December 20, 2014

Free Chapters – A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America

Kindle edition now available here!

Paperback here!

Hello friends,

Americans are waking up to the reality that our once free republic is in serious trouble. They are searching for answers to what seem like unsolvable problems: economic depression, unending war, political corruption, and vanishing liberties. What if there were just one answer – freedom? The American republic was founded upon that principle, yet few suggest it is the solution to any of our problems,  much less all of them. But if freedom is the answer, we first must know what it is. Sadly, most Americans do not. That is why I wrote this book.

I hope you enjoy the Introduction and Chapter One: What is Freedom?, which I am making available for free below. The subsequent chapters discuss how freedom can solve the many challenges we face.

To read the rest of this book, you can get the Kindle Edition here.

I look forward to fighting with you to restore our liberty.  – Tom Mullen

Reviews

“Thomas Mullen is a knowledgeable and passionate libertarian and A Return to Common Sense is a valuable addition to the libertarian literature. Those new to the freedom movement will benefit from Tom’s introduction to both the practical and moral arguments for freedom. Long-time activists will benefit from Tom’s explanation of why strict adherence to principle is vital to the future success of the liberty movement.”

- Representative Ron Paul (TX-14)

Congressman and author of The Revolution: A Manifesto and End the Fed.

“A well written primer on economics, liberty, and government that even avid Austrians will enjoy. If you have been blinded by government and Wall Street propaganda, A Return to Common Sense will help open your eyes. I not only recommend that you add this book to your freedom library, but that you buy a few copies for your friends.”

- Peter Schiff, President of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc and author of Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.

Tom Mullen has written a thorough and useful book. Those for whom a discussion of liberty is a new experience will discover in A Return to Common Sense a clear, easy to understand guide to the nature of freedom, and why it is essential to our fondest hopes for a civil society of opportunity, peace, and prosperity. For those who already share these values, it’s a welcome resource for perfecting our own knowledge and advancing our cause.

- Charles Goyette, author of THE DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis with Gold, Oil, and Other Unconventional Investments and RED AND BLUE AND BROKE ALL OVER: Restoring America’s Free Economy

 

Free Chapters

Introduction:

The American Crisis

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

 – Thomas Paine (1776)1

America finds itself in a time of crisis.  For several generations we have expressed dissatisfaction with government, whether with the Viet Nam war, the energy and economic crises of the 1970’s, the scandals of the 1980’s and 1990’s, or the present wars in the Middle East.  While a little dissatisfaction with the status quo is healthy, it has gone far beyond that now.  For anyone remotely in touch with the state of our republic, there is a growing sense of dread that whatever is wrong is getting much worse much faster.  They realize that what was once a desire for change has now become a dire need for change.  Yet, in as much as the voting public clamors for it, does anyone think for a moment that the majority of people in America actually know what changes are necessary, or even what changes they want?

The United States emerged from the 19th century during the most innovative period in the history of mankind.  The industrial revolution had wrought miracles that could barely have been imagined 100 years before.  After thousands of years of traveling on foot or on the backs of beasts of burden, automobiles carried Americans wherever they wished to go.  Steamships freed travel by sea from the vagaries of the four winds, and the telegraph and telephone made communication with distant locations instantaneous, when just a few decades earlier weeks or even months might be required for a single letter to arrive.  Electric light replaced gas lamps, and man’s most ancient dream was realized by Wilbur and Orville Wright.

With the explosion of technology came an explosion of wealth and prosperity.  Mass production and other improvements made manufactured goods cheaper, increasing their availability beyond the affluent to the common man.  Indeed, as significant as the fortunes that were made by famous captains of industry was rising living standards of the growing middle class and even of the poor.  For the first time in history, the common people were the prime market for the output of society’s production.  After thousands of years, children no longer had to toil with their parents just to ensure that the family had enough to eat.  The average American lived comfortably on the income produced by one member of the family and that family’s standard of living was constantly improving.  No challenge seemed too formidable for a people that had harnessed the power of lightning, conquered the air and seemingly made a servant of Mother Nature herself.  Finally, the end of poverty and want were in sight.

At the dawn of the 21st century, no such optimism prevailed.  The technology-fueled prosperity of the 1990’s had hit a serious stumbling block with the crash of the NASDAQ index. A recession was just getting underway when America welcomed a new president.  In the midst of economic doldrums, socio-political disaster occurred.  Commercial airplanes exploded into the World Trade Center as a nation and world looked on in horror.  The buildings fell down and the War on Terror began.

