Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 15th, 2013

History 101

The Constitution prevented the Executive from Ruling Arbitrarily and becoming Judge, Jury and Executioner

There have been funding gaps.  And there have been government shutdowns.  But not always both.  For once upon a time the executive branch stayed open for business even when the House of Representatives did not approve their bills for payment.  But that all changed in 1980 thanks to Jimmy Carter’s attorney general.  Benjamin Civiletti.

Civiletti wrote two opinions as attorney general changing the way government spends money.  The first said the executive can’t spend any money without the House of Representatives’ approval.  A strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  His second opinion softened the first.  Giving the executive power to spend money the House of Representatives doesn’t approve of when necessary to protect life and property.  Such as funding the military.  And so grew the delineation between essential and nonessential spending.  Or what some would say essential spending and pork.

The Founding Fathers saw the damage absolute monarchies could do.  Even a constitutional monarchy with too much power.  So they separated powers.  They created three branches of government.  The executive, the legislative and the judiciary.  One branch to write the law (the legislature).  One branch to enforce the law (the executive).  And one branch to interpret questions in the law (the judiciary).  Thus preventing the executive from ruling arbitrarily and becoming judge, jury and executioner.  Like a king.

The Founding Fathers gave the Power of the Purse to the House to rein in Executive Spending

The Founding Fathers took the separation of powers further.  The House of Representatives was the people’s house.  Where the people voted in their representatives by popular vote.  But to keep a check on federal power the Senate was the states’ house (since changed by constitutional amendment, thus greatly increasing the power of the federal government over the states).  Each state in the union had an equal voice.  Thus requiring not only a majority of the people it also required a majority of the states to pass federal law.  To keep the larger urban populations from dictating policy to the lesser populated rural areas.

The Founding Fathers took the separation of powers even further.  Giving the power of the purse to the House of Representatives.  So the executive couldn’t wage costly wars.  Or expand bloated bureaucracies to reward campaign donors with patronage.  Or expand a welfare state to buy votes.  Especially since Alexander Hamilton opened Pandora’s Box with his interpretation of the necessary and proper clause.  Which expanded the scope of the federal government to include whatever it thought was necessary and proper.  Giving rise to the progressive/liberal state.  Something that would have horrified Alexander Hamilton if he were alive today to see the behemoth the federal government became.  And had he known then what would become of the federal government today he would have been a Jeffersonian.  Jefferson and Hamilton would probably still have hated each other but they would have agreed on keeping limited government limited.

Civiletti understood that the Founding Fathers meant to rein in the spending powers of the executive branch.  To meet the intent of the separation of powers they felt was essential for representative government.  A government of the people, by the people and for the people.  As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently said in the Gettysburg Address some 76 years later.  Hence his first opinion.  Which he softened with his second when it hurt his boss and the Democrat cause.  For Civiletti was a Democrat.

The Democrats want to Break the Republican Opposition and Govern Against the Intent of the Founding Fathers

Before Civiletti’s opinions there was little urgency to settle funding gaps between what the executive branch wanted and what the House would approve.  So at the end of a fiscal year the executive often continued to operate without spending authority.  Letting the durations of these funding gaps last for a week or more.  With no interruption of government services.  But after Civiletti’s opinions the government shut down nonessential services.  Which did speed up the closing of the funding gap.  For when the funding gap included a government shutdown resolving the funding gap went from a week or more to a few days.

Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns

To date there have been 18 funding gaps that went unresolved into the new fiscal year.  One of which is still ongoing.  In the table you can see how much quicker the House and the executive branch resolved their differences with the threat of a government shutdown.  The exception to that being the longest shutdown during the Clinton administration.  Which ultimately led the way to welfare reform.  Which greatly dampened President Clinton’s costly liberal agenda.  And was the law of the land until President Obama used sweeping powers he does not have to roll back some of that legislation.

President Obama and the Democrats have called the House Republicans about every derogatory name in the book for dare trying to enforce the Founding Fathers’ separation of powers.  Saying that never before has a radical fringe held a gun to the head of the executive, took hostages, demanded ransom, etc.  But that’s not true.  Of the 18 funding gaps where the House of Representatives did not give the president all the money he wanted that president was a Republican 55.6% of the time.  So Republican presidents got their way fewer times than Democrat presidents.  And as far as hostage takers, the Democrats held the power of the purse 15 of those 18 funding gaps/shutdowns.  Or 83.3%.  So the president and the Democrats aren’t telling the truth when it comes to the historical record.  Who seem to be more interested in swinging public opinion to their side.  So they can break the Republican opposition.  And govern against the intent of the Founding Fathers.

