The Founders: Death and Taxes

by on Aug.01, 2011, under Current, History

The impetus to form a new government to replace the Confederacy was born, majorly, from the fact that the Continental Congress had no power to levy taxes. There were, no doubt, other reasons that are easily demonstrated, but the one that reverberated with those who served through the Revolutionary War both in arms and in Congress was that of direct revenue. The situation near the end of the war echoes eerily today as the states engaged in a war that The Congress was in want of tax revenue to pay for and the debts incurred to do so, both foreign and domestic, threatened to destroy that which so much blood was spilled to gain.

It wasn’t only the money owed in loans, but also that owned in salary to the very soldiers who fought so gallantly and with such self-sacrifice that some worried they would be thrown into debtor’s prison upon their discharge. The salaries weren’t even the worst of it. The soldiers were often starved and froze with no blankets which many of them had to cut up to make clothes. During the winter, their marches could be followed by the bloody footprints in the snow since they often went without even shoes.

Many images of Valley Forge depict a desolate place were the rank and file starved in the dark of winter. However, in reality, the area of Pennsylvania where they were in camp was some of the most fertile soil in the states. The problem wasn’t the availability of food; it was the lack of funds. The farmers sold their goods to the British who were occupying Philadelphia since they paid in Pound Sterling while Washington’s army had only worthless script and I.O.U.s to offer. At one point Washington had to order Alexander Hamilton to take men out to take horses and supplies from the residents in the surrounding area. This was done with tact and records were kept of what was commandeered, however, it was a fretful action in the midst of a war for liberty.

For a time Congress was permitted to print currency but as faith in that currency fell, inflation ran to the extreme and it was rendered effectually worthless. In March 1780, Madison wrote to Jefferson that “Our army, threatened with an immediate alternative of disbanding or living on free quarter; the public treasury empty; public credit exhausted,…”. Once this point was reached, without the ability to directly raise revenue, the Congress could no longer fund the war, though perhaps they never actually had that ability at all.

With soldiers going months without pay even at the end of hostilities with French gold flowing in and loans from other nations secured. Tensions rose and with them fears as Congress’ promises of pensions and empty rhetoric was falling on deaf ears. In 1783, in Newburgh, NY, officers of the Continental Army gathered to discuss a mutiny against Congress. It even seems evident that Hamilton himself played a part in its organization.

When Washington learned of the conspiracy, he addressed the officers in an effort to put an end to it, but his words seemed to have little effect at least until the very end of his speech. In a scene that demonstrates well Washington’s amazing abilities, he paused to find his glasses saying “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This stopped the conspiracy, though it wasn’t the end of the story as the rank and file near Philadelphia took to arms and actually marched on Congress in the summer of the same year. At the 11th hour, Congress was forced to flee with temporary homes found in New Jersey, Maryland, and finally New York.

These and other events drove the Founding Parents to build “a more perfect union”, and the power to levy taxes was at the forefront of the reasons for its construction. As to the tax schemes, flat or otherwise, I turn to America’s First Citizen, Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography he wrote “…, but insisting more particularly on the inequality of this six-shilling tax of the constables, respecting the circumstances of those who paid it, since a poor widow housekeeper, all whose property to be guarded by the watch did not perhaps exceed the value of fifty pounds, paid as much as the wealthiest merchant, who had thousands of pounds worth of goods in his stores…. a more equitable way of supporting the charge the levying a tax that should be proportion’d to the property”

“…These public quarrels were all at bottom owing to the proprietaries, our hereditary governors, who, when any expense was to be incurred for the defense of their province, with incredible meanness instructed their deputies to pass no act for levying the necessary taxes, unless their vast estates were in the same act expressly excused…”

And on the preparations for defense in the French-English war…

“But the governor refusing his assent to their bill (which included this with other sums granted for the use of the crown), unless a clause were inserted exempting the proprietary estate from bearing any part of the tax that would be necessary, the Assembly, tho’ very desirous of making their grant to New England effectual, were at a loss how to accomplish it. ”

The most amazing result of their efforts, to my mind, is that, in the end, 13 sovereign states essentially capitulated to a newly formed government with the only battles being those of words, logic, and reason. In a time when greed and corruption was as rampant in the legislature as it is today, Hamilton, who is regarded as the father of the United States economy, wrote to Robert Morris that government should regulate trade “so that ‘injurious branches of commerce might be discouraged, favourable branches encouraged, [and] useful products and manufactures promoted.”

What I think is to often quoted without a full understanding is that The Constitution endows the only real power within the people. At that time, the public was largely uneducated and interstate communication was primitive so the delegates to the Constitutional Convention could be forgiven for falling to the notion that only the “landowners” were capable of holding office. Some were even prescient like Elbridge Gerry who said “The people do not want virtue; but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massts. it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute…” Though he was speaking against Democracy, his words served to illustrate a risk that the delegates failed to successfully mitigate.

It was a meritocracy that let a son of a shoe maker and an poor orphan from the St. Croix to join the ranks of the builders of a great nation. Although the framers worked to defeat the notion of monarchy and aristocracy, they failed to firmly set the meritocracy. Through campaign law reform, perhaps we can continue their work in forming a government which will ensure a more perfect union and keep the people as the only true sovereign.

