Slavery—Wrestling with the Language of Captivity

In Complaisance to the Language of Captivity

Like the hatter, Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence suffered amendments that stripped it of some important contents. This chapter outlines a valuable lesson to be learned from one of Jefferson’s failures.

On a trip to Jefferson’s home, Monticello, or Madison’s Montpelier, one might hear the tour guide say, “the Founders never dealt with the issue of slavery, but left it to future generations.” Is that true? Did Jefferson fail to deal with the issue of slavery?

Depending on how they are counted, Jefferson listed twenty five  grievances against king and parliament. Aside from the 25th grievance, the average word count is about 23 words per grievance. The 25th, the one about slavery, included 168 words. The famous “we hold these truths” sentence was only 42 words. The evidently important slavery grievance from Jefferson’s draft reads:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”[1]

Of the Declaration of Independence, and specifically the slavery grievance, John Adams said:

“I was delighted with its high tone, and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro Slavery, which though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose.”[2]

The slavery issue was an important issue to Jefferson. He attempted to make the practice illegal in Virginia on more than one occasion. Why then is it thought that Jefferson put off the issue of slavery for future generations? Why is he so criticized when it comes to the slavery issue? Obviously, because he owned slaves. But it is also because of the lack of a detailed history. Our limited understanding of Jefferson’s views on slavery and his attempt to solve the problem of slavery, allows it to appear to us today that he did nothing about it.

Things might have gone differently had Jefferson been more aggressive about including the expression of his mind with that of the expression of the American mind. He stayed out of the debate on the document for good reason, but perhaps he should not have remained aloof from every argument.

If Jefferson would have defended the Language of Liberty in regards to slavery, would it have resulted in liberty in later years? Would the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights of the 1960’s need to be violent struggles for liberty? Or, had those words not been deleted from the document, would history have allowed for a more peaceful advancement of liberty?

What happened? Why was the slavery grievance removed? According to Jefferson,

“The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it.”[3]

Jefferson kept himself out of the debate and Congress removed the slavery grievance to appease South Carolina and Georgia.  As a result of this “complaisance,” the evil of slavery did not improve.

Many of the Framers in 1776 believed that slavery would eventually collapse by its own weight of evil. Slavery did disappear in some areas of the country and worsened in others. The two states who won the debate during the Second Continental Congress seemed to expand the slavery culture the most. Their Language of Captivity won the day in 1776 and resulted in a future of captivity for almost one hundred more years.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, South Carolina and Georgia finally agreed that the institution of slavery needed to be abolished. The Convention inserted some anti-slavery provisions into the Constitution, but by the 1830’s slavery was more deeply rooted in the culture of South Carolina and Georgia than ever before.

Anti-Slavery Provisions in the Constitution

In a speech to the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 26, 1860, Frederick Douglass highlights the anti-slavery provisions in the Constitution. The question before Douglass was whether the Constitution was a pro-slavery document or not. His conclusion was that the Constitution was not pro-slavery and had provisions that would lead to the abolition of slavery. Of the Constitution he said:

“Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”[4]

Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He began to educate himself while in bondage. He eventually escaped and traveled to Europe. People were so impressed with his intellect and oratory skills that he quickly gained fame. His new European friends pooled their money and purchased his freedom. He returned to the United States and before his death, he sent an emotionally stirring forgiveness letter to a former master, became an advisor to five U.S. presidents, and acquired a fortune worth more than 300 thousand dollars (equal to over 8 million in 2019 dollars).

In Douglass’ Glasgow speech, his personal task was to counter an earlier speech given by George Thompson in Glasgow on February 27, 1860. Mr. Thompson declared that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, an opinion that Douglass refuted brilliantly.

The two most obviously anti-slavery provisions in the Constitution are Article 1, section 9, which allowed for the elimination of the slave trade after 1808 and Article 1, section 2, that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. Of Article 1, section 9, Douglass said:

“Men, at that time, both in England and in America, looked upon the slave trade as the life of slavery. The abolition of the slave trade was supposed to be the certain death of slavery. Cut off the stream, and the pond will dry up, was the common notion at the time.

“…the American statesmen…regarded slavery as an expiring and doomed system, destined to speedily disappear from the country. [The Constitution] is anti-slavery, because it looked to the abolition of slavery rather than to its perpetuity…it showed that the intentions of the framers of the Constitution were good, not bad.”[5]

Of Article 1, section 2, regarding the three-fifths clause, Douglass said:

“It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.”[6]

The Founders inserted these anti-slavery provisions into the Constitution in an attempt to eventually eliminate the practice.

The Abundant Fruit of Captivity in South Carolina and Georgia

By 1860, South Carolina had the largest population of slaves by percentage, 57%.[7] More people were captive than free in that state. They had the second largest increase in slavery from 1790 to 1860 with a 376% increase. Georgia had the largest increase at 1579%.[8]

It seems more than a coincidence that the Civil War began in South Carolina[9] and that they seceded first.  There are numerous nineteenth century quotes from people of South Carolina and Georgia that illustrate just how deeply rooted the slave culture had become.

