Hannibal, Fabian Strategy, Battle of the Monongahela, Battle of Long Island, General Charles Lee, General Prescott, Battle of Monmouth

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 19th, 2012

Politics 101

Quintus Fabius Maximus showed How to Win by Simply not Losing

How do you win a war where you can’t defeat your enemy?  Simple.  You don’t put yourself into a position where your enemy can defeat you.  You avoid major engagements with the enemy.  Making, instead, hit and run raids.  You disrupt their supply lines.  You pin your enemy down as they go on the defensive to fend off these small attacks.  Your objective in all these small actions is not to gain victories.  But time.  If time is on your side.  Which it usually is when a distant foreign power invades you.

In the Second Punic War Hannibal was winning every military engagement he entered.  The Carthaginians even crossed the Alps into Italy.  It appeared that no one could stop him.  So the Romans tapped Quintus Fabius Maximus to see if he could stop Hannibal.  Fabius quickly saw the futility in engaging Hannibal in open combat.  He was too good.  But he was fighting under a couple of disadvantages.  The first being that Carthage was a long way away.  On the far side of the Mediterranean Sea.  The second was directly related to the first.  Because of the difficulty of maintaining a large army in the field of a distant land Hannibal used hired mercenaries.  From Gaul (roughly modern day France) and Spain.  Who though they hated the Romans, they were in it for the money.  And that meant plunder.  Which you got from sacking cities.  The more cities you sack the more plunder you got.  So time was not on the Carthaginian’s side.  They needed a quick victory.  For they could not afford a long, drawn out war on Italian soil.  Which gave the advantage of time to the Romans.  Which Fabius used.  He avoided major engagements.  Absorbed small losses.  And gave up ground.  But he made each victory Hannibal got a costly one.  Where his losses were very hard to replace.  Because of those long supply lines and operating in unfriendly country.

Though a prudent military strategy it was not without political risks.  For people lose faith in you if you can’t show any victories on the battlefield.  And so it was the case with Fabius.  The Roman Senate relieved him of command.  His replacement went on the offensive.  And suffered terrible and costly defeats at the hands of Hannibal.  The Romans eventually returned to the Fabian strategy of Quintus Fabius Maximus.  And eventually drove Hannibal out of Italy.

The Americans proved they had the Skill and Fortitude to be Quite the Irritant with their Daring Capture of General Prescott 

George Washington had no intention of adopting a Fabian strategy during the Revolutionary War.  For he was a brave soldier who wanted to engage the enemy.  During the French and Indian War he accompanied General Braddock into the Ohio Country.  The plan was for the British to push the French out.  What happened was a massacre.  Battle of the Monongahela.  When General Braddock was mortally wounded the British broke and ran.  Washington rode through the chaos to rally the British and fought an orderly retreat.  He had two horses shot out from underneath him.  And 4 musket balls made holes in his jacket.  But he survived unscathed.  And well educated.  For the British force was a superior force.  In men.  And arms.  But it was big and cumbersome.  Designed for Napoleonic tactics in open field engagements.  Which proved useless in the frontier of North America.  A lesson Washington would not forget.

Well, one that he would remember.  Then never forget.  After some years had passed and he found himself in another war.  Only this time instead of fighting alongside the British he was fighting against them.  As commander in chief of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.  And early on he wanted to engage the British on the field of battle.  Where he could hand the British a staggering defeat.  And bring the war to a swift conclusion.  In the second year of war he chose to do just that.  On Long Island.  In August of 1776.  And was lucky to escape the Battle of Long Island with much of the army.  For the British onslaught was overwhelming.  The British Army advanced with little opposition.  Washington quickly changed his strategy to one of survival.  The Fabian strategy.  And fought an orderly retreat.  Through Manhattan and New Jersey.  Until he crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  He kept the Army together.  And gained time.  Of course, the downside to all of this was that the British advanced.  Seemingly unopposed.  Taking ground.  Causing the people to wonder if they picked the wrong man to lead America’s army.  In Congress.  And inside the Army itself.  Where a war veteran of the British Army, General Charles Lee, wrote to members of Congress critical of Washington, asking them to replace Washington with him as commander in chief.  He was in the rear of the American retreat through New Jersey.  Inexplicitly, taking his time.  Where he and his staff (away from the main body of his army) stopped for the night in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.  While the British were in pursuit.  And a British patrol surprised him in the morning.  At about 10 AM.  Over breakfast.  In his dressing gown writing a letter to his good friend Horatio Gates.  Another critic of General Washington.  Writing “a certain great man [George Washington] is most damnably deficient.”  He signed this letter as the British surrounded him.  And he became their prisoner.  Shortly thereafter that “damnably deficient” Washington crossed the Delaware and won the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

