Thursday, January 3, 2019

Was the American Revolution a Religious Rebellion?

"The Battle of Lexington," center is the Presbyterian Meetinghouse (1775) 

The colonies that in 1776 became the United States of America were settled by men and women of deep religious convictions who in the seventeenth century crossed the Atlantic Ocean to practice their faith freely. That the religious intensity of the original settlers would diminish to some extent over time was perhaps to be expected, but new waves of eighteenth century immigrants brought their own religious fervor across the Atlantic and the nation's first major religious revival in the middle of the eighteenth century injected new vigor into American religion. The result was that a religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and that most American statesmen, when they began to form new governments at the state and national levels, shared the convictions of most of their constituents that religion was, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville's observation, 'indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.' ” (Library of Congress, Religion and the American Founding Exhibit).  Catholics, Jews, Dutch Calvinists, German Reformed pietists, Scottish Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and other denominations joined Anglican or Congregational establishments in the American Colonies, and members of all faiths participated in the War for Independence. However, as described in the following article written by Richard Gardiner, “King George III and other highly placed Britons [also] called the colonists’ rebellion a ‘Presbyterian War.’”

“Though the events transpired almost a quarter of a millenium ago, the shelves down at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore routinely continue to display freshly researched, written, and published histories of the American Revolution, the founding fathers, and the genesis of the United States.[1] Yet there remains an element of the American founding era that is routinely underrepresented in these volumes—the role of religion. It is a factor of the Revolution that many historians minimize. The revolution, they maintain, was essentially secular in nature.

But “No understanding of the eighteenth century is possible” warned Carl Bridenbaugh, “if we unconsciously omit, or consciously jam out, the religious theme just because our own milieu is secular.”[2] Yet, as Kevin Phillips remarked, “Historians and commentators in the late twentieth-century United States have shrunk from emphasizing religion in their explanations of seventeenth and eighteenth century affairs.”[3] Phillips argued that this is a gross error insofar as “any serious investigation of the patterns of rebellion and loyalty during the 1775-1783 fighting in the United States leads to religion.”[4]

No one recognized this better than the foes of the American revolutionaries. Ambrose Serle, secretary to British General Howe in New York City, wrote to the British Secretary of State in 1776 telling him that the American Revolution was ultimately a religious war.[5] Serle’s insights are perhaps worthy of special consideration given his privileged vantage point. In light of his intelligence, education, broad perspective, and eyewitness status, Serle’s observations compel historians to incorporate his perspective into a comprehensive understanding of the conflict. Serle’s biographer, Edward Tatum, Jr., who wrote the introduction to Serle’s Diary put it in these terms:

“Serle was no ordinary observer but one whose training and philosophy gave point to his opinions and coherence to his judgments. In addition, his unique position as a civilian in intimate association with Lord Howe afforded him an unusual opportunity to see more than one aspect of a complicated situation.”[6]

Given Serle’s erudition, his observations cannot be summarily dismissed. Serle argued for a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the revolution beneath the secular facade. He boldly asserted that the revolution could not be sustained in America if it were not for the Presbyterian ministers who bred it.[7] He lamented the fact that almost every minister in America doubled as a politician. Most significantly, he echoed a chant by loyalists throughout America, namely, that at the bottom of the conflict was the Presbyterians’ desire to gain “the Establishment of their own Party.”[8] In other words, he claimed that the war was fueled by the Presbyterians’ desire to establish their religion as the official church of the new American government.

The same assessment may be made of Charles Inglis’ perspective. He had a front row seat to the entire revolution. He, too, was highly educated and erudite. He had close contacts with a large number of loyalists in the know. If anyone was a principal mouthpiece for the opinions of loyalists, Inglis was. And what did he say? “It is absolutely certain, that on the part of many, the present is a Religious War.”[9] Another such Tory during the war stated, “the American controversy is closely connected with Christianity in general, and with Protestantism in particular; and that, of consequence, it is of religious as well as of a civil nature.”[10]

The important fact that King George III and his deputies on both sides of the Atlantic alleged that the colonial rebellion was a religious endeavor is no longer widely publicized. A number of scholars have casually mentioned this phenomenon in passing. Kevin Phillips, in his 1998 study of the American Revolution, twice noted: “King George III and other highly placed Britons called the colonists’ rebellion a ‘Presbyterian War.’”[11] Historians of yesteryear were a bit more attentive to this feature. According to William H. Nelson, the belief that most of the American revolutionaries were “congregational or presbyterian republicans,” or at least of Calvinistic temperament “was held by almost all the Tories whose opinions survive.”[12] According to the celebrated British historian of the American Revolution, George Trevelyan, in the early days of the revolution, loyalists alleged that “political agitation against the Royal Government had been deliberately planned by Presbyterians… it was fostered and abetted by Presbyterians in every colony.”[13] John C. Miller observed, “To the end, the Churchmen believed that the Revolution was a Presbyterian-Congregationalist plot.”[14] These references notwithstanding, historians no longer give much attention to this “Presbyterian plot” interpretation of the revolution. In light of the abundance of evidence, such is an irresponsible oversight.

