Browsing "Democracy"

An Understanding of Eighteenth Century Government

The author below writes that the Founders, to include men such as John Adams and James Madison, saw the purpose of a separation of powers in the new government as necessary to give both “property” and “the people” – the aristocracy and the workers – a voice in government with a check upon one another. He adds that those who think of government as a science and formal political structures have difficulty understanding the men of long ago who looked upon government as an instrument for resolving tensions among social classes, or “interests,” which was the term commonly used in the eighteenth century. The social interests remain today, as well as the social tensions.

Eighteenth Century Understanding of Government

“Those who bent their efforts, and a considerable amount of history along with them, to prove the constitutionality of the New Deal denied the fact of “State sovereignty” under the Article of Confederation. They asserted the old doctrine that the union came before the States and was therefore all-powerful: State sovereignty never existed. From this doctrine they deduced that New Deal measures could not be invalidated by the Supreme Court, which turned to “States’ rights” notions and a strict interpretation of the Constitution of 1787.

In doing so it was obvious the majority of the Court were motivated by political and economic predilections rather than concern for the true nature of the Constitution. The opponents of the Court, likewise, in their fervor to attain necessary ends, cited many analogies, the falsity of which they did not recognize. To them the argument of States’ rights used to defeat national regulation of business enterprise was specious and unfounded in history.

What they did not see was that the eighteenth-century counterparts of nineteenth-century vested interests likewise rejected the doctrine of State sovereignty. For them the only escape from a democracy which found expression in unchecked State governments was the creation of a national government which would limit if not destroy the sovereignty of the States. Despite the theorizing of later days, the fact remains that State sovereignty was a grim reality for those who objected to majority rule.

[Those] . . . who say or imply that democracy was not an issue in the Revolutionary era . . . do not face the fact that some of the Revolutionary leaders who became the folk heroes of later generations were actually opposed to what they believed to be, and what they called, “democracy.” Therefore they are unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of the democratic philosophy of the eighteenth century and that the Constitution of 1787 was the culmination of an anti-democratic crusade.

(The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1963, excerpts pp. viii-ix)

Broadening the Base of Democracy

Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the democratic revolution in America was an irresistible one, and that to attempt to stop it “would be to resist the will of God.” The elevation of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1829 pushed the democratic revolution forward – in the North the friction became one between the commercial-financial aristocracy and the working men, and in the South the planters and the yeoman farmers. Against simple majority rule and “the tyranny of king numbers” stood John C. Calhoun and Abel P. Upshur in the South, as well as James Kent, Joseph Story and Orestes Brownson of the North.

Broadening the Base of Democracy

“To what extent was aristocracy weakened and democracy strengthened by the work of the [State constitutional] conventions of the 1830s? In the first place, property qualifications for voting were abolished . . . except Virginia, North Carolina, [New Jersey and Rhode Island], and with Louisiana [Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio] still requiring the payment of taxes. The last of the religious restrictions were also abolished.

In still another way these changes broadened the base of democracy. For the first time the people had been consulted as to the revision and amendment of their constitutions. The conventions were called directly or indirectly by action of the people. The revised constitutions were in turn submitted back to them for ratification or rejection.

In one matter there was a definite reactionary movement. This was the issue of Negro suffrage. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania took the ballot from the Negro. And New York in 1821 limited Negro suffrage by requiring that he possess a freehold valued at two-hundred fifty dollars over and above all indebtedness. Hence only five of the Northern States granted equal suffrage to Negroes.

Whether or not Jefferson, Mason, and other Revolutionary proponents of natural rights philosophy intended to include Negroes in the statement that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” is a debatable question; but in actual practice the American people had decided by their constitutional provisions that Negroes were not included in the political people.”

(Democracy in the Old South, Fletcher M. Green; The Journal of Southern History, Volume XII, Number 1, February 1946, excerpts pp. 15-16)

Dec 29, 2018 - Antiquity, Democracy, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Greek Democracy

Greek Democracy

The idea of democracy under the ancient Greeks was far different than what is practiced today under the name of democracy. The Greek aristocracy despised democracy and planned its overthrow; the American Founders understood the problems inherent in democracy and avoided it. The Greeks held slaves: those caught in raids upon Mediterranean barbarians, prisoners of war who could not ransom themselves, unwanted children, and debtors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Greek Democracy

“If the right of every citizen, whatever his rank or means, to participate in political decisions and in the direction of the state, and the obligation of every citizen to serve the state with money and in person according to his wealth and ability constitute a democracy, then Athens was democratic.

