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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Book Review: The Ideological Origins Of The American Revoution

This is the link where you can buy this book and I recommend that you do so and read it. I bought it somewhere used several years ago and it has sat on my to read shelf for that long. Too bad! Other than Frederic Bastiat's book, The Law this is the best book I have read on principles of government. This one is especially interesting because of its particular relevance to the American revolution.

If you enjoy American history you will love this book.

If you enjoy politics you will love this book.

If you enjoy the discussion of principles of government you will love this book.

I enjoy all three and now count this as among my favorite books.

It is written by Benard Bailyn. The copyright date in my book is 1967. When I first saw that I was a little concerned about the era that it came from. My fear was misplaced. My book is from the third printing by Harvard Press and at that time Mr. Bailyn was Winthrop Professor of History, Harvard University, and Editor-in-Chief of The John Harvard Library.

The book has won the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes. My copy comes in at 319 pages. This book actually originated as the General Introduction to the first volume of Pamphlets of the American Revolution. That General Introduction was expanded into the present book.

The chapters are as follows:

The Literature of Revolution

Sources and Traditions

Power and Liberty: A Theory of Politics

The Logic of Rebellion

1. Representation and Consent
2. Constitution and Rights
3. Sovereignty

The Contagion of Liberty
1. Slavery
2. Establishment of Religion
3. The Democracy Unleashed
4. Whether some Degree of Respect Be Not Always Due from Inferiors to Superiors

For those who have an interest in such things the reading is most stimulating. For those who do not have an interest in such things they probably should!

It was most interesting to see the logic and thought patterns traced throughout the revolutionary time period, beginning in the 1750's all the way through the 1770's. The transitions in thought were astounding and at times radical. The age was filled with rhetoric and shrill voices. It was an exciting time.

I honestly do not feel competent to comment on the material lest I do it an injustice. It is important reading to understand the miracle of the United States of America.

I will say this that the portion I read today was interesting in that it pointed out the inconsistency of people who were clamouring for their own liberty while denying it to others in the form of chattel slavery and the establishment of certain denominations within the respective colonies.

In fact what I read today helped push forward a theory I have. See what you think about it! The "equal protection clause" of the fourteenth amendment has been used to secure the centralization of government through the federal court system. The clause has been utilized to allow the federal courts to assume power that at one time was reserved to the states. I have read some things that raise some concerns about how the fourteenth amendment was adopted. It was a Reconstruction era amendment. I will save that for another time when I have had time to do a little more investigating on the matter.

Suffice it to say that if the War between the States had not been fought the fourteenth amendment would probably have never been a reality and we would all have more liberty today. Why was the War between the States fought. We will probably always debate that. I think that it was probably both states rights and slavery. My view at the present is that states rights was the principle, slavery was the issue. My conclusion is that it was the right principle and the wrong issue.

If the slavery question had been settled in the late 1700's we would likely not have the fourteenth amendment and the encroachment of the federal government through the Courts. My problem has always been, was there really any way to address the slavery issue in the late 1700's and bring about a union between the States? This has in my mind always seemed an insurmountable problem, until now, after reading this book. In his section on "slavery" under the chapter The Contagion Of Liberty, Mr. Bailyn establishes the real possibility, not necessarily intentionally, that the issue of slavery would have been best addressed and was most susceptible during the time when revolutionary thought was ripe. The author points out the fact that there were many voices primarily in the north but also in the south that raised the specter of inconsistency concerning demanding liberty by those who were unwilling to give it to the black man. This was a compelling argument and one that held it greatest influence during this time. In fact it was so powerful that the south was mostly silent on the question, it really had no choice. To argue for the enslaving of black men was to discredit their own clamouring for liberty. Many in the south realized this. It was a compelling and shocking inconsistency that could not be skirted.

I am coming to believe that the anti-slavery voices should have pressed the issue and pressed and pressed. I am coming to believe there was greater opportunity of ridding the land of the scourge of slavery at this early date than maybe what most are willing to consider.

One of the things that emboldens my theory is the complete demise of established religion. Most colonies had established religions. There was religious persecution in most colonies. The dominant denomination taxed others to support beliefs with which they did not agree. It was tyranny in the religious world. It was brought down. Why? Because those opposed to it would not let it drop. They pressed and pressed and pressed the issue till it was rectified. The Baptists were on the forefront of this battle. Especially in Massachusetts and Virginia. Issac Backus in Mass. was a Baptist pastor that would not let the issue rest. Mr. Bailyn is faithful to the record in this regard. The Presbyterians and eventually the Methodists also took up the banner. These were the groups that were most often consider dissenters. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and others took up the mantle.

I would contend that if the tyranny of established religion could be dealt a death blow at this critical juncture then so could have the tyranny of enslaving the black man. If it could have it should have. Instead it was allowed to live on, and it cost us a bitter war and reconstruction and gave us the fourteenth amendment whereby we are all more of a slave than we would have been. It may be fitting retribution.

Well.......there's my theory!

Let me move on to some quotes from the book. I highlighted major portions. At times I felt like I would highlight the whole text???

"The common law was manifestly influential in shaping the awareness of the Revolutionary generation."
Most people have no idea what common law is. It is a shame that we are not more familiar with Blackstone's Commentary on the law.

"....the distance from European centers of ecclesiastical authority had weakened the force of religious establishments below anything known in Europe."

"Power always and everywhere had had a pernicious, corrupting effect upon men. It "converts a good man in private life to a tyrant in office.""

".....the preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on the wielders of power, and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people."

"It was this great struggle that peopled America . . . . a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror, of the infernal confederacy [of temporal and spiritual tyranny] projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America."

"When tyranny is abroad, "submission," Andrew Eliot wrote quite simply in 1765, "is a crime.""

"Bishops have commonly been instruments in arbitrary reigns of establishing a tyranny over the bodies and souls of men." It was actually Jonathan Mayhew who wrote this.

"Corruption was at the heart of it - the political corruption built on the general dissoluteness of the populace, so familiar in the history of tyranny."

""Liberty," John Adams wrote, "can no more exist without virtue and independence than the body can live and move without a soul.""

"What counts was the extent to which representation worked to protect the interests of the people against the encroachments of government."

"The primary function of a constitution was to mark out the boundaries of governmental powers...."

"Finally, all the great rights which man never mean, nor ever ought, to lose should be guaranteed, not granted."
Read this till you understand the difference between "guaranteeing" rights and "granting" rights. Hint: governments do not grant rights they are established to guarantee them.

Obadiah Hulme wrote, "Men entrusted with the formation of civil constitutions should remember they are painting for eternity: that the smallest defect or redundancy in the system they frame may prove the destruction of millions."
Example: Our constitution acknowledging slavery. See theory above!

"Written laws do not create liberties."

In 1775 Alexander Hamilton wrote, "the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal powers."

William Penn wrote in 1677 that, "no man nor number of men upon earth hath the power or authority to rule over men's conscience in religious matters."

Well, that is all for which I have time. Buy the book and read it! Reflect upon it and understand it!

Book rating *****
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