8 May 2007
To the Editor
The Daily Press
7505 Warwick Boulevard
Newport News, VA 23607
Bentley Boyd made several statements in his May 6th article, “Why Jamestown Matters,” that need correction.
The overall problem with his article is that he does not take into account the role of philosophy – an adolescent role of reason in the early Enlightenment – in the settlement of North America by a culture that was beginning to discover individual rights and capitalism. These ideas, including the importance of the separation of church and state, were identified and systematized later in the 17th century by English philosopher John Locke. The Declaration of Independence is written in Lockean language.
Boyd writes that “Modern, secular Americans don’t realize how big a role religion played in the thinking of Europeans four centuries ago.” Well, that might be thanks to our failed education system, but the drive for individual rights was fueled by secular ideas of liberty, not religious ones. The Wesley and Whitfield religious phenomena were basically revolts against Anglicism, or the state church of Britain.
Boyd takes a swipe at the political thinkers of the 18th century by asserting “slave labor gave American gentlemen such as Thomas Jefferson the time to work out a free and democratic society for themselves.” It was not a “democratic” society that the Founders thought about and later fought for, but a republican form of government. “Democracy” and “republic” are not synonymous political terms. Then, slavery and the slave trade were key elements of the British mercantilist system, which the American colonists protested against throughout the 1760’s and 1770’s. The Crown collected a revenue on the slave trade, and especially in Virginia slaves by British law could not be emancipated. Also, the Founders had to win their own political freedom before turning to the matter of freeing the slaves.
Boyd also repeats the mantra of the colonists’ alleged rapacious treatment of the Indians. Somehow, the vanguard of an advanced civilization was supposed to defer to and treat as an equal a people who had not yet emerged from the Stone Age, had not discovered the wheel or even metals, had been slaughtering each other in internecine tribal warfare for thousands of years, and would have remained in that primitive state had not the Europeans colonized the continent.
The Europeans discovered the New World; the Indians discovered nothing but their own cultural inferiority, which is why most of them sided with the French, who were not interested in civilizing the continent and turning it into a haven for those who wished to escape state power.
Yorktown, VA 23690
(Author: “First Prize,” “Whisper the Guns,” and the “Sparrowhawk” series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades preceding the Revolution.)