Book Review: The Summer of 1787

I just finished The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution by David O. Stewart which details the debate over the writing of our Constitution.

Overall, this book gave a good detailing of the debate, without going into too much detail, with a good focus on the characters and personalities of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. He writes crisply, and puts the politics behind the various debates in good context. (The John Dickinson quote in my last post was taken from this book.) He does let a bit of his own point of view creep into the documentation of the debate from time to time, especially towards the end. I would have preferred more of a strict narrative tone, but it’s not that distracting.

Two points I want to focus on: one positively and one negatively.

One source of contention during the debate over the Constitution was the question of admitting new states in to the Union. With the Northwest Territories still unorganized and areas like Vermont and Maine struggling to separate from existing states due to disputes over jurisdiction, this was a problem that needed to be solved. Some delegates argued that the 13 original states should maintain supremacy over newer states. In essence, in our current situation, the 13 original states would have at least as many representatives in Congress as the additional 37. This notion was defeated in favor of current system of all states being treated according to the same rules, regardless of admission date. Stewart observes:

The principle of equal treatment for new states – embraced unanimously by [the Continental] Congress in New York, and more reluctantly by the Philadelphia Convention – was novel. Beginning with Rome and continuing through Venice, republics had grown by conquest and colonization, but did not extend equal status to their new lands. America would take a different approach. New states would stand equal to their predecessors. On this issue, [George] Mason, [James] Wilson, and [James] Madison held the delegates to their republican ideals. The former colonial would not become colonizers. (p. 136)

This was a very interesting point. Two hundred years after the decision, it’s easy for us to take it for granted, but it was a novel concept at the time. It’s impossible to imagine how different things would have been if this rule had not been in effect, but it’s likely very different. Would Texas have wanted to join us had they not been considered an equal? Would that have prevented the Mexican War? If states were treated unequally, would regional differences have been more pronounced and bitter, threatening our unity?

The second point I wanted to bring up was the infamous “three-fifths” compromise, declaring that for purposes of apportioning representatives, slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a man. Stewart is very critical of anti-slavery delegates for accepting this decision. Given that he details all the “extra” representation this gave Southern slaveholders, it seems that he is arguing that slaves should not have been counted at all in when the time for apportionment came around. He is, unintentionally, arguing that slaves should not have been counted as people at all, however. Given that for representational purposes, other without the right to vote, such as women and children were counted as humans, were counted as persons, not counting slaves at would have resulted in a complete denial of their humanity.

On the other side, slave states were pushing for them counting as whole persons, so the imbalance Stewart decries would have been even larger. The primary concern of the delegates was to maintain the unity of the nation, and the Southern delegates were threatening to walk out of the Convention if they were not granted representation based on slave population. Stewart denies the slave states would have attempted to go it alone and so the anti-slavery forces should have stuck a tougher bargain on this and other slavery related issues, but I think he misses the chance of them forming their own Union, much as they did 75 years later.

In addition, the “three-fifths” rule gave a strong rhetorical point to abolitionist forces in the coming years. By counting them for apportionment purposes, the South was acknowledging their humanity, while treating them as sub-human. This kept the pro-slavery force on the defensive in the political battle, having to rely on political power alone since they couldn’t rely on intellectual defenses and therefore signaled that slavery would end eventually, albeit, not as bloodlessly as was hoped. (As a side note, this is one more thing the pro-slavery forces have in common with pro-abortion forces: in addition to denying the humanity of a segment of humanity, both are relying on political power to maintain their position since they’ve lost the rhetorical battle. Pro-lifers will win the battle against abortion eventually, much as anti-slavery forces defeated slavery eventually, but we won’t be using violent force to do so; our battlefield is the human conscience.)

It’s a good read; there are better ones on the same topic, but it’s worth the time.

A short summary of conservatism

Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.

–John Dickinson
Delaware Delegate to the Constitutional Convention

Reason is only as good as your assumptions, logic, and your knowledge of the facts. Should anyone of those have problems, your conclusions will also be in error. Looking back on and learning from the past is the surest guide to understanding the present and future.

Are Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion automatically excommunicated?

Russell Shaw:

Are Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion automatically excommunicated? No. May they rightly receive Communion? Here, too, the answer is no.

A bishop who refused Communion to a pro-choice politician could count on taking fierce flak — from the media, from Church sources always glad to supply sneering quotes in contradiction of the hierarchy, from masters of non-sequitur claiming the First Amendment was violated by this attempt by the Church to conduct its internal affairs in light of its beliefs. Misled by the propaganda barrage, many Catholics would be upset.

Arguably, though, the alternative is even more unappealing. As matters stand, the Church’s convictions on two central tenets of the faith — eligibility to share in the Eucharist and the sanctity of unborn human life — are receiving a pounding, with scandal the result. Would Pope Benedict now care to tackle question number three?

We now have clarification from the Vatican that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be barred from receiving Communion. Will the American bishops listen? It’s better that the bishops take a stand for the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of the Eucharist and reaffirm our Catholic beliefs than it is to allow this scandal to continue and weaken their flocks’ faith. As for the opprobrium they would receive from those outside the Church, Christ had something to say about that: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Mt 5:11-12)

Is France Willing to Work?

George F. Will – Is France Willing to Work? – washingtonpost.com

The cultural contradictions of welfare states are comparable. Such states presuppose economic dynamism sufficient to generate investments, job creation, corporate profits and individuals’ incomes from which comes tax revenue needed to fund entitlements.

But welfare states produce in citizens an entitlement mentality and a low pain threshold. That mentality inflames appetites for more entitlements, broadly construed to include all government benefits and protections that contribute to welfare understood as material well-being, enhanced security and enlarged leisure.

The low pain threshold causes a ruinous flinch from the rigors, insecurities, uncertainties and dislocations inherent in the creative destruction of dynamic capitalism. The flinch takes the form of protectionism, regulations and other government-imposed inefficiencies that impede the economic growth that the welfare state requires.

So welfare states are, paradoxically, both enervating and energizing — and infantilizing. They are enervating because they foster dependency; they are energizing because they aggravate an aggressive (think of burning Peugeots) sense of entitlement; they are infantilizing because it is infantile to will an end without willing the means to that end, and people who desire welfare states increasingly desire relief from the rigors necessary to finance them.

George Will on the problems faced by by Sarkozy as he seeks to restore France’s economic strength. He’s got a tough challenge ahead of him given that the culture of dependency seems to be ingrained in the French psyche now. But it’s a battle that needs to be fought, and won, if France is to remain a stable nation.

I also was intrigued at this point:

Arson is a form of commentary favored by the French left…

If a similar form of protest ever takes hold here, how long until the ACLU and others of their ilk defend it as a freedom of expression?