The Exploits of Early American History
Leonard R. Friedman
Leonard R. Friedman has a BA from the University of Chicago followed by an MD from the Upstate Medical University at Syracuse. After a psychiatric residency, he served in the Medical Section of Special Forces as a Green Beret. He attended Harvard Law School, receiving a JD. His book, The American Fall, the Russian Winter, the Chinese Spring and Summer (1979), describes how Leonid Brezhnev and Alexi Kosygin removed Khrushchev from power in 1962 during the Cuba blockade.
The goals of the St. Croix Review are to uphold the ideals of honesty, decency, and constitutional principles in government. These are the same goals as those of the Founding Fathers. To preserve their legacies, Americans and Trump supporters must take it upon themselves to find worthy officeholders. The problem is that there is a lack of adequate understanding of our Founding Fathers, civic society, and our dual sovereignties with their constitutions that define their powers and responsibilities. It becomes challenging to produce innovative American leaders who can develop periods of prosperity and innovation while overcoming the risks of economic disruption.
All citizens should understand the distinctions between republics and democracies. The goal of a Roman-style republic is to protect a national structure for the Greek-style individual state democracies. A president of a republic is given power over the military and is responsible for protecting the borders as well as appointing ambassadors to surrounding nations. Presidents will also protect interstate commerce and have veto power over the legislatures and perhaps supervision of the administrative agencies. The ambassadors are approved with the advice and consent of the Senate as stipulated in our Constitution’s Article I on legislative powers. Protection of borders is one of the essential functions of an executive, as is demonstrated throughout history.
In 27 B.C., a religious and kindly Augustus Caesar published a constitution for the revived Roman republic, establishing himself as First Consul with veto power over the legislatures and magistrates. As a former general, Augustus, previously known as Octavian Caesar, sought to protect his borderlands from external rivals. Augustus gave the citizens of Rome 200 years of security in an era known as the Pax Romana. As Chairman of the Constitutional Convention and President in the capital of Philadelphia, George Washington supported the above ideas to bring about a Pax Americana. Following 200 years of internal security, our state is now under internal stress from recent-style Marxist insurrectionists and external world powers that have challenged America’s post-World War II economic supremacy and our nation’s control of resources and domestic energy supplies.
One of the primary defenses of American freedoms and democracies is the Bill of Rights. By 1779, a decade before the federal constitution of the republic was adopted, some sovereign states of America had developed state constitutions called Commonwealths for their Democracies, and they had a Bill of Rights. These included the Commonwealths of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The 1787 federal Constitution established a nation of dual sovereignties where Democracies could exist together under a republic with limited power. States would retain the police powers, with priority over health, education, and welfare. In the mind of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, they would focus on experimentation with progress.
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, was written in 1776 with significant contributions from Thomas Jefferson, and with a Bill of Rights written by George Mason. Other famous Founding Fathers had their hands in the composition of state constitutions of democracy. In 1776, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was written with contributions from Benjamin Franklin; and in 1779, John Adams helped write the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Adams specifically included the separation of powers among the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary as derived from the works of Sir Edward Coke. Coke had been a former solicitor general and attorney general for England, twice speaker of the House of Parliament, Chief Justice of Common Pleas (Civil) and then Kings Bench (Criminal), and the author of the 1628 Petition of Rights. Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams were our authors of the Declaration of Independence, which followed one month after the publication of the Commonwealth of Virginia Constitution.
A Bill of Rights for the national Constitution was deemed unnecessary. Federalists like Washington and Alexander Hamilton thought that the state constitutions already protected the rights of citizens, and they opposed the initial inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the federal Constitution. George Mason, a constitutional delegate from Virginia, was among the anti-federalists who refused to sign the national Constitution without a supporting Bill of Rights. Supporting Mason were other delegates like Virginia governor Edmund Randolph, our first Attorney General, and a future Vice President, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Anti-federalists were disappointed that the Constitution failed to bring about a gradual abolition of slavery. They were also worried that a strong national government would cause the loss of state sovereignty. It should be noted here that only northern anti-federalists thought this. Southern anti-federalists were pro-slavery and were worried that the Constitution would eventually incorporate restrictions to slavery. The new Congress was directed to support a Bill of Rights, along with the approval by state conventions of the federal Constitution. The question is whether Washington or Mason was correct in the nationalization of the Bill of Rights. After passage by Congress, these became our first Ten Amendments to the (federal) Constitution in 1791. Today, we find law professors from the Ivy League promoting the further nationalization of state-based rights.
As a representative from Virginia in Congress, Chairman James Monroe helped draft the laws in the Articles of Confederation that became the Northwest Territorial Ordinances. This law nationalized the administration of the Northwest Territory acquired by Virginia, which comprised the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Newly admitted states to emerge from this territory and future territories were recognized as equally sovereign to the original thirteen states. Notably, slavery would not exist in the new states created from this territory. James Monroe did not participate in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, although he was wait-listed to attend. The first act of the Federal Congress act was to approve the Confederacy-approved Northwest Territorial Ordinances. Washington, who served as chairman of the Constitutional Convention, was very protective of the proceedings and refused to take up any outside documents during the convention debates, which included the presence of sentries and closed window curtains.
