Was the American Revolution justified?

So I’m reading a book by Christopher Ferrara entitled Liberty: The God That Failed and it got me thinking. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, one finds this:

401. The Church’s social doctrine indicates the criteria for exercising the right to resistance : “Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave and prolonged violation of fundamental rights, 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted, 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders, 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution”.[824] Recourse to arms is seen as an extreme remedy for putting an end to a “manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country”.[825]

From Ferrara’s book and what I know of the Revolution itself, I fail to see how recourse to armed revolt was justified. Certainly the Enlightenment thinking behind the Revolution was fundamentally at odds with Catholic teaching, including St Thomas calling revolt ‘sedition’ and the long standing view that authority was divinely ordained. Indeed, under Julian the Apostate Christians obeyed his rule when it did not conflict with Church teaching, even serving in his army.

This is not even to bring up then Church teaching on the confessional state, which was affirmed until the Second Vatican Council.

So, was it justified?


Interesting thread. I’m not American so I have no horses in this race, but isn’t it a bit too late for this? :stuck_out_tongue::stuck_out_tongue:

Joke aside. Carry on.


#1, #2, #3, and #5 were met very easily. #4 not as much but hope was involved. As someone who has studied this academically extensively, yes it was justified.


Not if my DeLorean has anything to say about it!


As an example of Ferrara’s view:

Let us also dispense at the outset with another golden legend: The Revolution was not, as public school history texts solemnly declare, a justified rebellion against “taxation without representation.” The Tory counter-propagandists demonstrate quite handily that “every Englishman is taxed, and not one in twenty is represented.” Where taxation is concerned, what matters, of course, is whether the tax is just or unjust in amount and application, not whether it is “authorized” by some putative “representative” elected by a bare majority of a plurality of the population…
The very idea that the justice of a tax depends on “representation” is one of those “self-evident” truths and “natural rights” for which neither Locke (who first enunciated the idea) nor the revolutionary leaders could find any support in history or in the tradition of political thought. Rather, as Tench Coxe, a Federalist delegate to the Continental Congress admitted, “self-evident as the truth appears, we find no friend of liberty in ancient Greece or Rome asserting that taxation and representation were inseparable.” Nevertheless," no taxation without representation" was “a novel truth [that] henceforth the people of the earth will consider… the only rock on which they can found the temple of Liberty.”

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Which revolution?

I’m assuming he’s taking 1776-1783



Take, one example. Boston Tea Party. The rioters destroyed over $1 million dollars (in today’s money) worth of property. Was that a just demonstration?

I’ve beem part of debating this topic in the past, several times, doubting any new wisdom is there to be found.


The ideals of the American revolution were by no means, namely the equality if men and right if life, liberty, and the pursuit of hapoiness were by no means in contradiction to Catholicism.

As to the war being justified: very questionable in my mind. The revolt was about taxes, when the tax burden on the colonists was arguably less than that on people in England, and trade policy, the attempt to force trade to go through England.

Ah but the purpose of society in both the Greek and Catholic tradition is reaching a state of virtue and truth and, in the latter, such virtue leads to the Beatific Vision. The pursuit of happiness is a relativistic concept that says if it feels good, do it.

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That would not be my definition of happiness, not do I believe it would be Jefferson’s ( although his and mine would not fully align, they would be closer to each other than either would be to the defining of happiness as mere pleasure).

It’s interesting to note “pursuit of happiness” is a phrase directly taken from John Locke who basically defined it exactly as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

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I was just about to edit my post about Jefferson’s concept of happiness. You are correct about Jeferrsons’s source being Locked. You are incorrect about Locke’s definition of happiness. His is much more based on Aristotle’s concept: That which we desire in itself, not for some other ends.

I think Locke used the term real happiness" as opposed to “imaginary happiness”.

I do not think it was justified. The “revolutionaries” rejected a Christian monarchy in lieu of a republic of popular sovereignty, informed by Protestant, Masonic, and “Enlightenment” thought. I realize the monarch was Anglican, not Roman Catholic, but if there is a case of a monarch losing their divine authority due to being schismatic or heretical (aside from Pope St Pius V absolving English subjects of their obedience to Elizabeth I in the bull Regnans in excelsis), I have yet to learn of it. Monarchy is intrinsically a Catholic institution by its very nature — it most closely resembles the relationship of Christ to His Church, and monarchs are not “leaders”, they are “rulers” — subjects are not led, they are ruled, just as Christ does not lead us, he rules our hearts, minds, souls, and lives.

  1. Possibly, though the 20-30%-plus who remained loyal to the Crown didn’t think so.
  2. Debatable.
  3. Define “worse disorders”.
  4. No way to know before things get started.
  5. Highly questionable. Again, look at the loyalists. Many of them went to Canada, where they transcended grave hardship, loss of their fortunes, a harsher climate, and managed to build a pretty darn good country.

Imagine a British North America, welcoming all people of the world, comprised of everything from Nome to Key West, from Alert to San Diego. That’s what it could have ended up looking like.


I would also refer you to Belloc’s (short) book on the French Revolution. He makes a quite eloquent case that the ideals of the French revolution were in no way contradictory to Catholicism. His arguments would apply to the American revolution.

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Isn’t it ultimately justified because we won? The better question is if it would have been justified if we had lost. That answer would probably be no.

We hadn’t exhausted attempts at reconciliation and we really shouldn’t have had hopes of winning against the British at the height of their power.

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It is correctly termed a war of independence, not a revolution. Since it was an aristocracy run by a landed gentry before and after independence, there was no revolution. What happened is that the rulers became independent.

A revolution would have changed what class ruled the nation.


I don’t think so. It’s not too hard, in history, to find both just causes that have lost and unjust causes that have won. We live in a fallen world, I don’t think the outcome determines the justness.

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The theme of von Gentz’ The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution, Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution.

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