ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Because the Constitution didnt include a syllable about such an institution, Hamilton, with
his agile legal mind, pounced on Article I, Section 8, which endowed Congress with
all powers necessary and proper to perform tasks assigned to it in the national charter.
Because the Constitution empowered the government to collect taxes and borrow money,
Hamilton argued, a central bank might usefully discharge such functions.
The Founding Fathers Versus the Tea Party
By Ron Chernow
23 September 2010
Like many popular insurgencies in American history, the Tea Party movement has attempted to enlist the founding fathers as fervent adherents to its cause. The very name invokes those disguised patriots who clambered aboard ships in Boston Harbor in December 1773 and dumped chests of tea into the water rather than submit to the hated tea tax. At Tea Party rallies, marchers brandish flags emblazoned with the Revolutionary slogan Dont Tread on Me while George Washington impersonators and other folks in colonial garb mingle with the crowds.
Many Tea Party candidates and activists have tried to seize the moral high ground by explicitly identifying with the founders. Sharron Angle, who is mounting a spirited run against Harry Reid for a Senate seat from Nevada with Tea Party support, bristled at Mr. Reids contention that she is overly conservative. Im sure that they probably said that about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, she protested. And, truly, when you look at the Constitution and our founding fathers and their writings … you might draw those conclusions: That they were conservative. They were fiscally conservative and socially conservative.
The Tea Party movement has further sought to spruce up its historical bona fides by laying claim to the United States Constitution. Many Tea Party members subscribe to a literal reading of the national charter as a way of bolstering their opposition to deficit spending, bank bailouts and President Obamas health care plan. A Tea Party manifesto, called the Contract from America, even contains a rigid provision stipulating that all legislation passed by Congress should specify the precise clause in the Constitution giving Congress the power to pass such a lawan idea touted Thursday by the House Republican leadership.
But any movement that regularly summons the ghosts of the founders as a like-minded group of theorists ends up promoting an uncomfortably one-sided reading of history.
The truth is that the disputatious founderswho were revolutionaries, not choir boys seldom agreed about anything. Never has the country produced a more brilliantly argumentative, individualistic or opinionated group of politicians. Far from being a soft-spoken epoch of genteel sages, the founding period was noisy and clamorous, rife with vitriolic polemics and partisan backbiting. Instead of bequeathing to posterity a set of universally shared opinions, engraved in marble, the founders shaped a series of fiercely fought debates that reverberate down to the present day. Right along with the rest of America, the Tea Party has inherited these open-ended feuds, which are profoundly embedded in our political culture.
As a general rule, the founders favored limited government, reserving a special wariness for executive power, but they clashed sharply over those limits.
The Constitutions framers dedicated Article I to the legislature in the hope that, as the branch nearest the people, it would prove pre-eminent. But Washington, as our first president, quickly despaired of a large, diffuse Congress ever exercising coherent leadership. The first time he visited the Senate to heed its advice and consent, about a treaty with the Creek Indians, he was appalled by the disorder. This defeats every purpose of my coming here, he grumbled, then departed with what one senator branded an air of sullen dignity. Washington went back one more time before dispensing with the Senates advice altogether, henceforth seeking only its consent.
President Washingtons Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, wasted no time in testing constitutional limits as he launched a burst of government activism. In December 1790, he issued a state paper calling for the first central bank in the countrys history, the forerunner of the Federal Reserve System.
Because the Constitution didnt include a syllable about such an institution, Hamilton, with his agile legal mind, pounced on Article I, Section 8, which endowed Congress with all powers necessary and proper to perform tasks assigned to it in the national charter. Because the Constitution empowered the government to collect taxes and borrow money, Hamilton argued, a central bank might usefully discharge such functions. In this way, he devised a legal doctrine of powers implied as well as enumerated in the Constitution.
