“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville
The two persons were most influential in the advance of Progressivism in the United States. These two persons were Woodrow Wilson and John Dewey. Both were products of academia and had little or no business experience or connection with the common people. Wilson believed that our Founders were devoted to the mechanics of governance in a Newtonian world. In his 1913 “What is Progress” from his 1913 “The New Freedoms” Wilson wrote:
“Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of the The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system,—how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system.
They were only following the English Whigs, who gave Great Britain its modern constitution. Not that those Englishmen analyzed the matter, or had any theory about it; Englishmen care little for theories. It was a Frenchman, Montesquieu, who pointed out to them how faithfully they had copied Newton’s description of the mechanism of the heavens.
The makers of our Federal Constitution read Montesquieu with true scientific enthusiasm. They were scientists in their way—the best way of their age—those fathers of the nation. Jefferson wrote of "the laws of Nature"—and then by way of afterthought—"and of Nature’s God." And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery—to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of "checks and balances."
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day, of specialization, with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.
All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when "development" "evolution," is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.”
In his 1907 essay “The Author and Signers of the Declaration" Wilson had this to say:
“What then do we think of our safety and of our happiness, — of the principles of action and the forms of power we are using to secure them? That we have come to a new age and a new attitude towards questions of government, no one can doubt, — to new definitions of constitutional power, new conceptions of legislative object, new schemes of individual and corporate regulation. Upon what principle of change do we act? Do we act upon definite calculations of purpose, or do we but stumble hesitatingly upon expedients? To what statements of principle would a declaration of our reasons and purposes commit us before the world: to those the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have avowed, or to others very different and not at all novel in the political history of the world? This is not a party question: there is apparently little difference between parties in regard to it. It is a national question, — a question touching the political principles of America. We ought not to hesitate to avow a change, if change there is to be; but we should be ashamed to act in radical fashion and not know that there was a change. Precedent is at least a guide by which to determine our direction.”
While Wilson addressed the positive political issues of Progressivism and the growing power of government Dewy brought change to our educational system. His ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology. He was a major representative of progressive education and liberalism.
According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Values, Dewey suggested, can be viewed as constructs to solve practical problems. Like an outmoded piece of technology, a past value which was once constructed to address a problem in one set of circumstances can outlive its usefulness, and become a hindrance to the capacity of those in the present to deal with their practical needs and worries. This, Dewey believes, is the case with values of classical liberalism. These have come to block the capacity to resolve social problems in a way compatible with what he takes to be liberalism's core commitment to individual liberty. It is in this way that ‘the slogans of liberalism in one period can become the bulwarks of reaction’ in the next (‘Logical Method and Law’, MW15, 76). He develops this thought in discussing the relation of individual and society, the character and value of freedom, and the scope of legitimate social and political action.
Dewey criticizes classical liberalism for conceiving of the individual as ‘something given, something already there’, prior to society and for viewing social institutions for coordinating the interests of pre-social individuals. Instead, he argues, social institutions are not ‘means for obtaining something for individuals. They are means for creating individuals’ (Reconstruction in Philosophy, MW12, 190-192). In this way, classical liberalism exemplifies ‘the most pervasive fallacy of philosophical thinking’ (‘Context and Thought’, LW5, 5). This is the tendency to divide up experienced phenomena, and to take the distinct analyzed elements to be separate existences, independent both of the analysis and of each other. That this abstraction is in particular circumstances essential for inquiry is an important theme in Dewey's philosophy. But this abstraction goes wrong ‘whenever the distinctions or elements that are discriminated are treated as if they were final and self-sufficient’ (‘Context and Thought’, LW5, 7), as when classical liberalism treats the individual as ‘something given.’ Instead, Dewey argues, ‘liberalism knows that an individual is nothing fixed, given ready-made. It is something achieved, and achieved not in isolation but with the aid and support of conditions, cultural and physical: — including in “cultural”, economic, legal and political institutions as well as science and art’ (‘The Future of Liberalism’, LW11: 291).
The abstraction of the individual from social context in classical liberalism shapes its ethics. If the individual is thought of as existing prior to social institutions, then it is easier to envisage securing freedom for the individual in terms solely of the removal of external impediments on individual action, such as legal restrictions on freedom of speech. By contrast, Dewey argues that mere absence of external constraint is not a sufficient condition for freedom in the sense in which the latter is a value for liberals.