*A Note on Sources: I have not provided sources here as I have come across the events retold again and again in the many volumes I’ve read on the founding of the nation. This reading includes multiple biographies and autobiographies on all of the founders as well as some of their correspondence, general histories, and even both volumes of James Madison’s Journal from the Federal Convention in their entirety.

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Stewart with Perry; Individual Liberty or Corporations as Humans

by on Nov.28, 2010, under Current

John Stewart interviewed Texas governor Rick Perry on Monday November 8th.  I was very interested to see how Stewart would conduct the interview given his opinions, and his recent call for a return to sanity at some small weekend gathering at his house or something.

In the first minute or so I had hopes that Mr. Perry was going to deliver big with an honest discussion.  He began, as expected, with overreach.  The fact that the Federal government overreaches is not something that I think most people, including myself, would disagree with.  Here is the interview, please watch it for yourself if you haven’t as I do want to share my thoughts, but I don’t want to color your experience.–1

Mr. Perry discussed his state’s work to improve the environment and the recent EPA over-ruling TX flexible permitting.  His point about the federal government infringing on the states is important to me as the topic was a major focus during the creation of The Constitution and as such, I’m grateful to him for brining it up; it hasn’t been part of my thoughts.  When he finished his point, though, the conversation turned, in my opinion.

Stewart asked what was, in my opinion, an excellent question.  He suggested the scenario where the state was not doing well in cleaning up the air and asked, reasonably, are you suggesting “the states should have the right to either clean up their air, or not?”  Perry’s answer was not what I was hoping for.

Any time there is a general statement uttered like he gave in answer; that states that disinterested competency is the norm anywhere near federal, state, or local government, credulity is immediately called into question.  A quick scan on Wikipedia yields pages of dispute. 

Alaska lawmakers known as the “Corrupt Bastards Club” were included in charges of extortion, bribery, and conspiracy.  Duvall, Republican, conservative, “that received a perfect 100 percent score from Capitol Resource Institute for continuously voting to protect and preserve family values in California” (SF Examiner)  recently quickly resigned.  Why?  He bragged, inadvertently over a hot microphone, about affairs with two women providing lurid details.

And who can forget…  “An FBI sting operation indicted 44 New Jersey officials and several Rabbis, mainly for bribery, counterfeiting of intellectual property, money laundering, organ harvesting, and political corruption” (Wikipedia).  Organ harvesting; now that’s disinterested government.

Corruption, power, and government are a ready mix, so lying, cheating, and stealing in our elected officials should come as no surprise to anyone.  There is a means to combat it, I’m confident, but I don’t think it’s going to happen until, “We The People”, can all sit down, talk, and then finally, work together.

This interview had me thinking again the promises on which the GOP of today runs and my desire to see more honesty in the general debate.  Of the major calls of the politicians in that camp is a rally to protect individual freedoms.  My opinion is that the maintaining of the freedoms of the individual is the main reason for the existence of the U.S. government, so, of course, I would never discount the importance thereof.

However, there is a difference between individual freedoms, and the freedom of individuals to infringe upon the freedom and rights of others, and this is where I see intentional deception on the part of some members of the GOP that warrants attention.

What concerns me most is the talk of, “the free market”.  When someone speaks about “the free market”, I am at first open, but then, immediately skeptical.  The basic concept speaks to the self-correcting nature of “the market” and the requisite resistance to “intervention”; i.e. regulation of business.  However, following on the call of many who site ill-conceived, or overbearing regulation as a clarion for the elimination of all regulation, Stewart’s question on the acceptability of “how much lead is in their paint?” makes the point.

Whether it be the hedge fund scammer who rob millions of dollars from investors due fraud, a company that ignores safety issues, or even the company that ignores the needs of a hard working single parent, these are countless examples of individuals running the companies, denying the rights guaranteed by our Constitution to the victims. 

In the preamble to The U.S. Constitution, the preamble states several reasons for it’s establishment, but for those yelling the loudest these days, only “provide for the common defense” seems to be known.  Further, the common defense of whom, is not always clear.  And despite the recent Supreme Court capitulation, I will not see a corporation as a human life; I am sure it was not the intent of The Framers to have human rights extended to corporate entities.

The others; “to ensure domestic tranquility”, “to promote the General Welfare”, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty”, and “to establish justice”, don’t seem to be much on those minds.  If we are to hold the government accountable to the Constitution then the last two seem certain to me to say that it has a role in regulating business which has, on countless occasions denied liberty, and even life to far too many citizens.  And I don’t see any justice in allowing people to suffer as the market corrects.

Some politicians seem to be using “small government for you”, “protecting your individual liberty in the best spirit of the founders” as a cover to gather supporters, when the only actual entities they want to protect are corporate entities and those who run them.  Tom Delay (R-TX) was the speaker of the house during the Bush II administration.  He was tied to Jack Abramoff and recently convicted of money laundering.  In his book “No Retreat, No Surrender…”, he writes “My reasoning is simple, if you want to get government regulations off the backs of energy producers, for example, talk to the energy producers about how government gets in their way.  Then get their government affairs people to help you draft legislation.”  The fox guarding the hen house.   With the prime directive of business being “to make money”, I’m quite sure “The People” are more than underrepresented in this paradigm; and has become common.

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