The charge is often made, however, that the Athenian citizen body constituted a small, privileged group ruling over a large number of foreigners and slaves resident in Athens who could not acquire citizenship, and that Athens was therefore not a true democracy.

From the modern point of view the contention is valid, but it is one which the ancient Greek would hardly have understood. Citizenship was a natural right acquired by inheritance and protected by ancestral divinities. Residence in a city, therefore, no more made one a citizen than the renting of a room today makes one a member of the family of the house.

The foreigners were citizens of their own communities who were residing in Athens by their own choice, and under no constraint to remain there. Since they could not worship the ancestral gods of the Athenians, they could not hope to participate in the activities which were under the protection of the gods unless the state, in return for services rendered, granted them those rights by an act equivalent to adoption.

Slavery was a recognized institution. In the Greek view, slaves were inferior subjects, and any thought of allowing them participation in politics was absurd. Athens, governed by its body of citizens, the demos, as the Athenians called it, was, by the standards of the ancient Greeks, democracy.”

(The Ancient World, Volume I, Wallace Everett Caldwell, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1937, excerpts pp. 221-227)

Segregation Plans in 1936

With the NAACP led by a man who preached socialism and later communism, it was not surprising that Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic Party would later attract black voters to his fold. In 1936, the Republican Party then was denouncing the New Deal’s “communist propensities”; FDR’s labor consultant Sidney Hillman created the first political action committee – CIO-PAC – with which to funnel labor union monies into the president’s campaign chest. Despite a black man, James W. Ford, being the vice-presidential candidate for the Communist Party USA in 1936, the left-leaning Democratic Party appealed to millions of black voters.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Segregation Plans in 1936

“The year 1936 raised the issue of the Negro and national life in well-defined terms for the race’s spokesmen. First, it was the year of a presidential election . . . Negroes had traditionally decided in favor of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and emancipation. Second, this particular election may be described fairly as a referendum for the administration of a Democratic president who had repeatedly espoused the cause of the “forgotten man.”

Third, this particular election year contained several racial issues which were extremely important to Negro leaders. [The] international situation was a burning issue for Negroes in 1936 because a non-colonial African nation was being attacked by a white European nation. Negroes wanted their white national decision makers to take some firm stand toward the Italian aggression against Ethiopia.

The election year was also significant because of the first National Negro Congress which convened in Chicago on February 14, 1936. Arising from the careful scrutiny of New Deal operations by an elite Negro group calling itself the Joint Committee on National Recovery, this congress brought together the whole spectrum of Negro leadership. In 1936 the leaders were taking a new deep breath in preparation for their next attempt “to shake off the bonds which have made possible economic slavery, political disenfranchisement and social inequalities.”

Among recognized Negro leaders in 1936 none adopted a position making segregation both the means and the goal of the race’s communal existence in America. Rather, a segregationist position was closer to the moderate stance of the great compromiser, Booker T. Washington. Negro segregation would be welcomed as a vehicle of achieving racial solidarity, which in turn would aid accumulation of wealth and a rise in social and cultural status, with a final goal of acceptance of Negroes as equals among the American citizenry.

The Republican editor of the Chicago Defender, Robert S. Abbott, stated the position of the Negro business community and its segregationist policies, though the major thrust of his editorial policy was one of protest rather than acquiescence toward white community. The editorial concluded that Negroes must accept, not attempt to change, the criteria of success employed by white Americans.

[W.E.B. Du Bois], the socialist and later in his life communist, was the most notable Negro conservative of 1936. [A] self-critical glance had convinced him that educated Negroes were only parasites on white philanthropy. [Du Bois] called for a concerted Negro effort to develop segregated education, religion and culture, segregated medicine and crime prevention, and, most important, segregated consumer power. The Negro could and should develop a socialism of professional services within its own racial community.

The task was not to build a segregated Negro capitalistic society parallel to white capitalism; rather, it was to create a segregated Negro economy in a form which would be functional in producing security and power to meet the circumstances of 1936, from which power base an attack on white structures for racial discrimination could be later launched.”

