John Adams, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 21st, 2014

History 101

The Inauguration Date was originally in March to allow for Long Travel Times

It was difficult to be a career politician at the federal/national level at the Founding.  Thanks to the horse.  The primary means of transportation over great distances.  Either on horseback.  Or pulled in a buggy.  Neither of which provided for a comfortable ride.  With that discomfort compounded by the fact you were leaving family and friends behind.  People you wouldn’t see again for a very long time.

When John Adams served in the Continental Congress he rode for some two weeks through brutal winter weather on hard, frozen ground.  Ground so hard and dangerous that they let the horses only walk.  Whether it was traveling to Cambridge to meet with the newly appointed General Washington facing off with the British in Boston.  Or riding on to the federal capital in Philadelphia.  The ride was long, brutal and cold.  As well as lonely.  For Adams missed his wife and family when away serving his country.  Which he did often.  And longed to return home.

James Madison was a Virginian.  And hated traveling up to the federal capital in Philadelphia.  And then later in New York.  For he hated being away from his wife.  And he hated those long rides on hard, bumpy roads.  As Madison suffered from some digestive disorders.  Leaving him with chronic discomfort in his abdomen.  And lower.  For he probably suffered from hemorrhoids, too.  Making those long, bumpy rides unbearable.  This is why the inauguration date was originally in March instead of January like it is today.  They had to allow for long travel times and bad weather for the new office holders to get to their offices.  Unlike today where you can fly from anywhere in the United States to Washington D.C. in one day.

James Reynolds had his Wife seduce and sleep with Alexander Hamilton so he could Blackmail Him

George Washington was president when the nation’s capital was in New York City.  Which was a long way from Mount Vernon.  Washington’s Virginian home.  Other Virginians were the first Secretary of State.  Thomas Jefferson.  The first Attorney General.  Edmund Randolph.  And the first Speaker of the House.  James Madison.  While the first Vice President, John Adams, and the first Secretary of War, Henry Knox, came from Massachusetts.  The first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, was a New Yorker.  Living in New York City.  Close to the capital.

Ironically, the man closest to his wife was the one to have an extramarital affair.  Alexander Hamilton.  Who was targeted by a couple of con people.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds.  That’s right, Mr. Reynolds used his wife, Maria, to seduce Alexander Hamilton.  Including actually having sexual relations with him.  Just so he, James Reynolds, could blackmail Hamilton for money.  Threatening to tell Hamilton’s wife.  And ruining his good reputation as a gentleman if he didn’t pay. He paid.  For awhile.  And with his own money.  Reynolds was later arrested for counterfeiting.  And told the opposition party of Hamilton’s affair.  Thomas Jefferson.  And his fellow Republicans (the forerunner to the Democrat party, not the Republican Party of today whose first president was Abraham Lincoln).

Thomas Jefferson loved his wife and hated being apart from her.  The last place he wanted to be in 1775/1776 was at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  A lonely year spent a very long way from his wife.  Who was sickly.  And died in 1782.  Jefferson was at her bedside when she passed.  And he was devastated.  He had promised her he would never remarry.  And he never did.  He later accepted the post as United States Minister to France.  A much greater distance from Virginia.  Which is probably the first time he wanted to be far away from his beloved Monticello.  To escape the desolation of life without his wife.

The Founding Fathers served Reluctantly and didn’t leave Office Richer than when they entered Office

Hamilton and Jefferson hated each other.  They vehemently disagreed with each other’s vision for the United States.  When Jefferson got wind of the Hamilton affair he pounced on it.  Well, not so much him.  But the Republican Party which he was the de facto head of.  And a guy by the name of James Callender.  A pamphleteer and journalist.  And all around scandalmonger.  He made the Hamilton affair public for the Jefferson Republicans.  Who, being men of the Enlightenment, would not sink to such a low level.  But Callender would.  And did.  Who Jefferson helped with some financial support.  But Callender ended up in jail for sedition.  And when he got out he wanted Jefferson to make him post master general of Virginia in return for services rendered.  Jefferson refused.  Then Callender turned on Jefferson.  Revealing that it was him that was bankrolling his journalistic scandal mongering.  And that he fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings.

George Washington was the commanding general of the Continental Army from 1775 until 1783.  And he spent most of that time with his army in the field.  Away from his beloved Mount Vernon.  Just after he returned to civilian life came the Philadelphia Convention.  And a new nation.  The first president of that new nation?  Much to his displeasure it was him.  George Washington.  Who was the only one people were willing to give the powers of the new federal government to.  And after sacrificing so much he did not want to see it all be for nothing.  So he served one term as president.  Then another.  In New York.  A long way from Virginia.  And pretty much hated every minute of it.  Especially the bickering between his ‘children’.  Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  He was never happier than when he left office in 1797.  Sadly, he lived just shy of three years in retirement.

The Founding Fathers hated being in office.  They hated being away from home.  And the long travel time to and from home.  Which meant when they were serving in office they did not see their family and friends.  Unlike today.  Where modern transportation allows career politicians to enjoy the graft in Washington.  While breaking it up with numerous vacations back home.  Without having to endure two weeks of bouncy rides with hemorrhoids.  Or riding horseback in blowing snow.  Being a career politician today is like being part of an aristocracy.  Where you travel first class.  And live first class.  Unlike the Spartan loneliness at the Founding.  And the animus.  Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Madison’s and Hamilton’s lives all got worse from serving.  Washington was cheated out of a long retirement he more than earned.  Jefferson suffered bitter loneliness after losing his wife and probably did turn to the comfort of a slave.  (Sally Hemings had accompanied him to Paris to care for his daughter.  And later was a house servant.  Though he didn’t legally free her and her children from slavery they did live their lives out as free people after he died.  Which was probably a compromise by Jefferson to reconcile his feelings for her while protecting his historical legacy).  Something that blemishes his reputation to this day.  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson went from practically best friends to bitter enemies before they left Washington (though they rekindled their friendship later in retirement).  James Madison was the father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Believed in a strong federal government and wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton to help ratify the Constitution.  Then he switch sides.  And sided with Thomas Jefferson and fought for limited government.  Then he was president during the War of 1812 and believed in a strong federal government again after struggling through that war with a weak government.  Madison spent his later years rewriting letters and correspondence.  Making large revisions to his historical legacy.  While Alexander Hamilton’s stand on principle ultimately led to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Washington, Jefferson and Madison all returned home after serving as president poorer than when they left for Washington.  That just doesn’t happen today.  Today once you get elected to a federal office in Washington you return home a millionaire.  Because being a professional politician today pays very well.  Which is why there is less standing on principle in Washington and more doing what it takes to remain in power.  Such as lying to the American people.  “If you like your health insurance and your doctor you can keep your health insurance and doctor.”  The Founding Fathers served reluctantly.  And their lives were worse for serving.  But the country was far better off because they did.  And that’s something else that just doesn’t happen today.

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FT172: “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution,” said the politician. “I’m trying to get reelected.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The People ratified the Constitution only because George Washington would be the First President

George Washington did not want to be president.  After winning the American Revolutionary War his place in history was set.  If the first government following the Constitutional Convention failed he didn’t want history to remember him for that.  Also, Washington was an old man.  Most Washington men were already dead at his age.  Something he was very conscious of.  And he wanted to live out his remaining days, however few he had, at Mount Vernon.  With Martha.  But America’s Cincinnatus would, reluctantly, answer the call of duty again.

The new Constitution was not very popular.  The old patriots of 1776 hated it.  With a passion.  While Washington, Alexander Hamilton and others who served in the Continental Army were generally for it.  Because they saw how the weak Continental Congress had almost lost the war.  Starving the Continental Army of the supplies they needed.  Unable even to provide it with shoes and clothing during the long cold winters at Valley Forge and Morristown.  And then there was the inflation.  Worthless Continental paper dollars that forced the Army to take what they needed to survive.  Giving the people they took from IOUs for the Continental Congress to honor later.

