23 February 2024

Abraham Kuyper's Doctrine of the Church: A Timely Adjustment or a Poison Pill?

Eight years ago my friend Ruben Alvarado published a chapter titled "The Kuyper Option: Kuyper's Concept of the Church in the Context of Strategic Christian Action."* Alvarado updated his chapter in 2021 (here). 

Alvarado identifies two innovations in Kuyper's doctrine that warrant scrutiny: his doctrine of common grace and his distinction between the church as an institute from the church as an organism. Alvarado concludes that, whatever were Kuyper's intentions, both innovations led to deprecation of the preeminence of the Church in the Netherlands and thus acceleration of the secularization of that society. Alvarado focuses on the institute vs. organism distinction and I will limit my remarks to it.

Kuyper retained the traditional Protestant distinction between the visible and the invisible Church. Not all persons baptized into the church are in fact ultimately joined to Christ, the head of the Church. Baptized hypocrites and apostates have always existed. Kuyper's additional institute/organism distinction makes a different point: (i) the life of Christians as Christians extends beyond the institutional boundaries of the church-as-institute, (ii) extra-institutional living necessarily assumes associational forms (business entities, labor unions, universities, political parties, social clubs, etc.), and (iii) the expression "church-as-organism" identifies and reifies this latter state of affairs.

As Alvarado observes, few Christians deny propositions (i) or (ii). Alvarado, however, following a later Dutch theologian Klass Schilder, identifies the associational life of Christians simply as service while living in a society and at the same time as a member of the church-as-institute: "The two aspects of institute and organism cannot be separated from each other in the way that Kuyper does. They are correlative and concurrent, two sides of the same coin."

Well. Okay. Of what significance might be such theological hairsplitting?

Alvarado identifies two problems downstream of Kuyper's originality. First is the "freedom" of the church-as-organism from the doctrines and discipline of the church-as-institute. The members of the amorphous church-as-organism can come together across confessional lines to form associations that take positions that are inconsistent with the doctrines of the church-as-institute. For example, a Kuyperian Christian political party formed by persons who identify as members of the church-as-organism will be drawn inexorably to thin its distinctive claims in favor of increasing its numbers to accomplish what all political parties want: political power.

Second is the practical result that the place of the church-as-institute is depreciated in favor of Christian associations cobbled together by the church-as-organism. Big, powerful, and socially influential associations will attract more attention than the traditional and confessionally-circumscribed church-as-institute. But only the latter has the keys to eternal life. Kuyper's innovation may thus have had the unexpected effect of turning traditional two kingdoms theology on its head.

In Kuyper's defense, the increasingly pluralistic religious and political landscape called for some reconfiguration of the increasingly complex forms of social life. The complicated relationship among the national church, more powerful forms of business (and labor) associations, and an increasingly democratically-minded citizenry defied the old forms of resolution. The forces of modernity were dissolving traditional forms of Dutch life

In any event, Alvarado's concerns are well taken if the foregoing is an accurate account of Kuyper's distinction between between church-as-institute and church-as-organism. And it may well be. It certainly strikes me as plausible given what happened with Kuyper's denomination, university, and political party in the subsequent decades of the twentieth century. But I'm not ready to commit.

While writing this short chapter, Alvarado did not have access to the complete corpus of Kuyper's political and theological writing in English. Thanks to the Acton Institute and Lexham Press that corpus (all twelve volumes of it!) are now available in English in both print and digital editions. I suspect that there's a dissertation waiting to be written that examines Alvarado's argument in light of all that Kuyper wrote.

* Bradford Littlejohn, ed., For Law and for Liberty: Essays on the Transatlantic Legacy of Protestant Political Thought (Davenant Press 2016).

08 February 2024

Half a Million and Counting

Sometime this past week the number of pageviews for my blog crossed the half-million mark. "Pageviews" doesn't mean a great deal in the world of SEO's but it's something. And  it's free. A Moving Trueman is my number one post if anyone cares to know.

Today I want to link to the YouTube lecture by Oliver O'Donovan titled "Love, Values, and Rights." (O'Donovan's lecture begins at the 9:00 mark.) As some readers may already know, I count O'Donovan as the greatest living Protestant moral theologian. I have posted about his work more times than I care to count or link. This lecture, the bulk of which is devoted to an account of love, is causing me to rethink what I concluded in "What's Wrong With Rights? Part 4".

