Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Liberty and Private Property

Historical fiction

“The pillars of our prosperity are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.” Thomas Jefferson

The Founders were firm believers in private property rights.  In their minds, private property rights and liberty were intertwined.  Does this make sense?

Let’s go back to 1776.  At the time, we revolted against more than the British; we also revolted against Divine Right.  A short time earlier only nobility owned property and the great mass of humanity were serfs.  As this system withered, the common man developed property rights, and with property, gained political voice.  The Enlightenment preached that all men possessed God given rights, including the right to own property. By the second half of the eighteenth century, most British subjects equated property rights with liberty because they had seen that one followed the other.

In their view, prosperity and broad distribution of wealth depended on the protection of private property.  Even before the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights led off with “all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which … namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property.”

James Madison said, “The government is instituted to protect property.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Happy Constitution Day

And thank you Mr. James Madison—Father of the Constitution.

"The rights of man as the foundation of just Government had been long understood; but the superstructures projected had been sadly defective."

"[The Constitution of the United States] was not, like the fable Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain.  It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands."

"The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.  Woe to the ambition that would meditate the destruction of either!"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Slavery in the Constitution

If Founders believed in the Founding Principles, then they knew in their heart that slavery was the epitome of oppression. Slavery denied other humans the exercise of their liberty, which the Founders understood to be precious. Yet it was a slaveholder who wrote, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

Slavery is a difficult issue in our nation’s history. The Founders, especially the Constitutional Framers, have received censure for not taking greater action against slavery. Some of the more prominent Founders are denigrated because they owned slaves. How can the Founders comments be reconciled with their actions? The answer is not simple.

Slavery at the Founding

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, slavery was illegal only in Massachusetts; more than two hundred slave ships regularly sailed out of New England; and over half of the wealth in the South comprised slaves. Both England and the North held a large amount of loans collateralized by slaves. In 1787, slavery was widespread, and a major element of the economy in both the South and the North.

Despite the position of slavery in 1787, many of the Founders believed slavery was already on its way to extinction. The slave trade had been made illegal in ten of the thirteen states. All thirteen states were seeing an increase in free blacks, especially in the North and the frontier areas of the South. Between 1775 and 1800, the number of free blacks in the nation increased from fourteen thousand to one hundred thousand. Virginia had passed legislation that freed slaves who served in the army or navy. In 1780, Quakers in Pennsylvania pressured the state legislature to pass a law declaring all children of slaves free. With the importation of additional slaves prohibited in most of the country, declining slave labor economics, and growing pressure to declare the newborn of slaves free, most of the Founders didn’t want to jeopardize the union over an institution that was already dying. For this reason, even staunch abolitionists like Benjamin Franklin only made peripheral swipes at slavery during the Constitutional Convention.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Beaufort Observer reviews Tempest at Dawn

Allen Ball Reviews Tempest at Dawn in his Ballpoint column

United States History, Constitution
The real story of our nation's founding
"I find hope and confidence in the wonderfully written Tempest At Dawn, by James D. Best. Mr. Best sheds light on a time when it was necessary to revise the Articles of Confederation. He does it with eloquence. I wanted to read Tempest At Dawn, from cover-to-cover, after reading the first couple of pages. 

I felt as though I was present at the proceedings of the Convention and the private meetings of James Madison, George Washington, Roger Sherman, and others. You cannot help but feel pride as an American, as Tempest At Dawn reminds us of the impeccable integrity of our Founding Fathers. The delegates regarded one another with utmost respect and civility.

If you want to know the truth about the character of those gentlemen and you want to learn about the evolution of one of the greatest documents ever created by man—the Constitution of the United States—relax in your bed, favorite chair or recliner, and enjoy Tempest At Dawn, by James D. Best."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Author Interview: From Inception to Current Events

I ran across this Jumping in Pools interview from 2010, and it still reflects some good points about the creation of Tempest at Dawn and its relationship to current events. Here's a snippet:
"All of my writing had been highly technical, but storytelling has always fascinated me. Although I now write fiction, I had a bumpy start. I had to read piles of books on the art of fiction, hire a writing coach, and attend numerous workshops. Then I blundered around until I started to get the hang of it. It took years for me to shed the baggage that I had brought from the technical, non-fiction world. The main thing I had to learn was how to relay history and facts without interrupting the flow of the story. Much tougher than I expected."

