Scipio Americanus: Understanding the American Ethos by analysis of the moral objectives
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
Marcus Tillius Cicero 106BC-43BC
Introduction: Astronomical Twilight
This compendium is written for children 12 years of age and older who endeavor, either through instruction or personal thought, to understand the American system of government—in particular its founding structure. I write this for our youth because I remember being taught the word Federalism, and being frustrated that I was unable to grasp exactly what Federalism was, I experienced self-pity. My instructor had informed me that the American structure of government was Federal and the historical documentation presented in the Federalist Papers verified this fact by virtue of its title.
Yet understanding the concept of Federalism made little sense to me even-though it had been the primary concept I was expected to glean from the course. I felt extremely foolish for being unable to grasp so essential a concept as my own country’s civic nature. Yet rather than choose frustration on account of my ignorance or to accept a position with an incomplete understanding, I refused to draw any deep conclusions. I left the class refusing to cement in my mind a fixed position or knowledge of exactly what Federalism was; and instead chose to take with me, for nearly 15 years, a two-part question—hoping one day by chance or determination, to answer it—What was Federalism and why is it so hard to understand?
When attending to the nature of federalism, it is important to understand that federalism was the system of government established by the Articles of Confederation and was the form of government sought on account of our republican ideals. Thus when historical rhetoric describes the struggle for adopting a new Constitution as a debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, the true nature of the American character is confounded. The debate, framed this way, implies that the main contest is whether to adopt a federal form of government or not and implies that the federal form did not all ready exist.
Such was not the case. The Articles of Confederation had established American Federalism as an unprecedented form of government! If, however, the implications of the rhetoric were true and federalism did not exist in the earlier compact, then adopting the Federalist view in the debate means that the Constitution establishes a federal government and its primary nature is federal. Such a conclusion follows from the framing of the debate as Federal versus Anti-Federal, and yet the validity of this historical rhetoric does not accord with the nature of the Anti-federalist complaints nor does the rhetoric describe the essential traits or goals of each group.
The Anti-federalists, in particular, were all staunch republicans; the very group that had declared independence against the German-descended, British Monarch. And' the same group that established American Foederalism by adopting the Articles of Confederation. Since Federalism had already been established and the “Anti-federalists” themselves were the republicans who established it, we can see that the debate over adopting the Constitution was not primarily about Federalism even though the Federalists and their historians framed the debate as a simple question of supporting Federalism or not.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived so dedicated can long endure…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
The nature of written law
When seeking to find one answer or conclusion toward what form of government the early Americans adopted, there is no fixed answer apart from observation of de jure constructions and de facto behavior. Having no fixed answer, however, is not the same as saying that the nature of our government is relative or that history itself offers no fixed opinion. On the contrary, history is clear: the American founders agreed to establish a Federal Republican system. We must endeavor to understand these concepts and measure the government so conceived against its actions in practice. Because, what our government came to be in its earliest formation and how our government behaves in the aftermath of its birth does not always accord in fact with a Federal government—republican in nature.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of earth, the separate and equal station of which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitles them…”
Declaration of Independence—Action of the Continental Congress, 1776
The cause of our Pathos
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be”
This dissonance, of what we expect nature to be and what is, causes our citizens great apprehension and makes understanding the essential nature of American identity next-to impossible. For example, what government so extolled for its virtue fails to act in accordance with its principles?
Such a question cuts to the heart of the indigestible contradiction causing dyspepsia concerning not only American Mythos but also our Ethos. We are thrown into confusion and often accept authority as its own testimony rather than suffer the discomfort of reconciling contradiction. An observation of the historical behavior of our government makes clear that the form of government our founders adopted de facto and exactly what they sought to establish in the language of the Constitution, de jure, are two different things requiring our attention.
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories…”
“To inform the minds of the people and to follow their will is the chief duty of those placed at their head.”
The purpose of this compendium is to teach the student about America’s identity as a foederal-republican system. We will achieve this by comparing exactly what type of government our founders agreed to in the language of the Constitution with the type of government that was produced in fact by its adoption and subsequent actions. By reaffirming the American mythos we will reestablish the American ethos; becoming, thereby, real men and woman of action, we will know full well the meaning and consequences of our behavior—and unafraid to meet the challenges so presented by history, we will overcome the American pathos.
De Facto, we see the contradictions with written language from the very foundation. The Declaration of Independence declares that an immoveable Providence made all men equal; yet in practice we see clearly that all men referred only to a specific group, and the contradiction in meaning makes the phrase “all men are created equal” into a pejorative. In many other ways, the contradiction in practice and law makes understanding the nature of our American experiment nearly impossible for the well-trained mind and even more difficult for the untrained student. We will discuss these contradictions as cases and compare the cases with the original arguments set forth by the Federalists and Republicans.
