Re-posted for Independence Day, 2013
"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question." Mr. Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address
Our constitution exists not to enable government, but rather, to limit its power and scope. It is a document that assumes, as the men at Philadelphia assumed, that "Man" is an imperfect creature who will, in the vast majority of cases, abuse whatever power lies within his grasp. The document clearly is written in the belief that people will take advantage of whatever power they are given in order to use it to advance their own ambitions or "feather the nests" of friends and family. To place as many obstacles as possible in the path of this pre-disposition, our government is organized by dividing power between the federal government and the states, between the three branches of the federal government, and ultimately and most importantly between government as a whole and the sovereign people of the United States.
"[It is] the people, to whom all authority belongs." –Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821.
For Jefferson, the government, all government, was merely the most practical way to overcome the difficulties inherent in direct forms of democracy. For him, government was first, last and always the servant of the people.
"The Best Government is the Least Possible," was his guiding principle. The trick was and is to know what the "least possible" might be.
He understood clearly that the office of the presidency of the United States was limited in authority and essentially a job in which management of the Executive Branch bureaucracy combined with a stern responsibility to require that federal law be enforced.
The trappings of monarchy which have developed in the last 50 years with regard to the presidency would have shocked and dismayed him as they would have almost all of our presidents with the possible exception of Nixon. His comic opera uniforms for White House guards will live in public memory as among his more bizarre follies.
Our last few presidents have lived in the style of kings. They are isolated from the people and exist in a condition of pampered protection surrounded by hard eyed policemen and vigilant staffs whose main purpose seems to be to insure detachment from the cares of ordinary Americans, the sovereigns of this country. Somehow, the idea has taken hold that the president is the CEO of the United States and that he is personally responsible for the vagaries of securities markets and the economy in general. Nonsense!! The president does not RUN America. He has nothing like the power or authority that the decline of republicanism in this country has given to him in the popular mind.
"Inside the Beltway," is a phrase pregnant with meaning. It connotes a kind of isolation from "real life" which extends up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and from which the Congress with their army of self serving staffs and dependence on paid lobbyists can not be excused.
More and more, one is told that criticism of executive branch policy is somehow un-patriotic, and that a citizen owes the president an unquestioning acceptance of policy.
Rubbish! The president of the United States is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. The president is not Commander in Chief of the United States. The Armed Forces are bound by their oaths to accept legal orders from the constitutionally created government of the United States. Policy formation is not their business, nor should it be. The situation is altogether different in the relationship of the president as policy maker to the citizens of this country. He is their employee. He holds office at their pleasure and that of their representatives in the Congress. It is their DUTY, it is their RIGHT to question his policy, always. If it is not their duty and their right, then he is sovereign and not they.
Mr. Jefferson was an aristocrat to his finger tips, but he knew there were things far beyond his power as president to change or cure. Slavery was one of them, however much he feared its eventual result At the end of his first inaugural address he walked to the White House from the capitol surrounded by a crowd of tradesmen and children. He never delivered a State of the Union address in person. He always sent it to the Congress in written form. He thought that to give such a speech would encourage an exaggeration of the idea of the office of president that might lead to what we have now.
He wrote his own epitaph:
- "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson
- Author of the Declaration of American Independence
- of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
- & Father of the University of Virginia"
What it does not say is "President of the United States."
"Commander in Chief" can be translated into Roman usage as "Imperator."
"Emperor" would be our form of the word.
In response to the threat to American liberties posed by the "Alien and Sedition Acts" the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia passed the following resolutions in 1799. They are believed to have been drafted by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively.
No, corporations are sovereign.
I just saw a poll asking if we have the right to protest ———To me– There seems something genuinely nuts about a culture that deems it important to poll its citizens on how it “feels” about inalienable rights. As if the American right to dissent is merely contingent upon the approval of the majority.–I thought it was our constitution right ….some claim (American Legion Declares War on Protestors )that protest against the war in Iraq is unpatriotic and unsupportive of the troops, I do not personaly think so —-am I wrong ?
You are not wrong.
I just read an article at “Editor & Publisher” about a resolution passed by the American Legion. They’ve called for an end to public protests of the war. “The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to ‘ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism.'”
And how. I too have been disgusted by the growth of imperial presidency over the last couple decades.
Bush sets a new highwater mark for king-like behavior and attitude.
Did you see the backdrop for his platitudinous drivel in Idaho? The pageantry and symbolism is not unfamiliar and the comparisons are harsh. I will leave that to others to fill in as I am sure it is not necessary to state.
Such staged “patriotism” disturbs me immensely. I do not think one proves a love of home and country by deploying the proper iconic spectacle. One does, however, nurture a culture of loyalty that is not based on democratic accountability but on liege-like fealty. That is corrosive to this nation over and above the policy incompetence we are witnessing. Or rather, it magnifies the harm of the incompetence because it interferes with proper accountability to the people.
The barkers for this president have made it clear he is to be treated as if infallible and it stinks. Especially because he has been so fantastically wrong time and again.
