The Independent Patriot
Liberty in America
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
- Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775 -
Liberty is the birthright of all mankind. It is a gift freely given by our loving Creator, not a privilege to be granted other by men.
The concept of Liberty is so engrained in our souls that we cannot contemplate our humanity without it. It is the exercise of free will that makes us moral beings. The drive to be free is second only to our will to live, and at times, we are willing to lay down our lives for the cause of liberty.
Our right to liberty in unalienable. Our exercise of liberty is not. In an imperfect world, freedom can forcibly be taken by tyrants seeking unrighteous dominion. We must strive, on a daily basis, to protect our God-given right and to overthrow tyranny wherever it may be found. The struggle for liberty is just, and those who seek to subvert our freedom do so at the peril of offending God.
The history of freedom in America begins with liberty lost.
From the earliest days of society, there has been a struggle between liberty and might. Rarely have the scales balanced, and never without a fight. In England, as throughout most of the world, the people who exercised the greatest force prevailed. Some rulers were more mindful of the people, others were not. In cases of extreme injustice, the people would rise in rebellion, but their efforts would ultimately result in the substitution of one form of tyranny with another.
In 1215 A.D., under the reign of King John, the noblemen of England rose in rebellion to quell the extreme abuses of the crown. As a result of their revolt, the king was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which laid out the rights of the people and, for the first time in history, brought a king under the rule of law. The Magna Carta did not create a free society, but it laid the foundation upon which Englishmen and Americans would later build.
In this section, I will provide you with the documentary history of Liberty in America. I firmly believe that reading the original documents provides more insight than reading commentary prepared by historians. I will provide a few introductory remarks to give you the context of the document and provide you with dates to keep you on track, but it will be up to you to draw your own conclusions from the documents.
There are thousands of documents from which to choose. I have selected the ones that, in my opinion, best illustrate the movement toward liberty in America. They are presented, for the most part, in chronological order, and it is my suggestion that they be read in that order. My selection also includes documents that highlight the paradox of American liberty - the coexistence of slavery in a country dedicated to freedom.
I have also included some documents that, in my opinion, expose a threat to liberty, or that offer a warning in defense of liberty.
The American Liberty Reading List is extensive, but the reward for the time spent will be great.
Foundations of American Liberty
Revolution and Independence
Federalism vs States’ Rights
The Bill Of Rights
The Early Republic
The Civil War
The Rise of Socialism and the Progressives
The Civil Rights Movement
The Contemporary Assault on Freedom
If you would like to understand the founding fathers, you must read what they read. This section lays the groundwork for Liberty in America. Later writers (Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau) would build on this foundation and give the founders the solid background they would need to lead an enlightened revolution.
Plato is the best-known of the Greek philosophers, followed closely by his student (and rival) Aristotle. "The Republic" begins with Socrates (Plato's teacher) entering into a discussion of what constitutes Justice in a man and moves to a discussion of what constitutes Justice in a state. At this point, Socrates outlines the classes of people within the state, then focuses on the ruling class, known as guardians. In the section on guardians, Plato introduces the "Allegory of the Cave." The worthiest the guardians are to be chosen to become philosopher-kings, focusing all of their attention on what is good for the state. Toward the end, Socrates outlines the stages of a republic in decline, describing the four states of degeneration, ending in tyranny.
"The Republic" is the first good example of a philosopher's vision for a perfect society. It is not intended to be an example of a free society, but rather a highly organized society in which the common good is the highest goal. Leaders are not allowed to own private property, in an effort to avoid corruption. "The Republic" includes elements of communalism in the ruling class, along with selective breeding to promote superior offspring. "The Republic" would have been among the books read by many of the founders.
Aristotle was one of Plato's students, but the student did not follow in the footsteps of his teacher. In many ways, Aristotle was much more concrete than Plato in his approach to philosophy. While Plato worked downward from ideas and principles to concrete objects, Aristotle worked the other way around from concrete objects to ideas and principles.