John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina, said:

“The defense of human liberty against the aggressions of despotic power have been always the most efficient in States where domestic slavery was to prevail.”[10]

James H. Hammond, Representative from South Carolina, said:

“To such a country [slavery] is as natural as the climate itself, as the birds and beasts to which that climate is congenial…It is equally the order of Providence that slavery should exist among a planting people, beneath a southern sun…

…it is no evil. On the contrary, I believe it to be the greatest of all the great blessings which a kind Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region. For without it, our fertile soil and our fructifying climate would have been given to us in vain. And as to its impoverishing and demoralizing influence, the simple and irresistible answer to that is, that the history of the short period during which we have enjoyed it has rendered our southern country proverbial for its wealth, its genius, and its manners…

…Sir, I do firmly believe that domestic slavery, regulated as ours is, produces the highest toned, the purest, best organization of society that has ever existed on the face of the earth…”[11]

Notice some “freedom-centric” words in the quotes above. Those words may sound like freedom, but they are woven into the filthy tapestry of slavery—captivity of the most evil kind.

Jefferson may have written “all men are created equal,” a contradiction to his practice of owning slaves, but he never connected those words with a justification of slavery. “All men are created equal” was his hope. It was his goal. It was an idea he aspired to, even if he was not living that idea in its entirety. As Abraham Lincoln said, America “was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”[12]

Jefferson continued to promote this “proposition” throughout his life. In 1779 he proposed a law for emancipation in Virginia.[13] In Congress, in 1794, he was one vote shy of outlawing slavery in the whole Western territory.[14] Query 18 in his Notes on the State of Virginia denounced slavery.[15] In 1806, as the President, he publicly supported abolition with words that echoed the slavery grievance. He urged Congress to:

“…withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.”[16]

Congress agreed and passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. Jefferson signed the bill into law on March 2, 1807 and it took effect, as per the Constitution, January 1, 1808.[17]

But, despite Jefferson’s lifetime efforts to abolish slavery, the fact still stands that the slavery grievance was defeated in Congress. The slave culture that deepened after the grievance clause was rejected, eventually evolved into the abhorrent idea that slavery must exist for liberty to prevail.

In his famous 1861 “Cornerstone Speech,” Alexander Stephens from Georgia, Vice-President of the Confederacy, said:

“The new [Confederate] Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to…African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

Our new [Confederate] government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.

. . . look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? [The Confederate States of America] is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws.”[18]

It seems incomprehensible, but Alexander Stephens and others in his day actually believed they were following natural law principles. They believed that the physical characteristics of  Africans, i.e. darker skin, stronger bone and muscle structure, etc., were proof that nature intended for them to be laborers and the “white race” having “intellectual superiority,” was intended to be their masters. They believed that those physical traits were well suited for the tropical regions (the south) of America. The thought was that the south was foreordained to host the practice of slavery. They also believed that because the practice was growing in the south, not diminishing, it was evidence that God ordained the practice.

It was a disgusting perversion of natural law and a stain upon humanity that these ideas prevailed in many regions of our country. This oppressive perversion was a direct result of mingling the Language of Captivity with the Language of Liberty.

The idea that “all men are created equal” took much longer to apply to African slaves because those words did not have the company of the principled words that slavery was “violating [the] most sacred rights of life & liberty.” This idea that “All men are created equal” was not accompanied by the policy of America’s desire to “prohibit or to restrain this execrable [a historical expletive] commerce.” Jefferson and others failed to defend the Language of Liberty and because of that failure, South Carolina and Georgia won.

Their Language of Captivity prevailed. So much so that Jefferson’s original draft[19] was not published for decades. John Adams speculated as to the reason.

“I have long wondered that the original [draft] has not been published. I suppose the reason is, [Jefferson’s] vehement phillipic against negro slavery.”[20]

It is easy to imagine a different world had the slavery grievance language been preserved.

The New Federal Constitution Abolishes Slavery

“The New Federal Constitution Abolishes Slavery” could have been the headline in 1787 had the slavery grievance been preserved in the Declaration of Independence. Every grievance enshrined in the Declaration became forever etched into the culture of America. If someone were to argue that Jefferson did NOT capture “the expression of the American mind” as it was in 1776, they could not dispute that he and Congress succeeded in shaping and influencing the future expression of the American mind.

After the Declaration was passed, America suffered the casualties of war. Then she fell into a deep depression and runaway inflation. The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, our first constitution, led to trade wars and other ills. It caused the States to treat each other like foreign countries. Through it all, each state experimented with self-governance and the practical application of the principles of ‘76. The list of grievances was their guide.

“All men are created equal,” “self evident truths,” “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” etc. are important truths, but they were ideas, not application. The grievances were the guide to policies that needed to be implemented to prevent the same abuses.

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, in 1787, the Framers gathered in Philadelphia to craft, “a more perfect union,” a new federal constitution, our second constitution, to replace the first attempt. This was America’s opportunity to use wisdom and reason to develop a form of government that would forever throw off the shackles of tyranny. Each and every grievance in the Declaration was solved in the Constitution of 1787, and those that were not thoroughly solved were addressed in the Bill of Rights a few years later.  Here are some examples:

Declaration- “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Constitution- “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it…” (Article I, section 7, clause 2)


Declaration- “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.”

