Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Centinel #1
Posted on 02/01/2010 7:56:26 AM PST by Publius
The proceedings of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 were conducted in secret, thus masking to the public the divisions between Nationalists and States Men, small states and large states, North and South. The mandate from Congress had been to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation, but the Convention quickly decided to start afresh, something that upset the States Men.
The lines between the two factions were based on a combination of social class and activity during the Revolution. Nationalists, for the most part, had served as officers in the Continental Army or state militias. They tended to be businessmen and among the moneyed class. States Men had served as enlisted men or not at all, and tended to be among the smallholding farming class.
The financial chaos that gripped the young nation after the Treaty of Paris in 1783 had affected each class differently. The lack of a genuine coin of the realm had crippled the financial and commercial classes, while little affecting the agricultural classes until they had to pay their property taxes or engage in interstate commerce.
The proposed Constitution marked a break with the past and the strong anti-government currents in American life and politics. The new document proposed a government on the British model, but far more efficient, which greatly disturbed the States Men.
The Convention had exceeded the limited mandate granted by the Confederation Congress, but there was a safety valve a provision in Article XIII that required Congress to approve the product of the Convention before passing it on to the states for ratification. Congress could have thanked General Washington for his work and thrown the Constitution out, but Washingtons status with the citizenry and the sense of crisis prompted Congress to swallow its doubts and approve the Constitution for ratification.
Samuel Bryan was the son of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge who wrote a series of papers under the pseudonym Centinel, in which he opposed the adoption of the proposed Constitution. It was Bryan who spoke first, but not so well as those who followed.
1 To the Freemen of Pennsylvania.
2 Friends, Countrymen and Fellow Citizens,
3 Permit one of yourselves to put you in mind of certain liberties and privileges secured to you by the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and to beg your serious attention to his uninterested opinion upon the plan of federal government submitted to your consideration, before you surrender these great and valuable privileges up forever.
4 Your present frame of government secures to you a right to hold yourselves, houses, papers and possessions free from search and seizure, and therefore warrants granted without oaths or affirmations first made, affording sufficient foundation for them, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search your houses or seize your persons or property, not particularly described in such warrant, shall not be granted.
5 Your Constitution further provides that in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the parties have a right to trial by jury, which ought to be held sacred.
6 It also provides and declares, that the people have a right of freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments, therefore the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained.
7 The Constitution of Pennsylvania is yet in existence, as yet you have the right to freedom of speech and of publishing your sentiments.
8 How long those rights will appertain to you, you yourselves are called upon to say; whether your houses shall continue to be your castles; whether your papers, your persons and your property are to be held sacred and free from general warrants, you are now to determine.
9 Whether the trial by jury is to continue as your birthright, the freemen of Pennsylvania, nay, of all America, are now called upon to declare.
10 Without presuming upon my own judgment, I cannot think it an unwarrantable presumption to offer my private opinion and call upon others for theirs, and if I use my pen with the boldness of a freeman, it is because I know that the liberty of the press yet remains unviolated, and juries yet are judges.
11 The late Convention have submitted to your consideration a plan of a new federal government the subject is highly interesting to your future welfare.
12 Whether it be calculated to promote the great ends of civil society, namely the happiness and prosperity of the community, it behooves you well to consider, uninfluenced by the authority of names.
13 Instead of that frenzy of enthusiasm that has actuated the citizens of Philadelphia in their approbation of the proposed plan, before it was possible that it could be the result of a rational investigation into its principles, it ought to be dispassionately and deliberately examined and its own intrinsic merit the only criterion of your patronage.
14 If ever free and unbiased discussion was proper or necessary, it is on such an occasion.
15 All the blessings of liberty and the dearest privileges of freemen are now at stake and dependent on your present conduct.
16 Those who are competent to the task of developing the principles of government ought to be encouraged to come forward and thereby the better enable the people to make a proper judgment; for the science of government is so abstruse that few are able to judge for themselves; without such assistance the people are too apt to yield an implicit assent to the opinions of those characters whose abilities are held in the highest esteem and to those in whose integrity and patriotism they can confide; not considering that the love of domination is generally in proportion to talents, abilities and superior acquirements; and that the men of the greatest purity of intention may be made instruments of despotism in the hands of the artful and designing.
