Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Perspective: Thinking about the American Revolution

"'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"

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 commited 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 Philadelpha 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"

So 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 requred 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!]

Are 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...

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