Over a decade later, the United States finds itself quagmired in that war beyond anyone’s expectations.  Despite the fact that the Democrats won the White House and the House has changed hands twice since 9/11, there is still no end in sight to the wars in the Middle East.  President Obama began his campaign as an anti-war candidate, but has made it clear that he will continue the U.S. government’s policy of military intervention in the Middle East.  As the budget deficits and loss of lives mount, Americans are left to wonder if we will be at war forever.

At home, we find ourselves in economic crisis.  The stock market has experienced another historic crash, and for the second time in the past century we are told that we face a Great Depression.  While 50 years ago, the average American family was comfortably supported by one income, both parents in that family typically work today, and a second job for at least one parent is not uncommon.  While doctor bills were once only a concern for those with unusual medical needs, the typical American family is more and more being forced to choose between healthcare and other basic necessities.  While past generations saved for a comfortable retirement, the average American today is deep in debt.

How could a century that started with such promise end with so much doubt?  Where did we go wrong?  Since her historic founding, America has been known as the “land of the free.”  Yet, the answers proposed for each of our problems involves Americans giving up some of that freedom.  However, if freedom is what made America great, why would less freedom make things better now?

We are told “the world changed on September 11, 2001.”  Is this true?  Is the world fundamentally different than it was?  Do evil people really hate us enough because of our freedom and prosperity to commit heinous acts of murder against us?  Or are there other reasons?  Do we really have to surrender some of our freedom in exchange for security against this new threat?  What if the threat continues to increase?

Similarly, we are told our economic crisis was caused by too much laissez faire capitalism and too little regulation.  Can too much economic freedom really harm us?  Will the massive new government programs and “reregulation” promised by our new President solve our problems?  What if they don’t?  Will even less freedom be the answer then?

This book will set out to answer those questions.  In order to do so, we must take a sober look in the mirror.  In order to know what has put America in decline, it is necessary first to understand what made her great.  At a time when most people are confused and searching for answers, we must shine the light of clarity on every aspect of our society.  At times, that light may reveal truths we are not ready to face, including the part each of us has played in bringing about our nation’s decline.

We must question institutions we have long ago come to think of as unquestionable.  The past 100 years in America has been a time of significant change.  Of course, the 20th century was a time of astounding technological advancement.  However, we have also made ideological changes that have made America into a much different kind of society than the one our founders built.  Were those changes improvements, or have we moved away from the principles that made us great?  Are we still the “land of the free?”  Are we still the “land of opportunity?  Do we really know what those cherished words mean?

During the past few decades of apparent prosperity, very few of us wished to be bothered with the endless partisan bickering of our politicians, despite our frequent expressions of dissatisfaction with them.  While we may not have agreed with much about the direction in which our leadership was taking our country, we did not connect what was happening in Washington, D.C. with our own lives or the lives of our families.  We have been in a kind of slumber, believing that a free and open society of opportunity and prosperity is guaranteed in America, regardless of the decisions of politicians that determine what kind of society we are.

One thing is certain.  We are out of time.  In past decades, we have talked about issues we feared may present significant problems for the America of the future.  That future is here.  It is no longer enough to wistfully talk about the America we will leave to our children.  Everything we hold dear about America is in jeopardy, and the time has come to act.

 

Chapter 1

What is Freedom?

And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world?”

 – Frederic Bastiat1 (1850)

If there is one thing uniquely associated with America, it is freedom.  From the moment Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, America has been a symbol of liberty to the entire world.  Since the end of World War II, when the United States assumed a worldwide leadership role, it has been the leader of the “free world.”  At sporting events, standing crowds begin their ovation when the vocalist singing the national anthem gets to the words, “O’er the land of the free.”  Even in everyday conversations, scarcely a day goes by that one does not hear someone say, “Do what you like, it’s a free country.”

Although we all agree that America is the “land of the free,” there are questions about freedom that might be more difficult to answer.  What is freedom?  How is it defined?  What makes America the land of the free?  How would we know if we were to lose our freedom?  What is it that our soldiers die for and our politicians swear to defend?

We have been told a lot of things about what freedom is not.  From the end of World War II until 1991, most Americans understood that freedom was not communism.  For almost three generations, Americans lived in the “free world” during its cold war with the communist Eastern Bloc.  Without further thought or instruction, many children of the 20th century think of freedom merely as the antithesis of communism.  In some ways, this is not completely untrue, although it hardly provides a complete answer to our question.

