Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

That Cartoon from the New Yorker

January 23, 2017

This cartoon from The New Yorker has been making the rounds lately.

170109_a20630-1000“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

What, exactly, is the cartoonist trying to say here? That we should not be led by democratically elected leaders but by some body of elites or experts especially trained in government, perhaps with some sort of license or certification, just like a pilot? That only persons specially vetted should be permitted to hold public office? That this body of certified leaders ought not to be accountable to the people they lead since they are not sufficiently acquainted with the nuances of government? Is the only role of the passengers simply to sit down and shut up while the pilot flies the plane? Do they have no recourse if the pilot is manifestly incompetent or flies the plane to a destination contrary to their wishes?

I think the cartoonist has it backwards. The passengers do not work for the pilot. The pilot works for the passengers. The passengers are the ones who decide where the plane is going. They are the ones who buy the tickets from the airline for the plane that will take them where they want to go. The pilot cannot decide, on his own, what the plane’s destination will be. If a pilot decides that he knows better than the passengers where they ought to go, or if the pilot shows that he is not capable of properly flying the plane, than the passengers have good reason to complain to the  airline and demand a refund of the price of their ticket. If an airline continually employs incompetent pilots who ignore their duties to the passengers, that airline will lose customers and eventually go out of business.

If we apply this analogy to the country, it is we the passengers who decide in what direction we want the country to, not some self-proclaimed elites. We elect people to public office so that they will work for us by taking the country in the direction we want. We do not elect them to office to tell us where to go or how we should live our lives. It may be, as the cartoonist suggests that we have chosen poorly in electing Donald Trump as our next president, but it is still our choice to make. As a very wise man said some two hundred years ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

Recently, it seems that we have been electing pilots who do not want to listen to us, the passengers. They seem to have the idea that it is their job to take the airplane where they want it to go on the basis that they know better than the rest of us. We have been trying to get the pilots to listen to us , with mixed results. Now, we have elected a new pilot from a very different background. This new pilot has not been to flight school, as we may put his lack of experience in electoral politics, but perhaps he will be more inclined to remember his proper job. Perhaps the other pilots may learn from this last election and start to listen to us again. If not, we may have to switch airlines, or exercise our right to,”alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”. We may hope that it doesn’t come to that, but it is up to those we elect to represent us to start doing what we tell them to do.

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TheElection of 1808

February 17, 2014

Thomas Jefferson’s second term was not nearly as smooth as his first. The war between Britain and France heated up again, and both nations seemed determined to draw the United States into the war. Once again both Britain and France seized American ships who traded with the other nation, ignoring America’s position as a neutral. The British began to impress American seamen into their navy, as they had while Washington and Adams were president. The United States had every right to declare war on one or both of the warring nations, but Jefferson professed to be a man of peace, and the still young nation was hardly capable of fighting one of the superpowers of the time, let alone both. Jefferson, instead, decided on a policy that would be called economic sanctions today. In December 1807, Congress established an embargo on trade with Britain and France, in the hope that their economies would be damaged enough to come to terms.

It didn’t work. It turned out that the still under developed American economy needed the manufactured goods of Europe more than Europe needed American raw materials. The only people the embargo hurt were American farmers who could no longer export grain and New England merchants who were ruined by the lack of trade. The Federalists were quick to attack the Democratic-Republicans on this policy, referring to it as the “Dambargo” and the embargo temporarily stopped the Federalists decline into irrelevance.

Under the circumstances, Thomas Jefferson had no desire to run for a third term. He had intended to follow Washington’s example all along and serve just two terms, and the increasingly tumultuous world situation led him to believe that the time was right for a younger man to take over. Jefferson had just the right younger man in mind, his friend Secretary of State James Madison. In addition to serving Jefferson as Secretary of State, James Madison had had a distinguished career in the Virginia legislature and the United States Congress. He had been one of Virginia’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention and his influence on the proceedings was great enough for Madison to be regarded as the father of the constitution. He along with Thomas Jefferson had founded the Democratic-Republican Party so he was a natural successor to Jefferson. The Democratic-Republican caucus had little trouble selecting James Madison as their nominee for president. For vice president they nominated George Clinton, the sitting vice president.