A Hessian captain, fighting on behalf of the British, told a friend in Germany in 1778, “call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.”[15] Andrew Hammond, British commander of the HMS Roebuck, arrived in America just after the Declaration of Independence had been signed by the members of the Continental Congress. At that juncture, Hammond conveyed the perspective of the Anglicans, “[I]t is the Presbyterians that have brought about this revolt, and aim at getting the government of America into their hands.”[16] Isaac Atkinson, a Maryland loyalist, expressed his opinion of the revolution, that “it was a religious dispute and a Presbyterian scheme.”[17] Thomas Smith, a supporter of the crown in Pennsylvania he held the view “that the whole was nothing but a scheme of a parcel of hot-headed Presbyterians.”[18]

King George III was advised by William Jones in 1776, “this has been a Presbyterian war from the beginning… and accordingly the first firing against the King’s troops  was from a Massachuset [sic] meeting house.”[19] Did the king agree with Jones? The evidence is overwhelming that he did.

From the beginning of the conflict, George III was convinced that the leading New England rebels were Presbyterians. This is proven by a remark he made to Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson in 1774. When discussing the nature of the American dissident leadership with his representative from Massachusetts, the king exclaimed, “are they not Presbyterians?”[20] The king had every reason to suspect so. A letter published in a London newspaper only a month earlier came from a royalist in New York:

“Believe me, the Presbyterians have been the chief and principal instruments in all these flaming measures, and they always do and ever will act against Government, from that restless and turbulent anti-monarchical spirit which has always distinguished them every where.”[21]

The king maintained this sentiment throughout the war. In 1779 Benjamin Franklin, a rather reliable source of diplomatic intelligence, stated that George III hated the American Revolutionaries because the king perceived that they were “whigs and Presbyterians.”[22]

Royal sentiments in this regard permeate the documentary record. Jones was not the only source who communicated this opinion to the king. We know that the British Secretary of State, Lord Dartmouth, who certainly had the king’s ear, was also urged by an intelligence agent in America to understand that “Presbyterianism is at the bottom” of the war.[23] The provisional governor of Rhode Island, Nicholas Cooke, was told that the revolution was a Presbyterian war, and the royal governor of Rhode Island believed it.[24]

Were these Tories who considered the revolution a religious plot entirely sober in these reflections? Clearly not. They, too, were participants, embroiled in the fanaticism of the conflict. Their tendency to suspect that a Presbyterian minister was hiding behind every tree, secretly orchestrating the revolution from beginning to end, is Macarthyesque indeed. But the other extreme to which historians have gone is just as spurious. Religious and denominational dynamics were vitally central to the revolt. Historians have failed to state this as clearly as it deserves. The allegation that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian Rebellion is an important one to understand if we are to have a truly comprehensive understanding of what happened and why.

In short, the American Revolution did have a “holy war” dynamic to it that pitted Anglicans against dissenters (who were generally referred to as Presbyterians), and in the minds of the loyalists, the war was fundamentally, at bottom, a Presbyterian rebellion. It is, without question, an accurate assessment of how King George III and his advocates perceived the American war. Whether that perception was entirely accurate may be another question, but the very fact that it was how they viewed it is an important dynamic that should not be overlooked as we chronicle America’s nativity narrative.

