by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. But to get our exploration started, we need to look at the philosophical underpinnings and writings that fueled the American Revolution occurred.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 2 of 10. ]

[ 2243 Words ]

    

“Government is necessary for our survival. We need government in order to survive. The Founding Fathers created a special place for government. It is called the Constitution.”
— Michael Badnarik

“Hey, our Founding Fathers wore long hair and powdered wigs – I don’t see anybody trying to look like them today, either… But we do look to them as role models.”
— Leigh Steinberg

“I see happiness as a by-product. I don’t think you can pursue happiness. I think that phrase is one of the very few mistakes the Founding Fathers made.”
— James Hillman

“How did we win the election in the year 2000? We talked about a humble foreign policy: No nation-building; don’t police the world. That’s conservative, it’s Republican, it’s pro-American – it follows the founding fathers. And, besides, it follows the Constitution.”
— Ron Paul

“I rise in support of the separation of powers as established by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. The Constitution clearly delegates the power to deal with criminal matters, like the use of drugs, to the States.”
— Dana Rohrabacher

       

America’s Founding Fathers… A Perspective on the Revolution

I want to provide some reflections of why the American Revolutionary War took place. It was based upon both philosophical and practical foundations. But, above all, it had to do with the way the British Parliament tried to solve their financial problems by taxing the American colonies for the cost of the Seven Years War (here, the French and Indian War). GLB

(The following A Perspective: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Wednesday, June 24, 2009)

    

” ‘Mankind.’ That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
— President Thomas Whitmore, in the movie “Independence Day”

image6 This is a call to arms. It is amazing how well we get along when we are up against a powerful, common enemy. This happened during World War II. It reminds one of young David went up against Goliath or Boadicea and her peasant armies faced the Roman legions. It happened when the thirteen small, relatively inconsequential colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America faced the powerful British Empire, and her well-trained armies and dominant navy.

As we approach another fourth of July, it would do us well to examine the thought of the founding fathers and the works of literature that influenced our treasonous rebellion against the mighty monarchy of England. Fortunately, King George III was not the strongest of monarchs, but he controlled the most dominant fighting forces in the western world since the Romans. So how did this group of independent-minded settlers, lead by the Sons of Liberty, manage to stand up against this mighty fighting force? They prevailed because they believed in the ideals they were fighting for — liberty — and were committed to a common goal against a common enemy.

“A toast? Yeah. To high treason. That’s what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and ‘burned’ ”
— Ben Gates, in the movie “National Treasure”

What would be the reward of success? Freedom and Independence. But what would be the price of failure? Death and Oppression. As stated in the quotation above, such a fate for failure would not be death in honor on the battlefield, but would be death on the chopping block or the gallows, with further humiliation to follow. We should be very thankful to those men who met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia that 4th day of July of 1776 so many years ago. By signing that document, they were putting forth a map for the creation of a new nation based upon equality and the rights of man; they were also potentially putting their heads on the ‘chopping block’ — even if they didn’t fight one day in the field.

Where did these ideas come from? Were they unique to the founding fathers? No, they were not! They were adopted by our founding fathers from the English and French philosophers of the Enlightenment period — Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire and Montesquieu. These men laid the foundation for our The Declaration of Independence. These founding fathers built on the concepts of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Property, but they were accepting a revolution in governance according to the ideals of the ‘Social Contract’ of John Locke and the structure of a ‘Republic’ in accordance with the ideals of Montesquieu. These thinkers helped shape many of the ideas forged together by these founding fathers; it set a forth a new form of government ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’…


“Of all the ideas that became the United States, there’s a line here that’s at the heart of all the others. ‘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 provide new Guards for their future security.’ “
— Ben Gates, in the movie “National Treasure”

image7So where do we go from here? We will take a journey through the history of political thought that became a part of our republican form of representative government — this bold, American experiment in democracy and equality.

