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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

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Why the Founding Fathers thought banning Torture Foundational to the US Constitution

By Juan Cole

Informed Comment  December 9, 2014

I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.

We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.

The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction.

Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.

Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:

“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”

Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.

The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.

Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.

When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.

Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture.

The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.

Patrick Henry wrote,

“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”

It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:

“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.

Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.”

It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.

The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).

That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.

Fascists (that is what they are) who support torture will cavil. Is waterboarding torture? Is threatening to sodomize a man with a broomstick torture? Is menacing a prisoner with a pistol torture?

Patrick Henry’s discourse makes all this clear. He was concerned about the government doing anything to detract from the dignity of the English commoner, who had defied the Norman yoke and gained the right not to be coerced through pain into relinquishing liberties.

Fascists will argue that the Constitution does not apply to captured foreign prisoners of war, or that the prisoners were not even P.O.W.s, having been captured out of uniform.

But focusing on the category of the prisoner is contrary to the spirit of the founding fathers. Their question was, ‘what are the prerogatives of the state?’ And their answer was that the state does not have the prerogative to torture. It may not torture anyone, even a convicted murderer.

The framers of the Geneva Convention (to which the US is signatory) were, moreover, determined that all prisoners fall under some provision of international law. René Värk argues:

“the commentary to Article 45 (3) asserts that ‘a person of enemy nationality who is not entitled to prisoner-of-war status is, in principle, a civilian protected by the Fourth Convention, so that there are no gaps in protection’.*32 But, at the same time, it also observes that things are not always so straightforward in armed conflicts; for example, adversaries can have the same nationality, which renders the application of the Fourth Convention impossible, and there can arise numerous difficulties regarding the application of that convention. Thus, as the Fourth Convention is a safety net to persons who do not qualify for protection under the other three Geneva Conventions, Article 45 (3) serves yet again as a safety net for those who do not benefit from more favourable treatment in accordance with the Fourth Convention.”

Those who wish to create a category of persons who may be treated by the government with impunity are behaving as fascists like Franco did in the 1930s, who also typically created classes of persons to whom legal guarantees did not apply.

But if our discussion focuses on the Founding Fathers, it isn’t even necessary to look so closely at the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The phrase “all men” means all persons of any nationality.

We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture

We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.

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Why Naming John Marshall Chief Justice Was John Adams’s “Greatest Gift” to the Nation

Harlow Gikes

HNN   November 16, 2014

As the final hours of John Adams’s short-lived administration ticked away, the President faced a critical last decision: the nomination of a new Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Former Connecticut senator Oliver Ellsworth, who had helped write the Constitution, was ill and had resigned as the nation’s third Chief Justice.

Instinctively, the President turned to his old friend, New York’s John Jay, whom George Washington had appointed as the nation’s first Chief Justice in 1789. After five years, Jay was so bored with the job he resigned to become governor of his home state—and with good reason: The Supreme Court was not an important element of the American government, and its members had little or nothing to do.

The Constitution and four of ten amendments in the Bill of Rights had shorn the federal judiciary of power and left the Supreme Court a relatively impotent appellate court, with almost no original jurisdiction. By 1800, when Adams searched for a new Chief Justice, the Court had issued only eleven decisions during the federal government’s 11-year existence—one a year. There simply weren’t enough federal laws on the books to provoke much legal activity, and most Americans were more intent on plowing land than filing lawsuits.

Secretary of State John Marshall was in the President’s office when Jay’s letter of refusal arrived. Like Adams and Jay, the 45-year-old Marshall was a fervent Federalist intent on thwarting the radical changes in government that the anti-Federalist President-elect Thomas Jefferson was planning. In effect, Jefferson sought nothing less than a populist revolution, shifting power from the federal government to the states and extending the vote—then limited to property owners of means—to all white adult males. With Jefferson’s followers a majority in Congress, nothing stood in Jefferson’s way but the judiciary, and Marshall urged Adams to appoint as many Federalist judges as possible to frustrate Jefferson’s schemes.

Born and raised in Virginia, Marshall had fought heroically in the Revolutionary War—at Trenton, Brandywine, and Monmouth—and shivered through the bitter winter at Valley Forge. After the war, he studied law, became one of Richmond’s most prominent lawyers, and a fervent champion of constitutional ratification. He won election to Congress in the Federalist sweep that lifted Vice President Adams to the presidency in 1796, and Adams sent him to Paris to help negotiate an end to the Franco-American naval conflict then raging in the Caribbean. Marshall’s tough negotiating skills earned him a hero’s welcome on returning to America—and appointment as Secretary of State, then the second most important federal post.

