The Declaration: A Review


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.

What does the Declaration of Independence mean? We are clouded by over 200 years of historical and political interpretation that we can’t even make out what our founding document actually has to say.  In a class of students, if the question is asked, “how many self evident truths are present in the Declaration of Independence?” almost none can actually answer the question.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there are certain truths that are self evident and immutable. Since the time of Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, most Americans only see one self evident truth: that all men are created equal. Yet, what of the word “truths”? If Jefferson only wrote one truth, that all are created equal, then why did he write that there are “truths”; an implication that there is more than just the one truth to be found. The idea of self evident truths is connected with the belief in the Natural Law, which St. Thomas said is inscribed on the hearts of all men. John Locke, one of the many names attached to the Law of Nature, believed that there are certain precepts or truths that can be known but that most must be acquired through knowledge. Jefferson, a Lockean thinker, acknowledges that there are self evident truths and proceeds to name them.

That all men are created equal” is the first of Jefferson’s self evident truths. It might seem a bit wrong for those of us living today for a known slave holder to suggest that all men are created equal. It would seem even stranger for us to find that it was a well accepted truth that all men are created equal by the time Jefferson wrote his famous Declaration. First, Jefferson does not say that we are all created equally, but rather simply as equal. The word equally is an adverb, whereas the word equal can be a verb, adjective, or noun. If we were all created equally, then we’d be identical in manner or equal to a certain extent. However, we’re not created equally but rather equal. The word equal has a number of separate meanings, however, the one Jefferson is aiming towards is, “having adequate powers, ability, or means.” It is only if this basic truth is accepted that the others can be called self evident. It is because we are equal in power, ability and mean that we are able to say the other three truths.

It was because we are all created equal, a truth widely accepted by this point in history, that Jefferson was able to posit a modified version of Locke’s famous “life, liberty and property.”  Jefferson says, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Because we are all created equal, we have the same unalienable Rights. Even in absolute monarchies like France, Spain or Russia it would be accepted that the Sovereign cannot deprive someone of their life or their liberty without just cause. Again, it might seem odd to suggest that they believed that liberty is an unalienable right when there still existed slavery and serfdom in the western world. However, is slavery or serfdom opposed to liberty? Remember, the individual slave owners thought they were doing right by their slaves. It was assumed that the slaves couldn’t fully enjoy their natural rights unless they were enslaved. And remember, neither the Declaration nor the Constitution and its amendments say that all are to be treated equally; because we are only equal. Once again, it is because we are created equal and because we have unalienable rights that we can identify the third self evident truth.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Our ability to form governments is based upon two self evident truths: all men are created equal and we are endowed with certain unalienable rights. One cannot consent to be governed if they are inferior and lack certain unalienable rights. And while there were more monarchies than democracies in the world in 1776, the idea that the King was chosen by God to rule (Divine Right Monarchy) was not as widely accepted as it had been less than 100 years prior. The writings of Hobbes, Locke and Sidney had already permeated into the world and while Louis was King of France he ruled largely because the nobles allowed it. In England, the King ruled only with the consent of the people. The Declaration of Independence came less than a century after the Glorious Revolution and the English Interregnum. Kings Charles I and II both were overthrown by the people or parliament and ruled with their consent.

This leads to the final self evident truth as laid out by Thomas Jefferson:

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.

 The idea that a people could overthrow their legitimate sovereign had always been a point of contention. When Europe was still Catholic, the Papacy held that it could alone severe the ties between Prince and his subjects. As was seen in England, the right to revolution was already well established in the aftermath of the Interregnum and the Glorious Revolution. However, the idea that a colony could revolt and establish itself as an independent nation was still a new idea. It is this self evident truth that Jefferson made central to his Declaration of Independence. The Right to Revolution is based entirely on the acceptance of the other self evident truths. As such, the fact that we were all created equal is both the least significant self evident truth and the most important since from it stems our understanding of the other truths.

Review: 1776 by David McCullough


In American history very few years stand out as well as that of 1776. Within the span of a year, American colonists went from loyal subjects of His Majesty King George III to Americans fighting against a foreign invader for their freedom. The events that unfolded in that year are remarkable in many ways. In his book David McCullough captures the events of the year 1776 with remarkable clarity that makes his book, 1776, a significant contribution to the study of 18th century America and the American Revolution.

1776 is divided into three sections with two to three chapters per section. In each chapter McCullough recounts the events of the year in a very accessible way. The first section simply called “The Siege” describes the events on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the Siege of Boston. The middle section discusses the summer of ’76, and McCullough focuses his attention on New York.  The final section concerns the last part of the year, and General Washington and the Continental Army’s retreat from New England. McCullough provides in each section a well balanced description of the military events from both American and British points of view.

The opening chapter of 1776 actually takes place in the fall of 1775 in London. At the opening session of parliament in October of 1775, the King of England George III travels to London to speak to a joint session of Parliament. On topic, as McCullough relays, was the rising crisis in the American colonies. The King declares the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion, and asks for both the House of Lords and House of Commons to support his position. In a general history of the American Revolution, specifically written by an American historian, readers may never encounter the happenings of Parliament in the autumn of 1775. The point to which American resistance had driven members of the British government are presented in this opening chapter. For many in Parliament, the American colonies were in rebellion and deserved to face the full brunt of His Majesty’s Army and Naval forces. The House of Lords, as McCullough says, was in session until midnight debating and eventually voting in favor of the King’s proclamation. However, in the House of Commons, where sympathies for the Americans was far more prevalent the debate went until 4 A.M. before the commoners voted to support the King. Among America’s most staunch supporters were Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox who both made speeches in support of America; although even they agreed that Parliament had not only the authority, but the constitutional right to legislate for the American colonies.

In America McCullough writes about the stalemate caused by the siege of Boston, the piece meal American Army and the stand out military figures early in the Revolution that were among the only bright spots militarily for the American army. Among the stand outs of the American Army include Nathanael Greene. Greene was a Rhode Islander who was self educated in the classics, “Nathanael read Caesar and Horace in English translation, Swift, Pope and Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.”[1]As the son of a rich business owner, Greene was able to build himself a house and upon his father’s death take over the family business. As a result of the latter, when, “he turned his mind to ‘the military art’” and “having ample means to buy whatever books he needed”, Green became one of the most learned military leaders of the American Revolution. While having no actual military experience at all, Greene was quickly elevated to the level of Brigadier General; he was the youngest general officer in the American army; he was thirty-three years of age. He entered the fray in Boston to find things in disarray. “Washington arriving in the first week of July, was told he had 20,000 men, but no one knew for certain.” As it turned out, Washington only had about 16,000 and of that only 14,000 were fit for duty. McCullough is fair to both sides of the siege, stating that the British had the better position than Washington’s Army.

David McCullough presents the British side of the Siege of Boston next, focusing his attention around the battle for Dorchester Heights. McCullough presents the British consideration for attacking Dorchester Heights from the start of the chapter. The British hoped to end the problems in Boston by taking Dorchester Heights on June 15th. However, this plan was changed as a result of the American movement to Bunker Hill. It took until June 17th to remove the Americans from Bunker Hill in a battle McCullough describes as a, “bloodbath.”[2] With the winter quickly approaching, and the American siege still in full force, the British were at a dilemma. As McCullough presents, the British could either pack up and resettle in New York, or dig in for the long Boston winter. In either case, the winter of 1775 was fast approaching. Like he did in the first chapter with Nathanael Greene, McCullough outlines the most important British officer as he sees it, William Howe. Unlike Greene, Howe had been a professional soldier since he was a teenager and was very well accustomed to military life by the time the American Revolution began in 1775. The winter of 1775 turned into the New Year of 1776 and the British were more in danger of the Americans than they had been in 1775. George Washington convened a war council that also included Massachusetts Assembly man James Warren, and Continental Congressman John Adams. It was agreed that Boston had to be taken and all in attendance agreed with Washington a vigorous attempted would need to be made for the city. But what had Washington most worried was rumors the British were looking to leave Boston and head for New York. He received assurances from Adams that New York should be Washington’s primary aim should the British attempt to take it. All of the American plans were nothing more than plans until General Henry Knox arrived in Cambridge to inform Washington that cannons from Fort Ticonderoga were on their way. By the beginning of March the bombardment of Boston began. The Americans succeeded in driving off the British from Boston, something that a year before seemed impossible for the ragtag Army to do.

David McCullough does a remarkable job throughout the next section discussing the situation in New York. New York was the central issue for both the American and British troops between April and August 1776. Unlike Boston, New York demonstrated how inept at times Washington could be when it came to military matters. Unlike his seasoned opponents, Washington proved every bit the military man who had been captured in one of his only commands during the French and Indian War. McCullough spends a significant portion of the book detailing the movements of the American and British forces and ultimately the Battle of Long Island, where the American Army was beaten horribly. McCullough does a remarkable job at telling the story of the battle for New York crossing back and forth to tell the reader of how both sides went about to execute their plans for taking New York City.

The British defeat of the Americans at Long Island lead to Washington’s decision to retreat from their position. However, the British realized that they had the American Army on the ropes, and to allow them to escape might come back to hurt them later. As a result, the Americans were chased by the British lead by Admiral Howe. The British continued to engage the American forces, driving them further south toward New Jersey. By November of 1776, Washington had made the fateful decision to retreat into New Jersey with what was left of his tattered Army. In their pursuit of the Americans, the British employed the use of Hessian Mercenaries.

