Tag Archives: declaration of independence

Call me a ‘conservative liberal’ please.

Up until now, when people have asked me what is my political philosophy, I’ve said that I’m a libertarian republican, both lowercase. In other words, I believe in a republican form of government (representative government with the different classes and powers balancing each other) and that this government should have powers limited by a constitution. While this still describes me, I will now be calling myself a conservative liberal.

In Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers, I wrote about how the Founding Fathers were conservative liberals. Here is what I wrote:

Eighteenth-century Britain was both conservative and liberal. Britain was conservative with its constitutional monarchy and traditional system of peerage and honours. Britain was also the most liberal nation in the world, with the people’s rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta. This conservative-liberal synthesis was brought over to the colonies, where it flourished for more than a century. Edmund Burke explains that the American colonists were “not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.”

Unlike most revolutions, the goal of the American Revolution was not to change society. In fact, the Founders and most Americans fought to maintain society as it was. The Declaration of Independence opens with:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

With the Declaration of Independence, America was dissolving the political bands connecting it to Britain. America was not dissolving the bands that held its society together. Not once does the Declaration of Independence mention society or changing the social system. One Founding Father even lamented that, amid the chaos of the revolution, “For the want of civil government the bands of society are totally disunited, and the people…have become perfectly savage.” This destruction of the bands of society is not what the Founding Fathers wanted and they worked hard to prevent it.

If Britain were to overthrow its monarchical government, that would be a radical change in its society. However, for Americans, who had no inherited classes or titles, dissolving the political bands between Britain and America would leave society virtually untouched. Although the signers of the Declaration of Independence could not be considered conservative from a British viewpoint, they certainly were from an American perspective.

These leading men were also liberal in the classical sense of “a commitment to the liberty of individual citizens,” “the proper role of just government as the protection of the liberties of individual citizens,” and “a commitment to a system of free markets.” As Frederick Douglass said about the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “They loved their country better than their own private interests… In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests… They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny.”

Therein lay the delicate balance. The Founding Fathers wished to protect the liberties of the American colonists and stop British tyranny while still maintaining law and order.

I have the same goals as our Founding Fathers. I want to promote liberty by removing the tyranny of an abusive and unresponsive government. That makes me a classical liberal. (Modern liberals, or neo-liberals as I call them, believe in something entirely different.)

However, unlike many libertarians, and this is why I am abandoning that moniker, I do not want overly rapid change. While I would love to see a dramatically smaller government, I do not believe we can go from a government spending 40% of GDP to one spending just 10% of GDP overnight. It will take many years. Drastic changes in the nature of our government done overnight would create so much chaos that it would give demagogues the opportunity to seize power. This makes me a conservative in the classical sense of the word.

So please, call me a conservative liberal. More so, learn what it means to be a conservative liberal and we can follow in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

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Bloomberg versus Jefferson: the role of government.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking to the UN General Assembly:

To halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is ultimately government’s highest duty.

Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:

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…

So is it government’s highest duty to make healthy solutions the default social option? Or are governments instituted among Men to secure our unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?

I think I’ll let you decide who which speaker is correct.

Thoughts on Governance

Writing for What Would The Founders Think?

In this post, Michael Newton tries to restore precision to our language. The American experiment was conceived as a republic, not a democracy. Present day efforts to conflate the terms not withstanding, the Founders were wary of democracies and they had good reason.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jefferson: The Dispensable Founding Father

Thomas Jefferson gets more praise than he deserves. While I generally agree with his ideology, his importance to the country’s founding is overblown.

Jefferson is best known for writing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s use of words is most impressive, possibly creating the greatest document in history. However, if a lesser hand had written the Declaration, the United States would still have been declaring its independence and history would largely be the same. Furthermore, Jefferson was merely expressing the sentiments that already existed across the colonies. [Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson Vol 12 408-409.]

After penning the Declaration, Jefferson acted as Governor of Virginia, where he fled from the invading British and his popularity declined. He also spent a number of year as Minister to France and was there during the Constitutional Convention and debate over whether to ratify the Constitution. He then became Secretary of State under George Washington, where he took the wrong side on many position. For example, he sided with the French even as that country descended into anarchy and tyranny.

Up until this time, Jefferson had only one accomplishment of national importance: the Declaration of Independence. He most certainly did less of import than Washington, Adams, Hamilton, or Franklin.

So why the reverence for Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson was the country’s first successful party politician. Hamilton had his Federalists, but he never made a true party out of it. It was just a loose collection of similar factions. In fact, Adams and Hamilton constantly disagreed and this caused the fall of the Federalists. On the other hand, Jefferson created a party system with him at the helm. Jefferson won the presidential election in 1800 and his Democratic-Republics owned the White House for the next 24 years. History is written by the victors and Jefferson’s party was victorious. Jefferson was lauded as a hero of the Revolution, though he didn’t fight and had only one major accomplishment, while Hamilton, who acted as Washington’s lieutenant, was a major author of the Constitution, and its staunchest defender in the Federalist Papers, became a villain.

I must add that I believe that Jefferson was a great President. This has also helped his popularity. However, his presidency occurred a quarter of a century after the Revolution began and 12 years after the country’s founding. In this respect, Jefferson may be considered great as some consider Andrew Jackson, but not in terms of the Founding alongside Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Hamilton, whose careers were all basically over when Jefferson became President.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on this interesting and perhaps controversial topic….