“The Presbyterian Rebellion?” Journal of the American Revolution (Sept. 5, 2013)
by: Richard Gardiner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History Education, Columbus State University

[1] Joseph Ellis, Walter Isaacson, David McCullough, Ron Chernow, and David Hackett Fischer have all recently published best sellers on this foundational era of American history.
[2] Carl Bridenbaugh, Mitre and SceptreTransatlantic Faiths, Ideas, Personalities, and Politics, 1689-1775, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), xi.
[3] Kevin Phillips, The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 16.
[4] Phillips, Cousins’ Wars, xxi.
[5] Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Ambrose Serle to Lord Dartmouth, November 8, 1776 in B. F. Stevens’ Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America 1773-1783, with Descriptions, Editorial Notes, Collations, References and Translations, vol. 24 (reprint Wilmington, DE: Mellifont Press, 1970) 2045.
[6] Edward Tatum, “Introduction,” The American Journal of Ambrose Serle, Secretary to Lord Howe; 1776-1778, Edward Tatum, ed. (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1940), ix.
[7] The best scholarly treatment of this sentiment as a whole is Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1958).
[8] The word “Presbyterian” was used in this context to include almost all Christians who dissented from Roman and Anglican ecclesiastical systems; see Richard Gardiner, The Presbyterian Rebellion (Ph.D. diss., Marquette University, 2005).
[9] [Charles Inglis?], The Letters of Papinian: In Which the Conduct, Present State and Prospects, of the American Congress, Are Examined (New-York: Printed by Hugh Gaine, at the Bible and Crown in Hanover-Square, 1779), no. 5, 78; in Early American Imprints, 16311.
[10] John Fletcher, The Works of John Fletcher, 4 vols. (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1974), Vol. 4, 439. On the floor of Parliament, Sir Edmund Burke also gave an extensive account of how the Americans’ Protestantism motivated the war. Edmund Burke, The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. 6 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854-56), 1:464-71. John Adams concurred, saying that the religious element of the conflict was “a fact a certain as any in the history of North America.” Adams to Jedediah Morse, December 2, 1815. Works of John Adams, X:185.
[11]Kevin Phillips, The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics and the Triumph of Anglo-America (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 92, 177. Other scholars who have mentioned that King George III blamed the Presbyterians for the war include Henry Ippel, “British Sermons and the American Revolution,” Journal of Religious History(1982), Vol. 12, 193; James Graham Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962), 305; The Journal of Presbyterian History 54, no. 1 (1976); David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), Vol. 1, 15; H.M.J. Klein, ed., Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: A History (New York and Chicago: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1924), Vol. 1, 86; Paul Johnson, “God and the Americans,” Gilder Lehrman Institute Lectures in American History, Oct. 1999; John A. Mackay, “Witherspoon of Paisley and Princeton,” Theology Today, January 1962, Vol. 18, No. 4.
[12] William H. Nelson, The American Tory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), 51.
[13] Sir George Otto Trevelyan, The American Revolution (New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1915; New Edition), Vol. III:311-312.
[14] John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1943), 186.
[15] Capt. Johann Heinrichs to the Counsellor of the Court, January 18, 1778: “Extracts from the Letter Book of Captain Johann Heinrichs of the Hessian Jager Corps, 1778-1780,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 22 (1898), 137.
[16] A.S. Hammond, August 5, 1776, Hammond Papers, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
[17]Peter Force, American Archives, Fourth Series, Vol. III:1584.
[18] “Minutes of the Committee of Safety of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1774-1776,” from the original in the library of General William Watts Hart Davis, Doylestown, Pennsylvania; entry for August 21, 1775, in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 15 (1891), 266.
[19] William Jones, “An Address to the British Government on a Subject of Present Concern, 1776,” The Theological, Philosophical and Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. William Jones, 12 vols. (London, 1801), Vol. 12, 356.
[20] King George III, July 1, 1774, quoted by Thomas Hutchinson, Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, P.O. Hutchinson, ed. (Boston: Houghton & Mifflin, 1884; AMS Reprint, 1973), Vol. 1, 168.
[21] Peter Force, ed., “Extract of a Letter to a Gentleman in London, from New York, May 31, 1774” American Archives, Fourth Series, Vol. 1, 301.
[22] Papers of Benjamin Franklin 28:461-462
[23] Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Ambrose Serle to the Earl of Dartmouth, April 25, 1777in B.F. Stevens’ Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America 1773-1783 (Wilmington: Mellifont Press, 1970), 2057.
[24] James Manning, quoted by Ezra Stiles, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, Franklin Dexter, ed. Vol. 2, 23; see also Joseph Wanton, quoted by Ambrose Serle, Monday, February 2, 1778, American Journal of Ambrose Serle, 277.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Wisdom of John Adams

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

“I am surprised at the suddenness as well as the greatness of this revolution... It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals.”

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

“The happiness of society is the end of government.”

“They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.”

“But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.”

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof [the White House].”

“Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.” 

“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

“You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

“Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.”

“The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated.”

“The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.”

“The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families.... How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?”

