Sunday, August 30, 2020

good morning jack


Why would South Carolina 

make common cause 

with New York?  

Except in war 

and then only as a matter 

of self preservation. 

The first stab at government between the newly independent thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation.  Each state jealously guarded their own independent sovereignty so consequently the new Confederation Congress sat around with little to do.  It was difficult getting a quorum to vote on anything because there wasn't much reason for showing up.

Meanwhile Revolutionary War veterans were near revolt because they had yet to be paid.  And Yankee Doodle wasn't the only one being stiffed by government.  War debts to merchants and creditors were routinely ignored.  Congress could not honor the $150 million run up by the United States to date because they had no authority to raise money.  The power of the purse belonged to states.  

 Then there was a lawless energy about the land regarding most any authority but especially that of the tax collector.  Shays' Rebellion was spirited by the same breed of patriots who threw tea into the harbor.  What was good for George III applied equally well to Boston's aristocratic elites.  The State's puny militia had no effect on the hoard's advance on Boston.  Only a last minute intervention from the Continental Army saved the governor's bacon, sending farmers and back woods distillers fleeing for the hills.  Point noted.


Each state was a nation unto itself with their own laws, currencies and ideas of democracy.  When Virginia's Thomas Jefferson tried to adopt legislation protecting religious freedom it was demagogued to death by "Give me liberty or give me death" orator Patrick Henry.  Indians were often swindled in treaties made by states to the benefit of land developers. Nothing of great consequence was being achieved.  Roads, canals, real infrastructure enabling interstate commerce waited to be built.  We weren't a real nation, yet.

The Founding Father's vision of an American Empire spanning the continent required a truly United States, with one government having overriding authority to pass laws, collect taxes and provide for the common defense.  Trouble was few believed something democratic could rein in a sprawling hodgepodge as were these thirteen states.  Distance corrupts democracy, according to Montesquieu, a philosopher cited by those opposed to having strong, central government ruling the land.  Let your representative stray beyond the reach of people putting him there and you provide fertile opportunity for tyranny - laws made by legislators unanswerable to voters, as they pursue their own grandiose dreams, wasting citizens' money.

James Madison held views considered radical by those having allegiance only to those of their own state.  For him states existed to serve the Federal will and had little authority of their own.  Madison envisioned a legislature with two chambers, both bodies representative of populations - Congress would give no direct representation to the states. The Executive overseeing it all would have power to veto both Federal and State laws.  Here was an unpopular plan in need of a champion.

There would be no convening of America's most illustrious political notables without the attendance of George Washington in Philadelphia during this summer of 1787. Many delegates arrived thinking they came to repair a government - not make a new one as Madison, the convention's promoter, had in mind.  The Republic Madison envisioned, required handing power to a distant authority, reminding some of George III and the tyranny patriots fought so they would be free.  Here was a proposal appearing to oppose the Spirit of 76.  What chance had Madison of succeeding?

Who would suspect shy, soft-spoken James Madison as not only being principle architect of the Constitution but also a shrewd politician capable of engineering the improbable result at Independence Hall. In the age of sailing ship and horse-drawn carriage Madison knew the political landscape of voter thinking. As delegates drifted into Philadelphia Madison had already identified those inclined to his new Federalist approach while knowing also those wanting no new big deals.  Conservatives adamantly opposed to any change did Madison the favor of staying home in boycott. 

There would be no Constitution, and all that followed, were there not a hefty price to pay.  The Federalists - Madison, Washington and Hamilton ultimately gave into the small states' demand for direct representation in the Congress through the Senate. Thus Wyoming and California each has two senators while Wyoming has one congressman in the House with California's voters represented by around fifty.  Both the Electoral College and Senate representation recognize a legal authority outside the popular vote.

Then there is Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution itself.

"The Migration or Importation of such Persons [slaves

as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, 

shall not be prohibited by the Congress 

prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, 

but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importations, 

not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."

How important was Union?  Important enough to ignore slavery for at least the next twenty years.  The alternative would be to  risk these United States dissolving into warring regions as has happened time and again in Europe.  The promise of a great nation foreseen by Washington among others - lost. Preserve the Union.  Lincoln oversees Civil War to keep this vision alive. All the while he is building the Transcontinental Railroad in order to link a future nation, spanning the continent.

Faith in a belief. 

Enough to bear any burden.