United States Constitution
The real story of our nations founding.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fear of an Overly Powerful Government—As American as Apple Pie

Advocates for limited government are accused of wanting no government. It’s a straw man argument that in essence says we must keep every little piece of government or nothing at all. Limited government advocates do not want to eliminate all government, they only want to return government to its rightful place.

The Founders didn’t fear powerful government because they hated government; they feared powerful governments because they threaten liberty. This has been true throughout history. The more power government wields, the more it dictates the daily activities of its citizens. Big government doesn’t sometimes oppress. Sooner or later, big government always oppresses.

Today, many people believe the government should take care of them. The government should right every wrong and insure a fair distribution of necessities. The sad truth is that making sure everyone has shelter, food, health care, training or education, protection against disability or unemployment, and a risk-free retirement is expensive. Government services in excess of national income can work for a long time—decades even. Basically, it’s a sly way of buying votes with the next generation’s money. Unfortunately, it can’t last. Once the interest on the borrowed money starts claiming a big piece of the current budget, the responsibly can no longer be foisted onto the next generation, and the fiscal charade begins to crumble.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

American Exceptionalism?

In 1630 while still onboard ship, John Winthrop sermonized to his fellow Puritans that they were sailing to “a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Shiny City on a Hill
One hundred and fifty years later, the Founders believed this to their core. They believed they were building an exceptional nation and the world was watching. 

Although many politicians have used the idiom, the phrase “a shiny city on a hill” is most closely associated with Ronald Reagan. He used it many times in his political career, but never so poignantly as in his farewell address. 

Excerpt from Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address
“I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
Our forefathers moved through the founding period knowing the world was watching. The Founders were good people guided by solid, well-thought-out principles. They set their sights high. They chose to do something great. They wanted to be the light of the world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: Freedom’s Forge—How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

“Leave nothing to the uncertainty of procuring a warlike apparatus at the moment of public danger.” George Washington Fifth Annual Message to Congress

Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman is a celebration of people who know how to build things. The book is filled with characters that seemingly came from Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged … except these Americans were not fictional. They were real industrialists and miracle makers. In 1939, the United States possessed only skeletal armed forces, ranking eighth in the world behind tiny Holland. Production plants in the United States had become obsolete or run down by depression and harmful tax policies. America was ill-prepared for war and did not have factories that could change the situation. By 1942, from this standing start, American industry was producing more war materials than Germany, Japan, and Italy combined, and by the end of the war the United States had manufactured two-thirds of all war materials used by the Allies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Commentary—Cabal Intent on Usurpation

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to join the National Popular Vote compact. This brings the total number of states adopting the initiative to eleven. The movement is an attempt by political power brokers to circumvent the Constitution by promising their state’s total presidential electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, instead of awarding the votes to the state winner.

tcot, constitution
Will your vote count?
As of now, New York, California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington are part of this insidious compact. In plain terms, this means that if Vermont citizens vote for candidate A, but candidate B wins the national popular vote, Vermont citizens are disenfranchised because Vermont’s electoral votes will all be awarded to candidate B.  

As the list of states indicates, this is a raw power grab by big city machine politicians. Under this compact, they will have the power to appoint the executive branch.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Three Clauses That Have Caused Much Mischief

The Founders wanted to bequeath to posterity a straightforward government that inhibited the abuse of power. Their written words remain clear. Certain politicians and judges have skewed their meaning to do what they want, but most of the harm can be attributed to three clauses:
1.         The necessary and proper clause,
2.         The commerce clause, 
3.         And the general welfare clause.

It is nonsensical to assert that the Founders meant for any of these clauses to license general national authority. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Cicero on Natural Rights

Natural rights did not originate with the Founders, or with the Enlightenment for that matter. Both were highly influenced by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC–46 BC).  Cicero was the philosophic father of natural rights.

