Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Deaths of Crispus and Fausta

The emperor Constantine famously had both his eldest son Crispus and his wife Fausta killed in 326.  Mystery has surrounded the events ever since.  There are no contemporary accounts, and the earliest surviving recitations of events are overlaid with polemic.

The most frequently-told story is based upon the version recounted some 175 years later by the pagan Byzantine historian Zosimus (floruit 490s - 510s), who in his New History tied the two deaths together. Constantine had Crispus, the son of his first wife Minervina, killed when he heard allegations that Crispus had assaulted his (Constantine's) second and then current wife Fausta. Constantine then had Fausta killed when he heard the allegation against Crispus had been false, or perhaps simply out of remorse:
Now that the whole empire had fallen into the hands of Constantine, he no longer concealed his evil disposition and vicious inclinations, but acted as he pleased, without controul.  He indeed used the ancient worship of his country; though not so much out of honour or veneration as of necessity. Therefore he believed the soothsayers, who were expert in their art, as men who predicted the truth concerning all the great actions which he ever performed.

But when he came to Rome, he was filled with pride and arrogance. He resolved to begin his impious actions at home. For he put to death his son Crispus, stiled (as I mentioned) Caesar, on suspicion of debauching his [step-mother] Fausta, without any regard to the ties of nature.  And when [Constantine's] own mother Helena expressed much sorrow for this atrocity, lamenting the young man's death with great bitterness, Constantine under pretence of comforting her, applied a remedy worse than the disease.  For causing a bath to be heated to an extraordinary degree, he shut up Fausta in it, and a short time after took her out dead.  Of which his conscience accusing him, as also of violating his oath, he went to the [pagan] priests to be purified from his crimes. But they told him, that there was no kind of lustration that was sufficient to clear him of such enormities.

A Spaniard, named Aegyptius, very familiar with the court-ladies, being at Rome, happened to fall into converse with Constantine, and assured him, that the Christian doctrine would teach him how to cleanse himself from all his offences, and that they who received it were immediately absolved from all their sins.  Constantine had no sooner heard this than he easily believed what was told him, and forsaking the rites of his country, received those which Aegyptius offered him . . ..

Most modern historians point out that the story is unreliable, appearing to have been invented to explain Constantine's conversion to Christianity, but then wind up settling for some version of it, for want of any better alternative.  Discussion then usually turns to speculation about details.  Did Crispus actually "debauch" his step-mother or merely attempt to do so?  Or did Fausta, a la Phaedra or Potiphar's wife, attempt to seduce her step-son and then, when he rejected her blandishments, run to Constantine and accuse Crispus of being the aggressor?  Was it Helena who in fact convinced Constantine of Crispus' innocence and Fausta's guilt (and if so how did she know?), or did she perhaps accuse Fausta of an unrelated crime, such as adultery?

The great historian of the later Roman Empire, Arnold Hugh Martin Jones, presents an alternate hypothesis in his book Constantine and the Conversion of Europe.  Prof. Jones concedes that we can never be sure as to what happened:
All we know for certain is that the Caesar Crispus, Constantine's brilliant eldest son, who had recently distinguished himself in the campaign against Licinius, was without warning, as he was accompanying his father to the Vicennalia celebrations at Rome, executed at Pola, and that shortly afterwards the Empress Fausta, recently proclaimed Augusta, was mysteriously put to death - rumour said by suffocation in the hot chamber of her bath.
However, Prof. Jones concludes that "it would seem unlikely that the melodramatic story recounted by later writers is true" and the two deaths "were unconnected, despite their coincidence in time."  He believes that "a clue to Crispus' offense is perhaps to be found in an extraordinary edict which Constantine issued from Aquileia on" on April 1, 326 entitled "On the Abduction of Virgins or Unmarried Women" (De raptu virginum vel viduarum, found at Theodosian Code IX.24.1 et seq.). In it Constantine
imposes "most savage penalties" (they are not on record, having been reduced later to capital punishment) on abduction, and this whether the girl was willing or unwilling; in the former case she is to suffer the same penalty as her paramour, in the latter she is still to be penalized by the loss of her rights of inheritance, because she could have roused the neighbors by her cries.  The girl's parents, if they condone the offence, are to be deported.  Servants who acted as go-betweens are to have their mouths closed with molten lead.

