HOW MAGNA CARTA INFLUENCED THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

HOW MAGNA CARTA INFLUENCED THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

“William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians 1681” by Edward Hicks, 1847. (The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

In 1984, Ross Perot purchased a copy of the 1297 reissuance of the Magna Carta from the Brudenell family who had held the document for centuries. In 1988, it became a permanent fixture of the National Archives Museum where it stayed in the rotunda along with the American charters of freedom for several years. Nearly two decades later, in 2007, Perot sold the copy for twenty-one million dollars to David Rubenstein who also placed it again on long-term loan at the Archives as well as giving a generous donation for renovations to the rotunda.[1] The Archives re-encased the charter and placed in a new exhibit in 2010. The 2500-word Latin document is a remarkable sight. In many ways it is in better condition on vellum than the parchment copies of the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution.[2]

One of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta, on display at the National Archives. (National Archives)

The Magna Carta, and how the American founders viewed it, is fundamental to any Whig interpretation of the period. While economic interpretations are valid, it would be wrong to dismiss the founders’ vision of the Magna Carta as a foundational text and patrimony, and its power in propaganda and legal argumentation. For patriot or loyalist, the Magna Carta took on a covenantal role to which all else was subordinate.

Nevertheless, the centuries-long history of the document before the Revolutionary War complicates the history for those in the present. It is difficult to draw a very straight of a line from 1215 to 1776 without losing focus and winding up in a thicket of legalese or mentioning every single colonial and founding figure who even once mentioned the charter in speech or letter. Yet despite unforgiving contemporary views of the charter’s significance, and those in the Revolutionary period who saw it as a wellspring of everything it meant to be of English descent, we can see that the path may be quite tortuous but one can look backward from 1776 and see a clear beginning in the distant past.

Origins
Histories of what occurred at Runnymede in 1215 can begin as early as the 900s with others starting after the Norman Conquest of 1066 under William I (the Conqueror). This was the ascent of the Norman and Angevin Kings in England. William the Conqueror’s second son, Robert, was rightful heir to the throne because his older brother, William II, had died in 1100. Younger brother Henry, however, swiftly united the barons behind him and assumed the throne. This was accomplished with some conditions from the barons, which Henry outlined in a bilingual Charter of Liberties. Such promises were not unknown before this, but Henry’s was the first of such great length. His charter was reaffirmed by his successors not only as originating with Henry but as a continuation of the rights and liberties of the English since before the Norman Conquest.

Henry made his promises to the Church first but then promised to ease the reliefs paid by the baronage that were required to “buy” back the lands they had inherited. He remitted debts owed to his predecessor and restored the “Law of King Edward.”[3] Two generations later, in 1199, Henry II’s youngest son—the infamous King John—rose to the throne. This was not an expected outcome throughout most of John’s life. John spent much of his kingship at war with regions of France. War was costly and, as the story goes, John’s barons had little patience with his fiscal policies to fund these massive campaigns. A new agreement was reached at Runnymede in 1215, called the Runnymede Charter for decades before the term Magna Cartbecame the standard.

Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury, has long been considered the primary author of the charter, although it is unclear which provisions are his and which are not. Langton had the background to have crafted such a text. His education was primarily French and heavily influenced by his colleague Pierre Chanter or, Anglicized, Peter Cantor. Both held that monarchy was an element of Original Sin and, while there were duties one owed to a monarch in the temporal realm, there were limits on what a monarch could exact from his subjects. Langton conditioned this obedience on a technicality: whether or not judges had ruled the king’s actions to be just. Disobedience was not permitted if there was an affirming judgment. If, on the other hand, the king acted in his own will, that was another matter.

These types of debates, including the boundaries between ecclesial and political authorities, were commonplace in the academic world in medieval Paris. During the generation before Runnymede, English legal theory was dominated by the likes of John of Salisbury who was of Anglo-Saxon descent but educated, like Langton, in Paris under Abelard and who was a friend of the first and only English Pope, Adrian IV. In his Policraticus, Salisbury affirmed that kings were bound by the law and advanced his own somewhat unique solution of regicide in addition to mere disobedience.[4] Lawful kingship, however, was not a novel point of view during this period but a fairly commonplace one; the Magna Carta, far from being a watershed, reflected ideas that had already been long in place by 1215.[5] In 1291, Edward I declared the charter to have statutory force and it continued to do so for centuries.

1300-1600: An Interlude
The long-established narrative has been that the Magna Carta vanished from the English imagination from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Although many of the articles declined in relevance as laws changed during these three “dark” centuries, a seventeenth century writer asserted that the Magna Carta’s mind was great even if the body was small.[6] Recent research on court documents of this era, long obscured by the archaic and inconsistent language they used, shows that many of these cases did cite the Magna Carta in some form or another. More formal treatises appear in the sixteenth century as well.

This dispels the notion that the charter grew irrelevant during the Late Middle Ages and disrupts another prevalent narrative, that Edward Coke democratized the meaning of the Magna Carta beyond what it could have possibly meant in its time. It is now evident that the charter’s villiens tenementum, those subject to a feudal lord, were partially included in the chapters concerning free men. To be fair, there was probably little recourse that a peasant would have against his lord.[7] However, it did not necessarily imply a lack of parity when acting outside the geographic bounds of his feudal domain. Rights were certainly limited, weighed against one’s lord, but peasants nonetheless had rights under medieval readings of the Magna Carta particularly following the vast societal changes brought about by the Bubonic Plague of the fourteenth century. When writing about the Magna Carta’s immemorial influence, recent discoveries have been a huge boon to those who look to the charter for its influence on American law and the founders’ understandings of rights.

