Shortly after the close of the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), the British, in order to pay the cost of the just ended war, decided to impose a tax on the colonies. The Parliament enacted tax laws that were only for the North American colonies, and did not even attempt to discuss the taxes with the lawful governments (colonial governments). Instead, without regard for the laws of England and the Rights of Englishmen, bypassed the established methods of taxation
Various efforts by the colonists to gain a voice and be heard occurred between 1765 (the Stamp Act) and 1773 (the Tea Act), and, although effective to some degree, never did achieve the desired goal of representation.
On April 19, 1775, Capt. John Parker, Commander of the Militia in Lexington, lined up forty to seventy Minute men on the Lexington Green. Standing ready, they faced a few hundred of the British under the direct command of Major Pitcairn. Pitcairn ordered the Minutemen to put down their arms and disperse. As some of the minutemen began to move away, a shot was fired. Moments later, eight colonists lay dead on the Green. According to John Adams, this was the end of the revolution and the beginning of the War for Independence.
During those early years, a revolution was taking place in America. As John Adams said in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (August 24, 1815):
"...As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution, it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington. The records of the thirteen legislatures, the pamphlets, newspapers in all the colonies ought to be consulted during that period, to ascertain the steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the authority of parliament over the colonies, ...
Perhaps Mr. Adams was correct in that the revolution was the change of ideas rather than the war, itself.
The acts of tyranny transcend the mere concern over taxes. Governors were removed and replaced with Royal appointees; Assemblies were suspended; Writs of Assistance (warrants without affidavits or knowledge of a crime -- fishing expeditions) were issued, without judicial scrutiny; Accused individuals were transported to England for trial (where they were denied the benefit of witnesses and evidence); soldiers were quartered in homes and private property ransacked; guns, cannon, ball and powder were seized; and, the Rights of Englishmen were trampled in the dust.
During the course of these events, the colonists did not stand idle. Sons of Liberty organizations sprang up through most of the colonies. The Sons of Liberty, most often, took their orders from the Committees of Safety (an English tradition dating back to the 17th century, in the colonies), which were rapidly establishing themselves throughout the colonies.
Prior to the War for Independence, Committees of Safety were being organized throughout the colonies. Committees (an English tradition and right), made their appearance in the colonies in the 17th century. In 1692, a Committee of Safety jailed and expelled a Royal Governor (Andros) of New England. Prior to the revolution, Committees formed their militia, primarily to protect from Indian attack and provide night watchmen to give alarm in emergencies, such as fire or raids.
As the events that lead to the War continued, Committees made a return, in every colony, so that local government could deal with local problems, regardless of the ability, or inability of the Crown"s government to deal with necessary functions. In 1774, Committees appointed delegates to the First Continental Congress (the Stamp Act Congress).
Militia were, by custom, subordinate to the Royal governor, should he call for them. Otherwise, they were subordinate to the Committee of Safety. The condition of subordination of the militia (military) to civil authority has roots back to the Magna Carta (1215).
This relationship would serve, though to a lesser degree as time went by, through the War, and would provide the foundation for the subsequent Articles of Confederation and the state constitutions.
The Magna Carta
The authority for bearings arms, in the Magna Carta, is a common sense interpretation of the document. Item #1 provides that "all of the underwritten liberties" are retained. Though the Charter does not say, "the right to keep and bear arms", it does show that even those who were tenements on the land were able to posses the weapons of the day. Their obligation was to the next master in line (next higher level of government), which, in a present sense, would be the equivalent of the community, since serfdom is no longer practiced.
1. In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.
37. If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, either by socage or by burage, or of any other land by knight"s service, we will not (by reason of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage), have the wardship of the heir, or of such land of his as if of the fief of that other; nor shall we have wardship of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such fee-farm owes knight"s service. We will not by reason of any small serjeancy which anyone may hold of us by the service of rendering to us knives, arrows, or the like, have wardship of his heir or of the land which he holds of another lord by knight"s service. [Note: serjeancy, as used herein, is the obligation to provide either service to the Crown, or to provide material, such as knives, arrows, a bow or lance, or other implements of war - Black"s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition]
Though John Adams perceived the revolution to be over by April 19, 1775, others were less inclined to separate from the Crown.