We will briefly look at the following contributors to this new form of government. They are listed below, along with their major written works and/or services; they are:

  • Thomas Hobbes… Leviathan
  • John Locke… Two Treatises on Government
  • Voltaire… Candide
  • Rousseau… Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
  • Hume… A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Baron de Montesquieu… Spirit of the Laws
  • Patrick Henry… Bill of Rights
  • Thomas Paine… Common Sense
  • John Adams… Thoughts on Government
  • Alexander Hamilton… Federalist Papers
  • Benjamin Franklin… Poor Richard’s Almanack
  • Thomas Jefferson… Declaration of Independence

Why are these men so important? Our revolution was not just fought against the British, it was a revolution in the conception of a new system of governance. It reflected reflected a change in the way governments should be formed and how it must operate to be legitimate. To accomplish this required political theoreticians, it required diplomats, it required warriors, and it required men who would grapple with how to implement theoretical concepts to concrete organizational structures. [And remember — all of this was done without computes, cell phones, Twitter or Facebook!]

We will then examine the two key documents upon which this nation was formed. These are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. These documents define a structure about how to implement a government in accordance with Locke’s concept of the ‘Social Contract’ and Montesquieu’s concept of a ‘Republic.’ The structure created has been robust enough to serve us for more than two centuries. It has adapted to changing needs, technologies, and sociological pressures. It even survived a major civil war. Even in view of the current economic pressures on our country today, our government does not require armed insurrection to make changes. [The current governmental breakdown in California, not withstanding!]

clip_image006Are you ready to begin our exploration of this amazing journey through the thinking, literature and personalities the enabled our American Revolution and guided the establishment of our democratic republic. May our flag continue to wave above the land of the free and the home of the brave…

    

Philosophical Foundations of the American Revolution

“History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy… These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened.”
— Benjamin Franklin

We have seen that our revolutionaries acted upon a long philosophical tradition of the European ‘Enlightenment’ as reflected in a number of developments that occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

We examined traditions in a several philosophers, including:

  1. Thomas Hobbes
    Hobbes was not one of the ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers or a supporter of a democratic process. He worked from the premise that man was inherently evil and needed a strong ruler to create a civil society; thus, he was basically a supporter of a strong monarchy. His contribution was found in his concept of the ‘Social Contract’ in which man gives up some of his/her individual rights to a strong ruler in order to create a civil, ordered, society.
  2. John Locke
    Locke believed in the inherent goodness of human nature and started life with certain basic rights and a blank mind (‘tabula rasa’) which could be molded through sensory experience (learning). He continued the concept of a ‘Social Contract’ which created a civil society by each individual giving up some of their inherent human rights, those of ‘life, liberty, and property,’ to a government so to establish ‘order.’ However, he added the concept that if this government reached a point where it no longer provided a civil society for the people, they had the right (or even the obligation) to rebel against that government — the very concept used in the formation of our new nation!
  3. Voltaire
    Voltaire contributed to our Founding Fathers the notion of ‘Civil Liberties’ within a society and was a life-long opponent of the traditional institutions he found in society, especially the French society, of those of the institutional church (and clergy) as well as the traditional nobility class with their special privileges.
  4. Jean-Jacque Rousseau
    Rousseau advanced the idea of a republican government based on the model (pattern) of the ancient Greek city-states. This extended the concept of the ‘Social Contract’ to include a representative government.
  5. David Hume
    Hume was not part of the ‘Enlightenment’ tradition and focused his thinking upon the rule of law in a civil society. In particular, he believed in the need of moderation in politics and the need of a free press in a civil society.
  6. Baron du Montesquieu
    Montesquieu was a political theorist who presented the concept that the ‘Social Contract’ required a governance structure that included a balanced separation of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of a republic. This balanced approach to governance extended the concept of ‘Social Contract’ to require a government that could continue to provide a civil society through changing times.

These ideas provided the basis upon which our Founding Fathers designed a new experiment of government in the American colonies during the latter half of the eighteenth century. These concepts were adapted and molded into a set of precepts to provide these thirteen colonies with a roadmap to a new, democratic, republican form of governance that had never been tried in the past. It also provided the justification for their rebellion against the British tyranny imposed on these colonies.

Our adventure this world of ideas has been through the examination of many individuals who took various roles in the creation of our new nation through the process known collectively as the American Revolution. We shall summarize these explorations of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and the Constitution of the United States.

     

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution

Wikipedia: No Taxation without Representation…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_taxation_without_representation

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/founding.html