1600-1688
Stephen Langton, speaking for the barons, had attributed these rights to a very likely source: God. The barons, however, probably had a more terrestrial origin in mind: immemorial custom.[8]

Indeed, if there is a word which could contextualize the sentiments about English law during this period, particularly as it applied to the rights of individuals, the best choice would be immemoriality. A word to describe something that exists beyond memory. The Magna Carta had not been “forgotten” in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, a “revival” of its origin and meaning, especially of the twenty-ninth article, came during the seventeenth century. Its primary expositor, Edward Coke, is likely recognizable to most readers of American constitutional history. Its primary exporter was another name even more familiar to students of American history: William Penn. Penn, like Coke, would primarily concern himself with Article 29.[9]

In terms of immemoriality, Coke connected the Magna Carta to twelfth century origins, namely the coronation texts of Kings Henry I, II, and III. From there, Coke and his successors extended this law to Edward the Confessor, the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of the early eleventh century. An example of Coke’s rendering of the Magna Carta, and one that would prove very important for his American acolytes in the next century, was the writ of Habeas Corpus. The notion itself predated the Magna Carta by nearly a half-century under Henry II.[10] The modern concept of Habeas Corpus is not clearly connected with the Magna Carta, rather, Habeas corpus ad subjiciendum had been a royal prerogative to have a prisoner called to the King’s court. While Article 29 established that freemen cannot be imprisoned or dispossessed without some sort of due process, Article 28 of the Magna Carta established that no one (aliquem), not merely freemen (liber homo), could be charged without reliable witnesses presented in front of some sort of tribunal. From this, Coke extrapolated what many would consider a more contemporary notion of habeas corpus.[11]

Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act forty-five years after Coke’s death in 1679 during Charles’s reign. This was not understood as creating habeas corpus but, rather, strengthening it to prevent any arbitrary or capricious behavior from Charles’s likely successor, his brother James. The act passed in a humorous back-and-forth between the Lords and Commons and Charles gave his assent.[12]

During the Stuart restoration in Britain, King Charles II and James were typically supportive of religious toleration. Unfortunately, the Parliament of the time did not share this sentiment and William Penn, as the story goes, found himself so at odds with supporters of the Church of England that he eventually fled to North America. With this background, Penn printed the Magna Carta in the North American colonies, expounding on the natural rights of Englishmen with particular reverence toward the ninth and twenty-ninth articles.[13]

Most of Penn’s commentary on the Magna Carta centered on the rights that it granted to all Englishmen. His introduction smacks of a warning and a call for all of the colonies, not just Pennsylvania, to pass resolutions affirming the rights of men, more akin to a call for a bill of rights than a constitution. With one exception in Maryland in the 1640s, key government documents like the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) were simply about governance and not about rights.

Marylanders had a stronger record of attempting to delineate their rights as Englishmen in addition to the marginally effective 1639 Petition of Right. The settlers asserted “the Inhabitants of this Province shall have all their rights and liberties according to the Great Charter of England.” In a 1728 pamphlet, Daniel Dulany the elder re-asserted that these rights had their origin not only in the Magna Carta but also in other acts including the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the aforementioned Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. His son, Daniel Dulany the younger, though a loyalist, would nevertheless argue in a similar vein concerning taxation without representation decades later.[14]

In same decade as Penn’s printing, comity between the colonial governments and the British Crown withered. Colonists had wearied not only of King James II’s pro-Catholic power plays, but also of his royal governors in the colonies. Moreover, James used royal prerogative to dump the colonial charters that provided the later foundation for the patriot’s argument that the North American colonists maintained the same rights of mainland Britains. The result, while not on the scale of war, did involve rebellion in a few of the colonies: Leisler’s Rebellion (New York), Gove’s Rebellion (New Hampshire), and the Boston Revolt of 1689.

Great Britain faced a two-front upheaval from the Dutch Low Countries against the Stuart Dynasty as well as discontent and revolt from its own North American colonies who were already rebelling to assert their rights nearly a century before the American Revolution. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 upended the Stuart Dynasty and began the rule of the House of Hanover under the William of Orange, a Dutch prince and stadtholder, and his first cousin Mary II.

Americans and the Rights of Englishmen
The Founders’ view of the Magna Carta was largely based on such idealism of English law and identity. Far from its origins as a baronial document, the Magna Carta had its own mythos by the 1700s. In this high-minded idealism, the charter represented the rights of all Englishmen rather than just the peerage. As a legal matter the charter’s relevance was far less clear.

Colonial grievances were against the policies of Parliament, not the monarchy, and rebelling against the British monarchy was not a focal point of protests before 1776. If anything, during the protests against Parliament, colonial political leaders remained deferent to the King. Historian Eric Nellis questioned the sincerity of the Olive Branch Petition in his book The Long Road to Change because it asserted allegiance to the King while rejecting Parliament’s authority in the colonies.[15] However, its sincerity and logic is not as incoherent as it seems when taking into account the legal arguments of the 1760s and the appeals to the Magna Carta above any other major text of English history.[16] Having resorted to outright rebellion in 1776, the complaints of the Declaration of Independence could be addressed directly to the King. In fact, at that point, the Declaration seems to go out of its way to avoid acknowledging that Parliament owned any of the abuses cited therein.

In 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act to resolve the longstanding issue with American merchants evading import duties on molasses. While in the short run the act had some unpopularity with merchants, it failed to excite anti-parliamentary passions. The Stamp Act of 1765 was another matter: it was a new revenue tax that affected almost everyone. Here began the decade of discontent leading to secession.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had established greater parliamentary supremacy. This was a supremacy that would naturally have extended to the British colonies. While that revolution lessened the power of the British monarch to act in the absence of a convened parliament, and gave rise to the English Bill of Rights, it still occurred during a period of greater centralization of power throughout Europe. The absorption of Scotland into Great Britain under a single crown and parliament in the 1707 Act of Union was a natural consequence of this. Caution was taken in later colonial charters not to be as generous as in those granted in the earlier seventeenth century. Georgia, for example, entitled its colonists to the rights of Englishmen but no right of local governance.[17]

These matters came to a head during the Stamp Act Crisis in 1765. This was when the legal aspects of the charter came into question. Benjamin Franklin traveled to London to represent the colonies. Other recorded testimony came from Isaac Barre, an Irish soldier and member of Parliament supportive of the Americans, and Joseph Galloway, a lawyer and friend of Franklin’s yet nevertheless an ardent loyalist pledged to defend the mother country.

