Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Election of 1844

October 5, 2015

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.


Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.

CAIR Demands Ben Carson Withdrawal

September 28, 2015

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Dr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race because of his remarks on whether he would support a Muslim for president. Here is the article I read from CNS news.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) plans to call Monday for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to withdraw from the 2016 campaign after the retired neurosurgeon said Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would “absolutely not” advocate having a Muslim in the White House.

“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

“We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”

I can understand if Nihad Awad is more familiar with the details of Sharia law than the US constitution, but the provision barring any religious test does not apply to the voters. They can vote for, or against, a candidate for any office for any reason at all, including not liking the candidate’s religious beliefs. The constitution forbids the federal or state governments from imposing a religious test or qualification to bar candidates from running. For example, in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960 the Catholics Al Smith and John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency. Many non-Catholic voters did not believe that a Catholic should serve as president and voted for their opponents. That was their decision to make. There was no religious test or qualification to bar either man from running.

Anyway, here is a transcript of some of Dr. Carson’s remarks. See if they are really so controversial, at least among sensible people not blinded by the fear of that bogeyman Islamophobia.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Carson was asked his views on the faith of an American president.

“Should a president’s faith matter – should your faith matter to voters?” asked host Chuck Todd.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution – no problem.”

“So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Todd asked.

“No, I don’t. I do not,” said Carson, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I am not sure that I would completely agree with Dr. Carson in saying that I would not under any circumstances vote for or support a Muslim candidate for office. Much would depend on the candidate. I am fairly certain, however, that I would not support any candidate of any faith which CAIR would support, given their links to the terrorist organization Hamas and the Islamic supremacist  views held by their founder.

Of course, a great many people in the United States expressed similar concerns about the first two Catholic candidates for president. For much of the history of the United States, it was taken for granted, by the Protestant majority, that Roman Catholicism was not compatible with American political values. Such concerns were enough to defeat Al Smith in 1928, among other factors. Kennedy, in 1960, felt a need to address a gathering of Protestant clergymen in Texas to assure them that as president he would put the constitution before his Catholic faith.

This wariness on the part of many Americans, although a product of anti-Catholic prejudice, was not entirely unjustified. Until Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church had not been a consistent supporter of the liberal, democratic values this nation was founded upon. (By “liberal” I mean, of course, the political ideology emphasizes human rights, democratic rule, and free market economic, the ideology of the founding fathers and the nineteenth century British Whigs, rather than the ideals of the socialist progressives who hijacked the term in the early twentieth century. Ironically, it is the conservatives in America that uphold classically liberal values, while the liberals in America cling to primitive collectivism) The Papacy had also been suspicious of every political idea that had been developed in the wake of the American and French revolutions, denouncing such ideas as democracy, government by the consent of the governed, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, as errors and part of the heresy of modernism. As late as 1864, Pope Pius IX had denounced all such modern, secular ideologies in his Syllabus of Errors, to the considerable embarrassment of American Catholics, who had been at pains to show that being a good Catholic was compatible with being a good American. It wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church became reconciled with liberalism.

Of course, the truth was that while American Catholics looked to Rome for spiritual leadership, few, if any, American Catholics took advice on how to vote from the pope. There was no movement among American Catholics to replace the constitution with a theocracy ruled by the Pope. Then too, the Roman Catholic Church was itself a major part of the Judeo-Christian heritage on which Western civilization was based, and this heritage included the concept of the human dignity of even the lowest person in society who had rights granted by his creator. If the Catholic Church was slow to accept the development of liberal ideas, Catholic philosophers had at least laid the basis for them. Even the concept of separation of church and state is implied in Christianity with Jesus saying such things as, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and was enunciated in Pope Gelasius I’s Duo Sunt which held that princes and bishops each had their own separate spheres.

Perhaps the Muslims are in a similar position as Catholics before the election of Kennedy. Islam may seem incompatible with American political values, but that does not mean that individual Muslims may not be good Muslims and good Americans, just as many American Catholics were both good Americans and good Catholics. I am skeptical, though. Islam is not part of the heritage of our Western civilization and considering the utter failure of liberal democracy taking root in the Islamic world and the abysmal human rights records of most majority Muslim countries, one could make a very good argument that Islamic political values are opposed to and hostile to Western values. In Islam a person is a slave of God, not a son to be redeemed by sacrifice. Sons have rights, slaves do not. It is not surprising, then, that individual human rights have never been very prominent in Islamic political theory. Mohammed was a prince as well as prophet, so there is no concept of separation of mosque and state. It seems to me that while one can be either a good American or a good Muslim, it must be very difficult to be both a good American and a good Muslim. And, unlike the situation with the American Catholics, there are Islamic organizations, like CAIR, that would like to replace the constitution with Sharia law, and a disturbing number of American Muslims who support that idea.

I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to vote for a Muslim candidate on the basis of his faith, but I think that Dr. Carson is closer to the truth of the matter than CAIR, or the foolish would-be dhimmis who denounce honest discussion as Islamophobia.


Good Germans

September 17, 2015

Everyone who opposes what Kim Davis is doing, and most of those who think gay marriage is a spectacularly bad idea seem to agree that public officials should enforce the law no matter what personal reservations they may have. I wonder if such people have really thought the matter all the way through. Do they really believe that orders must be followed no matter what? Have we become a nation of Good Germans who blindly obey our superiors, even when they are morally questionable.

Actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu) is a gay activist who has insisted that Kim Davis should follow the law regardless of her beliefs. When Mr. Takei was a child, he was one of many Japanese-Americans who were taken from their homes and sent to internment camps during World War II. This policy was completely legal at the time and even upheld by the Supreme Court. Does Mr. Takei really believe that lawful orders must be upheld or that the Supreme Court is the final word on ethics and morals? What would have happened if public officials, elected or appointed had put their consciences above the law and refused to take part in what was obviously a terrible injustice? Most likely such an official would become very unpopular and a target of mobs, like Kim Davis. Probably anyone who tried to interfere with the internment of the Japanese-Americans would end up in jail, like Kim Davis.

