Written by Vladimir Moss



     The system of government of the United States, as incarnate in the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1787, is usually considered to be a product of English liberal ideas, particularly those of John Locke. This is broadly true; but it will be worth considering the influence of two other sources: the earlier, pre-Lockean English political tradition, and the traditions of the Native Indians, and in particular the Confederacy of Iroquois Five Nations.


     In the 1740s the Mohawk Chief Canassatego gave the following advice to Benjamin Franklin: “Our wise forefathers established union between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great weight and authority with our neighbouring nations. We are a powerful confederacy, and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire such strength and power. Therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.”

     G.K. Ballatorecomments: Arguably, federalism has been the United States’ foremost political contribution. The pattern of states within a nation held together not by clannishness or geography but by shared values mimics the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy. Since most of the colonies had more contact and trade with the Indians than they did with one another, the Iroquois preference for local government made sense.

     “The Iroquois Confederacy was the only living, breathing democracy the founders had witnessed when the time came to declare independence and, later, cobble together the Constitution when the Articles of Confederation were found wanting. Although Franklin and Jefferson were acquainted with the ideas of Locke and Rousseau, there were no current examples in Europe of democracy in action. In contrast, colonists imagined that the American Indians lived in a perfect state of nature and were somehow descended from the Ancient Romans. As early as 1580, Michel de Montaigne wrote admiringly of the natives of the New World in his essay, On Cannibals… Later, in the late 1600s, the first colonial historian of the Indians, Cadwallader Colden, wrote that without ‘Men of experience among the Five Nations to advise and direct them on all emergencies of importance’, the British colonies would be sunk. Colden even attributed French dominance in early colonial America to their ties with the Five Nations.


     “By the mid-1700s, this sense of respect and curiosity filtered down to the Founding Fathers, many of whom studied Colden’s work. During this time, Franklin, Conrad Weiser, Thomas Paine, William Johnson, James Madison and John Adams all visited the Iroquois for extended periods to study their government and organisation. The Indians’ proximity to the eastern colonies enabled these frequent visits. Adams even included a survey of Iroquois government in his Defence of the Constitution of the United States, published on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, in which he favourably compared the unicameral governing body of the United States to that of the Five Nations.

     “The colonists’ first attempt to organise as a cohesive state was at the Albany Conference in 1754, where representatives from each of the colonies attended, as well as many Iroquois Indians, including the Mohawk chief Canassatego. Franklin named the organising body the Great Council, after the Grand Council of the Iroquois. In the Iroquois tradition, the Grand Council does not interfere with local tribal matters. Each tribe has its own ‘constitution’ that governs the laws of their land, independent of the other tribes. In addition, they convene regularly with the other tribes to discuss matters that affect all of them, especially the decision to wage war. Otherwise, each tribe’s and each individual’s autonomy is recognised and respected as long as it does not hurt another. Franklin greatly admired this system of government and chastised the other colonists when they failed to cohere:

     “’It would be a very strange thing if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted for Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.

     The notion of personal freedom and liberty also descended from the Iroquois and, most notably, from the Mohawks, who had the most contact with the British colonists. Many colonists, in keeping with Montaigne, saw the Indian way of life as a ‘recapitulation of Eden’. When the founders tried to capture this in the laws of the New World, they aimed at describing a way of life akin to a state of nature as they observed in the Indians. Hence, Jefferson replaced the right of property that was safeguarded in European constitutions with the right to happiness.

     “While the Magna Carta also treated the question of inalienable rights (in a more limited way), the last thing Jefferson and other founders wanted was an imitation of the world from which they had escaped. They did not want to go back to the European way of life, but to form a new society that was neither civilised nor savage…”[1] 


     Let us now turn to the influence of English political ideas.

     On July 4, 1776, at the Second Continental Congress 56 delegates signed a Declaration of Independence, composed mainly by Thomas Jefferson, which began as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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 a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its power in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… 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.”

