Saturday, June 30, 2012

"O what we ben! and what we come to!"

Having re-read Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker last week, I can only shake my head in awe.

The photograph at the top of the post is of a wall painting at Canterbury Cathedral depicting the legend of St. Eustace.  The photo may be found at the Flickr photostream of chrisjohnbeckett.

The Life of St. Eustace from the Golden Legend provides more information.

It's Caturday!

And Maxwell says, I love the taste of butt in the morning.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"The taxing power of the federal government, my dear"

Between work and family commitments, I've barely been on the interweb since the Supremes' decision on Obamacare was handed down, so maybe someone else has made this connection.  For all I know, Chief Justice Roberts may have cited it as a precedent in his opinion.

I'm in the middle of Amity Shlaes' superb - and heartbreaking - The Forgotten Man, and just ran across this eerily relevant passage:

[Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins] and [Paul] Douglas had their plans for unemployment insurance and pensions for senior citizens.  At a tea at his house [in 1934?], Perkins had sat beside Justice Harlan Stone, and he gave her a tip.  She had confided her fears that any great social insurance system would be rejected by his court.  Not so, he said, and whispered back the solution: "The taxing power of the federal government, my dear; the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need."  If the Social Security Act was formulated as a tax, and not a government insurance, it could get through.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lewis Cass

I can't say I find Lewis Cass a tremendously attractive figure, but I can't help linking to this post on Cass by Paul Mirengoff of the Powerline team.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Did Muhammad Exist: The Doctrina Jacobi

In Did Muhammad Exist: An Inquiry Into Islam's Obscure Origins, Robert Spencer quotes from the Doctrina Jacobi, which contains "[o]ne of the earliest apparent mentions of Muhammad." "Probably written by a Christian in Palestine between 634 and 640 - that is, at the time of the earliest Arabian conquests and just after Muhammad's reported death in 632 - [the Doctrina Jacobi] is written in Greek from the perspective of a Jew who is coming to believe that the Messiah of the Christians is the true one and who hears about another prophet risen in Arabia."  I have added paragraph breaks:

When the candidatus [that is, a member of the Byzantine imperial guard] was killed by the Saracens [Sarakenoi], I was at Caesarea and I set off by boat to Sykamina. People were saying "the candidatus has been killed," and we Jews were overjoyed. And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come.
I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared."
So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men's blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible [i.e., not credible].
 Spencer spells out the implications:
One thing that can be established from this is that the Arabian invaders who conquered Palestine in 635 (the "Saracens") came bearing news of a new prophet, one who was "armed with a sword."  But in the Doctrina Jacobi this unnamed prophet is still alive, traveling with his armies, whereas Muhammad is supposed to have died in 632.  What's more, this Saracen prophet, rather than proclaiming that he was Allah's last prophet . . ., was "proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come."  This was a reference to an expected Jewish Messiah, not to the Jesus Christ of Christianity (Christ means "anointed one" or "Messiah" in Greek).

Orestes Brownson: Occupier or Tea Partier?

Orestes Brownson was leading member of the radical, locofoco wing of the Democratic Party back in the 1830s.  I was reading his essay Prospects of the Democracy yesterday and was struck by the irony of how the Democratic Party has changed and not changed over the past one hundred seventy years.

The essay originally appeared in the January 1839 issue of the Boston Quarterly Review, during the Panic of 1837.  It begins with an appeal to class warfare that would do Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Michael Moore, Bill Ayers and the Occupy Movement proud.  Brownson inveighs against the "aristocratic" "Stationary Party", the "party of privilege," which seeks "to retain things as they are, or to recall the order that is passing away," in order "to secure or increase the special advantage of the One Percent few over the Ninety-Nine Percent many."  It wars against the "Movement Party," which advocates "change" and "Equality" on behalf of "the many" "who suffer the evils of things as they are."

