In Federalist 69 Alexander Hamilton responded to the criticism that the Presidency under the proposed Constitution established an elective monarchy which would be a perpetual threat to American liberties:
Hence it appears that, except as to the concurrent authority of the President in the article of treaties, it would be difficult to determine whether that magistrate would, in the aggregate, possess more or less power than the Governor of New York. And it appears yet more unequivocally, that there is no pretense for the parallel which has been attempted between him and the king of Great Britain. But to render the contrast in this respect still more striking, it may be of use to throw the principal circumstances of dissimilitude into a closer group.
The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for four years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and hereditary prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a qualified negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an absolute negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of declaring war, and of raising and regulating fleets and armies by his own authority. The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature in the formation of treaties; the other is the sole possessor of the power of making treaties. The one would have a like concurrent authority in appointing to offices; the other is the sole author of all appointments. The one can confer no privileges whatever; the other can make denizens of aliens, noblemen of commoners; can erect corporations with all the rights incident to corporate bodies. The one can prescribe no rules concerning the commerce or currency of the nation; the other is in several respects the arbiter of commerce, and in this capacity can establish markets and fairs, can regulate weights and measures, can lay embargoes for a limited time, can coin money, can authorize or prohibit the circulation of foreign coin. The one has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction; the other is the supreme head and governor of the national church! What answer shall we give to those who would persuade us that things so unlike resemble each other? The same that ought to be given to those who tell us that a government, the whole power of which would be in the hands of the elective and periodical servants of the people, is an aristocracy, a monarchy, and a despotism.
One can only imagine what Mr. Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers would make of this:
According to a senior Democrat familiar with the plans, Obama will announce on Thursday that he is providing temporary protections to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. His orders will make up to 4 million undocumented immigrants eligible for temporary protective status and provide relief to another 1 million through other means. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Hattip to Instapundit. Josh Stearns at Huffington Post reports on the fact that the media in the US isn’t quite as free as it used to be.
According to a new report from Reporters Without Borders, there was a profound erosion of press freedom in the United States in 2013.
After a year of attacks on whistleblowers and digital journalists and revelations about mass surveillance, the United States plunged 13 spots in the group’s global press freedom rankings to number 46.
Reporters Without Borders writes that the U.S. faced “one of the most significant declines” in the world last year. Even the United Kingdom, whose sustained campaign to criminalize the Guardian’s reporters and intimidate journalists has made headlines around the world, dropped only three spots, to number 33. The U.S. fell as many spots as Paraguay, where “the pressure on journalists to censor themselves keeps on mounting.”
Citing the Justice Department’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, including its secret seizure of Associated Press phone records, the authors write that “freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.”
The threats facing newsgathering in the U.S. are felt by both longstanding journalists like New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who may serve jail time for refusing to reveal a source, and non-traditional digital journalists like Barrett Brown.
Brown is a freelance journalist who has reported extensively on private intelligence firms and government contractors. He now faces more than 100 years in jail for linking to stolen documents as part of his reporting, even though he had no involvement in the actual theft. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Well, Duh!, is my initial reaction to this poll from Gallup:
Despite their widespread national pride, Americans evince a much more negative response when asked if the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be pleased or disappointed by the way the United States has turned out. Seventy-one percent of Americans say the signers would be disappointed, while 27% say they would be pleased.
“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
James Madison, Federalist 10
The video above is from the Heritage Foundation and incisively sets forth how ObamaCare is at war with religious liberty. The Founding Fathers made it clear that they viewed freedom of religion as being at the core of the framework of what they were seeking to accomplish:
“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.”
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”
Charles Carroll of Carollton
Pope Benedict recognizes the threat to religious freedom that exists in our country:
In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius. His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius. At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity. His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on public credit, 1789, and which may be read here.
The final paragraph of the report is salient for the time in which we live: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Happy Independence Day, folks! — Here is a roundup of some choice reads as we commemorate the birth of our nation:
- Because it’s worth reading again: The Declaration of Independence – view high-resolution images of the original. (This is a part of the “Charters of Freedom”, an exhibit of the National Archives, on the documents that shaped our history.
- 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).
- Learn about Charles Carroll — America’s Catholic Founding Father (Against The Grain).
- 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”.
