American History Series: The Radical Whig Tradition

The following excerpt on how the Radical Whigs inspired the American Revolution comes from Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789:

“In this environment conventional wisdom came to hold that plots and conspiracies always ruled political action. This had not been an original discovery of the colonists. At least fifty years before the American Revolution they had in fact begun to absorb the ideas and assumptions of the radical opposition in England, the so-called eighteenth-century commonwealth men. The name was derived from the radicals of the previous century, the Roundheads, the makers of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth. The seventeenth century writers of this ideological bent included John Milton, James Harrington, and Algernon Sidney, among others. Their political ideas received something of a revision in the exclusion crisis of 1679-81 – the attempt to bar James II from the throne – and eighteenth-century radicals continued the process, adapting the older ideology in order to make it useful in the opposition to ministerial governments.

The eighteenth-century commonwealthmen have not survived a great names – John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, and Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester, were the most important – but in the fashioning of revolutionary ideology in America they had an influence that surpassed Locke’s. To be sure, they drew upon Locke and others more original than themselves. Indeed, their ideas were not original, and the heart of their political theory resembled closely the great Whig consensus of the century. They praised the mixed constitution of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and they attributed English liberty to it; and like Locke they postulated a state of nature from which rights arose within the civil polity, created by mutual consent, guaranteed; they argued that a contract formed government and that sovereignty resided in the people. These ideas were so widely shared in England as to be conventional, but the eighteenth-century radicals put them to unconventional uses. These radicals rarely got into Parliament – and never in numbers – but they formed an opposition to a succession of ministries and to the complancency of the age. While Whigs and English governments sang the praises of English institutions, English history, and English liberty, the radicals chanted hymns of mourning, dirges for the departing liberty of England and the rising corruption in English politics and society. Within all states, from ancient Rome to the present, they argued, there were attempts to enslave the people. The history of politics was nothing other than the history of the struggle between power and liberty. Trenchard and Gordon called one of Cato’s Letters: Essays on Liberty (1721) “Cautions Against the Natural Encroachments of Power”; in that essay they declared that “it is natural for Power to be striving to enlarge itself, and to be encroaching upon those that have none.” Cato’s Letters likens power to fire – “it warms, scorches, or destroys, according as it is watched, provoked, or increased. It is as dangerous as it is useful … it is apt to break its bounds.” There was in the radical ideology a profound distrust of power, then, power as force, as coercion, as aggression. What did power encroach upon? Liberty, usually defined as the use and enjoyment of one’s natural rights within the limits of law in civil society.”

The Radical Whigs were the wellspring of American Nationalism. If American Nationalism means anything, it traces back to the political theory of the 18th century Commonwealthmen.

“The political ideas of Americans in 1760 did not take their origins from congregational democracy or revivalistic religion. Most American ideas were a part of the great tradition of the eighteenth-century commonwealthmen, the radical Whig ideology that arose from a series of upheavals in seventeenth-century England – the Civil War, the exclusion crisis of 1679-81, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 …

The American Revolution revealed that this radical Whig understanding of politics had embedded itself deeply in American minds. In Britain only the dissenting fringe accepted the Whig analysis.”

I continue to come across this in my research.

In order to properly understand the American Revolution, we need to understand the Commonwealthmen and their relationship to both classical liberalism and republicanism:

“Commonwealth Men believed that liberty and power were in constant conflict, and that those holding power would always seek to expand it at the expense of liberty. Commonwealth writers outlined a series of steps that corrupt political leaders would employ to enlarge their power. These leaders, who were likely to be among the king’s ministers, would first lead the nation into costly wars. …”

I’m on board with that. This sounds exactly like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo who nearly persuaded Blompf to launch a war against Iran last month.

“The need to pay the cost of these wars would justify higher taxes, which would give the ministers more control over people’s property. Through bribery and favoritism, the legislature would be neutralized or drawn into the conspirators’ service.”

Who can object to that?

Isn’t it obvious that the GOP Congress are puppets of wealthy Jewish donors? Nikki Haley was recently in Jerusalem to be groomed for her 2024 presidential run.

“The people would be allowed to indulge in idleness and luxury, until their virtue was lost and they would either be blinded to the threat or no longer willing to defend their liberty.”

In other words, we would be turned into a nation of pathetic deracinated consumers like on Cursed TikToks, right? Isn’t this why we are not allowed to cultivate a healthy sense of identity or practice the traditional moral virtues? We might get uppity.

“Then the conspirators would seize absolute power with the help of a professional army. The people would lose their political rights as well as control over their property, so that they would be no better off than the serfs and peasants in continental Europe. Commonwealth writers described this condition as a state of slavery.”

This is the future that these people have in store for us. It is why they support open borders to debauch the ballot. They want to import as many foreigners as possible and get them on benefits to reduce us to a minority within the electorate so that they can “democratically” seize power.

“According to Commonwealth principles, there were only two ways to prevent such a conspiracy from succeeding. Both depended on the people maintaining their virtue and keeping careful watch over their leaders to detect any threat to liberty. When the threat was detected, people could warn the king, who was believed to be incorruptible, so that he could remove the treacherous ministers and restore the constitutional balance. But if the king proved unwilling or unable to act, it was up to the people themselves to resist, by peaceful means if possible, but by force if necessary. …”

Oh … I suppose it never occurred to them to vote for the GOP and mainstream conservatism as the lesser of two evils?

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