Certainly, the mere absence of communism doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom.  The 18th century British monarchy wasn’t communist, but the American colonists nevertheless considered it tyrannical enough to rebel against.  Likewise, the Royal House of Saud may be an ally of the U.S. government, but most Americans would not regard Saudi Arabia as a “free country.”

In addition to monarchies, there are plenty of dictatorships around the world that don’t enforce a communist system but are nevertheless oppressive.  While they also may be allies of the U.S. government, they certainly aren’t free countries, either.  So, a society is not free merely because it is not communist.

On the other hand, monarchy doesn’t seem to necessarily preclude freedom, either. Great Britain has been a relatively free country throughout much of its history, even when the monarchy was much more than a figurehead.  The American Revolution notwithstanding, Great Britain was at that time one of the freest societies in the world.  Therefore, rather than conclude that no freedom is possible under a monarchy, one might instead conclude that monarchies neither guarantee nor necessarily exclude freedom. Freedom or tyranny seems possible under almost any system of government.

Perhaps we can define freedom more easily by looking at its antithesis.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists slavery among antonyms for freedom.  Surely, we have found a start here.  Most people would agree that slavery is the complete absence of freedom.  Who can we imagine that is less free than the slave?  This is helpful in beginning to try to frame an answer, but freedom cannot be merely the absence of slavery.  Surely our founding fathers bled to give us a higher standard than this!

If we are told anything about what freedom is, it is that freedom is democracy.  If you ask most Americans, this is the answer you will get.  This is reinforced ad nauseum by politicians, media, and teachers in our public schools.  When Iraq held its first elections after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, politicians and journalists universally celebrated the Iraqis’ “first taste of freedom.”

Certainly, democracy is a vast improvement over the autocratic rule of a dictator. But does democracy automatically mean freedom?  If democracy is rule by the majority, what about the minority?  What if 51 % of the people voted to oppress the other 49%?  Would that society truly be free?

Most Americans would be quite surprised to learn what our founding fathers thought about democracy.  Any objective analysis would conclude that their feelings lay somewhere between suspicion and contempt.

James Madison said, “Democracy is the most vile form of government … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths,”2

In a letter to James Monroe, he also said,

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”3

While often extolling the virtue of majority rule, Thomas Jefferson nevertheless wrote,

“…that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”4

Can this be true?  The founding fathers were ambivalent about democracy?  For many people, this is tantamount to sacrilege.  More shocking still is what the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution say about democracy: nothing.  Nowhere in our founding documents will you find the word “democracy” or the assertion, implicit or explicit, that our government is a democracy.  How can this be?

Despite what we are taught virtually from birth, the United States of America has never been a democracy.  As only contrarians point out these days, it is a constitutional republic.  We choose our leaders using the democratic process of majority vote, but that is the extent to which the United States involves itself with democracy.

Like monarchy, democracy neither guarantees nor necessarily prohibits freedom.  Our founders actually feared that democracy poses a danger to freedom.  Apart from the pure heresy of the idea, it leaves us with a problem.  We are no closer to defining freedom.  If even democracy is not freedom, perhaps freedom doesn’t really exist!  If we are not to find freedom in democracy, where else can we look?

We certainly won’t learn what freedom is from our politicians.  While terrorism, healthcare, unemployment, gay marriage, and a host of other “major issues” dominate public debate, freedom is just too quaint, too academic, or too forgotten to get any airplay.  Yet, as we shall see as we explore the different subjects of this book, freedom is the fundamental issue.  In fact, despite what we perceive as a myriad of different problems facing the United States of America today, freedom is actually the only issue.  That may be hard to accept, given the decades of shoddy history, obfuscation, and plain old bad ideas we’ve been bombarded with.  Nevertheless, our greatest challenges and their solutions revolve around freedom.  If freedom is really that important, we’d better be absolutely sure we know what it is.

In order to answer the question posed by Bastiat at the beginning of this chapter, we will have to go back to the beginning.  Our founding fathers faced no such quandary about the definition of freedom. They knew exactly what it was.  They were children of the Enlightenment, and derived their ideas about freedom directly from its philosophers, especially John Locke.  While these philosophers were powerful thinkers and their ideas were (no pun intended) revolutionary at the time, the principles of liberty are relatively simple.  They are, as the namesake of this book concluded, common sense.  It was an understanding of these revolutionary ideas by average American colonists that inspired the revolution that gave birth to a nation.

