John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, Republican Government, Separation of Powers, Enumerated Powers, Federalists and anti-Federalists

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 26th, 2012

Politics 101

Funny thing about the Americans is that they just didn’t Like Paying Taxes

United we stood.  For awhile.  Until we defeated the British at Yorktown.  And negotiated the Treaty of Paris where Great Britain recognized our independence from the British Crown.  But people grew weary of the war.  On both sides of the Atlantic.  And those in the once united states (small ‘u’ and small ‘s’) were eager to retreat to their states.  And forget about the Continental Congress.  The Continental Army.  And everything to do with the confederation.  Threatening to undo everything they fought for.  Because of their sectional interests.

Shays Rebellion nearly pushed the country into anarchy.  It was the tipping point.  They had to do something.  Because if they weren’t united they would surely fall.  They owed Europe a fortune that they had no hope of repaying.  Funny thing about the Americans.  They just didn’t like paying taxes.  Making it difficult to repay their debts.  The Europeans gave them little respect.  France tried to sell them out during the peace talks to rebalance the balance of power in their favor.  Spain wanted to keep them east of the Mississippi River.  And off of the Mississippi.  Even refused them passage through the Port of New Orleans.  Britain didn’t evacuate their western forts.  The Barbary pirates were capturing American shipping in the Mediterranean and selling their crews into slavery.  And Catherine the Great of Russia wouldn’t even meet the American ambassador.  So the Americans were the Rodney Dangerfield of nations.  They got no respect.

In 1787 delegates gathered in Philadelphia.  To revise the Articles of Confederation to address these problems.  Some enthusiastically.  Some begrudgingly.  While one state refused to attend.  Rhode Island.  For they were quite happy with the way things were.  As the smallest sate in the union they had the power to kill almost any legislation that didn’t benefit Rhode Island.  For some legislation the vote had to be unanimous.  And they enjoyed charging other states tariffs for their goods unloaded in Rhode Island ports.  Things were so nice in Rhode Island that they didn’t need much taxation.  Because they had other states funding their needs.  Thanks to those tariffs.  Of course, this did little to benefit the union.  While imposing taxes on their neighbors in the union.  Sort of like taxation without representation.  Funny thing about Americans, though.  They didn’t like paying taxes.

Montesquieu said a Republican Government must Separate Power into Three Branches

Thomas Jefferson was in Europe in 1787.  John Adams, too.  But just about every other “demi-god” (as Jefferson called those at that gathering) was in Philadelphia in 1787.  America’s patriarch Benjamin Franklin.  The indispensable George Washington.  The financially savvy Alexander Hamilton.  The studious James Madison.  The Framers of the Constitution.  Highly principled men.  Well read men.  Prosperous men.  Who were familiar with world history.  And read the great enlightenment philosophers.  Like John Locke.  Who especially influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  With his inalienable rights.  Consent of the governed.  And property rights.

As they gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles it became clear that they needed something more.  A new constitution.  A stronger federal government.  With the power to tax so they could raise money.  For without money the union could not solve any of its problems.  So they set upon writing a new constitution for a new government.  A republican government of republican states.  As they began to frame this constitution they drew on the work of a French philosopher.  Charles de Montesquieu.  Who championed republican government.  The ideal government.  A government of the people who ruled at the consent of the governed.  With built-in safeguards to protect the people’s inalienable rights.  The key requirement being the separation of powers.

Montesquieu said a republican government must separate power into three branches.  The legislature, the executive and the judiciary.  A nation of laws requires a legislature to write the laws.  Because the laws must respect the inalienable rights of the people the people must elect the legislature from the general population.  So the legislature’s interests are the people’s interest.  However, if the legislature was also the executive they could easily write laws that represented their interests instead of the people.  Elevating the legislature into a dictatorship.  If the legislature was also the judiciary they could interpret law to favor their interests instead of the people.  Elevating the legislature into a dictatorship.  Likewise if the executive could write and interpret law the executive could elevate into a dictatorship.  Ditto for the judiciary if they could write the law they were interpreting.  So the separation of powers is the greatest protection the people have against a government’s oppression.