The final chapter, fittingly called “The Darkest Hour”, examines the final two months of 1776 as the American Revolution looked to be almost lost. The American Army was in New Jersey, but severely undermanned and lacking provisions. McCullough captures the struggle of the Americans in retreat in New Jersey. With the American situation progressively getting worse, the British decided to go for a different look. General Clinton was ordered to New Port with 6,000 troops and the American capital in Philadelphia began to feel the pressure of the British enclosing around them. In New Jersey Washington was losing troops; loyalists were more prevalent in New Jersey than anywhere else as well. In all, the winter of 1776 was bleak compared to the previous year with the exception of one event. On Christmas Eve of 1776, Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River and attacked an encampment of Hessian soldiers.

In all, David McCullough’s book 1776 does what is rarely done; he looks entirely at the military aspects of the year rather than the political circumstances that enter the history books so often. McCullough, who by his own admission is more of a story teller than a historian, does a remarkable job of making military history accessible and enjoyable to the average reader.

Interested in buying a copy of this book? Visit: Amazon.com/1776


[1] David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 22

[2] Ibid. 70

Emergence of the American Military Power


Have you ever wondered where the military power of the United States came from? We haven’t always been a super power capable of destroying our enemies, our friends, and ourselves.  For most of the early years of the American republic we had to rely on allies to assists us in our military campaigns. The French aided us in the American Revolution, although we did have minor successes prior to their entry into the war. We fought to a stalemate with the English during the War of 1812, yet our Nation’s Capital was burned down.

We were able to defeat the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War, but we still weren’t a super power. We had to rely on the British to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European Colonization. Yet, one event in American History stands alone as ushering in the advent of American military supremacy.

During the Civil War advancements in technology were made that made obsolete all other militaries in the world. The mini ball made for more accurate gun fire, destroying a military fighting style that had spanned centuries. The CSS Hunley was only the second major attempt by Americans to create submarine power (the USS Turtle was used during the American Revolution, which was a one man submarine that operated on a similar concept as the Hunley.) And ultimately, the clash of the Iron Clads (CSS Merrimack & USS Monitor) made all other navies in the world obsolete. By the end of the Civil War there were over 1 Million soldiers in America’s Army. Within a couple years that number would drop significantly to 125,000 military personal.

In the wake of the Civil War and the assassination, and attempted assassination, of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward two nations attempted to capitalize on a war torn nation. Emperor Louis Napoleon III had fashioned himself as a French Andrew Jackson, but like his famous ancestor became an Emperor. With the coup that destroyed the French Second Republic, Napoleon sought to take advantage of a perceived weak America.

Napoleon conspired with the Arch-Duke Maximilian of Austria to take over Mexico and create an Empire that would threaten the existence of the United States. Secretary Seward recovered from a carriage accident and being stabbed in a failed assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot by Booth to challenge Napoleon’s plan. General Grant sent 50,000 soldiers and General Sheridan to the Texas-Mexican border to secure America from an attack. In the mean time Seward sent General Schofield to deter Napoleon from his plan. Publicly Seward published a letter to the Emperor that was more diplomatic than what Schofield was sent to deliver. Napoleon backed down and the Mexicans murdered the Arch-Duke.

In the mean time, the British were attempting to secure Canada from the United States. War was England was eminent during the Civil War, it was only Ambassador Charles Francis Adams  (Son of John Q. Adams and grandson of John Adams) that helped prevent war from breaking out. The British, Sir John A.  MacDonald created a plan to create the Kingdom of Canada, a confederacy of the Canada territories. When northerners along the border cried for war, the English monarch Queen Victoria signed into law a bill creating the Dominion of Canada; regardless, the damage was done and a permanent reminder of the English monarchy was created. And in a major coup for the United States, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russians. This purchased, declared “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” was actually a tactical victory for the United States. With Alaska, the United States surrounded Canada from the South and the West. The arctic circle to the north meant that Canada only had it’s Eastern boarder free from America. In the event of a war with England, the United States could secure Canada and blockade it’s Eastern shore ports.

The United States came out of the Civil War a military power house. Over the next thirty years the US would continue to grow stronger as the industrial revolution took hold. By the time the United States went to war with Spain she had one of the strongest navies in the world, and was able to defeat the once mighty Spanish. Following the destruction of Europe in World War I, the United States stood as the most complete and most powerful military in the world. It wouldn’t be until the end of the Second World War that the U.S. was officially a super power, with enough fire power to destroy the world.

Roman Foreign Policy between 264 and 146 B.C: Why They Fought


From the First Punic War through the Third Punic War there was much change in the reasoning for Rome going to war.  Roman conquest of Italy in the years leading up to the First Punic War gave the Romans confidence about their military power. Their success at unifying most of Italy under the Roman banner must have given them an adrenaline rush to spur them into a war with Carthage in an attempt to take Sicily. Successive wars appear to have been encouraged by Roman desire to dominate trade throughout the Mediterranean world.

Roman involvement in the First Punic War was spurred on by ambition to add Sicily to their territory. The Second Punic War and the wars with Greece were brought on primarily through a desire to dominate trade.  The wars with Spain and the Third Punic War, however, appear to harken back to the desires which spurred on the First Punic War and the Italian wars.

According to Polybius, the First Punic War marked the first time the Romans engaged in sea warfare. Whether or not this is completely true or not does not detract from how important such an idea is to the motives of going to war. There is little doubt that the Romans probably engaged in at least some minimal trade prior to this war. Yet Polybius’ account of the construction of wartime vessels demonstrates that the Romans most likely had not yet engaged in naval battles[1]. If this account is true then the motives for going to war over Sicily were not about trade, at least not entirely. To some degree Rome must have sought to have dominion over Sicily and to remove foreign influence in Italy all together. Polybius’ account of the treaty between Rome and Carthage, which ended the First Punic War, gives further credence to the idea Rome was not fighting for the sole purpose of trade. Polybius says, “’The Carthaginians to evacuate the whole of Sicily…. The Carthaginians to give up to the Romans all prisoners without ransom. The Carthaginians to pay to the Romans by installments in twenty years 2,200 Euboen talents’’[2] Polybius also accounts that the Roman people demanded, “they reduced the time of the payment by one half, added 1,000 talents to the indemnity, and demanded the evacuation by the Carthaginians of all islands lying between Sicily and Italy.”[3] These accounts given by Polybius support the belief that Rome’s first conquest outside of Italy was spurred on by a desire to continue unifying Italy, or at least to expand the territory they possessed.

The Second Punic War and the wars subsequently with Greece on the other hand were almost entirely about improving trade and Roman economic status. The Second Punic War was triggered by Carthaginian interference with a Roman ally in Spain. While the sources concerning the war do not directly demonstrate that this war was about economic gain through trade, it is clear through the terms of the treaty that the war was at least on some level about trade. Polybius once again demonstrates, “they were to surrender their ships of war, with exception of ten triremes.”[4] Without their former naval power the Carthaginians would be hard pressed to continue trading on such a scale as they once enjoyed. This left Rome as the most dominate naval power in the Western Mediterranean both militarily and trade wise. Without war ships the Carthaginians could not protect their trading vessels from pirates and other warring states.

With the Western Mediterranean locked up Rome focused her attention on the Eastern half. Rome’s attempt to subdue the Eastern Mediterranean was not so much like their attempts in the West. Unlike the West, the Romans did not seek to have dominion over the East. Instead the Romans sought to dismantle the alliances and empires throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. By doing this Rome was successful in destroying the economic power of the East. Their tactics with the East resemble in some manner their attempts in Italy to subdue the Latin tribes.

The Third Punic War and the wars with Spanish tribes appear to be more about revenge and expansion of the Empire than about acquisition of wealth. Carthage had been the nail in the Roman’s side for better part of a century. When they finally broke the Treaty of Zama the Romans found the opportunity to finally put Carthage away for good. With Carthage completely destroyed the Romans were able to take dominion over all of North Africa and eliminated the only threat to Roman dominance in the Western Mediterranean for good. If for nothing else the Roman destruction of Carthage demonstrated for her enemies that Rome could, if brought to bear, annihilate any and all foes. The Third Punic War demonstrates an almost entirely unique episode in Roman foreign policy between 264 and 146 B.C. It was not about acquisition of land, nor of furthering trade. Rather the Third Punic War was about revenge for the Romans.

In Spain however, the attempts by the Romans were almost entirely over conquest of land. Unlike Carthage and the Eastern Mediterranean, Spain was not governed by formal empires or kingdoms. With the ever expanding population in Italy, the Romans needed more space for citizens. Spain was the prime location after the Second Punic War. Unfortunately for the Romans the Spanish tribes were troublesome and required a full on assault to attempt to subdue Spain; even then, the Spanish tribes were not completely subdue until the time of Caesar Augustus. Yet Rome’s conquests in Spain were necessary in order to provide more land for her citizens. Not only was this, but Spain was rich in minerals, specifically in silver which was important to the Romans.  However, the Roman desire to conquer Spain was not primarily out of a desire to exploit Spain but rather to incorporate it.

Rome’s foreign policy from 264-146 B.C. was spurred on by two primary motives: expansion and trade. Ultimately, however, the Romans desired to create a Mediterranean wide empire. The true motive behind the Roman foreign policy was simply and purely imperialism. While their foreign policy began with an attempt to have more sovereignty, such as in the First Punic War, it ultimately landed on the need and desire for more territory as was the case in the Spanish wars.


[1] Naphatali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 1, Selected ReadingsThe Republic and the Augustan Age, 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 159-160

[2] Lewis 161.

[3] Lewis, 162.

