Monthly Archives: July 2011
- Declaration of Independance – read the transcript and the history of the founding document of our nation (Library of Congress) | learn more about the battle for its preservation (PBS NOVA)
- Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence by Rev. John C. Rager. The Catholic Mind XXVIII, no. 13 (July 8, 1930), looks at synergies between the thought of Aquinas and Bellarmine and that expressed in the Declaration, asking: “Did Jefferson know of Bellarmine?”? (In How Catholic is the Declaration of Independence?, Commonweal takes a look at the “Scholastic-roots-of-democracy theory”; and CatholicHistory.net provides a bibliography on Catholics and the American Founding).
- Carl Olson interviews Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, author of American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Ignatius Insight) | Learn more about our Catholic founding father
- What do Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI think about the American Founding?.
- Discover the riches of The Federalist Papers – by way of a commentary by Paul Zummo (The Cranky Conservative), who maintains: “I absolutely believe that an understanding of the Federalist Papers is essential for understanding the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, understanding America.”
- Listen to Johnny Cash recite “I am the Nation”.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. Continue reading
Red Skelton and his unforgettable rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Skelton rose out of abject poverty to become one of the great comedians of his time. As the above video indicates Skelton also had his serious side. His message about the Pledge is good to remember this Fourth and every day.
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
George Washington, Farewell Address
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.
The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion. However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony. It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed. By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.
In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.
A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible. He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation. At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.
Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith. Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity. He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:
These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.
Carroll didn’t think much of John Adams as President, but Adams had precisely the same views on this subject as he stated in an address on October 11, 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the militia of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Most of the Founding Fathers left similar sentiments in their writings. Something to ponder as we celebrate the Fourth tomorrow. Here is the full text of the letter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton to James McHenry: Continue reading
This wasn’t the most fascinating of terms. Much of the speculation around the Court centers around cases it hasn’t received yet: namely, Obamacare and gay marriage. The most controversial case, I think, was decided much earlier in the term (Synder v. Phelps, 8-1 that the First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church from being sued in tort for infliction of emotional distress when their speech involves matters of the public interest). But there are a few worthy of note. But there are a few cases of note, even though they may not be the headline grabbers.
(I’ll also apologize to all legal scholars for this not being close to Bluebook format. I tried to water it down for a general audience and so I may be guilty of gross oversimplification)
ATT v. Concepcion-the Court by a 5-4 margin enforced the agreement to arbitrate found in the AT&T customer contract and therefore a class action had to be dismissed. This decision could significantly curtail class actions, as customer agreements can now include arbitration agreements in order to protect companies. However, the ATT agreement was one that was very favorable in the sense that ATT would pay costs and some attorneys fees in many situations. Thus, one can speculate about whether an agreement which provides much less incentive for lawyers to prosecute in arbitration would also be upheld (Scalia’s opinion suggests it would).
Wal-Mart v. Dukes: another class suit was brought down, this time because its theory was based on a “culture of discrimination” against women. The class alleged that Wal-Mart discriminated against women, but the Court found that without a policy and without more evidence that the decentralized business culture demanded discrimination that the claims were too individualized to make up a class.
Expect both Wal-Mart & ATT to have a slight impact on politics. These cases together could curtail class actions, which are the bread and butter of many plaintiffs attorneys. As plaintiffs attorneys make up a significant funding wing for the Democrats, I would expect Obama to have to formulate some kind of policy response in order to please them, though I doubt he has the political will to fight the GOP on it. More likely he will use Wal-mart (which grabbed more headlines) and Citizens United to paint a picture of the Supreme Court as conservative judicial activists (as the NYT has done already) and thus appease his base.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett-the Court continued to signal a strong distaste for campaign financing laws, striking down a scheme whereby public funds are given to match private funds given to candidates. Although more money is theoretically more speech, the Court held the opinion that this law in essence punished people who exercised their first amendment right to engage in political speech through political donations. It becomes harder and harder to imagine a scheme which the current Court would uphold.
Finally, Brown v. Enterntainment Merchants Ass’n saw the Court strike down a California law which restricted the sale and rental of violent video games to minor. This case saw an odd alignment with Scalia, Kennedy, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor as the majority, with concurrences by Alito & Roberts with dissents from Breyer and Thomas. In brief, video games were found to be protected speech, and for purposes of the First Amendment no different from say violent literature (and Scalia analogizes to Dante’s Inferno). Alito & Roberts concur, but only because the statute was vague. Altio’s concurrence notes that video games may be fundamentally different b/c the act of simulating violent acts is different from say merely viewing or imagining them. Alito is quickly becoming a strong dissenter in many First Amendment cases, suggesting a unwillingness to embrace the vast First Amendment protection the other justices promote (See, e.g., US v. Stevens, Synder v. Phelps). Also of note is that Archbishop Chaput weighed in against the decision based on his personal experience in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy.
