Posts Tagged ‘James Madison’

The Worst Thing Every President Has Done

Last week, on Election Day, I found myself in a long Facebook comment thread about the virtues of voting. In it, someone said, “We have perhaps never had a president that has not committed…great acts of evil.” Of course, my first thought on reading that was That sounds like a fun game, and I decided to make a list of the worst* thing every president has done.

*The word “evil,” is of course loaded with all sorts of moral and metaphysical implications, so I’ve slightly reframed it into the “worst” acts every president has done. To be sure, many of these are clearly evil, but I wanted to include every president, and it’s hard to find something really “evil” that, say, William Henry Harrison did.

A quick note: First of all, I’m only including things they did as president. So the fact that Thomas Jefferson probably raped his slaves doesn’t count, though obviously that’s pretty bad. Secondly, I’m not a presidential historian, so my knowledge of some presidents is pretty limited. I welcome input on events I may have forgotten or never learned about in the first place. Lastly, this list is obviously subjective, based on my own moral judgment. As such, it’s weighted against things I find truly immoral, which usually involve the government killing or imprisoning people. Again, though, I welcome disagreement.

And now, the list: Continue reading

The U.S. Census

As a general rule, the Founding Fathers get way too much credit. The Declaration of Independence was basically plagiarized from John Locke; a lot of the Constitution is downright awful, either from a moral standpoint or a procedural one. Let’s not even get started on the Bill of Rights…

One thing the Founders do not get enough credit for, though, is the Census. In Clause 3 of Article I the Constitution mandates: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

It’s not flashy or glamorous, but it’s hard to understate its importance. People so often recall the grand philosophical ideas espoused by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et al., and as a result we tend to think of them more as political philosophers than as actual policy makers. This is understandable, but not really accurate. What the Founders were doing, after all, was establishing a country. So while Josh may be thrilled that the Founders decided to prohibit government regulation of speech, I’m more impressed by whomever stood up and said, “It would probably be really helpful if we counted each other every ten years or so.” Continue reading

Top 173 Things in History: #146. Shays’ Rebellion

Daniel Shays is living proof that one man can make a difference, provided that man is a veteran of warfare, has easy access to weaponry, and lives in a decentralized state.

Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-87 Massachusetts is by now little more than a sidebar in the formation of America. After all, the rebellion failed, and as we all know, history is written by the winners. But Shays’ influence extends far beyond the Berkshire Hills where his rebellion began. The brief backstory: Shays was a war vet and a farmer. Like most men with that twin designation, he had very little money, and the newly established government had little pity for his situation.

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Yes, We Really Need Checks and Balances

An_Advertisement_of_The_Federalist_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16960John’s Argument:
John S. has two main arguments against checks and balances: 1. They are outdated and no longer consistent with the Founding Fathers’ intentions and 2. They are overrated. The first is easier to respond to than the second since John’s second argument is more based on his personal preferences rather than any sort of logic or historical pattern. Nonetheless, I will respond to both.

Understanding the Meaning of Checks and Balances:
Checks and balances, according to his own cited definition, is a “principle of government under which separate branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are induced to share power.” In other words, checks and balances specifically deals with the interaction among multiple branches of government. The presidential veto and the Senate’s power of impeachment are two typical examples of checks and balances. Checks and balances were designed in order to moderate the excesses of democracy and prevent factions (groups of people united under the same interest adverse to the liberties of other individuals) from exercising influence under a concentration of power.
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Do We Really Need Checks and Balances?

Conventional wisdom dictates that, if the Founding Fathers did something, then it must be right (unless it involves having sex with your slaves). As Josh has been outlining, though, this may not be the case.

Checks and balances are particularly revered as one the Constitution’s best features (unlike those parts we give the Founders a mulligan on). They are considered both brilliantly realist and especially democratic. Checks and balances are said to maintain a government “of the people” while simultaneously preventing demagoguery and a concentration of power. As Madison says in Federalist No. 51: “Ambition should be made to counteract ambition…. You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Problems only arise when you want the government to, you know, do something. Like fix health care. Continue reading