(Negro Leadership in the Election Year 1936, James A. Harrell; Journal of Southern History, Volume 34, No. 4, Nov. 1968, excerpts, pp. 546-554)

Factions Combine to Battle a Common Foe

Lincoln was the consummate politician at the head of a minority party made up of warring factions, whose only commonality was deep hatred of Democrats and the interests of the American South. He realized after his plurality victory that public jobs, i.e., the patronage, had to be wisely distributed to these factions to cement the fragile party together. In the Fort Sumter crisis, though common sense and peace demanded wise leadership and diplomacy, Lincoln instead put party above country – fearing that any action appearing conciliatory toward the South would cause his Republican party of many faces to disintegrate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Factions Combine to Battle the Common Foe

“The groups who contributed to Lincoln’s triumph in 1860 almost defy analysis, so numerous and varied they were. Among the more important were:

  1. the antislavery Whigs, who seized upon the sectional issue for political reasons or because they sincerely believed that the Southern planter interests would either politically ruin the nation or cause disunion.
  2. Free-Soil Democrats, particularly in the Northwest, who feared extension of Negro slavery into their territory or who had severed their allegiance with the Democratic party when [both Presidents Pierce and] Buchanan disregarded their section’s interest in favor of the South.
  3. Disgruntled Democrats, with no pronounced opinions on the sectional controversy . . . disappointed in their many quests for public office or else detested Buchanan and other Democratic chieftains . . .
  4. Certain Know-Nothing who disliked the Democrats for party reasons or because of the latter’s coddling of the Irish vote.
  5. German-born naturalized citizens who hated the Southern slave-plantation system, feared competition with Negro labor, and wanted free land.
  6. Homestead and internal improvement people in general.
  7. Protective tariff advocates, particularly in Pennsylvania, who opposed Democrats because of their free-trade [and low-tariff] tendencies.
  8. Groups in favor of the Pacific railroad [to increase Northeastern trade with the Orient].
  9. Those who wanted daily overland mail and who believed that the Buchanan administration was favoring [a Southern railroad route].
  10. Certain Union-minded conservative men in the border States, who believed that the regular Democratic party under Pierce and Buchanan was becoming an instrument of pro-slavery interests and a force for secession and who hoped to conservatize the Republican party from within.

Only a few years before these numerous factions had hewn at each other’s heads; they had come together in the recent campaign like Highland clans to battle the common foe. The leaders of these various factions were still jealous of one another and often openly hostile.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman & Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1864, excerpts pp. 9-10)

 

History as a Tool for Manipulating the Masses

History as a Tool for Manipulating the Masses

“[Mitch] Landrieu’s speech praising his own actions in the advancement of the Eternal Reconstruction of his beloved “bubbling cauldron of many cultures” was hailed far and wide, and the local leftist paper, the Times-Picayune, proclaimed him the inevitable frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election.

[That] oration at Gallier Hall was scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of the removal of the 16’-6” Robert E. Lee statue, which had, since 1884, presided over Lee Circle atop a column some 70 feet tall.

In its obituary [of Lee’s passing in 1870], the New York Times praised Lee’s character and singular talents, though it decried his participation in the “rebellion” and referred to his perceived duty not to “raise his hand against his relatives, his children, and his home” as an “error of judgment,” a participation in a “wicked plot.”

Two days later, the Times declared that “The English journals are teeming with eulogistic obituary notices of Gen. Lee.” One week later, it reported glowingly on a gathering at none other than Cooper Union, “in a tribute to Robert E. Lee.”

It is noteworthy that none of these papers, Northern, Southern, or European, mentioned a war prosecuted either to extinguish or to defend Southern slavery, let alone a conflict to settle the future of “white supremacy.” For the South, it was a defensive war against an overweening, nationalist invader. For the North, it was a war to quell a “rebellion” against a Union that was somehow sacred and indissoluble.

Abraham Lincoln, remembering his revenues, had not threatened slavery where it already existed, had promoted an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing that the peculiar institution would live in the South in perpetuity (the “Corwin Amendment”), and in his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation held out the promise that any State in “rebellion” which would rejoin the Union could keep its slaves.

White supremacy was quite simply the status quo in every State, North and South, whether blacks were enslaved or free, before and after the war.

[So long] as race-baiting politicians can incite resentment to garner votes from a near-permanent black underclass and (now) a generation of white adults taught to hate their ancestors and view all history through the lens of Critical Race Theory. It is a clever means of changing the subject while the percentage of blacks in New Orleans living in poverty (and subject to violent crime) soars above that of the rest of America, a reality attested to by Ben C. Toledano in “New Orleans: An Autopsy” ten years ago.

The rule of Leftist Supremacists, from Moon Landrieu in the 70’s through six black Democratic mayors and up to Moon’s son Mitch, hasn’t altered these deplorable conditions, nor has the removal of Confederate monuments which, Landrieu admits, he never paid any mind to when growing up in New Orleans. The past is only a tool for manipulating the masses in the name of Progress, which translates into power for men like Landrieu.”