(As it happens, one of the public officials who did object to the internment of Japanese-Americans was none other than liberal bete noir J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover objected to the policy in a memo he sent to Attorney General Francis Biddle, stating that there was no evidence of large-scale disloyalty in the Japanese-American community and the FBI was fully capable of handling any Japanese espionage or subversion that might occur. Hoover was never known to be a civil libertarian but perhaps he suspected that such an obviously unconstitutional policy would reflect badly on any supporters after the war hysteria died down. He may also have been concerned about the effects of a mass evacuation on the FBI counter espionage efforts.)

I am not suggesting that Kim Davis is any sort of hero on the scale of a Rosa Parks or even that she is doing the right thing. She is not standing up to Nazis or rescuing people from a disaster. I would like to point out that the argument used that she should simply obey the law and do her job is not really a very good one. There have been a great many evils perpetrated throughout history by people who have been simply following orders. The Supreme Court that has upheld slavery in the Dred Scott decision and segregation in Plessy vs. Ferguson, not to mention the murder of the innocent in Roe Vs Wade may not be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong.

We have a federal system here in the United States with the government divided into three levels; federal, state and local. Any local ordinance that conflicts with state law is not valid and must be abrogated. In like fashion, a state law which conflicts with federal laws must give way to the federal law. The federal law itself is based on the Constitution and any law on any level of government that is not in accord with the constitution is invalid. In like fashion, there is a Natural or Divine Law which is above and which supersedes any merely human law. All man-made laws enacted by any legislature must be in accord with the Natural Law and the principles of justice or they are not valid. This concept of the natural law has existed at least since the time of the Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was adopted and elaborated by the Stoics and the Romans, particularly by the Roman orator and philosopher Cicero. The idea of the natural law was further developed by Christian and Islamic theologians and played an important role in the thinking during the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, and in our own War of Independence. The idea of the natural law is not too popular among political philosophers these days, at least not among the more progressive ones, since it implies that there is a standard of justice above the decrees of the state, that human rights are granted by nature or nature’s God and not as gifts from the state, and that the state has no right to reorganize or fundamentally transform human society from the ground up according to the Utopian notions of an elite of philosopher kings. This is a hateful doctrine indeed to those who worship the state.

Part of this natural law, grounded in human physiology, is that marriage is the union of a male and a female for the purpose of creating a family. Because two people of the same sex cannot fulfill the basic purpose of marriage, they cannot, however much they love one another, be married to each other. If the Supreme Court, or any other court or legislature decrees that two people of the same sex can marry each other, this decree is in violation of the natural law and of biological reality and cannot be said to be valid. Nor is restricting marriage to a man and a woman discriminating against the homosexual. The homosexual has precisely the same right as anyone else in this regard. He or she can marry any person of the opposite sex he or she desires. What they cannot do, or ought not to be able to do, is demand fundamental changes in the nature of one of the most basic institutions of human society.

Put this way then, Kim Davis is the one following the law. It is her opponents who are breaking the law. They threaten her with jail and cover her abuse, but they cannot appeal to justice or nature, only the might of the state to try to coerce us all into complying with their will.

Kim Davis

September 14, 2015

I am still not too sure what to think of the whole Kim Davis affair down in Kentucky. If she were the owner and proprietor of her own business, it would be a simple matter, at least for me. I would say that she ought not to be required to take part in any occasion or transaction that contradicts her religious conscience. The difficulty is that she is not acting on her own, but as a county clerk she is acting as a representative of the state of Kentucky and it is not clear that she has the authority either legal or moral to put her own religious beliefs ahead of the laws of the state she is representing. It seems that she is in the position of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matt 8:5-9)

Surely, Kim Davis is a woman under authority who is obliged to come and do when she is ordered.

Yet, I find it very odd to see so many progressives insisting that no one is above the law and the law must be obeyed whatever personal reservations one may have about it. They didn’t express such sentiments when the mayor of San Francisco was illegally issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. They had no such reservations when then California Attorney General and later Governor Jerry Brown decided to refuse to enforce Proposition 8, despite the fact that as an elected official it was his duty to enforce the laws, even ones he disliked, just like Kim Davis. The progressives have never had a problem with encouraging young men to dodge the draft during times of war, encouraging soldiers to desert, giving aid and comfort to their country’s enemies, celebrating domestic terrorists and murderers, and generally doing everything they can to upset the rule of law. Now, suddenly, they are for law and order.

It seems there is a pattern here. When they are out of power, the progressives preach that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When they are in power it changes to dissent is racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist, bigoted. Any trace of dissent, however minor and ineffectual must be crushed. Why should the rest of us play a game that is rigged to be heads, I win, tails you lose? If following the law is optional for the progressives, why not for conservatives?

Another factor that leads me to want to support Kim Davis, almost against my better judgment, is the sheer magnitude of the hatred that is being directed at this woman. People who know nothing about her have been calling her every nasty name imaginable on every internet forum around. They have mocked her religious beliefs and her personal appearance in ways that would provoke shame in any decent person. Why? What has she actually done to deserve such treatment? One would think from all the abuse that she is some sort of mass murderer who drowns puppies and kittens in her spare time. The people in the Middle East who actually stone gay people do not get the kind of hazing she has gotten for merely inconveniencing some gays. What I find remarkable about this abuse is that none of her opponents seems to be the least bit willing to concede that she is simply trying to do what she believes is right in God’s eyes. In their minds, someone like her can only be motivated by hatred and bigotry. Only the enlightened and progressive ones among us seem to have any real consciences. The rest of us are hateful troglodytes. I cannot help but consider that anyone who attracts such hatred from the enlightened and tolerant supporters of diversity must be on the side of the angels.

