Roger Mundy
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From a Republic to a Parliament - Part 2

(Editor's Note: This is part two of a multi-part series. CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE)

 

From a Republic to a Parliament: Part 2

 

Roger Mundy
March 4, 2014

This note is included to prevent confusion. What I said would be addressed in Part II will be addressed later. What follows here is “ The effort to establish parliamentary democracy” by the external force of England which led to the American Revolution. This will be followed in a separate section, which will address the same effort, by internal means of the con-con in Philadelphia that drafted the constitution, which was the intended topic of part II. [Author’s note]



The American Revolution: War for Instruction

It is vital to the ambitions of empire builders, to control what a people believe. Ultimately belief controls all things in the world of man. Some of the beliefs that threaten the ambition of empire have required generations to subvert. Those beliefs that are most threatening are those that can reappear at any time, because they are based on such simple principles. These simple principles are so threatening because even if the memory of them has been effectively subverted, their obvious nature can give rise again to the same beliefs. Of such are the suffrage rights of election, instruction and recall that all Americans were aware of at one time. As long as government claims its powers and authority actually belong to the people, there remains the threat the people may use that authority to quickly undo all the “progress” that took the empire builders so much time, money and effort to put into place. In this case, it is the power of instruction that is the most threatening.

The English Experience

By the time of America’s war with England, the biggest differences between the two peoples were the conflicting beliefs between them. This was the result of their very different circumstances and experiences. The English were experiencing a period of relative stability that none could be certain would last. They had shared with the peoples of Europe the unavoidable effects of the very long history of the clash of religious empires, kings, and moneyed interests; and likely would again. The resulting wars, invasions, revolutions and economic deprivations produced in very large numbers of Europeans a deep-seated and not unreasonable impression that the common people had little power. It is no surprise they would be satisfied with mere election in a parliamentary form of government. In England every effort that could have given the people more power either failed, or was just rhetoric, or was subverted. The parliamentary form was even seen as a victory.

The English Ideal

England had experienced a growing wealth in the middle classes, who were being accommodated by Parliament. These “middling classes” imitated the mannerisms of their “superiors” demonstrating their aspirations of equality with them. They were benefiting under the myth of “parliamentary supremacy” and had no interest in changing it but were loyal to it. England’s King, Lords and Commons parliament was idealized by prominent political philosophers as “perfect”. In actuality it was only a compromise between centers of power with the people being given election to keep them complacent and supporting the partially elected tyranny over them. At that point it was a tyranny that benefited a growing number of people. But few recognized it as such.

The belief in Parliament also produced a pride in England’s conquests. Like the Romans had justified their conquest as bringing civilization to a barbaric world, the parliamentary system was believed to be the ideal of civilization and was used to justify the budding British Empire.

The American Experience

The experience of Americans was also born out of the competing powers of Europe. Although the European powers had failed to establish a permanent dominance over America, possibly any of them could have done so if not for the ongoing competition between them and the resulting internal instabilities this created for them at home. Often the various colonies of these nations were left to entirely fend for themselves. Being left on their own in a wilderness setting created a brutal necessity for taking action voluntarily as a group in order to survive. This more than any political ideology began the practice of “republican principles” in America, even if most may not have recognized that this was what they were doing.

The Organic Origins of Republics

Long before names were given to forms of government, communities throughout history in similar circumstances have assembled and deliberated before acting in a unified effort in order to survive. These “deliberative assemblies” as they have since been named are the “organic” origins of “republics”. Individuals could be “elected” by the assembly to voluntarily perform certain vital and specific tasks. These specific tasks were the “instructions” agreed to by the assembly and those elected. The third suffrage right of “recall” would also naturally follow. Recall or resignation could follow if those elected either failed to, or found they could not, or would not perform the task entrusted to them.

The American Ideal

            Americans had also experienced a growing prosperity until England’s Board of Trade imposed policies that were destroying it. Seeing their prosperity being destroyed, and all their petitions failing, Americans grew angry. They began to seek what would make the King and Parliament so hostile to their subjects in America. Why have a king and parliament? America had gained its prosperity without them. And they had accomplished this in their republican assemblies under the suffrage rights of the people. These republican assemblies that had long been accepted as “ordinary” were becoming an ideal in the American mind.

A War of Beliefs

By the time of America’s formal separation from England, the beliefs of Americans and the English regarding their political (suffrage) rights had long since separated. For the English, parliamentary supremacy not only gave stability and growing prosperity but ultimately it promised the survival of England – learned in the world of man-made empires. For the Americans, their suffrage rights and republican assemblies were the sources of freedom and growing prosperity, and likewise meant the survival of America – learned in the wilderness of nature. For the people, the war was primarily a clash of beliefs.

The one issue that most separated these two beliefs was the suffrage right of instruction. During the 1600’s the right of instruction was hotly debated in England, and was used by the “country” party against the controlling “crown” party in Parliament. Circumstances produced the victory of the compromise of “the king in parliament”. When the Americans insisted that England’s interventions were violating the rights of “Englishmen”, they were above all referring to their suffrage rights, most especially the right of instruction as in the debates between “country” and “crown” parties. Circumstances in America had produced the victory of full suffrage rights in republican assemblies – a people in parliament ideology. Mere election – the pride of the Commons in Parliament, was too weak. After the war the belief can be seen in Jefferson’s comment, “An elected tyranny is not what we fought for”.

The American Heritage

What we are taught as the reason for the war was taxation. This is supposedly proven by the famous motto, “no taxation without representation”. But the statement is actually saying taxation would be accepted if they had representation. To Americans representation could only exist with all three suffrage powers over their representatives. At one point representatives were called “re-presenters”. They were elected and “presented” with instructions from their local republican assemblies. They were to “re-present” (present them again) to the larger assembly. If they could not do so, they could not participate in the larger assembly. Their instructions were their credentials.

Just how central instruction was to the beliefs of Americans is exemplified in the very signing of the Declaration of Independence that marks the official beginning of the war. Despite the fact that the war was already underway, the declaration was delayed long enough for two colonial states’ authorized delegates to return to their assemblies to get their instructions changed to vote for independence. This is what made it the Unanimous Declaration of Independence. This reflects the survival lesson from the wilderness, the necessity of taking voluntary group action for survival, and the indispensable importance of instruction. If anything can be called an American heritage, at least as distinguished from other European traditions, the republican assembly and the suffrage rights centering on the right of instruction is that heritage.

The Empire Returns

            America and the European nations were all born out of the clash of empires. America’s experience in relative isolation from the rest created its distinctive heritage and ideals. But this isolation ended, and the war for independence was a significant point for Americans that presents an example of the end of isolation “in the wilderness”. It resulted from England’s attempt to impose its Parliamentary dictatorship upon its American subjects, on the way to the conquest of the world under the British Empire. The current COS effort seeks to remove the last vestiges of America’s heritage and the republican ideal from the beliefs of Americans. As has been shown, this is far from the first attempt to subvert the beliefs of Americans from “within”. Empires are always ultimately top-down in structure far removed from bottom-up republican structures. The ambition of empire builders from “within” America may best be illustrated in the case of the drafting of the constitution. Once again, it is my intention to give this most significant example in the next section of this series.

 

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