The timing of the edict "and its violent, almost hysterical, tone, strongly suggest," Prof. Jones believes, "that it was provoked by Crispus' case."  If so, "Crispus' offence cannot have been that alleged by later popular report."  Instead, Prof. Jones suggests that Crispus may have
abducted some unknown girl, and that she had acquiesced and the parents had been willing to compromise the case.  Crispus' offense was the graver, in that he was already married to a certain Helena [not Constantine's mother, obviously], and had a child by her - born in 322.  He can thus have offered satisfaction to the unknown girl only by making her his concubine; and that this what he had done is suggested by another law, issued about this time and perhaps forming part of the edict on abduction, prohibiting married men from keeping concubines.

What then of Fausta?  If her death was unrelated to that of Crispus, why was she killed?  Prof. Jones finds a hint in another law promulgated by Constantine at Nicomedia on April 25, 326 as an amendment to Lex Iulia concerning adultery (Ad legem Iuliam de adulteriis, Theodosian Code IX.7.2):
Although adultery is considered a public crime, the accusation for which is granted to everyone alike, without any limitation of law, still, in order that marriages may not be disgraced at pleasure, only the nearest relatives shall have the right to bring such accusation, that is to say, father, brother, paternal and maternal uncle, who are incited to do so by reason of true grief.

1. But we give permission to these persons to dismiss the accusation, if they wish.

2. The husband, above all, should be the avenger of the marriage bed, who may indeed accuse his wife on suspicion, though he may keep her with him if he only suspects her.  And the emperors of the past consented that he should not incur the peril (frequently) arising from filing a written information, since he may accuse under his right as husband.

3. We direct that outsiders shall be kept from making any accusation; for although the necessity of a written complaint exists in every kind of accusation, some persons nevertheless make such complaints rashly, and seek to cast disgrace on marriages by false slander.

4. Violators of marriage-chastity should be punished by the sword.
Prof. Jones believes that the promulgation of this law suggests that Fausta was accused of adultery:
That Fausta was charged with adultery is suggested by a constitution, posted at Nicomedia on 25th April, 326.  In this Constantine limits the right of accusation in case of adultery to the near relatives of the erring wife, and in the first place to her husband - in Roman law adultery was a crime, and a common informer had hitherto been able to accuse.

And what was Helena's involvement, if any?
It may be, too, that Helena played some part in [Fausta's] fall.  It is, at any rate, odd that Helena was proclaimed Augusta - thus emerging from an eclipse of over thirty years - only a year or two before Fausta's death, and it is perhaps significant that immediately after she made a pilgrimage to Palestine - she had been converted to Christianity by her son, Eusebius tells us - where she contributed lavishly to the new churches at the Holy Places.  She died not long after in the odour of sanctity.
For what it's worth, I find the connection between Fausta's alleged offense and the adultery law less convincing.  The emendation of the law promulgated by Constantine limited the categories of persons who could bring charges of adultery.  But why would this amendment have been relevant to Fausta's case, where the complainant was presumably Constantine himself?  Perhaps Prof. Jones means to find relevance in the fact that the amendment appears also to eliminate the requirement of a "written information," legalizing Constantine's precipitous action.  But if so he does not say.

The arguments concerning Helena are even less persuasive, I think.  I simply don't understand why it is relevant that Helena was proclaimed Augusta several years earlier, or that she subsequently visited Palestine.  As to the former, it is inconceivable that Constantine received information from Helena years before he acted on it.  And as to the latter, is Prof. Jones suggesting that she was atoning because her information led to Fausta's execution?  Or was she doing penance on behalf of a remorseful Constantine?  Again, Prof. Jones does not exactly say.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson

It looks like Thomas Jefferson is about to take a well-deserved beating over slavery.  A new article at, The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson, previews a book by Henry Wiencek scheduled for release on October 16th entitled Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.  I haven't read the book and don't know the reputation of Mr. Wiencek, but if his conclusions are accurate they are pretty devastating.

And if the article and book are accurate, Jefferson isn't going to be alone in the woodshed.  At least one historian allegedly omitted the ugly details when editing Jefferson's writings, and others then credulously relied on the sanitized results to paint Jefferson in rosy hues:
It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel [Thomas Mann] Randolph’s plantation reports for Jefferson’s Farm Book, that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.”

