John Adams and the Continuity of Authority

The American War of Independence is often presented as an early step in the process of global democratic revolution. Those who promote this view will say that there is a direct line from the American Founding Fathers to the French Revolution, and from thence to the revolutions of 1848 and the Russian Revolution. The true picture, however, is much more complicated, as is evident from looking at primary source documents from the 1770’s. While the secular humanist philosophy of the Enlightenment certainly did influence many of the Founding Fathers, this influence was not as overwhelming as it was in the French Revolution and related movements. Alongside the Enlightenment humanism of America’s founding generation were strong strains of conservatism, Christianity, organic nationalism and fidelity to the existing order. Thus as we fight against the Jewish globalist system, there is great value in examining these reactionary ideas found during the American Revolution and appropriating them to our current struggle.

These more traditional elements are clearly present in the collection of writings by John Adams known as Novanglus. This collection is made up of a series of papers published in 1774 as a public response to a loyalist propagandist who wrote under the pseudonym Massachusettensis. In these papers Adams emphasizes that the patriot cause amongst the colonists represented the continuity of authority, while the designs of the British Parliament and the overbearing colonial governors represented dangerous innovation.

American resistance to the acts of Parliament is not presented by Adams as being revolutionary or innovative. The goal of this resistance was not to create a new nation, but to preserve a nation that had already organically formed. Through shared history and a unique culture Americans already were a distinct nation. Adams expresses the importance of preserving not only the written constitutions of the American colonies but also their religion, moral character and native culture.

Writing prior to the Declaration of Independence, Adams refers to the attachment that the colonists felt towards “our constitutions,” by which he means the established constitutions of the colonies:

“Massachusettensis [the pseudonym of Adams’ loyalist opponent], conscious that the people of this continent have the utmost abhorrence of treason and rebellion, labors to avail himself of the magic in these words. But his artifice is vain. The people are not to be intimidated by hard words from a necessary defence of their liberties. Their attachment to their constitution, so dearly purchased by their own and their ancestors’ blood and treasure; their aversion to the late innovations; their horror of arbitrary power and the Romish religion, are much deeper rooted than their dread of rude sounds and unmannerly language.” (page 25)

Adams strongly condemns the destructive policies being considered by the colonial governors. These plans included breaking up the organic boundaries of the colonies into new administrative units, which process would include a dissolution of the original colonial charters that formed the legal basis of the American provinces:

“They intended, further, to new-model the whole continent of North America; make an entire new division of it into distinct, though more extensive and less numerous colonies; to sweep away all the charters upon the continent with the destroying besom of an act of parliament; and reduce all the governments to the plan of the royal governments, with a nobility in each colony, not hereditary indeed at first, but for life.” (page 19) 

Adams’ concern is conservative and organic. He desires to preserve the current constitution of America, where hereditary aristocracy has not existed.

As proof of the parliamentary designs for the American colonies Adams quotes from Francis Bernard, who was Royal Governor of Massachusetts during the 1760s. According to Adams, Bernard wrote:

The grants of the powers of government to the American colonies, by charters, cannot be understood to be intended for other than their infant or growing states. They cannot be intended for their mature state, that is, for perpetuity; because they are in many things unconstitutional, and contrary to the very nature of a British government. Therefore, They must be considered as designed only as temporary means, for settling and bringing forward the peopling the colonies; which being effected, the cause of the peculiarity of their constitution ceases… Although America is not now, (and probably will not be for many years to come) ripe enough for a hereditary nobility, yet it is now capable of a nobility for life. A nobility appointed by the king for life, and made independent, would probably give strength and stability to the American governments as effectually as a hereditary nobility does to that of Great Britain. The reformation of the American governments should not be controlled by the present boundaries of the colonies, as they were mostly settled upon partial, occasional, and accidental considerations, without any regard to the whole.” (pages 20-21)

This passage shows that the Royal Governor was in favor of revolutionary and subversive measures in the colonies. One of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment revolutionary faith is the redrawing of political and communal boundaries on more “rational” and less organic lines. Even though current boundaries might be based on “accidental” factors in history and might not reflect what an economist or bureaucratic planner would think is most efficient, these boundaries have become important factors in local identity and community. Dissolving organic historical boundaries always runs the risk of creating chaos and destroying local autonomy. This passage also shows that Adams’ fear of the imposition of a hereditary aristocracy was legitimate.

