Well, its the 4th of July and my most trusted news source has botched their “10 Things You Might Not Know About America’s Independence”. While this isn’t anything sinister it is still rather embarrassing that this article on foxnews.com ever made it past the editors. And I would’ve missed it if it wasnt for my superior twitter stream.
Strictly Right co-host Mr. Simple Sense (who likes to make my head explode) had re-tweeted this article and seemed to have a problem with #5 on this list of 10 fun Independence Day facts. Naturally I opened the link, scrolled to it, laughed, and then wept when I realized I would have to be the one addressing the error. So lets get to it!
Here is how it appears on foxnews.com
5.) Our Founding Fathers Were Not Radicals: As Americans, we like to think that what we did in the American Revolution was original and that our ideas of freedom and rights were new and progressive. But the truth is our Founding Fathers were not radical new thinkers — all of their ideas and philosophies were rooted deeply in history. Ideas of people’s rights, liberty, and social contracts can be traced all the way back through our colonial history, most famously with the Mayflower Compact, and even further through British history and English common law. These ideas can even be seen at work in the medieval era with Magna Carta first established 1215. Our Founding Fathers sought independence in order to preserve their “natural-born rights as Englishmen.” Though it is true no colony had ever succeeded from the mother country before and the British were quick to call it treason, everything our Founders did was, in fact, legal. Jefferson himself explains that the Declaration was not meant to express anything new. He said it was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject.”
Whats Wrong?? A LOT
CLAIM#1 “Declaration was not meant to express anything new”
Let us first start at the end of this statement by Fox News writer Nicole Swinford. While I am sure she has good intentions, history, in its proper context, seems to escape her. The quote from Jefferson in which the author declares that the Declaration of Independence was ” not to find out new principles…” Is factually true. He wrote that in a letter to Henry Lee approximately 50 years after the Declaration.
While it is true that the ideas themselves are nothing new amongst philosophers and thinkers, implementing them as the central tenet of an organized society were entirely unheard of. (save Greece in the 5th century BCE) The idea of the sovereign individual dates back farther than the colonies. But the authors of such work were often exiled. One example would be Thomas Hobbes, the successor to Francis Bacon (who developed an organizational method for library classification that Thomas Jefferson employed in his own personal library, as I do my own). Hobbes wrote the philosophical masterpiece entitled “Leviathan” which is a detailed guide to rights of the individual and the limits of government responsibility. Because England had been ruled by the church in conjunction with the crown any ideals that restricted collectivism were considered ungodly and treasonous. Hobbes was exiled and “Leviathan” was even blamed for causing the plague. Imagine that? The idea that man could be free would be blamed by collectivists as the end-all, be-all of society’s ills. Sound familiar?
Furthermore, Swinford did not continue Jefferson’s letter to Henry Lee. Swinford says in her piece that (and these are her quotes) ” Jefferson himself explains that the Declaration was not meant to express anything new”. Continue on into the letter to Lee and you find a direct contradiction when Jefferson, while acknowledging the philosophical ideas from thinkers in history says:
“it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day”
So in other words the ideas had been taken from history, but his Declaration was tailored especially to the “American mind” relative to the occasion. While Jefferson prefaces this train of thought as being rather common place it is his humility that results in discounting its importance. Anyone, that has taken five minutes to study Jefferson recognizes this trait. Swinford obviously has not.
CLAIM #2 “Everything our Founders did, was in fact, legal”
I find this puzzling for many reasons. The first being that as a scholar of Thomas Paine I can point directly to his own writings and his critique of the King of England’s speech and smash that notion to bits. From Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, on the King of Englands Speech (Library of America “Paine: Collected Writings” pg. 289)
“‘No endeavours have been wanting on my part’ says the speech ‘to extinguish that spirit of rebellion which our enemies have found means to foment and maintain in the colonies; and to restore to my DELUDED SUBJECTS in America that happy and prosperous condition which they formerly derrived from a due obedience to the laws.'”
What laws pray tell is Paine citing in the King’s speech? After all, Swinford has assured us that everything the Founding Fathers were doing was legal. If that is the case then in order for Swinford to be correct the colonies and the King were grossly misinformed on current events. As a matter of fact if Swinford is correct than the entire Revolutionary War was the result of poor communication. This type of media malpractice was absent from American affairs until the launch of MSNBC.
We have just begun, and there will be a part 2 to this terrible misrepresentation of history. I have even left the easiest examples out. After all, was the Boston Tea Party legal? Was that conducted according to British Law, the destruction of property protected under the Crown?
Just for a teaser for part two let us grab a quick quote from John Adams’ college days for a general idea of the willingness to break the laws of the King. On the decision on the “writs of of assistance” (John Adams Vol.1 Page Smith)
“every man…appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.”
Right, the American Revolution was nothing special. No new implementation of thought and nothing they did was illegal. My question is not how Nicole Swinson is so wrong but rather why is she not flipping burgers.