 

The Federalists went with their candidates from the previous election, Charles C.Pinckney and Rufus King.

The states held the election from November 4 to December 7 1808. In those days only six of the seventeen states selected their electors by a statewide popular vote, as is the way today. Four states were divided into electoral districts and seven states still had their electors appointed by the state legislature. The Federalists did better than they had in the 1804 election, but the Democratic-Republicans still won by a landslide. They won 112 electoral votes, winning every state outside of New England except for Delaware, although six delegates from New York voted for George Clinton for president. The Federalists won all of New England except for Vermont and won Delaware and a few votes elsewhere for a total of 47 electoral votes. The popular vote was 124,732 for Madison against 62,431 for Pinckney, although as I noted, not every state had a popular vote.

 

 

 

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The Election of 1804

December 19, 2013

The election of 1804 was not nearly as exciting of the election of 1800. The re-election of Thomas Jefferson was virtually a forgone conclusion. The country was prosperous and at peace. The Louisiana Purchase had doubled the size of the United States and Ohio had been added to the Union. Taxes were lower and the national debt was being paid off. There was even a lull in the seemingly endless war between Britain and France. Jefferson had proved not to be the radical that many Federalists had feared. On the advice of his Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin , Jefferson had left in place many of the financial programs  begun by Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson was popular everywhere except among the Federalists in New England. These Federalists actually opposed the expansion to the west because they feared that an alliance between the South and the growing Northwest would marginalize New England. There was beginning to be some talk of Federalist New England seceding from the Union.

There was almost no drama in this election. The Democratic-Republicans met in caucus on February 25 and nominated Thomas Jefferson for a second term. Since Jefferson didn’t trust his Vice-President, Aaron Burr, after his intrigues during the previous election, the Democratic-Republicans selected George Clinton of New York to be Vice-President. Clinton had been governor of New York from 1777 until 1795 and again from 1800 to 1804. He had also served as a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Clinton had been an anti-Federalist during the fight to ratify the constitution but had relented when the bill of rights was added.

The Federalists didn’t have a formal caucus but decided to support Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as President and Rufus King as Vice-President. Pinckney had been nominated for Vice-President in the election of 1800. He was from South Carolina and was noted for his role in the XYZ affair while minister to France. Rufus King served as a Senator from New York from 1789 to 1796 and then was minister to Great Britain from 1796 to 1803. He had been an opponent of slavery and the slave trade, but was willing to wait for gradual emancipation.

The only issue that the Federalists had that might have gained any traction was Thomas Jefferson’s supposed relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings. They made fun of his “African Venus” Black Sal. Jefferson wisely kept silent about the issue. The Federalists also condemned the Louisiana Purchase as unconstitutional, but that was not likely to be a popular position to hold outside of New England.

This was the first election under the new rules established by the twelfth amendment, in which each elector voted for the presidential candidate and his running mate. In the end Jefferson won by a landslide of 162 electoral votes against only 14 votes for Pinckney. The Democratic-Republicans won every state except Connecticut and Delaware with two electors in Maryland supporting the Federalists. The Federalists on the way to becoming a minor regional party and Jefferson looked forward to the day when party spirit would be extinguished. If he had known what he was in for, he wouldn’t have been so happy about the future.