Aghast at the bank bill, James Madison, then a congressman from Virginia, pored over the Constitution and could not discover in it the power to incorporate a bank. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was no less horrified by Hamiltons legal legerdemain. He thought that only measures indispensable to the discharge of enumerated powers should be allowed, not merely those that might prove convenient. He spied how many programs the assertive Hamilton was prepared to drive through the glaring loophole of the necessary and proper clause. And he prophesied that for the federal government to take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn . . . is to take possession of a boundless field of power.
After reviewing cogent legal arguments presented by Hamilton and Jefferson, President Washington came down squarely on Hamiltons side, approving the first central bank.
John Marshall, the famed chief justice, traced the rise of the two-party system to that blistering episode, and American politics soon took on a nastily partisan tone. That the outstanding figures of the two main factions, Hamilton and Jefferson, both belonged to Washingtons cabinet attests to the fundamental disagreements within the country. Hamilton and his Federalist Party espoused a strong federal government, led by a powerful executive branch, and endorsed a liberal reading of the Constitution; although he resisted the label at first, Washington clearly belonged to this camp.
Jefferson and his Republicans (not related to todays Republicans) advocated states rights, a weak federal government and strict construction of the Constitution. The Tea Party can claim legitimate descent from Jefferson and Madison, even though they founded what became the Democratic Party. On the other hand, Washington and Hamiltonfounders of no mean statureembraced an expansive view of the Constitution. That would scarcely sit well with Tea Party advocates, many of whom adhere to the judicial doctrine of originalismi.e., that any interpretation of the Constitution must abide by the intent of those founders who crafted it.
Of course, had it really been the case that those who wrote the charter could best fathom its true meaning, one would have expected considerable agreement about constitutional matters among those former delegates in Philadelphia who participated in the first federal government. But Hamilton and Madison, the principal co-authors of The Federalist, sparred savagely over the Constitutions provisions for years. Much in the manner of Republicans and Democrats today, Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians battled over exorbitant government debt, customs duties and excise taxes, and the federal aid to business recommended by Hamilton.
No single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought with such skill and ingenuity. Those lofty figures, along with the seminal document they brought forth, form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans. They should be used for the richness and diversity of their arguments, not tampered with for partisan purposes. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl once famously asserted that history was an argument without an end. Our contentious founders, who could agree on little else, would certainly have agreed on that.
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Justice Ginsburg Cited Romneycare As A Reason For Upholding Obamacare
In her opinion of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act on Thursday
, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made note of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care law as a reason why the individual mandate was constitutional. While Ginsburg was a part of the majority opinion, she had differing reasons as to why the mandate was constitutional. The rest of the justices found that under the Commerce Clause, the mandate requiring all U.S. citizens to buy health insurance was not valid. They upheld it as a tax.
Ginsburg, however, said it should have been upheld under the Commerce Clause, and explained how Congress followed Massachusetts’ lead in preventing only sick people from
signing up for health insurance: “Massachusetts, Congress was told, solved the adverse selection problem. By requiring most residents to obtain insurance … the Commonwealth ensured that insurers would not be left with only the sick as customers. As a result, federal lawmakers observed, Massachusetts succeeded where other States had failed.”
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Chief Justice Roberts Provides Swing Vote To Uphold Health Care Law28 June 2012The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obamas health care overhaul. The decision means the historic overhaul will continue to go into effect over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care. The ruling also handed Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts announced the courts judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Roberts provided the swing vote to uphold the presidents health care law as the court ruled 5-4. The courts four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
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Supreme Court on health care law: How they voted, what they wroteThe U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation
the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Actin a narrow 5-4 ruling.
The court’s ruling upheld the law’s central provision
a requirement that all people have health insurance.
The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. Section 5000A would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command. The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. Section 5000A is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax.
The Framers created a Federal Government of limited powers, and assigned to this Court the duty of enforcing those limits. The Court does so today. But the Court does not express an opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.
Upholding the individual mandate under the Taxing Clause does not recognize any new federal power. It determines that Congress has used an existing one.