In short, drawing on nineteenth-century German jurist Friedrich Stahl, I found in the notion of the fear of God a means by which to resolve the conflicting accounts of the foundation of an orderly social life of O'Donovan and American philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff. O'Donovan argues that a right-order has priority over rights while Wolterstorff contends for the reverse.

But what if, I am now wondering, the higher order principle by which the accounts of these two heavyweights can be harmonized is not in the fear of the Lord but instead is in love? The fear of the Lord certainly entails love of God but does not, standing alone, require love of one's neighbor. Following O'Donovan's lecture it begins to seem that the virtue of love--of God and my neighbor--can bring together without remainder an account of a rightly ordered society together with subjective rights of its individual members.

I hope to follow up as I continue to work out this matter. Until then, keep those pageviews coming!

16 January 2024

"Why Do Protestants Convert?"

Why Do Protestants Convert? is a short (100 pp.) popular-level book published in 2023 and co-authored by Brad Littlejohn of the Davenant Institute and pastor-theologian Chris Castaldo. While nodding to Protestant conversions to Orthodox churches, Why Do Protestants Convert? focuses on conversions to the Roman Catholic Church. And even here, the authors opine that more folks baptized into the communion headed by the Bishop of Rome eventually affiliate with a Protestant church than vice versa. Indeed, this book is not fortified by empirical or qualitative research. Why Do Protestants Convert? is the authors's account of the reasons they believe that, over recent decades, a non-trivial number academic and otherwise intellectually-oriented Protestants have converted to Rome. From my limited vantage point, the reasons Littlejohn and Castaldo describe strike me as entirely plausible.

The core of Why Do Protestants Convert? is its three middle chapters: The Psychology of Conversion, The Theology of Conversion, and The Sociology of Conversion. Each of these chapters in turn is divided into three parallel subchapters followed by a clear summary conclusion. The book's final chapter is "Why Protestant's Should Not Convert."

For example, the first section of the chapter The Sociology of Conversion, "Tired of Division" invokes a concern among many (most? all?) Christians that the current divisions of the Church dishonors Jesus' prayer for the unity of his followers recorded in John 17:20-21. Addressing this legitimate concern, the authors contrast the Protestant understanding of the Spiritual unity of the Church (in terms of reconciliation through the work of Christ, the priesthood  of believers united to Christ, and the marks of preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments) with the "sacerdotal vision of ecclesial unity upheld by Rome." The multifarious forms that the Church now takes "may appear deficient" from the perspective of a church whose clergy claim to exert apostolic authority, "but they are simply the outworking of an ecclesiology that defines catholicity by adherence to the kerygma." In short Protestants emphasize the Spirituality of the Church over against claims of hierarchy and apostolic succession.

The authors acknowledge much of the substance of the second rationale of conversion to Rome ("Tired of Shallowness") but observe that the Evangelical decline into worship characterized by therapy and smoke machines developed long after the Reformation. Still, even if entertainment-as-worship would have left Protestants aghast until the latter half of the twentieth century, it remains a reason for dissatisfaction for many with worship in some Evangelical churches today. Of course, shallowness characterizes contemporary versions of the Mass in most Catholic churches. And many Protestant churches have maintained a serious liturgy of God-directed worship.

A desire to be counted among the "in" crowd also pulls some Protestants toward Rome. No one can deny that Protestants in America have largely failed to build institutions that carry heft in public life. This failure is not endemic to Protestantism. After all, for generations following the Reformation, Protestants founded many great institutions. But this is no longer the case today, which calls for a program of institutional reconstruction. (On a related note, folks interested in an accounting of the failure of American conservatives generally to build sustainable institutions of higher education should read this post by James M. Patterson.)

There's much more of value in this short book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding why many of American Evangelicalism's best and brightest are not staying the course.

01 January 2024

"African Founders"

It took me nearly a year to read David Hackett Fischer's 749-page (plus 131 pages of endnotes) African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals (Simon & Schuster 2022). (I must be getting old because it took me only five months to read Fischer's earlier masterwork, Albion's Seed.) 

While African Founders could have used some tighter editing, it is an excellent work that deserves to be read by anyone interested in a detailed account of who came from Africa, by whom and where they were enslaved, and what and how they ultimately contributed to the culture of America.

