Saturday, October 25, 2014

10/25 Civil Disobedience

In this class, and the next we will be focusing on civil liberties and civil rights, both important concepts and inseparable from the idea of citizenship. This class we will focus more on "civil liberty," which stresses areas where the government restricts the rights of citizens, and talk about "civil rights" (and other kinds of rights) next class which usually suggests the government taking a more active role to protect its citizens. In this class we will look at the idea of civil liberties through the writings of three of the most important figures in American history, all known as fierce champions of liberty and ready and willing to call out the abuses of a government which restricts the liberty of its citizens.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), wrote, the famous essay "Civil Disobedience." The idea of civil disobedience is peculiar to democratic societies. It means breaking the law and thus challenging the authorities, but usually in a non-violent fashion. In Thoreau's case he refused to pay his taxes in 1846 because he believed the money was being used for an immoral purpose, and he was put in jail. He was bailed out the next day by his friend and famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Supposedly, there was an exchange between the two, where Emerson questioned Thoreau on why he was in jail. Thoreau allegedly responded "why are you not in jail?" In other words, the idea behind civil disobedience is that  morality requires you to disobey unjust laws. To passively accept a corrupt society, Thoreau would argue, makes you almost as morally guilty as the people who actually oppress others and do violence to people. It is even worse in a democracy because here the citizens actually have some ability to alter the course of laws and government.


This idea is also a core component of the civil religion, and refers to the higher authority that is referred to in the Declaration, as "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," in other words, a form of law based on natural rights higher than the laws of political states. The basis of civil disobedience can be found in the Declaration itself which explicitly authorizes disobedience to the extent in which government departs from protecting the rights of its citizens.

Thoreau sees the natural law and human law as antagonistic and separate from each other, as he says: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward" (p. 222).

Thoreau was very conscious in which respect for laws or traditions and mores can easily turn into a mechanical and unthinking submission to whatever the authorities may be:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army; and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens (p. 223).

Government is only as good or bad as the people who run it. It is not evil in itself nor is it good in itself, or as  he says, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (p. 222). In other words a government closer to the ideas of equality and justice that we are entitled to according to the Declaration.

He is very clear on the source of his disgust for the current government, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (p. 223) (referring to the slave owners not the actual slaves)

In The Federalist we discussed how the ideal of government was supposed to function like a machine and thus create an impersonal system of control that is not under the control of any one person. As long as the machine functions properly and maintains justice in society but what happens if the machine is creating injustice:
If the unjustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth––certainly the machine will wear out. If the unjustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,  exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law. Let you life be a counterfriction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn (p. 226).




Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) were all active members of the abolition and women's rights movements, which originally were united, and who used the idea of civil disobedience that Thoreau spoke of, as a means to agitate the political system, to initiate radical reforms, and ultimately to win full citizenship. 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Susan B. Anthony
Stanton and Anthony were leaders of the Women's Rights movement which since the 1840s had been organizing to win for women the right to vote. They shared leadership of the movement, with Stanton being more of a writer, and Anthony being more of an orator. Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments is modeled after the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." (pp. 231-32). 


Douglass in his fourth of July speech, points to a glaring gap in the creed of America, which according to Chesterton is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Douglass here indicates an essential contradiction in all universal ideologies or beliefs. Every belief that claims to include all of humanity (and can be said to be universal) always in reality excludes somebody, and that these exclusions are concealed and made invisible:
Frederick Douglass
But such is not the sate of the case. I sat it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeather by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! 
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

In his other writing, Douglass distinguishes between various forms of the abolition movement that in his eyes are inadequate. He refers to the Free Soil Party founded in 1848 of former Democrats and some radical abolitionists. The party failed to win any presidential elections, but helped transition anti-slavery democrats to the   Republican Party, originally formed as an anti-slavery party in 1854 and supported by papers like Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune.


The Democratic Party at the same time which was so powerful in the South and New York has become the party of slavery. However, in Douglass' view the Free Soil movement does not go far enough because it only wants to restrict the further expansion of slavery, not to abolish it where it already is. Although scientific reason was opposed to slavery it did create the "cautious" attitude that you do not do things too radically––this is a good example of that mentality. Douglass is equally opposed to the Garrison Abolitionists, named after William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), a New England journalist who became one of the most well known abolitionists. Garrison favored total abolition, but he was apolitical, in other words he thought the best way to fight slavery was not to deal with it or people who benefit from it. Douglass saw this as little better than closing your eyes to a problem, and like the Republicans, favored political involvement, but like Garrison, wanted total abolition.


Besides their ideological strength, they were skilled organizers and were able to create a network of political institutions composed of voluntary associations, small political parties, and specialized newspapers. All were involved early on with the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) which was supported by newspapers like The Liberator or the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Frederick Douglass published his own abolitionist paper The North Star, which later merged with the newspaper of the abolitionist political party, the Liberty Party to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Anthony published her own women's rights paper The Revolution which was the official paper of the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) formed by Stanton and Anthony in 1869. The NWSA was formed after the breakup of the earlier American Equal Rights Association between 1866-1869, which split over the issue of granting voting rights (suffrage) to women and freed slaves. The text of the 15th amendment to the Constitution (1870) shows clearly that the right to vote cannot be taken away because of a person's race or color, but it does not specify gender. Women would not win the right to vote in the country until 1920 (after Stanton and Anthony had died) with the passage of the 19th amendment. 

