Posts Tagged George Washington
As I prepare to retire from Congress, I’d like to suggest a few New Year’s resolutions for my colleagues to consider. For the sake of liberty, peace, and prosperity I certainly hope more members of Congress consider the strict libertarian constitutional approach to government in 2013.
Chris Weyant / The Hill
In just a few days, Congress will solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic. They should reread Article 1 Section 8 and the Bill of Rights before taking such a serious oath. Most legislation violates key provisions of the Constitution in very basic ways, and if members can’t bring themselves to say no in the face of pressure from special interests, they have broken trust with their constituents and violated their oaths. Congress does not exist to serve special interests, it exists to protect the rule of law.
I also urge my colleagues to end unconstitutional wars overseas. Stop the drone strikes; stop the covert activities and meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. Strive to observe “good faith and justice towards all Nations” as George Washington admonished. We are only making more enemies, wasting lives, and bankrupting ourselves with the neoconservative, interventionist mindset that endorses pre-emptive war that now dominates both parties.
All foreign aid should end because it is blatantly unconstitutional. While it may be a relatively small part of our federal budget, for many countries it is a large part of theirs–and it creates perverse incentives for both our friends and enemies. There is no way members of Congress can know or understand the political, economic, legal, and social realities in the many nations to which they send taxpayer dollars.
Congress needs to stop accumulating more debt. US debt, monetized by the Federal Reserve, is the true threat to our national security. Revisiting the parameters of Article 1 Section 8 would be a good start.
Congress should resolve to respect personal liberty and free markets. Learn more about the free market and how it regulates commerce and produces greater prosperity better than any legislation or regulation. Understand that economic freedom IS freedom. Resolve not to get in the way of voluntary contracts between consenting adults. Stop bailing out failed yet politically connected companies and industries. Stop forcing people to engage in commerce when they don’t want to, and stop prohibiting them from buying and selling when they do want to. Stop trying to legislate your ideas of fairness. Protect property rights. Protect the individual. That is enough.
There are many more resolutions I would like to see my colleagues in Congress adopt, but respect for the Constitution and the oath of office should be at the core of everything members of Congress do in 2013.
- New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (txwclp.org)
- Ron Paul’s New Year’s Message to Congress: Follow the Constitution (ronpaul.com)
- Ron Paul’s New Year’s Message to Congress (dprogram.net)
- New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (thedailysheeple.com)
- Ron Paul To Congress: “Stop Legislating Your Ideas Of Fairness. Protect Property Rights. Protect The Individual” (zerohedge.com)
- Ron Paul: New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (leaksource.wordpress.com)
- New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (ronpaulnews.net)
- Ron Paul’s New Years Resolutions for Congress: Stop the Debt, Spending, & Wars, Start Following the Constitution & Bill of Rights! (silverdoctors.com)
- New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (a4cgr.wordpress.com)
- New Year’s Resolutions for Congress (safehaven.com)
George Washington: Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change? « naked capitalism
George Washington: Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change?
While everyone from Tony Blair to Nouriel Roubini is debating whether or not bankers should be hung, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg provide some fascinating historical context.
The journal’s Jason Zweig reports:
Financial criminals throughout history have been beaten, tortured and even put to death, with little evidence that severe punishments have consistently deterred people from misconduct that could make them rich.
The history of drastic punishment for financial crimes may be nearly as old as wealth itself.
The Code of Hammurabi, more than 3,700 years ago, stipulated that any Mesopotamian who violated the terms of a financial contract – including the futures contracts that were commonly used in commodities trading in Babylon – “shall be put to death as a thief.” The severe penalty doesn’t seem to have eradicated such cheating, however.
In medieval Catalonia, a banker who went bust wasn’t merely humiliated by town criers who declaimed his failure in public squares throughout the land; he had to live on nothing but bread and water until he paid off his depositors in full. If, after a year, he was unable to repay, he would be executed – as in the case of banker Francesch Castello, who was beheaded in 1360. Bankers who lied about their books could also be subject to the death penalty.
In Florence during the Renaissance, the Arte del Cambio – the guild of mercantile money-changers who facilitated the city’s international trade – made the cheating of clients punishable by torture. Rule 70 of the guild’s statutes stipulated that any member caught in unethical conduct could be disciplined on the rack “or other corrective instruments” at the headquarters of the guild.
