2012 Endorsements: James Madison

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 22nd, 2012

2012 Election

The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of Retirement

The Confederation Congress did not work as well as some had hoped.  Despite having won their independence from Great Britain there was still no feeling of national unity.  Sectional interests prevailed over national interests.  Greatly affecting the ability of the national government to function.  Negating the benefits of union.  And offering little respect for the young nation on the world stage.  The new nation simply was not taken seriously at home.  Or abroad.  Prompting a meeting of states delegates in Annapolis in 1786.  Twelve delegates from five states showed up.  The states just didn’t care enough.  The convention adjourned after only three days.  But not before Alexander Hamilton put a plan together for another convention in Philadelphia for the following year.

The states were happy with the way things were.  They did not want to give up any of their powers to a new central authority.  But the problem was that the states were fighting against each other.  Trying to protect their own economic interests and their own trade.  Some could extend this behavior out into the future.  And they did not like what they saw.  States with similar interests would form regional alliances.  And these alliances would ally themselves with some of the European powers who were also on the North American continent.  The northern states (having industry and commerce) would join together and ally with the industrial and commerce powerhouse Great Britain.  The agrarian southern states would join together and ally with Great Britain’s eternal enemy.  France.  And the western territories dependent on the Mississippi River to get their agricultural goods to marker would ally with the European power in control of the Mississippi River.  Spain.  Who were both eternal enemies of Great Britain.  And the centuries of warfare on the European continent would just extend to North America.  Some saw this as the American future if they didn’t unite and put the nation’s interests ahead of sectional interests.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 almost didn’t happen.  For there was as much interest in it as there was in the Annapolis Convention in 1786.  James Madison, the father of the Constitution, made the meeting in Philadelphia a reality.  By his persuasive efforts with his neighbor.  George Washington.  Father of our Country.  Then in retirement at Mount Vernon with no interest to reenter public life after resigning his commission following the Revolutionary War.  He could have been king then but declined the numerous offers to make him so.  Happy that they won their independence he just wanted to live out his years on his farm.  Like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.  Who left his plough to become dictator of the Roman Republic.  To defend the Roman Republic.  He defeated the enemy.  Resigned his dictatorship.  And returned to his plough.  Earning a cherished place in our history books.  Something Washington had just done.  Only taking some 8 years instead of 16 days like Cincinnatus.  His place in history had come with a far greater price.  And he did not want to risk losing what he had earned after paying so dearly for it.  But Madison knew that it would take Washington’s presence to get the other states to send their delegates.  So Madison was persistent.   The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of retirement.  And made the retired general do the last thing he wanted to do.  Return to public life.  As he was already an old man who outlived the average lifespan of Washington men.

Madison didn’t believe a Bill of Rights would Stop a Majority from Imposing their Will on the Minority

It took four long, miserable months to produce the new constitution.  It was a hot and insufferable summer.  And they kept the windows of Independence Hall closed to block out the city noise.  And prevent anyone from hearing the debates.  So the delegates could speak freely.  And after those four long months the delegates signed the new document.  Not all of them.  Some hated it and refused to sign it or support it.  And would actively fight against it during the ratification process.  As they did not like to see so much power going to a new federal government.  Especially as there was no bill of rights included to help protect the people from this new government.  The document they produced was based on the Virginia Plan.  Which was drafted by James Madison.  Which is why we call him the Father of the Constitution.  So Virginia was instrumental in producing the new constitution.  And the delegates finally agreed to it because of another Virginian.  George Washington.  Making Virginian ratification of the new constitution conditional for other states to ratify it.  So all eyes were on Virginia.  For without Virginia all their efforts in Philadelphia would be for naught.  Because if Virginia did not join the union under the new Constitution that meant George Washington would be ineligible to be president.

