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Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson

The Founders Were Not Libertarians or Ayn Randers!

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To those who condemn government, I would ask you to read John Winthrop’s speeches and Scottish history.

John WinthropWinthrop’s speeches to his colony created the nation’s first free schools; he exhorted them to take care of the poor, the helpless and sick, the weak and defenseless because Jesus required it of them; his ideals caused them to create income taxation based on the religious principle of “do no harm.” He said those who have more should contribute more to the commonweal than those who have less because it was the moral thing to do to meet the needs of the commonwealth.

The South, on the other hand, as a result of the Scots-Irish immigrants came from a rougher sort as anyone who has studied Scottish history knows. Self-reliance in Scotland was necessary as civil society – and the rule of the King and Parliament and development of the commonweal – were extremely limited. That failure of government to develop a commonweal was one of the reasons why England prospered as Scotland stagnated and continuously plunged into tribal (clan) civil wars.

Prior to the Constitutional Congress, Madison, Mason and many others exhorted Jefferson and Washington to throw their hats in the ring with them to create a new national government out of the ashes of a dysfunctional Confederation. Finally, when representatives met, outside of the Confederation Congress, the members spent months writing and arguing the Constitution – without the Bill of Rights. Newspapers and tavern discussions dominated conversations across the states: how should a federal government be limited; does a new constitution need to explicitly state individual and state rights; should rights devolve to the people first or to the states first; should a federal government take pre-eminence over states. Those arguments consumed Americans and filled the newspapers.

Madison joined with Hamilton in arguing in the Federalist Papers that the nation needed a strong central government to deal with the challenges facing the new nation. England still threatened her merchant marines and trade routes. France wanted to be repaid. Individual state coinage was a complete fiscal disaster. In short, the new nation was being torn apart. However, a new central, strong government could solve those problems, Madison and his friend thought.

Not everyone was satisfied with the idea of strong central government. States’ Righters in the South pushed to have states rights prevail over individual rights, believing that states held pre-eminence over individuals. Northerners demanded individuals take precedence over states.

Finally, a compromise was formed after the original Constitution was ratified in which citizen rights were confirmed as Northerner’s wanted and state’s rights were confirmed as Southerner’s wanted. The outcome was the Bill of Rights.

Later, Washington came down on the side of strong federal government, which after much discussion, allowing Hamilton to set up a national bank and pay off the nation’s debts over Jefferson’s objections.

When I read Libertarians demand devolution or elimination of federal powers, I harken back to the arguments of our founders. None of them were Libertarians as many Libertarians would described today. The main disagreement that had existed two centuries ago was between the pre-eminence of individual rights via a strong federal government or state rights which held to a weaker federal government. It was not whether a person could opt out of societal responsibility, previously known as the commonweal, for self-interest. Although the North held to a stronger belief in social responsibility, the South really did not dispute those notions entirely. Even clans built strong social networks.

A month or so ago, I read a speech – or book preface – in which Libertarian economist and author Fredrick Hayek wrote that he was not a conservative. He wrote that conservatives look backwards, while he, a self described classical liberal, looked forward into the future. In other writings, he stated that a federal government should do what a individual cannot do alone, including building infrastructure, care for the needy, and providing health care. He wrote that these things were not against individual responsibility but rather fostered the ability of people to make decisions for themselves without destroying the social fabric (the commonweal).

The Mises Institute may be the hero of many libertarians, but Mises appears to have perverted Hayek’s concerns at a time of rising communism (authoritarian state control of industries) in parts of Europe. Fighting communism is a dead argument. Communism, in its purist form, no longer exists. Even China can no longer be called Communist. In actuality, China and Russia most clearly resemble their monarchies of the 19th Century.

Nevertheless, what some call socialism, particularly in the USA today, is nothing more than a response to the market and the requirement to compete globally. For example, 17% of GDP going to health care nationally when other OECD countries spend ~11% puts US companies at a financial disadvantage competitively. Moreover, a system based employer provided health care reduces the ability, incentive and motivation to start a new business. Even if one were to eliminate insurance companies, the costs of the health care delivery system would be beyond the financial means of a middle income family. That is why England, for example, has more start ups than the US: individuals and families don’t have to worry about being financially destroyed should a family member get sick. Essentially, the people have more freedom.

Hayek understood that essential freedom prospect and supported it. Hayek also understood the need to balance the “free market” with the need to protect the citizenry from corrupting, non-competitive legislation and legislation that would harm the public (the commons) due to industry specific, purchased legislation. Businesses will always – as they have always done – seek to protect their profits, regardless of the affects on society. That is why Hayek sought, in later years when communism was no longer a threat, to advocate for industry in general, rather than for businesses, and to protect workers from circumstances beyond their individual control.

Modern day Libertarians, all too often, align themselves less with Hayek and more with Ayn Rand in their philosophy. Rand espoused a selfish, self-centered economic philosophy that is the antithesis of Winthrop’s commonwealth.

It is also why Romney must be defeated. While Ayn Randers and many so-called libertarians aligned with him, he does not portray the values of Winthrop that dominated the US rise to prominence throughout the last 200 years.