Most of Franklin’s associates agreed with Barre. Franklin combined his associates’ Declaration of Rights and Grievances, undoubtedly written by John Dickinson, along with other municipal declarations to the House of Commons. In the course of questioning, the Magna Carta appears to have come up in a flurry of confusion between Franklin and the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville. The back-and-forth between Grenville and Franklin tested Franklin’s patience and, as the ministers persisted in their interrogation, Franklin grew weary and testy.

Q. Don’t you know there is, in the Pennsylvania Charter, an express reservation of the right of Parliament to Lay Taxes there?

A. I know there is a clause in the charter, by which the King grants that he will levy no taxes on the inhabitants, unless it be with the consent of the assembly, or by act of parliament.

Q. How then could the assembly of Pennsylvania assert, that laying a tax on them by the Stamp Act was an infringement of their rights?

A. They understand it thus; by the same charter, and otherwise, they are intitled to all the privileges and liberties of Englishmen; they find in the great charters, and the petition and declaration of rights that one of the privileges of English subjects is, that they are not to be taxed but by their common consent. . . .

Q. Are there any words in the charter that justify that construction?

A. The common rights of Englishmen, as declared by the Magna Charta, and the petition of right, all justify it.

While it had been a pretty standard argument to invoke the older colonial charters, Grenville stood on firmer ground than Franklin here. The Pennsylvania Charter, ironically William Penn’s own Frame of Government, stipulated exactly what Grenville had spoken. Franklin’s rebuttal hyperextended a six hundred year old document that bore little relevance to the matter at hand.

Notions of “inherited rights” get bandied about loosely in contemporary discourse but it is essential to understand how strong notions of “Englishness” existed for nearly a millennium before the American Revolution. Saint Bede the Venerable wrote a well-known history of England in the seventh century that formed the basis of an English identity apart from the fragmented continent in the post-Western Roman Empire realms. Englishness, and later Britishness, was extended generationally and, as far as the colonists were concerned, across all distances. In London, Edmund Burke made the same case for the colonists although he, like Joseph Galloway, would never claim colonial legislative supremacy over the Parliament.

Many British politicians, as well as many notable Americans, disagreed. Distance was a cause for differential treatment. Thomas Hutchinson was among the Americans who agreed that the colonies were not necessarily part of the British community insofar as rights were concerned. Here it is important to recall an important point in the chronology of the debates over “taxation without representation:” several colonies argued for their right for their representatives to tax themselves. That would put colonial legislative bodies on par with the British Parliament. If that seems like an unpalatable notion, also bear in mind that the Glorious Revolution was as close to their national memory as World War II is to ours. And from the ashes of the Glorious Revolution was the final subordination of the crown to the prerogatives of Parliament in most matters. One must keep this in mind when understanding the opprobrium of Parliament and American Tories. In sum: claiming rights of all post-1688 Britain while claiming further rights to autonomy from an inheritance from the 1215 charter frankly seemed absurd.

In 1776, in the spring preceding the Declaration of Independence, Chief Justice William Henry Drayton of South Carolina delivered a riveting address to a grand jury in Charleston. Drayton invoked the Magna Carta as a foundational document of justice in the English colonies and charged that George III’s government had treated it with contempt. In this decade after the taxation crises, Parliament was no longer the main enemy and charges were increasingly made against the King signifying not only the offenses against the Americans—which Drayton and many others outlined—but the state of rebellion for which Englishness was no longer a sufficient bond to prevent. Drayton drew on numerous historical precedents including South Carolina’s shedding of proprietary rule in a bloodless revolution in 1719.

While drawing parallels with King John would have been insult enough, Drayton took the approach of comparing George III to the final Stuart monarch, James II, who had been ousted during the 1688 Glorious Revolution. It was in these later years before 1776 that the colonial charters—which had been tampered with also under James II—were dissolved by George III. Other states, including New York, had their legislatures suspended. James II had broken the original contract between the Crown and Englishmen, and now George III had done so with the colonies; the response would be no different.[18]

While Drayton still paid some lip service to reconciliation, David Ramsay avoided any pretense in his July 4, 1778 address, also in Charleston. The language was extravagant and optimistic despite the state of war. In Ramsay’s address one can see the beginnings of an “American Dream” in which even the lowest-born could succeed. “Whereas, in our present happy system, the poorest school-boy may prosecute his studies with increasing ardour, from the prospect, that in a few years he may, by his improved abilities, direct the determinations of public bodies, on subjects of the most stupendous consequence.”[19] Ramsay’s speech clearly wanted to boast of America’s own glorious revolution. Naturally, it may be pointing out the obvious that the Siege of Charleston was still two years in the future from Ramsay’s grandiloquent speech.

It is on this point we can return to 1776 when the Olive Branch Petition and other documents for reconciliation were addressed to George III. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams appealed to the rights that they believed extended from the pre-1688 Britain and tethered their loyalty to the King rather than to Parliament. However, taxation alone did not propel the colonists to outright rebellion. Rhode Island formally declared independence a month before the signing of the Declaration in 1776, citing the lack of trial by jury and habeas corpus. Harkening back to the Magna Carta: the fight was to remain free, not to become free.

But where the Declaration of Independence reflected ire over suspension of colonial charters and legislatures, and the Constitution’s more immediate focuses were of habeas corpus and due process, the Bill of Rights owed a massive debt not only to the English Bill of Rights but to the very wording of the Magna Carta:

Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime . . . nor to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. . .”

