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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British Corn Laws and Empire, the U.S. Free Trade Zone and the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 29th, 2011

History 101

With the Royal Navy, the Steamship, the Railroad and the Telegraph, Great Britain Peacefully Ruled and Led the World

The British Corn Laws were on the books from 1815 to 1846.  To protect domestic cereal farmers from less expensive food imports.  By adding a tariff to these grain imports.  Increasing their price.  So they weren’t any cheaper than the domestically grown grain.  Interestingly it was the few great landowners who wanted these tariffs.  Not the people who had to buy the food.  For paying more for food meant they had less to spend on clothing and other things.

When it came to consumer prices the people were always for free trade.  Because whatever they earned it never seemed enough.  So paying more in taxes was never a good thing.  These wealthy landowners even put forth the argument that paying higher food prices meant higher wages.  In a feeble attempt to maintain these tariffs.  They said that manufacturers just wanted cheaper food so they could pay cheaper wages.  Because if food wasn’t that expensive their workers wouldn’t need as much pay.  And, of course, the greedy manufacturers would just pocket more profits.  Much like the greedy landowners were doing thanks to the Corn Laws.  But their greed was somehow different.

Well, free trade won out.  Eventually.  And they repealed the Corn Laws in 1846.  And, as expected, food prices plummeted.  Soon they imported more food than they grew.  Because it was cheaper.  And it freed up more money for use elsewhere in the economy.  Stimulating innovation and invention.  Taking the Industrial Revolution to new heights.  And raising the standard of living for all people.  Not just the wealthy landowners.  The British Empire reached its zenith in the 19th century.  After the defeat of Napoleon there was about a century of peace called the Pax Britannica.  Where Great Britain became the global policeman.  With the Royal Navy, the steamship, the railroad and the telegraph, Great Britain peacefully ruled and led the world.

The U.S. was a Large Free Trade Zone with a Common Currency, Language, People and Customs

The British were the most advanced nation in the 19th century world.  And the richest.  Her empire dominated trade.  Her rule of law and common currency made that trade efficient.  It was a giant free trade zone within her empire.  But it couldn’t last.  The cost of maintaining the empire, plus a world war, was just too much.  Her economic might faded.  While another rose.  In a former colony.  The United States.

The sun never set on the British Empire.  Because it was that big.  Reaching around the globe.  Connected by long lines of communication.  And an imperial British culture uniting different peoples.   Who knew different cultures, laws and money.  Whereas as the United States had all the advantages of empire (size and range of resources) without any of the disadvantages.  The U.S. was a large free trade zone with a common currency, language, people and customs.  The states comprising the U.S. were as big as countries in other parts of the world.  But trade could flow between any two states without custom duties, tariffs or even inspections.  It was truly free.

When the Industrial Revolution reached the United States, the economy took off and never looked back.  By the end of the 19th century she was challenging the British Empire.  And rapidly overtook her.  There was another global policeman in town.  All because of a giant free trade zone that was as big as a continent.

The ‘United States’ of Europe created the Eurozone and a Common Currency (the Euro) to Compete with the U.S.

The United States is such the perfect model of free market capitalism that Europe created the Eurozone and a common currency (the Euro) to compete with the U.S.  And it worked.  For awhile.

The ‘united states’ of Europe as a whole has a larger economy than the U.S.  But they have their problems.  For a common currency is only part of America’s success.  The U.S. is a united federation of states with one set of federal laws, language and culture for interstate commerce.  Something Europe doesn’t have.  And probably never will.  European countries have far too much history and culture.  And nationalism.  They will never unite politically.  Like the United States.  Or the British Empire, for that matter.

The key to the British Empire was that it was British.  One currency.  One language.  One set of laws.  One culture.  For interstate trade, at least.  Just like in the country that surpassed her.  The United States.  Still, there’s nothing wrong with being a smaller economic power than the U.S.  As long as you have free trade your people can enjoy a high standard of living.  Without the added responsibility of being the global policeman.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2010

BONJOUR.  A LITTLE French there.  To go with the use of the French expression ‘raison d’être’.  Which means reason for being.  Sounds better in French, n’est-ce pas?

I like Canada.  Both parts.  The French and the English parts.  I’ve met and become friends with people in Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Corner Brook.  And elsewhere.  I like to talk to my Francophone friends about that day on the Plains of Abraham.  And I like to speak French to my Anglophone friends.  And they both like to point out to me what they believe to be America’s lack of tolerance and compassion.

The Canadians may be a tolerant and friendly people.  Everyone says that about them.  That they’re nice.  And they are.  But they have to work at it at times.  For there ain’t a whole lot of love between the French and English.  Not now.  Or then.  When French Canada became British.

Like it or not, that animosity has been at the van of Western Civilization.  And it would compete in the New World.  Colonize it.  Fight in it.  And give birth to a new nation.  One that would break from the ways of the past.

“WHO’S THAT, THEN?” one filthy peasant asked another.

“I don’t know.  Must be a king. ”

“Why?”

“He hasn’t got shit all over him.”

(From Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975.)

What is a king?  Besides someone who “hasn’t got shit all over him.”  A king is where sovereignty lies.  And sovereignty?  In a word, supremacy.  Supreme authority. 

