Alfie … a beautiful song about a terribly confused young man in a seemingly untenable situation. The lady sang, “What’s it all about Alfie … what’s it all about?”
That’s kind of where we are with our “Saving the Republic” … what’s it all about? For the last year our quest has been to try to understand why we have a republic, why our republic flourished when those in antiquity failed, what our founders had in mind and, finally, why the American Republic which has worked for the past 220 years now seems to be faltering.
Our musings have investigated the causes of the Revolutionary War and traced the beginnings of the republic. What have we learned?
Well, our investigations seem to indicate that a large majority of the people who settled the American colonies left Europe fleeing from one form of persecution or another. They were fleeing from oppression, either from organized government or from their own personal circumstances. Many came for freedom of religion, others to escape the grasp of the sheriff and still others to escape the decadence of a dying feudal society with its attendant tyranny, poverty and hopelessness. It might be said that the New World was a sanctuary where a person could be rid of the agonizing tyranny of rotting ancient political systems.
As we reviewed the beginnings of political society in the New World we saw that the citizens tried many forms of government, but by the time of the revolution, they were firmly practicing governments that promoted a system of private ownership of property, rugged individualism, free trade and limited governance. They had found that the key to prosperity was trade and that trade would thrive if each man kept the fruits of his own labors. As the individual prospered, so did his community.
By the time of the revolution, the European powers had almost completely finished their struggle for hegemony over the colonies. Britain had driven out the Dutch, defeated the French and relegated the Spanish to the west and Florida. As soon as Britain became ascendant, and since they had no competition (the colonies had no real method to oppose them), the Crown began to treat the colonies and their citizens as chattel. They began to tax unfairly, to impose trade restrictions and to generally re-assert many of the tyrannies that the colonists had fled Europe to avoid. The rest is the history of the revolution that we have all studied.
This brings us to the writing of the Constitution. The colonies had formed a union by instituting a national Congress of all thirteen colonies under the “Articles of Confederation.” This was adopted de facto in 1777, and was finally ratified in 1781. Under these Articles, each State (colony) remained sovereign, giving up only those powers necessary for the operation of the national government. Each State had equal say in every national action, for measures had to be adopted not by majority rule, but by the affirmative vote of each of the States. Because of the dramatic diversity of the colonies, no State was about to be bound by laws where several other States might gang up together in order press regional views. This meant that adoption of each national law required unanimous consent, a system that had worked with tolerable success when opposing the common British foe, but did not function so well in times of peace. After the war, the States, as governments always do, began infighting, mostly for commercial advantage. Seaboard states charged landlocked states tariffs for access to the sea or superior ports. Others instituted tariffs and taxes on the trade goods of their neighbors and so on. Finally, disgusted with the infighting, men like James Madison called for the Constitutional Convention.
Nowadays, schools do not even have courses in civics. When I was young, courses in civics were mandatory … some of us enjoyed them, but like them or not, we were all poorly served by what was presented to us. No real note was taken of the meeting itself which unbelievably lasted from May 14, 1787 until September 17, 1787; nobody told us that the daily meetings were conducted in such secrecy that no member is known to have discussed the proceedings of that summer with any outsider; nobody reflected upon the tribulations of a meeting held in a hall where all the windows were covered and all the doors were closed, what it would have been like to have been in that room in downtown Philadelphia in 95% humidity and nearly 100 degree temperatures throughout the whole summer, May, June, July, August and into September. After all, the document that they came up with only amounted to 4 pages, what took so long? Our instructors at least taught us that their efforts resulted in a “document of genius.” We were told that the genius was in the three part government, each branch empowered to check the power of the other two. We studied the remedies for disputes between the states. We read of, but probably did not comprehend, the enumerated powers of the new Federal Government. We were told that some of the provisions, like the Electoral College, were “archaic.” No mention was made of the reasons for the 16th or 17th Amendments. The implications of the “commerce clause,” the “necessary and proper clause” or the “supremacy clause” were not discussed. We were told that the only reason for the 14th Amendment was to enfranchise the former slaves. We talked about the folly of the 18th Amendment and how the western pioneer women were indispensable to the adoption of the 19th Amendment. That was about it … none of us were ever challenged to wonder why such a simple document took so long to write.
