GLEN COVE, NY — In the century from 1607 to 1707,
English colonies were established in America. Over time, some merged
and some split. Some, such as Plymouth, Saybrook, and New Haven, permanently
lost their identity. Most colonization was over by 1707; only Georgia
was colonized after that. Most people who settled in the original colonies
were English, Scots, or Welsh. A smaller number were Irish, German,
or Dutch. The colonies had a variety of local elected legislative bodies
as well as non-elected institutions. These elected and non-elected
institutions generally survived in some form long after American Independence,
and in many cases still exist.
In 1688, the English gave the name “revolution” to their
violent and illegal overthrow of their Catholic King and establishment
of a new Constitutional requirement that the King of England be Protestant.
In 1707, England and Scotland were united into a single country, and
Englishmen, Scots, and Welshmen became “British.” The English
and Scots Parliaments were merged into a British Parliament. Simultaneously,
the people in the colonies were gradually thinking of themselves less
and less as Englishmen, Scots, and Welshmen, and more and more as Americans,
as well as Virginians, Pennsylvanians, and others. Few thought of themselves
as “British,” and their dislike of the British mercenary
and impressed army is well known.
From 1775 to 1783, most Americans fought a war to gain the independence
of their colonies from Britain. This was more a war between the colonial
governments and Britain than a revolution. The history, however, is
not completely one sided.
The Declaration of Independence was not a Declaration of Revolution.
Although some of its general language can be read as revolutionary,
many of the particular parts describing the tyrannical acts of Britain
are a vindication of the traditional rights of the long-established
colonial legislative bodies. Revolutions are the violent seizure of
power by one group together with the killing, exiling, or otherwise
mistreating of the losers. There was a little bit of this in Massachusetts
and some British officials were sent home, but by and large the institutions
of the colonial governments made peaceful transitions to new state
America was soon divided into those who wanted a strong national government
and those who did not. The resulting compromise was our Constitution
and the two-party system. During the Napoleonic Wars, the conservative
Americans in the Federalist Party sought an alliance with Britain,
and the apologists for the radical French revolutionaries in the Republican
Party sought an alliance with France. Although the Republicans won
this specific argument, after the War of 1812 they gave it the conservative
name “The Second War of Independence.” They opposed the
nationalism of the Federalists, but ironically their war against Britain
created greater nationalism. This established a battle that continues
today as to whether we are a revolutionary country or one that respects
its 400-year old political roots.
Between 1820 and 1860, the great American controversy became one between
conservative states with political institutions based on honor, loyalty,
justice, fear of God, agriculture, established freedoms, and status
and between revolutionary states whose culture was one of commerce,
greed, and equality. The states with large slave populations fell into
the first group, and their enemies made slavery an obsessive national
The revolutionaries won a major victory in the 1840s when they gained
the upper hand in New York long enough to abolish the feudal agricultural
lease system in the Hudson Valley.
By 1865, the victorious North had completely rejected the idea that
our political institutions dating from the early 1600s — the major
reason we fought for independence — had to be respected, and
instead it adopted a completely revolutionary interpretation of America.
Such radical attitudes open the door to tyranny because they allow
everything to be overthrown. The refusal of George III and Lord North
to respect the prerogatives of the Virginia House of Burgesses is no
less a threat to liberty than the refusal of the federal government
and the Northern army to respect such prerogatives.
It would be easy to say that the Northern victory established in practice
that America was born in a Revolution, not a War of Independence. In
1876, 1920, and 1980, however, presidents were elected who took a step
back from radicalism.
The issue is simple. If America had been born in a “Revolution,” then
overthrowing governments would be a legitimate part of the political
process. If, however, America had been born in a “War of Independence,” then
governments like those of Virginia and Massachusetts could fight back
if a central government violated the rights established in the early
1600s. The first theory justifies the killing of millions of innocent
people by the French Revolutionaries, Soviets, and Chinese Communists.
The second theory justifies the states fighting for their rights against
the central government as they did in the War Between the States.
It was unjust for George III and Lord North to impose taxes without
the consent of the colonial legislatures, to quarter soldiers in civilian
houses, to close the port of Boston, and to move colonial criminal
trials to London. It is equally unjust for Congress to impose arbitrarily
different percentages of Medicaid costs on different states, and indeed
state attorneys general are investigating what can be done to stop
this. Just as the colonial legislatures were the champions of freedom
once, the state governments that continue their function may turn out
to be today’s champions of liberty. The battle against revolution
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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