Daniel McCarthy on the American Revolution

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    Dear Kevin, Brion, or Tom,

    The American Conservative’s Daniel McCarthy, whose work is usually very spot on, has written an article arguing that the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence was not actually an act of secession from Great Britain but a revolution in the Lockean sense (i.e. “The Right of Revolution”) whereby a sovereign people deposes their monarch. This seems to me to be essentially the Straussian line. Am I correct? Or is he asserting something different? If I am indeed reading this correctly, would any one of you be up for writing a rebuttal piece to Dan?


    He has also recently put forth an article criticizing secession in general: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/mccarthy/secession-is-not-a-principle-of-liberty/

    Anything any one of you have to say about this would be greatly appreciated.


    Dan is looking at the War for Independence in the wrong way. It was not a revolution because the political order did not radically change though there were certainly those who advanced this position, but my view here is not the mainstream. Jefferson certainly called it a revolution, as did others, but he later called it an act of secession akin to the splitting of a church congregation. Which Jefferson is correct?

    The war broke the “political bands which connected them” but did not transform society. The Declaration was an indictment of King George because they argued the colonies were his dominion, similar to the medieval lord’s domain and only he had jurisdiction because the colonies were not represented in Parliament. The center could regulate trade and defend the colonies but they had jurisdiction over local matters. This was a constitutional crisis.

    The Straussians generally view the Declaration as a founding document because of the first lines of the second paragraph and for no other reason. In other words, the Declaration codified a certain “Americanism.” They ignore the last paragraph entirely.


    There actually was a debate over this in Virginia at the time. Some said Virginia was in a state of nature (Patrick Henry was among them), and some said it wasn’t (this was Jefferson’s position). In general, the states kept their colonial systems, merely substituting loyalty to the state for loyalty to the king. This was what Jefferson had forecast in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was built on the foundation of his cousin Richard Bland’s account of the settlement of the North American colonies; key was the claim of a natural right to emigrate.

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