Washington kept to his Fabian strategy throughout 1777.  Avoiding major engagements.  Favoring hit and run skirmishes that proved a great irritation to the British.  Capturing their supplies.  Even capturing some prominent prisoners.  Like British General Prescott.  Commander of all British troops in Rhode Island.  Where a small force led by Lieutenant Colonel William Barton captured him in Providence, Rhode Island.  In bed.  Naked.  Entertaining a lady.  In a city surrounded by a British Army.  And the Royal Navy.  Showing that the Americans had the skill and fortitude to be quite the irritant.  Key to any Fabian strategy.  Such a high ranking officer would prove valuable in a prisoner swap.  He could get a high ranking and highly valuable American in exchange.  But, instead, they traded him for General Charles Lee.

Lee’s Actions at Monmouth forced General Washington to Fall Back to a Fabian Strategy

While prisoner Lee got pretty chummy with the British.  He was, after all, a former British officer himself.  So he talked.  Saying the Americans were foolish if they thought they could beat the British.  He said George Washington was ignorant and indecisive.  He attacked his character.  He even wrote a letter to General Henry Clinton who succeeded General Howe.  Congratulating him on his promotion.  He may even have drawn up a plan for the British to defeat the Americans.  Perhaps under the threat of being tried for desertion from the British Army.  Or simply for his hatred of Washington.  And the Congress that denied him supreme command of all American forces.  Washington knew nothing of this at the time of the exchange.  And welcomed him back as a brother.  Taking him back to his quarters where his wife, Martha, entertained him with a fine dinner with musical accompaniment.  Even gave him a room for the night behind her sitting room.  They held breakfast the following morning as Lee was late getting up.  It turned out that he brought a woman in through the back door and slept with her.  The wife of a British sergeant.

The following June the Army emerged from Valley Forge.  A much better army than the one that entered Valley Forge.  For it was during that horrible winter that Baron von Steuben whipped the Continental Army into shape.  They were now as well-trained and well-disciplined as any European army.  And Washington was eager to put it to the test.  General Clinton was evacuating Philadelphia and heading to New York.  Washington convened a council of war for advice.  He wanted to engage the British during their retreat.  General Lee said bringing on a full-scale engagement would be “criminal.”  Thanks to the American victory at Saratoga the previous October the French joined the Americans in alliance and were sending over troops and support.  Lee wanted to wait for the French.  And let the British return to New York unopposed.  Avoiding any large scale engagements until the French got there.  He persuaded the other officers to go along with him.  So Washington strengthened his flanks.  And sent out an advanced guard to establish contact with the enemy.  Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s aid-de-camp, was frustrated by this timid response.  He wrote that these deliberations “would have done honor to the most honorable society of midwives, and to them only.”  General Nathanael Greene shared Hamilton’s frustration.  And wrote in a letter to Washington “people expect something from us and our strength demands it.”

Washington placed the Marquis de Lafayette in command of this advanced guard.  But when the Army made contact with the British Lee took command.  Washington learned the British were leaving Monmouth Courthouse and ordered the attack.  To fall on the British rear.  But Lee hesitated.  Then ordered a retreat.  Without giving any specific orders of where to retreat.  Or a new plan of attack.  Or a plan of retreat.  Troops just started to walk back from the front.  Without any exchange of fire.  When Washington saw the retreat it infuriated him.  He rode up and found Lee and demanded the general explain himself.  Apparently he did not have a good answer for Washington yelled at Lee until the “leaves shook.”  By this time the British learned of Washington’s intent and wheeled about and were attacking the Americans.  Washington took command and organized the Americans in a defensive line.  In a day of pitched battles Washington held the line.  Fought the British to a draw.  Thanks to von Steuben.  Whose work made the American Army as good as the British Army.  And Washington.  Who could turn around and rally a retreating army.  He wanted to continue the attack that night but his men were spent.  The heat and fatigue of the long day beating them in the end.  By morning the British were gone.  As was a great opportunity to win a major engagement.  And to greatly weaken Clinton’s army.  Which made it safely back to New York.  Where it stayed for the rest of the war.

