Tuesday, November 15, 2011

American Roots of Collegiality: (1766-1790)

During the mid-to-late 1700s, the core premise of collegiality (self-government) seemed to reach its logical and political conclusion: the rejection of virtual representation.  For instance, according to Thomas Slaughter, an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, during the Stamp Act crisis of 1766, the Stamp Act resisters “did not accept the notion of virtual representation,” primarily because “the problems of divided sovereignty between the British Parliament and the colonial assemblies.”1 Moreover, for Kenneth M. Dolbeare, a Professor of American Politics at the University of Massachusetts, The Declaration of Independence (1776) embodied this deep distrust of “old world” governmental institutions (demanding churches and their oppressive kings), and, thereby, relied upon and further strengthened the conceptual foundation of collegiality within American political culture.2
In this way, the agrarian and frontier independence movements (1760’s-1790’s), along with two well-documented rebellions (Daniel Shay’s and the Whiskey Rebellion) appropriated much of the collegiality within The Declaration of Independence.  According to Peter N. Moore, an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, as these protesters “quickly turned to extralegal solutions,” they claimed “the heritage of the Revolution and its promises of liberty and local autonomy.”3 As such, these political movements unwittingly invoked collegiality’s core conviction in decentralized, non-authoritarian alternatives; and, thereby, rejected Eastern aristocratic representation with violent hostility toward the idea of central government, tarred and feathered tax collectors, occupied county courts, and squatter’s rights.
While these backcountry communities of early Western America unconsciously sought to redress their specific local grievances by exercising collegiality, the word “anarchy” became attached to them and began take on a negative connotation.  According to Slaughter, Moore, and others, the wealthy, anti-Christian Anglican Eastern merchants and politicians fixed the word anarchy upon the Western protesters, because, from their perspective this term meant “rapine, devastation, licentiousness, and unrest.”4 This conforms only insofar as these Easterners relied upon a liberal democratic outlook, which allows them to view the Westerners as fundamentally incapable of self-governance within the pursuit of the common interest.  Within numerous correspondences and newspaper articles, this point of view allowed many Easterners to equate anarchy with “wild ranting fury,” “chaos,” and a “Hobbesian-type fear” towards any movement for greater local autonomy or collegiality.5
To this end, many prominent figures in the newly constituted central government exhibited this perspective.  In particular, George Washington and Alexandra Hamilton regarded these early moves towards decentralization and collegiality on the frontier as “treason against society, against liberty, against everything that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people.”6 Thus, Eastern elites came to view themselves as the “friends of order,” and with absolute dedication they sought to uphold the rule of law for the maintenance of the status quo, and, thereby, the restriction of collegiality and decentralization.    
By contrast, the backcountry, evangelical Westerners viewed themselves as the “friends of liberty” within the press.  As Slaughter explains in great detail, for example, that for most of these early Western Americans involved in the frontier independence movement, the Easterners:
…aimed to subdue the passions unloosed by the Revolutionary experience, reintroduce a more hierarchical political order with themselves at the top, and secure the obedience of those below.7

Insofar as this Western view of the political reality during the 1770s through the1790s reflects the justification of their movement, it finds resonance with the deep skepticism towards any deference of position-based authority (non-authoritarianism) embodied in collegiality.  This deep distrust, thereby, informs the perspective for a reality that:
Once a society has this style of thought, that every activity requires licensing, underwriting, [and] deciding by abstract power, it becomes inevitably desirable for an ambitious man to seek power and for a vigorous nation to be a Great Power.8      


1.      Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 19; and Malcolm Freiberg, ed., Journals of the House of Representation of Massachusetts (Boston, 1971), XLI, 76.

2.      12. Kenneth M. Dolbeare and Patricia Dolbeare, American Ideologies: The Competing Political Beliefs of the 1970’s 3rd ed. (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing, 1978), 93; and Forman., 89; and Albert Weisbord, The Conquest of Power (New York: Covici-Friede Publishers, 1937), 227; and Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1996), 30-32.

3.      13. Peter N. Moore, “Regulator Movments and Other Rebellions, 1760s-1790s” in The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, ed. Immanuel Ness, (New York: M.E. Sharpe INC, 2004), 765-766; and David P. Szatmary, Shay’s Rebellion: The Making of an Agraian Insurrection (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 131-5, 177; and Slaughter explains that for Anti-federalists, “It made little difference that the central government after 1787 would be managed by elected Americans rather than British politicians over whom [Westerners] had virtually no influence. “The problems of representation remained largely the same.” 26, 193; and also see Alexander Hamilton to George Washington., Aug. 2, 1794, Papers of A.H., XVII, 15-19; and A.H. to G.W., Aug. 5, 1794, ibid., 24-58; notes 88, ibid., 58; Barbara Clark Smith, “Social Visions of the American Resistance Movement,” in The Transforming Hand of Revolution: Reconsidering the American Revolution as a Social Movement, ed. Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, (Charlottesvile: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 27-30, 38-40. 

