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Men of Extraordinarily High Caliber: The Story of America [Ep. 9]

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 3, 2023 3:01 am

Men of Extraordinarily High Caliber: The Story of America [Ep. 9]

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 3, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we learn how the framers of the Constitution were not ordinary men. Hillsdale College professor and author of Land of Hope Bill McClay tells the story of the start of the Constitutional Convention and how the men there set out to create a document meant to last.

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Requires credit qualification and 36-month phone financing agreement. And we return to our American stories. Up next, another installment of our series about us. The story of America with Dr. Bill McClay, author of Land of Hope and the terrific Young Readers Edition. After gaining our independence, we operated under a document called the Articles of Confederation, but it wasn't working out. So a group of men decided to look into the situation in Philadelphia. Let's get into the story.

Here's Bill McClay. The Spanish had control of the Mississippi River. The British needed to be moved out.

The American patriot soldiers were often not paid, particularly toward the end of the war, in actual cash, but through extensions of credit. They were having their land taken away from them through foreclosures, being executed by bankers who didn't go to war. This is a situation that is just tailor-made for high degree of tension, high degree of social tension, and possible revolutionary or rebellious sentiment. And there were pockets of rebellion. There was a particularly notable rebellion in western Massachusetts, where a war hero named Daniel Shays led a march to shut down the Supreme Court, raid the arsenal in Springfield. And that was put down, but it seemed to be a harbinger of things to come. George Washington himself was particularly alarmed by Shays' rebellion and feared for the new nation's future. Shays' rebellion wasn't that important in and of itself, but it was important for what it indicated, for it clarified a perception that reform was not just desirable, but imperative and had to happen. There's a lot of hubbub. People weren't just sitting back in their silk robes, in their parlors, discussing issues of political philosophy.

They were on the front lines. They were looking at how are we going to hold this thing together, this glorious revolution we fought so hard, bled for? How are we going to make it work?

Is this all going to be for nothing? Is this all just going to blow apart because of economic problems and the incapacities of the government that we chose? These are not armchair philosophers. These are people who were men of action, and they acted very quickly. Even as Washington was writing about his fears, there was a group of individuals led by his brilliant young aide, Alexandra Hamilton, who were seeing about forming a constitutional convention that would examine the articles, and four months later, we had a new constitution for the United States. And this constitution, here's the wonderful part, is they acted quickly to deal with an urgent situation and created the world's oldest constitution.

Isn't that amazing? This wasn't a fly-by-night thing. This was something that has lasted even unto the present day.

Why? One thing we know is they were men of extraordinarily high caliber and very young men of extraordinarily high caliber. Just to see what counts as older, George Washington was 55. That counts as older. Roger Sherman was 66. Benjamin Franklin was a sprightly 81.

And I do say sprightly. But the average age was 42. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris of New York. Wilson was 42.

Morris was 35. James Madison, who we call the architect of the Constitution. James Madison, just 36 years old. It almost seems miraculous, almost miraculous, that such an assemblage of people could have been gathered up in these rebellious colonies. And in a funny way, it's a tribute to England. To England, these men had all been formed by British institutions, British ideas, British history. And remember, the beginning of the revolution that began with the notion that we're rebelling because we're being deprived our rights as Englishmen. That's part of the interesting irony of this is we have exceptional men because the entity against which they rebelled was itself exceptional. You know, what you'd expect from a youthful group is kind of wild ideas, utopianism.

You wouldn't expect sober, tried, tested wisdom. But that's what the Constitutional Convention produced, a sober, wise, tempered document that showed a great deal of foresight and a great deal of realism about human nature. Madison played the leading role in the thinking through of the structure of the Constitution. He understood this was a big deal. This was a moment in history. Was it just a moment for the new nation? It was something for the whole world. He and Hamilton both declared that this attempt, this experiment they were undertaking would decide forever the fate of Republican government. Talking about raising the bar, that's raising it a very, very high indeed.

It's not just how can we get through this mess that we're in, but let's create a government that will be a model for a Republican government because we have the chance to do it. And the chance may never come again. Not a chance like the chance we had.

