Skip to comments.10 Things You Should Know About the American Founding
Posted on 07/04/2014 2:57:07 PM PDT by NYer
On this Fourth of July, 238 years after Congress declared independence from the British Empire through the Declaration of Independence, its well worth reminding ourselves of a number of things about the Founding era.
In 1776, numerous individuals, families, committees, congregations, localities, and states had already proclaimed their independence, and almost no remaining imperial structure could continue to operate with any legitimacy in what would very soon become 13 states. By the very beginning of July of 1776, it became clear that members of Congress would have to catch up quickly to the more activist localities if they hoped to rein in the movement of independence before it got out of hand and splintered from lack of central direction and a coherent philosophy.
While the passage of the Declaration came on July 4, the members of the Second Continental Congress did not sign the venerable document until August 2.
Here are 10 facts about the American founding that are worth knowing and contemplating as our country celebrates its independence on the Fourth of July.
1. At the time of the passage and signing of the Declaration, roughly 2.15 million persons lived in the 13 colonies. Of those not enslaved, the vast majority was of Anglo-Saxon-Celtic descent and nearly 100 percent were Protestant. The “fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people on the earth. … Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired,” Edmund Burke stated publically in 1775. “The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion.”
2. Within Parliament and English governance, a debate had raged regarding the nature of the British Empire itself. Should it exist as a decentralized empirean extended commonwealth of like-minded peoples held together by language, religion, and economic interests? King George II, William Pitt the Elder, Lord Newcastle, and Edmund Burke had favored this, believing it essential to keep the colonies as free and productive as possible. “The Americans are the SONS, not the BASTARDS of England,” Pitt had argued. King George III had a very different vision for the empire, and he began to push his notions of a centralized empire from the very beginning of his reign.
3. The first real cry against George III’s centralizing drive came from an unlikely source, lawyer James Otis (1725-83), in 1761. Interrupting a judicial trial, Otis gave a four-hour oration. John Adams later described the scene: “But Otis was a flame of fire with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities. A prophetic glance of his eye into futurity and a torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away every thing before him. American independence was then and there born. The seeds of patriots and heroes were then and there sown to defend the vigorous youth. … Every man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did ready to take arms against writs of assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born. In fifteen years, namely in 1776, he grew up to manhood and declared himself free” [all punctuation added].
4. The level of education for Americans at the time was astounding. Though no public schools existed in any recognizable sense in the 18th century, some “Common Schools” did. At a Common School, tutors and teachers drilled students for hours in Greek and Latin. Even if a student only attended school from, say, ages 6-8, he would learn only classical languages. Parents were expected to teach their children to read, almost always from the King James Bible. The colonists met with great success, and the American colonies probably contained the single most literate people in the world at that time. For those attending one of the several colleges in the American colonies (Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, King’s College [now Columbia University]), a liberal education was the only real education. As the grand historian of the period, Forrest McDonald, has revealed, when a student entered college (usually at age 14 or 15), he would need to prove fluency in Latin and Greek. He would need to “read and translate from the original Latin into English ‘the first three of [Cicero’s] Select Orations and the first three books of Virgil’s Aeneid’ and to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin, as well as to be ‘expert in arithmetic’ and to have a ‘blameless moral character.’” Keeping this in mind, Americans should not be surprised to see the 70-plus classical references in The Federalist Papers or the architecture of the Capitol building. Americans were, second only to their Protestantism, a classically oriented people.
5. The revolution was, therefore, not surprisingly, a “revolution prevented, not made,” as Burke explained it. When asked, for example, where he derived the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson revealed how historical and “backward looking” the document was. “This was the object of the Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson explained in 1825, not long before his death. “Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.”