Chapter Twenty-Nine: No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized . . . or in any way destroyed, nor will we . . . prosecute him, except . . . by the law of the land.”

Fifth Amendment: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Chapter Nineteen: “No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take anyone’s grain or other chattels . . . without immediately paying for them in money”

Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”

Chapter Fourteen: “A freeman shall not be [prosecuted] . . . except by the oaths of lawful men of the neighborhood”[20]

Conclusion
During the eight-hundredth-anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015, British jurist and medieval historian Jonathan Sumption—Lord Sumption—took on legal and historical interpretations of the charters. “Its practitioners have a natural tendency to legitimise their ideals by asserting their antiquity. But they have, on the whole, been bad historians.”[21] Sumption assailed Coke and the exceptionalist mythos that persisted until the early twentieth century. “But I do have a problem with the distortion of history to serve an essentially modern political agenda. Claims like those which I have just cited are high-minded tosh.” There is little to nothing wrong to be found in Lord Sumption’s analysis. However, even if much of the tradition that the Founders saw was a cooked-up historical fiction it would be foolish to deny the power of the idea and how it came to shape the political thinking of the period. In that sense, the Magna Carta’s placement with the charters of freedom is reasonable even if the ultimate, parallel truth is much more complicated. However, there is some reason to believe that it is uncomplicated. The recently-translated court documents from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries cast doubt on the idea that Coke’s—and the American Founders’ —views of the Magna Carta and the rights of Englishmen were mythical. Exaggerated, perhaps, but far from baseless. As Justice Felix Frankfurter put it in 1953, the Magna Carta “was the beginning, not the end, of the struggle for the principles it enunciated.”

 

[1]A personal account of the auction can be found at David Rubenstein, “The Magna Carta Returns to the Archives,” Prologue Magazine 42, no. 4 (Winter 2010).

[2]“Perot Purchases a Copy of the Magna Carta,” New York Times, September 27, 1984, www.nytimes.com/1984/09/27/us/perot-purchases-a-copy-of-magna-carta.html. Christopher Michaud, “Magna Carta fetches $21.3 million at Sotheby’s auction,” Reuters, December 18, 2007,www.reuters.com/article/us-magnacarta-auction/magna-carta-fetches-21-3-million-at-sothebys-auction-idUSN1854840520071219.

[3]Charter of Liberties of King Henry I, A.D. 1100.

[4]John of Salisbury, “The Statesman’s Book” (Policraticus in the original Latin), in Great Political Thinkers, 3rd edition, ed. William Ebenstein (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 187-209.

[5]John W. Baldwin, “Master Stephen Langton, Future Archbishop of Canterbury: The Paris Schools and Magna Carta,” The English Historical Review 123, no. 503 (2008): 811-846. See also Lord Sumption, “The Magna Carta Then and Now,” an address to the Friends of the British Library, March 9, 2015.

[6]Richard H. Helmholz, “The Myth of Magna Carta Revisited,” North Carolina Law Review, 94, (2015): 1475-92.

[7]Some peasants were willing to claim the rights of the charter against their lords. See John F. Nichols, “An Early Fourteenth Century Petition from the Tenants of Bocking to Their Manorial Lord,”Economic History Review 2, no. 2 (January 1930), 300-7.

[8]Sumption, “The Magna Carta Then and Now.”

[9]George Garnett, “Sir Edward Coke’s Resurrection of the Magna Carta,” in Magna Carta: History, Context and Influence (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London, Institute of Historical Research, 2018), 51-60.

[10]A terrific account is available in J. Enoch Powell, Great Parliamentary Occasions (London: Queen Anne Press, 1966), 65.

[11]From the text of the 1297 charter, Article 28: Nullus ballivus ponat decetero aliquem ad legem manifestam vel ad juramentum simplici loquela sua, sine testibus fidelibus ad hoc inductis, “No bailiff is henceforth to put any man on his open law or on oath simply by virtue of his spoken word without reliable witnesses produced for the same.” Article 29: Nullus liber homo decetero capiatur vel imprisonetur aut disseisiatur de aliquo libero tenemento suo vel libertatibus vel liberis consuetudinibus suis, aut utlagetur, “No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his free tenement or of his liberties or free customs.”

The two most commonly cited authors for those who oppose this reading are Edward Jenks who wrote his “Myth of the Magna Carta” in 1904 and William McKechnie whose own commentaries were published a decade later. Jenks declared false any claim that the document could apply to anyone outside of freemen who made up about one-sixth of the population. However, Richard Helmholz pointed out that much of the criticism of the Magna Carta rests on anachronistic assumptions about law and, although he doesn’t use the word himself, a progressive view of English law’s formation must be borne in mind to put it in its proper context. Helmholz, “The Myth of Magna Carta Revisited.”

[12]See the 1166 Assize of Clarendon, avalon.law.yale.edu/medieval/assizecl.asp.

[13]The ninth article forbade land seizure for the payment of debt if there was sufficient money or property, or a willing surety, to cover the debt.

[14]Charles A. Rees, “Remarkable Evolution: The Early Constitutional History of Maryland,” Baltimore Law Review 36, no. 2 (2007), 217-70. Dulany the Elder’s Pamphlet The Right of the Inhabitants of Maryland to the Benefit of English Laws is difficult to locate but is reprinted in St. George Leaking Sioussat’s “The English Statutes in Maryland,” Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical & Political Science (1903), 81-104. Dulany the Younger’s pamphlet “Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of rasing a Revenue, by Act of Parliament” was better known because of the revolutionary context in which it was written. An excerpt is available at www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1751-1775/daniel-dulany-considerations-october-1765.php.

[15]For an easy-to-read transcription of the Olive Branch Petition see Steven Thomas, “The Olive Branch Petition,” America’s Homepage (Georgia Tech), January 2009, ahp.gatech.edu/olive_branch_1775.html.

[16]Eric Nellis, The Long Road to Change: America’s Revolution, 1750-1820 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).

