Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Tale of Two Revolutions: An Introduction

An earlier post provided a sketch of Edmund Burke's “conservatisms.” In his writings and speeches, he articulated a sophisticated and nuanced conservative conception of social and political change. And in the positions he took as a member of the House of Commons, he also manifested a conservative ideology about social and political order that could be described as aristocratic. Burke mad his most famous statement of principles that became known as conservative in his Reflections on the Revolution in France

The French Revolution resembled other conflicts in a broad way.

The English Civil War (1642-1651) began as a conflict between aristocratic dominated Parliament and the monarchy over finances, turned into a civil war, and ended in a middle class revolution that established a republic. In 1660, a conservative, aristocratic reaction restored the monarchy. And in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Parliament and the aristocracy established their supremacy over the monarchy and England became a constitutional monarchy.

The American Revolution followed this course in very broad, somewhat superficial outlines. England's North American colonies, dominated largely by provincial elites and  "the middling sort," revolted against Parliament's attempt to reorganize imperial relations. The new United States established a republic under a constitution called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (1783-1789). Financial problems, among other issues, brought in a somewhat conservative reaction establishment of the Constitution of 1787 (1789-present).

The French Revolution (1789-1815), like the English, began as a conflict between the monarchy and the aristocratic order over financing and taxation. Although the aristocrats attempted to assert themselves against the monarchy to maintain their privileges, they opened the door for the middle and lower orders of French society to involved themselves and inject their own grievances into the constitutional struggle. An aristocratic resistance to royal absolutism turned into another middle class revolution. The revolution eventually degenerated into violence, terror, and a quarter century of world war. After the defeat of Napoleon, the monarchy and the aristocracy resumed their historic role in the triumph of conservatism.

What happened in France that moved Burke to publish his opposition? Why did Burke, who like most Whigs celebrated the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England, oppose so vociferously the revolution of 1789 in France?

The next post will explore that question.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Conservatisms of Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was a writer, a philosopher of aesthetics , and politician best remembered today as the founder of modern conservatism. As we shall see, however, Burke articulated a conservatism that is much more at home in Europe than here in America.

Burke was born in Dublin, Ireland to a prosperous lawyer. He attended law school in the Middle Temple, but left without finishing. He first attracted attention as a thoughtful and eloquent writer when he published A Philosophical Inquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. He eventually became secretary to Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, until the latter's death in 1782. One of the ironies of Burke's life is that this son of a middle class lawyer became connected with and a supporter of England's landed aristocracy. Burke became indebted both financially and politically to Rockingham. Burke led a materially comfortable life owed to Rockingham. When Rockingham died, he forgave a debt owed him by Burke of nearly £30,000. Through Rockingham's influence, Burke represented one of England's corrupt “pocket boroughs” in the House of Commons. A “pocket borough” was a largely depopulated village in which a local landed aristocrat exercised his influence among the few residents to secure the election of his own nominee. Through his speeches and writings while in the Commons, Burke espoused view of the world that later became known as conservatism.

So what contributions did Burke make to modern conservatism? Burke offered up a sophisticated and nuanced approach to change. Rather than opposed to change altogether (as conservatives are sometimes described), Burke recognized and even embraced change as a natural process. He rejected changes resulting from abstract speculative schemes. Society, he wrote, “is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Whatever the contemporary circumstances of any particular generation, they reflect the accumulated wisdom of those who came before them. Burke believed that no one generation should radically uproot the social institutions that they have inherited.

But he was not opposed to all change or even revolution. He conceded that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Consequently, Burke expressed strong reservations about the impact of British imperial policies on traditional ways of life in Ireland, India, and the North American colonies. During the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the War for Independence, Burke repeatedly spoke out in Parliament on behalf of the American grievances. Burke's reflections on the concept of change and his historical reputation as “a friend of the colonies” has endeared his to a small but influential intellectual wing of the American conservative movement.

Burke's views on conservatism, however, supported a particular social and political order that is in many respects distinctly European.

He believed in Parliamentary supremacy and defended it against all challengers. Burke resented efforts of George III to enhance the power of the monarchy through what was then called “influence” or “corruption.” These phrases referred to the practice of creating new entitled peers in the House of Lords or awarding pensions and military titles (along with salaries) to representatives in the House of Commons in exchange for support for the programs of the king's ministers. So far so good. The Americans, too, shared his views on ministerial corruption of the Parliament.