     There is nothing radically new in this Declaration, nothing as radically new as the “general will” of Rousseau (who died two years before). Thus Jacques Barzun writes: “No new Idea entailing a shift in forms of power – the mark of revolutions – was proclaimed. The 28 offences that King George was accused of had long been familiar in England. The language of the Declaration is that of protest against abuses of power, not of proposals for recasting the government on new principles.”[2]

     At the same time, as Tombs writes, “America’s flattering foundation myth [as contained in the Declaration] is itself of immense historic importance. It drew on Enlightenment ideas, particularly those of Locke and Montesquieu, to give a universal significance to the traditional rhetoric of ‘free-born Englishmen’, and so provided Europe with a new vista of optimism. We can see the difference if we compare the United States and Canada: the latter, however admirable, has never excited the world with the promise of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’…”[3]

     More precisely, the Declaration took the principles of the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, as formulated by Locke, and applied them more generally, thereby showing that Lockean liberalism was dangerously open-ended, tending to its own destruction. For it showed that if parliament placed limits on the king in the name of the people and natural law, there was no reason why limits should not also be placed on parliament in turn by other estates of the realm, even colonials, in the name of the same principles. Thus the American revolution showed, as Barbara Tuchman has put it, that “parliamentary supremacy”, no less than monarchy, “was vulnerable to riot, agitation and boycott…”[4]

     Moreover, in principle it authorized the process of rebellion could go on forever; for there were always people who did not feel they belonged to this people, who did not experience the “happiness” which the Declaration said was their “natural right”, and therefore felt the right to “institute a new government” that would “effect their safety and happiness” – which is precisely what happened when about 100,000 American Loyalists fled to Canada to escape persecution in the United States. [5]


     Another novelty of the Declaration was the idea that guaranteeing “the pursuit of happiness” is the primary purpose of governments and a right of the governed. Norman Stone writes: “’The pursuit of happiness’, in the foundation charter of the United States, has always struck foreigners as funny. That is a misunderstanding of the original, which was just a polite way of saying ‘money’.”[6]

     Indeed, when he was ambassador in Paris, Jefferson was asked why he had substituted “happiness” for the traditional Lockean emphasis on “property”. He replied that since the secure possession of property was an important condition of happiness, there was no real contradiction. However, this was the first time in history that “the pursuit of happiness” had been taken to be one of the purposes of the State, and the failure to achieve this end as a justification for revolution.

     “This was not, of course,” writes J.S. McClelland, “to say that it was government’s business to regulate the details of people’s lives to make sure that they were cheerful, but it did mean that a very exact sense emerged of government’s duty to provide those conditions in which rational men could pursue happiness, that is further their own interests, without being hindered unnecessarily either by government or by their fellow men. This was more radical than it sounds, because in eighteenth-century political thought it meant that government’s capacity to promote the happiness of its subjects, however negatively, was connected with the vital question of the legitimacy of government. No political theory ever invented, and no actual government since the Flood, had ever had as its proclaimed intention the idea of making men miserable. All governments more or less claim that they have their subjects’ happiness at heart, but most governments have not based their claims to be entitled to rule directly on their happiness-creating function. The reason why governments do not typically base their claim to rule on their capacity to increase happiness is obvious enough, because to do so would be to invite their subjects to judge whether their governments are competent or not. Indeed, it could be argued that most of the justifications for forms of rule which have been on offer since Plato are all careful to distinguish between questions about legitimacy and questions about happiness…”[7  

     But the greatest novelty of the Declaration – although, as we shall see, it was implicit in Locke’s political theory – was the idea of universal rights. Mark Almond writes: “The Declaration, approved by congress on 4 July 1776 and signed by its members on 2 August, was greeted with incredulity by the British. The British Gentleman’s Magazine for September, 1776 ridiculed the idea of equality: ‘We hold, they say, these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal. In what are they created equal? Is it in size, strength, understanding, figure, civil or moral accomplishments, or situation of life?”[8] 

     The British had a point: the equality of men is far from self-evident from a humanist point of view. In fact, the only real justification for it is religious, presupposing the Christian faith: that all men are made in the image of God, and that Christ died for all men equally, so that all men equally should be the object of Christian love. From a humanist perspective – and all major political thinkers by now were humanists, not real Christians – the foundations of egalitarianism were different. The foundational ideas of humanist egalitarianism are those of universal rights and an original state of nature in which those rights were supposedly practised.

     This idea was implicit in the philosophy of John Locke, who had first spoken of an original state of human equality. Ironically, he had seen it incarnate across the Atlantic, in the primitive, pre-colonial societies of the American Indians. For “In the beginning,” he said, “all the world was America, and more so than that is now; for no such thing as Money was any where known.”[9]

     Money spoils everything, and the American Revolution was primarily about money, not equality… Thus neither the English in their “Glorious Revolution” of 1689 nor the Americans in their American Revolution consistently applied Lockean principles of democratism and egalitarianism. For both were oligarchical societies consisting of white, property-owning, males excluding slaves and women. They had no intention of extending the franchise; and what they meant by “equality” was being treated on equal terms with other Englishmen (on both sides of the Atlantic) of similar wealth and breeding… 