The idea that opens the door to the true meaning of freedom is individual rights.  Despite the emphasis today on the “general welfare” and the “common good,” the American tradition of liberty has nothing to do with either.  Instead, the founders believed each individual was born with natural, inalienable rights.  The Declaration of Independence states,

“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,” 5

This passage is quoted widely in popular culture.  Invariably, the words emphasized are “that all men are created equal.”  Certainly, these are fine words and worthy of veneration.  However, the rest of this passage is equally important.  Every human being, because of his equality with all other human beings, has rights no earthly power can take away.  These rights are “unalienable,” so that governments, even democratically elected governments, have no power to revoke them.  To the founding fathers this was self-evident.  It was true based purely upon man’s existence itself.

This idea is drawn directly from the philosophy of John Locke, who wrote,

“A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection,”6

While these rights are endowed by a Creator, the founders did not specify who the Creator was.  Too often, those arguing for the ideals of our republic make the fatal mistake of basing the natural rights upon belief not only in God, but specifically upon the Christian God.  While the founders were by no means opposed to Christianity, belief in it or even in God is not a prerequisite for the existence of the natural rights.  The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, and those with no religious beliefs at all.  Therefore, the first building block of freedom, individual, inalienable rights, can be claimed by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, by every person on earth.

So what are these inalienable rights, which cannot be taken away?  The Declaration goes on to say, “That among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”7

At first glance, this statement might be a bit deceiving, maybe even a little disappointing.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?  Is that all?  Surely we have more rights than these!  Of course, the Declaration says “among these,” so it does not limit the natural rights to these three.  But these three are important.  It is worthwhile to determine the meaning of each.

The right to life is pretty easy to understand.  Most civilized societies have laws against murder.  Each individual has a right not to be killed by another human being, except in self-defense.  So far, so good.  What about the other two?  We are in the midst of trying to define liberty, or freedom, so let us put that aside for the moment.  The third right listed is “the pursuit of happiness.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean nothing?  Or does it mean everything?  What if it makes me happy to steal cars or blow up buildings?  Surely, I don’t have a right to pursue happiness like that!

No. There is a natural limit on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Again, we can find the answer in Locke,

“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” 8

While people are free to do what they want, they must do so “within the bounds of the law of nature.”  What is the law of nature?  Locke goes on to tell us,

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…” 9

Finally, we have some indication of what freedom is, rather than what it is not.  Liberty is not the unlimited ability to do whatever you want, nor is it confined to the arbitrary limits placed upon people by governments.  Contrary to the spurious argument that unfettered liberty would result in chaos, we see that the law of nature, Reason, very clearly and unambiguously prohibits some actions, even for people in a state of absolute liberty.  They are:

1.   Initiating the use of force or violence

2.   Infringing upon another person’s liberty

3.   Harming them in their possessions.

This last limit upon the actions of free individuals is important.  Locke spends an entire chapter of his Second Treatise talking about it.  It is related to property, which is arguably the most important right, while at the same time the least understood.  Property is important enough that we will spend the next chapter examining the subject.  To do this we will have to come to a clear definition of property, including how it is acquired, how it is exchanged, and what right the owner has to it.

More importantly, we have arrived at a definition of liberty.  It is the right of any person to do as they please, as long as they do not violate the equal rights of anyone else.  The latter half of this definition is generally referred to as the “non-aggression principle.”  Political activists associate this principle with libertarians, while intellectuals associate it with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  Certainly both movements recognize and venerate it, but it is important to realize that neither is its source.  In fact, the non-aggression principle has been articulated with very little variation by all writers in the liberal tradition, including Locke, Jefferson, Paine, Bastiat, Mill, and later Rand and other 20th century writers and thinkers.

By applying this principle, the most complicated societal issues become astoundingly simple.  The ambiguous becomes unambiguous.  The answers become clear.  Virtually every problem facing America today can be solved by applying the principle of freedom.

There are a few points we should review for emphasis.  First, the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and drawn out of Locke’s philosophy are inalienable.  They cannot be taken away by any power on earth, including a majority vote.  The reason the founders were suspicious of democracy was because of their fear that the majority would oppress the individual by voting away the individual’s rights, especially property rights.  This was the reason for the separation of powers and the limits on government authority.  Even a majority vote can be a threat to freedom.

The difference between a right and a privilege is a vital concept to understand.  A right is something you are born with, that you possess merely because you exist.  A privilege is something that is granted by another person, group, or a government.  Our country was founded upon the principle that all people have inalienable rights that cannot be taken away, not privileges granted by their government.  As John Adams so eloquently put it,

“I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”10

There is no need to be “thankful for the rights we have in America.”  All people have those rights and gratitude is neither necessary nor appropriate.  Rather, people are justified in demanding their rights, and any violation of them should be recognized as an act of aggression.