[17]“Charter of Georgia: 1732,” The Avalon Project (Yale University Law School), avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/ga01.asp.

[18]“Judge Drayton’s Address to the Grand Jury at Charlestown, South Carolina,” April 23, 1776, digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A92538. Thomas Paine probably took the most radical approach of all: that the rights of all human beings derived not from statute but through their humanity. His notion of rights nearly had the same divine origination as Langton’s. Paine went to great lengths in the early chapters of the first part of Rights of Manto dispose of any attempt to tie American rights to English rights via statute. Paine took Edmund Burke to task throughout the entire volume but never appeared to direct his ire toward Americans who espoused the statutory view.

[19]David Ramsay, “An Oration on the Advantages of American Independence,” July 4, 1776, name.umdl.umich.edu/N28767.0001.001.

[20]William Swindler, Magna Carta (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1968), 101-17.

[21]Lord Sumption, “The Magna Carta Then and Now.”

Socialism is Anti-Christian

“If someone calls it socialism,” said Rev. William Barber at the August meeting of the Democratic National Committee, “then we must compel them to acknowledge that the Bible must then promote socialism, because Jesus offered free health care to everyone, and he never charged a leper a co-pay.”

Barber’s statement brought secular progressives to their feet in thunderous applause. That included DNC chair Tom Perez, who says that democratic socialists like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represent “the future of our party.” That’s a party once headed by men like John F. Kennedy, who warned of the “fanaticism and fury” — the “ruthless, godless tyranny” — of the “communist conspiracy.”

Describing the U.S. Constitution and the Bible as “socialist documents,” the Rev. Barber exhorted the faithful: “If you want to have a moral debate, bring it on, baby!”

A moral debate on socialism and Christianity, pastor? Sure, let’s have it.

But there’s no need to pick on Rev. Barber. He’s interchangeable with any number of “social justice” proponents on the Religious Left. His statement actually pales to what was published in the Jesuit-run America magazine a few weeks ago — a stunning piece titled “The Catholic Case for Communism.” The column, which was written by an America staff writer named Dean Dettloff, came with a defense and explanation by America’s editor-in-chief, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., called “Why we published an essay sympathetic to communism.”

The spectacle prompted one reader to comment, “What will America publish next, ‘The Catholic Case for Atheism’? or ‘The Catholic Case for Satanism’?”

That’s no laughing matter. The Roman Catholic Church in the 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris referred to communism as a “satanic scourge,” a “truly diabolical” instrument of the “sons of darkness.”

Can you imagine a publication in 2019 defending such an ideology? What did communism produce in the interim, between 1937 and 2019? Only 100 million corpses or so.

What Did Lenin Think of Religion?

But back to this democratic-socialism infatuation by many on the modern Religious Left. I dealt with this not long ago in a recent piece laying out at length what the Catholic Church has taught about socialism and even its alleged more “democratic” variants. Here, too, this article could run thousands of words with endless examples, including some from the very founders of socialism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, and past democratic socialists and Social Democrats refuting this stuff. Socialism is, in Marxist theory, the final transitionary step to communism.

Here today, I’ll offer merely a snapshot from Vladimir Lenin himself — who, for the record, was a Social Democrat. Yes, you heard that right. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union began life in 1898 as the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. In 1903, at the party’s 2nd Congress, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin split their Bolshevik faction from their rival Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were self-professed Social Democrats.

And what did Lenin say about religion? “Religion is opium for the people,” wrote Lenin in December 1905, echoing his hero, Karl Marx. “Religion is a sort of spiritual booze.” That was a mild assessment from a man who wrote that “there is nothing more abominable than religion,” and “all worship of a divinity is a necrophilia.” Yes, necrophilia.

In Lenin’s Soviet state, the Party was the supreme, infallible authority, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would relentlessly pursue what Mikhail Gorbachev called “a wholesale war on religion.”

Sticking to this 1905 statement, Lenin saw socialism as incompatible with religious belief: “Everyone must be absolutely free to … be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule.” He declared: “Complete separation of Church and State is what the socialist proletariat demands of the modern state and the modern church.” Sounding like a 21st-century secular progressive in America, Lenin insisted that “religion must be declared a private affair.”

Of course, once Lenin and his Bolsheviks took over a decade later, they refused to tolerate religion even as a private affair. In fact, even in that 1905 letter, Lenin conceded as much: “We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned.” In his Soviet state, the Party was the supreme, infallible authority, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would relentlessly pursue what Mikhail Gorbachev called “a wholesale war on religion.”

Lenin continued, stating that in order “to combat the religious fog … we founded our association, the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, precisely for such a struggle against every religious bamboozling of the workers.” Lenin wanted a political system “cleansed of medieval mildew.” He wanted to halt “the religious humbugging of mankind.”

‘Religion is the Opium of the People’

Other examples from Lenin? I could go on and on. These are tame examples taken from a decade prior to when Lenin came to power and began murdering by the thousands. This is the restrained Lenin. Still, one can see the absolute repudiation of religion vis-à-vis communism, socialism, and democratic socialism.

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Four years later, in May of 1909, Lenin repeated: “Religion is the opium of the people—this dictum by Marx is the cornerstone of the whole Marxist outlook on religion.” Here, Lenin was writing explicitly on behalf of fellow “Social Democrats.” What he wrote is worth quoting at length, given what our Christian “democratic socialist” brethren now assert:

It is the absolute duty of Social-Democrats to make a public statement of their attitude towards religion. Social-Democracy bases its whole world-outlook on scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism. The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism—a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion. … Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organization, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class. …

Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion. … We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.

This combat must be waged in order to reverse religion’s hold on the “backward sections of the town proletariat” — that is, the town idiots.