6. The first shots fired in what became the War for Independence were calculated to lead neither to a full-scale war nor to the independence of the colonies from her mother. Instead, the men of Lexington, Massachusetts engaged in what they believed to be the strongest form of protest, not an act of secession. Jonas Clarke, the Calvinist pastor at the Lexington church and one of the leading intellectuals of the colonies, had been exploring Christian notions of liberty for well over a decade. “And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed,” he stated in 1765, “that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity, or rashness. They are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned.” After debating a response to the British march toward Concord for hours in the local pastor’s house, the town pub, and on the town green (all three places adjoining), about 40 Lexingtonians stood on the village green at 5:00 am, April 19, 1775, arms placed in parade formation. When the British demanded the Lexingtonians disperse, shots were fired and eight Massachusetts men were slaughtered in full view of the entire community.
7. The most important and stalwart defender of American liberties and American independence in Great Britain was Edmund Burke, one of the two greatest statesmen of the age. Indeed, the issue of American independence dominated the first 17 years of his career in Parliament. From his first speech delivered to the august body in 1766 to the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1783, Burke defended the rights of Americans as he also defended the rights of the Irish, Roman Catholics in Great Britain, and the Asian Indians. Burke went so far as to secede from Parliament in protest of the war in the Americas, and he even openly implied that King George III was satanic for waging war against the Americans.
8. A friend and disciple of Burke’s, Maryland’s Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Maryland had possessed the most anti-Catholic laws in the colonies prior to the War for Independence. Catholics could not worship publicly, and children could even, by law, be removed permanently from their parents and sent to live with Protestant families in England should the Catholic parents attempt to educate their children in a “Catholic fashion.” Consequently, Charles Carroll’s father not only refused to claim him as a child, but he also sent him abroad for 17 years to be educated by Catholics in France and elsewhere. Carroll earned his B.A. and M.A. while in France, and he studied law in France and England. For fear of the law, Charles’s father waited to recognize the legitimacy of his son and his son’s mother until Charles had earned his M.A. When Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence, he did so for reasons of religious freedom and tolerance. “When I signed the Declaration of Independence, I had in view not only our independence of England but the toleration of all Sects, professing the Christian Religion, and communicating to them all great rights,” he wrote in 1829. “Happily this wise and salutary measure has taken place for eradicating religious feuds and persecution.”
9. Maryland had not been the only place harboring anti-Catholic feelings in the colonies. Indeed, every colony had some form of anti-Catholic law, except for Pennsylvania. The farther north one journeyed, the stronger the anti-Catholicism became. As early as the 1640s, for example, the New England colonies had passed a law that a man could enter a congregation only if armed with his weapon and firearm, in case of a Catholic or Indian attack. Along the same lines, men exited Sunday service in scouting formation, securing the area for the defense of the women and children. When New England militia went into battle during the War for Independence, their war cry was “No king, no popery!” As General John Sullivan of the Continental Army had claimed, the Quebec Act, which gave rights to Canadian Catholics, was the “most dangerous to American Liberties among the whole train.” Should the Catholics gain power, he continued, “no God may as well exist in the universe.”
10. None of this should suggest, however, that all Americans held anti-Catholic views. Some of the most prominent Americans held absolutely no tolerance for intolerance. The most important was George Washington, who accepted, without reservation, Catholics and Jews as fully republican citizens. In a March 1790 address to the Roman Catholics in the United States, he stated:
As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed. … And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.
Another critic of anti-Catholicism was one of the least religious of the founders, Ben Franklin. In the spring of 1776, Franklin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Jacky Carroll (Charles’s cousin and close friend) traveled to Canada in a failed mission to convince the Canadians to join the American cause. Along the way, Franklin and the two Carrolls struck up a strong friendship. After the success of the American War for Independence, the Vatican decided it was time to name a bishop in North America. No bishop, not even Anglican/Episcopalian bishops, had ever stepped foot in the 13 colonies (or states, after 1776). Hoping not to offend republican sensibilities, the Vatican contacted Franklin through two agents. Franklin said the man for the job was Jacky, and the Vatican consequently appointed John Carroll as the first archbishop in the United States.
“In 1776, numerous individuals, families, committees, congregations, localities, and states had already proclaimed their independence, and almost no remaining imperial structure could continue to operate with any legitimacy in what would very soon become 13 states.”
How long before America becomes that in relation to the District of Criminals?
