Was the American Revolution justified?

I know this is a bit off topic, but in light of COVID19 and our civil government’s response to it, I’ve been thinking about the American Revolution. Because our submission to authority should go up until the point of refusing to sin, was the foundation of our country Biblically justified? I can’t think of specific sins that the British were commanding their colonial citizens to commit. I also know that the so-called “Black-robed regiment” of pastors and preachers played an important role in stoking the fires of the Revolution. Were those pastors guilty of the same schismatic teaching and preaching now evident among Reformed pastors?

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It was British law to not tax the unrepresented.

So maybe those British who imposed taxes on the unrepresented had sinned themselves. But obeying a hypocritical or “unconstitutional” law is not necessarily or even generally a sin against God, is it? And neither is obeying a sinner.

I really enjoyed reading both sides of the Christian debates regarding the Revolution and also abolitionism. I think it was mostly newspapers, letters to the editor, that I came across years ago. I found them very interesting, and helpful and applicable to the “Christian” debates on homosexuality, marriage, etc. at the time.

I wish I remembered where I found them. Does anyone have any good references for the Christian debate on the Revolution? I suppose the normal, public debate amongst the founding fathers is not void of God.

This may be true, but it leaves out a lot of important facts. The franchise in Great Britain in 1776 was limited in the extreme. Scads of Britons were taxed without any meaningful representation in Parliament other than of a most nominal form.

And chucking the body of law that the colonists were appealing out with the bathwater was a funny way of establishing their rights under that law.

As they had played a role in the English Civil War over 100 years prior to our own Revolution. It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that the Cavalier side was Anglican and Roman Catholic and the Roundhead side was Congregationalist and Presbyterian, but not much of an oversimplification. Reformed men were leading rebels since at least the days of Buchanan, who raised King James VI of Scotland. (James VI of Scotland later became James I of England and the father of England’s Stuart line. Cromwell–inter alia–signed the death warrant of James I’s son, King Charles I.)

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This is something I have been wondering about. I have always been supportive of the Revolution, and I don’t want to change my position on a whim without reading and thinking about it first, which is what the Internet encourages us to do.

It can be said that this discussion is academic and useless, but where would Reformed libertarian homeschoolers be without academic and useless discussions?

I have noticed in the small Reformed circle inhabited by this website and, shall we say, the Moscow cohort, that there is a lot of support for the American Revolution on the one hand, and for the Confederacy during the American Civil War on the other. Thanks to Joe Sobran and other paleocon writers, I was a strong Confederate sympathizer until recently, when I shifted to a moderate pro Union stance. That shift has caused me to wonder about the Tory position on the Revolution.

Some things that make go hmmm:

  1. Before the Revolution you had the French and Indian War, aka the Seven Years’ War, during which the Brits defeated France and won control of Canada and other territory west of the Appalachians. This war was fought on multiple fronts and was expensive, and it was the reason for Parliament to begin to tax the colonies to pay for this war and their ongoing protection.

  2. By 1776, the British Empire was, by far, the most liberal and free nation and empire on Earth. The monarch’s power, especially compared with France and Spain, had been significantly reduced. Parliamentary sovereignty had been established. The real enemy of the revolutionaries was not King George, but Parliament and the King’s ministers.

  3. The notion that high taxes are a justification to start shooting is a liberal notion. We are now living at the end of liberalism (the classical kind) where it has become a farce. If we know that liberalism leads you to drag queen story time, we have to wonder about liberalism itself. We have to wonder if the very foundations of America have provided the support for the madness we see now. As we dissect America’s corpse, we are free to be frank about what the causes of death were.

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The main hinge-point, I think, is that the representative governments of the colonies, valid civil authorities, decided to secede. This was one reason it was so different from the French Revolution.

The Declaration was also against the House of Hanover, and not Parliament. The colonies were never really under the authority of Parliament, only the King, since they had their own representative governments.

Reading the history of the time, it is very interesting to see how many of the rebels still respected and honored English aristocracy, and fawned over them. They still considered themselves Englishmen, and had a softer hand been in charge, the colonies probably would never have left.

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All this discussion brings back old memories - let’s see now … (pause for consulting the calendar) … about 52 years ago, just after I’d been successfully evangelized (or awakened from a profound spiritual comatose condition). I was re-entering undergraduate school, in the company of similarly spiritually energized college men, pastored by an MIT grad with a DTS ThM. And, among the things we debated in the dormitory was the legitimacy of the American Revolution.

I won’t recount the debate here, except to say that it followed the lines you can find today where it is debated. We finally concluded that it was Biblically illegitimate and, as history would show, very expensive in terms of human life. In England, Wilbeforce led a successful campaign to abolish slavery, concluding with the Slave Abolition Act in 1833, about three decades before the American Civil War abolished slavery at a cost of more than half a million casualties.

But, here we are - 155 years after that bloody contest, still roiling socially and politically from it.

We can’t know the What-If stuff of history. Not with any certainty. Our Lord will judge the What-Did stuff, down to the last jot and tittle. And just like the sin of our father Adam, the guilt and judgment of our 19th Century fathers will fall on their great-great-grandsons (and further) who had no direct participation in the sins of their fathers.

