January E News
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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – January 2013
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
“In the Name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity”
Ratification Day used to be celebrated in America. Ratification Day, you might ask? Yes, January 14, 1784 was the day the Treaty of Paris was ratified, ending our American War for Independence. It was celebrated for bringing peace between England and America, but also because it was a bit of a miracle that it got confirmed. The conviction among our political leaders at the time was that we must follow the rule of law and this provided for us an initial legacy in international affairs.
Its first words also became famous as a confirmation of the law of nations understood to be God’s rules for international relations that came out of the Reformation. The law of nations was understood to be God’s requirement that all nations treat others the way they wished to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Since God didn’t ordain any government or hierarchy above the nations, all disputes must be settled through voluntary covenants. The first words of the Treaty are covenantal, stating “In the Name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity!”
Though the Continental Congress had already issued, on April 11, 1783, a Declaration of the Cessation of Arms with Great Britain, along with approving preliminary articles of peace four days later on April 15, the process required by the Constitution still had to be followed in order to officially confirm peace between the two nations. Our nation at the time was under its first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation. This first Constitution rested on the premise that the States retained all power except what was delegated to the national government (which our present Constitution rests on as well), but in order for anything to be confirmed under the Articles; nine of the 13 States had to agree.
In Article VI: “No State, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance or treaty with any King, Prince or State…” In Article IX: “The United States in Congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war, except in the cases mentioned in the sixth article -- of sending and receiving ambassadors -- entering into treaties and alliances…” Did this mean that a Treaty could be ratified solely by the ambassadors sent to procure such articles? No, since Article X makes it clear that “The Committee of the States, or any nine of them, shall be authorized to execute, in the recess of Congress, such of the powers of Congress as the United States in Congress assembled, by the consent of the nine States.” Thus, in order to ratify any Treaty, nine States had to send their delegates (at least two per State) and vote in favor of it.
England and France had to come to terms since they had been at war and France had aided us in defeating England. Once that was done, the delegates met in Paris to discuss terms of peace. They came to terms on September 3, 1783. The American delegation consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and John Jay with William Temple Franklin as secretary. The lone representative of the King of England was David Hartley who stated that in order for the Treaty to be valid it had to return ratified within six months (by March 3, 1784).
The winter of 1783-1784 was particularly bad. Congress was scheduled to convene at the Maryland State House in early December (Annapolis was the Capitol of the United States at the time) but by January only seven States were represented, and even some of these did not have the two delegates required. The journey of getting the document back to Europe might take two months, and thus time was running short.
Thomas Jefferson, manager of the Congressional ratification process, was approached by several delegates who said that due to the weather, they should ratify the Treaty with seven of the 13 States rather than the nine required. Jefferson, however, would not bend the rule of law. The only lawful thing he was willing to do was take the vote and send the document to France with a request to extend the deadline. They scheduled this vote for January 14.
On January 13, unaware of the difficulty, Roger Sherman and Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut arrived, leaving the Congress one State delegate short. Then, on the morning of January 14, South Carolina’s Richard Beresford, having gotten out of his sickbed, arrived from Philadelphia, completing the two delegate requirement. Thus, the Treaty was ratified within hours of the intended compromise vote and request for extension. They did not know that Franklin had already requested an extension. Our point, however, is that the elected Statesmen in 1784 were dedicated to the written rule of law!
Governor William Paca of Maryland, a signer of the Declaration and an ardent patriot, sent out a Proclamation to all the citizens of his State saying in part “all the good citizens of this state… observe, and carry into effect” the Treaty provisions. This was a commitment to encourage self-government by the rule of law!
But why were our forefathers so dedicated to the rule of law? It was their underlying philosophy that God was sovereign and ruled in the affairs of men. In fact, it was not just any God; it was the God of the Bible, the unique God of Christianity, a triune God (which no other religion embraces). Thus, both nations ratified a covenant with God as one of the parties, stating in the first sentence “in the Name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity”. This was not mere rhetoric, but a clear evidence of the fact that the Biblical and Christian basis of international relations was well understood in 1784.
What about today? The lessons appear simple, yet so profound. We have a government that operates today on the rule of men and no longer by the rule of law. The Constitution is ignored and rules are made up with no one held accountable. Since this is true domestically, international relations follow suit. We ignore the law of nations rooted in the Bible that should govern our conduct with other nations. When we do as we please, ignoring righteous laws, it causes others to truly despise us. May we remember the past, and may God have mercy on us and return us to the rule of law at home and abroad!