17 If it were not for the stability and attachment which time and habit gives to forms of government, it would be in the power of the enlightened and aspiring few, if they should combine, at any time to destroy the best establishments and even make the people the instruments of their own subjugation.
18 The late Revolution having effaced in a great measure all former habits, and the present institutions are so recent that there exists not that great reluctance to innovation, so remarkable in old communities, and which accords with reason, for the most comprehensive mind cannot foresee the full operation of material changes on civil polity; it is the genius of the common law to resist innovation.
19 The wealthy and ambitious, who in every community think they have a right to lord it over their fellow creatures, have availed themselves very successfully of this favorable disposition, for the people thus unsettled in their sentiments have been prepared to accede to any extreme of government; all the distresses and difficulties they experience, proceeding from various causes, have been ascribed to the impotency of the present Confederation, and thence they have been led to expect full relief from the adoption of the proposed system of government, and in the other event, immediately ruin and annihilation as a nation.
20 These characters flatter themselves that they have lulled all distrust and jealousy of their new plan by gaining the concurrence of the two men in whom America has the highest confidence and now triumphantly exult in the completion of their long meditated schemes of power and aggrandizement.
21 I would be very far from insinuating that the two illustrious personages alluded to have not the welfare of their country at heart, but that the unsuspecting goodness and zeal of the one, has been imposed on, in a subject of which he must be necessarily inexperienced, from his other arduous engagements, and that the weakness and indecision attendant on old age, has been practiced on in the other.
22 I am fearful that the principles of government inculcated in Mr. Adams' treatise, and enforced in the numerous essays and paragraphs in the newspapers, have misled some well designing members of the late Convention.
23 But it will appear in the sequel that the construction of the proposed plan of government is infinitely more extravagant.
24 I have been anxiously expecting that some enlightened patriot would, ere this, have taken up the pen to expose the futility and counteract the baneful tendency of such principles.
25 Mr. Adams' sine qua non of a good government is three balancing powers whose repelling qualities are to produce an equilibrium of interests and thereby promote the happiness of the whole community.
26 He asserts that the administrators of every government will ever be actuated by views of private interest and ambition to the prejudice of the public good; that therefore the only effectual method to secure the rights of the people and promote their welfare is to create an opposition of interests between the members of two distinct bodies in the exercise of the powers of government and balanced by those of a third.
27 This hypothesis supposes human wisdom competent to the task of instituting three coequal orders in government and a corresponding weight in the community to enable them respectively to exercise their several parts, and whose views and interests should be so distinct as to prevent a coalition of any two of them for the destruction of the third.
28 Mr. Adams, although he has traced the constitution of every form of government that ever existed, as far as history affords materials, has not been able to adduce a single instance of such a government; he indeed says that the British Constitution is such in theory, but this is rather a confirmation that his principles are chimerical and not to be reduced to practice.
29 If such an organization of power were practicable, how long would it continue?
30 Not a day, for there is so great a disparity in the talents, wisdom and industry of mankind that the scale would presently preponderate to one or the other body, and with every accession of power the means of further increase would be greatly extended.
31 The state of society in England is much more favorable to such a scheme of government than that of America.
32 There they have a powerful hereditary nobility and real distinctions of rank and interests, but even there, for want of that perfect equality of power and distinction of interests, in the three orders of government, they exist but in name; the only operative and efficient check upon the conduct of administration is the sense of the people at large.
33 Suppose a government could be formed and supported on such principles, would it answer the great purposes of civil society; if the administrators of every government are actuated by views of private interest and ambition, how is the welfare and happiness of the community to be the result of such jarring adverse interests?
34 Therefore, as different orders in government will not produce the good of the whole, we must recur to other principles.
35 I believe it will be found that the form of government which holds those entrusted with power in the greatest responsibility to their constituents, the best calculated for freemen.
36 A republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous, and where property is pretty equally divided; in such a government the people are the sovereign, and their sense or opinion is the criterion of every public measure; for when this ceases to be the case the nature of the government is changed, and an aristocracy, monarchy or despotism will rise on its ruin.
37 The highest responsibility is to be attained in a simple structure of government, for the great body of the people never steadily attend to the operations of government and for want of due information are liable to be imposed on.
38 If you complicate the plan by various orders, the people will be perplexed and divided in their sentiments about the source of abuses or misconduct; some will impute it to the Senate, others to the House of Representatives, and so on, that the interposition of the people may be rendered imperfect or perhaps wholly abortive.
