Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Repealing the Stamp Act

Stamp Act CongressWhen the American colonists protested the Stamp Act in 1765, some did turn to violence over it, but the real political leaders at the time made use of the legal means available to them, offering a petition for a redress of their grievances.

In a show of colonial unity that was scarce for the day, since each colony usually considered itself more tied to the Mother Country than the other colonies, they came together in a congress in Philadelphia and hammered out what we now call the Stamp Act Resolutions.

Those resolutions stated,

  • The colonies were devoted to the British government and considered it the best in the world;
  • The rights of the colonists were the same as the rights of all Englishmen;
  • Taxes should be imposed only by the consent of the people being taxed, through their own representatives;
  • Trial by jury is an inherent and valuable right that should not be curtailed;
  • The Stamp Act has a tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonies;
  • It ought to be repealed.

If you read this document, you can’t help but come away impressed with the respect and deference shown to the British authorities, particularly the king. This is no call for revolution; it was an appeal they could lawfully forward to the crown.

As it turned out, threats of a boycott of British goods led to a demand from merchants in Britain to repeal the act. Members of Parliament, listening to their own constituencies—not to the reasonable request of the Stamp Act Congress—decided it was in the best interest of their retention of a seat in that legislative body to do what their constituents wanted.

In America, when news of the repeal was announced, there was rejoicing everywhere. Banquets were arranged and toasts offered in honor of the king and his wise government.

Stamp Act Repeal Satire

This contemporary cartoon depicts a funeral procession as the Stamp Act was now dead and on its way to be buried once and for all.

The colonists thought the problem was behind them, but at the same time as that act was repealed, Parliament passed another one called the Declaratory Act. There was no tax associated with it, but the declaration contained within it revealed the great divide in viewpoint on the Parliament’s authority. Here are the exact words of this act:

Parliament has “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever. . . .
That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the Parliament of Great Britain to make laws and statutes as aforesaid is denied, or drawn into question, are, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.”

In other words, the colonies had no reason to rejoice. On the matter of principle, the Parliament disagreed with the right of the colonies to tax themselves, and it didn’t care that no colony had a representative in Parliament. In effect, this act said, “We can do what we want, and your only recourse is to obey.”

The problem was not solved at all. Another attempt to tax the colonies came the very next year. That will be the subject of my next installment of American history from a Biblical perspective.

On Flags, Confederate & American

On the Confederate flag flap, I’m going to probably confound some people with my comments. I am in complete agreement with removing the flag wherever it is an official symbol of a state government. At the same time, I’m profoundly concerned about the precedent this will set as the more radical portion of our political class attempts to extend their reach into other areas. Those views may sound contradictory initially, but if you stay with me, you’ll understand why I take the position I do.

I must deal first with the history and the constitutional issues. When the Southern states seceded from the Union, they did so on the basis of believing that the nation was merely a compact agreed upon by the states, and that any state was free to leave at any time for whatever reason.

That view, while earnestly held by Southerners at the time, is not accurate historically. The switch from the Articles of Confederation—which was in the nature of a treaty-like compact—to the Constitution was also a switch in the status of the nation-state relationship.

ConstitutionThe Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” not “We the States.” In fact, that is one big reason why Patrick Henry and other opponents of ratification argued against its adoption. They realized it was a change in status. State governments did not create this nation; rather, state conventions called particularly for the purpose of considering ratification made that decision.

As Lincoln observed later, the only way for a state to secede constitutionally was to once again become part of a convention that then sent out to the states a proposal for a state or states to withdraw from the Union. If ratified by conventions of the people in the various states, then they could leave peacefully.

That’s not what the Southern states did. They simply declared they were out.

As for the reasons for secession, those can be found very easily in the written declarations made by a number of those states. If you read them carefully, you will find that the overwhelming reason was concern over whether the federal government would end slavery.

What about states’ rights? Wasn’t that the key issue? Again, if you read those declarations, you will see that states’ rights was invoked for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect and propagate slavery.

Alexander StephensFurther proof is found in the famous/infamous “Cornerstone” speech by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, in which he says the Founders were wrong about one major point: the equality of the races. Stephens makes it clear in this speech that the Confederacy was founded on a different idea: the inferiority of Africans, their God-given place in society as slaves, and the superiority of the white race.

