Assessing self-government’s success depends upon what criteria are persuasive. The first government in 1789 represented an outstanding start. George Washington was unanimously elected President, as was Vice President Adams; Jefferson and Hamilton were both in key executive positions and the Supreme Court was trustworthy. The Constitution said as much about slavery as could be ventured at the time; it was to be phased out beginning in 1820. During this thirty-year interval the new nation was successful by every measure: population; land area; miles of canals, railroads and roads; and standard of living. But the slaves obtained no benefits. In 1818 Missouri applied to become a new state. Southern planters and other agrarians had moved into the state. In 1818 15% of the population in Missouri was slaves. There were twenty-two States in the Union, eleven slave-holding and eleven not. That made Senators divided equally, so each party could nullify the other. How Missouri was to be admitted, slave or free, started a nasty debate. Rufus King of Massachusetts spoke on behalf of the Declaration of Independence, the “law of nature makes all men free.” John Randolph of Virginia dismissed the Declaration of Independence as “fanfaronade of abstractions.” The Missouri Compromise settled the issue for a time, but it was destined to merely be a kick of the can down the road. I call it “game over.” Thomas Jefferson seems to concur, writing to a friend about the settlement he wrote, “This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence….We have the wolf by the ear; and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go.” A government so divided cannot be considered successful, no matter the ability to produce compromises.
The question again arises; has the Civil War settled the matter. For certain, 600,000 fatalities over the four years of bloodshed have to be given consideration for a new assessment. The Civil War Amendments, XIII, XIV, and XV, and sending the Army to the Confederate States to oversee government for a decade is worthy of requesting reconsideration. During the period from 1866 through 1876, the former slaves were free; had become citizens; most of them voted; some blacks were elected to Congress and others to municipal and state governments. The blacks were building churches, changing their lives and making careers. The progress came to an abrupt end in 1876 when the army was removed. A dead-heat between Hayes and Tilden in the 1876 election was settled by a deal in which three Southern States would cast their electoral votes for Hayes, if he pledged to remove the Army. Hayes signed the order on inauguration day. The aftermath was tragic. Former slaves found their plantation stewards now in charge of the polls and as clerks of the city, county, township governments and as a matter of fact, blacks no longer had citizenship or any other rights. If this qualifies as self-government, then it is not worth having.
There is one brief interlude when self-government showed an awakening. The period is 1885 through 1930. This era was highlighted by heightened civic responsibility among great quantities of citizens who acted responsibly and took control of the government with new purpose. The contrast with the previous two paragraphs warrants positive conclusion.
The Great Depression provided Supreme Court cases that for a time kept the Constitution’s meaning intact. But, character in high government positions is sometimes not up to the expected standard. The Supreme Court decided Helvering v. Davis (1937) with a humiliating opinion. The Social Security Act of 1935 called for taxes on wages paid by employers and also levied tax upon employees on these wages. The money was to be appropriated to pay retirement benefits to the employees. Only certain industries were liable under this law. A previous Supreme Court decision in United States v. Butler (1936) decided a similar scheme was unconstitutional. Notwithstanding the facts and opinion in Butler, the Helvering Court in its opinion said it was following Butler by stating that Congress had the Constitutional right to define for itself what “general welfare” meant, and in so deciding, it was not to be questioned. This is corrupt and ranks with the most corrupt opinions ever produced by the Supreme Court; and there are many to choose. Butler decided the opposite, and the references in behalf of Congress are imaginary. Until Helvering is reversed, the Constitution has no meaning. There is no protection for the people’s liberty.
Publiustoo.com October 23, 2019
Self-Government was broken from the beginning