What was the spark that illuminated the bosom of the Southerners of 1861? Was it rebellion, treachery, treason—the very opposite of our Constitutional system? Or was it the same spark that has been called the “Spirit of ‘76”—one of undying loyalty to freedom? Let us explore the similarities of the War for Independence and the War Between the States, examine where our rights actually come from, and find out how we can hope to recover them today.
“No taxation without representation!” That was the cry of the colonists in 1764 when Parliament voted to tax them for revenue—something Britain had never done before. For over 150 years, Britain’s object for the colonies had been commercial profit. The colonies had flourished by private finances and enjoyed a great deal of freedom. The question arose—did Parliament have the power to impose a tax upon American colonists?
The colonists were not represented in Parliament, neither could they be since the House was so far away from them and did not understand American needs. The accomplished British statesman, William Pitt, said in Parliament, “It is my opinion that this kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. . . . Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. The taxes are a voluntary gift and grant of the Commons alone. . . . I rejoice that America has resisted.” In addition, Edmund Burke, then a member of the House of Commons, championed for the rights of Americans. He said, “[Early Englishmen] took infinite pains to inculcate, as a fundamental principle, that, in all monarchies, the people must . . . possess the power of granting their own money, or no shadow of liberty could subsist.” This is exactly how the colonists felt. Also, one of Patrick Henry’s resolves, passed in the Virginia House of Burgesses after the infamous Stamp Act, stated:
Resolved, That the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burthensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristick of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.
It is an historical English right that a man must give his consent before his property is taken. To take away a man’s property without his consent is historically known as stealing. Property is one of the inalienable rights written down in the Declaration of Independence, expounded as “the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, men cannot effect their own happiness without the right to own their property. Free governments are never formed by the coercive acts of an all-powerful government, but by the consent of the people. That is why the Declaration of Independence declares, “That to secure these Rights [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed. . . .” Have you ever heard the saying, “money is power”? Taxes are a power grant that must be derived from the consent of the people, but in 1764, Parliament somehow falsely believed that the government was above the people and was not accountable to them.
Likewise, in 1861, Abraham Lincoln believed that he did not have to answer to the people and was determined to tax them—even without their consent. Just days after he sent reenforcements to Federally occupied Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor against his promise to the contrary, he by-passed congressional authority and called out 75,000 troops to suppress the Southern States and, as he said in his inaugural address, to “collect the duties and imposts”. Today, historians hail Fort Sumter as a useless fort, but to Lincoln, it was all-important if he was to collect the tariff revenue from the South. That is why the North was concerned with letting the South go. The North wanted to continue to collect the revenue they would lose from disunion with the South—a haunting similarity to British taxation without representation. The North would even go as far as to require tribute from a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America—now separate from the United States. Any ship passing into the harbor would face Sumter’s guns; they could pay tribute, or be destroyed. The New York Evening Post said on March 2, 1861:
. . . [E]ither the revenue from duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states, or the port must be closed from importations from abroad. . . . If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation [United States] will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe. There will be nothing to furnish means of subsistence to the army; nothing to keep our navy afloat; nothing to pay the salaries of public officers; the present order of things must come to a dead stop.
According to taxation historian Charles Adams, during the 1830's to 60's the South paid approximately 87% of the national tariff revenue. Tariffs were in place that required from the fifteen to 250 percentile of imported goods—much more than the three penny British tax their ancestors faced on tea. Georgia Senator Robert Toombs remarked of the North, “No wonder they cry out for the glorious Union; by it they got their wealth.” Southern duties were literally lining Yankee pockets with gold, and since the North outnumbered them in Congress, the South was powerless to stop it. On January 18, 1860, the Vicksburg Daily Whig had this to say: “The North has been aggrandised, in a most astonishing degree, at the expense of the South . . . taxing us at every step—and depleting us as extensively as possible without actually destroying us.” This sort of thing was the trigger that set North Carolina backcountry farmers to arms at the tragic Battle of Alamance in 1771 in what was debatably the first battle of the American War for Independence.
Like the Southerners of ‘61, the colonists of ‘76 were experts at forecasting tyranny, and they feared its gradualism. They were concerned that if they gave a little, even a small tax levied without their consent, then it would lead to more sacrifice of their sacred liberties. They began to see this was true. Not only did Parliament wish to tax them for revenue, but a jury trial—a common right—could be revoked for those who refused to pay the tax. King George III, in order for Parliament to support his agenda, smuggled his influence into the House of Commons in 1775. Before the election of the House, the king called a special election, but he refused to tell those loyal to their brethren in America until a week before the votes were cast. Naturally, when the election arrived, the royalists were ready with full coffers, but the American sympathizers were unprepared and decisively defeated. Now, Parliament would support the King’s acts almost without opposition. The Americans were also offended at how the British ministry was starting to meddle inordinately in the elected assemblies of the colonies. The new British Secretary of State told the Massachusetts assembly to revoke a bill that had passed, and the British outrageously called the colonists’ essential right to redress grievances “a flagitious attempt to disturb the public peace”.
Ninety years later, the Southerners watched in horror as the tyrannical spirit of King George was resurrected in Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln maneuvered the South into firing on Fort Sumter, he assumed the role of a dictator to bring about the war he wanted. In September, to prohibit Maryland from leaving the union, Lincoln arrested elected Maryland legislators who favored secession. Immediately after Sumter, he also began to shut down dozens of newspapers and arrest some 10,000 citizens who did not agree with his regime after he suspended the writ of habeas corpus—a right which allows citizens not to be held without evidence. Lincoln even signed out a warrant to arrest a Supreme Court Justice who denied the lawful authority for Lincoln’s actions. A contemporary English newspaper said:
There is no Parliamentary [congressional] authority whatever for what has been done. It has been done simply on Mr. Lincoln’s fiat. At his simple bidding, acting by no authority but his own pleasure, in plain defiance of the Constitution, the Habeus Corpus Act has been suspended, the press muzzled, and judges prevented by armed men from enforcing on the citizens’ behalf the laws to which they and the President alike have sworn.