Whether federal spending legislation crosses the line from enticement to coercion is often difficult to determine, and courts should not conclude that legislation is unconstitutional on this ground unless the coercive nature of an offer is unmistakably clear. In this case, however, there can be no doubt.Justices
The values that should have determined our course today are caution, minimalism, and the understanding that the Federal Government is one of limited powers. But the Court’s ruling undermines those values at every turn. Justice
Imposing a tax through judicial legislation inverts the constitutional scheme, and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry.Justice
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Obama: Supreme Court ruling on health care a victory for all AmericansBill Mears and Tom Cohen28 June 2012In a landmark ruling that will impact the November election and the lives of every American, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the controversial health care law championed by President Barack Obama. The narrow 5-4 ruling was a victory for Obama
but also will serve as a rallying issue for Republicans calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act passed by Democrats in 2010. An administration official described the White House reaction as elation, while GOP opponents criticized the high court’s reasoning and promised an immediate repeal effort. “Today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law,” Obama said in a televised White House statement. Certain Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign reported a fund-raising spike of $300,000 just after the high court’s decision was announced, and Romney said defeating Obama in November is the only way to get rid of the law despised by conservatives as a costly expansion of government. Thursday’s decision impacts how Americans get medicine and health care, and also provides new court guidelines on federal power.cnn
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Supreme Court upholds Obamacare
Chief Justice Roberts Provides Swing Vote in 5-4 Decision
28 June 2012
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Obama Campaign Says It Outraised Romney Post-Supreme Court Decision, But Wont Give Specifics29 Jun 2012President Obamas campaign claims to have outraised Mitt Romney in online donations since the Supreme Courts 5-4 decision to uphold the presidents health law was handed down. But they wont say by how much.
Mitt Romney campaign reports that they have received 47,000 donations to the sum of $4.6 million dollars in support of a repeal of the law, and that the number is still growing. . . . Thats not the point, said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. Democrats want to focus instead on their argument that Romney hasnt offered specifics about how would replace the law if elected.
Its perverse that Mitt Romney wont share details about what hed do for the millions hed leave uninsured or at the whims of insurance companies when he kills Obamacare dead, but hell share the hourly details of his fundraising after the Supreme Court ruling, said LaBolt. Weve outraised the Romney campaign in that time period but thats not the pointour supporters are more committed than ever to ensuring that insurance companies cant drop coverage for people who get sick or discriminate against people with preexisting conditions by reelecting the President.
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Dont be fooled Americans are starting to embrace ObamaCareJuan Williams
3 July 2012
Watching President Obama’s response to Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of his health care reform law, I could not help but think how different things would be if he had given the same speech two years ago. He began his remarks from the White House by saying the Court had reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in Americain the wealthiest nation on Earthno illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin. Reaffirmed?
If you ask most Americans, they will tell you the president and his party never made that point in the first place. All the talk was about Cornhusker Kickbacks and Chicago-style politics, to win votes in Congress. GOP critics hammered the plan as a big government takeover and socialism.
But with last weeks Supreme Court ruling in favor of the health care plan public opinion on the plan is starting to become more favorable.
On Sunday Reuters released a poll showing 48 percent of registered voters now back the bill. That is up five percent since the ruling. That includes a bump in support among independent voters from 27 percent to 38 percent. And even opposition among Republicans, who overwhelmingly hate it, went down five percentage points from 86 percent to 81 percent.
And those numbers are likely to keep rising. Also, GOP critics are now on the defensive. They have to talk about specific benefits in the law and how they could do better if they repeal the law. That is going to be hard for Republicans once Americans personally start reaping the benefit of the law. . . .
Chief Justice John Roberts has not only given ObamaCare the imprimatur of constitutionality, he has given the president license to brag about his bill on the campaign trail.
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What Hath Roberts Wrought?George Lakoff, Elisabeth Wehling3 July 2012What Roberts accomplished on one issue was to enshrine two conservative ideologies
without the Democrats even noticing while they were cheering. He did this by using the Court’s ability to turn metaphors into law. He accomplished this with two votes.