     Nevertheless, the very mention of universal rights in the Declaration of Independence marked a pronounced leftist shift in political thinking in the Anglo-American world that was to have profound implications for the future of political thought. “Historians disagree,” writes Norman Cantor, “on whether the French doctrines of republicanism and the universal rights of man played an important role in shaping the ideas of the American Revolution of 1776, the Constitution of 1787, and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution), or whether the American political culture was a direct offshoot of English law and politics. However derived, the American idea was that of a ‘New Order of the World’ in which the privileges, discriminations, and prejudices of Europe were to be superseded (so said the American Revolution of 1776) by a new era of freedom in human history. This does sound like English common law filtered through the prism of French ideological enthusiasm.”[10]

     There were in fact two distinct tendencies in English political thinking: a conservative, traditionalist tendency, and a more radical, universalist tendency. The latter tendency was implicit in Locke’s thinking; but it was not made explicit in the still traditionalist society of eighteenth-century England. Both tendencies influenced the American Founding Fathers, but there was an inescapable tension between them, and therefore between those who wanted to restore the past in a conservative spirit and those who wanted to drive forward to a brave new world of the future.

     As Ofir Haivry  and Yoram Hazony write: “When the American English, as Burke called them, rebelled against the British monarch, there were already two distinct political theories expressed among the rebels, and the opposition between these two camps only grew with time.

     “First, there were those who admired the English constitution that they had inherited and studied. Believing they had been deprived of their rights under the English constitution, their aim was to regain these rights. Identifying themselves with the tradition of Coke and Selden, they hoped to achieve a victory against royal absolutism comparable to what their English forefathers had achieved in the Petition of Right and Bill of Rights. To individuals of this type, the word revolution still had its older meaning, invoking something that ‘revolves’ and would, through their efforts, return to its rightful place—in effect, a restoration. Alexander Hamilton was probably the best-known exponent of this kind of conservative politics, telling the assembled delegates to the constitutional convention of 1787, for example, that ‘I believe the British government forms the best model the world ever produced.’[11] Or, as John Dickinson told the convention: ‘Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us. It was not reason that discovered the singular and admirable mechanism of the English constitution…. Accidents probably produced these discoveries, and experience has given a sanction to them.’ And it is evident that they were quietly supported behind the scenes by other adherents of this view, among them the president of the convention, General George Washington.

     “Second, there were true revolutionaries, liberal followers of Locke such as Jefferson, who detested England and believed—just as the French followers of Rousseau believed—that the dictates of universal reason made the true rights of man evident to all. For them, the traditional English constitution was not the source of their freedoms but rather something to be swept away before the rights dictated by universal reason. And indeed, during the French Revolution, Jefferson and his supporters embraced it as a purer version of what the Americans had started. As he wrote in a notorious letter in 1793 justifying the revolution in France: ‘The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest. . . . [R]ather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated.’

     “The tension between these conservative and liberal camps finds rather dramatic expression in America’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, drafted by Jefferson in 1776, is famous for resorting, in its preamble, to the Lockean doctrine of universal rights as ‘self-evident’ before the light of reason. Similarly, the Articles of Confederation, negotiated the following year as the constitution of the new United States of America, embody a radical break with the traditional English constitution. These Articles asserted the existence of thirteen independent states, at the same time establishing a weak representative assembly over them without even the power of taxation, and requiring assent by nine of thirteen states to enact policy. The Articles likewise made no attempt at all to balance the powers of this assembly, effectively an executive, with separate legislative or judicial branches of government.

     “The Articles of Confederation came close to destroying the United States. After a decade of disorder in both foreign and economic affairs, the Articles were replaced by the Constitution, drafted at a convention initiated by Hamilton and James Madison, and presided over by a watchful Washington, while Jefferson was away in France. Anyone comparing the Constitution that emerged with the earlier Articles of Confederation immediately recognizes that what took place at this convention was a reprise of the Glorious Revolution of 1689. Despite being adapted to the American context, the document that the convention produced proposed a restoration of the fundamental forms of the English constitution: a strong president, designated by an electoral college (in place of the hereditary monarchy); the president balanced in strikingly English fashion by a powerful bicameral legislature with the power of taxation and legislation; the division of the legislature between a quasi-aristocratic, appointed Senate and a popularly elected House; and an independent judiciary. Even the American Bill of Rights of 1789 is modelled upon the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights, largely elaborating the same rights that had been described by Coke and Selden and their followers, and breathing not a word anywhere about universal reason or universal rights.”[12]