The election of 1804

The election of 1804

 

The Election of 1800

November 2, 2013

The election of 1800 was one of the nastiest and most contentious in American history. We have had other close elections and many campaigns that descended into the worst sort of character assassinations, but 1800 stands out. For one thing, the election of 1800 was the only election in American history that ended in a duel. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

As I have mentioned before, the rules for electing the president were slightly different in the first four elections. Each Elector in the Electoral College had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the largest number of votes would be President and the next largest Vice-President. This worked well enough in the first two elections when everyone knew that George Washington would be President and John Adams Vice-President. It worked less well in 1796 when John Adams, the Federalist, was elected President with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican. Although the two men were of opposing parties, they had long been friends and Adams had every expectation that Jefferson would be as loyal a Vice-President as Adams himself had been to Washington. He was badly disappointed with Jefferson. Jefferson spent the next four years undermining Adams at every opportunity and preparing to run against Adams in 1800.

In 1800, the Federalists selected John Adams to run for re-election, even though he was not especially popular in the party. Adams was really too independent to belong to any party and he and the Federalist party leader Alexander Hamilton hated each other, especially since Adams discovered that the members of his cabinet, holdovers from Washington’s administration, were more loyal to Hamilton than to him. For vice-president the Federalists selected Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the brother of Adams’s running mate in 1796. Pinckney had been the U.S. minister to France and had famously said, “Not a sixpence” when French officials had tried to bribe him in the XYZ Affair.

For their part, the Democratic Republicans selected Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr again.

The election of 1800 turned out to be one of the nastiest in American history. Adams was accused of wanting to set up a monarchy. He was for aristocracy and against giving any role to the common man in politics. He was said to be arranging for his sons to marry King George III’s daughters and hoped to have the United States rejoin the British Empire. Jefferson was an atheist, a deist,and a radical.  He was planning to bring the Jacobin Terror to America. Under a Jefferson administration all common decency would be forgotten and Bible would be burned. Newspapers and speakers of both parties gleefully spread the most scurrilous stories about the opposing party’s candidate.

As in the election of 1796, both parties tried to make arrangements so that their Vice-Presidential candidate would receive one fewer vote than their Presidential candidate, and as in 1796, something went wrong. The Federalists won all of New England along with New Jersey and Delaware. The Democratic Republicans won the South except for North Carolina, which along with Pennsylvania and Maryland split its vote. The total electoral vote for the Federalists was 65 votes for Adams and 64 votes for Pinckney. The total electoral vote for the Democratic Republicans was 73 votes for Jefferson and 73 votes for Burr, a tie. This presented a problem.

The Election of 1800

The Election of 1800

According to the constitution, if no candidate gets a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives would select the President from among the top five candidates, with each state getting one vote, which was determined by a majority of that state’s representatives. If there were a tie vote, the Congressional delegation would have to turn in a blank ballot. In 1801 there were sixteen states in the Union so a candidate had to have at least nine states supporting him in order to win the election.

On the first ballot, Jefferson got eight votes, Burr six, and the remaining two states were tied. For six days, vote after vote was taken with no change in the results. Many Federalists began to consider supporting Burr as the lesser of two evils. They tried to negotiate with Burr, offering their support in exchange for his maintaining Federalist policies. Burr listened, but didn’t commit himself. Then, the unexpected occurred. Alexander Hamilton intervened, on the side of his arch enemy, Jefferson.  Jefferson, he acknowledged was a “contemptible hypocrite” and “tinctured with fanaticism”, yet he did have some “pretensions to character”. Burr, by contrast, was without principles or honor, the “Catiline of America”. Catiline was a Roman Senator who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Republic in the 60’s BC. To educated Americans of the time, that was about the worst name Hamilton could have called Burr. Hamilton’s support of Jefferson was something like if Rush Limbaugh had supported Gore during the Florida recounts in 2000.

Alexander Hamilton

As a result of Hamilton’s lobbying, the deadlock was broken on February 17. Several Congressmen who had been supporting Burr abstained and as a result, Jefferson got ten votes to Burr’s four. Jefferson was elected President just two week before Inauguration Day. Shortly after, the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, which changed the procedure of the Electoral College so that each elector has one vote and votes for the President and Vice-President as a team, was adopted to prevent anything like the election of 1800 from occurring again.

