Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Declaration of Independence - Part One: "Every Man is Born Free" (1644) = "All Men are Created Equal" (1776)

It's well established, but little-known today, that in the 13 Colonies of America (during their decade of activism and protest from the Stamp Act of 1765 through to the summer of 1776), what the colonists sought were their full British liberties, but not independence. When the Crown rejected those demands, independence was the necessary last resort for the colonists to secure their liberties. 

In Professor Garry Wills' landmark 1978 book Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence he says that independence was only eventually agreed by all of the representatives of the colonies on the 2 July 1776. The book is a brilliant phrase-by-phrase analysis of the language in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the story of its development, and of the literary influences which shaped the thinking of 33 year old Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wasn't the sole author of the Declaration - there was a Committee of Five - but he is credited with being the key figure among them.

It takes many streams to form a river, and as Wills shows, the Declaration can be seen as the confluence of a wide range of classical thought.

It's not a purely Scottish / Scotch-Irish / Ulster-Scots document (but the many preceeding, regional, Resolves and Resolutions from across the 13 Colonies are). Of the three names printed on the first edition, two were Ulster-born - Charles Thomson and John Dunlap. But the Scotch-Irish / Ulster-Scots, of all of the British Isles immigrant groups in the 1700s, brought with them a 'lived experience' which made them uniquely equipped to insist upon liberty, before loyalty. They had been, literally, scarred by the Siege of Derry, and were instilled with philosophical fortitude. As my old slogan says, they were Mined in Scotland, Forged in Ulster, Exported Worldwide.

So, I'm piecing together a brief outline of the Scottish and Ulster-Scots philosophical strain - not just airy-fairy hypothetical cerebral concepts, but from actual documents which had already been written down at previous key moments of conflict between the Crown and the People.


There had long been a tension between the reach of the Crown and the rights of the people, and two centuries before the Declaration of Independence that tension was a central theme of the Scottish Reformation. John Knox and Andrew Melville confronted Scottish monarchs, at risk of their lives.

The publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560 included marginal notes, which, around 400 times, informed its readers that the word king can be translated as tyrant. The Bible is packed with kings and rulers who were precisely that, so all that the Geneva translators were doing was emphasising the point. Over and over and over again.

Back in 1579, in his De Jure Regni: The Rights of the Crown in Scotland, the 73 year old Scot George Buchanan (Wikipedia here) defined the limits of the monarchy. This was radical stuff in that he was the highly-educated personal tutor of both Mary Queen of Scots and also her young son and future King, James. Buchanan asserted that a monarch only reigns with the consent of the people. So, 'loyalty' is always conditional in that it is based upon a two-way bond. A 'social contract'. A covenant. One translation from Buchanan's original Latin puts it like this –

"... the people, from whom he derived his power, should have the liberty of prescribing its bounds; and I require that he should exercise over the people only those rights which he has received from their hands."

Or, as this book explains

"... the Scottish people have always retained the right of calling bad kings to their account. In virtue of their relation to the law, the people may deal with the king who breaks it. There is one law for king and private citizen. If the king refuse to submit to a trial, force may be applied, as in that case he has broken his compact with the people and become a tyrant."

It's impossible to understate Buchanan's influence. He was a major figure in Scottish society - not only for his roles with the Scottish Royal family, but also as a Principal of one of the colleges at St Andrews University, and also Moderator of the Church of Scotland.


These Crown v People issues simmered away for decades, and reached boiling points when various kings interfered in how the people wanted to operate their local churches, resulting in The King's Confession of 1581, and the two national momentous declarations of Scotland's National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. These two covenants had Ulster fingerprints on them, and were circulated and signed at public events in Ulster too.

In the heat of these times, in 1644 a Scottish Episcopalian bishop, John Maxwell (Wikipedia here - who was from Kirkcudbright, was a graduate of St Andrews University, and who held various clerical positions in Ireland) published Sacro-Sancta Begum Majestas, or the Sacred and Divine Right, and Prerogative of Kings (online here). 