39 But if, imitating the Constitution of Pennsylvania, you vest all the legislative power in one body of men separating the executive and judicial elected for a short period, and necessarily excluded by rotation from permanency, and guarded from precipitancy and surprise by delays imposed on its proceedings, you will create the most perfect responsibility, for then whenever the people feel a grievance, they cannot mistake the authors and will apply the remedy with certainty and effect, discarding them at the next election.
40 This tie of responsibility will obviate all the dangers apprehended from a single legislature and will the best secure the rights of the people.
41 Having premised this much, I shall now proceed to the examination of the proposed plan of government, and I trust, shall make it appear to the meanest capacity that it has none of the essential requisites of a free government; that it is neither founded on those balancing restraining powers recommended by Mr. Adams and attempted in the British Constitution, or possessed of that responsibility to its constituents which in my opinion is the only effectual security for the liberties and happiness of the people; but on the contrary that it is a most daring attempt to establish a despotic aristocracy among freemen that the world has ever witnessed.
42 I shall previously consider the extent of the powers intended to be vested in Congress before I examine the construction of the general government.
43 It will not be controverted that the legislative is the highest delegated power in government and that all others are subordinate to it.
44 The celebrated Montesquieu establishes it as a maxim that legislation necessarily follows the power of taxation.
45 By Section 8 of the first article of the proposed plan of government, the Congress are to have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, but all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States.
46 Now what can be more comprehensive than these words; not content by other sections of this plan to grant all the great executive powers of a confederation and a standing army in time of peace, that grand engine of oppression, and moreover the absolute control over the commerce of the United States and all external objects of revenue, such as unlimited imposts upon imports, etc., they are to be vested with every species of internal taxation; whatever taxes, duties and excises that they may deem requisite for the general welfare may be imposed on the citizens of these states, levied by the officers of Congress, distributed through every district in America; and the collection would be enforced by the standing army, however grievous or improper they may be.
47 The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes to be for the general welfare and thereby seize upon every object of revenue.
48 The judicial power by 1st section of Article 3 shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, to controversies to which the United States shall be a party, to controversies between two or more states, between a state and citizens of another state, between citizens of different states, between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.
49 The judicial power to be vested in one Supreme Court and in such Inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
50 The objects of jurisdiction recited above are so numerous, and the shades of distinction between civil causes are oftentimes so slight, that it is more than probable that the state judicatories would be wholly superseded; for in contests about jurisdiction, the federal court, as the most powerful, would ever prevail.
51 Every person acquainted with the history of the courts in England knows by what ingenious sophisms they have at different periods extended the sphere of their jurisdiction over objects out of the line of their institution and contrary to their very nature, courts of a criminal jurisdiction obtaining cognizance in civil causes.
52 To put the [omnipotence] of Congress over the state government and judicatories out of all doubt, the 6th Article ordains that this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.
53 By these sections, the all-prevailing power of taxation, and such extensive legislative and judicial powers are vested in the general government, as must in their operation, necessarily absorb the state legislatures and judicatories; and that such was in the contemplation of the framers of it will appear from the provision made for such event in another part of it but that fearful of alarming the people by so great an innovation, they have suffered the forms of the separate governments to remain as a blind.
54 By section 4th of the 1st Article, the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of chusing senators."
55 The plain construction of which is that when the state legislatures drop out of sight from the necessary operation this government, then Congress are to provide for the election and appointment of representatives and senators.
56 If the foregoing be a just comment, if the United States are to be melted down into one empire, it becomes you to consider whether such a government, however constructed, would be eligible in so extended a territory, and whether it would be practicable, consistent with freedom?
57 It is the opinion of the greatest writers that a very extensive country cannot be governed on [democratic] principles, on any other plan than a confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government but united in the management of their foreign and general concerns.
58 It would not be difficult to prove that any thing short of despotism could not bind so great a country under one government, and that whatever plan you might at the first setting out establish, it would issue in a despotism.
59 If one general government could be instituted and maintained on principles of freedom, it would not be so competent to attend to the various local concerns and wants of every particular district as well as the peculiar governments who are nearer the scene and possessed of superior means of information; besides, if the business of the whole Union is to be managed by one government, there would not be time.
