History Of American Conservatism

Monday, July 11th, 2016 @ 12:00PM

Pinpointing the date or location of a discreet event in human history such as a birth, a death, or a battle, is often a simple task made easier, in many instances, by the discovery and/or review of actual historical records. Pinpointing the date of the emergence of a philosophy, an ideology, or a religion, which are not discreet events occurring at specific instances in time, is often much more difficult. Such is the case with American conservatism.

Though debate among historians of conservatism continues, most agree that American conservatism has its origins in England of old. Some suggest the signing in 1215 of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede was the seminal event leading ultimately to modern American conservatism. A truly novel document, the Magna Carta set limits on royal power and established certain rights of free Englishmen including the concept of due process of law, habeas corpus, the right to face one’s accusers, and the right to a trial by jury.

Others suggest a more direct connection between American conservatism and the English Civil War of 1642 – 1651 wherein parliamentary forces defeated the army of King Charles I (who was later executed) and established the precedent of parliamentary, rather than royal, rule of England. Still others suggest that England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 has a greater claim as the foundation of American conservatism as it was this event that led to the creation of the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – forerunner of America’s Bill of Rights created a century later.

Finally, there are those historians who cling to the notion that American conservatism has its roots in the American Revolution. Of course, liberals, not understanding history, reject this notion arguing that our Founding Fathers were radical liberals bent on discarding centuries of English law and tradition in an effort to create a brand new society. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Revolutionary War-era heroes such as George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, among others, were working and fighting not to destroy English law and tradition but, rather, to conserve it for Americans. These men, and their Revolutionary War compatriots, were working and fighting to maintain or regain the same rights that Englishmen in England had enjoyed for hundreds of years – ideals of representative democracy, property rights, rule of law, and safeguards against arbitrary exercise of power by kings and governments.

The debate over the origins of conservatism, in general, and American conservatism, in particular, is likely to continue indefinitely. Beyond debate, however, is the fact that the principles of conservatism played an indispensable role in America’s rise to greatness. Also beyond debate is the fact that a return to these principles will be necessary to reverse America’s current economic and social decline. Ignoring the history of conservatism upon which our nation was founded might well lead to a dark and dangerous future for all Americans. Instead, embracing that history will more likely assure a brighter future for us all.

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