But financial crimes weren’t merely punished; they were stigmatized. Dante’s Inferno is populated largely with financial sinners, each category with its own distinctive punishment: misers who roll giant weights pointlessly back and forth with their chests, thieves festooned with snakes and lizards, usurers draped with purses they can’t reach, even forecasters whose heads are wrenched around backward to symbolize their inability to see what is in front of them.
Counterfeiting and forgery, as the historian Marvin Becker noted in 1976, “were much less prevalent in Florence during the second half of the fourteenth century than in Tuscany during the twentieth century” and “the bankruptcy rate stood at approximately one-half [the modern rate].”
In England, counterfeiting was punishable by death starting in the 14th century, and altering the coinage was declared a form of high treason by 1562.
In the 17th century, the British state cracked down ferociously on counterfeiters and “coin-clippers” (who snipped shards of metal off coins, yielding scraps they could later melt down or resell). The offenders were thrown into London’s notorious Newgate prison. The lucky ones, after being dragged on planks through sewage-filled streets, were hanged. Others were smeared with tar from head to toe, tied or shackled to a stake, and then burned to death.
The British government was so determined to stamp out these financial crimes that it put Sir Isaac Newton on the case. Appointed as warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, Newton promptly began uncovering those who violated the financial laws of the nation with the same passion he brought to discovering the physical laws of the universe.
The great scientist was tireless and merciless. Newton went undercover, donning disguises to prowl through prisons, taverns and other dens of iniquity in search of financial fraud. He had suspects brought to the Mint, often by force, and interrogated them himself. In a year and a half, says historian Carl Wennerlind, Newton grilled 200 suspects, “employing means that sometimes bordered on torture.”
When one counterfeiter begged Newton to save him from the gallows – “O dear Sr no body can save me but you O God my God I shall be murderd unless you save me O I hope God will move your heart with mercy and pitty to do this thing for me” – Newton coldly refused.
The counterfeiter was hanged two weeks later.
Until at least the early 19th century, it remained commonplace for counterfeiters and forgers to be put to death; between 1792 and 1829, for example, notes Wennerlind, 618 people were convicted of counterfeiting British paper currency, and most of them were hanged. Many were women.
Bloomberg provides details of one “peasant revolt” stemming from a Libor-like currency manipulation scheme:
During the “Good Parliament” of 1376, public discontent over [manipulation of currency exchange rates similar to the current Libor scandal] came to a head. The Commons, represented by the speaker, Peter de la Mare, accused leading members of the royal court of abusing their position to profit from public funds.
A particular target was the London financier Richard Lyons ….
Initially the government bowed to public pressure. Lyons was imprisoned in the Tower of London and his properties and wealth were confiscated. Other leading courtiers implicated in these abuses, such as Latimer and the king’s mistress, Alice Perrers, were banished from court.
Once parliament had dissolved and the public outcry had died down, however, the king’s eldest son, John of Gaunt, acted to reverse the verdicts of the Good Parliament. Latimer and Perrers soon reappeared at the king’s side and Lyons was released from the Tower and recovered his wealth, while the “whistleblower” de la Mare was thrown in jail. The government also sought to appease the wealthy knights and merchants that dominated parliament by imposing a new, regressive form of taxation, a poll tax paid by everyone rather than a tax levied on goods. This effectively passed the burden of royal finance down to the peasantry.
It seemed as though everything had returned to business as normal and Lyons appeared to have gotten away with it. In 1381, however, simmering discontent over continuing suspicions of government corruption and the poll tax contributed to a massive popular uprising, the Peasants’ Revolt, during which leading government ministers, including Simon of Sudbury (the chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury) and Robert Hales (the treasurer) were executed by the rebels. This time, Lyons did not escape; he was singled out, dragged from his house and beheaded in the street.
If the King had followed the rule of law – and kept Lyons and the boys in jail – everything would have calmed down. The monarchy – just like the present-day government – chose to ignore the rule of law, and protect the thieves and punish the whistleblowers.
We have argued for years that the best way to avoid violence is to reinstate the rule of law.
The Bloomberg article – written by a professor of the history of finance and a professor of finance at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading – ends on a similar note:
The question now is whether public outrage at the Libor scandal and other financial misdeeds will lead to fundamental reforms of the financial sector — such as the separation of retail and investment banking or legislation to regulate the “bonus culture” — or just more cosmetic changes that fail to address the structural issues.
Will we have to wait for a 21st century peasants’ revolt before seeing any real change?
- Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change? (dprogram.net)
- Will the Peasants Go Medieval On Bankers? (ritholtz.com)
- Will the Peasants Go Medieval On Bankers? (washingtonsblog.com)
- Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change? (sgtreport.com)
- Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change? (alexanderhiggins.com)
- Will We Have to Wait for a 21st Century Peasants’ Revolt Before Seeing Any Real Change? (zerohedge.com)
- Should Crimes Of Capital Get Capital Punishment? (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
- Jason Zweig ~ Should Crimes Of Capital Get Capital Punishment? (shiftfrequency.com)
- Banker-bashing Iran style: four fraudsters sentenced to death (theweek.co.uk)
- Mainstream Economist: We Might Need to Hang Some Bankers to Stop Criminal Looting (washingtonsblog.com)
Presidential candidates have used religion to attack each other for centuries. An expert explains why.
Why Is There So Much God in America’s Politics?
June 24, 2012
His silence about his faith notwithstanding, Mitt Romney will become the first Mormon to win a major-party presidential nomination. That could put more attention on his religion than any candidate has faced since John Kennedy in 1960, especially as Romney tries to attract skeptical evangelical voters. Meanwhile, President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage and the ongoing social issues surrounding the war on women are bound to intensify criticism from the religious right and the crucial faction of conservative Latino voters.
But religion has profoundly influenced presidential politics since the days of George Washington. As Michael I. Meyerson argues in his new book, “Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America,” a scholarly account of how the framers of the Constitution viewed the role of religion in government, the current campaign has a lot in common with some of the country’s first electoral bouts. Then as now, Meyerson says, the debates were portrayed as a clash between a godless candidate who wanted a secular country and a true defender who was willing to restore the morals of a Christian nation. He says that the study of the formation of the American government can help us understand the reasons behind the growing partisan divide and help bridge the conflicting religious opinions of both political parties.
Salon spoke to Meyerson — a professor of law and a Piper & Marbury Faculty Fellow at the University of Baltimore. — about the framers of the Constitution, the upcoming elections, and religious discrimination.
Throughout your book, you highlight how some of the writings and actions of the framers of the Constitution have been taken out of their historical context to support the political agendas of both liberals and conservatives. How does the historical record compare to the way both parties portray the framers today?
The framers were generally far more nuanced, complicated and willing to be complicated than the modern political dialogue. They didn’t have to be purely on the left or on the right. Most of them were trying to make a compromise between multiple concerns and constituencies.
Compared to the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, how would you describe the current discussion of religion in politics?
In terms of the role of religion in government, what I’ve found is that much of the modern dialogue is trying to make the framers entirely one thing or another. You have those who want to argue for a strict separation of church and state, and those who believe that America is a Christian nation. The
former go through history assuming a lot and use writings by Madison and Jefferson with a very narrow desire to say that government should not have anything to do with religion. The latter look at the large amount of religious reference and activity in the colonies and say that there is a long history of government being entwined with religion. What neither side does is take into account the validity of the history of the other side. What you end up reading are two half-histories, and generally neither political side has been willing to put the two different components together, which is what I tried to do in my book.
You write that it is essential to create an “accurate picture of what freedom of religion meant at the time of the framing” of the Constitution. Why does that matter?
Even though we are a more pluralistic society, it is important to remember that the framers of the Constitution were dealing with a diversity of their own — and with very violent conflicts between the different denominations, some of which were caused and abetted by government. So what we can learn, first of all, is how to balance competing concerns. The debates that we are having about the role of religion in government are not new; we are dealing with a centuries-old debate. The framers, and especially the vastly underrated George Washington, were very aware of the fact that religion could be a force for good and a force for evil. That was what they were trying to balance.
Unlike Madison or Jefferson, Washington was very explicit in saying that he considered divine intervention one of the main reasons we won the Revolutionary War. He saw the hand of Providence in the writing of the Constitution, but he also understood — and this was where his genius was — that if you are sectarian, if you favor any particular religion, you end up dividing, rather than uniting, the nation. So, again, what we can learn from the framers is that government is not barred from acknowledging religion, but that it must do so in an extraordinarily careful and respectful way, in which the goal is making sure that every American feels a part of the country regardless of their religious beliefs.
In your book, Washington emerges as a practical thinker who saw religious freedom as a way of avoiding conflict and promoting morality. While he was in office, he used inclusive religious language in his speeches and was careful not to support the idea that the country was founded as a Christian nation, a belief that many people from the right accept today as an unquestionable truth. Why was the first president so vehement in his refusal to say that Christianity was the nation’s religion?