Had the Americans attacked the British first.  Had they taken the initiative.  Had Lee not wavered with indecision at the Battle of Monmouth the Americans could have shattered Clinton’s army.  When they were in the open.  Leaving British-occupied New York open to attack with no effective British Army between the Americans and that British occupation.   Which would have had no choice but to evacuate the city while the Royal Navy could still get them out.  And without the safe harbor of New York the Royal Navy would have had to evacuate, too.  Following Saratoga this could have very well ended the war.  Even before the French arrived.  Had the Americans attacked first who knows what might have happened.  That draw could have very well been a victory.  John Laurens (on Washington’s staff with Hamilton) wrote his father Henry in Congress.  He said that Lee was paralyzed by indecision.  And that he should be tried for misconduct.  Which they ultimately did.  They court-marshaled Lee for his actions at the Battle of Monmouth.  Which proved to be his last actions in the war.  With a large army entrenched in New York protected by overwhelming naval power there wasn’t anything Washington could do now.  Forcing him to fall back to a Fabian strategy.  Watching Clinton in New York.  While making hit and run raids.  To annoy the British.  And buy time.  Much like Fabius.  Wearing down the British.  Making the price of victory too great.  And after another 4 years or so of war, that’s what the British would conclude.  That the price of victory in that far distant land was too great.  Instead they would negotiate peace.  With the United States of America.  A sovereign and independent nation.

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American Colonies, Freedom to Worship, East India Company, Tea Tax, Tea Act, Boston Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, Continental Army and an American Nation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 1st, 2012

Politics 101

As Parliament passed additional Revenue Acts Anger grew in the Colonies, especially in Boston

Prior to 1775 the American colonies were many things.  But there was one thing they were not.  United.  Many people went to America to escape religious persecution.  To live with people of their own faith.  To practice their faith without fear of reprisal or oppression.  And that’s exactly what they did.  Often oppressing fellow colonists who didn’t practice the established faith of the colony.  But they were united in one area.  Their hatred of Catholics.  Papists.  Those who lost their way and began to worship not Jesus Christ but the Pope.  That Whore of Babylon.  The seller of indulgences to buy your way out of purgatory.  And virtue.  So they had that to unite them.  But not much else.

Live and let live, they said.  As long as you worshipped Jesus Christ you were okay.  And weren’t a Jew.  Or a Catholic.  So the different denominations of the Protestant faith lived among their own.  In their own colony.  Their country.  The only sense of country they had.  Virginians weren’t American colonists.  They were Virginians.  Who didn’t much care what was going on up there in Massachusetts.  In fact, they didn’t much like what was happening up there in Massachusetts.  For Virginians were planters.  Yeoman farmers.  People who put their back into their living.  Not like those northern merchants.  And money handlers.  Who reeked just a little too much of the Old World they left.  Sitting on their backsides and making money just by buying and selling the products of other’s labors.

Life in the New World was good.  Yes, there was famine.  Disease.  And the occasional massacre.  But they could live with that.  As long as they had the freedom to worship as they pleased.  But then all that trouble started up there in Boston.  Over taxed and broke Parliament turned to their American colonies to raise some revenue.  Which angered the British Americans.  Because they didn’t sit in Parliament.  The Americans had no representation.  And according to British law taxpayers had to approve all new taxes.  Giving consent to those taxes in Parliament.  The problem with the Americans, apparently, was that they were on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic.  For Britons living on the far side of the Atlantic had those rights.  They didn’t.  As Parliament passed additional revenue acts anger grew in the colonies. Especially in Boston.  Where Parliament installed British administrators to enforce these new revenue acts.  To protect their agents the British sent in the Red coats.  A peacetime occupying army.  Something very un-English that the British Americans did not like.