Betts decided that the image of children being beaten at Monticello had to be suppressed, omitting this document from his edition. He had an entirely different image in his head; the introduction to the book declared, “Jefferson came close to creating on his own plantations the ideal rural community.” Betts couldn’t do anything about the original letter, but no one would see it, tucked away in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The full text did not emerge in print until 2005.

Betts’ omission was important in shaping the scholarly consensus that Jefferson managed his plantations with a lenient hand. Relying on Betts’ editing, the historian Jack McLaughlin noted that Lilly “resorted to the whip during Jefferson’s absence, but Jefferson put a stop to it.”

“Slavery was an evil he had to live with,” historian Merrill Peterson wrote, “and he managed it with what little dosings of humanity a diabolical system permitted.” Peterson echoed Jefferson’s complaints about the work force, alluding to “the slackness of slave labor,” and emphasized Jefferson’s benevolence: “In the management of his slaves Jefferson encouraged diligence but was instinctively too lenient to demand it. By all accounts he was a kind and generous master. His conviction of the injustice of the institution strengthened his sense of obligation toward its victims.”

Joseph Ellis observed that only “on rare occasions, and as a last resort, he ordered overseers to use the lash.” Dumas Malone stated, “Jefferson was kind to his servants to the point of indulgence, and within the framework of an institution he disliked he saw that they were well provided for. His ‘people’ were devoted to him.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Never Forget

I will not forget that day, or who our enemies are.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Bible Is Very Weird

I've never read the Hebrew Bible before.  It's very weird.  By way of example, a quiz:

On successive nights, this elderly widower's two unmarried daughters, who were then living in a cave with him, got him drunk on wine, slept with him while he was passed out ("he did not know when she lay down or when she rose"), became pregnant, and later gave birth to sons who became the eponymous ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites.  Name him.

No fair clicking on the picture, which will reveal the answer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Biblical Anti-Fugitive Slave Act

Some southerners before the Civil War famously cited the Bible’s apparent acceptance of the institution of slavery to support their contention that the peculiar institution was morally acceptable.

I was interested, therefore, to stumble across the following passage from Deuteronomy prohibiting the return of fugitive slaves:
You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.
Deuteronomy 23:16-17.

The commentary to the passage in The Jewish Study Bible (OUP 2004) emphasizes how extraordinary the Biblical prohibition was at that time and place:
The law rejects the almost universal stipulation within ancient Near Eastern law that escaped slaves must be returned to their owner, usually under penalty of death, and that rewards bounty hunters for their return (Laws of Hammurabi secs. 16-20; Hittite Laws secs. 22-24). . . . The extraordinary fivefold repetition of phrases designating the location of residence emphasizes that the entire community must be open to them.
I have never heard that northerners cited or quoted this passage, in or out of Congress, in connection with the debates over the Fugitive Slave Act.  Does anyone have different information?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity

As I've mentioned before, I drive most days and spend much of that time listening to history-related podcasts and similar materials.  I've posted recommendations several times before, and I'm writing to add one now.

Harvard Prof Shaye Cohen's The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity is an entertaining educational delight. Since I'm sure I would have flunked the course if I'd taken it, I won't venture to try to summarize it myself, contenting myself rather with quoting the prepackaged course description:
In 70CE the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Second Temple Judaism, whose worship consisted of animal sacrifice permitted by biblical command only at the Temple, would have to reinvent itself as Rabbinic Judaism. Contemporaneously, the authors of the New Testament Gospels were writing about the Jewish apocalyptic prophet whom they believed was the awaited messiah. For both the rabbis and the gospel writers, for both ancient Jews and ancient Christians, the central authoritative text was the Torah and the other books we now call the Hebrew Scriptures. This course surveys how the interpretation (and reinterpretation) of these books spawned two rival cultural systems, Judaism and Christianity. The issues addressed are: 1) What are the truth claims of Judaism and Christianity? 2) In the first centuries of our era, how did Jewish biblical interpretation differ from Christian? 3) What differences resulted in "the parting of the ways" between Judaism and Christianity? 4) How does each culture deal with the biblical passages concerning: circumcision, the food laws, the Sabbath, Passover, the manifestations of the deity (e.g., Logos), the messiah, atonement/redemption, and the concept of Israel as the chosen of God?
Parts history of the Israelites, the Torah (make that "tor-AH"), the Jews, Jesus, the Romans, the New Testament, early Christians and their interpretative methods and arguments, with Maimonides as a bonus, the course amounts to a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion.  Although I've inked the Academic Earth cite, the course is also available on iTunes, from which I downloaded it from

Having praised the course to the skies, I have only two gripes and an observation (or is it one gripe and two observations?):

1.  Poor Prof. Cohen needs to get some new shirts that weren't previously worn by Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.