Constitution- “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish…” (Article III, section 1)


Declaration- “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.”

Constitution- “The Trial of all Crimes…shall be by Jury…” (Article III, section 2, clause 3)[21]


Declaration- “For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.”

Constitution- “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…” (Article IV, section 4)

It is reasonable to assume that had the slavery grievance stayed in the Declaration, it would have simmered and percolated in society and slavery would have likely been resolved during the convention of 1787, just as every other grievance. At the very least, it would have taken another step closer to abolition.

Instead, they not only kicked the can down the road to 1808, but the 1808 compromise significantly inflated the value of a slave because it limited the future supply. It only limited the supply rather than abolishing the practice because the constitution only gave authority to regulate the importation of slaves, not the authority to abolish it altogether. That limited supply drove the culture of the slave holding states to look upon the slaves as chattel, not any different than their livestock. Property to be bred and worked into exhaustion.

The Framers compromised on the slavery grievance in 1776 and removed it from the Declaration. This action made it easier to compromise again, on the slavery grievance, in 1787. Thus we see the Language of Captivity prevailing on the slavery issue in 1776 and again in 1787.

It is said that the Declaration of Independence never would have passed had the slavery grievance not been removed – as if independence from Great Britain would not have happened. That is simply not true. Independence and the Declaration are two different things. The Declaration may not have passed, but Congress had already voted for independence on July 2, 1776.

The town of Worcester, Massachusetts passed the very first Declaration of Independence on Oct. 4, 1774. Over the next 21 months, 90 ‘sovereign’ colony and local declarations would be made. The largest colony, Virginia, whom all other states looked to for guidance, declared independence in May of 1776. Virginia gave specific instructions to Richard Henry Lee to, on June 7, 1776, put forth the motion:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Lee’s “Resolution for Independancy” was voted on and passed on July 2nd.

Perhaps the slavery grievance would have prevented the passage of the Declaration of Independence, but it would not have prevented the colonies from declaring independence. Preventing the Declaration would have been a travesty. It would have robbed the world of the self evident truths contained therein, but it would not have stopped independence.

In all likelihood, the Declaration would still have passed. It just may not have been a “Unanimous Declaration of Independence.” It would have been absent South Carolina and Georgia and perhaps North Carolina. It may not have had unanimity, but it still would have had the power of self-evident truths. The Language of Liberty would still have been presented to the “tribunal of the world,” and it would have carried with it the potentially liberating words of the slavery grievance.

Jefferson’s Estate Struggles

As a result of Jefferson’s complacency, history is confused about him and his legacy. On one hand he is revered as a great philosopher of freedom. On the other, he is called an evil white slave owner. He is accused not only of fathering slave children, but now of raping the mother of those children, Sally Hemmings. As a result, the Language of Liberty no longer resonates and his personal estate struggles.

At Monticello, tour guides continue to tell the story of Jefferson’s slave mistress Sally and their children as a matter of DNA fact. Yet, the DNA story was debunked and retracted only two months after it broke in 1998.[22] Slavery has become such a focal point at Monticello that it overshadows Thomas Jefferson’s amazing intellect and vision of Liberty for all people regardless of birth.

As a point of clarification, there is tremendous value to exploring the historical life and times of the slaves of Monticello. That history should be presented as part of the struggle for liberty rather than a distraction from it.

Instead of praising the words “all men are created equal,” modern detractors diminish that liberty language. They follow those words by pointing out how contradictory they appear because they were written by a slave owner. We should not hide behind the historical fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, but it should be acknowledged that in 1776, though he was far from a slave, he too was oppressed by king and parliament. He had drafted the words “all men are created equal,” not because the concept was being practiced in 1776, but because he hoped that humankind would begin to practice the concept in his lifetime and beyond. The continual diminishing of those words does nothing to liberate the slaves of his day or the slavery of today. It serves only to hinder those liberty words from fulfilling their destiny, to make equality, for all humans, a reality. It is not speaking the Language of Liberty.

To praise the phrase “all men are created equal,” penned by a slave owner who hoped to see the practice abolished, is not to cause injury to those slaves. The horrors of slavery are acknowledged. Recognizing the importance of those words is to continue Jefferson’s hope that one day we can fully exercise such an important natural law truth. Jefferson made this same point in relation to the Revolutionary War and the injuries America inflicted upon England.

Jefferson argued that to revere the Language of Liberty in the Declaration was not to pour salt in the wounds of the English, or even the slaves – it was to “cherish the principles”[23] of the document.

The lessons learned by Jefferson’s mistakes are valuable in our personal pursuits to speak the Language of Liberty. His desire was to capture the expression of the American mind and yet, his silence sowed the seeds of captivity and we suffer the fruit of captivity today. As a result, he stepped back from the debate and let the Language of Captivity delete some very important words in the document.

It can be argued that the Declaration would never have passed if slavery was left in the document. Maybe that is true. It is easy to speculate. It is easy to be an armchair historian. Perhaps Jefferson’s actions were more controlled by the tone and spirit of the occasion than we realize. Regardless, America would have taken a different path had the slavery grievance (the Language of Liberty) been maintained in the Declaration of Independence.