Adams is also concerned about the recent changes that would alter the existing constitution of the colonies with respect to the local government, courts and established religion. Specific reference is made to the Quebec Act of 1774 which granted what were seen by the Protestant colonists as inordinate concessions to the French Roman Catholics of Canada. This last grievance points to the particular, rather than universalist, concerns of the patriots.

“Is the threepence upon tea our only grievance? Are we not in this province deprived of the privilege of paying our governors, judges, &c.? Are not trials by jury taken from us? Are we not sent to England for trial? Is not a military government put over us? Is not our constitution demolished to the foundation? Have not the ministry shown, by the Quebec bill, that we have no security against them for our religion, any more than our property, if we once submit to the unlimited claims of parliament?” (page 32)

As direct involvement in local government is eroded, the colonists would slowly lose their status as freemen,

“There are but two sorts of men in the world, freemen and slaves. The very definition of a freeman is one who is bound by no law to which he has not consented. Americans would have no way of giving or withholding their consent to the acts of this parliament, therefore they would not be freemen. But when luxury, effeminacy, and venality are arrived at such a shocking pitch in England; when both electors and elected are become one mass of corruption; when the nation is oppressed to death with debts and taxes, owing to their own extravagance and want of wisdom, what would be your condition under such an absolute subjection to parliament?” (page 22)

Adams stresses the unique national characteristics of Americans, contrasting them with the effeminacy and venality of the English.

As the existing colonial constitutions were agreements between the founders and the Crown, the British Parliament had no legal right to its extravagant claims over American affairs.

“They know upon what hinge the whole dispute turns; that the fundamentals of the government over them are disputed; that the minister pretends, and had the influence to obtain the voice of the last parliament in his favor, that parliament is the only supreme, sovereign, absolute, and uncontrollable legislative over all the colonies; that, therefore, the minister and all his advocates will call resistance to acts of parliament by the names of treason and rebellion. But, at the same time, they know that, in their own opinions, and in the opinions of all the colonies, parliament has no authority over them, excepting to regulate their trade, and this not by any principle of common law, but merely by the consent of the colonies, founded on the obvious necessity of a case which was never in contemplation of that law, nor provided for by it; that, therefore, they have as good a right to charge that minister, Massachusettensis, and the whole army to which he has fled for protection, with treason and rebellion. For, if the parliament has not a legal authority to overturn their constitution, and subject them to such acts as are lately passed, every man who accepts of any commission, and takes any steps to carry those acts into execution, is guilty of overt acts of treason and rebellion against his majesty, his royal crown and dignity, as much as if he should take arms against his troops, or attempt his sacred life.” (page 25)

As the British Parliament is the one attempting to overthrow the existing constitutions, they and their occupying army are guilty of rebellion, not the patriots.

Describing the frontiersmen of the colonies, Adams says the frontier,

“is inhabited by a hardy, robust people, many of whom are emigrants from New England, and habituated, like multitudes of New England men, to carry their fuzees or rifles upon one shoulder, to defend themselves against the Indians, while they carry their axes, scythes, and hoes upon the other, to till the ground. (page 30)

Adams extols the activity of the frontiersman who both fights the Indians and tills the soil, removing the savage and cultivating civilization. Again we note that the patriots did not support the multiculturalism often attributed to them by faux-conservatives.

While Adams is certainly concerned about the freedom of the colonists, he is not interested in freedom for freedom’s sake. Adams, like many of the Founding Fathers, valued liberty because it promoted individual virtues, while becoming more dependent on government creates a population that tends towards vice.

“The nature of the encroachment upon the American constitution is such, as to grow every day more and more encroaching. Like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour. The revenue creates pensioners, and the pensioners urge for more revenue. The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality, become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society.” (page 32)

Preserving the existing national character is the goal, not creating a new national character.

According to Adams, the high-handed behavior of the British Parliament is based on a false understanding of the extent of that body’s authority,

“We had considered ourselves as connected with Great Britain, but we never thought parliament the supreme legislature over us. We never generally supposed it to have any authority over us, but from necessity, and that necessity we thought confined to the regulation of trade, and to such matters as concerned all the colonies together. We never allowed them any authority in our internal concerns.” (page 36)

To support this contention that the original charters of the colonies ensured a fair degree of independence, Adams makes the following comments on the history of Virginia and Massachusetts,

“The public acts of kings and ministers of state, in that age when our ancestors emigrated, which were not complained of, remonstrated and protested against by the commons, are looked upon as sufficient proof [of the view of Britain].