2.  Has anyone told Prof. Cohen that he sometimes sounds like Lenny Bruce (the delivery! not the vocabulary!)?

3.  Harvard still SUCKS!  Boola Boola.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Kathleen's Wake

Kathleen's wake is today, and I can't resist adding a few more photos.

With all her siblings:

And last but not least, a cheesecake shot!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Kathleen McGrath (1927-2012)

Kathleen McGrath (nee Brennan), born 1927 in Wexford, Ireland, died on July 5th at home peacefully surrounded by her loving family and friends. She is survived by her beloved daughter Catherine and son-in-law and a large extended family.

A longtime parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, Kathleen was one of the first volunteers of Momentum, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, ministering to those living with AIDS and educating the community on the illness. She devoted herself to the poor and the homeless with dedication and compassion in her work coordinating the weekly soup kitchen, in her tireless volunteering at the Homeless Banquet and by devoting herself to many, many nights in the homeless shelter.

A daily participant at Mass, she served for many years as a Eucharistic Minister and as a sponsor in the parish’s RCIA program. She was well-known for her commitment to the preaching ministry of Fr. Jack Collins, CSP, collating his materials for the “next trip on the road.” She also was one of the first members of the St. Paul the Apostle Senior Ministry, under the direction of Paul Canestro, which worked inter-generationally with the Youth Ministry.

Kathleen loved classical music, American history and all things Irish. She was well-read, never lacked a pointed opinion or a good story, and was a strong advocate of women’s rights.

Kathleen’s wake will be held at Barrett’s Funeral Home, 424 West 51st Street, NY, NY, on Saturday July 7 from 2 to 5 pm and 7 to 9 pm, with a Memorial Mass to follow at St. Paul the Apostle, at Ninth Avenue and 59th Street, on Thursday July 12 at 7:00 p.m. Burial will be private. Donations should be made to the Paulist Fathers, Very Rev. Michael McGarry, CSP, 86-11 Midland Parkway, Jamaica Estates, NY 11432. 

And she was the world's greatest mother-in-law.  Rest in peace, my dear Kathleen.  Love you lots.

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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

James Madison and the Federal Veto; The Virginia Plan

On Tuesday May 29, 1787, Virginia governor Edmund Randolph "opened the main business" of the Philadelphia Convention by introducing a series of resolutions now known to us as the Virginia Plan.  Although there is no direct evidence as to who authored the resolutions, James Madison's fingerprints are all over it.  As Alison L. LaCroix summarizes in The Ideological Origins of American Federalism

Although the authorship of the plan cannot be determined, the provisions closely tracked Madison's proposals as outlined in his letters to Jefferson, Randolph, and Washington in March and April [1787].

(The letters are identified and linked in my first post on Madison's federal veto.)

Two of the Plan's fifteen resolutions contained provisions relating to a proposed central government veto on state legislation.  The sixth resolution asserted that the proposed "National Legislature" should have the power "to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union":

6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be impowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation & moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union agst. any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereo.
 The eighth resolution added more detail, calling for a national "council of Revision" that would review both legislative vetoes of state laws and all acts passed by the "National Legislature":

8. Resd. that the Executive and a convenient number of the National Judiciary, ought to compose a Council of revision with authority to examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate, & every act of a particular [i.e., State] Legislature before a Negative thereon shall be final; and that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the Act of the National Legislature be again passed, or that of a particular Legislature be again negatived by ----- of the members of each branch.

The veto provision of the sixth resolution was initially discussed on Monday June 1, 1787 and passed its first test:

The other clauses giving powers necessary to preserve harmony among the States to negative all State laws contravening in the opinion of the Nat. Leg. the articles of union, down to the last clause, (the words "or any treaties subsisting under the authority of the Union," being added after the words "contravening &c. the articles of the Union," on motion of Dr. FRANKLIN) were agreed to witht. debate or dissent. 
Careful readers will note that the version of the veto contained in the Virginia Plan differed somewhat from that urged by Madison in his pre-Convention letters.  In those letters, Madison had argued that the national legislature should have the power to veto state legislation "in all cases whatsoever"; the Plan limited the veto to those state laws "contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of the Union."

