Fortnight For Freedom
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Something for a Fourth of July weekend. The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War. Of course they sang different lyrics to the song. The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote: “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”
Here is the Southern version sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man campaign to bring Civil War music to modern audiences:
Here is the version from the Lincoln (2012) movie:
These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858
Like most veterans of the Civil War, go here to read about his service, Archbishop John Ireland had a deep love of this nation. The following is a speech on patriotism that he delivered to the New York Commandery of the Loyal League on April 4, 1894. His speech is completely out of step with the popular sentiments of our day that tend to view patriotism, at best, with suspicion and that take for granted freedom hard won by the blood of prior generations. I find myself much closer to agreement with the Archbishop than I do with the zeitgeist in which we find ourselves.
Patriotism is love of country, and loyalty to its life and weal—love tender and strong, tender as the love of son for mother, strong as the pillars of death; loyalty generous and disinterested, shrinking from no sacrifice, seeking no reward save country’s honor and country’s triumph.
Patriotism! There is magic in the word. It is bliss to repeat it. Through ages the human race burnt the incense of admiration and reverence at the shrines of patriotism. The most beautiful pages of history are those which recount its deeds. Fireside tales, the outpourings of the memories of peoples, borrow from it their warmest glow.
Poets are sweetest when they re-echo its whisperings; orators are most potent when they thrill its chords to music.
Pagan nations were wrong when they made gods of their noblest patriots. But the error was the excess of a great truth, that heaven unites with earth in approving and blessing patriotism; that patriotism is one of earth’s highest virtues, worthy to have come down from the atmosphere of the skies.
The exalted patriotism of the exiled Hebrew exhaled itself in a canticle of religion which Jehovah inspired, and which has been transmitted, as the inheritance of God’s people to the Christian Church:
“Upon the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, when we remembered Sion.—If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee, if I do not make Jerusalem the beginning of my joy.”
The human race pays homage to patriotism because of its supreme value. The value of patriotism to a people is above gold and precious stones, above commerce and industry, above citadels and warships. Patriotism is the vital spark of national honor; it is the fount of the nation’s prosperity, the shield of the nation’s safety. Take patriotism away, the nation’s soul has fled, bloom and beauty have vanished from the nation’s countenance.
The human race pays homage to patriotism because of its supreme loveliness. Patriotism goes out to what is among earth’s possessions the most precious, the first and best and dearest—country—and its effusion is the fragrant flowering of the purest and noblest sentiments of the heart.
Patriotism is innate in all men; the absence of it betokens a perversion of human nature; but it grows its full growth only where thoughts are elevated and heart-beatings are generous.
Next to God is country, and next to religion is patriotism. No praise goes beyond its deserts. It is sublime in its heroic oblation upon the field of battle. “Oh glorious is he,” exclaims in Homer the Trojan warrior, “who for his country falls!” It is sublime in the oft-repeated toil of dutiful citizenship. “Of all human doings,” writes Cicero, “none is more honorable and more estimable than to merit well of the commonwealth.”
Countries are of divine appointment. The Most High “divided the nations, separated the sons of Adam, and appointed the bounds of peoples.” The physical and moral necessities of God’s creatures are revelations of his will and laws. Man is born a social being. A condition of his existence and of his growth of mature age is the family. Nor does the family suffice to itself. A larger social organism is needed, into which families gather, so as to obtain from one another security to life and property and aid in the development of the faculties and powers with which nature has endowed the children of men.
The whole human race is too extensive and too diversified in interests to serve those ends: hence its subdivisions into countries or peoples. Countries have their providential limits—the waters of a sea, a mountain range, the lines of similarity of requirements or of methods of living. The limits widen in space according to the measure of the destinies which the great Ruler allots to peoples, and the importance of their parts in the mighty work of the cycles of years, the ever-advancing tide of humanity’s evolution.
The Lord is the God of nations because he is the God of men. No nation is born into life or vanishes back into nothingness without his bidding. I believe in the providence of God over countries as I believe in his wisdom and his love, and my patriotism to my country rises within my soul invested with the halo of my religion to my God.