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”
Source: Kees De Mooy, ed., The Wisdom of John Adams (Kensington, New York, 2003).

Monday, October 22, 2018

All Men Are Created Equal

On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress affirmed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and edited and approved by the “Committee of Five,” consisting of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston, the Declaration was adopted as the official proclamation of the thirteen American Colonies and later signed by fifty-six delegates. Did Jefferson, the Committee of Five, the signers, and those men and women patriots who sacrificed for the “glorious cause” of liberty really believe that “all men” are created equal?  Jefferson did refer to slaves as men in his first draft of the Declaration. Later in his life, he wrote that “whatever may be the degree of talent it is no measure of their rights,” since no man has a natural right to be lord over other persons (Letter to Henri Gregoire, February 25, 1809). If the founders did believe this was a “self-evident truth,” did they betray that principle in allowing slavery to continue?

No man or statesman ever contemplated and wrestled with these crucial questions more thoroughly and deeply than did Abraham Lincoln. He expressed, “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence…It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.” (Address at Independence Hall, February 22, 1861). Earlier in his political career, he stated, “Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men … [whereas] ours began, by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government. Possibly so, said we; and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant and vicious. We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser; and all better, and happier together.” (Speech fragment on Slavery, circa 1857-1858. Autograph manuscript).

During the campaign of 1858, Lincoln engaged in a series of formal debates with the incumbent Senator, Stephen A. Douglas, in a contest for one of Illinois' two United States Senate seats. Although Lincoln lost the election, these debates launched him into national prominence which eventually led to his election as President of the United States. The main theme of the Lincoln–Douglas debates was slavery, particularly the issue of slavery's expansion into the territories. Preceding the debates, in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Taney, held that that negroes or African-Americans, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The question of the equal rights of “all men” was on the mind of ‘almost all’ citizens. The long-held and simmering disagreements related to this question, and to slavery itself, led not only to great debates, but to great divisions among the American people.

In the candidates’ debate held on October 7, 1858 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln replied, “The judge [Douglas] has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that it is a slander upon the framers of that instrument to suppose that negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible to believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned the immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the negro race, and yet held a portion of that race in slavery? … I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence; I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President [including Jefferson] ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so, or that any living man upon the whole earth ever said so, until the necessities of the present policy of the Democratic party in regard to slavery had to invent that affirmation.”

Lincoln repeated this same powerful argument in the next debate held on October 15, 1858, at Alton, Illinois: “[T]here never had been a man, so far as I knew or believed, in the whole world, who had said that the Declaration of Independence did not include negroes in the term “all men.” I reassert it today. I assert that Judge Douglas and all his friends may search the whole records of the country, and it will be a matter of great astonishment to me if they shall be able to find that one human being three years ago had ever uttered the astounding sentiment that the term “all men” in the Declaration did not include the negro. Do not let me be misunderstood. I know that more than three years ago there were men who, finding this assertion constantly in the way of their schemes to bring about the ascendency and perpetuation of slavery, denied the truth of it. I know that Mr. Calhoun and all the politicians of his school denied the truth of the Declaration. I know that it ran along in the mouth of some Southern men for a period of years, ending at last in that shameful, though rather forcible declaration of Pettit of Indiana, upon the floor of the United States Senate, that the Declaration of Independence was in that respect “a self-evident lie,” rather than a self-evident truth. But I say, with a perfect knowledge of all this hawking at the Declaration without directly attacking it, that three years ago there never had lived a man who had ventured to assail it in the sneaking way of pretending to believe it, and then asserting it did not include the negro. I believe the first man who ever said it was Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, and the next to him was our friend Stephen A. Douglas. And now it has become the catch-word of the entire [Democratic] party.”

In these debates, Lincoln plainly confronted the incongruences of opposing arguments and exposed the inherent injustice of the Southern states’ position with respect to the founding. Some basis for the South’s prejudice in this matter may be found in the implausible argument of Senator John C. Calhoun (South Carolina) in 1837 that “slavery was a positive good.” This reasoning, followed by the ostensible legal justification in the Dred Scott decision 20 years later, combined with vested economic interests, together became rolling stones contributing to the secession of South Carolina and other southern states from the Union in 1860-1861.

A few weeks preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, the new Confederate States’ Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens, in his“Corner Stone Speech,” delivered on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, confirmed that the Confederacy stood for the proposition that Jefferson and the Founders were fundamentally wrong in declaring that “all men are created equal.” Remarkably and sadly, Stephens said, “The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’ Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Thus, the South actually argued against Jefferson and the language of the Declaration in seeking to justify their philosophy of inequality. And, “Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas and Alexander Stephens [all] agreed on one thing: the cause of the civil war was slavery.” – Thomas G. West, Vindicating the Founders (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), p. 35.