If a Power wasn’t Delegated to the New Federal Government it Remained with the States

During the Constitutional Convention they debated long and they debated hard.  The Federalists were in favor of a stronger central government.  The anti-Federalists were not.  The Federalists included those who served in the Army and the Congress.  The anti-Federalists were those who didn’t serve ‘nationally’ and favored states’ rights.  In general.  So one side wanted to increase the power of the central government while the other side wanted no central government.  For their fear was that a new federal government would consolidate power and subordinate the states to its rule.  As if the last war never happened.  And the states would still bow to a distant central power.  Only this time to one on this side of the Atlantic.

So the balance they struck was a two-house (i.e., bicameral) legislature.  A House of Representatives.  And a Senate.  The people in each state elected a number of representatives proportional to their state’s population.  So a large state had a large representation in the House.  So that house represented the will of the people.  To prevent the tyranny of the minority.  So a small privileged class couldn’t rule as they pleased.  Whereas the Senate prevented the tyranny of the majority.  By giving each state two senators.  So small states had the same say as big states.  Together they represented both the majority and the minority.  Further, states’ legislatures chose their senators (changed later by Constitutional amendment).  Providing the states a check on federal legislation.

To round things out there was an executive they called the president.  And a judiciary.  Providing the separation of powers per Montesquieu.  They further limited the central government’s powers by enumerating their powers.  The new federal government could only do what the Constitution said it could do.  Treat with foreign powers.  Coin a national currency.  Declare war.  Etc.  If a power wasn’t delegated to the new federal government it remained with the states.  To give the new federal government some power.  Including the power to tax.  While leaving most powers with the states.  Striking a compromise between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists.

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Suffolk Resolves, Galloway Plan of Union, Olive Branch Petition, Proclamation of Rebellion, Prohibitory Act, Common Sense and Declaration of Independence

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 8th, 2012

Politics 101

In Response to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances George III condemned Massachusetts and the Suffolk Resolves

The Boston Tea Party (1773) and the subsequent passing of the Intolerable/Coercive Acts (1774) brought the several states together in Congress.  John Adams, Samuel Adams, Joseph Galloway, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington and other delegates from every state (except Georgia) convened the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September of 1774.  It sat for two months.  And began with a vote to endorse the Suffolk Resolves.  The Suffolk Resolves opposed the British oppression entailed in the Intolerable/Coercive Acts.  In Massachusetts.  (Other colonies passed similar resolves.)  The resolves included a boycott of British goods.  Demanded the resignation of the Crown’s representatives that displaced the elected colonial government.   They supported a new colonial government free from the Crown.  Refused to pay any further taxes until this happened.  And urged for the several states to raise militias.  But they did not talk of independence.  The Resolves even declared their loyalty to the British Crown.  Still, after learning of this action King George III said, “The die is cast.”

Joseph Galloway introduced the Galloway Plan of Union.  Calling for a federal union of the several states.  Where the king would appoint a president general.  Advised by a grand council.  With a representative from each state.  Chosen by each state’s legislative body.  A system of self-government.  But one still loyal to the Crown.  A move that made the British colonies more independent of the British Crown.  But not independent from the British Crown.  The Americans were to remain British Americans.  Subjects of the greatest country in the world.  The present trouble in Boston notwithstanding.  For Great Britain was the only constitutional monarchy at the time.  And the bastion of individual liberty.  Which the Americans were looking forward to enjoying once the present misunderstandings passed.  After a lengthy debate, the Galloway Plan of Union failed to pass.  But it wouldn’t be the last talk of union.

They then adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances.  Full of a lot of language the English used years earlier to redress previous issues with the Crown.  And some of the same words of the Enlightenment thinkers they used.  From Thomas Hobbes they wrote of their ‘right to life’.  From John Locke the ‘right to liberty and property’ and ‘ruling by the consent of those governed’.  From Baron Charles de Montesquieu the ‘separation of powers’ that eventually found its way into our Constitution.  They sent off their declarations and petitions to London.  Adjourned Congress.  Agreed to reconvene the following May if necessary.  And waited for King George to reply.  He gave it in Parliament in November.  In a speech to Parliament.  Where he condemned Massachusetts.  And the Suffolk Resolves.  Not the answer they were hoping for.  No.  Their king was not going to save the Americans from the hostile acts of Parliament.  Instead he was going to present a unified British opposition (King and Parliament) against these British subjects.  The once loyal British Americans were running out of reasons to remain loyal to the British Crown.  All they needed was one more push.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense provided the Final Push towards Independence