[4] Lewis, 180

Considerations on the Religion of Numa on the Roman People


For many ancient peoples religion was a connection to the past. Above anything else, religion was supreme in the city. Everything focused on religion and the worship of the city’s gods. For the Roman people this was no different and like other ancient peoples their religion began when their founder died. Romulus was said to have been taken into the sky and deified. The Romans worshipped Romulus (named Quirinus) as the god of agriculture. However, it was not Romulus who succeeded in creating the Roman state religion; rather that honor went to Numa Pompilius (here after simply Numa). Niccolo Machiavelli states, “It will also be seen by those who pay attention to Roman history, how much religion helped in the control of armies, in encouraging plebs, in producing good men, and in shaming the bad.”[1] Certainly this importance was due to Numa rather than Romulus as the former is credited with the foundation of religion in Rome. Numa based the Roman religion on the physical world. Unlike their better known Greek counterparts, the Roman gods were based on the things of nature. It was possibly this distinct difference which led the Roman religion to dominate state affairs in such a way until the Second Punic War when Rome was invaded by Greek thought and religion. Until the Second Punic War, the Romans were dominated by a religion created by Numa with the intent to subdue a savage spirit introduced by Romulus. Numa’s importance is certainly clear as both the founder of the state religion and the law giver for the Romans; his religion would go on to play a vital role in three ways for the Roman people: the calendar, daily life and war. Even into the Second Punic War, when the traditional religion of Rome was nearly eliminated the strands of Numa’s religion still held onto the Roman people. In the Roman state during the regal and republican years, the religion introduced by Numa served as a significant influence on the affairs of the state and of the people.

Rome’s founding is hidden amongst fables, myths and legend. Whether or not there ever was a Romulus or Numa is a matter of dispute. What is not a matter of dispute, however, is that their supposed influences on the people of Rome made it the most dominate city the world has ever seen. Based on Plutarch’s account of Numa’s life, he was roughly forty years old at the time he was offered kingship of Rome[2]. Numa’s example would ultimately affect the Roman people in general. Plutarch records:

He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and while citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.[3]

His character alone was enough of an example on the Roman people; however he did more upon accepting the office of King. Before accepting the kingship, even, Numa requested that the auguries be taken to show that the gods did in fact favor his rule.[4] In his second act as King, Numa, “add[ed] two priests of Jupiter and Mars a third, in honour of Romulus, whom he called Flamen Quirinalis.” [5] Thus, having won the favor of the people, Numa began to subdue the harsh Roman spirit in favor of a more gentle nature. He introduced religion as a means of tempering the soul, as Plutarch explains, “Wherefore Numa, judging it no slight undertaking to mollify and bend to peace the presumptuous and stubborn spirits of the people, began to operate upon them with the sanctions of religion.”[6] Numa is said to have received the Roman religion from the goddess Egeria, whom he conversed with by the river.

Numa introduced a number of new offices, which were of religious significance; among these offices was Pontifex Maximus whose job it was to declare divine law and to rule over sacred ceremonies; the Pontifex Maximus was fifth in the religious hierarchy behind “the rex sacrorum and three great flamens.” [7] In like manner, Numa concerted a temple to the goddess Vesta who was the oldest of all Roman goddesses and a symbol of purity. Her priestesses, called Vestal virgins, were given the task of keeping lit the sacred flame. The virgins were to remain as such for thirty years, if they broke their vow of chastity or allowed the sacred flame to go out the offending virgin would be buried alive. This office was the most sacred of all holy offices within the Roman state. The Pontifex Maximus lead the six Vestal virgins.[8] The first ten years of a Vestal’s service were spent in training, the second ten were spent performing her duties while the final three were spent training new Vestals. The Vestal Virgins were so important that it is said when another official passed one that they would order the fasces lowered.

The second god to receive such high favor was Janus, Vesta’s counterpart. Janus was the Roman god of doors and beginnings and his priest was first in the hierarchy, the rex sacrorum. It is with Janus, in Numa’s attempt to further temper the spirits of the Romans that he established the month of January. Janus was closely related with Juno and unlike Vesta was a creator. The rex sacrorum holds a specific place of honor in the Republic as being the only office to bear the title of rex, which according to many Roman historians was loathed by the Roman people. The great gates of the city were in honor of Janus, when they were open the city was at war and while they were closed the city was at peace. During Numa’s entire reign as king the gates were never opened. Plutarch specifically mentions two other priesthoods founded by Numa, “the Salii and Fecials.” [9] Both of these other priesthoods will be discussed at a later point when it is appropriate.

The influence of the offices of the Vestals and Janus priests dealt with the daily lives of the Roman people. Numa successfully diverted the attention of the people away from war towards religion. He demanded the utmost respect towards religion by the people, as Plutarch describes “Numa, in like manner, wished that his citizens should neither see nor hear any religious service in perfunctory and inattentive manner, but, laying aside all other occupations, should apply their minds to religion as to a most serious business…”[10] Cicero concurs with Plutarch by state, “He desired the performance of religious rituals to be difficult but the equipment for them to be very simple: he required many things to be learned and performed, but he made them inexpensive; he thus added effort to religious observances but removed the cost.”[11] There certainly were plenty of occasions for the people to turn their attention away from other occupations. He is credited with organizing the people into guilds based on their occupations. Plutarch once again describes:

So distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company, appointing everyone their proper courts, councils, and religious observances. [12]

Their placement according to their occupation created structure within the Roman state and made each guild responsible for certain aspects of their daily lives. This helped to divert their attention away from war by focusing on the daily tasks at hand.

Numa’s greatest accomplishment came in the ordering of the calendar. In order to remedy the differences between the lunar solar orbits, Numa instituted an intercalary month. This month would consist of twenty-two days and according to Plutarch was called, “Mercedinus.” Numa also changed the orders of the months: March went from being the first month to the third, January went from being the eleventh month to the first and February went from last to second. Numa added the months of January and February as Plutarch accounts “for in the beginning they had had a year of then months.”[13] The month of February comes from februa; the month was a purification month filled with offerings to the dead. Plutarch explains Numa’s decision to place January first as, “he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are preferred before those of war.”[14] In order to do so, Numa instituted festivals and games for the people, “He also began markets and games and all sorts of occasions for gatherings and festivals. By these institutions he restored to humane and gentle behavior the minds of men who had become savage and inhuman through their love of war.”[15] Among the festivals fixed to the calendar, Jupiter and Mars had the most festivals held in their honor but Mars had the most between the two gods. Jupiter had two major festivals of a political nature, Regifugium on February 24th and Poplifugium on July 5th. Mars had one festival on two separate dates connected with war, Equiria on February 27th and March 14th both of these were connected horses who were sacrificed to Mars. Quinquartrus on March 19th and Tubilustrum on March 23rd saw arms and trumpets dedicated to the god. October saw the end of the military campaign season and two feasts held in honor of Mars: equus october on October 15th and the purification of arms (Armilustrum) on October 23rd.[16] Festivals to the gods occupied much of the Roman calendar, mostly in hopes of diverting the war like nature of the Romans towards more peaceful endeavors.

As a major portion of daily life, Numa altered some aspects. As well as being the founder of the state civil religion in Rome, Numa is credited with being the law giver to the Romans. His office as law giver works closely with his duties as founder of the civil religion. For instance, Numa repealed the “law which gave power to the fathers to sell their children…”[17] Plutarch continues by explaining, “he exempted such as were married, conditionally that it had been with the liking and consent of their parents; for it seemed a hard thing that a woman who had given herself in marriage to a man whom she judged free should afterwards find herself living with a slave.” [18] These are significant changes insofar as Numa has changed pater familias, or father of the family, which gave rule over the family completely to the eldest male member. Numa also changed the governance of burials; he required the Romans to worship Libitina, who presided over all burial ceremonies. He regulated the days in which mourning could take place, Plutarch outlines, “a child of three years was not to be mourned at all; the longest time of mourning for any person whatsoever was not to exceed the term of ten months….”[19] Any woman who remarried before the end of ten month mourning period ended was required to sacrifice a pregnant cow.  The Romans were especially concerned with belief in life after death, “maintained by sacrifices and libations, and governed by strict observance of rites the neglect of which brought terrible dangers to those who failed to keep them up.”[20] The Romans also believed in a deity called Manes, who would come back for retribution if the proper rituals were not kept up by their decedents. Many feasts were held in honor of the dead, the feast of the Lemuria took place on the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May.  The pater familias was required in the middle of the night to run through each silent room barefoot snapping his fingers to ward off the spirits of the dead. He was then to wash his hands three times in running water, “and took black beans in his mouth, which he spat over his shoulder, he cried nine times: ‘I spit out these beans and with them I redeem me and mine.’” He would then purify himself once more and strike “his hands on a bronze vessel, saying nine times: ‘Manes of my fathers, begone!’”  The extent in which religion touched on the private life was significant in Rome. Numa insured that the religion would be preserved both in the private and public.

After all these great accomplishments, Numa finally perished of old age after living roughly eighty years. Numa’s reign lasted forty-three years versus Romulus impressive thirty-seven year reign. According to Livy, “When Numa died, Rome by the twin disciplines of peace and war was as eminent for self-mastery as for military power.”[21] Numa’s legacy on the Roman people lead them to become prosperous, Machiavelli writes, “All things considered, therefore, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the primary causes of Rome’s success, for this entailed good institutions; good institutions lead to good fortune; and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings.”[22] His institution of religion allowed the Romans the good fortune they experienced for the next few centuries. The people were diverted from military conquest by the religion; their belief that the gods took part in human affairs caused great alarm against breaking the law. Numa succeeded in his quest to subdue the Roman spirit. Numa became the Roman par excellence for the people. Machiavelli explains, “Marvelling, therefore, at Numa’s goodness and prudence, the Roman people accepted all his decisions.”[23] Machiavelli goes so far as to say that the Roman people were more indebted to Numa than to Romulus.