In today's literature the network of organizations, media, and activists is referred to as civil society, but the development of civil society was supported by the beneficial economic advantages of the U.S. including relative economic equality, as well as a highly literate population that was better educated on a whole than Europeans. We can see here also that civil liberties which, of course, include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press actually serve to strengthen the republic and revive it when suffering from periods of stagnation when one group wields power for too long, in part by allowing criticism of the government and the way in which society is being led. A vibrant and robust civil society provides the circulation of different groups and interests which contribute to a stable political order, one that can also adapt to changes.

Anthony was arrested in 1872 after attempting to vote in New York. The same year women's rights activists Victoria Woodhull ran a presidential campaign under the the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as Vice-President (Douglass never responded to the nomination), though they received no electoral votes and a very tiny amount of the popular vote. The excerpt here is from the closing statements of the trial United States v. Anthony. Anthony is skillfully able to turn the trial itself into a trial of the American system by pointing out the obvious hypocrisies and contradictions in a political system based on the idea of citizenship and equality but that excludes almost half the population from being a real citizen, which she notes emphatically is impossible without real political rights including of course the right to vote:
All my prosecutors, from the 8th Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even when I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer (p. 297). 
The 14th amendment to the Constitution explicitly states that all people born or naturalized within the United States are citizens of the United States and are entitled to all the protections of the law and all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship. Anthony argues quite clearly that her arrest and trial clearly contradict her rights as defined by this amendment in the Constitution.

As important as the formal rights in the Constitution are, the preservation of these rights, depends on certain political institutions and an open society that provide the space for this. However, culture is equally important, and it is the culture of freedom and tolerance in the U.S. that make actions like this resonate with the public. In other words, seeing a woman get arrested for trying to vote would make most people think this is an abuse of authority. But, people would only think that way in the first place, if they already had strong cultural values or "mores," mœurs, of freedom. Even if mœurs can sometimes prevent change as they become dogmatic, because of the struggles of people like this and its origins in the Declaration of Independence, civil disobedience itself is an established mœur in American political culture, in other words somewhat paradoxically, a tradition of opposing authority.

Assignment Due (11/1): Choose a passage from Thoreau, Stanton or Douglass. Write out the passage, then explain what the author is saying and how it relates to the themes of the lecture, and then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

9/27 Another Stab at the Constitution

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/07/08/another-stab-at-the-us-constitution

The piece we are looking at today is a modern commentary and analysis of the Constitution. Last class we spent more time looking at the historical context of the Constitution itself, as well as the Federalist Papers, which was also a commentary on the Constitution, and considered still be the most authoritative interpretation of the Constitution.

In today's piece which is taken from The New York Times, several prominent scholars give their analysis over controversial or problematic aspects of the Constitution. In many regards most of what the contributors suggest would seem to be fairly radical changes to the Constitution, of course in the past, such changes have occurred.

The first commentary by Jamal Greene, questions whether to create term limits for federal judges, as he says: 
In a democracy, no one person should wield so much power for so long. Article III of the Constitution provides that federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behaviour.” In practice this language means they serve for life absent voluntary retirement or impeachment. Were we to draft the Constitution today, we would be wise to reconsider this provision.

His reasoning for this seems to rest on two main points: one, he argues in some cases judges simply become too old to effectively render judgements in cases, something which requires a person to be at the peak of their mental faculties. Two, he argues that life-term appointments makes the selection process of judges too political. Federal judges are nominated by the President, but approved by the U.S. Senate. Over the last 20-25 years this process has become incredibly complicated due to the inability of opposed political parties to come to agreement (you might remember the Gallup piece from a few weeks ago which pointed to polling data which supports this).


He argues that the example of other countries that have term limits or mandatory retirement ages might be a good example, and seems drawn to the idea of an 18-year term. 18 years is by any standard a long-term in office, but many would still be opposed to limiting the terms of judges.


The second piece by Rachel Barkow, looks at the eight amendment of the Constitution and how it might relate to the current problem of imprisonment in the U.S. Despite the repeated claims to being the land of the free, the U.S. leads the rest of the world in the number of people in prison, which as she points out is made up of significantly larger portions of minority groups in the country. Certainly the profit motive is still alive and well at least, because running prisons has become a profitable industry as of late, led by corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which also lobbys the government for longer prison terms and less leniency, not because it feels threatened by criminals, but because shorter prison terms would mean less business. The U.S. is also the third largest in terms of the number of executions carried out by the justice system behind only Saudi Arabia and China.