Will the US become the USSR or the Roman Empire?
As Shakespeare had Brutus say in Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
As during a similar desultory time in the history of our country thirty-five years ago, we have come to a crisis of confidence in our ability to control our own government and its vast military-industrial tentacles. We must bend it — and them — to our service; not bend our own collective knee to their imperious commands. “We have met the enemy,” Pogo memorably said, “and it is us.” We will now either meet and defeat the worst in ourselves — a mindless cult worship of Maximum Leader and his quivering court courtiers (and emerge stronger for the tough-love therapy) — or we will die of our own debilitating dis-ease.
As my beloved mother used to say to me whenever she wanted me to think for myself:
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax —
Of cabbages — and kings.”
I think we had better think long and hard about this “king” and “monarchy” business. If we miss the boat this time around, we may not get another.
OK. Big J. had a good point: we gotta limit the power of government. But he had no way of foreseeing the equally unjust system of rampant citizen initiatives.
In CO we just endured a bruising battle over a citizen-initiated government income-limiting constitutional amendment called TABOR. Its primary function seems to be to destroy government by disallowing any increase in tax revenue regardless of reason or need. (the previous is sarcasm) Successfully, until now. The “deBrucing” (A term which refers to the California immigrant who created this abomination. That’s his last name, BTW.) was narrowly passed.
The losers here are those dependent on public help to survive: single parents, children, the infirm, the poor, and other disadvantaged citizens. After all, those most able to care for themselves need the tax refunds more than those in dire need.
No goverment could be more callous without gunning them down in the streets. Even in my poor county, the vote was against allowing CO to keep a few dollars to help others. Can they not see the people around them? Are they insulated somehow like those in The Beltway?
Direct citizen control is not much better than an indifferent central government. Maybe it’s the Reagan years advocating that “Greed is good.”, as pure Randian as one can get. But BS.
How does one get justice, compassion, fairness, and efficiency in a government? The best system is a benevolent monarchy/dictatorship like Monaco has. But how does a nation insure its benevolence? The constitutional monarchy of Britain is not a good example since they are now ceremonial. Unfortunately, our psuedomonarchy in the White House is not ceremonial.
I don’t have the answer but nor have I heard anyone else present any other plausible answer. I recall a SF short story in the pulps decades ago called “Ultima Thule” whose primary premise was that there is NO answer. To advance, nations and civilizations must continually change their governament. Otherwise the citizens get too comfortable. Like that’s a bad thing . . .
Commander in Chief=imperator=unitary executive=sole ruler=mon-arch?
I wonder if behind that “citizen-initiated initiative” was some very big money with powerful names attached to it that one can find if one looks closely. Names like Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff, Mellon-Scaife, Coors, etc.
Well, it was a name I hadn’t heard of before.
The aptly named Howard Rich from the uephemistically named Americans for Limited Government. These people don’t know the first thing about TJ.
i just find it amazing…
in less than a decade, the US left behind a past of respectful democracy [in terms, I know…] and became a global threat!
instead of “bring democracy” to whatever alien country, it is kicking down its own democracy…
yep, one can feel history mooving faast…
good luck, american fellows, and for us all as well, it seems we’re gonna need it.
Our Constitution has served, virtually unchanged since it’s original drafting. Granting some of the Amendments drastically altered some aspects of the document but still, the framework for the government remains the same. Today, we must amend the Constitution. Gone is the need for a Electorial College. In as a need to ban outragous gerrymandering. Take a good hard look at our district maps and then realize that we are ony kidding ourselves that we are living in a democracy/federalist state. It is time for change, before it is too late. Is it to much to ask for that I/we be allowed to vote for a representative that lives in neighborhood/city? Should my three neighbors be in seperate districts? I think not. The problem is that the Constitution is being “gamed” by politicians who, nowing, having gamed the system consider anyone who wants to change the rules a traitor. The politicians are chomping at the bit to amend the Constition to ban abortion but would not dare to amend the same to ensure true representation.
A nice piece. I am beginninng to think there is only one way to control the government. A balanced budget amendment with some flexibility to run small deficits during turn downs which must be offset a few years later.
Then the only way to spend like we currently are is to raise taxes which will quickly end the out of control spending.
Currently our government is spending and taxing the future generations with the deficits.
Bring the spending under control and you will bring the presidency under control. Of course none of this will be easy and due to the US living beyound its means for a number of years, there will be some really painful years.
“The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary
to ‘ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops
and the global war on terrorism.’ ”
Given my sketchy knowledge of history, the first groups which come to
mind are ‘stahlhelm’,’freikorps’ and ‘stormtroopers’ . Are
the American Legion delegates voting to place
their organization in the
history books alongside the
three groups named above?
Assuming the police give
precisely no protection whatever to protesters, just
what kind of reception should protesters expect to
recieve from the American Legion, and how should the
protesters prepare themselves in advance in order to be ready to respond?