About the duel, that occurred in 1804. Jefferson never trusted Burr after the election, for obvious reasons, and saw to it that Burr had no role in the government. As the election of 1804 neared, Jefferson decided to replace Burr as his running mate with George Clinton. Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but once again his fellow New Yorker, Hamilton, opposed him and he lost the election. Burr seized on Hamilton’s description of him as “despicable” and challenged Hamilton to a duel. At the duel, Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr shot him in the abdomen, killing Hamilton and his own political career. Burr had to flee to avoid prosecution for murder and was eventually implicated in a conspiracy to seize power in the Spanish southwest and create his own empire. He was tried for treason but acquitted and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe.

Politics has always been a dirty and excitable business but it has gotten a lot tamer in recent years. Imagine if the contentious election of 2000 had been handled like 1800. We might have ended up with Bush and Gore fighting a duel. Oh well.

The good old days

 

The Election of 1796

October 18, 2013

The presidential election of 1796 was the first real election for president that the United States had. In the first two elections, the elections of 1789 and 1792, everyone knew that George Washington was going to win. He had no opposition and it was simply inconceivable that anyone would run against him. Washington’s second term was not as successful as his first, especially in foreign policy. The young nation was being pressured to take sides in the war between Great Britain and Revolutionary France, and Washington’s insistence that the United State was neutral pleased neither side. The British would not respect American sovereignty while the French ambassador tried to undermine the government. Washington sent John Jay to Great Britain to negotiate a trade treaty and to deal with these issues. The resulting treaty was greatly to the advantage of the British and was very unpopular, especially among the supporters of Jefferson. This affected Washington’s popularity and in the second half of his second term, Washington faced more public opposition than he had before as president.

Still, if George Washington had wanted a third term, he would have gotten it. He didn’t want it. Washington was feeling old and tired. He was 64 years old and had lived a hard life. He was also aware that the men of his family tended to die young. Washington wanted to return to Mount Vernon and spend a few years in retirement.

As soon as it was clear that Washington would not serve a third term, the race was on. The first party system had begun to develop in George Washington’s second term. The party organizations were still rather rudimentary, however and there were none of the primaries, caucuses, or nominating conventions that were a feature later on in American politics. Instead the leader of each party met informally and chose candidates. Both parties decided to balance their tickets geographically with one candidate from the north and one from the south, in order to appeal to the whole country.

The Federalists picked John Adams to be their candidate for president. He had served as vice-president for eight years under Washington and many felt that he deserved the top job. Adams was known to be capable and honest and was a good choice. For vice-president, the Federalists chose Thomas Pinckney from South Carolina. Pinckney is not well known today. He had fought in the Revolutionary War and had served as governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He was Washington’s minister to Britain in 1792 and had negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain. In fact, the Federalist Party leader, Alexander Hamilton preferred Pinckney to Adams and tried to arranged for him to get more electoral votes.

The Democratic-Republicans chose their party leader, Thomas Jefferson. For vice-president they decided on Aaron Burr from New York. This might seem a  strange choice considering Burr’s later notoriety, but Burr was also a Revolutionary War veteran and a prominent attorney. He was also the leader of the Democratic Republican Party in the state of New York.

The rules for electing the president were different before the passage of the twelfth amendment. The electors were selected in November either by state legislatures or in some states by popular vote. When the Electoral College met, each elector had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the most votes was elected president while the runner up got to be vice-president. This system worked well enough in the first two elections, when everyone knew Washington would be president. It did not work so well in the election of 1796 and caused a crisis in the election of 1800.

The first contested election was fiercely fought. Adams and Jefferson took no part in the campaign, it wasn’t considered seemly to actively campaign in those days, and they remained friends. Their partisans, however, attacked each other mercilessly. Adams was accused of being a monarchist who planned to make himself king and his sons lords. Jefferson was attacked as a  fanatic Jacobin and atheist who wanted to import the French Revolution to America. When the votes were cast, Adams won by a narrow margin. He got 71 electoral votes, winning all of New England along with New York and New Jersey. Jefferson had 68 electoral votes, winning the entire south including the new states  of Kentucky and Tennessee and also won Pennsylvania. In the states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, one elector had voted for Adams, while Maryland was split with seven votes for Adams and four votes for Jefferson.