Barkow looks to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, or what we refer to as the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) which bans the use of "cruel and unusual punishment." Putting aside the idea of executions which she does not go into, but obviously would be opposed to, she argues that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment should prohibit excessively long prison sentences as well:

As I have suggested elsewhere, clarifying and expanding the Eighth Amendment could help. It should specifically state that excessive terms of incarceration are prohibited, just as it bans excessive fines. It should expressly prohibit mandatory sentences so that every case gets the benefit of individualized attention by a judge. And it should insist that legislatures create a record showing that they considered empirical evidence about the law's likely impact. 
It is important to see that before any action can be undertaken, there must be some groundwork for this action in the Constitution. In this case she argues that the Eighth Amendment lays the groundwork that would make the movement towards shorter prison terms a legitimate, and legal course of action.

The third piece by Akhil Reed Amar, looks at the limitations on naturalized citizens for holding office, specifically the President. The Constitution states that only citizens born in the U.S. are eligible to be President of the U.S., as he says:
But those American citizens who happen to have been born abroad to non-American parents — and who later choose to become “naturalized” American citizens — are not the full legal equals of those of us born in the U.S. True, naturalized Americans have always been allowed to serve as cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, senators and governors. And at the founding, anyone already a citizen could be president, regardless of birthplace. (Alexander Hamilton, for example, though born in the West Indies, was fully eligible to serve as president under the Constitution he himself helped draft.) But modern-day naturalized citizens are barred from the presidency simply because they were born in the wrong place to the wrong parents.
We can look back to the readings from Bourne and Chesterton and relate their views on transnationalism or as Chesterton called it the "the nationalization of the internationalized" to this restriction. Do you think Bourne and Chesterton would be in favor of lifting this restriction? Do you think it is fair to continue this restriction, or should any citizen regardless of birth be eligible to one-day become President of the U.S. On a related note, the bizarre obsession with the current President's birthplace relates to this, if the President were born in Kenya as many on the political right-wing suggest, then he would be ineligible to be President. Of course in this case, the racial overtones of this so-called argument are obvious.

The fourth piece by Elizabeth Price Foley argues for the importance of federalism. Federalism is a doctrine which explicitly divides the power of government between the center (or federal) government and regional states which retain some independence and autonomy from the center. Some other countries have what is called a unitary government where the top-level of government appoints all the lower levels as well, thus power and control is in the hands of the top government officials. In our country, the governor of New York for example has certain freedoms to act that the President and Congress cannot limit. In practice, however, especially in recent times the extent and influence of the federal government has increased, mainly as a result of the influence the federal government has in directing funds for the states in multiple areas like education or even to maintain roads.

Foley argues that this expansion of government power threatens the idea of federalism which the Constitution is based on:
Federalism isn't about states' rights. It's about individual liberty. The Supreme Court emphasized this in Bond v. United States (2011): "By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake." And lest you think this emanates from the court's right wing, Bond was unanimous.

As the last line indicates however, this view has increasingly become seen as more of a conservative or right-wing opinion. She goes on to point out how the Supreme Court had recently ruled against certain aspects of the health care law that would force state governments to act. Again, think back to the Gallup poll, which showed that when the opposing party is in power, people on the other side favor greater restrictions on government power. If a Republican government was in office today, would conservatives still argue for federalism as strongly as they are now?

The fifth piece by Alexander Keyssar argues to abolish the electoral college. We know the President is not elected through a direct popular vote, but is chosen by electors equal to each states representation in Congress, meaning that elections are decided on a state by state basis. This is one of the more well known and controversial aspects of the Constitution today. As he says:
Moreover, we have learned a lot in the last 225 years about shortcomings in the framers’ design: the person who wins the most votes doesn’t necessarily become president; the adoption of “winner take all” rules (permitted but not mandated by the Constitution) produces election campaigns that ignore most of the country and contribute to low turnout; the legislature of any state can decide to choose electors by itself and decline to hold an election at all; and the complex procedure for dealing with an election in which no candidate wins a clear majority of the electoral vote is fraught with peril. As a nation, we have come to embrace “one person, one vote” as a fundamental democratic principle, yet the allocation of electoral votes to the states violates that principle. It is hardly an accident that no other country in the world has imitated our Electoral College. 

The sixth piece by Michael Rappaport looks at the process by which the Constitution is changed. Paradoxically he argues that the process of changing the Constitution has come to a point where it is virtually impossible to change. There are two methods for changing the Constitution. The first requires that 2/3 of both houses of Congress agree to an amendment which is then sent to the states to ratify, or approve of the proposed amendment. There is a second method but is has never been used as he says:
The second method is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention that would then propose an amendment (which, again, would have to be ratified by the states). This second method has never been used, because the state legislatures fear a runaway convention. They are concerned that if they call a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment, the convention will end up proposing an amendment on same-sex marriage or school prayer. 
This argument matches up well with Foley's federalist argument since it reserves a more active role for the states, again quoting his argument:
The Constitution should be changed to eliminate the possibility of a runaway convention. The best way to do this is to dispense with a constitutional convention and instead have the state legislatures agree to propose a specific amendment. But any method that allows for a working alternative to Congress’s amendment monopoly would be an enormous improvement.
The seventh piece by Melynda Price deals with another highly publicized and controversial aspect of the Constitution, the "right to bear arms" in the second amendment. Price who is in favor of abolishing this right argues:
I am not naïve enough to believe that doing away with the Second Amendment would do away with gun violence, but I know firsthand the impact of guns and gun shots on children. This nation was constructed and reconstructed in the aftermath of violent and bloody conflicts. Still, the Framers believed that not only the Constitution, but also the peaceful way the document was created, would penetrate the Americans' minds and change they engaged. The Constitution would be the only weapon needed unless there was an external enemy. 
The eight piece by Jenny Martinez deals with the interpretation of the Constitution in a more international setting, that being how important are treaties signed with other countries in the legal process of this country. Martinez points to what is called the "supremacy clause" in the Constitution,  “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