Of course getting Virginia to ratify was another story.  Because George Washington and James Madison were not the only Virginians in politics.  There was also George Mason.  Who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776).  Which Thomas Jefferson may have borrowed from when writing the Declaration of Independence.  And Mason also wrote the Virginia State Constitution (1776).  Mason opposed granting the new federal government so much power and refused to sign the Constitution in Philadelphia.  And then there was Patrick Henry.  Perhaps the greatest Patriot orator.  And of “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” fame.  Which he shouted out during the Stamp Act (1765) debates.  He was also Virginia’s first governor under the new state constitution.  Mason and Henry were Patriots of the 1776 school.  The kind that hated distant central powers.  Whether they were in London.  Or in New York.  Mason wanted a bill of rights.  Henry, too.  As well as amendments transferring a lot of power from the federal government back to the states.  Or, better yet, no federal constitution at all.  Which Henry would work towards by leading a fierce ratification opposition.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of the new constitution as many saw was the lack of a bill of rights.  This was a contentious issue during the convention.  It was the reason why Mason refused to sign it.  As there was nothing to check the powers of the new government and protect the people’s liberties.  So why did they not include a bill of rights?  Because it was not necessary.  According to Madison.  Who fought against it.  Because the new federal government was a government of limited powers.  It wasn’t like the state governments.  The new federal government only did those things the states didn’t do.  Or shouldn’t do.  Like treat with other nations.  Provide a common defense.  Regulate interstate trade.  Things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And what powers it had were enumerated.  Limited.  It did not repeal individual rights protected by state constitutions.  And had no authority over those rights.  Whatever rights a person enjoyed in their state were untouchable by the new federal government.  Therefore, a bill of rights was not necessary.  Which actually protected rights greater than listing them.  For whatever rights they forgot to list the federal government would assume were fair to abuse.  Finally, Madison didn’t believe a bill of rights would stop a majority from imposing their will on the minority.  A tyranny of the majority.  Something he saw firsthand as a young man returning from college.  Where the state of Virginia harassed and imprisoned Baptist ministers for holding Baptist services in Anglican Virginia.  Something he didn’t forget.  Nor did the Baptists.

If James Madison were Alive Today he would Likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Patrick tried hard to prevent the ratification of the constitution in Virginia.  But failed.  When it came time for the Virginian legislature to elect their federal senators Henry campaigned hard against Madison and saw him defeated.  When it came to the federal House elections Henry drew the new Congressional districts that made Madison campaign in a district full of people that mostly disagreed with him.  Which it took a change of his position on adding a bill of rights to the Constitution to overcome.  His position gradually changed from opposed to being lukewarm to being a strong supporter.  In part due to some correspondence with Thomas Jefferson then serving in France.  And the Baptists’ concerns over rights of conscience.  Something Madison had longed believed in.  Believing religious liberty was essential to a free people.  As the Constitution stood there were no safeguards specifically against the oppression like that the Anglicans imposed on the Baptists earlier.  What the Baptists wanted was a bill of rights.

Madison promised, if elected, to introduce an amendment to the Constitution addressing their concerns.  In fact, a bill of rights would be the first Constitutional amendment.  And he would introduce it and fight for it until it was ratified.  Based on this promise the Baptists threw their support behind Madison.  Got him elected to the House of Representatives.  And Madison delivered on his promise.  Championing a bill of rights through Congress.  The Father of the Constitution also became the Father of the Bill of Rights.  And then it was a knockdown drag-out fight in the Virginian legislature to get the new Bill of Rights ratified.   Where the opposition to ratification was led by none other than Patrick Henry.  But he would lose that fight, too.  And the nation would have a federal government with limited, enumerated powers.  With individual liberties protected by a bill of rights.  Providing a federal government powerful enough to do the things it needed to do like treat with other nations, provide a common defense, regulate interstate trade, etc.  Those things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And in the following decade we would be prosperous because of it.