(The Discarded Image, Aaron D. Wolf, Chronicles, July 2017, excerpts pp. 36-37, www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Hostile Colonies and States United

The American Revolution involved two groups fighting the British: the conservatives, who reluctantly left British control as it guaranteed their power and wealth; and the radicals who wanted to overturn the aristocratic colonial structure as well as British rule from afar. The latter desired sovereign States with a weak central government, the former desired the reverse.

The author below notes “the writing and ratification of the Articles of Confederation is merely the first chapter in the constitutional history of the United States. In the years to come, section was to be arrayed against section, class against class, and party against party in an effort to determine the province of the central government and that of the States.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hostile Colonies and States United

“The fundamental difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of 1787 lies in the apportionment of power between the States and the central government. In the first the balance of power was to the States, and in the second to the central government. The first constitution was one of a federal organization; the second was in essence that of a national government, although political realities demanded the retention of federal features.

The difference between the two was the result of the shifting balances of political power within the thirteen States, which enabled first one party and then the other to write its desires, its beliefs, and its interests into the colorless language of a constitution.

Hence it was the nature of union, and not its desirability, that was the major issue between the parties in 1776. The conservatives wished for the recreation, as nearly as might be, of the system that had existed before the Revolution.

The radicals tended to desire a union chiefly for the purpose of carrying on the war, but a union that would not infringe upon the sovereign authority of the individual States. They believed profoundly that only under such a system was democracy possible.

The greatest obstacle to a union of almost any kind was the States’ independence of one another. The colonies had been founded individually and had developed different traditions and attitudes in spite of a common heritage of language, law, and government.

Their relations with each other were often unfriendly, especially after the middle of the eighteenth century, as a result of rival land claims. Actual warfare had been prevented only by the external power of Britain, which subdued them but did not eliminate their animosity toward one another.

Above all, the radicals believed that the independence of the States was the guarantee of the kind of government they desired. Speaking broadly, it was democracy they wanted, and they knew full well that the kind of democracy they wanted was incompatible with centralization. Their experience with the British Empire had taught them that much, and they were not soon to forget the lesson.”

(The Articles of Confederation, an Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 109-110; 116-117)

The Problem of Sovereignty

Regarding the location of sovereignty in the American system of government, Jefferson Davis, in his postwar “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” stated: “If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the respective States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the adoption of the tenth amendment to the Constitution, which was not only one of the amendments proposed by various States when ratifying that instrument, but the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Problem of Sovereignty

“The fundamental issue in the writing of the Articles of Confederation was the location of the ultimate political authority, the problem of sovereignty. Should it reside in Congress or the States?

Many conservatives in 1776-1777, as in 1787, believed that Congress should have a “superintending” power over both the States and their individual citizens. They had definite reasons for such a desire.

They feared mob action and democratic rule.

The radicals, on the other hand, were fighting centralization in their attack upon the British Empire and upon the colonial governing classes, whose interests were so closely interwoven with the imperial relationship. Furthermore, the interests of the radicals were essentially local.

To them union was merely a means to their end, the independence of the several States. Hence centralization was to be opposed. Finally, the democratic theory of the time was antagonistic to any government with pretensions toward widespread dominion. Theorists believed that democratic government was impossible except within very limited areas.

Thus the conflict between those who were essentially “nationalists” and those who were forerunners of the “States rights” school.

The real significance of this controversy was obscured during the nineteenth century by historians and politicians who sought to justify the demands of rising industrialism on the central government and the Northern attitude toward the South’s secession in 1860-61.

The Southern contention that the Union was a compact between sovereign States was opposed by the contention that the Union was older than the States. North historians insisted that the first Continental Congress was a sovereign body, and that it represented the people of the United States as a whole, not the people of the several States as represented in their State governments.

To prove their contentions the Northerners cited such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution of 1787 . . . [and italicizing] to place undue emphasis on the portions of the documents which seemed to prove their arguments.

This is essentially the technique of argument used by small boys and would be unworthy of consideration had it not been so effective in shaping certain ideas which have profoundly influenced the interpretation of American history.”