The Election of 1796

The Election of 1796

In both parties the plan had been for all but a few electors to cast their second vote for their party’s choice for vice president, thus allowing either Pinckney or Burr to be in second place. This didn’t work out because of the slow speed of communications at the time, so the electors’ second votes were distributed among a variety of men. Thomas Pinckney got 59 votes, fewer than Jefferson. Burr was a distant fourth with only 30 votes. So John Adams, the Federalist was elected president with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic Republican as his vice president. This might be a little like Barack Obama having John McCain as his vice president.

Despite the differences in party, Adams and Jefferson expected to work well with each other and Jefferson was gracious in defeat, saying, “Adams has always been my senior from the commencement of my public life”. Maybe he had an idea of just how rough the next four years were going to be.

 

 

The Election of 1792

August 6, 2013

The election of 1792 was, in many ways, a repeat of the election of 1789. There were the same candidates and the same result, Washington winning by a unaminous vote of the electoral college and John Adams being re-elected Vice President. George Washington really didn’t want to run for a second term. Although his first term had been very successful, Washington had not enjoyed it. He wanted nothing more than to retire from politics and go back to his home at Mount Vernon.

One thing that had especially exasperated Washington was the growth of partisan politics in the new republic. None of the founding fathers had anything good to say about political parties and they all warned of the dangers of factions. Despite these warning, the first party system was already forming around Washington’s two chief cabinet officials; Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Both of these men were very intelligent and ambitious. Both of them had grown up without a father, Jefferson’s dying when he was 14 and Hamilton’s abandoning his family. In all other ways, however, the two men were opposites and rivals.

Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government. Since he had been born outside the thirteen colonies, he had never developed any intense loyalty to any one state, instead viewing the United States as a whole. He believed that the United States should become an industrial power and wanted a national bank to finance investments and improvements to the infrastructure for that end. Hamilton was also something of an elitist, believing that the people should be guided. Thomas Jefferson was a Virginian. He, like almost everyone at the time, was loyal to his state first and then to the nation. He wanted a weak national government, and believed that state’s rights were paramount. He believed that the United States should have a primarily agricultural economy and distrusted banks. His opinion was that only a republic of sturdy independent farmers could endure. He professed to have great love for the people. Even in personality the two men differed. Hamilton was hyperactive, always making plans and working on projects. Jefferson was more laid back, in some ways even lazy. In foreign policy, Hamilton favored an alliance with the British on the grounds of common culture and trade. Jefferson wanted to support France as a fellow republic after their revolution. The two men caused Washington quite a lot of trouble with their endless bickering, especially when the newspapers they were financing starting to attack each other. Soon the followers of Hamilton were calling themselves Federalists while Jefferson’s supporters were the Democratic-Republicans.

The one thing that Hamilton and Jefferson did agree on was that Washington should run again. The country was still too young and things were still too unsettled to go without Washington’s guidance. Washington reluctantly agreed. All thirteen of the original states were able to participate in this election and Vermont and Kentucky had been added to the Union so there were 132 electoral votes. All 132 electors cast one of their votes for Washington, giving him a unanimous vote for President. With their second vote, they gave John Adams 77 votes, making him Vice-President again. George Clinton received 50 votes.

The Declaration

July 4, 2013

Here is the text of the Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

As you read though this, think of how many of the charges laid against King George could be applied to our own government today. I can think of more than one. It is astonishing how many things that we presently consider normal acts of government that the men who wrote this Declaration would have considered acts of unbearable tyranny. King George was a conscientious and competent leader next to King Barack.

I wonder what would happen to a contemporary Thomas Jefferson who drafted a document like this today. Most likely, the Department of Homeland Security would label him a potential domestic terrorist. The mainstream media would excoriate him as an extreme, rightwing, teabagger and probably a racist too. The NSA would monitor his e-mails and the IRS would consider auditing him.

