Random Thoughts

Madison's Hoax, Gresham' Law and A Failing Republic

The best kept secret about the cause of the American Revolution of 1776 is the lack of importance given to the personal ambitions of the well off, who resented the control of trade and taxation by King and Parliament as well as the mismatch between their wealth and political power. Poor military tactics by the British, difficult logistics, French blockades and assistance and the first use of guerilla type warfare by Washington resulted in victory. Washington after losing initial battles realized that he could fight repeated skirmishes from the countryside, even as the Redcoats controlled the cities. Time was on his side and his strategy succeeded. The representative form of government chosen was a congress and the devolution of power was to the states. They were subject to populist pressures and internecine fighting as Shay's rebellion and border conflicts between New York and Pennsylvania proved. The moneyed faction found this bickering not conducive to their own interest and susceptible to manipulation by Britain, France and Spain, all with a foothold and economic interests in the North American continent. Thus a group without legitimacy met at Philadelphia for a constitutional convention.

Charles Beard's thesis, despite repeated scholarly attempts to discredit it, still gives a very plausible argument. The South was pacified by acceptance of slavery in blatant contradiction to the Declaration of Independence. Slaves who were deprived of the vote were still counted as three-fifths to allow more representatives to the powerful landowners of the South and commerce was given high place to entice the merchants, traders and bankers of the North. Hamilton, whose words and policies clearly favored wealth concentration, collaborated with Madison in the Federalist papers as their interests were seamlessly aligned and where later differences arose in the assumption of State debts, Jefferson orchestrated a compromise and the new capital was assigned to the Potomac region.

The nouveau riche and educated elite had no practical experience of government and had a fear of populist democracy of the loose federation of states and a visceral abhorrence to the monarchies of Europe. They were much influenced by reading Thucydides, Cato and Plato and thus opted for a republican form of government, except for the loading the dice in favor of the President, conceived as a demi-monarch, who was granted a veto, which could not be overridden by a simple majority. They expected the President to be a non-partisan, wise, erudite individual like Plato's philosopher-king and the bicameral legislature to be without political parties. It took four years or less for the unrealistic hope to be shattered by the Federalist and Republican parties.

Madison in Federalist 10 emphasized the impracticality of a democratic government in a geographically extended area and suggested that filtering the passions of the populace through the wise strainer of the leadership of the House of Representatives would make government more efficient. The two-year term would better reflect the mercurial variation of popular temperament. The filtering and distilling choices of state legislatures would yield a vintage of Senators, who were given longer terms so that their deliberations would be more thoughtful and they would serve as mentors of the novices and the repositories of wisdom, knowledge and experience.

It is crucial to remember that the franchise was limited to property holders and women, slaves and Indians were excluded. Protection of property was ensconced in a high place in the Amendments. The President, even today is not chosen by popular vote. The checks and balances are meant to limit the power of the government and to enhance the power of the privileged. Thus the Republic was from its conception a disguised plutocracy.

Madison further propounded that the inherent factionalism would be nullified by mutual conflicts
and yield a relatively benign policy for the good of the public and republic, but instead we have both hijacked entirely for the benefit of vested interests and the election process auctioned to the highest bidder and tilted in favor of incumbency and its unfettered access to political contributions. Kevin Phillip's book 'Wealth and Democracy' documents the scathing indictment of executive and legislative branches and Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" does that for the judiciary.

If only Madison had paid more attention to his statement that men are not angels. Gresham's law states that bad currency will displace and drive out good currency and that is what we see today in our republic. We have an executive President without electoral legitimacy, crowned with the collusion of a partisan Supreme Court, plunging the nation in an imperialistic war, with the consent from misguided fealty of an non-deliberating, craven and cowardly congress, willingly hostage to polls, focus groups and vested interests. This is no patriotic duty or entitled loyalty. It is a dereliction of duty and betrayal of oath to the constitution and a covenant with their constituents. The executive branch is marketing a product and instead of thoughtful consideration, the congress is selling it, depending on pro and con calls or letters they receive, to an uninformed and naive public intoxicated by patriotic fervor and blind rage. All of them are blithely unaware of, or oblivious to the gravity and risks of the pre-emptive aggression in a volatile region, touted by the cabal of rabid ideologues and newly emancipated and empowered pundits, while saner voices are hoarse from shouting Caveat Emptor.

Truly those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad! A Caesar crossed the Rubicon and a dying Sun explodes in a ball of fire to engulf and destroy its satellites by adopting a Nova policy. A mad son of Caesar like the dying candle flickers with a consuming fire flaring high in a finale of world conflagration!


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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