However, despite his attempts to temper the Roman spirit away from war it was inevitable that the Romans would once again take up arms. As a result of Numa’s influence, even war was regulated by the priests. The Fecials were charged as guardians of peace and would be dispatched by the Romans to receive satisfaction from injury by another city. If that city refused to provide satisfaction for the injury the Fecials declared war by calling the gods and their country as witnesses. [24] The Salii have their origin from the eight year of Numa’s reign, Plutarch elaborates:

A terrible pestilence, which traversed all Italy, ravaged likewise the city of Rome; and the citizens being in distress and despondent, a brazen target, they say, fell from the heaven into the hands of Numa, who gave them this marvelous account of it: that Egeria and the Muses had assured him it was sent from heaven for the cure and safety of the city, and that, to keep it secure, he was ordered by them to make eleven others, so like in dimensions and form to the original that no thief should be able to distinguish the true from the counterfeit….The keeping of these targets was committed to the charge of certain priests, called Salii….[25]

The Salii priests would carry the shields through the city in March. They wore “short frocks of purple, grit with a broad belt studded with brass; on their heads they wear a brass helmet, and carry in their hands short daggers…”[26] Both of these priesthoods represent the lengths that Romans went to ensure that they were always in the right, specifically the Fecials.

In her first major conquest, Rome took the city of Veii through influences of religion. Machaivelli explains,

During the year, the Alban lake had risen in an extraordinary way, and the Roman solders, tired of the long siege, were desirous of returning to Rome when it was discovered that Apollo and certain other oracles had said that the city of Veii would be taken in the year in which Lake Alba overflowed.[27]

Religion had so conquered the minds of the people that it was able to be used against them as it was in the battle for Veii. The soldiers wishing to leave were swayed to remain in the siege despite their fatigue. After a ten year siege the Romans finally took Veii when Camillus was made dictator. The civil religion demonstrated it’s usefulness in controlling the people ultimately leading to the victory.

Throughout Roman conquest of peninsular Italy the Romans were able to maintain their religion and culture as the Italians had similar religious and cultural views. Yet with the advent of Roman expanisionism, even within Italy itself, the Roman religion began to slowly change although the changes were not as visible as later on beginning with the First Punic War.  Along the way they adapted the gods of various other peoples into their own catalogue of gods. Their conquests lead to the evolution of their gods form primarily Etruscan to a more Greek concept of the deities. Mercury was introduced into Roman society around 494 B.C. as the god of commerce. A century later Hercules was introduced into the pantheon of Roman gods. This Hellenistic tendency of the Romans would continue until the traditional Roman religion founded by Numa was all but a shadow of her former self. This adaptation was used in all situations in order to present the best possible view point. For example, Alan Wardman explains:

The war against Hannibal shows how religious institutions were adapted or borrowed as the Romans faced the most serious invasion in their history. The civil conflicts, including the civil wars, after 113 B.C., provide evidence that the civic gods could be manipulated by both sides…[28]

Rome faced crises that resulted in the expansion of their mythology concerning their gods and in some cases the use of religion against itself as in the civil war.

While Rome added to their catalogue of gods starting with the conquests of the Veii and other Italians, they were in some ways able to maintain their religious identity as given to them by Numa. However, by the time of the First Punic War the Roman religion began to make a major fundamental shift unlike the changes which occurred during the conquest of peninsular Italy. There are two major schools of thought which attempt to describe this change, one is present by Alan Wardman and the other by Alain Hus.

By the late Republic religion had become more political than ever before. Festivals were used by politicians to demonstrate their greatness instead of supplicating the gods. Expansion in the Roman games was enormous; Alan Wardman explains why, “it is a process of adding to religious forms because the politician can make use of them to express his superiority not to the gods but to his would-be peers.” [29] Wardman’s view of the religious changes in Rome is not as serve as other writers. Wardman accounts the changes in Roman Religion with the changes of the political atmosphere of Rome beginning with the Second Punic War. Wardman views the changes in Roman religion as a result of warfare. He states, “Other gods came from towns which Rome had defeated in war….”[30] The changes that occurred around the time of the Second Punic War should be viewed with the changes in politics during the same time period. Rome’s religion was very closely related to their politics and thus any changes within their political structure were bound to have an effect on the religious aspects of the society.

The opposing view on the changes of Rome’s official religion starting during the Second Punic War is presented by Alain Hus. Hus argues that the changes did not occur so much because of Rome’s conquests but because Greek thought had invaded the Roman culture.  The changes in the religious attitude of Rome were perpetuated by the Second Punic War as Hus describes, “The change that was taking place in the religious psychology of the Romans was accelerated by the crisis of exceptional seriousness produced by the Second Punic War.” [31] Greek gods and philosophy were more wildly accepted by the Romans during the Second Punic War especially during the early years when it looked as though Hannibal might succeed in conquering Rome. As a result of the impending doom many abandoned the traditional Roman gods and religion for that of the Hellenistic Greeks. However the problem that existed with this scenario is explained by Hus, “Greek religion was officially substituted for the ancestral Roman religion, just at the time when its preservation in Greece itself was half artificial.” [32] Thus, the Roman people were abandoning their own religion for a religion on the decline in Greece. As a result, like in Greece, the Romans began to turn to cults. Hus explains once more:

The success of these cults and their doctrines, the importance of which during the Republican period should not be exaggerated, bears witness to the inability of the Roman religion, even when Hellenized, to fulfill the spiritual needs of the Romans in these strangely new times.[33]

The official religion was also being directly attacked by the Roman senate when in 181 B.C. they ordered the books of Numa to be destroyed. Religion, while still important to the Romans, had become a skeleton of itself. “Superstition”, Hus argues, “flourished.” [34] Many prominent Romans began to openly question religion and skepticism ran ramped throughout the city.  General disrespect was very prominent in the city during the Second Punic War, as Hus describes, “In the middle of the Second Punic War we find Claudius Pulcher turning up his nose at the sacred hens, and Flaminius proclaiming the futility of supplications to the gods….”[35] The Second Punic War presented a problem for the Romans that they had yet to face in their history. As a result they were more than willing to abandon the gods of the fathers for the gods of the Greeks.

And yet both of these arguments pointing towards a similar point of view; Rome’s expansion into foreign lands, customs and religions lead to a change in their own cultural customs and religion. This was partially precipitated by Rome’s need to govern her new acquisitions, allowing citizens of Rome to become free of Roman authority and develop new ideas. When these provincial governors returned to the city they introduced problems into the Roman constitution, which had been avoided for centuries. This was most evident during the Second Punic War.  Political upheaval as a result of the Second Punic War lead to fear among the Romans, which gave to the belief that their  gods were not longer looking out for them and ultimately lead them to abandon their gods for those of the Greeks. The political situation within Rome was certainly changing slowly during the Second Punic War and after the war. The political and religious aspects of the city were intentionally connected to each other by Numa as previously explored. Religion played a key role in the regal and Republican periods and it is clear by the abandonment of the traditional religion by the Romans that the Romans still viewed religion as important during crisis of the Second Punic War. If this had not been the case then for what reason would the Romans have to accept new gods rather than just simply abandoning religion all together? Certainly there were some who openly were skeptical of religion and disrespect towards the gods was rampant throughout the city. However, the fact Greek religion was imported to Rome during the Second Punic War, and widely accepted by the Roman people, demonstrates that their connection to religion was still strong and that the important role religion played in Roman daily and state life was nevertheless still very strong. Whether or not either side is truly correct is probably never going to be discovered. However, both sides of the argument can be viewed in connection with each other and not in opposition to each other. Rome at the time of the Second Punic War and after was remarkably changed from the time previous to the war. The war played a significant role in the development of both the political and religious life of the city.

Ultimately, the impact of religion on the Roman people following the reign of Romulus is clear. Numa’s foresight that without religion the Roman people would be a brutal city that favored war over peace is remarkable. His religion affected the lives of the Roman people and the city itself throughout the regal and Republican periods. Republican Rome owes much of its prosperity and relative peace to the institution of religion by Numa. The introduction of the gods themselves provided the Romans with a distraction from the earthly. Numa’s additions to the calendar and the introduction of many festivals allowed for the Romans to be preoccupied with the gods even more. Reverence to the gods went so far as to make it near impossible for the Romans to wage war unless it was clearly viewed as a defensive rather than offensive war. Laws regulating morality helped to create a much more humane and civilized people than what had existed during the time of Romulus. Even with the problems of the Second Punic War the importance of religion is still clear to see. For the average person religion was everything and the politicians clearly knew that by providing funds to build more temples or adding more days of festivals to the calendar. Daily and civil life revolved around religion. Without religion it is impossible to know how the Romans would have turned out, or if they would have merely become a footnote for another civilization on its way to historical immortality. Certainly the biggest contribution religion made to the Roman people was in making them able to govern themselves. The Roman Republic certainly survived in part because of the fear of the gods. Without the influence the gods had on the Roman people the Republic could certainly have failed or never been started to begin with. Machiavelli is right when he observes, “So that if it were a question of the ruler to whom Rome was more indebted, Romulus or Numa, Numa, I think, should easily obtain the first place.” [36] Romulus gave the world the city of Rome, but Numa gave a people an identity and soul through religion. Therefore it is Numa, not Romulus who gave us the Roman state that we are familiar with today.