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Indeed. We were the only Western nation that needed to kill 500,000 of its own citizens to abolish slavery. Maybe those seeds were sown during the Revolution. Maybe even before that.

You’re right. Who really knows but God?

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The Declaration of Independence literally outlines and explains the justification.

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Thomas Hutchinson, the former Governor of Massachusetts would like a word about this “Declaration.”

It’s lengthy, but it’s an eloquent rebuttal, and vital reading for anyone interested in the period.

https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1776-hutchinson-strictures-upon-the-declaration-of-independence

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Just for context, Hutchinson was a loyalist, if not one of the most leading and influential loyalists of the period, who was ousted as Governor and viewed by most people in his time as either a traitor or corrupt. It was his bungling, holding the ships in the harbor, that led to the Boston Tea Party.

That’s not to discredit what he says, but it certainly reveals his bias.

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Here’s a good read on it: https://crosspolitic.com/rebellion-to-tyrants-the-principles-behind-the-just-war-for-independence/

Also, we can make a distinction between whether the colonies’ civil authorities were justified in seceding, and whether the average farmer was justified in submitting to his local representative authorities. Whether or not we’re convinced the colonies were justified, certainly the colonists were justified in submitting to their authorities and defending their home.

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Fr. Bill,

Any good books on the subject you might recommend on the American Revolution?

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Hutchinson piece is fascinating. Thanks, @FaithAlone, for linking.

The Acts for imposing Duties and Taxes may have accelerated the Rebellion, and if this could have been foreseen, perhaps, it might have been good policy to have omitted or deferred them; but I am of opinion, that if no Taxes or Duties had been laid upon the Colonies, other pretences would have been found for [4] exception to the authority of Parliament. The body of the people in the Colonies, I know, were easy and quiet. They felt no burdens. They were attached, indeed, in every Colony to their own particular Constitutions, but the Supremacy of Parliament over the whole gave them no concern. They had been happy under it for an hundred years past: They feared no imaginary evils for an hundred years to come. But there were men in each of the principal Colonies, who had independence in view, before any of those Taxes were laid, or proposed, which have since been the ostensible cause of resisting the execution of Acts of Parliament. Those men have conducted the Rebellion in the several stages of it, until they have removed the constitutional powers of Government in each Colony, and have assumed to themselves, with others, a supreme authority over the whole.

In other words, it appears the Patriots were a minority of rebels who were exhilarated by the thought of independence and who had no real grid for the kind of authority God has and delegates upon His world.

Read the arguments of the Loyalists clergy (particularly the sermons), and it is reasonable to conclude that the main, even sole, concern of the Patriots was political. To argue that they somehow were concerned about Biblical categories of injustice and authority is laughable. Seriously, read the sermons of Loyalists. I don’t really know how to wrap my head around this, wanting to be a good Gadsden flag waving Presbyterian Patriot.

Nonetheless, I’m beginning to think Christians today are practicing revisionism because they want their own justification for rebellion against authority and that, being bored or disappointed with ecclesiastical power, they want some “real” power.

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And that would be just the kind of slander political men would stir up against a significant opponent.

Well, Jefferson wasn’t exactly a disinterested party to the dispute either.

I personally was taught quite a lot about the American Revolution growing up (I grew up very close to some of the major events of the war). I was never taught the case for the Loyalists other than in the broadest terms.

Teaching history as a morality play tends to lead to cartoonish representations of the participants. “Cartoonish morality plays” characterizes my interpretation of the history I was taught. Perhaps this is rooted in my own flaws rather than my education.

Men were motivated to fight and die for the crown in 1776. What motivated them?

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Dear Andrew,

I cant read the arguments of Loyalist clergy because the book is not out yet! But I did pre order it. Thanks for the recommendation.

To John M,

Why is it that books of revisionist history on the American Revolution seem to be rare? Recently I tried to Google some. The Loyalist clergy book, I think, came up, but besides that, the pickings are slim. Contrast that with the right wing niche market in World War II revisionism, Holocaust revisionism, pro-Confederate histories and so on. That niche market overlaps quite a bit with the conservative theonomic homeschooling world, if I may shamelessly generalize and stereotype. With a little bit of searching, you can buy books or subscribe to periodicals that defend Hitler; but King George III is out of luck. There are limits to contrarianism.

Here is an interesting thread posted over at Larry Auster’s old blog. The subject is the Civil War and how moral libertarianism led to it, but an interesting thread develops in the comments, started by the commenter Matt (also known as Zippy Catholic). The thread is about liberalism and paying taxes.

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/000728.html

Ben,

I am not an expert and what follows is pure speculation. First, hard-core Loyalists were driven out of the nascent USA. Most of them went to Canada or England, both of which are nice places which don’t require much nursing of wounds. Bygones were bygones. And America became a pretty awesome place in its own right, so Loyalist families who stayed didn’t have much to gripe about.

Reconstruction (and many of the events that brought about the end of the war itself), OTOH, was brutal without being complete. I suspect that if the North had ethnically cleansed the South of the planter class and sent the survivors someplace nice like Canada or England or Australia, we’d have a lot fewer disputes about the Confederate battle flag.

I have less of an explanation for why WWII revisionism holds much appeal. WWII established the modern world, so anyone dissatisfied with it has it as a convenient proximate cause to relitigate. But I’m not convinced of that explanation.