With the British defeated the Americans lost the common enemy that held the states together.  And they were soon back to looking after their own interests.  Charging tariffs to other states.  Even sending militias to fight over disputed land.  The nation was falling apart before it even became a nation.  The Philadelphia Convention addressed these problems.  And over a long, hot, humid and horsefly invested convention they wrote a new Constitution.  Few loved it.  But understood that it was probably the best they would ever get.  Ratifying it was another brutal battle.  And all throughout this process people reluctantly got on board.  Basically because of one thing.  The first president would be someone that all the people could trust with such great powers.  The man who gave up power when he could have been king.  George Washington.  So Cincinnatus laid down his plow once more.  And went to serve his nation.  Again.

The most Important Precedent Washington set was not Exceeding the Limits of the Constitution

This is how it used to be.  When our politicians were men of the enlightenment.  Disinterested men who went out of their way NOT to profit from the offices they held.  Men who would rather have been back home.  But reluctantly served.  Because the nation needed the best leaders during that formidable time.  That’s why Washington served a second term.  Not because he wanted to.  But if he didn’t Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton would have paralyzed the government with their constant fighting and seething hatred of each other.  So Washington stayed on.  Father to these children that couldn’t get along.  And father to a nation.

Washington was never happier than when he left office.  This man who could have been king.  Sacrificing all of his wants and desires.  And putting the nation first.  This old man that was cheating death.  Living beyond his years.  Who was used to giving orders in the army and having subordinates dutifully following them.  He hated the political process.  The deal making.  The special interests.  Those things modern politicians live for.  Because it is the pathway to wealth and power.  Which is why people serve today.  Who do not understand the meaning of selfless disinterest.  For they’re in it for number one.  And when they leave office they want to have more wealth than they know what to do with it.

Whereas Washington kept true to the Constitution.  And didn’t make arguments about it being a living document.  Or questioned the intent of the Founding Fathers.  For he was one of them.  He was there in Philadelphia in 1787.  He sat in the chair with that sun on it.  The one Benjamin Franklin studied for so long while sitting in that stuffy hall.  Wondering if the sun was rising.  Or setting.  After they signed the Constitution Franklin was certain the sun was rising for the new nation.  A nation of laws.  Where no man was above the law.  And the supreme law of the land was there in the Constitution.  Washington was the first president.  Setting the precedent for all that would follow.  And the most important precedent was not exceeding the limits of the Constitution.  For he knew a strong central government was necessary for the nation to have any hopes of surviving.  But he feared that once anyone exceeded the limits of the Constitution the whole experiment in self-government would come crashing down.

Life is so Good in an Aristocracy that Politicians will do Anything it takes to Win Reelection

What Thomas Jefferson feared most was consolidation.  Fears of a strong central government turning independent states into federal districts of the new government.  With growing powers to administer these lands from afar.  Turning the people living on these lands once again into subjects of a distant ruling power.  Who are there to serve.  To be obedient.  And revere this distant power.  Giving the duly elected president king-like powers.  Who would further consolidate his power.  This was Jefferson’s fear.  A fear Alexander Hamilton did not share.  Because he assumed all men in the government would be disinterested men of the enlightenment.  Like the Founding Fathers were.  But Jefferson knew you could not trust men to refrain from using power given to them.  So it was best not to give them that power in the first place.

Today you can see all of Jefferson’s fears come to pass.  A federal government larger and more powerful than even Alexander Hamilton could have imagined.  And a new fourth branch of government.  The IRS.  Powerful.  And fearsome.  Which appears to be helping the current administration to suppress the political opposition.  By harassing anyone espousing Jeffersonian principles.  Limited government.  States’ rights.  Constitutional limits.  Etc.  Which are also Tea Party principles.  That set of principles that launched a great grassroots movement that helped the Republicans win back the House of Representatives in 2010.  Something the Democrats were very conscious of.  And have since pilloried the Tea Party with every invective under the sun.  To delegitimize the Tea Party.  To prevent another 2010 from happening again.

President Obama is the most liberal president to ever occupy the White House.  And he won reelection.  Which isn’t easy for a liberal to do on a national stage.  Because only about 21% of the people call themselves liberal.  While 35% call themselves moderate.  And 40% call themselves conservative (see Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S. posted 1/12/2012 on Gallup).  So liberals are in the minority.  Yet they hold majority power.  Which begs the question.  How do they win elections when the majority opposes their ideology?   Well, you don’t do it by acting like George Washington.  You know, with integrity.  But, instead, with rascality.  You don’t exactly tell the truth.  You make a lot of promises.  Even if you have no intention of keeping them.  And you use the awesome power of your office to attack your political enemies.  For it’s a different mindset today.  Whereas the Founding Fathers were trying to destroy an aristocracy today’s politicians are trying to build and maintain one.   And life is so good in an aristocracy that once you get in you never want to leave.  Which is why politicians will do anything it takes to win reelection.  Anything.  And if they were honest you’d hear them say so.  “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution.  I’m trying to get reelected.”  But they’re not honest.  So you will never hear them say this.  You’ll just have to see it in their deeds.  And how unlike the Founding Fathers they are.

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Coin Debasement, Currency Inflation and the Loss of Purchasing Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2013

History 101

The Roman Citizens welcomed the Barbarian Invaders as Liberators from the Oppressive Roman Regime

The Roman Empire pushed its borders out for centuries.  And when they did their legions conquered new territories.  And other civilizations.  Allowing them to send a lot of spoils back to Rome.  Providing the necessary funds for the empire.  With this lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome they could leave the economy alone.  And did.  Economic activity was pretty much laissez-faire.  Then something happened.  The Romans had conquered pretty much all of the known civilized world.  And they stopped pushing their borders out.  Putting an end to that lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome.

This created a problem.  For the empire was never larger.  With a greater border to protect than ever before.  And more territory to administer.  Which meant more soldiers.  And more civil servants.  Neither of which worked for free.  Which changed how the Romans handled the private sector economy.  They began to tax and regulate the hell out of it.  To raise the funds to pay the costs of empire.

Things got so bad that some people just started disappearing.  So the Romans introduced something that would evolve into European feudalism.  They forbade people from leaving their jobs.  Ever.  They even forbade the children from leaving their father’s profession.  While they were doing this they were debasing their coins.  The gold a little.  As it paid the soldiers and the civil servants.  And the silver a lot.  The money of the common people.  Who weren’t as important as the soldiers and the civil servants.  Until their silver was nothing but worthless slugs.  Causing prices to soar.  And the economy to collapse back into the barter system.  Hastening the fall of the Roman Empire.  As the Roman citizens welcomed the barbarian invaders as liberators from the oppressive Roman regime.

The Spanish brought back so much Gold and Silver from the New World that it actually Depreciated the Money Supply

Europe met Asia on the Bosporus.  The straits that connected the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  And it was where the Silk Road brought the exotic goods of the Far East into Europe.  Which the Europeans just couldn’t get enough of.  Making the Mediterranean powers the dominant powers.  For they controlled this lucrative trade.  Until, that is, the European nations made better ships.  Ships that could cross oceans.  And were bigger than the ships that plied the Mediterranean.  So they could bypass the Mediterranean powers.  And sail directly to the Far East.  Fill their large holds with those goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  Getting rich and powerful.  And shifting the balance of power to these European nations.

But the Europeans just didn’t go east.  They also went west.  And bumped into the New World.  The Dutch, the French, the British, the Portuguese and the Spanish all had colonies in the New World.  It was the age of mercantilism.  Colonies sent raw materials to their mother country.  Who manufactured these raw materials into finished goods.  And shipped them from the mother country on the mother country’s ships through the mother country’s ports.  For the name of the game was balance of trade.  Which meant you imported lower-valued raw materials and you exported higher-valued finished goods.  And because the value of their exports was greater than the value of their imports there was also a net in-flow of gold and silver.  Which was what mercantilism was all about.  Trying to accumulate more gold and silver than your trading partners.