[1] Slavery Grievance, Declaration of Independence, 1776

[2] Col. Pickering’s Observations Introductory to Reading the Declaration of Independence, at Salem, July 4, 1823

[3] The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1790

[4] Frederick Douglass speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860

[5] Frederick Douglass speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860

[6] Frederick Douglass speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860

[7] 1860 Federal census

[8] United States Census Bureau

[9] The civil war began when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861

[10] Congressional Debates, 24th Congress, 2nd Session, 1836-37

[11] Register of Debates in Congress, Vol. XII, Feb 1, 1836

[12] Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863, emphasis added

[13] “51. A Bill concerning Slaves, 18 June 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0051. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 470–473.]

[14] The Territorial Governance Act, See Plan of Government for the Western Territory, Report of the PLAN OF GOVERNMENT FOR THE WESTERN TERRITORY, REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE (Mar. 1, 1784), in 6 PAPERS OF JEFFERSON, supra note 18, at 581–617.

[15] Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII: Manners, Thomas Jefferson, 1781

[16] Sixth Annual Message to Congress, December 2, 1806

[17] Article I, section 9 of the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any law regulating the importation of slaves before 1808. Article V prohibited the ability to amend Article I, section 9. Jefferson saw to it that slave trafficking was made illegal on the first day possible.

[18] Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist, March 30, 1861

[19] See Appendix for Jefferson’s original draft

[20] Letter from Adams to Timothy Pickering, August 6, 1822

[21] Article III, section 2, clause 3 was the only provision for protecting trial by jury in 1787 when the Constitution was written. In 1789 Congress submitted what is now known as the Bill of Rights, for ratification. The states ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791. There, trial by jury was further protected in Amendments 5, 6, and 7.

[22] Original article: “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child,” by Eugene A. Foster, et al, Nature Magazine, November 5, 1998; Retraction: “Reply:The Thomas Jefferson Paternity Case,” by Eugene A. Foster, et al, Nature Magazine, January 7, 1999;

Note of Interest: “…I have said publicly, both before and after publication of our article, that our results could not be conclusive…My experience with this matter so far tells me that no matter how strongly I say that the study is not conclusive and no matter how often I repeat it, it will not stop the media from saying what they want…And I truly regret that. In fact, I am angered by it…It has been painful to me to see my work over interpreted and sensationalized by the media.” Email from Dr. Eugene Foster to Herbert Barger, November 11, 1998, “In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal” by William G. Hyland Jr, 2009

[23] Letter from Jefferson to James Madison, August 30, 1823

Check out the timeline I created for a project for Bellevue University at http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/433852/Creating-the-Life-of-Bill-Norton/

I am currently going through the process of evaluating my experiential learning and knowledge. I have been blessed to have a full life with opportunities to learn and grow through a wide variety of experiences. From gold mining and survival camps as a young teen to opportunities to teach seminars about liberty to thousands of Americans, including two state legislatures. I now have an opportunity to potentially turn those experiences into a college degree through Bellevue University.

Part of this process includes some assignments to help organize my experiential knowledge. This assignment is to reflect upon my Personal Learning Environment (PLE). What is the process, or environment, in which I learn. For me, this began through the years as what seemed to be a random, haphazard process. After years of this seemingly random process it has actually developed into a fairly consistent process that I can replicate over and over without loosing its spontaneity – a characteristic critical to a truly creative process. My PLE is roughly as follows:

The Assignment

I enter into my PLE usually by way of a task or assignment, a reason to learn about something. This usually happens as a result of an opportunity to teach others. Teaching is simply imparting what you have learned into the heart and mind of another. So to teach is to learn.

The Creative Idea

The creative idea my come quickly or it might come further into the process. Perhaps even late in the process. The challenge to teaching is to develop the angle to teach the concept. It might be a whole new approach or it might be the simplification of an existing approach. Sometimes the creative idea will not even come until I am actually teaching or “testing the audience.”

After Jerry Seinfeld ended his popular sitcom, he scrapped all of his material and began anew. He developed a new set with the audience. He began in small clubs in NYC with nothing but a few undeveloped ideas. He tested the audience. He often fell flat, but in that he learned what worked and what did not work. This process went on for a year. After that year he had all new material that was causing a roar of laughter as before.

Teaching is much the same way. Rather than looking for the laughter you look for the light bulbs. You look for the ideas that cause light bulbs to suddenly appear above the heads of your audience. It is an awesome experience. You see eyes light up, they squirm in the chairs, they are about to burst. When this happens you know you have just, grand or small, changed the course of their life, and YOU have learned.

Natural Law

Natural law is simply they way things are. It is the laws by which all things are governed. There are natural laws for science – what goes up must come down, equal and opposite reaction, etc. There are natural law for mathematics, communication, and even human happiness as found in the Ten Commandments. There are also natural laws for good government as discovered and published in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The key is to discover natural law and then remember what you have discovered.

I have observed that when you discover natural law it feels so natural and is based on such common sense that when you discover a natural law principle it feels like you have always known it. It almost feels as though you are being reminded of a principle rather than learning it for the first time.