“When I waited on the President with Mr. Jay’s letter declining the appointment,” Marshall recalled, “the President asked thoughtfully, ‘Whom shall I nominate now?’

“I replied that I could not tell.

“After a moment’s hesitation, he said, ‘I believe I must nominate you.’

“I had never before heard myself named for the office and had not even thought of it. I was pleased as well as surprised and bowed in silence. Next day I was nominated.”

From the first, Marshall saw the High Court as a bulwark against executive and legislative tyranny, with the Constitution as the Court’s primary weapon.

“He hit the Constitution much as the Lord hit the chaos, at a time when everything needed creating,” legal scholar John Paul Frank said of Marshall. “Only a first-class creative genius could have risen so magnificently to the opportunity of the hour.”

Like Moses, Marshall climbed the Mount and thundered commandments to those in government, asserting what “thou shall” and “shall not” do. Both Presidents Washington and Adams had violated constitutional restrictions on their power—each initiating wars without congressional authorization and, in Washington’s case, borrowing funds to finance government operations.

Jefferson planned even more radical usurpations of power—the replacement of judges appointed for life with anti-Federalist jurists who supported the Jefferson political program. Jefferson’s first victim was William Marbury, one of President Adams’s last-minute judicial appointees. When Marbury demanded that Secretary of State deliver the commission Adams had signed, Jefferson ordered Madison to withhold it while he found am anti-Federalist replacement.

Incensed, Marbury asked the Supreme Court for a court order, or writ of mandamus, to force Madison to give Marbury his commission. In 1803, John Marshall stunned Jefferson and the nation by declaring the President and Secretary of State in violation of the law. Under British rule, the king could do no wrong, Marshall conceded, but under the American Constitution, the President remained a citizen like every other American—subject to the law like every other American. A President of the United States had appointed Marbury to the bench and signed his commission, and a Secretary of State had embossed it with the Seal of the United States. For Jefferson and Madison to withhold the commission was a crime.

In a second, even more consequential ruling, however, Marshall refused to issue Marbury his writ, explaining that the Supreme Court was an appellate court not a court of original jurisdiction and that Marbury should have applied first to lower courts for the writ. Marbury cited a provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that specifically allowed plaintiffs to bypass lower courts in seekingwrits of mandamus. As onlookers gasped, Marshall then declared the provision unconstitutional.

It was a declaration of historic proportions: For the first time in American history, the Supreme Court had exercised the power of judicial review and declared a federal law unconstitutional. Unmentioned in the Constitution, judicial review was John Marshall’s creation, asserting Supreme Court power to declare any law—federal, state, or local—unconstitutional.

Marbury v. Madison was one of nearly 1,200 decisions Marshall’s court would deliver during his thirty-five years as Chief Justice. The longest serving Chief Justice in American history, he wrote nearly half the decisions himself, effectively appending them to the Constitution to form “the supreme law of the land” as a bulwark against tyranny by ambitious executives and legislators.

John Adams called his appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice “the proudest act of my life.”

Harlow Giles Unger is the author of more than twenty books on the Founding Fathers and early American history. His latest book is “John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved the Nation,” just published by Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

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10 Myths for the Fourth of July

Ray Raphael

Journal of American Revolution   July 1, 2014

 

fourth

Surrender of Burgoyne by John Trumbull. Source: U.S. Architect of the Capitol

1. On July 4, 1776, the United States declared itself an independent nation.

This is almost true, but the timing is a tad off. According to the historical record, we should be celebrating Independence Day on July 2, the day Congress finally approved the motion made by Richard Henry Lee on June 7: “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.”[i]

The following day, July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.[ii]Adams certainly got the spirit right, even if the date he proffered turned out to be wrong. How was he to know that even the most patriotic Americans would fail to recognize the true anniversary of independence? On July 4, the second day after it declared the United States to be an independent nation, Congress approved a document that explained its reasons. As so often happens in history, representation of the event would have more staying power than the event itself.