Fischer provides a detailed account of the locations, ethnicities, languages, and cultures of the places of origin of those who were enslaved. All Africans were not alike. In this respect African Founders parallels Albion's Seed that recounted in detail the places of origin and folkways of the four British people groups who settled America in its colonial days. But unlike the Britishers who voluntarily settled in America, many Africans were "imported" because of their specific qualities. Thus, the ancestors of the Gullah/Geechee settlements in coastal South Carolina and north Georgia were purchased from the eastern side of Africa because they knew how to grow rice. The Dutch of New Amsterdam sought their slaves from among the "wheeler-dealer" Africans of what today is Zaire and Angola. Some of these people in turn were able to cut deals with their Dutch owners and achieve a unique level of "half-free." This practice continued until the English turned New Netherland into New York.

African Founders doesn't shy away from the brutalities experienced by slaves. Fischer describes them in detail. One account that struck me was the observation that Paul Revere on his famous ride passed under the desiccated remains of a slave who had been hung as an accomplice to murder twenty years earlier and "whose body was ordered to be displayed in an iron cage" as a reminder to all of the heightened retribution wrought on Black criminals, whether slave or free (p. 75). I was also surprised to learn that many Africans were Christians before their enslavement. Portuguese and Spanish missionaries had been at work in Africa since the late 15th century. 

But African Founders is not about the degradations of life as a slave. As Fischer described his work: "this is a history that flowed from the acts and choices of individual people in the midst of others. ... In every American region, Africans both slave and free played a vital role in these processes." (p. 26) And here his work shines as an implicit rebuke to many contemporary social theorists who, in their fixation on the singular dialectic of oppressor/oppressed, ignore realities that can be discovered through careful historical examination. Since this is not a review of African Founders, I won't take the time to describe the hundreds of examples that that Fischer documents and develops. The careful work of Fischer and the multiple empirical research projects on which he draws repeatedly disclose the agency of the enslaved. To be sure, that agency was often suppressed but it was nonetheless real and had and still has tangible and lasting effects on American society. 

The tradition of liberty that the English emigrants described in Albion's Seed brought to the American continent could not help but be caught by the slaves who were imported. For slaves too, America became a land of hope. We see this in Fischer's conclusion drawing from W.E.B. Du Bois extended to the present:
In the United States, W.E.B. Du Bois noted this "double-consciousness" in the thinking of African Americans: "One ever feels his twoness--an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn apart." ... At the same time Du Bois also observed that "few men worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries."

Through the full span of American history, that deep faith in American freedom was strong in the thought and experience of African slaves and their posterity. In the face of tyranny and oppression, the growing strength of that abiding faith in living free has been one of the greatest African contributions to America and the world.

Take up and read.

21 December 2023

75 Years Ago This Month

Although I am late by a few days, it's worth recalling that the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was ratified on December 10, 1948, 75 years ago. Many folks that I know are suspicious of the United Nations if not the contemporary concept of human rights. No matter the rabbit trails that the UN has pursued in the decades subsequent, the UNDHR was and remains one of its best efforts. You can go here to read about the distinctly Christian influences on the UNDHR and here for a fine explanation of the Chrisian foundation--left behind in human rights discourse--of the notion of rights in the Western, Christian tradition.

As the preceeding sentence suggests, however, "human rights talk" has expanded far beyond what can be justified from within the Christian tradition. The number of human "rights" have grown like kudzu and there is risk that the entire ediface will collapse on account of its internal contradictions. I made this argument at some length over ten years ago in Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here or here).

Even so, not everything arising from the explosion of human rights is bad. For the goods of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (here and here), go to my blog posts here and here. In short, the CRPD helped save the life of the unborn child of a young, disabled gal in India. Americans, who enjoy a regime of unbridled rights, are generally dismissive of the realm of international conventions on the subject of human rights. Perhaps viewing life through the lens of those for whom the benefit of legally enforceable rights is a pipe dream would lead to humility and gratitude.

12 December 2023

Public Rights Return to SCOTUS

On November 30, the Supreme Court heard two hours of oral argument in SEC v. Jarkesy. You can read a good summary of the arguments here. In a sentence, the issue is when the right to a trial by jury guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment extends to proceedings brought by an administrative agency that is part of the Executive branch of the federal government. No one can gainsay that the Executive can conduct some proceedings apart from the judiciary. After all, courts martial predate adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

But the issue in Jarkesy is not a matter historicaly recognized as internal to the Excutive power. After all, the President is Commander-in-Chief. In this case, however, the SEC initiated an administrative proceeding against Mr. Jarkesy for violation of federal securities laws, which were enacted by the legislative branch. Can Congress grant by legislative action new and additional jurisdiction to the Executive to conduct adjudication?