Is the American Legion deciding to relive the tension of the Vietnam War
time? But this time on what
the American Legion imagines
to be its own terms? Is the
American Legion planning to
‘bring the war home’?
The current Imperial excesses of the Bush administration are mushrooms. The rot that sustains them goes far deeper into the body politic.
As I see it the central problem is that “Democracy”, the rule by the majority, only works so long is there is an informed electorate, a free press and, I think above all, a concept of shared values and social unity. In the absence of these three things Democracy is simply a contest between demagogues, and their followers to see who can best incite the mob to action.
Unfortunately all of the prerequisites for a functioning Democratic state seem to be in decline in America. From chronic problems in education, to an increasingly captive and corporate media to the persuasive rhetoric that people who disagree politically are “Traitors” or “Enemies” these are all long term problems.
Removing the current crop from power would be a start, but it will by no means solve the problems that America is facing.
Thank you for this post on Jefferson and the Imperator.
I would say that the thing that stands out in Jefferson’s epitaph is:
Father of the University of Virginia
A Democracy must be based on an educational system that permits its citizens to understand Pat’s brilliant post.
Education has been abandoned in the United States.
What the political parties do with television advertising during campaigns is attempt to educate the electorate. But in doing so, they reveal their estimate of the educational level of the electorate.
In Jefferson’s time, which Pat does not point out, suffrage was very limited. It was not just slaves who could not vote.
Now, we have universal suffrage…and the fantasy that that is based on universal education.
I would just expand the point to include the branch of government that Locke, and the framers, regarded as the supreme branch. Our legislature simply couldn’t be any more disconnected from us, and from its responsibilities to the republic.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent my congressman’s office an email, explaining that I was overseas on active duty in the military but would be back home in a few weeks and wanted to schedule a five-minute meeting with my representative to discuss the Military Commissions Act.
Their answer was that I was welcome to write a letter or meet with his district representative. My congressman apparently no longer meets with constituents. Or maybe he just no longer meets with constituents coming home from long military deployments overseas, away from their home and families.
The bubble is complete. Our government has forgotten that it is ~our~ government.
“A nice piece. I am beginninng to think there is only one way to control the government. A balanced budget amendment with some flexibility to run small deficits during turn downs which must be offset a few years later.”
I think John has hit the nail on the head. This ability to launch the currently floundering adventure in Iraq was facilitated by the fact that most people would not have to give up money or lives of loved ones. Imagine the reaction if everyone knew that in 2003 their sons would be drafted and their taxes would go up dramatically.
The current deficit spending and ability to keeps enormous liabilities (like Iraq war costs) off the budget, has allowed politicians to buy our votes with our own money – or more realistically, with the our kids’ money. Of course the list of problems associated with money goes on and on. Taking away this big enabler would be a huge start in putting the government back to work for the people.
In reply to arbogast, based on the educated people’s vote, Bush won in 2004 (i.e., after his record was clear).
CNN exit poll
No High School Bush(49%) Kerry(50%)
High School Graduate Bush(52%) Kerry(47%)
Some college Bush(54%) Kerry(46%)
College Graduate Bush(52%) Kerry(46%)
Postgrad study Bush(44%) Kerry(55%)
No High school is 4% and Postgrad study is 16% of the sample.
So, if you’re complaining about Bush, then you have to argue Jefferson was talking about postgrad education as being necessary to run this democracy.
If Bush is acceptable to you or better than Kerry, then too much education is a bad thing, the postgrad crowd would never have reelected Bush.
Ah, Larry Mitchell!
And you ask me why I call this Greenspan’s war.
Artificially low interest rates were the motor for the Iraq war. Pure and simple.
And, of course, it is treasonous to ask whether Greenspan has dual nationality…like so many others such as Perle and Wolfowitz…who bear so much of the responsibility for this horror.
I am the only one who can feel the democratic exhaustion setting in? Now that our elections are rigged because of the money exclusion and the bandwidth of candidates is about a nanometer wide, is it any surprise that voter participation is plummeting throughout the West? I notice even in Israel it’s about 60%, which is catastrophic for the civilly minded Zionists. In England, it’s under 50%. The Mother of Parliaments is going sterile. Result: Enter the Reichstag burners. We are beseiged by ads appealing to our collective unconscious and dark recesses of our brains, and we avoid any real substance. Notice that a senior statesman (James Baker) claims we should only talk about solutions for Iraq AFTER the election. You don’t want the people actually voting based on facts. Baker calls that “politics.” Col. Lang, the people should be, but most assuredly are not, sovereign.
Arun, you equate years of schooling in the United States with education. I specifically did not do that. Nor do I now.
The question is what young people learn in schools, not how many years they are there.
Let us take Thomas Jefferson as an example. How many college graduates of today are comparable to Jefferson?
Recall that George Bush graduated from three elite institutions.
American education is a lottery that rewards a tiny population of “winners”. The rest get crap.