However she addresses the often conflicting tendency of courts to ignore treaties that have been signed with other countries, as she points out:
But the Supreme Court has interpreted the supremacy clause in ways that contradict its text and original purpose; the court has suggested that the clause doesn’t mean what it says as far as treaties are concerned. One of the strangest of these decisions came a few years ago in a case involving Texas’s failure to notify Mexican citizens facing the death penalty that they were entitled by a treaty to speak to their consulate. In that case, Medellín v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that the treaty (and a decision of the International Court of Justice interpreting it) weren’t actually enforceable against Texas.
The ninth piece is by Randy Barnett and concerns the Commerce clause of the the Constitution. This gives Congress the power to regulate business in the country. Barnett argues that this power also has grown too much and exceeds what it is meant for. He argues the clause should be reworded as:
"The power of Congress to make all laws that are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations, shall not be construed to include the power to regulate or prohibit any activity that is confined within a single state regardless of its effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme; but Congress shall have power to regulate harmful emissions between one state and another, and to define and provide for punishment of offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States."
Compared with its original text in the Constitution which is much shorter (Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3): "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." Is this more complex version necessary? The purpose of the commerce clause is to regulate what is called "interstate business" meaning business that goes on across state boundaries. Commerce or business that takes place wholly in one state then should be regulated by the state it is in, but again in modern times the distinctions between interstate and state commerce are blurred. This also affects the interests of many large corporations which operate throughout the country and beyond even national boundaries.

The final piece by Pauline Maier looks at the most well known part of the Constitution, the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. However she argues that the wording of the text is flawed and argues it should be expanded on:


“Congress shall make no law” is a peculiarly stingy way to begin an amendment that protects the rights of conscience, speech, press, assembly and petition. James Madison proposed more capacious language for those rights. He would have said, for example, that “the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.” He would also have stated that “the people shall not be deprived of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
She argues that this would clearly separate the protections giving to people and to corporations which also appeal to first amendment rights to justify lobbying the government.

These authors represent different political perspectives and isolate different problematic areas of the Constitutions which continue to be debated in the present. Some call for new interpretations of how we understand our rights, others for re-wording or altering certain parts of the text, others still call for getting rid of what they see as outdated features of the Constitution.

Next week we will not have class due to the holiday. The following week we will have the midterm 10/11. The week after 10/18 we will be in class again. 

The midterm will also be taken online, on Blackboard. The exam will be posted under Content and will be available between 12:00-3:00 PM on 10/11. The exam will consist of one essay question dealing with one or more of the themes we have gone over in class: Power, Citizenship, and the Constitution. If you have kept up with the readings and online lectures you should have no problem with the exam.

Assignment Due 10/11 : Choose one of the authors from the New York Times article and choose a quote from one of these authors. Write out the quote and the meaning of it, and explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

9/20 The Constitution and the Federalist (Part 1)

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution," Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.


The Articles of Confederation established the first system of government, first ratified in 1777 and again in 1781. The period between 1783-1789 the government was organized according to the Articles of Confederation. Notably, this system of government had no president, there was a Congress of the Confederation but there was only one branch or house, instead of two, and there was no supreme court. The 13 states which were really more like separate countries at this point and had very broad powers, maintained their own state militias, and in many cases even printed their own money and came up with their own rules on trade. The general consensus on this period of time was that the government was weak and ineffective and as a result of this conflict and disorder was increasing within the states and even between the states.


In 1786, the Annapolis Convention met in Maryland. The major result of this convention was an agreement to set another Convention in Philadelphia with purposes of "amending" the Articles of Confederation. The result was between 1787-88 the Constitutional Convention met and produced an entirely new document and with that an entirely new system of government. This is the Constitution that most people are familiar with.


The Constitution is a rather short document consisting of seven articles that broadly lay out the powers and responsibilities of the government and its operation. You may have noticed The Declaration of Independence was not very long either. When we look at the speeches of Abraham Lincoln who delivered two of the greatest if not the greatest speeches in American history, they are also very short. When your aim is to persuade people often times keeping things short works much better than writing long volumes of text. 
Public meetings and gathering-places were thus an integral part of the political process and a means by which "ideology" or a set of political beliefs and attitudes, becomes meaningful for individuals. 

There were many debates within the Convention (the official records of which are still sealed). Many of the conflicts revolved around sharing power between the large states and the smaller states; questions of national debt and state debt incurred during the war; and of course slavery.


The first three articles set up the basic separation of power between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the federal government. Many of the Enlightenment thinkers like Locke or the French thinker Montesquieu (1689-1755) adopted similar frameworks for the division of power and it has become accepted as standard in virtually every government in the world. 