And the Spanish hit mercantile pay-dirt in the New World.  Gold and silver.  Lots of it.  So they loaded it up on their ships.  And sent it back to Spain.  Where it entered the European money supply.  And none too soon as the Europeans were cash-starved.  Because of all those exotic goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  While those in the Far East had no interest whatsoever in European goods.  Which meant that European gold and silver went to the Far East to pay for those exotic goods.  Leaving the Europeans starving for gold and silver.  But thanks to the New World, they were able to reverse that net outflow of gold and silver.  In fact, so much gold and silver arrived from the New World that it actually inflated the money supply.  Which actually devalued the currency.  And because the currency lost purchasing power prices rose.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.

President Andrew Jackson joined the Hard-Money People and refused to renew the Charter of the BUS

Responsible nations have chosen gold and silver as their currency as it is difficult to increase the money supply and cause inflation.  Because mining these precious metals, refining them and minting coins is very costly.  Unless you discovered a New World with gold and silver paving the streets.  But that didn’t happen every day.  The irresponsible government, though, figured out a way to make that happen every day.  By just getting rid of the responsible gold and silver.  And replacing it with paper notes.  Fiat money.

Fiat money dates back to 11th century China.  To the Song Dynasty.  Which allowed the government to spend more money than their taxes raised.  Especially during war time.  But printing money devalued the currency.  And when you make the currency worth less it takes more of it to buy the things it once did.  Reducing purchasing power.  And unleashing price inflation.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.  During the American Revolutionary War there was so little gold and silver available that the Continental Congress turned to printing money.  And they printed so much that they unleashed a punishing inflation.  Causing prices to soar because the money became so worthless.  People wouldn’t accept it for payment.  So the Continental Army had to take the provisions they needed.  Leaving behind IOUs for the Continental Congress to make good on.  Later.

Of course, not everyone suffered during times of inflation.  Speculators did very well.  For their friends in the government’s central bank could print money and loan it to them on very favorable terms.  The speculators then used this cheap money and bought and sold assets.  Pocketing handsome profits in large part because of that inflation.  As the currency depreciation raised prices.  Including the prices of the assets they were selling.  So the rich got richer during periods of inflation.  While the working class just lost purchasing power.  Which is why President Andrew Jackson joined the hard-money people.  Those who favored gold and silver over paper currency.  And refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  Being one of the first world leaders not to choose destructive inflationary policies.  Instead choosing policies that favored the people.  Not the state.

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The First Bank of the United States, the Second Bank of the United States and the Federal Reserve System

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 2nd, 2013

History 101

Merchants raise their Prices when the Monetary Authority depreciates the Currency

What is inflation?  A depreciation of the currency.  By adding more money into the money supply each piece of currency becomes less valuable.  Let’s assume our currency is whiskey.  In bottles.  Whiskey has value because people are willing to pay for it.  And because we are willing to pay for it we are willing to accept it as legal tender.  Because we can always trade it to others.  Who can drink it.  Or they can trade it with others.

Now let’s say the monetary authority wants to stimulate economic activity.  Which they try to do by expanding the money supply.  So there is more money available to borrow.  And because there is more money available to borrow interest rates are lower.  Hence making it easy for people to borrow money.  But the monetary authority doesn’t want to make more whiskey.  Because that is costly to do.  Instead, they choose an easier way of expanding the money supply.  By watering down the bottles of whiskey.

Now pretend you are a merchant.  And people are coming in with the new watered-down whiskey.  What do you do?  You know the whiskey is watered down.  And that if you go and try to resell it you’re not going to get what you once did.  For people typically drink whiskey for that happy feeling of being drunk.  But with this water-downed whiskey it will take more drinks than it used to take to get drunk.  So what do you as a merchant do when the money is worth less?  You raise your prices.  For it will take more bottles of lesser-valued whiskey to equal the purchasing power of full-valued whiskey.   And if they water down that whiskey too much?  You just won’t accept it as legal tender.  Because it will be little different from water.  And you can get that for free from any well or creek.  Yes, water is necessary to sustain life.  But no one will pay ‘whiskey’ prices for it when they can drink it from a well or a creek for free.

It was while in the Continental Army that Alexander Hamilton began thinking about a Central Bank

During the American Revolutionary War we had a very weak central government.  The Continental Congress.  Which had no taxing authority.  Which posed a problem in fighting the Revolutionary War.  Because wars are expensive.  You need to buy arms and supplies for your army.  You have to feed your army.  And you have to pay your army.  The Continental Congress paid for the Revolution by asking states to contribute to the cause.  Those that did never gave as much as the Congress asked for.  They got a lot of money from France.  As we were fighting their long-time enemy.  And we borrowed some money from other European nations.  But it wasn’t enough.  So they turned to printing paper money.

This unleashed a brutal inflation.  Because everyone was printing money.  The central government.  And the states.  Prices soared.  Merchants didn’t want to accept it as legal tender.  Preferring specie instead.  Because you can’t print gold and silver.  So you can’t depreciate specie like you can paper money.  All of this just made life in the Continental Army worse.  For they were hungry, half-naked and unpaid.  And frustrating for men like Alexander Hamilton.  Who served on General Washington’s staff.  Hamilton, and many other officers in the Continental Army, saw how the weakness of the central government almost lost the war for them.

It was while in the army that Hamilton began thinking about a central bank.  But that’s all he did.  For there was not much support for a central government let alone a central bank.  That would change, though, after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 created the United States of America.  And America’s first president, George Washington, chose his old aide de camp as his treasury secretary.  Alexander Hamilton.  A capitalist who understood finance.

Despite the Carnage from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis the Fed is still Printing Money

At the time the new nation’s finances were in a mess.  Few could make any sense of them.  But Hamilton could.  He began by assuming the states’ war debts.  Added them to the national war debt.  Which he planned on paying off by issuing new debt.  That he planned on servicing with new excise taxes.  And he would use his bank to facilitate all of this.  The First Bank of the United States.  Which faced fierce opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Who opposed it for a couple of reasons.  For one they argued it wasn’t constitutional.  There was no central bank enumerated in the Constitution.  And the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution stated that any power not enumerated to the new federal government belonged to the states.  And that included banking.  A central bank would only further consolidate power in the new federal government.  By consolidating the money.  Transferring it from the local banks.  Which they feared would benefit the merchants, manufacturers and speculators in the north.  By making cheap money available for them to make money with money.  Which is the last thing people who believed America’s future was an agrarian one of yeoman farmers wanted to do.

They fought against the establishment of the bank.  But failed.  The bank got a 20 year charter.  Jefferson and Madison would later have a change of heart on a central bank.  For it helped Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase.  And like it or not the country was changing.  It wasn’t going to be an agrarian one.  America’s future was an industrial one.  And that required credit.  Just as Alexander Hamilton thought.  So after the War of 1812, after the charter of the First Bank of the United States had expired, James Madison signed into law a 20-year charter for the Second Bank of the United States.  Which actually did some of the things Jefferson and Madison feared.  It concentrated a lot of money and power into a few hands. Allowing speculators easy access to cheap money.  Which they borrowed and invested.  Creating great asset bubbles.  And when they burst, great depressions.  Because of that paper money.  Which they printed so much of that it depreciated the dollar.  And caused asset prices to soar to artificial heights.

Andrew Jackson did not like the bank.  For he saw it creating a new noble class.  A select few were getting rich and powerful.  Something the Americans fought to get away from.  When the charter for the Second Bank of the United States was set to expire Congress renewed the charter.  Because of their friends at the bank.  And their friends who profited from the bank.  But when they sent it to Andrew Jackson for his signature he vetoed the bill.  And Congress could not override it.  Sensing some blowback from the bank Jackson directed that they transfer the government’s money out of the Second Bank of the United States.  And deposited it into some state banks.  The president of the bank, Nicholas Biddle, did not give up, though.  For he could hurt those state banks.  Such as calling in loans.  Which he did. Among other things.  To try and throw the country into a depression.  So he could blame it on the president’s anti-bank policies.  And get his charter renewed.  But it didn’t work.  And the Second Bank of the United States was no more.

National banks versus local banks.  Hard money (specie) versus paper money.  Nobility versus the common people.  They’ve argued the same arguments throughout the history of the United States.  But we never learn anything.  We never learn the ultimate price of too much easy money.  Even now.  For here we are.  Suffering through the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Because our current central bank, the Federal Reserve System, likes to print paper money.  And create asset bubbles.  Their last being the one that burst into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And despite the carnage from that they’re still printing money.  Money that the rich few are borrowing to invest in the stock market.  Speculators.  Who are making a lot of money.  Buying and selling assets.  Thanks to the central bank’s inflationary policies that keep increasing prices.

