Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Founding Fathers: What you really need to know

Often in political debates, you hear one side claim that the Founding Fathers would have supported their argument. That's a lie. The Founding Fathers were more politically diverse than the politicians that currently serve us. This is not a comprehensive look at everything they were, but this is a look at the some of the better known and lesser known aspects of them that is likely to blow the mind of anyone using the Founding Fathers as justification for their argument.

It is important to note that over a hundred people are considered Founding Fathers. There are Signers of the Declaration of Independence (56), Framers of the Constitution (55), and others who earned the title due to their significant contributions. In 1973, Richard Morris (historian) labeled seven individuals as the main Founding Fathers. I'll cover those seven key figures as well as three others of note.

In this article:
Thomas Paine * Thomas Jefferson * Alexander Hamilton * John Jay * John Adams * James Madison * Benjamin Franklin * George Washington * Samuel Adams * Patrick Henry * A Summation

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

He's called the Father of the Revolution. He wrote Common Sense (1776) which helped sway public opinion for American independence. John Adams wrote, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

He wrote The Age of Reason (1794-1807) which was a deist attack on (corrupt) organized religion and doctrine which challenged the Bible and also Rights of Man (1791) which argued for a representative government, progressive taxation (taxing the rich at a higher rate than the poor), and social programs to help the poor. In Agrarian Justice (1795), he wrote that there should be a minimum wage and that non-land owners should be given a yearly allowance from the government, starting at age 21, which would amount today to approximately $1,800 and increasing upon reaching 50 years of age.

His work, African Slavery in America (1775), was the first to propose ending African slavery.

Paine opposed the Constitution due to the lack of universal suffrage. No Christian church would bury him, and only six people attended his funeral (two of whom were black).

He was influenced by Benjamin Franklin; revered by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison; and inspired by the Iroquois. It's said that George Washington abandoned Paine when he was arrested in France (due to his controversial writings) because of what he wrote in the Age of Reason.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

“I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.”

Among many other things, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a governor of Virginia, the third President of the United States, and a deist. Jefferson was a powerful advocate for freedom who said, “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms,” but who also abhorred war and said, “The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.”

He was radical in regards to state rights, writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (with James Madison) which were criticized as a recipe for state secession from the union. They were written in response to the arguably unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts (which had an expiration date); however, it's said that the damage from the resolutions was longer lasting. They claimed a state could declare acts by the Federal government unconstitutional if they didn't meet a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution.

As governor of Virginia, he abolished primogeniture (the right of the first born to inherit everything) and established freedom of religion. Although a strong critic of religion, saying, “In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty,” he was also a staunch defender of religious liberty who said, “I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others,” and also, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.” Indeed, he prevented Patrick Henry from inserting the words “Jesus Christ” into the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom (1779) in order to not exclude non-Christians.

When political parties emerged, he was in the Republicans which is now called the Democratic-Republican Party by political scientists.

As the first United States Secretary of State, he frequently disagreed with Alexander Hamilton, causing Washington to push out Jefferson which ended their friendship. Jefferson was vindictive towards Britain, stopping trade and hurting America in the process.

Jefferson became President on the backs of slaves with the 3/5 compromise; however, he outlawed the importation of more African slaves (1808). He also used the Alien and Sedition Acts to his benefit in a hypocritical maneuver. Disliking the Jay Treaty, he replaced it with the Embargo Act of 1807 which caused economic strife. For someone who believed in small government, he certainly interfered in trade.

He wrote Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) which advocated separation of church and state, individual liberty, and the belief that different races couldn't live together in the same society, particularly that discord would exist between former slaves and those who had enslaved them.

Jefferson wrote the Jefferson Bible (1819), also called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which eliminated all supernatural elements. He approved of the teachings of Jesus but was a deist who believed God was material.

He had very strong feelings on how taxation should be leveled, wanting the wealthy to bear all of the tax burden for financing the country because they are the ones able to afford it without suffering.

"Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise." - Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785

"The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied... Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, etc., the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings." - Thomas Jefferson to Gen. Kosciusko, 1811

He also had strong feelings on constitutions and whether they should be used “as is” from generation to generation. He wrote, “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.” He wouldnot want later generations bound by what was written by those in the past if those writings had become inapplicable, out of context, or simply wrong due to new learning.