Originally, the legislative branch (the law-making part of government) was supposed to be superior. This was meant to place a check on the power of the "king" and also to protect the "private property" of individuals. The executive branch which is charged with physically carrying out the laws is thus dependent on the legislature for funding (it must get its permission more or less) and the power to raise taxes rests with the legislature as well. 

The Legislative branch is entrusted with making all laws for the country and is composed of two branches: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives are drawn based upon the population of the state. Larger states with larger populations have more representatives. Also if the population of the state increases past a certain point it will gain more representatives (or lose them if the population decreases). Representatives are drawn from different districts drawn up by the states who also control the laws for voting in their respective states. All bills for raising revenue are supposed to originate with the House since it is the more democratic branch of government. Because of its size the position of a Speaker for the House is created as well. The Senate is composed of two senators from each state regardless of size. This was intended as a compromise to give smaller states more equality in government. Senators were originally chosen by the state legislature, and not by the people directly, that lasted until the Progressive era in 1913.
 

In order for proposed legislation to become law it must pass through both houses of Congress and be approved by the president. The president can veto laws, but the Congress can override the veto if it gets a 2/3 majority in both houses. 


This is probably the most well-known example of the second major principle guiding the Constitution, the system of checks and balances. Similar to the separation of powers, this principle stipulates that the different branches of government have to be in agreement on major decisions and that each branch has the power to limit the power of the other branch. The idea of separation of powers would be pretty much meaningless if it did not include this as well. These two principles were designed above all else to prevent tyranny, even at the expense of effective government, or what Hamilton would call "energetic government." 


This is controversial, because although preventing some (not all) abuses of government authority, it makes it difficult to use the government for more constructive purposes, leading to what is called "gridlock." This is a common topic in the present because of the noted Republican opposition to the Obama administration. In this case, Republicans control the House of Representatives while the Senate is nominally a Democratic majority, so even controlling one part of the Congress is enough to effectively stall any programs or policies favored by the current administration. However, this is complicated because in the Senate at the present the rules have effectively changed to now require a 2/3 majority to pass legislation through instead of a "simple" majority (n > 50%). This is as a result of what is called the "filibuster" and its notable because it is NOT in the Constitution.


The first article is the longest, again an indication that the legislative branch is supposed to be the most important and lays out several other responsibilities of the government over things like immigration and trade. 


 For example, the Commerce Clause in Section 8: "To regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." This short passage actually provides the legal justification for Congress to pass laws regulating things like healthcare or even drugs which are made "illegal" by an act of Congress. 


There is also the Necessary and Proper Clause: "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." This clause is controversial because it gives power to Congress to pass laws "necessary" to accomplish its goals. This of course sparks controversy over how the Constitution is interpreted. 


Some favor what they call a strict interpretation of the Constitution meaning the government has no right to pass any laws or act in any way not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. This interpretation is mostly used by conservatives to limit the government's ability to regulate business or provide "privileges" to minority groups. Others favor a more broad interpretation of the Constitution and use this clause as a legal justification.


The second article deals with the executive branch of government headed by the President of the United States. This article explains the controversial electoral college, an institution that was set up to prevent presidential elections from being decided directly by the people. Instead votes are allocated based upon a number of "electoral votes" possessed by the individual states not by the people of the states. So when we count the results of the election we count the states the president won, not the people who voted for the president. This system tends to benefit the less popular candidate: some elections that were very close in terms of popular vote seemed like huge victories in terms of electoral votes, some have even lost the popular vote and still won in the electoral college like George Bush in 2000 (even counting Florida, Bush still lost the popular vote, however the results of that election are too distorted to use this as a good example of "winning" the electoral college while losing the popular vote). 


The major flaw in the electoral college is the idea of "wasted votes." Consider a state like New York. Since New York traditionally votes for the Democratic candidate in Presidential elections (it did go for Reagan though twice in the 1980s) only one vote more than the Republican candidate or third party candidate receives is necessary to win the election. To use simple numbers if a Republican gets 1,000 votes in NY, the Democratic candidate only needs 1,001 votes to receive the electoral votes for the whole state. If it turns out 5,000 people voted for that candidate, then most of those votes will be wasted, in the sense that they will not add anything to the chances of the candidate winning the election. Now consider the real life population demographics and the fact that the population of New York overwhelmingly outweighs the populations of so many other states with a few exceptions and it is easy to see why many would criticize this system since the citizens of New York would be under-represented compared to smaller states that would have a disproportionately larger influence in determining elections relative to their population size.


In terms of "electoral systems," or a way of selecting candidates for election, this is known as single-member district (SMD), and all elections in the U.S. are decided this way including for Congress and local government as well. An alternative method is known as proportional representation, where the proportion of votes captured by a political party equates into the proportion of representatives they have in the legislature or Congress. In this system votes are not wasted, to go back to our example, all of the votes cast in New York will then go towards the overall proportion of votes received by a party which would increase the proportion of their party representatives in Congress. However in this system there is less of a personal relationship between members of the legislature and their voters or constituents. The SMD system, since it focuses on a specific person in a specific district tends to establish more of a personal relationship between the candidate and potential voters.

