Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

The progress from Western colonial global expansion, and the construction of American wealth and industry on the backs of enslaved Blacks and Native peoples, followed by the abrupt "emancipation" of the slaves and their exodus from the South to the Northern cities, has led us to our current divided society. Divided by economic inequities and unequal access to social resources, the nation lives in a media dream of social harmony, or did until YouTube set its bed on fire. Now, it is common knowledge that our current system of brutal racist policing and punitive over-incarceration serves the dual purpose of maintaining racial prejudice and the inequities it justifies. Brief yourself on this late-breaking development in American history here.

Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Sat Dec 26, 2015 10:00 am

Part 2 of 2

The Conscience of a Conservative
by Barry Goldwater
Foreword by Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Foreword © 2004 by The Heritage Foundation
From the book The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater.
© 1990. Published by Regnery Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by special permission of Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, D.C.

With this view of the nature of man, it is understandable that the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. The Conservative is the first to understand that the practice of freedom requires the establishment of order: it is impossible for one man to be free if another is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom. But the Conservative also recognizes that the political power on which order is based is a self-aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating. He knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds.

In our day, order is pretty well taken care of. The delicate balance that ideally exists between freedom and order has long since tipped against freedom practically everywhere on earth. In some countries, freedom is altogether down and order holds absolute sway. In our country the trend is less far advanced, but it is well along and gathering momentum every day. Thus, for the American Conservative, there is no difficulty in identifying the day’s overriding political challenge: it is to preserve and extend freedom. As he surveys the various attitudes and institutions and laws that currently prevail in America, many questions will occur to him, but the Conservative’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom? I suggest we examine some of the critical issues facing us today with this question in mind.

Chapter Two: The Perils of Power

The New Deal, Dean Acheson wrote approvingly in a book called A Democrat Looks At His Party, “conceived of the federal government as the whole people organized to do what had to be done.” A year later Mr. Larson wrote A Republican Looks At His Party, and made much the same claim in his book for Modern Republicans. The “underlying philosophy” of the New Republicanism, said Mr. Larson, is that “if a job has to be done to meet the needs of the people, and no one else can do it, then it is the proper function for the federal government.”

Here we have, by prominent spokesmen of both political parties, an unqualified repudiation of the principle of limited government.

Upon the question of representation hinged the essence of the new government. If representation remained by states, then the new government would remain, to a large degree, a government of the states, along the lines of the Confederation. By contrast, if representation shifted to population, then the new government would be a government of the people. The states might retain their existence, but they would have hardly more meaning than counties in England.

This was exactly what James Madison believed they should have. "Some contend that states are sovereign," Madison declared, "when in fact they are only political societies." The states had never possessed sovereignty, which from the start of the Revolution had been vested in Congress. "The states, at present, are only great corporations, having the power of making by-laws, and these are effectual only if they are not contradictory to the general confederation. The states ought to be placed under the control of the general government -- at least as much as they formerly were under the king and British Parliament."

-- PART FIVE: Birth of the Republic. 9: Miracle at Philadelphia, by H.W. BRANDS

There is no reference by either of them to the Constitution, or any attempt to define the legitimate functions of government. The government can do whatever needs to be done; note, too, the implicit but necessary assumption that it is the government itself that determines what needs to be done. We must not, I think underrate the importance of these statements. They reflect the view of a majority of the leaders of one of our parties, and of a strong minority among the leaders of the other, and they propound the first principle of totalitarianism: that the State is competent to do all things and is limited in what it actually does only by the will of those who control the State.

I now proceed to the case of the aged.

I divide age into two classes. First, the approach of age, beginning at fifty. Secondly, old age commencing at sixty.

At fifty, though the mental faculties of man are in full vigour, and his judgment better than at any preceding date, the bodily powers for laborious life are on the decline. He cannot bear the same quantity of fatigue as at an earlier period. He begins to earn less, and is less capable of enduring wind and weather; and in those more retired employments where much sight is required, he fails apace, and sees himself, like an old horse, beginning to be turned adrift.

At sixty his labour ought to be over, at least from direct necessity. It is painful to see old age working itself to death, in what are called civilised countries, for daily bread.

To form some judgment of the number of those above fifty years of age, I have several times counted the persons I met in the streets of London, men, women, and children, and have generally found that the average is about one in sixteen or seventeen. If it be said that aged persons do not come much into the streets, so neither do infants; and a great proportion of grown children are in schools and in work-shops as apprentices. Taking, then, sixteen for a divisor, the whole number of persons in England of fifty years and upwards, of both sexes, rich and poor, will be four hundred and twenty thousand.

The persons to be provided for out of this gross number will be husbandmen, common labourers, journeymen of every trade and their wives, sailors, and disbanded soldiers, worn out servants of both sexes, and poor widows.

There will be also a considerable number of middling tradesmen, who having lived decently in the former part of life, begin, as age approaches, to lose their business, and at last fall to decay.

Besides these there will be constantly thrown off from the revolutions of that wheel which no man can stop nor regulate, a number from every class of life connected with commerce and adventure.

To provide for all those accidents, and whatever else may befall, I take the number of persons who, at one time or other of their lives, after fifty years of age, may feel it necessary or comfortable to be better supported, than they can support themselves, and that not as a matter of grace and favour, but of right, at one-third of the whole number, which is one hundred and forty thousand, as stated in a previous page, and for whom a distinct provision was proposed to be made. If there be more, society, notwithstanding the show and pomposity of government, is in a deplorable condition in England.

Of this one hundred and forty thousand, I take one half, seventy thousand, to be of the age of fifty and under sixty, and the other half to be sixty years and upwards. Having thus ascertained the probable proportion of the number of aged persons, I proceed to the mode of rendering their condition comfortable, which is:

To pay to every such person of the age of fifty years, and until he shall arrive at the age of sixty, the sum of six pounds per annum out of the surplus taxes, and ten pounds per annum during life after the age of sixty. The expense of which will be,

Seventy thousand persons, at L6 per annum L 420,000
Seventy thousand persons, at L10 per annum 700,000

This support, as already remarked, is not of the nature of a charity but of a right. Every person in England, male and female, pays on an average in taxes two pounds eight shillings and sixpence per annum from the day of his (or her) birth; and, if the expense of collection be added, he pays two pounds eleven shillings and sixpence; consequently, at the end of fifty years he has paid one hundred and twenty-eight pounds fifteen shillings; and at sixty one hundred and fifty-four pounds ten shillings. Converting, therefore, his (or her) individual tax in a tontine, the money he shall receive after fifty years is but little more than the legal interest of the net money he has paid; the rest is made up from those whose circumstances do not require them to draw such support, and the capital in both cases defrays the expenses of government. It is on this ground that I have extended the probable claims to one-third of the number of aged persons in the nation.- Is it, then, better that the lives of one hundred and forty thousand aged persons be rendered comfortable, or that a million a year of public money be expended on any one individual, and him often of the most worthless or insignificant character? Let reason and justice, let honour and humanity, let even hypocrisy, sycophancy and Mr. Burke, let George, let Louis, Leopold, Frederic, Catherine, Cornwallis, or Tippoo Saib, answer the question.*[35]

The sum thus remitted to the poor will be,

To two hundred and fifty-two thousand poor families,
containing six hundred and thirty thousand children L2,520,000
To one hundred and forty thousand aged persons 1,120,000

There will then remain three hundred and sixty thousand pounds out of the four millions, part of which may be applied as follows:-

After all the above cases are provided for there will still be a number of families who, though not properly of the class of poor, yet find it difficult to give education to their children; and such children, under such a case, would be in a worse condition than if their parents were actually poor. A nation under a well-regulated government should permit none to remain uninstructed. It is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.

Suppose, then, four hundred thousand children to be in this condition, which is a greater number than ought to be supposed after the provisions already made, the method will be:

To allow for each of those children ten shillings a year for the expense of schooling for six years each, which will give them six months schooling each year, and half a crown a year for paper and spelling books.

The expense of this will be annually L250,000.*[36]

There will then remain one hundred and ten thousand pounds.

Notwithstanding the great modes of relief which the best instituted and best principled government may devise, there will be a number of smaller cases, which it is good policy as well as beneficence in a nation to consider.

Were twenty shillings to be given immediately on the birth of a child, to every woman who should make the demand, and none will make it whose circumstances do not require it, it might relieve a great deal of instant distress.

There are about two hundred thousand births yearly in England; and if claimed by one fourth, the amount would be L50,000

And twenty shillings to every new-married couple who should claim in like manner. This would not exceed the sum of L20,000.

Also twenty thousand pounds to be appropriated to defray the funeral expenses of persons, who, travelling for work, may die at a distance from their friends. By relieving parishes from this charge, the sick stranger will be better treated.

I shall finish this part of the subject with a plan adapted to the particular condition of a metropolis, such as London.

Cases are continually occurring in a metropolis, different from those which occur in the country, and for which a different, or rather an additional, mode of relief is necessary. In the country, even in large towns, people have a knowledge of each other, and distress never rises to that extreme height it sometimes does in a metropolis. There is no such thing in the country as persons, in the literal sense of the word, starved to death, or dying with cold from the want of a lodging. Yet such cases, and others equally as miserable, happen in London.

Many a youth comes up to London full of expectations, and with little or no money, and unless he get immediate employment he is already half undone; and boys bred up in London without any means of a livelihood, and as it often happens of dissolute parents, are in a still worse condition; and servants long out of place are not much better off. In short, a world of little cases is continually arising, which busy or affluent life knows not of, to open the first door to distress. Hunger is not among the postponable wants, and a day, even a few hours, in such a condition is often the crisis of a life of ruin.

These circumstances which are the general cause of the little thefts and pilferings that lead to greater, may be prevented. There yet remain twenty thousand pounds out of the four millions of surplus taxes, which with another fund hereafter to be mentioned, amounting to about twenty thousand pounds more, cannot be better applied than to this purpose. The plan will then be:

First, To erect two or more buildings, or take some already erected, capable of containing at least six thousand persons, and to have in each of these places as many kinds of employment as can be contrived, so that every person who shall come may find something which he or she can do.

Secondly, To receive all who shall come, without enquiring who or what they are. The only condition to be, that for so much, or so many hours' work, each person shall receive so many meals of wholesome food, and a warm lodging, at least as good as a barrack. That a certain portion of what each person's work shall be worth shall be reserved, and given to him or her, on their going away; and that each person shall stay as long or as short a time, or come as often as he choose, on these conditions.

If each person stayed three months, it would assist by rotation twenty-four thousand persons annually, though the real number, at all times, would be but six thousand. By establishing an asylum of this kind, such persons to whom temporary distresses occur, would have an opportunity to recruit themselves, and be enabled to look out for better employment.

Allowing that their labour paid but one half the expense of supporting them, after reserving a portion of their earnings for themselves, the sum of forty thousand pounds additional would defray all other charges for even a greater number than six thousand.

The fund very properly convertible to this purpose, in addition to the twenty thousand pounds, remaining of the former fund, will be the produce of the tax upon coals, so iniquitously and wantonly applied to the support of the Duke of Richmond. It is horrid that any man, more especially at the price coals now are, should live on the distresses of a community; and any government permitting such an abuse, deserves to be dismissed. This fund is said to be about twenty thousand pounds per annum.

I shall now conclude this plan with enumerating the several particulars, and then proceed to other matters.

The enumeration is as follows:--

First, Abolition of two millions poor-rates.

Secondly, Provision for two hundred and fifty thousand poor families.

Thirdly, Education for one million and thirty thousand children.

Fourthly, Comfortable provision for one hundred and forty thousand aged persons.

Fifthly, Donation of twenty shillings each for fifty thousand births.

Sixthly, Donation of twenty shillings each for twenty thousand marriages.

Seventhly, Allowance of twenty thousand pounds for the funeral expenses of persons travelling for work, and dying at a distance from their friends.

Eighthly, Employment, at all times, for the casual poor in the cities of London and Westminster.

By the operation of this plan, the poor laws, those instruments of civil torture, will be superseded, and the wasteful expense of litigation prevented. The hearts of the humane will not be shocked by ragged and hungry children, and persons of seventy and eighty years of age, begging for bread. The dying poor will not be dragged from place to place to breathe their last, as a reprisal of parish upon parish. Widows will have a maintenance for their children, and not be carted away, on the death of their husbands, like culprits and criminals; and children will no longer be considered as increasing the distresses of their parents. The haunts of the wretched will be known, because it will be to their advantage; and the number of petty crimes, the offspring of distress and poverty, will be lessened. The poor, as well as the rich, will then be interested in the support of government, and the cause and apprehension of riots and tumults will cease.- Ye who sit in ease, and solace yourselves in plenty, and such there are in Turkey and Russia, as well as in England, and who say to yourselves, "Are we not well off?" have ye thought of these things? When ye do, ye will cease to speak and feel for yourselves alone.

The plan is easy in practice. It does not embarrass trade by a sudden interruption in the order of taxes, but effects the relief by changing the application of them; and the money necessary for the purpose can be drawn from the excise collections, which are made eight times a year in every market town in England.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

It is clear that this view is in direct conflict with the Constitution which is an instrument, above all, for limiting the functions of government, and which is as binding today as when it was written. But we are advised to go a step further and ask why the Constitution’s framers restricted the scope of government. Conservatives are often charged, and in a sense rightly so, with having an overly mechanistic view of the Constitution: “It is America’s enabling document; we are American citizens; therefore,” the Conservatives’ theme runs, “we are morally and legally obliged to comply with the document.” All true. But the Constitution has a broader claim on our loyalty than that. The founding fathers had a reason for endorsing the principle of limited government; and this reason recommends defense of the constitutional scheme even to those who take their citizenship obligations lightly. The reason is simple, and it lies as the heart of the Conservative philosophy.

Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man’s liberty. Government represents power in the hands of some men to control and regulate the lives of other men. And power, as Lord Acton said, corrupts men. “Absolute power,” he added, “corrupts absolutely.”

State power, considered in the abstract, need not restrict freedom: but absolute state power always does. The legitimate functions of government are actually conductive to freedom. Maintaining internal order, keeping foreign foes at bay, administering justice, removing obstacles to the free interchange of goods—the exercise of these powers makes it possible for men to follow their chosen pursuits with maximum freedom. But note that the very instrument by which these desirable ends are achieved can be the instrument for achieving undesirable ends—that government can, instead of extending freedom, restrict freedom. And note, secondly, that the “can” quickly becomes “will” the moment the holders of government power are left to their own devices. This is because of the corrupting influence of power, the natural tendency of men who possess some power to take unto themselves more power. The tendency leads eventually to the acquisition of all power—whether in the hands of one or many makes little difference to the freedom of those left on the outside.

Such, then, is history’s lesson, which Messrs. Acheson and Larson evidently did not read: release the holders of state power from any restraints other than those they wish to impose upon themselves, and you are swinging down the well-traveled road to absolutism.

The framers of the Constitution had learned the lesson. They were not only students of history, but victims of it: they knew from vivid, personal experience that freedom depends on effective restraints against the accumulation of power in a single authority. And this is what the Constitution is: a system of restraints against the natural tendency of government to expand in the direction of absolutism. We all know the main components of the system. The first is the limitation of the federal government’s authority to specific, delegated powers. The second, a corollary of the first, is the reservation to the States and the people of all power not delegated to the federal government. The third is a careful division of the federal government’s power among three separate branches. The fourth is a prohibition against impetuous alteration of the system—namely, Article V’s tortuous, but wise, amendment procedures.

Was it then a Democracy the framers created? Hardly. The system of restraints, on the face of it, was directed not only against individual tyrants, but also against a tyranny of the masses. The framers were well aware of the danger posed by self-seeking demagogues—that they might persuade a majority of the people to confer on government vast powers in return for deceptive promises of economic gain. And so they forbade such a transfer of power—first by declaring, in effect, that certain activities are outside the natural and legitimate scope of the public authority, and secondly by dispersing public authority among several levels and branches of government in the hope that each seat of authority, jealous of its own prerogatives, would have a natural incentive to resist aggression by the others.

But the framers were not visionaries. They knew that rules of government, however brilliantly calculated to cope with the imperfect nature of man, however carefully designed to avoid the pitfalls of power, would be no match for men who were determined to disregard them. In the last analysis their system of government would prosper only if the governed were sufficiently determined that it should. “What have you given us?” a woman asked Ben Franklin toward the close of the Constitutional Convention. “A Republic,” he said, “if you can keep it!”

We have not kept it. The Achesons and Larsons have had their way. The system of restraints has fallen into disrepair. The federal government has moved into every field in which it believes its services are needed. The state governments are either excluded from their rightful functions by federal preemption, or they are allowed to act at the sufferance of the federal government. Inside the federal government both the executive and judicial branches have roamed far outside their constitutional boundary lines. And all of these things have come to pass without regard to the amendment procedures prescribed by Article V. The result is a Leviathan, a vast national authority out of touch with the people, and out of their control. This monolith of power is bounded only by the will of those who sit in high places.

There are a number of ways in which the power of government can be measured.

One is the size of its financial operations. Federal spending is now approaching a hundred billion dollars a year (compared with three and one-half billion less than three decades ago.)

Another is the scope of its activities. A study recently conducted by the Chicago Tribune showed that the federal government is now the “biggest land owner, property manager, renter, mover and hauler, medical clinician, lender, insurer, mortgage broker, employer, debtor, taxer and spender in all history.”

Still another is the portion of the peoples’ earnings government appropriates for its own use: nearly a third of earnings are taken every year in the form of taxes.

A fourth is the extent of government interference in the daily lives of individuals. The farmer is told how much wheat he can grow. The wage earner is at the mercy of national union leaders whose great power is a direct consequence of federal labor legislation. The businessman is hampered by a maze of government regulations, and often by direct government competition. The government takes six per cent of most payrolls in Social Security Taxes and thus compels millions of individuals to postpone until later years the enjoyment of wealth they might otherwise enjoy today. Increasingly, the federal government sets standards of education, health and safety.

How did it happen? How did our national government grow from a servant with sharply limited powers into a master with virtually unlimited power?

In part, we were swindled. There are occasions when we have elevated men and political parties to power that promised to restore limited government and then proceeded, after their election, to expand the activities of government. But let us be honest with ourselves. Broken promises are not the major causes of our trouble. Kept promises are. All too often we have put men in office who have suggested spending a little more on this, a little more on that, who have proposed a new welfare program, who have thought of another variety of “security.” We have taken the bait, preferring to put off to another day the recapture of freedom and the restoration of our constitutional system. We have gone the way of many a democratic society that has lost its freedom by persuading itself that if “the people” rule, all is well.

The Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, probably the most clairvoyant political observer of modern times, saw the danger when he visited this country in the 1830’s. Even then he foresaw decay for a society that tended to put more emphasis on its democracy than on its republicanism. He predicted that America would produce, not tyrants but “guardians.” And that the American people would “console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in lead-strings, because he sees that it is not a person nor a class of persons, but the people at large that hold the end of his chain.”

Our tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a few men deeply concerns me. We can be conquered by bombs or by subversion; but we can also be conquered by neglect—by ignoring the Constitution and disregarding the principles of limited government. Our defenses against the accumulation of unlimited power in Washington are in poorer shape, I fear, than our defenses against the aggressive designs of Moscow. Like so many other nations before us, we may succumb through internal weakness rather than fall before a foreign foe.

It was remarkable indeed that a new country of only about four million people produced an assembly of some of the most gifted statesmen in history. Yet only Franklin and George Washington, who presided over the convention, had national reputations. Both men sought to create a strong central government that would rise above the petty differences of the thirteen states. Other delegates feared such a government, especially one with a large standing army. Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry spoke for many of his colleagues when he said that such an army might be misused, thus endangering their infant nation. Gerry compared a large standing army with a large standing penis. "An excellent assurance of domestic tranquility," he said, "but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure."

-- PART FIVE: Birth of the Republic. 9: Miracle at Philadelphia, by H.W. BRANDS

I am convinced that most Americans now want to reverse the trend. I think that concern for our vanishing freedoms is genuine. I think that the people’s uneasiness in the stifling omnipresence of government has turned into something approaching alarm. But bemoaning the evil will not drive it back, and accusing fingers will not shrink government.

The turn will come when we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given. It will come when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”



1. This is a strange label indeed: it implies that “ordinary” Conservatism is opposed to progress. Have we forgotten that America made its greatest progress when Conservative principles were honored and preserved.
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Mon Dec 28, 2015 10:44 am

Part 1 of 2

PART FIVE: Birth of the Republic
9: Miracle at Philadelphia




Once the Revolution began, Americans set about creating the political machinery necessary to sustain an independent nation. The Second Continental Congress, called in 1775, continued as an emergency, all-purpose central government until 1781, when the Articles of Confederation were finally ratified and a new one-house Congress was elected to function as the national government. Wary of central authority because of the British experience, Americans now had precisely the kind of government most of them wanted: an impotent Congress that lacked the authority to tax, regulate commerce, or enforce its own ordinances and resolutions. Subordinate to the states, which supplied it with funds as they chose, Congress was powerless to run the country. Indeed, its delegates wandered from Princeton to Annapolis to Trenton to New York, endlessly discussing where they should settle.

Patriots such as James Madison of Virginia, Alexander Hamilton of New York, and the venerable George Washington fretted in their correspondence about the near paralysis of the central government and the unstable conditions that plagued the land. "An opinion begins to prevail, that a General Convention for revising the Articles of Confederation would be expedient," John Jay wrote Washington in March 1787. Washington agreed that the "fabrick" was "tottering." When Massachusetts farmers rose in rebellion under Daniel Shays, Washington was horror stricken. "Are your people getting mad? ... What is the cause of all this? When and how is it to end? ... What, gracious God, is man! that there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct? ... We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion!"

Many of his colleagues agreed. There followed a series of maneuvers and meetings that culminated in the great convention of 1787, a gathering of fifty-five notables sent to Philadelphia to overhaul the feeble Articles of Confederation. Without authority, they proceeded to draft an entirely new constitution that scrapped the Articles, created a new government, and undoubtedly saved the country and America's experiment in popular government. As James MacGregor Burns has noted, it was a convention of "the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed." Most delegates were wealthy, formally educated, and youngish (their average age was the early forties), and more than a third of them were slave owners. The poor, the uneducated, the backcountry farmers, and women, blacks, and Indians were not represented. Throughout their deliberations, moreover, they compromised on the volatile slavery issue. "For these white men," wrote one scholar, "the black man was always a brooding and unsettling presence (the black woman, even more than the white woman, was beyond the pale, beyond calculation)." For most of the framers of the Constitution, order and national strength were more important than the unalienable rights of blacks or women. Like their countrymen, most could simultaneously love liberty, recognize the injustice of slavery, yet tolerate bondage as a necessary evil.

As we enter our third century under the Constitution, we need more than ever to remember that the framers were not saints but human beings -- paradoxical, complex, unpredictable, and motivated by selfishness as well as high idealism. Yet, as H. W. Brands shows in the following selection, the founders were able to rise above petty self-interest to fashion what remains the oldest written national constitution, which in turn created one of the oldest and most successful federal systems in history.

Brands tells the story of the Constitutional Convention from the viewpoint of Benjamin Franklin, the oldest and perhaps the wisest of the delegates assembled there. As Franklin perused the list of delegates when the convention began, he declared himself extremely pleased. "We have here at present," Franklin said, "what the French call une assemblee des notables, a convention composed of some of the principal people from the states of our Confederation." Reading over the same roster, Thomas Jefferson called the convention an assembly of demi-gods."

It was remarkable indeed that a new country of only about four million people produced an assembly of some of the most gifted statesmen in history. Yet only Franklin and George Washington, who presided over the convention, had national reputations. Both men sought to create a strong central government that would rise above the petty differences of the thirteen states. Other delegates feared such a government, especially one with a large standing army. Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry spoke for many of his colleagues when he said that such an army might be misused, thus endangering their infant nation. Gerry compared a large standing army with a large standing penis. "An excellent assurance of domestic tranquility," he said, "but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure." Franklin no doubt enjoyed a hearty laugh over the analogy. He would have reminded Gerry and the other delegates that "the wisdom of the common folks" would restrain both an overzealous chief executive and a strong standing army.

The most divisive dispute concerned the nature of representation. Franklin compared the dispute to that of a snake with two heads when confronting a bush. One head wanted to go on one side of the stem, Franklin said, but the other head insisted on the other side. "Neither of the heads would consent to come back or give way to the other, " implying that the snake would starve to death if the heads could not reach an accommodation. The convention faced a similar problem: the delegates had to resort by necessity to accommodation and compromise, or their work would die of indecision. Fortunately for them and all succeeding generations of Americans, the delegates were able to fashion a new government through a series of painstaking compromises. By doing so, they ensured the survival of their new Constitution and the new government it created. A later historian called their achievement "the miracle at Philadelphia. "


ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION (1781-1789) The first American government after independence, it consisted of a weak central government that was subordinate to the states. There was a one-house congress that exercised all judicial, executive, and legislative functions but that lacked the power to levy taxes or to regulate currency.

BEDFORD, GUNNING A delegate from Delaware who believed that the large states had adopted "a dictatorial air" toward the small ones. He threatened secession if the individual states lost the sovereignty they had under the Articles of Confederation.

CUTLER, MANASSEH A Massachusetts clergyman and botanist who came to Philadelphia as a lobbyist for a group that was interested in receiving land grants in the Northwest Territory.

HAMILTON, ALEXANDER The brilliant New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton had earlier served as Washington's military aide during the American Revolution. Despite a humble background, Hamilton was an elitist who preferred monarchical government and distrusted the opinions of ordinary people.

JONES, JOHN PAUL During the American Revolution, Jones was an American naval officer who commanded the warship Bonhomme Richard. He raided British shipping and captured an English warship, which made him famous in America. During a desperate battle with another British warship, Jones's ship was severely damaged. When asked to surrender, he defiantly shouted: "I have not yet begun to fight."

MADISON, JAMES A Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, this planter, slaveholder, and brilliant statesman was responsible for much of the substance of the new Constitution drafted there.

MORRIS, GOUVERNEUR A Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Morris assumed the main responsibility for drafting the new Constitution. The preamble, which began, "We the people," was his inspiration and represented one of the single most important acts of the Constitutional Convention.

MORRIS, ROBERT Another Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Morris was one of the richest men in America. He had earned a considerable reputation for his work in financing the American Revolution. While at the Constitutional Convention, Washington stayed at Morris's impressive mansion.

RANDOLPH, EDMUND A popular governor and a delegate from Virginia at the Constitutional Convention, Randolph championed the interests of the large states there, speaking in his trademark high-pitched voice Randolph wanted a legislature based on proportional representation (see the Virginia Plan in this glossary).

SHAYS'S REBELLION {1786} Poor farmers in western Massachusetts closed a county courthouse and threatened to seize a federal arsenal. Daniel Shays, who had fought at Bunker Hill, led a group of rural debtors who felt that the state government was insensitive to their needs. Shays's uprising was symptomatic of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and the need for a stronger central government.

