Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Whiskey Rebellion, French Revolution, New French-British War and Proclamation of Neutrality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 23rd, 2012

Politics 101

America’s First Tax was a 25% Excise Tax on American Whiskey made from Corn

Thomas Jefferson held a dinner party where he, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison met to resolve some issues.  Hamilton was stressed out.  He was facing strong opposition for his assumption plan.  Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton wanted to assume all the states’ debts and lump them into the federal debt.  To get the nation’s finances in order.  Establish good credit.  And raise revenue for the new nation.  The Virginians, Jefferson and Madison, offered their assistance if Hamilton would give them the nation’s capital.  Hamilton got his assumption.  And the Virginians got the nation’s new capital on the Potomac River.  Across from Virginia.  Where they could keep a close eye on the nation’s business.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, not exactly.  There was already growing discontent across the land.  Hamilton understood business and commerce.  And banking.  Farmers don’t like bankers.  Or commerce.  Or business.  Many in the south and on the frontier worked the land.  As yeoman farmers.  Families working small farms that they owned.  They believed, as Jefferson believed, that the most honorable work in America was farming.  And that America’s future was the growth of farming.  Small farms.  Owned by families working the land.  Yeoman farmers.  Proud.  Pure.  And wholly American.  This despite Jefferson being a member of the slave-owning planter elite.  Who indulged in little physical labor.

So the south and the frontier were no Hamilton supporters.  They didn’t like his high finance ideas for the new nation.  And they especially didn’t like his whiskey tax.  A tax of 25% on western corn products.  Which you made whiskey from.  The new American alcoholic beverage of choice after they eschewed beer.  The beverage of choice before the rebellion.  When they were all content British citizens.  But an excise tax on corn products was little different from the excise taxes that caused the colonies to rebel against Great Britain in the first place.  Sure, there was one subtle difference this time.  The whiskey tax was taxation with representation.  And, technically speaking, legal.  But on corn?  The new tax seemed to fall unfairly on the West.  Which had a corn economy.  And used the whiskey they made from it for money.  So these frontier people were not just going to sit idly by and take this new taxation without a fight.

The Washington Administration took Decisive Action in Suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion

This first tax was to help finance Hamilton’s assumption.  But it was more important than the revenue it would raise.  The whiskey tax was a matter of principle.  It was probably poor policy.  And probably not the smartest thing to do.  Picking a fight with the toughest and most fiercely independent people in the country.  Frontier people.  Who lived off the land without any of the city comforts enjoyed back east.  But the tax was the law.  And the first test of the new nation.  If the government retreated in the face of opposition to a law passed by Congress their experiment in self-government would fail.  For as unpleasant as taxation was it was the reason they formed a new nation in 1787.  To levy taxes so they could pay their past debt.  And their current bills.  So President Washington and Hamilton hunkered down on the tax.

And the riots came.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  Around Pittsburg.  Kentucky (aka bourbon country).  The backcountry of the Carolinas.  And elsewhere.  They refused to pay the tax.  And attacked the tax collecting apparatus.  Even the courts.  It was war.  The spirit of ’76 was alive again.  Protesting a distant central power trying to impose a tax on them.  Washington offered amnesty if they just dispersed and went home.  They refused.  So Washington raised an army of some 13,000 strong.  Larger than any army he commanded during the Revolutionary War.  And led the army west with Hamilton to meet the insurrection.  The first and only time a sitting president led an army.  As the army approached resistance melted away.  So Washington handed command over to Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (a Revolutionary War veteran and hero) and returned to the capital in Philadelphia.  Hamilton remained with the army.  As the army arrived the insurrection collapsed.  The army caught some rebels and tried them.  And two received death sentences.  Who Washington later pardoned.

Score one for the rule of law.  Washington was pleased with the outcome.  Hamilton, too.  They took decisive action to subdue an insurrection.  The people in general were happy that they restored peace.  And that the country didn’t collapse into anarchy.  All in all a win-win for the people and the government.  Almost.  Not everyone saw it in this light.  Some saw a king leading an army against his own people.  A professional army.  Little different from British redcoats.  Or Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army a century or so earlier.  A professional standing army squashing those who disagreed with the government.  And Jefferson did not like it.  Nor did a lot of those in the south.  Or on the frontier.

President Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in the New War between Great Britain and France

Seeing Hamilton ride at the head of an army only reinforced Jefferson’s opinion of him.  A power-hungry, British-loving puppet master.  And the puppet was President Washington.  The dislike between Hamilton and Jefferson turned into outright hostility.  They had two different visions of America.  And these two visions were mutually exclusive.  Cabinet meetings became insufferable as Hamilton and Jefferson constantly fought.  And the French Revolution didn’t help matters any.  The radical Jefferson supported the radical French.  Who he knew and sat with in the Jacobin clubs while he was in France.  Jefferson was all for overthrowing monarchies.  So when the French and British declared war on each other it was a no brainer who to support for Jefferson.  Vive la France!

Of course there was only one problem with that position.  About 75% of U.S. exports went to Great Britain.  Even more of her imports (approximately 90%) came from Great Britain.  And then there was the Royal Navy (RN).  Who still ruled the high seas.  And all the international trade routes.  In addition to the RN there was the British Army.  Who still occupied forts on the American western frontier.  And who were still in contact with their Indian allies from the Revolutionary War.  Couple this with the fact that the U.S. had no comparable army or navy.  And was already having trouble on the frontier with the Indians (from the influx of settlers into the western territories).  So siding with France against Britain was not the smart move.  Yes, the French were instrumental in helping the Americans achieve their independence from Great Britain.  But America was a country emerging from 8 years of war that just had to suppress a tax rebellion over a sin tax.  She did not have the wealth to enter a European war.  Besides, the Americans were supported by the monarch (King Louis XVI) the French were overthrowing.  Which complicated matters.

Washington and Hamilton saw things differently than Jefferson.  More like realists than the idealist Jefferson.  The Revolution was over.  The British and Americans were no longer enemies.  But important trade partners.  That shared a common British past.  Of laws and traditions firmly established in what was once British America.  So Washington issued his Proclamation of Neutrality (1793).  They would support neither in this European war.  Which infuriated the French.  And Jefferson.  For though they were neutral it was clear that their neutrality would favor the British.  As well as Hamilton.  And it did.  But it also favored America’s best interests.  For another long war would have probably bankrupted the nation.  And perhaps resulted with her partitioned among the European nations.  For the French Revolution lasted for a decade.  And the Napoleonic Wars it begot lasted another 11 years.  Which let us not forget the French lost.  In large part due to the Royal Navy.  And Great Britain’s wealth generated by her international trade.  Something the Americans could not have altered had she entered the war on France’s side.  A wise foreign policy call by President Washington (and yet another time he saved his country).  But it was one that tore his administration apart.  Firmly establishing the opposition party.  With Jefferson at its head.  With but one purpose.  To destroy Hamilton.  And to lead the nation away from where Hamilton was taking it.

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King George III, Lord North, John Dunning, Oliver Cromwell, New Model Army, Caesar, King Louis XVI, General Washington and Cincinnatus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 12th, 2012

Politics 101

Had the Time of Kings Come to an End?

The British people grew weary of the war in America.  And the cost.  Many felt that the relationship between King George III and Lord North was a little too cozy.  And a little too unconstitutional.  John Dunning entered a motion in the House of Commons in 1780.  Stating that “the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”  And the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 didn’t improve the political climate.  On March 20, 1782, Lord North resigned as Prime Minister.  Even King George penned a letter of abdication.  Though he never sent it.  He did go mad for awhile.  In 1788.  But he got better.

They questioned the very idea of monarchy.  Whether the time of kings had come to an end.  It was done before.  They got rid of the king following the English Civil War.  Even executed him.  King Charles I.  And Parliament ruled without a king.  Under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.  After his New Model Army won the English Civil War for Parliament.  And the New Model Army was loyal to Cromwell.  Giving him a lot of power.  As a standing army in peacetime is wont to do.  Just like Caesar’s army crossing the Rubicon.  Allowing Caesar to declare himself Roman emperor.  Cromwell used his army to suppress the enemies of Parliament.  And the enemies of the Protestant Church.  But the government didn’t survive long after Cromwell’s death.  And Britain would soon have a king again.  Charles II.  The son of the king they beheaded.

