The United States Constitution has become the very form and substance of what dynamic patriots like Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Samuel Chase, Samuel Adams and others warned against, “namely, that the new plan of government…seriously endangered the rights and liberties of the people of the several States.” If their predictions have come true, who is to be believed regarding the quality of a constitution as it existed in its original form or now in its amended form?—those who opposed the constitution or those who advocated the constitution? Who was correct in their predeterminations of the natural effect of the constitution on freedom and the States? What lessons of human experience are to be learned from the experimental form of government ratified at that time?
Is the constitution so clear and certain that it would prevent the States in the union from fighting a bloody war, killing hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans, all in the name of “preserving” the constitution? If a constitution is so unclear as to its nature and character that it takes a war to determine who is “correct”, can that constitution be deemed a good constitution or a free constitution? And as such, how can it be considered a “more perfect union”? Simultaneously, if a war is what it takes to determine the “true” nature of the constitution, then where comes the notion that the constitution was one formed by the intelligence, pre-thought and consent of the people? And if a war must be fought to determine whether the constitution was a nation of one body-politic or a federation of several bodies-politic, how can those who wish to be governed under those completely different principles ever avoid the ultimate clash of conflict when it comes to how to the federal government should act and how the constitution should be construed? These same questions applied to the American colonies and Great Britain in the 1760s and 1770s. Their plight is our plight. Their dilemma is our dilemma. Their questions are our questions.
Like most Americans today who claim to love freedom, most of the founding fathers held on to the hope that they could enforce the British constitution’s limitations upon their “federal” government. Even up until 1775, most of the founding fathers rejected the idea of secession and thought that the British constitution could be successfully used against their government and that the constitution required their loyalty. “They wish[ed] for nothing more than permanent union with [Great Britain].”However, there was one man who saw things differently, as his hope was not so misplaced as theirs. His “ideas…[we]re those higher and broader ones which [we]re to rule the world of the future.” His distinctive quality: he saw that arguing constitutional law to redress government usurpation was literally and effectually worthless and only perpetuated the enslaving status of the colonies. This man was Samuel Adams.
During the intensity of conflict between the colonies and Great Britain, constitutional arguments had been brought to the forefront of public discussion. The constitutional issue: whether or not Parliament possessed the supreme power to govern the internal affairs of the colonies. (Sound familiar?) The colonies thought their constitutional rights of self-government were obviously violated—similar to those States today who have passed nullification acts just as some of the colonies did in response to the Stamp Act of 1765. They believed themselves to be correct in their constitutional positions. “The patriots published the debate, pro and con, far and wide, confident that their side had been well sustained.” No one could have convinced them otherwise, and they were the best minds society had.
But all of their belief and good grounds notwithstanding, the British Constitution would not give way for their argument. “For centuries the principles of the primeval liberty had undergone wide perversion. Kings had persisted, and people had acquiesced in all sorts of arbitrary procedure.”As a result of the time-induced “perversion” of their constitution, Great Britain’s agents had a very good response to the constitutional concerns of the colonies, such that “a good basis for [their] argument existed in the British Constitution as it was.” How could the colonies argue against the most influential constitutional scholars that America and Great Britain had ever known? Moreover, how could they convince a government and society in Great Britain whose interest were opposed to the interests of America? The societies in question had gone their separate ways, and a constitution would never preserve freedom for the weaker party in that scenario. Despite the colonies’ inability to win their cause on constitutional principles, the process of revolution moved forward—but on different grounds.
In 1774, just two years before the colonies declared independence from Great Britain, Lord Hutchinson described what he saw as the shift in reasoning concerning the cause of freedom in Massachusetts, that being, an appeal to natural rights at the exclusion of constitutional arguments. He says,
“The leaders here [in Massachusetts] seem to acknowledge that their cause is not to be defended on constitutional principles, and [Samuel] Adams now gives out thatthere is no need of it; they are upon better ground; all men have a natural right to change a bad constitution for a better, whenever they have it in their power.”
Samuel Adams, the father of the American Revolution, abandoned arguing constitutional principles and law and proclaimed the true and surer foundation of freedom: the Natural Rights of a society to govern itself in whatever form and composition best suited to preserve freedom—constitutions notwithstanding. Like John Locke, Samuel Pufendorf, Samuel Rutherford, Hugo Grotius and other political philosophers of old, Samuel Adams proclaimed that “the public good is above all other considerations; and every rule of morality, when in competition with it, may very well be dispensed with.” Even knowing the history of Englishmen who “thought it their duty to themselves and their posterity to contend with [the kings of England] till they were restored to the footing of the Constitution,” Adams recognized that the laws of Nature and Nature’s God required a separation from this same constitution because the constitution’s practical effect prolonged and cemented their slavery.
Despite Adam’s forthright, honest and indeed accurate analysis of the colonists’ political and societal condition, most of the founding fathers did not appreciate his suggestion that the British Constitution be abandoned and seceded from. In fact, during the first continental congress meeting in 1774, Samuel Adams was told without equivocation not to spread his message of secession to the group. They knew what Samuel Adams was about, and it would not be accepted among the representatives of the other colonies. Samuel Adams was preemptively told before the meetings began,
“[Y]ou must not utter the word independence, nor give the least hint or insinuation of the idea, either in Congress, or any private conversation; if you do, you are undone; for independence is as unpopular in all the Middle and South as the Stamp Act itself. No man dares speak of it…You must not come forward with any bold measure; you must not pretend to take the lead.”
It was the course of reconciliation upon the British Constitution that was the action plan for the entire colonies. Yet, as history proved, thoughts of reconciliation and “getting back to the constitution” did little or nothing to restore freedom in the colonies. Had Samuel Adams given up on what he knew to be the answer for freedom and had those founders sustained that misperceived position of 1774, the United States of America would not have seceded from Great Britain to gain their independence. Yet, the process of revolution continued upon the grounds which were initially rejected: secession and self-government based upon the laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Samuel Adams was right, and it is a good thing the leaders of the colonies eventually saw the truth this Massachusetts statesmen proclaimed. Samuel Adams knew well the process of revolution, and he welcomed it.
Today, most Americans do not think in Samuel-Adams-terms. They think in terms of those founders who rejected independence as the right plan of action until the very last minute. Or they think like those Tories and loyalists, which had played no part in implementing freedom in America. Regardless, the process of revolution will—indeed, it must—favor the side of those who are willing to be as bold and forthright as Samuel Adams in their assessment of the actions needed to be taken, regardless of how many others do not see where we are in the process. Like the rising and setting of the sun, this natural process cannot be stopped. We should only recognize it, prepare accordingly, and like Samuel Adams, welcome it.
Copyright © Timothy Baldwin, 2010.
 Moses Coit Tyler, American Statesmen, Patrick Henry, Vol. 3, (Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1899), 329.
 James K. Hosmer, American Statesmen, Samuel Adams, Vol. 2, (Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Col, 1899), 243.
 Ibid., 194
 Ibid., 192.
 Ibid., 193.
 Ibid., 193-194.
 Ibid., 233 (emphasis added).
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 242 (emphasis added).
 Ibid., 283.