential election year with a war in Viet Nam, riots at home, the assassination of two prominent national leaders: one a civil rights leader and another a presidential candidate. During this chaos, a British pop music group, the Beatles, released a song called “Revolution” in August with lyrics to demand change while casting aside violence or destruction. The line from the song, “we all want to change the world” still resonates today as it did over 200 years ago.

Many individuals, organizations, and political groups over the history of the United States have pushed for change in our country, some minor, some drastic. Change is inevitable, but the Founders of the United States left a cautionary note in the Declaration of Independence, one hopefully taken to heart by both those wanting change and those resistant to change.

David L. Robbins serves as Public Education Commissioner in New Mexico.

 


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Essay 12 - Guest Essayist: Will Morrisey

“…and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In declaring their independence from the British empire, Americans did not merely assert themselves. They declared “the causes which impel them to the Separation” and submitted facts, evidence “to a candid World.” In doing so, they selected a way of arguing that can be understood not only by Americans and Englishmen but by human beings as such. Human beings are by their nature capable of reasoning, of thinking according to the principle of non-contradiction. If I say, ‘Think of a circle,’ you know what I mean, so long as you know the meaning of the words in that sentence. If I say, ‘Think of a square,’ you also know what I mean. But if I say, ‘Think of a square circle,’ you don’t know what I could possibly mean. I have contradicted myself.

A formal argument founded on the principle of non-contradiction is called a logical syllogism. That is exactly what the Declaration of Independence is. A logical syllogism consists of one or more ‘major premises’—the foundations of the argument—one or more ‘minor premises’—typically, specific facts—followed by a conclusion. To give the standard example: ‘All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.’ The major premise is a general or foundational statement; the minor premise is a factual statement; the conclusion follows from the two premises. You could disprove the argument by showing that either or both premises is false, or that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises, that it somehow violates the principle of non-contradiction. So, for example, if the ‘Socrates’ you are referring to is an angel, the conclusion is wrong, since angels may not be mortal.

In the Declaration of Independence, the clause we are considering is one of the several main premises of the argument; the minor premises are the specific, factual charges against the British king and parliament. The major premises stated before this are the famous ones: that all men are created equal respecting their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that men institute government to secure those rights; that the governments they institute derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that, conversely, a people whose government violates their unalienable rights may rightly be abolished.

According to the logic of the argument, then, the “consent” of the governed cannot mean simply the assent of the governed. Consent can only mean assent to a government that really does secure the rights human beings have by nature, thanks to their Creator, before they form the government. Once they no longer consent to their government because it no longer serves the “end” or purpose a government ought to have, not only do we have the right to alter or abolish it, we also have the right, even the obligation, to frame a new government, one that does secure the rights they old government failed to secure.

How will we do that? By doing two things. First, we do it by “laying its foundations” on the foundations or major premises of the Declaration of Independence: the natural, unalienable rights of human beings. Second, we do it by founding a new regime, a regime which includes a government with a new “form,” a new structure, an architecture, which is logically consistent with those natural foundations. By so shaping the means to the end, the form of the government to the defense of natural rights, we can effect our safety and happiness—secure our natural rights in practice, not merely recognize them in theory.

This clause of the Declaration is the link between the Declaration and the preamble to the United States Constitution. Justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty are all elements of our safety and happiness as an independent, self-governing people. The Constitution lays out exactly the form or structure of the government designed to achieve those purposes, replacing the Articles of Confederation, which had not achieved them, which in turn had replaced the regime of the British empire, which had violated them.

Thus the right of revolution follows logically from the purpose of government, just as the purpose of government follows logically from the existence of unalienable natural rights in all human beings. In presenting their Declaration of Independence in the form of a logical syllogism, the American Founders justified their action not only to themselves, not only to their “British brethren,” but to a “candid world”—to all human beings who think rationally, wherever and whenever they live.

 

Will Morrisey is Professor Emeritus of Politics, Hillsdale College; Editor and Publisher, Will Morrisey Reviews

 

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Essay 11 - Guest Essayist: James D. Best

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

The “right of the people to alter or abolish” their government is derived from our natural right to self-governance. The notion of self-governance is relatively new. In 1776, the world was ruled by royalty or warrior chieftains. Some upstart colonialists then penned the most revolutionary document in the history of man. Kings and queens no longer enjoyed a Divine Right to rule. Instead, the individual was now the one endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Like most revolutionary visions, this one didn’t suddenly spring onto the world stage. Baron de Montesquieu, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and many others had advocated that “consent of the governed” was dictated by the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Of course, not everyone accepted this concept—certainly not King George III or English nobility. It took seven years of warfare for the colonies to solidify their claim of self-governance.

“The infant periods of most nations are buried in silence, or veiled in fable, and perhaps the world has lost little it should regret. But the origins of the American Republic contain lessons of which posterity ought not to be deprived.” — James Madison

The Founders, however, were steeped in this incendiary idea. Self-governance had been part of their experience in the New World. The colonists were subjects of England, but a round-trip sail across the great Atlantic put three to four months between them and their king. Self-rule started with the Pilgrims. The Mayflower Compact began by pledging loyalty to King James, but then decreed that the colonists would

“combine together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most convenient for the general good of the colony.”

Basically, the Mayflower Compact was a written statement declaring self-government in colonial America.

“under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government” —Declaration of Independence.

Geography may have allowed the early colonists to govern themselves, but it was the writings of the Enlightenment that declared that self-rule was a natural right. This grand idea eventually led to the Declaration of Independence, which asserted that it was the right of the people “to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” This founding principle basically said that the people themselves held the power to form a new government at any time and in any shape that met their needs. It was a radical concept used to justify radical action.

The power to “institute a new government” also conveys the power to “alter or to abolish it.” The 1787 replacement of the Articles of Confederation with our Constitution is a historical example of this concept. Since that date, we have not seen a need to abolish our government because we have been able to alter it continuously with amendments, laws, and political movements.

Our government at the national level is not a direct democracy. (Half of the states allow ballot initiatives which, if passed by a majority of the voters, have the force of law.) Instead, we elect representatives to write laws and a president to administer those laws. When the people’s will is thwarted, regular elections give them the opportunity to dismiss their representatives and appoint new ones. As a further safeguard, our government theoretically only has powers delegated by the people, reinforcing the concept that power resides with the people, not political leaders. The principle of self-governance is echoed in the 9th and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

As long as people believe their voices count, fair and honest elections prevent the more drastic action of abolishment. Revolutions are bred when people believe their voices go unheard, especially in periods of hardship.

 

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Principled Action, Lessons From the Origins of the American Republic, and the Steve Dancy Tales.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

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Essay 10 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The Declaration of Independence laid down several important principles about free government predicated upon all humans being created with an equality of natural rights. From that equality flowed the idea that all who made a political regime through a social contract equally gave their consent to that government. The American polity was a republican form of government rooted upon a continuing consent of the sovereign people.

The American colonists were drawn to the principle of consensual government in the decade of resistance before the Declaration of Independence. The main argument of the American Revolution was, of course, “no taxation without representation.” The colonists were willing to pay taxes as British subjects, but they demanded in countless pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, declarations of rights, and speeches that they could only be taxed by their consent. This consent would be given in their colonial legislatures since they were not and could not reasonably be represented in Parliament.

In 1774, George Washington said it well when he described it with a practical example: “I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours, for money.” Washington thought it was violated constitutional and natural rights. Taxation without consent was “repugnant to every principle of natural justice…that it is not only repugnant to natural Right, but Subversive of the Laws & Constitution of Great Britain itself.”

In Federalist #39, James Madison described the principle of consent:

“We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society…It is sufficient for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people.”

Madison’s quote points us to important considerations about consensual republican government. First, it derives its power from the sovereign people. Second, it is governed by representatives of the people (from among the people) they have elected directly or indirectly in free elections.

The Constitution contained several provisions that institutionalized popular consent. “We the People” established the constitutional government divided into three branches of government with the Congress, and specifically the House of Representatives, representing the people most directly. As Madison wrote, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” The Constitution provided for free direct and indirect elections and limited terms of office. The document guaranteed “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

Representative government was naturally and reasonably based fundamentally upon majority rule. The majority, however, was guided and limited by the principles of natural law and natural justice. Madison explained in Federalist #51: “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.” Thomas Jefferson agreed in his First Inaugural: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” According to the founders, majority tyranny was just as bad as tyranny of the few or one. Majority rule was only just if minority rights were protected.

During the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of popular consent and majority rule was challenged. John Calhoun’s “concurrent majority” created the idea that the means of preventing supposedly tyrannical majority rule was by allowing the minority to have a veto on what it believed unjust. Concurrence was virtually akin to unanimity and laid the basis for nullification. Stephen Douglas’ view of “popular sovereignty” advocated that the people of each state govern their affairs however they want including owning slaves. Douglas’ “don’t care” policy on slavery was a gross violation of natural rights and justice by an oppressive majority against a racial minority. His relativist stance on popular government did not accord with the ideas of Madison and Jefferson above about majority rule/minority rights.

In his First Inaugural, Abraham Lincoln reasserted the underlying principle of majority rule and consent. Lincoln focused attention on the need for a sense of restraint in popular government and the checks and balances and other devices that help provide limits. Moreover, he noted that republican governments based upon the consent of the governed are rooted in free and reasonable deliberation and persuasion are necessary in shaping just majorities. But, it also means that the minority must submit to just rule. It cannot reject majority rule because it disagrees with a chosen course of action or does not win the debate. Lincoln said:

“A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people, Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.”

The twentieth century witnessed several challenges to consensual self-government. The executive agencies of the administrative state that were overseen by experts in the public interest were seen as a counter to the messy, slow, and deliberative lawmaking of Congress. The later rise of the “imperial presidency” subverted the other branches of government and popular consent. Many observers argued that an “imperial judiciary” allowed unelected judges to substitute their personal views for the will of the people. Today, many are concerned that big tech elites and their political allies attempt to control and limit popular will. The debate has continued and will endure because of the central importance of the constitutional principle of consent in the American regime and national character.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.


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Essay 9 - Guest Essayist: Gary Porter
Founding Fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge, PA, bronze sculpture by Stan Watts at Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge

“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”

According to Mr. Thomas Jefferson, it is a self-evident truth (or, if you prefer: a “sacred and undeniable truth”[1]) “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”

This is one of the most memorable and yet controversial statements in English prose. Memorable it has become due to its striking simplicity. Controversial? It shouldn’t be. Jefferson is writing to the Americans of 1776; but his words also apply to Americans of 2021. A truth is a truth.

In 1776, Jefferson’s was a claim few would dispute or even take much notice of; it expressed an idea that had been “hackneyed about” in America for fifty to a hundred years. This was, simply, “an expression of the American Mind” of 1776. But today? While only 1 in 10 Americans believe there is no God at all, only about half of Americans believe God is an active participant in their lives.[2] Only 40% of Americans believe God actually created the world as Jefferson alludes,[3] and fewer still believe in the existence of God-given rights. Some today even claim there is danger in insisting that rights come from God. Instead, these people insist that these rights come from “human progress.”[4] There are grave implications to this alternative view, as we will see in a moment.

But, as author Brian Vanyo points out:

the Founding Fathers and other Natural Law philosophers did not take for granted that God existed. They did not base their strong conviction in God on religious dogma. Rather, they deduced that God must exist because an alternative conclusion was irrational…Belief in God was so common among the founding generation that further validation of God’s existence was often unnecessary and unwelcome.” [5]

Jefferson claimed these unalienable rights were an endowment – a gift – from our Creator: natural rights result from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Later in life, in the only book he ever wrote, Jefferson reiterated this view.[6] The colonists had been making this claim to their King – that these were their natural rights, and they were being violated – for many years.

The standard formula up until 1776 had been: “Life + Liberty + Property = Our Fundamental Natural Rights.” [7] Why did Jefferson now substitute “pursuit of happiness”?  Some scholars insist Jefferson borrowed the “pursuit of happiness” idea from John Locke. Locke indeed explored this idea in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (published 1689), which Jefferson no doubt studied. And it is undisputed that Jefferson modeled other phrases in the Declaration after Locke.[8]  But “pursuit of happiness” and similar phrases were commonly encountered during the Founding period. Take this excerpt from a 1773 Election Sermon by Pastor Simeon Howard:

“In a state of nature, or where men are under no civil government, God has given to every one liberty to pursue his own happiness in whatever way, and by whatever means he pleases, without asking the consent or consulting the inclination of any other man, provided he keeps within the bounds of the law of nature. Within these bounds, he may govern his actions, and dispose of his property and person, as he thinks proper, Nor has any man, or any number of men, a right to restrain him in the exercise of this liberty, or punish, or call him to account for using it. This however is not a state of licentiousness, for the law of nature which bounds this liberty, forbids all injustice and wickedness, allows no man to injure another in his person or property, or to destroy his own life.”[9]

Much has been written dissecting Jefferson’s choice of “pursuit of happiness” over “property,”[10] so I won’t take more time with the subject here other than to say there is no evidence that suggests Jefferson did not believe the right to property to also be a natural right.

