Declaration_of_Independence_(1819),_by_J

Our Founding Fathers

Some new perspectives on government and the system they built for us...

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The Declaration of Independence

The American Declaration of Independence is seen as a great victory for Democracy and liberty, a Republican and Anti-royalist document denouncing any and all forms of monarchy and Kingship. But is that assumption a fair one or is there more to it? We argue of course that there is far more to it than that and indeed that assumption only exists because the King is the obvious focus of the document. Firstly, not only was King George III not the tyrannical caricature the American propogandists made him out to be, but also the declaration itself as a political and constitutional document is very telling in regards to what our founding fathers believed about government.

Looking closer at the wording of the Declaration and the resulting story becomes rather surprising.


The word “Parliament” doesn’t even appear once in the declaration, but the word “King” does, even though by this point in history parliament had become indispensable in English government and its authority would only continue to grow in succeeding decades and centuries. In a legalistic sense the document itself is claiming that it is only the King from whom independence needs to be declared and it is only the King who wields any legitimate authority over the then colonies. So as far as the Founding fathers were concerned parliament was insignificant to their aims and need not be addressed at all. Reading point 13 of the Declaration (points 14 – 22 are subscripts of point 13):


He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:


The “others” being described here are the Lords and Commons in Parliament. The King only acts tyrannically in this sense because he gave his Assent to “their Acts of pretended Legislation” rather than refusing assent or in other words vetoing them, even the phrase “pretended legislation” you can tell is written with a great degree of intended distain to exude from the page as though to say, “You have absolutely no authority over us and never did”. But in Britain at this time, there is no such thing as the King outside of Parliament, and to a greater or lesser degree the King was between a rock and a hard place in the battle between the Atlantic Empire and Parliament. The veto itself had also not been used by a monarch in Britain since Queen Anne I at the beginning of the century, she was also the last Monarch to formally summon her councilors without controversy. So here, the declaration is pointing out a flaw in the Imperial government and constitution, that the crown has become too weak and should have revived its rightful prerogatives, or the veto in this case.

Looking again to the Declaration:


In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.


Unpacking yet further; “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” The founders do not say that Monarchy is by nature tyrannical or that one cannot find freedom or liberty under the rule of a Prince (Monarch), what they are saying is that this Prince, King George III, has behaved towards them as a tyrant would and so is not worthy to be their sovereign, and the declaration is used to justify that charge.

We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.” Here they further define not only the language preceding in the document but the previous point mentioning the King. The Parliament is defined by our founders as “their legislature”, the legislature only for their British cousins and nothing more; elsewhere in the Empire Parliament was the supreme legislature, the Americans never regarded it as such. And indeed, they regarded Parliamentary authority over America as a usurpation of legitimate authority, the Kings authority, and that it was an illegal notion and act that Parliament should assume that role. How they squared that circle before the Revolution was returning to earlier political theory and claiming they were only subjects of the Empire through the person and prerogative of the King, and that the King governed (or rather should govern) the colonies in cooperation with the colonial assemblies. But this was not to be, and the war was a rebellion primarily against a tyrannical and illegal legislature, not the King.


The Rebels have raised the [royal] Standard in Cambridge, and they call themselves the Kings Troops and us they call the Parliaments. Pretty Burlesque!” – Lieutenant John Barker, 4th (British) Regiment of Foot. May 1st, 1775


Such points of view can be found in the writings of Alexander Hamilton in his The Farmer Refuted, John Adams Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, even in private letters and public papers and pamphlets of Founders including James Wilson, James Iredell, Benjamin Rush, etc. Reading the Notes from the convention of 1787 we can see what the members talked about and debated there as well; chief amongst them were the powers and position of the presidency. And much like their earlier thought and insistence before the revolution that the Executive should not be severely weak nor subject to the legislature; they created a single chief executive, armed with a veto, the power of appointment to executive offices, commander-in-chief, clemency/pardon, appointment to the supreme court and other federal justices, etc. A far more powerful figure than King George III was, or any English Monarch ever would be since.