Maybe we need a Thomas Jefferson today.

The Government is the Only Thing We All Belong To

September 9, 2012

One of the themes coming out of the Democratic National Convention last week is the idea that government is the one institution that unites us all as one nation. The idea being, that we go to different churches, work for different employers, have different racial or ethnic origins, speak different languages, and so on, but we all have the national government in common. I think this short video put out by the DNC illustrates what they are trying to say.

Conservatives have generally interpreted this to mean that the Democrats believe that we belong to the government in the sense that we are all slaves or serfs of the government. This is not accurate. What they seem to mean is that the government is the one institution that all Americans have in common and the one institution that makes us Americans. This confuses the difference between the nationality and the government or the state. In fact, our shared culture and history is what makes all of us part of the American nation, the idea that we are a separate and unique people, distinct from every other nation. We would all still be Americans even if our government were changed or destroyed, so long as we had that shared feeling of nationhood.

I dealt with this sort of idea once before when I explained that Barack Obama’s statement, “you didn’t build that” seemed to ultimately be derived from the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ideas that the state embodies the hopes and aspirations of the people and nation and even creates the nation. The statement that we all belong to the government is another expression of that mode of thought and while I do not believe that the Democrats mean that we should all be enslaved by the state, this is an idea alien to the ideals of the founding fathers.

The men who wrote the Constitution saw government as a tool. The purpose of that tool was to protect our rights given to us by our Creator. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

And the Preamble to the Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If government is just a tool or a social contract for the purpose of protecting the rights we already possess than a government that does not do its job can or should be replaced. If government is some overarching entity that we all belong to and which gives our lives meaning, than we have no rights, except what the collective grants us and we certainly cannot work against the institution we all belong to. I don’t think the Democrats mean any harm by expressing these kinds of sentiments, but this really is another step on the road to tyranny.

Locke Vs. Hegel

July 19, 2012

I have been thinking a little about my post yesterday in which I described Barack Obama’s economic views as being essentially Marxist. I am not sure that is entirely correct. I don’t think that I was wrong, exactly, just that there seems to be a little more to the matter. Or, perhaps I was only thinking of his economic ideas without considering his political views.

What is a government? What image comes to mind when you hear that word? Perhaps a legislature or a president? Maybe buildings designed in a neo-classical style? Bureaucrats sitting at desks? All these examples are parts of government, but they are not government itself. What is government good for? Why do we have governments? No one really seems to like having them, so why do we bother with them?

Consider Thomas Jefferson’s famous words in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Thomas Jefferson seems to have gotten his political philosophy from the English philosopher John Locke who lived from 1632 to 1704. (Yes, the character in Lost was named after him.) The foundation of Locke’s political beliefs was the idea of the social contract. Basically, he believed that governments are formed when people come together and create a government to protect their rights and take action for the common good. In other words, a government is essentially a contract between the governed and the rulers in which each side has duties and obligations.

Not this John Locke

 

This one

 

 

This is not a very sentimental view of government. Government is seen as a tool, an institution for the purpose of preserving the rights of the governed. Government may be necessary, but such necessity is at best a necessary evil, an adaptation to an imperfect world full of imperfect people. If the government ceases to fulfill its side to the contract, than the governed can and should get rid of it and make a new contract.

Now consider the following statements.

The state in and by itself is the ethical whole, the actualization of freedom; and it is an absolute end of reason that freedom should be actual. The state is mind on earth and consciously realizing itself there.

The march of God in the world, that is what the state is. In considering the Idea of the state, we must not have our eyes on particular states or on particular institutions. Instead we must consider the Idea, the actual God by itself.

To hold that every single person should hold share in deliberation and deciding on political matters of general concern on the ground that all individuals are members of the state, and its concerns are their concerns, and that it is their right that what is done should be done with their knowledge and volition, is tantamount  to a proposal to put the democratic element without any rational form into the organism of the state, although it is only in virtue of the possession of such a form that the state is an organism at all.