Alexander Hamilton concurred that God was the source of the colonists’ rights. Answering an essayist calling himself “The Farmer,” Hamilton wrote:

The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms and false reasonings is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced, that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society…The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”[11]

So did James Wilson:

“What was the primary and principal object in the institution of government? Was it – I speak of the primary and principal object – was it to acquire new rights by a human establishment? Or was it, by human establishment, to acquire new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights, to the enjoyment or acquisition of which we were previously entitled by the immediate gift, or by the unerring law, of our all-wise and all-beneficent Creator? The latter, I presume, was the case…”[12]

And John Adams:

I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.”[13]

And John Dickinson:

Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives. In short they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice.”[14]

The prevailing understanding of the founding era was that God was the source of natural rights, period. But, even in the founding era that understanding was beginning to change, and the change has picked up speed in the modern era.

Today, it is not uncommon to encounter people claiming that man himself is the source of his rights. When interviewing controversial Judge Roy Moore, then Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, CNN commentator Chris Cuomo famously declared:  “Our rights do not come from God, your Honor, and you know that, they come from man.”

But, there is a problem with this belief, a big problem. If our rights come from man, i.e., from the laws we human beings enact, then how can these rights ever be considered unalienable? Does this mean certain men can pass a civil law creating a certain civil right with the understanding that future men will somehow be prevented from revoking that law and thus revoking the right it created? Manmade rights can simply not be unalienable.

Could there be a middle ground where both unalienable and alienable rights are part of the human condition? What if both Cuomo and Moore are right each in their own unique way?

I think we must acknowledge that man can indeed create rights through civil law. The right to vote, for instance (some insist it is a privilege, not a right), could not be a natural right. In the hypothetical state of nature, voting would have no meaning, there being no society and no government. So, some rights, as Cuomo insists, do indeed “come from man.” These rights must be considered alienable. The law that creates a right for certain individuals to vote today can easily be revoked tomorrow.

But, what then of natural rights, rights that would be part of the human condition were there no society, no government? Some today suggest that even these need not have a Heavenly source – as most of the Founders would insist – but that these rights became part of the human condition as man “evolved.”

The idea that human beings have inherent rights, inherent to being human, goes back to antiquity, but it began to gain significant adherents during The Enlightenment. One of those new adherents was Englishman Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism, Bentham explained the “fundamental axiom” of his philosophy as the principle that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham famously called the idea of natural rights sourced in God as “nonsense upon stilts.”

John Dewey thought that “[n]atural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology.”[15]

We do find some Founders using the “inherent” terminology; George Mason begins the Virginia Declaration of Rights by stating:

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”[16]

George Washington spoke of inherent natural rights in a Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, August 17, 1790.[17]

Even Jefferson himself wrote that “Nothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.[18]

However, “inherent” and “natural” rights are not irreconcilable concepts.  Being inherent does not exclude God as the ultimate source. If God, as Creator, wished his human creations to understand they had these rights, he need only “embed” them into our consciousness. Both Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 8:10 remind us that God’s law will be “written upon our hearts;” is it not reasonable to assume our rights are “inscribed” there as well?

We will not settle the “inherent” versus “natural” argument today, suffice it to say that if you like your rights “unalienable,” you best look to God as their source.

Which natural rights exist?  How many are there?

Note that in our subject phrase Jefferson points to only “certain” unalienable rights as included in the Creator’s endowment. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are among the rights created and given by God. Jefferson thus implies that other rights, beyond these three, are part of God’s endowment. This understanding, that there are other, perhaps even uncountable natural rights, was also part of the “American Mind,” so much so that we see it codified in the Ninth Amendment.[19]

One of the frequent objections to including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution was that “it would not only be useless, but dangerous, to enumerate a number of rights which are not intended to be given up; because it would be implying, in the strongest manner, that every right not included in the exception might be impaired by the government without usurpation; and it would be impossible to enumerate every one…”[20]

James Madison, in proposing the Bill of Rights on the floor of Congress in 1789, acknowledged the power of this objection but showed it had been anticipated. He said: “This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution (which would eventually become the Ninth Amendment).”[21]

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

But, we can see an obvious question arise here: if there are unenumerated rights which government should not “deny or disparage,” what are they? Who gets to identify or “enumerate” them? The Framers of the Constitution gave us no hint.

Thus far in our country’s history we have let the court system identify them. In 1965, the Supreme Court identified, for the first time, a right to privacy lurking in a “penumbra” of the Constitution. Eight years later the Justices expanded this right to include the “right” to terminate the life of an unborn baby. In 2008, the court pulled out of the “inkblot”[22] of the Ninth Amendment the “right” of two homosexuals to marry.

Note, however, that the Constitution begins not with the words: “We the Congress,” “I the President,” or even “We the Judges.” The Constitution represents a contract between the American people and the government the document creates. The people are sovereign; they hold the ultimate political power over the government. It is We the People who have the rightful authority to identify the rights we wish secured by the words of the Constitution. And the rightful mechanism for bringing those rights into the security of the Constitution is amendment, not judicial decree.

Thomas Jefferson’s words are as sacred and undeniable today as they were 245 years ago. Since Congress has declared the Declaration of Independence to be part of the Organic Law of the United States,[23] we would do well to reflect on and heed them.

Natural rights?  I’ll take mine unalienable, please.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people. CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at  gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

Podcast by Maureen Quinn

[1] These were Jefferson’s words in the original draft of the Declaration.

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/25/key-findings-about-americans-belief-in-god/

[3] https://news.gallup.com/poll/261680/americans-believe-creationism.aspx

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201610/the-danger-claiming-rights-come-god

[5] Brian Vanyo, The American Ideology, Taking Back our Country with the Philosophy of our Founding Fathers, Liberty Publishing, 2012. p. 20-21.

[6] “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785.

[7] See both Declaration and Resolves, October 14, 1774 and A Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms, July 6, 1775

[8] See Two Treatises on Government, Bk II

[9] A sermon preached to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery-Company, in Boston, New-England, June 7th, 1773. : Being the anniversary of their election of officers, by Pastor Simeon Howard, accessed at: https://christiancivicfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/artillery-sermon-on-liberty-simeon-howard.pdf

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life,_Liberty_and_the_pursuit_of_Happiness

[11] The Farmer Refuted, 1775

[12] Mark David Hall, The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997) pp. 1053-1054

[13] A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765

[14] An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766

[15] John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action, 1935, page 17.

[16] George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776, accessed at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/virginia-declaration-of-rights.

[17] https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135

[18] Letter to John Cartwright, 1824.

[19] “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

[20] James Iredell, speaking at the North Carolina Ratifying Convention, July 29, 1788.

[21] https://usconstitution.net/madisonbor.html

[22] “An inkblot” is the way Judge Robert Bork characterized the Ninth Amendment in his unfruitful confirmation hearing for a seat on the Supreme Court.

[23] https://uscode.house.gov/browse/frontmatter/organiclaws%26edition=prelim

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Essay 8 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The Declaration of Independence made a bold assertion about human nature and natural rights. The central claim that “all men are created equal” had profound implications for the American regime of liberty. The “self-evident truth” of human equality meant that humans had equal natural rights, equally gave their consent to create a republican government, had equal dignity, and were equal under the law.

Throughout history, most societies were either monarchies, aristocracies, or despotisms. In those societies, leaders and elite social classes (or those of a certain ethnicity or religion) had certain rights and privileges that common people did not have. These societies were characterized by inequality.

The Enlightenment and ideas of John Locke significantly influenced the founders’ belief that all humans were created equal and had equal natural rights. The Declaration stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The nature of the political regime was then shaped by this idea of natural human equality.

Again, influenced by Locke, the Declaration stated that all were equally free and independent to give their consent to create a free, representative government. The Declaration stated, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This was the basis of social contract or social compact theory. It created an equal citizenry and self-governance in a republic.

The citizens in the republican government enjoyed equality under the Constitution. The Constitution created an equal rule of law for all in which they could enjoy their liberties. It equally protected the individual rights of all citizens and guaranteed due process. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution reads, “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Constitution banned titles of nobility and aristocratic privileges showing that it was a republican constitution not one that supported oligarchy, or rule by the few.

The principle of equality protected the liberties of all citizens to create a just society. All citizens enjoyed equal political liberty by giving their consent to representative government at all levels and by participating in government. All possessed freedom of conscience regarding their religious beliefs and worship. They also had economic equality. This understanding of equality did not mean that all people had the same amount of income or property, but that they had property rights and ought to have equal opportunity to pursue their happiness and keep the fruits of their labor in a free society. During the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln explained that the idea, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it,” is the “tyrannical principle” of monarchy and slavery.

Human beings had the same natural rights and enjoyed equality under the law in the political regime, but they were unequal in some important and obvious ways. The founders understood that human beings can never be perfectly equal in society because of the differences among individuals. Humans are unequal in physical strength, intelligence, talents, abilities, and character. Thus, individuals have different faculties, abilities, and virtues to make use of in pursuing their happiness. These differences result in social inequalities especially in terms of how much wealth a person might earn or some advantages in opportunities. Republican government must guard against allowing natural inequalities to create the conditions under which oligarchy and tyranny rule, but it can never create a utopian society of perfect equality.

For the founders, human equality was an axiomatic principle that was universally true for all people at all times. However, the principle was increasingly challenged by the middle of the nineteenth century. Senator John C. Calhoun called the equality principle an “utterly false view of the subordinate relation of the black to the white race” and the idea of equality of the races “an error.” In the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney opined that, “it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included,” in the Declaration of Independence. In his 1858 debates with Lincoln, Senator Stephen Douglas stated, “I hold that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to negroes at all when they declared all men to be created equal.” In 1861, the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said that the “corner-stone [of the Confederate States of America] rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”

Many abolitionists and statesmen, including Frederick Douglass and Lincoln, took exception to the arguments of the opponents of black equality and inclusion in the Declaration of Independence. Their repeated claims that blacks were equal human beings endowed with equal natural rights was a significant demand for racial egalitarianism.

The equality principle continued to influence American thinking about their republican regime. While Lincoln continued to believe in the self-evident truth of the Declaration, he conceded that it was being fundamentally challenged before and during the Civil War. Lincoln was a student of ancient Greek mathematician Euclid and used the language of a proposition in the Gettysburg Address. The proposition of human equality was either true or false, and he believed in its truth and that it could be proven. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He opened the speech by stating, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” Using the biblical language of the Gettysburg Address, King rhetorically appealed to the liberty and equality of the Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence. He referred to the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence as a “promissory note” because it had been unfulfilled for black Americans. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” King had not given up on the American ideal of equality. Black Americans attended the March on Washington and demonstrated peacefully in places like Birmingham to make that promise a reality.

The principle of equality has powerfully stood at the core of the American regime for more than two centuries. The challenges and debates over the principle have animated American deliberations about their national character of their free government and free society throughout that time and will continue to do so.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

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Essay 7 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The Americans of the founding period were a strongly Protestant people of various denominations including dissenting Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists. Some historians have estimated that Protestants made up over 98% of the American population. Their Protestantism was characterized by a strong dissenting tradition against religious and civil tyranny as well as a strong streak of individualism.

Their Protestantism—especially the Puritan tradition—was also exemplified by appeals to the natural law in its covenant theology that was consistent with Lockean social compact theory. Covenant theology caused Americans to view themselves as a Chosen People of a new Israel who formed a covenant with God. The natural law of covenant theology was consistent with both reason and revelation as they reconciled their reason and faith in the natural law and natural rights philosophy of the American Revolution.

The American founders drew from a variety of traditions in arguing for their natural rights and liberties. Ancient thought from Greece and Rome, the English tradition, and the ideas of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers combined with Protestantism for a rich tapestry. While the Enlightenment provided a strong influence on the founders, the contribution of their religious beliefs has often been downplayed or ignored. The average American colonial farmer or artisan may not have read John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government or ancient philosophy, but they heard dissenting religious ideals and Lockean principles from the pulpit at religious services.

Toward the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson had cause to reflect on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote to Henry Lee in 1825 about the purpose of the Declaration:

“This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent…it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day.”

The “harmonizing sentiments” of the 1760s and 1770s supported a natural law opposition to British tyranny in the American colonies. James Otis was one of the earliest articulators of natural law resistance. In 1764, he wrote, “Should an act of Parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity, and justice, and consequently void.”

In 1774, Thomas Jefferson expressed the same sentiments in his Summary View of the Rights of British America. In the pamphlet, he wrote that God was the author of natural rights inherent in each human being. The Americans were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate… the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

A year later, a young Alexander Hamilton wrote a pamphlet, Farmer Refuted, in which he eloquently described the divine source of universal rights. “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

These “expressions of the American mind” were common formulations of natural rights that influenced the Declaration of Independence. The four mentions of God in the document demonstrate their understanding of the divine, but it also showed that God was the author of good government according to natural law.