First he was the swing vote that imposed the idea that Health Care Is a Product and set the stage for a possible general principle: The Interstate Commerce Clause governs the buying and selling of products and the government cannot force anyone . . . to buy a product (real or metaphorical).
Second, Roberts was the swing vote on the ruling that saved the Affordable Health Care Act by creating a precedent for another metaphorical legal principle: A fee or payment imposed by the government is a tax.
In short, in his votes on one single issue, Roberts single-handedly extended the power of the Court to turn metaphor into law in two conservative directions.
Many important laws, especially in the area of environmental protection, use the interstate commerce clause. The Court in this session held that the EPA cannot keep a property owner from developing, and hence destroying, a wetland on their property. Will the general principle that comes out of the latest Supreme Court decisions be seen to be that the Commerce Clause cannot be used to preserve the environment but only to govern commercial transactions? The Endangered Species Act is based on the Commerce Clause. Will the above principle be used to kill the Endangered Species Act?
Given the conservatives’ success in rousing public ire against taxes, will all fees and other government payments be argued to be taxes that should be minimized, eliminated, or not even proposed?
Roberts is no fool. In one stroke, he both protected the Court from charges of ideology and became categorized as a moderate, while enshrining two metaphor-based legal principles that can be used to promote and implement conservative policy in the future, with devastating broad effects.
We are as happy as other Democrats that the Affordable Care Act has mostly been declared constitutional. But we caution Democrats throughout the country to keep an eye out for conservative uses of the two metaphors that played the central role in the latest Supreme Court rulingsand for ways to keep them from being extended to impose conservative beliefs and doctrines.
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Remember Thomas Jefferson’s BetrayalBill Moyers02 July 12Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5,000 acres, and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics.
Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the othersscores of slaveswere sold to pay off his debts.
Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed “a happy talent for composition,” but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote “all men are created equal,” he also believed black people were inferior to white people. Inferior, he wrote, “to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.
So forcefully did he state the case, and so great was his standing among the slave-holding class, that after his death the black abolitionist David Walker would claim Jefferson’s argument had “injured us more, and has been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us,” for it had “. . . sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity.”
So, the ideal of equality Jefferson proclaimed, he also betrayed. He got it right when he wrote about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as the core of our human aspirations. But he lived it wrong, denying to others the rights he claimed for himself. And that’s how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of allthe war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live.
So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales. But hold this thought as well: that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired. If they were to look upon us today, they most likely would think as they did then, how much remains to be done.readersupportednews
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Jefferson and his estate “disposed of” 600 slaves in his lifetime. He was a slave trader. This explains his opposition to the African Slave Trade. Like many Virginians he wanted to maintain prices in the slave market.wjm
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By Ron Chernov
Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull. A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man. A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life. Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master. At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency.
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By Ron Chernov
. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all. Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernows biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of todays America is the result of Hamiltons countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. To repudiate his legacy, Chernow writes, is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world. Chernow here recounts Hamiltons turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washingtons aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.
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By Roger W. Wilkins
In Jefferson’s Pillow, Wilkins returns to America’s beginnings and the founding fathers who preached and fought for freedom, even though they owned other human beings and legally denied them their humanity. He asserts that the mythic accounts of the American Revolution have ignored slavery and oversimplified history until the heroes, be they the founders or the slaves in their service, are denied any human complexity. Wilkins offers a thoughtful analysis of this fundamental paradox through his exploration of the lives of George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, and of course Thomas Jefferson. He discusses how class, education, and personality allowed for the institution of slavery, unravels how we as Americans tell different sides of that story, and explores the confounding ability of that narrative to limit who we are and who we can become. An important intellectual history of America’s founding, Jefferson’s Pillow will change the way we view our nation and ourselves.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 29 June 2012
Related files: The Liberal Republicanism of Gordon Wood