November 11, 2019


A Special Relationship: The British and the Americans--Lessons from the Colonial Period (Mark Kalthoff, Imprimis)

The American political tradition began with the Mayflower Compact. Upon landing at Cape Cod and realizing that they needed to establish a temporary self-government, the 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact (originally called the Plymouth Combination) pledged themselves together into "a civil body politic." Referencing the book The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition by Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, Kalthoff argued that the Pilgrims, who identified themselves as British subjects, meant to continue the task already begun in Britain of advancing the Christian faith. To do so, and to act in an orderly way, they took an oath and outlined the ways in which they would carry out the oath; namely, through "equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony." "The Mayflower Compact was another British influence in that it gave Americans the understanding that society precedes government, and that freedom has limits within the rule of law," Kalthoff said. "Within the freedom to self-govern are concomitant duties that involve civic participation and ongoing deliberation." [...]

The British and Americans had a shared understanding of the nature of political liberty. In Barry Alan Shain's book The Myth of American Individualism, he asserts that Colonial Americans understood self-government in terms of English political liberty: "English political liberty describes a political situation in which a majority of the people consent to the laws that would govern them, they are represented in the crafting of these laws, and when they break them they are tried by juries of their peers." English political liberty informed how the colonists lived and ruled. However, the colonists believed that their right to political representation was in the colonial assemblies, not the British parliament. "This stance, this different understanding of the nature and meaning of the British constitution, was ultimately what would sever that relationship that was so special because American liberties were British liberties at this time," Kalthoff said.

The Northwest Ordinance conserved the English inheritance of common law. The final achievement of the Confederation Congress was the creation of the Northwest Ordinance, which set up a constitution for settling U.S. territories north and west of the Ohio River. Comparable in significance to the English Magna Carta, it was a "conserving" law in that it preserved the English legal inheritance. It had American innovations, however; it outlawed slavery, and it guaranteed that every state would have a republican form of government. The Northwest Ordinance also spoke to the truths that the colonists had learned through their relationship with the British, such as providing for religious tolerance and outlining the primacy of education as necessary for "good government and the happiness of mankind." "In this organic piece of law of the United States, there is a fundamental connection between human happiness and civic flourishing and education," Kalthoff said. "The role of education is not merely to impart knowledge, but also to encourage religion and morality."

Posted by at November 11, 2019 4:42 PM