A scientific experiment is often carried out with a “control.” That is, an example or specimen that follows existing natural laws so far as it can be control. The same is true when learning or developing a new idea. Look to the “control” to gauge where you are. In this case, your control is natural law.

Past Experiences

Don’t reinvent the wheel. This exercise is achieved by combining natural law principles with past experiences. Common sense is nothing more than the ability to learn from past experiences and to remember what you have learned, then take that knowledge and apply it to what is being learned today.


One of the greatest abilities of humans, aside from opposing thumbs, is our ability to learn and to document in detail what we have learned so others may carry on where we left off. One of my mentors is the late Dr. W. Cleon Skousen. He taught me much, in person and through his books, about the principles of liberty, American history, and the Constitution. About six months before his death in 2006 I was visiting him in his home in Sal Lake City. We spent a few hours discussing some theories I had been working on about life, liberty, and property. Toward the end of the conversation I asked if he thought I was on the right track. I will never forget his reply. “One of the greatest gifts as a teacher is to see a student take what you have taught them and move it to the next level.” This was a great compliment. I do not think I am more capable than, or event equal to Cleon. I had his shoulders to stand on to reach the concept higher.

Books- Thomas Jefferson said “I cannot live without books.” I surround myself with books. I have over 4000 books in my personal library. I have not read them cover to cover, but there is not a book in my library that I have not cracked the spine to research a subject.

Internet- The internet has become an amazing resource. It is difficult to get as in-depth as a book, but I use it to see what others have done on the subject. What are others saying about the subject? What conversations are developing? What is the expression of the mind of the people or how is it shaping our culture? If my goal is to teach a subject, my research and learning must also include how to best impart what I have learned to others. Therefore, I must understand how to best communicate the subject by understanding the current state of society in relation to the subject. I must learn how they perceive the subject to truly communicate to where they are, not where I want us to be.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I have found that Google image search can sometimes be more insightful than a simple web search. Image searches will result in how people are living a concept, not just what they think about it. Often what we do is different than what we say. An image search shows you what people are doing, not just saying.

Friends and Family

I have been blessed with a wonderfully insightful family – my wife, children, and siblings. I often test what I am learning on them. My wife is in education and has great insight about how something is presented. My children provide the purity of a child’s mind. My brothers and close friends provide a sounding board and further insight to help me develop my ideas and thoughts. The last 25 years I have tried to surround myself with people of high caliber. It has proven to be very valuable and rewarding as these relationships a genuinely cultivated.

Test the Audience

As stated above, testing the audience is critical if the end goal is to teach what you have learned. It does not matter how much a person has learned, if they are not able to impart it to another in some way their work has been in vain and will die with them. Testing the audience helps to move the idea along.

As I have reflected upon my PLE it has become clear to me that my environment is based on teaching. A desire to enlighten others. This desire creates the environment that, for me, is perfect for learning.


“The Citizen Scholar”

Do you love your country? And even more so, do you love the principles of liberty upon which your country is founded? Do you believe the power to govern originates in the individual alone? Do you believe this country is built upon principles of natural law that all men can come to know and understand? That you do not need government, lawyers, clergy, the educated elite, and politicians but by your own endeavors, and by the grace of Providence you can understand these principles?

If you answered yes to the aforementioned questions, YOU ARE “THE CITIZEN SCHOLAR.”

About Natural Law, Cicero wrote, “We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it.” In other words, senate or people (government) cannot alter natural law and we can understand it within our own reason, we do not need others to tell us the laws of nature. To clarify, Natural Law is simply the way things are. It is the way the Creator set things in motion. It is the naturel consequence to an action, good of bad. There are natural laws of science, mathematics, physics, government, human happiness, etc.

All great enlightenment periods have occurred when the people, break free from the “elite” and rediscover natural law principles on their own. These are periods of restoration—restoring fundamental principles. It was not the ruling elite that pulled Europe out of the dark ages, it was common people, or “the citizen scholar,” discovering natural law truths. And many of these “citizen scholars” sacrificed their lives to bring enlightened principles back from obscurity. “Enlighten the people,” said Thomas Jefferson, “and tyranny and oppression of mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” What a beautiful picture of what the enlightenment of the common people will paint.

The American Revolution was a period of restoration, restoring the people’s law principles of their ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons. In an article written in 1818, John Adams wrote:

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. …when they saw those powers…bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen state congresses, etc. …when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.

“Another alteration was common to all. The people of America had been educated in a habitual affection for England as their mother country;…But when they found her a cruel beldam, willing…to ‘dash their brains out,’ it is no wonder if their filial affections ceased and were changed into indignation and horror.

This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

If we are to restore our nation back to its constitutional purity, the people must become enlightened. Thomas Jefferson said that the only true corrective to Constitutional abuses is education. We must become enlightened in the natural law principles of liberty. We will need to do it independent of the establishment government, lawyers, clergy, the educated elite, and politicians. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, governments may trample, but truth will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, if we have the faith and the courage to persevere—if we become “The Citizen Scholar.”

Where Does the Name “The Citizen Scholar” Come From?