In all countries where there is life, where thought is active, and has scope to manifest itself in some degree, the community is divided into two parties more or less equal in numbers and strength. One party may be termed the Stationary Party, the party whose object is to retain things as they are, or to recall the order that is passing away; the other party-may be termed the Movement Party, the party whose leading object is always to develop and improve the existing order, or to introduce a new, and, as it hopes, a better order. The members of the first named party are usually that portion of the community whom the existing order, whatever it may be, most favors, or who hope the most from things as they are; and consequently of those who have, or fancy they have, the most to lose by a change: the members of the last named party are, in general, those on whom the burden of the existing order chiefly falls; who suffer the evils of things as they are, and of course, of those who have the most room to hope that a change will better their condition.

They whom the existing order of things most favors are in most countries the few; they whom it favors the least are the many. The interest, then, sought to be promoted by the stationary party, is necessarily the interest of the few in contradistinction to that of the many. Its object is always to secure or increase the special advantages of the few over the many. It is therefore always the party of privilege, the aristocratic party. The movement party is the opposite of the stationary party. Its object is to diminish the privileges enjoyed by the few, and to introduce as great a degree of equality as is practicable among all the members of the community. It is therefore the party of equality, and consequently, the democratic party. The war which is ever carried on between these two parties, whatever the name it may bear, or the forms it may assume, is always, at bottom, a war of Equality against Privilege.

These two parties may be found in every country in Christendom ; and in every country in Christendom does the war of Equality against Privilege rage with more or less fierceness, and with prospects of an issue more or less favorable to the movement or democratic party. Here, as well as in all other Christian countries, does this fearful war rage; and perhaps never with more fierceness than at this present moment. But Equality is stronger here than elsewhere; it has gained here more than any where else, has achieved more brilliant and decisive victories, and conquered a larger extent of territory. It therefore comes to the battle with high hopes, and with great confidence in its own strength, and the terror its name inspires.

Nevertheless it can count on no easy victory. Privilege exists here, has existed here from the origin of our government, and will exist much longer. Its forces are numerous, well disciplined, well furnished, and liberally paid; and they promise to do effectual service in its cause.

Reading this, our Occupier is ecstatic.  A fellow warrior in the battle for Change and Equality against the forces of oppression!  But then he discovers to his horror that something is terribly wrong.  Brownson is no kindred spirit after all, but in many respects a Tea Partier in disguise, advocating weak government and condemning government debt and bailouts:
These two parties have always existed here, and they showed themselves very distinctly in the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution. The party of Privilege, the aristocratic party, feeling themselves in the position to wield the power of the government, and of course to wield it in their own favor, asked for a strong government, one capable of holding the people in awe, in check, in submission. The party of Equality, the democratic party, on the other hand, distrustful of governments, in consequence of having suffered from their abuses, demanded a weak government and a strong people; so that the few, by seizing its reins, should not be able to make the government trample on the rights and the interests of the many. The party of Equality triumphed, so far as the organization to be given to the Federal government was concerned.

. . .

. . . Governments cannot operate without funds; consequently, they who can control its funds, or the sources whence it obtains them, can control its action. By connecting the fiscal concerns of government intimately with the business operations of the country, they who have the control of those operations, necessarily control the government.

Consequently, the first effort of the aristocratic party, after their defeat in the [Constitutional] Convention, was to bring about this connexion. This they did, first, by funding the national debt, and making thereby a portion of the capitalists the creditors of the government; and secondly, by chartering a National Bank, and making it the depository of the government funds, which were to be used as the basis of loans to business men. The party of Privilege became, as a matter of course, the purchasers of government stock, and the owners of the Bank; they became, therefore, the creditors of the government, and through the bank, sustained by government funds, the creditors of the whole trading community, and through the trading community, of nearly the whole population; and therefore able to exercise over both government and people the all but absolute control, which the creditor exercises over the debtor.

It's Caturday!


And Salome's chillin'.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Millard Pro and Con

I have discussed previously the ingenious history class in which Williams College students were asked to produce presidential campaign video ads for and/or against candidates in pre-Civil War races.

As you may expect, I awaited with particular interest any videos focusing on my main man, Millard Fillmore.  It was not a sure thing, since he didn't even get the Whig nomination in 1852, and his most serious run was as a third-party candidate of the American Party in 1856.

But, I'm delighted to report, students managed to produce two Fillmore videos, one pro, the other con, both of which are quite good.  The pro-Millard video is at the top.  The anti is below:

You can find all the videos from the class on YouTube here.