First, the Declaration appeals to the “separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” This first mention of God is that of Protestant and Enlightenment natural law. They saw God as the author of truth in the moral order of the universe. This moral order defined their thinking about republican self-government.

Second, the Declaration asserts that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” God is the Creator and author of natural rights in this formulation. Since rights are from a higher authority, no earthly power can violate an individual’s inherent rights. Interestingly, God here acts as a supreme legislator who makes the natural law and grants natural rights.

Third, the Declaration appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” God is a judge who authored the idea of justice and who judges human actions. God here represents the judicial branch of government.

Fourth, the Declaration stated that, “With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Americans believed that God was a providential God who intervened in human affairs and protected his Chosen People. This conception of God represents the executive branch of government.

The Declaration of Independence was a reflection that the American natural rights republic was rooted in the natural law. Reason and divine revelation supported the natural law that shaped a good government built upon the understanding of human nature and the rights given to humans by God.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

 

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Essay 6 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

On June 7, 1776, delegate Richard Henry Lee of Virginia rose to move in the Second Continental Congress, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved….” The motion was not immediately considered, because four states, lacking instructions from their assemblies, were not prepared to vote. Nevertheless, Congress appointed a committee of five to prepare a declaration of independence. The committee, composed of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson, assigned the task of preparing the initial draft to Jefferson.

After numerous revisions by Adams and Franklin and, eventually, by Congress itself, the final draft and report were presented to Congress on July 2, 1776. Formal adoption of the Declaration had to await a vote on Lee’s motion for independence. That was approved by the states the same day, with only the New York delegation abstaining. After a few more minor changes, the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776. Copies were sent to the states the next day, and it was publicly read from the balcony at Independence Hall on the 8th. Finally, on August 2nd, the document was signed.

General Washington, at New York, received a copy and a letter from John Hancock. The next day, July 9, Washington had the Declaration read to his troops. Whereas those troops responded with great enthusiasm for the cause, reaction elsewhere to the Declaration was divided, to say the least. Supporters of independence were aware of the momentousness of the occasion. As Washington’s commander of artillery, Henry Knox, wrote, “The eyes of all America are upon us. As we play our part posterity will bless or curse us.” Others were less impressed. The anti-independence leader in Congress, John Dickinson, dismissed it as a “skiff made of paper.”

The Declaration’s preamble embraced four themes fundamental to Western political philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries: Natural law and rights, popular sovereignty exercised through the consent of the governed, the compact basis of the legitimate state, and the right of revolution.

The idea of a universal moral law, obligatory on earthly rulers and to which human law must conform, went back at least to the Stoics nearly two millennia prior, and indirectly even to Aristotle’s conception of natural justice. Cicero, among Roman writers, and the Christian Aristotelian Thomas Aquinas, among medieval Scholastics, postulated the existence of a natural order directed by universal laws. Humans were part of this order created by God and governed by physical laws. More important for these writers was the divinely-ordained universal moral law, in which humans participated through their reason and their ability to express complex abstract concepts. By virtue of its universality and its moral essence, this natural law imposed moral obligations on all, ruler and ruled alike. All were created equal, and all were equal before God and God’s law. Viewed from a metaphysical and practical perspective, these obligations provided the best path to individual flourishing within a harmonious social order in a manner that reflected both the inherent value of each person and man’s nature as a social creature. The need to meet these universal obligations of the natural moral law necessarily then gave rise to certain universal rights that all humans had by nature.

However, the shattering of universal Christendom in the West, with its concomitant shattering of the idea of a universal moral law and of a political order based thereon, changed the conception of natural law, natural rights and the ethical state. No longer was it man’s reason that must guide his actions and his institutions, including government and law, for the purpose of realizing the ends of this order. Rather, in the emerging modernity, there was a “turn to the subject” and, in the words of the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras, “man [became] the measure of all things.”

Political legitimacy and, thereby, the basis for political and legal obligation came to rest on individual acts of will. The most prominent foundation for this ethical structure was the construct of the “social contract” or “social compact.” “Natural law” became deracinated of its moral content and was reduced to describing the rules which applied in a fictional state of nature in which humans lived prior to the secular creation of a political commonwealth, in contrast to the civil law that arose after that creation. Natural rights were those that sovereign individuals enjoyed while in the state of nature, in contrast to civil rights, such as voting, which were created only within a political society.

Although expositors of the social contract theory appeared from the 16th to the 18th centuries, and came from several European cultures, the most influential for the American founding were various English and colonial philosophers and clergymen. Most prominent among them was John Locke.

Locke’s version of the state of nature is not as bleak and hostile as was that of his predecessor Thomas Hobbes. Nor, however, is it a romanticized secular Garden of Eden as posited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing a century later. For Locke, existence in the state of nature allows for basic social arrangements to develop, such as the family, economic relationships, and religious congregations. However, despite Locke’s general skepticism about the Aristotelian epistemology then still dominant at the English universities, he agreed with the ancient sage that human flourishing best proceeds within a political commonwealth. Accordingly, sovereign individuals enter into a compact with each other to leave the state of nature and to surrender some of their natural rights in order to make themselves and their estates more secure. They agree to arbitrate their disputes by recourse to a judge, and to be governed by civil law made by a legislator and enforced by an executive. Under a second contract, those sovereign individuals collectively then convey those powers of government to specified others in trust to be exercised for the benefit of the people.

Thus, the political commonwealth is a human creation and derives its legitimacy through the consent of those it governs. This act of human free will is unmoored from some external order or the command of God. For Hobbes, the suspected atheist, human will was motivated to act out of fear.

Locke allows for much greater involvement by God, in that God gave man a nature that “put him under strong Obligations of Necessity, Convenience, and Inclination to drive him into Society, ….” Moreover, the natural rights of humans derive from the inherent dignity bestowed on humans as God’s creation. The human will still acts out of self-interest, but the contract is a much more deliberate and circumscribed bargain than Hobbes’s adhesion contract. For Locke, the government’s powers are limited to achieve the purposes for which it was established, and nothing more. With Hobbes, the individual only retained his inviolate natural right to life. With Locke, the individual retains his natural rights to liberty and property, as well as his right to life, all subject to only those limitations that make the possession of those same rights by all more secure. Any law that is inimical to those objectives and tramples on those retained rights is not true law.

There remained the delicate issue of what to do if the government breaches its trust by passing laws or otherwise acting in a manner that make people less secure in their persons or estates. Among private individuals, such a breach of fiduciary duty by a trustee would result in a court invalidating the breach, ordering fitting compensation, and, perhaps, removing the trustee. If the government breached such a duty, recourse to the English courts was unavailable, since, at least as to such constitutional matters, the courts had no remedial powers against the king or Parliament.

Petitions to redress grievances were tried-and-true tools in English constitutional theory and history. But what if those petitions repeatedly fell on deaf ears? One might elect other members of the government. But, what if one could not vote for such members and, consequently, was not represented therein? What if, further, the executive authority was not subject to election? A private party may repudiate a contract if the other side fails to perform the material part of the bargain. Is there a similar remedy to void the social contract with the government and place oneself again in a state of nature? More pointedly, do the people collectively retain a right of revolution to replace a usurping government?

This was the very situation in which many Americans and their leaders imagined themselves to be in 1776. Previous writers had been very circumscribed about recognizing a right of revolution. Various rationales were urged against such a right. Thomas Aquinas might cite religious reasons, but there was also the very practical medieval concern about stability in a rough political environment where societal security and survival were not to be assumed. Thomas Hobbes could not countenance such a right, as it would return all to the horrid state of nature, where life once again would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Moreover, as someone who had experienced the English Civil War and the regicide of Charles I, albeit from his sanctuary in France, and who was fully aware of the bloodletting during the contemporaneous Thirty Years’ War, revolution was to be avoided at all cost.

Locke was more receptive than Hobbes to some vague right of revolution, one not to be exercised in response to trivial or temporary infractions, however. Left unclear was exactly who were the people to exercise such a right, and how many of them were needed to legitimize the undertaking. Locke wrote at the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. His main relevant work, the Second Treatise on Civil Government, was published in 1689, though some scholars believe that it was written earlier. The Catholic king, James II, had been in a political and religious struggle with Parliament and the Church of England. When Parliament invited the stadholder (the chief executive) of the United Netherlands to bring an army to England to settle matters in favor of itself, James eventually fled to France.

Parliament declared the throne vacant, issued a Declaration of Rights and offered the throne to William and his wife, Mary. In essence, by James’s flight, the people of England had returned to an extra-political state of nature where they, through the Parliament, could form a new social contract.

The American Revolution and Jefferson’s writings in the Declaration of Independence follow a similar progression. When King George declared the colonies to be in rebellion on August 23, 1775, and Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act in December of that year, they had effectively placed the colonies outside the protection of the law and into a state of nature. At least that was the perception of the colonists. Whatever political bands once had existed were no more. In that state of nature, the Americans were free to reconstitute political societies on the basis of a social contract they chose.

That project occurred organically at the state level. Massachusetts had been operating as an independent entity since the royal governor, General Thomas Gage, had dissolved the General Court of the colony in June, 1774. That action led to the extra-constitutional election by the residents of a provincial congress in October. Thereafter, it was this assemblage that effectively governed the colony. The other colonies followed suit in short order.

In Virginia, a similar process occurred in the summer of 1774. It culminated two years later in the “Declaration of Rights and the Constitution or Form of Government,” begun by a convention of delegates on May 6, 1776, and formally approved in two stages the following month. The initial document was a motley combination of a plan of government, a declaration of independence, and a collection of enumerated rights and high-sounding political propositions. In the part regarding independence, the accusations against King George are remarkably similar, often verbatim, precursors to Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence of the “united States” two months later. George Mason, whom Jefferson praised as the “wisest man of his generation,” was the principal author. Still, it may have been Jefferson himself who proposed this language through the drafts he submitted to the Virginia convention.

Both documents, the Virginia declaration and the Declaration of Independence, cite as a reason for “dissolv[ing] the Political Bands” that the king had abandoned the government by declaring the Americans out of his protection. George III, like James II a century before, had breached the social contract and forced a return to an extra-political state of nature. The Declaration of Independence merely formalized what had already occurred on the ground. With those bands broken, the next step, that of forming a new government, already taken by Virginia and other states, now lay before the “united States.”

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/

 

 

 

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Essay 5 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams
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In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had occasion to reflect upon the principles of the American Founding. Using a biblical metaphor, he thought that the Declaration of Independence was an “apple of gold” because it contained the foundational principles of the new country. The Constitution was the “picture of silver” framing the apple with the structures of republican government. In the mind of Lincoln—and those of the Founders—an inextricable link bound together the two documents in creating a free government.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution seem to have had different purposes. The Declaration was an assertion of independence that included laying down the Enlightenment and Lockean principles of natural rights and republican self-government based upon consent. The Constitution created the framework of the national government with three separate branches operating with certain powers. However, a close reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution reveal a common set of republican principles as Lincoln saw it with his metaphor.

The Declaration of Independence affirmed the republican principle of popular government. The people were the source of all sovereignty, or authority, in the representative government and gave their consent for it to govern. It stated, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Constitution was significantly rooted in popular sovereignty. The Preamble to the Constitution agreed that the new constitutional government was to be based upon the principle of popular sovereignty. It began, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.” The previous government under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1789) did not have sufficient powers to govern the nation adequately so the Framers decided to create a new government with powers to achieve its ends.

The Constitution supported popular sovereignty in several ways. The Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, was closest to the people and represented them. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #51, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” The people directly or indirectly elected several offices in free elections and for fixed terms. In addition, the people and their representatives were responsible for ratifying the Constitution as fundamental law in popular ratifying conventions.

Republican government was predicated upon majority rule of the sovereign people and their representatives. Majority rule was based upon reason as well as justice in preserving minority rights. President Thomas Jefferson reminded Americans of the moral basis for majority rule in his First Inaugural Address: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect.”

The core principle—the “apple of gold—of the Declaration of Independence was human equality in natural rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This principle of equality was enshrined in the constitutional government and closely related to building a just and equal political order.

The Constitution created a system whereby all were equal under the law and equal in their rights. The Fifth Amendment reads, “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In Federalist #51, Madison recognized the defining importance of justice when he wrote, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.”

The Declaration supports the rule of law based upon popular consent. The people form a government with a rule of law to protect their rights. They have the power to overthrow a tyrannical government but have a responsibility to “institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” A rule of law allows citizens to live their lives peacefully and civil society to function normally.

The Declaration claimed that the natural rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” were self-evident. Political, economic, and religious liberty were among the fundamental and inalienable rights of the individual. The very purpose of republican government is to protect liberty, and its powers would be limited to achieve that goal.

The weakness of the Articles of Confederation actually endangered liberty by allowing unjust laws and little power to govern properly to preserve liberty. The more robust constitutional system was intended to do a better job of preserving liberty with laws that were more just and national security that was more vibrant.