     This silence about universal reason was just as well in the year of the French Revolution… For, as Hamilton wrote in the first of The Federalist Papers, “A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

     Thus while instituting a strong executive power, the delegates were also motivated by a fear of despotism and distrust of big government; they wanted a government which would interfere as little as possible in the private lives of the citizens. Thus the 9th and 10th Amendments reserved spheres not explicitly given to the central government to the States and the People.[13] James Madison said: “Wherever the real power in government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our government the real power lies in the majority of the community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents. This is a truth of great importance, but not yet sufficiently attended to…”[14]

     However, if the Constitution of 1787 should be considered a defeat for Jefferson, he had many victories ahead of him. Jefferson, as we have seen, drew inspiration from the French revolution; and his drive to “rekindle the old spirit of 1776” was unquenchable. Thus he believed that a rebellion every twenty years or so was necessary to stop the arteries of freedom from becoming sclerotic. As he wrote in 1787: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure.”[15] And to James Madison he wrote in the same year: “A little rebellion now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is a medicine for the sound health of government...”[16]

     There is a rich irony in the fact that the United States, which after 1917 became the main bulwark of ordered government against the revolution, should have been the most revolutionary State prior to 1789. Moreover, its success had a considerable influence on the 1789 revolution and its imitators, who took the American example as proving that “where there is a will there is a way” for revolting nations. Thus “‘Since America became a free society after shaking the English yoke off her neck, all nations are yearning for the same golden liberties,’ wrote the Magyar Kurir… on 27 May 1789.”[17]


     The revolution threw up two important issues: the relative powers of the central government and the states, and slavery. With regard to the first issue, the champions of a strong central government, the federalists, believed that such a government was necessary – subject to the 9th and 10th Amendments being observed, and limited by the power of impeachment[18] - in order to preserve the gains of the revolution, to guarantee taxation income, and to preserve law and order. As George Washington put it: “Let then the reins of government be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the Constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled on whilst it has an existence.”[19] Not surprisingly, many of the anti-federalists thought that Washington was putting the central government in the place of the British monarch, and with similar tyrannical powers. As Joseph J. Ellis writes, they were haunted by “the ideological fear, so effective as a weapon against the taxes imposed by Parliament and decrees of George III, that once arbitrary power was acknowledged to reside elsewhere [than in the states], all liberty was lost...”[20]

     As we have seen, one potential danger of American democracy – as of every revolution that acts in the name of freedom - was that demands for equal rights on the part of truly or supposedly oppressed minorities were theoretically endless, and could lead in the end to complete anarchy, which in its turn would lead to the imposition of old-style Cromwellian dictatorship. Thus Benjamin Franklin supported the constitution of 1787 “with all its faults – if they are such – because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered”. But this good administration, he believed, could only go on for a few years, after which it “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other…”[21]

     The Constitution included elements that were familiar from Montesquieu, such as the separation of the powers of the executive (the President), the legislature (the two houses of Congress) and the judiciary (the Supreme Court). However, the Americans went a significant step further in granting individual citizens the right to bear arms in defence of their rights. Such an innovation was perhaps possible only in America, whose distance from her most powerful rivals and decentralised system of semi-sovereign states and ever-expanding frontiers made strong central government less essential, giving unparalleled freedom to individual farmer-settlers. 


     With regard to slavery, “the irony is,” writes Ferguson, “that having won their independence in the name of liberty, the American colonists went on to perpetuate slavery in the southern states. As Samuel Johnson acidly asked in his anti-American pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny: ‘How is it that the loudest YELPS for liberty come from the drivers of Negroes?’ By contrast, within a few decades of having lost the American colonies, the British abolished first the slave trade and then slavery itself throughout their Empire. Indeed, as early as 1775 the British Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, had offered emancipation to slaves who rallied to the British cause. This was not entirely opportunistic: Lord Mansfield’s famous judgement in Somersett’s case had pronounced slavery illegal in England three years before. From the point of view of most African-Americans, American independence postponed emancipation by at least a generation. Although slavery was gradually abolished in northern states like Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, it remained firmly entrenched in the South, where most slaves lived.