Second, in any conflict between individual liberty and the will of the majority, individual liberty prevails without compromise.  The majority has no right to violate the rights of the individual.   This is to some extent merely making the first point in reverse, but it is important enough to say in more than one way.  Society doesn’t have rights; individuals do.  Society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, so protecting each individual in society protects society.

Despite these seemingly undeniable truths, individual liberty is today under constant attack because of its perceived conflict with the common good or “the needs of society.”  While living together and agreeing not to initiate aggression against each other seems astoundingly simple, our politicians would have us believe there is something incredibly complicated about it.  They create a world in which civil society is a maze of moral dilemmas that only their astute guidance can lead us safely through.  Once liberty is properly understood and applied, all of these supposed dilemmas disappear.

End Notes

Introduction: The American Crisis

1 Paine, Thomas The American Crisis “The Crisis No. 1” December 19, 1776 from Paine Collected Writings edited by Eric Foner Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 91

Chapter 1: What is Freedom?

1 Bastiat, Frederic The Law 1850 from The Bastiat Collection 2 Volumes Vol. 1 Ludwig Von Mises Institute Auburn, AL 2007 pg. 79

2 Madison,James Federalist #10    http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fedi.htm http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fed10.htm

3 Madison, James Letter to James Monroe October 5th, 1786 James Madison Center, The http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/home.htm Phillip Bigler, Director, James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/main_pages/madison_archives/quotes/supremacy.htm

4 Jefferson, Thomas To Dupont de Nemours from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984 pg. 1387

5 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives and Records (website) http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

6 John Locke Second Treatise on Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government C. and J. Rivington, 1824 (Harvard University Library Copy) pg. 132

7 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives…

8 Locke Second Treatise pgs. 131-32

9 Locke Second Treatise pg. 133

10 Adams, John A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law 1765 Ashland Center for Public Affairs (website) Ashland University  http://www.ashbrook.org/library/18/adams/canonlaw.html

Get the Kindle Edition herePaperback here!

Tom Mullen: Disband the Army

RT’s Adam VS The Man – Tom Mullen Joins Adam Kokesh live in Washington DC to discuss the Constitution, founding fathers and what they meant by no standing armies.

Tom Mullen interviewed on the Mike Church Post Show Show

Tom Mullen interviewed on the Mike Church Post Show Show to discuss the article ‘The Founding Fathers were Anti-War’

Enjoy!

The Founding Fathers Were Anti-War

The 2012 presidential election cycle is underway. With the Democratic candidate a foregone conclusion, there is not much uncertainty about where the Democratic Party is going. For better or worse, Democrats will likely continue to “dance with who brung them,” meaning Barack Obama and his brand of 21st century liberalism.

Not so on the Republican side. After historic defeats and victories in the past two elections, respectively, the Republican Party has yet to define itself for the future. It must come to grips with the fact that its miraculous comeback in 2010, after crushing defeats in the presidential and congressional elections of 2008, was due in large part to the Tea Party. However, with that victory came a large group of new Republican lawmakers, many of whom were not ready to fall in line with the Republican leadership. The most striking example, of course, is Rand Paul, who has constantly challenged mainstream Republican positions that do not jibe with his libertarian-leaning constitutional conservativsm.

Critics dismiss the Tea Party as simply a Republican Party publicity campaign rather than a grassroots movement that truly seeks change in Washington. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Tea Party did indeed challenge the Republican establishment and defeated many establishment Republicans in primary elections – which means they obviously cared about far more than simply defeating Democrats. So, if not simply a front group for the Republican mainstream, what does the Tea Party stand for?

If you ask them, they would answer that they stand for smaller, more fiscally responsible government and a return to America’s founding principles. They wish to reign in the federal government and restore the limits placed upon it by the U.S. Constitution. This is why you can find Sarah Palin touring 18th century historical landmarks and Michelle Bachmann evoking the shot heard round the world at Lexington and Concord (Concord, Massachussetts, that is, after clarifying her original statement).

It is easy to throw stones at the Tea Party for gaffs such as Bachmann’s. However, it is wrong to attribute the shortcomings of politicians trying to acquire political capital out of the Tea Party to the grassroots members themselves. Just because Michelle Bachmann might not know exactly where the American Revolution began doesn’ t mean that the Tea Partiers themselves don’t understand the American Revolution or the principles which inspired it. Indeed, the legislation that galvanized the Tea Party in 2010 – Obamacare – fundamentally violates those founding principles for exactly the reasons that the Tea Party opposes it.