No Place for Religion in Socialism

Could a pastor (perhaps the Rev. Barber) or a priest who subscribes to America magazine be a fellow Social Democrat and member of the Party? Apparently, even in Lenin’s day, a peculiar priest or two must have occasionally considered hooking up with Lenin and his Social Democrats. Lenin himself reflected on the absurd thought:

The question is often brought up whether a priest can be a member of the Social-Democratic Party or not, and this question is usually answered in an unqualified affirmative, the experience of the European Social-Democratic parties being cited as evidence. But this experience was the result, not only of the application of the Marxist doctrine to the workers’ movement, but also of the special historical conditions in Western Europe which are absent in Russia … so that an unqualified affirmative answer in this case is incorrect.

It cannot be asserted once and for all that priests cannot be members of the Social-Democratic Party; but neither can the reverse rule be laid down. If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the program of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our program and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction. … But, of course, such a case might be a rare exception even in Western Europe, while in Russia it is altogether improbable. And if, for example, a priest joined the Social-Democratic Party and made it his chief and almost sole work actively to propagate religious views in the Party, it would unquestionably have to expel him from its ranks.

If a left-wing priest was foolish enough to join the Party, Lenin and the boys would accept his help (Lenin is infamous for allegedly referring to such people as “useful idiots”). But if the strange priest ever tried to share his faith with the fellas, well, he would be shown the door and the boot.

Lenin knew better. So, too, did Marx: “Communism begins where atheism begins,” he asserted.

The Antithesis to Religion

Once the Bolsheviks took over Russia, atheism was required of Party officials. Any lingering religious sentiment by the Party member must be purged. This was likewise true for the American communist apparatchiks. “Many workers join the Communist Party who still have some religious scruples, or religious ideas,” conceded William Z. Foster, head of the Communist Party U.S.A., in testimony to Congress, “but a worker who will join the Communist Party, who understands the elementary principles of the Communist Party, must necessarily be in the process of liquidating his religious beliefs and, if he still has any lingerings when he joins the Party, he will soon get rid of them.”

This is why religious people generally have historically understood communism and socialism to be antithetical to religion: the communists and socialists told us they were.

You know you’re in spiritual darkness when not even the religious can be counted on to refute the anti-religiousness of communism and socialism.

I know that some Religious Left Christians will take issue with this article focusing on the likes of Lenin and William Z. Foster. Fair enough. But that’s my focus here in this article (just one of numerous I’ve written on socialism and communism), and it isn’t irrelevant. These things have been thought about for a long time. This isn’t new.

This is crucial history that the modern Religious Left surely doesn’t know, no doubt because it was never learned. Our universities have failed to teach this material, instead criticizing anti-communism and anti-socialism. We are now reaping what we’ve sown. You know you’re in spiritual darkness when not even the religious can be counted on to refute the anti-religiousness of communism and socialism.

 

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College. His latest book (April 2017) is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century. He is also the author of 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

The Economic Dimension of Liberty Protected by the Constitution

The Economic Dimension Of Liberty Protected By The Constitution

“Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“The enviable condition of the people of the United States is often too much ascribed to the physical advantages of their soil & climate …. But a just estimate of the happiness of our country will never overlook what belongs to the fertile activity of a free people and the benign influence of a responsible government.”

– James Madison

America’s Constitution did not mention freedom of enterprise per se, but it did set up a system of laws to secure individual liberty and freedom of choice in keeping with Creator-endowed natural rights. Out of these, free enterprise flourished naturally. Even though the words “free enterprise’ are not in the Constitution, the concept was uppermost in the minds of the Founders, typified by the remarks of Jefferson and Madison as quoted above.

Already, in 1787, Americans were enjoying the rewards of individual enterprise and free markets. Their dedication was to securing that freedom for posterity. The learned men drafting America’s Constitution understood history – mankind’s struggle against poverty and government oppression. And they had studied the ideas of the great thinkers and philosophers.

They were familiar with the near starvation of the early Jamestown settlers under a communal production and distribution system and Governor Bradford’s diary account of how all benefited after agreement that each family could do as it wished with the fruits of its own labors.

Later, in 1776, Adam Smith’s INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE AND CAUSES OF THE WEALTH OF NATIONS and Say’s POLITICAL ECONOMY had come at just the right time and were perfectly compatible with the Founders’ own passion for individual liberty. Jefferson said these were the best books to be had for forming governments based on principles of freedom.

They saw a free market economy as the natural result of their ideal of liberty. They feared concentrations of power and the coercion that planners can use in planning other peoples lives; and they valued freedom of choice and acceptance of responsibility of the consequences of such choice as being the very essence of liberty. They envisioned a large and prosperous republic of free people, unhampered by government interference. The Founders believed the American people, possessors of deeply rooted character and values, could prosper if left free to:

  • acquire and own property
  • have access to free markets
  • produce what they wanted
  • work for whom and at what they wanted
  • travel and live where they would choose
  • acquire goods and services which they desired

Americans Embrace the Tyranny our Founders Fought to Destroy

The American Founding generation fought a long, bloody war to free themselves from a tyrannical government, only to see the people eventually embrace the very system they struggled to throw off.

That may seem like a stinging indictment, but careful examination of U.S. governance today reveals that it rests on essentially the same philosophical foundation as the 18th century British system Americans rejected.

The founding generation developed a brand new conception of government, resting it on the consent of the governed and the idea that governing institutions must operate within constitutional constraints. Today, we still see the vestiges of those founding ideals in political rhetoric and popular conscience, but the U.S. government long ago threw off constitutional fetters and now functions much like the English system Americans fought to free themselves from.

In Rights of Man, Thomas Paine captured the essence of American constitutionalism that evolved during the Revolution, characterizing the Pennsylvania constitution as “a political bible.”

“Nothing was more common when any debate rose on the principles of a bill, or on the extent of any species of authority, then for members to take the printed Constitution out of their pocket, and read the chapter with which such matter in debate was connected.”

In America, law was king and constitutions stood as the supreme law of the land.

