Rocker and Sage

The Quintessential Optimist and the Quintessential Cynic - Working Together to Build a Better America.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"What have ye wrought?"

The Constitution was the settlement of a revolution, and on which class the political center of power would come to rest. The human race is ultimately divided into two political groups; those who desire to be controlled, and those who do not.

It was opened on May 25, 1787 to suggest some mere revisions to the Articles of Confederation. The proposed constitution was approved on September 17, and the closed doors of secrecy were finally opened to the world. It was on this date that a local woman inquired of Benjamin Franklin the now famous question, "What have ye wrought?" Will it be a republic, or a monarchy? Franklin's answer,"A Republic, if you can keep it.", was an outright half-truth as he knew that there was no way that the convention had created a "keepable" republic. When analyzed in contrast to the history that has followed since 1787, it very clearly shows that the Constitution was purposely weighted with with several components that were designed to guarantee the gradual expansion of the Federal Government.

Under the first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, Congress depended on the good will of the states (how awful!). Had the states not waged pointless trade wars with each other, and been more responsible with their use of currencies, most of the opposition to their continuance could have been avoided. Congress did not have the power to raise taxes, to regulate commerce, or to prohibit the states from coining money. Since Congress assembled could not act without unanimous agreement, the states often ignored them. Congress "got no respect".

For those who desired an "energetic" central government, this was intolerable. Washington said, "experience has taught us that men will not carry into execution such measures that are the best for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power". Of course "the best for their own good" was to be determined by their imperial majesties, the "nationals", as they always know what is best for the people (sound familiar?). To get to the point: the Articles of Confederation created a Congress which had to go begging to the states, and the control freaks were chomping at the bit! This sort of thing infuriated the nationals. Jay wrote to Washington,"Rage for private property suppresses public considerations, and personal rather than national interests have become the object of greater attention. Virtue can only be exerted by a strong , central government that will put down the crisis at hand".

Great effort behind the scenes was done to foment a panic over the overstated "crisis at hand". A "weak government" cannot muster a viable defending army to protect the nation from powerful nations without, and from the Indians within, so we need to strengthen Congress. Translate: create the "problem"; create opposition to the"problem", offer your solution to the "problem"(sound familiar?). This is the classic Hegelian philosophy so well used by the Socialists/Communists of today. Most men in the know were having none of it, and vigorously challenged any notion of the existence of a "crisis". A year later in his June of 1788 warning against the adoption of the Constitution, Patrick Henry would say: "I ask you; where is that danger? I see none. Why then tell us of supposed dangers to terrify us into the adoption of this new government? Sirs, it is the fortune of a free people not to be intimidated by imaginary dangers. Fear is the passion of slaves".

In retrospect, although some might disagree, the Articles of Confederation have been unfairly criticized by historians I think, perhaps due to the many weighted books, and opinions that have been used in arguments against them. But it should be remembered that the Articles successfully brought a war to conclusion, and negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which gave the USA world status as a nation, and gave the new nation a lesson in the need for interstate cooperation in the handling of national problems which led to the further refinement in the practical application of such measures.

In the Autumn of 1786, the nationalists had their "crisis" - self created of course - with Shay's Rebellion. After the revolution, most states raised taxes to pay their war debts, and kept them as paper currency issues for the most part in various degrees. Massachusetts debtors that could not pay in currency had their cattle and lands seized and were thrown in jail. All petitions for relief were ignored, and a flashfire rebellion ensued. Armed farmers (another good reason to keep and bear arms) prevented courts from opening, and stopped the seizures. Led by Daniel Shays, eleven hundred angry men attacked the Springfield courthouse and federal arsenal. Although they were easily defeated, and dispersed by a superior force, the politicians panicked and created a hysteria that spread through the states like a wildfire. They made it seem that this was the beginning of the end!

While the rebellion was a failure militarily speaking, it made for a rout in the spring of 1787 elections. John Hancock easily defeated the inflexible Governor James Bowdoin, as well as three-fourths of the House members. Relief laws were immediately enacted, the seizures stopped, and the imprisoned debtors were freed rendering further rebellions as being unneccessary. The nationals, however, had their "crisis". Shay's rebellion was the proverbial "drop that overflowed the vase", and set the wheels in motion for the call for the convention of 1787 to be held in Philadelphia. Madison himself admitted years later that the "unjustified sense of alarm which threatened the economic status quo contributed to the uneasiness which produced the Constitution more than any inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation."

In other words, it wasn't the "principles". It was the "money" and the consequent loss of power by the "moneyed" class that constituted a "crisis" in the land. By alarming the people with fears of a looming, hollow "crisis", delegates were sent to Philadelphia for the purpose of "revising the Articles of Confederation"- not scrapping them entirely for a replacement. But the nationalists knew that this was their moment. Madison had already sent his replacement plans to Washington, and Hamilton for their review in April prior to the convention. The evidence is that the nationalists hidden agenda, unbeknownst to the other delegates and the people at large, was to scrap the Articles in favor of replacing them with their own form of "energetic" central government.