I am still not certain if I can really support what Kim Davis has been doing. It is not a simple matter. She has been stirring people up and presenting opportunities for the left to once again show their hypocrisy. I think I feel the same way about her antics as I do Donald Trump‘s. Both may end up doing damage to causes I believe in, but they are both doing a needed service by providing turbulence to shake up people and institutions that badly need shaking up.

The President’s Grandson

September 4, 2015

President Warren G. Harding was one of the most popular Presidents of the United States at the time of his death in office in 1923. Since his death, Harding’s reputation has declined precipitously to the point that he is now regarded as one of the worst presidents in American history. There are a couple of good reasons for this. The Teapot Dome scandal, which was only uncovered after Harding’s death has tainted his reputation, even though he was never implicated and was only made aware of the magnitude of the illegal dealings just before his death. It does reflect badly on Harding’s judgement of character that several of his appointees, including his Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, and Director of the Veterans’ Bureau, Charles Forbes, were sent to prison for crimes committed while in office. His Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, only narrowly escaped a prison term.

Warren G Harding

Warren G Harding

Throughout Harding’s presidency there were rumors of his affairs. The most persistent of these rumors  involved a woman named Nan Britton who claimed to have an affair with Harding throughout his presidency in her 1928 book, The President’s Daughter.

Nan Britton and Elizabeth

Nan Britton and Elizabeth Ann

Britton identified Harding as the father of her daughter Elizabeth Ann, and claimed that he had promised to support their daughter, but Harding’s wife, Florence, had reneged on the promise after his death. Nan Britton had no real proof of her claims and was generally dismissed as a liar or delusional. Now, however, as I read in this story I found in the Oregonian,  DNA evidence confirms Nan Britton’s grandson, Jim Bleasing, is indeed the grandson of President Warren G. Harding. There is a good story about this in the Oregonian.

Jim Blaesing has known since he was a boy that he was the grandson of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States.

The Southeast Portland man was very close to his grandmother, who openly shared stories of her love for the man who took office in 1921. And it’s always bothered him that so many people had dismissed her as “delusional” or labeled her as money-hungry, a fame seeker.

Nan Britton was disbelieved not only by members of Harding’s family, who proclaimed the story of the 6½ -year love affair a lie, but the history buffs who vigorously tried to discredit her over the decades.

“It just kept yanking at me and bugging me,” said Blaesing, a 65-year-old construction contractor.

So he finally decided to do something: Get his DNA tested.

All of those doubters were silenced last week with news — first reported on the front page of The New York Times — that Blaesing is indeed the grandson of the late president. confirmed his relationship to Harding with a more than 99 percent certainty, by comparing Blaesing’s DNA with that of Harding’s grandnephew and grandniece.

There is a lot more there about Harding and his relationship with Nan Britton, but I am more interested in President Harding’s historical reputation. I am not sure he really deserves such a low ranking. If the Teapot Dome and other scandals count against President Harding, there are several solid accomplishments that in fairness ought to be held in his favor. If all too many of Harding’s appointees turned out to be corrupt or incompetent, some of the men he appointed to his cabinet have been among the best men who have ever served a president. These included Harding’s
Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, and his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. (Hoover’s lackluster tenure as president has tended to overshadow his very real accomplishments. In fact, Hoover was successful in every post he held except the presidency.)

In foreign policy, the Harding administration formally ended US involvement in World War I, a move necessary because the Senate had not ratified the Versailles treaty which ended the war. The State Department under Hughes began the negotiations that led to the agreement in 1924 to ease the burden of the war debts that the allies owed to the United States as well as the reparations applied to Germany. Hughes also participated in the disarmament talks which led to the agreement between the United States, Great Britain and Japan to limit the sizes of their navies. This did not turn out so well in hindsight, but no one knew that at the time, and Harding was eager to reduce the expenses that maintaining a large military entailed. Harding also curtailed US interventionism in Latin America, ending Wilson’s practice of invading Latin American nations on the slightest of pretexts.

In domestic policy, Harding inherited a nasty depression. Andrew Mellon proposed fighting the downturn with tax cuts. This policy seems to have worked well enough since the depression only lasted a year and there was an economic boom which lasted until 1929 and the Great Depression. It might seem that Harding’s record on the economy was rather better than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. Like everyone else at the time, Harding believed that Blacks were inferior to Whites, yet he believed that they should be given a fair chance and equal rights under the law. Harding supported federal anti-lynching legislation, but was never able to get it passed because of opposition from the Democrats. Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs and other people who Wilson had put in prison for opposing US participation in World War I. Despite the scandals, Harding did have a solid record of accomplishments in his short tenure in the White House, so why the bad press?

I think that part of the reason that Harding has become unpopular, at least among progressive historians, is that he campaigned on, and largely governed on, the theme that it was time for America to return to normalcy. He did not call for the sort of fundamental transformation of the nation and the world that Progressive Era presidents as Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson had. Compared to those two, more activist presidents, the Harding administration must have seemed dull and contemptible to the sort of people who desired a continuation of the reforms of the Progressive Era.

There may also have been some snobbishness involved. Harding was not an intellectual as Wilson or a member of a prominent family like the Roosevelts. He came from Marion Ohio, a small midwestern town. He did not attend Harvard or Princeton but Ohio Central College. He worked his way up from humble origins as the owner and publisher of the Marion Star, a failing newspaper that he managed to turn around to become successful. Despite his success in business and later in politics, Harding preferred the small town life. Harding himself was not known to be corrupt but he was something of a “good old boy”, the sort of back slapping local businessman or politician who is friends with everybody and a member of the all the clubs and is always ready for convivial poker games. In other words he was Babbitt, the sort of comfortable, ordinary member of the middle class or bourgeois that the more progressive intellectuals have always disdained. This dislike for the unintellectual Harding may have helped not a little to color the opinion of historians against Harding, condemning him for faults they might have forgiven in a president they felt more affection for.