The setting—Harvard Law School, September 2011; Ralph asked “What is your background Bill? Are you a lawyer, law professor…?” “No” I interrupted. “Oh, that’s great!” Ralph exclaimed, “you stick it to them. I love that you are not one of them. They think they are the only ones who know…” I cut him off. “No, no Ralph, it is much better than that. I am not even educated. I am a high school drop out construction worker.” In victorious excitement he responded “OH…THAT IS FANTASTIC! I LOVE IT!”

But I begin too soon, let me take you back a bit.

It may not be a profound story, but it is one about a common man who bypassed the establishment to become a citizen scholar. It is a story about me, Bill Norton, not born into privilege, but to loving parents. Parents who eventually shattered a positive upbringing with the hammer of divorce, like many other millions of baby boomer parents in America. Left to our own, my five brothers and sisters and I were left to fend for ourselves. A father gone to selfishness and a single mother gone to work. We had to discover life as children without a guide. Sadly, this is a common tale in modern America—children left to a state of nature to discover right and wrong on their own rather than getting a head start under the guidance of those who have discovered before them.

I was a relatively bright and creative child. I started on the right path but soon found myself drawn to the diversions of an unrestrained teenage life. Not all of life’s events in that time were bad. At thirteen, adventures in gold mining and wilderness survival camps challenged and developed my young mind.

I dropped out of high school at sixteen and thought I could embark on an adult life a little early. Untill a person came along who knew me little enough to not spare my feeling, but great enough to know failures. He called it how he saw it, he told me I was a loser. Oh sure, I could smooth talk adults to think I was bright and mature, but he knew it was all talk. “You don’t go to school. you don’t have a job. You take no responsibilities at all. You might be bright, but your actions show, you are a loser.” He was right. His harsh, but truthful rebuke hit me, and hit me hard. In one short scolding he taught me the most basic principles of natural law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I realized I was all “talk”. I decided right then that I would now be all “do.”

Within two days of that rebuke I had secured two jobs. Two days later I declined those jobs and hopped on a plane to Phoenix, Arizona. My brother had just started The Sharper Edge, a custom concrete company, and I decided to go work for him. After a couple of months my brother, Alan had decided we would be equal partners—Fifty fifty. He nineteen and I sixteen, we had no clue, but we had heard that in America you can do anything. We started our company with a pickup truck, a wheel barrow, two shovels, a rake, and a couple of concrete trowels. Boy, did we go hungry.

I soon set out to correct my errors and entered the Phoenix Institute of Technology (yes I know that stands for P.I.T., and it was a pit). I received my G.E.D. and graduated from P.I.T. in design and production art in 1990, the same year my class graduated from high school. With a 4.0 and perfect attendance I was now “doing.”

At eighteen I began to contemplate my life. I discovered that I was focused on myself, my growth, my learning, my hard work. Like most kids it was all about me, I was selfish. I decided to make some additional adjustments to my lifestyle and embarked on a two-year ecclesiastical mission. I put all focus of myself on the shelf and dedicated myself to the service of others. Fantastic experiences, good friends, and great leaders and mentors gave me a clearer understanding of right and wrong, or natural law. Once the mission was over I returned back to the shelf I left myself on and found a new person. I discovered the profound truth, that confidence, self-esteem, and a true understanding does not come by focusing on yourself, but true happiness comes in the service of your fellow-man.

As a parting gift from my mission, Russ Donley, former Speaker of the House in Wyoming, gave me a copy of The Making of America, a text-book published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. Upon returning to Phoenix to resume my partnership in The Sharper Edge and I began reading the book. I was hooked. At the age of 21 I decided to dedicate my spare time to learning the Constitution. I wanted to understand the document as well as the Founders understood it. I began devouring as much information as I could get my hands on.

I quickly realized it would get me nowhere to study contemporary works on the Constitution. Modern authors were plagued with 200 years of a bias, partisan view of the Constitution. I then reasoned that to understand the Constitution like the Founders understood it I should not read the interpretations of historians or law professors. Nor should I even start with the Founder’s works themselves. But to get into the minds of the Founders I must read what they read. Thus my journey began. Locke, Montesquieu, Blackstone, Polybius, Cicero, Coke, Adam Smith and more. Wow! This was great. Natural law, mixed governments, property, rights, revealed law. I then started to mix in the works of the Founders, The Federalist, Madison’s Notes on the Convention, Notes on Virginia, Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, the Constitution, the Declaration, and the letters, the amazing personal letters they wrote back and forth to each other.

Nineteen years later I have a beautiful picture of liberty in my mind and heart. I also have a clear understanding that I have not yet scratched the surface in what there is to know, especially what Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, and others knew. But I know this much, through a lifetime of tireless sacrifice on their part, they are right. They gathered the greatest, proven, natural law principles from the fields of history and prepared a feast the world had never known. And we have been nourished by that feast for over 200 years.

I most certainly cannot fail to mention my greatest joy along this journey. At twenty-five I married my beautiful wife, Ingra. A gifted teacher, a loyal friend, a loving wife, and an angelic mother. She is truly a blessed daughter of God. She anchors me and in her service I find what it truly means to rise up and be a real man. It may not be politically correct, but it is a solemn truth that a man and a woman who understand their selfless roles within the bonds of marriage, and who fulfill the roles with complete fidelity, together they are more likely to succeed in the world and will find true happiness at a level not found by any other means. The only way to improve upon this happiness is to add our four precious children. I cannot say more about my beautiful family, whose relationship I hold sacred, lest I cast pearls before swine.