Friday, March 28, 2014

John Adams, Philosopher Rebel

John Adams was the leading expert on government in the colonies … at least until James Madison stepped to the forefront. Harvard educated, Adams was a champion of the Founding Principles, a firm proponent of Enlightenment teachings, and a constitutional scholar. Granted, he could be argumentative and self-righteous, but he was also a pious man of honor and character.

Tempest at dawn

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Founders—A Mixed Lot

People frequently refer to the Founders as if they were a homogenous group. They did share a belief in key principles, but they were very different in other respects. For example, George Washington was a wealthy plantation owner, but his top officers in the Revolution included Major General Nathanael Greene, who entered the war as a militia private and was the son of a small farmer; Major General Henry Knox, a Boston bookstore owner who later became President Washington’s Secretary of War; and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, born illegitimate in the West Indies to a struggling mother who died when Hamilton was thirteen. Hamilton went on to become the first Secretary of the Treasury.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thomas Jefferson, Rebel with a Cause

Thomas Jefferson was a planter, architect, revolutionary, author, agricultural scientist, inventor, and politician. He did other things in his spare time. His tombstone is inscribed, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”  The inscription says nothing about a presidency where he reduced spending, cut taxes, kept us out of war, and doubled the land mass of the country. He wrote the epitaph himself and included the accomplishments that he took the most pride in. 

Jefferson was in France during the Constitutional Convention, but the Declaration of Independence is possibly the most hopeful and eloquent statement of the Founding Principles. On June 11, 1776, the second Continental Congress appointed a committee to write a declaration of independence. Besides Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman were selected. One of these five was a renowned author. Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and his newspaper articles in the Pennsylvania Gazette had made him the best-known writer in North America. But Franklin declined to draft the declaration, supposedly due to poor health, so the committee asked the thirty-three-year-old Thomas Jefferson to draft the document.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Madison

March 16, 2014 marks the 263rd birthday of James Madison. 

In his later years, James Madison protested being referred to as the Father of the Constitution. He said the document was not “the off-spring of a single brain.” Our Constitution was actually the off-spring of fifty-five brains, although none were as potent as Madison’s. James Madison was arguably the most important Framerbefore, during, and after the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

political science
James Madison
Before the Constitutional Convention

In 1786, the country was at peace, but struggling. Congress called for a convention at Annapolis to offer amendments to the Articles of Confederation, but the meeting never convened due to the lack of a quorum. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton made a pact to promote another convention for the following year in Philadelphia.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Happiness or Misery of Millions Yet Unborn

The truly exceptional work in the founding began after the war for independence was won. During the Constitutional Convention , George Mason wrote, “The revolt from Great Britain and the formations of our new governments at that time, were nothing compared to the great business now before us; there was then a certain degree of enthusiasm, which inspired and supported the mind; but to view, through the calm, sedate medium of reason the influence which the establishment now proposed may have upon the happiness or misery of millions yet unborn, is the object of such magnitude, as absorbs, and in a manner suspends the operation of the human understanding.”

The writing and ratification of the Constitution made the United States of America unique. The origins of our republic were not by the sword, but through the calm, sedate medium of reason. There was a long and bloody revolution, but four years of peace had calmed the infant nation before the Founders collectively sat down to debate the design of a republic for millions yet unborn.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Voting rights in the Constitution

Some accuse Constitutional Conservatives of wanting to return our country to slavery and restricted voting rights. This is deflection. Constitutional conservatives want the government to adhere to the Constitution, including amendments, so this argument is specious. Amendments have solidified American positions on these issues and these amendments are part of the supreme law of the land.

Many also harbor misunderstandings about how the main body of the Constitution addressed slavery and voting rights. Despite obvious shortcomings, by 1775, the American colonies were the most democratic places on earth. In Britain, voting rights were far more limited than in the colonies. Less than ten percent of men could vote in Britain, and those who could vote were selected by local nobility. A far larger segment of men voted in the colonies and the requirements were set by law, not officials. Voting rights traced back to the earliest history of the colonies. Within days of landing in Jamestown, for instance, the first colonists elected an executive officer. Only six men were allowed to vote in this embryonic colony, but from that moment forward, colonists expanded the right to vote to broader segments of the population.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Anti-Constitution Mercenaries

In the past, I blogged at What Would The Founders Think? One of my articles was titled, “The Founders Fear.” The article asserted that the Founders architected a limited government because they feared unrestrained power. This was written way back in 2011, but I received a scolding from a troll last week. Reeve wrote: 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why did the colonists revolt?