It wasn’t that the British system lacked a constitution, but its unwritten nature and the English conception of its place in the political order was vastly different than the one that evolved in the American states.

In American thought, constitutions remained above governments. They limited the action of every governmental branch, and political systems were subject to words of their constitutions. In short, constitutions stood as the supreme law of the land, and the entire system of government flowed out of them.

The Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution captures the essence of American constitutional thought.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” [Emphasis added]

In the English conception, the constitution was not a superior law set above the government. In a sense it was the government. The actions of Parliament, the courts and the King formed the substance of the constitution and were in no way limited by it.

In the British system, the people were not sovereign – Parliament was. In essence, the government itself enjoyed supremacy. As historian Gordon S. Wood put it in the Creation of the American Republicany limits on Parliament were strictly theoretical – even moral and natural law restrictions. Constitutional and legal limits only bound lawmakers as far as lawmakers were willing to be bound.

For the Englishman, there was no distinction between the “constitution or frame of government” and the “system of laws.” They were the same. Every act of Parliament was, in essence, part of the constitution. Wood quotes Blackstone to make this point.

“The English constitution therefore could not be any sort of fundamental law. Most eighteenth-century writers…could not conceive of the constitution as anything anterior and superior to the government and ordinary law, but rather regarded itself, as ‘that assemblage of laws, customs and institutions which form the general system; according to which the several powers of the state are distributed, and their respective rights are secured to the different members of the community.’ The English constitution was not, as the Americans eventually came to see with condescension, committed to parchment.” [Emphasis original]

Wood makes the implications of this system crystal clear, writing, “All law customary and statutory was thus constitutional.”

In a nutshell, the 18th century British system the Americans went to war to free themselves from rested on a living, breathing constitution. The government itself defined and enforced whatever limits it might have. Essentially, it was unlimited in power and authority.

As American political thought evolved, the English systems became absurd. Political power was conceived as limited, first by principle, and second by the will of the people as expressed through written constitutions.

The founding generation believed equity – justice according to natural law or right – bound and limited all political power. Government served a limited purpose, as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights,” life, liberty and property. It followed that the people establishing government retained the right and authority to maintain it within those limits. Government was not supreme; it was merely an agent of the people. Written constitutions served a limiting purpose. They provide the “political bible” Paine referred to, specifically circumscribing the scope of governmental power. As Paine put it:

A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power without a right.”

Within this philosophical framework, a sovereign government institution such as Parliament is fundamentally tyrannical.

Even a casual look at American governance today reveals a system having much more in common with the 18th century British model than the one the founding generation forged nearly 250 years ago. America operates under a “living breathing” constitution with the U.S. Supreme Court taking on the role of sovereign.

In 1776, the British Parliament acted with absolute sovereign authority. Today, the federal government rules with that same kind of unlimited power. The federal government determines the extent of its own authority through the Supreme Court. Any limits on Congress or the president are merely theoretical, constrained only by the whims of five out of nine politically connected lawyers. Every opinion of the Supreme Court becomes “part of the fabric of the Constitution.”

For all practical purposes, the federal government today operates without any limits at all. Everything the federal government does and approves is considered “constitutional.”

Even though the founders committed the U.S. Constitution to parchment, judges, politicians and academics have morphed the meaning of words and changed the character of the “supreme law of the land” into something that the framers and ratifiers would scarcely recognize.

Americans won the Revolution, but they squandered the fruits of victory in a quest for government solutions to every problem. Instead of a limited government committed to protecting basic rights – life, liberty and property – we have an institution that attempts to control every aspect of our lives.

We have become what our forefathers sought to destroy.

Mike Maharrey, Tenth Amendment Center

 

If You Still Love Freedom, Raise Your Hand

Major Poll Has Great News For Trump” [Daily Wire story]

A new poll has some astonishing news for those who keep seeing President Trump losing in polls in head-to-head competition with the leading Democratic Party presidential candidates Democrats: All three leading Democratic candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — have lower favorability ratings than President Trump.

It makes sense, at least if there are still Americans who love freedom.

The Democratic Party has become decisively, openly and unflinchingly ANTI-freedom. They are now — officially and by the open admission of each of their candidates — in favor of repealing the Bill of Rights, including the First and Second Amendments. They oppose borders. They openly celebrate terrorist members of Congress. They tolerate — and in some cases endorse — openly violent little savages (Antifa) who throw violent and dangerous temper tantrums in the streets, often with no opposition by the police in Democratically-run cities, and then go home to their parents’ basements.

Democrats and leftists hate people, they hate liberty, they loathe freedom of association, and they won’t even hear about free markets. They are all about unlimited taxation, unlimited wealth redistribution. You don’t support such ideas when you love humanity and the potential for human greatness and achievement. You only support socialism when you’re a sour old parasite, embittered by envy and other psychological neuroses.

It’s no longer a stretch to call them Communists. The myth of “democratic socialism” is a laugh. If you gain the consent (likely through voter fraud) of 50.5 percent of the population to murder 49.5 percent of the population, this doesn’t make murder right. Nor is it right with respect to enslavement of 49.5 percent of the population, who will be forced to work for and pay the way of those whom these tyrannical socialists manage to get into their coalition.

No matter what President Trump’s actual or perceived weaknesses, the loathing and contempt that Democrats so openly express toward freedom, liberty and the U.S. Constitution can only go so far. President Trump naturally benefits.

Keep in mind that President Trump has NO support from the media, NO support in public schools or universities, NO support in the influential technology industry, NO support in the entertainment or sports culture that most voters pay attention to … he has almost no support anywhere, except among people who still love the freedom we have left. It’s as simple as that.

When you spit on people’s freedom, you’re spitting on people’s right to exist. You can do it in the name of “I love you” or “I care about you”, but it’s still spitting. Mabye there ARE enough Americans left who at least sense the contradiction here. A lot of them have been emotionally, physically and sexually abused or tormented by their own families. Maybe they can recognize the same thing in their politicians. “Oh, I’m not hurting you. I love you. I am here to take care of you”. Beyond creepy.