It's Caturday!

And Salome says all is well.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Jeff. Sees the Elephant

I ran across a reference to this illustration, entitled Jeff. Sees the Elephant in a catalog of William Reese Company, a high end New Haven, CT dealer of used books and printed materials.  I hadn't seen it before, and it looks particularly interesting because it seems to prefigure Thomas Nast's later use of the elephant as a symbol of the Republican Party.

According to the catalog, the original was an 11 by 15 inch colored lithograph created by E.B. Kellogg and E.C. Kellogg in Hartford, CT circa 1861-1862.  The description continues:
A . . . humorous political cartoon satirizing the Confederacy, and quite likely the first instance in which an elephant and a donkey were used to symbolize competing political entities in the United States.  The Union is symbolized by a power elephant, who wears a blue coat and shoes and stockings decorated in the manner of the American flag.  He carries the Constitution in his pocket and holds a sword in his right hand and eight cannons in his left.  Behind him are more cannons, a pile of cannonballs, the flag, and the U.S. Capitol.  The elephant stares at a donkey in the left side of the image.  The donkey, dressed as a dandy and symbolizing Jefferson Davis, raises a monocle to peer at the elephant.  He holds a plumed helmet decorated with a skull and crossbones.  Behind the donkey stands an army of donkeys, carrying rakes, pitchforks, brooms, and scythes.  A gallows in the background between the elephant and the donkey portends a bleak future for the Confederacy,  The phrase "seeing the elephant" gained popularity during the Gold Rush and meant "seeing it all."  In this instance, Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy see the fully array of Union might.
I don't vouch for it, but this site asserts that the elephant was first used as a symbol of the Republican party during the 1864 presidential campaign:
Despite a common assertion that the elephant first appeared representing the Republican Party in 1860, the first political cartoon using the elephant for the Republican Party was in 1864. The 1860 cartoon was actually just a shoe advertisement that happened to be on the back of a political magazine. During Abraham Lincoln's 1864 presidential campaign, a pro-Lincoln newspaper used the 1860 advertisement image to announce the news of a U.S. military victory over the Confederacy. Later that same year, the image was used to predict Lincoln's re-election based on the Republican Party's success in state elections.
Thomas Nast later popularized the connection beginning with his November 7, 1874 cartoon The Third-Term Panic:

So if all this is true, did "Jeff. Sees the Elephant" serve as the inspiration for the identification of the elephant with the Republicans?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

James Madison and the Federal Veto: Pinckney's Motion Defeated

 Charles Pinckney's June 8, 1787 motion to expand the federal veto to encompass "all laws which they [the Federal Legislature] shd. judge to be improper", discussed in my last post on the subject, immediately drew fire.  Hugh Williamson was first, declaring that he "was agst. giving a power that might restrain the States from regulating their internal police."  And at the end of the day Pierce Butler of South Carolina was "vehement agst." the suggestion.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts articulated a more nuanced opposition.  In part, he seemed to relate his objection to the idea that the federal government was one of limited powers, and that there could be certain specified powers denied to the states.  A federal veto was acceptable, but only if it was limited to those specific areas, such as the emission of paper money, which should be "amg. the exclusive powers of Congress":
Mr. GERRY cd. not see the extent of such a power, and was agst. every power that was not necessary. He thought a remonstrance agst. unreasonable acts of the States wd. [restrain] them If it shd. not force might be resorted to. He had no objection to authorize a negative to paper money and similar measures. When the confederation was depending before Congress, Massachussetts was then for inserting the power of emitting paper money amg. the exclusive powers of Congress.
And Roger Sherman of Connecticut seemed to pick up Gerry's suggestion.  He "thought the cases in which the negative ought to be exercised, might be defined" and suggested that the delegates defer the issue "till a trial at least shd. be made for that purpose."