In fact, the arguments concerning the veto on Friday June 8, 1787 - the next time the veto came up for discussion - give us some reason to believe that the caucus of the Virginia delegation that had produced the Virginia Plan had not been entirely comfortable with Madison's broader version and had restricted it somewhat, against Madison's wishes.

At the outset of debate on June 8 Charles Pinckney of South Carolina moved to modify the provision by granting the legislature the power to veto all state laws "which they should judge to be improper":

Mr. PINKNEY moved "that the National Legislature shd. have authority to negative all laws which they shd. judge to be improper." He urged that such a universality of the power was indispensably necessary to render it effectual; that the States must be kept in due subordination to the nation; that if the States were left to act of themselves in any case, it wd. be impossible to defend the national prerogatives, however extensive they might be on paper; that the acts of Congress had been defeated by this means; nor had foreign treaties escaped repeated violations; that this universal negative was in fact the corner stone of an efficient national Govt.; that under the British Govt. the negative of the Crown had been found beneficial, and the States are more one nation now, than the Colonies were then.
According to Prof. LaCroix, "some scholars suspect" that Madison "collud[ed] with Pinckney (his fellow lodger at Mary House's rooms at the corner of  Fifth and Market streets)".  Not only did Pinckney support the change with the same startling allusion to British practice that Madison had cited in his letters; Madison immediately jumped up and passionately seconded Pinckney's motion.  "[A]n indefinited power to negative legislative actions of the States" was, in Madison's view, "absolutely necessary to a perfect system."  It was the "mildest expedient" that could "controul [sic] the centrifugal tendency of the States" to "continually fly out of their proper orbits and destroy the order and harmony of the political System":

Mr. MADISON seconded the motion. He could not but regard an indefinite power to negative legislative acts of the States as absolutely necessary to a perfect system. Experience had evinced a constant tendency in the States to encroach on the federal authority; to violate national Treaties; to infringe the rights & interests of each other; to oppress the weaker party within their respective jurisdictions. A negative was the mildest expedient that could be devised for preventing these mischiefs. The existence of such a check would prevent attempts to commit them. Should no such precaution be engrafted, the only remedy wd. lie in an appeal to coercion. Was such a remedy eligible? was it practicable? Could the national resources, if exerted to the utmost enforce a national decree agst. Massts. abetted perhaps by several of her neighbours? It wd. not be possible. A small proportion of the Community, in a compact situation, acting on the defensive, and at one of its extremities might at any time bid defiance to the National authority. Any Govt. for the U. States formed on the supposed practicability of using force agst. the unconstitutional proceedings of the States, wd. prove as visionary & fallacious as the Govt. of Congs. The negative wd. render the use of force unnecessary. The States cd. of themselves then pass no operative act, any more than one branch of a Legislature where there are two branches, can proceed without the other. But in order to give the negative this efficacy, it must extend to all cases. A discrimination wd. only be a fresh source of contention between the two authorities. In a word, to recur to the illustrations borrowed from the planetary system. This prerogative of the General Govt. is the great pervading principle that must controul the centrifugal tendency of the States; which, without it, will continually fly out of their proper orbits and destroy the order & harmony of the political System.
 In the next post I will continue to chart the course of the federal veto through the Constitutional Convention.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

James Madison and the Federal Veto: "In all cases whatsoever"

In her book The Ideological Origins of American Federalism lawprof Alison LaCroix explores a series of episodes from the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods illustrating the development of lines of thought justifying the existence of multiple layers of government in order to counter the fundamental British argument that imperium in imperio was a “solecism.” While Prof. LaCroix spends a good deal of time linking the episodes and trying to establish a framework for evaluating the evolution of American arguments about government, I in my simplistic way most enjoyed the book for its descriptions and discussions of particular events and debates

Runner-up among these episodes, in my view, is Prof. LaCroix's chapter on the extrordinary 1773 debate over the nature of sovereignty between Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and the colony's legislature (available online in Alden Bradford, et al., eds., Speeches of the Governors of Massachusetts, pp. 336 et seq.).