But things settled down in Britain.  And King George remained king.  Until 1820.  Even though he lost about half of the British Empire.  Giving up his Crown only in death.  By natural causes, of course.  Unlike that of Charles I.  But things would not end well for another European monarch.  In particular the one that helped America gain their liberty from the British Crown.  The French king.  Louis XVI.  Whose country imploded under the cost of war.  The peasants suffered through famine while the monarchy and the Church lived fairly well.  Igniting the French Revolution in 1789.  And it didn’t end well for King Louis.  Or his wife Josephine.  The French Revolutionaries beheaded them both.  The time of kings had come to an end in France.  Ditto for the Catholic Church.  For awhile.  Napoleon would rise up and declare himself emperor.  Which is just like being a king.  Marching to Paris at the head of his army.  The source of his power.  But it didn’t last.  After Napoleon the French would bring back the monarchy.

History has Shown (and Continues to Show) that a Disgruntled Army is a Dangerous Army

So the American Revolution shook things up in Europe.  Causing one monarchy to tremble.  And another to fall.  But it wasn’t smooth sailing in America, either.  For winning the war was one thing.  But governing the new nation was another.  Would a new American nation arise?  Or would the states abandon their common interests now that the common enemy was no more?  Would Congress be able to keep the promises they made?  Or now that the war was over would the states cease funding the Congress?  Making it impossible to keep their promises.  Like the pensions they promised those who served in the Continental Army.  Who sacrificed so much to win America’s independence.

History has shown (and continues to show) that a disgruntled army is a dangerous army.  A wronged army with a popular leader could very well seize power.  And there was a real fear of this happening following the war.  In 1783 some officers began a movement to demand what the Congress had promised them.  Alexander Hamilton, then serving in Congress, became alarmed.  And wrote General Washington.  Asking him to advance these officers demands to prevent it from getting out of control.  Washington refused to get involved.  Then it escalated.  Some were advocating more forceful measures.  Calling for a meeting to discuss these measures.  And General Horatio Gates supported this meeting.  Gates was the general who won at Saratoga (but it was really Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan who won the day).  Gates was involved in the Conway Cabal, an attempt to smear the reputation of General Washington in order to replace him.  And Gates was, of course, a leading candidate to replace Washington.  And General Gates suffered one of America’s most humiliating defeats at the Battle of Camden.   Which he fled from on horseback.  Fleeing until he fled some 60 miles from the battlefield.  So Gates’ involvement spelled trouble.

An anonymous driver of the movement was urging the army to retire to the frontier if the war continued.  To abandon an ungrateful people.  Letting them meet their fate at the hands of the enemy.  Or to turn their arms on that ungrateful people.  To get what the Congress promised them.  And more.  Fearing a military coup General Washington issued an order forbidding the meeting Gates supported.  Then called a meeting of his officers to discuss their grievances.  And at this meeting General Washington once again saved the country.  By his presence.  His devotion to duty.  And his failing eyesight.  He pulled out a prepared speech and began to read.  Then paused.  He pulled out a pair of spectacles.  An officer in that meeting recorded what happened.  Major Samuel Shaw.  Washington “begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time that he had grown gray in their service, and found himself growing blind.”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after this.  These guys still loved Washington.  And would go to hell and back for him.  If he wanted them to support the civilian government they would support the civilian government.

General Washington Submitted his Resignation and Returned to Civilian Life like Cincinnatus 

Of course, having the army do whatever their leader asked could prove to be a problem, too.  If that leader had designs on power.  Especially when that leader had more power than any single man in the new nation.  Washington may have defused one military coup.  But a lot of people worried about his intentions.  Especially when a lot of people were asking him to be king.  Caesar may have been ancient history to some.  But Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army were not.  Washington.  A standing army.  It made people nervous.  Even foreign powers never believed that Washington would give it all up.  Even King George.  Who said if Washington refused to be king he would be “the greatest man in the world.”

The last of the British troops left New York on December 4, 1783.  The war was truly over.  It was time to go home.  Washington had one last meeting with his officers.  On the evening of the 22nd of December there was a ball in his honor.  He danced until every lady had a chance to dance with the general.  Then he addressed Congress on the 23rd of December.  And became the greatest man in the world.  By submitting his resignation.  And returning to civilian life.  A regular Cincinnatus.  Called to serve his country.  And after serving his country he surrendered all power to return to his farm.

The war was over.  And it ended in peace.  More the exception than the rule when it came to revolution.  Thanks to George Washington.  And the other Founding Fathers.  Benjamin Franklin.  John Adams.  Alexander Hamilton.  Thomas Jefferson.  John Jay.  And everyone else of that unique generation.  Men of exceptional character.  Who never sacrificed their principles.  Or their sacred honor.