Jefferson believed in racial inferiority, common for his time. He violated treaties with Native Americans and even signed into law a bill banning blacks from carrying mail. Yet, he still recognized all humans had the right to be free. Given his intelligence, he'd certainly believe in equality today. He likely didn't free his own slaves because it would have then been odd for his lover (Sally Hemings, a slave) to be by his side if she wasn't his slave. It was confirmed in 1988 that the descendants of Sally Hemings share his genes.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

“It's not tyranny we desire; it's a just, limited, federal government.”                      

Hamilton was the primary designer of our system of government, considered the intellectual author the Constitution, the primary author of The Federalist papers (with James Madison and John Jay), father of the Coast Guard, and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

A revolutionary war hero, he led the final battle that ended the British military presence. Hamilton supported a strong, central government that could actually pay its troops (a big problem at the time).

The states were nervous about the Constitution because fresh memories of European monarchies were still in their minds. The proposed republic, a representative democracy based on a liberal democracy, required a lot of explaining which was where the necessity for the Federalist Papers arose.

The Federalist Papers were a series of essays written in defense of the proposed Constitution. In total, Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 essays, Madison wrote 29, and Jay wrote five. Today, they're considered the primary interpretation of the Constitution.

In Federalist No. 9, Alexander Hamilton wrote that factions are groups of citizens with interests contrary to the rights of others. (The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, "prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This is violated when a state grants a particular class of individuals the right to engage in an activity yet denies other individuals the same right. You know, like marriage.)

In Federalist #10, James Madison wrote that a federal government is better at protecting individual rights from factions than states. It must be noted that Hamilton was a Federalist, supporting a strong central government, while Madison was a strict constructionist, favoring state rights over the federal government.

Hamilton is often regarded as the primary opponent of strict constructionists. He and his allies strongly advocated the implied powers of the Constitution and was opposed by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Wording of phrases such as the General Welfare clause were included in the Constitution likely because both sides felt they would be able argue its meaning to their benefit. To this end, he's quoted as saying, “Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.”

As Secretary of the Treasury, he created the US mint and the first national bank which met with huge opposition from Jefferson, Madison, and other Anti-Federalists. However, Hamilton's efforts helped bring a stable financial system as opposed to what had existed under the Confederation. On debts, he said, “A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.”

In the Report on Manufactures (1791), Hamilton expressed that the General Welfare clause in the Constitution permitted the creation of extensive programs. Congress approved the report and moved ahead with the programs. Strong opposition arose from Madison who believed that only what the Constitution specifically enumerated was permissible while Hamilton felt that an implied power permitted a specific power. Essentially, they argued over whether Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which reads, "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States," actually gives Congress the power to provide for the general welfare of the United States. This issue has remained contentious throughout the history of the United States.

Hamilton was anti-slavery, pro-equality, and highly religious. Declaring Jefforsonism incompatible with Christ, Hamilton founded the Christian Constitutional Society in 1802 which put supporting the Christian religion before supporting the Constitution.

Although he was a member of the Federalist Party, he opposed political parties as he considered them too factious. Yet, he regularly delivered scathing personal attacks on his political opponents, even sabotaging his own party in the 1800 election, causing John Adams to lose. He was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr arising from Hamilton helping to scuttle Burr's 1804 New York gubernatorial race. It's worth noting that Aaron Burr believed strongly in women's suffrage which was an unusual belief to hold at the time.

On a more moderate note, his quotes against partisanship are wise words even for today:
Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” Today, political parties will oppose a thing simply because it is suggested by the other political party. And while he seemingly often violated his own words which said, “In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution,” he also once said, “Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”

John Jay (1745-1829)

“The wise and the good never form the majority of any large society and it seldom happens that their measures are uniformly adopted.”

Revolutionary, Federalist Paper writer, strong slavery opponent, anti-gerrymander-er, and Federalist are all terms to describe John Jay. He was our first Chief Justice of the United States and second Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

As Governor of New York, he signed the 1799 act which enacted gradual emancipation for slaves. Although a slave owner, he'd been attempting to pass a law to abolish slavery since 1777. He made a habit of buying slaves and freeing them as adults.

