Post-Dobbs rhetoric shows that too few truly understand American law
The post-Dobbs rhetoric of both progressives and far too many Patriots reveals the total collapse of American civics education in our high schools and colleges. Far too many think the Dobbs decision means that the Supreme Court imposed on the nation Christian religion and morality — loathed by the progressives and loved by the Patriots. In the definite minority are those progressives and Patriots who recognize the Alito opinion as one based squarely on constitutional principle and not involving religion or morals, but instead, at long last, restoring validity to the Supreme Court's constitutional jurisprudence.
In the same vein, every year, as we approach July 4, the progressive narrative is propagated that the American Revolution was a rebellion by the colonists against English law. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth, and it is depressing that so many believe it.
To understand this, please bear with me as I quickly (and succinctly) review how the revolution came about.
The American colonists considered themselves Englishmen subject to both the duties and the liberties of the common law of England under the authority of which, in 1775, both England and the colonies enjoyed the rule of law. But financial pressure on the royal treasury due to the enormous costs of defending the colonies in the French and Indian War (1756–1763) motivated the king to attempt to raise revenue in the colonies by direct taxation implemented via the Revenue Act of 1763 (the Sugar Act) and the Stamp Act of 1765.
However, the colonies had no representation in Parliament, and the common law via Article 12 of the Magna Carta of 1215 forbade taxation without representation. Recognizing the reasonableness of the British request for reimbursement, the colonies offered to tax themselves to raise an agreed sum. Both king and Parliament rejected this offer, preferring to establish the precedent of taxing the colonies. Hence the impasse, leading to diverse frictions; novel taxation adventures; and, finally, the Boston Tea Party, British martial law over Boston, and the British expedition to Lexington and Concord to seize a colonial arms cache — yes, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was provoked by a government gun-grab.
Image: The Old Court House in Philadelphia, a place of English common law, built circa 1707–1710.
Hence, the American Revolution was a conservative revolution. The whole purpose of the colonies was to preserve the rule of law under the common law. The British, not the American revolutionaries, were the rebels against the common law. The colonies had taken up arms to suppress a British insurrection.
The colonial resolution of the Crisis of July 5, 1776 provides a unique confirmatory perspective on this entire scenario. Some 15 months after Lexington/Concord, the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. On July 3, 1776, the Continental Congress declared that the 13 erstwhile English colonies were "free and independent states."
On July 4, this declaration was announced to the world, and on July 5, the 13 new sovereign states all faced the crisis of determining what would henceforth be their law now that they were no longer English colonies. Each and every one of them resolved that crisis by selecting the common law of England as their law, confirming that the entire purpose of the revolution had been to continue English common law as their law!
And this is still the case today in 49 of our 50 states (all except Louisiana, which is French in origin rather than English). The law in all these 49 states is the common law of England (as of a specified time approximating the revolution) as revised or modified by state statute, state constitution, or state supreme court decision.
I am aware that many (most?) people today think the common law of England is an interesting ancient relic not applicable to our current issues. They are mistaken. English common law remains our fundamental law. Although the U.S. Constitution declares itself the supreme law of the land, English common law is the fundamental law of the land. The principles for interpreting statutes, constitutions, contracts, and other writings are all principles of common law. Only a handful of legal cases in court involve issues of federal constitutional law, but every case involves issues of common law.
The failure to understand this core principle is just one reason that America is so desperately in need of a resurgence of American civics education.