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Posts Tagged ‘Founding Fathers’

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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham, is a masterful biography because it lets the great man speak for himself.  Themes are followed from his beginning to his death so there is no single shot history here.  The later day critics who must nurture their contemporary biases will not like the book.  They will not want to acknowledge the whole of Jefferson.  Although their biases make for shrill voices, such do not carry far when confronted with scholarship of this quality.

If you enjoy Founding Fathers scholarship, and feel yourself better informed than most readers, don’t despair.  You will appreciate the insights and clarity of Meacham, and emerge better informed.  He writes with no revisionist’s ambitions or restorationist’s glory; he tells the story; the reader will make of it what he will.  Charles Marlin

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Imagine this, a banking and financier heavily involved in American and international derivatives during wartime and who constantly deceives friends, bankers, and foreign governments, a man active in illegal international arms sales, is now considered an American patriot and Founding Father.  It is both true and a joy to read about in Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye.

He managed the financial and diplomatic affairs of America under the Articles of Confederation which happens to be the period of the Revolutionary War.  Without him and his clever shuffling of the financial cards, General Washington would have had to flee to Spanish territory and later send for Martha.  Samuel Adams would have fled to the Caribbean.  It is impossible to know where James Madison would have gone.

In the nationalist and capable hands of Morris, derivatives kept the Continental Army in the field; and his insightful understanding of public credit and free capital markets set up America to become an international economic behemoth in the decades to follow.  He jeopardized his personal finances to keep the army clothed, fed, and provisioned; and unfortunately with peace, he pushed into devastating western land speculation in an effort to recoup his financial clout.  He failed and was put in debtor prison.  He was eventually freed but what he deserved was a presidential pardon and pension.

If you are building a Founding Fathers library, this is a must buy.  Charles Marlin

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courtJames MacGregor Burns has written a short and thoughtful sweep of the soiled history of the Supreme Court.  The soiling began immediately with George Washington and the Founding Fathers.  The three branches of the Federal government sort of looked like they were equal but were not.  The tricky problem of how to “check and balance” the judiciary was basically left to be worked out later.  Washington packed the court with Federalists because anyone not so identified was simply not his kind of man, and that set the pattern for all the succeeding presidents brilliant as well as average as well as incompetent.  Washington made the court political.

Then along came Chief Justice John Marshall, Federalist to the hilt, appointed by John Adams who saw no good in any man unless the man fully agreed with Adams.  Marshall knew the Constitution and he knew what he wanted.  To put his wants and the Constitution in the same holding bag he declared in Marbury v. Madison that the Supreme Court had a power the Founding Fathers had not written down, the power of judicial review.  He and his fellow political appointees on the Supreme Court had the final word on what laws were constitutional and just who had what powers to govern.  It was a nice piece of work that solved a serious weakness in the Constitution, but it left in place the problem of what to do with political mediocrity sitting for life on the Supreme Court.

Burns shows in Packing The Court: The Rise Of Judicial Power And The Coming Crisis Of The Supreme Court that presidents pick judges little better than racetrack betters place bets.  They rarely know the quality of the person but always know their political background.  They rarely know mediocrity from excellence.  They appoint life-holders who  become reactionary and ossified as the country changes, leaving them out of touch with new needs and realities.  Most appointments to the Supreme Court should never have been made.

In the final chapter, Burns writes, “Whether in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century or the Gilded Age at the turn of the twenty-first, the justices have most fiercely protected the rights and liberties of the minority of the powerful and the propertied.  Americans cannot look to the judicial branch for leadership.  They can not expect leadership from unelected and unaccountable politicians in robes.”  Up to and including this point, Burns is correct, but he goes on to add the weakest pages of the book.  His solution is not worth covering, but something does need to be done about our tolerance for slipshod Appellate and Supreme appointments.  The big, transformational philanthropic foundations, the American Bar Association, and the media need to do a better job of explaining what is at stake, identifying excellence that goes beyond a successful legal and political career, and educating the public on who is being appointed and how the appointees are performing.

What do we know about potential Obama appointees?  Of course the White House has a team vetting any number of people, but who is vetting for us, the mythic average citizen?  We don’t need a constitutional amendment shuffling power around.  We need public involvement in the vetting.  Mediocrity and rigidity when exposed to light create a strong odor that is often intolerable even to Federally elected officials.  Charles Marlin

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