[1] Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Translated  by Leslie J. Walker, S.J. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.  Book I section 11 pg. 140

[2] Plutarch. Lives: Volume 1. Translated by John Dryden. Edited by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001.  pg. 85.

Numa’s age at the time he became King is disputed. Cicero places his age at 39.

[3] Plutarch,  83

[4] Livy. The Early History of Rome. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. , 1960.

[5] Plutarch. pg. 87

[6] Plutarch. 2001. pg. 87

[7] Hus, Alain. Greek and Roman Religion. Translated  by S.J. Tester. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962. pg. 103

[8] Hus, 103

[9] Plutarch,  91

[10] Plutarch,  94

[11] Cicero. On the Commonwealth and On the Laws. Edited by James E. G. Zetzel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. pg. 41

[12] Plutarch, 96

[13] Plutarch, 97

[14] Plutarch, 98

[15] Cicero, 41

[16] Hus, 109-110

[17] Plutarch,  97

[18] Plutarch,  97

[19] Plutarch, 91

[20] Hus, 100

[21] Livy, 56

[22] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[23] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[24] Plutarch, 92

[25] Plutarch, 92-93

[26] Plutarch, 93

[27]Machiavelli, 146 Book II section 13.

[28] Wardman, Alan. Religion and the Statecraft Among the Romans. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1982.  pg. 22

[29] Wardman, 24

[30] Ibid.  3

[31] Hus, 135

[32] Ibid. pg. 135

[33] Ibid. pg. 137

[34] Ibid . pg. 136

[35] Ibid. pg 137

[36] Machiavelli, Book I section 11 pg. 140.

The Nature of Government and of the United States as Affecting the Right to Secession


The question of Secession was raised immediately after the first Southern states began to leave the Union. President Abraham Lincoln ordered Federal troops to invade the South in hopes of unifying the nation. Following the war, Orestes Brownson wrote on the issue of whether or not Secession was in fact legal or constitutional. Secession is not constitutional, as Orestes Brownson argues in the American Republic, on the grounds that government itself is indissoluble.

Orestes Brownson divides his argument against Secession into four major themes: the origins of government, the constitution of government, the United States, and the United States Constitution. These four main arguments supply the basis upon which Brownson argues that secession is unconstitutional. In order to understand why secession is unconstitutional, it is necessary to examine Brownson’s four main arguments first.

The circumstances surrounding the secession of the southern states in 1860 stem from a long argument concerning which was superior, the state or federal government. The necessity of government and man’s place in society is self evident according to Brownson who argues, “Hence as man is nowhere found out of society, so nowhere is society found without government.”[1] As such, the question over whether or not man belongs in society and whether or not society requires government is put to rest by Brownson. From the ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle to the Enlightenment philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau the question of the origins of society and government have been argued.

Yet these philosophers do agree on at least a handful of axioms of government and man’s loyalty to government. Brownson sums up the responsibilities of government by stating:

“[Government] defines and protects the right of property, creates and maintains a medium in which religion can exert her supernatural energy, promotes learning, fosters science and art, advances civilization, and contributes as a powerful means to the fulfillment by man of the Divine purpose in his existence.”[2]

These axioms are agreed upon by most political philosophers throughout time, although the specific aim of government may be different. But as long as these are maintained and protected, the individual person in society is obligated to remain loyal to the society and government. As Thomas Hobbes might agree, a duly instituted regime has the authority to do as it pleases. However, if it fails to protect the people it is no longer legitimate. Tyranny is never legitimate. We are required to remain loyal as long as our liberty is secure.[3]

Yet, while the majority of political philosophy agrees that there are certain responsibilities of both society and the citizen, the origins of government differs drastically from one philosopher to the next. The six origins of government according to Brownson include:

Government originates in the right of the father to govern his child.

It originates in convention, and is a social compact.

It originates in the people, who, collectively taken, are sovereign.

Government springs from the spontaneous development of nature.

It derives its right from the immediate and express appointment of God.

From God through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society

From God through the people

From God through the natural law[4]

The first of these origins is taken directly from two sources, the first is Aristotle and the second is Sir Robert Filmer. Aristotle’s argument, stemming from book one of the Politics, demonstrates that the origins of society and government come from the family. Aristotle argues that because people wish to mimic the gods, they favor monarchy as their choice of government with the family ruled by the father, the village ruled by the eldest male, and the city ruled by the king. While Aristotle admits that other forms of government do exist, and may in fact be more desirable than monarchy, people will still naturally yearn for monarchy. This argument is also connected to Divine Right of Kings set forth most completely by Sir Robert Filmer.  Sir Robert Filmer, in his Patriarcha, makes an argument in favor of Divine Right monarchy stemming first from Adam’s sovereignty over his children. Brownson, however, disagrees both with Aristotle and Filmer by rejecting monarchy in favor for republican government. . “The distinctive mark of republicanism is the substitution of the state for the personal chief, and public authority for personal or private right.”[5] Governments based on the principle of fatherhood are despotic. Republicanism is the true government because the rulers rule for and on behalf of the state. Rulers who are proprietors of the land are not rulers. Aristotle is most famous for putting forth the argument that government stems from the family, is critiqued with the moderns who reject paternal rule. One must rule for the sake of the commonwealth.

Following the classical understanding, Brownson critiques the modern understanding of government as being a social compact. “The state, as defined by the elder Adams, is held to be a voluntary association of individuals. Individuals create civil society, and may uncreate it whenever they judge it advisable.” Brownson rejects the concept that society can be established and abolished at will and calls America out, “Prior to the Southern Rebellion, nearly every American asserted with Lafayette, ‘the sacred right of insurrection’ or revolution…”[6] However, sovereignty cannot be relinquished, neither by a state/nation nor by a person. The Enlightenment holds that people are sovereign in a state of nature and that they give up part of that sovereignty when they enter society. “But individuals cannot give up what they have not, and no individual has in himself the right to govern another.” Modern political philosophers suppose a state of nature, which supposes a social contract. Brownson rejects the social contract because man cannot willingly forfeit his rights and because man is bound into society. Furthermore, men in nature fail to be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to create a civil society.

While there are still four other origins of government according to political philosophy, the first two are the most important for the United States. The United States was born out of the modern understanding of government, the only enlightened government. The United States, as a result, was an independent nation and a republic before it declared independence from England. Brownson’s arguments against the ancient and modern assertion of the origins of government indicate that the United States as a society had to exist prior to the revolution. However, the question is not whether there is a United States but whether it formed as a collection of sovereign, independent nations or whether it formed as a single whole. The same principle applies to the society as it does to the individual: a sovereign society cannot give up its sovereignty. If this is the case, then the several states never gave up their sovereignty and the United States as a single entity never existed. Brownson argues against the individual sovereignty of the states by stating, “The colonies were all erected and endowed with their rights and powers by one and the same national authority, and the colonist were subjects of one and the same national sovereign.”[7]However, if the United States exists as a single entity it would be impossible for the states to be independently sovereign.[8] Thus, if the United States is a society, then the states would be inferior to the federal government. In this instance, the states would not be capable of secession from the Union because they are not sovereign nations in themselves.

The American Constitution, therefore, is the only element left in determining whether or not the southern states had a right to secession in 1861.   As discussed in his chapter on the origins of constitutions, a constitution is not something created, as man is a creature not a creator. Under the auspices of this same argument, the U.S. Constitution is understood by Brownson as, “Two-fold, written and unwritten, the constitution of the people and the constitution of the government.”[9] This unwritten constitution is what Brownson refers to as the Providential constitution. To Brownson, this Providential constitution is not something created but rather comes into existence along side the nation.[10] The American Providential constitution is unique to the United States and never seen elsewhere in the world. Our Constitution is made up of both sovereign and dependent states, and is neither a confederacy nor centralized state.[11] We are still yet one people divided into states but still united. “The Union and the States were born together, are inseparable in their constitution…”[12] The United States Constitution declares the American people as, “We the people of the United States…” And as such, the American people are united together rather than a loose confederacy of sovereign nations with mutual interests.[13]

The origins of the American system and the nature of the American Constitution are seen most clearly through Brownson’s understanding of territorial democracy. The thirteen original colonies that formed together as the United States of America did not exist under their own authority. They were created by the authority of the King of England and joined together as United Colonies under the authority of the Continental Congress. The various states that have come into the Union since the creation of the United States Constitution can only do so under the authority of the United States Congress.[14] The individuals living within a given territory are granted democracy within their given territory, but that territory does not have sovereign authority. Rather, it is subject totally to the United States Congress. The people living in the territory, “are subjects of the United States, without any political rights whatever, and, though a part of the population, are no part of the sovereign people of the United States.”[15] Or more simply put, are not citizens. The people of the territory are given the authority by the United States to, “meet in convention, draw up and adopt a constitution declaring or assuming them to be a State, elect State officers, senators, and representatives in the State legislature, and representatives and senators in Congress, but they are not yet a state.”[16]

Thus, when a territory becomes a State and the people of that territory go from being subjects to citizens of the United States that State only exists by the will and authority of the United States Congress. None of the States exist by themselves with sovereign authority. Brownson demonstrates this time and again as showing that society and government are not created and that the United States is the sovereign and not the individual states. As a result, Secession of the various states in 1861 could not be legally permitted as they had no authority independent of the United States to secede from the Union. From the time the first colonies were settled to when the territories became states, the individual states depended upon an outside authority for their creation. As such, outside the Union they are not states.