But he also upheld the sovereignty of Parliament over the colonies. Because he believed that the policies adopted for the colonies were ill conceived, Burke enjoyed a reputation of an ally of the Americans. The Americans, however, based their opposition on very different principles. The Americans denied that Parliament had any legislative authority over the colonies. In their eyes, the American imperial connection came through the king.

More important, he idealized Parliament and resisted all efforts at reform. Despite his recognition that change sometimes is necessary, he experienced apocalyptic visions at the prospect of Parliamentary reform and reacted to reform proposals with emotional speeches and intemperate language. He once observed that if the public concluded that “our constitution is not so perfect as it ought to be, only ruin of the nation will follow.”

When Parliament considered a bill to reduce the term between Parliamentary elections from seven to three years, he predicted “a society dissolved, industry interrupted, ruined—of those personal hatreds that will never be suffered to soften, those animosities and feuds which will be rendered immortal, those quarrels which are never to be appeased—morals vitiated and gangrened in the vitals.

When William Pitt introduced legislation in 1785 to expand the franchise, bring about a more equitable scheme of representation, and to abolish “rotten boroughs” like those represented by Burke, he opposed it. Such reforms would reduce the influence of the landed aristocracy. When Pitt argued that lack of representation in Parliament led to the American rebellion, Burke shockingly denied it. It created such a stir that when Burke attempted to deliver a lengthy prepared speech against the reform bill, members of Parliament shouted him down. (This happened with increasing frequency in the 1780s, sparking emotional outbursts from Burke that led some people to conclude that he was emotionally unstable. (Literary critic Samuel Johnson remarked that “if a man will appear extravagant as he does, and cry, can he wonder that he is represented as mad.”)

In the speech he never delivered, Burke expressed contempt for the idea that “every man ought to govern himself, and that where he cannot go, himself, he must send his representative ." Worse, according the Burke, those who make this argument based it upon “the supposed rights of man.”
He asserted that the British constitution rested on prescription: “its sole authority is, that it has existed time out of mind.” He in effect restricted liberties traditional or inherited liberties. He concluded that the great object of most of these reformers is to prepare the destruction of the Constitution by disgracing and discrediting the House of Commons.

Finally, he supported hierarchical churches and the official establishment of the Church of England. Although he supported removal of legal restrictions against Catholics, he had little sympathy for religious dissenters in general. “Dissent,” he cynically observed, “not satisfied with toleration,is not conscience but ambition.” As for infidels, they were “outlaws of the constitution of the human race.”

Burke's reflections on change, especially on how they influenced his positions on issue of the day, seem far more relevant to a European kind of conservatism rather than American variety. Burke seemed devoted to conserving a hierarchical society, through a hierarchical church establishment, and a Parliament dominated by a landed aristocracy.

Burke's conservatism was most famously expressed,however, over an event beyond Britain's shores: the French Revolution.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aristocracy Triumphant

The decisive clash between the monarchy and Parliament erupted over religion. The triumph of Parliament established England as a limited or constitutional monarchy in which the aristocratic orders dominated the realm through Parliament.

In 1672, Charles II attempted to under mine the religious settlement of the the 1660s. He issued a Royal Proclamation of Indulgence which suspended some of the laws against Christians who dissented form the Church of England. He was concerned primarily with Catholics but applied the indulgence to Protestant dissenters as well. Parliament forced its withdrawal based upon the declaration's unconstitutionality.

The following year it became public knowledge that the King's brother and presumed heir, James, Duke of York, had converted to Catholicism. (James was considered the heir because, although Charles fathered twelve bastard children from his seven mistresses, he had no legitimate heir.) Many feared the return of a Roman Catholic monarch. A movement began to find a way to prevent James from inheriting the throne. Elements in Parliament once again at temped to expand its authority by legislation that excluded James from the throne. They wanted the throne to pass to his daughter,Mary who had marriage William , Prince of Orange in Holland. The legislation failed to pass.Those who supported the King became informally known as Tories (Irish Catholic bandits) and those who supported Parliament became known as Whigs (Scottish herdsmen). The issue became more acute in light of the death of Charles in 1685.

In 1687, the new King James II issued a Declaration of Indulgence. This led to several constitutional battles. Parliament claimed that the King did not possess the legal authority to simply dismiss duly enacted laws of Parliament. James secured a legal victory for his position by dismissing judges who sided with Parliament a appointing supporters in their place.

