Prologue to Independence

I’ve been reading HW Brands’ biography of Benjamin Franklin, The First American.  As Brands points out, up to 1774, Benjamin Franklin had been a loyal subject of the Crown and had worked (as a political agent for several of the colonies) to smooth over transatlantic disagreements.  But in January 1774 Franklin was hauled before Britain’s solicitor general, Alexander Wedderburn, to answer questions about rebellious activities in the colonies, including the recent Boston Tea Party.  Apparently, for the sake of scoring political points, Wedderburn simply used the occasion to hurl insults and invective against Franklin. 

The event was decisive, says Brands, because it helped Franklin answer a question that he and his compatriots had been asking for years: “Who were they?  They must be Americans, for they could not be Britons. . . . Once the most loyal of Britons, [Franklin] became the most radical of Americans.”

With America’s elites plumping for national health care, a centralized economy, and a weak defense, it would appear that too many of us are suffering from the old pre-1774 identity crisis.  Come, come.  Ben Franklin sorted this out long ago.  We are neither Britons, nor Europeans.  Let us continue to chart our own course or American will become Europe.  Greece, to be exact.

  1. Valin

    I recall reading that one of the things that opened Ben’s eyes was a trip to Ireland.

  2. Sisyphus
    Valin: I recall reading that one of the things that opened Ben’s eyes was a trip to Ireland.

    That rings true. Lord North’s brutal suppression of Ireland was the resume stuffer that gave him the credibility to try the same on the colonists. An ancestor of mine showed up from Ireland to the Alexandria docks in 1774 to work by prior arrangement as a tradesman for a Mr. Washington. What goes around, comes around.

  3. Keith Rice

    Help me out with this Adam.

    In a civics course a few years back, I argued that expanded democracy inevitably collapses when the voting population learns they can vote themselves the property (wealth) of others. The professor had heard the argument before and simply scoffed.

    Most people are only aware of the first section of the Declaration of Independence, specifically this section:

    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 …

    Now I’m not nearly as intelligent or educated as Jefferson, but it seems evident to me that all men are not created equal, what could he possibly mean?

    A further reading of the Declaration shows that the FF’s were largely addressing George III.  Thus it seems that “all men are equal” means that no man has the right to lay claim to rulership over others based on Divine Right … not some idealistic universal egalitarianism … that would be foolish.

  4. Chris Johnson

    I’ll take that one, Highlama.

    What it says is that all men are created equally.  Later practice and diligence is what may develop fools, even amongst kings.

    The principle is one of equal opportunity, not equal outcome.

  5. Keith Rice

    I realize I’ve transgressed on two fairly sacred cows of American culture. We don’t question democracy and we don’t question the notion of equality.

    CJRun;

    Yes I’ve considered that, but even infants and children aren’t equal, and not just due to family circumstance.

    There are those born with extraordinary gifts that can be nurtured into doing great things, there are those born with extreme limitations for whom the achievement of great things is far more limited, possible perhaps, just more limited.

    When you add the family circumstances, the disparity of potential from birth becomes even more significant. All men created equal? I don’t see how that’s either possible or even  desired in the sense we’ve come to interpret it.

  6. Adam Freedman
    C

    I think CJ’s on the right track. The point, I think, is that all men are created equal in the sense that follows immediately, ie, un the sense that they are all endowed with the same natural rights. Not that everyone has the same abilities.

  7. Keith Rice
    Adam Freedman: The point, I think, is that all men are created equal in the sense that follows immediately, ie, un the sense that they are all endowed with the same natural rights.

    Yet the Founding Fathers did not attempt to forge universal suffrage – voting rights were exclusive, apparently NOT a natural right. And as the years pass we find increasing attempts to create “equality” where it doesn’t exist in reality (Title IX being a classic example).  With the understanding of equality as “endowed with the same natural rights”, the only direction democracy can go is downhill. People will tend to use their voting power to expand the definition of “natural rights” just as long as they are able.

    The Founding Fathers knew this and were not addressing this notion to the masses, but to the King on behalf of the myriad men engaged in creating a new nation.