Washington knew that people don’t go to war for God; they go to war for a particular God. George Washington was unique in American history because he was the first person to look after a united country. He was the head of the military during the Revolutionary War, so he was forced to work with soldiers from all the different states, including those that had different religious backgrounds than his own. He knew that if he wasn’t careful and, more importantly, if his soldiers weren’t careful, then religion was going to destroy his army. Washington had to learn as a military person and as a political person that if you discussed religion, you had to do so in a respectful way. At the same time, he was not going to ignore either his religious views or those of the population.
How have the framers’ views on religious freedom shaped America as a whole?
First of all, they made America, ironically, a more religious country. A lot of the religious movements from the 19th century have their roots in the framers’ actions, given that there was no favored governmental religion. Especially in the newer states, there existed a sentiment that people could find the religion that spoke to them most. Second, once immigrants arrived — and despite the strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views of most people throughout the 19th century — there was always a strong sense that the true American understanding was that all religions were welcome. It became part of the definition of what America was. You had, then, both a space for religion to grow on its own and a welcoming of religion. Finally, the Constitution also allowed for a secular view of society and life to also flourish as government was forced to step away. In the end, there was an ironic combination of more religion and more freedom of religion at the same time.
In your book, you mention the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It was framed in the Gazzette of the United States by the question: “Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD — AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; Or impiously declare for JEFFERSON — AND NO GOD!!!” There are some parallels with the current elections.
[Laughs] Yes, yes. The idea of a presidential battle being a proxy for a view of religion is very old. Indeed, there was the sense that the Adams side viewed their efforts as the only way to protect religion, and that Jefferson’s side viewed their efforts as the only way to stop an establishment of religion in a narrow sectarian government. One of my goals in the book is to show that the debates that we are having today are not a creation of our times. We can learn from the lessons of the election of 1800. One of the most radical parts of the Constitution said that no one had to take a religious oath to serve in government. It was a major step, a radical change, perhaps the most important moment in American religious history. However, that doesn’t mean that people can’t vote based on their religious beliefs. The vote of 1800 seems to suggest that the people then didn’t want to have a purely religious government. They were more comfortable with the Jefferson approach, which sought to limit the role of government, than with the Adams approach, which was far more sectarian than that of Washington and Jefferson.
Mitt Romney’s religion played a significant role in the Republican primary. Because of his faith, after winning the nomination, he’s been forced to reach out to some of the Christian groups that had previously shunned him. Do you think there’s an implicit faith test for candidates within the GOP and one for the president within the country?
First of all, I think that surely within the country there is. There are surveys that say people will vote for almost anyone over an atheist. There is a 30 or 40 percent part of the population that will not vote for someone who doesn’t believe in God, so there’s definitely a religious test for the highest office.
Within the Republican Party, I think there is also a small group that does have a sort of religious test. Sometimes the test, if you will, will be passed if the candidate abides by politics that mirror religious beliefs, and sometimes [it will be passed] by the adherence to a specific faith.
In the book I tried to avoid the ongoing debate surrounding what were Washington’s and Jefferson’s specific religious faiths. I think that most American voters get that people’s professed faith doesn’t matter, and that someone’s beliefs can be incredibly complicated. What matters is how they live their lives and their view of government. One of the points of the framing period is that there were people that were very conservative, devout and pious men, who believed in a very limited role of government — for example, my hero John Leland, the Baptist minister. On the other hand you had people that were largely irreligious, like Benjamin Franklin, who supported teaching religion because they thought it was good for the masses. In political thought, there’s a sense that people should not search for a candidate with their same religious beliefs, but rather for one whose politics support their religious beliefs and tenets.
Meanwhile, Obama’s spirituality has been questioned many times …
Yes, he has been forced to declare his religion far more than most other presidents. While George Washington would never say in public that he was a Christian, President Obama has to do it all the time. Whether he is comfortable with it or not is irrelevant, but it’s a shame. It’s sad that we have to brand him with a religion. First of all, it implies something very hostile, given that he’s had to say that he is Christian because he’s been accused of being a Muslim, as if that were something really bad. On the other hand, the fact that he has to declare his religion implies that that is the right religion for a political leader. I don’t think he believes in doing that, but he knows that politically he has to sort of fit in with this mindset.
