1 Calvinism and Jonathan Edwards

2 Philosophy and Politics

American Republicanism

"The Founders were educated readers of the classic political commentaries of the Greeks and Romans, And knowledgeable of the Republican experiments of the city states of early modern Europe. Codified historical experience was as important to them as what they were learning in leading the colonies in the mid-eighteenth century. In drawing from the well of history, the Founders were often reinforced in their apprehension of the masses and occasionally strengthened in their misgivings about the possibility of progress. Yet history also taught them that a republican government--that in which elected rulers represented the people—could best secure the virtue of a culture. A society was better off trusting the people than any smaller, and thus more selfish group, such as a king; aristocrats; the commercially interested; or politically hungry cliques concerned with power.

"Society and government must be distinguished. Society was the natural outcome of the human condition--the relationships that derived from collections of human beings living together, raising their young, and cooperating in common endeavor. In contrast of these joint, implicit responsibilities, government was a negative instrument only necessary to the extent that matters went awry; its powers were minimized and, in the natural course of things, largely unnecessary. The American elite was basically satisfied that England had served the interests of the people through the mid-eighteenth century and preserved the liberties of the colonies. The British monarchy might sit uncomfortably with the nascent exposition of New World political ideas, but in practice the system worked.

"What had gone wrong in America to compel her leaders to consider breaking their ties to the British Empire by the 1770s? Despite their self-conscious empirical rationalism, colonial thinkers never approached either the natural or the social world with an innocent eye. Just as deistic understanding was a presupposition of their thinking, so too did they believe that the social nature of human beings had been rendered more complex by a more explicit contract between ruled and rulers that eventuated in government. In ideal circumstances, the resulting polity reflected the existence of the rights that God had engendered in human individuals

"Presuppositions also shaped their grasp of their specific circumstances. The founders embraced the views of some dissenters in England earlier in the eighteenth century. These Commonwealth men or radical Whigs had developed a pervasive and hostile critique of and English society that eighteenth-century fiscal and innovations have debilitated. The growth of the monetary power of the monarchy destroyed the ideal of balanced government between King, Lords, and commons and led to a situation where the Crown bought and sold offices, expanded its power, and ground on the citizenry. The Commonwealthmen look back to a time of imagined civic virtue and worked for the restoration of what they took to be a natural scheme of governance, overturned by evil and degenerate men." (30-31)

"Rather than looking at how to divide the 'liberal' or individualistic from the'communitarian'or nationalist strands among the Founders, we can see how accords evolved in the Constitutional period from a common philosophy of natural rights: the creator had made a world that respected individuals within the context of human societies. Natural rights theorists brought together opposing beliefs of theoretically laissez-faire liberals and antagonists dedicated to a collectively virtuous polity. The Founders were a shifting coalition of political leaders testing their thinking by governing the new nation as adherents of natural rights views; they put forward ideas of political economy that brought together liberal and communitarian perspectives" (32).