©  Tom Taylor


Sunday, August 23, 2020

good morning jessicca


We have here a contract 

giving the power of rule

 to those who are governed

 We are all equals in nature before there is government - free from legal constraints to pursue our desires and, when needed, to act against others to further our own preservation.  There is no property you call your own, no justice beyond eye for an eye. Life is a series of on-going wars with others so long as you exist.  Your biography will be "nasty, brutish, and short" according to Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan.  For these reasons we combine into communities and give up personal freedoms in exchange for the stability provided by a central authority.  Our supreme ruler has unlimited power to insure there is peace about the realm.  Easing the iron-grip of His Grace's authority will only lead to civil unrest and anarchy, chaos.

 Tyranny is not limited to monarchy.  Any democratic majority can target an unpopular faction of the population with discrimination or violent action.  The capacity for mayhem resides in all human nature.  The question before this convention may have best been expressed at the time by a New England clergyman, Jeremy Belknap:

"Let it stand as a principle that government originates from the people; but let the people be taught ... that they are not able to govern themselves."



Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.  The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.  He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it.

 James Madison - The Federalist.  No. 10



Convention delegate James Wilson of Pennsylvania believed the principles to which he was attached were those of extending liberty to a people and not just a nation.  The architects of this new government were its elite, successful and wealthy, viewing themselves society's natural aristocracy.  The toiling populace about them were often viewed as rude, unruly and potentially dangerous.  Yet it was to these people where the legitimacy of rule was to be placed ...if cause for fighting the American Revolution was to be honored.



"The mob begin to think and reason.  Poor reptiles! ... They bask in the sun, and ere noon they will bite, depend upon it."  Gouverneur Morris voiced a sentiment shared by many giving their name to a document guaranteeing the handing over of power to those they held with low regard.  This leap of faith made by signers of the Constitution was do in large part to the leadership of George Washington, the man bringing independence to the colonies and now presiding over the birth of a nation, one testing the proposition "whether any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure" as Abraham Lincoln famously said one summer day in Gettysburg.




©  Tom Taylor


Sunday, August 16, 2020

good morning jeremy


Ordinary citizens are governing themselves in towns across the landscape of eighteenth century colonial America.  This is the most politically creative time in this country's history with writing of the Declaration of Independence and the development in 1787 of the enduring U.S. Constitution.  Government sovereignty is placed in the collective 'We the people.'  

 Yet political inspiration wasn't enough to remedy the practice of slavery; legally providing for owning people as property - buying, selling and farming them as you please.  Even founding fathers of this time realized noble sentiments like Jefferson's "all men are created equal" are turned into farce as a result of this failure.


"Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the union would be worse" - James Madison


Your monarch is your master because he represents God's authority on Earth.  Your life is at the pleasure of his bidding.  He may chose favoring you with his patronage or, possibly, bring his army down upon your land to sow fear.

As a citizen you are among equals.  Deference is not paid to those with inherited titles.  Respect is earned by your actions.   There is a sense of responsibility toward the public good.

Along with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, James Madison was an avid proponent of a strong central government.  Until the Constitution of 1887 was ratified by nine states the thirteen former colonies had operated as thirteen separate republics bound by a loose treaty under the Articles of Confederation.  States each having their own currency and legal system would now be united as one sovereign nation, indivisible.  The resulting growth to interstate commerce was seen as an enormous benefit.

George Washington was the only man considered among electors choosing the nation's first president.  He alone had the stature to guarantee unified leadership.  This was an infant country, a new democracy amidst a world of rapacious monarchies.  In Washington's view this was no time for political parties and the divisions they promote.  The natural order of a democratic society is the airing of competing ideas with arguments then settled peaceably  by counting votes at the ballot box.  This dynamic was quickly apparent once Washington left the presidency for Mount Vernon following his two terms.

Thomas Jefferson the enlightened author of the Declaration of Independence seemed comfortable as a slave holder till the end of his days.  John Adams was irritated by the extent his contemporaries had already been mythologized by the population.  Yet the world took note of this young nation's accomplishments - defeating the army of the world's greatest colonial power, then establishing a democracy on a scale never imagined, one that rules within the constraints of a single document.  It was all extraordinarily ambitious, wildly successful and also tragic.  There was to be no democratically arrived at peaceful ending of slavery.  The nation would suffer a cataclysmic war to end the dispute fourscore and five years following its founding. 



©  Tom Taylor


George III Coat of Arms by Sodacan