Taking Romney into account, what I think you end up with, ironically, are two candidates who consider themselves to be Christian, even though the Mormon faith is not considered to be Christian by some Christians, and Obama is not considered to be a Christian by some Christians. Both of them need to present their bona fide credentials in a way that I think works to divide, rather than to unite, religious faith.
And those credentials are the faith test you mentioned earlier.
Exactly. In fact, it was understood by de Tocqueville and others that the governmental oath test was removed, but the individual’s religious test could remain. It has fluctuated over time, and I think you saw it in the Republican primaries. It might be muted a little in this campaign because I think that many people are going to vote for the candidates’ politics and not for a candidate who represents their faith.
Republicans have constantly accused Obama of waging a so-called war on religion. Many Catholic groups have filed law suits against the government claiming that their religious freedom was violated by the inclusion of contraceptives in basic health care coverage for women. His recent statements regarding gay marriage have only exacerbated that view among his opponents. Do you think those complaints have any legal standing?
Well, let’s break up the two issues. President Obama had to deal with the religious objections to gay marriage by giving his support in religious language, so that’s not a “war on religion.” Both sides can quote the Bible in support of their own beliefs. You can make a very strong religious argument, as he did, in favor of an inclusive view of society to combat those who use their faith to oppose that view.
In terms of the Catholic Church and other institutions being “forced” to provide contraception, the problem is more complicated. There are two different issues here. First, all institutions, religious or otherwise, must follow generally applicable laws. These are laws which require everyone to do something. For example, there’s a famous case in which the state of Oregon banned the use of peyote, the psychedelic drug. At the time, the drug was used recreationally and also for religious purposes by Native Americans. The Supreme Court said that the law didn’t target religion. It was universal: No one could use the law. Therefore, even though the law had the effect of crippling a religious practice, the law was considered to be constitutional because it was neutral.
However, there was a response to that case that [argued for making] exceptions so that religious groups can follow their faith. This was adopted in all sorts of cases, including conscious objectors to the draft. Since then, the government tries to accommodate minority religions, in part because majority religions are always accommodated. Only minority religions need special accommodations.
In the case of Obama and contraception, though, the administration learned from past mistakes and arranged for private insurance companies to be in charge of the distribution of contraception. Meanwhile, there are ongoing negotiations on how to be sensitive to religious needs.
The second issue has to do with those ongoing negotiations. While they are taking place, the Supreme Court is bound to rule on whether the health care act is unconstitutional. If the court rules against it, the whole issue will go away. Now, what’s incredibly sad is that a religious argument has been put in the midst of a political debate. I think that contraception is a very important and difficult issue because there are the rights of religious institutions and also the right of women to have health care. To drag this into court in the middle of the presidential campaign while the negotiations are under way smells more like politics than religion.
Their complaints aside, the Catholics don’t seem to be the religious group that the government has actually targeted. Since 9/11, Muslims have been singled out by, among others, the NYPD. Are there any similar historical precedents in America?
From what I know of the issue, what happened is similar to what was done with other minority religions in the past. Catholics were viewed as suspect because they were connected with foreign powers, be it the Pope or France. There was a suspicion of the whole group, an assumption that anyone who was Catholic couldn’t be loyal. John Kennedy had to deal with that in the 1960 presidential campaign — this presumption not of divided loyalty but of lack of loyalty to America because of your religion. I think you have the exact situation here. There’s an invidious presumption that if you believe in X religion, then you must be part of an alien culture that’s un-American. The widespread distrust of Muslims, whether in fighting where a mosque is built or regarding the monitoring of Muslim individuals, is part of this view that being a part of a minority religion make you un-American.
- Why Is There So Much God in America’s Politics? (alternet.org)
- Why Is There So Much God in America’s Politics? (charlog.me)
- Hip-Hop Foodies | Too Much God in American Politics | Pharmageddon (womensphilanthropy.typepad.com)
- God is a weapon (salon.com)
- J.C. For President! (patheos.com)
- The Truth About Religion in America: The Founders Loathed Superstition and We Were Never a Christian Nation (chasdarwin.com)
- The Crimson White: Disappointing Concerns About Romney’s Religious Beliefs (huffingtonpost.com)
- Romney’s Mormon faith in spotlight (politico.com)
- Connecting the Political Dots (salem-news.com)
- Study: Liberal Anti-Mormonism On The Rise (buzzfeed.com)