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.
This is a repeat from a post last year, with some slight modifications, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true. As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties. It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true. Winning the American Revolution took eight years and it was a definite David V. Goliath upset. A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.
A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution. Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:
10. Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots. Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos. Quite a bit of fun. Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.
9. The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton. This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie. Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.
8. John Paul Jones (1959) Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero. Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days. The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong. This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900. Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications. Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison. Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.
7. The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution! Actually not too bad of a film overall. Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes. Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign. The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English. No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive. However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender. The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.
6. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley. Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue reading
(This is a repeat from last year. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday, go here to read about it, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down two key sections in the Texas abortion law, it seemed more relevant than ever. The Supreme Court is growing ever more high handed in its rulings, and what it is engaged in when it comes to favored made up court created rights like “abortion” and “gay marriage” has nothing to do with the law or the constitution. In his blistering dissent in Hellerstedt, Justice Clarence Thomas nailed it:
Today’s decision will prompt some to claim victory, just as it will stiffen opponents’ will to object. But the entire Nation has lost something essential. The majority’s embrace of a jurisprudence of rights-specific exceptions and balancing tests is ‘a regrettable concession of defeat—an acknowledgement that we have passed the point where ‘law,’ properly speaking, has any further application.’)
Some quotes from Abraham Lincoln in how to react to illegitimate Supreme Court decisions. An illegitimate decision is one in which the Court arrogates to itself the power of a legislature under the mendacious guise of merely interpreting the Constitution:
1. I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.
2. Judicial decisions have two uses-first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”
3. We think its (the Supreme Court) decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.
4. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.
5. Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so, accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession. Continue reading
During the Constitutional Convention, on June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin, dismayed by the lack of progress since the convention convened on May 25, 1787, and alarmed at the acrimony of the debates, rose and delivered a memorable address:
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other,”our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes and ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, some we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. ”Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service. Continue reading
America has always been my favorite patriotic song. Written by a Baptist minister, Samuel Francis, and set to the tune, ironically, of God Save the Queen, the song was first performed on July 4, 1831 at Park Street Church in Boston. Near the end of his life, Francis was proposed by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, for an honorary degree from Harvard. Harvard turned this proposal down on the grounds that Smith had not written the tune. The reply of Holmes was memorable and prophetic: His song will be sung centuries from now, when most of us and our pipings are forgotten.
The rendition above is by Marian Anderson, perhaps the most gifted songstress of her generation. A devout Christian, this granddaughter of slaves was denied the opportunity by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939. In 1939 the District of Columbia was controlled by committees of Congress. Democrat segregationists rigidly enforced rules of segregation in the District. Blacks were rightly upset that during a performance by Miss Anderson, if it had been held at Constitution Hall, they would have been required to sit in the back of the hall. The District of Columbia Board of Education, controlled by Democrats, declined to allow Marian Anderson to perform in the auditorium of a white school. To her credit, Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband arranged for Anderson to give her unforgettable performance at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday.
During the war years, Miss Anderson spent a large part of her time entertaining troops. In 1943, at the invitation of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang before an integrated audience for a Red Cross benefit. The always gracious Miss Anderson remembered the event: When I finally walked onto the stage of Constitution Hall, I felt no different than I had in other halls. There was no sense of triumph. I felt that it was a beautiful concert hall and I was very happy to sing there.” Continue reading
My favorite scene from Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is easy to give way to weary cynicism when one contemplates all the evil in the world. However, history is replete with examples of men and women who fought the good fight and won. Even those who fought and were defeated ennobled all of us by their stand. Let us ever be cynical about cynicism and let us ever be ready to pick up the gauntlet, no matter the odds, so that, in the ringing phrase of Lincoln, truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land.
Prophetic words of warning for us today from a young Mr. Lincoln:
We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.
How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction. That has never been the case in my family. McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.