Jay belonged to the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. He wrote, “"Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war.” He felt that, “it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." He also argued for a prohibition against Catholics holding office.

John Adams (1735-1826)

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”            

Federalist, Unitarian, and Enlightenment proponent all sum up John Adams. He wrote the Massachusetts Constitution (1779, with Samuel Adams) which ended slavery there. From 1789-1797, he was our first Vice President, and from 1797-1801, he was our second President.

"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves."
John Adams, September 10, 1785

He oversaw the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Though being the first choice to draft it, he suggested Jefferson for that role. His work, Thoughts on Government (1776), was influential in creation of the state constitutions.

During his presidency (which he won running against Thomas Jefferson), he endured opposition from Jeffersonian Republicans as well as from Hamilton and other members of his party.

In 1798, a Quasi-War broke out with France. France saw the Jay Treaty as America favoring Britain over France, and the French were also upset that Jefferson didn't become President. Though the Navy was built up under the effective direction of Hamilton, Adams forged peace with France through diplomacy which hurt his popularity. American opinion had turned towards one for war, but it would have been unwinnable.

In 1798, Adams signed into law four acts which were known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. As it was believed Anti-Federalists were aiding the French in trying to cause the states to secede and cause the union to tear itself apart, it became a crime to publish malicious writing against the government. Ten people were convicted due to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Jefferson defeated Adams bid for re-election in 1800.

Due to his strong abolitionist beliefs, Adams never bought or employed slaves. His wife was also an abolitionist. However, he still had a way to go in regards to believing in human equality as he's quoted as saying, “I must not write a word to you about politics, because you are a woman.”

As a proponent of Enlightenment, he promoted science and intellectual interchange over superstition and stood against abuses by the church and state. In what seems a contradiction, he was also partial deist and called Thomas Paine a Blackguard for writing the Age of Reason. In 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson.

James Madison (1751-1836)

“In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.”

Our fourth President (1809-1817), a deist, slave-owner, Father of the Constitution (because of the usage of his Virginia Plan at the Constitutional Convention), and Father of the Bill of Rights, he's often regarded as the primary strict constructionist of the Founding Fathers. An anti-federalist of the Democratic-Republican Party, he was one of the staunchest advocates of a strict interpretation of the Constitution where no implied powers were permissible. He was also opposed to a national bank.

Madison was witness to religious persecution in his youth, such as seeing Baptist preachers in Virginia being punished for publishing their beliefs. As such, he became one of the staunchest defenders of religious freedom among the Founders. This came from his support of liberty rather than him having an idealistic view of religion. He said, “In no instance have... the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”

Other beliefs he held over the course of his career were that the citizens should be armed, that the capacity for intelligence of women shouldn't be doubted, and that capital punished could be abolished. Indeed, both Thomas Jefferson and Madison took efforts to limit capital punishment in the Constitution.

He actually originally opposed the Bill of Rights, fearing that some would think it was an all inclusive list of rights. He was a believer that our founding documents should only declare the powers that the government has, rather than mentioning the rights it doesn't have the power to take away or the powers that it doesn't have. However, he wrote the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments to the Constitution. One of his suggestions which was rejected was a declaration of national sovereignty over the states that might have prevented the Civil War.

Madison was instrumental in convincing many staunch Anti-Federalists to ratify the Constitution. There was much debate at the time over whether the states or the national government should have more power. Madison's own answer on that would waver over his career, eventually settling on a middle ground. As to his being called “Father of the Constitution,” he said, “The Constitution was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.”

He wrote in Federalist No. 44, "No axiom is more clearly established in law or in reason than wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power for doing it is included," which contradicts his opposition Hamilton's usage of the Constitution's General Welfare clause.

During the war of 1812, Madison decided a national bank might deserve consideration. Lack of a national bank made financing a standing army difficult. His failure to avoid the war with Britain is considered a great mistake. Of war, he said, “Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

In 1815 (as President), he abandoned his strict constructionism again, as convenient. He approved the Henry Clay's American System economic plan which authorized a Hamiltonian national bank, tariffs, federal absorption of state debts, and federal funding for internal improvements such roads and canals. At the end of his Presidency, he vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817 to provide internal national improvements, though he supported federal funding for roads and canals (Article 1, Section 8 enumerates the creation of post offices and post roads, not simply “roads and canals” in general).