Again, if you doubt this, check it out for yourself.

Slavery, then, is at the root of the secession and the setting up of the Confederate government.

The Southerners also used the example of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as the precedent for what they were doing. However, there are huge differences in the historical context of that document and what was transpiring in America in 1860-1861.

If the South could prove they were denied basic rights, as the colonies explained in 1776, no problem. However, let’s consider the following questions:

  • First, did the Southern states lose representation in Congress? Answer: not at all. In fact, if they had not seceded, they still would have had a majority in the Congress. The only thing going against them was a Republican president, but he could not rule arbitrarily without Congress.
  • Second, did the Southern states lose self-government within their own states? Again, not at all. They maintained their own legislatures and could make their own laws.
  • Third, was any federal law passed that interfered with slavery in the states? Hardly. The entire history of the 1850s—from the Kansas-Nebraska Act to the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court—had favored the Southern view.
  • Fourth, did federal armed forces invade any state? What armed forces? The federal government had very little in the way of an armed force. The small contingent at Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor was no threat. By the way, that fort had been ceded to the federal government by South Carolina. To suddenly declare that it was the state’s fort was more than dubious.

Therefore, I see no constitutional basis for the secession. I view it as a revolt against the legitimate authority of the United States government, one that Lincoln, as president, had every right to put down.

Consequently, I have no love for a symbol of a government that illegitimately rebelled against proper authority. Remove the flag, by all means.

Stars & StripesYet there are those concerns I mentioned at the beginning. Where will this lead? Already we are hearing voices saying all monuments from that era should be destroyed. One voice even questioned whether the Jefferson Memorial should be torn down. Another has concluded that the American flag itself should be shunned because America is the land of the “oppressor.”

That conveniently ignores that human societies throughout history have had slavery and that we, as a counterpoint to all that history, dared to challenge it—in a government symbolized by the Stars and Stripes. Thousands died en route to outlawing slavery. The government system that was established also eventually led to the elimination of segregation, that odious holdover from slavery days.

America is not the oppressor the radical Left seeks to portray. It is a nation that has had to struggle with the missteps and sins of the past and has overcome them (despite silly charges today of “white privilege” and “microaggressions”).

It is a nation that was born in the hope of justice for all, and which has achieved it to a greater degree than most others. The Left has an insatiable desire to destroy the good that has come down to us from the Founders, and it has an agenda to wipe out all trace of our heritage, based as it was on Biblical concepts of law and a Biblical view of morality.

So, yes, I applaud efforts to relegate the Confederate flag to museums, but not for the reasons some do. The South today is not overwhelmingly racist. Southerners who are nostalgic about their heritage are not full of hate. I see far more hatred and intolerance emanating from the Left than from any other source.

Lewis, Learning, & War (Part One)

C. S. Lewis with BookI believe I’ve read most of C. S. Lewis’s essays sometime during my life, but some of them I read so long ago I have forgotten the pearls within. I recently re-read his “Learning in War-Time” reflections as Britain was engaged in WWII and was reminded why others have commented on it so often.

The big question he asks and attempts to answer is why should people continue to be interested in what are considered the normal, routine matters of life when the whole fate of Europe may lie in the balance of the outcome of the war. Why focus on learning, philosophy, history, and similar pursuits when others are sacrificing their lives on the battlefield? “Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?” he asks.

His response undoubtedly shocked some people when he stated, “The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” Lewis then adds a large dose of common sense:

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun.

He doubles down on that premise as he continues:

We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.

As a historian, I can vouch for the accuracy of Lewis’s statement. I’m aware of periods in American history that are usually considered peaceful, but if examined in greater depth, one finds turmoil always bubbling under the surface, if not openly. Lewis further notes,

C. S. Lewis 12Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.

It is no different for the Christian, Lewis concludes:

An appetite for these things exists in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.

I like this splash of reality from Lewis. It’s worth contemplating today.

Patrick Henry & the Stamp Act

Why did the Stamp Act, passed by the British government in 1765 and scheduled to go into effect the next year, raise such a furor in the American colonies? What was different about this act and how did they respond to it? As we continue our examination of American history, I will begin to tackle that question today.