The answer is that neither we nor our teachers ever understood or even considered the true import of what was written that summer. Let us consider what concerned the men there assembled.
The men delegated to that convention were the best that each state had to offer. They were the thinkers and leaders of their communities; they were experts in comparative government; and they, to a man, had all lived under tyranny. Inquiry into their backgrounds shows that almost all feared a national democracy and its certain manipulation by demagogues. No one suggested any form of government other than a republic … representative government. (That is except Alexander Hamilton, who proposed a monarchy.) This anti-democracy attitude posed a dilemma for the assembly, for all these men believed in the equality of every man before the law. (… “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are” …) … they had gone to war over those sentiments. The other obvious dilemma was how to form a satisfactory political system among areas of such diversity of size, location, wealth, commerce, culture, religious preference and population.
James Madison, a natural democrat, but a devout student of comparative government, had studied and thought about a Federal Union more than most. He came to the meeting with some import, being from the most populous state, Virginia. He, and along with the rest of its delegation, most notably, the governor, Edmund Randolph, made the initial proposal to the Convention. Randolph presented the “Virginia Plan” to the convention. The “Virginia Plan” outlined our three part Federal Government, with its President, two housed Congress and its Supreme Court. The “Plan” proposed that the President, the Senators and the Congressmen were to all be elected by popular vote. I can well imagine that after time for a moment’s reflection, you could have heard a pin drop. Under the “Virginia Plan,” the most populous states would have had complete control — there would have been no reason for any state with a small population to participate at all. The answer to the “Virginia Plan” was not long in forthcoming. The small states, notably New Jersey and Connecticut, soon proposed their plans, the modifications that set the debate. It was quickly settled that the new Federal Government would not be a democracy nor would it be superior to its parents, the States. The States were supreme and were not about to yield their sovereignty. The new government was being formed to promote harmony, trade and protection from external interference … beyond that the States were to retain their individual identities.
When we, at this distance, realize that this wonderful experiment could have never succeeded without giving due deference to each of the individual States, we are on the right track. Reflect … why would New Hampshire or Rhode Island join in a union where the representation was based solely upon population. They had to be able to stand equally in some part of the new government where their influence was as great as any other State. That part was in the United States Senate. On the other hand, believing in the equality of man, it was only right that the entire populace have its voice. That part of the plan is the House of Representatives. However, comparing Virginia with Rhode Island, it is seen that provision must be made so that each State was guaranteed at least one member in the Lower Body. Additionally, we can easily see that new states, as they would be admitted, would not have much population either, but should certainly be represented. All States would have two Senators and at least one Representative. Most of us have never understood purpose of the Electoral College in the election of the President. Once again, it is a mechanism for the protection of the smaller states … those with small populations. If the President were to be elected by popular vote, the small states would have no say at all. The Electoral College guarantees that each state will have an impact in picking the President in direct proportion to its representation in the Congress. Further insight into the dedication of the Founders to this republican form may be divined if one looks far enough into the Constitution to see what happens if the Electoral College fails. In that case the decision is given to the House of Representatives in a process wherein each state caucuses, takes a vote among its members and is afforded one vote for President. That vote could conceivably be 25 to 25, in which case, the Vice President elect would serve as President.