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FT157: “Now that the anti-establishment types are running government we are no longer to question authority but embrace it.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The History of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the English Civil War were not that Distant

Benjamin Franklin said the first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.  That was kind of America’s thing.  Giving the finger to the governing authority.  Figuratively.  And sometimes literally.  Starting with King George III.  One of our earliest flags said, “Don’t tread on me.”  This flag had a coiled rattle snake on it.  Franklin thought the rattle snake was a good symbol of the American people.  If the British left us alone this snake would cause no harm.  If you get too close this snake will warn you to back off by shaking its rattle.  If you don’t heed this warning and threaten this snake it will strike you with lethal force.

This problem with authority almost lost the Revolutionary War for us.  At first American soldiers didn’t like following orders.  For if they could rebel against their king they could just as easily rebel against a commanding officer.  George Washington stopped that.  But this mistrust of authority was systemic.  The state governments did not trust the Continental Congress.  That distant central power.  Anymore than they trusted that other distant central power.  The British monarchy.

So the Continental Congress was woefully underfunded throughout the Revolutionary War.  Finding it very difficult to supply the Continental Army.  Or pay her soldiers.  Something else the states didn’t trust.  A standing army.  For the history of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the English Civil War were not that distant.  Or the peace that followed.  Where that army helped keep the new government in power.  And unleashed great woe and suffering to the Catholics in Ireland and Scotland.

Kings don’t suffer Personal Attacks in the Newspapers like an Elected President Does

So the Americans stood up to that distant power.  And to her ministers in the American colonies.  Not afraid to speak truth to power.  To speak out about the abuses of King George in the colonies.  Which Thomas Jefferson summarized in the Declaration of Independence.  They spoke contemptuously of the ruling British authorities.  When they won their independence they transferred this contempt to the new federal government.  The states trusted the new central authority in the United States little more than they trusted the one on the far side of the Atlantic.  And many fought as passionately against it as they fought against King George.

Even those in the new central government didn’t trust each other.  Political parties formed.  Alexander Hamilton led the Federalists.  Who wanted a strong central government.  And Thomas Jefferson led the Republicans.  Who wanted a weak central government.  Keeping the power in the states.  Hamilton and Jefferson hated each other.  Despised each other.  Believed that the other was everything that was wrong in the new nation.  And they attacked each other viciously in the newspapers through their surrogates.  Which were extensions of these political parties.  So if you wanted fair and balanced news all you had to do was read at least two newspapers.  Weigh the vitriol and lies in each to arrive at the truth.  Which was somewhere in between.

And these papers were pretty nasty.  Even attacking the most beloved man in the country.  George Washington.  Calling him old and senile.  Secretly British.  A mere puppet controlled by that evil puppet master Alexander Hamilton.  George Washington could have been king with the blessings of the American people.  Instead he chose to keep the United States a republic.  And suffered horribly for it.  For kings don’t suffer the personal attacks in the newspapers like an elected president does.  This was representative government.  Where the people are sovereign.  And the president is a servant of the people.  Not the other way around.  Like in a monarchy.

You can call LBJ and George W. Bush Murderers but you can’t ask President Obama Questions he doesn’t want to Answer

People marveled at how George Washington stepped down from power after his second term as president.  Even King George said that if he did that he would be the greatest man in the world.  And he did.  Proving the American system.  But while others marveled about how he could give up power after so short a time in office Washington more likely marveled about how long he was able to stay in office.  For he hated the politics.  And the newspaper attacks.  He was anxious to step down.  He was giddy during the transfer of power.  Happy to be going home.  While poor John Adams had to deal with all the politics.  The newspaper attacks.  And the lies.

Contrast this to President Obama.  Who gets treated by the media with kid gloves.  Who don’t question him at all.  Or his administration.  It being more like a monarchy than a republic.  After 4 Americans died in Benghazi the president offered no explanation.  And the media did not pressure him for one.  When Congress finally got to question the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, they asked her who was responsible for the failure to provide for the security for our diplomats in Benghazi?  Who was responsible for not coming to their aid while they were under attack?  And who was responsible for the lie about it being a spontaneous uprising in response to a YouTube video?  She only yelled “what difference does it make?”  And that was that.  The media reported that the Republicans were mean to her.  And never pressed her for answers.  Or President Obama.

Even the people aren’t demanding answers.  Which is sad.  For once upon a time the people chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”  Making the political pressure of the Vietnam War so unbearable that he refused to run for a second term.  But where is this outrage over President Obama’s use of drones to kill terrorists as well as the innocent civilians and children around them?  Or the targeting of American citizens without any due process?  We hear nothing from the people.  Or the media.  The same people and media who wanted to try the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a U.S. court not far from Ground Zero during the Bush Administration.

Why the double standard?  Why was it okay to question authority in the Sixties and Seventies?  No matter who was in power.  But after that it was only permissible to question authority when Republicans were in power?  Why is it you can call LBJ and George W. Bush murderers but you can’t ask President Obama questions he doesn’t want to answer?  When Dr. Benjamin Carson spoke truth to power at the National Prayer Breakfast criticizing Obamacare and the president’s economic policies the Left attacked him for not showing deference to the president.  How dare he exercise free speech in a public setting they asked?  A far cry from “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”  No.  This president we’re supposed to show deference to.  As if he was a king.  Why?  Apparently now that the anti-establishment types are running government we are no longer to question authority but embrace it.  So they can do whatever they want to do.  And change the country however they want to change it.  While that whole questioning authority thing was okay when they were on the outside looking in.  But now that they are on the inside looking out we need to question less and obey more.

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2012 Endorsements: Alexander Hamilton

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 18th, 2012

2012 Election

When Hamilton looked out Across the Vast North American Continent he saw Great Economic Opportunity

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies.  At the age of eleven he had to get a job.  As his father abandoned his family after losing all the family money.  Young Alexander worked at Cruger and Beckman’s.  a New York trading house.  A window onto the world.  And international trade.  Where young Alexander learned about the world.  And business.  He had a gift for numbers.  He was bright.  And driven.  Born in the British West Indies he was also something else.  A Founding Father without any state lineage.  With no provincial views.  During the prelude to American independence when other patriots talked about the states going their own way he was already thinking of an American union.  And only of an American union.

The British response to the Boston Tea Party was the Intolerable Acts.  Or the Coercive Acts in Britain.  Where the British put the hurt on Boston.  And Massachusetts.  To separate it and isolate it from the rest of the colonies.  Reverend Samuel Seabury took to the papers and argued against uniting the other colonies to support Massachusetts.  That the people should support their king.  And Parliament.  And not the spoiled, trouble-making people of Boston.  Hamilton took to the papers and argued in support of union.  And Boston.  Warning the people that this was just the beginning for Britain.  More taxes would certainly follow.  Hamilton warned the people to put away their sectional differences.  As this attack on one was an attack on all.  And that if they gave up on Boston it would only be a matter of time before other colonies met the same fate.

That was all well and fine during the warm months of summer.  But the American colonies were part of the British Empire.  Which was a mercantilist empire.  Whose colonies shipped raw materials to the mother country.  And the proceeds from those sales were used to buy manufactured goods made from those raw materials in the mother country.  Making the colonists dependent on Britain for their clothing.  The lack of which would make a very cold and miserable winter.  Which led a lot of people to agree with Reverend Samuel Seabury.  But not Hamilton.  For he looked out across the American colonies and saw something else.  Economic independence.  The South had cotton.  The North could raise sheep for wool.  And they could build factories in the cities to make cloth and clothing.  Staffed by skilled immigrants from European factories.  This is what Hamilton saw when he looked out across the vast North American continent.  Great economic opportunity.  Made possible by an American union.