60 Do we not already see that the inhabitants in a number of larger states who are remote from the seat of government are loudly complaining of the inconveniences and disadvantages they are subjected to on this account, and that to enjoy the comforts of local government they are separating into smaller divisions?
61 Having taken a review of the powers, I shall now examine the construction of the proposed general government.
62 Article 1, Section 1: All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives. By another section? The President, the principal executive officer, has a conditional control over their proceedings.
63 Section 2: The house of representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year, by the people of the several states. The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 inhabitants."
64 The Senate, the other constituent branch of the legislature, is formed by the legislature of each state appointing two senators for the term of six years.
65 The executive power by Article 2, Section 1 is to be vested in a President of the United States of America elected for four years: Section 2 gives him power, by and with the consent of the senate to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law, etc.
66 And by another section he has the absolute power of granting reprieves and pardons for treason and all other high crimes and misdemeanors except in case of impeachment.
67 The foregoing are the outlines of the plan.
68 Thus we see, the House of Representatives are on the part of the people to balance the Senate, who I suppose will be composed of the better sort, the well born, etc.
69 The number of the representatives, being only one for every 30,000 inhabitants, appears to be too few, either to communicate the requisite information of the wants, local circumstances and sentiments of so extensive an empire, or to prevent corruption and undue influence in the exercise of such great powers; the term for which they are to be chosen, too long to preserve a due dependence and accountability to their constituents, and the mode and places of their election not sufficiently ascertained, for as Congress have the control over both, they may govern the choice by ordering the representatives of a whole state to be elected in one place, and that too may be the most inconvenient.
70 The Senate, the great efficient body in this plan of government, is constituted on the most unequal principles.
71 The smallest state in the Union has equal weight with the great states of Virginia, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.
72 The Senate, besides its legislative functions, has a very considerable share in the Executive; none of the principal appointments to office can be made without its advice and consent.
73 The term and mode of its appointment will lead to permanency; the members are chosen for six years, the mode is under the control of Congress, and as there is no exclusion by rotation, they may be continued for life, which, from their extensive means of influence, would follow of course.
74 The President, who would be a mere pageant of state unless he coincides with the views of the Senate, would either become the head of the aristocratic junto in that body or its minion; besides, their influence being the most predominant, could the best secure his re-election to office.
75 And from his power of granting pardons, he might screen from punishment the most treasonable attempts on liberties of the people when instigated by the Senate.
76 From this investigation into the organization of this government, it appears that it is devoid of all responsibility or accountability to the great body of the people, and that so far from being a regular balanced government, it would be in practice a permanent aristocracy.
77 The framers of it, actuated by the true spirit of such a government which ever abominates and suppresses all free enquiry and discussion, have made no provision for the liberty of the press, that grand palladium of freedom and scourge of tyrants, but observed a total silence on that head.
78 It is the opinion of some great writers that if the liberty of the press, by an institution of religion or otherwise, could be rendered sacred, even in Turkey, that despotism would fly before it.
79 And it is worthy of remark that there is no declaration of personal rights, premised in most free constitutions; and that trial by jury in civil cases is taken away; for what other construction can be put on the following, namely Article m., Section 2d: In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases above mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact?
80 It would be a novelty in jurisprudence, as well as evidently improper, to allow an appeal from the verdict of a jury on the matter of fact; therefore, it implies and allows of a [dismissal] of the jury in civil cases, and especially when it is considered that jury trial in criminal cases is expressly stipulated for, but not in civil cases.
81 But our situation is represented to be so critically dreadful that, however reprehensible and exceptionable the proposed plan of government may be, there is no alternative between the adoption of it and absolute ruin.
82 My fellow citizens, things are not at that crisis; it is the argument of tyrants; the present distracted state of Europe secures us from injury on that quarter, and as to domestic dissensions, we have not so much to fear from them as to precipitate us into this form of government, without it is a safe and a proper one.
83 For remember, of all possible evils, that of despotism is the worst and the most to be dreaded.
84 Besides, it cannot be supposed that the first essay on so difficult a subject is so well digested as it ought to be,
85 If [the] proposed plan, after a mature deliberation, should meet the approbation of the respective states, the matter will end, but if it should be found to be fraught with dangers and inconveniences, a future general convention, being in possession of the objections, will be the better enabled to plan a suitable government.
