July 4, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVES: A CONFORMITY, NOT A REVOLUTION:

10 Things You Should Know About the American Founding (Bradley J. Birzer , July 03, 2012, Catholic World Report)

Here are ten facts about the American founding that are worth knowing and contemplating as our country celebrates its independence on the Fourth of July.

1.  At the time of the passage and signing of the Declaration, roughly 2.15 million persons lived in the 13 colonies.  Of those not enslaved, the vast majority was of Anglo-Saxon-Celtic descent and nearly 100% were Protestant.  The "fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people on the earth. . . . Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired," Edmund Burke stated publically in 1775.  "The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion." [...]

4.  The level of education for Americans at the time was astounding.  Though no public schools existed in any recognizable sense in the eighteenth century, some "Common Schools" did.  At a Common School, tutors and teachers drilled students for hours in Greek and Latin.  Even if a student only attended school from, say, ages 6-8, he would learn only classical languages.  Parents were expected to teach their children to read, almost always from the King James Bible.  The colonists met with great success, and the American colonies probably contained the single most literate people in the world at that time.  For those attending one of the several colleges in the American colonies (Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, King's College (Columbia)), a liberal education was the only real education.  As the grand historian of the period, Forrest McDonald, has revealed, when a student entered college (usually at age 14 or 15), he would need to prove fluency in Latin and Greek.  He would need to "read and translate from the original Latin into English 'the first three of [Cicero's] Select Orations and the first three books of Virgil's Aeneid' and to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin, as well as to be 'expert in arithmetic' and to have a 'blameless moral character.'"  Keeping this in mind, Americans should not be surprised to see the seventy-plus classical references in The Federalist Papers or the architecture of the Capitol building.  Americans were, second only to their Protestantism, a classically oriented people.

6. The revolution was, therefore, not surprisingly, a "revolution prevented, not made," as Burke explained it.  When asked, for example, where he derived the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson revealed how historical and "backward looking" the document was.  "This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson explained in 1825, not long before his death. "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, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.  Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, 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, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."

6.  The first shots fired in what became the War for Independence were calculated to lead neither to a full-scale war nor to the independence of the colonies from her mother.  Instead, the men of Lexington, Massachusetts, followed what they believed to be the strongest form of protest--not an act of secession.  Jonas Clarke, the Calvinist pastor at the Lexington church and one of the leading intellectuals of the colonies, had been exploring Christian notions of liberty for well over a decade.  "And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed," he stated in 1765, "that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness.  They are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned." After debating a response to the British march toward Concord for hours in the local pastor's house, the town pub, and on the town green (all three places adjoining), about forty Lexingtonians stood on the village green at 5:00am, April 19, 1775, arms placed in parade formation.  

As with all of the successful political-social movements in the Anglosphere, it consisted of no revolution but of a summoning of the more powerful citizens to live up to their own principles as regarded the less powerful.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
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Posted by at July 4, 2013 12:52 AM
  

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