At twenty-nine I, along with my dear friend Barbara Stowell, co-founded Constitution Week USA, what has become the largest celebration on the Constitution in the country. In ten years we have taught and entertained thousands of Arizona families about the Constitution. During my community efforts, twenty-four years after our start, I continue to own and operate The Sharper Edge with my brother Alan, though he does far more of the “operate” than I.

Efforts with Constitution Week led me full circle back to the publishers of that first book that hooked me to the subject, The Making of America from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). We began working on some projects to distribute constitutional materials to every school in the country. I also volunteered to begin redesigning many of the covers on books published by NCCS. In 2008 I found myself traveling with Earl Taylor, president of NCCS, as he taught The Making of America Seminar to groups throughout the nation. Seminar demand began to increase significantly and I soon found myself teaching the seminars as well.

In mid 2008 the U.S. economy began to fail and by the end of the year the bottom dropped. President George W. Bush decided to, as he said, “abandon free-market principles to save the free market,” spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out failing businesses. This move kindled a movement that was soon to sweep the nation. In January of 2009 President Barack Obama took office. Though the white house had changed parties, the game remained the same and the President committed hundreds of billions more to shore up failure. The kindling ignited and government policies continued to fuel the fire into a raging torrent of destruction. One of the largest genuine grassroots movements in history was here. The Tea Party, The Second American Revolution.

By December of 2010 I crossed paths with Patty Meckler, wife of Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots (TPP), the original grassroots organization of the Tea Party movement. Patty recruited me to speak at a Tea Party Patriots’ summit to be held in Phoenix in February of 2011. After Speaking, providing displays, providing entertainment, and performing myself at the event I became acquainted with Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, the other co-founder of TPP. Within a few short months I was hired by Tea Party Patriots as the National Constitutional Education Coordinator.

In September of 2011 Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University and Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots co-hosted a Conference on the Constitutional Convention.

Article five of the Constitution provides a mechanism in which the states can call a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution independent of Congress, the President, or the Courts.

Photo taken by Ralph Benko

The purpose of the Convention was to bring people together from the right and the left, pro convention and con, to discuss the merits of an Article five convention. I was asked to speak at the conference as a representative of Tea Party Patriots. My remarks at the event were about education and going back to the natural law principles discovered by the Founders. Out of more than forty people who spoke at the event, including Laurence Tribe who is considered the leading authority on the Constitution,  about the principles of natural law and returning to those proven laws to fix our nation. See my remarks in the following clip.

After my remarks I was bombarded by inquiring minds. I had just declared that the people need to be more educated to fix our problems, not politicians or lawyers, but the people. This was not often heard, especially from the secular pulpit of Harvard University, and the people loved it. One gentleman, Ralph Benko, a columnist for Forbes magazine and a new acquaintance of mine, stood by to listen in. When the crowed subsided and Ralph and I walked to dinner, he asked “What is your background Bill? Are you a lawyer, law professor…?” “No” I interrupted. “Oh, that’s great!” Ralph exclaimed, “you stick it to them. I love that you are not one of them. They think they are the only ones who know…” I cut him off. “No, no Ralph, it is much better than that. I am not even educated. I am a high school drop out construction worker.” In victorious excitement he responded “OH…THAT IS FANTASTIC! I LOVE IT!”

Shortly after the conference Ralph Benko wrote a column for Forbes about the event. It was titled Time for a Constitutional Convention. In the fifth paragraph of the column he writes:

“Mark Meckler’s biography is more laconic than Lessig’s:  ‘originally from southern California graduating from McGeorge Law School… credits his father with having passed to him a patriotic foundation and ‘cowboy ethics.’’  But his role, as co-founder and one of the national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, the largest and most authentic of the Tea Party groups, is all the credential he needs to stand in equal dignity with Lessig.   Similar to Meckler’s is the dignity of the Tea Party Patriots’ resident constitutional expert, Bill Norton, who also spoke at Harvard — as a CITIZEN SCHOLAR (emphasis added).”

I know this has been a long story to get to what might appear to be an uneventful conclusion. But the premise of this portion of Ralph’s article is that Mark and I came from humble backgrounds, yet were prominent figures in a national discussion among some of the nations “elite.” Though he was able to show some credentials for Mark, the only credential he could list for this high school drop out construction worker was that I am a “citizen scholar.” The point is that it is an uneventful conclusion. America is not great because one or two individuals have accomplished earth shattering things. America is great because common people have been freed from tyranny and common people have become great. This seemingly uneventful conclusion is truly the greatest event in history—America is great because in protecting the rights of common people, common people have become great.

I think this is a wonderful commentary of what America is all about. A nation where you do not have to be born into privilege in order to become privileged. Sadly, we are seeing that nation disappear quickly. We must all become a “citizen scholar” if we are to restore our country to its place upon a hill as a beacon of freedom, peace, and prosperity to all mankind.

