Monday, July 03, 2006


Our Founding Fathers: Reluctant Revolutionaries

Without a doubt, no revolution has had the impact in shaping the course of history as did the American Revolution. Because it is called the American “Revolution,” some seize upon this opportunity to characterize our Founding Fathers as though they are the patron saints of those who look for any excuse to just buck the establishment.

Does this description fit our Founding Fathers? Since the constraints of time forbid me to hold you in suspense, I will come right out and say no. We won’t have to look very hard to see that not only is description unwarranted, but that the exact opposite is true.

In the middle of the tenth line of the Declaration of Independence, we read the word

“Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. And accordingly, all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Did Thomas Jefferson add this line for rhetorical effect only in an effort to make our case before the world? Again, the answer is no. It was an exact reflection of the attitude of the colonial leadership regarding the tensions that had arisen between the colonies and the British Crown, beginning at the end of the French and Indian War in 1759 culminating with the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. While resisting the Crown’s attempt to encroach upon the rights granted to the colonies under English law, independence was the furthest thing from their mind. For example, in we have saying Ben Franklin to Lord Chatham in March 1775: “ I have not heard in any conversation, from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression for a wish for a separation or even a hint that such a thing would be advantageous for America. “ George Washington, in a conversation with Rev. Jonathan Boucher of Maryland the spring of that same year said: “If I ever heard of his joining such measures as independence, I had his leave to set him down for everything wicked.” John Adams, known as the Atlas of Independence and who, by his own account, made himself obnoxious for the cause of independence recalls late in his life: “For my part, there was not a moment during the revolution that I would not have given everything I ever possessed for a restoration to the state of things before the contest began.”

In July of 1775, the colonial leadership drew up what was called the “Olive Branch Petition,” which, as the title suggests, was an appeal to the king for peace. This petition not only didn’t express any desire to cut the apron strings of the Mother Country, but sought to strengthen that bond all the more. They entrusted Richard Penn grandson of Pennsylvania founder William Penn with the delivering of this petition to the king.

So, what happened? Here we have Franklin, Washington, and Adams speaking against independence. You also have this petition to strengthen ties with the Crown. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? It was the action of one man. His name wasn’t John Adams, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor Ben Franklin. His first name was George, but his last name wasn’t Washington. It was Hanover III, king of England. He refused to even see Richard Penn. He rejected the petition, perhaps without even reading it. He issued an intemperate proclamation threatening condign punishment to those authors of the petition. And condign punishment for treason (which is what he was charging them with) was not exactly a slap on the wrist. From this there was really no recourse, but independence. The Declaration says it thus: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object envinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Whenever I think of the of the American Revolution, I am wont to recall what English Chancellor St. Thomas More said just before he was executed for refusing renounce his religious submission to the pope, “I am the King’s good servant, but I am God’s first.” Likewise, the American Revolution, in securing those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was a great act of obedience to the God who is the source of those rights.


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