Hamilton spent the Winter Seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown Reading and Studying Economics and Public Finance

When the Revolutionary War came Hamilton joined the Continental Army.  Fought bravely.  Then ended up as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Serving in Washington’s inner circle he knew what the commanding general knew.  And he knew the sorry state of the army.  Half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  While some civilians were living the life of Riley.  Making a fortune off of hording commodities and selling them at high prices.  Which they could do with impunity as the Continental Congress was powerless to stop them.  As it was at the mercy of the states.  The national congress was broke and had little legal authority.  Which let the speculators run roughshod over it.  Leaving the people sacrificing the most for independence half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  Diminishing the fighting ability of the army.  Which greatly increased the risk of defeat.

Hamilton learned an important lesson.  The stronger the national government was, and the richer it was, the easier it was to wage war.  And the easier it was NOT to be defeated in war.  The problem here was that the national government was too weak.  While the state governments were too strong.  Which was fine for the people living normal lives in their states.  But not the soldiers in the field fighting for the nation.  Making things worse was inflation.  The Continental Congress was printing money.  As were the states.  And the more they printed the more they depreciated it.  Which led to even higher prices.  More profits for the speculators.  And even more hardship for the army.  Which had to at times take things from the local people in exchange for IOUs.  Making these people hate the army.  And the army hate the people.  As they were the ones risking life and limb for what was to them an ungrateful people.

Hamilton spent the winter seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown reading and studying economics and public finance.  And set out to solve the inflation problem.  What he learned was that a lot of people were benefiting by the rampant inflation.  Debtors loved it.  For the greater the inflation was the easier it was to repay loans in those depreciated dollars.  Especially the farmers.  They sold their produce at ever higher prices.  Borrowed money to buy land (and repaid those loans in depreciated dollars).  While escaping much of the ravages of inflation themselves.  Because they were farmers.  And were self-sufficient.  Eating what they grew.  Even making their own clothes.  For some inflation was a way to get rich quick at the detriment of others.  To help dissuade such activity Hamilton suggested high taxes in kind (if a farm grew wheat that they turned into flour they would pay a portion of their flour to the government as a tax) on those benefitting from inflation who where destroying the confidence in the dollar.

If Hamilton were Alive Today he would likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Hamilton also suggested a plan for a national bank.  To help restore the credit of the United States.  And to provide a source of credit for the national government.  The bank would be owned half by the government and half by rich investors.  By letting the rich investors make money on the bank it would, of course, encourage them to invest in the bank.  And provide capital the government could borrow.  Hamilton believed in bringing the rich people closer to the government.  So the government had access to their money.  Both would win in such a partnership.  And both would have a vested interest in seeing the government succeed.  The Continental Congress used some of Hamilton’s ideas.  But not enough to bring his vision to life.  He would get another chance, though.  When he became America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

At the end of the Revolutionary War the United State’s finances were in a mess.  State governments and the national government owed money.  As they used that money to prosecute the war Hamilton believed the national government should assume the states’ debts and roll in into the national debt.  And, more importantly, the new national debt would help strengthen the union.  By binding the states to the national government.  These actions also helped to restore the nation’s credit.  Allowing it to borrow money to repay old debts.  As well as finance new spending.  Hamilton also got his bank.  And he produced a report on manufacturers.  A plan to use government funds to help launch American industry.  So they could catch up to Great Britain.  And even surpass the former mother country.

Hamilton pushed for these things because he wanted to use the power of government to make America strong and fiercely independent in the world of nations.  With an economic plan that would make the nation wealthy.  And allowing it to afford a military that equaled or surpassed Great Britain.  He did not want to make America wealthy to implement a massive welfare state.  His idea of partnering government with business was to make an American Empire modeled on the British Empire.  Making it a rich military superpower.  Able to project force.  Maintaining peace through strength.  Much like the British did with their Pax Britannica that he didn’t live to see.  And to protect what it had from anyone trying to take it away from them.  So based on this who would he endorse in the 2012 election?  The party that had business-friendly policies to encourage economic growth.  The party that was more anti-inflation.  The party that would best exploit the nation’s resources.  And the party that favored a strong military.  Which is NOT the Democrat Party.  No, if Alexander Hamilton were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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2012 Endorsements: Thomas Jefferson

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 17th, 2012

2012 Election

When the Radicals attacked Parliament and the King’s Ministers Jefferson’s Summary View attacked King George

When Thomas Jefferson entered politics he was still a quiet and shy awkward young man.  He was not the public speaker Patrick Henry was.  And did not enjoy being in the spotlight.  That said he was incredibly book smart.  When he was in college he spent up to 15 hours a day reading.  And another 3 hours practicing his violin.  Which probably explained why he was quiet and shy.  And not a real lady’s man.  His first love was and always remained his books.  And it was this insatiable thirst to read and learn that made him one of the greatest writers of the Revolutionary era.  It was also where he was most comfortable.  For it was something a quiet and shy young man could do best in his solitude.

After earning a law degree he went into law.  Then he won a seat in the Virginian House of Burgesses.  And joined the opposition against the taxing efforts of British Parliament.  As well as their regulation of trade.  Going so far as to join a boycott of British imports.  Unless it was something really nice that he really, really wanted.  For he was a bit of a dandy who enjoyed the finest fashions, furnishings, wines, pretty much anything French, etc.  If it was fashionable in high society Jefferson probably had it.  But you wouldn’t believe he was a dandy by his writing.  For he wrote some powerful stuff while still in the House of Burgesses.  Especially his A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774).  Published at a time when there was a lot of friction between the colonies and the mother country.  As furious debate raged about Parliament’s right to tax and regulate trade in the colonies.  To summarize his Summary View Jefferson stated, “The British Parliament has no right to exercise authority over us.”  Like many of the Revolutionary generation, Jefferson did not like some distant central power imposing their will on them.  But Summary View went even farther.

At the time most British Americans still wanted to be subjects of Great Britain.  They just wanted the same rights subjects living in England had.  Namely, representation in Parliament.  Denied that they attacked the dictatorial powers of Parliament.  And the king’s ministers.  But they didn’t attack King George.  Jefferson did.  When the other radicals attacked Parliament and the king’s ministers Summary View attacked King George.  While the other radicals wanted fair and equal treatment as subjects of the British Crown Jefferson was already moving beyond that.  He was ready for independence from the British Crown.  For he had no love of monarchy.

The States drafting their own Constitutions was a de facto Declaration of Independence

Much of the trouble in the colonies began with the Stamp Act of 1765.  But in Summary View Jefferson said their problems went further back.  To 1066.  To the Norman Conquest of England.  A time when, according to the Whig interpretation of history that Jefferson had read, things changed.  All land belonged to kings after 1066.  Not to the people.  But before the Norman Conquest there was the Saxony model of government.  Tracing its lineage back to Saxony Germania.  Along the North Sea.  Where once upon a time in a mystical place the good people of Saxony enjoyed representative government.  A beautiful system of government under which people lived in harmony and bliss.  Until feudalism came along.  And kings arose.  Who snuffed out these old ways.  So Jefferson hated all monarchies.  The nobility class.  And birthrights.  He didn’t believe in the divine rights of kings.  To him they were just a bunch of bullies who came along and changed the rules of the game by force for personal gain.  And King George III was no different.

When Peyton Randolph left the Continental Congress Jefferson replaced him.  At the time he was a very minor player in Virginian politics.  But his Summary View created a reputation that preceded his arrival.  And he was warmly welcomed.  Especially by the more radical elements.  The Americans had not yet declared their independence but they were already at war with Great Britain.  Blood was spilled at Lexington and Concord.  And General Washington was now in command of the Continental Army then laying siege to the British in Boston.  More importantly, some states were already drafting their own constitutions.  To form new governments to replace the royal government.  Which to many (including Jefferson) was the most pressing business.  As it was a de facto declaration of independence.  Which was even more important than the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.  Something the more senior members delegated to the junior member from Virginia.  Because they had more important things to do.

