Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on My Return

I have been away from posting for about four weeks but now I am re-energized and ready to go again. I had to travel and I dealt with some family health issues - I still managed to read even more than usual and I had a great deal of time to think which surprisingly none of us seem to take the time to do anymore as we should.

I think getting away gave me me time to calm down from the rhetoric we hear and read so much of everyday and to get a better grip on the drivers behind the opinions, false statements and deluded lies so frequent in our discourse. I am also incredibly amused at how we "modern" Americans like to believe that past Americans, particularly our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, no pun intended) as well as our past Presidents and legendary political leaders, were more civil and less prone to mistakes and blunders than we are today. That certainly is not the case. I am also amused at all the issues over which we are said today to be in a "constitutional crisis" when the constitutional crisises of the past were much more serious and absolute threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than anything we see today.

One real Constitutional crisis of our early days was the passage of the Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act which resulted in the deportation or arrest of journalists, leaders of political parties and even members of Congress. From the excellent book "Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence" by A. J. Langguth (not on the web):

To Madison and Jefferson, the [Sedition] act was clearly designed to silence the press and intimidate Republican leaders through the elections of 1798 and 1800.

Prominent examples of arrests under the act included John Daly Burk, a Republican editor of the New York Time Price and Congressman Matthew Lyon (R - Vermont). Here is A.J. Langguth again:

Lyon had accused [President] Adams of avarice and a lust for power and adulation. During the [U.S. House] debate, he further outraged Federalists by spitting in the face of an opponent. Lyon was convicted of sedition, fined one thousand dollars, and sentenced to serve four months in an unheated jail cell usually occupied by runaway slaves.

[See note below.]

Other egregious examples of a real Constitutional crisis in our history would have to include Lincoln's treatment of the Constitution during the Civil War (which I think was justified) especially the suspension of habeas corpus as President Lincoln pleased and Roosevelt's internment policies of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Wonder what our current press geniuses would think about those days? Wire tapping a foreign originated telephone call under FISA might not seem such a big deal compared the past reality of going to jail for writing bad things about the President.

Special thanks to those who missed me.

Note: A $1000 fine in 1800 using a basis of the unskilled wage rate calculates to be in today's dollars approximately $266,300.

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