“Democracy is simply a contest between demagogues, and their followers to see who can best incite the mob to action.” – Grimgrin
Yeah! That’s contemporary American politics. I would guess its quite similar elsewhere too.
When The Decider expounds at a campaign rally that electing Democrats means that the terrorists win takes demagoguery to a new level in contemporary American politics.
An informed electorate and a free media unfortunately does not exist today. Those who believe in Jeffersonian principles need to band together and promote candidates with those values to get the country back to its roots as articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
Thank you Colonel for an insightful article.
A few years ago, I recall reading/viewing an anecdote from a woman who grew up in Washington, D.C.
As a teenager, she said that in the early 1930’s she was riding around DC in her boyfriend’s convertible when it started raining. The two of them had a problem getting the top up, so they pulled into the nearest “dry spot” which happened to be the overhang of the one of the White House entrances–in order to sit out the rainstorm.
As she told the tale, Eleanor Roosevelt came out to give them cookies or some snack while they waited.
Times have sure changed.
What we need to do, in my opinion, is throw the incombents out. All of them. Regardless of party.
I read somewhere that less than 10% of all elections are seriously contested. Feeling safe in one’s congressional seat is probably the worse thing that can happen to a “representative of the people.”
Speaking of which, think of how many people are counting on Bush being ousted because of term limits (and let’s not get into a discussion as to whether he’ll go quietly or not). Term limits may just save our republic. So, after we throw the rascals out, let’s limit how long the new rascals can stay there. Of course, they’ll have to grab fast and run, but that may surely be more obvious. (Term limits for Scotus might not be a bad idea either.)
In Walter Lord’s “The Dawn’s Early Light,” about the War of 1812, he describes how President Madison came to the battlefield of Bladensburg outside of Washington–only to have the commander, General Winder, politely ask Madison and his entourage to “unass my AO” in modern language, because they were in the way. Lord’s description is poignant:
“It must have been a traumatic moment for James Madison. He had come to Bladensburg with the idea that he’d really be the Commander-in-Chief, as the Constitution said. He would be just behind the lines with his cabinet, weighing the pros and cons–supporting (Secretary of War) Armstrong here, Winder there–generally presiding over the battle. But it didn’t work out that way at all. The troop positions were already set; the guns roaring; the rockets flying. The fight now had a momentum of its own far beyond the power of the President, with the collective wisdom of his cabinet, to guide and direct. Turning to his party, Madison remarked that military matters should be handled by military men. ‘Come, General Armstrong; come, Colonel Monroe, let us go and leave it to the commanding general.'”
Just like in the human body, atherosclerosis can occur in the body politic, and once that happens, the outlook is grim.
I think it is the rare elected politician that represents his constituency, the first loyalty is to the money-providing apparatus. It is a matter of fooling more people into voting for you than your opponent. People are not interested in politics because their politicians do not represent them.
Might as well select officials by unarmed combat – people will find it more interesting and will have as much to do with their concerns as today’s system.
I also recommend reading this. http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com/2007/06/americas-most-dangerous-immigrant.html
A first step would be to revoke Murdoch’s citizenship so that he is not eligible to control media holdings in the US. Second is to roll back the law he pushed through Congress.
I think this is the greatest thing you have ever written.
Some of these themes are developed in more detail in Stephen Holmes’ new book, The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror (Cambridge UP).
Another ‘quaint’ concept worth remembering is the Commonwealth–according to Wikipedia, The original phrase “common wealth” or “the common weal” comes from the old meaning of “wealth” which is “well-being”. The term literally meant “common well-being”. Thus commonwealth originally meant a state governed for the common good as opposed to an authoritarian state governed for the benefit of a given class of owners.
The idea of the commonwealth is hated by the right, who, as others have noted in previous posts, who have forgotten that their fortunes have been built on the back of the US Republic and its public infrastructure, which is part of our commonwealth.
The right has a visceral hatred of the New Deal, however, one can find still find many structures in national parks all over the country built by the WPA for the public. Conversely, the right-wing idea of a commonwealth is a shopping mall.
Thank you for this lesson and reminder of our history and our principles. Sometimes I think I’m this oddball leftie weirdo completely out of step with America, and then I read an article like this and realize how much I owe to Jefferson’s ideas. The whole state of California, with our universities and our roiling social movements, is directly descended from Jeffersonian ideals.
I’m puzzled at the people who say above that “we have abandoned education in this country.” California’s educational system is creaky and overburdened but… I am a mother of two sons in the public schools, and a new teacher setting out in the community college system, and I am amazed at the quantity and breadth of education available. You can get a very fine education for free at the library (just use the curriculum Benjamin Franklin did – read books). You can learn a heck of a lot at community college for $60-80 a course, plus more libraries. You can study our constitution, history, literature, and follow the first two years of a course of science and mathematics at community college, for tuition of $500 PER YEAR. (and there’s orchestra, art, drama, physical education – plus plenty of vocational skills to make you self-sufficient)
In my neighborhood we are reputed to harbor eight homeschooling families. We have hundreds of immigrant Chinese families whose children are pulling up the scores at the local public school. We have middle class African Americans who largely send their kids to the parochial schools, and middle class whites and Asians who send their kids to the private schools (sad but true). Everybody is in the library it seems, checking out books and reading them. They’re not all online playing games.
