Was the American War of Independence a Just War?

To suggest that the American Revolution was unjust almost seems a sacrilege. There have been times in American history when promoting such a point of view could lead to accusations of treason. But in the 1770s, cases of war against England did not conform to the classic Christian arguments used to support what we now commonly call a “just war.” In fact, just war arguments, often associated with historic church leaders such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, were rarely, if ever, employed by Protestant ministers in the revolutionary era, and certainly not by fathers. founders.

The tradition of just war asserts that government is ordained by God to preserve peace and maintain justice. War should be avoided as much as possible, but sometimes the desire for peace can make war necessary. War is therefore only justified as a last resort. It must be declared by a legitimate government and have an achievable goal of peacemaking. He must protect the lives of non-combatants.

John Carmichael, a Presbyterian pastor from Lancaster, Pa., Who published a sermon in 1775 titled “A Self-Defensive War Lawful.” In this sermon he laid out what he saw as the parameters of a “legal war”.

First, he argued that a legal war requires every fighter to believe that he has been “called by God” to fight and that “with a good conscience and courage he can count on God for his strength and strength. protection ”. Second, Carmichael believed that every soldier should make sure that “his peace is made with God, by believing in his Son Jesus Christ for salvation”, before entering into battle. Third, Christian soldiers engaged in war “must depart in the fear of God” and rely on “the righteousness and righteousness of Jehovah’s superintendence over all destinies.” Fourth, soldiers should avoid doing violence to those who are unable to defend themselves. Fifth, they should not blame others wrongly.

With the exception of Carmichael’s fourth point, which conforms to the teaching of just warfare that non-combatants should always be protected in battle, none of his points of defense of a “legal war” conforms to classical Christian doctrine on what makes a war “just”.

While many ministers believed that the American War of Independence was clearly ordered by God, others were not so sure. The American colonies were part of Great Britain, which was then the freest and most freedom-loving nation on earth. As citizens of the empire, the settlers enjoyed great economic prosperity and political freedom. John Wesley, the famous 18th century English evangelical, did not understand why the colonists demanded more freedom than they already had as members of the British Empire. The settlers, he writes, “enjoyed their freedom as fully as I do, or as any reasonable man can desire.”

Wesley ticked off a litany of colonial sins: they refused to pay their taxes, they destroyed property (“Shipments of tea”) and, more importantly, they held African slaves even as they cried for their sins. own liberation from English tyranny. To Wesley, the cry of “no taxation without representation” was absurd: “I answer, they are now imposed by themselves, in the same sense that the nine-tenths of us are. We not only have no votes in parliament, but none in electing members. ”Lack of representation in parliament did not mean that settlers were exempt from“ submission to government and the law. ”Wesley, he needless to say, didn’t think the American Revolutionary War was justified.

Christians today who want to argue that the Revolutionary War was “just” must offer concrete evidence to suggest that this war was indeed a “last resort”. They must also convincingly demonstrate that the settlers’ grievances against the Crown merited military resistance. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves about it:

Do high taxes justify a military rebellion against the government, even if such a rebellion is in direct violation of passages such as Romans 13 that command Christians to pay their taxes?

Was the English government as “tyrannical” as the colonies claimed? And if so, did the level of tyranny justify armed conflict? After all, Britain offered more freedom to the people of its empire than any other nation in the world.

Did revolutionaries have a moral argument to make for their own freedom when many had denied freedom to the slaves within them? Or, as historian Mark Noll argued, only enslaved African Americans could legitimately “justify taking up arms in self-defense.”

These are tough questions. But these are certainly questions worth considering.

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