"Politics" is an attempt by Aristotle to show how best to order society. He works from his personal knowledge of the existing Greek city-state and gives practical advice on how to run a government. His premise is that man is a political animal and that the community is of greater importance than the individual. While he champions private property, he also warns of the excesses of capitalism. He was aristocratic in nature, favoring those with social position and wealth. He believed that people should be rewarded based on merit, and did not favor efforts to elevate the poor or uneducated. He also supported slavery. His main and lasting contribution to modern government is the belief that the law is to be held inviolate and that lawmakers are not above the law. "Politics" would also have been among the books read by many of the founders.
As noted above, the Magna Carta was a major turning point in English history. This was the first time that a king agreed to be bound by the law. the Magna Carta represented a significant shift in political power and, while it did not in actuality control King John's abuses, it set a precedent for future monarchs. The specifics of the document are interesting, but the fact that the king agreed to be bound by the law is even more significant.
Machiavelli lived in Florence Italy during a time of political upheaval. After the fall of the Medici family, he served in the Florentine government and was an envoy to France. Upon the return of the Medici's he was removed from office and briefly tortured. he later found grace with the Medicis, which did not serve him well when they once again lost power.
"The Prince" is a very practical book of advice for would-be monarchs. The book was not well received at first, but later gained notoriety as a how-to book for despots and tyrants. There is an undercurrent, however, of dislike for the very subject of his book, and his later writings show a leaning toward representative republics. "The Prince" does an excellent job of outlining the many ways in which a monarch can rule.
With "Discourses On The First Decade Of Titus Livius," Machiavelli reveals his interest in the Roman Republic as a viable form of government. While this work did not gain as much recognition as "The Prince", it is proffered by Rousseau as proof that Machiavelli believed in self-government, and that he was not as ruthless as he had been portrayed.
Thomas More was a raised a devout Catholic in the home of Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor to King Henry VII. He studied Greek at Oxford and Law at Lincoln's Inn in London. Under King Henry VIII, he was knighted, but when Henry broke away from the Catholic Church, More distanced himself from the crown and staunchly supported the Catholic opposition.
"Utopia" was written as a criticism of European government, and offered as a visionary alternative to existing states. More started with an elaborate and provocative solution to crime and punishment. He then switched gears and spoke of the far-away land of Utopia, from which he had recently returned. He used his imaginary visit to describe what he believed to be the perfect form of government. In this land, people alternate working between the cities and the farms, and all of their buildings are held in common. There is no private property and riches such as gold and silver are shunned. The society is highly ordered and very communist in nature.
The significance of this book does not lie in details of the "Utopian" style of government found in this far away land. Rather it lies in the fact that the author was willing to risk his life to set forth an alternative to the existing forms of government in 16th century Europe. "Utopia" opened the door for several other authors, whose visionary societies would expand the political awareness of Europe and particularly of England.
Francis Bacon lived in England during the reigns Queen Elizabeth and King James and was a contemporary of Shakespeare. He served as Lord Chancellor under King James, and exerted a great influence on the affairs of England. His counsel encouraged James to reconsider the colonization of North America, leading to the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Bacon was listed as a shareholder in the Second Charter of Virginia, and one of the main streets in Williamsburg bears his name.
Bacon was the greatest mind of his time and, according to Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest minds in history. By the age of 15, he was fluent in Greek, Latin, French, German, and Italian and had decided to leave Oxford, because it had nothing more to offer him. His most famous written work, "Novum Organan," set forth the blueprint for the scientific method.
The "Essays" were published in their final form in 1625. Although written nearly 400 years ago, the wisdom contained in these essays is valid today. I tried to select a few to highlight, but by the time I was done, I had chosen nearly three-fourths of the essays. His essay on plantations gives a hint of his vision for America.
In "New Atlantis", Francis Bacon describes a fictional society in a far off land, isolated from the rest of the world. In this society, scientific and philosophical achievements are held in high regard, and inventors are given honors and riches for their contributions to society. The governmental hierarchy is based on wisdom and merit, not popularity or military might. The inhabitants of this land visit other parts of the world to gain knowledge, but do not expose their society to outsiders. This work shows, even more clearly, Bacon's vision for what he felt America could become. The work is unfinished, due to his untimely death in 1626.
English colonization got a late start. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spain and Portugal were the major European sea powers. Their naval ships dominated the sea lanes and held other European countries to minor roles in the colonization of the "New World". The British had very few outposts in the Caribbean and were forced to explore the less productive regions to the north. In 1585, under Queen Elizabeth, England made its first attempt to establish a permanent colony in North America with a settlement at Roanoke (North Carolina). The attempt failed and England decided not to make another attempt under Elizabeth.