Just look around at the burgeoning intellectual and political life online if you think Americans have quit learning.
I say we have not abandoned education in this country. We are hypnotized by the stupid tv and by the gruelling commute to 60 hour a week jobs. But people are indeed still learning. And many of them are actually reading books for self-improvement or pleasure.
Don’t give up on us yet. We may need to feel more pain before we wake up, but I have great faith (based on the evidence before me) in the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Americans.
Everybody ought to read “The Divine Right of Capital.” Parses corporate law and power in relation to the constitution. The Constitution does not grant inalienable rights to corporations.
Refreshing! Thank you. What a great antidote to the ongoing debate over immigration control and so much of what is put forward in the name of homeland “security”, war on terrorism, etc., etc. I wonder if the A&S acts might have been drafted by Dick Cheney in an earlier life?
As always very insightful and well written, colonel. But as a representative for the younger generation, allow me one critical comment, wich can be imagined rising from a thousand, thousand young voices: Yes, yes, yes, We know, the captain is crazy and evil. We know, we know, we know. So, o esteemed elders of surpassing wisdom, what is the fricking plan?
In East Europe and in Argentine, radical change came at the moment the people marched on the parlament *and the police and army joined them*. In the US, it seems that the police would like nothing better than to club down any such uprising with utmost glee and violence. What avenues of change can be found then, if protest is not possible? Mr. Lang, you are so far the one rational consistent voice who has actual experience I have found, how about comming up with a plan to save the US from Cheney? Riddle4 me that one, and I`ll build you a monument myself..
Excellent and needed reminder.
I recently had the opportunity to attend, as a guest, the annual weekend retreat of major private donors to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation which is the steward of his home, Monticello.
Within this group of our fellow citizens, Jefferson’s legacy is most certainly not dead. Owing to their generosity, and the to extraordinary leadership of director Dan Jordan, Jefferson’s home as a national shrine has never been in better condition nor with a better future. I marvelled at the seven (and eight) figure donations our fellow citizens have made to ensure Jefferson’s legacy. As far as I know, they do not accept any federal monies just donations from citizens.
Professor Gordon Wood was the guest banquet speaker and made a fine presentation. His book “The Creation of the American Republic” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969) is a classic.
Of particular interest to SST readers is the Research and Collections activity at Monticello which includes international scholarly outreach. There is also a massive project to place Jefferson papers and documents online.
Since 911, tourism to many of our national monuments has been down and gate receipts have not covered the annual budget at Monticello. The donations of concerned and involved private citizens make up the shortfall.
Reread Pat’s posting and take a visit to Monticello, in person or online at their award-winning website. You will be heartened by this tremendous effort by some of our fellow citizens.
Colonel: This article is a wonderful reminder of first principles, but it is incomplete without Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance:
wikipedia provideds good background on commander-in-chief phrase
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation’s military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military competencies which reside in a nation-state’s executive, head of state or government. Often, a given country’s commander-in-chief need not be or have been a commissioned officer or even a veteran, and it is by this legal statute that civilian control of the military is realized in states where it is constitutionally required.
The term “commander-in-chief” was first used by King Charles I of England in 1639. A nation’s head of state usually holds the position of national commander-in-chief, even if effective executive power is held by a separate head of government. Colonial governors are also often appointed commander-in-chief of the military forces in their colonies. In NATO terminology commander-in chief is often abbreviated to C-in-C or CINC (pronounced “sink”).
Below the national commander-in-chief are often appointed various regional commanders-in-chief. For example, at the start of the Second World War the Royal Navy had no fewer than nine commanders-in-chief, from Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth to Commander-in-Chief China Station. Such local commanders-in-chief usually have full decision-making authority.
NATO has also established various commands-in-chief, e.g. Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces North, Commander-in-Chief East Atlantic, etc.
In the Commonwealth Realms, as elsewhere, the head of state is invariably the Commander-in-Chief of their armed forces, though it is usual for Governors and Governors-General also to be Commander-in-Chief in and over their respective territories. In addition, it is also usual for service commanders, particularly in foreign stations, to be given the title of Commander-in-Chief.
The Egyptian system appears to be an exception to the prevailing systems. The President of the Republic holds the ceremonial title of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces while a member of the Government holds the position Commander-in-Chief. This person tends to be the Minister for Defence.
The Constitution of the United States gives the title to the President of the United States, who “shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States” (See the 1941 Declarations of War against Japan and Germany for how this call is made). The title commander-in-chief has been used from time to time to refer to powerful regional U.S. military leaders (such as CENTCOM), but the United States abolished all local commands-in-chief in 2002.