Not a chance like the chance we had. They were all excited about this possibility. John Adams, who was definitely on the sober side, he wrote an essay called Thoughts on Government not long before the Constitutional Convention began. And let me quote from it rather extensively here, because I think it gives you some ideas of the general thinking of the framers coming into this great event. I hear he's talking about why the goal of politics should be to promote happiness and that happiness depends on the structure of government. That's not an everyday thought, is it?

Here's what he says. The divine science of politics is the science of social happiness and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government, which are generally institutions that last for many generations. There can be no employment more agreeable to a benevolent mind than a research after the best. Alexander Pope, the poet, flattered silence too much when he said, For forms of government let fools contest, that which is best, administer is best, that which is best administer. And now here's Adams on why some forms of government are better than others in disagreeing with Pope. Nothing can be more fallacious than these words of Pope, but poets read history to collect flowers, not fruits.

They attend to fanciful images, not the effects of social institutions. Nothing is more certain from the history of nations and the nature of man than that some forms of government are better fitted for being well administered than others. We ought to consider what is the end of government before we determine which is the best form. What's the end of government? What's it for?

What's its purpose? Upon this point, all speculative politicians will agree that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle, it will follow that the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word, happiness to the greatest number of persons and to the greatest degree is the best. Now, this emphasis on happiness didn't mean that happiness was something separate from virtue. Oh, no, honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed, the former is but a part of the latter and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness. It's a very interesting statement.

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You won't regret it. When we last left off, Bill was reading from John Adams' essay, Thoughts on Government. Let's continue with that reading. There is no good government, but what is Republican? The very definition of a republic is an empire of laws and not of men. That, as a republic, is the best of governments. So that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or in other words, that form of government, which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics.

And that's not all. Adams also touched on the issue of why a representative government is a core feature. A core feature of a republic, of a modern republic. Republics could be direct democracies and often were in antiquity. The framers had all done their homework. They are extremely well educated.

They studied history in order to evade history. As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society inhabiting an extensive country, it's impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. But by what rules shall you choose your representatives? Agree upon the number and qualifications of persons who shall have the benefit of choosing or annex the privilege to the inhabitants of a certain extent of ground. One thing notable here, he does say that we would depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. That does not say the most wealthy and powerful.

It's the most wise and good. Those are the people who are most likely to be in possession of virtue and to draw upon their virtuous nature in order to govern. Now, here's Adams on the separation of power within the legislature itself. What we call the separation of powers. Not only must we divide power between different branches of government, but we should also divide the legislative power itself. Most of the foregoing reasons apply equally to prove that the legislative power ought to be more complex, to which we may add that if the legislative power is less than power, if the legislative power is wholly in one assembly, an executive in another, or in a single person, these two powers will oppose and innervate upon each other until the contest shall end in war and the whole power, legislative and executive, be usurped by the strongest. There's some very practical wisdom there. If you make it too difficult, make the separation of powers too stark, the contending powers will not just seek compromise.

They will seek one to dominate over the other. Very practical wisdom on Adams's part. Now, here he is on the concept of an independent judiciary. The dignity and stability of government at all its branches, the morals of the people in every blessing of society depends so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, depends so much that the judicial power ought to be distinct from the legislative and executive and independent upon both, so that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be a checks upon that.

The judges therefore should always be met of learning and experience the laws of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, wholeness, and attention, to the ends they should hold as states for life in their offices, or in other words, their commission should be during good behavior. In other words, they can't easily be removed. They have to be shooting the place up with six guns blazing in order to be removed from office. It's a lifetime guarantee of independence from political power. President can't remove them, the Congress can't remove them. So you have a government of independent power shaping up a legislative branch that will be divided within itself. And independent judiciary, we haven't had much talk yet about an executive that will come later.

So here's how Adams closes things out. A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people and inspires them with a conscious dignity, becoming free men. A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people and inspires them with a conscious dignity, becoming free men. A general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. The elevation of sentiment is the same as the elevation of power. Sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. The elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government makes the common people brave and enterprising.

That ambition, which is inspired by it, makes him sober, industrious, and frugal. You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest law givers of antiquity would have wished to have lived. How about that?

Let me repeat that one. You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest law givers of antiquity would have wished to have lived. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government more than of air, soil, or climate for themselves or their children. When? Before the present, EPICA had three millions of people full of power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive? When? When before the present, EPICA?