Stamp ActThe colonists considered this act poisonous to their liberties. Why?

The act itself was a tax on all legal documents, newspapers, playing cards, and dice. That, in itself, was bad enough because the tax had to be paid in specie—coins—which was in short supply in the colonies. A lot of commerce was conducted via barter.

Another issue was that enforcement of the act was placed in the hands of special admiralty courts that would have no juries of their peers. This was considered a high-handed action at odds with their rights as British citizens.

But the greatest problem was that this tax had been mandated by Parliament, a novelty in British taxation of the colonies. While the colonists acknowledged the right of Parliament to legislate for the empire overall in matters of international trade, they had their own legislatures to tax them directly. Without any representation in Parliament, they saw this tax as arbitrary, something imposed upon them without their consent, which again was contrary to their rights as citizens of the empire.

Patrick HenryThe first salvo against the Stamp Act came from Virginia, spurred on by a new member of its House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry.

Henry, by the force of his arguments, persuaded a reluctant House to pass a number of resolutions stating opposition to the act. In summary, here is what those resolutions declared:

Colonists have always enjoyed the same liberties as all citizens of the British Empire, as if they were living in Britain itself;

All taxation must be by the people’s own representatives to ensure against burdensome taxes;

Britain has always recognized this right of local lawmaking and taxation.

The final resolution is best put in Henry’s own words:

Resolved, therefore that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.

Patrick Henry's Stamp Act SpeechWhile not fully documented, we are told from some sources that Henry gave a rousing speech at the time that almost led to his censure. He is said to have proclaimed,

Caesar had . . . his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third . . .

At this point, there were cries from some of the members that Henry was on the verge of treason because they all knew where he was going with this statement. Caesar had been assassinated in the Roman Senate and Charles I had been beheaded. Henry, reading his audience, finished his statement with the simple warning, “And George the Third may profit by their example.”

After these resolutions passed, Henry wrote down his innermost feelings about the importance of taking this stand:

Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere, practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

Those words are still applicable today.

James Otis: The First Voice of Resistance

James OtisMost people have never heard of James Otis and the part he played in American history, but he could easily have the title of First Leader of Resistance to the British Tyranny. Here are the facts.

The Great Constitutional Debate Period prior to the American Revolution ranged from 1761-1776. It was a unique period in history, very unlike most others, when debate over the proper role of government and the basic rights of the people came to the forefront. Usually, people just let their emotions take over and rise up against what they believe to be an oppressor—witness both the French and the Russian revolutions.

Not so in the American colonies. Once Britain started violating its own heritage and laws, voices were heard calling the nation back to its roots. Unfortunately, those voices were ignored during this era.

In 1761, Writs of Assistance came into being that allowed the government of Massachusetts to enter into any private citizen’s home and search for whatever the government sought, without any advance notice, and no probable cause or reason had to be given for the search. These were, in effect, general search warrants that went counter to the whole history of British liberty.

Otis, a lawyer, took up the cause of the merchants who were protesting these writs. In a five-hour oration before the Massachusetts Superior Court, Otis marshaled an immense and rich history of British legal precedents in making his case that these writs needed to be eliminated. The Court denied his appeal, but in the words of John Adams, who was there that day to witness Otis’s argument, “Then and there was the first scene of the first act of the opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.”

James Otis Protesting

Some have seen this oration by Otis as the inspiration for the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches.

Though Otis officially lost his case, he won the title of patriot. He was elected in May 1761 to the Massachusetts General Court, and in 1766, Speaker of that same body, only to have his new position vetoed by the royal governor.

Otis continued to support the colonies in their struggle for equality with Great Britain in his The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved of 1764 and in opposition of the Sugar Act. He was also present at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, where delegates cited the recently passed Stamp Act in their further fight against taxation without representation. Though Otis never suggested a full-scale revolution, he continued to fight against the inequitable British government with more pamphlets: A Vindication of the British Colonies and Considerations on Behalf of the British Colonies.

Why do more people not know about Otis? His role steadily diminished as his mental abilities did the same. It’s not known for sure what malady he suffered from, but he developed confusion of thought over time, not helped at all by a blow on the head he received in 1769 from a commissioner of customs.