  8. Devereaux

    ?Perhaps also that they have the same WORTH. Just because you are more capable doesn’t mean you are of greater worth. That was one of the things Tocqueville noted in his travels I believe, that made American different..

  9. Valin
    Highlama: I realize I’ve transgressed on two fairly sacred cows of American culture. We don’t question democracy and we don’t question the notion of equality.

     13 hours ago

    This may sound like I’m nit picking, but America is not a Democracy (thank goodness).

    Proof That America is a Republic NOT A Democracy !

    The Founders and Framers had read their history (to bad more people today don’t) and knew what a democracy meant

  10. Stephen Bishop

    Yes Highlama I have to agree and it was their justification for being able to write to Geo III and tell him his time was up.

    Highlama: 

    Going back to my original issue, regarding “all men are created equal”, this supports my view that Jefferson and Franklin we more likely addressing King George III and his ostensible Divine Right of rulership rather than a more general social statement. · 6 minutes ago

  11. Stephen Bishop

    I can guess what you are implying regarding the difference but could you enlarge on it.

    Valin

    This may sound like I’m nit picking, but America is not a Democracy (thank goodness).

    Proof That America is a Republic NOT A Democracy !

    The Founders and Framers had read their history (to bad more people today don’t) and knew what a democracy meant · 2 hours ago

  12. Stephen Bishop

    Valin.

    How about this?

    Democracy: 

    • Involves the government ruling and making laws for the “greater good” of all people, they may abolish personal rights in doing so.

    • Democracy is government by and for the people.
    • Citizens are expected to participate more actively in a democracy. 

    Republic: 

    • Involves the government using and abiding by the constitution heavily. Personal rights are respected and cannot be taken away. 

    • Republics are the common and “standard” type of governments found today, not democracies.
    The difference between Democracy and Republic: Democracy and Republic are two forms of government which are distinguished by their treatment of the Minority, and the Individual, by the Majority. 
    • In a Democracy, the Majority has unlimited power over the Minority. This system of government does not provide a legal safeguard of the rights of the Individual and the Minority. It has been referred to as “Majority over Man”.

    • In a Republic, the Majority is Limited and constrained by a written Constitution which protects the rights of the Individual and the Minority. The purpose of a Republic form of government is to control the Majority.

    • The United States of America is founded as a Republic under the Constitution.
  13. Keith Rice

    Stephen:

    “In a Democracy, the Majority has unlimited power over the Minority. This system of government does not provide a legal safeguard of the rights of the Individual and the Minority. It has been referred to as ‘Majority over Man’.”

    I had a Leftist econ. prof. that referred to the “tyranny of the masses” yet his defense of a national healthcare system was based on some vague “social contract” – probably Marxism.  At the time it didn’t occur to me to raise the point that forcing a minority to pay for services used by the majority is tyranny of the masses.

  14. Keith Rice

    Thank you Valin, I guess I’m noticing the drift toward democracy and the consequences thereof. One of the observations of the John Birch Society video you linked to is that democracies are short lived … understandably.

    Going back to my original issue, regarding “all men are created equal”, this supports my view that Jefferson and Franklin we more likely addressing King George III and his ostensible Divine Right of rulership rather than a more general social statement.

  15. Keith Rice

    Stephen;

    I suspect there is no “pure and simple” in life. The John Birch society video points out that even monarchs have to share power.

    A better measure might be the direction of a nation, and our direction is increasingly toward democracy.

    Try this: Sweden is the most democratic nation

  16. Stephen Bishop

    Highlama

    Thanks for that. I’m raking in my brain to think of a country which is a democracy pure and simple. There are republics and there are constitutional-monarchies but I can’t think of a pure and simple democracy. Does anyone know of one?

  17. Stephen Bishop

    I’m a reader of The Economist too but I do find they are becoming very statist. I suspect their value system for evaluating the most democratic country works along the lines of, did the people vote for the state to do this or that, then that is democracy in action.

    Highlama: Stephen;

    I suspect there is no “pure and simple” in life. The John Birch society video points out that even monarchs have to share power.

    A better measure might be the direction of a nation, and our direction is increasingly toward democracy.

    Try this: Sweden is the most democratic nation · Jul 6 at 1:18pm