I wouldn’t make the argument that Warren G. Harding was a great, or even a particularly good, president. He was not really up to the job and he showed a terrible lack of judgement in some of his appointments. Still, he did less damage to the country than some presidents better regarded than he. We could do worse.

Defending the Indefensible

July 27, 2015

You wouldn’t think that anyone would be able to defend a practice as grotesque as dismembering babies and selling the parts to cover costs, at least not outside of a Nazi concentration camp or a Planned Parenthood Clinic, although to be fair, I don’t think that even the Nazis went that far. Still, there are some willing to defend what most people would regard as utterly indefensible for political reasons, particularly a certain political party and their supporters at

Dear MoveOn member,

Breaking news: Reuters reports that Senator Rand Paul is trying to force a vote to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has started a “fast-track process” to bring Paul’s legislation to the floor for a vote soon.1

This is just the latest attack against Planned Parenthood since a heavily edited, blatantly misleading video was released attacking Planned Parenthood two weeks ago.2

“The folks behind it are part of the most militant anti-abortion movement,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards today. “This entire effort is a political smear campaign.”3

We’re launching an emergency effort to defend Planned Parenthood, and we have to get going immediately. Will you make a contribution now to help us defend Planned Parenthood?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help defend Planned Parenthood and stop the attacks on abortion rights.

Within days of the video’s release, Republicans in Congress started scheduling votes to defund Planned Parenthood—and preparing even broader attacks on abortion rights.4

Then, another deceiving, doctored video was released, continuing the smear campaign against the largest reproductive health care provider in America.5

And now—today—Sen. Paul announced he’s trying to force a vote to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.6

It’s clear we’re facing a highly coordinated attack on reproductive rights. To fight back, we’re recruiting local voices all over the country to speak out in defense of Planned Parenthood—including doctors, women and men who have visited Planned Parenthood clinics, and others.

Planned Parenthood urgently needs people to stand with them now. Will you show your support?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help defend Planned Parenthood and stop the attacks on abortion rights.

The mainstream news media has done a miserable job fact-checking this story, so let’s set the record straight: The claim that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue is a disgusting lie.

Here’s the truth: When a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy and donate tissue for medical research, Planned Parenthood honors those wishes. These donations are hugely valuable for research into diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.7

This is 100-percent legal, consistent with medical ethics, and no different than what happens in thousands of other medical situations every day.

Here’s something else you might not have heard in the media: The anti-choice activists behind the video probably broke the law with their secret recording.8 And one of their leaders runs an organization whose members have bombed abortion clinics and assassinated an abortion provider.9

We don’t have much time to fight back—Republicans in Congress are pushing to schedule votes to defund Planned Parenthood as soon as possible.

With your help, we’ll flood Capitol Hill with phone calls and mobilize grassroots voices all over the country to defend Planned Parenthood. Will you chip in $3?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help defend Planned Parenthood and stop the attacks on abortion rights.

Thanks for all you do.

–Victoria, Maria, Matt, Nick, and the rest of the team

P.S. Planned Parenthood is under attack because of its strong advocacy for reproductive rights and abortion services. But the organization is also a health care provider more generally. Over 2.7 million people turn to Planned Parenthood’s nonprofit clinics in the U.S. each year for affordable health care services—including cancer-prevention tests, well-woman visits, and access to birth control.10

This is it. If Sen. Paul’s bill passes and gets sent to President Obama’s desk—or the vote is even close—it’ll lead to even more vicious attacks on Planned Parenthood over the coming months and years. Will you chip in $3 and stand with Planned Parenthood right now in the face of this outrageous smear campaign?


I have not seen the videos myself and do not really wish to. It is quite possible that certain statements made in the videos were edited and taken out of context. I have to say however that I cannot imagine a sentence like;

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”

could ever be said in any context that is not horrific.

Notice that Planned Parenthood’s defenders cannot really bring themselves to state frankly what it is that they are defending. They do not say that dismembering fetuses that are recognizably human is a practice worth defending. Instead they refer to tissues being donated and pregnancies being terminated. It is not the killing of unborn babies but reproductive health. If abortion truly is simply a medical procedure with no real moral issues involved, why can they not talk about it without using euphemisms and circumlocutions.

They cannot defend what is going on, so they bring up side issues in an attempt to divert attention away from the grotesque reality. They note that Planned Parenthood is not profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The money they collect is only to cover the costs of collecting and delivering the tissue. Well, so what? The Nazis didn’t profit from Auschwitz. The Holocaust was an enormous diversion of resources and the German government didn’t even begin to make any sort of profit from it. Does that make the Holocaust any less of an atrocity? Even if Planned Parenthood were not making a single penny off of their practice of using fetal tissue, it wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

It may be that these donations are valuable for medical research. So were many of the experiments performed by doctors in the concentration camps. If dismembering human beings to acquire tissue for medical research is not a violation of the law, that says something about the morality of our laws and how well they accord with the divine law which is the source of man made laws. This practice may be legal. So was slavery. Being legal doesn’t make it right. If it is illegal to expose such heinous practices, than the laws which would conceal them from the public are bad laws and should be abolished. I cannot imagine how these practices could possibly be consistent with current ideas about medical ethics unless such ethics are the ones enunciated by the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele.

Why does Planned Parenthood get any federal funding at all, considering that a large number of tax-payers opposed to what they do? I know that no tax money goes directly into providing abortions, but any tax money received allows them to spend more money on abortion that would otherwise go into other programs. Why should the millions of Americans who oppose abortion have to pay for a practice they consider abhorrent, even indirectly? Planned Parenthood ought to be completely defunded as soon as possible. It ought never to have gotten any federal fund at all.

