Monday, December 24, 2012

The Puritans' War on Christmas

It is easy to suppose that the celebration of Christmas has always been a part of American life. Yet, this is not the case. Puritans regarded Christmas and its customary practices of exchanging gifts and warm greetings as downright Satanic. In 1651, the legislature of the Boston colony ruled, 

For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.
From the records of the General Court, Massachusetts Bay Colony May 11, 1659 (source)

Puritans’ anti-Christmas sentiment extended to all religious holidays. The Puritans believed that “They for whom all days are holy can have no holiday.”  Still, they tended to single out Christmas for contempt, referring to it as “Foolstide.” Sixteenth century churchman Hugh Latimer declared, “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than in all the 12 months besides (source).”

Puritans spent December 25th the way they spent any other day (excepting the Sabbath), by engaging in hard labor. If a person was not a Puritan, he or she was still expected to refrain from any activity that would suggest festiveness. Non-Puritans caught playing “stoole-ball” — an early precursor of baseball —were punished by Gov. William Bradford, who declared, “My conscience cannot let you play while everybody else is out working (source).” Christmas belonged to the Catholics, and Puritans would have none of it.

By the 1680’s, the Puritan influence in England had subsided and some colonists were bold enough to openly observe Christmas. Still, when Sir Edmund Andros, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, sponsored a Christmas Day service at the Boston Town House, he knew he was taking a terrible chance. Fearing a violent backlash the governor requested the protection of redcoats as he prayed and sang Christmas hymns (source). Despite his caution, Andros would eventually be captured by an angry mob and imprisoned. The Crown had to negotiate for his release. 

In the first decade of the 1800’s, the public celebration of Christmas was still a novelty: 

A few years earlier, several Boston Congregational churches had started to hold Christmas services and decorate their interiors with evergreen boughs. In Hartford, the first non-Episcopal Christmas service took place in 1823 with a sermon in the Congregational Brick Meetinghouse, the place of worship of most of the city's prominent families. The Connecticut Courant, the newspaper that served as the voice of Connecticut's elite, urged that business be suspended during the day (source).
Unitarians were among the early adopters of a Christmas celebration. Even though Unitarians regard Jesus Christ as a prophet rather than a divinity, they embraced the holiday in part – it is believed – to differentiate themselves from the joyless Puritans.As the 19th century wore on, Puritans suffered from dwindling congregations, and Catholic immigrants from Ireland poured into the country bringing with them their Popish inclination to enjoy Christmas.

As late as the 1860’s, rural counties still shunned Christmas while city dwellers had fully embraced the holiday. Authors such as Theodore Parker satirized the rural folks’ perseverance in Puritan values, and their revulsion and holy terror upon observing the urban practice of decorating homes and exchanging gifts. Country folk are, and ever have been, conservative with respect to social innovations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On a Well-Regulated Militia

In the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision, Justice Scalia engaged in some rather elaborate contortions to make the case that the phrase “well-regulated militia” can be completely ignored when interpreting the 2nd Amendment. This was a remarkable moment in the career of a self-professed "originalist." Rather than attend closely to the words of the Founders on the subject of militias, Justice Scalia was persuaded by a linguistic analysis contained in a “friend of the court” brief. If you want to see how the sophists managed to make the words “well-regulated militia” disappear you may go here (source). This analysis was provided by Frederick L. Whitmer and associates. Whitmer and his colleagues manage a political PAC which disburses money to other PACs, such as the Defend America PAC, which defends the interests of the National Rifle Association (source).

Justice Scalia is a gun enthusiast. We know this because of his publicized hunting trip with Dick Cheney, when he spent his leisure time passing sentence on ducks (source). At the time, he scoffed at the notion that chumming around with the then-Vice President could possibly be construed as affecting his impartiality. I digress. The point is that, by removing the mention of a militia from his reading of the 2nd Amendment, Scalia was able to concoct constitutional support for gun ownership as an individual right.

An Angry White Man

If we were to consult the Founders on the subject of militias, they were actually very clear in terms of their intentions. John Adams, Patrick Henry and others pointed specifically to the government of Switzerland, a confederation of 13 cantons or districts which had (and have to this day) some degree of autonomy in decision-making. Both of these Founders were impressed by the armed citizens of Switzerland, but they were also cognizant of the fact that the Swiss did not allow citizens to own guns unless they belonged to a cantonal militia. The Swiss model provided an empirical foundation for deploying states’ rights as a counterweight to federal power.