With the destruction of the Spanish Armada by the British in 1588, the balance of power shifted. England and other European countries were able to increase their maritime presence and expand their trade routes.
Under King James I, England once again sought to colonize North America, and in 1607, the first successful colony took hold in Jamestown, Virginia. Unlike the Spanish and Portuguese colonies that were based on extracting precious metals and raw materials, the English colonies were aimed at expanding English society into the New World. Rather than send conquistadors, they sent farmers and tradesmen and their families.
The First Charter of Virginia sets forth the conditions under which the colonists were granted the right to settle the new world. The most noteworthy portions are the sections that outline the rights of the colonists to limited self-government through a colonial council. It took nearly three months for correspondence back and forth, so it was necessary for the colonists to have some autonomy over decisions related to their daily operations and security. While the council consisted of local colonists, the members were still selected by the crown.
The pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower were more interested in religious freedom than agriculture and commerce. They were fleeing religious persecution in England and came to the new world to practice their beliefs in peace. They were granted a charter to settle the northern regions of Virginia, but a storm blew them off course and they landed on Cape Cod (Massachusetts) - outside the boundaries of their charter. This created a power struggle between the minority pilgrim leaders who were authorized to govern the colony under the charter, and the majority non-pilgrim colonists, who claimed they were no longer bound to submit to their authority.
The compact was negotiated as a compromise, before the settlers disembarked the Mayflower, to ensure that the colonists would have some form of government to provide for their security and establish order. While affirming their status as subjects of King James, the document established a civil "Body Politick" to enact laws and select officers. All of the signers agreed to abide by the laws enacted under this compact. This was the first instance self-government in the New World.
Note that the voyage was "undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith."
Just 14 years after the founding of Jamestown, the inhabitants of the colony began to request a greater voice in the governing of the colony. The new ordinance granted most of the power to the governor, but allowed the people to select burgesses from each town to represent them in General Assembly once a year. This represented a shift from the original charter that required local councils to be selected by the crown. In these general assemblies, the governor maintained veto power, but the people were allowed to present their concerns and voice their opinions.
This charter was granted for the founding of the colonies in Massachusetts - primarily at Boston. It allowed for the selection of a governor and assistants from among the freemen of the colony. The leaders were all Puritans, and there were requirements that those who were elected be faithful practitioners of the Puritan form of Christianity.
1632 “The Charter of Maryland”
1634 “Royal Commission for Regulating Plantations”
1639 “Fundamental Agreement or Original Constitution of the Colony of New Haven”
1639 “Agreement of the Settlers at Exeter in New Hampshire”
1641 “The Combinations of the Inhabitants Upon the Piscataqua River for Government”
1643 “The Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies of New England”
1646 “An Arrow Against All Tyrants” – Overton
1682 “Charter of Libertie” William Penn
1683 “The Fundamental Constitutions for the Province of East New Jersey in America”
1688 “Resolutions of The Germantown Mennonites”
1689 “English Bill Of Rights”
1690 “Second Treatise on Government” John Locke
1698 “Discourses Concerning Government” Algernon Sydney
1701 “Charter of Privileges Granted by William Penn, esq. to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Territories”
1748 “The Spirit of Laws” Baron de Montesquieu
1750 “Remarks upon the Fable of the Bees” Frances Hutcheson
1754 “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” Hume
1754 “Albany Plan of Union”
1757 “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” (actually written in 1788, but stops in 1757)
1762 “On Social Contract” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1764 “The Currency Act”
1764 “The Sugar Act”