In Response to the Boston Tea Party Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts and closed the Port of Boston  

But the trouble didn’t end there.  The British made further attempts to raise revenue from the American colonists.  And from the British East India Company.  By taxing their tea.  Making it more expensive than the tea you could buy in the Netherlands.  Where there was no such tax.  So people did what people do with high taxes.  They didn’t pay them.  And smuggled Dutch tea into Great Britain.  And the American colonies.  Which left the East India Company with some warehouses full of tea.  So Parliament cut the tea tax due in Britain to help them.  And tried to make up for these lost revenues by taxing the Americans.  One of the new taxes included in the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767.  In response to the new tea tax the Americans boycotted tea.  Which didn’t help sell any of that warehoused tea.  So Parliament repealed the Townshend Revenue Act.  Well, all of it except the tea tax.  For they didn’t want to appear that they didn’t have the right to tax their subjects.  Represented or not.  And Parliament taxed the tea in Britain again.  This, of course, resulted in lower tea sales.  And the mighty East India Company, that made Britain so wealthy with its vast trade network, was in some serious financial peril.

Lord North, British Prime Minister, didn’t much like this uppity attitude of the Americans.  The East India Company desperately wanted to see those tea taxes cut.  But Lord North did not want to give the Americans that victory.  It was a matter of principle.  At least for him and his fellow Tories in Parliament.  As well as the Crown.  For King George III and Lord North were pretty close.  The Whig opposition was much more sympathetic to their British Brethren on the other side of the Atlantic.  But Lord North was adamant.  They had the right to tax the Americans.  And tax they would.  Besides, cutting the taxes in the Townshend Act caused other problems.  It would also eliminate the revenue it raised to pay the salaries of the colonial officials enforcing these new acts.  And it was important to keep them loyal to the Crown.  No.  The taxes in America would remain.  So their answer was, instead, the Tea Act of 1773.  Which removed the taxes due in Britain.  And allowed the East India Company to ship directly to the America colonies.  Cutting out the middleman.  And bringing the price of British tea below that of the smuggled Dutch tea.  Problem solved.

Well, not exactly.  Because the one thing they did share on both sides of the Atlantic was principle.  And even though British tea was cheaper they didn’t want anything to do with it.  On principle.  Because those Townshend tea taxes were still in force.  And paying them was a tacit admission that Parliament had the right to tax the Americans.  Despite not having any representation in that esteemed assembly.  And this they could not do.  Then came the day three little ships came to Boston harbor in 1773.  Their holds full of that detested British tea.  And a mob in the guise of Mohawk Indians descended to the docks.  Boarded these ships.  And tossed the tea overboard.  In what we call the Boston Tea Party.  Infuriating Lord North, Parliament and King George III.  Who all agreed it was time to act against these uppity Americans.  And act they did.  Passing the punitive Intolerable Acts of 1774.  That closed the Port of Boston.  Replaced the Colonial government in Massachusetts with representatives of the Crown.  Royal officials accused of committing a crime against any American would receive a ‘fair’ trial…in Great Britain (pretty much giving them a license to kill).  Forced the Americans to find room and board for the British Army occupying their cities.  And gave large swaths of land around the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley to the Province of Quebec.  Recently added to the British Empire during the Seven Years’ War.  After they defeated their most hated and foul enemy.  The French.  Who were very, very Catholic.  As were their colonists who remained in these once French lands that were now British lands.  So to keep them from causing trouble the Quebec Act made things very comfortable for Catholics.  Right in the backyard of Protestant British North America. 

It was in the Continental Army the Country united and fulfilled the Words of the Declaration of Independence

In April of 1775 General Gage heard that there were some arms stored in Concord, Massachusetts.  So he sent some Red coats to go capture or destroy these arms.  Things did not go well for the British.  Militia gathered and stood their ground.  Shots rang out.  No one is sure who fired first.  But whoever did fired the shot heard ’round the world.  On the march back to Boston the British were harassed and picked off by sharpshooters.  Until they limped back into the safety of their Boston garrison.  Where the militia fell upon them and laid siege.  These uppity Americans for all intents and purposes had just declared war against the world’s greatest superpower.  And there was no going back.

In response to the British actions in Boston the colonies assembled in congress.  The Continental Congress.  To discuss what they as a united people should do.  For if these outrages could happen in Boston they could happen in any of the colonies.  And now that they spilled blood they needed someone to lead the American forces in their fight against the Crown.  They selected George Washington.  Who left the Congress to take charge in Boston.  And as he walked the lines at Boston he saw Americans.  And when his army marched to Quebec (to get the now British French-Canadians to join in the good fight) he saw Americans.  It was in the Continental Army the country united.  Fighting alongside in the ranks Washington saw Virginians.  Massachusetts men.  Farmers.  Merchants.  Puritans.  Baptists.  Catholics.  Jews.  Even free blacks.