86 Who's here so base, that would a bondsman be?
If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who's here so vile, that will not love his country?
If any, speak; for him have I offended.
[Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2 ]
To properly appreciate the work of these 18th Century men, one must visualize them with hemp paper on a table, quill pen in hand, and a pot of ink into which that pen had to be dipped every few words. This forced a certain economy of expression, the entire composition being formed of units constrained by the ability of a split feather to hold ink. To the modern eye this appears to be an uncomfortable concentration of expression, but here concision is immortality.
In military terms, the author has fired an artillery barrage.
Samuel Bryans topic is the proposed federal Constitution itself and not the Bill of Rights. To contemporary Americans this is a distinction less apparent than it was to the debaters. The necessity or desirability of a bill of rights can be tabled for the moment, but already it begins to take shape in Bryans first paragraphs. Bryan references the guarantees and protections of the Pennsylvania Constitution of the time in comparison to the proposed federal Constitution.
In Verse 4, one sees the beginnings of the 4th Amendment, and the freedom of houses, papers and possessions from search and seizure, such seizure to be accomplished by warrants taken under oath.
In Verse 5, there is the germ of the 6th Amendment and trial by jury.
In Verses 6 and 7, there is a hint of the 1st Amendment with freedom of speech and of the press.
There will be more as the debate begins to take shape.
There is, as well, a pre-Marx recognition of the importance of class interest in both the formation and the function of government, stated with the distinct whiff of class warfare.
At the Convention, Gouveneur Morris had gone so far as to propose institutionalizing differences of class and financial status in the makeup of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Without realizing it, Morris was proposing enshrinement of the class struggle in the design of the Legislative branch. Fortunately for all, the Convention rejected his proposal.
In Verse 31, it is clear that Bryan believes that Great Britain's government is the better for such class distinctions. There, such institutions as aristocracy are formally built into government. Parliament was bicameral, and it is not entirely apparent that Bryans objections are altogether germane if the nascent government were to attempt to accommodate this sort of class warfare instead of acting against it. Nevertheless, we see in this a hint of the argument that Edmund Burke was to make in his Reflections on the Revolution in France roughly three years later that such things occasionally serve a purpose that is not in their original design.
Bryan believes that while splitting the Legislative branch into Senate and House mirrors the British practice of Lords and Commons and accurately reflects the British society of the time, it poorly mirrors that of the United States. He prefers the unicameral Pennsylvania practice.
He points out the vagueness of the term general welfare and its susceptibility to over-interpretation with regard to expansion of the powers of Congress. He is particularly suspicious that this will lead Congress to supplant the state legislative bodies by taking over every object of revenue.
A similar objection leads him to warn against a tendency of the Supreme Court to supplant the responsibilities of the sundry state courts.
He warns that the President must, under the terms of Article 2, be at risk of becoming a tool of the class-based Senate.
He further objects that the Senate as constituted under the plan would confer a power to the various states disproportionate to their population and economic clout. Clearly the fact that this would be offset by the population-based representation of the House is an argument yet to coalesce. He does not recognize the bicameral nature of Congress as a means to address this issue.
Ironically it is a side note a rather amusing one that Bryan does not think that one representative per 30,000 inhabitants is sufficient, but his reasons are sound, being based on the capacity of communications in those days. One would love to see the look on his face were he told that a similar policy in the current United States would imply a House of some 10,000 members.
He closes with a warning against the tendency of a government so formed to devolve toward despotism. He particularly considers the power of presidential pardon a temptation to the exemption of the Senate from the rule of the law.
Verse 84 is a plea for modesty:
84 Besides, it cannot be supposed that the first essay on so difficult a subject is so well digested as it ought to be.
That may be true, but it is an excellent beginning. Bryan makes a strong start at defining the criteria against which any constitution must be considered. The battle is, indeed, joined.
Harbingers of the French Revolution
The French Revolution was in its very early stages at the writing of this essay, the Estates-General still two years in the future. It was clear to more than just Edmund Burke that the whole affair was likely to turn sour. The questions were: why, how to avoid it, and if class warfare were a signal characteristic of late Enlightenment government, how could one deal with it in such a way that it did not tear that government apart? The reader receives hints of that concern in this essay. Bryan is clearly apprehensive that class distinctions would be codified in the new government to its detriment, specifically with respect to the Senate (Verse 68). Thus, the question is, can they be controlled?