The governors of the several states are also commanders-in-chief of their states’ respective National Guard and other military forces, except when those forces are called into active federal service. In 1947, the National Security Act made the President, as a consequence of the creation of the United States Air Force, also the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force of the United States, by extension.
Although the United States presidency was modeled upon the kingship of Great Britain, and the title of Commander-in-Chief was unlikely to have been understood to confer upon the President any powers additional to those inherently held by a Sovereign, the title has increasingly come to be perceived as being a peculiarly military position. This has led to a blurring of the distinction between the President’s civil and military responsibilities. It was, for instance, the basis for the trial by military commission of Dr. Samuel Mudd. The American presidency thus departs from the civilian basis of virtually all other republics. In 1867 Congress attempted to limit the President’s powers as Commander in Chief by passing the Army Appropriations Act. The Act included the “command of the army” provisions, which required that the president issue all commands to the army through the General of the Army. This act was condemned by President Andrew Johnson, but he nevertheless signed it into law.
In the United States, the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 added a new level of commanders-in-chief (CINCs). Under Goldwater-Nichols, regional CINCs were created to bring a local supreme commander to a conflict, the most well-known of which was CINC CENTCOM, who was Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm.
On October 24, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that the title of “Commander-in-Chief” would thereafter be reserved for the President, consistent with the terms of Article II of the United States Constitution. Armed forces CINCs in specified regions would thereafter be known as “combatant commanders,” heading the Unified Combatant Commands.
As of May 2006, there are nine Unified Combatant Commands. Five have regional responsibilities, and four have functional responsibilities. The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may transmit communications to the Commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands from the President and Secretary of Defense, but does not exercise military command over any combatant forces.
In the War on Terrorism President George W. Bush has used these war powers to justify several controversial acts, e.g. NSA electronic surveillance program. The administration, on several occasions, has used a legal theory known as the unitary executive theory, to explain that in his duty as Commander-in-Chief the President, with his inherent powers, cannot be bound by any law or Congress. Advocates of this theory opine that since the primary task of the President, during a time of war, is protecting US citizens, and anything hindering him in that capacity can be considered unconstitutional. In the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy this was used to suggest he was not required to abide by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The same rationale was used to deny detainees in the War on Terror protection by the Geneva Conventions resulting in a global controversy surrounding apparent mistreatment. Also it is thought that the McCain Detainee Amendment, which was adopted to address prisoner abuse, might be ignored after President Bush added a signing statement, invoking his rights as Commander-in-Chief, to that bill.
Ah, but the Alien Acts were never enforced, while the Sedition Act against U.S. citizens WAS enforced. A lesson for today that we forget at our peril perhaps?
Pat has pinned down the problem in this piece. I remember I was already uneasy back when we celebrated our 200th Anniversary, then President Clinton, in his January 2001 farewell address, claimed to have steered his course by our enduring values, but by always focusing on the future. This subtlety was not lost on me (forget his indiscretion and prevarication) and the Iraq fiasco has finally brought it all home with a vengeance. We appear to have forgotten our enduring values and thus grope clumsily and ignorantly toward a future that is scary at best. We have allowed a combination of bullies, panderers, and wimps to fill positions of leadership and look at what we’ve got. Senator Luger appears to finally realize this, but this may be too little and too late as he too appears to be confounded by the “need to support the troops”. Even he appears loath to openly opine what it would really take to support the troops — and extricate our country from this massive mistake.
An Important Post; Jeffersonian Democracy is the Antithesis to the Bush Administration.
How the Bush Administration could be so bad, so flawed? By nature, these men are corrupt; grasping for power and wealth. But, in addition, they are true believers; government is evil, the free market is good. Freed by 9/11, they could do what they wanted to; from imposing shock therapy on Iraq to ignoring New Orleans. They created their own reality; the Bush Bubble.
As eloquent as it is powerful.
All, Please note and remember that Jefferson thought that a revolution was needed about every twenty years to recommit the repubulic to its stated goal “The welfare of it’s citizens”. clearly we are at one of those points.
I am not a fan of the libertarian idea that the objective of a complex, divided government was a weak government, per se.
Of good government, we have need, and when we need government, we need government to be competent and effective, and “strong” in the sense that the government coercion — which is essence of government — should be effective, where it is necessary.
What divided, democratic, constitutional and legal government should accomplish by its division and complexity is not weakness, but rational deliberation on ends and means.
The deceptions, the secrecy, the idiotic ideology, the authoritarianism, the disregard for law and established procedure, the corruption, which have characterized the Republican Administration of George W. Bush, combine to form a conspiracy against rational deliberation in creating and carrying out govenrment policy.
Extraordinary essay by Col. Lang and very insighful follow up comments. This thread is a great way to prepare for July 4th. I am taking notes. Thanks.
I blame it on the Laffer Curve and Kemp-Roth for selling the American people that things like education, infrastructure, and everything else that made our society one of best, if not the best on the globe, were free.