There was nothing a British American enjoyed more than burning an effigy of the Pope.  That would change in the Army.  And the Army would change the country.  Especially the men who served in the Army.  Men like Washington.  Who first glimpsed a new nation.  A united nation.  That transcended religion.  The states.  Even race.  Which really brought home the words of the Declaration of Independence.  That all men are created equal.  And there’s nothing that makes men more equal than suffering the privations and horrors of war.  Sadly, after the war when the common enemy was no more the spirit of these words became a little more symbolic for some.  But these army veterans would leave their mark.  And their vision would eventually become reality for everyone.

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LESSONS LEARNED #33: “The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect but they were closer than most.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2010

Anarchy Averted

Washington men didn’t live long.  And George Washington thought about that.  A lot.  He loved his Mount Vernon.  His garden.  And he longed to retire there to spend out his years in peace under his vine and fig tree.  But he gave up that dream when he accepted command of the Continental Army.  He was already at that age when a lot of Washington men died.  So when he left, no doubt he thought he may not return.

The Revolutionary War lasted 8 long years.  And Washington spent those years with the army.  In the field.  He was at Valley Forge.  He didn’t leave to go home to see Martha.  No.  His wife came to Valley Forge to see him.

Washington was a wealthy man.  He didn’t need to make these sacrifices.  A lot of wealthy men didn’t.  But he did.  And he sacrificed a lot.  Even his eyesight.  When the army officer’s wanted to mutiny over a long list of failed promises (pay, pensions, etc.), Washington pleaded with them.  To not throw away the thing they’ve fought so long and hard for.  As poorly as the Continental Army was treated, those words did not move them much.  Then Washington pulled out a letter from a congressman to read to them.  But couldn’t.  After stumbling over a couple of words, he stopped.  He then pulled out a pair of spectacles.  No one had ever seen the great George Washington in such a public display of weakness.

“Gentlemen, you must pardon me,” he said.  “I have grown gray in the service of my country, and now find myself growing blind.”

Some cried for the old man who had given so much.  When he no doubt had so few years left to live.  If their commanding general could make such sacrifices, so could they.  So there would be no Caesar.  No Cromwell.  No armies would march to the seat of power.  This republic would not collapse into anarchy as history often scripted her republics.

The Most Powerful Man in America Surrenders His Power         

But would he be king?  He could have.  Easily.  He had the power.  And the love and adoration of the people.  In fact, some were begging him to become king.  Others, though, questioned his intentions.  They looked at the army with a nervous unease.  They were, after all, a nation built primarily from English stock.  And they knew their English history.  Of Oliver Cromwell.  The New Model Army.  Just what were his intentions?

He still stayed in touch with his officers (and later would go on to be the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati).  This seemed a bit ominous to some.  This is why once the war was over, people tried to forget about and disband the army as quickly as possible.  To renege on the promises they made to these veterans.  They just wanted these soldiers to go away.  There were too many bad memories of standing armies in their midst.  Whether they wore a red coat or a rag, they just wanted them gone.

Even King George questioned his intentions.  Few give up power.  If he did, it would place him in the pantheon of greats.  But would he?  Yes.  He would.  And did.  Washington would be a Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who walked away from his plow to assume dictatorial powers to help save his nation.  When the threat was past, he returned power to the Senate and returned to his plow.  And so did Washington.

Answering the Call of Duty.  Again.

Then the nation called for their Cincinnatus once again.  There were problems with the Confederate Congress.  It was having difficulty governing the peace.  There were state rivalries.  Their finances were in a mess.  And there was no national identity.  There used to be.  British.  And the European nations treated with that singular entity.  Great Britain.  Now that the mother country was gone, there was no singular entity.  No unity.  Everyone was for themselves.  And the European powers had to make multiple treaties with the multiple states.  If they wanted to go through that headache.  And many did not.

Some called for a revision to the Articles of Confederation.  But it was difficult to get the states on board.  A weak confederacy favored the individual states.  And the individual states liked that.  But it also limited their potential as a nation.  Some feared the inter-state rivalries would balkanize the nation.  Make the New World a repeat of the Old World.  To bring the nation together would take an extraordinary effort.  Or an extraordinary man.  George Washington.  Who agreed to attend the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. 