Simon Schama on America

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Simon Schama, British art and literary critic who since 1990 has written and presented more than 30 documentaries as well as such best-sellers as THE POWER OF ART and the three-volume A HISTORY OF BRITAIN, spoke to Bill Moyers tonight on Bill Moyers Journal regarding American race relations and the promise of America.

Remarking on the historic election of Barack Obama and race in America, Schama said,

Benjamin Franklin, 1750, is terrified about the Germans in Pennsylvania. For Franklin, this was going to be an empire of the free but only if you’re maybe Scots, maybe Irish or English. He wrote, of course actually, he was aware of German journalism and so on. But he fought bitterly against the possibility that the Germans would overrun Pennsylvania. The notion is: there’s always the next wave. They’re not going to be ready or right or, in some peculiar biological way, compatible with democracy. The Irish weren’t going to be compatible. The Italians weren’t going to, but time takes its own. We were talking earlier about the amazing power of education. And, you know, that has the capacity somehow magically over the generations to make all these people just fine as Americans.

The jump which we’re seeing now, however, is what Chuck Alaman in Dearborn, Michigan, says at the end of that film, talks about with great pride, says, “I’m not an Arab American. I’m an American who happens to be a Muslim. I’m as American as apple pie.” And we are seeing, if Obama’s elected, the coloring of America. And you gave me an article to read in the “Atlantic Monthly” which was sort of about how white America is ending. And I thought, yes. But am I missing something here? But what exactly is the problem?


The race problem will not go away, not least because when times are tough actually those who are, in any case, economically disadvantaged, who have less schooling, are likely to be those who are most, alas, disposable in terms of the possibility of unemployment. So we’re going to expect I think trouble in the cities. Not I think trouble like 1960s.

But you asked, of course, the historical question. That is profound. America begins with an act – and you know, I’m deeply sentimental in my enthusiasm about the beginning of the American experiment. But it begins with an act of profound bad faith. Jefferson writes the Declaration of Independence in which liberty and equality are offered as the defining principles that make you American, while he is himself a slave owner. And then the Constitution is made at the moment in which African Americans are defined as three-fifths of a human in order to give the South enough clout to perpetuate slavery.

And, you know, Lincoln’s conversion coming up to the Civil War and then during the Civil War, from someone who found it morally loathsome but pragmatically had to be kept that way, to someone who, for whatever reasons, to win the war or not, was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, was an enormous change.

Lincoln, simply in the end, found it unbearable to hold up his head as an American and keep that act of bad faith going. But then we had a hundred years of Jim Crow and we had the civil rights movement. So this moment, it does seem to me to finally wipe clean that original sin, that profoundly repellent act of bad faith at the very beginning.

Bill Moyers continued with:

BILL MOYERS: But one reviewer says, “I was left feeling rather chilled by Schama’s take on the U.S. and its prospects. This may be the end of an empire as we knew it. And one can only wonder what it will mean for someone like Obama to preside,” and here’s where your historical convergence arrives on the scene, “to preside over its dismantling or its transformation.”

SIMON SCHAMA: That’s the challenge. That’s typically dark European view. But it’s the challenge. You can either be – it’s an extraordinary thing, this convergence of catastrophe and euphoria. Euphoria at the president we have and the heap of trouble we’re in. Either the heap of trouble will do him in and there’ll be a terrible dark backlash of disappointed expectations, or he’ll flip it. It won’t be easy. The flipping won’t happen overnight. But he can actually turn it to an extraordinary vindication of the American experiment. I rather hope he will.

BILL MOYERS: Have you learned something about the American character that surprised you, that enables you to project where we are going as a people, the soul of America?

SIMON SCHAMA: There are moments in our history, some of the ordeals of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, that Americans were called on to sacrifice, during the New Deal and during the Second World War. We are indeed going to go through a kind of test of that order. But in each occasion really America has emerged with an essential characteristics altered, but intact.

BILL MOYERS: And that is?

SIMON SCHAMA: I think freedom, ingenuity, and justice.

BILL MOYERS: Those you think are the bedrock of American character?

SIMON SCHAMA: I do. I do. And as I say, I think actually equality and justice were a dark joke so long as racism remained embedded in the institutional fabric of the United States. That’s changed.

Shama’s interview with Bill Moyers is a prelude to a television series premiering on BBC America next week, during the inauguration, and this upcoming book, THE AMERICAN FUTURE: A HISTORY.

Written by Valerie Curl

January 17, 2009 at 2:14 PM

Government vs. the modern Promotion of Christianity

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My son-in-law and I enjoy many animated but mild conversations on the Constitution and the intent behind the Founding Fathers wording of the Bill of Rights. As a committed, devout Mormon and strict Constitutionalist, I suspect his gift to me this year was meant to alter my mind regarding the First Amendment. Or maybe he just wanted to give us something else to discuss.

A year ago, I told him the Queen Elizabeth I outlawed violent persecution of Catholics as revenge for what her sister had done to Protestants by saying that the practice of religion was a matter of conscience. Her words more exactly were that she would not peer into a man’s conscience regarding religion.