At his life's end, he rewrote many of his own writings (much like a company feverishly shredding documents), revising his personal history as necessary as he feared how others might deconstruct his works. Slavery weighed on his conscience, and so he decided (to the dismay of many of those who knew him) that the way to remove slavery's stain on the U.S. was to send them back to Africa.

Over the course of his life Hamilton served as one of his great allies and great enemies. It's of note that Madison was introduced to his wife by Aaron Burr.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

“To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.”                                                        

Inventor, author, scientist, musician, deist, our first postmaster general (1775-1776, under the Continental Congress), diplomat (to Sweden and France), and the 6th President of Pennsylvania, he was part of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, making a few small changes in Thomas Jefferson's draft. Of the Declaration, he said, "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

In Philadelphia, he founded the first public library (1731), the first volunteer fire department (1736), a hospital (1751), and a fire insurance company (1752). He advocated for paper money and against racial prejudice towards Native Americans. Of racial prejudice, he asked, “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?" He didn’t' believe so, and his reasoning is applicable in modern times, such as the anti-Muslim surge in America following terrorists attacks from a few Muslims.

Franklin wrote several papers on the importance of abolition and eventually freed his own slaves. He was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. In his writings, he explained the importance of integrating free blacks into the U.S. rather than shipping them to Africa.

Regarding religion, he believed organized religion was important for virtue but was himself a deist. He rarely attended services and rejected Christian dogma by writing the pamphlet A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain (1725). However, he later criticized his own works and Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. Although a believer in the American Enlightenment, Franklin considered Paine's work to go too far. Throughout his changes in opinion, Franklin would remain a believer in religion in general, even if not specifically.

He opposed price controls, trade restrictions, and subsidy of the poor. His work On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor (1776) (which is discussed in my article here) explains his problems with the aforementioned issues and frames them in the context of his time. Franklin showed great dislike, as a rich man, of being asked to assist in the maintenance of the poor. Most modern conservative arguments against Welfare, Social Security, and other “hand outs” come from him without change despite the world (and therefore, the context) being different today. Doing so shows great disconnect from reality. I believe it would've upset Franklin if he'd known his works would be used thus.

George Washington (1732-1799)

“Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power.” [letter to John Jay, Aug. 1, 1786]

Revolutionary war hero, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and our first President, Washington was charismatic, a natural leader, aristocratic, snobbish, a rich plantation owner, and a slave owner. He was against political parties, long-term alliances, and foreign involvement. He was for nationalism and federalism, and he believed the federal government should improve infrastructure and promote commerce. Washington declined pay for the Presidency but was talked into it so as to avoid setting a bad precedent. It wasn't desired that, in the future, a man of lesser means should feel guilty for taking the pay for the office. As the office of the President was designed with him in mind, his actions defined the position for the future.

As a Federalist in spirit (he remained an independent) who stood with the likes of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and John Adams, Jeffersonians quite disliked his influence as a symbol and delayed the Washington Monument.

Sometimes, he's criticized for having more luck and charisma in skill than in battle, and his campaigns against Native Americans are noted for their brutality.

The Whiskey Rebellion occurred as a result of an excise tax on distilled spirits. Washington sent a militia (formed from men of four states) to deal with the insurrection. Without fighting, the rebels dispersed upon seeing the militia. This was a key moment proving the power and authority of the federal government and Constitution. As President, Thomas Jefferson repealed the whiskey tax.

As to his religion, debate still exists today regarding whether he was a devout Episcopalian or a deist merely going through the motions. His actions and speech indicate not being a devout Christian. He'd often not take communion and leave Church early (causing a rector to tell him to stop attending communion services). He'd refer to God as Providence and only mention Jesus when referring to Christianity as the religion of Christ. As he often referred to Providence, it's evident he did believe in religion although it doesn't speak as to what religion.

Later in life, he came to see slavery as a moral failure and included freedom for all his slaves in his will. The will also allowed for job-training and a pension for his slaves. Martha freed them a year following his death in 1799 although the will said they didn't need to be freed until her death.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.” - Suggested as additional wording to the Constitution

Adams was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was a tax collector, advocate for the Bill of Rights, the 4th Governor of Massachusetts (1794-1797), and a congregationalist Protestant. He was an abolitionist who, with John Adams, ended slavery with the Massachusetts Constitution (1779). His writings from Harvard College show that, even then, he supported more colonial rights than currently existed.