In the five centuries following the Magna Carta (1215), Englishmen had gradually gained individual rights, so that by the late eighteenth century, the English were beginning to exercise a degree of self-government. The King and nobility still wielded substantial power, but Parliament had gained increasing authority, especially the elected House of Commons. 

Toward the end of this period, the opinions of those outside the aristocracy were increasingly influenced by the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement of the seventeen and eighteenth centuries. Enlightenment thinkers began to challenge existing religious, government, and social norms, and pushed for additional individual liberty and the free exercise of natural rights. They argued that mankind not only had a capacity for self-government, but that it was a natural right. Through an evolutionary process, Englishmen grew to enjoy an ever-increasing say over who made the laws that governed their lives. That is, those Englishmen who lived in England. If an Englishman happened to live in one of the British colonies, he was still a mere subject of the crown with no representation in Parliament.

United States history
Benjamin Franklin  before Lords in Council in Whitehall Chapel

Friday, February 7, 2014

Our American Heritage

The colonists did not only revolt against taxes; they revolted to stop the British from taking away the self-governance they already had been exercising since the earliest colonization. The crown appointed governors for the colonies, but over three thousand miles of ocean in the day of wind-powered ships gave ordinary Americans more freedom than a minor noble living in Bristol, England. (Connecticut and Rhode Island even elected their own governors.) Americans bristled over dictates from Parliament because colonial legislatures had been exercising substantial power for well over a century.
Preserve and Protect
Plymouth Plantation Today

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Time of Civil Debate

A rowdy debate consumed nearly everyone in the United States between the Constitutional Convention and ratification. The population of the country was about four million and possibly a quarter of that number were activists during the Revolution and founding. What did people think about a constitution written in secret? We don’t have to guess. A prodigious number of articles and pamphlets were published by proponents and opponents.

Tempest at Dawn

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Can Tempest at Dawn be taken seriously?

Tempest at Dawn is a novelization of the Constitutional Convention. As a novel, it is not bound by the rigorous constraints of a nonfiction history book, but it does not deviate from the historical record except for modernizating language, re-sequencing of debates for logical presentation, and attributing a few speeches to a different delegate because that person was already established as a character. It’s confusing to tell a story with more than sixty characters, so I had to choose a representative sample and occasionally attribute to them the words or actions of others.

Historical Fiction
The real story of our nation's founding.
James Madison’s comprehensive convention notes provided a solid framework for what happened inside the locked doors of the Pennsylvania State House. The events outside the State House occurred, but literary license was used because there were very few recorded details about them. For example, Franklin’s dinner, the John Fitch Steam Boat demonstration, horse races, and George Washington having a carriage built were all outside activities during the convention.  The Fourth of July celebration happened pretty much as portrayed, and delegates did witness a two story house being moved down the street. 

Other than speeches, conversations were speculative, but based to a large degree on what must have been discussed in private meetings to shift the votes and opinions expressed in the proceedings.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to study the Constitution

The study of the Constitution can seem daunting to those who want to gain a greater understanding of this unique document. To begin with, there are eight historic periods that shaped our Constitution. 
  1. Constitutional Convention
  2. Public debate on Constitution as reflected in the Federalist and Antifederalist Papers
  3. State Ratification Conventions
  4. First Congress and Bill of Rights
  5. George Washington precedents
  6. Supreme Court Rulings
  7. Amendments beyond the Bill of Rights
  8. Executive encroachment with emphasis on Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and Obama

As a constitutional conservative, I recommend starting with the convention and the Framers. Besides, it’s always a good idea to start at the beginning.

preserve and protect

There are countless history books on the Constitutional convention. In these books, the convention is usually presented in one of two ways: chronologically or by subject.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Atlantic Joins the Chorus: Constitution Defunct

Alex Seitz-Wald

“America, we've got some bad news: Our Constitution isn't going to make it.” That is the lead sentence in The Atlantic article: “The U.S. Needs a New Constitution—Here's How to Write It,” by  Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon's political reporter. Seitz-Wald quotes none other than Thomas Jefferson to justify his claim that “it's time to think about moving on.” Jefferson had famously written that Constitutions should be rewritten every nineteen years. Jefferson certainly qualifies as a founding father, but he had nothing to do with the Constitution. He was in Paris in the summer of 1787 and returned miffed that he had been left out. None of the actual delegates wanted to repeat the convention experience, and all believed they had written a constitution for what George Mason called “millions yet unborn.”