James Wilson of Pennsylvania disputed these assertions.  The principle of a federal veto was "right."  Unless the states conceded their sovereignty they would be living like savages in a state of nature with each other.  "A definition of the cases in which the Negative should be exercised, is impracticable."  Wilson went on to deliver a speech that came close to advocating elimination of the states altogether:
Among the first sentiments expressed in the first Congs. one was that Virga. is no more, that Masts. is no [more], that Pa. is no more &c. We are now one nation of brethren. We must bury all local interests & distinctions. This language continued for some time. The tables at length began to turn. No sooner were the State Govts. formed than their jealousy & ambition began to display themselves. Each endeavoured to cut a slice from the common loaf, to add to its own morsel, till at length the confederation became frittered down to the impotent condition in which it now stands. Review the progress of the articles of Confederation thro' Congress & compare the first & last draught of it. To correct its vices is the business of this convention. One of its vices is the want of an effectual controul in the whole over its parts. What danger is there that the whole will unnecessarily sacrifice a part? But reverse the case, and leave the whole at the mercy of each part, and will not the general interest be continually sacrificed to local interests?
John Dickinson of Delaware similarly saw a fundamental either/or choice.  One party or the other had to have controlling power, and he believed that the "Natl. Govt." should prevail:

Mr. DICKENSON deemed it impossible to draw a line between the cases proper & improper for the exercise of the negative. We must take our choice of two things. We must either subject the States to the danger of being injured by the power of the Natl. Govt. or the latter to the danger of being injured by that of the States. He thought the danger greater from the States. To leave the power doubtful, would be opening another spring of discord, and he was for shutting as many of them as possible.

Unfortunately for proponents of the motion, Wilson's (and Dickinson's?) comments threatened to enmesh the veto issue in the large states vs. small states issue, drawing a stinging rebuke from Delaware delegate Gunning Bedford:
Mr. BEDFORD. In answer to his colleague's question where wd. be the danger to the States from this power, would refer him to the smallness of his own State which may be injured at pleasure without redress. It was meant he found to strip the small States of their equal right of suffrage. In this case Delaware would have about 1/90 for its share in the General Councils, whilst Pa. & Va. would posses 1/3 of the whole. Is there no difference of interests, no rivalship of commerce, of manufactures? Will not these large States crush the small ones whenever they stand in the way of their ambitious or interested views. This shews the impossibility of adopting such a system as that on the table, or any other founded on a change in the principle of representation. And after all, if a State does not obey the law of the new System, must not force be resorted to as the only ultimate remedy, in this as in any other system. It seems as if Pa. & Va. by the conduct of their deputies wished to provide a system in which they would have an enormous & monstrous influence. Besides, How can it be thought that the proposed negative can be exercised? are the laws of the States to be suspended in the most urgent cases until they can be sent seven or eight hundred miles, and undergo the deliberations of a body who may be incapable of Judging of them? Is the National Legislature too to sit continually in order to revise the laws of the States?
James Madison saw that the tide was turning against the amendment.  Seeking to retrieve the situation, he reiterated that some sort of veto power was essential, while suggesting that the details might require further attention.  At the same time, he again explicitly raised and unwisely praised the British precedent:
Mr. MADISON observed that the difficulties which had been started were worthy of attention and ought to be answered before the question was put. The case of laws of urgent necessity must be provided for by some emanation of the power from the Natl. Govt. into each State so far as to give a temporary assent at least. This was the practice in Royal Colonies before the Revolution and would not have been inconvenient, if the supreme power of negativing had been faithful to the American interest, and had possessed the necessary information. He supposed that the negative might be very properly lodged in the senate alone, and that the more numerous & expensive branch therefore might not be obliged to sit constantly.
Seeking to counter the small-states concerns expressed by Bedford, Madison asked whether the small states would be better off with no central government at all:
[Madison] asked Mr.[Bedford] what would be the consequence to the small States of a dissolution of the Union wch. seemed likely to happen if no effectual substitute was made for the defective System existing, and he did not conceive any effectual system could be substituted on any other basis than that of a proportional suffrage? If the large States possessed the avarice & ambition with which they were charged, would the small ones in their neighbourhood, be more secure when all controul of a Genl. Govt. was withdrawn.
Madison's last-ditch effort failed to save the day.  Pinckney's amendment to expand the veto power was defeated.  Only three states, all of them large (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia) voted in favor; seven states (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) opposed; and one state (Delaware) was evenly divided.
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