He issued a second Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it read in every parish. When several minsters refused, they were arrested for sedition. Moreover James began appointing Catholics into important influential positions.

He forced Magdalen College at Oxford to install a Catholic supporter of the king as its President.

In addition, he began to expand a large standing army, removing Protestant officers, and  appointing Catholic officers in their place.

When James fathered a male heir in 1688, Parliament made is move. Secret correspondence began to be exchanged between English opponents of the King and William of Orange, the king's son in law in Holland, inquiring about military intervention. In November 1688, the armies of William of Orange landed in England and brought about “The Glorious Revolution.” When his armies suffered defeat and his support dissolved, the King fled England. Parliament declared the throne vacant and declared William and Mary joint monarchs. The Parliament then passed the English Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration, which gave limited rights to Protestant dissenters only.

The English—and many foreign observers—considered England's balanced constitution the marvel of the world. In theory, it incorporated the best of all forms of government—monarchy in the king, aristocracy in the House of Lords, and democracy in the House of Commons.

In reality, the aristocracy in Parliament dominated. Members of the House of Lords, of course, held their positions as property. After receiving a title of nobility from the King and the right to sit in the Lords, that title and right passed down through inheritance. (Our founders called this an "artificial" or "pseudo" aristocracy). Moreover, the House of Commons was hardly a democratically elected body. Only 10% of the English population could vote. In many so-called “rotten boroughs,” no elections took place at all. Local magnates appointed members of the Commons. Throughout the 18th century, the Commons became increasingly a closed body of self-recruited members whose relatives sat as Lords.

Several attempts were initiated in the 18th century to reform Parliament, to make the Commons a more democratically elected body. This, of course, might reduce the influence of the aristocrats and their supporters. These attempts repeatedly failed until 1832.

One man partly responsible for those failures was the so-called father of modern conservativism—Edmund Burke.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aristocracy Returns

Few Englishmen had seemed  content with the revolutionary settlement. Recriminations began over whether or not the king should have been executed. Some thought the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords went to far. Others, like the so-called Levelers, believed that the revolution had not gone far enough. And during the next several years,  Parliament reorganized itself and the executive departments several times.  Only the authority of Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army seemed to hold the country together. After Cromwell's death, the Commonwealth limped along for only three more years. Parliament and the army began negotiating for the restoration of the Monarchy.

In 1660, The oldest son of the executed king returned to the throne as Charles II. Parliament reorganized itself along the traditional lines into a House of Lords and House of Commons. The new elections returned the aristocracy to dominance. As part of the Restoration, the Parliament attempted to erase history, ruling that Charles II had really been the legitimate monarch since the execution of his father. The Parliament passed Bills of Attainder declaring the late Oliver Cromwell and others guilty of treason. Authorities exhumed his corpse displayed it in chains. Parliament also restored the Church of England as the state sanctioned church. Parliament passed several laws to suppress Puritanism:

Corporation Act (1661) required that all municipal officers must take Anglican communion. This effectively excluded Presbyterians and Congregationalists from civil offices on the local level.

Act of Uniformity (1662) made the Anglican Book of Common Prayer compulsory in all churches. Some 2000 Presbyterian and Congregationalist pastors were turned out of their pulpits.

Conventicle Act (1664) outlawed non-Anglican religious assemblies of more than five persons who were not from the same household.

Five Mile Act (1965) forbade clergy from living within five miles of a parish from which they had been expelled unless they took an oath of loyalty.

It was not long, however, before conflict resumed between the newly enthroned king and the Parliament. These issue eventually led to the exclusion crisis and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the triumph of the aristocracy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aristocracy At Bay

A civil war raged between 1642-1651 that pitted the King Charles I and his supporters against Parliament and its supporters over who should enjoy primacy in the English constitution. Although nobles and aristocrats lined up on both sides, most aristocrats backed Parliament, through which those aristocrats hoped to assert a greater share of governing authority. Loyalties also drew upon religious views. The King drew his support among advocates of Archbishop Laud's aggressive attempts to bring greater religious uniformity to England and recalcitrant Catholics who continued to hold illegal private Catholic worship services in their estates and hoped for an eventual reestablishment of Catholicism in the realm. Parliament enjoyed support from those who preferred the traditional Church of England and those religious dissenters, primarily Presbyterians and Independent Congregationalists, who feared Laud's reforms.

Parliament won the war, but the aristocrats lost the peace.

