Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Given all the other tomes on my bookshelf, I surprised myself by checking out from the library, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (2015), the author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, about Thomas Jefferson.

The subtitle, Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, informs how George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with others such as Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (not related), got the thirteen colonies, who had fought off the British, came to accept another centralized government.

A lot of reviewers noted, and it was my experience as well, that our American history courses in high school presented the narrative of the last quarter of the 18th period woefully incompletely. There was the revolutionary fury of the Declaration of Independence and the war, which was reasonably well laid out. The Articles of Confederation -they failed, but why? – followed. Then the Founders came up with the Constitution – but how? – including the Bill of Rights.

In fighting the American Revolution, the colonists were cohesive in that limited battle against the British. However, the notion that these 13 nation-states would then relinquish their independence to accept the creation of a powerful federal government was no guarantee. Certain visionaries diagnosed that structure created by the Articles of Confederation was doomed to fail. They suggested conventions, purportedly to amend the Articles, but ultimately to throw them out.

As Newsday noted: Ellis’ account of the run-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent state-by-state ratification process is so pacey it almost reads like a thriller. New Yorker Hamilton, fearful that anarchy was looming, developed a national vision first; Madison was just a bit behind. Jay, serving as foreign affairs secretary, was trying to fashion coherent foreign policy. But all agreed that if their efforts were to succeed, a reluctant Washington, who had retired to Mount Vernon, had to be on board. Washington’s revolutionary credentials were unassailable.

“In 1780, most Americans, having thrown off the fetters of a faraway central power, would have thought the kind of national government envisioned by Washington and Co. as peculiar in the extreme. Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution by a cabal of elites who crushed an emerging democracy. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the efforts the quartet as ‘a quite brilliant rescue’ of revolutionary principles.”

I totally agree that, for a topic that could be very dry, I found the book surprisingly engaging. Ellis explains how the Founders, even those opposing slavery such as Hamilton, essentially ducked the question for the cause of federalism, hoping the topic would be addressed down the road, which it was, decades later.

I should mention that I got the large-print version of The Quartet because that happened to be the edition near the checkout. I didn’t NEED it, but I’m not complaining about it either.

A good friend of mine asked me to try to find an interview with Antonin Scalia. The late Supreme Court justice talked about a “dead Constitution,” arguing that people ONLY have rights that are spelled out in the document or by the formal amendment process.

My friend recalls him saying that women, or blacks, had no inherent rights until they could convince sufficient White Men to give them rights thru the amendment process.

I discovered that he laid out his “originalist” views many times. In 2005, he delivered one of his two most essential speeches, Constitutional Interpretation the Old Fashioned Way:

Consider the 19th Amendment, which is the amendment that gave women the vote. It was adopted by the American people in 1920. Why did we adopt a constitutional amendment for that purpose? The Equal Protection Clause existed in 1920; it was adopted right after the Civil War. And you know that if the issue of the franchise for women came up today, we would not have to have a constitutional amendment.

Someone would come to the Supreme Court and say, “Your Honors, in a democracy, what could be a greater denial of equal protection than denial of the franchise?” And the Court would say, “Yes! Even though it never meant it before, the Equal Protection Clause means that women have to have the vote.” But that’s not how the American people thought in 1920.

In 2008, Scalia vigorously defended a ‘Dead’ Constitution. As his 2016 New York Times obit noted:

“By choosing the appeals court judge and former law professor, Reagan believed that his nominee would become a… man who would unite a coalition of like-minded justices… But from the beginning, Justice Scalia defied all expectations. He eagerly participated in questioning from the bench during oral arguments when new justices traditionally held back. He became an outspoken, witty and acerbic writer and speaker, who was deified or vilified by people on opposite sides of the political divide.”

This is the first Monday of October, the traditional opening of the Supreme Court’s term. Scalia has been replaced by Obama nominee Merrick Garland Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch.

Chris has thought about Julian Assange a lot more than I have:

What drove Julian Assange to start WikiLeaks? Do you think he’s white, gray or black hat? Has your opinion of Assange or Snowden changed at all due to the leaks and Russian involvement?

I’m going to assume Assange started Wikileaks for the reason he said he started it. From a recent Bloomberg story I can’t locate presently:

“A decade ago, when Assange founded WikiLeaks, it was a very different organization. As Raffi Khatchadourian reported in a 2010 New Yorker profile, Assange told potential collaborators in 2006, ‘Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.’ Read the rest of this entry »

The Constitution

If you’re ever looking at the Constitution of the United States, make sure you look at one that is footnoted, such as this one. It gives the reader a better sense of the trial and error that is the American experience.

For instance, Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

“All others” were slaves, who were three-fifths of a person. Read the rest of this entry »

1941 Dr Seuss cartoon illustrating the U.S. stance denying Jews safe haven from the Nazis.

1941 Dr Seuss cartoon illustrating the U.S. stance denying Jews safe haven from the Nazis.

From The Weekly Sift, November 21, 2016:

Like most people I know, I’ve been suffering occasional attacks of rage or depression. But it’s also oddly energizing sometimes. If you ever had fantasies of being a hero, well, gear up; the villains are taking the field. It feels like we’re in a trilogy, somewhere around the end of Book Two. Ancient evils have jumped out of history books and grainy newsreels, and are appearing on live TV. Their words and ideas are coming out of the mouths of our neighbors.

Who thought we’d have to deal with this in our lifetimes?

For some while now, everything that you can think to do about the situation is going to seem hopelessly inadequate. But it’s important that you do it anyway. That’s how it is at the end of Book Two. Read the rest of this entry »

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