In May and June of 1776 Jefferson’s mind was back in Virginia.  And he wrote three drafts of a new constitution for Virginia.  His constitution was similar to the future U.S. Constitution.  It included a separation of powers.  A 2-house (i.e., bicameral) legislature.  An independent judiciary.  And, most importantly of all, a WEAK executive.  Leaving political power in the hands of the people via their representatives in the legislature.  There would be no royal governors or kings in the new state government.  Just pure self-government.  Just like in that mystical place where the Saxons lived in harmony and bliss.  And so it would be in Virginia.  There would be democracy.  At least for the people who owned property and paid taxes, that is.  For if you wanted to tell government what they could do you had to have skin in the game.  And pay taxes.  But after taking care of this Virginian business he got around to writing the Declaration of Independence.  And that thing that no one wanted to waste their time doing?  It became the seminal document of the United States.  Making Jefferson a superstar among the Founding Fathers.  In posterity John Adams regretted that he didn’t waste his valuable time to write it.

If Jefferson were Alive Today he would likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

After the Americans won their independence Jefferson accepted a diplomatic post in France where he accomplished little.  Jefferson championed open markets and free trade.  And he worked tirelessly with the French to adopt a free trade agreement.  So cheap raw materials (like Virginian tobacco) could flow to France.  And cheap manufactured goods could flow to the United States.  But the political reality in France stymied him.  The French refused to lower tariffs so they could protect their domestic markets.  Not to mention that those high custom duties allowed corrupt officials to pocket more for themselves.  His only success in France was a Dutch loan John Adams secured while Jefferson was tagging along.  Adams understood the complex world of international finance.  Jefferson did not.  Other than large sums of money tended to corrupt people.  Custom agents.  And governments.  So it was a wise thing to keep the centers of finance apart from the center of government.  Which is why the federal capital is in Washington DC and not in New York City.

Jefferson was in France during Shay’s Rebellion.  An armed protest against new taxes imposed by Boston.  Those in the fledgling government worried about suppressing this uprising (the Continental Congress had few resources other than to ask states for contributions) to prevent the collapse of the new nation.  While Jefferson said, “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive…I like a little rebellion now and then.”  And, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure.”  Later, serving as Secretary of State in the Washington administration, he battled with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton over the size of government and the meaning of the Constitution.  Hamilton wanted to expand the power of the federal government to help jumpstart America into becoming a mighty empire like the British Empire.  With the government partnering with the private sector.  Pooling great amounts of capital together to build incredible things.  While Jefferson wanted all Americans to be yeoman farmers physically working their own land.  With as small a federal government as possible.  And one that spent as little money as possible and remained debt-free.  In fact, when he was president he slashed spending so much that the nation could barely afford the navy to protect its shipping from the Barbary pirates.

So it is pretty clear that Thomas Jefferson hated big government.  He spent his entire political life trying to limit the power and scope of government.  To make government as impotent as possible.  To the point where he even supported a little rebellion every now and then to keep government in its place.  What would he think of the federal government today?  It would probably make him physically ill.  The spending?  The debt?  The federal register?  These would make him long for the responsible governing of King George.  And his pro-American policies.  If he were able to vote today he would vote for the lesser of two evils.  And that would be the party of limited government.  To stop the out of control growth of the federal government.  And hopefully reduce its size.  If Jefferson were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for president and vice president.

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Revolutionary War, Sovereign Debt, Report on Public Credit, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Assumption and Residency Act

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 16th, 2012

Politics 101

In 1792 the Outstanding Debt at all Levels of Government was 45% of GDP

Wars aren’t cheap.  Especially if they last awhile.  The American Revolutionary War lasted some 8 years until the British and Americans signed the Treaty of Paris (1782) officially ending all hostilities.  So the Revolutionary War was a very costly war.  The ‘national’ government (the Continental Congress) owed about $70 million.  The states owed another $25 million or so.  And the Continental Army had issued about $7 million in IOUs during the war.  Added up that comes to $102 million the new nation owed.  About 45% of GDP.  (Or about 35% without the state debt added in.)

To put that in perspective consider that the Civil War raised the debt to about 32% of GDP.  World War I raised it to about 35%.  World War II raised it to about 122%.  Following the war the debt fell to about 32% at its lowest point until it started rising again.  And quickly.  In large part due to the cost of the Vietnam War and LBJ’s Great Society.  Government spending being so great Nixon turned to printing money.  Depreciating the dollar’s purchasing power in every commodity but one.  Gold.  Which was pegged at $35/ounce.  Losing faith in our currency foreign governments traded their U.S. dollars for gold.  Until Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold in 1971.  Ushering in the era of Keynesian economics, deficit spending and growing national debts.  Because of increased spending for social programs governments everywhere now have debts approaching 100% of GDP.  And higher.  But I digress.

So 45% of GDP was huge in 1792.  And it continued to be huge.  Taking a devastating civil war and a devastating world war to even approach it.  It took an even more devastating world war to exceed it.  And now we’ve blown by that debt level in the era of Keynesian economics.  Without the devastation of another World War II.  This debt level has grown so great that for the first time ever in U.S. history Standard and Poor’s recently lowered the United States’ impeccable sovereign debt rating.  And restoring that debt rating at today’s spending levels will be a daunting task.  But imagine trying to establish a sovereign debt rating after just becoming a nation.  Already with a massive debt of 45% of GDP.

In Hamilton’s Report on Public Credit the New Government would Assume Outstanding Debt at all Levels of Government

There was only one choice for America’s first president.  The indispensible one.  George Washington.  Some delegates at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 who were skeptical of the new Constitution only supported it because they had someone they could trust to be America’s first president.  George Washington.  Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were indispensible at times.  But not as indispensible as Washington.  For without him the Continental Army would have ceased to exist after that winter at Valley Forge.  That same army would have mutinied (for back pay and promised pensions) after the war if he didn’t step in.  Our experiment in self-government would have ended if he did not relinquish his power after the war.  We wouldn’t have ratified the Constitution without having Washington to be America’s first president.  And our experiment in self-government would have ended if he did not relinquish his power.  Again.  After his second term as president.

With the state of the government’s finances after the war there was another Founding Father that was indispensible.  Not as indispensible as Washington.  But close.  For without him the Washington presidency may have failed.  As well as the new nation.  Because of that convoluted financial mess.  The Continental Congress borrowed money.  The states borrowed money.  Some of which went to the Continental Congress.  The army took stuff they needed to survive in exchange for IOUs.  There were bonds, loans and IOUs at every level of government in every state.  Complicating the matter is that most of the instruments they sold ended up in the hands of speculators who bought them for pennies on the dollar.  As the original holders of these instruments needed money.  And did not believe the Continental Congress would honor any of these obligations.  For before the Constitution the government was weak and had no taxing authority.  And no way to raise the funds to redeem these debt obligations.

A few tried to get their arms around this financial mess.  But couldn’t.  It was too great a task.  Until America’s first secretary of the treasury came along.  Alexander Hamilton.  Who could bring order to the chaos.  As well as fund the new federal government.  He submitted his plan in his Report on Public Credit (January 1790).  And the big thing in it was assumption.  The federal government would assume outstanding debt at all levels of government.  Including those IOUs.  At face value.  One hundred pennies on the dollar.  To whoever held these instruments.  Regardless of who bought them first.  “Unfair!” some said.  But what else could they do?  This was the 1700s.  There weren’t detailed computer records of bondholders.  Besides, this was a nation that, like the British, protected property rights.  These speculators took a risk buying these instruments.  Even if at pennies on the dollar.  They bought them for a price the seller thought was fair or else they wouldn’t have sold them.  So these bonds were now the property of the speculators.

Jefferson and Madison traded Hamilton’s Assumption for the Nation’s Capital

Of course to do this you needed money.  Which Hamilton wanted to raise by issuing new bonds.  To retire the old.  And to service the new.  Thus establishing good credit.  In fact, he wanted a permanent national debt.  For he said, “A national debt, if not excessive, is a national blessing.”  Because good credit would allow a nation to borrow money for economic expansion.  And it would tie the people with the money to the government.  Where the risk of a government default would harm both the nation and their creditors.  Making their interests one and the same.