Hence the single person attains his actual and living destiny for universality only when he becomes a member of a Corporation, a society.

These were all excerpts from a book titled Philosophy of Law by a German Philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

He never looks very happy.

Hegel lived from 1770 to 1831 and he has been enormously influential throughout the West, unfortunately. His writing is dense and hard to understand, even in English translation. I can hardly imagine what the original German must be like. I believe that he is saying that the government, or state, is more than an institution composed of individuals. The state is something somehow organic, an organism of sorts with its own existence. In fact, the state is a sort of idealization of human endeavor and it is only through the state that individuals can really attain to their full potential. Naturally, in Hegel’s view, the state does not require the consent of the governed and the governed do not really have any rights regarding the state. In other words, the state is kind of like the Village. We all live in it and through it and our individual lives and concerns are not important, only the State matters.

Hegel’s political philosophy has been, as I said, very influential especially on the European continent. Marx adapted them to his politics and it might be fair to say that every form of statism or totalitarianism owes some debt to Hegel. These same sorts of ideas have found a home in the Democratic Party and the Progressive movement generally. Every time Hilary Clinton says, “It takes a village”, or Barack Obama says, “You didn’t create your own business”, they are, most likely unconsciously, expressing Hegel’s ideas about the state and its relation to the individual. Seeing the matter this way explains quite a lot.

I need not add that this philosophy is a profoundly anti-American one, in the sense that it is diametrically opposed to the Lockean ideas that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based upon. When Barack Obama says he wants to fundamentally transform America, he really, really means it.

The Election of 1800

March 13, 2012

The election of 1800 was one of the nastiest and most contentious in American history. We have had other close elections and many campaigns that descended into the worst sort of character assassinations, but 1800 stands out. For one thing, the election of 1800 was the only election in American history that ended in a duel. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

The first thing to know is that the rules for electing a President were slightly different for the first three elections. According to the Constitution;

 The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed;

 This means that each Elector in the Electoral College got two votes. The man with the most votes is President. The man with the second most votes is Vice-President. This would have some interesting results if that were the rule today. Imagine the election of 2008 with Obama the President and John McCain (or Sarah Palin!) the Vice-President. You will notice that there is no mention of a popular election for President. That is because there is none. Here is the rule for selecting electors.

 Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

This clause says nothing about how each state should appoint Electors. That is up to each individual state. At first, the state legislatures picked them. By the early nineteenth century, they were selected by popular vote. This means that Americans do not actually vote for a presidential candidate. Technically, we are voting for a slate of Electors.

It might seem obvious to us that having a President and Vice-President who had run against each other and would probably be of opposing parties would not work all that well. This wasn’t a problem for the elections of 1788 and 1792. Everyone agreed that George Washington was the only choice for president. John Adams was the consensus choice for vice-President.  So, the first two presidential elections were uncontested and Washington was the only presidential candidate to win a unanimous vote of the Electoral College.

The first American political parties began to take shape during Washington’s second term. These early parties were the Federalists, led by Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republicans led by Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. These two men, Hamilton and Jefferson, were not just political rivals but personal enemies who wrote newspaper articles under pseudonyms attacking each other. Their constant fighting caused Washington much grief and may have been one of the reasons he declined to serve a third term.

The election on 1796, then, was the first contested presidential election. The Democratic-Republicans backed Jefferson, while the Federalists supported Adams, who was really too independent to belong to any party. The campaigning was fierce but neither Adams nor Jefferson took part in it, actual campaigning being considered too undignified for candidates, and they managed to maintain their personal friendship. The election turned out to be a close one, with Adams getting 71 electoral votes and Jefferson getting 68 votes, making Adams the second President of the United States and Jefferson his vice-President.  Jefferson pronounced himself content with this arrangement saying that Adams had always been his senior. The good feelings were not to last. For the next four years, Jefferson quietly prepared to run against Adams.