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Oliver Cromwell, New Model Army, Charles II, the Restoration, British Army, Colonial Empire, Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2012

Politics 101

The Restoration brought Charles II to the Throne and gave him a Standing Army

Before the English Civil War there were no standing armies in England.  During Medieval times everyone was a soldier.  A ‘citizen’ soldier.  Fighting in a part-time militia.  You answered your lord’s call “to arms.”  Fought.  Usually to protect your lord’s land from intruders.  Or to join a higher noble or king to fight an opposing noble or king.  But mostly you fought near your home.  And when you were done fighting you went back to your day job.  If you survived.  The sooner the better because there was usually a lot of work to do.  And family to take care of.  But this all changed during the English Civil War.  Thanks to Prince Rupert of the Rhine.  A dashing cavalier commander and veteran of some European fighting.  He brought his professional military skills to England.  And fought for his uncle, King Charles I, during the English Civil War.

His skill won a lot of battles for Charles I.  And impressed Oliver Cromwell.  Who was fighting for Parliament.  So impressed him that he copied from Prince Rupert.  And created the New Model Army.  A professional army.  Trained.  Well disciplined.  And paid.  That fought anywhere.  Ultimately winning the war for Parliament.  Then marching on London for back pay.  They held the power.  And installed Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the new commonwealth (no monarchy or hereditary power).  Who used the New Model Army to keep the peace.  Rather brutally.  Especially in Ireland.  Where they had no family.  And had no problem in being brutal.

After Cromwell executed his father, Charles I, the Scots crowned Charles II king.  For Charles I was a Scott.  And they were none too pleased that the English killed him.  Charles marched south and tried to restore the monarchy.  Failed.  And Cromwell chased him all the way to France.  Where he lived during the English commonwealth.  In Louis XIV’s court.  An absolute monarchy.  The way it used to be in England.  Before Parliament.  And King Louis had something new.  A standing army.  Even in times of peace.  And the French people didn’t bitch about the costs.  Like Parliament did about every cost the royals incurred.  When Cromwell died his son inherited his office of Lord Protector.  So much for the elimination of heredity power.  But he was weak.  Couldn’t control the army.  And didn’t last.  Without a better option they talked to Charles II.  Who said he would offer some pardons if they made him king.  He would not seek any retribution for the killing of his dad.  And he’d pay the army.  And that fast England (and Scotland and Ireland) had a king again.  (The Restoration.)  And a standing army.

The British Subjects in North America did not have the same Rights as British Subjects in Great Britain

The British put that army to use during the 18th century.  Fighting a lot of wars.  In Europe.  And elsewhere.  With lots of soldiers serving garrison duty throughout the world to protect their colonial interests.  Costing a pretty penny.  The very reason why people don’t like standing armies.  They’re very costly.  In war.  As well as in peace.  Especially the peace that followed the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).  Great Britain won a lot of colonial land from the French.  Particularly in North America.  Where French Quebec became British.  Giving the British nearly the entire North American continent.  Full of Native Americans none too happy with the outcome of the Seven Years’ War.  (Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa nearly threw the British out in 1763.)  Or their French Allies.  And the job of keeping the peace fell to the British Army.  Those infamous Red coats.

During the 18th century Great Britain was a constitutional monarchy with a representative government.  The king was still sovereign but he ruled with the consent of Parliament.  And their money.  During this time William Pitt the Elder, British Secretary of State, had built up a large and prosperous colonial empire.  Over this century the balance of power tilted away from Spain and France and towards Great Britain.  The Seven Years’ War in particular ended economically favorable for the British at the expense of the French.  This meant a lot of money for those in commerce.  Which made the taxpayers agreeable to some of these military costs.  But at the same time this last war left Great Britain broke and in debt.  Worse, she needed a larger military to garrison all that territory she had just won.  And those taxpayers, represented in Parliament, weren’t going to say yes to any more taxes.  Because they could.  In constitutional Great Britain there was no taxation without the consent of those British subjects taxed.  Well, for some of those British subjects.