The following April the battles of Lexington and Concord took place.  There was a shooting war, now.  With the Americans following the British back to Boston and laying siege.  The patriotic spirit was high.  And such was the spirit when the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in May of 1775.  Independence was in the air.  John Adams wanted it.  But kept quiet.  They prepared for war.  Choosing George Washington to lead them in war.  But this was plan ‘B’.  Plan ‘A’ was still reconciliation.  And to remain British.  Which is what many wanted.  Even Washington wasn’t all that keen on independence.  He detested the acts of Parliament.  But he and his officers were still toasting the health of the King at this time. 

John Dickinson led the reconciliation group in Congress.  And they drafted (with the help of Thomas Jefferson) the Olive Branch Petition.  Addressed to the King.  Expressing their desire to remain loyal to His Majesty.  All that they wanted was to redress these tax and trade issues.  That’s all.  Dickinson had hoped with the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord and a little bit of groveling the King would at least meet them halfway.  Open up the channels of dialog.  Settle their differences without additional bloodshed.  Which just exasperated John Adams.  He thought it was a waste of time.  That  independence was inevitable.  And he vented these feelings in a private letter.  That the British got hold of.  Arriving in London about the same time as did the Olive Branch Petition.  And after reading Adams’ letter George III refused to even read the petition.  His response was the Proclamation of Rebellion.  Issued in August.  Declaring that some of the British American colonies were in a state of ‘open and avowed rebellion’.  And followed that up with the Prohibitory Act in December.  Which placed a naval blockade against all American ports.  And declared all American shipping enemies of the British Crown.  An act of war.  To which the Americans responded by issuing letters of marque to privateers, authorizing them by an act of Congress to capture British ships.  John Adams declared that King George had declared what the Americans had not yet declared.  That the American colonies were independent.  Putting the Americans ever closer to declaring their independence.

Then came that final push.  In the form of a pamphlet.  Very popular reading during the time.  It was because of these pamphlets that most Americans knew of the ideas of Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu.  Where their ideas were presented in the language of the common man.  Then came along an author who wrote from the get-go in the language of the common man.  Thomas Paine.  Who wrote Common Sense.  Published in January 1776.  Which tore into the King.  And the whole system of hereditary monarchy.  Blamed George III for all the wrongs done to the Americans.  Making a strong and impassioned case for independence.  Without further delay.  That fired up Patriots everywhere.  Providing that final push.

The Several States united in Treason and became the United States of America

During the spring of 1776 states began discussing independence.  Some authorized their delegates in the Continental Congress to vote for independence.  Others need more prodding.  On June 11, 1776 the Continental Congress appointed John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut to draft a declaration of independence.  The Committee of Five.  The committee (including Jefferson) wanted Adams to write it.  Adams wanted Jefferson to write it.  Because he was a Virginian.  Someone more distant from the passions in Massachusetts.  And was rather likeable.  Unlike Adams.  And Jefferson was pretty good with the quill.  Eloquent.  And had a flair for words.

John Dickinson still argued for reconciliation.  Adams argued for independence.  The debate heated up. The New York legislation had to flee from the British advance in New York.  So they could not authorize their delegates to vote for independence.  Dickinson couldn’t agree to let Pennsylvanian vote for independence.  But he agreed to abstain.  It came down to a tie.  Until Caesar Rodney rushed in from Delaware just in time to vote for independence.  And on July 2, 1776, they committed the final act of treason.  And voted the American colonies independent of the British Crown.  Then put their name to the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.  Or some of them.  The others adding their names some time thereafter.

The several states became united.  In treason.  A confederacy of independent states joined in union.  Not quite along the lines of the Galloway plan.  But in union nonetheless.  Now locked in mortal combat with the world’s greatest superpower.  To escape their oppression.  In order to win the same liberty and freedom enjoyed by the subjects of that very same superpower.  For in the end that’s all the Americans wanted.  And had King George redressed their grievances instead of choosing to punish them everyone would have lived happily ever after as British subjects.  But he didn’t.  And we now remember him as the British king that lost America.

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