 

Quotes from our Founders

 
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Alexander Hamilton

"...Those, who aver, that the independency of America on the British Parliament implies two Sovereign authorities in the same state, deceive themselves or wish to deceive others in two ways; by confounding the idea of the same state with that of the same individual society, and by losing sight of that share which the King has in the sovereignty, both of Great-Britain and America...

...We hold our lands in America by virtue of charters from British Monarchs; and are under no obligations to the lords or commons for them: Our title is similar and equal to that, by which they possess their lands; and the King is the legal fountain of both: this is one grand source of our obligation to allegiance...


-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 23 February 1775.

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Benjamin Franklin

"...To me those Bodies seem to have been long encroaching on the Rights of their and our Sovereign, assuming too much of his Authority, and betraying his Interests. By our Constitutions he is, with [his] Plantation Parliaments, the sole Legislator of his American Subjects, and in that Capacity is and ought to be free to exercise his own Judgment unrestrain’d and unlimited by his Parliament here. And our Parliaments have Right to grant him Aids without the Consent of this Parliament, a Circumstance which, by the [way] begins to give it some Jealousy. Let us therefore hold fast [our] Loyalty to our King (who has the best Disposition towards us, and has a Family-Interest in our Prosperity) as that steady Loyalty is the most probable Means of securing us from the arbitrary Power of a corrupt Parliament, that does not like us, and conceives itself to have an Interest in keeping us down and fleecing us…"


-- Benjamin Franklin, to Samuel Cooper, 8 June 1770.

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John Adams

"...You Say I “might have exhibited millions of Plebians, sacrificed to the pride Folly and Ambition of Monarchy and Aristocracy.” This is very true. And I might hav[e] exhibited as many millions of Plebians sacrificed by the Pride Folly and Ambition of their fellow Plebians and their own, in proportion to the extent and duration of their power. Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to Say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and no where appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud Violence and Cruelty. When clear Prospects are opened before Vanity, Pride, Avarice or Ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate Phylosophers and the most conscientious Moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves, Nations and large Bodies of Men, never..."


-- John Adams, to John Taylor, 17 December 1814

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Alexander Hamilton

"...Perhaps, indeed, it may with propriety be said, that the King is the only Sovereign of the empire. The part which the people have in the legislature, may more justly be considered as a limitation of the Sovereign authority, to prevent its being exercised in an oppressive and despotic manner…"

-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 23 February 1775.

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George Washington

"...I am fully of opinion that those who lean to a Monarchical governmt have either not consulted the public mind, or that they live in a region where the levelling principles in which they were bred, being entirely irradicated, is much more productive of Monarchical ideas than are to be found in the Southern States, where from the habitual distinctions which have always existed among the people, one would have expected the first generation, and the most rapid growth of them.


I also am clear, that even admitting the utility; nay necessity of the form—yet that the period is not arrived for adopting the change without shaking the Peace of this Country to its foundation..."

From George Washington to James Madison, 31 March 1787

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John Adams

London Decr 6. 1787

Dear Sir

The Project of a new Constitution, has Objections against it, to which I find it difficult to reconcile myself. But I am so unfortunate as to differ somewhat from you in the Articles, according to your last kind Letter.

You are afraid of the on—I, of the few. We agree perfectly that the many shall have a full fair and perfect Representation.—You are apprehensive of monarchy: I of Aristocracy. I would therefore have given more power to the President and less to the Senate. The Nomination and Appointment to all offices I would have given to the President, assisted only by a Privy Council of his own Creation. But not a Vote or voice would I have given to the Senate or any Senator, unless he were of the Privy Council. Faction and Distraction are the sure and certain Consequence of giving to a Senate a Vote in the distribution of offices.

You are apprehensive the President when once chosen, will be chosen again and again as long as he lives. So much the better as it appears to me.—You are apprehensive of foreign Interference, Intrigue, Influence.—So am I—But, as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign Influence recurs. the less frequently they happen the less danger.—and if the same man may be chosen again, it is probable he will be, and the danger of foreign Influence will be less. Foreigners, seeing little Prospect will have less Courage for Enterprize.

Elections, my dear Sir, Elections to Offices which are great objects of ambition, I look at with terror—Experiments of this kind have been so often tryed, and so universally found productive of Horrors, that there is great Reason to dread them.

Mr Littlepage who will have the Honour to deliver this will tell you all the News.