For classical liberalism or ‘old individualism’, the individual is viewed as surrounded by a protective cordon of rights, which define his or her freedom. Freedom is taken to consist in the absence of some intentional constraint on the individual's ability to pursue his or her chosen goals. For Dewey, this negative view of freedom is at the root of the wider social, ethical and political defects of this form of individualism (‘Religion and Morality in a Free Society’, LW15, 181). What is valuable about freedom is not the negative absence of interference but the positive ‘power to be an individualized self’ (The Public and Its Problems, LW2, 329).”
In essence Dewey believed that there were no absolute values in morals, religion or governance such as Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In this sense he was an anathema to the thinking of John Locke and our Founders.
So what drove our founders to develop the Declaration and our Constitution?
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the tradition of self-government in America was nurtured by the English common law tradition and the original charters of the American colonies, no less than by the constraints of geography. The debates in the colonies regarding representation and taxation grew out of the larger practical and theoretical debates in England on the nature and extent of the principle of sovereignty, the power and authority of the monarch in relation to Parliament, and the rights of citizens and natural rights, in the wake of the social and political changes resulting from the Glorious Revolution.
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England (James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland) by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascending of the English throne as William III of England jointly with his wife Mary II of England.
King James's policies of religious tolerance after 1685 met with increasing opposition by members of leading political circles, who were troubled by the king's Catholicism and his close ties with France. The crisis facing the king came to a head in 1688, with the birth of the King's son, James Francis Edward Stuart. This changed the existing line of succession by displacing the heir presumptive, his daughter Mary, a Protestant and the wife of William of Orange, with young James as heir apparent. The establishment of a Roman Catholic dynasty in the kingdoms now seemed likely. Some of the most influential leaders of the Tories united with members of the opposition Whigs and set out to resolve the crisis by inviting William of Orange to England, which the stadtholder, who feared an Anglo-French alliance, had indicated as a condition for a military intervention.
The overthrow of James was hailed at the time and ever since, as the "Glorious Revolution". Edmund Burke set the tone for over two centuries of historiographical analysis when he proclaimed that:
“The Revolution was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty”
James II was building a powerful militarized state on the assumption that the world's wealth was necessarily finite and empires were created by taking land from other states. The East India Company was thus an ideal tool to create a vast new English imperial dominion by warring with the Dutch and the Mogul Empire in India. After 1689 came an alternative understanding of economics, which saw Britain as a commercial rather than an agrarian society. The proponents of this view, most famously Adam Smith in 1776, argued that wealth was created by human endeavor and was thus potentially infinite.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is considered by some as being one of the most important events in the long evolution of the respective powers of Parliament and the Crown in England. With the passage of the Bill of Rights, it stamped out once and for all any possibility of a Catholic monarchy, and ended moves towards absolute monarchy in the British kingdoms by circumscribing the monarch's powers. These powers were greatly restricted; he or she could no longer suspend laws, levy taxes, make royal appointments, or maintain a standing army during peacetime without Parliament's permission.
In 1689 John Locke, whose writings greatly influenced our Founders, wrote in Two Treatises on Government concerning government and taxes:
“Tis true, Governments cannot be supported without great Charge, and 'tis fit everyone who enjoys his share of the Protection, should payout of his Estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own Consent, i.e. the consent of the Majority, giving it either by themselves, or their Representatives chosen by them. For if anyone shall claim a power to lay and levy Taxes on the People, he thereby invades the Fundamental Law of Property, and subverts the end of Government. For what property have I in that which another may by right taken, when he pleases to himself?
There can be but one Supreme Power, which is the Legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate.”
While Locke was referring to the results of the Glorious Revolution his thinking is valid for all ages when it comes to governance. You can see the contrast between the Progressive Wilson and the educator Dewey and the Classical Liberal Locke. Wilson, the university president and elite academic had great disdain for our Declaration and Constitution. He did not believe that the “balance of power” built into the Constitution was good for governance in the 20th century. While accepting democracy when it came to deciding on the political and administrative leader of the state he felt that representative democracy with a legislative body having more control over the affairs of state was antiquated and not conducive to allowing the executive branch to govern through the use of experts and masterminds. Wilson believed the thinking of our Founders was Newtonian while we needed the progressive model of governance based on the thinking of Darwin — a changing mode of governance to fit the times void of the absolutes in the Declaration and Constitution.