     “Nor was independence good news for the native Americans. During the Seven Years War the British government had shown itself anxious to conciliate the Indian tribes, if only to try to lure them away from their alliance with the French. Treaties had been signed which established the Appalachian mountains as the limit of British settlement, leaving the land west of it, including the Ohio Valley, to the Indians. Admittedly, these treaties were not strictly adhered to when peace came, sparking the war known as Pontiac’s Uprising in 1763. But the fact remains that the distant imperial authority in London was more inclined to recognize the rights of the native Americans than the land-hungry colonists on the spot.”[22]

    Conditions for slaves were even harsher in the United States than in New Spain. According to the Virginia slave code of 1705 all servants imported into the State “who were not Christians in their native country… shall be accounted and be slaves, and such be here bought and sold notwithstanding a conversion to Christianity afterwards…” Whites could not marry blacks or those of mixed race. And if a master killed a slave in the course of correcting him, “he shall be free of all punishment… as if such accident had never happened”.

     Such harshness towards slaves was motivated – but not, of course, justified – by the fact that they were vital for the economy, in that many of them came from the so-called Rice Coast, present-day Ghana, where they had learned how to separate rice grains from their husks – a skill vital in making rice cultivation a success in the South. Free white workers were less skilled and more expensive. That was the main reason – apart from simple racism – why the slave-owners resisted emancipation so fiercely, and why there were periodic slave uprisings. An attempt to create a new colony without slavery was made in Georgia in 1732, but it failed; and in 1752 Georgia became a crown colony, and thereafter a plantation society like South Carolina…[23]

     The Declaration of Independence famously declared that it was “not possible that one man should have property in person of another”. However, as Ellis writes, “removing slavery was not like removing British officials or revising constitutions. In isolated pockets of New York and New Jersey, and more panoramically in the entire region south of the Potomac, slavery was woven into the fabric of American society in ways that defied appeals to logic and morality. It also enjoyed the protection of one of the Revolution’s most potent legacies, the right to dispose of one’s property without arbitrary interference from others, especially when the others resided far away or claimed the authority of some distant government. There were, to be sure, radical implications latent in the ‘principles of ‘76’ capable of challenging privileged appeals to property rights, but the secret of their success lay in their latency – that is, the gradual and surreptitious ways they revealed their egalitarian implications over the course of the nineteenth century. If slavery’s cancerous growth was to be arrested and the dangerous malignancy removed, it demanded immediate surgery. The radical implications of the revolutionary legacy were no help at all so long as they remained only implications.

     “The depth and apparent intractability of the problem became much clearer during the debates surrounding the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Although the final draft of the document was conspicuously silent on slavery, the subject itself haunted the closed-door debates. No less a source than Madison believed that slavery was the central cause of the most elemental division in the Constitutional Convention: ‘the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size,’ Madison observed, ‘but principally from their having or not having slaves… It did not lie between the large and small States: it lay between the Northern and Southern.’

     “The delegates from New England and most of the Middle Atlantic states drew directly on the inspirational rhetoric of the revolutionary legacy to argue that slavery was inherently incompatible with the republican values on which the American Republic had been based. They wanted an immediate end to the slave trade, an explicit statement prohibiting the expansion of slavery into the western territories as a condition for admission into the union, and the adoption of a national plan for gradual emancipation analogous to those state plans already adopted in the North…

     “The southern position might more accurately be described as ‘deep southern’, since it did not include Virginia. Its major advocates were South Carolina and Georgia, and the chief burden for making the case in the Constitutional Convention fell almost entirely on the South Carolina delegation. The underlying assumption of this position was most openly acknowledged by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina – namely, that ‘South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves’. What those from the Deep South wanted was open-ended access to African imports to stock their plantations. They also wanted equivalently open access to western lands, meaning no federal legislation restricting the property rights of slave owners…

     “Neither side got what it wanted at Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution contained no provision that committed the newly created federal government to a policy of gradual emancipation, or in any clear sense placed slavery on the road to ultimate extinction. On the other hand, the Constitution contained no provisions that specifically sanctioned slavery as a permanent and protected institution south of the Potomac or anywhere else. The distinguishing feature of the document when it came to slavery was its evasiveness. It was neither a ‘contract with abolition’ nor a ‘covenant with death’, but rather a prudent exercise in ambiguity. The circumlocutions required to place a chronological limit on the slave trade or to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in the House, all without ever using the forbidden word, capture the intentionally elusive ethos of the Constitution. The underlying reason for this calculated orchestration of non-commitment was obvious: Any clear resolution of the slavery question one way or the other rendered ratification of the Constitution virtually impossible…”[24]

     Several of the Founding Fathers themselves owned slaves. Jefferson owned two hundred, only seven of whom he ever freed. [25] But this did not prevent him from moving to include a clause condemning George III for the slave trade. But the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia succeeded in having it deleted.

