October 24, 2008

Voter Education for Liberals Volume Vb

When we last left off on the discussions on the role of Government the American Colonies and Britain had just defeated France in the Seven Years War. From this point on when I use the term American Colonies I am referring to the colonies that would make up the United States, not those of Canada.

As we saw in the previous post, the war had depleted the Treasury of Britain. Without getting bogged down into details, Parliament passed a series of Acts that passed the cost of the War onto the colonies. These are the famous Intolerable Acts, the Stamp Act, The Tea Act etc. The colonists considered themselves citizens of Great Britain. British citizens living in England or Scotland were represented in Parliament and the House of Lords. The boroughs voted the Representative for the House of Commons. Englishmen living in America id not vote for a representative to Parliament. Their local taxing laws were passed by their own representative Colonial Governments.

These new taxes and fees were a huge issue for the Colonists. Parliament was surprised at the outrage. Britain had sent troops to defend the Colonies from the French and it was only right they should pay for this protection. The colonists took a different view, either they were full citizens with the right to representation or they were not. The question was two-fold. Should they pay the taxes and did Parliament have the right to tax them? Tax protests ensued. The tax collectors found their houses burnt and their property destroyed. The Governors clamped down and ultimately the King sent in the army to quell the protest and keep the peace.

This only made things worse, particularly in Boston and New England. Troops were quartered in private citizen's houses. The local legislature was shut down, martial law was instituted. Riots ensued and the citizens began to arm themselves for protection against an increasingly tyrannical government. The Army moved to capture some of the most outspoken protesters and to capture a reported cache of arms at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. They were met by the local militia and the Revolution was on.

Now this did not all happen in a political vacuum. Representatives from the various states (colonies) had been meeting to plead their case to the King and Parliament begining with the Stamp Act. Letters, petitions and writs were sent with frequency from the political representatives of the Colonies. Ben Franklin was hired as a Representative of the Colonies (our first lobbyist). The First and Second Continental Congress' did all the could to stave off the Rebellion. After the events in Boston and the Battle of Breed's Hill(Bunker Hill) it was clear the nation was at war with Britain. Henry Lee motioned that the Colonies should declare themselves in a state of Rebellion and John Adams seconded the motion (a Declaration of War). A committee was established to write the motion formally.

The task fell to Adams, Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The work was mostly done by Jefferson. Jefferson was a classically educated man of his times. he was well steeped in the philosophies of John Locke.

Jefferson and most of his contemporaries believed that men formed governments only to preserve a common self-interest. This was in direct opposition to the Divine Right of Kings espoused by, well Kings and Monarchs. He believed Government should only govern those issues commonly agreed upon such as defense and regulation of trade. The Founders believed a government derived its power from virtue; either religious or moral virtue to be specific. And finally, Jefferson believed that a government only gained its power through the consent of the governed. In other words, men formed a government because it was in their best interest. That government had to be righteous and Good (in a moral sense) and was only effective as long as it served the purpose of the governed (the reason it was created in the first place). Further, the founders believed that their Rights came not from Government or a King, but were natural. They believed all men were born free and that was their natural state.

So when Jefferson drafted his Declaration of Independence he thought it necessary to tell the world why the Colonies and various States were in a war for freedom. The Declaration begins with the idea that men have a natural right to dissolve their Government:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The Declaration then outlines Man's specific Rights:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Thus the seeds were sown. The Founders were in a State of Rebellion and they told the world why. The next step after gaining Independence was to establish their own form of Government that met the criteria outlined in the Declaration.

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