Cut taxes and tax revenues go up. Cut local taxes and the difference can be made up from “waste, fraud, and abuse”. The GOP sold this hokum with the Democrats unwillingness to confront the population with the notion that good roads cost. Education costs. Clean air and clean water cost. The money will be paid either by the future generations or by printing money, notice the money supply figures are no longer published. Does Alan Greenspan’s cheap money sound familiar?
I am not sure voting for any incumbent reverse the current situation.
I am often reminded of the Graucho Marx comment, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member”-welcome to Congress!
But we are all such dreamers and idealists. I, too, still hope for our constitution and civil discourse to guide our path, but boredome and talk radio are more in power now. What makes me particularly pessimistic about our immediate future is the people I talk to daily. One of them insisted that the time this divided country will finally come back together will be when the dollar is threatened. That is our country’s unifying concept – a fiat currency. The humanist principles of the brave Easteners that founded our country are inconsequential now. Only the dollar matters!
“The public still continues to have a favorable view of the way the President is running the country, or doing his job.” Andrew Kohut talking about Bill Clinton on the PBS News Hour 9-19-98.
Rep. Albert Wynn “Well, there are a lot of polls, but the one Bush has to worry about is the one that says that people don’t approve of the way he’s running the country.”
CNN Crossfire 5-14-04
This “Running the country” idea, sorry to say, strongly seems to have ingrained itself into the national conscience. If W was asked about it, he would probably say, “Running the country? Hey yo, I run the world!” The Constitution is dying the death of a thousand cuts.
Most excellent and thought provoking. Thank you.
I wonder how Jefferson would feel if he knew, that in our day, the POTUS could launch strikes on foreign nations without permission from Congress?
Rhetorical question, no doubt. But what can be done
about that power?
As I’ve written before, it’s our country, and they just run it for us.
Anyone who doesn’t believe it isn’t free, and just ought to go find himself a nice monarchy to live under.
We should let Hamilton in on the act too. Hamilton was not Jefferson in many ways. Even though he favored a much more autocratic government with a much higher ‘tone’ than Jefferson, he was equally emphatic that the people are the ultimate base of all political authority. And he understood the practical implications as well: he even spoke approvingly of compulsory voting laws (as in Australia today) during the constitutional conventon.
In the Federalist papers, Hamilton emphasized the importance of strictly limited executive authority to initiate war. OK, it is true that he approved of standing armies, but he didn’t want one at the service of anyone with kingly powers.
And it is true he went temporarily mad and dreamed of using the army proposed for one of the early cold wars against the French for an imperialistic and inappropriate adventure (or was it against English -there were so many little cold wars during the early days). He dreamed of conquering and liberating… oh… just all of Mexico and South America.
But that episode should be used too. It shows that far far better people than those in the executve today could be tempted by power to propose stupid, rash things contrary to best interests of the country. If we needed constitutional limits to restrain a Hamilton, surely we need them to restrain Cheney/Bush (and their apish would-be successor the Giuliani/McCain/Romney/Thompson mass war-borg thing that vies to even outdo them, in outlandish empiromania) And same perhaps for even more distant cousins such as Biden or H Clinton?
We need to throw all available founders against the current gang.
question: assuming we can restore some of the republic, and Cheney/Bush do not manage to restart a cold war with Russia and its remaining thousands of nuclear armed intercontinental missiles, shouldn’t some one propose a method to start removing some executive authority? Col Lang has explained that the military will obey even (what seem to me to be) outlandish executive orders to attack other countries under the guise of whatever damned thing or excuse at all the Pres deems A Dire Emergency. Isn’t it time to start reigning that in? Absent the realistic danger of a mass nuclear missile attack, I do not see a need for those powers.
Thank you for the reposting, Col. Lang, and for the observation regarding Jefferson’s epitaph.
I am always put in mind of Parton’s summation of the man: “A gentleman of thirty-two who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin.”
Comparisons with the current occupant, and recent previous occupants, of the Oval Office are left as an exercise for the reader.
Says John W. Dean (the Watergate guy):
“Vice President Dick Cheney has regularly claimed that he is above the law, but until recently he has not offered any explanation of why.In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a law that Cheney believes does apply to him, whether that law be major or minor…”
The Cheney-Addington model, apparently endorsed by the influential Federalist Society gaggle of lawyers, is divorced from the US Constitution. It is, rather, along the lines of authoritarian models of Italy and Germany of the 20th century against which some of our family members fought.
For technical comparative purposes see, Gaetano Salvemini, The Origins of Fascism in Italy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973) written in exile in 1942; Salvemini, The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy (New York: Henry Holt, 1937); and Robert A. Brady, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (New York: Viking 1937).
Sinclair Lewis did extensive research on Italian developments before writing his classic warning “It Can’t Happen Here.”
For those who think it might just be happening here, refer to George Wolfskill, The Revolt of the Conservatives. A History of the American Liberty Leaguie 1934-1940 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962). Wolfskill uses the word “conservatives” in the 20th century Continental European context of the “conservative” (as in continental fascism) revolution. The ALL was a pro-fascist (literally) Wall Street organization and national political lobby.
