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  A Short History of the U.S. for the Miseducated
Fredric W. Henderson

                                                

   There is a lesson to be learned today for those who care about the future of their country. That country could be the U.S., but it could easily, also be any other, for the issue is the same, even if the reference points are uniquely American.

   The United States has a history which but few have learned. Almost every American will talk of its founding as revolutionary; they will all agree that the principles that it was founded upon were revolutionary. This is a given among those who’ve taken even a junior high school civics or political science class. But just how revolutionary and in exactly what way, almost no one realizes.

    As I have written in other locations [1] the founding of the U.S. was absolutely unique in human history. Its birth heralded a totally new conception of government and political action. It also heralded a philosophical and psychological revolution as well. Throughout its history, up until perhaps the turn of the 20th century, this knowledge was commonly possessed by at least part of America’s political elite, and understood, if perhaps less clearly, by some significant portion of the citizenry. [2]   For example, this was explicit during the Civil War and post Civil War period, as I have noted elsewhere. [3]

   Those who created this nation, and crafted the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, understood that if a rejection, and with it the ultimate defeat, of those political systems which existed in Europe, which the American revolution had been made in opposition to, was to occur a new political and philosophical outlook would have to be created, and along with it its existence guaranteed, through institutions that fostered and protected this new outlook.

   While they perhaps did not describe it in these terms [4] they also understood that what had to be destroyed was a way of thinking that defined political processes, a psychological disease as it were. So, the American Revolution was not merely a political one; it was one of culture, philosophy, science and yes, psychology. They were creating new political institutions to foster a new concept of man.  That concept was not a totally new one, its intellectual origins could be traced back to the Greeks, the Renaissance, perhaps even further. Numerous minds had conceived of such a notion of man; but never before could this notion of man be made real, be made practical. The simplest way to describe this notion was of man as an adult; as a mature, self-sufficient, truly human individual and, as a result, one capable of accessing his or her full powers as such to better the world, and with it the physical universe, of which he or she was part.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

   As I and several others have developed in other articles, the notion of the “pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence is the embedded idea that infuses the conception of the nature of man and his purpose in this life which the Founders held. And of course, this notion is the foundation of the Constitution and with it the basis for a government that would serve to further this purpose. Despite all those historians who think otherwise, this idea, the pursuit of happiness, is perhaps the most revolutionary in history. Ultimately, every revolutionary who preceded those revolutionaries of New England, Pennsylvania and Virginia sought such an explosive concept but could not articulate it in practice. Ultimately, every revolutionary who followed sought the same thing, some even without knowing it.[5]

   Without going into an extensive discussion of this concept here, I will simply summarize. For the reader who either needs further convincing or whose intellectual curiosity moves him or her to pursue the issue further the footnotes and bibliography for this article provide the locations where either can be found.

    Virtually every scholar of the American Revolution has somehow located this notion of the “pursuit of happiness” in the works of the European Enlightenment political thinkers Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau et. al. The worst formalists among them have tried to equate this expansive and revolutionary concept to John Locke’s more mundane, if not insulting, concept of property, as in “life, liberty, and property.” Perhaps for those who have misunderstood the significance of what the American founders actually did, the idea of life, liberty and property may seem revolutionary, but it was not what the founders had in mind. They were not mere bourgeois revolutionaries, as most historians describe them (whether consciously or not).  Theirs was a far more profound and history changing idea; and this Americans who followed them understood. The 19th century American political economist and political leader Henry C. Carey tried to point this out to Karl Marx in a series of articles he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune in the 1850’s when Marx was that papers European correspondent. He also outlined this vision, along with its economic corollary, in his work “The Harmony of Interests.”
[6] Anyone who reads what the founders and their descendants actually wrote and said will understand this as well. Of course, the problem is that no one does; history has unfortunately been written to accommodate the crippled minds of those afflicted with the very disease America was created to eradicate.

   Not only did the Declaration of Independence and Constitution announce to the world the concept that all men were equal and free as the universal principle of society’s organization, but they elaborated what the nature of that freedom was, for what purpose it existed. With the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” as one of those unalienable rights that man was born with, they declared a war on positivism; the intellectual disease that had enslaved mankind from virtually its inception. In doing this they created the most revolutionary process in history.

  Their notion of happiness can be located in a simple, but profoundly complex, definition elaborated by the 18th century mathematician, scientist, philosopher and political thinker Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  In his writings on Natural Law, Ethics and the Law he developed this idea of happiness:

"...Thus we see that happiness, pleasure, love, perfection, being, power, freedom, harmony, order, and beauty are all tied to each other, a truth which is rightly perceived by few... For it is one of the eternal laws of nature that we shall enjoy the perfection of things and the pleasure which results from it, only in the measure of our knowledge, our good will, and our contribution to this perfection...and so give new light to all those who have the same common purpose of helping each other in the search for truth, the knowledge of nature, the multiplication of human powers, and the advancement of the common good...''[7


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[1]  In an unpublished manuscript Reconstruction: America’s Betrayal of Principle, and in several articles listed at the end of this article in the bibliography.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Although later advocates of what became known as “the American System” like Henry C. Carey and Stephen Colwell were much more conscious on this issue. See, Henry C. Carey, The Principles of Social Science (originally published in 1858-59): University of Michigan Library Ann Arbor, Michigan 2005, and Stephen Colwell , New Themes for the Protestant Clergy: Creeds without Charity, Theology without Humanity, Protestantism without Christianity; with notes on the literature of charity, population, pauperism, political economy, and Protestantism Lippincott, Grambo, & Co. Philadelphia, Pa., 1851.  The latter being an explicit attack on Social Darwinism from a humanist, not a religious standpoint, despite its somewhat misleading title.

[5] Take the example of Ho Chi Minh, nominally a Marxist, who had a profound admiration for the ideals of the American Revolution. This “communist” had virtually a reverential love for the principles of the Declaration of Independence, carrying a copy of the document on his person the whole of his life.

[6] Henry C. Carey The Harmony of Interests, Agricultural, Manufacturing and Commercial, 1852

[7] Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz On Natural Law: Selections from Ethical and Legal Writings

 

 

 

 

    

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