July 4th / The day after …

From Bill4DogCatcher.com, my alter self.

One of the unique things about our nation’s founders is that most realized that they were not chiseling truths with their declarations. The Declaration of Independence was a unique statement and yet there was hope for a compromise. Full independence was not yet an end goal sought by most or all.

Declaration of Independence

When independence came …. some of the founders became very disillusioned. Patrick Henry later accused George Washington of selling out, with criticism that the role of president would become a monarchy (and it almost did). Henry refused to participate in the Constitutional Convention — he saw no need for a constitution as the states were ‘states’. So he went home to his plantation and stayed there. George Washington tried to bring Henry and his followers back into the government by offering Patrick Henry the Secretary of State position but Henry declined.

As for the Constitution that came some years after the war’s end (1787-1790), the Constitution has proven to be an amazingly resilient document as our nation’s basic law and core law for union.¬†Patrick Henry did throw his support behind adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution (1791).

Yet, the Constitution is not a truth for all time. It was and is the pathway for union in an imperfect union.

“Whatever be the Constitution, great care must be taken to provide a mode of amendment when experience or change of circumstances shall have manifested that any part of it is unadapted to the good of the nation. In some of our States it requires a new authority from the whole people, acting by their representatives, chosen for this express purpose, and assembled in convention. This is found too difficult for remedying the imperfections which experience develops from time to time in an organization of the first impression. A greater facility of ammendment is certainly requisite to maintain it in a course of action accommodated to the times and changes through which we are ever passing.”

–Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:488


As for Patrick Henry, after the French Revolution his views changed on a number of thing. In 1795 he pretty much switched sides and became a proponent of federalism — believing that ‘the people’ can descend into chaos when they have no structured government to guide change and to provide a framework for change.

Progressive Taxes, Founding Fathers and Political Cartoons

The cartoon below is yet another demonstration of political discussion: it offers essential truth and yet essentially it does not.  Truth often depends upon what words are used in the larger discussion.

Constitution and Obama and Madidson

The founders were very divided on this subject.

While both Jefferson and Madison were libertarians, Jefferson believed in progressive taxes (in anti-govspeak: redistribution, which = Jefferson’s progressive taxation). Madison was a minimalist libertarian. He did not even want a Bill of Rights. He felt it to be totally unnecessary. Madison was a ‘things will somehow work themselves out’ libertarian.

Yet, perhaps in deference to Jefferson’s views, Madison seems to have had no problem at the time with writing Article 1.8 into the Constitution, that is the abhorred ‘general welfare’ clause.¬† Every version of the draft Constitution includes the phrase.

It is usually conservatives that point out that the preamble contains reference to the ‘general welfare’ but that it was just an introductory phrase to the enumerated powers. Yet it also appears in Article 1.8.

This clause and wording caused great argument almost from the moment that the Constitution was adopted. Some 40 years after the Constitution’s ratification, there was still debate as to what it all meant, which Madison attempted to explain in a lengthy letter.

Madison wrote a letter on November 27, 1830 explaining the logic behind this clause. Madison’s short answer: we carried it over from the Articles of Confederation. Madison’s contraview fellow travellers, beginning with the Washington Administration and Alexander Hamilton, argued that while the clause may have been carried over it was also revised to include the powers of direct taxation. The Hamiltonian view was that the Constitution’s drafters had intent that gave the federal government unique powers.

The discussion and the political cartoon above are about taxation, aka redistribution of wealth.

Even Jefferson and Madison, two libertarians and very close friends debated.

Jefferson and Madison corresponded often on the topic of natural rights, property rights and the role of government.

>>> From Jefferson’s letter to Madison, 1785:

“…Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. …”

— 28 Oct 1785, pre-Constitution (written/adopted 1777/78)

Madison was a bit slow to write back to Jefferson (then in France) but did so in 1786. His response to Jefferson was essentially ‘there will be poor always’.

>>> From Madison’s letter to Jefferson, 1786:

“Your reflections on the idle poor of Europe, form a valuable lesson to the Legislators of every Country, and particularly of a new one. I hope you will enable yourself before you return to America to compare with this description of people in France the Condition of the indigent part of other communities in Europe where the like causes of wretchedness exist in a less degree. I have no doubt that the misery of the lower classes will be found to abate wherever the Government assumes a freer aspect, & the laws favor a subdivision of property. Yet I suspect that the difference will not fully account for the comparative comfort of the Mass of people in the United States. Our limited population has probably as large a share in producing this effect as the political advantages which distinguish us. A certain degree of misery seems inseparable from a high degree of populousness.”

— 17 Jun 1786