But the clear winner, I think, is the chapter on James Madison.  Much ink has been spilled over Madison's views concerning government immediately before and at the Philadelphia Convention, but Prof. LaCroix brings home, in a way I have not seen before, how central and essential the power of veto was to Madison's conception of the new federal government.

While I will get to the Virginia Plan itself in the next post, suffice it to say for present purposes that it contained provisions that would have granted the general government the power to veto state legislation.  This proposal, though often noted, is usually regarded as an embarrassment, an odd outlier that Madison stuck in perhaps as a placeholder until a better device to insure federal supremacy could be devised.  But Prof. LaCroix argues convincingly that Madison thought long and hard about the veto power, that it was central to his conception of the new government, and that he was convinced that it was utterly essential to keep the confederacy from flying apart.

I have neither the desire nor the will to parrot Prof. LaCroix's arguments.  However, I thought it would worthwhile to lay out, and provide links to, the key documents that she cites, so interested readers can consider them for themselves.

For convenience, the story begins over the winter of 1786-1787, when Madison, in anticipation of a convention, conducted a wide-ranging historical review of ancient and modern confederacies.  His studies resulted in thirty-nine pages of notes that have come down to us as Of Ancient and Modern Confederacies.  The notes indicate that a principal lesson that Madison drew was that confederacies typically flew apart because the central authority was not strong enough.

For example, Madison listed as the first ""Vice[] of the Constitution" of the Amphyctionic League the fact that "The defect of subjection in the members to the general authority [i.e., the failure of the members to be completely subjected to the general authority] ruined the whole Body."  Concerning the "Helvetic Confederacy," "weakness of the Union" was identified as a Vice.

So too with the "Belgic Confederacy": "The Union of Utrecht imports an authority in the States Genl seemingly sufficient to secure harmony; but the Jealousy in each province of its sovereignty renders the practice very different from the Theory."  And in the "Germanic Confederacy" "Jealousy of the Imperial authority seems to have been a great cement of the Confederacy."

At about the same time, Madison compiled his famous notes on the Vices of the Political System of the United States, which harped again and again on the failure of the states to follow central authority, both directly by ignoring federal commands and indirectly by legislating on matters on national concern and violating the rights of other states. For example:
1. Failure of the States to comply with the Constitutional requisitions.

This evil has been so fully experienced both during the war and since the peace, results so naturally from the number and independent authority of the States and has been so uniformly examplified in every similar Confederacy, that it may be considered as not less radically and permanently inherent in, than it is fatal to the object of, the present System.

2. Encroachments by the States on the federal authority.

Examples of this are numerous and repetitions may be foreseen in almost every case where any favorite object of a State shall present a temptation. Among these examples are the wars and Treaties of Georgia with the Indians--The unlicensed compacts between Virginia and Maryland, and between Pena. & N. Jersey--the troops raised and to be kept up by Massts.

3. Violations of the law of nations and of treaties.

From the number of Legislatures, the sphere of life from which most of their members are taken, and the circumstances under which their legislative business is carried on, irregularities of this kind must frequently happen. Accordingly not a year has passed without instances of them in some one or other of the States. The Treaty of peace--the treaty with France--the treaty with Holland have each been violated.[See the complaints to Congress on these subjects]. The causes of these irregularities must necessarily produce frequent violations of the law of nations in other respects. As yet foreign powers have not been rigorous in animadverting on us. This moderation however cannot be mistaken for a permanent partiality to our faults, or a permanent security agst. those disputes with other nations, which being among the greatest of public calamities, it ought to be least in the power of any part of the Community to bring on the whole.

4. Trespasses of the States on the rights of each other.

These are alarming symptoms, and may be daily apprehended as we are admonished by daily experience. See the law of Virginia restricting foreign vessels to certain ports--of Maryland in favor of vessels belonging to her own citizens--of N. York in favor of the same. Paper money, instalments of debts, occlusion of Courts, making property a legal tender, may likewise be deemed aggressions on the rights of other States. As the Citizens of every State aggregately taken stand more or less in the relation of Creditors or debtors, to the Citizens of every other States, Acts of the debtor State in favor of debtors, affect the Creditor State, in the same manner, as they do its own citizens who are relatively creditors towards other citizens. This remark may be extended to foreign nations. If the exclusive regulation of the value and alloy of coin was properly delegated to the federal authority, the policy of it equally requires a controul on the States in the cases above mentioned. It must have been meant 1. to preserve uniformity in the circulating medium throughout the nation. 2. to prevent those frauds on the citizens of other States, and the subjects of foreign powers, which might disturb the tranquility at home, or involve the Union in foreign contests. The practice of many States in restricting the commercial intercourse with other States, and putting their productions and manufactures on the same footing with those of foreign nations, though not contrary to the federal articles, is certainly adverse to the spirit of the Union, and tends to beget retaliating regulations, not less expensive & vexatious in themselves, than they are destructive of the general harmony.