It's a great question, and it underscores the sense of momentous possibility. The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia says it best about Adams's thoughts on government. Those principles were that happiness is the end of government, consent the means, and sovereignty of the people were the foundation. You can see in those words, both the Declaration of Independence, consent the means, sovereignty of the people, happiness, the end of government. You can see the Declaration there in those words, but you also can see the document that emerges. By the way, I should mention, since we've given so much time to John Adams, that one of his many distinctions is that he was one of the authors of the Constitution of the state of Massachusetts, which was drafted in 1780 and continues largely in effect in the Constitution of that state today.

That's quite a record. And you've been listening to Professor Bill Maclay. He's a professor at Hillsdale College, and all of our history segments, all of what we do here as it relates to history, is brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College. Where you can go to study all the things that matter in life, all the things that are beautiful in life. By the way, if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu. This Adams speech is just remarkable that there were men who were writing and thinking like that, and not just one or two, but the assembly of talent and the assemblage of talent in Philadelphia that summer to solve a problem, but yet make a document that lasts this state document that lasts this long, the longest constitution and the oldest, the oldest constitution in the world still standing. When we come back, more of this remarkable story on Our American Stories. Hello there.

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The Golden Bachelor, new Thursdays on ABC and stream next day on Hulu. And we return to Our American Stories and our series about us, the story of America, with Hillsdale College professor and author of the fantastic book Land of Hope and the young readers edition, Bill McCleay. When we last left off, Bill had just finished reading John Adams' essay on American history. He wrote the first book in his life, The American History, and the second book in his life, The American History. Bill McCleay, when we last left off, Bill had just finished reading John Adams' essay, Thoughts on Government, an essay which strikes at the heart of what the men in Philadelphia were looking to create, the constitution they were aiming to create. Let's return to the story. Here again is Bill McCleay. Now, let's talk a little bit about the question of power, which is so important to the founders, dispersion of power.

How are you going to do that? Well, one of the ways we've already seen you protect the independence of the states, which varied because of their climate and soil and location, their economies, their local economic prospects, their economic interests. Their economies, their local economic prospects, their populations, all sorts of diversity at the time of the nation's founding that had to be managed. But that diversity could be an advantage too, an advantage in the sense that it had a way of dispersing power. If the states were all more or less sovereign, more or less independent, then their diversity they could sustain.

So we have that built in to the whole project. Checks and balances. This was very important to have the states be a check on the national government, the national government in some cases on the states, and the national government to have checks within itself. So what they did was they developed what we call a federal system. I got to say this could be confusing because we think of the federal government.

We think of Washington. We think of the very idea of power being concentrated in one place. But the word federal actually means the opposite of that. A federal system is one in which power is distributed widely. A federal system was a way of trying to reconcile unity and diversity, national governance and local governance. Reconcile those two things, which seemed to be in opposition.

Is there a way you can kind of keep both at the same time? That's what the federal system was an effort to do, to keep both the advantages of local governance and reconcile them with the necessary innovations involved in a stronger national government. One of the chief goals. The convention was held in the secret to exempt it from the kind of political pressures and manipulations that might come from outside. You might think of them being convened in the same way that a jury is sequestered in a very high profile, high stakes trial. There were several big arguments. Maybe the biggest was a question of representation. How would the states be represented? You know, the articles, it was one state, one vote. That meant that something that Virginia wanted could be vetoed by something that Rhode Island wanted or didn't want.

That's a very difficult system if you want to get anything done. And Virginia was far and away the most populous state and the most populated states wanted to have representation by population. Sort of the basic one man, one vote. And the smaller states, which were represented by Patterson of New Jersey, wanted representation by states according to the pattern set in the Articles of Confederation. That Articles of Confederation was a confederation of states, not a nation of individual people.

So you had two very different ideas here. It was a clash, not just of interest, but of principles, although the principles were undergirded by the interests of the different. And of course, the great solution to this, presented by Roger Sherman, an elder statesman, was, and we call it the Great Compromise. It was a bicameral to house legislative body, a house of representatives. Two house legislative body, a house of representatives would follow the principle of representation by population, and the Senate would represent the states. Each state would have two votes. Virginia would have two votes. Massachusetts would have two votes. New York would have two votes. Rhode Island would have two votes.