Even Frederick Douglass, the former slave and an articulate spokesman for his people, supported the fact that the principle of human equality was enshrined in the Declaration. He stated, “I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost…” (“What, to the Slave, is the Fourth Of July?” Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, July 5, 1852). He firmly believed that with the Declaration and the Constitution, “there are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.” (Id.). Those forces operated, and from 1861 to 1865 approximately 620,000 Americans died in a brutal war between the North and South that preserved the Union and brought an end to slavery (Civil War casualties exceed the nation's losses in all its other wars combined).

The answer and conclusion to this first, great question is Lincoln’s, briefly, yet eloquently set forth in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Our nation was indeed conceived in liberty and dedicated to this divine proposition – that “all men are created equal” – meaning all races and creeds. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War were fought to establish and to defend this great principle of liberty, respectively, in companionship with other natural rights. Every generation must also consider and respond to the self-evident truth of the equal rights of man, and determine whether our nation “so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” May we study, understand, and as Frederick Douglass implored: “stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Federalist Papers & Publius: Architects of the Republic

“The "Federalist" may fairly enough be regarded as the most authentic exposition of the text of the federal Constitution as understood by the Body [Constitutional Convention] which prepared & and the Authorities [state ratifying conventions] which accepted it.” --James Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, February 8, 1825 (Peterson, 1974, 2. page 383).  

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's is pleased to announce its next teacher education workshop on the topic of “The Federalist Papers: Architects of the Republic.” This event will honor the 230th anniversary of the publication of the Federalist (1788-2018) and is being co-sponsored by the George Washington Center for Constitutional Studies. The program will include 3 x 1.0 hour class sessions. Along with presentations, the format will include a “roundtable” discussion using original source documents with participation by all. 

The outline of the sessions and agenda are as follows: 

8:30–9:00 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00–10:00 a.m. First Classroom Session -- "The Federalist and Human Nature." Presentation by Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Ph.D. (30-40 minutes): the role of human nature in the establishment and maintenance of a republic, representative government, separation of powers, federalism and the structure of the Constitution.  Followed by Q&A and discussion (20-30 minutes) 

10:15–11:15 a.m. Second Classroom Session -- “The best commentary on Government ever written” (Thomas Jefferson) Roundtable Discussion: Review of the historical background of the Federalist Papers, their authors, their general purpose, and their significance to the American Founding and to classical political science. Discussion Chair: Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Ph.D. 

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Third Classroom Session -- "Teaching the Federalist Papers"  Lessons by John J. Patrick and Clair W. Keller (ERIC and OAH) [11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.] Presentation by J. David Gowdy (30 minutes) on Civic Education in the U.S. and the importance of teaching selections from the Federalist Papers in secondary schools, review of ERIC lessons. Followed by Roundtable Discussion (30 minutes)

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. Luncheon    

WJMI welcomes Dr. Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor in Leadership and American Studies at Christopher Newport University as Presenter and Discussion Chair.

The workshop is designed primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, or U. S. History. The workshop, meals and class materials all complimentary (no cost) to teachers. 

The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, October 19th, 2018 at to be held at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn. The Seminar qualifies for four Virginia recertification points or 4 hours. Seating is limited. Teachers wishing to attend should pre-register. All registrations are requested by October 5th.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A More Pefect Union

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

In the preamble, or the reason for its existence, the founders stated that the Constitution was designed and intended to form “a more perfect Union.”

What is the meaning of the word “Union” in this first phrase of the preamble?

How is the Union so formed “more perfect”?

With it as our guide, can we yet bring about an even “more perfect Union”?

Reflecting back, no doubt, the Constitution formed a better union that the Articles of Confederation. It also represented a better union than that offered to the American colonies by the King and Parliament of Great Britain. But, unlike any government ever before formed in history, the Constitution established a republic - based on liberty, equality, and natural rights.

As Lady Margaret Thatcher said when she spoke at Brigham Young University, “America, my friends, is the only country in the world actually founded on liberty— the only one. People went to America to be free. The Founding Fathers journeyed to this country across the perilous seas … to perpetuate freedom and justice more widely…. They believed, each and every one of them, in the sanctity of the individual … Those Pilgrim fathers came with the faith that infused the whole nation. Yours is the only nation founded on liberty.”[1]

When George Washington decided to step down from the Presidency near the end of his second term in office, he wrote his Farewell Address (1796). In this timeless Address to the American People – intended as his parting counsel to all citizens, both of his time, and future generations – Washington said, “Your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.” In other words, if we love liberty, we must also love and preserve the Union.