Now, go forth and “proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Leviticus 25:10 and cast into the Liberty Bell

Bill Norton


Every problem our nation is experiencing today can be solved by following the perfect plan of liberty laid out by our Founding Fathers in the original documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. In order for us to solve these problems and safeguard our freedoms, it is required that we come together and find a place of commonality and understanding. That place can be found in the message of The Miracle of America, Birth of a Nation. Read more about the Miracle of America.

“Rise Superior to Every Obstacle”

George Washington and the Tea Party Movement–America’s Second Revolution

Words of encouragement by George Washington, compiled by Bill Norton

Since the victory of the American Revolution, there has never been a ground swell of everyday Americans rising up to restore their Liberties—until now. It is a remarkable time, but not dissimilar to the difficulties of 1776. We have an oppressive king—Washington elitists; a daunting army to fight—an overreaching federal government; and a ragtag, untrained, undisciplined army as our only defense—grassroots Tea Party movement. What words would General George Washington, the patriot sage, give today to advise and inspire us? His words of yesteryear, based on original principles, are as fitting today as they were in his—Listen!

“The cause we are engaged in is so just and righteous that we must try to rise superior to every obstacle in its support.”[1] We need patriots—Tea Party Patriots. “It appears as clear to me … that America never stood in more eminent need of the wise, patriotic, and spirited exertions of her [citizens] than at this period.”[2] “Clouds may hover over our political concerns, but a steady adherence to these principles will not only dispel them but render our prospects the brighter by such temporary obscurities.”[3] Some may want to shrink from the task with feelings of inadequate talents, but recall, Washington had “a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity.”[4]

The patriot citizen was Washington’s secret resource. Historians have berated Washington as a general with no strategy as “not his forte” or “less than brilliant,” not unlike the critics of our day who berate the Tea Party. But like Washington, we have a secret. “We had a secret resource of a nature unknown to the enemy, it was in the unconquerable resolution of our citizens, the conscious rectitude of our cause, and a confident trust that we should not be forsaken by Heaven.”[5] Like the detractors of our day, the enemies of 1776 and modern historians had not considered that Washington’s strategy was to rely on the hearts of the American people. This strategy proved successful then as it will now.

Our fight is a daunting task but “we must not despair; the game is yet in our own hands; to play it well is all we have to do,… A cloud may yet pass over us; individuals may be ruined; and the country at large, or particular states, undergo temporary distress; but certain I am that it is in our power to bring the war to a happy conclusion.”[6] “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”[7] “The disadvantageous circumstances … under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition was little short of a standing miracle.”[8]

“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed… The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission. This is all we can expect; we have therefore to resolve to conquer or die. Our own country’s honor…call[s] upon us for a vigorous… exertion. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings and praises if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a freeman contending for liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”[9] “The honor and safety of our bleeding country, and every other motive that can influence the brave and heroic patriot, call loudly upon us to acquit ourselves with spirit. In short, we must now determine to be enslaved or free. If we make freedom our choice, we must obtain it by the blessings of Heaven on our united and vigorous efforts.”[10] “Remember… that you are freemen, fighting for the blessings of liberty—that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like…”[11] Patriots!

[1] To Philip Schuyler 1775

[2] To Benjamin Harrison 1778

[3] To the citizens of Alexandria 1797

[4] To Martha Washington 1775

[5] Address intended for Congress 1789

[6] To John Mathews 1781

[7] To James Madison 1788

[8] Farewell Orders to the Army 1783

[9] General orders to the Army 1776

[10] Address to officers and soldiers of the Pennsylvania Associators 1776

[11] General Orders to the Army 1776

The American Revolution was a period of restoration, restoring the people’s law principles of their ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons. In an article written in 1818, John Adams wrote:

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. …when they saw those powers…bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen state congresses, etc. …when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.

“Another alteration was common to all. The people of America had been educated in a habitual affection for England as their mother country;…But when they found her a cruel beldam, willing…to ‘dash their brains out,’ it is no wonder if their filial affections ceased and were changed into indignation and horror.

This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

Like the colonial Americans, we must as citizen change our hearts and minds. We must change our sentiments of our duties and obligations. We must become “Citizen Scholars.” Read more…

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Benjamin Franklin gives his usual witty insight about marriage. Modern historical revisionists often accuse Franklin being a lecherous womanizer with multiple illegitimate children. One source of “evidence” they use, and often quote, is a letter Franklin wrote to a friend on how to choose a mistress. What they fail to quote is the beginning of the letter in which Franklin clearly tells his friend that he is an idiot for wanting a mistress and that he should marry instead. After expounding on the virtues of marriage, he then tells his friend that if he insists on taking a mistress he may consider a few items to reduce his folly. Rather than relying on historical revisionism, one only has to go to the words of the Founders themselves to know who they were and what they truly believed. Here is Franklin’s advice to his friend:

“Marriage is the proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man, and therefore the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness. Your reasons against entering into it at present appear to me not well founded. The circumstantial advantages you have in view by postponing it are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; he, her softness, sensibility, and acute discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man has not nearly the value he would have in that state of union. He is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your industry in your profession, with her good economy, will be a fortune sufficient ” -Benjamin Franklin

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