Although the popular Sam Adams brand of beer is named after him, history remains uncertain if he was a brewer or merely a maltster who made the malts used in brewing. As an elected tax collector, he was a failure. He often let monies owed slide, causing himself to eventually be charged with a hefty sum for the monies he didn't collect. However, the debts were largely paid off by his friends, and he emerged popular and with political influence.

When British Parliament passed the Sugar Act of 1764, Adams wrote instructions for representatives of the Massachusetts House for the Boston Town Meeting. In these instructions, he wrote that the tax wasn't valid because they amounted to taxation without representation.

When British Parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765, he was again appointed to write instructions for representatives of the Massachusetts House. Adams political messages had taken hold in many and a group called the Loyal Nine organized protests of the Stamp Act while Adams urged boycotts of British goods.

When British Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, Adams organized repeated efforts to stop it. According to popular myth, Adams gave a signal to enact the Boston Tea Party (where the Sons of Liberty - possibly 130 men dressed as Mohawk Indians - dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor) once all other efforts had failed. In any case, he defended the Boston Tea Party as a principled act not the act of a lawless mob.

He wrote in praise of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and supported the call for American independence. When the time came to form an American government, he strongly supported the formation of a republic, saying, “a state is never free except when each citizen is bound by no law whatever that he has not approved of, either directly, or through his representatives.” Believing only land-owning males should vote, he felt that the elected officials would balance the rights of those who couldn't vote with that of those who could.

Adams supported suppression of both the Shay's Rebellion (1786, a year before the Constitution) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1794). In Shay's Rebellion, farmers who were upset with high taxes took up arms and attacked debtor courts in two counties. The revolt was ended by militia. Similarly, militia put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Although Adams had advocated rebellion against an unrepresentative government, he opposed rebelling against a representative government as had resulted from the American Revolution, going so far as to think participants in Shay's Rebellion should be hanged. He said, “the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death.” After all, solving such disagreements is why elections exist in a representative democracy such as the American republic.

In this context, it's clear that the modern Tea Party is no spiritual successor to the Boston Tea Party. While the original tea party protested unrepresentative taxes, the new one protests taxes from the representative government. As far as those who claim there's a “2nd Amendment solution” should elections not work, those who actually take up arms against a representative government “ought to suffer death,” according to this Founding Father.

Patrick Henry (1722-1803)

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

Delegate to the First Continental Congress (1774) and Governor of Virginia, Patrick was an anti-federalist, critic of the Constitution, advocate for the Bill of Rights, and a supporter of state rights. He even went so far as to oppose James Madison, worried that the Constitution could lead to monarchy.

During the revolution, he often used fear of slaves and Native Americans to motivate people. In trying to convince Virginia to take up arms against the British in 1775, he said, “"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"

Henry was an unrepentant slave owner, and in the light of his quote regarding liberty and death, a hypocrite. He also later supported federalist John Adams and opposed the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, thereby protecting the federal government against those protesting the Alien and Sedition Acts which were arguably unconstitutional. As President, John Adams would try to appoint Henry as the American representative to France; however, Henry declined and would die a year later. His legacy reveals a hypocritical man and staunch anti-federalist who later swung to the federalist side.

A Summation

Religion Among the Founders

The Founders were a religiously diverse group. Although they lived in Christian society, there were quite a few deists among them. Examining the key seven founders, they fall into a nearly 50/50 split between Christians and deists. However, they were all firmly religious and believed in a creator. Still, many firmly believed in a strong separation of church and state. Additionally, the U.S. Constitution owes more to the Iroquois Confederacy than it does any religious beliefs. []

Right to Bear Arms

The Founding Fathers believed very strongly in the right of the citizens to keep and bear weapons. This wasn't merely for the purposes of having a well-regulated militia although several of the Founders (Jefferson, Madison) did indeed dislike the idea of the US maintaining a standing army.