We might all agree that at no time in the history of our nation was the Union and the Constitution ever subjected to a greater test than during the Civil War. Our country was divided – literally, both ideologically and politically: North and South; States’ rights versus national unity; and human equality versus human subjection and slavery. Before the secession of South Carolina from the Union, before the guns were fired at Fort Sumter, before the first Battle of Manassas, a young man, born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana and Illinois, quietly read, studied and improved his knowledge of the American founding, growing both in his admiration for Washington and Jefferson, and for the Union and the Constitution. As he rose to prominence, first in his community, then in his home state of Illinois, this country lawyer and “rail splitter,” Abraham Lincoln, soon entered the national stage. Winning an unpredictable victory as the Republican Party’s candidate for the office of President of the United States, Lincoln was elected in November of 1860 with a nation already deeply fractured. Southern secession began the next month, and the War between the States commenced within six months. Scholars may debate the causes of the war, analyze its battles, and examine its effects, but one thing is clear – the Union once divided was restored, the Constitution was preserved, and the equality of all men was enshrined in the 13th Amendment. What motivated Lincoln to persevere and lead our nation through this tremendous ordeal?

He said: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”[2]  Lincoln felt deeply that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times …”[3]   I submit that it is the Declaration of Independence – and specifically its principles – that enabled Lincoln and our Union to withstand this great test. It is the foundation upon which the Constitution was built, and the only foundation upon which it will survive.

Concerning the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, Lincoln wrote the following meditation on Proverbs 25:11 (which was discovered in his personal papers after his death) – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

“[The prosperity of the United States] is not the result of accident. It has a philosophic cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of "Liberty to all" -- the principle that clears the path for all -- gives hope to all -- and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government and consequent prosperity. The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word "fitly spoken" which has proven an "apple of gold" to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple -- not the apple for the picture."[4]

Simply restated, “the Constitution was made, not to conceal, or destroy the Declaration; but to adorn and preserve it. The Constitution was made for the Declaration -- not the Declaration for the Constitution.”

The basic principles of the Declaration of Independence are not law, but they are America’s soul. Without these principles the Constitution has no lasting meaning -- and devoid of such principles, the Constitution and the Union will eventually fail in their grand purposes – the preservation of liberty and the equal rights of man.

Reflect and ponder for a moment on these self-evident truths of the Declaration, which begin with these words, “When in the Course of Human Events”...

"The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" -- are the foundation of the political principles of American independence. As set forth in the writings of Locke & Sidney, it means that nature has inherent laws by which each individual has a conscience, accountability for one’s actions, and a duty to not harm others or their property.

“We hold these truths to be self evident” -- confirms that there are certain truths that all people are bound to acknowledge, such as the equality of the rights of man, including the right to govern his life and property. “…that all men are created equal" -- As Locke wrote, “…all men by Nature are equal… being that equal Right that every Man hath, to his natural Freedom, without being subjected to the Will or Authority of any other Man."[5]  We are all equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal in our natural rights, and equal before the law.

“…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -- A religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and the vast majority of American colonists believed in God, the Bible, and in the creation of man. Two years before drafting the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1774: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”[6]   

And finally, “…the consent of the governed” -- Governments are properly the result of the choice of the governed. As John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 2, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government; and it is equally undeniable that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede [or delegate] to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” “We the people” are sovereign and all proper governmental power is delegated power.

In conclusion, Lincoln ended his meditation with this admonition, “So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, bruised or broken. That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.”[7]  May we all be vigilant in our love of, and loyalty to, the Union and to the Constitution, the picture of silver, and to the Declaration of Independence and its principles, the apple of gold; and may we study, act, and understand the points of danger. In so doing, I am confident that we will yet forge a “more perfect Union.”

1. “The Moral Challenges for the Next Century” BYU, March 5, 1996.
2. Speech at Independence Hall, February 21, 1860, American Patriotism, S. Hobart Peabody, ed. (American Book 3. Exchange, New York, 1880), p. 507.
3. Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), 3:375-76 (“Works”)
4. Id., 4:168 [Italics in orginial].
5. Second Treatise on Government (Chapter 6, sec. 54)
6. Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:211.
7. Works, 4:168.