P.S. Planned Parenthood is not under attack because of its advocacy of reproductive rights. It is under attack because it is an evil organization dedicated to the destruction of human life. It’s founder, Margaret Sanger, started Planned Parenthood in order to decrease the number of people she, and others like her, considered unfit and inferior, especially those dark colored people. Planned Parenthood is the only organization I know of that makes the Nazis look good in comparison.


The Cadaver Synod

July 16, 2015

In the old days, popes were a lot more fun than they generally are nowadays. Twentieth and twenty-first century popes generally make nice speeches about helping the poor, ending war, and occasionally clarifying some bit of Catholic theology, not at all like the times when popes led armies into battle, appointed their relatives to all the top positions in the Church or had sex scandals with scores of mistresses and illegitimate children. The Papacy has become more tame and while that must be of considerable relief to the millions of Catholics who revere the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, it is a little disappointing to those who relish the scandalous or even the bizarre. Perhaps the strangest episode in the history of the Papacy has to be the notorious Cadaver Synod, the posthumous trial of Pope Formosus, in the year 897.


The term Dark Age is generally very inaccurate when applied to the entire Medieval Period from 500-1500, but the late ninth and tenth century was indeed a very dark time for Europe, perhaps the darkest period except for the aftermath of the destruction of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Empire built by Charlemagne which included much of Western Europe was breaking up, divided between his grandchildren and great-grandchildren wh. fought among themselves incessantly. The all too brief cultural renaissance sponsored by the great king and emperor could not be maintained in a disintegrating empire and the progress made during Charlemagne’s reign was in danger of being reversed. The Carolingian dynasty had devolved from Charles the Great (Charlemagne) to Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, and finally Charles the Simple. As if internal struggles did not create enough misery for the Europeans, invaders from every direction, the Vikings from the North, Muslims from the South and Magyars from the East, raided across Europe plundering and destroying at will.


The Papacy fared no better in this tumultuous time. The popes of this period were little more than the creatures of the nobility of the city of Rome, the Papal tiara being passed back and forth among the various Roman families. Most of the popes of this era were ineffectual, short reigned, decadent and corrupt, far worse than the notorious Renaissance popes who at least had political skill and patronage of the arts and sciences to recommend them. Not for nothing was this period called the “night of the Papacy”.

This was the background in which Formosus became pope. He was born in Ostia perhaps around the year 816. In 864, Formosus was made Cardinal Bishop of Porto, a suburb of Rome, and he was trusted with diplomatic missions to Bulgaria in 866 and the Franks in 869 and 872. He carried out missionary work among the Bulgarians and impressed them enough that they request Pope Nicholas I appoint him archbishop. Pope Nicholas refused since transferring a bishop from one see to another was a violation of canon law. Upon the death of Pope Adrian II, Formosus was a candidate for the Papacy, but John VIII was selected instead. Formosus seems to have had some sort of disagreement with John VIII, since he left his post as Cardinal Bishop and the city of Rome. Pope John order his return to Rome on pain of excommunication of various charges including opposition to the Holy Roman Empire, conspiring to seek the archbishopric of Bulgaria and the Papacy, and abandoning his post as Cardinal Bishop. His excommunication was withdrawn in 878 but he was forbidden to enter Rome or exercise his priestly functions. John’s successor, Marinus I was more favorably disposed towards Formosus and he restored him to his post at Porto in 883.


Pope Formosus, while he was still alive.

Pope Formosus, while he was still alive.

Marinus I and his two successors, Hadrian III and Stephen V had short reigns as Pope and by 891 the Papal throne was vacant once more. This time Formosus was elected Pope with no opposition. He would reign from 891 until his death in 896. As pope, Formosus was more involved with political issues, both secular and ecclesiastical, than pastoral matters. He was asked to rule on the status of Eastern Bishops ordained by an ousted Patriarch of Constantinople, and tried to settle a dispute over the crown of West Francia, or France. Formosus did not get along with the Holy Roman Emperor Guy of Spoleto and had to endure an invasion of Italy in 894. As if that wasn’t enough, Formosus had to contend with raiding Saracens ravaging the coasts of Italy.

Pope Formosus died in 896 after a short reign of a little less than five years. He wasn’t one of the more notable popes and it is likely that he would be altogether forgotten if it were not for his macabre posthumous career. Formosus was succeeded by Boniface VI who died after only fifteen days as pope and then Stephen VI who convened the Cadaver Synod. In January 897, Stephen VI had Formosus’s corpse disinterred, dressed in his papal vestments, propped up on a throne and put on trial . The charges were  transmigration of sees, from the Bulgarian affair, perjury, and serving as a bishop while a layman. Since Formosus could hardly be expected to answer these charges verbally, a deacon was appointed to answer for him. According to some accounts, when questions were put to Formosus, this deacon moved his head to indicate yes or no. Naturally, the court found Formosus guilty on all courts. Pope Stephen VI had Formosus stripped of his papal vestments and the three fingers of his right hand that were used for blessings cut off. He then invalidated all Formosus’s ordinations (except for his own ordination as Bishop of Anagni) and annulled all his acts and measures and had the corpse thrown into the Tiber.

You might think this would be the end of this bizarre affair, but Pope Formosus got revenge, of a sort. The strange trial of a cadaver turned public opinion against Stephen VI. Formosus’s body washed up on the banks of the Tiber and rumors began to spread that his body was performing miracles. A mob deposed and imprisoned Stephen VI and by August 897 he found strangled in his cell. Formosus was buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica. In December 897, Pope Theodore II nullified the findings of the Cadaver Synod and future posthumous trials were prohibited.