The impeachment process is also explained in Article II as it is in Article I. A president can be impeached or removed from office but it has to follow a precise procedure. The House must formally lay charges against the president, the Senate then becomes like a court where the president is tried. The House brings the charges and acts as prosecutor, but the Senate votes on it and acts as jury. 

There have only been two impeachments in U.S. history against Andrew Johnson after the Civil War for supposedly sabotaging Reconstruction in the South, and Bill Clinton in 1998. However the Senate voted against impeachment and they were not removed from office. 

The primary responsibility of the president is dealing with foreign affairs, and in this area the president has more room to act without the approval of Congress. Notably, the power to "declare war" on another country rests with Congress, yet this is another aspect we do not follow anymore, there has not been a "declared" war since World War II. 

An unwritten role of the President is to be the leader of the civil religion, much in the same way as religions often have a "supreme leader."

The third article deals with the Supreme Court and the Judicial branch which is charged with interpreting the laws of the country in reference to the Constitution. Although not provided in the Constitution this evolved into the power of "judicial review" which gives the court power not only to interpret laws in reference to the Constitution in specific cases, but to strike down or cancel laws which conflict with it. 


The article also separates "original jurisdiction" from "appellate jurisdiction." Original jurisdiction refers to cases that would go directly to the Supreme Court. They are fairly few mostly affecting cases involving foreign officials, federal officials, or if the U.S. itself is a party in a case including treason. Most of the time, and most of the famous cases that have come before the court, the court was acting in terms of its appellate jurisdiction or appeal. People appeal to the Supreme Court after they have gone through lower courts, although the Supreme Court can choose not to hear a case. Most crimes are under the jurisdiction of the state court, including the most serious crime murder. If you kill someone you will most likely be tried by the state not the federal government, unless you kill a federal official. However the Supreme Court does have the power to override the decisions of lower courts.

The remaining articles deal with the relationship between the federal government and the states, the process of adding amendments to the Constitution, and the process of ratifying or approving the Constitution. Following that is a list of the Bill of Rights and the other amendments to the Constitution. We will talk about the Bill of Rights more next class. Article IV deals with some of the rights of the states and their relation to the government. The U.S. government is set up as a federal system, this means there is a division of power between the U.S. government, the state governments, as well as local municipal government. These different levels of government also follow the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial division of power. The American political system is very complex because of this. Many states like France, the United Kingdom, and Japan have unitary states meaning there is one government authority and all local officials are usually appointed by higher officials. Germany has a federal system, although it is only made up of 16 states instead of the 50 states now in the U.S. (originally 13 of course). India is also a federal system made up of 28 states and 7 "union territories" directly administered by the federal government. Russia is a federal state made up of 83 different units. A federal system is most common in countries where there is either a lot of ethnic division like in Russia or India or smaller autonomous states are now part of the unified federal state like in the case of the U.S. or Germany.


There is a controversial passage in Article IV that protects slavery: "No person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law of Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." There is also a clause in Article 1 Section 2 that refers to counting slaves as 3/5 of a person for determining representatives and taxes. 


There was a small controversy over this when in early 2011 the new Republican majority House of Representatives began their session by reading out the Constitution, however they omitted these controversial passages. How would you interpret something like that? What is the meaning of reading out the Constitution word-for-word except to symbolically show that they are adhering to the "true principles" of the Constitution and implying that the country has lost its way perhaps. Yet does it not defeat the purpose when it seems that they are not willing to confront the "bad" aspects of the American past, in effect by basically censoring aspects of American history that do not fit into the idealized vision of American history that conservatives tend to put forward? It undermines the whole idea that they are trying to return to the "true" America, when their idea of truth is so selective and sanitized, or at least they are unfamiliar with the saying, "the truth hurts." This has serious consequences considering that many believe that it was the failure to discuss slavery candidly and honestly in a system supposedly based on discussion and debate that eventually led to the breakdown of the system and the Civil War (the word "slave" or "slavery" is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution). There are those who believe the Civil War would have happened earlier if they did have this honest discussion, and there were those who were willing to have this discussion even back then but who were outside the political system, however, if anything these kinds of "oversights" today are suggestive of a failure to learn the lessons of history more than anything else. 

After the Convention had completed its work, copies of the Constitution were circulated throughout the states. People in the states elected delegates to serve on state conventions to ratify the Constitution. The first state to ratify was Delaware in late 1787, New Hampshire was the decisive ninth state to ratify in June 1788. Nine states out of thirteen provided the 2/3 majority needed to ratify the Constitution. Two states, North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution till after George Washington was elected president. The system of government established officially went into effect March 4th, 1789. Washington was inaugurated as president April 30th, 1789, the only president to be unanimously elected (both terms).


 Next we will look more at the Federalist Papers.





9/20 The Constitution and the Federalist (Part 2)


 Supporters of the Constitution began to refer to themselves as "federalists" for the support of the federal system of government. Opponents who favored more power to the states and wanted to keep the federal government weak were referred to as "anti-federalists." 

