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"Gordon Wood on the Revolution" Topic

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Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 9:55 a.m. PST


But if the American Revolution brought about radical social change, how to account for the survival of and subsequent proliferation of that greatest of inequalities, slavery? Wood has publicly criticized the controversial 1619 Project, joining four other scholars in urging the New York Times to review factual oversights in its fundamental claims. In her introductory essay to the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones identified the preservation of slavery as a central motivation for Revolutionary leaders, at least in the southern colonies. Wood et al. responded emphatically that "this is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false."

Considering this public dispute, perhaps Power and Liberty's sixth chapter, "Slavery and Constitutionalism," will generate the greatest interest. Wood begins that chapter by observing that in colonial societies where half the population "at any one moment were legally unfree . . . the peculiar character of lifetime, hereditary black slavery was not always as obvious." Critical race theorists might bristle at the comparison of black slavery to white indentured servitude, but Wood's point is clear and fair. The radical rights-based language of the Revolution first swept away legal distinctions between classes of unenslaved people, all now theoretically equal citizens. "Unfreedom could no longer be taken for granted as a normal part of hierarchical society," Wood writes. "Before long . . . indentured white servitude disappeared everywhere in America." This made the continued enslavement of blacks stand out the more starkly. As Sean Wilentz has compellingly demonstrated in No Property in Man, the American Revolution inspired a sweeping anti-slavery politics unprecedented in human history. Within a generation, slavery was abolished in all states north of Delaware. Even in Virginia, then by far the greatest slave-holding state, there was serious criticism of the institution that seemed destined to end in abolition yet continued well into the 19th century. When Americans did finally abolish slavery tragically late and at immense cost in requiting blood "drawn with the sword" it was the Revolution's ideals to which abolitionists appealed."

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 10:02 a.m. PST

"The Declaration of Independence asserts that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." In the American political tradition, legitimate consent is direct representation through the electoral process. How, then, to safeguard the private rights of individuals from potential abuse at the hands of democratic majorities? Through their colonial and English heritage of written charters, and their Revolutionary experience of resistance to overbearing and unelected government, Americans developed a new constitutional theory. In Britain's imperial structure, central authority had restrained the local, and crown-appointed executives restrained the legislative. The American Revolution consciously threw off those restraints, only for the Framers to reimpose analogous mechanisms less than a decade later. As Pennsylvania's James Wilson claimed amid the ratification debate, this was no antidemocratic counterrevolution. Instead, the U.S. Constitution "shrewdly avoided choosing between the federal government and the states," thus evading the conceptual dilemma that rent Britain's empire asunder. "Sovereignty in America, [Wilson] said, did not reside in any institution of government, or even in all the institutions of government put together. Instead, sovereignty, the final, supreme, indivisible lawmaking authority, remained with the people themselves," Wood writes. In striking upon this idea, "Federalists could scarcely restrain themselves in drawing out its implications," chiefly that "locating sovereignty in the people themselves makes possible the idea of federalism." Sovereign power is not divided against itself. Instead, each layer and branch of government is a mere instrument of the people empowered to some particular and limited purpose. Thus, written constitutions themselves are not external restraints upon the people but supreme expressions of the people's own will. The constitution is then, in the words of George Washington's "Farewell Address," "until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, sacredly obligatory upon all."

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 10:11 a.m. PST

Everyone knows that when the judge comes in, the baliff says "all rise" and everyone stands, in honor, not of the individual person who is the judge, but in honor of The Law that the judge represents.

In Tennessee state courts, when the empaneled jury is brought in, the baliff says "all rise" and everyone does, INCLUDING THE JUDGE. Why? Because at that moment the twelve randomly selected individuals have become, collectively, We the People, and the judge, the embodiment of the Law, rises in the presence of his sovereign.

I asked my friend (we are officers at the same church and I taught his children) the chief justice of the TN Supreme Court about this, first time I served on a jury and noticed it, and he said, yes, that is EXACTLY why we do that.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 6:19 p.m. PST

docmb---I always learn something from your posts, even if I don't comment. Thanks for posting!

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 8:59 a.m. PST

Thank you, Mike.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 2:24 p.m. PST

Doc, thanks for that tidbit regarding the jury. What a fascinating and appropriate detail.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP13 Oct 2021 8:30 p.m. PST

It was an amazing experience.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP13 Oct 2021 9:38 p.m. PST

Just stop it.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2021 5:28 a.m. PST

OC, you weary me. Why does anything here disturb you? What is the problem? If you are not interested in the history of the ideas of the Revolution, fine, but why then come onto a thread that is plainly about that, to carp?

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