It is easy to smile at the antics of these Dark Age barbarians. Surely, in our more enlightened time, no one would dig up buried corpses and put them on trial. I am not so sure about that. As I write this, the city council of Memphis, Tennesee has just voted to exhume the corpse of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and move him from the park where he has been buried for the last one hundred and ten years. They also plan to remove his statue from the site and sell it. Forrest was not only a Confederate general, which is bad enough, but also one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, which makes him one of the most evil men in history, clearly unfit to be buried in a public place. There are no plans yet to put General Forrest on trial for hate crimes, cut off his hand that wielded his cavalry sword, and throw his body into the Mississippi, but in this current climate of anti-Confederate hysteria, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

The Election of 1840

July 12, 2015

People often complain that modern presidential politics is more about personalities than issues. The news media and the readers and viewers they serve seem less interested in what the candidates plan to do once in office and more interested in personalities, slogans, and sound bites. Political debates have devolved from the stately, informative Lincoln-Douglas debates in which the issues dividing the country were discussed at length to opportunities for politicians to deliver focus group tested zingers and one liners. People who idolize a past in which presidential candidates earnestly discussed detailed solutions for resolving the issues of the day had best not look too closely at the election of 1840. This was an election singularly devoid of any discussion of any issue except which candidate was born in a log cabin and drank hard cider. Actually, there was one serious issue which was beginning to divide the nation between North and South, but no one wanted to talk about it. Hint: it began with “S” and ended with “lavery”.

By 1840, the Jacksonian revolution was complete. Property requirements had been abolished in every state and every White male had the vote, beginning a new era of mass politics in the United States. The Whig Party had gotten its act together to form a truly national party and they learned enough from Andrew Jackson’s victories in 1828 and 1832 to understand the necessity of developing an organization for stirring up mass enthusiasm for their candidate and ensuring a good turnout at the polls on Election Day. The Whigs also learned to cast their candidate as a military hero and a man of the people. As events turned out, the Whigs had learned these lessons all to well as far as the Democrats were concerned.

The Whigs met in their national convention at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in December 1839, and nominated a military hero, William Henry Harrison over his rival Henry Clay. Harrison had been a senator from Ohio and governor of the Indiana Territory and had fought against the Indian leader Tecumseh, defeating his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He had been one of the three Whig candidates in 1836 and since he had gotten the most votes of the three in that election, he seemed a good pick for 1840, even though at 68 he was the oldest man to be elected president until Ronald Reagan. Although Harrison had been born in Virginia, he was associated with the North so, in order to balance the ticket, the Whigs nominated the Virginian, John Tyler as his running mate. Tyler had served in both houses of Congress and as governor of Virginia. As a Democrat, he had supported Andrew Jackson at first, but turned against the president over state’s rights and the spoils system, and had joined the Whigs by 1835. His selection as the Whig’s vice-presidential candidate later proved to be not a particularly good idea.


For their part, the Democrats met at Baltimore in May, 1840, and easily nominated Martin van Buren for a second term as president. Van Buren’s Vice-President, Richard Mentor Johnson was still very unpopular in the South because of his romantic relationship with his slave Julia Chenn. Van Buren was reluctant to drop him from the ticket, but the Democrats simply refused to nomination Johnson for another term as Vice-President, so no running mate was nominated at the convention. They had an understanding that each state would vote for its own candidate and the Senate would pick the Vice-President, if van Buren won. Undaunted Johnson went ahead and campaigned for the vice-presidency as if he had been nominated.

Van Burn was fairly unpopular throughout the country as the economy was still in recession as a result of the Panic of 1837, so the election was Harrison’s to lose, provided he did not do anything divisive or unpopular like making any statements about the issues of the day, particularly the one involving the “S-word”. So, Harrison and his supporters made it a point to say very little. Instead, they promoted their candidate as a humble man of the people. It was one of Clay’s supporters who gave them the idea for their campaign theme. During the convention, he had said derisively of Harrison that  he would be perfectly happy living in a log cabin and drinking hard cider. Harrison’s supporters took this and ran away with it, tirelessly depicting their man as born in a log cabin and drinking simple hard cider, as opposed to the aristocratic van Buren who lived in luxurious mansions and drank only the finest and most expensive wines. The Whigs organized parades demonstrations, and gatherings with a log cabin theme and served hard cider while praising Harrison for his simple lifestyle. Along with the log cabin went the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”.

It was all a lie, though. Harrison had, in fact, been born into one of the wealthiest and politically prominent Virginia families with plantations and slaves. He had attended college and studied medicine, but it was not a field that appealed to him and upon the death of his father, he had left college to join the army. The aristocratic van Buren was the one who had been born in humble circumstances and had worked his way up in New York politics. But, politics and truth seldom intersect.

The Democrats responded by attacking Harrison’s age and military record. He was old and senile, they claimed and a vulgar, profane man who slept with Indian women while in the Army and then resigned his commission just a year before the War of 1812, abandoning his country in its hour of need.

It was not a close election. The Democrats were never able to muster enough enthusiasm for their candidate to match the Whigs and the faltering economy weighed down van Buren’s efforts at re-election. The popular vote was 1,275,390 to 1,128,854 or 52.9% to 46.8% in Harrison’s favor. A third party, the anti-slavery Liberty Party, with James G Birney as its candidate gained 6,797 votes, This was utterly insignificant at the time but the Liberty Party was a harbinger of the anti-slavery movement which would create the Republican Party and tear the nation apart. In the Electoral College, Harrison won 234 votes from all over the country, while van Buren only got 60 votes, winning New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

The Election of 1840

The Election of 1840

William Henry Harrison did not have long to enjoy his presidency. After giving the longest inaugural speech in history on March 4, 1841 and a month later had died of pneumonia making the Harrison administration at only thirty days, the shortest in American history. Harrison was the first president to die in office, causing something of a constitutional crisis as it was not clear to what extent the vice-president assumed the powers and responsibilities of the presidency. Most of Harrison’s cabinet assumed that Vice-President John Tyler was only an acting president until such time as new elections could be arranged. Tyler, however, insisted that he was the new president upon taking the oath of office and with the support of  Chief Justice Roger Taney, his view prevailed. Tyler was not a particularly successful president since his political views were not much aligned with those held by his fellow Whigs in the cabinet or in Congress, or for that matter with the Democratic opposition, and this along with the then unprecedented manner in which Tyler became president made it difficult for him to get much done.