SOCIETY FOR POLITICAL INQUIRIES Formed by Benjamin Franklin, the society included George Washington, Thomas Paine, and many prominent Philadelphia residents. It met periodically to engage in lively discussions on, in Franklin's words, "the arduous and complicated science of government."

VIRGINIA PLAN Proposed by Edmund Randolph, the Virginia Plan called for a national executive with veto power, a national judiciary, and a two-house legislature. The lower house would be "elected by the people, and the upper house chosen by the lower." Delegates from the small states felt threatened by this proportional representation plan.

WILSON, JAMES A Pennsylvania delegate at the Constitutional Convention, Wilson advocated a strong national government and a legislature based on proportional representation. Wilson proposed that the southern states should count three-fifths of their slave populations when determining the number of representatives each slave state would have in the national House of Representatives.

[Benjamin] Franklin had lived much longer than [James] Madison -- much longer, in fact, than all but a handful of the other delegates to the constitutional convention. And he adopted a much less alarmist view of the future. He referred to [Daniel] Shays's rebellion as merely the work of "some disorderly people," and declared -- this to a French friend, to whom he spoke candidly -- "The rest of the states go on pretty well, except some dissensions in Rhode Island and Maryland respecting paper money."

Yet if he did not think doom at the door, Franklin heard its rumblings in the distance. Briefing [Thomas] Jefferson, still in France,* he wrote that from what he knew of the delegates, they seemed to be men of prudence and ability. "I hope good from their meeting." But the risks were great. "If it does not do good it must do harm, as it will show that we have not wisdom enough among us to govern ourselves, and will strengthen the opinion of some political writers that popular governments cannot long support themselves."

Anticipating the convention, Franklin organized a group called the Society for Political Inquiries, which met weekly in the library of his new home. Philadelphians made up the active membership, but the group enrolled various outside luminaries as honorary members. Among these was [George] Washington, who was thought to be favorably disposed to constitutional revision yet was also known to be reluctant to take a leading role. The former general cherished his exalted reputation and was correspondingly hesitant to involve himself in any divisive venture. At the same time, however, he hardly desired the undoing of the cause to which he had devoted eight years of his life. Nor did he wish to appear derelict in his duty. Franklin was among those telling Washington that duty called him to Philadelphia. "Your presence will be of the greatest importance to the success of the measure," Franklin wrote. Washington allowed himself to be persuaded.

Washington's arrival in Philadelphia prompted a civic celebration the likes of which had not been seen since the end of the war. A cadre of his old officers rode out to greet him; the party crossed the Schuylkill on a floating bridge built by the British but abandoned intact at the evacuation of the city and since maintained by the locals. Church bells pealed as the hero passed; the leading citizens vied for his favor. Robert and Mrs. Morris won the prize of housing him, in their mansion on Market Street just east of Sixth. If the Morris house was any evidence, the financier's interests were thriving; besides a hothouse (for winter enjoyment), the compound boasted an icehouse (especially appreciated during the sweltering weeks of the convention) and a stable for twelve horses. (Yet, not content with a standard of living unsurpassed "by any commercial voluptuary of London," in the words of a French visitor, Morris subsequently speculated in western lands and lost all. He spent three years in a debtors' prison within wailing distance of his former mansion.)

On arrival Washington paid his respects to Franklin; the next day the general returned for dinner. The other delegates followed suit. Franklin's new dining room seated twenty-four; he now probably wished it bigger, for everyone insisted on seeing the man who was at once America's resident sage and, as Pennsylvania president, the convention's ex officio host. On Friday, May 18, he wrote a London brewer who had sent him a cask of porter [beer]. "We have here at present what the French call une assemblee des notables, a convention composed of some of the principal people from the several states of our confederation. They did me the honour of dining with me last Wednesday, when the cask was broached, and its contents met with the most cordial reception and universal approbation."

On this festive note the convention commenced its sober business. Only two men were even contemplated for president of the convention: Franklin and Washington. Franklin deferred to Washington, perhaps partly from concern that his health would not stand the wear of daily sessions, but at least equally from knowledge that the project would have the greatest chance of success under the aegis of the eminent general. (Washington's distance above mere mortals was already legendary. Several delegates were discussing this phenomenon when Franklin's Pennsylvania colleague, Gouverneur Morris, a hearty good fellow, suggested it was all in their minds. Alexander Hamilton challenged Morris: "If you will, at the next reception evenings, gently slap him on the shoulder and say, 'My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well!' a supper and wine shall be provided for you and a dozen of your friends." Morris accepted the challenge and did what Hamilton demanded. Washington immediately removed Morris's hand from his shoulder, stepped away, and fixed Morris with an angry frown until the trespasser retreated in confusion. Hamilton paid up, yet at the dinner Morris declared, "I have won the bet, but paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.")

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution" by Howard Chandler Christy. Courtesy Archives of the Capitol

Thomas Jefferson, although he was not present, called the men who gathered at Philadelphia to write the Constitution "an assembly of demi-gods. " Most recognize in this Howard C. Christy painting the tall upright figure of the presiding officer, George Washington, and the slouched gout-stricken body of eighty-one year-old Benjamin Franklin. They were men of substance, of property -- men who were about to draft what would become the longest-running constitution in the history of the world.

Franklin was right to worry about his ability to attend all the sessions. His mode of travel these days -- to the limited extent he did travel -- was via sedan chair, a seat mounted between two poles, which he had brought from France. Four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail hoisted the chair on their shoulders, and, if they walked slowly, Franklin's [kidney] stone did not pain him too much. Although the seat was covered, with glass windows, it was not really suited to foul weather, and when heavy rain doused the opening day of the convention, Franklin was forced to stay home. He had been planning to nominate Washington for convention president himself; instead the nomination was put forward by the Pennsylvania delegation. The gesture was appreciated all the same. "The nomination came with particular grace from Pennsylvania," recorded James Madison, "as Doctor Franklin alone could have been thought of as a competitor.

Before the convention most of the delegates knew Franklin only by reputation. His long absence from America rendered him something of a mystery; most wondered whether he would live up to all the good things said of him -- or down to the few bad things. William Pierce of Georgia was one of the handful of delegates who recorded his impression:

Dr. Franklin is well known to be the greatest philosopher of the present age; all the operations of nature he seems to understand, the very heavens obey him, and the clouds yield up their lightning to be imprisoned in his rod.

But what claim he has to be a politician, posterity must determine. It is certain that he does not shine much in public council. He is no speaker, nor does he seem to let politics engage his attention.

He is, however, a most extraordinary man, and tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard. Let his biographer finish his character. He is 82 [actually 81] years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a youth of 25 years of age.

Franklin would have been the first to agree he was no orator, and in a gathering of fifty-five politicians, most of whom prided themselves on their forensic skills, he was content to let others carry the oratorical burden.

In fact he allowed others to carry even the burden of his statements. Very early the intentions of the organizers of the convention became evident: not merely to revise the Articles of Confederation but to draft an entirely new charter. The Virginians -- especially Madison and Edmund Randolph -- had been busy, and on the third day Randolph revealed a comprehensive plan for a national government. The centerpiece of the Virginia plan was a powerful legislature of two houses, one house elected by the people, the other chosen by the popular house from nominations forwarded by the states. The legislature would name the executive and the judiciary, and it would possess a veto over state laws infringing its prerogatives.

Franklin had preferred a unicameral legislature for Pennsylvania, and he preferred it for America. He preferred an executive council, again on the Pennsylvania model, over a single president. But his first speech addressed another issue: how the executive was to be paid. Apologizing for the fact that his memory was not what it had been, he explained that he had written out his remarks. Franklin's Pennsylvania colleague James Wilson offered to read them, and Franklin accepted.

Franklin proposed that the executive, whether singular or plural, receive no compensation beyond expenses. "There are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men," he asserted. "These are ambition and avarice: the love of power, and the love of money: Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honour that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it." ...

Some would call his proposal utopian, Franklin conceded; men must be paid for their labors. Yet he begged to differ, and he cited evidence. In English counties the office of high sheriff yielded no profit to its holder; on the contrary, the office cost its holder money. "Yet it is executed, and well executed, and usually by some of the principal gentlemen of the county." In France the office of counselor likewise exacted a cost of its holders, yet respectable and capable individuals vied for the distinction it conferred.

Nor did the members of the convention have to look across the ocean for examples of patriotic service untied to profit. They merely had to look across the room. "Have we not seen the great and most important of our offices, that of general of our armies, executed for eight years together without the smallest salary, by a patriot whom I will not now offend by any other praise?" If such was true amid the fatigues and distresses of war, would not the country be able to find men willing to give service during peace? "I have a better opinion of our country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake and execute well and faithfully the office in question."

Perhaps Franklin misread from his own past into the future of his audience. Their very presence, combined with their youth, indicated they were not like him, who had delayed entering politics until he had made his fortune. Nor were any but a few as well off as Washington, who could afford to serve his country for eight years without compensation. These men might not place profit above honor, but few of them could ignore profit entirely.

Madison recorded the reaction to Franklin's speech: "The motion was seconded by Colonel [Alexander] Hamilton with the view, he said, of merely bringing so respectable a proposition before the committee, and which was besides enforced by arguments that had a certain degree of weight. No debate ensued, and the proposition was postponed for the consideration of the members. It was treated with great respect, but rather for the author of it than from any apparent conviction of its expediency or practicality."

Another Franklin proposal received equally short shrift. A month into the convention the body had made frustratingly little progress. Franklin noted that the delegates had searched history for guidance and looked to the governments of other countries. "How has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings?" At the onset of the troubles with Britain, the Continental Congress, meeting in this very room, had daily requested divine help in finding its way. "Our prayers were heard, sir, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed the frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favour." Without Heaven's help the delegates would not be where they were, attempting what they were attempting. "Have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need its assistance?" Franklin remarked that he had lived a long time. "And the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?" ...

This statement was as open as Franklin ever got in public about his religious beliefs. (And it was only partially public, the delegates having pledged themselves to confidentiality.) The delegates probably did not appreciate the unusual candor in Franklin's remarks; in any case they ignored them. His motion received a second, but Hamilton and others worried that, however laudable the practice of prayer might be, to commence it at this late date would convey a sense of desperation. Franklin responded that the past omission of a duty did not justify continued omission and that the public was just as likely to respond positively as negatively to word that their delegates were seeking God's blessing on their labors.

His argument failed. After Hugh Williamson of North Carolina pointed out that the convention lacked funds to pay a chaplain, Edmund Randolph offered an amendment to Franklin's motion. Randolph suggested hiring a preacher to give a sermon on Independence Day, less than a week off, and thereafter to open the sessions with a prayer.

Franklin accepted the amendment, but the delegates put off discussion by recessing for the day, and the proposition died. Franklin remarked with some wonder, at the bottom of the written copy of his speech, "The convention, except three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary!"

Most delegates had more earthly matters in mind.
The nature of the executive vexed the convention for weeks. At one extreme stood Alexander Hamilton, the former protege of Washington -- ambitious, arrogant, intolerant of those less gifted than he. A certain mystery surrounded his West Indian birth; John Adams, ever uncharitable, called him the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar." He was small and lithe, with delicate features that made him look even younger than his thirty-two years. Yet the fire that burned inside him made him seem, to Jefferson at least (after Hamilton aimed his flames Jefferson's way), "an host within himself." Even on best behavior, as at the convention, he put people off. William Pierce, while granting that Hamilton was "deservedly celebrated for his talents," added, "His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreeable."

Patriotic and courageous during the war, [b]Hamilton nonetheless retained a decided partiality toward the British system of government. "I believe the British government form the best model the world ever produced," Hamilton told the convention. The secret of the British government was its strength, which allowed it to provide individual security. The British recognized a fundamental facet of human nature. "All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact." The people were turbulent and fickle; they rarely knew where their interests lay. "Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness in the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government."
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

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Part 2 of 2

Hamilton's confidence in benign rule by society's betters led him to conclude that executive power ought to be vested in a single man, elected for life. "It may be said that this constitutes an elective monarchy." Let the fainthearted call it what they wished. "Pray, what is a monarchy? May not the governors of the respective states be considered in that light?" Hamilton allowed for impeachment of the executive in cases of egregious malfeasance; in this respect, he said, the executive-for-life fell short of being a monarch. But he endorsed the basic principle of monarchy, that the holder of the office ought to be irresponsible to the people. Only then would he be free of the people's unruly passions. Earlier speakers had suggested a long term for the executive, perhaps seven years. Hamilton deemed this insufficient. "An executive is less dangerous to the liberties of the people when in office during life, than for seven years."

Franklin held just the opposite view. Not only did he rest far less faith in the British system -- having, unlike Hamilton, observed its operations closely at first hand -- but he had less confidence in what Hamilton (and many others) deemed the better elements in society. To place entire executive authority in one man was to court trouble. Even assuming the best of goodwill on the part of the executive, what would happen when he got sick? Physical frailty might not worry Hamilton and others in the prime of life, but, as Franklin could assure them, life lasted beyond one's prime. Eventually, of course, the executive would die; though Hamilton proposed a scheme for electing a successor, after many years under one man the government could not escape disruption.

Moreover, judgments varied from man to man, and each executive would seek to make his own mark. "A single person's measures may be good. The successor often differs in opinion of those measures, and adopts others; often is ambitious of distinguishing himself by opposing them, and offering new projects. One is peaceably disposed, another may be fond of war, &c. Hence foreign states can never have that confidence in the treaties or friendship of such a government, as in that which is conducted by a number."

