Blogging the Federalist Papers – #1 (Hamilton)

By , February 4, 2011 5:56 pm

I began blogging the Federalist Papers on January 19, with a post on #47, one of the reading assignments that week for my undergraduate class, American Government and Society. At the time, I had assigned #’s 10, 47, 48, 51, 70, and 78. In the rush of the time, I was only able to blog on #47. Things have settled down now, so I’ll begin in earnest and start at the beginning. Whether you find what I write interesting, I can promise you that the Federalist Papers are just that. And these times that’s a bonus because the Papers are already so essential to understanding the Founding; that they are also a fun read is delightful icing.

By the way, you can find many free copies of the Federalist Papers online in pdf format. For this exercise, I’m using the one put out by Penn State. For those who may not know, the Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the nome de plume Publius.

Hamilton begins #1 with a call for seriousness in the public’s examination of the new Constitution recently drafted in Philadelphia, and he’s not shy in proclaiming the importance of what is at stake:

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

He continues,

. . . a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

Possibly because he feels the moment is so important, he’s also not shy about calling to account those who oppose the ratification of the new document, especially those whose motives maybe be base and who want to make sure they can remain big fish in a small pond because they can’t be sure they’ll be allowed to swim in the big one contemplated by the Constitution. Thus he cautions the public to be aware of

a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

He doesn’t stop there, of course. Hamilton is careful to recognize that not all who oppose the new form of government do so out of base motives, that some, even many, do so “actuated by upright intentions”; indeed, he admits,

Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.

But in admitting this, he concedes no ground. He goes on the criticize the opposition’s “loud . . . declamations and . . . bitter . . . invectives.” And then, in a flourish about the value of good government unjustly stigmatized by people he characterizes has having “an over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people,” he argues that we forget that

the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. . . . that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants. (emphasis supplied)

I think I know what he means and who those words would apply to today. What do you think?

So Now the Constitutionality of Obamacare is “A Very Difficult Question”?

By , February 4, 2011 12:53 pm

For the longest time, supporters of Obamacare in general and the individual mandate in particular have criticized constitutional arguments against the law as unserious. Declares Edwin Chemerinsky, dean and distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law,

Those opposing health care reform are increasingly relying on an argument that has no legal merit: that the health care reform legislation would be unconstitutional.

That’s changed, as Josh Marshall noted in December.

And with that, the goal posts move. Now the argument is that the recent Federal District Court rulings against the bill will move slowly through the appellate court system, allowing support for the bill to grow. In fact, that’s the government’s strategy at this point, according to the report. Will the stall work? It just might. The report in Bloomberg quotes Sidley Austin attorney Carter Phillips opining on the probability that the Supreme Court will fast track the cases (2 for, 2 against at this point). With certitude that would make Chemerinsky proud, Phillips, who has argued more than 60 cases before the Court, says the chances are “zero.” And why does he say that?

I do not think the court will be inclined to decide this question without the benefit of having the views of at least one and probably more than one court of appeals on a very difficult question of constitutional law. (emphasis mine)

So arguments that once had no merit are now “very difficult question[s].” Wonder what Chemerinsky thinks?

On Teaching Writing

By , February 4, 2011 10:50 am

Among other things, Roger Rosenblatt teaches writing at Stony Brook University. He talks about teaching in a recent interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Two key paragraphs hit home, the first, because it has already caused me to raise the bar for myself:

Who taught you to write?
I went to the the Friends Seminary in New York, which was a dreadful school largely, except for one fellow named Jon Beck Shank. He was a Mormon who had come out of the army, went to Yale, and was very interested in theater. He gave us Canada Mints to taste and said, “Taste this and write down what it tastes like,” so we would learn to write metaphor and simile. He had us read poetry, a great deal of poetry so as to appreciate original language. When we studied Shakespeare he had us build a model of the Globe Theater. He just did things that no other teacher would have thought of doing to get into our minds so that we would begin to understand that writing was something that was important to our lives. I was very very lucky to have had him. He meant the world to me.

The second, because it reminds me that I matter as a writing teacher:

What have your students taught you?
That they need me. They need me and my ilk. They need teachers who value them and their lives. Because writing is a validation of their lives and they know it. Whether they’re writing poetry, essays, or stories, it doesn’t matter. Every writing teacher gives the subliminal message, every time they teach: “Your life counts for something.” In no other subject that I know of is that message given.

I learned nothing new in either of these paragraphs, but I needed reminding.

By the way, I have never heard of Jon Beck Shank until today. A Mormon myself, I’m interested in knowing more.

Constitutional Law Egyptian Style

By , February 4, 2011 9:59 am

Interesting op-ed in The New York Times by Tarek Masoud, an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Bottom line, he writes that Mubarak must stay in power for at least a little longer, so the Egyptian government can work its way towards the necessary reforms in accordance with Egypt’s constitution. As Masoud explains, the orderly transition that everyone, including the Obama administration is asking for

. . . requires that Mr. Mubarak stay on, but only for a short time, to initiate the election of an entirely new Parliament that could then amend all the power out of the presidency or even abolish it . . .

. . . the Egyptian Constitution . . . gives the power to dissolve Parliament and call new elections only to an elected president. Mr. Mubarak’s successor, as an acting president, would be specifically prohibited from getting the parliamentary elections under way. A new Parliament is crucial to democratic reform, because only Parliament has the power to defang the Egyptian presidency, stripping it of its dictatorial powers through constitutional amendment.

Interesting dilemma. Hope the demonstrators have read and understand their Constitution.

Violence and Protests in Egypt. Journalists Hardest Hit.

By , February 4, 2011 9:44 am

Journalists covering the revolt against President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt have found themselves the targets of widespread anger and suspicion in an apparently coordinated campaign that is intended to stifle the flow of news that could further undermine the government.

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