Following are two books which I heartily recommend for some engaging historical reading of the American Revolution and our founding fathers. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
This one will be under 1200 words, so help me. Your time is valuable, even if mine isn’t
A certain contributor to a certain blog, who is welcome to post a comment here if he likes, often makes a claim I find absurd and ignorant: that a defense of second amendment gun rights is necessarily a manifestation of “liberalism and individualism.” People who make this claim understand nothing about why we have a second amendment, what its political and social value is, and consequently, while people become so engaged in the defense of gun rights.
Now, I defend gun rights. I am a big a supporter of the second amendment, and of the natural right to self-defense. On the surface, it looks like a fairly libertarian position: I have an individual right to life, I have a right to defend myself, and in today’s circumstances, a personal firearm is often the best and even necessary weapon with which to do that. Provided a person isn’t mentally ill or has a history of violent crime, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to buy and own a gun.
But there is more to the argument than that.
In the third installment of my proposal for a libertarian-distributist alliance, I explore why libertarians ought to be open to distributist ideas. An excerpt:
Chief among the reasons to support a greater distribution of property is the simple truth that the maximum sphere of individual liberty is not to be found in an individualist utopia, but a strong localism that provides individuals in a moral and efficient way that which they would otherwise turn to a powerful state or crime syndicate to provide.
The Cranky Conservative, Paul Zummo, is beginning a series on his blog on the Federalist Papers. His comments on Federalist 1 are here. The Founding Fathers created a system of government which has endured for over two centuries. That is a formidable achievement. The Federalist Papers, written in the heat of the ratification battles over the Constitution, are the primary text for understanding what motivated those who sought “a more perfect union”, how they expected the new government to function and their arguments in response to the anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution. It is easy to draw up schemes of government; it is very difficult to make them function in reality. In the Federalist Papers we see at the beginning the drive to create one nation out of the disparate states. Paul has embarked upon an intellectual adventure in giving an exposition to these theoretical building blocks of our Republic and I urge you to join him for each installment.
With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel. Hattip to Smitty at the other McCain. A parody song dreamed up by Mike Church. If the Founding Fathers could see the fix we are in today with government spending, I am sure it would anger them but it would certainly not surprise them.
American Political Theory and Constitutional Law Series, Pt. I
The American people have a history of distrust and suspicion of centralized authority. The original framework for the primitive independent-America outlined in the Articles of Confederation was not weak by accident. Even despite the clear insufficiency of the-then government under the Articles, the framers of the Constitution still found their vision of government to be a hard sell. It is fair to say their success was in finding an effective mix between the Athenian assembly and Roman Senate combined with ‘checks and balance’ with two other branches of government—a republic instead of a direct democracy.
In many ways, this debate has lived on. It is remarkable, particularly in recent decades, how many constitutional amendments have been given real and serious consideration by the U.S. Congress, from balanced budgets, to flag desecration, to super-majorities for taxes, to line-item veto just begin the list in attempts to reshape the constitutional order.
For some time I have had mixed and often conflicting beliefs about this whole debate. The usual “left” versus “right” spin is, as usual, tiring. Though, I have re-engaged the matter due largely to a new found interest in the project development of Catholic legal theory. Such an undertaking on the part of Catholic law professors and legal professionals have been enormously helpful in the process of asking serious questions and finding an authentic Catholic answer to crucial questions about American government, constitutional law, and jurisprudence. This couldn’t be more true than with my quarrels with the “living Constitution theory” as well as “originalism.” Though it is probably still the case, to some degree, that I am troubled about answers to these questions. I have become more convinced by those who make the case (in regard to one matter) that America needs a much needed reminder: constitutional amendments should be rare and limited to issues of historic significance. The U.S. Constitution must be preserved from short-term and sudden passions. The starting point, I think, is to reiterate, as the Founding Fathers did, the merits of representation, deliberation, and conciliation.
American voters in great number say they favor change, but there is no consensus or clarity about neither the amount nor direction such change should take. Not so surprisingly, contemporary political debates do very little to educate the public about essential constitutional issues. Serious discussion is not only past due, but is vital. What is a greater threat to constitutional government than a lack of substantive public debate and public awareness? An uninformed, ignorant public is perilous to the common good and constitutional order.