How can one structure a government so that it does not embody the seeds of a new aristocracy, invalidating the struggle of the War of Independence? Here one must consider the body of thought available at the time. Samuel Bryan cites the great French political scientist Montesquieu, by name in Verse 44 and by allusion in Verse 57, to the effect that democracy is out of the question for a country the size of which was already being anticipated by the Founders; that a confederation of small republics (Verse 57) or an outright despotism (Verse 58) was the only effective way to govern such a large enterprise. This was in part a recognition of the limitations of communication, but Montesquieu's was not the only opinion in the matter. Gibbon had barely finished his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the time, but Machiavelli, in his Discourses, had already laid out the case that a republic was perfectly capable of such an act of governance and that it was other factors, notably corruption, that led away from it toward despotism. Between Machiavelli and Washington were Cromwell and the English experience in forming a government that guarded against the abuses of untrammeled monarchical power. To a great degree the revolutions in both France and America were the bookends of that debate.
That is a little more apparent in retrospect than it was for Bryan, who appreciated the issues involved and would no doubt have been astounded at the fact that all of them are still in play some two centuries later. Americans are still debating the proper balance between the ability of local government to apprehend local issues in detail and the economies of scale of a national government. It may be that the true function of the Constitution is not to provide any comprehensive answer but to delineate the boundaries within which that long-standing debate may take place.
The Use of the Word Democratic
In the original text, Bryan uses the word democratical, which is an archaism. We have used the word democratic enclosed within brackets instead to convey the idea. In 1787, words such as democracy, democrat and democratical carried a certain amount of ideological weight. The Framers had no intention of creating a democracy, and Franklins opinion of democracy was scathing, going far beyond Madisons gentle and scholarly criticism.
Yet by 1800, the political landscape had altered drastically. In that year, a man who lost his temper and accused another of being a democrat or engaging in democratical principles would have been quickly challenged to an interview under the code duello, concluding with the words, My seconds shall call upon you on the morrow. Alexander Hamiltons Federalist Party in that year labeled Thomas Jeffersons Republican Party as the Democratic-Republican Party, linking Jeffersons own name for his party to an epithet. What had changed?
The French Revolution had shocked the American psyche. There was a great deal of good will for King Louis XVI, who had sent the French navy to intervene in Americas war with England, facilitating an American victory at Yorktown and prompting the British to rethink their approach. Louis had been deposed, decapitated and replaced by the Republic, the Terror, the Directory and finally a military coup. Napoleon had yet to send his armies to spread the poison of the French Revolution to all Europe, but America under John Adams had already fought a naval cold war with the French revolutionary government.
Despite Jeffersons occasionally bloodthirsty prose in favor of the French Revolution, most Americans regarded the events in France as a psychotic episode tied to the idea of democracy-in-excess. While America no longer honored the concept of kings and hereditary nobility, regicide was something that shocked, especially as a progressive monarch and friend of America had been the victim. In the 1790's, democracy had begun to acquire a bad name, a situation that did not change until 1828 when Andrew Jackson ran for president the second time.
In 1787, Bryan was referring to the rough democracy seen at the most basic unit of governance in America, the county. It was the county that built the roads, maintained the poorhouse for indigents and collected the property tax. A concept that could be called stakeholder franchise was observed throughout the young United States. When a voter cast his ballot, he walked or rode to the county courthouse where he showed his latest property tax receipt to the county clerk in order to be allowed to vote. Upon validation of the receipt, the clerk would then ask for the citizens vote. There being no secret ballot, the voter would inform the clerk for whom he was voting, and representatives of the person who had won the citizens vote would then give him a glass of beer, cider or punch, a concoction of alcoholic spirits and sugar that today would be classified as a girl drink, but which packed a wallop. Even Jefferson, who worshiped the People in the abstract, strongly favored the retention of property qualifications, lest an un-propertied urban proletariat control the levers of power.
Bryans idea of democratical principles were rough-hewn, a part of the political mainstream, and very American.
A word of warning to FReepers. Threads such as these tend to attract one line comments bewailing the fact that modern America has broken faith with the Founders. Occasionally one will cast blame, usually at progressives, liberals, lie-berals, Democrats, DemonCrats, DemonRats, Democraps and others. Lets avoid this. Well stipulate that much of America today was not what the Framers intended. But precisely where and how did we go wrong? And, more importantly, how did the men of the 18th Century err, and how did some of those men anticipate the errors?