That’s not how Thomas Jefferson saw it, though.  He had just returned from France where he witnessed the beginning of the French Revolution.  Brought upon by a crushing national debt.  And he didn’t want to tie the people with the money to the government.  For when they do they tend to exert influence over the government.  But Hamilton said debt was a blessing if not excessive.  He did not believe in excessive government debt.  And he wanted to pay that debt off.  As his plan called for a sinking fund to retire that debt.  Still, the Jefferson and Hamilton feud began here.  For Hamilton’s vision of the new federal government was just too big.  And too British.  Madison would join Jefferson to lead an opposition party.  Primarily in opposition to anything Hamilton.  Who used the Constitution to support his other plan.  A national bank.  Just like the British had.  Based on the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I, Section 8.  Setting a precedent that government would use again and again to expand its powers.

At the time the nation’s capital was temporarily in New York.  A final home for it, though, was a contentious issue.  Everyone wanted it in their state so they could greatly influence the national government.  Hamilton’s struggle for assumption was getting nowhere.  Until the horse-trading at the Jefferson dinner party with Hamilton and Madison.  To get the nation’s capital close to Virginia (where it is now) Jefferson offered a deal to Hamilton.  Jefferson and Madison were Virginians.  Give them the capital and they would help pass assumption.  They all agreed to the deal (though Jefferson would later regret it).  Congress passed the Residency Act putting the capital on the Potomac.  And all the good that Hamilton promised happened.  America established good credit.  Allowing it to borrow money at home and abroad.  And a decade of prosperity followed.  Hamilton even paid down the federal debt to about 17.5% of GDP near the end of America’s second president’s (John Adams) term in office (1800).  Making Hamilton indispensible in sustaining this experiment in self-government.  Keeping government small even though it was more powerful than it was ever before.  Of course his using that “necessary and proper” argument really came back to bite him in the ass.  Figuratively, of course.  As government used it time and again to expand its role into areas even Hamilton would have fought to prevent.  While Jefferson no doubt would have said with haughty contempt, “I told you so.  This is what happens when you bring money and government together.  But would you listen to me?  No.  How I hate you, Mr. Hamilton.”

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States’ Rights, Debt, Interstate Commerce, Russia, Barbary Pirates, Spain, Britain, Shays Rebellion and Miracle of Philadelphia

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 19th, 2012

Politics 101

After Winning their Independence from Great Britain the Common Enemy was no more Leaving them Little Reason to Unite

The South lost the American Civil War for a few reasons.  Perhaps the greatest was the North’s industrial superiority.  Her industry could make whatever they needed to wage war.  While the South suffered behind the Union’s blockade.  Unable to trade their cotton for the means to wage war.  And then there was the fact that the North was united.  While the states’ rights issue that they were fighting for prevented the South from being united.  The southern states (whose governments were dominated by the planter elite) did not like the federal government in Washington (except when they forced northern states to return southern slaves).  And as it turned out the states didn’t like the federal government in Richmond any better.  They fought Jefferson Davis from consolidating his power.  They put the states’ interests ahead of the national interest.  Such as winning a war to secure their states’ rights.  And any supplies a state had they wouldn’t share them with another state.  Even if they had a warehouse full of surplus shoes while troops from another states fought barefoot.

So the North won the American Civil War because they were united.  They had an advanced economy based on free market capitalism and free labor.  And they were wealthy.  Basically because of the prior two statements.  But it wasn’t always like this.  The United States of America is a large country.  Even before it was a country.  When it was only a confederation of sovereign states.  With independent republican governments.  Still it covered great tracts of land.  Allowing the states to keep to themselves.  Much like it would be some 75 years later in the South.

After winning their independence from Great Britain the common enemy was no more.  And they had little reason to unite.  Which they didn’t.  For the several states included a lot of disparate people.  Who agreed on little with the people beyond their state’s borders.  Which was one of the criticisms of republican government (i.e., an elected representative government).  And one held by perhaps the greatest influence on the Framers of the Constitution.  French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu.  Who believed that the larger the geographic size the more dissimilar the people’s interest.  And therefore making republican government more difficult.  As it was too difficult to arrive at a consensus with such a large electorate.  Which James Madison disagreed with, making this a heated topic during the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process.  But before that convention it would appear to be incontrovertible.  The United States were anything but united.

The Americans defeated one Distant Central Power and were none too keen on Answering to a New Central Power

The first American identity appeared in the Continental Army.  Where soldiers came from different states and fought together as Americans.  General Washington fostered this spirit.  Forbidding any anti-Catholic displays.  One thing that all the Protestant American colonists enjoyed.  No matter which state they came from.  But to fight the British Empire they needed a large army drawn from all the states.  And to get the French Canadians living in British Canada to join them they needed to embrace religious freedom.  Even for Catholics.  Which was even more important if they had any chance of getting support from the most likely foreign power.  The eternal enemy of Britain.  Catholic France.  Washington, as well as those who served in the Continental Army, understood the success of their cause required less infighting and more uniting.  That it was imperative to set aside their sectional interests.  Only then could the new nation join the world of nations.  Strong and independent.  And avoid the European nations pulling them into their intrigues.

But of course that wasn’t going to happen.  After the war no one called themselves American.  Except for a few.  Like Washington.  And some other veterans of the Continental Army.  No.  The country people belonged to was their state.  Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, called Virginia his country.  As did most if not all of the Patriots of ’76.  The war was over.  They defeated the distant central power.  And they were none too keen on a new central power to answer to.  Even if it was on their side of the Atlantic.  To these Revolutionary Patriots the Continental Congress was just another foreign legislature trying to infringe on their sovereignty.

The national congress had no power.  Delegates didn’t always show up leaving the congress without a quorum.  Which didn’t matter much as they couldn’t pass anything when they had a quorum.  For any legislation they wanted to pass into law required a unanimous vote of all thirteen states.  Which rarely happened.  They couldn’t levy taxes.  Which meant they couldn’t fund an army or navy to protect their states from foreign aggressors.  Or protect their international trade on the high seas.  Which was a problem as the British no longer provided these services.  And they couldn’t repay any of their debts.  Their prewar debt owed to a lot of British creditors (which they had to repay according to the treaty that ended the war and gave them their independence).  Or their war debt.  States owed other states.  And the Congress owed foreign creditors in Europe.  Especially their war-time ally.  France.  Who they owed a fortune to.  The states charged duties and tariffs on interstate commerce.  They made their own treaties with the Indians.  Some states defaulted on the debt they owed to out of state creditors.  States even fought each other over land.  The Untied States were anything but united.  And it showed.

The Delegates of the Continental Congress agreed to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation

Europe watched the Americans with amusement and contempt.  The Americans didn’t get much respect from Catherine the Great, tsarina of Russia.  The ruler of the world’s largest country viewed the Americans as a bit uppity and not worthy to join the European courts.  Besides, she was more interested in expanding her powers into Turkey.  And into Poland.  Who caught some of that spirit of liberty from the Americans.  That Catherine wanted to squelch.  Making her less of an America fan.  But it wasn’t only Russia.  The Barbary pirates were targeting American shipping in the Mediterranean.  Selling their crews to the slave markets of North Africa.  Western settlers using the Mississippi River to ship their produce were denied passage through the Port of New Orleans by Spain.  The British refused to vacate their forts in the Northwest.  Even worked with the Indians to cause some mischief in the borderlands.  Why did the Europeans do these things?  Because they could.  For the Americans could not stop them.

To make matters worse the Americans were drifting towards civil war.  The northern provinces were talking about leaving the confederation and forming their own.  The North feared the South would do the same.  Even aligning itself more with Europe than the American states.  Meanwhile the economy was tanking.  Trade was down.  People were out of work.  Farmers were unable to pay their debts.  Even losing their farms.  In western Massachusetts Daniel Shays gathered together disgruntled veterans and rebelled.  Again.  Only this time it wasn’t against the British.  It was against the legal authorities in Massachusetts.  Shays Rebellion spread to other states.  And grew violent.  Massachusetts asked the Continental Congress for help.  And the Congress asked the states for $530,000 to raise an army to put down the rebellion.  Twelve of the thirteen states said “no.”