2. Congress initiated the move toward independence.

Historian Pauline Maier has uncovered 90 sets of instructions by state and local bodies, each telling its representatives in higher bodies (ultimately, the Continental Congress) to declare independence. Several of these documents, written in the three months preceding Congress’s vote for independence, listed the same complaints and expressed the same principles that the Congressional Declaration of Independence eventually did.[iii]

Earlier yet, on October 4, 1774, the town of Worcester instructed its delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress “to exert yourself in devising ways and means to raise from the dissolution of the old constitution, as from the ashes of the Phenix, a new form, wherein all officers shall be dependent on the suffrages of the people, whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure.”[iv] This was indeed a declaration for independence. The new government would be formed without seeking the consent of existing British authorities, and since it would be based exclusively on the “suffrages of the people,” there could be no place for monarchical prerogatives, as there had been under British rule.

In 1774 the Continental Congress was not yet ready for such rash actions. Feverishly, the Massachusetts delegates in Philadelphia cautioned their constituents back home. “Absolute Independency … Startle[s] People here,” John Adams wrote to a friend. His colleagues in the Continental Congress, he said, were horrified by “the Proposal of Setting up a new Form of Government of our own.”[v] Samuel Adams, also a delegate to the Continental Congress, likewise warned the people of Massachusetts not to “set up another form of government” for fear of jeopardizing support from other colonies.[vi] Those congressional leaders, who allegedly drove the agenda, said that “Independency” should not come too soon. In fact, it would be 21 months before Congress caught up with the people of Worcester.

3. The Signing.

Those fifty-six valiant patriots whom future generations would celebrate as “The Signers” did not step forth, with great solemnity, and affix their signatures to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. In fact, fourteen of these celebrated heroes were not even present that day, including eight who were not yet members of Congress.[vii]

The alleged signing of the Declaration of Independence is a conscious fabrication of the Continental Congress. On July 4, twelve states (not thirteen) approved a declaration that explained Congress’s vote for independence two days earlier. That document was signed by only two men, President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson, as was the custom for congressional resolutions. Two weeks later, on July 19, New York cast the thirteenth vote for independence and Congress ordered that a fancy, “engrossed” copy be “signed by every member.”[viii] On August 2, Timothy Matlack presented this engrossed copy to Congress. Members who happened to be present that day signed it, even if they had not been party to the original act. Other delegates added their signatures as they arrived for work on succeeding days, and one, Thomas McKean of Delaware, did not do so until the following year.[ix]

In the spring of 1777, the committee that printed the official Congressional Journal inserted the later copy under its entry for July 4. The deceit is easy to detect. The engrossed copy – the nicely penned version we see and celebrate so often – is titled, “Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States,” even though the Congressional Journal reveals that only twelve states voted for independence on July 2 and approved the Declaration of July 4. Our nation, as one of its first official acts, pulled off a photo op, 18th Century style. To this day, even most textbooks mistake the embellished Declaration, signatures and all, for the real deal.[x]

4. “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor.”

This celebrated pledge of personal responsibility made for a stirring conclusion to the congressional Declaration of Independence, but it was not entirely original. In at least twenty of the ninety earlier declarations, delegates signed off by vowing to support independence with their “lives and fortunes.” Some of these added creative touches to the standard oath. Bostonians pledged “their lives and the remnants of their fortunes,” while patriots from Malden, Massachusetts, concluded: “Your constituents will support and defend the measure to the last drop of their blood, and the last farthing of their treasure.”[xi] True, delegates to the Continental Congress, gentlemen all, added some class with “our sacred honor,” but in the final analysis, loss of lives and fortunes would have been bad enough.

5. Thomas Jefferson found the inspiration for the Declaration of Independence “from deep inside himself.”[xii]

Not according to Jefferson. The “object of the Declaration of Independence,” he wrote, was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”[xiii]

Jefferson’s draft of the congressional Declaration of Independence was indeed a superb synthesis of this “American mind.” Had it been merely a reflection of one man’s unique genius, its historical import would have been far less. It expresses the mood and will of a nation, so yes, read it and celebrate it – but don’t forget to place it in its historical context.

6. John Locke’s Social Contract.

The preamble to the congressional Declaration of Independence, we learn in school, was Jefferson’s clever adaptation of the “social contract” theory of government, commonly associated with the British philosopher John Locke. That it was, but the social contract theory was commonplace in Revolutionary Era rhetoric, and Jefferson was swimming in the mainstream, not setting the pace. Several of the local declarations offered succinct expressions of the social contract theory.