So, this year my son-in-law gave me Steven Waldman’s book, Founding Faith. In the book, Waldman uses historical records to elaborate on the faith of the Founding Fathers to explain the religious foundations of the United States and how the First Amendment came into being.

According to Waldman’s research, the U.S. was Christian at its’ conception. I doubt there is any disagreement of this fact as the early settlers were all from England – and later from Germany, Holland and other Northern European nations where one form or another of Christianity was practiced. However, many Christian sects – Anglican, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Congregational, Catholic and others – were practiced and/or violently discriminated against in the colonies. One has only to look at Catholic France to see the extreme violence practiced against Calvinist Huguenots (French Puritans) to understand the enmity that existed between varying Christian sects.

Waldman records that enmity as having existed in the colonies as well: popish Catholics being hated overall; Quakers being considered too anti-American in their pacifisms or too fond of Blacks; Baptists as not legitimate; Massachusetts and Connecticut approving only Puritan Congregationalists, and so on.

In each colony, each dominant religious sect sought to preserve its dominance even as the Revolution proceeded. However, Washington, leading an army of religiously diverse men, recognized that choosing one religious sect over another would be disastrous to the army…and to the country he was fighting to build. Thus, he sought to eliminate religious sectarianism in the ranks of his Army as well as during his years in public office.

Later during the Congressional Convention, men like James Madison, Geo. Mason and Baptist leader John Leland, who fought against religious discrimination in their home states, led the way to prohibit the national government from becoming involved, in any way, in religion. “At the Massachusetts convention, the Reverend Isaac Backus declared that religious tests had been the ‘greatest engine of tyranny in the world’ and praised the revolutionary new document (the Constitution sans Bill of Rights) for recognizing that ‘Nothing is more evident both in reason and Holy Scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and, therefore no man or men can impose religious test without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ ‘After Pennsylvania ratified…. Watching from the side, Dr. Benjamin Rush noticed a rabbi [heretofore Jews having been banned in every colony from property ownership, business, and schools] and two Christian ministers marching arm in arm and thought it a perfect symbol of the Constitution’s ban on religious tests.’ “

But as Madison found when he returned home to Orange County, VA, the Constitution did not go far enough to secure the people’s right to religious freedom…or what was commonly called “freedom of conscience.”

What Madison had learned throughout his education at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), an evangelical seminary known as both a citadel for republicanism and a haven for dissenting Presbyterianism, and in his travels was that religion was an individual choice – a matter of conscience for each person – and that no other person had the right to abridge that freedom of conscience. To him, the practice of any religion was a God given freedom of conscience. Thus, to say that government had the right or authority to tax or promote one religious sect over another was an abridgment of the freedom of conscience. It was his belief that religion was best served when government stayed out it completely.

What Madison sought from Congress, as he had from the Virginia Legislature earlier in his political career, was an assurance that government would not be involved in the sponsorship or promotion of religion in any way. Even though having been a Christian, he believed that religion was best served if government had no part in it. In this, Thomas Jefferson, who held a mild Christian attitude, influenced Madison. Jefferson believed in Christianity, as did all of his political contemporaries, but he held some purely anachronistic views, i.e. that Jesus was not born of a virgin or was The Son of God. He did believe that the philosophical views of Jesus were the best that had passed down through the ages of the human race.

Jefferson firmly believed that Christianity was best when government left it alone. That is, when government played no part in its recommendation or assistance or promotion.

While this ideology was commonplace in Franklin’s Pennsylvania, it was fairly new and different in Virginia and elsewhere in the colonies – in Massachusetts and Connecticut, in particular, where government sponsorship and taxation promoted and paid for a particular brand (sect) of Christianity.

As a result of Madison’s travels to Pennsylvania and potentially his tutelage from Jefferson, Madison developed the ideal that government – any government, whether national or state – should very strictly stay out of the realm of religion.

Thus, after Madison put the First Amendment to the House of Representatives, he agreed to New Hampshire Representative Samuel Livermore’s rewording: “Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience.” After much argument in the House and the Senate, the final wording is as we know it today: “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Moreover, he believed that religion, if left alone without government help or assistance of any kind, would thrive and grow based on it’s own great merits…and that if government interfered or chose to assist it in any way, religion would weaken as had the Catholic Church in Europe. Madison, as most of his contemporaries, was a student of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. They understood the religious arguments of previous generations as well as those of their day. And they also knew that when government became involved with religion, by choosing one religious sect over another, that people died: when the rights of the minority are sacrificed to the majority, people suffer.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison argued this point, and in particular that government –keeping religion in mind – should prevent the majority from denying the rights of the minority. Given the violent religious discrimination Madison witnessed in Virginia prior to becoming a member of congress, he firmly believed that religion was best served when government was prohibited from partaking in religious delegation or general designation for the populace.

As he decided from first hand observation, when government becomes involved with a particular religion or religious sect, the majority ends up practicing extremes of cruelty against the minority. Thus, it is best for religion that government, whether national or stare, divorce itself entirely from religion of any sort. Only then will parishioners of religion, of whatever name, enjoy the choice of freedom of conscience. Only when government, in its entirety, is separated from religion will religion thrive.

Written by Valerie Curl

January 1, 2009 at 5:29 PM

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