The British subjects in North America did not have the same rights as British subjects in Great Britain.  The British Empire needed revenue.  And Parliament turned to the American colonies to collect it.  Without their consent.  Something not allowed by the Bill of Rights.  A 1689 act of English Parliament.  So the British Americans took some offense.  And then the anti-American legislation came.  The Sugar Act of 1764 taxing sugar.  The Quartering Act of 1765 forcing Americans to provide quarters for and to feed British troops.  The Stamp Act of 1765 taxing printed materials.  The Declaratory Act of 1766 which repealed the Stamp Act due to fierce opposition but made all laws passed by Parliament legal and binding in the colonies.  The Townshend Acts starting in 1767 which tried to make the taxes more palatable by taxing only imports.  They didn’t.  It also raised revenue for the British to pay judges and custom officials to keep them loyal to the distant Crown rather than the local populace.  The Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767 that established an administrative board to enforce these new acts.  Headquartered in Boston.  America’s leading port.  This caused a lot of resentment and open hostility to the Crown’s representatives in Boston.  To protect them and to maintain order the British occupied Boston in 1768.  Sending in the Red coats.

Parliament sued for Peace after Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown because the War had grown too Costly to Continue 

This was all very un-English.  Not since the days of the New Model Army had English subjects lived under the tyranny of a standing army.  A very costly standing army.  Paid for by all of those revenue acts.  So here they were.  British subjects.  Who lost centuries of hard-earned rights.  Some going back to Magna Carta in 1215.  While their British brethren were living under a constitutional monarchy in Great Britain.  Enjoying all of their rights.  Where life in North America was turning into an absolute monarchy.  Like their most hated enemy.  The French.

This all boiled over in Boston in 1770.  Beginning with a British sentry.  Some kid forced to stand guard among a hostile populace.  It started with a misunderstanding.  But the hatred of the British helped to escalate it.  Until a mob had gathered.  Taunting the sentry to fire his weapon.  British reinforcements arrived.  Someone struck and knocked down a private.  Who grabbed his weapon and fired.  Then other shots rang out.   Even though the commanding officer did not give the order to fire.  Killing 3.  And wounding 8.  The infamous Boston Massacre.  Patriot and future Founding Father John Adams actually represented the British in court.  Where they got a fair trial.  And the case Adams presented convinced a Boston jury to find most of those on trial not guilty.  Including the commanding officer.  Which was the last act of civility between these two British peoples.

Hostilities would only grow.  And within 5 years there would be a shooting war.  That would take 8 years before a peace would finally end it.  A war won, interestingly, not by a part-time militia.  But by a professional standing army.  That thing the Americans so hated.  But whose very existence prevented an American defeat.  Something General George Washington fully understood.  Who may have lost more battles than he won.  But he won the most important battle of them all.  Keeping that army in the field.  Until the point where Parliament said enough was enough.  Sinking ever further into debt they sued for peace after Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown.  The war had simply grown too costly to continue.  And the taxpayers no longer gave their consent to continue to pay for it.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #32: “America is great but it can’t make bad ideology good.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 21st, 2010

We’ve Always Done Things This Way

The Old World was set in her ways.  Change didn’t come easy.  When it came it often spanned centuries.  But not always.  As the Roman Empire incorporated new territories into the empire, she modernized those new territories.  Roads.  Fresh water.  Sanitation.  Rule of law.  Markets.  The things that made cites better.  Civilizations better.  But as a civilization grows, so does its government.  And as government grows, taxes inevitably become more onerous.

A sprawling empire required a sprawling bureaucracy to control it.  And a huge standing army to protect it from without.  And to police it from within.  When you expand and conquer new territory, the spoils of conquest can fund your empire.  When your borders are relatively static, though, you have to use alternative sources of funding.  Taxation.  As the tax burden grew, dissatisfaction grew.  Fewer citizens volunteered to serve in Rome’s legions.  So Rome relied more and more on hired armies.  This increased the cost of empire.  And it increased taxation.  The tax burden grew so great that people gave up their small farms and worked for the bigger farms.  Worked for the rich landowners.  Some tried to quit farming all together.  This caused problems in trying to feed Rome’s legions.  And her bureaucracy.  The food supply became so critical that the Romans wrote new laws forbidding people to leave their farms.  Farmers were bound to the land.  They could never leave.  If you were born on the land you would farm the land.  Forever.