Stay tuned. For now you can read two of my blog posts (here and here) from bygone days where I dicussed two SCOTUS decisions, the first decided in 2014 and the second in 2015. These opinions addressed the scope of the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy courts. More important than the particulars of those cases, however, is the brief reference in the second to the so-called "private rights doctrine." This doctrine harkens back to Supreme Court jurisprudence from the mid-nineteenth century and enjoyed a tortuous history.

I won't address the public rights doctrine here except to observe that Justice Thomas's dissent in the case of my second post may provide a roadmap for how several members of the Court will take up this opaque doctrine.


31 October 2023

Moving On Up. Or, Podcasting With Sommer

You can go here to listen to my first podcast interview. Current Campbell Law School student (and a successful student a year ago in my 1L class in Contracts), Sommer Prime hosts Legally Blondish (also available here). Summer asked to talk with me about law and practice in the field of contracts, contract theory, and the Christian faith. I was happy to oblige.

19 October 2023

Subhuman or Inhumane? Leading Contemporary American Approaches to Social Policy

A simple contrast occurred to me while reading this excellent article about the Speenhamland system in anticipation of the upcoming Regional Convivium of the Davenant Institute ("Private Property and Christian Charity"). Full disclosure: I will be presenting "Civil Justice and Social Righteousness: Relief for the Poor and Debtors."

Much of the contemporary debate about what to do about poverty in America falls into one of two broad categories. What passes for the Right in America--and with more or fewer exceptions for the "truly needy"--has coopted Thomas Malthus. Relief for the poor, unless carefully limited to those who cannot work, is a subsidy for laziness and profligate procreation. Supplementing this Malthusian vision with contemporary neo-classical economics reduces most humans to an unreflective mass of irrational, preference-maximizing animals. In a word, a subhuman anthropology.

While simultaneously rattling around this, that, or the other Oppression, the social program of Progressive Left is inhumane. Combining government mandated propaganda masquerading as education with corporate micromanagement of employees and cancel culture, we see an effort to create a brave new world in which, it turns out, the new boss mirrors the old boss. Progressive anthropology cabins the human person into an object of manipulation to be "freed" of the prejudices of the past into a world in which poverty is reduced to lack of material resources to which the solution is transfers of wealth from oppressors to the Oppressed (with a healthy chunk sliding into the pockets of the political-management class along the way).

Although not publicly foregrounded, I suspect that the subhuman anthropology of the Right will continue to frame public discussions of social policy, at least at the unconscious level. Notwithstanding the intellectual domination of the Progressives in the academy, programs of wealth transfers are a hard sell in a democracy where most of whose citizens perceive themselves to be members of the middle class.

26 September 2023

We're Still Dying But So Are Cemeteries

You can read a good piece about the slow financial death of American cemeteries in The Spectator here. (The Spectator lies behind a paywall but you can sign up for access to three article a month without charge.)

US Funerals Online, a “death care industry” resource, reported in March that “this year the cremation rate is predicted to reach close to 60 percent, with a forecast that the national cremation rate will now reach 80 percent by 2035.” In a piece published last year, the Washington Post reported on estimates from the Cremation Association of North America that “20 to 40 percent of cremated remains are interred in a cemetery — placed in the ground or a columbarium, a storage area for urns — while 60 to 80 percent are buried in another location, scattered… or kept at home, on the mantel or stashed in a closet.”

In other words, the financialization and commercialization of life and death in America means that even the graves of our ancestors--who knew there was more to life than money and commerce--will be lost to the ravages of time and entropy. The greater loss is ours, who suppress the certainty of death until is is too late. We live in the here and now only because our ancestors participated in the river of life there and then. May we participate in the rites of respect that have maintained this river for millennia.

For earlier thoughts on this topic you can read my Communion of the SaintsGood Friday and Respect for the Dead, and More on Respect for Death and the Dead.

For more on the additional plight facing old cemeteries for Blacks read this piece in the New York Times.

14 August 2023

Faculty Openings at Campbell Law

Campbell University School of Law seeks outstanding applicants for an entry-level or lateral, full-time, tenured or tenure-track, faculty position.  

Campbell welcomes candidates with a particular interest in filling a curricular need in property and related areas. The position is a nine-month academic appointments that will begin in August 2024, at the rank of Assistant, Associate, or full Professor.