     George Washington also owned slaves. But this was not the primary reason why he was silent about slavery when he came to make his retirement address in 1796. “His silence on the slavery question was strategic, believing as he did that slavery was a cancer on the body politic of America that could not at present be removed without killing the patient…”[26]

     And with reason; for by 1790 the slave population was 700,000, up from about 500,000 in 1776. This, and the threat that South Carolina and Georgia would secede from the Union if slavery were outlawed, made abolition impractical on the plane of practical politics. (In his will Washington stipulated that all his slaves should be freed after his wife’s death.) …

     Nevertheless, the revolutionary implications contained in the Declaration of Independence could not fail to arouse great expectations in the black and Indian populations – and a general loosening of obedience among the whites. Thus in 1776 Benjamin Franklin admitted “that our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and negroes grew more insolent to their masters…”[27]

     The reaction of Thomas Jefferson, that famous lover of freedom, was imperialist, even eliminationist. In the same climactic year of 1776, he wrote “that he favoured pushing the war into the heart of the Indian lands: ‘But I would not stop there. I would never cease pursuing them while one of them remained on this side of the Mississippi. We would never cease pursuing them with war while one remained on the face of the earth.’”[28]


December 6/19, 2019.

[1]Ballatore, “America’s First Nation”, History Today, April, 2017, pp. 51-52.

[2]Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present, New York: Perennial, 2000, p. 397.

[3] Robert Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

[4]Tuchman, The March of Folly, London: Michael Joseph, 1984, p. 166.

[5] Thus Noam Chomsky points out that many American loyalists fled to Canada “because they didn’t like the doctrinaire, kind of fanatic environment that took hold in the colonies. The percentage of colonists who fled in the American Revolution was actually about 4 percent, it was probably higher than the percentage of Vietnamese who fled Vietnam after the Vietnam War. And remember, they were fleeing from one of the richest places in the world – these were boat-people who fled in terror from Boston Harbor in the middle of winter to Nova Scotia, where they died in the snow trying to get away from all of these crazies here. The numbers are supposed to have been in the neighbourhood of maybe a hundred thousand out of a total population of about two and a half million – so it was a substantial part of the population. And among them were people from groups who knew they were going to get it in the neck if the colonists won – blacks and Native Americans, for example. And they were right: in the case of the Native Americans, it was genocide; in the case of the blacks, it was slavery.” (Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, London: Vintage, 2003, p. 102).

[6]Stone, The Atlantic and its Enemies, London: Penguin, 2011, pp. 298-299.

[7]McClelland, A History of Western Political Thought, Routledge: London, 1996, pp. 354-355.

[8]Almond, RevolutionLondon: De Agostino, 1996,

[9]Locke, Second Treatise on Government, 49.

[10]Cantor, The Sacred Chain, London: HarperCollins, 1996, p. 239.

[11]He went on to say: “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second… Nothing but a permanent body can check the impudence of democracy.” (V.M.)

[12] Haivry and Hazony, “What is Conservatism?” American Affairs, Summer, 2017, vol. I, no. 2.

[13] Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Tenth Amendment; ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.”

[14] Madison, in James M. Rafferty, Prophetic Insights into the New World Order, Malo, WA: Light Bearers Ministry, 1992, p. 73.

[15] Jefferson, in Cohen and Major, History in Quotations, London: Cassell, 2004, p. 510.

[16] Jefferson, in Almond, op. cit., p. 69. This recipe for permanent revolution was taken up by none other than Abraham Lincoln in 1861: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it…” (Almond, op. cit., p. 69)

[17]Adam Zamoyski, Holy Madness, London: Wedenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, p. 96.

[18] Section 4 of Article II: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

[19] Washington, in Cohen and Major, op. cit., p. 509.

[20] Ellis, Founding Brothers, New York: Vintage Books, 2002, p. 59. See also Simon Collinson, “President or King?”, History Today, vol. 50 (11), November, 2000, pp. 12-13.

[21]Franklin, in Brian Macarthur, The Penguin Book of Historic Speeches, London: Penguin, 1995, p. 101.

[22]Ferguson, pp. 100-101.

[23] Reynolds, America, Empire of Liberty, London: Penguin, 2010.

[24] Ellis, op. cit., pp. 91-92, 93.

[25] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 100.

[26] Ellis, op. cit., p. 158.

[27] Almond, op. cit., p. 63.

[28] Andrew Marr, A History of the World, London: Pan, 2012, p. 353.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company