The Founders created a free constitutional republic so that Americans might govern themselves by their own consent through their representatives. Limited government meant that its powers were restricted to guarding the people’s rights and governing effectively so that the people might live their lives freely. A free people would pursue their happiness and interact amicably in the public square for a healthy civil society.

In Federalist #1, Alexander Hamilton explained the entire purpose of establishing free government based upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. He stated that Americans had the opportunity and responsibility to form good government by “reflection and choice,” not by “accident and force.” The United States was founded uniquely upon a set of principles and ideals.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence. 

 

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Essay 4 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

There are two recognized types of war, war between nations (“international war”) and war within a nation (“civil war”). In a civil war, some portion of the inhabitants forcibly seeks political change. The goal often is to replace the existing constitutional government with their own by taking over the entire structure or by separating themselves and seeking independence from their current compatriots.

A civil war may be an insurrection or a rebellion, the stages being distinguished by a rebellion’s higher degree of organization of military forces, creation of a formal political apparatus, greater popular participation, and more sophistication and openness of military operations. By those measures, the American effort began as an insurrection during the localized, brief, and poorly organized eruptions in the 1760s and early 1770s. Various petitions, speeches, and resolves opposing the Revenue Act, the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, and others, were reactive, not strategic. Even circular letters among colonial governments for unified action, such as that by the Massachusetts assembly in February, 1768, against the Townshend Acts, or hesitant steps toward union, such as the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, were of that nature. Much rhetoric was consumed along with impressive quantities of Madeira wine, but tactical successes were soon superseded by the next controversy.

In similar vein, local bands of the Sons of Liberty, the middle-class groups of rabble-rousers that emerged in 1765, fortified in their numbers by wharf-rats and other layabouts, might destroy property, intimidate and assault royal officials, and harass locals seen as insufficiently committed to opposing an often-contrived outrage du jour. They might incite and participate in violent encounters with the British authorities. But, while they engaged in melodramatic and, to some Americans, satisfying political theater, they were no rebel force. Moreover, the political goals were limited, focused on repeal or, at least, non-enforceability of this or that act of Parliament.

Yet, those efforts, despite their limited immediate successes, triggered discussions of constitutional theory and provided organizational experience. In that manner, they laid the groundwork that, eventually, made independence possible, even if no one could know that and few desired it. Gradually, the vague line between insurrection and rebellion was crossed. The consequences of the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord have made it clear, in retrospect, that, by the spring of 1775, a rebellion was under way.

The Second Continental Congress met on May 10, 1775, and, in contrast to its predecessor, did not adjourn after concluding a limited agenda. Rather, it began to act as a government of a self-regarding political entity, including control over an organized armed force and a navy. Congress sent diplomatic agents abroad, took control over relations with the Indian tribes, and sent a military force under Benedict Arnold north against the British to “assist” Canada to join the American coalition. It appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of the “Army of the United Colonies.” That army, and other forces, achieved several tactical military successes against the British during 1775 and early 1776, although the Canadian expedition narrowly failed.

Still, something was lacking. The scope of the effort was not matched by an equally ambitious goal. The end was not in focus. Certainly, repeal of the Coercive Acts, which had been enacted in the spring of 1774, urgently needed to be achieved. Those acts had closed the port of Boston, brought the government of Massachusetts under more direct royal control by eliminating elected legislative offices, and authorized the peacetime quartering of troops in private homes. These laws appeared reasonable from the British perspective. Thus, the Quartering Act intended to alleviate the dire conditions of British soldiers who were forced to sleep on Boston Common. The Government and Administration of Justice Act was to ensure, in part, fair trials for British officials and soldiers accused of murder as had happened in 1770 in the “Boston Massacre.” At the same time, though these acts were limited to Massachusetts, many colonists feared that a similar program awaited them. These laws were so despised that they were collectively known to Americans also as the “Intolerable Acts.”

Was there to be more? In unity lay strength, and the Second Continental Congress was tasked with working out an answer. But Congress was more follower than leader, as delegates had to wait for instructions from their colonial assemblies. That meant the process was driven by the sentiments of the people in the colonies, and the Tory residents of New York thought differently than the Whigs of beleaguered Massachusetts. Within each colony, sentiments, quite naturally, also varied. The more radical the potential end, the less likely people were to support it. Even as late as that spring of 1775, there existed no clear national identity as “American.” People still considered themselves part of the British Empire. The rights that they claimed were denied them by the government in London were the “ancient rights of Englishmen.” The official American flag, used by the armed forces until June, 1777, was composed of the familiar, to us, thirteen red and white stripes in its field, but its canton was the British Union Jack. Without irony, Congress’s military operations were made in the name of the king. General Washington was still toasting the king each night at the officer’s mess in Cambridge while besieging the British forces in Boston.

The gentlemen who met in Philadelphia came from the colonial elite, as would be expected. But they were also distinguished in sagacity and learning, more so than one has come to expect from today’s Congress drawn from a much larger population. Almost none favored independence. Those few that did, the Adams cousins from Massachusetts, Sam and John; the Lees of Virginia, Francis Lightfoot and Richard Henry; Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina, the “Sam Adams of the South” as he came to be known, kept their views under wraps. Instead, the goal initially appeared to be some sort of conciliation within a new constitutional relationship of yet-to-be-determined form. Many delegates had also served in the First Continental Congress dedicated to sending remonstrances and petitions. On the other hand, Georgia had not sent delegates to the First, so its delegation consisted entirely of four novices. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was chosen president, as he had been of the First Continental Congress. He was soon replaced by John Hancock when Randolph had to return to Virginia because of his duties as Speaker of the House of Burgesses.

One person missing from the assemblage was Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania. He had attended the First Continental Congress, where he had drafted a plan of union between the colonies and Britain. Parliament would control foreign affairs and external trade. As to internal colonial affairs, Parliament and a new American parliament would each effectively have veto power over the acts of the other. His plan would have recognized a degree of colonial sovereignty, but within the British system. It was rejected by one vote, six colonies to five, because a more confrontational proposal, the Suffolk Resolves, had recently been adopted by the towns around Boston which outflanked his proposal politically. Congress instead endorsed the Resolves, and voted to expunge Galloway’s plan from the record. Still, his proposal was a prototype for the future federal structure between the states and the general government under the Articles of Confederation. Repulsed by what he saw as the increasing radicalism of the various assemblies, he maintained his allegiance to the king. By 1778, he was living in London and advising the British government.

Congress sought to thread the needle between protecting the Americans from intrusive British laws and engaging in sedition and treason. In constitutional terms, it meant maintaining a balance between the current state of submission to a Parliament and a ministry in which they saw themselves as unrepresented, and the de facto revolution developing on the ground. The first effort, by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, was the “Declaration on the Causes of Taking Up Arms.” It declared, “We mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us…. We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separation from Great Britain, and establishing independent States.” Then why the effort? “[W]e are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice.” Note the problem: not the king, not even Parliament, but “irritated ministers.” The path to resolution of the conflict, it seemed, was to appeal to the king himself, who, it was surmised, must have been kept in the dark about the dire state of affairs of his loyal colonial subjects by his ministers’ perfidy.

On July 8, 1775, Congress adopted the “Olive Branch Petition,” also drafted by John Dickinson. That gentleman, a well-respected constitutional lawyer, member of the First Continental Congress, and eventual principal drafter of the Articles of Confederation in 1777, wanted to leave no diplomatic stone unturned to avoid a breach with Great Britain. The historian Samuel Eliot Morison relates remarks attributed to John Adams about the supposed reasons for Dickinson’s caution. According to Adams, “His (Dickinson’s) mother said to him, ‘Johnny you will be hanged, your estate will be forfeited and confiscated, you will leave your excellent wife a widow, and your charming children orphans, beggars, and infamous.’ From my Soul, I pitied Mr. Dickinson…. I was very happy that my Mother and my Wife…and all her near relations, as well as mine, had been uniformly of my Mind, so that I always enjoyed perfect Peace at home.” A new topic of study thus presents itself to historians of the era: the effect of a statesman’s domestic affairs on his view of national affairs.

The Petition appealed to the king to help stop the war, repeal the Coercive Acts, restore the prior “harmony between [Great Britain] and these colonies,” and establish “a concord…between them upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessing ….” Almost all who signed the later Declaration of Independence signed the Petition, largely to placate Dickinson and, for some, to justify more vigorous future measures. As feared by many, and hoped by some, on arrival in London, the American agents were told that the king would not receive a petition from rebels.

British politicians were as unsure and divided about moving forward as their American counterparts in Congress. But George III could rest assured of the support of his people, judging by the 60,000 that lined the route of his carriage from St. James Palace to the Palace of Westminster on the occasion of his speech to both houses for the opening of Parliament on October 26, 1775. The twenty-minute speech, delivered in a strong voice, provides a sharp counterpoint to the future American Declaration of Independence. Outraged by the attempted invasion of Canada, a peaceful and loyal colony, the king already on August 23 had declared that an open rebellion existed.

He now affirmed and elaborated on that proclamation. Leaders in America were traitors who in a “desperate conspiracy” had inflamed people through “gross misrepresentation.” They were feigning loyalty to the Crown while preparing for rebellion. Now came the bill of particulars against the Americans: “They have raised troops, and are collecting a naval force. They have seized the public revenue, and assumed to themselves legislative, executive, and judicial powers, which they already exercise in the most arbitrary manner…. And although many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty…the torrent of violence [by the Americans] has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.”

Despite these provocations, he and the Parliament had acted with moderation, he assured his audience, and he was “anxious to prevent, if it had been possible, the effusion of the blood of my subjects, and the calamities which are inseparable from a state of war.” Nevertheless, he was determined to defend the colonies which the British nation had “encouraged with many commercial advantages, and protected and defended at much expense of blood and treasure.” He bemoaned in personal sorrow the baleful effects of the rebellion on his faithful subjects, but promised to “receive the misled with tenderness and mercy,” once they had come to their senses. Showing that his political sense was more acute than that of many Americans, as well as many members of Parliament, the king charged that the true intent of the rebels was to create an “independent empire.”

Two months later, Parliament followed the king’s declaration with an act to prohibit all commerce with the colonies and to make all colonial vessels subject to seizure as lawful prizes, with their crews subject to impressment into the Royal Navy.

The king’s speech was less well-received in the colonies, and it gave the radicals an opportunity to press their case that the king himself was at the center of the actions against the Americans. It was critical to the radicals’ efforts towards independence that the natural affinity for the king that almost all Americans shared with their countrymen in the motherland be sundered. Some snippets about the king’s character from the historian David McCullough illustrate why George III was popular. After ascending the throne in 1760 at age 22, “he remained a man of simple tastes and few pretensions. He liked plain food and drank but little, and wine only. Defying fashion, he refused to wear a wig…. And in notable contrast to much of fashionable society and the Court, … the king remained steadfastly faithful to his very plain Queen, with whom [he ultimately would produce fifteen children].”  Recent depictions of him as unattractive, dull, and insane, are far off the mark. He was tall, well above-average in looks at the time, and good-natured. By the 1770s, he was sufficiently skilled in the political arts to wield his patronage power to the advantage of himself and his political allies. One must not forget that, but a decade earlier, colonial governments had voted to erect statues in his honor. It was the very affability of George III and his appeal as a sort of “people’s king” that made it imperative for Jefferson to portray him in the Declaration of Independence as the ruthless and calculating tyrant he was not.

Between November, 1775, and January, 1776, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland still explicitly instructed their delegates to vote against independence. But events soon overtook the fitfulness of the state assemblies and Congress. Parliament’s actions, once they became known, left no room for conciliation. The colonies effectively had been declared into outlawry and, in Lockean terms, reverted to a “state of nature” in relation to the British government. The struggles in the colonial assemblies between moderates who had pressed for negotiation and radicals who pushed for independence now tilted clearly in favor of the latter.

Yet before news of Parliament’s actions reached the colonies, another event proved to be even more of a catalyst for the shift from conciliation to independence. In January, 1776, Thomas Paine, an English corset maker brought to Pennsylvania by Benjamin Franklin, published, anonymously, a pamphlet titled “Common Sense.” Paine ridiculed monarchy and denounced George III as a particularly despicable example. The work’s unadorned but stirring prose, short length, and simplistically propagandistic approach to political systems made it a best seller that delivered an electric jolt to the public debate. The extent to which it influenced the deliberations of Congress is unclear, however.

The irresolution of the Congress, it must be noted, was mirrored by the fumblings of Parliament. The Americans had many friends for their cause in London, even including various ministries, some of which nevertheless were reviled in the colonies. This had been the case beginning the prior decade, when American objections to a particular act of Parliament resulted in repeal of the act, only to be followed by another that the Americans found unacceptable, whereupon the dance continued. Still, the overall trend had been to tighten the reins on the colonies. But that did not deter Edmund Burke, a solid—but at times exasperated—supporter of the Americans, to introduce a proposal for reconciliation in Parliament in November, 1775. Unfortunately, it was voted down. Others, including Adam Smith and Lord Barrington, the secretary at war, urged all British troops to be removed and the Americans to be allowed to determine whether, and under what terms, they wished to remain in union with Britain.