Consider the June 17 declaration from Frederick County, Maryland: “Resolved, unanimously, That all just and legal Government was instituted for the ease and convenience of the People, and that the People have the indubitable right to reform or abolish a Government which may appear to them insufficient for the exigency of their affairs.”[xiv]

Or George Mason’s draft to the Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which appeared in the Philadelphia papers at the very moment Jefferson started penning his draft: “That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from the people…. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community. … and that, whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.”[xv] Mason’s version is clumsy, unlike Jefferson’s in the preamble to the congressional declaration, but the words and concepts are all there. The social contract was a central component of British-American political heritage, a theory that had legitimated the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 and was ushered forth again for this one. Social Contract 101 was core curriculum for American patriots.

7. Jefferson’s ideal of equality.

Writing the Declaration of Independence. Source: Library of Congress

What about that glorious opening to Jefferson’s preamble: “that all men are created equal”? Thomas Jefferson, we are told so often,inserted the concept “equality” with an eye to the future. While other Americans were talking about independence, Jefferson took things to the next level. He was ahead of his time. Even though one-sixth of the residents of the emerging United States were held in bondage, Jefferson gave the idea of equality prime billing as a promise, to be realized when the time was ripe.

But the ideal of “equality,” like the rest of the preamble, was not a Jefferson original.

“That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety,” George Mason wrote and Thomas Jefferson read.[xvi] Days or weeks later, Jefferson offered his own rendition, simplifying the prose: “[T]hat all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[xvii]

While Jefferson’s variant sounds straightforward, it actually created great confusion. What does “created equal” really mean? Years later, Stephen Douglas, when debating Abraham Lincoln, protested that Negroes were not the “equal” of whites, leading Lincoln to retreat by admitting they were “not my equal in many respects ­– certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment.”[xviii] Had Jefferson stayed with Mason’s phraseology, Lincoln could have cited the Declaration of Independence with greater authority and less apology. “Born equally free and independent” establishes clearly the nature of equality among men: it lies in their rights, not in their attributes, abilities, or achievements.

8. In the aftermath of July 4, states started writing new constitutions and forming new governments.

The sequence here is backward. On May 10, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously passed a historic resolution: Assemblies or Conventions within each colony should create new governments “where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs” currently existed. Since the colonial governments under British authority were essentially defunct by this time, Congress was giving colonies free reign to start anew.[xix]

Five days later, in Williamsburg, the Virginia Convention resolved to write a constitution for a new government, without even a nod to British authority. Thomas Jefferson, attending Congress in Philadelphia at the time, wished he were back home to help. “It is a work of the most interesting nature and such as every individual would wish to have his voice in,” he wrote. Virginia should recall its delegates to the Continental Congress, he suggested, so they could take part. This was self-serving, of course. He really did want to help write that constitution.[xx]

Virginians fully understood that this was a momentous occasion, and they celebrated in grand style. A crowd gathered outside the Capitol building in anticipation of the final vote, and when it came, some plucky fellows climbed the cupola to lower the British flag, then raised in its stead the Grand Union banner used by the Continental Army. Soldiers paraded and fired cannons, and festivities continued the following day: inebriation, raucous toasts, and fireworks – a regular Fourth of July in Virginia, seven weeks before the Fourth of July.[xxi]

9. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence helped shape the fledgling nation.

In the first days of independence, Americans staged public readings of Congress’s Declaration to mark such a momentous occasion. But was it the explanation of independence or the mere fact of it they were celebrating? Not content with Congress’s verbal renderings, they freely offered their own. Toasts upon toasts were raised: “Perpetual itching without benefit of scratching, to the enemies of America” and “May the freedom and independency of America endure, till the sun grows dim with age, and this earth returns to chaos.”[xxii]

Through the rest of the war, even at Fourth of July celebrations, the Declaration itself was rarely quoted. On the first anniversary of independence in 1777, when William Gordon delivered the oration for the festivities in Boston, he used as his text the Old Testament. When David Ramsay delivered the oration in Charleston on the second anniversary, he used a phrase more common to the times: “life, liberty, and property,” not “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as appeared in the Declaration of Independence.[xxiii]

In fact, during the Revolutionary Era, George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was copied or imitated far more often than the Declaration of Independence. None of the seven other states that drafted their own declarations of rights borrowed phrasing from the congressional Declaration, but Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (in addition to Vermont, which was not yet a state) lifted exact portions of Mason’s text, including “all men are born equally free and independent.”[xxiv]