More radical supporters of Parliament's cause changed the course of the war and  brought it to a conclusion unintended by those aristocratic Parliamentarians who originally challenged royal absolutism.

During the Stuart dynasty, a growing disenchantment with politics in the royal court  led to the emergence of what historians have called a "country party" or faction. This "party" manifested a division that was both geographical and cultural. Its proponents emerged from the local politics of the English shires with little connection with the "court" politics surrounding the monarchy in London. They consisted of middle or lower gentry who participated chiefly  in the local politics of their shire or county; a handful sat in the House of Commons. Moreover, they defined themselves culturally as distinctive from the court. The "court party," and all that is symbolized, became a negative reference group for this "country party." (In today's terms, the "court party" would be called "the political class.")

 As historian Lawrence Stone summarized the way they viewed themselves,

"The Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual; the Country was sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile;  the Country was healthy, the Court diseased . . .  the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administrative novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Country was solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court was deeply tainted by Popish leanings."

These kind of people flocked into Parliament's New Model Army, led by Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. This became a permanent professional army that replaced the traditional local militias. And these kind of people adopted a more radical solution to royal absolutism.

After the war, instead of simply modifying the monarchy and recognizing the supremacy of Parliament, the victors abolished the monarchy altogether. They put Charles on trial for treason and executed him. His son fled the country. Moreover, they completely restructured Parliament They abolished the House of Lords, that part of the constitution that most embodied the nobility and aristocracy.  England declared itself a commonwealth--or republic. And the Presbyterian Church was established in place of the Church of England as the official church of the realm.

An aristocratic revolt against royal absolutism had turned into a middle class Puritan revolution.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Resurgent Aristocracy in England

All across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, monarchs struggled against their traditional aristocratic supporters over ruling authority. The first of these clashes between monarchs and a resurgent aristocracy occurred in England. It eventually resulted in the English Civil War. Although the English Civil War is correctly interpreted as a struggle between Parliament and King over ruling authority, one must remember what lay behind the assertion of Parliamentary power: a resurgent aristocratic order.

In England, the Stuart dynasty had continued the rule in the absolutist tradition of the Tudors. Parliament traditionally had little say in government policies beyond providing financing of the government.  Under the second of the Stuarts, that changed. Parliament and the aristocracy began to challenge absolutism.

When Charles called together his first two Parliaments in 1925 and 1626, he ended up dissolving them. He needed money to fund debts previous military expeditions and to carry out a new war with Spain. Parliament provided only limited funds and  tried to reduce the king's prerogatives. So he dismissed them. To secure revenue, he began collecting forced loans through arrests. Seventy six prominent men were arrested, including including 27 members of the House of Commons. He also raised so called ship money, taxes on seaport towns to upgrade coastal defenses and the navy.

Revenue problems finally forced Charles I to call a Parliament in 1628, He asked for five subsidies.

Parliament replied with its “Petition of Right.” Parliament asked him to wave his prerogatives and to accede to what they called the traditional application of law on the issue of taxation, imprisonment, and martial law. The subsidies were approved in exchange for the king's agreement on prerogatives. Charles intended, however, to disregard the provisions contained in the petition.

These issues arose again the following year when his third Parliament began its second session.

In March 10 1629, the King again dissolved Parliament. He ruled without Parliament for the next seven years through loans from supporters among the nobles. Charles received some financial relief, too,when he signed peace treaties with France and Spain. This reduced his expenses. And with the resumption of overseas trade, the treasury began to grow through customs duties.

Conflict arose between Charles and Parliament over religious issues as well.

Church of England Archbishop William Laud attempted to reduce the nonconformity of Puritans and to institute a more formal, more Catholic form of worship. Puritans were those who wanted a more thorought reformation of the Church of England; most were Presbyterians and independent Congregationalists. Laud's efforts only served to radicalize Puritan dissenters. The pressure on Puritans drove ten of thousands of Congregationalists to the recently established colonies in the wilderness of North America.

Moreover, Charles and Laud planned to force a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer on Scotland and bring that nation's established Presbyterian Church as close as possible to uniformity with the Church of England. It provoked the Scots into open revolt.

In need of funds to put down the Scottish rebellion, he assembled Parliament for the first time in over ten years. Instead of discussing war, however, Parliament wanted to discuss Laud's religious reforms and Charles' continued disregard for the Petition of Right to which he agreed. Parliament began forming committees to investigate the administration's conduct during the eleven years of personal rule.