5. want of concert in matters where common interest requires it.

This defect is strongly illustrated in the state of our commercial affairs. How much has the national dignity, interest, and revenue suffered from this cause? Instances of inferior moment are the want of uniformity in the laws concerning naturalization & literary property; of provision for national seminaries, for grants of incorporation for national purposes, for canals and other works of general utility, wch. may at present be defeated by the perverseness of particular States whose concurrence is necessary.

A principal problem, in short, was that the general government lacked sufficient authority.  And the remedy, Madison strongly implied, was a grant of power to coerce and restrain the states:
7. want of sanction to the laws, and of coercion in the Government of the Confederacy.

A sanction is essential to the idea of law, as coercion is to that of Government. The federal system being destitute of both, wants the great vital principles of a Political Constitution. Under the form of such a Constitution, it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance, between so many independent and Sovereign States. From what cause could so fatal an omission have happened in the articles of Confederation? from a mistaken confidence that the justice, the good faith, the honor, the sound policy, of the several legislative assemblies would render superfluous any appeal to the ordinary motives by which the laws secure the obedience of individuals: a confidence which does honor to the enthusiastic virtue of the compilers, as much as the inexperience of the crisis apologizes for their errors. The time which has since elapsed has had the double effect, of increasing the light and tempering the warmth, with which the arduous work may be revised. It is no longer doubted that a unanimous and punctual obedience of 13 independent bodies, to the acts of the federal Government, ought not be calculated on. Even during the war, when external danger supplied in some degree the defect of legal & coercive sanctions, how imperfectly did the States fulfil their obligations to the Union? In time of peace, we see already what is to be expected. How indeed could it be otherwise? In the first place, Every general act of the Union must necessarily bear unequally hard on some particular member or members of it. Secondly the partiality of the members to their own interests and rights, a partiality which will be fostered by the Courtiers of popularity, will naturally exaggerate the inequality where it exists, and even suspect it where it has no existence. Thirdly a distrust of the voluntary compliance of each other may prevent the compliance of any, although it should be the latent disposition of all. Here are causes & pretexts which will never fail to render federal measures abortive. If the laws of the States, were merely recommendatory to their citizens, or if they were to be rejudged by County authorities, what security, what probability would exist, that they would be carried into execution? Is the security or probability greater in favor of the acts of Congs. which depending for their execution on the will of the state legislatures, wch. are tho’ nominally authoritative, in fact recommendatory only.
By late March 1787, Madison's studies had already led him to the tentative conclusion that "this political experiment" (the anticipated Philadelphia Convention) had to recommend a device by which the states were subjugated to "the federal head."  In a letter dated March 19, 1987 to Thomas Jefferson Madison identified this device as the power to veto local legislation "in all cases whatsoever" (emphasis in the original):
2dly. Over and above the positive power of regulating trade and sundry other matters in which uniformity is proper, to arm the federal head with a negative in all cases whatsoever on the local Legislatures. Without this defensive power, experience and reflection have satisfied me that, however ample the federal powers may be made, or however clearly their boundaries may be delineated on paper, they will be easily and continually baffled by the Legislative sovereignties of the States. The effects of this provision would be not only to guard the national rights and interests against invasion, but also to restrain the States from thwarting and molesting each other; and even from oppressing the minority within themselves by paper money and other unrighteous measures which favor the interest of the majority. In order to render the exercise of such a negative prerogative convenient, an emanation of it must be vested in some set of men within the several States, so far as to enable them to give a temporary sanction to laws of immediate necessity.
 By early April 1787, Madison was pressing the same line of thought on Virginia delegate and Governor Edmund Randolph, whose views would carry great weight within the delegation.  In a letter to Randolph dated April 8, 1787  Madison argued that it would be insufficient for "the national Government [to] be armed with a positive and complete authority in all cases where uniform measures are necessary, as in trade, &c., &c."  A power to veto state legislation "in all cases whatsoever" was also required:
Let it [the national Government] have a negative, in all cases whatsoever, on the Legislative acts of the States, as the King of Great Britain heretofore had. This I conceive to be essential and the least possible abridgement of the State sovereignties.  Without such a defensive power, every positive power that can be given on paper will be unavailing. It will also give internal stability to the States. There has been no moment since the peace at which the Federal assent would have been given to paper-money, &c., &c.
And in mid-April Madison turned his lobbying efforts to the single most important delegate, George Washington, whose attendance Madison now anticipated.  In a letter to Washington dated April 16, 1787 Madison took "the liberty of submitting . . . without apology to your eye" "some outlines of a new system" concerning "the subject which is to undergo the discussion of the Convention."