In order to persuade the public to support the Constitution several of the leading "federalists" James Madison (1751-1836) who would become the 4th President of the U.S., Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), and John Jay (1745-1829) published articles under the pseudonym, or pen-name, Publius. As I have said with ideology, these articles attempted to interpret events of the day: in this case that the Constitutional Convention has produced a document that is "good" for the people to approve of and should be ratified. 

The articles were published first in New York newspapers but then reprinted throughout the country. They were intended to persuade a large segment of the public to adopt certain values or even to act in a certain way. They have been collected in book form and are referred to as The Federalist Papers or more simply The Federalist and are still considered the definitive interpretation of the Constitution.

Federalist No. 10 for example is important because it lays out the theoretical framework that underlies the current system of government. Madison makes it clear that the purposes of the federal government, or the Union, the union of all the states is beneficial because it will best control the effects of "factions." Today we would call them "special interests" but the meaning is the same. Sometimes, people seem to think that the U.S. government was founded by moral idealists but on the contrary the founders seemed to have a very pessimistic view of human conduct. Madison cautions that you cannot even deal with the "causes" of faction because to do that would very likely violate our liberties but can only control the "effects" of faction, as he says:

James Madison
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man, and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation and practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good (pp. 92-93).
In fact, it may only be contemporary liberals who are guilty of being too idealistic and sound almost naive when they act surprised that there is so much partisanship or factional conflict in politics today, like for example on taxes. Madison seems much more aware of this: 
The appointment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pocket (p. 93).

However the greatest danger from factions, Madison thought were "majority factions" (i.e. the poor). Madison is confident that a minority faction can be handled by the mechanisms of popular government, although he assumes people would actually do something and not just sit back passively if a minority was trying to take control or "usurp" authority. Majority factions however have spelt doom for democratic governments since ancient times Madison argues. He believes that the Constitution contains the "cure" for the democratic "disease." He singles out two aspects: representative government and the large size of the state. He identifies these as the major difference between "republican" and "democratic" government. Democracy was kind of a dirty word for many of the founders and they preferred "republic" (Latin for "the people's business") instead. The point he is trying to make is that he believes that voting for representatives from among the "wise property owners" would add stability to the government. 


In a reversal of ancient political philosophy: he argues the large size of the republic is more stable than a smaller democracy which must remain close to the local people. His arguments for size are: 



a) The more people there are in the country the more chance competent and capable people will be found for office where you are more limited in choices in a smaller community. 

b) And that in a larger population it will be harder to fool all the people. 

c) He also argues that a larger population makes it harder for factions to dominate, as he says: "Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other" (p. 95). 

But again it must be stressed that the primary fear of the "wise property owners" was the faction of the poor, and suggests a dimension of class conflict that is normally not acknowledged: "A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State" (p. 96).

In No.s 39 and 48 he outlines some of the principles of the federal system and when it impacts the states (federal) and when it will impact the people directly (national) and outlines the importance of "separation of powers" and the dangers of legislative tyranny if too much power is concentrated in one branch of government.


In No. 51 he again outlines the dangers of factions and again suggests that the diversity of society will reduce the influence of factions. This is called "pluralism" today and is still dominant in American politics:

Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of the individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of the country and number of people comprehended under the same government (p. 105).

The last selection from Madison's letters deals with the infamous 3/5 compromise in the Constitution. Since the number of people in your state influences the number of representatives your state gets, Southern politicians hypocritically thought to count slaves as people in order to increase their representation without of course granting any political rights to slaves. Northerners, hardly more moral, objected that slaves are property not people. The "rational" compromise was to count slaves as 3/5 of a person.



85 articles were written altogether. Madison wrote 29, Hamilton wrote 51 (Jay wrote five and is hardly mentioned).

Four of Hamilton’s articles are included: no.’s 15, 21, 23, 78
Alexander Hamilton
No.s 15, 21, 23 are focused on pointing out the weaknesses of the present government under the articles of Confederation, and advocating the stronger national government, or in Hamilton’s terms, "energetic government," that is designed in the Constitution.

No. 78 is an early defense of the principle of "judicial review" which gives power to the Supreme Court to strike down laws or other actions that contradicts the Constitution

What were the flaws of the government under the Articles of Confederation that Hamilton was specifically concerned with? Why was a strong national government the solution to the problems that Hamilton saw? Consider the following quote by Hamilton from no. 15, “Power controlled or abridged is almost always the rival and enemy of that power by which it is controlled or abridged” (p. 112), another way of stating the idea of checks and balances, power checks power.

In Federalist 23, Hamilton says this about the Union, the term used to describe the national government as representing all the states together: “The principal purposes to be answered by union are these--the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries” (p. 116).

Hamilton defines four purposes for the union, what are they and how is the union supposed to make good on its purposes? What are the weaknesses that make the present system of government unable to fulfill these goals?

“Internal convulsions” is most likely a reference to Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in Massachusetts in 1786 protesting the high levels of debt they incurred, many of them war veterans, and whose houses were being foreclosed on.

Hamilton was much more comfortable using military force than most of the other founders, even George Washington. Consider this quote also from Federalist 23: 
The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means to which may be necessary to satisfy them [Hamilton’s italics] (p. 116).