Charles again dissolved Parliament. Meeting for only three weeks, it became known as the Short Parliament.

He called together Parliament after six months in 1640.

When it resumed its sessions, Parliament aggressively asserted its rights: bills passed abolishing certain royal courts such as the star chamber, requiring Parliamentary meetings every three years, prohibiting the king from dissolving the Parliament without its own consent, eliminating virtually all of the king's prerogative courts, and declaring any taxes illegal that were levied without the approval of Parliament.

Parliament issued what is known as The Grand Remonstrance in 1641. It listed grievances of Parliament and called for the King to relinquish many of his prerogatives, especially those regarding military appointments. Parliament was attempting to bring the military under the control of Parliament.

This provoked a reaction from the King. Charles attempted to arrest some leading members of Parliament, but they escaped. Charles then gathered loyalists in the town of York, where he planned to raise an army to assert his rights.

In June 1641, Parliament sent the Nineteen Propositions, which in fact was an ultimatum demanding that the kind surrender his remaining prerogatives. It proved to be the most aggressive assertion of power yet by the aristocrats who dominated Parliament. It demanded that privy councilors, ministers, and military officers all be placed under the authority of Parliament.

In these disputes, both Parliament and the King appealed to their rights from England's "ancient constitution" in support of their respective positions. In fact, both the monarch and the aristocrats in Parliament were actually attempting to expand their ruling authority beyond their traditional bounds.

Charles rejected the Nineteen Propositions. Parliament began to plans to raise an army to support its view. The King raised his standard and the war was on. The war would determine who had the supremacy in the English constitution and what kind of Protestant politics would the government support.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Origins of Conservatism: Setting the Stage

 Conservatism emerged as a coherent ideology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from the social and political conflicts experienced by by European civilization and its provincial outposts in North America. The most violent conflicts occurred in France, where a revolution in 1789 drew all of Europe and even the newly independent United States into the vortex of war. With the defeat of the French Revolutionaries and the restoration of monarchy in France, the victors began to articulate an ideology in support of the social and politcal order that emerged. They called it conservatism.

These conflicts arose over the relative role of monarchy on the one hand, and the role of different orders of society in government on the other.

European monarchies arose from the ruins of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes overran the empire Western Europe. These tribes assumed responsibility for governing authority in their locality. The leaders of these tribes gradually evolved into a landed nobility of feudal lords and eventually formed the basis for the European aristocratic orders.

The local control enjoyed by various princes and feudal lords eventually began to give way to hereditary monarchies. Stronger Lords began expanding their political and legal jurisdiction, backed by military force. They also secured control of the Church within their domains.They hoped to establish their regimes into organized, hereditary monarchies that would last beyond their lifetimes. The more successful included the Tudors in England and the Valois in France.

These early kings often met "in court" with his vassals. These assemblies of kings and their vassals evolvd into “representative” bodies known as estates-general in France, diets in the German principalities, cortes in Spain, and parliaments in England. In some countries, representatives from the emerging commercial towns attended. They enabled the king to strengthen his rule by utilizing the nobility not only as a source of revenue, but also as an instrument for carrying out policy decisions.

These assemblies did not represent individual citizens or voters. They represented the orders or “estates of the realm.” In England, the House of Lords represented “Lords Spiritual and Temporal” and the House of Commons represented the nation as whole. In France, the estates-general met in three bodies: The First Estate representing the higher clergy, the Second Estate representing the nobility, and the Third Estate representing the commoners. In both England and France, however, the so-called commons were largely led by affluent landed families and few of the new commercial middle class.

As the next post will suggest, the conflicts which gave birth to conservative ideology started between monarchs and the aristocracy. These conflicts were not over views of society. They were not about whether the desirability of social conservation or social change.

They were about who should rule.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Contemplating Conservatism

As the biblical narrative turns its attention from Jacob to his youngest and favored son Joseph, this blogs turns it attention back to political philosophy.

As a professed conservative blog, perhaps some effort should be made to answer the question, exactly what is conservatism?

In its most general sense, conservatism is a temperament that holds an appreciation for “the way things are.” People with conservative temperaments seem overall content with their community and do not start their day anxious about the world's problems beyond their control. They recognize that changes come to their immediate world—they grow older, their children become independent, friends and neighbors come and go, the small, intimate church grows large, familiar shops and restaurants open and close. Even as they welcome some changes, they may feel nostalgia about the things that have been lost and desire a return to the “good old days.” In this sense, I think everyone has a little “conservatism” in them—even those city council members, county commissioners, and chambers of commerce who strive to make changes to enhance the beauty, promote the tourism, or increase the economic development of their community.