I am, my dear Sir, with / great Regard


John Adams

From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 6 December 1787

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Alexander Hamilton

"...the King himself, being the supreme executive magistrate, is regarded by the constitution, as the supreme protector of the empire. For this purpose, he is the generalissimo, or first in military command; in him is vested the power of making war and peace, of raising armies, equipping fleets and directing all their motions. He it is that has defended us from our enemies, and to him alone, we are obliged to render allegiance and submission..."

-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 23 February 1775.

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James Wilson

"...It was chiefly during the confusions of the republic, when the King was in exile, and unable to assert his rights, that the House of Commons began to interfere in Colony matters..."


-- James Wilson, Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, 1768

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John Adams

New York June 9. 1789

Dear Sir

No! You and I will not cease to discuss political questions: but We will agree to disagree, whenever We please, or rather whenever either of Us thinks he has reason for it.—I really know not what you mean by apeing the Corruptions of the British Court.

I wish Congress had been called to meet at Philadelphia: but as it is now here, I can conceive of no Way to get it transported hither, without tearing and rending.—I own to you, that I shall wish to remain here rather than go to any other place than Philadelphia. Congress can not be accommodated in any other than a great City.

There was a dark and dirty Intrigue, which propagated in the Southern States that New England would not vote for G. Washington, and in the Northern States that New York Virginia and South Carolina would not vote for him but that all would vote for me, in order to [Spread] a Panick lest I should be President, and G. W. Vice President: [and this manœuvre made dupes even of two Connecticut electors.] I am well aware that this plot originated in N. York and am not at a loss to guess the Men or their Masters. I know very well how to make these men repent of their rashness.—it would be easy to Sett on foot an Inquiry: but it is not worth while.

That every Part of the Conduct and feelings of the Americans tends to that Species of Republick called a limited Monarchy I agree.—They were born and brought up in it. Their habits are [fixed] in it: but their heads are most miserably bewildered about it. There is not a more ridiculous Spectacle in the Universe, than the Politicks of our Country exhibit.—bawling about Republicanism which they understand not; and acting a Farce of Monarchy. We will have as you Say "but one great Man" yet even he shall not be a great Man.

I also, am as much a Republican as I was in 1775.—I do not "consider hereditary Monarchy or Aristocracy as Rebellion against Nature." on the contrary I esteem them both institutions of admirable Wisdom and exemplary Virtue, in a certain Stage of Society in a great Nation. The only Institutions that can possibly preserve the Laws and Liberties of the People. and I am clear that America must resort to them as an Asylum against Discord Seditions and [Civil War], and that at no very distant [period] of time. I shall not live to See it—but you may. I think it therefore impolitick to cherish prejudices against Institutions which must be kept in view as the Hope of our Posterity.—I am by no means for attempting any such thing at present.—Our Country is not ripe for it, in many respects and it is not yet necessary but our ship must ultimately land on that shore or be cast away.

I do not "abhor Titles, nor the Pageantry of Government"—If I did I should abhor Government itself.—for there never was, and never will be, because there never can be, any government without Titles and Pageantry. There is not a Quaker Family in Pensilvania, governed without Titles and Pageantry. not a school, not a Colledge, not a Clubb can be governed without them.

"I love the People," with you.—too well to cheat them, lie to them or deceive them.—I wish those who have flattered them so much had loved them half as well.—If I had not loved them I never would have served them—if I did not love them now, I would not Serve them another hour—for I very well know that Vexation and Chagrine, must be my Portion, every moment I shall continue in public Life.

My Country appears to me, I assure you in great danger of fatal divisions, and especially because I Scarcely know of [two Persons] , who think, Speak and Act alike, in matters of Government. I am with real Friendship yours

John Adams

From John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 9 June 1789

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Alexander Hamilton

"...You are mistaken, when you confine arbitrary government to a monarchy. It is not the supreme power being placed in one, instead of many, that discriminates an arbitrary from a free government. When any people are ruled by laws, in framing which, they have no part, that are to bind them, to all intents and purposes, without, in the same manner, binding the legislators themselves, they are in the strictest sense slaves, and the government with respect to them, is despotic..."

-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 23 February 1775.