After a long and hot summer, the Philadelphia delegates produced a constitution.  With James Madison being the primary architect.  They then sent it to the states for ratification.  At which time James Madison and Alexander Hamilton began a writing campaign to urge its ratification.  (John Jay contributed to this campaign, too, but not as much as Madison and Hamilton).  Once ratified, it came time to populate the new government.  Some competed with each other for some positions.  But for one of the positions there was unanimity.    There was but one man the people would trust with the most powerful office in the land.  Their Cincinnatus.  George Washington.  But would he do it?  Would he leave his blissful retirement beneath his vine and fig tree?

Yes.  Not because he wanted to.  More than 10 years had passed since this old man had agreed to command the Continental Army.  He had outlived many Washington men.  The way he saw it, he was living on borrowed time as it was.  And there was another consideration.  Against the greatest of odds, he did NOT lose the Revolutionary War.  He had made mistakes in his life, but his name was safe for posterity.  But if he took a risk now he could lose the good name he built.  And if there was anything soldiers (and politicians) worry about, it’s their legacy.  (That’s why they write memoirs.)

Another Long 8 Years

When it was clear that he was, in fact, the indispensable one, he sacrificed his personal want for the public need.  Again.  And again, serving a second term as president.  He was ready (and looking forward to) retirement after one term.  But the party politics were threatening to tear apart the new nation.  The rift between Jefferson and Hamilton had grown.  It was splitting the government into two camps.  The Federalists (led by Hamilton) and the anti-Federalists (led by Jefferson).  They pleaded for Washington to serve a second term as he was the only one who could hold them together.  He consented.

That second term was particularly unpleasant for Washington.  Party attacks turned into personal attacks.  Even against Washington.  And the ugliness got really ugly over the Jay Treaty.  Many wanted war with Great Britain.  But having actually fought a war with Great Britain, Washington favored peace.  Yes, the treaty favored Great Britain.  And, yes, it tied American interests to Great Britain, not her war time ally.  France.  The Jeffersonians unleashed an unfettered vitriol on the Federalists.  Including Washington.  But Washington bet on the right horse.  Great Britain proved to be the dominant European power.  And her Royal Navy came in handy protecting U.S. trade with her.  Over a decade of peace and prosperity followed. 

After 8 years, though, there was no persuading Washington for another 4-year term.  He had grown ever older in the continued service of his country.  Now he felt it more than ever that his days were few.  Rarely did he know happiness like he felt at the inauguration of the 2nd president, his vice president, John Adams.  Adams wrote that after he took the oath of office, Washington said, “Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in!  See which of us will be happiest!”  He may not have actually said this but he no doubt felt the sentiment.  And with that, he returned to his plow.  Cincinnatus had come home.  Where he would happily live out his remaining years.  All two of them.

Where is Our Cincinnatus?

Today it’s about money and power.  Not duty.  Today, people want to be full-time politicians.  For the money and power.  And the elitist status.  People get into Congress and they just don’t want to leave.  Should we vote them out of office, they have a tantrum.  They call their constituents stupid for not knowing who the better candidate was.  And they won’t go quietly.  Some will change parties.  Or run as an independent.  Or as a write-in candidate.  Anything to stay in Washington.  To hold on to their power.  To stay among the elite.

The nation has deviated far from the path of disinterested public service of the Founding Fathers.  The anti-Federalists would be shocked to see what became of the government they helped create.  Even the Federalists.  Even Hamilton.  Not even he, the champion of a strong federal government, would approve of the federal government today.  His mercantilist polices had the goal of making the nation rich and powerful.  Not to suck the wealth out from the private sector.  Which began in earnest with Wilson.  Then picked with FDR.  Then ramped up further with LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter.  Had Hamilton lived in the 20th century, he would have earnestly campaigned for Ronald Reagan.  To put an end to the public sector’s pillage of the private sector.

And now we find our nation adrift again.  But who will step in and stop it today?  Who is out there?  Willing to put down their plow for disinterested public service.  And by ‘plow’ I mean any real job.  Worked by someone who is not part of the Washington establishment.  Where is our George Washington?

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LESSONS LEARNED #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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