Don’t Let the Hippies Shower

July 11, 2015

It used to be that the hippies were easy to identify and avoid. Covered with mud and behaving like drugged animals, it was easy to see that their hippie ideas were very bad ones that could not possibly work in the real world. As long as that was the case, the hippie was a harmless beast, useful as examples to the young on what bad decisions and lack of responsibility could lead to. But then the hippies started to shower. Once they were cleaned up, they discovered that they could infiltrate normal society and spread their hippie ideas on an unsuspecting population. They became educators in order to indoctrinate our children with hippie ideas like sports where everybody gets a trophy, or their parents are destroying the Earth by using plastic bags.

This is the premise of Stephen Kruiser’s Don’t Let the Hippies Shower. Under the cover of humor, Kruiser writes about real problems afflicting our culture based on ideas from the seemingly harmless like the EGAT principle in sports mentioned above and the contemporary campaign against bullying, to the annoying and unworkable like much environmentalist nuttery and the strange idea held by too many young people that they are entitled to whatever they want, paid for by the evil rich, to the malignant totalitarianism increasingly found on college campuses and in the culture at large. Don’t Let the Hippies Shower is that rare book that makes you think, while you are laughing out loud. I recommend you give it to all your conservative friends to encourage them to fight back against the Invaders in the only way that is really effective, by laughing at them. You should also give copies to your liberal friends, and watch them gaze with incomprehension as they try to make sense of such foreign concepts as facts, logic  and humor.  And if you happen to know any hippies, for goodness sake, keep them out of the shower.



Was the American Revolution a Mistake?

July 7, 2015

For Dylan Matthews at the answer to that question is yes.

This July Fourth, I’m celebrating by taking a plane from the US to the United Kingdom. The timing wasn’t intentional, but I embrace the symbolism. American independence in 1776 was a monumental mistake. We should be mourning the fact that we left the United Kingdom, not cheering it.

Of course, evaluating the wisdom of the American Revolution means dealing with counterfactuals. As any historian would tell you, this is messy business. We obviously can’t be entirely sure how America would have fared if it had stayed in the British Empire longer, perhaps gaining independence a century or so later, along with Canada.

Would we be better off today if the Revolution had not succeeded? Rather than celebrating our independence from the mother country, ought we to regret it? I am something of an anglophile, so I am a bit wistful about that regrettable separation myself. Sometimes I do think it would be nice to be part of the country that gave us Doctor Who and Mister Bean, not to mention the many more substantial gifts that the British have given the world. Still, that is not saying that we would all be better off, and it is possible that much that was good about the British Empire may not have come to be without the sentiments expressed by our founding fathers.

The best thing to have come out of England, except for the Magna Carta, the English language, etc.

The best thing to have come out of England, except for the Magna Carta, the English language, etc.

It is, of course, impossible to know what would have happened. It seems to me that much would depend on the way in which the American Revolution had failed. If King George and his ministers had been more statesmanlike and showed a better understanding of the sentiments of the colonists, and if cooler heads had prevailed in the colonies, the Revolution might have been averted altogether. Perhaps there might have been some trouble in 1775 which was quickly resolved by judicious compromises, in which case the North American colonies might well have developed somewhere along the lines of Canada or Australia. On the other hand, if the British had defeated the Continental Army in 1779 or 1780 and killed George Washington, things might have been very different. Years of war had increased bitterness on both sides and it is likely that the rebellious colonies would have been held as conquered and occupied provinces, much like Ireland. Like Ireland, there might have been continuing unrest and repeated rebellions. Since Mr. Matthews seems to take the former scenario, so will I.

Maybe this would have been the flag of the Anglo-American Empire

Maybe this would have been the flag of the Anglo-American Empire

Dylan Matthews gives three reasons for believing that the American Revolution was a mistake.

But I’m reasonably confident a world in which the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: Slavery would’ve been abolished earlier, American Indians would’ve faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.

I believe all three reasons are mistaken. I do not think that slavery would have been abolished earlier, that the policy towards the Indians would have been greatly different if the American Revolution had not succeeded, nor do I believe that a parliamentary system of government is superior.

The main reason the revolution was a mistake is that the British Empire, in all likelihood, would have abolished slavery earlier than the US did, and with less bloodshed.

Abolition in most of the British Empire occurred in 1834, following the passage of theSlavery Abolition Act. That left out India, but slavery was banned there, too, in 1843. In England itself, slavery was illegal at least going back to 1772. That’s decades earlier than the United States.

This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.

According to Matthews, the American Revolution was fought by White men, for White men and everyone else would have been better off if they had failed.

The main benefit of the revolution to colonists was that it gave more political power to America’s white male minority. For the vast majority of the country — its women, slaves, American Indians — the difference between disenfranchisement in an independent America and disenfranchisement in a British-controlled colonial America was negligible. If anything, the latter would’ve been preferable, since at least women and minorities wouldn’t be singled out for disenfranchisement. From the vantage point of most of the country, who cares if white men had to suffer through what everyone else did for a while longer, especially if them doing so meant slaves gained decades of free life?