[1] Brownson, Orestes. The American Republic. ( Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2003) pg. 12

[2] Ibid. 13

[3] “But it is never lawful to resist the rightful sovereign, for it can never be right to resist right, and the rightful sovereign is the constitutional exercise of his power can never be said to abuse it.” Ibid. 17

[4] Ibid 19-20

[5] Ibid. 23

[6] Ibid. 34

[7] Ibid. 136

[8] “If the several States of the Union were severally sovereign states when they met in the convention…” Ibid. 127

[9] Ibid. 141

[10] Ibid. 141, “It is Providential, not made by the nation, but born with it.”

[11] Ibid 141, “The unwritten or Providential constitution of the United States is peculiar…”

[12] Ibid 144

[13] Ibid. 145 “united, not confederate States.”

[14] Ibid. 145 “Even then it was felt that the organization and constitution of a State in the Union could be regularly effected only by the permission of the Congress; and no Territory can, it is well know, regularly organize itself as a State…”

[15] Ibid. 146

[16] Ibid. 146


How the Constitution provides for energy and stability while maintaining liberty and republicanism through separation of powers.


Energy and stability have been the greatest questions in government since the ancients first developed the polis. Prior to the United States, no country made better efforts to perfect the art of separation of powers than England has made. Publius describes in Federalist 37 the need for stability and energy in the new government, while at the same time protecting the liberty of the people and the republican way of life. The Constitution of 1787 achieves these aims through a separation of powers between the three branches of the Federal government and the specific make up of the departments.

In order to understand Publius’ argument better, it would be best to take his argument in Federalist 37 first, followed by his discussion of the relationship between the three branches of government. Lastly I will view his discussion of the specific make up of the various branches of the United States Government.

Publius argues for the necessity of a separation of powers in the new government in order to provide for the necessary stability and energy in government while protecting liberty and republicanism. In order to do this he argues that there most be present a separation of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government. Furthermore, there must be a separation of powers between that of the States and Federal governments. Publius says, “Among the difficulties encountered by the convention, a very important one must have lain in combining the requisite stability and energy in government with the inviolable attention due to liberty and to republican form.”[1] The first attempt at creating a republic with the Articles of Confederation failed due to a lack of energy and stability within the government, thus it was pertinent to create in the new government fixes for these problems. Publius then goes on to explain:

The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people by a short duration of their appointments; and that even this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but in a number of hands.[2]

This is the genius of the new Constitution according to Publius, it has attained the short periods of appointment and dividing the government among many hands. In order that the liberty of the people is not offended, they must remain the source of power for the government.

Yet this is not enough, in order to understand how this present in the Constitution Publius explains further in papers 47-51. In the first of these papers, Publius addresses the allegations by opponents of the proposed plan that it lacks a separation of powers. Publius explains Montesquieu’s argument for the separation of powers by saying, “he did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over, the acts of each other.”[3] The magistrate must have the authority to not only enforce the laws passed by the legislative, but also to veto laws that violate the Constitution, and the judicial cannot create laws but can advise the legislative.[4] Publius then goes on to demonstrate that the various Constitutions of the states provide for more blending of the branches of government than the proposed Federal Constitution.

And then in Federalist 48 Publius describes how the Federal Constitution provides a defense through a moderate blend of the branches of government. At first he argues:

But in a representative republic where the executive magistracy is carefully limited, both in the extent and duration of his power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly, which is inspired by a supposed influence over the people with an intrepid confidence in its own strength; which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes; it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people out to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.[5]

So in order to prevent the encroachments of the legislative on the rights and liberties of the people, the executive and judicial branches must have authority to reign in the power of the legislative. The legislative is also apt to encroach on the power and freedom of the other branches through pay[6], and thus they must be limited on how they are able to alter the pay of these other branches. Publius provides examples of Virginia and Pennsylvania where the powers of the legislative were not protected against and the judicial and executive branches were usurped by the authority of the legislative. Having demonstrated the dangers of allowing unbridled power to exist within the legislative branch, Publius goes on to explain how it might be possible to prevent the encroachments of one branch on the power of another.

Federalist 49 provides for this explanation and Publius defines that the people alone are the source of charter for the Constitution and its parts. Thus the people alone should be consulted when the powers of the Constitution are in question as to demolishing them, or creating a new power.[7] Appeals to the people are necessary in order to prevent the encroachments of power by the various branches. Yet frequent appeals are insufficient in protecting the freedom of the society. Not only this but it is impossible, as Publius explains, “The members of the executive and judiciary departments are few in number, and can be personally known to a small part only of the people.”[8] Yet the legislative is many in number and can be known by a larger number of the people.[9] Thus the legislative would be most likely to take advantage of the appeals from the people and thus encroach on the various powers of the other branches. As such frequent appeals of the people could turn out to be bad for the stability, energy and liberty of the society as the legislative might take their appeals as a mandate. And so how this can be moderated is discussed next by Publius.

Publius states at the beginning of Federalist 50, “It may be contended, perhaps, that instead of occasional appeals to the people, which are liable to the objections urged against them, periodical appeals are proper…”[10] In order to achieve this, Publius argues that a fixed period for appeals to the people could be detrimental to the purpose of those appeals. If they are too close together Publius argues, “the measures to be reviewed and rectified will have been of recent date, and will be connected with all the circumstances which tend to vitiate and pervert the result of occasional revisions.”[11] Yet by the same token, if they are too far apart then the people are likely not to know each other and to be unaware of the circumstances which lead to the need for revisions. [12] To demonstrate his point, Publius once again looks to the states for an example. He tells of how in Pennsylvania there had been a meeting of censorial council to remedy the defects of their Constitution. He elucidates however that the members of the council were prominent citizens who were members of the parties within the state. Secondly, some of the members of the council had served in the legislative and executive departments. Third, the proceedings of the council were disrupted by the factionalism of the members themselves. And finally, the council either did not understand the limits placed on the legislative and executive, or the legislative completely ignored the changes made by the censorial council.[13] Publius demonstrates properly the difficulty of having occasional or frequent appeals to the people for the remedy of the defects for the Constitution.

And so Publius goes on to discuss in Federalist 51 the structure of the government in regards to checks and balances. He states, “it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.”[14] The importance of each department having its own will is demonstrated in the preceding papers, where Publius demonstrates the likely chances of an encroachment and usurpation by the legislative. In order to achieve this, Publius also states, “It is equally evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others for the emoluments annexed to their offices.”[15] Thus the departments must have a will of their own and should not be made dependent on the other departments for their pay. But at the same time Publius argues that the members of the various departments must be given the constitutional means and personal motives to protect against the encroachment of another department on their own.[16] Publius argues, “The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It must be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government.”[17] However, Publius also reminds the reader that the legislative must be predominant in republics. In order to properly control the legislative against usurpation Publius argues:

The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.[18]

By dividing the authority of the legislative, a republic is capable of controlling the growth of power and influence of the legislative. Yet this is not enough, as Publius points out it is important in a “compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments.”[19] By dividing the legislative, you weaken its ability to encroach on the authority of the other branches. But by dividing the government into two different governments and allotting them different powers a republic can prevent the creation of a tyranny.

However, one question still remains and that is how the different bodies of government are erected for the purposes presented in Federalist 51. The various branches must be provided with different powers so that no one branch can consolidate that power. The branches must also have varying degrees of separation from the people, so that the passions of the majority cannot rule in society. In regards to the legislative branch, the branch should be split into two distinct houses with one having more of a dependence and response to the people than the other. As the legislative branch is closest to the people, and thus lays one of legislative threats, it is proper that it be divided so as to limit this closeness with the people. The first branch of the legislative Publius discusses is thus the House of Representatives, which is designed to be the department most dependent on the people. Publius describes, “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”[20] The House of Representatives will only share in the legislative authority of the government and will be able to respond to the passions of the people while the upper house will be able to filter out the reason. This great authority constitutes a need for a shorter duration of power as Publius states, “It is a received and well-founded maxim that where no other circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is, the great out to be its duration…”[21] Further, the House of Representatives will be watched not only by the people through its direct dependence on them, but also by the collateral branch of the legislative.

Next Publius discusses the Senate, which serves as the connection between the States and the Federal government as directed by the un-amended Constitution.  On this Publius states, “It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”[22] So that the States retain some type of authority under the new Constitution, it is important that they be given the authority to appoint the members of the Senate. The advantage of this stands that now law cannot be passed without the consent of both the people and the States.[23] And it also serves as a way to prevent members of the legislative body from forgetting their constituents by requiring the laws to be passed by both distinct bodies. Publius goes on to say:

The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by the factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.[24]

The Senate’s mutability is important as well, so that the members restrain their passions and tyrannical nature. By having the Senate elected by the States, the States have their own elections for government offices. By changing the government representatives in the States, the Senate will be apt to change and thus opinions will be changed. Their length of office will allow the Senate the opportunity to learn the laws of the nation as well, and so that they are not constantly changing and that the opinions and measures remain some what consistent.[25] The importance of the Senate within the make up of checks and balances and separation of powers is clear. It serves as a check on the passions of the people, while balancing the representation of the States within the Federal government. Further the two branches of the legislative provide for stability and energy in the new government by removing the passions of the people and allowing for competition within the branches.

