April 10, 2003


The Meaning of the American Revolution: A letter to H. Niles (John Adams, 13 February 1818)
The American Revolution was not a common event. Its effects and consequences have already been awful over a great part of the globe. And when and where are they to cease?

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. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy, according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good; but when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the continental congress and all the thirteen State congresses, &c.

There might be, and there were others who thought less about religion and conscience, but had certain habitual sentiments of allegiance and loyalty derived from their education; but believing allegiance and protection to be reciprocal, when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.

Another alteration was common to all. The people of America had been educated in an habitual affection for England, as their mother country; and while they thought her a kind and tender parent, (erroneously enough, however, for she never was such a mother,) no affection could be more sincere. But when they found her a cruel beldam, willing like Lady Macbeth, to "dash their brains out," it is no wonder if their filial affections ceased, and were changed into indignation and horror.

This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.

By what means this great and important alteration in the religious, moral, political, and social character of the people of thirteen colonies, all distinct, unconnected, and independent of each other, was begun, pursued, and accomplished, it is surely interesting to humanity to investigate, and perpetuate to posterity.

To this end, it is greatly to be desired, that young men of letters in all the States, especially in the thirteen original States, would undertake the laborious, but certainly interesting and amusing task, of searching and collecting all the records, pamphlets, newspapers, and even handbills, which in any way contributed to change the temper and views of the people, and compose them into an independent nation.

The colonies had grown up under constitutions of government so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, and habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a very difficult enterprise. The complete accomplishment of it, in so short a time and by such simple means, was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together -- a perfection of mechanism, which no artist had ever before effected.

In this research, the gloriole of individual gentlemen, and of separate States, is of little consequence. The means and the measures are the proper objects of investigation. These may be of use to posterity, not only in this nation, but in South America and all other countries. They may teach mankind that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude, and integrity sufficient to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance, through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the fiery trials and melancholy disasters they may have to encounter.

A few folks have seemed surprised at some comments here that have expressed no little skepticism about the immediate prospects for democracy in Iraq. First let me repeat my response:
I'm a theocon, not a neocon. The neocons would appear to think democracy is itself a set of inherently stable institutions that can be planted anywhere and will flower. Theocons think democracy is a rather secondary function of healthy non-governmental institutions. The soil of the Arab world seems like infertile ground for democracy
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2003 7:20 PM

I guess that makes me a theo-libertarian-con: I believe everything you ascribe to theocons, but a little extra.

I think that it is living in freedom which creates the healthy non-governmental institutions which enable democracy to occur. That's why it's so important that we give the Iraqi people an experience of living in freedom, so that the culture can start to change. Maybe it will change enough to support democracy, maybe not, but at least this period of freedom will fertilize the ground a little.

Posted by: pj at April 10, 2003 8:43 PM


That seems about right, but yields democracy in about fifty years.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2003 9:25 PM

Yes, 50 years sounds about right - enough time for the people who didn't grow up free to die off.

But every little bit must help.

Posted by: pj at April 10, 2003 9:33 PM

You aren't suggesting we stay and run the place for fifty years are you?

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2003 9:49 PM

No. One year running things at the national level and getting provincial governments up and running, another year involved as an elected national government takes over, then we leave.

But if we handle those first two years well, they should keep their freedom for a while after it. It may take hold for good. Or, they may lose their freedom for a bit, but the ten years of freedom they experienced will leaven Arab culture, so that they'll be much better positioned to claim freedom for good at the next opportunity.

Posted by: pj at April 10, 2003 11:29 PM

We can't leave forces there for two years. Too much work to do elsewhere. Let the UN do it.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 12:18 AM

Mr. Judd;

We'd do better to just install our own puppet than let the UN be in charge. It'd be better for Iraq as well.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 11, 2003 12:23 AM

The UN took responsibility for the Palestinians after 1947, look how that's worked out.

Posted by: pj at April 11, 2003 7:42 AM


Palestinians look to be more than ready for a constitutional representative democracy. If Iraq fifty years from now is where Palestine is today, we'll be in pretty good shape. the main difference being that they'll have had a state that whole time, so no just cause to be at war with their overlords.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 8:38 AM

I disagree, Orrin, Iraq is ahead of Palestine. The Palestinian willingness to kill Israelis is coupled with a willingness to kill Palestinians -- indeed, the PA has killed more Palestinians than Israelis. This culture of hatred and support for violence is completely incompatible with freedom. Iraqis are more like the ex-peoples of the Soviet bloc: they will struggle because, never having been free, they have little experience cooperating with one another and resolving disputes without recourse to violence; but they long for liberty, and that desire will see them through a lot of trouble. We can help them implement it and get the crucial first years of experience.

Posted by: pj at April 11, 2003 9:48 AM

If the British were still trying to hold on to Palestine there'd be just as many Jewish bombers, blowing up the Brits as there are Palestinians blowing up Israelis.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 12:04 PM