When historians describe the American experiment in highly civic and virtuous terms, and yet we observe opposite cases in reality, the blatant contradictions and lack of prescient clarification of the true nature of the American system leads to a dysgenic understanding of American identity and character. The American Ethos slowly degenerates through the offspring of ill-conceived ideas and devolved leaders.
If we were to strictly use terms to describe the nature of each sides’ primary arguments, the debate would more aptly be framed as nationalists versus republicanism. The framing of the debate as it stands historically, however, implies that the adoption of the Constitution signifies victory of one argument over the other and that the true meaning of the American System is found only on the winning side of the debate—namely the nationalist side. Such a conclusion plays upon the human need to reduce dissonance—particularly the dissonance created by what we have been told about the nature of America’s founding character and by the poorly transmitted meaning of the essential concepts of American history—namely federalism, republicanism, and representative democracy.
Because civic expression and reality do not mirror each other and because the poorly communicated ideas of America’s founding concepts cause anxiety, students of American politics resolve their tension by adopting one side of each framed debate—depending primarily on 1) their family’s political orientation, 2) their teacher’s political leaning or framing, or 3) their group's dynamics signified by the individual’s media and social networks.
Once we open it, the knowledge of our history and who we are directs a path toward intellectual, moral and economic freedom.
“And it may well be that my history will seem less easy to read because of the absence in it of a romantic element. It will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future. My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but what is done was done to last forever.”
History of the Peloponnesian War
What our Constitution meant or even means is wrapped up in key arguments of exactly what all the participants expected to achieve. Just knowing the definition of federalism, republicanism, or democracy is not enough to understand the richness of the American character and experience. We must understand the arguments and their referents to historical examples if we are to truly understand our identity. The answer of what form of government the United States adopted, first in the Articles of Confederation and later in the Constitution, lies only in understanding the arguments of the day; this is a valuable exercise because these same arguments arise out-of perennial questions that affect all societies from then ‘til now. Thus, you as a student of the American History must endeavor not for one opinion, not for a fixed understanding of what form of government we established in our founding, but to understand the arguments surrounding not only what form of government we got but also what form of government the participants wanted. Because, the government system that solves or answers the perennial questions justly is the government we seek to establish.
These self-same arguments (the ones that we will study) arise today and stand in front of us spoken by politicians, think tanks, and men who deny us knowledge of history—Men who fail to acknowledge that the very same arguments for and against government policy and consolidated governments were made not only in the founding of America but also in the historical artifacts of Africans, Natives, Greeks, Persians, Phoenicians, Asians and many societies from antiquity ‘til now.
The human experience stands before us written in history.
We have knowledge of the arguments, premises, and conclusions! More importantly we have a rich history that tells us the results of government behavior and policy. Yet in political conversation framed by the media and historical aphorisms, the participants and viewers of dialogue behave as if each new presentation has no fixed evidence for drawing conclusions. This situation could not be further from the truth, and certainly was not the situation that resulted in America’s adoption of the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution. The conclusions and arguments brought forth to establish the American system of government were based on thorough research of all the relevant evidence of history up until that time AND through deep philosophical debate on key premises of self-government and the nature of man himself.
Therefore, understanding these arguments are not only windows into America’s past they are windows into the whole history of mankind and his need to establish credible and peaceful systems of government. When you understand these arguments, you place yourself into a class of elite thinkers who, by their actions, shaped the course of mankind and our future!
“It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic; and such must always be the case, I believe, where the instruction which enlightens the understanding is not separated from the moral education.”
“In the United States, politics are the end and aim of education.”
Alex De Tocqueville—1835, ‘Democracy in America’
“You are either with the King or against him!”
The method of this compendium is to observe the arguments of the competing viewpoints found in the nationalists' and Feoderalists' (“Anti-Federalists) arguments and discern the actual rights that the language was attempting to protect. Something becomes unconstitutional or illegal by law when it offends the underlying right that the written letters attempt to protect. Even yet, our rights exist by virtue of being human not because they are expressed in writing as written laws, customs, rights, philosophies, or theories.
They, our rights, are fundamental to human nature and are unalienable. Our rights cannot be separated from us as humans. To do so would make us inhuman and those who chose to write laws to alienate us from our rights think that we, the common man, are animals--to be used and placed in cages. These individuals are so craven that they have shaped our minds through control over our systems of education and values such that we build our own pens.
The method of this compendium is to compare the actual behavior and actions of the government with the expressed meaning and purpose articulated by the arguments in our historical documents. When the government behaves in any manner, it is claiming a legally ordained right de facto whether or not the right or law exists in writing, in nature, or by virtue. When we let them behave in any manner, we retreat into our cages.
Let us, therefore, by chance or determination, answer it—What was Federalism and why is it so hard to understand?
Artifacts and expose' to follow.