1764 “Petition from the Massachusetts House of Representatives to the House of Commons”
1764 “Petition of the Virginia House of Burgesses to the House of Commons”
1764 “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved” – Otis
1765 “The Stamp Act”
1765 “The Quartering Act”
1765 “Resolves of the Pennsylvania Assembly on the Stamp Act”
1765 “Resolutions of the Continental Congress”
1765 “New York Merchants Non importation Agreement”
1765 “Connecticut Resolutions on the Stamp Act”
1766 “The Declaratory Act”
1766 “An Act Repealing the Stamp Act”
1767 “The Townshend Act”
1768 “Massachusetts Circular Letter to the Colonial Legislatures”
1768 “Circular Letter to the Governors in America”
1768 “Boston Non-Importation Agreement”
1768 “Resolutions of the Boston Town Meeting”
1773 “The Philadelphia Resolutions”
1774 “The Boston Port Act”
1774 “Circular Letter of the Boston Committee of Correspondence”
1774 “The Administration of Justice Act”
1774 “Letter from the New York Committee of Fifty One”
1774 “Letter from Lieutenant Governor Colden to the Earl of Dartmouth”
1774 “Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress”
1775 “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” Patrick Henry
1775 “The Mecklenburgh Resolutions”
1775 “A Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms”
1776 “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith
1776 “Common Sense” Thomas Paine
1776 “Virginia Declaration of Rights”
1776 “Declaration of Independence”
1776 “Constitution of Pennsylvania”
1780 “Constitution of Massachusetts”
1781 “Articles of Capitulation”
1781 “Articles of Confederation”
1781 "Notes on the State of Virginia - Query IXX" Thomas Jefferson
1786 “The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” Thomas Jefferson
1787 Speech on Prayer at the Constitutional Convention - Benjamin Franklin
1787 Appeal to the Constitutional Convention - Benjamin Franklin
1787 “Constitution of the United States of America” (Proposed in 1787, ratified in 1789)
1787 Federalist Speech of James Wilson
1787 Anti-Federalist Centinel 1
1787 Anti-Federalist Federal Farmer 1
1787 Anti-Federalist Federal Farmer 2
1787 Anti-Federalist Brutus 1
1787 Federalist 1 Hamilton
1787 Anti-Federalist DeWitt 2
1787 Anti-Federalist Brutus 4
1787 Federalist 14 Madison
1787 Federalist 23 Hamilton
1787 Anti-Federalist "The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania"
1788 Federalist 39 Madison
1788 Anti-Federalist Brutus 10
1788 Federalist 45 Madison
1788 Anti-Federalist Brutus 12
1788 Federalist 57 Madison
1788 Federalist 62 Madison
1788 Federalist 70 Hamilton
1788 Federalist 78 Hamilton
1788 Federalist 84 Hamilton
1788 Anti-Federalist Speech in Virginia Legislature Patrick Henry
1788 Anti-Federalist "Need for Bill of Rights" Patrick Henry
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1845 “Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass” Frederick Douglass
1849 “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau
1852 “What is the Slave to the 4th of July?” Frederick Douglass
1852 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Harriet Beecher Stowe
1857 Supreme Court “Dred Scott v Sandford” Slavery
1858 House Divided Speech (Excerpts) Abraham Lincoln
1863 “Gettysburg Address” Abraham Lincoln
1865 “Second Inaugural Address” Abraham Lincoln
1866 "Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Abraham Lincoln" George Bancroft
1848 “Communist Manifesto” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
1848 “Declaration of Sentiments Urged Equal Rights for Women” Elizabeth Cady Stanton
1883 The Pittsburgh Proclamation Eugene Debs Socialist Party
1897 “Declaration of Principles of the Social Democracy of America” Eugene Debs
1913 “The New Freedom” Woodrow Wilson
1945 “The Road to Serfdom” [Abridged] Friedrich Hayek
1958 “The Naked Communist” Cleon Skousen (Only available in print)
1964 "A Time for Choosing" Ronald Reagan
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1954 Supreme Court “Brown v Board of Education” Segregation
1963 "I Have a Dream" Martin Luther King, Jr.
1964 “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” Alex Hailey (Only available in print)
1964 “The Ballot or the Bullet” Malcolm X
1970 “A Black Theology of Liberation” James Cone (Only available in print)
“Rules For Radicals” Saul Alinsky (Only available in print)
“Dumbing Us Down” John Gatto (Only available in print)
“1984” George Orwell (Only available in print)
“The Essential Second Amendment Guide” Wayne LaPierre (FREE from the NRA)
“Taking America Back” Joseph Farah (Only available in print)
“They Must Be Stopped” Brigitte Gabriel (Only available in print)
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