Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

14 October 2012

Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries - A New History of the Invention of America

One of my greatest concerns is that few Americans know very much about American history.  Most are especially ignorant of American history covering the period of the 1700s, when Americans generally came to believe in the American Principle of highly limited government devoted only to the protection of the equal, sovereign rights of the individual to life, liberty, property, the ownership of one's own mind, body, and labor, and to the pursuit of happiness.  Few Americans today seem to understand that my explanation of individual rights is especially redundant, because at that time most Americans would have expressed the same idea as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or as life, liberty, and property.

I am finding considerable pleasure in reading Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove, the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and a professor of political science at Stanford University.  This will not be a general effort to review the book, since I am still in the process of reading it.  Instead, I am going to offer an interesting quote from the book.

Professor Rakove discusses the role of the moderates in the period leading up to the Declaration of Independence.  The men he focuses on in this group are from the Middle Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland who were especially interested in the constructive economic development of America as entrepreneurs.  He names the business partners Robert Morris and Thomas Willing of Pennsylvania and the lawyer they sometimes hired, James Wilson; John Jay, James Duane, Robert Livingston, and Gouverneur Morris of New York; William Livingston of New Jersey; and Thomas Johnson and Charles Carroll of Carrollton of Maryland as belonging to this group.  He points out that moderate did not mean that they were just relatively undecided between the more radical patriots such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Richard Henry Lee and the Loyalists, but that they had their own very definite viewpoint.  They were men of property, from that part of America with the most diverse population which might be torn apart in war, they understood that the colonies had much to benefit from the use of British capital, and they were appalled by Britain's rejection of their efforts to promote accommodation with an "obstinate commitment to repression and force."
This strong commitment to the productive development and improvement of property helped distinguish the moderate political leaders of the middle colonies from their counterparts from other regions.  Yet there was a deeper sense in which their attachment to the rights of property identified a value that all Americans shared.  For property was one of the strongest words of the Anglo-American political vocabulary.  Its security from unlawful taxation had been a dominant value of their common constitutional culture since the previous century.  John Locke had grounded an entire theory of government -- and the right to resist tyranny -- on the concept of property in his Second Treatise of Government.  But Locke only gave philosophical rigor to a belief that already permeated Anglo-American law and politics.
For Locke, as for his American readers, the concept of property encompassed not only the objects a person owned but also the ability, indeed the right, to acquire them.  Just as men had a right to their property, so they held a property in their rights.  Men did not merely claim their rights, but also owned them, and their title to their liberty was as sound as their title to the land or to the tools with which they earned their livelihood.  Furthermore, Americans believed that they truly owned these rights because their ancestors had fairly purchased them through the arduous work of colonization.  Just as Locke had grounded his theory of property on the labor through which men expropriate the fruits of nature for their personal use, making the earth more productive and thus fulfilling the divine injunction to preserve mankind, so the colonists looked back to their ancestor's pioneering and saw that it was good -- and legal too.  Property was a birthright, a legal entitlement and material legacy that one industrious generation transmitted to another. ... Property, defined in this way, was the vital right that Parliament would infringe upon, even destroy, if it made good its claim to legislate for Americans "in all cases whatsoever."
I have quoted this because modern Americans do not understand that our most fundamental property is in the ownership of our rights, our bodies, our minds, and our labor and the fruits of that labor.  The concept of such property was and is central to the understanding of the American Principle.  If we do not understand this, then we will surely be ruled by tyrannical government and be reduced to serfs.

We must understand that the General Welfare of our Constitution was not a fulfillment of the wishes of some fraction, possibly occasionally a majority, of Americans to take the property of others for their benefit, but an assertion that government was to secure the property each of us has in our individual rights and all that implies.  The General Welfare therefore does not imply and require that the People go to war with some among them, but implies quite the opposite.  We the People and our government must respect the property right that each and every American has in his individual rights.  Only then is the General Welfare secured.

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