The only conclusion Franklin could draw was that executive power was too potent to be entrusted to a single person. "The steady course of public measures is most probably to be expected from a number."

Ultimately the convention split the difference between Hamilton and Franklin, opting for a single executive of limited term. On another issue -- the one on which the entire constitutional project threatened to founder -- compromise finally came as well, but with greater difficulty.

Under the Virginia plan, election to the lower house of the legislature would be according to population, with larger states -- such as Virginia -- having greater representation than smaller states. Because the upper house would be chosen by the lower house, this advantage to the larger states would inform the actions of the legislature as a whole. The delegates from the larger states thought this only just, not least since they were expected to pay the largest portion of the expenses of the central government.

Predictably, delegates from the smaller states objected. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state possessed equal weight within the legislature, and the small-state delegates intended to preserve this principle. Indeed, the instructions of the delegates from Delaware forbade them from countenancing any tampering with equal representation by states. Accordingly, when the delegation from New Jersey proposed an alternative to the Virginia plan -- an alternative enshrining the one-state, one-vote principle -- the smaller states rallied to it.

Upon the question of representation hinged the essence of the new government. If representation remained by states, then the new government would remain, to a large degree, a government of the states, along the lines of the Confederation. By contrast, if representation shifted to population, then the new government would be a government of the people. The states might retain their existence, but they would have hardly more meaning than counties in England.

This was exactly what James Madison believed they should have. "Some contend that states are sovereign," Madison declared, "when in fact they are only political societies." The states had never possessed sovereignty, which from the start of the Revolution had been vested in Congress. "The states, at present, are only great corporations, having the power of making by-laws, and these are effectual only if they are not contradictory to the general confederation. The states ought to be placed under the control of the general government -- at least as much as they formerly were under the king and British Parliament."

These were fighting words, or promised to be. Gunning Bedford of Delaware demanded, "Are not the large states evidently seeking to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the small? They think no doubt that they have right on their side, but interest has blinded their eyes." Bedford accused the large states of adopting "a dictatorial air" toward the smaller, of suggesting they could make a government of their own without the small states. "If they do," Bedford warned, "the small ones will find some foreign ally of more honour and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice."

Bedford's threat elicited an even sharper response from Gouverneur Morris. The larger states would not brook such secessionist talk, Morris asserted. "This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will." Amplifying his point, he added, "The scenes of horror attending civil commotion cannot be described, and the conclusion of them will be worse than the terms of their continuance. The stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker, and the gallows and halter will finish the work of the sword."

It was just this kind of acrimony that had elicited Franklin's call for the help of the Deity; that call having failed of the convention's approval, he now interposed himself "The diversity of opinion turns on two points," he told the delegates. "If a proportional representation takes place, the small states contend that their liberties will be in danger. If an equality of votes is to be put in its place, the large states say their money will be in danger." The time had come to compromise. "When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not fit, the artist takes a little from both, and makes a good joint. In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands in order that they may join in some accommodating purpose."

He thereupon laid before the members a motion:

That the legislatures of the several states shall choose and send an equal number of delegates, namely who are to compose the second branch of the general legislature.

Franklin's motion became the basis for the grand compromise that saved the convention and made the Constitution possible. The large states would have their way with the lower house, to be called the House of Representatives, which would be selected according to population. The interests of the smaller states would be safeguarded in the upper house, called the Senate, which would be chosen by the legislatures of the states, with each state getting two -- the number that filled in Franklin's blank -- senators. (More than a century later, of course, the Constitution would be amended to provide for direct election of senators by voters of the states, but the principle of equal representation remained.)

On the eve of the final vote on the grand compromise, Franklin entertained a visitor to the city. Dr. Manasseh Cutler was a clergyman from Massachusetts, also a botanist (and later a member of Congress). "There was no curiosity in Philadelphia which I felt so anxious to see as this great man, who has been the wonder of Europe as well as the glory of America," Cutler wrote. "But a man who stood first in the literary world, and had spent so many years in the Courts of Kings, particularly in the refined Court of France, I conceived would not be of very easy access, and must certainly have much of the air of grandeur and majesty about him. Common folks must expect only to gaze at him at a distance, and answer such questions as he might please to ask." When delegate Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who was on his way to Franklin's house, asked Cutler if he wished to come, Cutler said he certainly did -- but, as he told a friend later, "I hesitated; my knees smote together."

What Cutler found in the Franklin garden was not in the least what he expected.

How were my ideas changed, when I saw a short, fat, trunched old man, in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree, and, as Mr. Gerry introduced me, rose from his chair, took me by the hand, expressed his joy to see me, welcomed me to the city, and begged me to seat myself close to him.

His voice was low, but his countenance open, frank, and pleasing .... I delivered him my letters. After he had read them, he took me again by the hand, and, with the usual compliments, introduced me to the other gentlemen, who were most of them members of the Convention.

Here we entered into a free conversation, and spent our time most agreeably until it was dark. The tea-table was spread under the tree, and Mrs. Bache, a very gross and rather homely lady, who is the only daughter of the Doctor, and lives with him, served it out to the company. She had three of her children about her, over whom she seemed to have no kind of command, but who appeared to be excessively fond of their Grandpapa.

The Doctor showed me a curiosity he had just received, and with which he was much pleased. It was a snake with two heads, preserved in a large vial. It was taken near the confluence of the Schuylkill with the Delaware, about four miles from this city. It was about ten inches long, well proportioned, the heads perfect, and united to the body about one-fourth of an inch below the extremities of the jaws ....

The Doctor mentioned the situation of this snake, if it was traveling among the bushes, and one head should choose to go on one side of the stem of a bush and the other head should prefer the other side, and that neither of the heads would consent to come back or give way to the other. He was then going to mention a humourous matter that had that day occurred in Convention, in consequence of his comparing the snake to America, for he seemed to forget that everything in Convention was to be kept a profound secret; but the secrecy of Convention matters was suggested to him, which stopped him, and deprived me of the story he was going to tell.

Doubtless the story involved the dispute over representation, which was on the verge of resolution -- without the snake's starving or either of the heads' being cut off. Yet the vote was not certain, and the other delegates present definitely did not want the loquacious host to make the compromise settlement any more difficult.

(Their concern also reflected their fear of the convention's president. During one early session, copies of the Virginia propositions were circulated, with the injunction that these were for the delegates' eyes only and must be guarded with strictest care. Some while later a copy was discovered on the floor of the State House and turned over to Washington. The general placed the copy in his pocket and said nothing until the end of that day's debates. Thereupon he rose from his seat and addressed the delegates in the sternest tones. "Gentlemen," he said, "I am sorry to find that some member of this body has been so neglectful of the secrets of the Convention as to drop in the State House a copy of their proceedings, which by accident was picked up and delivered to me this morning. I must entreat gentlemen to be more careful, lest our transactions get into the newspapers and disturb the public repose by premature speculations. I know not whose paper it is, but there it is." Throwing the paper down on the table, he concluded, "Let him who owns it, take it." Then he bowed, picked up his hat, and left the room -- "with a dignity so severe that every person seemed alarmed," said William Pierce. Significantly, no one claimed the paper, although Pierce's heart leaped into his throat when, reaching in his pocket, he could not find his own copy. To his immense relief, it turned up later in the pocket of his other coat.) ...

Cutler was entranced by his octogenarian host. "I was highly delighted with the extensive knowledge he appeared to have of every subject, the brightness of his memory, and clearness and vivacity of all his mental faculties, notwithstanding his age (eighty-four) [eighty-three and a half, actually]. His manners are perfectly easy, and everything about him seems to diffuse an unrestrained freedom and happiness. He has an incessant vein of humour, accompanied with an uncommon vivacity, which seems as natural and involuntary as his breathing."

Breathing came easier that summer for Franklin, who was used to Philadelphia's climate, than for some of the delegates from out of town. The southerners arrived dressed for the heat, but the northerners, in their woolen suits, suffered badly. The State House was comparatively cool when the sessions began at ten in the morning, but by midday the green baize on the tables where the delegates sat began to show dark spots from their sweat. The windows had to be kept closed, partly against the prying eyes and ears of outsiders but mostly against the flies that battened on the horse dung in the streets and the offal in the gutters. "A veritable torture during Philadelphia's hot season" was how a French visitor described "the innumerable flies which constantly light on the face and hands, stinging everywhere and turning everything black because of the filth they leave wherever they light." There was no escape, even at night. "Rooms must be kept closed unless one wishes to be tormented in his bed at the break of day, and this need of keeping everything shut makes the heat of the night even more unbearable and sleep more difficult. And so the heat of the day makes one long for bedtime because of weariness, and a single fly which has gained entrance to your room in spite of all precautions, drives you from bed."

Franklin survived the heat better than many delegates far younger than he, and better than he had feared. To be sure, a three-day illness in mid-July left him "so weak as to be scarce able to finish this letter," he explained to John Paul Jones in Paris. (In this same letter Franklin asked Jones to convey regards to Jefferson "and acquaint him that the Convention goes on well and that there is hope of great good to result.") But on the whole his health held up, and he attended the sessions of the convention faithfully.

Though the compromise on representation assured the success of the convention, the members still had work to do. They had to define the powers of the executive and the extent of legislative checks upon him. Should the legislature be able to impeach and remove him during his term? Franklin thought so. He considered the power of removal a guarantee both for the people and for the executive. "What was the practice before this in cases where the chief magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why, recourse was had to assassination, in which he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way, therefore, to provide in the constitution for the regular punishment of the executive when his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honourable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused."

A view of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), where the delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled in May 1787. During these meetings the United States government, as we know it, took shape. In the tower of the State House hung the Liberty Bell, which tolled the news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and of American victories in the Revolution. An impassioned motto girdled the bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof." But given all the inhabitants excluded from the blessings of liberty, the motto seems more than a little ironic. (Public Domain)

Should the executive be eligible for reelection? Some members thought he must be, else he necessarily suffer the degradation of being returned to the body of the people. Franklin differed strenuously. Such an assertion was "contrary to republican principles," he said. "In free governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former therefore to return among the latter was not to degrade but to promote them." Doubtless with that sly smile of his, he added, "It would be imposing an unreasonable burden on them to keep them always in a state of servitude and not allow them to become again one of the masters."

Who should be able to vote? Many delegates thought responsibility attached to property, and irresponsibility to its lack, and said suffrage should be restricted to freeholders. Franklin granted that the person least prone to political pressure was the one who tilled his own farm, but he would not endorse the proposed restriction. "It is of great consequence that we should not depress the virtue and public spirit of our common people, of which they displayed a great deal during the war, and which contributed principally to the favourable issue of it." Such a restriction would rightly provoke popular upset. "The sons of a substantial farmer, not being themselves freeholders, would not be pleased at being disfranchised, and there are a great many persons of that description."

What should be the requirements for candidates to the national legislature? Many delegates again wanted to see proof of owning property. Again Franklin embraced the more democratic position. Once more he voiced his dislike of everything that tended "to debase the spirit of the common people." Besides, as his own long experience of politics and politicians had taught him, the proposed restriction was no guarantee of good government. "If honesty was often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of property increased the desire of more property. Some of the greatest rogues I ever was acquainted with were the richest rogues." Moreover, other countries were watching America. "This constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe, and if it should betray a great partiality to the rich, it will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people from removing to this country."

The opinion of Europe -- to which, it was fair to say, Franklin was more sensitive than anyone else at the convention -- informed his opinion on a related topic. How long should immigrants be required to live in America before becoming eligible for office? Some said as much as fourteen years. Franklin thought this excessive. He was "not against a reasonable time, but should be very sorry to see any thing like illiberality inserted in the constitution." The members were writing not simply for an American audience. "The people in Europe are friendly to this country. Even in the country with which we have been lately at war, we have now and had during the war a great many friends not only among the people at large but in both Houses of Parliament. In every other country in Europe all the people are our friends." How the proposed constitution treated foreign immigrants would have much to do with whether America retained those European friends. In any case, justice dictated fair treatment of the foreign-born, for many had served valiantly during the war. The mere fact of immigrants' relocation to America should count for something. "When foreigners, after looking about for some other country in which they can obtain more happiness, give a preference to ours, it is a proof of attachment which ought to excite our confidence and affection."

As cooler weather approached, so did the end of the convention's work. Franklin had his way on some of the remaining issues, yielded on others. He advocated requiring not one but two witnesses to the same overt act of treason, on grounds that prosecutions for this highest crime were "generally virulent" and perjury was too easily employed against the innocent. The convention agreed. (This requirement of two witnesses would prove critical in the treason trial of Aaron Burr twenty years later.) Franklin seconded a motion calling for an executive council to assist the president. Still advocating a wider distribution of power, he said, "We seem too much to fear cabals in appointments by a number, and to have too much confidence in those of single persons." Colonial experience with bad governors should have shown the need to restrain a single executive, while his own experience as chief executive of Pennsylvania revealed the positive benefits a council could provide. "A council would not only be a check on a bad president but be a relief to a good one." The convention disagreed.

The thorniest of the final issues involved slavery. How should slaves be counted toward representation in the lower house? Naturally the delegates from the states with few slaves wanted to minimize the slave count; they pointed out that since slave owners considered slaves to be property, those same slaves should not be counted as persons. The delegates from states with many slaves objected, less on philosophical grounds than on the pragmatic one that without some allowance for slaves, their states simply would not accept the new constitution. James Wilson of Pennsylvania proposed that the new constitution adopt the expedient devised by the Confederation Congress in 1783, when the legislature allowed the states to count three-fifths of the total number of their slaves. This compromise made no one happy but none so upset as to bolt the convention, and it was accepted.