Here’s hoping the poll is right, and that it holds.

—-Dr. Michael J. Hurd, Daily Dose of Reason

Cut Leftists and Democrats No Slack

“Public Enemies List: Trump supporters face boycotts, bullying amid calls to be named and shamed” [Fox News headline]

“They want to cost people their livelihoods just because you don’t agree with them politically,” Sam DeMarco, Allegheny County councilman and chairman of the county’s Republican Party, told the local CBS affiliate. “It’s not just absurd, but I believe it’s dangerous.”

DeMarco continued, “People who they just don’t agree with, they want to take and punish. I absolutely believe this is a fascist behavior, and I totally reject it.”

This is real.

Anyone who’s a Trump supporter knows that opponents of the President feel justified in expressing any feeling they wish against opponents. Reason and persuasion are not their methods. Today’s leftists/Democrats are basically of the Antifa mentality: Destroy by any means necessary. Antifa does it physically and through violence. Most opponents of President Trump seek to do it through sneering, intimidation, slander and threats.

Once upon a time, American leftists presumably thought they had reason, facts and logic on their side. They didn’t resort to the level of attack and slander they use now. Many of them didn’t use any. They may have been wrong, but most of them were not evil. They were naive and uninformed enough to believe that socialist “utopias” in places like Cuba and the Soviet Union were genuinely the way of the future.

Today, American leftists obviously don’t believe they have reason, facts and logic on their side. So they resort to the only thing that’s left: Force. Force can take many forms. The obvious form is violence. However, threats, lies and intimidation are an equally potent form of manipulation.

What’s most revealing about Antifa — the terrorist spokespersons of today’s American left — are not their tactics of violence and intimidation against ordinary Trump supporters. What’s most revealing is the total silence and lack of opposition from the Democrats and leftists we now may assume they represent.

Ultimately, the liars and the terrorists are at war with reality. Their methods betray their real insecurity. It doesn’t mean they cannot and will not do a lot of damage along the way. But in the long run, they cannot win, because the destructive, nihilistic nature of statism and socialism cannot create anything. All they have ever done is destroy.

Leftists know it. Today’s leftists are neither innocent nor ignorant. I cut them no slack. And it’s why they continue to intimidate. My advice to Trump supporters or anyone else who still loves freedom? Fight the leftists with everything you’ve got. Buy weapons of self-protection.

The aftermath of the next election — however it goes — will not be pretty. We have to face reality. Arm yourself with good intellectual arguments — not because leftists will ever listen, but so you’ll know them and feel confident in your right to live as a free man or woman. Start with Ayn Rand. Note that her ideas enrage the worst of the leftists, more than those of any other thinker. When you read her works, you’ll understand exactly why.

And most of all: See leftists as the pathetic, weak people they are. Because every time they open their mouths to lie, scream, cry, attack or threaten, they have told you all you need to know. They have no truth or logic on their side. All they have is hatred of Trump — and hatred of YOU. Hate is what animates and motivates them.

It will ultimately get them nowhere.

—by Dr. Michael J. Hurd, Daily Dose of Reason

Labor is Meaningless without the MIND

Here it is, Labor Day weekend 2019. Most take it for granted that without the labor movement, we would all be slaves working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s naive and ignorant to assume such a thing. Think about it. What makes life easier, both in and out of the workplace? Technology and innovation. Does government pass laws commanding innovation? Did the labor movement cajole and legislate improved standards of human living into existence? Or did those things come about because (1) certain people choose to think/invent and (2) the profit motive in the free market makes it worthwhile for people to do so?

Take child labor laws. We’re led to believe that without child labor laws, young children would still be working in factories and retail stores today, even if all our other economic and technological expansion had occurred. Absurd! Does it occur to anyone that people who made their children labor did so only because it was required for the whole family to survive? And that once the standard of living improved enough, and once capitalism had made the economy grow enough, that no reasonable parent would want his 10-year-old in the work force? Government child labor laws get the credit for what only a free, innovative and expanding marketplace could ever have done. Ditto for other labor laws.

Are people really ignorant and naive enough to assume that parents in 1850 or 1880 wanted their little children to work any more than parents in 2019? And that without an order from the government, such activity would never have stopped?

I don’t like to celebrate “Labor Day” because it’s really just a way to celebrate socialism-lite and the labor movement. But by celebrating the coercion of the labor movement, you’re really saying it’s a good thing for government to intervene in the economy. Unfortunately, anything arguably “good” done by the government would have happened anyway, and anything else the government does only hampers, stifles or decimates economic growth.

If it’s workers and ordinary people you really care about, then it’s free markets and capitalism you ought to celebrate. Why? Because these are the only things that lead to innovation, economic growth and improvement in the standard of living for all. Even charity thrives much better under capitalism. Contrast the situation in Venezuela with any semi-free market country and you’ll see what I mean. Capitalism leads to human happiness. The socialism of the labor movement, in all its forms, leads to stagnation, misery and ultimately despair.

The deeper issue is that labor does not lead to economic growth. Human thinking does. Thinking gives rise to action and it’s the only thing that makes activity rational, purposeful and productive. Mindless action is random mental illness. Purposeful, accountable and productive labor is only made possible by the free, innovative markets of capitalism. It’s the precise opposite of what we’re taught, but it’s true.

It’s human thought and innovation by the business geniuses of the world who give people engaged in labor something to do. It’s true that labor is very important. But it will never be as important as the thought that gives rise to it.

We shouldn’t celebrate Labor Day. We should celebrate Human Mind Day. And the only system that fosters the development of the human mind — through science and free enterprise — is freedom, which includes both economic and political liberty. No matter how much we’re told otherwise, it will always be the case.

Michael J. Hurd