During the decline of the Western Roman Empire you saw the rise of the economic system that would dominate the Middle Ages.  Feudalism.  As the Western Empire declined, the power began to shift to the rich landowners.  As did loyalties.  As the empire further disintegrated, the power of Rome could no longer protect you.  Or feed you.  And thus food and protection became the foundation of feudalism.  Land owners, the nobles (i.e., lords), would let you work their lands.  The bulk of the proceeds went to the landlord.  But you also had a portion of the manor to farm for yourself.  In exchange for the use of a lord’s land you provided military service to the lord.  When needed to protect the lord and his lands.  Property rights allowed the lord’s sons to inherit the estate upon his death.  So property ownership became hereditary.  As did the nobility.   And so it would be for centuries.

England Leads the Way

From the nobles arose one.  A dominant one.  A ruler of nobles.  A king.  A king consolidated the many nobles’ estates into a kingdom.  A country.  And the king became sovereign.  The supreme authority.  The nobles pledged their loyalty to the king.  Provided for the king.  And fought for him when necessary.  Thus the few, the many and the one.  The masses (the many) served the lords and worked on their estates.  The lords (the few) were the wealthy land owners who served the king.  The king (the one) ruled the kingdom.

Thus the European monarchy was born.  In France it was absolute.  In England, in 1215, the nobles met King John on the meadow at Runnymede.  And the king reluctantly set his seal to the Magna Carta.  In England, there would be limits to the sovereign’s power.  The king may be king, but the nobles held the wealth.  And with it a lot of power.  Sometimes they saw things differently.  And the little people, the masses, often saw things differently than did the king and lords.  These different interests were reconciled, in time, by king and Parliament, a two-house or bicameral legislature (comprised of the House of Commons and the House of Lords). 

England was the place to be.  Rule of law.  Bill of rights.  Commerce.  Banking.  Capitalism.  Liberty.  Food.  Security.  Your common everyday Englishman had a better quality of life than your common everyday [insert any other European national here].  As transoceanic trade took off, the great European powers collided with each other.  Fought for that lucrative trade.  In the Old World.  And in the New World.  These wars became very expensive.  And some lasted for years.  Like the Seven Years War.  Which the British won.  And took many French possessions throughout the world.  But at a huge cost.  She incurred a great debt.  Especially in securing one of her colonies.  British North America.

Tea Anyone?

So England taxed her British American subjects.  Only problem was, these English subjects had no representation in Parliament.  And this was very un-English.  Taxation without representation.  This caused tension.  Also, Great Britain’s mercantilist policies were also rubbing the colonists the wrong way.  America was growing.  And she wanted free trade.  But that was impossible when the home country maintained a favorable balance of trade at your expense.  And had the Royal Navy to enforce it.  As a colony, everything had to ship to/from England ports on English ships so England could accumulate bullion.  The British protected their industries.  Her colonies fed raw materials to these industries.  And that’s all they did.

Trouble brewed for a while.  When Great Britain legislated what type of tea they could drink (only British East Indian tea), the American colonists had had enough.   There was a tea party in Boston, a revolution and formal independence.  And then a new nation.  With a bicameral legislation.  An executive.  And a judiciary.  It wasn’t quite Parliament, but was very similar in function.  The president was the one.  The Senate was the few.  And the House of Representatives were the many.  But there were key differences.  There was no king.  No hereditary nobility.  And there would be no mercantilism.  Despite Alexander Hamilton’s best efforts.

Let’s Just Agree to Disagree

Getting the colonies to come together to declare their independence was not easy.  It helped that there was already a shooting war going on.  Lexington and Concord.  Bunker Hill.  The coastal towns the British burnt and left in ruins.  They were already fighting a rebellion.  The declaration was almost a moot point.  But it was important.  And, after some arm twisting, they voted for independence and posted their Declaration of Independence.  But that was then.  After the Revolutionary War, there was no such unifying force.  Everyone was back to looking out for number one.  Well, most. 

Locked in a Philadelphia hall during a sweltering summer thick with horseflies, a collection of America’s finest worked to create a new government.  George Washington, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, to name just a few, could hardly agree on anything.  The Constitution they created was not great in their eyes.  But it was probably the best that they could do.  So acknowledged, they sent it to the states for ratification.  The odds were against them.  It would take some persuading.  And persuading they did.  Hamilton and Madison (and John Jay) wrote a series of essays appearing in newspapers to make the case for ratification.  They addressed and answered all arguments against ratification.  (You can read these today in the Federalist Papers.)  And this effort was successful.  The states ratified the constitution.  There was now a nation known as the United States of America.