Seitz-Wald  writes, “If men (and, finally, women) as wise as Jefferson and Madison set about the task of writing a constitution in 2013, it would look little like the one we have now.” I suspect those wise men and women would all be required to think in lockstep with Mr. Seitz-Wald.  Again, not true of the 1787 delegates who possessed myriad ideas and perspectives.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time Magazine: “Does It Still Matter?”

“Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. ... If it is, then we have no Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson
“Can it be of less consequence that the meaning of a Constitution should be fixed and known, than a meaning of a law should be so?” James Madison

The cover of the 10th Annual Time Magazine History Issue from a couple years ago shows the Constitution being shredded under the title, “Does it still matter?”

Richard Stengel, Time’s managing Editor, opens his essay with these words, “Here are a few things the framers did not know about. World War II. DNA. Sexting. Airplanes. The atom. Television. Medicare. Collateralized debt obligations. The germ theory of disease. Miniskirts. The internal combustion engine. Computers. Antibiotics. Lady Gaga."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Commentary: Is the Constitution’s purpose to advance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Conor Friedersdorf published an article that reflects the thinking that has gotten us so far away from constitutional government.

The title of the article is illustrative: “Preserving Liberty Is More Important Than Making a Fetish of the Constitution: Though important, the document isn't an end in itself—advancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the end.” The title could have as easily read, “The Constitution should never stand in the way of lofty goals.”

James Madison
Conor Friedersdorf

(I trust my liberty to the guy on the right.)

As a writer, I’m familiar with the effect of selecting emotion-laden words. For example, the article would have been different if titled, “Preserving Liberty Is More Important than Adhering to the Constitution.” The change from fetish to adhere makes the argument clear and allows the opposing side a measure of respect. Now, readers would dig into the article to find out whether adherence to the Constitution is dangerous to liberty.

(By the way, at the risk of being accused of “making a fetish of the Constitution,” it annoys me when someone uses a quote from the Declaration of Independence to make an argument about the Constitution.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution

A reference Book for Every American Home

Many Americans have taken to carrying a copy of the Constitution. No one will want to lug around The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, but the book is an indispensable reference companion. The first words in the book read, “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is intended to provide a brief and accurate explanation of each clause of the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers and as applied in contemporary law.” It achieves this goal admirably.

As you would expect from the Heritage Foundation, this is an Originalist reference book, and the editors have done an excellent job of explaining the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers. But it also explains the Constitution as applied in contemporary law, which means the book describes how courts have interpreted the Constitution.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Commentary—As California Goes, so Goes the Nation?

If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted. — Noah Webster

My wife and I are vacationing in Southern California. The warm and sunny weather has made a perfect respite from the storms lashing our home in Nebraska. We both grew up in California, but moved out-of-state twenty-five years ago. We weren’t fed up with the place. A quarter century ago California was still livable. Actually, California is still livable, as long as you have piles of cash and a fondness for government.

Beltway elites like to fixate on a couple botched 2010 Senate races, but in truth that election was a rout for progressives. Republicans captured an additional 63 seats in the House of Representatives to win the majority, the largest midterm seat change in seventy years. Republicans gained 6 seats in the Senate, but not enough to gain control. Republicans won a record 680 additional seats in state legislatures. Five states saw both chambers switch from Democrat to Republican. In four additional states, Republicans flipped one of the chambers to give them control of both chambers. In three more states, Republicans increased their control in both houses, and in four states they picked up one chamber to split control of the legislature. Republicans also saw a net increase of six governorships to gain a national majority.