Monday, June 8, 2015

"The Great Divide" by Thomas Fleming (2015)

When the American Revolution was over the real fight had just begun.  All of the leaders of that Revolution were now vying for control of the new, as yet fully formed, government. While the Federalists papers were being debated in order to establish a working Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, new alliances; as well as divisions; were being drawn between some of our most illustrious patriots. 

These divisions were the seeds which would bear the fruit of Political Parties, just as George Washington warned in his Farewell Address after leading the new nation through 2 four year terms as its first President. Ironically, the most bitter of these divisions was the one between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I say ironic, because the split occurred after Washington had served as President and he and Jefferson would never have to oppose one another in a political contest.

This split between the two iconic Founding Fathers was based on Principles, more than on parties. That these differing principles would go on to inform the basis for those emerging political parties; which both exist in some form to this very day; lends more than just credence to Washington’s warning.

Thomas Jefferson was a man ahead of his time. Way ahead of his time. Most people would cite Richard Nixon as the first President to use Executive Privilege to stymie the Courts. They would be wrong, it was Jefferson. Some people would point to more modern Presidents to illustrate a President overstepping his boundaries in attempting to influence those Courts. Again, they would be wrong; it was Jefferson in the Impeachment trial of Samuel Chase and again in the trial of Aaron Burr.

Jefferson believed the Courts were beholden to public opinion and as such the leading political party should control them. To that end he impeached Judges who did not fall in line with his own opinions. The Senate and Congress grew so disillusioned with this former idealist that they adjourned the night before his second inauguration, leaving him to be inaugurated with Congress absent.

When it comes to the modern day tax cuts for the rich and wealthiest Jefferson was way ahead of his time there, too. He had suspended all taxes when he became President, leaving us fairly defenseless and insuring that the lower economic classes supported the government disproportionately through high tariffs on imported goods; which the rich could easily pay, but were a burden to the poorer citizens. This was one of the chief reasons we were willing to abide the seizure of our ships and men by both the British and French for so long. We simply had no money for defense.

Foreign policy wise he claimed to be at peace with the world; unless you count our ships still being seized by Britain at sea; and paying a $60,000 tribute to the Pasha Yussef Karamali to release the 300 man crew of the USS Philadelphia, a U.S. Navy ship which had been seized by the Pasha. Think about that the next time you sing about the “shores of Tripoli”.

The XYZ Affair; and Jefferson’s love of the French Revolution were also points of disagreement between Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers. The duplicity of the French Revolution, and it’s descent into chaos and ruin were something which he just could not see. He was blinded by idealism to the point of betraying the very principles on which our own Revolution had been founded.

There is too much to cover here in a short review. Suffice to say that once the Revolution was finished, the real work of establishing a working, long lasting government had just begun. The divisions which informed this disagreement between two of our most illustrious founding fathers are still with us today.

It is important to consider; when reading this book; that with the establishment of the United States, the European powers of Spain, France and England, lost all hopes of ever establishing their own governments on the North American continent. Had they succeeded in doing so America would have descended into the patchwork of countries continually at war in Europe for hundreds of years. Indeed, there would have been no other nation to save Europe; twice in the 20th century alone; as they continued to pull one another apart over Kings and territory.

The closest we have ever come to such chaos here in America was in the decades leading up to the Civil War. With many people today echoing the cry of “States Rights”, it would be wise for many to read this book and heed the lessons of our own history, which are too often ignored.

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