In response to this, 44 year old Rev Samuel Rutherford went to print. He was a Scottish Presbyterian who had been minister of the tiny rural hamlet of Anwoth between Kirkcudbright and Dumfries, close to Bishop Maxwell's birthplace.

Rutherford had already tangled with the King and bishops, and had been sent to Aberdeen for six months exile, during which he was banned from preaching. Soon after, Rutherford's impressive intellect saw him appointed Professor at John Maxwell's alma mater of St Andrews University; around this time Rutherford married for a second time – a widow called Joan McMath/Montgomery, who had lived among fellow Scots settlers near Newtownards in County Down for a while. 

Rutherford's reply to Maxwell was the momentous 1644 book Lex Rex, the format of which was 44 questions followed by detailed answers to each. In it, Rutherford pulled no punches. He specifically named Bishop John Maxwell and invoked the memory of George Buchanan: "Buchanan and Mr Melvin were doctors of divinity; and could have taught such an ass as John Maxwell... Buchanan knew the power of the Scottish parliament better than this ignorant statist".

Rutherford had worked on Lex Rex when he had been in London taking part in the Westminster Assembly. He asked Rev Robert Blair, formerly of Bangor, to review and critique the manuscript. Blair told him to not waste his energy on it, and to stick to theology.

Rutherford had it published anyway. Lex Rex developed the arguments that Buchanan had laid out 65 years before, back in 1579. It included this statement –


Another response to Maxwell written by Rutherford was subtitled A plea for the peoples rights (see here). Rutherford had shaken the kingdom and was accused of treason.

A new King, Charles II, came to the throne in May 1660. Almost immediately he began arresting his opponents. On 19 September 1660, a royal proclamation was published against Lex Rex for 'laying the foundation and seeds of rebellion', and a one month deadline was issued for anyone who owned a copy to deliver it to Robert Dalgliesh, the King's solicitor. Anyone who retained a copy would be 'esteemed enemies of the King, and punished accordingly'.

Copies of Lex Rex were publicly burned at the market cross in Edinburgh, at the gate of the New College of St Andrews University, in London and at Oxford University. 

Rutherford was charged with high treason. Soldiers were sent to his home to arrest him, only to find him already on his death bed - his message to them was ‘I have got a summons already from a superior Judge’. 

Rutherford died of natural causes on 29 March 1661, before he could be put on trial. His grave is at St Andrews. Two months later, royal-decreed public executions began in Edinburgh, commencing with the beheading of the Marquess of Argyll at Edinburgh's Grassmarket. This began the 27 years known as 'The Killing Times'.

In 1664 the state banned Buchanan's writings too – by then De Jure Regni had been translated into English by Rev John Crookshanks of Raphoe in Donegal. Crookshanks would be killed on the slopes of the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh in 1666.


Many of Rutherford's writings are known to have made their way to New England in America, because he corresponded directly with people on that side of the Atlantic who were grappling with similar issues over there, such as Cotton Mather. Rutherford was also aware of the 1636 voyage of Eagle Wing from County Down to Massachusetts, and wrote to the minister of Holywood in County Down, Rev Robert Cunningham, that “if I saw a call for New England, I too would follow it”. Rutherford didn't cross the Atlantic, but his ideas did.

Rutherford's 1644 statement – "Every Man is Born Free" – is almost identical to a part of the Declaration of Independence's opening sentence in 1776, "All Men are Created Equal".

Here is a 2016 article by David Kopel in the Washington Post: 'Origins of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Rutherford’s ‘Lex, Rex’

• Part Two to follow soon.....