As always, the people did not understand the sweeping nature of the scheme. "The American war is over, but the American revolution has just begun," said conventioneer Benjamin Rush. Little wonder why the convention operated under such extraordinary secrecy. The delegates were sworn to the strictest silence, sentries were posted at all doors, and the windows were shut tight. Fifty-three years would pass before Madison's thoroughly edited notes were publically released. Great measures of propaganda were used to conceal the true levels of dissent that were present. Electing the widely respected George Washington as convention president was responsible for much of the "public confidence" that was associated with these meetings. According to Maryland delegate James McHenry, at least "21 of the 55 delegates favored some sort of monarchy", and although generally of high caliber, most delegates were of the "moneyed" class, and as such were anxious for a national government that would make them the rightful inheritors of power.

The American countryside of "middle class yeoman" that were so much championed by Jefferson were hardly represented at the convention. The "Virginia Plan" supporters, Hamilton and company, pretty much wanted to abolish the state governments. Madison proposed that they be "reduced to corporations", and Hamilton imagined that they" might gradually dwindle in power to nothing", which is in fact exactly what has happened in both instances. It should be noted that the famous revolutionaries were not delegates, either by choice or by circumstance. Jefferson, and Adams were on assignment in Europe. Patrick Henry had outright refused to participate in such vility, while Thomas Paine and, Samuel Adams were not among the chosen (I wonder why). So the stage was set, and the plan was ready for enactment. Madison's plan, which he envisioned as "strengthening the confederacy", in fact did not and was hotly contested by the defenders of state sovereignty. William Paterson offered a fair compromise called the "New Jersey Plan". It provided that any laws that were to be applied to all states would be "the supreme laws", and would be reserved to Congress with the executive having the power to enforce the law if necessary. Each state would have an equal voice in Congress, and would retain most of the attributes of sovereignty. This is, in a nutshell, the Swiss system.

Fearing that the convention might slip out of the nationalists' control and (Horrors!) return to the the original idea of revision, the brilliant attorney from New York, Alexander Hamilton, spoke on June 18 for five hours praising the British Constitution as the world's best, opining for a Senate and Presidency elected for life, and declaring that state government should be appointed by Congress (wow). Little wonder that John Adams referred to him as an "Anglophile" from that point on. However, his long-winded afternoon harangue cleverly made Madison's Virginia Plan seem like a viable compromise and quite moderate by comparison. Hamilton later molded his "energetic" central government from the willing clay of this plan.

It is an interesting side note that the other two delegates from New York refused to be cowed into siging on to the fraudulent illegality, leaving Hamilton to generously sign for New York by himself. This is why his name is the only one that appears on the document in behalf of one of the wealthiest, and most populous states of that time. A bit of math is illumininating here. The states chose 74 delegates, 19 of whom refused to attend. Of the 55 who did, 14 left early, leaving 41. Of those 41, 3 refused to sign. So, only 39 of 74 delegates actually signed on to the hallowed document, or 53%.

Asked why he boycotted the convention, Patrick Henry replied, "Because I smelt a rat."

In retrospect, the convention was a well-run "dog and pony show", and the debates were an excellent piece of deliberation by a singularly august body of 18th century cosmopolitan Americans. That aside, what did it achieve? In any proposed governmental ideal, trying to discern at the outset the probable ultimate beneficiary of that action will be difficult. It is like a game of chess. The winner can only be recognized by a series of board moves to the completion of the game, or "checkmate". Patrick Henry and George Mason feared that the inherent weaknesses that were written into the Constitution would produce a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy, and after 222 years, that is what has happened!

It appears that the real genius of the Constitution has been to utterly transform political reality without the subject people knowing it. It has destroyed the power of the states without sound or smoke, and like a Houdini trick, by the time the people realized what had happened, it was too late. Read between the lines of Washington's transmittal letter of the Constitution to Congress: "Individuals entering into any society must give up a share of their liberty to preserve the rest". Does that sound like a blank check or what? The words of the avowed Socialist Hillary Clinton are very nicely encapsulated in this letter ("to stop terrorism and organized crime, the American people must give up some of their personal freedom, and privacy."). Wow!

The Constitution's obvious tendency towards an expansionist government was clearly understood by the anti-federalists of 1787-88. Would they be able to sound the warning in time to defeat ratification? Sadly, no, but they sure came close...

The revolution will not be televised.

Original post date 10/23/2008. Date changed to bring it to the top due to extended edit time. - RWR


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