The restrictions on Catholic immigration to the USA were lifted 1790 I believe.
They forgot to mention the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.
I thought Maryland was the Catholic colony?
Another worthy ping on the 4th of July. Also an Edmund Burke ping.
Can U.S. citizens declare their independence from Obama?
Give it a try!
So did I. A son and I were just reading about Maryland in U.S. History. Apparently it started as a refuge for Catholics but didn’t stay that way.
Catholic immigration didn’t really get kicked off until the mid 1840s, by 1850 they were about 5% of the population.
Apparently not seeing as he was elected and reelected according to those who counted the votes.
I had no idea of this little tidbit of information.
It became that later. But not at first.
Americas First Mass [Ecumenical]
George Washingtons Return from Service to Mount Vernon, Christmas Eve, 1783
Remember, Remember (George Washington and Guy Fawkes Day)
A Tea Party Thomist: Charles Carroll
Americas Catholic Colony [Ecumenical]
The Catholic Church in the United States of America [Ecumenical]
Catholic Founding Fathers - The Carroll Family [Ecumenical]
Charles Carroll, founding father and "an exemplar of Catholic and republican virtue" [Ecumenical]
CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Founding Catholic [Father]
"How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" ( Book Review )
Maryland was founded as a refuge for English Catholics. (Catholicism was illegal in Britain from the Reformation to the 19th century.) The Puritans eventually took over Maryland and made Catholicism illegal there.
Over the past 2 years, I have been researching my family on ancestry.com, using nothing more than "oral history". Of particular interest are my maternal great, great grandparents who immigrated from Europe, as Catholics. His family was killed in the Siege of Paris (1870-71). Born in 1856, my great great grandfather was found by French sailors clinging to the body of his mother and taken on board their ship. As they traveled, they saw to his education in various locales. By the time he reached adulthood, according to the oral record, he spoke 7 languages and could read Sanskrit. I am a polyglot and attribute this gift to him. Once returned to France, he set sail for Ireland and served as a translator in the Irish Royal Courts. While in Ireland, he met and married. Bride and groom then immigrated to New York.
Working from that history, I had only census records to trace what happened once they arrived. The records indicate they took up residence in New York City's infamous "Hell's Kitchen"; essentially, a ghetto for Irish Catholic immigrants. Despite the linguistic abilities, the only position my French great great grandfather could land was as a painter and, later, a meat packer. It was no mean feat to find them on the 1900 census but I eventually discovered them under a strange spelling of the family name. Initially perplexed, I vocalized the name and began to laugh. It was the family name spoken with an Irish brogue. Not surprisingly, my Irish great great grandmother was illiterate and the census taker recorded the name phonetically.
The point of this comment is to point out the prejudice against Catholics that persisted even as late as the turn of the 20th century.
On this Fourth of July, I look back at those who came before me, their struggles and persistence in establishing a new life in America. Through their sacrifices, I now have a fairly comfortable and stable life. Would that more Americans would explore their ancestry to better appreciate their present lifestyle.
One of the best films I have ever seen on the topic of Irish immigrants is Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cruise and Kidman play Irish immigrants seeking their fortune in 1890s America, eventually taking part in the Land Run of 1893. While it does not focus on religion, it definitely provides some insight into the struggle of Irish immigrants at that time.
The vast majority was not of “Anglo-Saxon-Celtic descent”. There was a huge amount of immigration from Germany in the second half of the 17th century, as pepole fled the wars and the economic collapse engendered by the wars. Pennsylvania had a german majority, and many colonies had signicant German minorities.
There may have been more colonist of English descent than German, in 1776, but it was by no means overwhelming.
.. shall not be infringed
Kinda like that, I reckon.
Technically it was, but the majority of the first settlers were actually were CoE / High Church Anglican.
“How long before America becomes that in relation to the District of Criminals?”
George III was a wild-eyed libertarian compared to what we live under today. The Founding Fathers would be ashamed of us. Taxation with representation is not what it was cracked up to be.
If you like that, try the historical novel, Trinity, by Leon Uris.
ping for later.