The charter to the treasurer and company of Virginia, 23 May, 1609, grants ample powers of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, and then contains an express covenant, ‘to and with the said treasurer and company, their successors, factors, and assigns, that they, and every of them, shall be free from all taxes and impositions forever, upon any goods or merchandises, at any time or times hereafter, either upon importation thither, or exportation from thence, into our realm of England, or into any other of our realms or dominions.’

I agree with this writer [Massachusettensis], that the authority of a supreme legislature includes the right of taxation. Is not this quotation, then, an irresistible proof, that it was not ‘the sense of King James or his ministers, or of the ancestors of the Virginians, that they were to remain subject to parliament as a supreme legislature?’

After this, James issued a proclamation recalling the patent, but this was never regarded. Then Charles issued another proclamation, which produced a remonstrance from Virginia, which was answered by a letter from the lords of the privy council, 22 July, 1634, containing the royal assurance, that ‘all their estates, trade, freedom, and privileges should be enjoyed by them in as extensive a manner as they enjoyed them before those proclamations.’

Here is another evidence of the sense of the king and his ministers.

Afterwards, parliament sent a squadron of ships to Virginia; the colony rose in open resistance, until the parliamentary commissioners granted them conditions, that they should enjoy the privileges of Englishmen; that their assembly should transact the affairs of the colonies; that they should have a free trade to all places and nations, as the people of England; and fourthly, that ‘Virginia shall be free from all taxes, customs, and impositions whatever, and none to be imposed on them without consent of the grand assembly; and so that neither forts nor castles be erected, or garrisons maintained, without their consent.’

One would think this was evidence enough of the sense both of the parent country and our ancestors.” (page 77)

The first planters of Plymouth were ‘our ancestors’ in the strictest sense. They had no charter or patent for the land they took possession of; and derived no authority from the English parliament or crown to set up their government. They purchased land of the Indians, and set up a government of their own, on the simple principle of nature; and afterwards purchased a patent for the land of the council at Plymouth; but never purchased any charter for government, of the crown or the king, and continued to exercise all the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, upon the plain ground of an original contract among independent individuals for sixty-eight years, that is, until their incorporation with Massachusetts by our present charter. The same may be said of the colonies which emigrated to Say-Brook, New Haven, and other parts of Connecticut. They seem to have had no idea of dependence on parliament, any more than on the conclave. The Secretary of Connecticut has now in his possession an original letter from Charles II. to that colony, in which he considers them rather as friendly allies, than as subjects to his English parliament; and even requests them to pass a law in their assembly relative to piracy. (page 78)

Adams emphatically declares that the patriotic cause is the conservative and traditional one.

The patriots of this province desire nothing new; they wish only to keep their old privileges. They were, for one hundred and fifty years, allowed to tax themselves, and govern their internal concerns as they thought best. Parliament governed their trade as they thought fit. This plan they wish may continue forever. But it is honestly confessed, rather than become subject to the absolute authority of parliament in all cases of taxation and internal polity, they will be driven to throw off that of regulating trade.” (92)

These passages from Adams do not only provide insight into the motives and values of the founding generation of our nation, but they also present interesting strategies for our future revival.

Adams’ key principle is that the acts of Parliament are illegitimate if they violate the original constitution or compact that formed the political community in the first place. Thus resisting the new tyrannical laws is not rebellion, but rather fidelity to the law, while supporting the tyrannical laws is actually lawless. This same principle is very relevant for us today.

One of the key political problems facing our nation is the ever increasing non-white population within our borders. This population poses an especially grave threat because under current law these people are allowed to vote. If current trends continue, Americans will be a minority in our own country in a few decades, and a rather small minority by the end of the century. In other words, we are fast approaching a time when we will no longer be able to vote ourselves back into power. However, by building upon John Adams’ arguments we are presented with some interesting options for overcoming this problem.

The original Constitution of the United States did not guarantee citizenship and voting rights to blacks or other non-whites residing in American territory. These rights were only guaranteed by amendments to the Constitution ratified immediately after the Civil War. But were these amendments legal under the original Constitution? One can make a strong argument that they were not.

Immediately following the Civil War the southern states were under military occupation. It clearly violates the spirit of the original Constitution to say that the Constitution can be legally amended when the ratifying votes of several states were extorted through violent force. It is absurd to suppose that the authors of the Constitution would have accepted that a conflict in which half a million Americans were killed by their fellow countrymen could count as fulfilling the Constitution’s aim to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” It is in fact hard to imagine a more unconstitutional procedure than extorting votes from a militarily occupied state. If the Founding Fathers viewed taxes imposed by Parliament as illegitimate and tyrannical, how much more would they condemn the use of force to alter the Constitution against the will of the posterity of the original contracting parties of that compact?