None of this could have happened without Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution.  Which opened the door for George Washington to be our first president.  And helped New York ratify the Constitution.  With the ratification in Virginia.  And the letter writing campaign in support of ratification.  Which appeared in newspapers.  Articles written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (mostly) and John Jay.  Now published as the Federalists Papers.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Madison and Hamilton the nation had a new form of government.  But Madison and Hamilton would soon part ways once Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury.  And took great liberties with the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution.  Expanding the power and scope of the federal government far beyond what Madison had ever envisioned.  Which moved Madison into closer company with George Mason and Patrick Henry.  Desperately trying to hold onto states’ rights and oppose the expansion of the federal government.  Like he would oppose the great overreach of the federal government today.  The transfer of power from the states to the federal government.  And the expansion of suffrage to include those who don’t own property or pay taxes.  Leading to mob rule at times.  Populism.  And a tyranny of the majority.

Madison suffered ill health most of his life.  Stomach disorders and dysentery.  Brought on by the pressures of public service.  If he were alive today he probably wouldn’t remain alive long.  Seeing what has happened to his Constitution would probably kill him.  If he had the chance to vote today he would vote for the party that championed limited government.  The party that would stop the growth of the federal government.  And reduce its size.  The party that governed for all people and not the will of the populist mob.  The party that did NOT govern through class warfare but through sound principles.  If James Madison were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2010

DID THE FOUNDING Fathers found America as a Christian nation?  No.  Did they found a secular nation?  Not exactly.  Did they found a federal nation?  Yes.

Federalism.  What does it mean?  It means the new federal government would have LIMITED powers.  The new national government would do national things.  Trade.  National defense.  Treat with other nations.  In other words, those things that required a single national voice.  The French didn’t want to treat with the individual states.  They didn’t want one set of trade agreements for Virginia and another for North Carolina.  Neither did Great Britain.  Or the other European powers.  No.  If the United States of America wanted to be an independent nation, then they had to act as a single, unified nation.  So they did.

The other things, the non-national things, they left to the states.  And one of these things was religion.  For when it came to religion, the new federal government did not interfere in the states’ religious business.  Ergo the First Amendment.  The ‘wall’ between church and state was to separate the new federal government from the states’ religious establishments.  If a state discriminated against all but their established religion, that was fine and dandy for it was a moot point as far as the federal government was concerned.  It just wasn’t their business.

Now, a truly secular government would intervene in such a case.  The federal government would later, but at the founding, one of the preconditions for ratification of the Constitution was that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t.  Interfere with a state’s religion.

WE ALL KNOW the story of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, coming to the New World from England to escape religious persecution.  Probably not as familiar with the backstory.  The English Civil War.  Duke of Buckingham.  King and Parliament.  Queen and Parliament.  The French.  The Spanish.  The Pope.  The Kirk.  The Ulster Uprising.  Oliver Cromwell.  And, of course, William Laud.

Here’s the short version of what happened.  And some back-story to the back-story.  The Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church.  Much fighting ensued.  This split nations into essentially Catholic and Protestant camps (which broke down into further divisions).  England was Protestant.  Scotland was Presbyterian (a branch of Protestantism).  Ireland was Catholic with a Protestant enclave in Ulster.

Mix them together, add a not great English king, who married a French Catholic, throw in a revised Church of England prayer book, bring back some Catholicism to the Protestant Church of England, dissolve Parliament, recall Parliament, try to dissolve it again and, well, you get civil war.  Parliament wins the war.  They behead the king. 

The English Civil War is a little more complicated than this.  But for our purposes, it’s the religious component that’s important. Everyone persecuted someone at one time.  One group, the Puritans, were Protestants.  Hardcore Protestants.  Calvinists.  They were about as anti-Catholic as you could get.  Didn’t like any of the Catholics’ fancy vestments, icons, statues, pictures, altar rails, candlesticks, stained glass windows, etc.  That church was corrupt.  They had lost their way. 

They didn’t believe in original sin or that you can buy your way into heaven.  God chose your fate before you were born.  If you were one of the elect, you passed your days in long church services and you read the Bible.  If you didn’t do these things it was proof you weren’t one of the elect.  And were damned.  No matter what you did during your life.  Cure cancer, it didn’t matter.  You were damned.