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Hello to my new readers - if you are real humans

Since December 2023, visitor figures and page views here have skyrocketed - have a look at the page views counter on the left for the stats for the past 30 days. At time of writing this post there have been over 500,000 page views in the last month. I'm not sure what to make of this – either I have been hacked in some way, am subject to a prank which is hitting me with some kind of DDOS, or I'm an actual overnight online sensation. If the stats are genuine, then may I welcome you all and I hope that there's something here that's of interest. 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

CS Lewis: "We all, therefore, need the old books" /// King Josiah, Hilkiah the High Priest, and re-finding the original Book.

World renowned Belfast-born author C.S. Lewis (shown left) was of Scottish County Down Hamilton ancestry on his mother’s side. He described his tutor William Kirkpatrick as an ‘Ulster Scot’. Lewis wrote an article in 1944 entitled ‘On Reading Old Books’: 

“Every age has its own outlook… We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books”.

I used this quote in the article that RTE published recently. Stepping out of our own era enables us to see different, sometimes forgotten, realities.


This is of course what the 16th century theological Reformation was essentially about - a return to the original texts, and a rejection of the traditionalism which had been grafted onto them. 

It is human nature to forget, and to add. An example of the necessity of recovery can be found in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 22 and also 2 Chronicles 34.

Josiah became King of Judah around 630BC as a boy of just 8 years old. He was the first 'good' King after two very bad ones. Under his reign, he began a country-wide project of removing all sorts of pagan stuff. In the city, the religious life in the temple of Jerusalem trundled along for 18 years pretty much as it had been doing for generations before.

By this stage Josiah was just 26 - even though this scene is often depicted in Bible story books with him looking like an ancient Gandalf type character (see the two examples with this post). People have big ambitions at 26, so he commenced repair work on the temple building, during which Hilkiah, the High Priest, discovered the long-lost original 'Book of the Law' of Moses. It had been lost for an unthinkable 600 years, yet religious practices had continued without being able to refer to it as the benchmark. And so those practices had become distorted. Their Bible was lost for 600 years - lost within their own religious system.

The book was brought to King Josiah, and was read aloud to him. In hearing its words, he realised that their national religiosity and tradition had departed very far away from what it was originally meant to be. 

Josiah then instituted a complete national Reformation, a return to the original, and smashing up every remnant of the things they had invented for themselves.

• Josiah was a direct ancestor of Jesus, as shown in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew chapter 1.


The lesson for us all is that things we assume, having been passed down to us, might be wrong. They might be centuries old, and feel important, but they might be totally wrong.

Seek the old books. Dig up the original sources. Smash what needs to be smashed. Restore what needs to be restored. Reform what you need to reform. Semper Reformanda.


• Here is a summary of the story from the Ligonier website, whose late Dr RC Sproul was of Donegal ancestry. 

Here it is again, from Tabletalk Magazine.

• Engraving below from this website.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

13 February 1689, the Bill of Rights of William III and Mary II

335 years ago today, 13 February, was when the 1689 Bill of Rights came before the new King William III and Queen Mary II, two months ahead of their formal Coronation. It was a huge statement on their part, overturning many aspects of the previous monarch's oppression of the people.

There were 13 'grievances' of the reign of the previous King James II, and 13 subsequent 'clauses' to address those grievances. From our perspective, it's not a perfect list. From their perspective it was enough. Among these rights was one which I mentioned in a recent post here and which came up in conversation with some friends last week:

Right to petition.
That it is the Right of the Subjects to petition the King and all Commitments and Prosecutions for such Petitioning are Illegall.

Thanks to that Bill of Rights, subjects were given the right to complain about the state, to the state, and it was against the law for them be prosecuted for such complaints. The previous King James II had his opponents rounded up and slaughtered in public (see another recent post here about the 'Bloody Assizes' in south west England).

In our era, should that principle be applied to this recent news story? If I only approve of free speech for those I agree with, then I don't approve of free speech.