Other proposals for a revised union were debated in Parliament even after the Americans declared independence. These proposals resembled the dominion structure that the British, having learned their lesson too late, provided for many of their colonies and dependencies in subsequent generations. The last of these, the Conciliatory Bill, which actually was passed on February 17, 1778, gave the Americans more than they had demanded in 1775. Too late. The American alliance with France made peace impossible. Had those proposals, allowing significant control by the colonists over local affairs, been adopted in a timely manner, the independence drive well may have stalled even in 1776. Even Adams, Jefferson, and other radicals of those earlier years had urged a dominion structure, whereby the Americans would have controlled their own affairs but would have remained connected to Britain through the person of the king. The quote attributed to the former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban about the Arabs of our time might as well have applied to the British of the 1770s, “[They] never miss[ed] an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Reflecting the shifting attitudes in the assemblies, and responding to the seemingly inexorable move to independence by the states, the Second Continental Congress also bent to the inevitable. The Virginia House of Burgesses on May, 15, 1776, appointed a committee to draft a constitution for an independent Commonwealth, and directed its delegates in Congress to vote for independence. Other states followed suit. Finally, Richard Henry Lee moved in Congress, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” The die was cast.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/

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Essay 3 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In an 1857 speech criticizing the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), Abraham Lincoln commented that the principle of equality in the Declaration of Independence was “meant to set up a standard maxim for a free society.” That maxim, however, that the Declaration of Independence and its principles have been debated and contested throughout history.

American constitutional democracy needs vigorous deliberation and debate by citizens and their representatives. This civil and political dialogue helps Americans understand the principles and ideas upon which their country was founded and the means of working on achieving them. Indeed, throughout American history, many Americans appealed to the Declaration of Independence to make liberty and equality a reality for all.

In the 1770s and 1780s, enslaved persons in New England immediately appealed to the natural rights principles of the Declaration and state constitutions as they petitioned state legislatures and sued in state courts for freedom and the abolition of slavery. For example, a group of free blacks in New Hampshire stated, “That the God of nature gave them life and freedom, upon the terms of the most perfect equality with other men; That freedom is an inherent right of the human species, not to be surrendered, but by consent.” As a result, they won their freedom and helped to end slavery there.

The women and men who assembled at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention for women’s rights adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. The document was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, but changed the language to read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

The Declaration of Independence was one of the centerpieces of the national debate over slavery. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison all invoked the Declaration of Independence in denouncing slavery. Douglass stated that the Declaration “contains a true doctrine—that ‘all men are born equal.’” Douglass thought the document was an expression of the “eternal laws of the moral universe.” Garrison publicly burned the Constitution because he believed it to be a pro-slavery document, but always upheld the principles of the Declaration.

On the other hand, Senators Stephen Douglas and John Calhoun, Chief Justice Roger Taney, and Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens all denied that the Declaration of Independence was meant to apply to black people. Calhoun thought slavery a “positive good” and asserted that the idea that all men are created equal was “the most false and dangerous of all political errors” because black persons were inferior and subordinate to the white race. Stephens stated,

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man…our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Abraham Lincoln’s political philosophy and statesmanship was rooted upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence and their realization according to constitutional means. He consistently held that the Declaration of Independence had universal natural rights principles that were “applicable to all men and all time.” In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stated that the nation was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The expansion of American world power in the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898 triggered another debate using the Declaration of Independence. Supporters of American expansion argued that the country would bring the ideals of liberty and self-government to those people who had not previously enjoyed them. On the other hand, anti-imperialists countered that American empire violated the Declaration of Independence by taking away the liberty of self-determination and consent from Filipinos and Cubans.

Politicians of differing perspectives viewed the Declaration in opposing ways during the early twentieth century. Progressives such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson argued that the principles of the Declaration of Independence were important for an earlier period in American history to gain independence from Great Britain and set up the new nation. However, they argued, modern America faced new challenges introduced by an industrial economy and needed a new set of principles based upon equality of condition.

Progressive John Dewey represented this line of thinking when he wrote,

“The ideas of Locke embodied in the Declaration of Independence were congenial to our pioneer conditions that gave individuals the opportunity to carve their own careers….But the majority who call themselves liberal today are committed to the principle that organized society must use its powers to establish the conditions under which the mass of individuals can possess actual as distinct from merely legal liberty.”

Modern conservatives such as President Calvin Coolidge argued that the ideals of the Declaration of Independence should be preserved and respected. On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, Coolidge stated that the principles formed the American creed and were still the basis of American republican institutions. Coolidge was a conservative who wanted to preserve the past, “reaffirm and reestablish” American principles, and generate a “reverence and respect” for principles of the Declaration and American founding. They were still applicable regardless of how much society changed. Indeed, Americans needed to revere the principles precisely because of rapid social change.

Modern American social movements for justice and equality called upon the Declaration of Independence and its principles. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr., stated in his “I Have a Dream” speech:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

King demanded that the United States live up to its “sacred obligation” of liberty and equality for all.

The natural rights republican ideals of the Declaration of Independence influenced the creation of American constitutional government founded upon liberty and equality. They also shaped the expectations that a free people would live in a just society. Achieving those ideals has always been part of a robust and dynamic debate among the sovereign people and their representatives.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence. 

 

 

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Essay 2 - Guest Essayist: George Landrith

The Magna Carta created the moral and political premise that, in many ways, the American founding was built upon. The Magna Carta came to represent the idea that the people can assert their rights against an oppressive ruler and that the power of government can be limited to protect those rights. These concepts were clearly foundational and central to both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

First, a bit of history about Magna Carta — its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum which is Latin for “Great Charter of Freedoms.” But, it became commonly known as simply Magna Carta or the “Great Charter.” It was written in 1215 to settle an intense political dispute between King John of England and a group of barons who were challenging King John’s absolute right to rule. The terms of the charter were negotiated over the course of three days. When they reached agreement on June 15, 1215, the document was signed by the King and the barons at Runnymede outside of London.

This was a time when kings asserted the absolute right to rule, and that they were above the law and that they were personally chosen to rule by God. At this time, even questioning the King’s power was both treasonous and an act of defiance to God himself.

The Magna Carta limited the king’s absolute claim to power. It provided a certain level of religious freedom or independence from the crown, protected barons from illegal imprisonment, and limited the taxes that the crown could impose upon the barons, among other things. It did not champion the rights of every Englishman. It only focused on the rights of the barons. But, it was an important start to the concept of limiting the absolute power of governments or kings that claimed God had given them the absolute right to rule.

Magna Carta is important because of the principles it stood for and the ideas that it came to represent — not because it lasted a long time. Shortly after signing the charter, King John asked Pope Innocent III to annul it, which he did. Then there was a war known as the First Barons War that began in 1215 and finally ended in 1217.

After King John died in 1216, the regency government of John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III reissued the Magna Carta, after having stripped out some of its more “radical” elements in hopes of reuniting the country under his rule. That didn’t work, but at the end of the war in 1217, the original Magna Carta’s terms became the foundation for a peace treaty.

Over the following decades and centuries, the importance of Magna Carta ebbed and flowed depending on the current king’s view of it and his willingness to accept it, or abide by it its concepts. But subsequent kings further legitimized or confirmed the principles of Magna Carta — often in exchange for some grant of new taxes or some other political concession. But the path towards limited government and individual rights had been planted and continued to grow.

Despite its relatively short political life as a working document, Magna Carta created and memorialized the idea that the people had the right to limit the powers of their government and they had the right to protect basic and important rights. By the end of the Sixteenth Century, the political lore of Magna Carta grew and the idea of an ancient source for individual rights became cemented in the minds of reform-minded political scholars, thinkers and writers.

Obviously, it wasn’t as written in 1215 a document that protected the rights of the average Englishman. It only protected English barons. But the concepts of individual rights and the limitations of governmental power had grown and were starting to mature. Magna Carta was the seed of those powerful concepts of freedom and constitutionally limited government.  By the 17th and 18th Centuries, those arguing for reforms and greater individual rights and protections used Magna Carta as their foundation. These ideas are at the very center of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

As English settlers came to the shores of North America, they brought with them charters under the authority of the King. The Virginia Charter of 1606 promised the English settlers all the same “liberties, franchises and immunities” as people born in England.[1]  The Massachusetts Bay Company charter acknowledged the rights of the settlers to be treated as “free and natural subjects.”[2]

In 1687, William Penn, an early American leader, who had at one point been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his political and religious views, published a pamphlet on freedom and religious liberty that included a copy of the Magna Carta and discussed it as a source of fundamental law.[3] American scholars began to see Magna Carta as the source of their guaranteed rights of trial by jury and habeas corpus (which prevented a king from simply locking up his enemies without charges or due process). While that isn’t necessarily correct history, it is part of the growth of the seed of freedom and liberty that Magna Carta planted.

By July 4, 1776, the idea that government could, and should be, limited by the consent of its citizens and that government must protect individual rights was widely seen as springing forth from Magna Carta. The beautiful and important words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration spring from the fertile soil of Magna Carta:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Obviously, Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of liberty and freedom had developed a great deal since Magna Carta was penned in 1215. But, it is impossible to read Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and not see the common DNA.

When the Founders debated, drafted and ratified the U.S. Constitution, it is also clear they were creating a set of rules and procedures to limit and check the power of government and to guarantee basic, individual rights.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” is a concept that comes from Magna Carta. Our constitutional guarantees of “a speedy trial” as found in the Sixth Amendment are also founded in the political thought that grew from Magna Carta. The Constitution’s guarantee of the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” (Art.1, Sec. 9) is also a concept that grew from Magna Carta.

Even the phrase “the law of the land” comes from Magna Carta’s history. And now we use that phrase in the United States to describe our Constitution which we proudly label “the law of the land.”

To this day, Magna Carta is an important symbol of liberty in both England and the United States.

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are in my estimation the two most important and influential political documents ever written. What they did to provide promote and protect the freedom, opportunity and security of the average person is almost impossible to overstate. As British Prime Minister William Gladstone said in 1878, “the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”[4]

I believe Gladstone was correct. But, Magna Carta was an important development in political thought and understanding about government power and individual rights. It is difficult to imagine the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution without the foundational elements provided by Magna Carta.

George Landrith is the President of Frontiers of Freedom. Frontiers of Freedom, founded in 1995 by U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop, is an educational foundation whose mission is to promote the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, free markets, and traditional American values as found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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[1] The Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/exhibits/magna-carta-muse-and-mentor/rights-of-englishmen-in-british-america.html#obj022) as shown on 2/13/2021.

[2] The Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/exhibits/magna-carta-muse-and-mentor/rights-of-englishmen-in-british-america.html#obj023) as shown on 2/13/2021.

[3] Ralph V. Turner, Magna Carta: Through the Ages (2003).

[4] William E. Gladstone, “Kin Beyond Sea,” The North American Review, September–October 1878, p. 185-86.

Introduction: Revolutionary Importance of the Declaration of Independence by The Honorable Michael Warren

The importance of the Declaration of Independence can hardly be overstated. It established for the first time in world history a new nation based on the First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the Social Compact, equality, and the right to alter or abolish oppressive government.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, the American Revolution was not fought for lower taxes or to protect slavery. In fact, the tea tax which provoked the Boston Tea Party actually lowered the price of tea, and many of the Founding Fathers were opposed to slavery.

Indeed, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence announces for the whole world to see our underlying motivation for the American Revolution:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

The Declaration announced the Founding Fathers’ belief in the “truth” –

there was no relative moralism here. They believed some truths were so obvious, that they were “self-evident,” that is, that they need not be proven: 2 + 2 = 4, not a cow. You, our dear reader, are not the moon. This essay is in English, not water. The Founders declared, against the historical experiences and beliefs of the ages, six founding First Principles, all of which were quite revolutionary at the time, and remain revolutionary today:

1. The Rule of Law: Although not articulated expressly, undergirding the entire Declaration of Independence is the idea of the rule of law. In other words, the government and the People are both bound by the law. The reason we needed to declare independence was because the British Empire was no longer following the fundamental unwritten English Constitution. Until 1776, it was just assumed that most rulers did not need to follow the law, and that huge swaths of the privileged were exempt from the laws that applied to the vast majority of the People. The Declaration of Independence declared – no more! The law should apply equally to all in society, whether they be in the government or the masses, the richest or the most poor. We turned the world upside down.

2. Equality: All men are created equal. This idea is perhaps the most controversial of them all, because the Founding Fathers fell so short of its ideal in practice. But, the Founding Fathers were the very first to proclaim that a nation should be dedicated in this belief. It is based on the belief that the Creator (Nature and Nature’s God) created all people, and therefore we are all equal in His eyes and under our law. Until 1776, no government was established on equality or even declared it should be so. Instead, inequality was the key historical reality and belief of the day. A privileged few lorded over subjects. It was done as a matter of tradition and codified into the law. We fell short in our reality, but we were the first to commit our nation to equality.