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War Debt, Seven Years War, Revolutionary War, Articles of Confederation, U.S. Constitution, Central Government, Federal Spending and Fiscal Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 7th, 2012

History 101

Americans don’t like Paying Taxes

Americans don’t like paying taxes.  A dispute over taxation without representation led to American independence from British rule.  For Britain had been fighting for many years in many wars.  And ran up an enormous war debt.  Which they had to repay.  Because some of that debt was incurred protecting the American colonists from the French and Indians during the Seven Years War, some had a bright idea.  “Here’s a thought,” they said, “Let’s have the Americans pay their fair share.  I mean, fair is fair, right?  Besides, it’ll be a lot easier getting money from the Americans than it will be getting it from Parliament, eh wot?” 

The Seven Years War, though, was a world war.  Fought in many countries and on many seas.  Costing lots of money.  Which Parliament was financing with lots of taxes.  But the British taxpayer had tax fatigue.  And felt they had no more taxes to give.  Or wanted to give.  As they had a say in Parliament raising taxes further was a nonstarter.  But the Americans had no representation in Parliament.  So what could they do?  Turns out they could do a lot.  Now the Americans weren’t unreasonable.  They just didn’t appreciate the, “Oh, by the way, here’s your share of the war debt.  We’ll tax you accordingly.”  Which the British did.  Without so much a by-your-leave.  Rubbed the Americans the wrong way.  If the British had shown them the numbers and gave them a chance to agree on what their ‘fair share’ was they probably would have paid.  And stayed loyal to the Crown.  But the British didn’t.  So the Americans didn’t.

Now fighting wars is expensive.  Especially long ones.  And the Revolutionary War was a long one.  Eight years until they penned their names to the Treaty of Paris (1783) officially ending it.  In these eight years the Americans ran up a great war debt.  And needed to repay it.  Just like the British.  The very thing that started the Revolutionary War.  Now it was the Americans’ turn to raise taxes.  They tried taxing whiskey.  Which led to another tax rebellion.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  For Americans still didn’t like paying taxes.  This time, though, it was a tad different.  Because those they were taxing had representation.  And the new ‘nation’ (a confederation of ‘equal’ states) had the legal authority to impose this tax.  And to put down the rebellion.  Which General Washington did.  To the howls of liberty-loving patriots everywhere.  The tax quietly went away.  But it didn’t solve the nation’s problems.  They were broke.  Needed money.  And they had to get a handle on the massive sums they owed for the world of nations to take them seriously.

Hamilton thought both Jefferson and Burr were Scoundrels but at least Jefferson was a Principled Scoundrel

The new ‘nation’ (that confederation of ‘equal’ states) was the problem.  Just as the world of nations didn’t take the Americans seriously these ‘equal’ states didn’t take the new national government seriously.  There was no taxing authority.  So the federal government could only ask for contributions from the states.  Which often came in late.  And when they did they were often less than they requested.  Some states even refused to pay anything.  Worse, the states were making their own treaties with other nations as well as the Indian Tribes.  Or reneging on the treaties the federal government made with other nations and the Indian Tribes.  The confederation wasn’t working.  They needed something new.  And once George Washington was onboard they called a meeting in Philadelphia (1787) to rework the Articles of Confederation.

Of course they didn’t rework the Articles of Confederation.  They replaced them with a new U.S. Constitution.  And a new nation.  The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution began with “We the people.”  The sovereignty of the new nation wasn’t with the states.  It wasn’t with the new federal government.  It was with the people.  It was a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.  To borrow some words from Abraham Lincoln.  Which meant that although the thing they created had more power than the confederation of states it replaced, its power was limited.  Very limited.  The Framers designed it to do only those things the states could not do well individually.  National defense.  Coin uniform money.  Establish post offices and post roads.  Make national treaties with other nations and Indian Tribes.  Declare war.  Create a standard of weights and measures.  But little more.  In fact, the Constitution listed more things the new government couldn’t do than listed what it could do.  To quell everyone’s fear that they just replaced one far away central power (the British Crown) with another far away central power (the central government of the United States).  Especially when it came to taxes.  Raising taxes required approval by two houses of Congress and by the President.  Making it difficult to raise taxes.  The way Americans liked it.  For Americans didn’t like paying taxes.  And still don’t.

Getting the new Constitution ratified wasn’t a walk in the park.  The size and power of the new central government appalled those Patriots who worked so hard during the Revolution.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and wrote a series of articles arguing for ratification.  The Federalist Papers.  And were successful.  Then when Alexander Hamilton was putting the Constitution into action as Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington administration, Madison didn’t like what he saw.  For Hamilton wanted to use the power of government to make the United States an economic superpower like Britain.  His opponents, though, saw a man who wanted to be king.  So Madison joined the opposition.  Led by Thomas Jefferson.  And the politics got ugly.  Before it was done the Jefferson camp would write about an affair Hamilton had.  And the same muckraker who exposed this affair would later write about a Jefferson affair with a slave.  Sally Hemming.  The people in the different camps hated each other.  Especially Hamilton and Jefferson.  They hated each other with a passion.  But they were principled men.  For when the election of 1800 came down to either Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr, Hamilton backed his archenemy.  Thomas Jefferson.  Both Jefferson and Burr were scoundrels as far as Hamilton was concerned.  But at least Jefferson was a principled scoundrel.  Burr took great offense to some things Hamilton said about him around this time.  And challenged him to a duel.  In which Hamilton suffered a mortal wound.  Pity.  For Hamilton was a true Patriot.  And perhaps the greatest treasury secretary the United States ever had.