John Dean’s book, Worse than Watergate, is useful in this context as are his regular columns at FindLaw. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worse_than_Watergate
Excellent post and discussion going on here.
American democracy was designed to balance many competing interests and to preserve liberty. It was not supposed to be speedy, efficient, simple or unerring. Implemented by the venal and fallible, it has weathered surprisingly well as the country has transformed immeasurably. It also has the capacity for self correction, so that errors can be rectified and new circumstances accommodated.
Most of all, democracy relies on the good will and dedication of the populace. It’s been said that we get the leaders we deserve, and perhaps we do. Anyone want to say now (as many did in 2000) that there isn’t a lick of difference between Bush and Gore, that the circumstances of the nation are so benificent that the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant?
Among other things, I blame the elimination of Civics classes. My 5th grade class was the first in our school system to have it supplanted, as we were also deprived the opportunity to be indoctrinated in the mysteries of the slide rule, and I know this dates me grievously. At the time I thought it a good decision – after all, everyone knows how government works and the role of the citizenry? Now I can recognize the error.
It seems that rather few people understand the mechanics of government or their own rights and responsibilities in the perpetuation of democracy. Too few vote or exhibit much concern in the process, much less run for office Fewer still interact with their elected representatives after the fact. And the integrity of government has been systematically attacked, often with the collusion of elected officials, further instilling apathy and resignation.
If we don’t seek qualified and trustworthy candidates, and if we don’t provide feedback and guidance to them, and vote the bastards out when they screw up, we have little to complain about.
I’ve found politicians to generally be attentive and responsive, because they like to be thought well of and to be reelected. Politicians listen to those who support them and who communicate. That doesn’t mean they will always snap to and follow your bidding on all subjects, but many (by no means all!) are trying to genuinely represent their constituents and weigh competing points of view. If they don’t hear from you, they can’t be expected to give your thoughts much weight.
The United States was immensely fortunate to have so many gifted gentlemen among the founders. And Jefferson was foremost among them, but complemented tremendously by Adams, Madison, and Hamilton. The Constitution is stronger, and our nation more supple, for having been the collaborative effort of many.
The Founders would likely be appalled at the pass our nation has come to. They might also be appreciative at some of the uses and extensions we have made of their federation over the years. We can only help ourselves, and our successors, by trying to honor their legacy, approaching our governance with the concern, energy and wisdom that they devoted.
For the record, I’d like to point out that the stores in this country — at least, those here in southern California — are dreadful, utterly useless.
It’s the Fourth of July, my favorite holiday, and not one of them — not one — has a Union Jack that I could buy to fly from my house.
P’tah, says me. Despite that, and despite a local PD that confiscates fireworks, and despite even the mockery I must endure each year from my wife, my so-called ‘kids’, and now from my blessed grandbabies even, citizens all, despite all that my ancestors bid me say to all of you – You’re welcome.
“a Union Jack that I could buy to fly from my house.” Incomprehensible. You are some sort of Brit living in the Simi Valley? pl
Happy Independence Day to all.
I agree with everything as passionately stated by the good Colonel. These principals are universal and ideal, its only a matter of time and style that the rest of the world arrive at them in their own way, including the US. (Or, re-arrive).
I’m sure this will give some people the vapors, but it’s sarcasm and it’s damned funny. After all these years, it still makes me laugh.
You are bitter for losing the colonies and not so well adjusted to your new country with all its shortcomings, inconsistencies, diversity and contradictions.
The tone and timber of your comment is revealing.
The principles may be universal but the application must be different. Egyptians are not Americans and neither are Turks. pl
I’m bound to piss off my liberal friends but this is just too damn funny not to spread around.
Indeed. A ‘Jack to counteract the Stars and Stripes of my neighbors.
And no; not ‘bitter’ in any way imaginable. Entirely the opposite.
You want to fly a foreign flag, that of the colonial oppressor to annoy your neighbors? You should go home. pl
Ah- the Phyrgian cap. And the motto “this we will Defend.”
Cajole, banter, not annoy.
On this day, traditionally, I enjoy calls from brood and friends to the effect “Hey – _we_ kicked their asses first time out. You stupid scots _still_ haven’t done it after a thousand damned years.”
The Hamiltonians have won.
That’s true you have not “kicked their asses,” and yet you still want to fly the Union Flag. pl
Well said and thank you.
Partially, no victory is final as long as we can vote.
I think we may have been lucky to have him. Seems to be it took a wise common man to pick out the virtues within the elite, and it took a wise elite to pick out the virtues within the common man.
Well said. It is our duty to question always. We may otherwise disagree, but never on this.
Thanks for reminding us.
You educate your citzenry from cradle to grave in a society at consensus on civics, consumerism, delayed gratification, courage and honour.
Very Timely and an Excellent Post to read…Pat…Hope you and had Great 4th of July…Cheers….