3. Unalienable Rights: We are used to thinking we have rights that government must respect, but this was quite revolutionary in 1776. In fact, the People were “subjects” and had “privileges” which means that the government lorded over the people and the people could only do was permitted by the government. A right means the People do not have to seek permission from the government. Moreover, “unalienable” means that the rights cannot be taken away, they are born within each person and can never be taken away by the government. “Alienability” is an old-fashioned word for the ability “to sell” or “transfer” something. Because our rights come from God, they cannot be sold or taken away. Today, too many act like their rights come from government, and they need to ask for permission to do things. Not so. No other society in human society has rested on the foundation of unalienable rights.

4. Social Compact: The idea of the Social Compact is that the People have come together and created a government to protect their unalienable rights. If we don’t have a government, we have the natural right to defend ourselves, but without a police force, we have to resort to vigilante justice. By allowing the government to create a police force, fire department, border patrol, and military, we have given up some of our unalienable rights to self-defense and agreed to abide by the government. This means that the government rests on the consent of the People and only acts justly with that consent. Before 1776, likely no government believed in a true Social Compact, they usually took power by force and violence, and coerced its subjects to follow its dictates.

5. Limited Government. Because the government is formed to protect our unalienable rights, the just limit of its powers is to protect those rights and some ancillary powers. To ensure that the government remains free and just, we limit its powers and authority. In most of human history, governments were developed with the opposite belief that they were unlimited unless they carved out some privileges to their subjects.

6. Reform and Revolution: If a government becomes unjust and violates our unalienable rights, we have the right to reform or even abolish it. That is, after all, the whole point of the Declaration of Independence. If reform failed, and the government undertook a long train of abuses with the intention to assert an absolute despotism on the People, then the People have the right – in fact, the duty – to overthrow the government and start anew. We are a revolutionary people and had no intention of giving away the rights we enjoyed.

Religious texts aside, the Declaration of Independence may be the most important document in human history. It totally upended the prevailing orthodoxy about government and has led to momentous changes across time and the world. Certainly we have fallen short, over and over again, of its ideals. But without the First Principles of the Declaration of Independence, we would live in the total darkness of oppression as mankind had for a millennia before.

Judge Michael Warren is the co-creator of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org), author of America’s Survival Guide, and host of the Patriot Lessons: American History & Civics Podcast.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay One - Guest Essayist: Judge Michael Warren

The importance of the Declaration of Independence can hardly be overstated. It established for the first time in world history a new nation based on the First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the Social Compact, equality, and the right to alter or abolish oppressive government.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, the American Revolution was not fought for lower taxes or to protect slavery. In fact, the tea tax which provoked the Boston Tea Party actually lowered the price of tea, and many of the Founding Fathers were opposed to slavery.

Indeed, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence announces for the whole world to see our underlying motivation for the American Revolution:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

The Declaration announced the Founding Fathers’ belief in the “truth” –

there was no relative moralism here. They believed some truths were so obvious, that they were “self-evident,” that is, that they need not be proven: 2 + 2 = 4, not a cow. You, our dear reader, are not the moon. This essay is in English, not water. The Founders declared, against the historical experiences and beliefs of the ages, six founding First Principles, all of which were quite revolutionary at the time, and remain revolutionary today:

1. The Rule of Law: Although not articulated expressly, undergirding the entire Declaration of Independence is the idea of the rule of law. In other words, the government and the People are both bound by the law. The reason we needed to declare independence was because the British Empire was no longer following the fundamental unwritten English Constitution. Until 1776, it was just assumed that most rulers did not need to follow the law, and that huge swaths of the privileged were exempt from the laws that applied to the vast majority of the People. The Declaration of Independence declared – no more! The law should apply equally to all in society, whether they be in the government or the masses, the richest or the most poor. We turned the world upside down.

2. Equality: All men are created equal. This idea is perhaps the most controversial of them all, because the Founding Fathers fell so short of its ideal in practice. But, the Founding Fathers were the very first to proclaim that a nation should be dedicated in this belief. It is based on the belief that the Creator (Nature and Nature’s God) created all people, and therefore we are all equal in His eyes and under our law. Until 1776, no government was established on equality or even declared it should be so. Instead, inequality was the key historical reality and belief of the day. A privileged few lorded over subjects. It was done as a matter of tradition and codified into the law. We fell short in our reality, but we were the first to commit our nation to equality.

3. Unalienable Rights: We are used to thinking we have rights that government must respect, but this was quite revolutionary in 1776. In fact, the People were “subjects” and had “privileges” which means that the government lorded over the people and the people could only do was permitted by the government. A right means the People do not have to seek permission from the government. Moreover, “unalienable” means that the rights cannot be taken away, they are born within each person and can never be taken away by the government. “Alienability” is an old-fashioned word for the ability “to sell” or “transfer” something. Because our rights come from God, they cannot be sold or taken away. Today, too many act like their rights come from government, and they need to ask for permission to do things. Not so. No other society in human society has rested on the foundation of unalienable rights.

4. Social Compact: The idea of the Social Compact is that the People have come together and created a government to protect their unalienable rights. If we don’t have a government, we have the natural right to defend ourselves, but without a police force, we have to resort to vigilante justice. By allowing the government to create a police force, fire department, border patrol, and military, we have given up some of our unalienable rights to self-defense and agreed to abide by the government. This means that the government rests on the consent of the People and only acts justly with that consent. Before 1776, likely no government believed in a true Social Compact, they usually took power by force and violence, and coerced its subjects to follow its dictates.

5. Limited Government. Because the government is formed to protect our unalienable rights, the just limit of its powers is to protect those rights and some ancillary powers. To ensure that the government remains free and just, we limit its powers and authority. In most of human history, governments were developed with the opposite belief that they were unlimited unless they carved out some privileges to their subjects.

6. Reform and Revolution: If a government becomes unjust and violates our unalienable rights, we have the right to reform or even abolish it. That is, after all, the whole point of the Declaration of Independence. If reform failed, and the government undertook a long train of abuses with the intention to assert an absolute despotism on the People, then the People have the right – in fact, the duty – to overthrow the government and start anew. We are a revolutionary people and had no intention of giving away the rights we enjoyed.

Religious texts aside, the Declaration of Independence may be the most important document in human history. It totally upended the prevailing orthodoxy about government and has led to momentous changes across time and the world. Certainly we have fallen short, over and over again, of its ideals. But without the First Principles of the Declaration of Independence, we would live in the total darkness of oppression as mankind had for a millennia before.

Judge Michael Warren is the co-creator of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org), author of America’s Survival Guide, and host of the Patriot Lessons: American History & Civics Podcast.

 


Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Constituting America is pleased to award Jacob Mott with a “Best Essay On Film Award”!

Jacob L. Mott is an 18 year old from Chester, New York, who attends Chester Academy as a senior. He’s interned for NY State Senator James Skoufis, Defense Attorney Benjamin Ostrer, and the Orange County (NY) Sheriff’s Office. He also founded a youth environmental organization called The GreenTeenMovement, was chosen to go to Boys State (NY), was briefly a journalist for his town’s local paper, and was recently a member on his town’s Police Reform Bill Committee. His involvement within school include Youth in Government, Mock Trial, and Key Club. He’s currently the head organizer of the 2021 “World Children’s Day Fundraiser Festival”, set to be held in Orange County, New York.

Jacob wishes to pursue a life in humanitarian work and public service, seeking to participate in AmeriCorps, join the Peace Corps after college, work with and/or the United Nations, and run for public office within the United States. Jacob also enjoys reading, podcasts, documentaries, travel, volunteering for places such as his local food bank, participating in community service projects, hosting and attending get-togethers with friends, spending time with family, hiking, campfires, spiritual activity, fireworks, and sharing a smile.

Watch Jacob’s winning essay here:

“Best Drama” In Constituting America’s “We The Future” Short Film Category

My name is Yashica Nabar, 16, and I’m in 11th grade attending the Law Academy at Creekview High School. I still have memories of when I was seven years old and would run around my house, creating small films to show my family and friends. Most kids my age enjoyed taking part in sports like basketball, soccer and track. However, I enjoyed finding little ways to spread a message to people around the world. I always found myself having a deep admiration for singing, dancing and public speaking as it gives you a platform to express every feeling that can possibly be expressed! I got my first emceeing gig when I was twelve years old. This experience unlocked an “ah hah” moment of excitement for using my words to make a positive impact on others. Twelve years old was also the age that I appeared on Chopped Junior, a cooking competition on Food Network Channel. The second that I walked into my first interview in front of the camera, I knew that this was the field that I wanted to go into. The ambience of preparing a television production from setting up the equipment to the hot coffee in the hands of the entire crew, the pure bliss that has to do with being behind and in front of the camera can’t be matched by any other type of excitement in the world. That’s why creating a short film for Constituting America’s “We The Future Contest” was an opportunity that I had to take!

In the future, I hope to go on to spread positive messages on television as a talk show host or as a political journalist. No matter what anyone desires to pursue in their future, Constituting America is the place to learn more about the opportunities, morals and values that our country holds, along with of course…The Constitution of America! Thank you Constituting America for allowing me and thousands of other kids an opportunity to get the platform to make positive change in our country and to make possible our dreams to pursue a higher education!

Best Cinematic Ensemble, High School Short Film Category

This is the second time this trio has created and won a division of Constituting America!  Wyatt Hensley is 16 and a sophomore from Joplin MO.  He is active in the FFA, student council, t.v. productions, as well as DECA and FBLA.  He also is an Eagle Scout!  On Sundays, Wyatt can be found serving at his church.  Wyatt is a member of the youth advisory board for Constituting America and has appeared on Constitutional Chats.  He enjoys spending time with family and friends.  He loves American history and to travel to places. Unsure of where his schooling will take him, he would like to take all that he has learned and become a park ranger at the National Historical Sites.

 

 

 

Jonah Hensley is an 18 year old senior from Joplin.  He is involved in leadership positions in FFA (local and area), student council, DECA, FBLA, the National English Honor Society, and National Honor Society.  He is also an Eagle Scout and active in his church.   Jonah will graduate from Joplin High School with his Associates Degree from the local community college. In his spare time, he enjoys working out.   Jonah has served on the youth advisory board for Constituting America and has helped with the Constituational Chats.  He will be attending Midway University in Kentucky on swimming and academic scholarships while majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Biology.

 

 

 

Halley Moak is 17 years old and is home schooled.  She also attends Estes Park High School and Front Range Community College.  She has served the past ten years on the Youth Advisory Board for Constituting America, served on the Youth Advisory Board for Young Rider magazine and volunteers extensively for the Estes Park Rooftop Rodeo.  Halley participates in Young Chatauqua, rides for Berthoud Equestrians Interscholastic Equestrian Association team and shows her Thoroughbred “My King” in in numerous Colorado Hunter Jumper Association shows.  A state grand champion hunt seat rider for three years, Halley is passionate about both horses and history!  She will attend Midway University in 2021 where she will ride for their Varsity Hunt Seat Team and major in Equine Studies with concentrations in Equine Rehabilitation and Equine Management.

Click Below to Watch Their Winning Short Film!

Hello! My name is Lindsey Larkin. I am a life-long homeschooler and graduate of the Classical Conversations Challenge program (May 2021). I have a great love of history and the American Constitution and I hope to continue sharing the importance of the American founding with others.

I enjoy public speaking and have emceed at both state and national events. In 2019, I was selected to serve as a social media representative at the National 4-H Legacy Awards, where I interviewed nationally acclaimed 4-H alumnae. I have won 4-H state public speaking contests in extemporaneous speech, prepared speech, and radio speaking.

I have served as Maryland 4-H State Council President since 2020 and routinely lead statewide meetings, events, and community outreach activities involving youth, teens, and adults;
as well as, develop content for youth state leadership programs.

After applying, I was selected to participate in 4-H leadership trips across the nation. Most notably, I presented to the U.S. Department of Energy in D.C. at National 4-H Conference and had the distinguished honor to be selected and to serve on the Youth Leadership Design Team 2019 at National 4-H Congress. In 2021, I was fortunate enough to win the Voice of Democracy Contest at districts and placed 3rd in the state contest. Additionally, I currently intern at my local U.S. Congressional District Office.

As a Marylander, I love Old Bay, seafood, and entering craft projects in the state fair. In my opinion, out of all of the state flags, ours is #1!

I am so grateful to Constituting America for their efforts in promoting the U.S. Constitution and our American principles of freedom. Winning this contest has been a dream of mine and I am so excited to join Constituting America in their mission!