(The Articles of Confederation, an Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 161-163)

 

America’s Crisis of Nationalism

John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902) was an English historian, politician and writer who was sympathetic toward the American Confederacy as he saw its constituent States defending themselves against an oppressive centralized government under Lincoln. He noted that though the United States had begun as a federated republic of sovereign States, it was fast becoming a centralized democracy operating on simple majority rule – “the tyrannical principle of the French Revolution.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

America’s Crisis of Nationalism

“The French Revolution constitutes a dividing line in history, before which the concept of nationality did not exist. “In the old European system, the rights of nationalities were neither recognized by governments not asserted by the people.” Frontiers were determined by the interests of ruling families. Absolutists cared only for the state and liberals only for the individual. The idea of nationality in Europe was awakened by the partition of Poland.

This event left, for the first time, a nation desiring to be united as a state – a soul wandering in search of a body, as [Lord] Acton put it. The absolutist governments which had divided up Poland – Russia, Prussia, and Austria – were to encounter two hostile forces, the English spirit of liberty and the doctrines of the French Revolution. These two forces supported the nascent idea of nationality, but they did so along different paths.

When the absolutist government of France was overthrown, the people needed a new principle of unity. Without this, the theory of popular will could have broken the country into as many republics as there were communes.

At this point the theory of the sovereignty of the people was used to create an idea of nationality independent of the course of history. France became a Republic One and Indivisible. This signified that no part could speak for whole. The central power simply obeyed the whole. There was a power supreme over the state, distinct from and independent of its members. Hence there developed a concept of nationality free from all influence of history.

The revolution of 1848, though unsuccessful, promoted the idea of nationality in two ways.

[Lord] Acton brought [the theory of nationality versus the right of nationality] to bear upon the American crisis of 1861. He . . . took the story of the American sectional conflict and [placed] it in the wider frame of the French revolutionary nationalism and the ensuing movements toward unification.

For Acton therefore the great debate over the nature of the American union and the Civil War was not a unique event, but part of that political spasm . . . which was then affecting Europe and erupting in military struggles.

Acton addressed himself to the problem in a long essay on “The Political Causes of the American Revolution” [in May 1861] . . . By “American Revolution” Acton meant the Civil War, then on the verge of breaking out. His essay was a causal exposition of the forces which had made this a crisis of nationalism.

His approval of [John C.] Calhoun centers really on one point: Calhoun had seen that the real essence of a constitution lies in its negative aspect, not in its positive one. It is more important for a constitution in a democracy to prohibit than to provide.

The will of the majority would always be reaching out for more power, unless this could be checked by some organic law, the end of liberty would come when the federal authority became the institute of the popular will instead of its barrier.”

(Lord Acton: The Historian as Thinker; In Defense of Tradition, Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Liberty Fund, 2000, excerpts pp. 624-628)

 

 

Apr 8, 2018 - Antebellum Realities, Democracy, Immigration, New England History    Comments Off on Nativists in New York City

Nativists in New York City

Samuel Morse (1791-1872) was an inventor born in Massachusetts and graduated from Yale in 1810. His father was a Puritan idealist, Calvinist preacher and supporter of the aristocratic Federalist Party. Though descended from foreign immigrants, especially those who decimated and enslaved the Pequot tribe of New England, Morse the younger developed a distaste for foreign immigrants.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Nativists in New York City

“[Nativists in the mid-1830s appealed] to anti-Catholic prejudices through lurid tales of illicit affairs among the clergy. Subscribers to local journals could read the serialized accounts of brothels and nunneries . . . [the New York Sun] fed its readers new accounts by a Rosamond Culbertson describing what she alleged to be the licentious practices of certain Roman Catholic clergy in safely distant Cuba.

Nativists and their sympathizers continued to play upon the prejudices of the populace in preparation for the election to be held in April 1836. Finding a suitable candidate [to carry the Nativist Party banner for mayor of New York City] proved difficult.

Finally, during the first week of April Samuel F. B. Morse was selected, thus ending the difficult search. During a sojourn in Europe (1829-1832) the artist-inventor developed an ardent dislike of foreigners, particularly Roman Catholics, and had an active fear of Jesuits and the Papacy.

As early as 1834 he had expressed these views vociferously in the New York Observer, a Protestant newspaper, and in his correspondence.

Despite his Nativist views, Morse was an ardent Jacksonian. He described his political views as “Democratic principles of the Jeffersonian school, as they stand opposed to aristocracy in all its shapes, ruinous monopolies, to a union of church and state.”

He explained his identification with the Nativists as resulting from a fear that these ideals were endangered by riots and lawlessness instigated by “priest-controlled machines.”

(Native Democratic Association in New York City, Leo Hershkowitz, New York Historical Quarterly, Volume XLVI, Number 1, January 1962, excerpts pp. 56-58)