He is memorialized in the above section of a painting by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.” The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart. My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.
Born in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family. He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved. The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began. Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men. After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town, a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia. When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.
At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775. The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing. That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. Continue reading
A spot of blood and grease on the pages of English history.
Charles Dickens, referring to King Henry VIII
For English speaking Catholics, June 22 is a bright day on the calendar of the Saints. It is appropriate that in the northern hemisphere it is also one of the longest days, when it is not the longest day, of the year, since no amount of sunshine is too much to celebrate the merits of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher. On this day we remember the two saints who stood against King Henry VIII, for the great principal that the State must never be allowed to control the Church. Much that we Americans celebrate as freedom was born out of Church-State struggles down through the ages. Sometimes those who stood against the State fell in the struggle, but the concept that the State is not absolute, that there are limits to its authority, is one of the great gifts of the Catholic Middle Ages to all of mankind. It is only in modern times, since 1500, that the heresy that the State may exercise absolute authority has been a constant source of misery and strife in the history of the West.
When he ascended to the throne of England Henry VIII was popularly known as the Golden Hope of England. His father Henry VII had never been loved by the people of England: a miser and a distinctly unheroic figure no matter what Shakespeare would write in Richard III. He had brought the end of the War of the Roses and peace to England, but that was about as much credit as his subjects would give the grasping, unlovable Henry Tudor. His son by contrast looked like an Adonis when young, strong and athletic. He had a sharp mind and had been well-educated, intended, ironically, for a career in the Church before the death of his elder brother Arthur. He was reputed, correctly, to be pious. He had considerable charisma in his youth and knew how to make himself loved with a well timed laugh or smile, and loved he was, by the nobles, commons, his wife Katherine, and the Church. Few reigns started more auspiciously than that of Henry, eighth of that name.
By the end of his reign he was widely despised by most his subjects. Called a crowned monster behind his back, his reign had brought religious turmoil to England and domestic strife. The best known symbols of his reign were the headman’s axe, the stake and the boiling pot in which he had some of the luckless individuals who roused his fury boiled to death.
It of course is small wonder for a Catholic to have little love for Henry VIII and his reign, but the distaste for Henry extends well beyond members of the Church. Winston Churchill, the great English statesman and historian, in his magisterial History of the English Speaking Peoples, has this to say about the executions of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher:
“The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand. They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom. They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter. More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook. He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness. Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”
Churchill himself was not noted for being a churchgoer. When asked if he was a pillar of the Church of England, he quipped that perhaps he could be considered to be a flying butress of the Church, supporting it from outside. Perhaps this helped give him a certain objectivity regarding Henry VIII. Here is part of his summing up of Henry’s reign:
“Henry’s rule saw many advances in the growth and the character of the English state, but it is a hideous blot upon his record that the reign should be widely remembered for its executions. Two Queens, two of the King’s chief Ministers, a saintly bishop, numerous abbots, monks and many ordinary folk who dared to resist the royal will were put to death. Almost every member of the nobility in whom royal blood ran perished on the scaffold at Henry’s command. Roman Catholic and Calvinist alike were burnt for heresy and religious treason. These persecutions, inflicted in solemn manner by officers of the law, perhaps in the presence of the Council or even the King himself, form a brutal seqeul to the bright promise of the Renaissance. The sufferings of devout men and women among the faggots, the use of torture, and the savage penalties imposed for even paltry crimes, stand in repellant contrast to the enlightened principles of humanism.”
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
Sam Adams, August 1, 1776
(This is a repeat from last year. I can’t improve upon it, except for minor changes that I have made.)
The American Catholic is proud to participate in this year’s Fortnight For Freedom. The Fortnights were started in 2012 by the bishops of this country in response to the unprecedented assault on religious liberty posed by the Obama administration, to remind Catholics of the preciousness of their inheritance of freedom as Americans and Catholics and the necessity of standing up to threats to it. All well and good, and a very worthy cause indeed. However, the leadership of the Church appears to be schizophrenic on this subject. While Caesar seeks to limit the freedom of the Church, too many ecclesiastics respond by wanting to get into bed with Caesar.