Where the Tea Party departs from founding principles is on the subject of war and the military. At any Tea Party rally, a large percentage of the comments by the speakers, content of the signs and banners, and general atmosphere of the event amount to glorification of the military.  Over and over, attendees are reminded that they should be grateful to the military for their freedom and should remember that “someone paid for it.”  In addition to enthusiastic support for the gargantuan military establishment itself, unqualified support is given for every overseas war or occupation that the U.S. military is involved in. Whatever the president orders the military to do, it must not only be right but also essential to the freedom of every American.

This couldn’t be farther from the ideas of most of the founders. The Constitution reveals their suspicion of any permanent military establishment. The Congress is given the power to raise an army, but only for two years. This ensures that the people can disband the army during every Congressional election, as the House representatives are elected at the same intervals. The power to declare war is kept away from the president and given to Congress, where two separate bodies have to vote on it.

It is apparent from the document itself and the statements of many of its framers that they were very aware of the dangers to liberty that accompanied prolonged warfare or a standing army in peacetime. Contrary to what most Tea Partiers apparently believe, the founders were anti-war.

Remember that the colonists were reluctant to fight with the British right from the beginning. The colonial militia at Concord held their fire even after the British had fired upon them, killing two Americans. It was only when one of their commanding officers yelled “Fire, for God’s sake, fellow soldiers, fire!” that they fired upon the British. Three months later they sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George in an attempt to avoid all-out war.

Once the Constitution was ratified, the administrations of the first three U.S. presidents were dominated by efforts to avoid going to war. During Washington’s administration, pro-France Jeffersonians urged the president to take France’s side in its conflict with England. Instead, Washington approved the Jay Treaty, which normalized trade relations with Great Britain.

Largely because of this treaty, John Adams spent most of his presidency dealing with a hostile France, which considered the new American nation extremely ungrateful after France’s support of it during its revolution. Avoiding war with France was the dominant issue of Adams’ presidency, this time under pressure from his own party to take Great Britain’s side. In fact, while Adams maintained a commitment to enlarge the navy to provide “wooden walls” for the young nation, he steadfastly refused to grant Hamilton the standing army he wanted, despite the fact that Adams was fighting the “Quasi War” with France. Adams eventually achieved peace, possibly at the cost of a second term as president due to the dissention it caused within the Federalist Party.  However, Adams considered peace the crowning achievement of his presidency, saying “I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: ‘Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800.”[i]

Not to be outdone, Thomas Jefferson went even further in repudiating militarism. Having no standing army to disband, Jefferson went to work on the U.S. navy, decreasing it by roughly 95%. This allowed him to eliminate virtually all internal taxation in the republic, leaving only the tariffs to provide federal revenue. Jefferson refused to use ground troops in his clashes with the Barbary pirates until the Pasha of Tripoli actually declared war upon the United States. Later, in yet another effort to stay out of the wars in Europe, Jefferson signed into law the Embargo Act. While he was rightly denounced for this legislation, which was almost as hostile to liberty as the Alien and Sedition Acts, it did demonstrate the lengths to which Jefferson was willing to go to keep his country out of war.

It is Jefferson who is most quoted in Tea Party signs and by Tea Party candidates, and rightly so. If one is consulting the founders for the purest version of the American philosophy of liberty, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. However, Jefferson was also the most staunchly anti-war, cutting all military spending not absolutely necessary to defend the American borders. This was no accident. War is the natural destroyer of liberty. As James Madison put it:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”[ii]

If the Tea Party truly wishes to reestablish America’s founding principles, then part of their platform should be to disband the U.S. Army. They would be in good company. Founding fathers from both major political parties in the 18th and early 19th centuries opposed a standing army, most adamantly Tea Party icon Thomas Jefferson. Only Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson’s political arch enemy, differed from the rest on this point. Hamilton’s militarism was part and parcel of his imperial political philosophy, which also included a controlled economy, a central bank, and a national debt that would further tie corporations to the government – all policies that the Tea Party rejects.

While embracing militarism and championing liberty are philosophically inconsistent, there is also a very practical reason to disband the army. It has outlived its usefulness. With the U.S. government’s nuclear arsenal and dominant naval and air forces, there is no conceivable reason that an army of ground troops is necessary to protect the United States. Think for a moment how hard it has been for the U.S. to conquer a few backwaters in the Middle East. Now imagine a foreign army trying to land in Maryland or Georgia, against all of that air, sea, and missile power. It is inconceivable. Furthermore, even the government’s own military “experts” for the most part admit that a conventional army is ineffective in fighting terrorism. Given these realities, the vast federal spending, deficits, and debt –core issues for the Tea Party – that result from the existence of a standing army cannot be justified in the 21st century United States.