Our first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton.  A capitalist genius.  And a great admirer of the British Empire.  Being a recent transplant to the American Colonies, he had no deep-seated resentment of the former mother country.  In fact, he wanted to emulate her.  She was the greatest empire in the world.  She was obviously doing something right.  But he pushed too far.  His mercantilist plans were a bit much for some.  Especially the ‘simple’ farmers of the South.  The planter elite.  Led by Thomas Jefferson (covertly) and James Madison (overtly), they fought Hamilton tooth and nail and did everything to destroy him.  (After seeing his plans Madison switched to the opposition.)    And ultimately, did.  When Aaron Burr shot him in a duel on the field of honor at Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from New York City.  All because Hamilton tried everything within his power to keep him from becoming president of the United States and governor of New York.  Because he was on unprincipled man.  Burr took offense to that.  And, well, the scoundrel challenged him to a duel and killed him.  But I digress.

The American Ideology

The American ideology is simple.  It includes things that have been proven to work.  And excludes things that have been proven not to.  A large, diverse people make up America.  So at the heart of our ideology is that we agree to disagree. 

We don’t have kings or nobility.  We don’t have an entitled class.  No hereditary rights.  Here, it doesn’t matter who your father was.  Or what group you belong to (religious, societal, etc.).  No one person is better than another. 

We have property rights and live under the rule of law.  We honor legal contracts.  We built our nation on laissez faire capitalism.  Free markets.  With a minimum of government interference.  We do what we want and respect that others do what they want.  And we are free to do this as long as we play by the rule of law.

It was a long road getting here.  We took the best history had to offer.  And rejected the worst that history included.  Nations who did likewise went on to greatness, too (like the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, etc.).  Those who didn’t have been repositories of great suffering and human bondage (North Korea, Cuba, The People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, etc.).  Of the latter nations, please note that life is getting much better in China and the former Soviet Union with the introduction of capitalism and free markets.  And it’s not in North Korea and Cuba where these governments stubbornly cling to failed policies to keep their governments in power.  Whatever the cost is to their people.

It’s the Ideology, Stupid

Good ideology makes good nations.  Bad ideology makes bad nations.  A good nation can NOT take bad ideology and make it good.  A good nation that implements bad ideology will only make that good nation bad.  All people have the capacity for greatness.  And that greatness will shine through if the government doesn’t suppress it.   To see this all we have to do is look to history.  It’s all there.  The good.  The bad.  And the ugly.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #15: “Most people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 25th, 2010

“DO THESE JEANS make my ass look big?”  Men don’t like this question.  And when their wife or girlfriend ask it, they know to tread lightly.  Unless the relationship is on the outs.  In which case they may answer with something like, “No, it’s your fat ass that makes those jeans look big.”

If the man cares for the woman.  If he loves her.  If he ever expects to have sex with her again, he’ll say something nice.  No matter how much more of her there is to love back there.  It’s called a white lie.  Normally, we don’t base our relationships on lies.  But when it comes to the butt, though, lies are good.  They spare hurt feelings.  Should a person’s genes not bless them with a heavenly derriere to display in a tight pair of jeans.

White lies don’t hurt people.  In fact, we use them in order not to hurt people.  Such lies don’t have consequences.  And people may know you are lying.  Even expect you to lie.  It shows you care enough to make someone feel better about something you know they’re sensitive about.  Like her big butt.  Or his performance in bed (“Whew, that was the best five minutes of my life.  Really.”).

WHEN YOUR CHILD IS learning a musical instrument, he may make more noise than music.  But you encourage him.  Or her.  You tell them they’re good.  That they’re getting better every day.  And, yes, you would love for them to play in front of your visiting family.  And when they do, the family applauds and tells them they’re good, too.  Your child is encouraged.  And he or she keeps practicing.  A little white lie and no one gets hurt.

Suppose your daughter wants to sing.  She listens to the reigning pop queens and sings along.  Only thing is, she’s tone deaf.  She doesn’t sing well at all.  In fact, when she does sing, you start looking for a hurt cat because you’re sure no human could make such inhuman noise.  But you don’t want to hurt her feelings.  And you’re sure it’s just a passing phase.  So you tell her how wonderful she sounds.  No one gets hurt.  Nothing can go wrong with that, can it?