Though violence had preceded the events at Lexington and Concord, it had been isolated events, seldom with significant loss of life. From that day forward, the violence escalated, drastically. Fort Ticonderoga; Bunker Hill; Ninety-Six; South Carolina; Montreal. Canada; Norfolk, Virginia; Great Canebreak, South Carolina; Quebec City, Canada; Moore"s Creek Bridge, North Carolina; Providence Island, Bahamas; Three Rivers, Canada; Sullivan"s Island, South Carolina; Fort Moultrie, South Carolina; and hundreds of lesser contests between loyalists and patriots, throughout the colonies. All of these fought with the intention of convincing the Crown that the Rights of Englishmen belonged to the Colonists, and seeking that recognition from Parliament. All of these battles fought to demonstrate the sincerity of the colonists with their demand for change.
Thousands of lives lost, while committed only to a resolution of the grievances that had been repeatedly sent to the government to be addressed. Constant prayer that resolution would be found and arms set aside -- returning to the warm arms of Mother England.
Though there were few colonists who believed that there was no recourse but to separate, forever, from English rule, it wasn"t until nearly fifteen months after the beginning of the war that the colonial government realized that too much had occurred to every believe that reconciliation could ever be achieved.
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was formally signed. This magnificent document provides an insight into the thinking of the Founding Fathers. For example, it provides their explanation of the purpose of government: "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Those rights therein mentioned are enumerated as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Clearly, they have provided us an understanding the government was instituted to serve the interests of the people, not to serve the interests of the ruler, which concept was so prevalent in Europe.
They also provide us the reason that they had taken on the formidable task of separating from England, "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."
They also explain the difficulty in coming to the point of separation with the explanation that " Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
Next, they explain the obligation that they impose upon the future, should events demonstrate that the government has deviated from its proper purpose.
"But when long trains of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide for new guards for their future security."
They then proceed with a list of grievances to reveal how the government of England has failed to serve the people, amongst which are:
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance...
He has obstructed the administration of justice...
He has made judges dependent on his will alone
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and acknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts or pretended legislation:
For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:
For imposing taxes upon us without our consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of a trial by jury:
For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
Perhaps we can see some parallels, here:
State enacted laws are superseded by federal enactments
Congress has established FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts
The independent judiciary, on many levels, has succumbed to administrative handouts funded by the federal government
The established bureaucracy (alphabet agencies) have become burdensome both in their imposition on our lives, and the costs of their maintenance.
Most every federal agency has been authorized to carry firearms, and some agencies have resorted to military equipment (tanks) to conduct their investigative duties.
Military forces have served in combat roles without declaration of war by the Congress, and have been directed to serve under the command of foreign officers.
Administrative agencies have been provided rule-making powers that are clearly imposed upon us outside of the protections of the Constitution.
Federal and state enforcement agencies have committed murder, with impunity, including the murder of women and children and the burning of churches and homes.
The government has, arbitrarily, determined that it can spend itself out of debt, that debt being imposed not only on us, but also on our posterity, for many generations to come.
By denying us the fundamental right to jury nullification, which had been prevalent throughout our history.
State laws and state initiatives have been made moot by federal agencies ignoring state law and punishing people who were acting totally within the laws within their respective state.
The thought process of the Founding Fathers was unconventional, for the times. Monarchy was the form of government, with few exceptions, in Europe. Never before had such a group of people been in a situation where what was being cast off did not have a replacement in the wings.
Political theory had abounded, the century before the revolution, but there had never been an opportunity to put such theory into practice.
One of the major theorists was John Locke. Locke was one of the Enlightenment philosophers, venturing into ideological arenas seldom entered before, by man. He challenged Sir Robert Filmer"s Patriarcha, which had become the primary justification for the continuation of monarchal rule in Europe. Filmer explained the monarchy as rule by descendancy to the eldest son -- from Adam to the then present monarch (George I), as the authority by which the sovereign right came.
Locke argued to the contrary. He felt that man could establish government and govern, not rule, himself. The above-mentioned quotations on government contained in the Declaration of Independence are a paraphrase of portions of Locke"s Second Treatise on Government. A more extensive presentation of Locke"s theory will be included, after some other considerations.
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