It was the progressive educator Dewey who believed that there were no universal and absolute values when he stated:
“Like an outmoded piece of technology, a past value which was once constructed to address a problem in one set of circumstances can outlive its usefulness, and become a hindrance to the capacity of those in the present to deal with their practical needs and worries.”
How can the values expressed in the Declaration of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (property) be considered a hindrance to those in the present to deal with our practical needs and worries? This thinking, something we suffer today, is the foundation of Progressivism and a far cry from the teachings of Locke, Burke, and our Founders.
In North America, the Glorious Revolution precipitated the 1689 Boston revolt in which a well-organized "mob" of provincial militia and citizens successfully deposed the hated governor Edmund Andros, which has been seen as a precedent for the American War of Independence a century later. In New York, Leisler's Rebellion caused the colonial administrator, Francis Nicholson, to flee to England. A third event, Maryland's Protestant Rebellion was directed against the proprietary government, seen as Catholic-dominated.
The charters that established the English colonies in America also recognized and affirmed the colonists' rights as Englishmen, chief of which was a measure of self-government ensured through local representative institutions. While the king or the proprietors of the respective colony would appoint a governor general, each colony also had an appointed council and a local elected assembly. The governor's actual power was minimal in contrast to his stated power, as he was dependent on the elected assembly of the colony for his salary, and as his acts could be appealed by the colony to government ministers and colonial agents in England.
The effects of Parliament becoming the supreme power in Britain in the wake of the Glorious Revolution were felt in the American colonies, as successive prime ministers enacted measures against the colonial representative bodies to allow the colonial governors autonomy from them while ensuring complete dependence upon Parliament. Parliament passed a series of punitive laws against the American colonies, such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, and the later "Intolerable Acts," which directly violated the colonists' constitutional rights, their natural rights, and their colonial charters, by denying the principle of the consent of the governed.
Coming on the heels of three other major tax increases (the Sugar Act, the Currency Act and the Quartering Act), the Stamp Act more than any other gave impetus to the growing independence movement in the Colonies. It created an easily articulated grievance against what the colonists saw as Great Britain’s efforts to undermine their economic strength and independence.
The Act — which required colonists to buy a stamp for every American newspaper, legal document, license, bond, pamphlet, almanac, college diploma, deck of cards or pair of dice they purchased — didn’t become law until Nov. 1, 1765. But opposition to it grew from the moment colonists learned of its passage.
During Parliamentary debate for the Act, Colonel Isaac Barré — who knew the colonies well, having served in the French and Indian War and returned to England with a disfiguring facial wound and high admiration for the Americans’ fighting spirit — argued the Colonies didn’t owe England a debt. Rather, he said, the behavior of Britain’s officials toward Americans “on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them.” When colonists read about Barré’s speech, they gladly co-opted the phrase “Sons of Liberty.”
During the months between the Act’s passage and its becoming law, the Sons of Liberty led protests that included burning in effigy the stamp collectors and that sometimes turned into riots. The aggressive nature of the protests caused most of the collectors to either refuse to enforce the Act or resign in fear. In addition to the protests, colonists began boycotting all English goods.
The Act was repealed on March 17, 1766, but the liberty genie couldn’t be put back into the bottle. A new spirit of independence had been created by the Act that could not be repealed by Parliament.
On the March 5, 1770— the same day as the Boston Massacre—Lord North, the new Prime Minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons that called for partial repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act. Although some in Parliament advocated a complete repeal of the act, North disagreed, arguing that the tea duty should be retained to assert "the right of taxing the Americans". After debate, the Repeal Act received the Royal Assent on April 12, 1770
Eventually the Stamp Act was repealed. On the 5 of March 1770— the same day as the Boston Massacre—Lord North, the new Prime Minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons that called for partial repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act. Although some in Parliament advocated a complete repeal of the act, North disagreed, arguing that the tea duty should be retained to assert "the right of taxing the Americans". After debate, the Repeal Act received the Royal Assent on 12 April 1770.
It would be inaccurate to claim that a major part of the Townshend Acts had been repealed. The revenue-producing tea levy, the American Board of Customs and, most important, the principle of making governors and magistrates independent all remained. In fact, the modification of the Townshend Duties Act was scarcely any change at all.
The Townshend duty on tea was retained when the 1773 Tea Act was passed, which allowed the East India Company to ship tea directly to the colonies. The Boston Tea Party soon followed, which set the stage for the American Revolution.