Americans have the right and advantage of being armed - unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” - James Madison (The Federalist, No. 46 at 243- 244)

No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” - Thomas Jefferson (proposed Virginia Constitution, June, 1776)

Where and when did freedom exist when the power of the sword and purse were given up from the people?” - Patrick Henry (June 9, 1788)

The other Founders were similarly supportive although the language of their quotes isn't quite as clear, making for less catchy phrases today. However, it must be noted that arms are never clearly defined, and that in 1791 (when the Second Amendment was ratified), the Gatling Gun (designed to be so horrible that war would never be fought again) had not yet been invented. The term arms has changed over time to include more and more weapons. If we want to be strict Constitutionalists, we would have to say the Second Amendment only permits for the weapons that the existed around 1791 because that's what “arms” meant when it was written.

Reasonable people must pose the question as to whether the possession of all arms must be allowed in order to maintain the people's right to keep and bear arms. Must they be permitted to possess automatic weapons, grenades, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers? All are defined as arms. And all possibly give one person the vast destructive power of what in 1891 could have been an entire army unit. Likewise, when smuggling of American guns is a huge problem, it must asked whether someone must be allowed to buy 20 guns in one day in order to maintain the right to bear arms.

Necessary and Proper Clause and the General Welfare Clause

These were both points of contention between the Founders. In simplistic terms, the federalist founders were more apt to use them, and the anti-federalist founders usually opposed the measures for which they were being used.

The Necessary and Proper clause reads, “The Congress shall have Power - To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” Hamilton and Madison both initially approved of it while Patrick Henry said it would lead to unlimited federal power.

The General Welfare clause (Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) reads, "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,"

When Hamilton wanted to create the First Bank of the United States, Madison disagreed that the Constitution permitted; however, Madison was embarrassed when his own writing, which suggested it was permitted, was read aloud in Congress. The words of Madison which embarrassed him were, “No axiom is more clearly established in law or in reason than wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power for doing it is included,” taken from Federalist No. 44 which was written to support the Constitution. During his later Presidency in a time of war, Madison expressed regret at not have a stronger national finance system which a stronger bank would have provided.

Debate has never ended over how much to limit these clauses. Indeed, even Supreme Court decisions tend to politically swing to one side or the other, depending on whether the justices ascribe to federalist or anti-federalist tendencies. It can be said that neither idea is right or wrong, as both opinions were held amongst the Founders. However, it must be said that some of the anti-federalist founders eventually moved toward sharing federalist viewpoints (Patrick Henry) or held contradictory viewpoints (Madison).

The creation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were hotly debated and are seemingly supported by the General Welfare clause because the government lays taxes to then provided a welfare service to the people. More modern arguments involved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially called Obamacare). Although, the rightward-leaning Supreme Court didn't uphold it under the Necessary and Proper or General Welfare clause but instead as a commerce regulation and a tax. It's likely the debate over these clauses of the Constitution will never end, and that debaters will declare that it's their viewpoint that agrees with those the Founders held. To those who say such a false thing, one must ask them to declare, “Which Founders?” An equal number of Founders very likely held an opposite viewpoint.

West, John G.; MacLean, Iain S. (1999). Encyclopedia of religion in American politics. Greenwood Publishing Group
Constitution Online
Wells, Life and Public Services
Alexander, Revolutionary Politician
Saul K. Padover, Jefferson: A Great American's Life and Ideas, (1952)
Raphael, Ray (2004). Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past. New York: The New Press
Baron, Brewed in America
Madison, James (1900–1910). Gaillard Hunt, ed.. ed. The Writings of James Madison. G. P. Putnam’s Sons
John Adams by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2001
Morris, Richard B. Witness at the Creation; Hamilton, Madison, Jay and the Constitution 1985
Combs, Jerald. A. The Jay Treaty: Political Background of Founding Fathers (1970)
Brands, H.A.. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000)
Brookhiser, Richard (1996). Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. New York: Free Press

Other Articles of Interest:
Sexiest 43 presidents
America: Republic or Democracy? by William P. Meyers

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Left Wing Anti-Gun Conspiracy

There are two primary things that right wing bloggers and journalists have been pointing to with the regards to the vast left wing conspiracy against gun ownership: the Small Arms Treaty with the UN and the Fast and Furious operation of the Obama administration.

