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Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

4 guysTalk radio, poisonous emails, and Fox News are pesticides killing our understanding of what it means to believe in the American way of government.  To rid ourselves of these destructive chemicals we must educate ourselves in our history and culture.  While they make noise, we should reserve judgement until we are well grounded.  A superb starting point is Akhil Reed Amar, America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By.

The premise of the book is clear, “America’s unwritten Constitution encompasses not only rules specifying the substantive content of the nation’s supreme law but also rules clarifying the methods for determining the meaning of this supreme law.  Since the written Constitution does not come with a complete set of instructions about how it should be construed, we must go beyond the text to make sense of the text.”

The men most influential in molding the unwritten Constitution were William Blackstone, George Washington, John Marshall, and Earl Warren, each unique and fortuitous in time and role.  The birthing of the written Constitution sheds light on the fundamental principles of our government more so than any time since its ratification.  A quiet return to the study of our history will bring rich rewards in understanding past and present leaders, events, successes, failures, and public responses.

“Precisely,” writes the author in his Afterword, “because America’s unwritten Constitution and America’s written Constitution fit together to form a single system, no proper account of the former should ever lose sight of the latter: The terse text is inextricably intertwined with the implicit principles, the ordaining deeds, the lived customs, the landmark cases, the unifying symbols, the legitimating democratic theories, the institutional settlements, the framework statutes, the two-party ground rules, the appeals to conscience, the state-constitutional counterparts, and the unfinished agenda items that form much of American’s unwritten Constitution.”  Charles Marlin

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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generations, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf is a delightful day spent in the flower and vegetable beds, garden, and yard–no not yours, theirs.  Before your next planting of trees and shrubs, before your next visit to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, Peacefield, or the White House, please read this book.

You will enjoy the historical sites in ways you have not in the past because you now know how the Founding Fathers felt and thought of their landscapes.  You will look at your own landscape, large or small, with a renewed interest in making it uniquely yours and American  in a new-old sense.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were all farmers who worked for productivity, beauty, and  conservation.  They never stopped experimenting and improving their land.  They never stopped educating themselves, and were personally dismayed at the wasting practices and disregard for conservation of their fellow American farmers.

They collected and knew well all the latest farming, plant, and garden design books published in England and France.  Wherever they were, they inspected and noted what night be useful to them and to other farmers.  They shared plants and seeds with friends and correspondents across America and all over the world.  When Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to survey the New West, plants, seeds, and notations on soils were very high on their list of responsibilities.

John Bartram, the great American naturalist, should be listed among the Founding Fathers for his significant role in identifying American species and making them available not only in the colonies and to the other Founding Fathers, but to the English aristocracy who feverishly planted and designed their great estates around native American species.  American species were the rage.

The love for green America grows in fertile soil, sunlight, and shade in Wulf’s account of our revolutionary period.  You should expect to pick up new ideas and inspiration from the book.

When I started looking for images to use with this review, I happened to click on Trees of The Missouri State Campus–Springfield first, and stopped my search there.  Here are three images I thought would whet your appetite for Founding Gardeners.    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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