Blogs > Liberty and Power > Boggs' Our Political Protest.

Oct 15, 2005 8:38 pm


Boggs' Our Political Protest.



I have reprinted Rev. John Haslett Boggs' antipolitical tract, "Our Political Protest. Why Covenanters do not Vote." (1872) on CLASSical Liberalism. This is a classic expression of the Reformed beliefs on the problems with the U.S. Constitution in particular and secular society in general. From the time of Calvin, John Knox and the Scottish Covenanters, the Reformed tradition has been critical of the foundations of any political agency.

The influence of the Puritan and Reformed principles was a cause of the American Revolution. During the constitutional debates in the U.S., there were certainly strong reasons why they were held in secret. At that time, the Reformed churches were far more influential throughout the American Confederation than in 1872 when this tract was originally printed, and were the constitution publicly debated at the time of its inception, it is doubtful that the framers would have been successful. Many of the reasons can be found in the arguments expressed in "Our Political Protest. Why Covenanters do not Vote."

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

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Kenneth R Gregg - 10/17/2005

Kenneth,

D: This is a very interesting piece. Thanks for making it available; I'm about to begin a course in American intellectual history, and there's a lot of material here that's useful to me.

K: You’re welcome. It’s one of the shorter tracts on the subject that I found, and since it briefly states issues that many others presented, it seemed to me to be one which needed to be presented. There have actually been quite a few similar tracts, many long and involved, which have not made it into the bowels of the Ivory Pits.

D: There are a couple of themes that recur throughout the article that caught my attention; if you have any more information or can send me some
additional references so I can do some research on my own, that would be
great.

K: The world-view of the Reformed is not well researched and deserves much more than has been published. I’ve lectured on some of these themes when I’ve given courses on libertarian history, but I doubt that anyone else has done so. I would suggest that you begin with Philip S. Gorski's The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2003). This work is a dialectical analysis of the rise of the modern state in Europe during 1500-1700 a.d., focusing mainly on the Dutch and German experiences. What he does remarkably well is point out how Calvinism influenced social discipline and allowed for forms of social control to strengthen both the ecclesiastical polity and the political realm. I've always felt that the Rothbardian line about Pre-, Post- and whatever else Millennialism misses the mark on the role of religion on politics, and Gorski fills in the gaps and integrates ecclesiastical effects on political society in a much clearer manner. Read my piece, “Calvinism and Nonvoting”: http://classicalliberalism.blogspot.com/2003/11/calvinism-and-nonvoting-spooner-is.html and follow-up with this one: http://classicalliberalism.blogspot.com/2003/10/ecclesiastic-history-resource-perhaps.html

My personal interest began several decades ago (late 1960’s-70’s) when I was reading Mises’ books and found that the Libertarian Press in South Holland IL published several Austrian works. LP (the REAL LP) was founded by the industrialist Fredrick Nymeyer in 1952 and has continued to this day, now with Sennholz (who mentions him here: http://www.mises.org/freemarket_detail.asp?control=520&;sortorder=articledate ) in Grove City PA. Nymeyer, under the imprimatur of the Progressive Calvinism League, published a fascinating periodical for about a half-dozen years in the 1950’s called, “Progressive Calvinism.” This periodical provided essays integrating Reformed Calvinism and Austrian economics! Nymeyer was very anti-social gospel (see, for example: http://www.pbs.org/now/society/socialgospel.html ), and strongly pro-freedom. Now here was a Calvinist that, as a libertarian atheist, I could be quite comfortable with! I located several years’ worth of the periodical and have continued researching ever since. For other sources which will get you started, check out: Rushdoony’s The Chalcedon Foundation: http://www.chalcedon.edu/ Contra Mundum: http://www.contra-mundum.org/ Gary North: http://www.freebooks.com/ (the North books alone will keep you busy for a year) CRTA: http://www.reformed.org/index.html Machen-Butler Society: http://members.aol.com/MachenSoc/index.html and Still Waters Revival Books: http://www.swrb.com/ .

As I don’t know how far you want to go in your studies on this topic, I’m reluctant to take you any further than this at this time. Let me know if you have any further questions. My favorite Christian libertarian periodical (both Frank Chodorov and Murray Rothbard were columnists) was “Faith and Freedom” which was mainly comprised of liberal Christian writers.

D: (1) There are several references to conflicts over the presence or use of
the Bible in schools, and further references to court cases and possibly
Supreme Court cases that might have taken up the issue. I don't know of any
Supreme Court cases from the approximate period that dealt with this issue;
do you? If not, do you know of specific lower court cases? I'd like to
read some of the arguments and rulings.

K: I’m sorry, I have not followed up on the court cases of that period.

D: (2) Regarding efforts to counter political corruption, Boggs writes that a group of people "embracing men of all political parties and various
religious creeds, is laboring to secure a religious amendment to the
Constitution...." Do you know where I might read about some of the results
of these efforts? Did the "National Reform Association for Securing
Religious Amendments" actually come to be, and if so, were its writings or
ideas influential?

K: the National Reform Association was the name of various, mainly Christian, political organizations designed to influence domestic policy toward Christian issues. I couldn’t tell you exactly which incarnation of the NRA that the tract was referring to.

D: (3) What does Boggs mean by "Infidelity"? It seems like he means it in the sense of irreligious infidels (for example, "the Infidel theory of
Government" seems to refer to a government constructed as far as possible to
exclude religion), but I wondered if I was understanding that correctly.

K: This is a matter which I am familiar with from tracing liberal groups in the late 1800’s. There were a number of state-wide and national freethought organizations pushing toward a stronger state-church separation. Gordon Stein’s Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus Press) is a good place to begin. If you are interested, I can give you more sources.

D: I have just started some readings for my class; at the recommendation of my professor, I'm reading "No Place of Grace" by Jackson Lears. Lears focuses
heavily on the emergence of anti-modernism from the post-Civil War period
through the early 1900s, but some of what I've read in his book is also
echoed in this Boggs article -- such as the conflict people perceived
between their religions lives and their predominantly secular government.
Political corruption, too, created great worries, as is evident from the
Boggs piece. Taken together, the shakier foundation religion found itself
on combined with a secular government that grew not only in size but in
levels of corruption seem to be one of the intellectual threads at the heart
of the anti-modern impulse ... at least that is my impression, so far. I'm
not entirely sure yet that Lears realizes the negative influence of the
growth of government power, but I'm only about a third of the way through
the book so will have to wait and see.

K. I’m very impressed that your professor was even familiar with the very fine No Place of Grace : Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. I would strongly recommend it as well. It is a marvelous secondary source. There is another work I would recommend (on the tip of my tongue right now, but I don’t recall the title or author—ask me later if you are interested), but Lear’s book is great!


D: In any case, thanks again for posting this article. It's good to see original source material that confirms what historians have distilled into analytical works.

Regards,

Dale

K: And thanks for taking an interest. I’ve had a life-long interest in libertarian history and always appreciate it when someone is interested as well.

Cheers!
Just Ken

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