William B. Greene, “The Bible and State Rights” (1851)

William Batchelder Greene’s articles for The Worcester Palladium are an idiosyncratic mix of religious and political concerns, but it would be interesting, for example, to read articles like this alongside Proudhon’s The Celebration of Sunday. Idiosyncratic mixture was, after all, more the rule than the exception among the earliest anarchists.

Wm. B. Greene in “The Worcester Palladium”

For the Palladium.

The Bible and State Rights.

The Hebrew Commonwealth consisted of ten distinct tribes. Each of these tribes constituted a civil community, independent in its legitimate sphere of the other tribes. Each tribe had its separate rulers, legislature, &c. To illustrate this, we adduce the following passages, which we quote from among many others, not only because they are to the point, but also because they are short. “And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.” 2 Sam. 2: 4. So David was anointed, not by the people of the twelve tribes, but by the men of Judah; and he was anointed king, not of all Israel, but of the house of Judah. It is true that this refers to a time of commotion, and that is not until after a protracted war that David became king of all Israel; but the very nature of the commotion, and the character of the war, prove to the candid reader that the tribes were to a certain extent independent of each other. The promised land was entered upon, and conquered, not so much by the whole people in its collective capacity, as by the tribes in their separate capacities. “Now after the death of Joshua, it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, say, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? And the Lord said, JUDAH shall go up: behold I have delivered the land into his hand. And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go up with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.” Judges 1: 1—4. See also to the end of the chapter. If any one tribe was unable to carry out its plans alone, it entered freely into alliance with one or more other tribes: thus Barak, a chieftain of the tribe of Naphtali, called a meeting at Kadesh of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun—“And Barak called Naphtali and Zebulun to Kadesh,” Judges 4: 10—for the purpose of raising troops to carry on the war against Sisera.

In certain matters, each tribe existed for itself, acted for itself, and was truly independent of the other tribes: in certain other matters, the tribes were united under one general government, each tribe acting in subordination to the great whole. And no confusion arose from the co-existence of these two sovereignties, one of the tribe and the other of the collective nation; for the reason that the spheres of these sovereignties were sharply distinguished. The general government did not exercise jurisdiction in the same matters; some things were under the jurisdiction of the tribe governments—and, again, certain other things were under the jurisdiction neither of the general nor of the local governments. People talk of limited monarchies: the Hebrews had a limited government! The powers of government were defined; and certain powers the government whether tribe or national was prohibited from exercising; and that prohibition was the guarantee of the rights of the people as individual men and women—the Hebrew “bill of rights.” Where two sovereignties exercise jurisdiction in the same matter, collision is inevitable; but among the Hebrews, such collision was guarded against by a careful distinction between the sphere of the national government and the spheres of the tribe governments.

The various officers of the Hebrews were dispersed, as a matter of course, over the whole country. Thos of them who dwelt in the same city, or in the same neighborhood, form the legislative assembly of their immediate vicinity—the two government as it were. Deut. 19: 12. 25: 8, 9. Judg. 8: 14. 9: 3—46. 11: 5. 1 Sam. 8: 4. 16: 4. When all who dwelt in any particular tribe, were convened, they formed the legislative assembly of the tribe, and were the representatives of all the people. Judg. 1: 1—11. 11: 5. 20: 12—24.

It must be difficult for a federalist to enter into the spirit of the Hebrew institutions. The Hon. Rufus Choate affirms that our institutions are, as it were, a product of Grecian civilization; and the Whig State address of last year, say that “the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a government of Grecian model:” but we apprehend that democrats think otherwise. Our institutions were planted for us by the Pilgrim Fathers, and not by mere classical scholars: it was the Pilgrim Fathers who put the seeds into the ground which have grown up into a mighty banian tree, where there is one life, a unity in a complex whole, with many trunks and many branches. What were these seeds thus planted by our fathers? They were the principles of the HEBREW COMMONWEALTH. Our government is one of Divine model. In Greece, the individual was annihilated before the state; the natural and inalienably rights of man were not recognized; but in Israel it was not so. A government of Grecian model, is indeed what the federalists strive to cause our commonwealth to become; but a government conformed in its essential principles to the model which was given to Moses by inspiration from Almighty God, is the one most acceptable to democracy.


Omega, “The Bible and State Rights,” The Worcester Palladium 18 no. 20 (May 14, 1851): 3.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.