Watch Lindsey’s Winning Short Film below:

Gerald Huesken is a Social Studies teacher, focused on World History and Government & Economics, at Elizabethtown Area High School in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Mr Huesken has been teaching at Etown for the better part of a decade. At the high school, he serves not only as a teacher, but also a club advisor and assistant director / drill instructor for the Elizabethtown Area High School Marching Band. His 11th Grade Government & Economics class is a well-designed effort to get students not only to understand the workings of government and the US Constitution, but also think about it in their day-to-day lives and connect it with current issues and events with their own community. Mr Huesken also holds a Masters degree in History from Millersville University of Pennsylvania and a Masters degree in Education from Wilkes University. He serves locally as a researcher and historian of local history, teaches an elective course on state and local history of Pennsylvania and the Etown community, and is a published historian, having had research appear in publications like the Journal of Lancaster County History. A state certified K-12 online educator by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Mr Huesken lives in Elizabethtown with his wife, Emily, his children Olivia and Owen, and their many family dogs and cats. Feel free to check out more of what is going on in Mr Huesken classroom at his district website: https://www.etownschools.org/Domain/629.

Click here to download Mr. Huesken’s Honorable Mention Lesson Plan, The Preamble Video Challenge!

Click here to download The Preamble Video Challenge Student Handout

Click here for the playlist to Mr. Huesken’s students’ work

 

Samir is currently an MBA student at Emory University in Atlanta. He’s an Army veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a cavalry officer; he still serves in the Army Reserves.  He has a strong interest in entrepreneurship and real estate.  He graduated from West Point with a degree in Economics and Arabic language.

Click here or below to watch Samir’s winning speech!

 

 

My name is Melanie and I’m in the 8th grade.  I enjoy creative STEM projects, coding and watching movies.
I am the student council Vice-President at my school.  In 2018 and 2019, I won grants from the City of Las Vegas Youth Neighborhood Association Partnership Program (YNAPP) which rewards grants to youth who want to make positive changes in their neighborhoods.  I completed projects to help youth with special needs in my community.   In 2020, I was selected and honored to serve as a Youth member of the board for YNAPP.
I currently hold a 4.0 GPA in Advanced and Leadership classes at my school and was named student of the month for September.
Read About Melanie’s Winning Stem Project In Her Own Words!
I am so excited to share with you my United States Constitution Middle School STEM Project!  I am a “STEM Girl” who enjoys building websites and robots!  I’m currently in Robotics in school and will take Advanced STEM next semester. That’s why I knew I had to do the STEM Project to talk about our country’s beautiful constitution.

Here is my website!  https://scholarship12345.wixsite.com/usconstitution

Here are the results of the Quiz and Survey!

Quiz Results: https://tinyurl.com/y4s5rar3

Survey Results: https://tinyurl.com/yy2g4jhd

On my website, you will see beautiful colorful backgrounds, videos, quotes, photos, a quiz, and a survey. I had so much fun finding everything and adding them to my site. I chose the backgrounds of red, white, and blue because they represent our flag which stands for freedom. The quote from Abraham Lincoln is so inspirational to me because he knew, even back then, the importance of the constitution.

Please make sure to click under the “Click Here to Learn More” buttons because I have a video.  These videos of previous Presidents like Ronald Reagan, I believe, are important to our country’s history of freedom. The video of Abraham Lincoln is my favorite because it comes from Disneyland’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” presentation.  Every time my family visits Disneyland, we would watch the presentation and talk about how we are so proud to be American.

Thank you for holding the workshop! I live in Las Vegas so I was in school for part of it but what I was able to go to, gave me more information about the importance of Freedom of Speech. I learned it is very important to hold up the Constitution, even if it is different than what the media is saying. Also, I learned how the United States Constitution plays a huge role in our civil liberties as American citizens.

What I enjoyed most about making this website was having a quiz and survey for anyone to take!  I found out wonderful information about what people think and how much people currently know about our American Constitution.

I plan to implement this information in my everyday life by being proud to be an American and make others aware that the American Constitution stands for freedom.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this website and share it with you and a whole lot of people across the United States.

David Edelman has been a Social Studies teacher and Peer Instructional Coach in NYC Public Schools for over a decade. David provides instructional coaching, mentoring and professional learning to colleagues, in addition to teaching Government & Economics classes. His classroom serves as a learning lab and demonstration classroom to foster inter and intra school collaboration. David teaches at Union Square Academy for Health Sciences (USA) a new, unscreened, public high school with a Career & Technical Education focus in NY, NY. Most of David’s students will be first in their family to attend college. Students at USA take hands on lab classes in either dentistry or pharmacy technology, in addition to receiving a standard liberal arts education. All students have paid internships and professional mentors who expose students to their careers. It was David’s service in AmeriCorps NCCC, a yearlong national service program similar to the domestic Peace Corps that solidified David’s desire to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a public school teacher. David was invited by Representative Carolyn McCarthy in 2007 to testify before Congress to reauthorize AmeriCorps and advocate for the GIVES Act. These experiences helped foster his desire to center learning on student led activism and civic engagement. When David isn’t teaching, he’s probably having fun with his two daughters Mila and Sophia and his wife Dahlia in Forest Hills, Queens. You can learn more about David, his teaching and see examples of his students’ work at his website www.cagebustingclassrooms.com

Click here for David’s winning lesson plan: How has The Supreme Court interpreted The Bill of Rights as it applies to schools and students? 

 

Carson Winkie is the son of Ken and Leslie Winkie, and the youngest of five children. Carson, a graduate of Bridgeport High School, served as the Student Body president throughout his senior year. He is currently serving as the governor of West Virginia Boys State and as a senator to the American Legion Boys Nation. He was appointed as the secretary of Homeland Security while at Boys Nation. In the Winter of his senior year, Carson was selected as 1 of 2 students from West Virginia to represent his state in the United States Senate Youth Program. This competitive national program aims to instill profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service. Athletically, he was the captain of his high school football team and helped lead his team to win the West Virginia AA State Championship Football Game. After the game, Carson was named the State Championship MVP and also broke a record for having the most carries in a WV State Championship game, 43 carries. He also received the distinction of First Team All State for his linebacker position. Carson is an advocate for community service and he always tries to help in anything he can. He has volunteered since his sophomore year in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, where he helps develop young high school leaders. He has also volunteered for Wreaths Across America placing wreaths to honor each veteran in his local community. Throughout high school, Carson was an active member in National Honor Society and was valedictorian of his class. Additionally, Carson was recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction in his junior and senior years. He has lettered in both academics and orchestra throughout his high school experience. Outside of highschool, Carson is a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Stonewood, WV. As a parishioner, he has assisted in the delivery of items to homebound parishioners and played cello for services. 

Carson is going to attend Harvard this fall (2020) with an interest in either a public service or pre-med concentration. While at Harvard, Carson will also be a member of the Varsity Football Team.

Lawson is a retired Air Force pilot (26 years, served in Viet Nam), retired airline pilot (flew domestic and international routes), retired farmer, and retired Track/Cross Country coach. He and his wife have 3 children—one daughter with 3 grandchildren, two sons (both served in the Army, one still in the Army Reserve with deployments to Iraq & Afghanistan). Staying active (physically & mentally) and following/supporting the grandchildren’s activities are the primary focus. Lawson is a graduate of the USAF Academy with a BS in Chemistry and a MBA from Southern Illinois University/Edwardsville.

 

Lawson Barclay’s Winning Essay

“I am afraid that many Americans take our freedom for granted. Americans are privileged to live in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ Many assume that the freedoms that presently exist will continue far into the future.

Depending on one’s age, parents or grandparents served in the armed forces during WWII or worked on the home front to provide food and supplies for the war effort. Tom Brokaw labeled these men and women as ‘The Greatest Generation.’ This generation grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight WWII or provide labor to produce materials for the war effort. Everyone contributed in one way or another.

My parents were part of that generation. Until Brokaw’s book, I characterized them as ‘old school.’ ” Click here to read the rest of Lawson’s Winning essay!

 

Aubrey Jackman was born and raised in Tooele, Utah. Growing up, she loved being the middle of seven children in her family. After High School, Aubrey served an 18-month volunteer mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Seattle, Washington area. Aubrey enjoys spending her free time playing sports, such as basketball and tennis. She is an avid sports fan and aspires to be an athletic coach in the future. She now attends Brigham Young University with her husband, Makay. Aubrey is a Junior, majoring in Family Studies but has always enjoyed exploring technology and finding new ways to create.

Aubrey describes her STEM Project: 

To summarize my STEM project, I realized that a lot of people do not know simple facts about the United States Constitution. I created an online website, quiz, and study help to aid those interested in becoming more familiar with the Constitution. I wanted to design a website that would catch the attention of my peers in order to increase their excitement about this vital document. I wanted to promote the Constitution in a way that would inspire this website and survey’s visitors to gain more understanding of the importance of this lasting document. This is the link to the website: https://knowtheconstitutio.wixsite.com/learn.
Included on the website is a quiz I created. I chose some questions that most people do not generally know, in an effort to help them realize they need to know more! This quiz also contains simple facts that each of us should know and understand. It is important to understand how our rights are protected and how our government is run. We are blessed to have this organized document that fulfills that need. A direct link to the survey I created is here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FVTXY9Z.
To make learning convenient, on the website I created an option to click on a button labeled “study here” which directly sends the user to a “Quizlet” page. Here, I created digital flash cards with simple facts about the United States Constitution and its amendments. This gives the user several choices and styles of learning to best fit their personal learning needs. This is the direct link to that Quizlet study guide and flashcards: https://quizlet.com/1343560/27-amendments-best-definitions-flash-cards/.
Toward the bottom of the website, I created a timeline visual aid of the dates that each amendment was added to the Constitution. This helped me better understand how the Constitution is a living document and I hope this timeline will teach others the same truth. I also included another option to learn more by clicking a direct link to constitutingamerica.org where I myself have found new and interesting information about the United States Constitution.
Results of the survey from 65 participants can be found at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/stories/SM-52BSLQDY/.

Magda Smith is a freshman at George Washington University. She is interested in creating positive change through policy and promoting nuance, empathy, and open-mindedness in political discussions. In her free time, she loves to read and go on walks. Magda’s essays, songs, and poems have won several national and international awards including a Merit Award from the National YoungArts Foundation and a Gold Medal, a Silver Medal, and 30 more honors from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Over the summer and autumn of 2020, she worked as a researcher with the Global Student Policy Alliance to create ​a database​ of every country in the world’s climate policies.

 

Click Here or below To Watch Magda Smith’s Winning Speech!

 

Emmalisa Horlacher, 23, Best College Song Winner, grew up in Utah but spent recent years living in Virginia where she got to tour the Museum of National History displaying the Constitution as well as visit multiple Civil War sites. She is currently attending BYU and is in the process of applying for the Media Arts Program. She is involved in two Art Internships for Future House Publishing company and The Valley New Media Project. She spends free-time doing freelance video editing work for Peter Myers. She loves to write, sing, volunteer and work on creative projects like making pop-up cards and wire wrapped rings.

 

 

Corbin Jones, Best College Song Winner: My name is Corbin Jones. I Currently live in Provo Utah, I have lived in Huntsville Alabama and in the Portland area. I am one of 8 kids and have grown up with a family that are very strong supporters of the constitution. I grew up taking several classes about the founding of the country, and have been a huge advocate for supporting America and the beliefs it was founded upon. I have played guitar since I was fourteen years old and play the piano and ukulele as well. Music is a very big part pod my life. I love to play sports, camp, just be outdoors and be with other pole. I am a product design major at Brigham Young University. I spent two years on a mission trip for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Northern California, serving and teaching people.

 

 

Click here or below to watch Emmalisa Horlacher & Corbin Jones’ winning song!

Gianna Voce is a 15-year-old homeschool student from Northern Virginia. She has been interested in  STEM from an early age, teaching herself Python before starting a Girls Who Code club for homeschooled students. She is currently exploring an interest in programming, cybersecurity, and website design. She plans to graduate early and hopes to pursue a degree in engineering and data science. She has served her community in various ways through her involvement in American Heritage Girls, Wreaths Across America, welcoming veterans on Honor Flights at Dulles Airport, and volunteering at her local library and food pantry. Her outside interests including reading, art, writing, Krav Maga, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.

Click here to view Gianna’s Winning STEM Project – a Constitution Website with sections for each age group! Explore her Middle School “Lego Amendments!”

 

Courtney is a very active 17-year-old junior at Midway High School in Waco, Texas. She is a member of the National Honor Society, founder and president of her school’s Trivia Club, and serves as an officer in the Spanish Club. Courtney’s Business Professionals of America Start-up Enterprise team has advanced to nationals and placed in the top ten teams in the nation. She is also in two varsity choirs at her high school and has been recognized on the regional level in state vocal competitions. She loves to write music, sing, and excels in playing the piano, guitar, and ukulele and loves to share her gift of music to bless others. However, Courtney’s greatest passion is her faith and serving God. She is actively involved in her church where she also plays and sings in the youth worship band. Courtney looks forward to pursuing a career in business/entrepreneurship and Spanish. When she was just nine years old, her mother authored a book for those who need hope in difficult circumstances, so Courtney decided to organize her friend to make beaded bracelets and sell them in local gift shops and online. For each bracelet she sold, she and her mom were able to donate a book to hospitals, hospice and cancer centers, churches and others who need hope. Through Courtney’s Creations, she has raised more than $12,000 and donated more than 1,000 books. Courtney loves to express her heart and creativity in arts and crafts, songwriting and all things music-related. She loves the mission of Constituting America and is delighted to be part of raising the awareness and importance of our nation’s Constitution!