If the reader has ever tackled the crossword puzzles of The Times of London, he knows that the clues are not direct, but are allusions that require thinking two or three levels more deeply. Our goal is to stimulate thought, forcing the reader to go several layers beneath the surface. We want to avoid the facile in favor of the comprehensive. If your head begins to ache contemplating these questions, the authors have done their job.
Ping! The thread has been posted.
Yee-haw! It’s finally here. Let’s get started.
Ping for later.
Perhaps his tracing of American history through the first 50 years under the Constitution--done by invitation of the New York Historical Society--may be a subject for the future here.
Thanks for this!
I had to look up “abstruse.”
Love your warning at the end. Chapter Ten explains my belief of where we went wrong.
Let me begin by supplying a link to the Pennsylvania Constitution that is being referred to in Verse 3.
Thanks for beginning this project.
Excellent! Thank you. It will be a valuable reference tool.
In your commentary on that, you include this comment: "Harry Truman, in his homey Missouri way, once made the point that a man who would cheat on his wife would cheat on his country."
Samuel Adams commented on both the idea of "virtue among the people" and the relationship between private and public "virtue" in this manner:
"Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt." - Essay in the Public Advertiser, 1749
"He who is void of virtuous Attachments in private Life, is, or very soon will be void of all Regard for his Country. There is seldom an Instance of a Man guilty of betraying his Country, who had not before lost the Feeling of moral Obligations in his private Connections." - Letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775
Thanks for the ping. I’m getting Pub’s ping as well, so you can drop me from your list.
The national legislature voted to impose this tax on western PA. The western PA legislators of course opposed it, but their comrades in legislation said, the hell with you. This is one early case of groupthink punishing hardworking entrepreneurs to support the entire national body.
The result: taxation forced many whiskey makers to flee to less developed territories like Kentucky, and bless those new lands with their expertise in making whiskey. Which is why people speak of 'Kentucky whiskey' with respect, and not "Pennsylvania whiskey'.
Fascinating. The verses I noted (for myself for my further review as I was reading them) are different from the ones you have cited...yet the questions you have raised from the verses you cited are very legitimate.
My 1st thought (not being knowledgeable about Bryan) is that I like this thinker.
Kudos for your tremendous effort, Publius. (/to work)
I finally finished reading your recommended “Rise of The Republic.” Thanks!
It clearly described the evolution of self government among the colonies.
After over 150 years of tradition and experience, adoption of our federal Constitution was no accident; it was a logical conclusion.
Excellent point. When we get to Federal Farmer #1 next Monday, we have a long essay on the money situation and the Alcohol Standard observed on the frontier.
My problem with (self-appointed) elites in government is that they often seem to have a theoretical understanding of the needs of the "little people". I heard the point made, I believe by John Stossel, that it is impossible for anyone to know what the needs of all the citizens are because there are simply too many perspectives. This was an argument for maintaining a limited government as a means to protect the "native wisdom" of the population. While it may start a larger argument, this notion goes to the concept of "legislating morality" that our side often falls into.
I believe this also goes to the point of the government closest to the people being the most representative and the government furthest away being the least. "the country", "the State" and "Washington" being the author's definitions.
On a side note... and you may have covered this already... are the italicized portions of the text YOUR italics or the author's?
Frothingham's delving into the ideas which inspired and motivated the Founders makes "The Rise of the Republic . . . " a unique work for today and, when read alongside JQA's "Jubilee" Address, Justice Story's "Commentaries . . . ," "THE FEDERALIST," Madison's "Notes," Burke's "Speech on Conciliation," and Tocqueville's 1830's observations, these can provide a more comprehensive background for appreciation of the truly unique "miracle" which happened in America.
Too bad the 20th Century "censors" revised and rewrote the nation's marvelous history and, until technology overtook them in the 21st Century, the real history of America almost was obscured. Not any more!
Today, one doesn't have to travel to libraries in distant places, handwrite notes in dusty stacks, and type them into papers. Instead, the Founders' complete writings, as well as these other early histories, can be read with the click of a mouse.
Divine Providence must still be about His work of preserving America as a place of liberty!
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