Sunday, September 26, 2010

The New Republic

This week I spent some time at the Chronology of US Historical Documents, and read:

From George Washington: inaugural speeches, the first State of the Union address, and his farewell address. I learned that Washington really, really liked to use big words. The more the better.

Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality in the Napoleonic wars, and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.

John Adams' inaugural address--which has possibly the single longest sentence I have ever seen. It's so impressive that I will post it below.

Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address.

I guess those aren't terribly interesting, but I'd never read them before and I certainly got something from them.

From John Adams' inaugural address:

On this subject it might become me better to be silent or to speak 12 with diffidence; but as something may be expected, the occasion, I hope, will be admitted as an apology if I venture to say that if a preference, upon principle, of a free republican government, formed upon long and serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after truth; if an attachment to the Constitution of the United States, and a conscientious determination to support it until it shall be altered by the judgments and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it; if a respectful attention to the constitutions of the individual States and a constant caution and delicacy toward the State governments; if an equal and impartial regard to the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of all the States in the Union, without preference or regard to a northern or southern, an eastern or western, position, their various political opinions on unessential points or their personal attachments; if a love of virtuous men of all parties and denominations; if a love of science and letters and a wish to patronize every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution for propagating knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in all its stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the only means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments; if a love of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration; if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufacturers for necessity, convenience, and defense; if a spirit of equity and humanity toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and our citizens to be more friendly to them; if an inflexible determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been adopted by this Government and so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and applauded by the legislatures of the States and the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress; if a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both nations; if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and remove every colorable pretense of complaint; if an intention to pursue by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation, and if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the Legislature, that they may consider what further measures the honor and interest of the Government and its constituents demand; if a resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world; if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all and never been deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of my own duties toward it, founded on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age; and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Federalist Papers: I did it.

Yes indeed, I managed to read the list of Federalist Papers that was my goal. There were about 20 of them, I suppose. At first they're fairly interesting, and then all the technical talk about exactly how a government should be run kind of gets to you and it turns into a slog, especially the parts that talk about checks and balances, and the powers of the president.

So, yay me! Here's a paragraph that caught my attention particularly, from #51 on checks and balances:

The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

So now that I've done that, I'll move on to post-Constitutional history.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Finally, a few Federalist Papers

OK, I'm officially declaring September to be Federalist Papers month until I read the ones on my list. I was pretty lazy again this week, and read 3 dystopian YA novels in 3 days instead of anything more strenuous. But I've gotten restarted and am developing a crush on James Madison. Here's what I've been reading:

A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, by James Madison, June 1785. Apparently somebody in Virginia came up with the bright idea of collecting taxes to pay salaries to ministers of certain Christian denominations. The result was this essay, which beautifully sums up the reasons for religious freedom. It's also, I think, a piece of evidence against current factions in the US which assert that our country was founded as a Christian nation (an assertion which also disguises Dominionists, who are actually seeking to establish one particular kind of Christianity in the government). Madison says, "Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions, may establish, with the same case, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects; that this same authority, which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property, for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment, in all cases whatsoever?" Read the whole thing.

Letter to George Washington, by James Madison, April 1787, laying out his ideas for a Federal constitution before the convention gets started.

And the Federalist Papers! No. 1 is a sort of introductory essay to the series, by Alexander Hamilton. (He and James Madison collaborated on these and published them under the name Publius, no matter which of them was writing.) No. 10, by Madison, is apparently one of the most famous ones and has been widely commented on, and I must say there's good reason for it. It offers reasons why a republican government is the best system for dealing with factions wishing to impose actions or philosophies on all the people. This is another one that I'm going to tell you to read. In No. 14, Madison argues that the size of the US is no bar to an efficiently working Federal Assembly; that in fact republicanism becomes more ideal, the larger and more diverse the country becomes. And in No. 15, Hamilton wants to convince you that the US has reached a crisis point; without a Federal government, the American experiment will fail.

I didn't actually set out to read practically nothing but James Madison this week. But I should do something like that; I'm nearly completely ignorant of his writings and they are turning out to be important and thought-provoking.