President of the Senate John Adams

The election of 1800 turned out to be one of the nastiest in American history. Adams ran for reelection with Charles Pinckney as his running mate. Thomas Jefferson made another attempt under the Democratic-Republican banner with Aaron Burr. Adams was accused of wanting to set up a monarchy. He was said to be arranging for his sons to marry King George III’s daughters. Jefferson was supposedly planning to bring the Jacobin Terror to America. Newspapers and speakers of both parties gleefully spread the most scurrilous stories about the opposing party’s candidate.

To prevent a repeat of the results of the election of 1796, in which the President and Vice-President were of different parties, the Federalist and Democratic-Republican leadership made arrangements that their electors would end up casting one fewer vote for their Vice-Presidential candidate than for their President. This way whichever party won the election would be assured that the winners of the first and second place would be of the same party. On Election Day the Democratic-Republicans won by a clear majority. There was just one problem. While the Federalist electors cast 65 votes for John Adams and 64 votes for Pinckney, there was some miscommunication among the Democratic-Republicans and both Jefferson and Burr received 73 votes.  Burr should have stepped down since everyone knew that Jefferson was meant to be President. Burr decided that he liked the idea of being President and while he did not campaign actively to be chosen, he wasn’t going to decline if anyone else decided to support him.\

 

In the event that no candidate gets a majority, the constitution states

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

Thomas Jefferson

and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President

 

Or, in other words, the House of Representatives picks the president with each state getting one vote.  In 1801, there were sixteen states so the winner needed nine votes. When Congress met on February 11, 1801, many Federalists were inclined to support Burr as the lesser of two evils. On the first ballot, Jefferson got eight states, one less than the nine he needed. Burr got six states. The two remaining states’ Congressional delegations were evenly divided so they had to cast blank ballots. Over the next six days vote after vote was taken all with the same result.  As the inauguration date of March 4 approached, many people began to worry that the President wouldn’t be chosen in time. There were attempts to make deals to end the deadlock but they all fell through.

Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President of the United S...

Aaron Burr

 

Then, something unimaginable occurred. Alexander Hamilton intervened, on the side of his archenemy Jefferson. Jefferson, he acknowledged was a “contemptable hypocrite” and “tinctured with fanaticism”, yet he did have some “pretensions to character”. Burr, by contrast, was without principles or honor, the “Catiline of America”. Catiline was a Roman Senator who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Republic in the 60’s BC. To educated Americans of the time, that was about the worst name Hamilton could have called Burr. Hamilton’s support of Jefferson was something like if Rush Limbaugh had supported Gore during the Florida recounts in 2000.

As a result of Hamilton’s lobbying, the deadlock was broken and on the next ballot, Jefferson won ten votes and Burr four. Jefferson was finally elected President and the inauguration went ahead as planned.  Shortly after, the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, which changed the procedure of the Electoral College so that each elector has one vote and votes for the President and Vice-President as a team, was adopted to prevent anything like the election of 1800 from occurring again.

About the duel, that occurred in 1804. Jefferson never trusted Burr after the election, for obvious reasons, and saw to it that Burr had no role in the government. As the election of 1804 neared, Jefferson decided to replace Burr as his running mate with George Clinton. Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but once again his fellow New Yorker Hamilton opposed him and he lost the election. Burr seized on Hamilton’s description of him as “despicable” and challenged Hamilton to a duel. At the duel, Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr shot him in the abdomen, killing Hamilton and his own political career. Burr had to flee to avoid prosecution for murder and was eventually implicated in a conspiracy to seize power in the Spanish southwest and create his own empire. He was tried for treason but acquitted and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe.

Alexander Hamilton

Politics has always been a dirty and excitable business but it has gotten a lot tamer in recent years. Imagine if the contentious election of 2000 had been handled like 1800. We might have ended up with Bush and Gore fighting a duel. Oh well.

 

The good old days


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