Surprisingly, the Declaration of Independence was not often cited during the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787 or in the subsequent debates over ratification. Notes from the Constitutional Convention make only two references to the Declaration, while the 85 essays in The Federalist contain but one.[xxv] Not until the early Nineteenth Century was the Declaration of Independence enshrined as scripture. Its ascendancy was triggered, initially, by political motivations. One of the two emerging political parties, the Republicans, seized the opportunity to promote its standard bearer, Thomas Jefferson, as the author of the nation’s founding document. That was the launch, and Congress’s Declaration of Independence has thrived ever since. Other documents were forgotten. Other patriots, authors of those documents, were forgotten. One document, and one man, would henceforth stand for the whole.

10. The Fourth of July has always brought Americans together.

Although this has often been true, there have been notable exceptions.

On July 4, 1788, while proponents of the new Constitution celebrated its recent ratification, opponents of the new rules staged separate demonstrations, toasting “the old Confederation” instead of the Constitution.[xxvi] Again in the late 1790s, the two emerging political parties, Federalists and Republicans, staged competing Fourth of July celebrations in the same cities.[xxvii] And in 1852, Frederick Douglass issued a direct challenge to the very meaning of independence. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” he said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.”[xxviii]

Tussling over the soul of the nation is not new, and the Fourth of July, while inspiring picnics and fireworks for the most part, still offers an occasion for political preaching.

Conclusion: Why does any of this matter?

Iconic events, like iconic heroes, can mask what should not be masked. The United States was born not in a moment but in an era. The process of independence took years, not minutes, and the actors were many, not few. It is this process and these patriots ­– all of them – that we should celebrate. I have no problem with celebrating independence on the Fourth of July or two days earlier or any other day, but let’s honor the folks who made it happen by telling their full story.

 


[i] Journals of the Continental Congress [JCC], Library of Congress, American Memory, 5:425, 507. Internet site: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjclink.html

[ii] Charles Francis Adams, ed., Familiar Letters of John Adams and his Wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1876), 193.

[iii] Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Vintage, 1998), 47-96, 217-34.

[iv] Franklin P. Rice, ed., Worcester Town Records (1784-1800) (Collections of Worcester Society of Antiquity, volume 8), 244. A scan of the document, with context, can be viewed on the documents page of my website: http://www.rayraphael.com/documents/decloration_independence.htm

[v] John Adams to Joseph Palmer, September 17, 1774, and John Adams to William Tudor, October 7, 1774, Robert J. Taylor, ed., Papers of John Adams, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977-), 2:173 and 2:187-88.

[vi] Samuel Adams to Joseph Warren, September 25, 1774, Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 3:159.

[vii] Eight of these—Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire, William Williams of Connecticut, Charles Carroll of Maryland, and Benjamin Rush, George Ross, James Smith, George Clymer, and George Taylor of Pennsylvania—had not yet become delegates. Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut had taken leave of Congress to assume command of his state’s militia, while Lewis Morris and Philip Livingston went home when the British threatened to invade New York. William Hooper of North Carolina, Samuel Chase of Maryland, and George Wythe of Virginia were helping their states constitute new governments. (John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999], 4:468; 11:146; 13:772; 15:903–04; 18:911–12; 19:73; 21:609; 23:514, 721; 24:93; Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Scribner’s, 1943], 4:235; 17:284; 18:325. Even today, all these names appear as signers of the Declaration of Independence in the July 4, 1776, entry of the Library of Congress’s Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, 5:515.

[viii] JCC 5:590-91.

[ix] JCC 5:626. At least seven signers, and possibly several others, were not present on August 2: Matthew Thornton, Thomas McKean, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Richard Henry Lee, and George Wythe. (John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History [New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1906], 210–219.)

[x] Charles Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 2 (1945): 246. Here are the original journal entries, not included in the first printed version: “July 19. 1776. Resolved That the Declaration passed on the fourth be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of ‘The Unanimous Declaration of the 13 United States of America’ and that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.—Aug. 2. 1776. The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.” (Hazelton, Declaration of Independence, 204.) The original manuscript of the minutes, in the journals of the Continental Congress, was first consulted by Mellen Chamberlain in 1884. (Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” 245.) The printed version on the Journals of the Continental Congress that appears on the Library of Congress website, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford in 1906, reflects the original manuscript for July 19 and August 2, but the July 4 entry is still doctored by inserting the engrossed, signed copy, the “official” one the nation has celebrated since 1777.