James Madison also spoke of militias. Like Thomas Jefferson, he believed that the federal government was capable of overstepping its bounds and becoming a threat to the liberty of the American people. Still, he thought it highly unlikely that “the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads.” However, if the public were to be so inattentive and complacent to ignore the increasing militarism of their country – what we might call today the “military-industrial complex” -- the state militias would provide a last line of defense against tyranny.

John Adams specifically ruled out the idea of an individual right of gun ownership. He wrote:

To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, counties or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws. A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788
Please read that section again. Adams is stating that there is no individual right of gun ownership and, moreover, if such a right were to exist, it would spell the end of republican government. Adams is echoing Blackstone, who advocated that citizens “be restrained from nothing, but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow citizens.”

Again, in the time of the Founders and continuing to this day, the Swiss have coupled the right of gun ownership with the obligation to serve in the military. As it happens, the rate of gun ownership in Switzerland is nearly as high as it is in the U.S. However, the number of gun deaths in Switzerland is .77 per 100,000 people, whereas in the U.S. it is 2.97 per 100,000. Or, in other words, the U.S. has nearly 4 times the number of gun deaths (source).

The National Guard has the makings of a well-regulated militia. If anything, governors and legislatures are entitled to greater latitude in choosing whether to deploy the National Guard when the federal government decides that it is time for another military adventure abroad. Once upon a time, the National Guard functioned primarily to attend to national disasters and protect the homeland. But between 9/11 and the two Iraq Wars, the federal government has been calling upon the Guard with increasing regularity. It’s precisely the sort of gradual usurpation of power that the Founders feared, and precisely the sort of usurpation that James Madison believed patriotic Americans would never allow.

In fact, there is a historical precedent for this. During the War of 1812, the president sought to draft state militias to fight in the war. However, the great Whig Congressman Daniel Webster successfully argued that the federal government had no such authority, and many states declined to send their militias.

"Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained that you may take children from their parents and parents from their children and compel them to fight the battles of any war which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage in?" Webster asked. "An attempt to maintain this doctrine upon the provisions of the Constitution is an exercise of perverse ingenuity to extract slavery from the substance of a free government (source)."

For this reason, the 2nd Amendment (properly understood), with its implications about the role and the leadership of state militias, has risen in my estimation. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On the Second Amendment

Before recent events intervened, I was preparing to observe the anniversary of the British Declaration of Rights on December 16th. This document, drafted by John Locke, includes several provisions that would later appear in the American Bill of Rights. Among these are a prohibition against government quartering troops in private homes, freedom of speech, and the right of citizens to bear arms.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the 2nd Amendment right of citizens the right to bear arms was a means of protecting the people against tyranny. Yet, a state of tyranny exists. We know this because the right of habeas corpus has been suspended, citizens no longer enjoy equal protection under the law, and the two major political parties have effectively seized control of the voting apparatus. Therefore, gun ownership has not proven to be an effective safeguard against tyranny. 

The Newtown tragedy; May God help us
In the last few years, the most notable instance of a private citizen using firearms as a political instrument was the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. There has been a recent spate of unarmed black youths being shot by angry white men, and this may be read as political. Thus, as a practical matter, the use of arms in citizen politics has clearly been to the detriment of the public good. It is the instrument of would-be tyrants such as John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, men who refused to accept the will of the people, and killed democratically elected heads of state. 

Thanks in part to lobbying by the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers’ lobby, the 2nd Amendment has become a sacred cow in our society. Few politicians dare to propose placing any restrictions at all on this right. Now, to put this in perspective, consider that many sensible restrictions have been placed on the irresponsible use of speech. 

In 1919, the Supreme Court decided that freedom of speech could be abridged if the speech poses a clear and present danger. A trace memory of this historical moment lives on in the memorable phrase, “shouting fire in a crowded theatre.” It harms both the public good and individual expression if speech is allowed to cause physical injury. 

In 1925, the Brandenburg test was applied to speech. If speech openly encourages or incites violence, it is not protected. In the decision New York Times v. Sullivan, it was decided that libelous speech motivated by malice or a reckless disregard of truth is not protected by the First Amendment. In 1973, the court applied the Miller test. Speech is not protected if it appeals to prurient interests – that is, morbid, disgusting, or offensive to community standards of decency. According to the Lewis test of 1974, “fighting words” that are abusive, insulting, and likely to elicit an immediate violent response are not protected by the First Amendment.

Sometimes, the 1st and 2nd Amendments collide. In the 1966 case of Watts v. United States, an 18 year old named Robert Watts was arrested when he said, in connection with the draft, “If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sight is L.B.J.” The court decided that, since this was not a credible threat but merely a joke, Mr. Watts’ speech should not have been infringed upon. There are some odd permutations of this test. Consider that Giffords' opponent in her 2010 campaign was Jesse Kelly. He placed an ad in a local paper reading, “get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelley.” This was, evidently, constitutionally protected speech.

Today, a number of states have passed laws affirming the right of citizens to walk about the street openly displaying firearms, even if these displays might be regarded as threatening, apt to promote violence or offensive. And one could argue that, in confronting a gun-toting 2nd Amendment enthusiast, an unarmed individual may feel some inhibition against exercising his or her 1st Amendment right to accuse the man of being an Neanderthal who is bent on dragging our society back to the nasty, brutish and brief existence human beings experienced prior to civilization. 

According to a witness at that elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, “At first we heard a bunch of kids scream, and then it was just quiet and all you could hear was the shooting.” No more sounds of children talking to one another. No more voices of teachers in class. This was not what the Founders intended.

see also: this post

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Takers and Makers

The Founders recognized that there would always be separate economic interests in society. The many who are poor would, because it is in their economic interest, desire a government that is responsive to the needs of the poor. The few who are wealthy, because it is in their economic interest, desire a government that does not tax them on their long-term capital gains. Thus, to be clear, the Founders saw moral equivalence between these economic interests. Both the wealthy and the poor are seeking their own advantage, when, ideally, they would put aside their separate interests and think about what is good for the country as a whole. 

From the Founders' perspective, there are no "takers" other than those whose fortunes depend on unproductive wealth. That is, the kind of wealth that neither stimulates nor results from the production of necessary things that improve the country and the welfare of its citizens. 

I mention this because of the lingering nausea created by Mr. Romney's speech about the 47% who churlishly feel entitled to food and a means of enjoying a basic subsistence. Since then, Rush Limbaugh derided Obama supporters as children seeking gifts from Santa Claus. John Sununu has sneered at the "dependent" segments of society. Stuart Stevens, after describing Obama's coalition of the poor and ethnic minorities, found pride in Mr. Romney's defeat, saying, "Yes, the Republican party has problems, but as we go forward, let's remember that any party that captures the majority of the middle class must be doing something right." 

But for all that, it is true that the democrats are just as guilty of "class warfare." Their winning coalition did, in fact, consist of Americans who are motivated by their separate economic interests. One could imagine a scenario in which, if they had no Republican opposition whatever to keep them in check, rank-and-file democrats would advocate for an expansion of the "welfare state," and in their fervor, perhaps they would indulge in a binge of taxing and spending. Now, I am not taking a position on the merits of the "welfare state." There are things that this country ought to be doing for its most disadvantaged members. Instead, I am suggesting that there is a desperate need for a party that is willing to advocate for the public interest. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Boston Tea Party!

In the 1760’s and 70’s, the East India Company was struggling as a consequence of poor management and reckless financial speculation. To bail out the company, Lord North and other British ministers enacted a law granting the company a monopoly on sales of tea in the American colonies. On the face of it, this was not a bad thing for most Americans. The price of tea went down, even after taking into account the small tax added to the tea before it reached American shores. But the colonists would have none of it. On November 29th, 1773, a shipload of tea was seized by Sons of Liberty and tossed into Boston Harbor.

Political cartoon depicting British ministers forcing America to drink its tea.

If the reader knows a bit about American history, he or she will recognize that the East India Company symbolizes a set of economic policies known as mercantilism. In essence, mercantilism refers to an alliance between government and private business, designed to benefit both their interests. If the government helps the business and it succeeds, sales of taxable goods and services increase, the government benefits from increased revenue and individual members of government will receive gifts from the company as a token of appreciation. Of course, the people who don't benefit are the consumers, who come into the picture late, and are obliged to pay whatever the asking price happens to be.

So let’s honor the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party by reflecting on the evils of mercantilism. As Americans, it is incumbent on us to remain alert to usurpations of power by oligarchs who trade in money and political influence. 

A monopoly is an easy way to succeed in business. There is little pressure to keep prices lower than competitors’ prices, and little need to ensure that the quality and availability of one’s products remains superior to that of competitors because, very simply, there aren’t any competitors. 

Nowadays, the biggest monopolies are located in China. Foxconn, for example, has over a million employees and earns hundreds of billions of dollars in profits each year. Foxconn manufactures the iPhone on behalf of Apple. Yes, Android phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus do compete with the iPhone, but the fact is, Foxconn manufactures parts for both Apple and Samsung

Foxconn, unlike many of China’s vast and lucrative companies, is not (as far as I can tell) a state-owned enterprise. But it does receive generous subsidies from the government to help it keep prices low. And it is willing to sell its products at a loss if necessary to maintain its dominant position in the market (source). In the old days, selling at a loss would have been considered an anti-competitive practice, but nobody seems to be complaining. 

Foxconn (aka Hon Hai Precision Industry) is also one of the top ten stocks held by Goldman Sachs in its Growth and Emerging Markets Equity Portfolio. So, when Foxconn succeeds, so does Goldman Sachs. So, if you ever wonder why Goldman Sachs donates so much money to the political campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike, or if you ever wonder why the United States doesn’t do more about the unfair trade practices that have cost America so many jobs, reflect on these facts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Media Blackout?

I've mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to a lot of intelligent people, only to get a blank look in return. Apparently, there are people who've never heard of it. Giving this some further thought, I realized that it shouldn't be surprising. If you Google "Trans-Pacific Partnership," you are likely to turn up results that include the phrases like "closed door discussions," "little-known trade agreement."As it turns out, not even members of Congress are allowed to see the draft of the treaty (

The purpose of this post is to examine the question of whether media coverage of TPP has been adequate, given the huge (and I believe, quite dire) implications of TPP for the American people. So, I posed the question, "in the last two years, what has the New York Times said about TPP?" Here is a summary of ALL the articles that came up in a search of the paper's archives.

A chronological list over the last 2 years, along with some items that were not reported, is provided below. I'll let you decide.

NOT REPORTED: Dec. 9, 2011: Over 50,000 South Koreans march in protest over TPP. Protestors had to be restrained by force. There are complaints that news media outlets are not covering TPP. TPP is accused of being "anti-parliamentary and anti-democratic."

South Korean protesters
(1) Feb 14, 2011: An article in the Business section reporting on the debate within Japan about the merits of joining TPP.

(2) Feb 28, 2011: An article in the Business section discussing Republicans' resistance to the plan on the basis that, at the time, it excluded Colombia and Panama from the deal.

NOT REPORTED: April 25, 2012. Thousands of Japanese march in protest of TPP.

Japanese TPP protesters

NOT REPORTED: on June 13, 2012, a draft of TPP was leaked to the public, and reveals provisions that will (1)  limit the extent to which U.S. federal and state officials can regulate foreign firms operating within U.S. boundaries, (2) create new incentives for U.S. companies to offshore jobs, (3) allow foreign firms to demand compensation from the U.S. when required to comply with financial or environmental regulations (source:

NOT REPORTED: On June 19, 2012, President Obama issues a press release announcing the TPP partners countries accept the admittance of Canada to the deal. This will increase free trade with Canada beyond levels achieved by NAFTA.

NOT REPORTED: On July 7, 2012, About 250 opponents of TPP march in San Diego. Arrests were made (source:

American TPP protesters

(3) On July 26, 2011, in the Opinionator blog, Tine Rosenberg points out that TPP will forbid signing nations from setting prices on pharmaceuticals and extend the period of time that pharmaceuticals fall under patent protection.
Filipino TPP protesters
NOT REPORTED: On July 26, 2011, Trade Representative Ron Kirk, in a discussion at the Bretton Woods Committee, points out that TPP must include some financial support for workers who will lose their jobs as a result of TPP (source:

(4) On September 28, 2011, in the Opinion pages, C. Fred Bergsten argues that TPP will expand the American economy. Mr. Bergsten is a former assistant Treasury secretary, and served between 1977 and 1981.

(5) On November 11, 2011, in the Asia Pacific section of the paper (hey, we all read that section, right?), it is reported that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will join discussions on TPP. The article also reports that, although Japanese exporters are pleased about the prospect of TPP, Japanese farmers are protesting it on the basis that imports will pose a threat to the very fabric of Japanese society.
New Zealand TPP protesters

(6) On November 12, 2011, in the Asia Pacific section, it is reported that President Obama claims that TPP will benefit South Korea and increase U.S. exports.

(7) On November 15, 2011, in the Asia Pacific section, one may find a single reference to TPP, indicating President Obama's view that it will exclude China and serve as a counterweight to China's trade dominance.

(8) On November 16, 2011, in the Asia Pacific section, a passing reference to TPP in an article concerned with the creation of a Marine Base in Australia.

(9) November 17, 2011. In an article about President Obama's visiting troops in Australia, a reference is made to TPP.

(10) December 27, 2011. In the Opinion section, a contributor makes a passing reference to TPP as one reason for hope that the American economy will improve.

(11) January 10, 2012. In the Business section, there is a passing reference to TPP in an article about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner's trip to China.

(12) January 20, 2012. In the Business section, President OBama's trade policy is discussed, and TPP is briefly summarized. In an address to business executives at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, the president asserted, "if we are going to grow, it's going to be because of exports."

(13) March 6, 2012. In the Global Business section, it is reported that people in India are alarmed by the fact that President Obama supports tougher patent protections on drugs, even in cases where the result will be an increase in number of deaths from HIV/AIDS. These tougher provisions are included in TPP at the behest of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying group.

(14). July 8, 2012. In the Asia Pacific section, TPP is discussed briefly in connection with the Obama administration's  increased diplomatic focus on Asian Pacific nations other than China.

NOT REPORTED: Observers have expressed concern that TPP will re-introduce the same forms of Internet censorship attempted by the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (source: For more information:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Thanksgiving

We all know that Native Americans rescued the pilgrims from starvation back in the 1600’s. And we all know that the European settlers would eventually repay the generosity of the Native American people with smallpox, bubonic plague, broken treaties, and genocide. 

We Americans have had an uneasy relationship with our own history. Some Americans believe that it is wrong to extol America’s greatness in light of the crimes of its past. They are the ones who march in protest on Columbus Day and attempt to paint American history as an uninterrupted saga of imperialism and injustice. Others believe that it is appropriate to turn a blind eye to these historical events; they may mention, as a dubious argument for mitigating circumstances, that the Native Americans eventually fought back, and took European lives. Both of these views are one-sided, and ignore the truth that light shines most brightly in the dark. 

I will suggest a third option. On Thanksgiving Day, let us we remember with gratitude the Native American people, and recognize that the country we know today would not exist if it were not for them. 

There are simply too many examples that could be offered to illustrate the magnitude of the debt that the United States owes to the Native Americans. In keeping with the spirit of the New Independent Whig, I will focus on the relationship between the Native Americans and the Founders, with an eye toward insights that are relevant to the challenges we face today. 

John Locke

John Locke, as I have pointed out in earlier posts, was among a handful of early modern political philosophers who had a profound impact on the views of the Founders. In his Two Treatises on Government, written in the 1680’s, Locke declared, “In the beginning all the World was America.” Thus, he began the argument that the principles of Natural Law and the Social Contract can be empirically validated by studying the way of life of the Native American people. 

Some scholars have been dismissive of Locke’s reasoning in this area, and have claimed that Locke knew little of Native Americans and was merely trading in Rousseau’s sentimental myth of the Noble Savage. In fact, John Locke owned land in the American colonies, had access to abundant first-hand accounts, and was careful when selecting the data on which he based his conclusions. He wrote,  

[W]e see, that the kings of the Indians in America, which is still a pattern of the first ages ... whilst the inhabitants were too few for the country, and want of people and money gave men no temptation to enlarge their possessions of land, or contest for wider extent of ground, are little more than generals of their armies; and though they command absolutely in war, yet at home and in time of peace they exercise very little dominion, and have but a very moderate sovereignty, the resolutions of peace and war being ordinarily either in the people, or in a council.
Locke will argue that, in a state of nature, God has provided the human race with land to share in common. When property in land is abundant, human beings do not need to develop a form of government that is founded on the idea of private ownership of property. In this state of abundance, both laws and crimes are few, because every member of society has an equal and bountiful share of property, and no occasion for envy or ambition. It is possible for members of the society to come together and discuss, civilly and in a disinterested manner, the proper role of government. 

It is a very different matter when the population has grown large and property has become scarce. In European societies, “It is plain that Men have agreed to disproportionate and unequal Possession of the Earth, they have by a tacit and voluntary consent found out a way, how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus, Gold and Silver.” In other words, when property becomes scarce, its value in the eyes of men increases. And once its value has increased, ambitious men will keep property that they do not use and land that is unnecessary for fulfilling their basic needs, simply because property has economic value. People who lack property will be obliged to pay rents to people who own property, if they wish to farm the land for food. When members of society meet to discuss issues of governance, some of them will be self-interested, and incivility will inevitably manifest in their interactions. 