As he went in and out of lucidity in his waning years, he reportedly said to his sister, Mercy Otis Warren—who incidentally wrote a history of the American Revolution—“My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity that it will be by a flash of lightning.”

In May 1783, Otis was standing in the doorway of friend’s home during a storm. He was struck by lightning and died instantly. Was this simply a remarkable coincidence or an instance of God’s mercy to one who had suffered so long? You can make your own judgment.

James Otis, though, should be remembered and honored for his strong stand on behalf of the rule of law. We need more individuals like him today.

God’s Law & Man’s Law

William BlackstoneSir William Blackstone wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England, volumes published from 1765-1769. They became the standard for understanding how English laws were to be applied. The timing of these volumes was opportune for the American colonists, as they also looked to Blackstone for their basis in law.

The preface, or introduction, to these volumes lays out the foundational beliefs that were supposed to govern English laws. They were as follows:

  • Blackstone's CommentariesThe Law of Nature=The Will of God;
  • Man’s reason is given to discover
    the Law of Nature;
  • Happiness is based only on observing God’s
    laws; there is no true happiness outside of His laws;
  • God’s law is higher than man’s law;
  • Corrupt reason needs Revealed Law (Scripture) to understand God and His ways;
  • Revealed law is a fuller and more accurate explanation of the Law of Nature;
  • All human laws must rest upon the Law of Nature and Revealed Law.

Notice how different this is from how we explain law today. How many legislatures and judges take into account the necessity of ensuring that human laws are in accordance with God’s law? We not only ignore what God has said, but we don’t even follow our own written cornerstone of law—the Constitution.

The American colonists, as they approached the dispute with Britain’s government, took Blackstone seriously. All of their arguments were based on the twin foundations of God’s law and the human laws that had been written in agreement with God’s law.

Alliance Defending FreedomOne organization in America today, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has set up a Blackstone Fellowship Program for law students who seek to adhere to this understanding of law. In the vast field of all those innumerable law schools that have no fidelity to this original concept of law, this program helps place law students in internships with cooperating lawyers who seek to restore the idea that God’s law comes first, and that all human laws must be in accord with His.

This approach is now in the minority, but there are scattered voices continuing to promote a more Biblical orientation in law. Blackstone is a good place to start in grasping why the American colonies took a stand at that time in our history.

Locke, Montesquieu, & the Rights of Englishmen

The American colonists, as they moved toward independence, relied upon the writings of political philosophers of their era to help support their arguments against the British government’s intrusion upon the rights of Englishmen.

John LockeOne of those writers was John Locke, whose Second Treatise of Civil Government provided a bedrock explanation for why they could make their argument. Published in 1690, right after the expulsion of James II and the assertion of parliamentary prominence over the king, Locke laid out the following tenets:

  • There is no Scriptural support for divine right of kings; all men are equal before God;
  • The Law of Nature obliges everyone; we are all subject to it;
  • Reason and revelation confirm each other; both our God-given ability to think and the Bible are consistent with one another in our understanding of the world;
  • Man’s selfishness makes rule in a state of nature impossible; therefore, governments are established to protect individuals’ rights;
  • Whenever a government violates its obligation to protect those rights, people are justified in opposing such a government.

MontesquieuLocke was English, and the colonists normally looked to their own countrymen for the rationale to protest government overreach. However, they could also appreciate solid reasoning from elsewhere, even from France, where the philosopher Montesquieu wrote his treatise, The Spirit of Laws. Montesquieu favored the English system of government over what he saw in his native land. In his book, he formulated these concepts:

  • God must be recognized as the Creator, Preserver, and ultimate Lawmaker;
  • To avoid tyranny, government should be divided among three branches—the executive, the legislative, and the judicial;
  • Most government should take place close to the people at the local level and should involve representation;
  • A republic, which guarantees rights to the minority, is superior to a pure democracy, where majority rule can become a tyranny itself.

There was a lot of wisdom in what these two philosophers of government offered, and the educated among the colonists—both formally and informally—took comfort in knowing they had such support for their position.

They also had legal support. There was an English jurist of the Common Law who laid out the foundations for how government should operate. He will be the subject of my next installment on American history in light of Biblical principles.