[xi] Peter Force. ed., American Archives, Fourth Series: A Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America from the King’s Message to Parliament of Marcy 7/74, to the Declaration of Independence by the United States (New York: Johnson Reprint Company, 1972; first published 1833-1846), 6:557, 603. Internet access:

http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.16398

and

http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.16493

[xii] Joseph Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 59.

[xiii] Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899), 10:343. See also Jefferson to James Madison, August 30, 1823, ibid., 10:268. Even while supporting the promotion of relics he had used to draft the Declaration, Jefferson again insisted that his words were to be seen as no more than “the genuine effusion of the soul of our country.” (Jefferson to Dr. James Mease, September 26, 1825, ibid.,10:346.)

[xiv] Force. ed., American Archives 6:933. Internet: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.17205

[xv] Pennsylvania Gazette, June 12, 1776.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Jefferson’s draft is reprinted in Maier, American Scripture, 236–241.

[xviii] Lincoln-Douglas debate, Ottawa, IL, August 21, 1858, in Abraham Lincoln, Political Writings and Speeches, Terence Ball, ed. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), xxvii.

[xix] JCC, May 10, 1776, 4:342.

[xx] Jefferson to Thomas Nelson, May 16, 1776, in Lyman H. Butterfield and Mina R. Bryan, eds., Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 1:292.

[xxi] John E. Selby, The Revolution in Virginia, 1775-1783 (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988), 97.

[xxii] Massachusetts Spy, July 14, 1776. Reprinted in William Lincoln, History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from its Earliest Settlement to September, 1836 (Worcester: Charles Hersey, 1862), 103.

[xxiii] Philip F. Detweiler, “The Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence: The First Fifty Years,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 19 (1962): 559-61.

[xxiv] Maier, American Scripture, 165–167; Detweiler, “Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence,” 561.

[xxv] Detweiler, “Changing Reputation,” 562.

[xxvi] David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 100-101.

[xxvii] Len Travers, Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Da and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 11.

[xxviii] Frederick Douglass, Oration at Rochester, NY, July 5,1852, Frederick Douglas, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Arno Press, 1968), 236.

 

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Este año se conmemora el bicentenario de la guerra de 1812, que podría ser considerada como una segunda guerra de independencia norteamericana. Para entender el origen de este conflicto es necesario comenzar señalando que a principios del siglo XIX Estados Unidos no era la gran potencia militar que es hoy en día. Por el contrario,  Estados Unidos era una nación joven y vulnerable, y que, además, surgió en un contexto internacional tenso, violento y peligroso. La revolución francesa y sus secuelas en el mundo atlántico, trajeron consigo años de violentos enfrentamientos entre las grandes potencias europeas. Uno de los grandes peligros que enfrentó la nueva nación era verse atrapada en las luchas revolucionarias o hegemónicas europeas. Los líderes estadounidenses tuvieron que navegar por aguas tormentosas para garantizar la supervivencia de su novel federación de estados.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, tercer presidente de los Estados Unidos, fue uno de eso líderes. La presidencia de Jefferson se vio seriamente afectada por la situación reinante en Europa. Entre 1802 y 1815, la Francia napoleónica y el Imperio Británico se enfrentaron en un duelo a muerte por la supremacía europea. Los británicos recurrieron a su marina de guerra –su arma más poderosa– para bloquear a Francia. El objetivo británico era acabar económicamente con Napoleón, aislándole del resto del mundo. En respuesta, el Emperador desarrolló un bloqueo continental, es decir, cerró todos los puertos europeos bajo su control a los barcos ingleses. A pesar de que comercialmente los estadounidenses se beneficiaron de esta lucha, también surgieron serios problemas. Como parte de su esfuerzo bélico, los británicos procedieron a interceptar barcos norteamericanos en alta mar y secuestrar su tripulación para llenar las necesidades de personal de la armada británica dado alto nivel de deserciones que sufría. Los británicos registraban los barcos norteamericanos en busca  de desertores –algunos de ellos ciudadanos norteamericanos– a quienes retenían y obligaban a servir en la marina británica. Se calcula que unos 6,000 marinos norteamericanos fueron secuestrados por los ingleses entre los años1803 y 1812.