All applicants should have excellent academic credentials and outstanding teaching reviews, and the ability to work effectively and collegially with faculty, students, and colleagues. Salary and rank will be commensurate with experience. Direct questions to Professor Raluca Papadima, Chair of the Faculty Recruitment Committee (rpapadima@campbell.edu).

About Campbell Law:

Campbell Law is located in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, constantly ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States. Campbell Law is a demanding community of faculty and students whose aim, guided by transcendent values, is to develop lawyers who possess moral convictions and professional competence, and who view the practice of law as a calling to serve others and create a more just society. To that end, Campbell Law has adopted the following five distinctives: (1) we offer an academic program that is highly demanding; (2) we bring together the theoretical and practical to produce thoughtful and talented lawyers; (3) we utilize the talents of a faculty that is profoundly committed to students and teaching; (4) we view the practice of law as a calling to serve others; and (5) we offer a Christian perspective on law and justice, consistent with the Campbell University Mission StatementCover letters must explain how the candidate is able and willing to support each of the five distinctives.


  • Strong academic credentials with a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school or equivalent academic degree
  • Commitment to excellence in teaching and demonstrable, or potential for, outstanding scholarship
  • Prior law school teaching experience is desirable, but not required
  • At least two years of practice experience, either through private practice, government, or public service, is required
  • Practice experience in the area(s) relevant to target courses is desirable, but not required

To Apply for This Position:  

Campbell University is unable to accept paper or email applications. Go here to apply.

Please submit 1) a cover letter (including discussion of each of the five Campbell Law distinctives); 2) C.V. (including at least three references); 3) transcripts (undergraduate and graduate); 4) a research agenda; and 5) teaching evaluations, if any.

25 July 2023

"Protestant Social Teaching" 5.0

Following a long hiatus, I'm posting about another chapter in the book recently published by the Davenant Institute, Protestant Social Teaching. Earlier posts in this irregular series started with an introduction here followed with brief comments on four chapters here, here, here, and here.

Quoting from my first post to reset the project that is Protestant Social Teaching:

"We hope to offer a unified body of social teaching not be way of creation but recovery." In other words, this volume is backward-looking (essentially the 16th through the early 19th centuries). While some of the chapters proffer contemporary applications, most of the contributors to Protestant Social Teaching are content to flesh out the insights of the Magisterial Reformers and those of the following couple of hundred years. Yet this is a significant feat. It turns out that the Reformers and their progeny had a great depth and wide breadth of insight into the social conditions of their day, as well as substantive arguments for what should be done.

Chapter 10, "Private Property," contributed by Eric Enlow does not fit neatly into this project of resourcement. None of the Magisterial Reformers or their theological progeny bear a mention in this chapter. This is not to say, however, that their pre-Enlightenment vision of the relationship of man to things in the divine cosmic order is missing from Enlow's account.

Drawing on "Legal Fiction," an early five-stanza meditation by literary critic William Empson, Enlow places the law of property in the realm of an ongoing test of the law's human subjects. Empson (and thus Enlow), begin with the common law's maxim: cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos ("To whomsoever the soil belongs, that also is his to the heights of heaven and the depths of hell.") Coupled with Blackstone's description of property as "that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe," Enlow outlines the temptation: lookiing upwards, does each person who owns land really believe that he jointly own an undivided potion of the expanse of heaven itself? Or, instead, is my property ultimately an infintessimally small but absolutey exclusive interest in that which stands as far from heaven as possible? Restated more simply, does the law of property tempt us to believe that we ourselves are gods? Which, if Milton is right, means we are Satan's. 

To function as law, that is, an exercise of practical wisdom (phronesis), the law of property necessarily creates this temptation. Any law worth its salt must give reasonably clear and predictable answers to the question of what is mine and what is yours. This is the case whether we find ourselves in a regime of liberal or of socialist property law. As befits any polity, both liberalism and socialism place a great premium on property. Whether the locus of ownership is the individual or the state doesn't eliminate the temptation to see ourselves (individually or collectively, as the case may be) as gods, free from the limitations of God.

Neither the Scriptures nor the historic Christian tradition, including Catholics and Protestants through and after the Reformation, understood property and its ownership as sole, despotic dominion. There is only one despotēs who graciously grants humans a usufruct in His property. Property is a good but not the Good.