In 1774 Edmund Burke in his speech on American taxation had this to say
“Leave America to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the rest to the schools; for there only may they be discussed with safety. But if, intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government, by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question. When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. Nobody will be argued into slavery.”
James Otis rose to prominence in 1761, after he gave a courtroom speech opposing the Writs of Assistance—blanket warrants issued by the British for searching suspect property. He edited that speech into this essay three years later, after the passage of the Sugar Act. Its arguments contain the seed of the American Revolution—an appeal to natural rights applied against particular abuses of political power. Struck by lightning in 1783, Otis did not live beyond the Revolution. But John Adams remarked that he had never known a man "whose service for any ten years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.
In 1764 Otis wrote in his essay The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved:
“The end of government being the good of mankind, points out its great duties: It is above all things to provide for the security, the quiet, and happy enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. There is no one act which a government can have a right to make, that does not tend to the advancement of the security, tranquility and prosperity of the people. If life, liberty and property could be enjoyed in as great perfection in solitude, as in society, there would be no need of government. But the experience of ages has proved that such is the nature of man, a weak, imperfect being; that the valuable ends of live cannot be obtained without the union and assistance of many. Hence ’tis clear that men cannot live apart or independent of each other: In solitude men would perish; and yet they cannot live together without contests. These contests require some arbitrator to determine them. The necessity of a common, indifferent and impartial judge makes all men seek one; tho’ few find him in the sovereign power, of their respective states or anywhere else in subordination to it.
Government is founded immediately on the necessities of human nature, and ultimately on the will of God, the author of nature; who has not left it to men in general to choose, whether they will be members of society or not, but at the hazard of their senses if not of their lives. Yet it is left to every man as he comes of age to choose what society he will continue to belong to. Nay if one has a mind to turn Hermit, and after he has been born, nursed, and brought up in the arms of society, and acquired the habits and passions of social life, is willing to run the risque of starving alone, which is generally most unavoidable in a state of hermitage, who shall hinder him? I know of no human law, founded on the law of nature, to restrain him from separating himself from the species, if he can find it in his heart to leave them; unless it should be said, it is against the great law of self-preservation: But of this every man will think himself his own judge.”
Thomas Jefferson began his public career in 1769 in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the colonial legislature. British implementation of the Coercive Acts of 1774 (also known as the Intolerable Acts)—passed in response to the Boston Tea Party—prompted the "Summary View," Jefferson's first publication. Written for Virginians who were choosing delegates to the First Continental Congress, it laid the groundwork for later appeals by a "free people, claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature." In 1774 he wrote this in his A Summary View of the Rights of British America:
“…That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate: Let those flatter who fear; it is not an American art. To give praise, which is not due might be well from the venal, but would ill be seem those who are asserting the rights of human nature. They know, and will therefore say, that kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people. Open your breast, sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the third be a blot in the page of history. You are surrounded by British counselors, but remember that they are parties. You have no ministers for American affairs, because you have none taken from among us, nor amenable to the laws on which they are to give you advice. It behooves you, therefore, to think and to act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail. No longer persevere in sacrificing the rights of one part of the empire to the inordinate desires of another; but deal out to all equal and impartial right. Let no act be passed by any one legislature, which may infringe on the rights and liberties of another. This is the important post in which fortune has placed you, holding the balance of a great, if a well-poised empire. This, sire, is the advice of your great American council, on the observance of which may perhaps depend your felicity and future fame, and the preservation of that harmony which alone can continue both to Great Britain and America the reciprocal advantages of their connection. It is neither our wish, nor our interest, to separate from her. We are willing, on our part, to sacrifice every thing, which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquility for which all must wish. On their part, to sacrifice everything which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquility for which all must wish. On their part, let them be ready to establish union and a generous plan. Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities, which they cannot use, or to supply those wants, which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavors may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances, to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America!”
It was "the long train of abuses and usurpations" of this period which fueled the appeal to the natural rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence, and which was upheld by the fighting of the American Revolution.
In 1826 a great celebration was planned to honor the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were invited to attend and provide remarks. Both were too ill to travel. On June 24th Jefferson penned a letter to Roger C. Weightman, one of the planners of the celebration in which he stated:
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”
Both Adams and Jefferson, the co-authors of the Declaration, died within hours or each other on July 4th 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the foundation of our organic laws.