I know I said finally, but I should add one of the cases earlier in the term that has upset many: Connick v. Thompson. In this case, the court held the Orleans Parish District Attorney office was not liable for the offense of one of its prosecutors who withheld evidence in a murder trial (which had a death penalty conviction). It makes for a sensational headline, but in reality all the Court said was that one example of a Brady violation is not sufficient to make a case for systematic indifference to constitutional rights, which is the theory the plaintiff proceeded under. One imagines that a plaintiff could easily meet this burden if other examples were shown (which in Olreans parish would only present a difficulty in deciding which examples to use). Also of note is footnote 21 and the accompanying text of Ginsburg’s dissent, in which she bashes Tulane Law school for its poor curriculum, something well known to all those who attend LSU Law. 😉
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF head and potential Socialist candidate for the French presidency who has been under house arrest for the last month due to charges of forcibly raping a hotel maid while staying at a ritzy hotel in New York, is now out on bail and word is that the prosecution case is “crumbling”. While physical evidence gathered in Strauss-Kahn’s hotel suite and from the maid herself shows unambiguously that an encounter between him and the maid occurred (Strauss-Kahn’s defense no longer denies this, but insists it was not forced), law enforcement officials have found that she lied on her immigration application, she has a boyfriend in prison in Arizona for drug dealing, and her account of the order of events surrounding the incident has varied over time. None of this necessarily indicates that she wasn’t raped, but it does allow a crack defense team to raise a lot of reasonable doubt.
Some of his allies are taking this as an exoneration:
Martine Aubry, the Socialist Party leader, was quoted on the Web site of the magazine L’Express as feeling “immense joy” that the case seemed to be faltering. “Speaking as a friend of DSK, I hope the American justice system will establish all the truth and allow Dominique to get out of this nightmare,” she said, using the initials by which Mr. Strauss-Kahn is widely known here.
Here in the US, some on the opinion pages are tut tutting that this is a prime example of how we need to be careful not to rush to judgement when someone is publicly accused of a crime.
I’m sure someone will think this is an example of class envy and middle class morality, but I for one am not feeling all that sorry for what Strauss-Kahn has been put through. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Scenes from the American Revolution set to the music of the film National Treaure. This Fourth of July weekend we should recall our heritage, especially the eight long years of war it took to achieve American independence. We should also remember these words of our second President John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail on April 26, 1777: Continue reading
As is usually the case on the internet, my previous post on environmentalism sparked a side-discussion in the comments about Pixar movies. I wasn’t able to enter the fray because I was a little busy helping deliver my second-born daughter into this world, but I couldn’t let the topic go without comment. So what better way to get my blogging feet wet again after a little bit of a lay-off than a light post about the best Pixar movies. So though this is neither a political or religious post, I ask for your indulgence.
It would be nice to say that my interest in Pixar movies was sparked because of my two-year old, but I saw all of these well before she was born. We have most of the Pixar collection, but it’s not exactly a parental chore to have to sit through these over and over and over and over and over and over again. Of course now she’s really into Shrek, which happens to be a Dreamworks production. We also have a few movies from the Disney collection: The Princess Frog and Tangled being among her current favorites. And her first love will always be Pooh, that silly old bear. By and large, though, Pixar has been churning out the best of the 3D animated flicks. In fact I’d put every movie on the Pixar list ahead of any movie on the Dreamworks list save Shrek (1 and 2) and Wallace and Gromit.
So with that in mind, here’s my rundown of the five best Pixar animated films. I’d just mention that the only one I haven’t seen is the one that sparked the entire discussion: Cars (and now Cars 2).
On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.
On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.
If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, ‘Leftie,’ and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, ‘Leftie’ will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of ‘Leftie’s’ act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by ‘Leftie’ are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and ‘Leftie’ are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available; however, the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.
Assume that the brain’s choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.
What should the brain do?
– Michael F. Patton Jr., “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, January 1988
From the musical 1776, a heavily dramatized version of the vote to declare American independence on July 2, 1776. The scene is effective but historically false. James Wilson did not dither about his vote, but was a firm vote for independence, having ascertained that his Pennsylvania constituents were in favor of independence. There was no conflict over slavery, Jefferson and Adams having already agreed to remove from the Declaration the attack on the King for promoting the slave trade. Caesar Rodney did make a dramatic ride to Congress of 80 miles in order to break a deadlock in the Delaware delegation over independence, but he was not dying and would live until June 26, 1784, witnessing the triumph of America in the Revolutionary War. Continue reading