In Federalist 78, Hamilton gives his argument for judicial review. He says:
There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid (p. 120).
Also: 
A Constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents (p. 121).

How does this relate back to the idea of separation of powers and checks and balances, which define the American system?

Although Hamilton invokes “the people” to justify the power of the courts over the legislature, the courts were often times used to strike down laws that were seen as hurtful to business interests. Since the legislature was more democratic there were fears that popular interests would pass laws to redistribute wealth or tax profits more.

In current debates the role of courts in protecting moneyed interests against the rest of the population still seems to be strong. One of the most recent examples is the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which critics argue strengthens the influence of money in politics like this editorial from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22fri1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Next class we will talk about the opposition to the Federalists, and the beginnings of a political party system.

Assignment (Due 9/27): Choose one passage from Federalist 10 and 51 and write out the passage and interpret it, follow the same format as previous assignments. 


Saturday, September 6, 2014

9/6 Power

This will be the first online lecture, we will be in class again next week.

For today's class there were two essays we are going over, "Despite Negativity, Americans Mixed on Ideal Role of Gov't" by Frank Newport published by Gallup Inc., and the essay "Two Faces of Power" by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz. The essay comes from the American Political Science Review [abbreviated as APSR in the syllabus] the most influential journal in political science. Journals like this publish essays of contemporary scholars in the field (reviewed by other scholars), this particular essay is the most cited article of this journal.

In this essay, Bachrach and Baratz are concerned with analyzing political power. The concept of power is a central concept in political science, but its meaning is elusive. They begin from a previous discussion regarding the nature of power between sociologist C. Wright Mills and Robert Dahl, a leading "pluralist theorist" in political science. Bachrach and Baratz side with Dahl, arguing that Mills sees power in a one-dimensional sense, unlike the theory of pluralism which sees power divided up between different groups. Mills most famous work in this area was The Power Elite first published in 1956 at the height of the Cold War. Mills argued that political power in the U.S. was concentrated among what he called the "power elite" or the close-knit group made up of government bureaucracy, the military, and corporate elites. This view was affirmed by of all people Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Commander during World War II and President of the U.S. during the 1950s, who in his farewell address warned of the "military-industrial complex" which seems to parallel what Mills called the power elite.

The theory of pluralism, which is found in the Constitution, but developed in modern times by theorists like Dahl sees power as divided between different groups and institutions which provide a check and balance on each other. Bachrach and Baratz argue that Mills ignored empirical evidence which demonstrates that multiple groups are able to exercise some power over each other, power is defined as influence in the law-making process or decisions made by the government. Dahl's work shows the division of power between local communities in his book Who Governs? published a few years after Mills in 1961. However Dahl limits his research to the local community but Mills is analyzing the highest levels of political power.

Bachrach and Baratz still side with Dahl over Mills, but they argue that Dahl is also one-dimensional because he limits his definition of power to influence over important decisions. They call this the first face of power, but the second face of power has to take into consideration what they call the "institutionalization of bias" but is now generally referred to as "agenda-setting." To set the agenda means to determine what is considered an important issue and what are the appropriate choices for dealing with the issue. In other words, Dahl looks at the choices that people make in a political setting that sets limits on choices or decisions that can be made, but Bachrach and Baratz want to see who influences the limits of the choices that people can make and why some choices are available over others. To influence what is considered an important issue is one example of this whether it is the environment, drugs, abortion, or gay rights, before the 1970s these issues were not significantly debated in national politics. Another example could be the limited choices given by the Democratic and Republican parties both of whom are rated very low in terms of public opinion.

This idea was further expanded on by sociologist Steven Lukes who argued there are actually "three dimensions of power": the first being decisions (Dahl), the second is agenda-setting (Bachrach and Baratz), and the third is power over values or social norms. Lukes argues it is ultimately what people consider to be right or wrong, or normal, that will influence what choices are available and what decisions are made.

In political science one way of trying to interpret and measure political values is to conduct public opinion polls. A small sampling of a few thousand people are given a questionnaire to fill out, the results of which are combined and calculated in a way that is believed to reflect the general attitude of the entire population. Modern public opinion polls were created by George Gallup in the 1930s who also founded the organization that bears his name, still generally considered the most influential company that conducts these polls.

The results of this poll and short commentary reflect the generally negative opinions that Americans have towards the government. In terms of the three dimensions of power you can argue this establishes a chain linking agenda-setting and decision making. Negative attitudes towards the government would mean that choices for government action will be limited and that groups favoring more government intervention will have a harder time in the political process. Overall the poll shows that people are distrustful of the government but are also skeptical of taking away too much government power. In terms of political parties, when a party is in power they clearly support more government intervention, than when they are out of power and reverse their opinion on government intervention.

Assignment Due 9/13: For the first assignment which you will post on your blog choose a specific passage from either of today's readings. Write out the passage, then underneath write a short paragraph explaining the meaning of the passage you chose. Under that write another paragraph explaining what made you choose this passage and why you think it is important. This will be the format for all the assignments posted on the blog.

Next week we will be in class, please bring to class the essays by Bourne and Chesterton. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!