The Tea Party broke almost four decades of relative apathy by American citizens in the face of unchecked expansion of federal government power. Not since the Viet Nam war had Americans taken to the streets as they did during the 2010 elections. During the 1960′s and 70′s, the left wing-dominated anti-war movement brought with it socialist domestic policies that were as hostile to liberty as the war itself. Now, the right wing-dominated Tea Party embraces a foreign policy as anti-liberty as the domestic policies that it opposes. It is past time for a movement that promotes liberty and opposes leviathan government consistently on all fronts. Embrace America’s founding principles. Restore the republic. Disband the army.


[i] McCullough, David John Adams Simon & Schuster Paperbacks 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 2001 pg. 567

[ii] Madison, James Political Observations 1795 from Letters and Other Writings of James Madison J.P. Lippincott & Co. Philadelphia, PA 1865 Vol. IV pgs. 491-492

>The Myth of the "Christian Nation" Divides Us

>While our politicians get on with the work of plundering our wealth, planning our lives, and preparing their next war of aggression, they remain comfortably insulated from criticism of any of these substantive actions because they have successfully distracted average Americans with issues that should not involve government at all. There is none more divisive than religion.

The left reads into the First Amendment of the Constitution an active role for government in prohibiting the acknowledgment of religion or God in any public setting. The right reads into our Declaration of Independence a requirement of belief not only in God, but in the Christian God, in order for one to claim the unalienable rights that are “endowed by our Creator.” Neither position is correct.

If there was one thing that our founders made clear, it was their belief that each person’s inner life belonged wholly to him or her. They referred to this as the “right of conscience,” and they revered it above all other rights. They believed that each human being had the right to answer for himself the questions of whether there is a God and what the nature and will of God might be. They believed that reason was the means for man to do so. Regardless of the conclusions that any individual might reach, he was still entitled to all of the same unalienable rights. This is the true meaning of “religious freedom.”

Among the growing minority that has recognized our loss of liberty and the importance of regaining it, there are many who mistakenly say that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation,” and that only returning to Christian principles will solve our problems. Others may not require that one believe in Christ, but do insist that belief in God is necessary in order to give authority to the law of nature and the natural rights. These positions not only alienate atheists, who are admittedly a small minority, but also a large contingency of Christians and other believers in God who do not want government – which is an institution of force – to play any role in their inner lives. This is an unnecessary division among people who might otherwise unite to fight for their liberty.

It is long past time to answer some fundamental questions about our history once and for all. Did the founders of the United States believe in God? Was the United States founded as a “Christian nation?” Was the Constitution based upon Christian or Judeo-Christian laws as found in their scriptures? Did the founders believe that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights?

The answer to the first question is a resounding “yes.” Even Jefferson, arguably the most “liberal” of the founding fathers, believed in a supreme being, despite the accusations of atheism made against him by political rivals. He also revered Christianity as the greatest religion in human history, as did his “conservative” counterpart, John Adams. However, neither Adams nor Jefferson believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God or even a divine being. Most people are familiar with Jefferson’s bible, which he cut apart and reorganized to eliminate all of the miracles. However, John Adams, a Unitarian, was even more hostile towards the idea that Jesus Christ was God. In a letter to Jefferson, he wrote,

“They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Hershell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.”[1]

Neither Adams, Jefferson, Washington, nor Franklin believed that Jesus was literally the son of God or otherwise a divine being in any way. Rather, they admired most of the moral principles of Christianity, although not all of them. For instance, they disagreed with Jesus’ doctrine to “turn the other cheek.” They believed that self defense of one’s life, liberty, and property was not only a right, but a duty. However, it was the Christian principles of love and non-aggression that are espoused in virtually all religions that inspired John Adams to say, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[2] This will become even more apparent shortly.

In any case, the answer to the first question is “yes.” Most of the founders believed in God. They revered the moral teachings of Christianity, although most of the philosophical leaders among them did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Our second question is, “Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?” In 1796, the United States signed a treaty with Tripoli, promising a monetary gift in return for a cessation of hostilities. That treaty was unanimously ratified by the senate and signed by President John Adams. Among its articles resides the answer to our second question.

“Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”[3] [emphasis added]

Thomas Jefferson confirmed this statement in his autobiography when commenting on a Virginia bill to establish religious freedom.

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”[4]

Next, there is the question of the philosophical basis for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and original system of laws of the United States. According to Thomas Jefferson, that philosophical basis was most directly the enlightenment philosophers, specifically John Locke and Algernon Sydney. In 1825, Jefferson actually got a resolution passed by the Board of the University of Virginia to make this point clear.

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”[5]

Despite this and other unqualified statements by the founders regarding the philosophical basis for our founding principles, there are many that claim that the founders drew their philosophy from Judeo-Christian scriptures or teachings. While there is much common ground between these teachings and the enlightenment philosophers, the founders were clear that where scripture or dogma conflicted with the enlightenment philosophy of liberty, it was the non-aggression philosophy of liberty that prevailed. Regarding the scriptures, Jefferson wrote,

The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.[6]

The founder’s skepticism about man’s knowledge of the will of God was not confined to the scriptures themselves. John Adams makes clear that at least he recognized that human beings had no ability to definitively determine the will of God.

“That there is an active principle of power in the universe, is apparent; but in what substance that active principle resides, is past our investigation. The faculties of our understanding are not adequate to penetrate the universe.”[7]

Finally, there is the most important question. Did the founders assert that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights? As with the other questions, they answered this one quite unambiguously. In a letter to Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson advised his young friend,

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”[8]

“Do not be frightened from this enquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts & pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it.” Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.”[9] [emphasis added]

There are those who argue that without God, there is no authority to base the natural rights upon. This was not the assertion of our founders and it directly contradicts our Declaration of Independence, which reads,

“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…” [emphasis added]

While the founders believe that our rights came from our Creator (whomever or whatever the Creator might be), they explicitly said that these truths are self evident. They are truths that can be observed directly. This is directly inspired by Locke’s empiricism. While he, too, believed in God, he based his philosophy only upon what he could directly observe in nature or reasonably conclude from those observations. Therefore, his philosophy recognized the existence of God but did not depend upon it for its validity.

Consider a useful analogy. If a priest and an atheist were both to consider a rock lying upon the ground, both would agree that the rock exists. They could see it, touch it, and hear its sound if they picked it up and then dropped it from their hand. The priest would say that the rock was created by God. The atheist would explain its existence with scientific theories. They may disagree vehemently on this point, but no third party would have to decide who is correct. All can see that the rock exists, for its existence is self evident. The same is true of our natural rights. Our Declaration of Independence says so explicitly.

The only authority that the founders recognized as the basis for our laws was the non-aggression principle, which they recognized as the fundamental law of nature. The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, as well as those with no religious beliefs at all. The non-aggression principle allows each individual to use his reason to answer the most important philosophical questions of life for himself, without being forced to assent to any beliefs that he does not hold. It allows people to believe in God voluntarily, or to not believe, as their reason dictates. The only restriction upon them is that they commit no aggression against anyone else, regardless of their beliefs. Jefferson expressed this beautifully when he wrote,

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.[10]

If all of America’s founding principles, including freedom of religion, could be summed up in two sentences, no better than these could be found anywhere. If we could agree to live by this one statement alone, the number of people no longer divided along partisan lines would be staggering. Our politicians are wasting trillions of our dollars and assuming un-delegated powers over us that apply to believers and non-believers alike. We must grant each other the ability to exercise the right of conscience freely within the boundary of non-aggression. Only then will we see clearly where the true source of our crisis lies – in a government whose every act contradicts the reason for its existence and perpetuates a state of war with its people. We must unite together to eliminate this earthly threat in order to resume the pursuit of our happiness, both in this world and the next.

[1] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 415

[2] Adams, John To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachussetts 11 October 1798 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. IX Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 229

[3] Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary June 17, 1797 from The Avalon Project Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bar1796t.asp. There has been some debate on whether the language in Article 11 was translated correctly from the original Arabic in which the treaty was written. However, this is irrelevant. It was the English translation containing these exact words that the Senate reviewed and ratified, making the question of translation irrelevant on this point.

[4] Jefferson, Thomas Autobiography from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 40

[5] Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill Peterson (New York, N.Y.: Library of America, 1984), p. 479

[6] Jefferson, Thomas from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 14 edited by Albert Ellery Bergh and Andrew A. Lipscomb The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association 1904 pgs. 71-2

[7] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 414

[8] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 902

[9] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 903-4

[10] Jefferson, Thomas Notes on Virginia from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 285

© Thomas Mullen 2009

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