The examples of this are legion.
It is the policy of the Church to aid the Obama administration in flouting the immigration laws of this country, acting as a virtual arm of the State in sheltering illegal aliens.
The Church was all in favor of Obamacare, until the Obama administration targeted the Church with the contraceptive mandate.
The Green Encyclical, Laudato Si, released last year, is one long demand for Caesar to engage in an immense power grab, and regulate business and citizens to fight a mythical global warming threat.
The Vatican is supportive of UN activities that spell a mortal danger to economic freedom in the West.
The Church through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funds hundreds of left wing pressure groups to call for ever bigger government, and, inevitably, further restrictions on freedom.
Welfare States require huge amounts of tax money and huge amounts of government power. The default position of the Church today when confronting any need traditionally filled by private or Church charity, is to scream for Caesar to come fix things. This bastardized parody of the social teachings of the Church inevitably comes back to bite the Church as Caesar will always exact a price for his favors and under the Obama administration that price is for the Church to bend the knee to contraception, abortion and gay marriage. For all too many of our shepherds that is a small price to pay to keep the government largesse flowing. There is a reason why Christ whipped the money changers from the Temple and why He uttered the phrase to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. These days the Church too often seems willing to bow the knee to Caesar, no matter what Caesar demands, so long as the funds from Caesar keep flowing. Continue reading
As in years past, The American Catholic will take part in The Fortnight Freedom proclaimed by the USCCB:
Each year dioceses around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom is from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day.
Something for a Fourth of July weekend: Yankee Doodle.
Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution. After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:
“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”
James Cagney did an immortal riff on Yankee Doodle in the musical biopic of composer and actor George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942):
Yankee Doodle plays in the background as Cagney at the end of the film, entirely impromptu, dances down the White House staircase:
Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.
Pope Leo XIII
American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented. Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:
General Stephen Moylan a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.
Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.
Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.
Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787
Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.
Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue reading
My bride and I each year travel to Indianapolis for the Gen Con gaming convention which this year will be held on the last week in July. Indianapolis is a lovely city and we have enjoyed our visits there. Back in 1926 an Indianapolis parish priest, John C. Rager, demonstrated that the core of the Declaration of Independence has its roots in Catholic thought.
It will suffice for our purpose to consult, in detail, but two Catholic churchmen who stand out as leading lights for all time. The one is representative of medieval learning and thought, the other stood on the threshold of the medieval and modern world. They are St. Thomas Aquinas of the thirteenth century and the Blessed Cardinal Robert Bellarmine of the sixteenth century (1542-1621). The following comparisons, clause for clause, of the American Declaration of Independence and of excerpts from the political principles of these noted ecclesiastics, evidence striking similarity and identity of political principle.
Equality of man
Declaration of Independence: All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
Bellarmine: All men are equal, not in wisdom or grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind (De Laicis, c.7) There is no reason why among equals one should rule rather than another (ibid.). Let rulers remember that they preside over men who are of the same nature as they themselves. (De Officus Princ. c. 22). Political right is immediately from God and necessarily inherent in the nature of man (De Laicis, c. 6, note 1).
St. Thomas: Nature made all men equal in liberty, though not in their natural perfections (II Sent., d. xliv, q. 1, a. 3. ad 1).
The function of government
Declaration of Independence: To secure these rights governments are instituted among men.
Bellarmine: It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good. Men must be governed by someone lest they be willing to perish (De Laicis, c. 6).
St. Thomas: To ordain anything for the common good belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the viceregent of the whole people (Summa, la llae, q. 90, a. 3).
The source of power
Declaration of Independence: Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Bellarmine: It depends upon the consent of the multitude to constitute over itself a king, consul, or other magistrate. This power is, indeed, from God, but vested in a particular ruler by the counsel and election of men (De Laicis, c. 6, notes 4 and 5). The people themselves immediately and directly hold the political power (De Clericis, c. 7).