A similar makeshift disposed of the question of the slave trade. The new constitution would give Congress power to regulate commerce, but the heavily slaved states resisted infringement on the commerce in slaves. Franklin had been sharply critical of the slave trade when it was practiced by the British, and -- as he would soon reveal -- had come to detest the entire institution of slavery, but when the southern states made clear that the issue of the slave trade was another potential convention-breaker, he acquiesced in another compromise. For twenty years Congress could not bar the traffic in slaves; from 1808 it might do what it chose on the subject.

On September 17 the completed copy of the Constitution was ready for the members' signatures. Franklin addressed the convention for the last time. Again he spoke through James Wilson, who read his colleague's prepared remarks. "I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve," Franklin said. "But I am not sure I shall never approve them, for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions even on important subjects which I once thought right but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more attention to the judgment of others."

Some people felt themselves possessed of all truth; so did most sects in religion. Franklin explained how the Anglican Richard Steele (upon whose writing, many years before, he had modeled his own) once penned a dedication to the Pope, in which he explained, in Franklin's paraphrase, that "the only difference between our churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong." Franklin also quoted a Frenchwoman of his acquaintance who, in an argument with her sister, declared, "I don't know how it is, Sister, but I meet with nobody but myself that's always in the right."

As the chuckles subsided, Franklin made his point. "In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered." He reminded once more that the strength of any government rested on the virtue of the people ....

Franklin doubted whether any convention could have done better. "When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?" The wonder was how well the present assembly had done. "I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our states are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best."

Franklin closed by suggesting that the confidentiality that had surrounded the proceedings ought to continue upon the members' parting. "The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die." If each delegate, returning to his constituents, complained at this point or that of the new government, the total of the complaints would probably scuttle the project. On the other hand, unanimity would encourage ratification. "I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously."

Achieving this unanimity required a final bit of finesse. Franklin knew full well that unanimity of delegates was not possible. Edmund Randolph was holding out, as were Elbridge Gerry and George Mason. But unanimity of the states might be attained, by polling the members within each delegation and heeding the majorities therein. Gouverneur Morris framed a formula for the signing: "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th of September." Franklin moved that the convention adopt this formula, and the motion carried.

George Washington signed first, followed by thirty-seven others, state by state. James Madison related the convention's close:

Whilst the last members were signing it, Doctor Franklin, looking towards the president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had often found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have, said he, often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.

The delegates to Philadelphia had been authorized only to modify the Articles of Confederation, but they had recognized that the Confederation was utterly unworkable. Deliberately exceeding their authority, they had scrapped the Articles and proceeded to create an entirely new Constitution and a new government. As a result, there was a great deal of opposition to the document. Indeed, the ratification of the Constitution was a slow, agonizing process with the vote extremely close in many states. In Virginia, Patrick Henry declared that he "smelled a rat" in Philadelphia, and George Mason, concerned about the absence of a bill of rights, announced that he "would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution." Still, Virginia narrowly approved the document by a vote of 89 to 79. There was high drama in many other states, too, but brilliantly defended by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in the Federalist Papers, the Constitution was finally ratified by the nine necessary states, and it took effect in 1789.

After the convention, when a woman asked Franklin what kind of government the delegates had devised, he replied: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it." The old gentleman would be proud to know that Americans have now kept it for more than two centuries.


1. Describe George Washington's doubts about attending the Constitutional Convention. As you read selection 10, reflect on some of the reasons why the general was often a reluctant participant in the political discussions that followed independence. Why was Franklin eager to have Washington present at the Constitutional Convention?

2. Describe Franklin's health at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Why does this selection give you the impression that age had not dulled Franklin's keen senses?

3. Explain Franklin's reasons for proposing that the members of the executive branch of the new government should serve without pay. Given the background of most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, why was Franklin's recommendation impractical? Why did Franklin's suggestion for daily prayers also meet with resistance? Compare Franklin's desire for prayers at the Constitutional Convention with Walter Isaacson's description of Franklin's views on religion in selection 6.

4. How did Hamilton and Franklin differ in their views of the power and length of service of the chief executive in the new government? Analyze Hamilton's and Franklin's contrasting opinions about the "common man." Why did the two men differ on this subject?

5. What role did Franklin play in brokering a compromise between the large and small states on representation in the legislative branch of the new government? Explain Franklin's fascination with the snake with two heads. Explain too, how it symbolized the problems faced by his fellow delegates?

6. Contrast the views of northern and southern delegates on the representation of the slave population in the lower house of the new legislature. How was the thorny issue of the continuation of the international slave trade resolved?



1. From The First American by H. W. Brands, copyright © 2000 by H. W. Brands. Used by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

2. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Jefferson was serving as America's first Minister to France.
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Mon Dec 28, 2015 10:53 am

The Right’s Re-Branding, 1860 to 1776
By Robert Parry
May 7, 2013



The Republican Party has talked a lot about the need to re-brand, but the Right has pulled off a very successful re-branding of its own by shifting its imagery from the Confederacy to the American Revolution -– while maintaining the same states’ rights message and stamping its anti-government ideology falsely on the Framers of the Constitution.

The Right’s re-branding can be seen visually in the downplaying of the Confederacy’s battle flag, the “Stars and Bars,” and highlighting instead the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of the Revolution. This change, in effect, recognizes that many Americans now find images from the slave-owning South and the Ku Klux Klan as racist and unpalatable.

So, the Right has insinuated itself into the more admired symbolism from the War of Independence, meaning that instead of pulling on a “Stars and Bars” t-shirt or dressing up in Confederate gray, today’s right-winger is more likely to wear a tri-corner hat or a Revolutionary War costume. The naming of the modern right-wing movement after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 is another obvious sign of this re-branding process.

This Revolution War symbolism has accompanied revolutionary-style rhetoric from the likes of Glenn Beck and other right-wing demagogues who agitate their followers into a violent state of mind. A May 1 poll by Farleigh Dickinson University found that 44 percent of Republicans -– and 29 percent of all Americans –- “think that an armed revolution in order to protect liberties might be necessary in the next few years.”

Strident Second Amendment claims are another indication of how the Right has co-opted the Founding era to convince millions of Americans that the elected federal government -– and especially Barack Obama, the first African-American president -– must be resisted with violence. This paranoia has fed into the stockpiling of weapons, apparently for use killing police, soldiers and other government representatives once the revolution begins.

However, the Right’s claim to be the heirs to the Framers of the Constitution has required a brazen theft of American history, particularly the ideological kidnapping of James Madison, the Constitution’s principal architect. In today’s right-wing fantasies, Madison has been reinvented as a states-rights ideologue who always wanted a weak federal government.

The fact that the real James Madison -– along with his ally George Washington –- took nearly the opposite position, disdaining states’ rights and favoring a powerful central government has disappeared into a fog of right-wing mythology.

This historical hijacking has been carried out with surprisingly little resistance from mainstream commentators who either don’t know the history or don’t think the fight is worth having. Yet, ceding the historical narrative to the Right has meant that many Americans now think they are following the guideposts that the Framers left behind when they are actually being led in the opposite direction.

A Unified Nation

Madison and Washington wanted a unified nation that addressed the country’s practical needs and overcame the rivalries among the states. “Thirteen sovereignties,” Washington wrote, “pulling against each other, and all tugging at the federal head, will soon bring ruin to the whole.”

Prior to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison told Washington that the states had to be made “subordinately useful.”

However, what modern right-wing propaganda has done is essentially replace the Constitution with what it replaced, the Articles of Confederation, which governed the young nation from 1777 to 1787 and indeed had made the states “sovereign” and “independent” and relegated the central government to a “league of friendship.”

Madison and Washington were among the pragmatic nationalists who recognized that the Articles were a disaster threatening the fragile independence and unity of the country.

For instance, both Madison and Washington believed the central government needed the power to regulate national commerce, a reform that Madison tried to get added as an amendment to the Articles of Confederation. Washington, who as commander in chief of the Continental Army had chafed under the states’ failures to provide promised arms and money for his soldiers, strongly supported Madison’s idea.

Washington called Madison’s commerce amendment “so self evident that I confess I am at a loss to discover wherein lies the weight of the objection to the measure. We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of a general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it to be.”

After Madison’s commerce amendment died in the Virginia legislature -– and as Shays’ Rebellion shook western Massachusetts in 1786 while the central government was powerless to intervene -– Madison and Washington turned to the more radical concept of a Constitutional Convention. Here is how historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg describe Madison’s thinking in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson:

“Building a case against the Articles of Confederation, [Madison] needed to explain why the United States was so ill equipped to accomplish the basic tasks of raising money, making treaties, and regulating commerce. By April 1787 he had a diagnosis in hand. He called it ‘Vices of the Political System of the United States,’ and it became his working manifesto, a summary view at the end of his first decade as a state and national politician.

“Chief among the vices Madison identified was the undue power lodged in the individual states. Having held a seat in Congress longer than anyone else (four years), he had come to feel that the Confederation was barely a government at all. Like most confederations, the U.S. system was a voluntary compact, a weak ‘league of friendship’ among the states, and subject to internal dissensions. It lacked executive and judicial components; it rarely if ever represented the collective will of the people. …

“Madison saw little to be gained in rescuing the Confederation. It was a dysfunctional system, its flaws too ingrained for it to be made energetic or even stable. … Moreover, the aggrandizing state legislatures of the 1780s resembled nothing so much as a group of rambunctious children refusing to play together fairly. … Damning the states unmercifully, Madison found his solution in a centralizing government. …

“Madison explained his thinking to George Washington shortly before the Constitutional Convention was set to open. There was only one way to save the nation, he said. The states had to be made ‘subordinately useful.’”

Subordinating the States

The phrase “subordinately useful” is evocative of Madison’s intent in the Constitution, a document that essentially shifted national sovereignty away from the individual 13 states to “We the People of the United States,” i.e. to the federal Republic.

In Madison’s original draft of the Constitution, the federal Congress would even be given veto power over state legislation, a provision that eventually was dropped. However, the Constitution and federal law were still made the supreme laws of the land, and federal courts had the power to strike down state laws deemed unconstitutional.

Though not giving the federal government all the powers that Madison had wanted, the Constitution still represented a major shift of authority from the states to the central government. Indeed, in crafting the Constitution, the Framers engineered the single largest shift of power from the states to the federal government in U.S. history.

And, that transformation was not lost on the Anti-Federalists who struggled desperately to block ratification in 1788. It was during that nip-and-tuck battle that Madison -– in the Federalist Papers and as a delegate to Virginia’s ratifying convention –- sought to play down how sweeping the expanded federal powers were.

Those minimizing words are the ones cherry-picked by right-wing “scholars” who have sought to reinvent Madison as a big enthusiast for states’ rights. To make the case, today’s Right is fond of citing Federalist Paper No. 45, entitled “The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered.”

Madison wrote: “If the new Constitution be examined with accuracy, it will be found that the change which it proposes consists much less in the addition of NEW POWERS to the Union, than in the invigoration of its ORIGINAL POWERS.

“The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained. The powers relating to war and peace, armies and fleets, treaties and finance, with the other more considerable powers, are all vested in the existing Congress by the Articles of Confederation. The proposed change does not enlarge these powers; it only substitutes a more effectual mode of administering them.”

Today’s Right also trumpets Madison’s summation, that “the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

What the Right ignores, however, is the context of Madison’s comments as he sought to tamp down the fiery Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution. A skilled politician, he was finessing his opponent.

finesse. noun. 1. extreme delicacy or subtlety in action, performance, skill, discrimination, taste, etc. 2. skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation; adroit and artful management: exceptional diplomatic finesse. 3. a trick, artifice, or stratagem. 4. Bridge, Whist. an attempt to win a trick with a card while holding a higher card not in sequence with it, in the hope that the card or cards between will not be played.

-- Finesse, by Dictionary.com

After all, if Madison really thought the Articles only needed a few tweaks, why would he have insisted on throwing them out altogether? Plus, replacing toothless powers with ones with real teeth –- or substituting “a more effectual mode of administering” those powers –- is not some inconsequential change.

Under the Constitution, for instance, printing money became the exclusive purview of the federal government, not a minor change. And, stripping the states of their “sovereignty” and “independence” meant they would not be free to secede from the Union, a very important change that the South would challenge in the Civil War.

Madison, the Builder

To cite Madison as an opponent of an activist federal government, the Right also must ignore Federalist Paper No. 14 in which Madison envisioned major construction projects under the powers granted by the Commerce Clause.

“[T]he union will be daily facilitated by new improvements,” Madison wrote. “Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout the whole extent of the Thirteen States.

“The communication between the western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.”

What Madison is demonstrating in that essay is a key fact about the Founders -– that, by and large, they were practical men seeking to build a strong and unified nation. They were looking for peaceful means to work out political and regional differences, while avoiding the sort of violent uprisings represented by Shays’ Rebellion. They also viewed the Constitution as a flexible document designed to meet America’s ever-changing needs, not simply the challenges of the late Eighteenth Century.

Today’s Tea Party -– in claiming Madison and other Framers as fellow-travelers disdaining a strong central government and favoring states’ rights –- makes much of the Tenth Amendment, which asserts that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

But the Right’s historical revisionists again miss the key point here. The Constitution already had granted broad powers to the federal government so the states were left largely with powers over local matters.