Though he admits that abolishing slavery would have been harder if the North American colonies were still in the British Empire.

It’s true that had the US stayed, Britain would have had much more to gain from the continuance of slavery than it did without America. It controlled a number of dependencies with slave economies — notably Jamaica and other islands in the West Indies — but nothing on the scale of the American South. Adding that into the mix would’ve made abolition significantly more costly.

But the South’s political influence within the British Empire would have been vastly smaller than its influence in the early American republic. For one thing, the South, like all other British dependencies, lacked representation in Parliament. The Southern states were colonies, and their interests were discounted by the British government accordingly. But the South was also simply smaller as a chunk of the British Empire’s economy at the time than it was as a portion of America’s. The British crown had less to lose from the abolition of slavery than white elites in an independent America did.

It is not clear to what extent abolitionism would have gained any traction in Britain if a major part of their empire depended on slave labor and if the principles of equality and consent by the governed that were expressed so well by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence had remained unwritten. In any case, slavery would not have been confined to the South. In 1776, slavery was legal and accepted in all thirteen colonies. It was only after the American Revolution had been won that the first wave of abolitionism, prompted in part by the obvious hypocrisy of declaring all men equal while still holding slaves, led to the Northern states to abolish slavery. In 1787 the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, organizing the Northwest territories and prohibiting slavery. Most people believed that it was only a matter of time before slavery was ended in the South. This didn’t happen partly because of the invention of the cotton gin and partly because the expansion into the south west, where slavery hadn’t been prohibited, was made easier by slave labor.

It seems likely, then, that by 1834 slavery would still be legal throughout North America both in the original thirteen colonies and in the settled lands beyond the Appalachians. Would the British Parliament still have abolished slavery, knowing that such an act would lead to revolution in the colonies. We would have fought the American Revolution in the 1830’s instead of the 1770’s. It seems likely that the Parliament might have delayed abolishing slavery for many years rather than lose the colonies, especially if the French, no Louisiana Purchase, and the Spanish, no Florida cession and perhaps no revolutions in Latin America, maintained some presence in North America.

What about the Indians?

Starting with the Proclamation of 1763, the British colonial government placed firm limits on westward settlement in the United States. It wasn’t motivated by an altruistic desire to keep American Indians from being subjugated or anything; it just wanted to avoid border conflicts. But all the same, the policy enraged American settlers, who were appalled that the British would seem to side with Indians over white men.

American Indians would have still, in all likelihood, faced violence and oppression absent American independence, just as First Nations people in Canada did. But American-scale ethnic cleansing wouldn’t have occurred. And like America’s slaves, American Indians knew this. Most tribes sided with the British or stayed neutral; only a small minority backed the rebels.

Ethnic cleansing is a loaded word that is not particularly applicable to what occurred in the relations between the Indian tribes and the American government. It was never an official policy of the U.S. government to exterminate the Native Americans. Here is what the Northwest Ordinance had to say about the Native inhabitants of the Northwest territory.

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Condescending, to be sure, but meant well. Unfortunately both Indians and settlers wanted the same lands so there was war and the Indians were defeated. This is bad enough but not the same as rounding people up and exterminating them in camps. But, who cares about accuracy when we have a chance to portray America as the Evil Empire? In any case, there is no reason to believe that the Indian policy, both intended or actual, would have been greatly different. The Proclamation of 1763 could not have been enforced for any period of time, given the demographic pressures that led the British colonists to want to expand westward. Matthews compares the treatment of the Indians by America and Canada, in Canada’s favor, but there were fewer settlers in Canada and the lands were less desirable.

Finally, the question of good government.

And parliamentary democracies are a lot, lot better than presidential ones. They’resignificantly less likely to collapse into dictatorship because they don’t lead to irresolvable conflicts between, say, the president and the legislature. They lead to much less gridlock.

In the US, activists wanting to put a price on carbon emissions spent years trying to put together a coalition to make it happen, mobilizing sympathetic businesses and philanthropists and attempting to make bipartisan coalition — and they still failed to pass cap and trade, after millions of dollars and man hours. In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that. Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that’s literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than with presidential systems.

This is no trivial matter. Efficient passage of legislation has huge humanitarian consequences. It makes measures of planetary importance, like carbon taxes, easier to get through; they still face political pushback, of course — Australia’s tax got repealed, after all — but they can be enacted in the first place, which is far harder in the US system. And the efficiency of parliamentary systems enables larger social welfare programs that reduce inequality and improve life for poor citizens. Government spending in parliamentary countries is about 5 percent of GDP higher, after controlling for other factors, than in presidential countries. If you believe in redistribution, that’s very good news indeed.

This is actually the best argument I could make against a parliamentary system. It is too easy to pass legislation. Under Britain’s current system all that is needed to make any changes imaginable is a majority in the House of Commons. There are no checks and balances. Any dictator would only need that majority to impose whatever rules he wanted. It is only tradition and the good sense of most Britons that has prevented anyone from trying, so far. I would be happier if the House of Lords had equal power with the House of Commons and the Monarch would still exercise a veto over legislation. This would be undemocratic, but many people confuse democracy with liberty, or ends and means. The end of government is the preservation of liberty. Democracy is only a means to that end. A democratic government can fail to preserve liberty and tyranny under a democracy is every bit as odious as any other kind. Frankly, I prefer freedom to efficiency in government.

After reading this article, I am not convinced that the American Revolution was a mistake. If anything, I am more grateful than ever that the founding fathers made the sacrifices they did to make the United States of America a free and independent country. I do not believe the world would have been a better place if the revolution had failed. It is more likely to have been less free and less prosperous. So, I will continue to celebrate the Fourth of July, while being grateful that the British are our best friends.

Besides, we would have him to look forward to as our next king.

Besides, we would have him to look forward to as our next king.


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