In Enlow's words,

Depending on one's orientation, the certainty and exclusivity of human ownership [evidenced in law] draws some (most?) owners to a common ownership in the tiniest Hell shared with those who also share this downward focus on the surface of the law; some (a few?) who have an upward sense from the surface to the broader cosmic spectacle, to where their greatest property lies, toward an ever-expanding and personal share of God. The latter do not have so much as receive with a joy that provides occasion for further sharing as God has shared with them (cf. 1 Cor. 7:29-31).

In short, Enlow's is a fine contribution to Protestant Social Teaching.

18 July 2023

"The Revolutionary"

I have finally finished reading another of my Christmas gifts, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (Little, Brown & Co. 2022), a biography of Samuel Adams, Jr. by Stacy Schiff. Except for Schiff's account of the early and later years of her subject, my evaluation of the man became increasingly negative. The sobriquet "revolutionary" aptly characterizes Sam Adams. A financial failure (due, in part, to actions of the British government* but moreso his own temperament), inveterate publisher of lies and intentional mischaracterizations, and backroom political operative par excellence, I am thankful that Adams grew to adulthood before the age of ideology. 

Adams's revolutionary spirit can hardly be attributed to his early classical education at Boston Latin School or his subsequent matriculation at Harvard College. His was an education steeped in the classics and Scripture. However, he also received a strong dose of early liberal thinkers including Locke. As Schiff writes, 

Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding essentially served as a textbook in ethics; Adams seemed to swallow the work whole. [Nonetheless], for the eighteenth-century American the heroes were classical ones; there was a reason why it would be said that Adams made his way to the Whigs and Tories by way of the Greeks and Romans. (28)

Work by Algernon Sidney and Thomas Hobbes also played a role in young Adams's education.

Unlike, say, the Founders profiled in Tom Ricks's First Principles (my comments here), who drew much of their high-level political understanding from Greek and Roman sources, Adams was more contemporary, dare I say social contractarian with libertarian impulses. This is not all there is to say about Adams's worldview, Schiff makes several references to his Christian faith (e.g., 29-30). She does not, however, make much of it so I'm left uncertain about whether the religion of Sam Adams was shallow, irrelevant to Adam's political views, or simply that Schiff left it aside. The third seems possible given Schiff's quote of Jefferson's canard that, "Northerners were sober, industrious, designing, self-interested, and hypocrites in their religion; Southerners fiery, indolent, candid, generous, and free of religious convictions." (279) The second reason strikes me as most likely. Or, if his faith was part of his political frame of reference, it was one that had descended by degrees from the Puritan ideal of a holy commonwealth to a more individualized version. This too is plausible.

Adams functioned at his Machiavellian best during the decade leading up to the Declaration of Independence. Successive royal governors of Massachusetts marveled in anger at how Adams could manipulate events in Boston without leaving a prosecutable fingerprint on any of them. His work to create inter-colony lines of communication and a prototype of a news service proved crucial to the success of a seaboard-wide movement toward independence.

Schiff portrays the high point of Adams's political life at the First and Second Continental Congresses. No longer the first among equals as he had been in Boston, Adams nonetheless remained important as one of many who worked to gradually move the whole toward independence. She notes some successful behind-the-scenes politicking by Adams in Philadelphia but the balance of her account of the final three decades of his life is one of increasing political irrelevance (engineered in large part by John Hancock) followed by modest service as a living prop for the Revolutionary era. Adams, it seems, had gifts suitable for instigating and inspiring a revolution but not for governing a fissiparous and increasingly commercialized populace. Many revolutionaries--like many entrepreneurs--do not make good ongoing leaders of polities. And Adams, like a surprising number of others mentioned by Gordon Wood in his Radicalism of the American Revolution (366-369), had lost faith in what the Revolution had done and, more importantly, failed to do.


* Schiff's account of the failed Land Bank in which Samuel Adams, Sr. was an investor was entirely new to me. Colonial Massachusetts suffered a severe lack of currency. In 1740 Adams, Sr. and many others formed a Land Bank that would issue notes to be used as currency and secured by the land of its investors. Even though the Massachusetts legislature issued a charter with the initial assent of the Royal Governor, at the behest of merchants who traded with London (who surely would not take these notes in payment), Governor Belcher changed his mind and convinced Parliament to force the bank into liquidation. By that time, however, a great many notes were in circulation and thus rendered worthless. In turn, this lead to actions against the investors, foreclosures on their property, and years of continuing litigation. The wealth of Adams, Sr. disappeared overnight putting Sam, Jr. into a state of penury from which he never recovered. Although, to be fair to the Brits at this point, Sam, Jr. never tried very hard to earn a living.