To further appreciate how modest the Tenth Amendment concession was, you must compare its wording with Article II of the Confederation, which is what it replaced. Article II stated that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”

In other words, the power relationship was flipped.
Instead of the states being firmly in control, the new central government would now set the supreme laws of the land with state “sovereignty” largely confined to local matters. Arguably, the most important American leader effecting this monumental change was James Madison.

A Battle Rejoined

In later years, Madison -– like other Framers of the Constitution -– switched sides in various debates over the practical limits of federal power. For instance, Madison joined with Thomas Jefferson in opposing Alexander Hamilton’s national bank, but then as Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison applied an expansive view of national authority in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase from France. Madison also shifted regarding the value of the national bank after his frustrating experiences as president during the War of 1812.

The struggles between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists also didn’t end with those early disputes over how the new government should function. The battle lines formed again when it became clear to the agrarian South that its economic model, based on slavery, was losing ground to the industrial power of the North and the influence of the Emancipation movement.

In the early 1830s, Southern politicians led the “nullification” challenge to the federal government, asserting that states had the right to nullify federal laws, such as a tariff on manufactured goods. But they were beaten back by President Andrew Jackson who threatened to deploy troops to South Carolina to enforce the federal supremacy established by the Constitution.

In December 1832, Jackson denounced the “nullifiers” and declared “the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”

Jackson also rejected as “treason” the notion that states could secede if they wished, noting that the Constitution “forms a government not a league,” a reference to a line in the Articles of Confederation that had termed the fledgling United States a “league of friendship” among the states, not a national government.

Jackson’s nullification crisis was resolved nonviolently, but a few decades later, the South’s continued resistance to the constitutional preeminence of the federal government led to secession and the formation of the Confederacy. It took the Union’s victory in the Civil War to firmly settle the issue of the sovereignty of the national Republic over the independence of the states.

However, the defeated South still balked at the principle of equal rights for blacks and invoked “states’ rights” to defend segregation during the Jim Crow era. White Southerners amassed enough political clout, especially within the Democratic Party, to fend off civil rights for blacks.

The battle over states’ rights was joined again in the 1950s when the federal government finally committed itself to enforcing the principle of “equal protection under the law” as prescribed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Many white Southerners were furious that their system of segregation was being dismantled by federal authority.

Southern rightists and libertarians insisted that federal laws prohibiting denial of voting rights for blacks and outlawing segregation in public accommodations were unconstitutional, citing the Tenth Amendment. But federal courts ruled that Congress was within its rights in banning such discrimination within the states.

Racist Symbols

The anger of Southern whites was reflected in the prevalence of the Confederate battle flag on pickup trucks and in store windows. Gradually, however, the American Right retreated from outright support of racial segregation and muffled the rhetorical threats of secession. The growing public revulsion over the “Stars and Bars” as a symbol of racism also forced the Right to make a stylistic adjustment as well.

The Right stopped deriving its key imagery from the embittered unreconstructed South and turned to the far more palatable era of Lexington and Concord. Instead of highlighting slogans like “the South will rise again,” the Right glommed onto Revolutionary War messages like “Don’t Tread on Me,” with the elected American government placed in the role of a tyrannical British monarch.

Though the Right’s imagery changed, the message remained the same. From the Anti-Federalist days of 1788 through the Civil War and the segregationist South to hatred of the first African-American president, there was a determination to prevent the federal Republic from acting against injustices existing inside individual states.

Only occasionally is there a flashback to the Right’s pro-slavery and pro-segregationist traditions, such as when the National Rifle Association’s new president, Jim Porter, a 64-year-old Alabama attorney, is recorded in a 2012 speech referring to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression” and calling President Obama a “fake.”

Today’s violent right-wing rhetoric is also reminiscent of the pre-Civil War days when demagogues riled up Southern whites to defend their “liberty” to own blacks or of the Jim Crow era when white racists swelled the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize blacks in defense of Southern “heritage.”

The major difference now is that instead of waving the “Stars and Bars” or burning crosses on lawns, today’s Right harkens back to the Minutemen fighting the British Crown. The Right also embraces the Framers of the Constitution as ideological brethren. All that’s required is fictionalizing the Founding era’s real history.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Wed Dec 30, 2015 5:40 am

The Power of False Narratives
By Robert Parry
April 18, 2013



Over the past several decades, the American Right has invested heavily in media outlets and think tanks with the goal of imposing right-wing historical narratives on the nation. That investment has now paved the way for defeat of modest gun-control legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Because of this well-financed right-wing propaganda, millions of Americans have been convinced that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted individual Americans armed to the teeth so they could kill policemen, soldiers and other government representatives. Thus any restriction on gun ownership, no matter how sensible, is deemed as going against the nation’s Founding Fathers.

President George Washington pictured leading state and federal troops against the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

The fact that the key Framers, such as James Madison and George Washington, actually believed that the people would be protected against tyranny through a representative Republic operating within the rule of law and the checks and balances of a Constitution has been lost amid the Right’s propaganda and paranoia.

Madison only grudgingly agreed to incorporate a Bill of Rights at all as a deal to secure the necessary votes for the Constitution’s ratification, with the Second Amendment essentially a concession to the states which wanted to protect their right to maintain citizen militias.

At the time, the right to bear arms within the context of “a well-regulated Militia” was not understood as a “libertarian” right to have an unregulated arsenal in your basement or the right to stride into public gatherings with a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 100-bullet magazine over your shoulder. In 1789, when Congress approved the Second Amendment, muskets were single-shot devices requiring time-consuming reloading.

And, as the Second Amendment explains, its purpose was to maintain “the security of a free State,” not to undermine that security with mass killings of civilians or insurrections against the elected government representing “We the People of the United States.” Under the Constitution, such insurrections were defined as “treason.”

But the Right has successfully abridged the Second Amendment as it is now understood by many ill-informed Americans. The 12-word preamble –- explaining the point of the amendment -– gets lopped off and only the last 14 words are left as the unofficially revised amendment.

So, when Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz lectures fellow senators on the Second Amendment, he doesn’t include the preamble, “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State.” He only reads the rest: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Nor do the Tea Partiers note that to Madison and the Framers the term “bear Arms” meant to participate in a militia, not to have as many guns as you want.

The real history has gotten lost in a swamp of false narrative, the sort of ideological deceptions that have come to dominate the current American political scene and have given us an Orwellian present in which he “who controls the past” really does “control the future.”

Obama’s Bow

Now, even intelligent politicians like President Barack Obama genuflect before the mythology of the Second Amendment as he did on Wednesday when he stood with parents of children massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, and repeatedly argued that a defeated compromise on background checks for gun buyers in no way impinged on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

No one, it seems, wants to get into the reeds on this issue and take on the Right’s false narrative, apparently hoping that those distortions can be simply overridden by public outrage against the thousands upon thousands of Americans who are killed by gun violence every year. But the failure to contest false narratives, especially ones as powerful as the nation’s founding myth, effectively dooms rational policy discussions.

If the Right can rile up a lot of people with neo-Confederate appeals against the “tyranny” of the federal government, the United States cannot face its future challenges, whether stopping school massacres or effectively regulating Wall Street or reducing income inequality or addressing the existential threat of global warming. All such efforts will simply be dismissed as federal assaults on “liberty.”

Most perniciously, the Right -– through its propaganda –- has equated the federal government with the British Crown, treating any national effort to deal with domestic problems as the same as British troops marching on Lexington and Concord. That’s the message in the Tea Party’s hijacking of Revolutionary War imagery.

Yet, that would mean that Revolutionary War heroes like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton -– as well as the Constitution’s chief architect James Madison -– are stand-ins for King George III, since they were the ones who organized the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

The Constitution dramatically strengthened the central government from its status as a “league of friendship” dominated by “independent” and “sovereign” states under the Articles of Confederation. The power grab in Philadelphia was what gave rise to the first claims about a powerful central government imposing federal “tyranny.”

Anti-Federalists rose to oppose the Constitution, in part, by claiming that federal authorities might destroy the system of state militias and then crush the individual states. Madison ridiculed that argument in Federalist Paper 46, which ironically is one that the gun-rights advocates often cite in arguing in favor of a fully armed population.

But Madison’s key point in Federalist Paper 46 was that when critics cite the Constitution’s potential for a tyrannical central government, they miss the point that it would consist of representatives from the states and the people.

“The adversaries of the Constitution seem to have lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject,” Madison wrote. “These gentlemen [the Anti-Federalists] must here be reminded of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone. …

“If … the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result, from such manifest and irresistible proofs of a better administration. … And in that case, the people ought not to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due.”

Mocking the Paranoia

In Federalist Paper 46, Madison then went on to offer a series of reasons why the Anti-Federalists’ fear of the strengthened federal government was absurd, especially since Congress would consist of representatives from the states and those representatives would assert the interests of their states.

Madison also rejected comparisons between the imagined tyranny by the federal government over the states and the violent imposition of authority by the British Crown over the American colonies. He wrote:

“But what would be the contest in the case we are supposing [between the federal government and the states]? Who would be the parties? A few representatives of the people, would be opposed to the people themselves; or rather one set of [federal] representatives would be contending against thirteen sets of representatives [of the states], with the whole body of their common constituents on the side of the latter.

“The only refuge left for those who prophecy the downfall of the State Governments, is the visionary supposition that the Federal Government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. …

“That the people and the States should for a sufficient period of time elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should throughout the period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads, must appear to every one more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehension of genuine patriotism.”

In other words, Madison judged this alleged danger of the federal government tyrannizing the states as nuts.

It is true that he continues in Federalist Paper 46 to play out what to him was the absurd notion of federal tyranny, noting that this imaginary federal army of oppression also would have to contend with state militias consisting of armed citizenry -– which is the point frequently cited by gun-rights advocates -– but the context of those quotes is that Madison had already dismissed the possibility of such an event as crazy.

The Civil War

Granted, one could argue that Madison failed to fully see into the future as he argued for the ratification of the Constitution, which he had worked so hard to create. For instance, as slavery became a contentious issue in the mid-1800s, Southern states rebelled in defense of the rights of whites to own blacks and then violently resisted President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to bring the Confederate states back into the Union.

To this day, some white Southerners call the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression. In the 1950s and 1960s, the pattern played out again, albeit much less violently, when many white Southerners resisted the federal government’s outlawing of racial segregation. To some white Southerners that was another example of federal “tyranny.”

You could also say that Madison missed the emergence of the post-World War II Military-Industrial Complex in which military contractors accumulated so much political and economic power both within states and inside the federal government that the American people did “silently and patiently behold the gathering storm, and continue to supply the materials, until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads.”

However, it is a gross distortion of history to cite Madison as someone who favored a “libertarian” right for citizens to operate on their own in the killing of police, soldiers and other representatives of the Republic. Rather, his proposal of the Second Amendment was a concession to what he regarded as paranoia among states’-rights advocates within the Anti-Federalist circles.

Indeed, one could argue that the Second Amendment has never been used to protect individual liberty, unless you’re talking about the “liberty” of white Southerners to own African-Americans as slaves.

Beyond the language in the amendment’s preamble about “a well-regulated Militia” and state “security,” that is exactly how the Second Amendment was used. After being approved by the first Congress and ratified by the states, the amendment was given real meaning when the second Congress passed the Militia Acts, which mandated that all military-age white males obtain a musket and supplies for militia service.

President Washington then federalized several state militias and led them on an expedition into western Pennsylvania in 1794 to crush an anti-tax revolt known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The uprising was treated as an act of treason as defined by the U.S. Constitution, although Washington used his pardon power to spare rebel leaders from execution by hanging.

Over the ensuing years in the South, state militias were called up to put down slave revolts, with the rebellious slaves not as lucky as the white Whiskey rebels. For instance, in 1800, Virginia Gov. James Monroe called out the militia to stop an incipient slave uprising known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. Twenty-six alleged conspirators were hanged.

Southern militias also were instrumental in the secession by the Confederate states after Lincoln’s election in 1860. Again, the central concern of the Confederacy was the maintenance and protection of slavery.

Jefferson’s Words

Yes, I know some on the Right have cherry-picked incendiary comments by other Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and his remark that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” (although the context was Jefferson’s boasting that the new United States had seen little violence since its founding, with the exception of Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786-87). Jefferson also had very little involvement in writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights since he was serving as the U.S. representative in Paris.

Many other right-wing citations of Founders favoring armed insurrection against the elected U.S. government have been taken out of context or were simply fabricated. See a summary of dubious quotes compiled by Steven Krulick.

But the key point about the Second Amendment is that it was never about an individual’s right to possess guns without restrictions. It was framed mostly out of concern that a standing federal army could become excessively powerful and that the states should maintain their own citizen militias. See Krulick’s detailed explanation.

Only in modern times, with the emergence of an American Right angry over the idea of racial equality, has the Second Amendment been reframed as a “libertarian” right to kill representatives of the elected government. That attitude flared up after Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992 and the rise of the “militia movement,” which found a voice in the angry white radio talk show hosts who popularized the supposed linkage between the Framers and modern-day insurrectionists.

After President George W. Bush claimed the White House and added two more right-wing justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, a slim five-to-four majority formed giving the Right’s reinterpretation of the Second Amendment some official sanction in 2008. The five justices overturned longstanding precedents recognizing only a collective right to bear arms and endorsed a limited individual right to own a gun.

Then, with the election of the first African-American president and the demographic change that Obama’s victory represented, the frenzy surrounding the Right’s false founding narrative heated up, with anti-government extremists naming themselves after the Boston Tea Party, an anti-British protest in 1773, and waving “Don’t Tread on Me” Revolutionary War banners.