The UN Small Arms Treaty

About the Small Arms Treaty with the UN, there are articles such as this one where contributor Larry Bell writes, “While the terms have yet to be made public, if passed by the U.N. and ratified by our Senate, it will almost certainly force the U.S. To: [list follows].”

If you note that he uses the words “almost certainly” that means that he's making things up. There's been a whole lot of speculation on a bill that hasn't even been drafted yet. That article came from 2011, and the UN is set to meet July 2-29, 2012 to draft it.

Articles here, here, and here explain quite thoroughly that international treaties such as this one could impact international trade and then only if the US agrees to it. There would be no impact on domestic US gun ownership and trade. Any laws influencing that would have to be passed by Congress or the states.

In regards to those claiming a UN treaty constitutes an attack on the US 2nd Amendment, David Fidler, international law professor at Indiana University, says, “They show next to no understanding of how international law works in the context of the United States Constitution.”

The Fast and Furious

Some bloggers and journalists claim that an ATF operation gave guns (i.e. walked the guns) to Mexican cartels so that the ensuing gun violence on Americans would cause an outcry allowing the US government to restrict gun ownership in the US.

An article in Fortune clearly described the operation. Starting in 2009, an ATF operation was tasked to monitor suspected gun smugglers who funnel American guns to Mexico. An estimated 2,000 guns are smuggled out of the US to Mexico per day. In Arizona, there is no waiting period and individuals can buy an unlimited number of guns per purchase. They had a list of 31 suspects by June 2010; however, the US Attorney's office would not indict any suspects. These suspects were Americans without criminal records whom were allegedly paid by Mexican criminals to purchase guns. In December 2010, a US Border Patrol Agent was killed by a gun purchased by a suspect flagged by the Fast and Furious operation.

A disgruntled ATF agent who allegedly had wanted to take matters into his own hands began complaining about his superiors in the ATF operation (who'd had their hands tied by the US Attorney's office) and a Congressional investigation was launched. It's apparent from knowing the details of the actual operation that no guns were deliberately walked into the hands of criminals and that it was in fact prosecutors who wouldn't permit the arrest of Americans suspected of handing over guns to Mexican nationals. It is, in fact, very surprising that members of Congress, backed by the NRA, would be acting based on conspiracy theories. It's even more surprising that, in essence, the NRA would be upset that the ATF didn't arrest US gun purchasers in a more timely fashion to possibly prevent a border patrol agent's death. It's as if they're suggesting that guns, not people, kill people.

It appears that the only guns that the ATF may have been involved in losing were the result of the formerly mentioned disgruntled ATF agent. Said agent, John Dodson, had posed as a smuggler in a one-off operation which his immediate supervisor had refused to approve. Dodson then took vacation before the guns were recovered, and they were never recovered. The ATF had a clear policy of not intentionally losing (or walking) guns. Yet, one hot-headed agent lost some. This hardly constitutes a government conspiracy to deliberately arm criminals in attempt to increase gun violence and restrict the 2nd Amendment.

The operation's predecessor, the Bush administration's Operation Wide Receiver, was a gun walking operation which used faulty tracking methods.

What Have Democrats Actually Done?

Historically, Democrats have not been as much in the pocket of the NRA as Republicans and have been more for gun regulation (some more than others). However, this is a fight they have largely abandoned or merely chosen not to fight.

As President, the only gun-related legislation Obama has backed or signed was to make gun ownership and purchasing more permissive (reversing Bush laws that prevented people from bringing guns onto Amtrak trains and into national parks); however, before he became President, he supported and voted for laws to regulate guns. He's said that he supports the 2nd Amendment but wants reasonable regulation to make the country safer. It's been said that if existing laws were enforced, the man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed others wouldn't have been able to buy a gun.

From this, it's clear that there's no evidence of a vast anti-gun left wing conspiracy. Hopefully, reasonable people can discuss whether supporting the 2nd Amendment means that all places should be like Arizona where there's no waiting period, unlimited gun purchases can be made by individuals, and individuals can resell guns with no background check. Arizona also appears to be the gun smuggling capital of the US. Does it also mean that every individual should be able to own weapons that give individuals the power of small army units which the Founders likely didn't imagine: such as assault weapons, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers?

Further Reading: