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Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: American revolution continues to today

Our nation’s longest struggle pits combatants in a war of words, not armaments.

“The Second American Revolution” is a pitched battle over the government’s role and responsibility.

This epic contest has erupted again in the 2012 presidential campaign.



After Thomas Jefferson barely won the presidency in 1800, he referred to “the revolution of 1800” being “as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form.”

Should concentrated government be more or less? Does less government favor voters? Does more government strengthen the nation?



Such storms of controversy over government’s size and purpose predated the Revolutionary War.

When the First Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia in 1774, patriots were at each other’s throats over the government’s shape and power.

John Adams quickly tired of this politicking during the Continental Congress’ session, which stretched over seven contentious weeks.



He complained to wife Abigail about how each delegate had to “show his oratory, his criticism, and his political abilities.”

Gridlock hexed patriots. Adams lambasted the proceedings as “tedious beyond expression.” His blood boiled over parliamentary maneuvering in which, he wrote Abigail, if a motion were made that two plus two equaled five, delegates would endlessly debate it “with logic and rhetoric, law, history, politics and mathematics.”

Sound familiar?

Patriots verbally stabbed opponents. Easier to bayonet an enemy with sharp insults than to debate him.

“By talking, a fool gets into an argument, and his mouth invites a beating,” observed a biblical sage. (Proverbs 18: 6).

Some delegates at the First Continental Congress loved their argumentative voices, creating a fools’ paradise of inaction.

Sound familiar?

Wars of words over power belonging to the American people versus that reserved for the government escalated after the Revolutionary War.

Patrick Henry surrendered none of the citizens’ precious constitutional liberties.

He walked away from the negotiating table, refusing to sign the Constitution.

Sound familiar?

Henry thunderously denounced patriots who pressed for concentrated power in Washington.

“As this government stands,” roared Henry like a lion, “I despise and abhor it (big government). … I speak as one poor individual – but when I speak, I speak the language of thousands. If I am asked what is to be done when people feel themselves intolerably oppressed, my answer is … overturn the government.”

Henry stirred a boiling cauldron, his diatribes scorching the Constitution’s insistence on a federal government.

Sound familiar?

Jefferson and Adams ended their warm friendship nurtured in France and England when they served as ambassadors overseas.

Adams saw some benefits to strong European monarchies.

Along with his brilliant, sometimes feisty wife, Abigail, he defended an effective central government that bound states’ disparate agendas. Adams argued for a stable, secure nation rather than a weak confederation of states whose disagreements might destroy unity.

Jefferson, in contrast, preserved citizens’ and states’ rights as bulwarks of liberty.

He denounced a too-powerful presidency and warned against corrupt politics in the Capital and on Wall Street.

Sound familiar?

Adams regarded the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as the culmination of the “spirit of 1776” in which a strong nation-state was formed.

Though he endorsed the Constitution, Jefferson preferred seeing it as a union of states, with a thin layer of federal authority imposed to keep order.

Two founding moments: the 1776 Revolutionary War and the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Adams regarded both as essential for the forming of the nation. Jefferson focused on the first.

Though he endorsed the second, he worried lest federal authority overwhelm personal liberties and states’ rights.

Whether joining the tea party or occupying Wall Street, doesn’t this struggle for our nation’s soul sound all too familiar?

Take heart. The revolution that began at our nation’s birth is seething again, spilling over into hot contention.

Fighting over power’s balance between citizens and the federal government is the price citizens pay for their investment in our republic.

The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.


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