Both the British and Northern administrations proved that they did not respect the people’s representatives nor the people, themselves. Both governments acted as though free men’s rights were derived from them. The people knew they had no choice but to take up the sword in order to defend their most basic rights—those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This brings us to our second point: Where do our rights really come from? Before the Constitution, before the Declaration of Independence, even before the Magna Charta, what was the rule of law? The Declaration of Independence speaks of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. These laws of nature are the will of God. They are the laws that God has put into the constitution of His creation. The English common law teacher, William Blackstone, said “[T]he law of nature [is] expressly declared so to be by God himself;...” In his “Rights of the Colonists”, patriot leader James Otis said:
Parliaments are in all cases to declare what is for the good of the whole; but it is not the declaration of Parliament that makes it so: There must be in every instance a higher authority, viz. God. Should an Act of Parliament be against any of His natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity, and justice, and consequently void: . . .
Neither the King nor Parliament is above the law. Contrarily, they are under the law, and it is their duty to see that the law is upheld. In I Samuel 13, King Saul was found to be outside the law when he offered sacrifice to the Lord instead of the prophet Samuel. Samuel said, “. . . thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God. . . .” (v.13). He again found himself outside of the law when he spared King Agag against God’s command. In consequence, Samuel told him, “. . . the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” (v.26). Even kings are subject to the laws of God. During the days before the revolution, Parliament was called “omnipotent”, a term reserved for God alone. Parliament’s responsibility was not to create laws to its own end, but to interpret “the laws of nature”.These laws are eternal and unchanging truths found in His creation and in His Word, the Bible.
We have a right to our life based on God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” We have a right to the pursuit of happiness (or property), for Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.” And most importantly, we have a right to liberty based on 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
How can we hope to regain our liberties? Notice the reciprocal of the above verse is that where God’s Spirit is not, there is no liberty. Samuel Adams said, “While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader. . . .” As our nation drifts away from God and His moral laws, it also drifts away from our liberties that are derived from God through following these moral laws. Our forefathers have repeatedly paid the ultimate sacrifice to resist invasions of our rights, but today, we are giving away these blood-bought liberties without a second thought.
The First Continental Congress wrote the people with these words: “Above all things we earnestly intreat you, with devotion of spirit, penitence of heart, and amendment of life, to humble yourselves, and implore the favour of Almighty God: and we fervently beseech His divine goodness, to take you in His gracious protection.” When is the last time America has cried out to the One who “governs in the affairs of men”? God said in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” God, who cannot lie, made this promise, and repentance toward God is our only key to unlocking the chains of slavery that grind upon our wrists.
When we humble ourselves before God, we seek to please Him. This is the cornerstone of a free society. We have a government that cannot exist without the Christian morality of the people. Our forefathers understood this. The chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” When there is less self-control, there must be more control from an outside source—government. Robert Winthrop, an early Massachusetts statesman, said, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.” If we ever hope to regain our liberties, it is our responsibility. We must take the initiative. It is our own apathy and lack of self-government that has year after year pawned away our liberties. In America, “We the people” are the government, but if we refuse to govern ourselves, someone else will do it for us—at the expense of the liberties we hold so dear. A Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville explained his quest for America’s greatness. He said:
I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...; in her fertile fields and boundless
forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great, because she is good, but when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
This is the only hope for our nation today. The life-blood of our fathers has soaked this great land for generations as they preferred death over submission to shame. He who controls the destiny of nations gave them the victory once, and He can give it to us today. Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife after Fredericksburg, “What should have become of us without His crowning help and protection? Oh, if our people would only recognize it and cease from vain self-boasting and adulation, how strong would be my belief in final success and happiness to our country!” Will our nation turn today to the only One who can give us freedom? Like the echo of a ringing bell, God’s words sound: If My people! . . . If we, individually, turn to Him in humility, prayer, and repentance to seek Him, He will heal our land. It only takes a spark to light a torch, and one torch to light a dozen, and those dozen to light tens of thousands. It is our personal duty to return to God and invoke from heaven His Divine Hand, or the shackles of tyranny will only tighten upon our wrists and those of our children. It is our duty to the blood of our fathers, to our innocent posterity, and to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us examine our hearts. America is being weighed in the balance. . . . Will we be found wanting?
Adams, Charles, When in the Course of Human Events, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD, 2000.
Bible: King James Version.
DiLorenzo, Thomas J., The Real Lincoln, Roseville, CA, Prima Publishing, 2002.
Ford, Daniel J., In the Name of God, Amen, St. Louis, Lex Rex Publishing, 2003.
Hazeltine, Mayo W., ed., Orations from Homer to McKinley, v. 5, P. F. Collier and Son, New York, 1902.
Lee, Captain Robert E., Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee, New York, Garden City Publishing Co., 1904-24.
Morison, Samuel Elliot, ed., Sources and Documents Illustrating the American Revolution, 1764-1788, and the Formation of the Federal Constitution, New York, Oxford University Press, 1923-65.
Ramsay, David, History of the United States, 2 v., Philadelphia, 1816. [Reprinted in Hall, Verna M., The Christian History of the American Revolution, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976].
Titus, Herbert W., The Declaration of Independence: The Christian Legacy, Virginia Beach, The Forecast, 1995.
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