Conservatism as a social or political ideology that attempts to explain the world and make assertions about “how things ought to be,” however, seems to defy description. (Liberalism and other “isms” share the same difficulties to some degree.) Describing someone as “adhering to traditional ways “ or “resisting change” does not say very much. The cultural and temporal contexts in which people try to conserve traditional ways make all the difference. A conservative Muslim cleric in contemporary Saudi Arabia, a conservative member of the Politburo in 20th century Soviet Union, a conservative businessman in 19th century America, and a conservative feudal lord in 14th century France share very little in common. The differences between these so-called conservatives frustrate any attempt to construct a coherent account of a shared social or political ideology that might be called conservative. The reductionist definition of a conservative as a person who resists change to traditional ways is next to useless.

So as a preliminary recognition of this difficulty, the next posts will look at conservatism in the context of Western Civilization and it emergence as a coherent social and political ideology in the 18th century.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Burning Up! Where Are You Mr President?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a report indicating that the first half of this year was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States. Every state except Washington experienced hotter than average temperatures. Reports about it, including photos of sweaty people, appear herehere, and here.

And no mainstream media weather bias on this one. I live in Atlanta, sometimes called "Hotlanta" (or "The place  a quarter of a million confederate soldiers died to prevent".) I've also  lived in Miami, Houston, and Austin, among other places in the South. I love the hot sunny, Southern weather. But this is too much. Last week here in the ATL we crossed the 100 degree mark. This week we've been in the low 90s but the humidity swirling in off the Gulf makes the atmosphere feel much hotter.

And I want to know what our President is doing about it? Shouldn't he be rolling out phase I of Obama-air? He could force people without air conditioning to purchased it. If they refused, he could impose a penalty tax. For those who cannot afford it, he could force the states to expand Medic-air coverage.

And for inadequate automobile units, he can impose a Medic-air supplement program.

Maybe something like this:

A potential new government program?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Most Forceful Opponent of Mandates?

President Barack Obama.

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the PPACA sparked debate about whether the federal mandate to purchase insurance was a penalty or a tax. Most of the confusion rests upon the duplicity of the Obama administration and the Social Democrats in Congress. While the politicians adopted the political expediency of calling the mandate a penalty, the lawyers crafted the legal strategy of calling the mandate a tax.

Interestingly, candidate Obama opposed mandates of ANY sort. During the Democratic primaries, he took Hillary! Clinton to task for making making mandates part of her health reform program.

But, that was then . . .

Monday, July 2, 2012

On This Date 236 Years Ago . . .

On this date two hundred thirty six years ago thirteen of Great Britain's twenty seven North American colonies declared independence.

The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1776 to assess the progress made since its sessions the previous summer in maintaining their rights while at the same time preserving their union with Britain. The situation had worsened.

The previous October King George III charged in a speech before Parliament that opposition in the colonies was “carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists, he continued, make “vague expression of attachments to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt.” It was time, he concluded, “ to put a speedy and to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” In response to the King's charges, Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act. This act declared the colonies outside the protection of the empire, prohibited all commerce with the colonies,  initiated a naval blockade, and announced that all colonial ships and cargo forfeit to the Crown as enemy vessels. Moreover, the month before the convening of the Congress, fighting erupted between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord.

During the month of May, Congress assumed the role of an unofficial provisional government, trying to coordinate the colonies and assume military control over the thousands of militiamen gathering in the Boston area.

Then on 7 June 1776, representative Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following resolution:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted tot he respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

After a couple of days debate, the Congress postponed additional discussion until July. At the time, only slightly more than half the colonies supported independence. A consensus had to be formed. Meanwhile, the Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a formal declaration of independence for adoption if the colonies reached a consensus. The committee delegated one of its members, Thomas Jefferson, to write the draft.

Finally, on 1 July, the Congress resumed debate on Lee's original resolution. Although no new points emerged, a virtual consensus had been reached. Only the delegates from the state of New York had failed to receive any instructions to support the resolution. So on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to pass the Lee resolution declaring independence. The United Colonies became the United States.

Two days later, on 4 July, 1776, the Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence as a formal statement of their decision.

      Richard Henry Lee

      Thomas Jefferson