Locke continues, “The Law of Reason makes the Deer, that Indian's who hath killed it; ‘tis allowed to be his goods who hath bestowed his labour upon it, though before, it was the common right of every one.” Thus, if property is regarded as belonging to everyone, a strong claim to private ownership exists when labor is added to property, and the aim of labor is self-sufficiency. This view, however radical in its implications, was shared by Montesquieu and other Enlightenment thinkers including the much-misunderstood Adam Smith. 

Eventually, Karl Marx would propose radical solutions for addressing the harms that can arise from the inequitable distribution of property. Enlightenment thinkers and the Founders gravitated toward a different solution. Rather than advocate for state ownership of property as Marx did and place that much faith in government, they concluded that every citizen has the right to possess some amount of property. Whenever the right to property was invoked, it came alongside the right to life and liberty. It remains unclear whether the rights to life, liberty, and property were, in the minds of the Founders, separable or facets of a single right of enfranchised citizenship. 

It is clear, though, is that Enlightenment thinkers and the Founders would agree on the following point. If some people are starving because they have no land to cultivate, and other people own land that they do not bother to cultivate, it is a form of social injustice. 

The Romans of the New World

William Penn was a Quaker and a pacifist whose ideas influenced the authors of the U.S. Constitution. Penn was celebrated by Voltaire for making the only treaty with Native Americans that was never broken. He was a friend to the Lanni-Lanape (also known as Delaware) tribes, and seemed genuinely admiring of their way of life. He said of these Native Americans, “if they are ignorant of our pleasures, they are also free from our pains. They are not disquieted with bills of lading and exchange, nor perplexed with chancery-suits and exchequer-reckonings. We sweat and toil to live; their pleasure feeds them, I mean, their Hunting, Fishing and Fowling.” He perceived that, “They never have much nor want much. Wealth circulateth like the Blood, all parts partake; and … none shall want what another hath.” 

Similarly, Benjamin Franklin said, “Happiness is more generally and equally diffused among Savages than in civilized societies. No European who has tasted savage life can afterward bear to live in our societies.” It is also clear that, in Franklin’s view, the colonists benefited from the Native American example, 

Whoever has traveled through the various parts of Europe, and observed how small is the proportion of the people in affluence or easy circumstances there, compared with those in poverty and misery; the few rich and haughty landlords, the multitude of poor, abject, rack-rented, tythe-paying tenants, and half-paid and half-starved laborers; and view here [in America] the happy mediocrity that so generally prevails throughout these States, where the cultivator works for himself, and supports his family in decent plenty, will, methinks, see the evident and great difference in our favor.
Again, one may ask whether the Native Americans were being sentimentalized. When the Dutch explorer Jasper Danckaert studied the Delaware tribes in the years 1679 and 1680, he recorded a balanced and credible account of what he saw. His experience did lead him to reflect, years before the “noble savage” motif had been popularized in Europe, that “most labor arises from want or need” or else “from avarice and greed.” The Native Americans he encountered labored only to satisfy their wants and needs, and enjoyed “a sufficient abundance of necessities.” They “had no external example of more or greater that could cause them to judge themselves deficient.” 

Among anthropologists, the question is framed in terms of the theory of original affluence. According to this view, some hunter-gather societies – particularly those which supplemented their food sources with agriculture – were able to enjoy a very satisfactory existence. They were able to avoid hunger, enjoy leisure activity, and be comfortable during cold winter months. And members of these societies did not work the long hours that were then typical in European societies. Based on the preponderance of first-hand accounts of Native Americans, it is evident that their way of life was enviable to any European who was able to recognize that the European standard of a good life (defined by Christian beliefs, permanent architecture, cleanliness, fine clothing and material accumulation), was not the only standard by which one could judge.

When Franklin referred to the Native Americans as “The Romans of the New World,” he was drawing attention to the fact that, during the height of their civilization, and before their slide into corruption and decadence, the Romans also shunned materialism and prized frugality. This was, in the minds of many Whig philosophers, the key to Roman greatness. The great North Carolina Whig James Iredell believed, “luxury and its never failing attendant corruption, will render easy the attempts of an arbitrary prince, who means to subvert the liberty of his country.”   

Thomas Jefferson was well aware of John Locke’s use of the Native Americans in his philosophical treatises. But, always the good empiricist, he was more impressed by the evidence of first hand observation. “Before the establishment of the American states, nothing was known to history but man of the old world, crowded within limits either small or overcharged and steeped in the vices which that situation generates.” The Native American way of life was proof of the existence and the viability of an alternative to the European style of oppressed labor, avarice, and arbitrary rule.