Jefferson enfrentó un serio dilema, pues quería hacer valer la soberanía norteamericana y a la vez evitar una guerra con Gran Bretaña, temeroso de sus posibles consecuencias. El Presidente trató sin éxito de detener las acciones inglesas por medio de un embargo. En 1807, el Congreso de lo Estados Unidos aprobó una ley prohibiéndole a los barcos norteamericanos salir de sus puertos hasta tanto Gran Bretaña y Francia pusieran fin a las restricciones al comercio estadounidense. Esta medida fue un total fracaso porque Jefferson sobrestimó la dependencia anglo-francesa en el comercio con los Estados Unidos y por que le significó grandes perdidas a los comerciantes norteamericanos. Las exportaciones que en 1806 habían totalizado $108 millones, se redujeron a $22 millones en 1808.

James Madison

En 1808, James Madison se convirtió en el cuarto presidente de los Estados Unidos.  Madison, uno de los principales artífices de la constitución norteamericana, heredó de Jefferson una situación muy difícil. El nuevo presidente reconoció el fracaso del embargo y creó una serie de restricciones económicas que buscaban persuadir a ingleses y franceses a respetar el comercio norteamericano.  Las medidas de Madison fueron un fracaso, quien presionado por un grupo de legisladores belicistas conocidos como los Halcones (“War Hawks”) –liderados por Henry Clay y John C. Calhoun– pidió  al Congreso en junio de 1812 que le declarara la guerra a Gran Bretaña. De esta forma,  los Estados Unidos se embarcaron en su segunda guerra contra la nación más poderosa del mundo.

Tras dos años de combates que incluyeron la invasión de Canadá, la quema de la ciudad de Washington por tropas británicas y valientes combates navales, la guerra llegó a un  punto muerto que obligó a las partes beligerantes a negociar.  En diciembre de 1814, delegados norteamericanos y británicos reunidos en la ciudad belga de Ghent firmaron un  tratado poniendo fin al conflicto. Es necesario señalar que uno de los eventos más importantes de esta guerra –la batalla de Nueva Orleans– ocurrió en enero de 1815, luego de que  el tratado de paz había sido firmado, cosa que los norteamericanos desconocían. En la batalla de Nueva Orleans las tropas norteamericanas bajo el liderato del General Andrew Jackson aplastaron a los británicos, quienes  tuvieron  unos 700 soldados muertos y 2,000 heridos. Por el contrario, las fuerzas de Jackson sólo tuvieron 35 muertos y 58 heridos. Esta enorme victoria pudo haber cambiado el desenlace final de la guerra, pero llegó muy tarde.

La ciudad de Washington en llamas, 1814

A nivel doméstico, la guerra de 1812  despertó entre los norteamericanos un fuerte sentimiento nacionalista y un profundo orgullo nacional. Para éstos, la guerra había sido una gran victoria y una muestra del valor estadounidense, ya que habían enfrentado solos a la nación más poderosa del mundo. La guerra también provocó el crecimiento de la manufactura norteamericana, pues durante el conflicto fue necesario producir artículos que antes se les compraban a los británicos.

A nivel político, la guerra tuvo consecuencias de importancia, pues conllevó el fin del Partido Federalistas, uno de los dos partidos nacionales estadounidenses. Los fracasos sufridos en el primer año de la guerra generaron críticas y oposición popular, especialmente, en los estados de la zona de Nueva Inglaterra. Esta oposición estuvo dirigida por los federalistas porque eran la mayor fuerza política de esa región. En diciembre de 1814, un grupo de delegados de los estados de Nueva Inglaterra se reunieron en  la ciudad de Hartford en el estado de Connecticut, para discutir las quejas contra el gobierno de Madison. Como parte de las  debates de la convención se discutió la posibilidad de que la región se independizara y formara un nuevo país. Es necesario aclarar que aunque los seguidores de esta idea eran una minoría, la gran euforia provocada por la gran victoria de Jackson hizo que los participantes de la Convención de Hartford fueron considerados antipatrióticos y traidores, lo que condenó a muerte al Partido Federalista.

Por último,  el fin de  la guerra de 1812 dio paso a un periodo de paz que permitió a los norteamericanos concentrarse en sus asuntos internos. Este periodo es conocido como la Era de los buenos sentimientos.

            Norberto Barreto Velázquez, PhD

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 7 de febrero de 2012

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