With no other choice Massachusetts went to rich people for funding.  Used it to raise a militia of some 4,400 men.  In time and after some bloody fighting they put down this rebellion.  But some of the rebels continued a guerilla war.  Making many in the new United States live in fear.  Washington, despondent of what was happening to the republic he had fought for so long to secure, pleaded, “Let us look to our national character and to things beyond the present moment.”  And so they did.  The delegates of the Continental Congress agreed to meet in Philadelphia in 1787.  To revise the Articles of Confederation.  To reign in the chaos.  To get their finances in order.  And to gain the respect of the world of nations.  But to do that would require s stronger central government.  And that is exactly what emerged from Philadelphia.  So they did what the Confederates did not do nearly 75 years later.  Which is the reason why they lost the American Civil War.  Because of an ideal.  States’ rights.  That was so absolute that it weakened the Confederacy to the point she could not survive.  Something the Miracle of Philadelphia prevented in 1787.  Which left the states sovereign.  And the new federal government only governed that which extended beyond the states’ borders.  And it worked well.  For some 75 years.  When it hit a road bump.

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Treason, Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin, Reconciliation, Hutchinson Letters, Boston Tea Party, The Cockpit, Patriot and Loyalist

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 10th, 2012

Politics 101

The Hutchinson Letters and the Tea Act put the Americans firmly on the Path to Independence

There’s a fine line between treason and loyalty.  Some people cross that line.  Some people don’t.  Some people wait to see which side of the line their best interests lay.  Some like to straddle the line.  Either unable to commit.  Unwilling to commit.  Or unwilling to give up profiting from both sides of that line.  Such it was during the American Revolutionary War.  A very unique conflict.  That pitted colony against mother country.  New World against Old World.  American against Brit.  Brit against Brit.  And American against American.

The American Revolutionary War was a smorgasbord of antagonism.  What started out as a dispute over taxation escalated into world war.  And into civil war.  To settle old scores.  And to settle new ones.  Upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence the American colonies were in open rebellion against their sovereign.  The ultimate act of treason.  Yet they committed this act of treason to live a more British life.  For Britain’s constitutional monarchy gave unprecedented rights to British subjects.  And the highest standard of living then known to a middle class.  Most knew what the rest of the world was like.  And they wouldn’t trade their British way of life for any other.  So rebellion undoubtedly made a great many nervous.  For many were happy and comfortable living under the British sovereign.  Benjamin Franklin, for one.

Franklin was a Loyalist.  At first.  He knew how to work the system.  And did.  Even achieving the post of American postmaster.  And he made it profitable.  Very profitable.  Even his son, William Franklin, was governor general in New Jersey.  So he was very connected to the British Empire.  And saw it as the best system of government ever developed.  Which is why he sought reconciliation.  He was in England when tensions were increasing between the colonies and the mother country.  He then came into the possession of some private correspondence that he passed along to his contacts in Massachusetts.  The Hutchinson letters.  As in governor general of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson.  Which basically said that the way to subdue the unrest over recent Parliament actions (i.e., taxation without representation) was to deprive the colonists of some of their English liberties.  Franklin asked that they not publish these letters.  His intent was to calm the more radical in America.  Proving that these misguided policies were the result of some bad advice from a few people.  There was no general animosity towards the American colonies in Great Britain.  And that reconciliation was possible.  Which is what Franklin wanted.  But they published the Hutchinson letters.  And the Americans were not pleased.  Then one thing led to another.  After Parliament passed the Tea Act Franklin was anxious of the American response.  Hoping for calm.  But the response was anything but calm.  And did nothing to aid reconciliation. 

The Humiliation in the Cockpit helped Push Franklin from Reconciliation to Independence

When the first tea arrived following the Tea Act the Patriots threw it in Boston Harbor.  Forever known thereafter as the Boston Tea Party (1763).  This destruction of private property shocked Franklin.  For this was not an act against Parliament.  But an act against a private company.  The East India Company.  This did not go over well in England.  Which was pretty agitated over the publication of those private Hutchinson letters.  People accused each other of being the source of the leak.  It got so bad that two men dueled in Hyde Park.  Each blaming the other for the dishonorable act of leaking those private letters.  Not being a very good duel both men survived.  When they were going to have at it again Franklin publically stated that he was the leak.  Explaining his intentions. 

Though Franklin sought reconciliation he had his enemies in England.  Who thought he was more of rabble rouser on the other side of the pond.  And pounced on this opportunity to disgrace him.   They summoned him to appear before the Privy Council.  On the pretense to hear testimony on the petition from the Massachusetts Assembly to remove Hutchinson as governor general.  But when Franklin arrived in the ‘Cockpit’ he found that he was on trial.  For leaking the Hutchinson letters.  News of the Boston Tea Party had by then reached England.  And the newspapers attacked Franklin without mercy.  All of England was turning against the man who wanted reconciliation more than any American.  It even looked like Franklin could end up in an English jail. 

It was an all out assault on Franklin in the Cockpit.  Where his enemies packed the room.  While few of his friends sat in.  Such as Edmund Burke.  Lord Le Despencer.  And Joseph Priestly.  One after another his enemies took their turn lambasting Franklin.  Blaming him for the agitation in the American colonies against British rule.  They attacked him personally.  And besmirched his honor.  Humiliated him.  During it all Franklin stood silent.  Refusing to partake in this farce.  When Wedderburn called Franklin as a witness his counsel stated that his client declined to subject himself to examination.  In the end they rejected the Massachusetts petition.  And his friend Lord Le Despencer had no choice but to relieve Franklin from his post as American postmaster.  He wrote his son William and urged him to quit his post as governor general of New Jersey in order to pursue more honorable work.  He would not, though.  And thus began the breach between father and son.

Franklin and William were no longer Father and Son but Patriot and Loyalist

William would stay loyal to the crown.  While Franklin was moving closer to the side of the Patriots.  In response to the Boston Tea Party Britain planned a blockade of Boston Harbor.  In response the colonies united behind Boston and formed the First Continental Congress.  Which William said was a mistake.  And that Boston should make good on the tea they destroyed.  Which would be the best way to calm the situation.  And reopen Boston Harbor.  Exactly what Franklin had earlier suggested.  But after the Cockpit and the loss of his post as postmaster Franklin was losing his love for the British Empire.  But he still tried while he remained in England with no official duties.  He even played chess with Caroline Howe.  Sister of Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe.  Who would later command the British naval and military forces in the opening of the Revolutionary War.  But at the time they were both sympathetic to the American cause.  Despite of his shameful treatment in the Cockpit she and other friends urged him to put pen to paper.  And try to mediate a peaceful solution to the breach between the American colonies and Great Britain.  He tried. 

But all efforts came to naught.  He worked on a bill with Lord Chatham.  Which Lord Sandwich attacked with a fury when introduced into the House of Lords.  And they publicly attacked Franklin again.  They rejected the bill.  And Franklin booked passage home.  He met with Edmund Burke before leaving.  Discussed with him one last plea for reconciliation.  He spent his last day in London with his friend Joseph Priestly.  And discussed the future.  The coming war.  Reading the papers.  Priestly later wrote that the thought of that dismal future brought Franklin to tears.  After Franklin was on a ship sailing west Burke rose in Parliament and gave his famous speech On Conciliation with America. Where he said, “A great empire and little minds go ill together.”

The move to independence accelerated after arriving home.  Thomas Paine, who Franklin helped to bring to America, wrote Common Sense.  Which Franklin read before it was published.  Even offered a few revisions.  As he would offer later to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.  Then the Continental Congress scheduled a vote for independence.  General Washington was preparing to fight General William Howe on Long Island.  Supported by his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe.  Who made one last attempt at conciliation with Franklin.  But things had already progressed too far.  Franklin had crossed that fine line.  The time for peace had passed.  On June 15, 1776, the new American provincial government in New Jersey ordered the arrest of William Franklin.  On the day of his trial Benjamin Franklin wrote General Washington.  He did not mention William.  Nor did he say anything when the Continental Congress voted to imprison him in Connecticut.  The breach between father and son was complete.  No longer father and son.  But Patriot and Loyalist.  As families throughout the colonies similarly tore asunder.  Setting the stage for the civil war within the world war that was the American Revolution.

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