Friday, June 10, 2016

James Otis on Government

In this writing, especially at the bottom, it appears Otis agrees with Thomas Paine and other founding fathers that Israel was mainly a republic in addition to receiving the law at Sinai. Otis believed God started government and the entire nation state were administrators of it. Israel is the only example in context and Otis isn't referring to democracy; he's referring to representative republicanism.


"Has it [government] any solid foundation? Any chief cornerstone. . . ? I think it has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God, the Author of Nature whose laws never vary. . . . Government. . . . is by no means an arbitrary thing depending merely on compact or human will for its existence. . . . The power of God Almighty is the only power that can properly and strictly be called supreme and absolute. In the order of nature immediately under Him comes the power of a simple democracy, or the power of the whole over the whole. . . . [God is] the only monarch in the universe who has a clear and indisputable right to absolute power because He is the only one who is omniscient as well as omnipotent. . . . The sum of my argument is that civil government is of God, that the administrators of it were originally the whole people."

--James Otis, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (Boston: J. Williams 1766), pp. 11, 12, 13, 98.

7 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Otis's remarks could still fit a "good" limited monarchy, one that guarantees the natural rights of and enjoys the consent of the people, that is just, not tyrannical. It is true that the idea that the people, not the king were sovereign gained great purchase at this time--indeed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended Britain's civil wars, Parliament made it quite clear to the newly-installed William and Mary just who was boss!

http://www.amazon.com/Inventing-People-Popular-Sovereignty-England/product-reviews/0393306232?filterByStar=five_star&reviewerType=avp_only_reviews

Our Founding Truth said...
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Our Founding Truth said...
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Our Founding Truth said...

Otis didn't seem so excited about monarchy in his Rights of the British Colonies. He despised strongmen because they always brought tyranny with them. From the writings I've seen, I'm not sure if he was orthodox as there isn't much evidence for support. Nor have I read any heterodoxy from him, but he did have Calvinists for friends like Dr. Warren, Dr. Cooper and Samuel Adams, who worked closely with him on the committee of correspondence.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brad Hart did some nice work on James Otis. See also my comments.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/07/james-otis-forgotten-founder.html

True that Otis had no enthusiasm for "princes," as they do tend toward the tyrannical. But any just system that men devise that respects [God-given] natural rights is acceptable.

The sum of my argument is: that civil government is of God; that the administrators of it were originally the whole people; that they might have devolved it on whom they pleased; that this devolution is fiduciary, for the good of the whole; that by the British constitution this devolution is on the King, Lords and Commons...

...His Majesty GEORGE III is rightful King and sovereign, and, with his Parliament, the supreme legislative of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging; that this constitution is the most free one and by far the best now existing on earth; that by this constitution every man in the dominions is a free man; that no parts of His Majesty's dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature...


Thus moving to his historic "taxation without representation" argument. But in sum, the English system--including a king--was legitimate.

Our Founding Truth said...

"that the administrators of it [government] were originally the whole people."

England originally? Under Ethelbert or Alfred the great or after the glorious revolution of 1688?

His wording rings of a more ancient time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I take it to mean that originally, governments were so small they needed no rulers or parliaments; as governments got larger, professional government officials were needed.

But his primary point is that sovereignty always resided in the people, who devolved it to kings and congresses. This is the opposite of Divine Right of kings, as well as the idea that we obey governments because they're the boss.