Everybody had two votes, irrespective of their size. And then in the House, it would be representation by population. So the big states, population-wise, would be much more strongly represented, and their interests more strongly represented in the House. And the people, the average people, would be represented in the House, because House members would serve two years, and senators would serve for six. That meant a lot more time for quiet, peaceful, sober deliberation for senators. Then for House of Representatives members who were constantly thinking about their re-election. So the Senate got duties of things like the confirmation of appointments to the executive branch, to the Supreme Court, and the ratification of treaties.

House, on the other hand, was where appropriations bills would originate. They had that kind of residual power of the purse privilege in the House of Commons in the British Parliament had existed. So it's also important the new government had greater powers.

Presidency would be greatly expanded to commander-in-chief of the armed forces, who could initiate action rather than just following through on what Congress had instructed. Behind all of this, behind the idea that the government's great powers would be enumerated in the Constitution, which means if it isn't there, if it isn't spelled out, it doesn't exist. That was the thinking, enumerated powers.

It was a charter of limited and enumerated powers. And behind all of this was the idea that separation of power, fusion of power, fusion of the kinds of clashes that come up when you have human beings involved in the work of self-government was the idea that human nature itself has a tendency towards conflict. We are fallen creatures, often perverse and selfish, even maligned in our intentions, if those intentions are allowed to be pursued without obstruction.

We all need some rules and structures of containment to keep us in line. So the new Constitution would not seek to change human nature. People were always going to be people. They were always going to be imperfect.

They were always going to be fallen. That's the material you're dealing with. But how could you take that human nature and all of its folly and energy, ambition, and channel those things to the public good? That's what the Constitution is designed to do. It doesn't try to reduce the energy that's released by our human nature. It doesn't try to stop that. It doesn't try to throttle us. It releases them for productive purposes, for good, for the general good.

It works with human nature, not against it. The Constitution is like the rules of the game. They're the rules of engagement for warfare. They're the rule book for a sporting event. Within those rules, there can be a lot of conflict, even a lot of force and coercion, violence, but always within limits.

These are rules of engagement that set the limits of activity, but don't hem in the fact that people are going to be ambitious and we should not try to inhibit the exercise of their ambition. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery, himself a Hillsdale College graduate, and also a special thanks to Bill McClay. He's the author of Land of Hope and the terrific young readers edition.

He's a Hillsdale College professor, and he also serves on the board of the Jack Miller Center, partners with us here in our American Stories. And what a story Bill is telling us about our founders and their wisdom and trying to advance the greatest good by putting together a government with limited and enumerated powers. And the key word there is enumerated. What's not there, of course, going back to the States and all based on how to best channel human nature. And humans can be bad and humans can do miserable things, and they always want more power. And this was all about the dispersal of power. Great compromises happened to New Jersey, little old New Jersey, where I was born.

Well, they weren't too happy with the idea of surrendering that power they had under the Articles of Confederation. They had a vote and mighty Virginia had a vote. What a compromise. We have the lower chamber of the house two years, and that's by population.

The representation and then in the upper chamber, six years, every state gets equal representation. A brilliant compromise. Indeed, it may have driven the success of this Constitution and why it's lasted so long.

All of that diversity, all of these ways to block bad ideas from making their way to all of us and perhaps ruining our lives. The story of us, the story of America with Bill McClay here on Our American Stories. In the Bachelor franchise history, 72-year-old Gary Turner is setting out to prove it's never too late to fall in love again. Millions are swooning over The Golden Bachelor. The L.A. Times raves, The series is a love story years in the making. Glamour magazine exclaims, There's no expiration date on romance. This is must-see TV.

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Hey, hey, it's Malcolm Gladwell, host of Revisionist History. eBay Motors is here for the ride. Your elbow grease, fresh installs and a whole lot of love transformed 100,000 miles and a body full of rust into a drive entirely its own. Brake kits, LED headlights, whatever you need. eBay Motors has it. And with eBay Guaranteed Fit, it's guaranteed to fit your ride the first time, every time, or your money back. Plus, at these prices, you're burning rubber, not cash. Keep your ride or die alive at ebaymotors.com. Eligible items only. Exclusions apply.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-03 04:18:55 / 2023-10-03 04:32:12 / 13

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