As in his letter to Gov. Randolph, Madison argued to Washington that it was necessary but not sufficient that "the national Government should be armed with positive and compleat authority in all cases which require uniformity; such as the regulation of trade, including the right of taxing both exports & imports, the fixing the terms and forms of naturalization, &c &c."  In addition, a veto over state laws "in all cases whatsoever" was required (emphasis in original):
Over and above this positive power, a negative in all cases whatsoever on the legislative acts of the States, as heretofore exercised by the Kingly prerogative, appears to me to be absolutely necessary, and to be the least possible encroachment on the State jurisdictions. Without this defensive power, every positive power that can be given on paper will be evaded & defeated. The States will continue to invade the National jurisdiction, to violate treaties and the law of nations & to harass each other with rival and spiteful measures dictated by mistaken views of interest. Another happy effect of this prerogative would be its controul on the internal vicissitudes of State policy, and the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and of individuals. The great desideratum which has not yet been found for Republican Governments seems to be some disinterested & dispassionate umpire in disputes between different passions & interests in the State. The majority who alone have the right of decision, have frequently an interest, real or supposed in abusing it. In Monarchies the sovereign is more neutral to the interests and views of different parties; but, unfortunely he too often forms interests of his own repugnant to those of the whole. Might not the national prerogative here suggested be found sufficiently disinterested for the decision of local questions of policy, whilst it would itself be sufficiently restrained from the pursuit of interests adverse to those of the whole Society. There has not been any moment since the peace at which the representatives of the Union would have given an assent to paper money or any other measure of a kindred nature.
Madison's extraordinary directness in his letters to Randolph and Washington only emphasizes how critical he viewed the veto to be.  He had to have both men on his side to give his plan any hope of success, and he was utterly frank with them.  He explicitly admitted to both correspondents that the provision was based upon the example of the veto that the King of Great Britain had held over the acts of colonial legislatures, the source of which had been the 1696 Act for preventing Frauds and regulating Abuses in the Plantation Trade:
And itt is further enacted and declared by the Authority aforesaid That all Lawes By-lawes Usages or Customes att this tyme or which hereafter shall bee in practice or endeavoured or pretended to bee in force or practice in any of the said Plantations which are in any wise repugnant to the before mentioned Lawes or any of them soe far as they doe relate to the said Plantations or any of them or which are wayes repugnant to this present Act or to any other Law hereafter to bee made in this Kingdome soe farr as such Law shall relate to and mention the said Plantations are illegall null and void to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever.
It is hard to imagine a precedent more likely to arouse objection and suspicion among other colonists, except perhaps for the despised Declaratory Act of 1766, which Madison's language also recalled (emphasis added):
Whereas several of the houses of representatives in His Majesty's colonies and plantations in America have of late, against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon His Majesty's subjects in the said colonies and plantations; and have, in pursuance of such claim, passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders derogatory to the legislative authority of Parliament, and inconsistent with the dependency of the said colonies and plantations upon the crown of Great Britain: may it therefore please Your Most Excellent Majesty that it may be declared, and be it declared by the king's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and Parliament of Great Britain; and that the king's Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.

II. And be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the Parliament of Great Britain to make laws and statutes as aforesaid is denied, or drawn into question, are, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
In succeeding installments I will look at the Virginia Plan and Madison's battles to retain and expand the veto power during the Convention.
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