The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, was an absolute monarch and his word was the absolute law of the land.  And he could do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.  He built his gorgeous palace at Versailles.  Because he could.  Over in England, the king was sovereign, too, but Parliament checked his power.  So the British king wasn’t an absolute monarchy.  In England, the king could do whatever he wanted as long as Parliament agreed to pay for it.  For Parliament controlled the purse strings.  There would be no Versailles in England.

Now France and England were always at war.  Their fighting even spilled over into the New World.  The 7 Years War (as the Europeans called this world war) went by a different name in North America.  The French and Indian War.  The British won.  France lost Canada and other colonial possessions.  Their loss, though, was America’s gain.  The French and Indian attacks on the American Colonists ended, leaving them with peace and prosperity.  But it was costly.  As wars are wont to be.

Over in England, Parliament had to pay that cost.  But taxes were already pretty high at the time in England.  If they raised them further, it could cause trouble.  So what to do?  Well, there were some who pointed out that the American colonists really came out the clear winner in this latest contest.  They got peace and prosperity without really paying anything to get it.  Shouldn’t they pick up part of the tab?  I mean, fair is fair, right?

And they probably would have gladly contributed as good English subjects.  However, and this is a big however, they felt they weren’t treated as good English subjects.  In fact, they felt more like Parliament’s bitch than English subjects.  And to add insult to injury, they had no vote in Parliament.

Parliament passed a series of acts that the Americans would call the Intolerable Acts.  Both sides missed opportunities for compromise and peace.  Instead, tempers festered.  Parliament would bitch-slap the colonists.  And the colonists would bitch-slap Parliament.  Eventually throwing some British East Indian tea into the water.

Now Britain’s king, King George, had a bit of a problem on his hands.  The Americans were challenging his sovereign rule.  There was a name for this.  Kings call it treason.  And they kill people for it.  King George was the supreme authority.  Anyone challenging his authority was challenging his right to rule.  That’s why acts of treason are typically punishable by death.  You don’t stand up to kings.  You grovel.  And these uppity Americans surely weren’t groveling.

And just how does a king get this authority?  Well, you don’t vote for them.  They either inherit power.  Or they kill for it.  It’s a story as old as time.  Patricide.  Matricide.  Fratricide.  And sometimes the killing was by someone outside the family.  But that’s how sovereign power changed.  A king or queen died.  Naturally.  Or with a little help.  And when a new sovereign ascended the throne, he or she usually killed all other possible contenders.

If King George didn’t put down the American rebellion, it could spread.  To Canada.  To other English colonies.  Or give someone ideas back at home that the king was weak.  And challenge him for his throne.

These are things kings think about.  Power can be precarious.  Even when it’s absolute.  As King Louis XVI would learn in France.  During the French Revolution, the people, challenging the king’s sovereignty, sent him to the guillotine.  Chopped his head off.  His wife’s, too.  Marie Antoinette.

ENGLAND GAVE BIRTH to modern, representative government.  It was a balance of power between the many (the common people in the House of Commons), the few (the aristocratic rich in the House of Lords) and the one (the sovereign king).  Each provided a check on the others.  The king was the supreme power but he needed money to wage war and build things.  Parliament collected taxes and paid for things they approved of.  And the House of Lords was to keep that spending from getting out of control as they understood money and costs (that’s what rich people are good at).  They were to protect the nation from the evils of pure democracy where the people, once they realize they can, will vote themselves the treasury.

Most of the American colonists were transplanted Englishmen.  Or came from English stock.  They were English subjects (at least in name if not in practice).  They understood representative government.  Their colonial governments were in fact very British.  The Rule of Law was the rule of the land.  The governed consented to taxation.  And the government collected the taxes they consented to. 

You can probably see where this is going.

Taxation without representation was very un-English.  The fact that it was okay in the American colonies chafed the American English subjects.  I mean, it really frosted their shorts.  It wasn’t right.  By English law.  Or by precedent.  Anger at Parliament turned into anger at the king.  Questions of sovereignty arose.  Should the king be sovereign?  Or should the people?  In 1776, the American colonists stated their opinion in a very treasonous document.  The Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The U.S. Constitution emphasized the sovereignty of the people in the preamble.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Kings were out.  The Rule of Law was in.  No aristocracy.  No hereditary offices.  In America, it would be different.  After the Battle of Gettysburg some 75 years later, Abraham Lincoln would reiterate this at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

THE AMERICAN COLONISTS rebelled and broke away from Great Britain because they were through with being her bitch.  In fact, they weren’t going to be anyone’s bitch.  That’s why there was a lot of opposition to the establishment of a strong, central government.  They didn’t want a national government taking up where Great Britain left off.  And they didn’t want an American president to be just another King George.  The people won their liberty.  And they intended to keep it.  So they could pursue that happiness Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.

Federalism was the solution.  The states’ governments would retain most of their powers.  Only those things they could not do well (regulate ‘free-trade’ interstate commerce, negotiate trade agreements with other nations, wage war, etc.) would be done by the new national government.  The people would remain sovereign.  Strong state governments and a ‘weak’ central government would share power.  In effect, the new central government was to be the people’s bitch.  But you’d never know that by looking at things today.

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