It’s not the Spirit of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison that lives on in Politics but Aaron Burr

Funny how things change.  The new nation almost didn’t survive because of the opposition towards a strong central government.  And towards federal taxes.  Now federal spending includes just about everything under the sun.  Most of which the Framers excluded from the Constitution.  And the taxes!  They have reached a level none of the Founding Fathers thought would ever be possible.  Even Hamilton.  He was ‘big government’ for his day but he would be disgusted to see what became of his beloved Treasury Department.  And the money they pull out of the private sector economy.  Not to make America an economic superpower.  But to buy votes.  And for personnel gain.  The true underbelly of democracy.  Where people come to public service not to serve.  But to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer.  Like that scoundrel that killed him.  Aaron Burr.

Even worse they use fiscal policy to further their spending ways.  The federal debt grows.  And now whenever a recession rolls around they use Keynesian fiscal policy to ‘lessen’ the affects of the recession.  Which is just a clever way to keep on spending after they’ve run out of money.  Because this spending is now stimulus.  And if the government stops spending it will make the recession worse.  Clever.  And it’s just coincidental that friends of the administration benefit most by this Keynesian stimulus spending.

It would appear it’s not the spirit of Alexander Hamilton that lives on in Washington.  Or Thomas Jefferson.  Or James Madison.  It’s the spirit of Aaron Burr.  Scoundrel extraordinaire.  And role model for the political elite.

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FT98: “The difference between a right and an entitlement is that other people don’t have to pay for a right.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 30th, 2011

Fundamental Truth

Our Rights are Free to Enjoy because no one must Suffer any Burden for us to Enjoy these Rights

The Roman Empire fell because of high taxes.  The Americans declared their independence from the British Empire because of high taxes.  The French Revolution erupted over high taxes.  Warren Harding won the 1920 presidential election because of high taxes.  Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election because of high taxes.  Both Harding and Reagan were tax cutters.  The moral of this story?  People don’t like paying taxes.  Never have.  And never will.

The Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Some of these rights include the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech (First Amendment).  The right to keep and bear arms (Second Amendment).  Protection from quartering troops in our homes (Third Amendment).  Protection from unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment).  See a trend?

Our rights are free to enjoy.  That is, when we enjoy our rights it doesn’t cost anyone else.  When people speak their mind there isn’t an associated cost that goes with it that we must fund with taxes.  For people to be free to own a gun and keep it in their house there isn’t an associated tax to pay for that right.  There isn’t a line item in the federal budget to prevent soldiers from moving into my house during times of peace.  No.  These rights are free.  No one must suffer any burden for us to enjoy these rights.

A Right is not a License to Compel Others to do something Against their Will

Rights are God-given.  Meaning that no person may deny these rights to anyone.  We want these rights.  We enjoy these rights.  And the fact that they don’t cost anything to have and enjoy is especially nice.  Because as noted earlier people don’t like paying taxes.  They never have.  And never will.

But we do pay taxes.  For those things that are necessary and Constitutional.  Such as a strong military to protect and defend our country from enemies foreign and domestic.  We don’t enjoy paying these taxes.  But we do enjoy being safe and free from oppression.  So we can enjoy our Constitutional rights.

Now, when is a right not a right?  When it’s not guaranteed in our Constitution and/or there is a cost that others must bear.  For instance, I can’t go to an electronics store and take a large plasma TV and tell the clerk that it’s my right to have that TV.  Because it’s not a right.  (Or an entitlement.  Yet.)  Why?  For one it’s not in the Constitution.  And it’s not just because we didn’t invent them yet.  Even if they were around at the time of the framing of the Constitution the Founding Fathers would not have included them.  Because they have a cost.  For someone to have one as a right someone else must pay for it.  And if someone else must be compelled to provide something for you then it is not a right.  Because a right is not a license to compel others to do something against their will.  There’s another name for that.  Slavery.

Health Care, Pensions, Food, etc., are not Rights because they have Costs

So if you agree with me so far (and it would be hard not to if you’re being honest), then you must agree that housing, health care, pensions, food, etc., are not rights either.  Because they have costs.  And the only way for others to have these without paying for them is to compel others to pay for them against their will.  Which is, of course, slavery.  Something else that is forbidden by a Constitutional amendment.  The Thirteenth Amendment.

So providing these things to the poor is not and should not be required.  But it would be nice.  And it should be voluntary.  Like it was.  Once upon a time.  Before there were entitlements.  We called it charity.  And it worked.  Well.  Our ancestors, those beautiful rugged individualists, would laugh at us today for how we’ve made a mess of things.  Be disgusted to see how soft we’ve become.  And then probably spit on us with contempt.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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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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