Thus next Publius discusses the executive branch, by far the most controversial of the day and most in need of defense by Publius. Publius discusses the mode of electing the President in Federalist 68. As with the legislative, the mode of electing the President must have a way of preventing the passions of the majority from ruling. Thus the Electoral College was devised as a way of preventing the encroachments of the people’s passions from entering into the election of the President. Publius describes, “It was equally desirable that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation.”[26] By doing this the Electoral College is made up of a small number of individuals so that deliberation is permitted in the election of the new President. Publius says, “This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of the President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”[27] As for the proper place of the executive in the stability and energy of government, he is of the most importance. As Publius says, “A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory must be, in practice, a bad government.”[28] The executive must be strong and energetic in order to properly execute the laws he is charged to enforce. Publius calls “united; duration; an adequate provision for its support; and competent powers”[29] to be what constitutes an energetic executive. Energy is found in unity as in a single person the powers of the executive can be carried out quickly without delay. If the executive power were divided among more than one person, it would be subject to deliberation which will prevent an energetic executive. [30] Likewise, the President’s tenure of office is important for his energy. The duration of office is also an important element in the stability of the executive. If he stays too long, then he is apt to be too firm and possibly encroach on the powers of the legislative. Yet if he is tenure is too short then he is apt to fall prey to the legislative.[31] Shortness in the tenure of office is also likely to prevent the interest of the executive from performing his duties. This is also the argument used by Publius in Federalist 72 in regards to the reelection of an executive; by allowing him to run for reelection, he will watch how he acts in office so that the people look upon him favorably.[32] These are the aspects which allow for an energetic and stable executive, without which the government as a whole would lack stability and energy.

Lastly, Publius discusses the importance of the Judiciary in the make up of the new Constitution. Publius calls the Federal judiciary, “the best expedient which can be devised in any government to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.”[33] The purpose of the Federal judiciary he proposes is to prevent “the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.”[34] Publius counters the fears of judicial usurpation by asserting that the Federal judiciary will be the weakest of all the branches as it lacks power over the purse and sword. Publius further argues:

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.[35]

The Judicial branch will have no authority over the purse or over the sword, but instead only over judgment.[36] It will thus be able to prevent against legislative and executive encroachments by striking down laws which are contrary to the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States. The separation of the judicial from the legislative is also important so as to allow the judges to exercise their judgment without fear of reprisal by the legislative branch. Thus, the salaries of the judges cannot be lowered so as not to influence their opinions.[37] Their tenure of office also allows for freedom of judgment in judicial matters. Their appointment is for during good behavior, which prevents their judgment from being dependent on reelection, which may have a negative effect on their opinions. Thus through the judicial department is called upon to be safeguard against the encroachments of the representative and executive bodies. It will further only have the power of judgment, not the power of the purse or the sword. And it will further lack dependence on the legislative branch because their salaries cannot be lowered and their tenure of office is during good behavior, not apt to reelection.

The Federalist lays out a discussion of how energy and stability will be present in the new Constitution without violating the principles of republican government and the liberties of the people. As such, the basic necessity to ensure this requires a separation of powers. Publius describes how the various departments of the new government participate and uphold the principles of the separation of powers. He further demonstrates how the people and States partake in the controlling of the new government by their participation in the election of the houses of the legislative. Publius properly upholds his argument in Federalist 37 in his discussion of the following papers.


[1]Federalist 37, in Alexander Hamilton et al., The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter, introduction and notes by Charles R. Kesler (New York: New American Library, Mentor, 1999), 194.

[2] Federalist 37, 195

[3] Federalist 47, 270

[4] Federalist 47, 271

[5] Federalist 48, 277

[6] “as the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people…”Federalist 48, 278

[7] “As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power…” Federalist 49, 281-282

[8] Federalist 49, 284

[9] “The members of the legislative department…” Federalist 49, 284

[10] Federalist 50, 285

[11] Federalist 50, 286

[12] “If the periods be distant from each other…” Federalist 50, 286

[13] “Pennsylvania in 1783 and 1784, was, as we have seen….” Federalist 50, 286

[14] Federalist 51, 289

[15] Federalist 51, 289

[16] “But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several…” Federalist 51, 289

[17] Federalist 51, 290

[18] Federalist 51, 290

[19] Federalist 51, 291

[20] Federalist 52, 295

[21] Federalist 52, 298

[22] Federalist 62, 345

[23] Federalist 62, 346

[24] Federalist 62, 347

[25] “The mutability in the public councils…” Federalist 62, 348

[26] Federalist 68, 380

[27] Federalist 68, 382

[28] Federalist 70, 391

[29] Federalist 70, 392

[30] Federalist 70, 392

[31] “Duration in office has been mentioned…”Federalist 71, 399

[32] “The first is necessary to give the officer himself….” Federalist 72, 404

[33] Federalist 78, 433

[34] Federalist 78, 433

[35] Federalist 78, 433

[36] Federalist 78, 433

[37] Federalist 79, 441

Doctrine of Self Preservation


 

In the Summer of 1763 John Adams undertook the writing of an essay entitled “On Private Revenge.” The turmoil of the French and Indian War was only freshly over and the British Parliament in that same year adopted the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation granted control over the lands acquired through the Treaty of Paris to the British government, not the colonial governments. Within a decade the Parliament would go on to do more to seek retribution from the Colonies for the assistance England provided during the war. This enraged the passions of colonial Americans, specifically in New England in and around Boston. We must read Adams’ essay only in the light of these events. In his traditional style, Adams calls for law and order to persevere over chaos and anarchy.

The first paragraph of the essay sets up the plan Adams has laid out for his argument. In the Politics, Aristotle asserts that man outside of the city is either a beast or a god. Adams argues that man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to unite and entire into society. The natural attributes of man are not enough to make him superior to other animals, but in fact Adams believes they would make man weakest of all other animals. What makes man superior is his ability to unite with others of his kind; thus agreeing with Aristotle partly by stating man outside of society is nothing more than a beast such as, “the bear or the tiger.” Within this man, like other animals, Adams argues, “As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves him.” Locke argues that the law of nature is only known through reason, with exception of the first law which is that of self-preservation. Hobbes too argues that within society the Magistrate is capable of ordering his subjects to do whatever he wishes, except if he desires to kill them in which case the law of self-preservation requires them to defy the Magistrate.  And thus Adams has created his argument; man is superior to other animals because he is able to unite himself within society. However, like other animals man has implanted in his soul self-preservation, which calls upon man to defend his life against all threats. How does one preserve his life and at the same time allow himself to exist in society? The law of self-preservation appears to grant man the authority to execute the law of nature. Society limits this ability and grants that authority to an impartial third-party.

Adams description of a state of nature comes closer to the description provided by Rousseau. He describes that in this state man is propogated, food is found on “the banks of clams and oysters”, weapons for war are present, and animal hide become clothing. Yet this society is void of friendship, trade, and human bonding unless instinct calls for it. In essence, man is truly free and independent without any other above him or below him. Adams defines the virtues of the “savage state, courage, hardiness, activity, and strength.” Take these four virtues and compare them to the four classical virtues, “Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Many view the virtue of courage as among the basest virtues, in fact Aristotle in the Ethics describes it almost immediately, indicating that it is the most base of all virtues. The man who is in charge in this society is the one who can kill the best, or run the fastest. This is the basis for tribal leadership, and possibly the roots of how one became king in ancient England, France, or Germany. This basis for determining who is superior will also result in the usage of revenge over justice; the man who perceives himself to be stronger and is beat by another will take it as an insult and attack the other man. Adams even argues that the idea of allowing a third-party to mediate the situation is indication  the deficiencies of the savage state. It is clear that Adams views revenge as the hallmark of a savage state. New Englanders within a few years of this essay will attempt to overthrow the established system and seek revenge for the ills done to them by the British parliament. Adams, in a possible prophetic statement argues that when a horse treads over a gouty toe, our passions are so excited that we feel we must kill the horse. The horse is a symbol of Aristocracy in philosophy, which can lead one to see the prophetic nature of the comment. The horse represents the British Parliament, which does end up stepping on the gouty toe of the colonies, who never really recover from the French and Indian War. Adams finishes this section by saying:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones, lies in this,—that among the former every individual is his own judge and his own executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which savages are not, without infinite difficulty, persuaded to make, as it is of a right and privilege extremely dear and tender to an uncultivated nature.

A stark contrast between the savage state and the polite state is clear,  in the one man is his own executioner while in the other he is not. Rousseau argues in the Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remakable    change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions the moral quality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulse, and law succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had regarded only himself, sees that he is obliged to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

Rousseau’s sentiments are similar to Adams, in that when man passes into civil society he is expected to give up those habits which were present in him in nature.

This brings up the next point. If society should ever come to the point where we will give up our polite and noble nature, we will become worse than the Goths before becoming Christians. He compares the individual who believes that when offended one should draw his sword to that of the fowl, the bull, and stallion. The image of these three animals are simple, the bird can represent bloodshed, the bull destructive force, and the stallion life and death. It should be noted that he does not use horse, but rather stallion which indicates not the symbol of aristocracy specifically. Instead, the stallion represents the wild, unbridled passions of man and specifically can be seen as a symbol of life and death, which horses are known to symbolize. After initially using fowl, in his ending sentence of this paragraph Adams states, “But are cocks and bulls and horses the proper exemplars for the imitation of men, especially of men of sense, and even of the highest personages in the government!” The cock more specifically than fowl represents the underworld, passion and pride, and thus we arrive at how man is outside of nature: Prideful, passionate, destructive, and wild.