 

Click here or scroll down to listen to Courtney’s Winning Song!

Joaddan Villard is a junior at Laurel High School. She originally began editing in 4th grade with the oh so famous “Movie Maker.” Now 17, she enjoys editing in her free time. Never passing up an opportunity to try something new, many things have helped her reach where she is today. Joaddan has participated in many programs such as Fresh Films where she won in the Quad Cities category. Not letting her film desire die, she also created a FIlm CLub at her school. Though Joaddan aspires to join the entertainment industry, that does not stop her from expanding her horizons. Other than editing, Joaddan also enjoys debating and speeches. Joaddan has won a Barack Obama Oratorical Contest and Multiple local film festivals. Energetic, multilingual, and optimistic, she aspires that one day her voice will be heard by people everywhere.

Click here or below to view Joaddan’s winning PSA!

Lily Cring is 16 years old and a Junior at Western High School in Ft. Lauderdale. She is on the Executive Board for her theatre and drama department as well as a National Speech & Debate competitor. She has a passion for contributing to her community and In her free time, is an intern for a non-profit that organizes student-led programs for feeding underprivileged children. She has a special place in her heart for cows and has sworn off eating beef for that reason.

Click here for Lily’s winning PSA

Margaret Alvine is an 18-year-old homeschooled high school Senior. She has been homeschooled all her life, along with her six younger siblings. She currently lives in the Mojave Desert in Southern California.

Her interest in the Constitution grew through her sophomore AP US Government class, which she really enjoyed. She also enjoys reading the speeches of the late Antonin Scalia, former Supreme Court judge, and looks up to him as an example of a life lived in faith and reason. She is excited for this opportunity to help inform others about our wonderful Constitution.

She competes in multiple speech categories in National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA), including a persuasive speech on the necessity of historical knowledge to a free people. In addition to her schoolwork and extracurriculars, Margaret teaches Religious Education at her parish, and this year has shifted online due to Covid.

In Margaret’s spare time, she enjoys crafting and other forms of designing, playing flute and recorder, coming up with skits with her sister, reading, and engaging others in conversation.

Click here to read Margaret’s winning high school essay

My name is Simran and I am an 8th grade student at Lakeside Middle. I enjoy reading, running, baking and playing clarinet not necessarily in that order.

Some of my accomplishments are receiving STEM award in Vex Robotics Competition in 5th grade, making to County Honor Band in the 6th grade and the District Honor Band in 8th grade. I have participated in essay contests before and won third place for “Enlighten America Contest” by B’nai B’rith International. Other contests include Young Georgia Authors where I was the winning entry for Lakeside in 7th grade and another entry was for Veteran of Foreign Wars.

Not only have I entered essay contests I also participate in math competitions including MathCounts, AMC 8 and AMC 10.

I had an amazing time writing for the Constituting America contest and am looking forward to the trip to Washington DC, meeting mentors and doors of opportunity it would open up for me.

Click here to read Simran’s Winning Essay!

Advika is a 4th Grader in Texas. She loves to draw,  swim, sing and ride her bike.
Advika likes to tinker around in the kitchen and makes curious snacks by mixing strange ingredients we wouldn’t normally use together. She likes trying different cuisines and make an inter- continental experimental fusion which are tried out on us. Advika is also a Cub Scout and she loves to spend time with her grandparents. Lately she’s been trying to kayak on her own and get into one without flipping it over.

 

Click here to view Advika’s winning artwork or scroll down.

Mary Crosby, Best Middle School Song Winner from Washington State
Mary Crosby was born in Mount Vernon, Washington in 2007. She is the 5th of six Crosby children and is homeschooled. She has always enjoyed playing music and started violin at the age of six. At seven, Mary added piano and has since taught herself guitar, ukulele, and mandolin. Mary’s family has always valued public speaking skills, so she started learning these skills from a young age. Mary currently competes in the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association. She currently competes in 5 speech events: Apologetics, Impromptu, Informative, Digital, and Duo Interpretation. Last year, Mary won first place in the Digital Presentation category for Region II. Recently discovering a love of teaching younger students, Mary has taken on piano, violin, and ukulele students. She enjoys teaching others and learning right along with them.

Mary is so excited to be a part of Constituting America and can’t wait to learn even more about music from her mentor this year.

Click here or below to watch Mary’s Winning Song!

Elise Esparza, Winner, Best Poem

Elise Esparza is a 10 year old fifth grader from Reagan Elementary in Cedar Park, Texas. She loves to write, draw, dance, swim, and ride her bike. Elise’s love for writing was passed down from her late grandmother, Nam Kỳ Cô Nương, who was a prolific Vietnamese poet. Though Elise resides in Texas, she typically spends her summers in Los Angeles, California, where she was born. In addition to her creative and athletic endeavors, Elise likes to cook (and eat!). She started a cooking channel on YouTube when she was 6 years old called “Baking with Elise.” Elise is extremely excited and honored to be the Best Poem winner for 2020. She knows that her grandmother would be proud of her.

Click here or scroll down to read Elise’s Winning Poem

 

 

We the People

Without the Constitution
We’d be lost
With no rules and no order
It’d be pure chaos
Not one, not two, but three branches of government
Ensure that “We the People”
Are the boss

The legislative branch makes the laws
And the executive branch carries them out
But the judicial branch interprets the laws
And can say, “Hey! That’s not what the Constitution is about!”

It’s a system of checks and balances
And it’s the highest law of the land
The U.S. Constitution of America
Meant to protect every child, woman, and man

Elhaam Atiq, 10, is a proud Texan who lives in Richmond, TX. She is the second child to her parents and has 2 sisters.  Her winning artwork depicts the diversity we see in America today and how this is a strength that adds to our country’s greatness.

Elhaam is a member of her school’s National Elementary Honor Society (NEHS), Art Club and Destination Imagination Team. As a Girl Scout, Elhaam is very good at taking up responsibility and leading a team. She has developed entrepreneurial skills by actively participating in Cookie sales. Elhaam loves community service and jumps at the opportunity to take a leading role. At a local relief center, she sorted clothes for needy refugee families locally and abroad. She helped to lead a bake sale which raised funds for a service project for the Hispanic Muslim community.

She loves to spend time with her grandparents and often indulges in conversation of how life was 30 years ago. In her free time, Elhaam enjoys making Tik Tok videos and pranking her sisters. She has been swimming for years and is a skilled swimmer.

Elhaam loves camping and travelling. Her best vacation was the trip to Europe in the summer of 2019 in which she explored different cultures, languages and cuisines. Even though Elhaam was born with a congenital heart defect, she is a healthy, strong and happy girl today who values the gift of life.

Click Here to view Elhaam’s Winning Artwork or scroll down!

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Click Here To Read the Declaration of Independence

Essay 1 – Introduction

Our beloved Auction Coordinator Mollie McCreary has passed away, or transitioned, as she liked to say. Mollie worked for Constituting America from 2014  to just a few weeks before she passed. Mollie was a dear friend to us all at Constituting America, and to our wonderful donors who make our Constitution Education programs possible. Mollie used to say “we have the most wonderful donors. I just love them all.”

Mollie’s dear friends have shared these thoughts, which perfectly capture her spirit and essence:

“Today, the world lost a most indomitable woman. One who never gave up; who overcame obstacle after obstacle. Until one last obstacle was just too much. Cancer was finally just too big. A published author, a mom, a friend. She loved life, a good laugh, and her scotch. She was the embodiment of southern hospitality known for her great meals, charm, and wit. My world is just a little bleak right now. I will miss you.”

“I will miss Mollie so much. I am sorry I never got to meet her in person but I always felt I knew her for years. I thought the world of her. She was one of the most kind, considerate, thoughtful people I have had the pleasure to know,” Cher McCoy

“Mollie was the BEST FRIEND I’ve ever had…despite never meeting in person.
But regardless I will miss this wonderful Christian woman forever. She could make your day, inspire you to do your best, and just exuded enthusiasm for whatever the task at hand.
God has a strong believer and dedicated servant in His presence today. Her loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.
Mollie will ever be in my memories. I will miss her.” Chuck Clowdis

“Mollie McCreary was a friend and inspiration to everyone around her, and even while fighting an illness that took strength from her physically, she remained positive and encouraging. Mollie always had a smile to share and was never bitter. She loved life and made the most of every day. Mollie was a leader who lifted others up so they could shine and be their best. She is dearly missed,” Amanda Hughes

Mollie will be missed. Even in the face of a terminal illness Mollie remained upbeat and joyful. I had the pleasure of visiting her and sitting on her porch with my dog. Mollie, we love you and will miss you forever” Bobby Rodriguez

“Mollie had reached out to me when I needed guidance when I fell ill. She was a shining light that radiated with love, bringing me comfort. She was loving, kind and especially a brave soul, she knew when it was her time to be with the Lord, and with the Lord she went. She was everything that I still strive to be and Mollie will forever be in my heart,” Cindy Sue Clark

“Mollie was a great friend & dedicated coworker. I’ll miss our phone chats about work, family, Ireland & the musings of every day life. Mollie was passionate about her work & always thinking of ways to make our auctions more successful !I loved her stories about her travels, the people she met & adventures she had! I’ll miss her so very much but take comfort that she is in heaven reunited with her darling daughter. We’ll miss you dear Mollie.” 😢 Love, Jeanette Kraynak

“I knew Mollie through emails that we exchanged when it was time to offer up items for the Constituting America auction. I never personally met her or spoke to her on the phone, but every single communication I had with her made it abundantly clear that she was a very special person, as she was just so incredibly kind and complimentary.
May God bless and comfort her family and loved ones, as I know this wonderful woman will be greatly missed,” Brian Karadashian

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, co-chairman of the Project 21 National Advisory Board and a legal commentator. Horace averages over 400 talk radio appearances per year representing the National Center and Project 21, in addition to regular television appearances and interviews by the print media. He taught constitutional law at George Mason University in Virginia and was a senior counsel to U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Horace is also a member of Constituting America’s Leadership board has written numerous essays for our 90 Day Study and is a longtime friend to all of us at Constituting America.

 

Guest Essayist: Will Morrisey

To secure the unalienable natural rights of the American people, the American Founders designed a republican regime. Republics had existed before: ancient Rome, modern Switzerland and Venice. By 1776, Great Britain itself could be described as a republic, with a strong legislature counterbalancing a strong monarchy—even if the rule of that legislature and that monarchy over the overseas colonies of the British Empire could hardly be considered republican. But the republicanism instituted after the War of Independence, especially as framed at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, featured a combination of elements never seen before, and seldom thereafter.

The American definition of republicanism was itself unique. ‘Republic’ or res publica means simply, ‘public thing’—a decidedly vague notion that might apply to any regime other than a monarchy. In the tenth Federalist, James Madison defined republicanism as representative government, that is, by a specific way of constructing the country’s ruling institutions. The Founders gave republicanism a recognizable form beyond ‘not-monarchy.’ From the design of the Virginia House of Burgesses to the Articles of Confederation and finally to the Constitution itself, representation provided Americans with real exercise of self-rule, while at the same time avoiding the turbulence and folly of pure democracies, which had so disgraced themselves in ancient Greece that popular sovereignty itself had been dismissed by political thinkers ever since. Later on, Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address shows how republicanism must defend the rule of law against mob violence; even the naming of Lincoln’s party as the Republican Party was intended to contrast it with the rule of slave-holding plantation oligarchs in the South.

The American republic had six additional characteristics, all of them clearly registered in this 90-Day Study. America was a natural-rights republic, limiting the legitimate exercise of popular rule to actions respecting the unalienable rights of its citizens; it was a democratic republic, with no formal ruling class of titled lords and ladies or hereditary monarchs; it was an extended republic, big enough to defend itself against the formidable empires that threatened it; it was a commercial republic, encouraging prosperity and innovation; it was a federal republic, leaving substantial political powers in the hands of state and local representatives; and it was a compound republic, dividing the powers of the national government into three branches, each with the means of defending itself against encroachments by the others.

Students of the American republic could consider each essay in this series as a reflection on one or more of these features of the American regime as designed by the Founders, or, in some cases, as deviations from that regime. Careful study of what the Declaration of Independence calls “the course of events” in America shows how profound and pervasive American republicanism has been, how it has shaped our lives throughout our history, and continues to do so today.

A Natural-Rights Republic

The Jamestown colony’s charter was written in part by the great English authority on the common law, Sir Edward Coke. Common law was an amalgam of natural law and English custom. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded shortly thereafter, was an attempt to establish the natural right of religious liberty. And of course the Declaration of Independence rests squarely on the foundation of the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God as the foundation of unalienable natural rights, several of which were given formal status in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. As the articles on Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, the Dred Scott case in 1857, the Civil Rights amendments of the 1860s, and the attempt at replacing plantation oligarchy with republican regimes in the states after the Civil War all show, natural rights have been the pivot of struggles over the character of America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the early civ