I don't read much Troubles era material, as I am fortunate enough to not have had direct experience of those dark years, even though many of my friends tragically did. However, a while ago I was recommended Owen Dudley Edwards's 1970 book Sins of Our Fathers: Background to Crisis in Northern Ireland, which I have dipped in to. There is a fascinating section in which he quotes William Johnston MP of Ballykilbeg on 'freedom of assembly':

"Protestantism does not consist in doing injustice to our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen. ...  I stand for justice for the Protestants and for the removal of injustice from the Roman Catholics of Ireland". (1868)

"The man who calls himself a Protestant and attacks a peaceable Roman Catholic procession is doing as much as lies in him to destroy the liberties of his fellow Protestants". (1869)

Check out William Johnston's Wikipedia here – he went to prison for freedom of assembly, and was an early campaigner for women's 'suffrage' to get the vote.

King William III and Queen Mary II set the template for America – their 1688-91 Declaration, Revolution, Bill of Rights, and War against the previous King, would all be echoed in 1776-1783 across the Atlantic in the 13 Colonies.

What does liberty look like today? 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Everything we know is wrong - the first two designs of the Tricolour

One for my RTE viewing friends. The Tricolour of Ireland that we are all familiar with seeing isn't the first design, and it's not even the second design. 

Away back last October, two former Ireland rugby internationals, Andrew Trimble and Barry Murphy, came round to our house for a long chat about all sorts of cultural - NOT political - stuff, and some of that conversation has made the final edit for a TV programme which will be shown on RTE next Monday night, timed to coincide with the Six Nations.

The flags segment was the most visual part of the conversation, and TV is a visual medium. So, RTE asked me to write an article a few days ago, which they have posted on their website here, with some stills from that particular bit.

'Andrew Trimble: For Ulster & Ireland' is on RTE One next Monday 12 Feb at 9.35pm.
Made by NPE Media.
Funded by the Northern Ireland Screen Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

The 1850 Tricolour of Ireland – coming soon....


Monday, February 05, 2024

Alan Rickman - The Power of Stories

Sunday, February 04, 2024

The Scotch-Irish community Resolves and Resolutions, 1774-1776

Here's a broad calendar of the many Resolves and Resolutions which were issued, by largely Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish communities, charting a course from the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773 to the Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776. (Many others were passed in communities which were not substantially Scotch-Irish, such as at Orangetown in New York).

31 January 1774
Colrain Resolves, MA
Short film launched last week, see previous post.

MARCH 1774
London government passes law to blockade Boston harbour.

21 May 1774
Chestertown Resolves, MD

1 JUNE 1774

June 1774
Sons of Liberty ‘Solemn League and Covenant’.
(Westford and Concord Massachusetts versions still exist).

4 June 1774
Hanover Resolves, PA

10 June 1774
Middletown Resolves, PA

26 June 1774
Lebanon Resolves, PA

9 July 1774
Lancaster Resolves, PA

12 July 1774
Carlisle Resolves, PA
Venue, Carlisle Presbyterian Church, still exists.
Signatories include Ulster-born James Smith who signed the Declaration of Independence.

13 July 1774
Chester Resolves, PA

18 July 1774
Fairfax Resolves, VA

9 September 1774
Suffolk Resolves, MA 

14 OCTOBER 1774

20 January 1775
Fincastle Resolutions, VA
Rev Charles Cummings log cabin still exists.

22 February 1775
Staunton Instructions aka Augusta Resolves, VA
Museum of American Frontier Culture, with an Ulster farmstead, is at Staunton.

19 APRIL 1775

16 May 1775
Hanna’s Town Resolves, PA
Colonel John Proctor unfurled the first ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag.
See images above of 1975 publications.

20 May 1775
Mecklenburg Declaration, Charlotte, NC

12 June 1775
Virginia Declaration, Williamsburg, VA

12 April 1776
Halifax Resolves, NC
One of the signatories was William Thompson from County Down.

4 JULY 1776
Ulstermen Charles Thomson & John Dunlap named on the printed edition.


Multiple events were taking place in and around these documents, by major Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish personalities. As a basic chronology of local community written resistance it's pretty impressive.