And finally Adams attacks the point that such images of gallantry have been argued from the military. Adams argument begins by stating that such images are not praised by the military, nor have they ever been. Instead, the dregs of society have idealized the Cock, Bull and Stallion as exemplars for man. He argues, “For every gentleman, every man of sense and breeding in the army, has a more delicate and manly way of thinking, and from his heart despises all such little, narrow, sordid notions.” Of these he mentions specifically Divines, Lawyers and Physicians. Divines represent religion, God; Lawyers represent the law; Physicians have a philosophic meaning behind them, in that whenever a Physician appears it represents healing of the body politic. In this instance, though it is much more likely that Adams is speaking that Physicians heal the body,  Adams suggests that they praise themselves above all others such as Divines and Lawyers do. The other set of professions he mentions include: husbandmen, manufacturers, and laborers. They lack the virtue of magnanimity and are instead short-sighted, little minded individuals believing their professions are the best in the world. It is likely then, that soldiers of lower ranks are just as likely to believe themselves superior to any other order. They are, as a result, prone to the, “principles of revenge, rusticity, barbarity, and brutality…” which Adams described earlier as the principles upheld by the savage. However, soldiers who are superior in their senses recognize the authority not only of their superiors but also of the civil society. Once again, in a similar prophetic nature as before, these soldiers recognize the superior nature of English law. Moving away from calling them soldiers, it is evident at this point that Adams is specifically referring to men in general, not just those who serve in the Army. England, being an image of the polite society, is superior to the savage society; some of his fellow New Englanders wish to rebel against English rule, thus stooping to this level. A truly polite and decent man would recognize the doctrine of self-preservation as indignant.

Adams having completed his argument has demonstrated that man who seeks the doctrine of private revenge has no regard for civil society, and therefore is only as good as a tiger or bear. Only within civil society is man able to full perfect his nature, which is where Adams demonstrates the Enlightenment principle that nature is created imperfect. It is man’s responsibility to perfect nature by building upon it, making things, and this is only possible in society. Likewise, man is only able to be fully man within society under the constrains of law and order which is characterized by justice; whereas man outside of society and in total chaos is characterized by the doctrine of self-preservation, or revenge.

The Good of the City and Man


Some in history have attempted to associate the good of the city with the good of man. In ancient times the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle argued this very notion. The city, according to Aristotle, is developed to assist man in reaching the complete human life through the administering of the daily and non daily needs. Thus what is good for the city must in the end is ultimately good for man. Man’s own good is tied to the city because it is through the city that man is able to live the complete human life. Initially what develops is the family, which is unable to provide for the non daily needs of mankind. Thus families enter into compacts with others to form villages, which are unable to provide for the daily needs of man. Finally villages are forced to join to form cities, which are capable of providing both the daily and non daily needs and thus is the only order capable of allowing for the complete human life. The ultimate struggle at the root of Socratic dialogues of both Plato and Xenophon, and the treatises of Aristotle, is the question of whether or not it is better to live of life of activity (politics) or the contemplative life (studies.) The breaking point comes between the politician and the philosopher but it is never truly clear as to which is better. We are only left with the evidence that only in the city are both lives possible. Thus what is good for the city must ultimately be good for man as well.

By the time of the Renaissance philosophers began to look at the question of the city differently. In the 17th and 18th centuries England produced two of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke helped to redefine what the city is and man’s relationship to the city. No longer was the city a natural order which helps man attain the complete human life. Rather, now the city is looked upon as an escape from the natural order. For Hobbes this natural order is a state of war because the only law is that of survival. Without a government to maintain order and ensure everyone obeys the laws of nature and maintains their contracts it is left to the individual to secure their rights. If you imagine the world before pan-national organizations like the United Nations or NATO you see this principle at work. Nations exist in a state of nature with each other, and thus in a state of war. There is no governing body able to enforce the laws of nature or maintain the contracts between two nations. Instead the nation becomes the judge, jury and executioner leading to a state of war. John Locke attempts to appear less savage than Hobbes but essentially reaches the same conclusion. Man exists in a state of nature, which is a state of pure freedom. Through reason man is able to know the law of nature. Yet in the state of nature man is responsible for enforcing the law of nature and contracts. Life is truly short and brutish in a state of nature as Locke states. Ultimately this state of nature dissolves into a state of war causing man to seek to escape nature and enter into society. For the moderns nature was something to be conquered and therefore society cannot be viewed as natural as the Greeks viewed it. Society is formed to allow for an impartial judge, and a common law which is enforced by an outside force. Outside of these responsibilities, society is useless to man. Hobbes defines society, as a Leviathan, the modern view of society is not as man’s friend but as his enemy. Unchecked society can do whatever it pleases whether it is for the good of man or not. For Hobbes the magistrate can do whatever he wants to his citizens and they must obey, save of course when one’s life is in danger and you are obligated by the law of nature to defend yourself. Thus for our Founders, students of men like Hobbes and Locke they would have viewed society, our Constitution, as a necessary evil.

Yet in recent times, namely the end of the 19th century, a new understanding has developed which does not exclude the Leviathan nature of society but does not reject society’s ultimate benefit to mankind either. The men who were associated with the German school of thought developed by men like Marx and Nietzsche associated society with being able to advance man. The central concern of Nietzsche is breaking man out of his “all too human” nature and the creation of the ubermensch. Marx viewed society as a tool to help advance man along the historical timeline to a period where no government would be necessary. In America we call the men and women associated with this line of thought the Progressives. It was their belief that in order for man to be moral the government had to instill that morality. For the moderns, morality was already present in the form of the law of nature. In order to understand morality one merely needs reason to understand the law of nature. Yet the German Historicist school of thought rejected a universal morality outside of the confines of the society. This notion was what helped spur on the Prohibitionists who believed it was government’s responsibility to ban alcohol to help better mankind. What developed was a notion similar to the ancient understanding that what is good for the city is good for man. Unfortunately, they were unable to temper the Leviathan and encouraged it to grow to control every aspect of human life. Through this belief came the rise of the Totalitarian states of Communist Russia, Fascist Italy and Spain, and Nazi Germany.

What makes the Progressive era different than the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment believed it was the responsibility of the government in a way to enforce the moral code. Yet the Enlightenment had the law of nature, which dictated right and wrong to society. Society was obligated to create laws in accordance with the law of nature or face being deemed illegitimate—they were able to hide the notion that really morality is whatever the majority willed. With the destruction of God by German philosophers came the destruction of the law of nature (ultimately rooted in the Divine Law.) Now it is whichever faction with the biggest guns makes the morality. The society for the Enlightenment is only charged with the safety of the people. Their complete perfection is left in the hands of the individual person. As Locke argues in his Letter on Toleration, society is permitted to promote religion but not religious beliefs—in other words it is man’s responsibility to find his way to salvation by whatever means he thinks best, but society is able to promote a religious lifestyle and prevent dangerous factions from existing within society. The Progressives were less worried about safety and more with perfection of humanity. The Ancients throw a wrench into the wheel of both movements by encouraging the notion that the city provides safety (non daily needs) and that the city provides for the complete human life. However, that safety doesn’t mean that the city should be ignored as in the case of the Enlightenment where individuals can essentially live and let live. Political activity was central in the Ancient understanding of the city. A man who refused to engage in Politics was called an idiot by the Greeks. Their definition of the complete human life had nothing to do with the divine—the idea of man’s salvation and perfectibility would have been lost on Aristotle in the Progressive sense. Rather, complete human life tends towards two arenas: Politics or Philosophy. Both lives potentially can lead to the complete human life. The obligation to be involved in the political life, more than merely casting a vote, is at the heart of why the city’s goods are good for man. By the Enlightenment man’s obligation to society was vested in merely voting. The interests of man at large are often mixed with the passions and interests of the individual. Progressives would view that it is important to have experts in positions of authority, so that their own private passions and interests are eliminated. Man is no longer able to make his own decisions, but is left to the dictates of supposed experts. Thus, since society should be dictated by those of superior intellect (experts in a given field), what is good for the city and man are intrinsically connected.

Declaration of Independence part 1


“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 history of America is littered with government documents which pledge allegiance to the Monarchy of England. The oldest of these, the Mayflower Compact, argues: “Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.” This argument lays down that the colonies have the authority, in the absence of the British parliament and King, to create laws and the various other legal documents for their protection and security.

The Declaration of Independence, a trans-colonial document, asserts from the outset that unlike previous colonial documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration is not being presented to maintain peace and security in the absence of the British government. Rather, the colonies for the first time are taking leave of their British government and setting out on their own to govern themselves. Furthermore, they are announcing that not only are they setting out on their own but that they have the right under the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.

The assertion of the Laws of Nature is a slow process that has taken thousands of years since the ancient Greek philosophers announced Natural Right. In his Nicomachaean Ethics, Aristotle argues for two types of justice: that which is just everywhere, and that which is just only in the city. Furthermore, there are two specific types of justice: legal and ancestral. The latter is just or unjust based on how the ancestors viewed it while the other is just or unjust based on the positive law of the day. This was altered centuries later by St. Thomas Aquinas who introduced the Natural Law. The Natural Law is that law which is inscribed on the hearts of all mankind; it is the Divine Law. The first knowable law is Self Preservation, which argues that you have not only a right but an obligation to protect your life. By the time of the Enlightenment and modernity the Natural Law had become the Law of Nature; a law which can be derived through reason and logic based on observations of nature. Once again, the first knowable Law of Nature is Self Preservation.

By invoking the Law of Nature, Thomas Jefferson and the colonies are invoking the belief that a state is obligated and permitted to separate from a parent for the first sake of Self Preservation. In fact, the charges made against Parliament and the King strike at the heart of Self Preservation. Furthermore, the Law of Nature dictates that when the child has matured they are to split off from their parent, such as the Bible says. In this instance, it is only right for the colonies to split from Mother England to govern themselves.

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