In my view the most profound, yet esoteric, part of the Constitution is the way that the Senate was formulated. The Founders provided that the Senators were to be elected by the state Legislatures. Weird, huh? Why? I will give you my thoughts. First, the Senators were, in reality, ambassadors to the Federal Government from their states. As emissaries for their state, they should have had the greatest knowledge of the state’s problems possible. Who better to pick these persons than the most diversified exemplars of the far reaches of the states, the Legislators? This system gave the Senate men like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Lincoln’s protagonist Stephen Douglas, just to mention a few. But my second insight intrigues me even more. If a man wanted to be a United States Senator he would have first attempted to get and probably got support in the Legislature, but then he would have had to take his case to the people by asking the populace to support candidates for the Legislature that would support his candidacy. Since the States were guaranteed their own form of republican government under Article IV section 4 of the Constitution, the impact of these candidacies and their attendant campaigns in their ability to stimulate local political life would be hard to over-estimate. As a case in point, the most intensely followed campaign of 1858, both locally and nationally, was the struggle between Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois. These men debated their issues all over the state in order to glean the support of provincial Legislators. They conducted 7 debates, not in Chicago, Peoria, Rockford, Decatur nor Springfield, but in Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton. I don’t know about you, but before I knew about the Debates, I was aware of only one of these sites. Not only were the debates a success, but during several of them the population of the city where they were held was doubled … maybe tripled. Can you imagine tens of thousands of people going to political rallies in little towns all over your state nowadays? In the final analysis, Lincoln won in counties with a slight plurality of population, all in the northern half of the state and Douglas won a slight majority of the Legislators, all from the southern half of the State. The Senatorial candidates appealed to the citizens to elect people who would vote for their candidacy. The beauty of this system for the common man was this — you could hear the views of the man who would go to the Senate in person, although your chance of knowing him was slight; but the candidate was asking you to vote for a man that you knew that he knew also. From your political point of view, if you had a matter of Senatorial import to convey, you went to a man from your community that you saw or could see each and every day and asked him to put you in touch with his friend, the Senator. You had a direct pipeline to the highest halls of the Federal Government. This procedure gave you and your community a real reason to be politically active. This is a system of pure political genius — a system of Republicanism where every man had or could have a Democratic voice. Genius!!!
You might ask yourself what has happened to our local politics, the only place where American democracy truly flourishes?
But the “forces of darkness” — those who think they are smarter than you or I because of wealth, education, or arrogance and their minions, the gullible, the avaricious, the dishonest or the duped; or those who have a hatred for Liberty, Individualism, Free Markets or Freedom have been trying to destroy our Republic almost since its inception. As were have discussed elsewhere in this blog, full frontal assaults have failed to destroy it for we Americans love our country and what it stands for. But the way to win a frontal assault is to additionally flank the enemy. While your enemy is concentrating on what is in front of him, sneak around behind and stab him in the back. The “forces of darkness” are flanking the Republic by ruse and dislocation … by Fabianism … the death of a thousand cuts … one little piece at a time. How? Let’s see…
The Progressive (seemingly innocuous) Constitutional Amendments; the 16th, 17th, the failed 18th Amendment; Supreme Court decisions favoring expanded control of our lives by the Federal Government — too myriad to count — but in particular, rulings on the “interstate commerce clause”, the “supremacy clause”, the “necessary and proper clause”, the controversial “Roe v. Wade” ruling on abortion, rulings on the 14th Amendment attacking State sovereignty, and the actual or perceived anti-freedom rulings on the 1st, 2nd, 9th and 10th Amendments; and in the sphere of the Presidency, actions specifically denied by the Founders, the expansion and abuses of the powers of this office via “Executive Orders.” These problems do not even apprehend the problems caused by the burgeoning bureaucracy, that is the Progressives promoting their agenda of trying to make sure of ”government control” of ethereal “problems” through the un-Constitutional delegation of “rules and regulations.” Then there is the profligate spending …
When we look at what was really done in this great document, the Constitution, we see that it was designed to make the system as democratic as possible, but was equally designed to preserve the integrity of the diversity of this huge land, the States. Once we understand what was intended and see what has happened, then we can plan what to do.
Stay tuned … I think that we will be able to see … “what’s it all about, Alfie.”