They didn’t like Catholics and Catholics didn’t like them.  And, as it turned out, the Protestant powers that be didn’t much care for them either.  In England or on the Continent.  They just couldn’t be un-Catholic enough to please the Puritans.  Much bitterness ensued.  Many left the Old World and settled in the New World.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, these Puritans came to the New World to establish that city on a hill of Mathew 5:14 fame (from the Sermon on the Mount.  Given by Jesus Christ.  Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it).

THEY CAME FROM England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and settled in New England, New York and the far side of the Appalachians.  A hard working people.  They provided for themselves.  Went to church.  Read the Bible.  All work and no play.  At least, some would say. 

They established the state-supported Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Adams was born and raised a Calvinist and attended this state-supported church.  When writing the new state’s constitution, the state support of the church was a contentious issue.  Most felt that religion was an indispensible part of life.  Others agreed but feared a religious majority would oppress a religious minority.  The process would take 3 years to resolve.

Being in the heart of the rebellion, Abigail Adams, Founding Mother, and perhaps America’s first feminist, experienced much of the darker side of the struggle for independence.  Soulmate of John Adams in every sense of the word, she was as religious as he.  As the war dragged on with no end in sight, she feared it was God’s punishment for the sins of American slavery.

IN VIRGINIA, THE established church was the Anglican Church (i.e., the Church of England).  As in Massachusetts, there was debate about an established majority religion oppressing a minority religion.  For good reason.  It did.  Right in James Madison’s backyard.  Baptists were harassed.  And imprisoned.  You needed a license to preach.  Virginia and the established church made getting that license very difficult.  If you were a Baptist.

America’s least religious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Virginian Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginian General Assembly passed it in 1786, two years before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution.  To help get the Virginian Baptists on board for ratification, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification that would add similar rights and protection at the federal level that were enacted at the state level.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MAY have been a Deist.  He was, after all, the embodiment of the Enlightenment.  Like Thomas Jefferson.  They embraced reason over dogma.  But Franklin believed religious faith was fundamental to civilized society.  His personal beliefs boiled down to simply doing good deeds.  Help others.  And sometimes you need to remind some people to help others.  And that’s why he liked religion.  He spent much of his life helping his community (serving in the state militia, participating in the volunteer fire department, etc.).  At an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, it was he who suggested they should pray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MAY not have taken communion, but he added chaplains to his army units during the American Revolution.  He believed the American cause was a divine one.  He feared a lack of faith may determine battlefield outcomes.  He led an integrated army of Protestants and Catholics.  And Jews.  And blacks.  And others.  He forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations which were very common in the former British colonies.  When an Army went to Canada to attack the British, they were to respect the Catholic French Canadians and invite them to join their cause.  He would even attend Catholic service on occasion.  Like the army, the nation he would lead would be a melting pot.  Tolerance and respect was the mantra.  For all Americans.

SO, DID THE Founding Fathers found a Christian nation?  No.  Religious establishment was simply beyond the responsibility of the new federal government.  Did Christians settle the original colonies?  Yes.  And they established Christian churches.  And the states were worried that a new federal government would interfere with their religious business.  Some wanted additional safeguards written in.  So James Madison added the Bill of Rights after ratification.  The First Amendment placed a wall between the federal government and the States’ religious establishments.

In time, the states extended the tolerance and respect of religious diversity prevalent in Washington’s army to their states.  They disestablished their established churches.  And, to their relief, religion flourished.  Especially the different branches of Christianity.  Yes, America became even more Christian, but it tolerated and respected other religions.  New York even had a Jewish Temple 3 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.  And even the Catholics were welcomed in the new nation.

DISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM INCREASED THE spread of Christianity.  Like the economy, the freer it was the more it flourished.  And with the great number of Christian religions that have since spread across the nation, it is unlikely that overt acts of Christianity would result in the establishment of one of these.  Or the reestablishment of the Church of England. 

So go ahead and display your Christmas Crèche or the Ten Commandments.  Chances are good that it won’t beget antidisestablishmentarianism.

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