St. Thomas: Therefore the making of a law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has care of the whole people (Summa, la llae, q. 90, a. 3). The ruler has power and eminence from the subjects, and, in the event of his despising them, he sometimes loses both his power and position (De Erudit. Princ. Bk. I, c. 6).
The right to change the government
Declaration of Independence: Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government…Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons.
Bellarmine: For legitimate reasons the people can change the government to an aristocracy or a democracy or vice versa (De Laicis, c. 6). The people never transfers its powers to a king so completely but that it reserves to itself the right of receiving back this power (Recognitio de Laicis, c. 6).
St Thomas: If any society of people have a right of choosing a king, then the king so established can be deposed by them without injustice, or his power can be curbed, when by tyranny he abuses his regal power (De Rege et Regno, Bk. I, c. 6).
Go here to read the article. Is there any evidence that Jefferson was familiar with this Catholic thought? There is. In his library at Monticello there is a volume entitled Patriarcha written by the court theologian of James I, Robert Filmer. In this book Filmer defended the divine right of kings and attacked Bellarmine. Karl Maurer gives us the details:
The most interesting aspect of Patriarcha from a Catholic perspective is that the first pages discredit and attack the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine, who was one of the most eloquent and prolific defenders of freedom the Catholic Church has ever produced. It was customary that writers dealing with political and religious controversies begin their books by presenting their nemesis as an anti-thesis, which in Filmer’s case was Bellarmine’s position that political authority is vested in the people and that kings do not rule by divine right, but through the consent of the governed. This was a radical idea in the early 1600’s, though it is widely accepted today.
In Patriarcha, Filmer quotes Bellarmine directly as follows: “Secular or Civil authority (saith he) ‘is instituted by men; it is in the people unless they bestow it on a Prince. This Power is immediately in the Multitude, as in the subject of it; for this Power is in the Divine Law, but the Divine Law hath given this power to no particular man. If the Positive Law be taken away, there is left no Reason amongst the Multitude (who are Equal) one rather than another should bear the Rule over the Rest. Power is given to the multitude to one man, or to more, by the same Law of Nature; for the Commonwealth cannot exercise this Power, therefore it is bound to bestow it upon some One man or some Few. It depends upon the Consent of the multitude to ordain over themselves a King or other Magistrates, and if there be a lawful cause, the multitude may change the Kingdom into an Aristocracy or Democracy’ (St. Robert Bellarmine, Book 3 De Laicis, Chapter 4). Thus far Bellarmine; in which passages are comprised the strength of all that I have read or heard produced for the Natural Liberty of the Subject.” (Patriarcha, page 5.)
Imagine what Jefferson must have been thinking as he read the opening paragraphs of Patriarcha, a direct assault on the Roman Catholic scholarship of Bellarmine:
“Since the time that school divinity (i.e. Catholic Universities) began to flourish, there hath been a common opinion maintained as well by the divines as by the divers of learned men which affirms: ‘Mankind is naturally endowed and born with freedom from all subjection, and at liberty to choose what form of government it please, and that the power which any one man hath over others was at the first by human right bestowed according to the discretion of the multitude.’ This tenet was first hatched in the (Medieval Roman Catholic Universities), and hath been fostered by all succeeding papists for good divinity. The divines also of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people everywhere tenderly embrace it as being most plausible to flesh and blood, for that it prodigally distributes a portion of liberty to the meanest of the multitude, who magnify liberty as if the height of human felicity were only to be found in it — never remembering that the desire of liberty was the cause of the fall of Adam.”
There is no doubt that Jefferson, after reading Filmer, must have been struck by Bellarmine’s definition of individual freedom and popular sovereignty. It may come as a surprise to some, but a closer analysis of Bellarmine’s writing and Catholic Church history demonstrates that since 1200 AD, Catholic Church has defended individual rights and freedoms, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery, serfdom, and the rise of popular sovereignty at the expense of absolutist monarchs and tyrannical nobles. Continue reading