This symbolism merging the American Republic with the British Empire was profoundly wrong -– especially since many Revolutionary War leaders including General Washington and his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton -– were central to expanding federal powers in the Constitution. But the Right’s use of the Founding symbols was powerful nonetheless.

Essentially, however, the Tea Party operatives were not harkening back to the Constitution as much as they were to the Articles of Confederation, which the Constitution replaced, and to the Southern Confederacy, which sought to withdraw from the Constitution in the early 1860s. Today’s Tea Partiers are advocating a restoration of a system of states’ “sovereignty” that Washington, Madison and Hamilton overturned in 1787 and which Lincoln defeated in 1865.

But the modern Right has figured out a new way to circumvent the real Constitution, which granted broad powers to the central government and which -– as amended -– guaranteed equal rights for all citizens. The Right has simply invested billions of dollars in a propaganda system that has revised American history.

The absence of any determined –- or well-funded -– effort to counter the Right’s false narratives has allowed this fabricated history to become real for millions of Americans. And, on Wednesday, it meant that even modest attempts to impose some sanity on the national gun madness, including the slaughter of children, was stopped in the U.S. Senate.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:29 am

Racism and the American Right
By Robert Parry
May 19, 2013



Racism has been a consistent thread weaving through the American Right from the early days when Anti-Federalists battled against the U.S. Constitution to the present when hysterical Tea Partiers denounce the first African-American president. Other factors have come and gone for the Right, but racism has always been there.

Though definitions of Right and Left are never precise, the Left has generally been defined, in the American context, by government actions –- mostly the federal government responding to popular movements and representing the collective will of the American people -– seeking to improve the lot of common citizens and to reduce social injustice.

President Thomas Jefferson in a portrait by Rembrandt Peale.

The Right has been defined by opposition to such government activism. Since the Founding, the Right has decried government interference with the “free market” and intrusion upon “traditions,” like slavery and segregation, as “tyranny” or “socialism.”

This argument goes back to 1787 and opposition to the Constitution’s centralizing of government power in the hands of federal authorities. In Virginia, for instance, the Anti-Federalists feared that a strong federal government eventually would outlaw slavery in the Southern states.

Ironically, this argument was raised by two of the most famous voices for “liberty,” Patrick Henry and George Mason. Those two Virginians spearheaded the Anti-Federalist cause at the state’s ratifying convention in June 1788, urging rejection of the Constitution because, they argued, it would lead to slavery’s demise.

The irony of Henry and Mason scaring fellow Virginians about the Constitution’s threat to slavery is that the two men have gone down in popular U.S. history as great espousers of freedom. Before the Revolution, Henry was quoted as declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Mason is hailed as a leading force behind the Bill of Rights. However, their notion of “liberty” and “rights” was always selective. Henry and Mason worried about protecting the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

At Virginia’s Ratification Convention, Henry and Mason raised other arguments against the proposed Constitution, such as concerns that Virginia’s preeminence might not be as great as under the weak Articles of Confederation and that population gains in the North might erode Virginia’s economic welfare.

But the pair’s most potent argument was the danger they foresaw regarding the abolition of slavery. As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, the hot button for Henry and Mason was that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.”

The Slavery Card

At the center of this fear was the state’s loss of ultimate control over its militia which could be “federalized” by the President as the nation’s commander in chief under the new Constitution.

“Mason repeated what he had said during the Constitutional Convention: that the new government failed to provide for ‘domestic safety’ if there was no explicit protection for Virginians’ slave property,” Burstein and Isenberg wrote. “Henry called up the by-now-ingrained fear of slave insurrections -– the direct result, he believed, of Virginia’s loss of authority over its own militia.”

Henry floated conspiracy theories about possible subterfuges that the federal government might employ to deny Virginians and other Southerners the “liberty” to own African-Americans. Describing this fear-mongering, Burstein and Isenberg wrote:

“Congress, if it wished, could draft every slave into the military and liberate them at the end of their service. If troop quotas were determined by population, and Virginia had over 200,000 slaves, Congress might say: ‘Every black man must fight.’ For that matter, a northern-controlled Congress might tax slavery out of existence.

“Mason and Henry both ignored the fact that the Constitution protected slavery on the strength of the three-fifths clause, the fugitive slave clause, and the slave trade clause. Their rationale was that none of this mattered if the North should have its way.”

At Philadelphia in 1787, the drafters of the Constitution had already capitulated to the South’s insistence on its brutal institution of human enslavement. That surrender became the line of defense that James Madison, a principal architect of the new governing structure, cited in his response to Mason and Henry.

Burstein and Isenberg wrote, “Madison rose to reject their conspiratorial view. He argued that the central government had no power to order emancipation, and that Congress would never ‘alienate the affections five-thirteenths of the Union’ by stripping southerners of their property. ‘Such an idea never entered into any American breast,’ he said indignantly, ‘nor do I believe it ever will.’

“Madison was doing his best to make Henry and Mason sound like fear-mongers. Yet Mason struck a chord in his insistence that northerners could never understand slavery; and Henry roused the crowd with his refusal to trust ‘any man on earth’ with his rights. Virginians were hearing that their sovereignty was in jeopardy.”

Despite the success of Mason and Henry to play on the fears of plantation owners, the broader arguments stressing the advantages of Union carried the day, albeit narrowly. Virginia ultimately approved ratification by 89 to 79. However, the South’s obsession over perceived threats to its institution of slavery remained a central factor in the early decades of the Republic.

Arming Whites

Though today’s Right pretends that the Second Amendment was devised to give individual Americans the right to own and carry any weapon of their choice -– so they can shoot policemen, soldiers and other government representatives in the cause of anti-government “liberty” -– it was primarily a concession to the states and especially to the South’s fears that were expressed at the Virginia convention.

Approved by the First Congress as part of the “Bill of Rights,” the Second Amendment explained its purpose as the need to maintain “the security of a free State,” an echo of Mason’s concerns about “domestic safety,” i.e. a Southern state’s ability to maintain slavery by force and defend against slave uprisings.

As the amendment emerged from various committee rewrites, it stated: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But that right, of course, did not extend to all people, not to people of color.

The Second Congress put substance to the structure of state militias by passing the Militia Acts, which specifically mandated that “white men” of military age obtain muskets and other supplies for participation in state militias. At the time, the concerns were not entirely over rebellious slaves, but also over rebellious poor whites.

Part of the backdrop of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had been Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786-1787, an uprising of white farmers led by a former Continental Army officer, Daniel Shays. After ratification of the Constitution, the first significant use of federalized militias was in 1794 to crush an anti-tax revolt in western Pennsylvania led by poor whites known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

That uprising was treated as an act of treason as defined by the U.S. Constitution, although President Washington used his pardon power to spare rebel leaders from execution by hanging. Similar mercy was not shown when Southern states confronted actual or suspected slave revolts. In 1800, Virginia Gov. James Monroe called out the militia to stop an incipient slave uprising known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. Twenty-six alleged conspirators were hanged.

Jeffersonian Influences

Of course, slavery and racism were not the only defining characteristics of the Right during the country’s early years, as economic interests diverged and political rivalries surfaced. James Madison, for instance, had been a key protégé of George Washington and an ally of Alexander Hamilton during the fight for the Constitution.

Madison had even advocated for a greater concentration of power in the federal government, including giving Congress the explicit power to veto state laws. However, after the Constitution was in place, Madison began siding with his Virginian neighbor (and fellow slave-owner) Thomas Jefferson in political opposition to the Federalists.

In the first years of the constitutional Republic, the Federalists, led by President Washington and Treasury Secretary Hamilton, pushed the limits of federal power, particularly with Hamilton’s idea of a national bank which was seen as favoring the financial interests of the North to the detriment of the more agrarian South.

The Jeffersonians, coalescing around Jefferson and Madison, fiercely opposed Hamilton’s national economic planning though the differences often seemed to be driven by personal animosities and regional rivalries as much as by any grand ideological vision regarding government authority. The Jeffersonians, for instance, were sympathetic to the bloody French Revolution, which made a mockery of the rule of law and the restraint of government power.

Nevertheless, history has generally been kind to Jefferson’s enthusiasm for a more agrarian America and his supposed commitment to the common man. But what is left out of this praise for “Jeffersonian democracy” is that Jefferson’s use of the word “farmers” was often a euphemism for his actual political base, the slave-owning plantation aristocrats of the South.

At his core, despite his intellectual brilliance, Jefferson was just another Southern hypocrite. He wrote that “all men are created equal” (in the Declaration of Independence) but he engaged in pseudo-science to portray African-Americans as inferior to whites (as he did in his Notes on the State of Virginia).

His racism rationalized his own economic and personal reliance on slavery. While desperately afraid of slave rebellions, he is alleged to have taken a young slave girl, Sally Hemings, as a mistress.

Jefferson’s hypocrisy also surfaced in his attitudes toward a slave revolt in the French colony of St. Domingue (today’s Haiti), where African slaves took seriously the Jacobins’ cry of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” After their demands for freedom were rebuffed and the brutal French plantation system continued, violent slave uprisings followed.

Hundreds of white plantation owners were slain as the rebels overran the colony. A self-educated slave named Toussaint L’Ouverture emerged as the revolution’s leader, demonstrating skills on the battlefield and in the complexities of politics.

The ‘Black Jacobins’

Despite the atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict, the rebels -– known as the “Black Jacobins” -– gained the sympathy of the American Federalists. L’Ouverture negotiated friendly relations with the Federalist administration under President John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, a native of the Caribbean himself, helped L’Ouverture draft a constitution.

But events in Paris and Washington soon conspired to undo the promise of Haiti’s emancipation from slavery. Despite the Federalist sympathies, many American slave-owners, including Jefferson, looked nervously at the slave rebellion in St. Domingue. Jefferson feared that slave uprisings might spread northward. “If something is not done, and soon done,” Jefferson wrote in 1797, “we shall be the murderers of our own children.”


Apart from the above-mentioned factors adverse to U.S. strategic interests, the nationalist liberation movement in black Africa can act as a catalyst with far reaching effects on the American black community by stimulating its organizational consolidation and by inducing radical actions. Such a result would be likely as Zaire went the way of Angola and Mozambique.

A recurrence of the events of 1967-68 would do grievous harm to U.S. prestige, especially in view of the concern of the present Administration with human rights issues. Moreover, the Administration would have to take specific steps to stabilize the situation. Such steps might be misunderstood both inside and outside the United States.

In order to prevent such a trend and protect U.S. national security interests, it would appear essential to elaborate and carry out effective countermeasures.

1. Possibility of Joint Action By U.S. Black and African Nationalist Movement.

In elaborating U.S. policy toward black Africa, due weight must be given to the fact that there are 25 millions American blacks whose roots are African and who consciously or subconsciously sympathies with African nationalism.

The living conditions of the black population should also be taken into account. Immense advances in the field are accompanied by a long-lasting high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth and by poverty and dissatisfaction with government social welfare standards.

These factors taken together may provide a basis for joint actions of a concrete nature by the African nationalist movement and the U.S. black community. Basically, actions would take the form of demonstrations and public protests, but the likelihood of violence cannot be excluded. There would also be attempts to coordinate their political activity both locally and in international organizations.

Inside the United States these actions could include protest demonstrations against our policy toward South Africa accompanied by demand for boycotting corporations and banks which maintain links with that country; attempts to establish a permanent black lobby in Congress including activist leftist radical groups and black legislators; the reemergence of Pan-African ideals; resumption of protest marches recalling the days of Martin Luther King; renewal of the extremist idea national idea of establishing an "African Republic" on American soil. Finally, leftist radical elements of the black community could resume extremist actions in the style of the defunct Black Panther Party.

Internationally, damage could be done to the United States by coordinated activity of African states designed to condemn U.S. policy toward South Africa, and initiate discussions on the U.S. racial issue at the United Nations where the African representation constitutes a powerful bloc with about one third of all the votes.

A menace to U.S. economic interests, though not a critical one, could be posed by a boycott by Black African states against American companies which maintain contact with South Africa and Rhodesia. If the idea of economic assistance to black Americans shared by some African regimes could be realized by their placing orders in the United States mainly with companies owned by blacks, they could gain a limited influence on the U.S. black community.

In the above context, we must envisage the possibility, however remote, that black Americans interested in African affairs may refocus their attention on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Taking into account; the African descent of American blacks it is reasonable to anticipate that their sympathies would lie with the Arabs who are closer to them in spirit and in some case related to them by blood. Black involvement in lobbying to support the Arabs may lead to serious dissention between American black and Jews. The likelihood of extremist actions by either side is negligible, but the discord may bring about tension in the internal political climate of the United States.

3. Political options

In the context of long-term strategy, the United States can not afford a radical change in the fundamentals of its African policy, which is designed for maximum protection of national security. In the present case, emphasis is laid on the importance of Black Africa for U.S. political, economic and military interests.


In weighing the range of U.S. interests in Black Africa, basic recommendations arranged without intent to imply priority are:

1. Specific steps should be taken with the help of appropriate government agencies to inhibit coordinated activity of the Black Movement in the United States.

2. Special clandestine operations should be launched by the CIA to generate mistrust and hostility in American and world opinion against joint activity of the two forces, and to cause division among Black African radical national groups and their leaders.

3. U.S. embassies to Black African countries specially interested in southern Africa must be highly circumspect in view of the activity of certain political circles and influential individuals opposing the objectives and methods of U.S. policy toward South Africa. It must be kept in mind that the failure of U.S. strategy in South Africa would adversely affect American standing throughout the world. In addition, this would mean a significant diminution of U.S. influence in Africa and the emergence of new difficulties in our internal situation due to worsening economic prospects.