Well, suppose her school is having a talent show. Anyone can simply walk up to an open mike and do whatever they want.  And she wants to sing.  In front of her friends.  In front of her classmates.  In front of the 2 kids that always tease her.  Now the issue is a little more complex.  Do you tell her the truth about her singing and hurt her feelings.  Or do you let her sing.  And risk the kids laughing at her.  And teasing her about it afterwards?

BUT IT’S NOT just the white lies we want to hear.  Say your husband is staying later and later at work.  You call to see what time to expect him for dinner but there’s no answer.  When he comes home late you tell him you were worried.  You called and there was no answer.  He apologizes for worrying you and says he was with a client.  You’re relieved.

Or you come home from work and your wife isn’t there.  Concerned, you call her and there’s no answer.  When she comes home she says she was at the gym with a friend and left her cell in her gym bag.  You’re relieved.  Then she goes upstairs to shower.  Funny, you think.  She usually showers at the gym.

Learning about infidelity is not easy.  And it’s painful.  You ignore signs as long as you can.  You believe the lies.  You want to.  You need to.  Then you find an earring in the car that isn’t yours.  Or you bump into your wife’s friend who says she misses her now that she quit going to the gym.  Soon, the evidence forces you to face the awful truth.  And it kills you inside.  Divorce.  The children.  It’s just the beginning of so much bad to come.

SO WE LIKE it when people lie to us.  At times.  For the truth can be disagreeable.  Ugly.  Painful.  And we’d rather not have that pain.  No, we’d rather live life in a sitcom where there is always a good laugh and rarely anything bad ever happens. 

Politicians know this.  They know that most people don’t like the harsh realities of life.  So when they need to get elected, they lie to us.  No one wants to pay more taxes.  So the politicians promise that only the rich will pay any new taxes.  But massive government spending requires massive taxation.  And taxing the rich just can’t pay for it all. 

George Herbert Walker Bush promised no new taxes.  He said, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  He raised them.  Didn’t want to.  Said he had to.  To balance the budget.  Because he and Congress didn’t want to cut spending.  Same with Bill Clinton.  He promised there would be no middle class tax increase.  But there was.  He said he tried as hard as he could not to but had to.  Again, the spending thing.  No one wants to cut spending.  It doesn’t help win elections.

But we wanted to believe the lie during the campaign.  They promise us everything and say it won’t cost anything.  That’s what we want to hear.  We don’t want to hear the intricacies of monetary and fiscal policy.  That increased taxation dampens economic activity.  Decreases incentive for risk takers.  So they take fewer risks.  Create fewer jobs.  Which increases unemployment.  But we don’t want to hear this.  We just want the free stuff.  Just promise it.  Tell us it’s free.  And we’ll vote for you.

LITTLE WHITE LIES have little consequence.  We say them because we care about someone.  Other lies, though, do.  Big ones.  If we fall for them.  If we believe in an ever-expanding welfare state, we’ll keep voting ourselves the treasury.  Until we’ve emptied it.  And when there’s no more money, we’ll say, well, it was nice while it lasted.  But all good things must come to an end.  Or we’ll riot.

Or we’ll cut spending elsewhere to fund our insatiable appetite for free stuff.  Maybe we won’t build a new aircraft carrier.  Or we’ll close an overseas Air Force base.  Or we’ll reduce the size of our conventional forces.  Because we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, we may think a large standing army is not necessary anymore.  But it was that large projection of force that gave us that sense of security.  It scared the bad guys.  Because the ability to project force, and the will to do so, will create consequences if the bad guys do act. 

During the dot.com boom of the 1990s, times were good and we got complacent.  During those good times, though, the bad guys hit Americans in a series of attacks (World Trade Center bombing, Tanzanian Embassy bombing, Kenyan Embassy bombing, Khobar Towers bombing, the USS Cole attack).  We didn’t fight back.  We lied to ourselves.  We didn’t want to believe that America was under attack.  Head in the sand, we wanted to continue to enjoy the good times.  This only emboldened our enemies.  They saw that America didn’t have the will to fight back.  So they upped the ante.  And in 2001, they attacked on 9/11.  And that attack was just too great not to awake a slumbering giant.

WE MAY NOT like the unpleasant things in life.  But they are part of life.  And we have to deal with them.  However unpleasant they are.  They are what they are.  No matter how we try to rationalize them away.

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