4.      Slaughter., 134, 138-9, 193-4.

5.       Ibid., 195, 198, n23 of 198-202; and A.H. to William Bradford, Aug. 8, 1794, Papers of A.H., XVII, 76-77. Hobbes held that the life of man outside the protection of the sovereign is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” 

6.       Slaughter., 198.

7.       Ibid., 134, 193-195; and John Taylor, An Enquiry into the Principles and tendency of Certain Public Measures (Philadelphia, 1794); and letters of the fiends of liberty frequently appeared in the General Advertiser, Boston Independent Chronicle, and New York Patriotic Register; and Peter N. Moore, “Regulator Movements and Other Rebellions, 1760s-1790s” in The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, ed. Immanuel Ness, (New York: M.E. Sharpe INC, 2004), 766 explains that the agrarian protesters believed that the political and social system “had been betrayed by specific monied interests intent on enriching themselves at the expense of the common good.”  

8.       Paul Goodman, “Normal Politics and The Psychology of Power” in The Anarchist Reader, ed. George Woodcock, (New York, Humanities Press, 1977), 95; and Leon P. Baradat, Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impacts 9th ed. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2006), 133; and “Anarchism” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica Vol 1, 15 ed, (Chicago, 2002), 371.

Friday, November 11, 2011

American Roots of Collegiality (1635-1655)

In opposition to the authoritative civil-religious realities of colonial Massachusetts (1636), collegiality partly found its earliest recorded American expression.  In particular, historians often credit Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Henry Vane and John Wheelwright for unwittingly giving collegiality its first American form.  The reasoning behind this claim is that these individuals, as antinomians (members of a certain Puritan sect), openly claimed “revelation as superior to the ministry of the word;” and, thereby, simultaneously invoked a religious path towards self-government, and spoke heresy against the oppressive authority of Governor John Winthrop and the Boston Church.1
However, since they reserved these inner “truths” for those elected by God only, all scholars familiar with the basic principles of collegiality agree that they cannot be accurately considered collegialists.2 Nevertheless, they widely recognize that the faith in an inner-light or conscience, which supersede position-based authority, places the antinomians closer to a pattern of anti-authoritarianism that is central to collegiality. 
In this respect, the antinomians also held the courage to directly challenge such authority, another important collegiality characteristic.  For example, along with agitation amongst her fellow settlers, Mrs. Hutchinson helped organize the Aquiday colony (now Rhoda Island), which “would not wear any arms and denied all magistracy among Christians.”3 When the Aquiday colony and its resistance to the ministry and emphasis on the supremacy of conscience are taken together, these recorded observations serve as plausible support for the claim that these antinomians functioned as somewhat the first documented colonial-American collegiality.
Correspondingly, this religious-antiauthoritarian-rebellious starting place is very important to the original development of collegiality within the overall American political culture.  A fuller manifestation of such growth rests in the year 1655 with the Society of Friends (better known as “the Quakers”).  In the Quaker faith, unlike that of the antinomians’, each believer follows the vision of his or her own “inner-light,” and, thus, do not just reserve it for those few elected by God.  More importantly, in the Quaker doctrine:
No man, by virtue of any power or principality he hath in government of this world, hath power over the conscience of men…because the conscience of man is the seat and throne of God in him, of which God is the alone proper and infallible judge.4

This justification by an inner-faith alone implies that the transfer of the ability to decide religious matters for one’s self must become more decentralized among the members of the Society of Friends; and, thereby, distinguishes them from other, relatively more authoritative and centralized patterns of worship.  When this commitment to decentralization occludes any interference by any government entity, then the Quakers (much like the Aquiday colonialists before them) also reject any person among them empowerment to sit in judgment and exercise judicial authority over matters of religion. 
With this doctrine, many political historians suggest that this Protestant-style emphasis on the jurisdiction of individual conscience, moral purity, and natural law became part of the conceptual basis for collegiality within American political culture.  For example, according to David DeLeon, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa, these very same concepts laid down the partial mental framework whereby, “individual conscience might perceive a higher law than that of civil government,” and disobedience to unjust legislation as a moral duty.5 Thus, when religious groups, like the antinomians and the Quakers, insist that inasmuch as possible power over religious matters stay with those who must bear its effects, then they embody the main thrust of collegiality.


1.                  John C. Hildt, William Dodge Gray, and Harold Underwood Faulkner, Native American  Anarchism: A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism (New York: AMS Press, 1932), 13-34; and Corinne Jacker, The Black Flag of Anarchy: Antistatism in The United States (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1968), 17-26; and James D. Forman, Anarchism: Political Innocence or Social Violence? (New York: Dell Publishing, 1975), 89-90.
2.                   Hildt et al., 18; and Jacker, 19.
3.                   Hildt et al., 23, 32-33 Governor Winthrop’s Journal entry cited: “At Aquiday, also, Mrs Hutchinson exercised publicly, and she and her party (some three or four families) would have no magistracy.”; and Jacker, 19-20.
4.                  Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity ed. 4th (Glasgow, 1886), 35.
5.                  David DeLeon, The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978), 19-20; and Jacker., 26; and Hildt et al., 45.