4. The FBI should mount surveillance operations against Black African representatives and collect sensitive information on those, especially at the U.N., who oppose U.S. policy toward South Africa. The information should include facts on their links with the leaders of the Black movement in the United States, thus making possible at least partial neutralization of the adverse effects of their activity.

-- National Security Council Memorandum 46, by Zbigniew Brezinski

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the chaos and excesses of the French Revolution led to the ascendance of Napoleon Bonaparte, a brilliant and vain military commander possessed of legendary ambition. As he expanded his power across Europe, Napoleon also dreamed of rebuilding a French empire in the Americas.

In 1801, Jefferson became the third President of the United States -– and his interests at least temporarily aligned with Napoleon’s. The French dictator wanted to restore French control of St. Domingue and Jefferson wanted to see the slave rebellion crushed. President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison collaborated with Napoleon through secret diplomatic channels. Napoleon asked Jefferson if the United States would help a French army traveling by sea to St. Domingue. Jefferson replied that “nothing will be easier than to furnish your army and fleet with everything and reduce Toussaint [L’Ouverture] to starvation.”

But Napoleon had a secret second phase of his plan that he didn’t share with Jefferson. Once the French army had subdued L’Ouverture and his rebel force, Napoleon intended to advance to the North American mainland, basing a new French empire in New Orleans and settling the vast territory west of the Mississippi River.

Stopping Napoleon

In 1802, the French expeditionary force achieved initial success against the slave army, driving L’Ouverture’s forces back into the mountains. But, as they retreated, the ex-slaves torched the cities and the plantations, destroying the colony’s once-thriving economic infrastructure. L’Ouverture, hoping to bring the war to an end, accepted Napoleon’s promise of a negotiated settlement that would ban future slavery in the country. As part of the agreement, L’Ouverture turned himself in.

But Napoleon broke his word. Jealous and contemptuous of L’Ouverture, who was regarded by some admirers as a general with skills rivaling Napoleon’s, the French dictator had L’Ouverture shipped in chains back to Europe where he was mistreated and died in prison.

Infuriated by the betrayal, L’Ouverture’s young generals resumed the war with a vengeance. In the months that followed, the French army –- already decimated by disease -– was overwhelmed by a fierce enemy fighting in familiar terrain and determined not to be put back into slavery. Napoleon sent a second French army, but it too was destroyed. Though the famed general had conquered much of Europe, he lost 24,000 men, including some of his best troops, in St. Domingue before abandoning his campaign. The death toll among the ex-slaves was much higher, but they had prevailed, albeit over a devastated land.

By 1803, a frustrated Napoleon -– denied his foothold in the New World -– agreed to sell New Orleans and the Louisiana territories to Jefferson, a negotiation handled by Madison that ironically required just the sort of expansive interpretation of federal powers that the Jeffersonians ordinarily disdained. However, a greater irony was that the Louisiana Purchase, which opened the heart of the present United States to American settlement and is regarded as possibly Jefferson’s greatest achievement as president, had been made possible despite Jefferson’s misguided -– and racist -– collaboration with Napoleon.

“By their long and bitter struggle for independence, St. Domingue’s blacks were instrumental in allowing the United States to more than double the size of its territory,” wrote Stanford University professor John Chester Miller in his book, The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery. But, Miller observed, “the decisive contribution made by the black freedom fighters … went almost unnoticed by the Jeffersonian administration.”

Without L’Ouverture’s leadership, the island nation fell into a downward spiral. In 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the radical slave leader who had replaced L’Ouverture, formally declared the nation’s independence and returned it to its original Indian name, Haiti. A year later, apparently fearing a return of the French, Dessalines ordered the massacre of the remaining French whites on the island. Jefferson reacted to the bloodshed by imposing a stiff economic embargo on Haiti. In 1806, Dessalines himself was brutally assassinated, touching off a cycle of political violence that would haunt Haiti for the next two centuries.

Even in his final years, Jefferson remained obsessed with Haiti and its link to the issue of American slavery. In the 1820s, the former president proposed a scheme for taking away the children born to black slaves in the United States and shipping them to Haiti. In that way, Jefferson posited that both slavery and America’s black population could be phased out. Eventually, in Jefferson’s view, Haiti would be all black and the United States white.

While the racism of Jefferson and many of his followers may be undeniable, it is not so easy to distinguish between Right and Left in those early years of the American Republic. Though Hamilton was more open-minded toward freedom for black slaves, there were elements of his government intervention on behalf of the fledgling financial sector that might today be regarded as “pro-business” or elitist as there were parts of Jefferson’s attitude toward greater populism that might be seen as more “democratic.”

Stumbling toward War

Yet, as the first generation of American leaders passed away and the nation expanded westward, the issue of slavery remained a threat to America’s unity. The South’s aggressive defense of its lucrative institution of slavery opened violent rifts between pro-slave and pro-free settlers in territories to the west.

The modern distinctions between America’s Right and Left also became more pronounced, defined increasingly by race. The North, building a manufacturing economy and influenced by the emancipationist movement, turned increasingly against slavery, while the South, with a more agrarian economy and much of its capital invested in slaves, could see no future without the continuation of slavery.

Politically, those distinctions played out not unlike what Anti-Federalists George Mason and Patrick Henry had predicted at Virginia’s ratification convention in 1788. The North gradually gained dominance in wealth and population and the South’s barbaric practice of slavery emerged as a hindrance to America’s growing reputation in the world.

So, a key divide of U.S. politics between Right and Left became the differences over issues of slavery and race. The racist aspects of the Anti-Federalists and the “Jeffersonian democrats” became a defining feature of the American Right as captured in the argument for “states’ rights,” i.e., the rights of the Southern states either to nullify federal laws or to secede from the Union.

Though the concentration of power in Washington D.C. gave rise to legitimate questions about authoritarianism, the federal government also became the guiding hand for the nation’s economic development and for elimination of gross regional injustices such as slavery. Federal action in defense of national principles regarding justice eventually helped define the American Left.

But the slave-owning South would not go down without a fight. After the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860, 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and established the Confederate States of America with the goal of perpetuating slavery forever. It took four years of war to force the Southern states back into the Union and finally bring slavery to an end.

However, the Southern aristocracy soon reclaimed control of the region’s political structure and instituted nearly a century more of racial oppression against blacks. During this Jim Crow era, racism – and the cruel enforcement of racial segregation – remained central elements of the American Right.

An Anti-Government Coalition

In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and the early Twentieth Century, other political and economic factors bolstered the Right, particularly a class of Northern industrialists and financiers known as the Robber Barons. Their insistence on laissez-faire economics in the North -– and their opposition to reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt -– dovetailed with anti-federal attitudes among the South’s white aristocracy.

That coalition, however, was shattered by a string of Wall Street panics and other economic catastrophes culminating in the Great Depression. With millions of Americans out of work and many facing starvation, Franklin Roosevelt’s administration initiated the New Deal which put people back to work building national infrastructure and imposing government regulations on the freewheeling ways of Wall Street.

Under Roosevelt, laws were changed to respect the rights of labor unions and social movements arose demanding greater civil rights for blacks and women. The Left gained unprecedented ascendance. However, the old alliance of rich Northern industriasts and Southern segregationists saw dangers in this new assertion of federal power. The business barons saw signs of “socialism” and the white supremacists feared “race-mixing.”

After World War II -– with the United States now a world superpower -– the continued existence of institutionalized racism became an embarrassment undermining America’s claim to be a beacon of human freedom. Finally, spurred on by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, the federal government finally moved against the South’s practice of segregation. That reignited the long-simmering conflict between federal power and states’ rights.

Though the federal government prevailed in outlawing racial segregation, the Right’s anger over this intrusion upon Southern traditions fueled a powerful new movement of right-wing politicians. Since the Democratic Party led the fight against segregation in the 1960s, Southern whites rallied to the Republican Party as their vehicle of political resistance.

Opportunistic politicians, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, deftly exploited the white backlash and turned much of the Dixie-crat South into solid Republican Red. This resurgence of white racial resentments also merged with a reassertion of “libertarian” economics as memories of the Great Depression faded. In essence, the late Nineteenth Century alliance between segregationist whites in the South and laissez-faire businessmen in the North was being reestablished.

This right-wing collaboration reached a new level of intensity in 2008 after the election of the first African-American president whose victory reflected the emergence of a multi-racial electorate threatening to end the historic white political domination of the United States. With the election also coming amid a Wall Street financial collapse — after years of reduced government regulation — Barack Obama’s arrival also portended a renewal of federal government activism. Thus, the age-old battle was rejoined.

Yet, given the cultural tenor of the time, the Right found it difficult to engage in overt racial slurs against Obama, nor could it openly seek to deny voting rights to black and brown people. New code words were needed. So Obama’s legitimacy as an American was questioned with spurious claims that he had been born in Kenya, and Republicans demanded tighter ballot security to prevent “voter fraud.”

Today’s Right also recognized that it could not simply emphasize its Confederate heritage. A more politically correct re-branding was needed. So, the Right shifted its imagery from the “Stars and Bars” battle flag of the Confederacy to the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of the American Revolution. That way, Americans who don’t overtly see themselves as racist could be drawn into the movement. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Re-Branding: 1860 to 1776.”]

However, the historical narrative that the Right constructed around the nation’s Founding was not the one that actually happened. In seeking to present themselves as the true defenders of the Constitution, the Right had to air-brush out the failed experiment with the Articles of Confederation, which had made the states “sovereign” and “independent” with the central government just a “league of friendship.”

The Constitution represented the nation’s greatest transfer of power into federal hands in U.S. history, as engineered by Washington, Madison and Hamilton. Indeed, Madison favored even greater dominance by the central government over the states than he ultimately got in the Constitution.

However, in the Right’s revisionist version, the Articles of Confederation are forgotten and the Framers were simply out to create a governing system with strong states’ rights and a weak federal government. That fabrication played well with an uneducated right-wing base that could then envision itself using its Second Amendment rights to fight for the Framers’ vision of “liberty.”

As this right-wing narrative now plays out, Barack Obama is not only a black Muslim “socialist” oppressing liberty-loving white Christian Americans but he is a “tyrant” despoiling the beautiful, nearly divine, God-inspired Constitution that the Framers bestowed upon the nation — including, apparently, those wonderful provisions protecting slavery.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
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Re: Ferguson Reveals Racists In Libertarian Clothing

Postby admin » Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:02 am

The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism
By Chris Hedges
March 3, 2016



College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.

The Democrats are playing a very dangerous game by anointing Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. She epitomizes the double-dealing of the college-educated elites, those who speak the feel-your-pain language of ordinary men and women, who hold up the bible of political correctness, while selling out the poor and the working class to corporate power.

The Republicans, energized by America’s reality-star version of Il Duce, Donald Trump, have been pulling in voters, especially new voters, while the Democrats are well below the voter turnouts for 2008. In the voting Tuesday, 5.6 million votes were cast for the Democrats while 8.3 million went to the Republicans. Those numbers were virtually reversed in 2008—8.2 million for the Democrats and about 5 million for the Republicans.

Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where our postindustrial nation was headed.

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Fascist movements build their base, not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”

In fascism, the politically disempowered and disengaged, ignored and reviled by the establishment, discover a voice and a sense of empowerment.

As Arendt noted, the fascist and communist movements in Europe in the 1930s “… recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who had never before appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been ‘spoiled’ by the party system. Therefore, they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the control of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with either parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

Fascism is aided and advanced by the apathy of those who are tired of being conned and lied to by a bankrupt liberal establishment, whose only reason to vote for a politician or support a political party is to elect the least worst. This, for many voters, is the best Clinton can offer.

Fascism expresses itself in familiar and comforting national and religious symbols, which is why it comes in various varieties and forms. Italian fascism, which looked back to the glory of the Roman Empire, for example, never shared the Nazis’ love of Teutonic and Nordic myths. American fascism too will reach back to traditional patriotic symbols, narratives and beliefs.

Robert Paxton wrote in “The Anatomy of Fascism”:

The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as [George] Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

Fascism is about an inspired and seemingly strong leader who promises moral renewal, new glory and revenge. It is about the replacement of rational debate with sensual experience. This is why the lies, half-truths and fabrications by Trump have no impact on his followers. Fascists transform politics, as philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin pointed out, into aesthetics. And the ultimate aesthetic for the fascist, Benjamin said, is war.

Paxton singles out the amorphous ideology characteristic of all fascist movements.

Fascism rested not upon the truth of its doctrine but upon the leader’s mystical union with the historic destiny of his people, a notion related to romanticist ideas of national historic flowering and of individual artistic or spiritual genius, though fascism otherwise denied romanticism’s exaltation of unfettered personal creativity. The fascist leader wanted to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that they would experience sensually: the warmth of belonging to a race now fully aware of its identity, historic destiny, and power; the excitement of participating in a wave of shared feelings, and of sacrificing one’s petty concerns for the group’s good; and the thrill of domination.

There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised—the “losers”—back into the economy and political life of the country. This movement will never come out of the Democratic Party. If Clinton prevails in the general election Trump may disappear, but the fascist sentiments will expand. Another Trump, perhaps more vile, will be vomited up from the bowels of the decayed political system. We are fighting for our political life. Tremendous damage has been done by corporate power and the college-educated elites to our capitalist democracy. The longer the elites, who oversaw this disemboweling of the country on behalf of corporations—who believe, as does CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves, that however bad Trump would be for America he would, at least, be good for corporate profit—remain in charge, the worse it is going to get.
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