Having established that the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution are invalid, it is easy to see the legal case for overcoming the problem of non-white voters, as they have no legal right to citizenship.

The process of recognizing the legal legitimacy of the original, unaltered Constitution would not involve any violence or revolutionary chaos. It would not be carried out by lone individuals arbitrarily disobeying existing statutes; it would be a collective, peaceful effort of reforming American society along traditional lines. As lesser magistrates at the county or state level formally declare the post-Civil War amendments to be lawless and invalid, we would see a return to the order and tranquility envisioned by the Founding Fathers, where white Christian men could govern themselves, their families and their communities according to the traditional American virtues of independence, integrity, simplicity and frugality.

Comments

  1. Paul

    Are you serious? law has always been used by the rich to subject and then gradually to oppress the poor. It is a sophistry except for the law of God. This law or supreme authority has conveniently and un lawfully been repudiated from the legislature of the present tyranny in Washington.

    One can argue the “civil war” was a dispute between old and new testament. Absolute ,centralized authority against independent scions of CHrist. The only law was commercial as today , which is euphemistically called a plutocracy .

    All law was fulfilled in CHrist Jesus , which they again through his execution abolished and returned to their arbitrary use of authority. Law is just a nice lie , to which one is bound . Therefore rebellion and defiance is the appropriate response. However I am glad there are still people , who can dream.

  2. Doug

    The wieght of our nation’s laws is on those who are willing to obey it. The (((elites))) [transnationals], the liberal left [non-nationals] and the 3rd world [foreign nationals] don’t care and won’t comply. Our laws are only useful against us.

  3. Charles

    This is a much needed line of thought, especially if trying to make the AmNat point. The movement (if there is one) often leans in a monarchist direction, probably much thanks from NRx influence (which is often trad-Catholic). And, if Anglican , there’s a tendency to be anglocatholic. Perhaps this bias is a romantic reaction or panting for the medieval, unwilling to digest the early modern. But I tend to think the early modern is exactly where our answers lie, and it’s where these bridges and continuity with authority will be unearthed.

    This article is a fine illustration of doing just that. Indeed, a continuity in authority is exactly the problem that faces us, yet Adams is such a linchpin. Among the features of Adams and his New England federalists was an extension of the state church, adapting such to American conditions (called New Divinity) mainly by augmenting voluntary associations and auxiliaries. The New England party also quickly recovered from whatever excess occurred after 1776, mostly due to the French fiasco and bloodbath, to reaffirm and embrace Anglo-civilization, manners, customs, habits, etc., partly in order to weaken radical Revolutionary impulses. From Boston, they tend to be more urbane and anglophile. So, whatever frenzy the Revolution might be associated with, in America it was soon tempered and dampened by the Old Federalist Party.

    After the first party system, anglophile Federalism continues by a new form under the Whigs until you get to the end of the antebellum period. But you can trace continuity from the colonial into the civil war decades fairly easily. Where were the Protestant Episcopalians in all this, especially considering their strong roots in MD and VA? That might take further digging with the question of Jeffersonianism, but I suspect even with Jefferson an early and late phase may be discerned.

    Anyone here might be interested in reading the Rev. William Smith’s sermon on American affairs immediately before the break of the Revolution. It’s very much the same vein as Adam’s essay. What’s curious is between 1775 and 1776 the tone of loyalty or modest reform drastically changes. In 1775 writers very much echo a reformist, even loyalist, sentiment, emphasizing their ultimate unity with Britain and its laws, even King. But by 1776 the rhetoric is deeply divided, and those who are American patriots finally drop the tone of loyalism altogether. They don’t quite become firebrands, but they also know they passed a Rubicon with Britain. So, it’s a subject (the period 1775 to 1776) that deserves more study from our POV., and we can expect in later decades, as we approach the slaughter and bloodbath of the French radicals, there is an important and sober adjustment. Some of this might even play out in Masonry (another area of research).

    Anyhow, here’s the link to the Rev’d Smith’s wonderful sermon. You’ll find it dripping with loyalism and even the trope of half-tribe Manasseh which sort of shows the usefulness of British Israelism to make a scriptural analogy between us and our overseas brethren. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=evans;cc=evans;view=toc;idno=N11435.0001.001

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