A working definition of a Commonwealth describes it as a form of government that safeguards a people’s prosperity. The British state was officially called a Commonwealth when there was no king. From 1649 to 1659, Oliver Cromwell ruled such a Commonwealth with close to absolute power as Lord Protector. Cromwell rejected the petitions for a more democratic constitution and parliamentary supremacy as outlined in the Agreement(s) of the People, a tract first partly written by John Winthrop’s brother-in-law, Col. Thomas Rainsborough. Winthrop was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony and had been a protégé of Sir Edward Coke. Massachusetts men returned to England to fight with the Parliamentary Roundheads and their English-based families in the English Civil War and brought back copies of Governor Winthrop’s publication, the Body of Liberties. Winthrop famously promised in 1630 that his colony would represent a “city on a hill” and be an example, or shining beacon, to all peoples. Under Winthrop’s governance, the College at Cambridge, now known as Harvard University, was founded in 1636. A printing press followed in Cambridge in 1638. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn regards Governor Winthrop as integral in fostering an Atlantic Civilization, including England. The heart of this new civilization lay in the emergence of a merchant middle class based in the Caribbean trade and trans-Atlantic trade. Education was crucial, and Puritan ministers were responsible for teaching the young. The middle class in New England proliferated and doubled the percentage of middle-class families in England.
By July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the draft of the American Declaration of Independence, with additional corrections written by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. Their vision held that the new-man or Commonwealth-man was co-equal with all his fellow citizens. Franklin served as editor of the Declaration, and he had two notable advisor protégés. The first was Thomas Paine, a prominent propagandist of American ideals who wrote the political tract Common Sense in 1776 and is famous for his other political writings. The second was Father John Carroll, who celebrated the first Red Mass on July 4, 1776. Carroll would later become the first Catholic Archbishop in America. Carroll’s family estate included lands in Maryland, donated to become the District of Columbia. This district was initially under the supervision of Father Carroll’s brother, Daniel, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. An annual Red Mass is still given yearly on the Sunday before the first Monday in October to honor America’s lawyers and statesmen. Carroll and other early Catholic clergy helped foster widespread Catholic support for the new nation.
The early Americans put particular emphasis on religious doctrines and practices. Many Calvinists, including the Massachusetts Puritans, sanctioned each new church opening with a new covenant among members. The treatment of new members of the faith as free-thinking individuals continued during the Great Awakening. The adult baptism of new Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists recognized the sanctity of individual decision in matters of faith. Many practitioners of these denominations were strong supporters of the American Revolution. Their trailmasters and preachers established new communities in the West. These communities created a New England-style government with many volunteer groups and free public schooling. The first church communities were welcoming to other religious groups arriving in the area and they shared their facilities.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams served as early American ambassadors to England and France. They helped spread the philosophy in Europe of the new-man of freedom or Commonwealth-man without a king. Later, James Monroe, who trained as a lawyer under Jefferson, served in Jefferson’s administration as a special envoy to Europe and helped negotiate the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. Monroe was suited for this role since he spoke fluent French and was, in fact, already a full citizen of the French state. He had helped develop the French Constitution of 1795 in a tract called Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Citizen. After serving as Secretary of State and Secretary of War during the War of 1812, he was elected President in 1816. Monroe’s ability to deal with General Andrew Jackson’s military skills led to the nation’s overwhelming victory at New Orleans and the later growth of the United States. His first administration proved so prosperous for the country that it came to be known as the “era of good feelings.” Monroe traveled the country frequently during his presidency. His administration is significant for the passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which led to three decades of peace between free and slave states. The long-lasting Monroe Doctrine was promoted in a handwritten Presidential State of the Union Address that warned European governments against further colonization of the Western hemisphere.
Monroe held a famous 1824 Christmas dinner at the end of his Presidency with John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and his childhood friend, John Marshall, his successor officer in the Third Virginia Continentals. They fought together in the 1776 Battle of Trenton. For over thirty years, Marshall served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a supporter of the Constitution in the tradition of Hamilton and the Federalists. The primary guest of the evening was the Marquis de Lafayette, who was visiting each of the 24 states of the nation with rapturous triumph. Lafayette became the name of many towns, while others utilized the name of his home, the Grange. Lafayette was the only general of the United States to have received his military training under the French monarchy, and he served as a King’s Musketeer in the French army. He famously successfully led a division of Franco-American forces of over 10,000 men against Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Lafayette also contributed to the course of the French Revolution with his Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. When he met Monroe in 1824, Lafayette was visiting America to commemorate 50 years of American independence. Other heroes of the Battle of Trenton and Valley Forge became significant statesmen in the new Republic: Alexander Hamilton, who served as General Washington’s adjutant, and “Light-Horse” Harry Lee, who later became governor of Virginia, was the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. After service under General Washington, with his Valley Forge discussions of the future Republic, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Aaron Burr all became lawyers. Another Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, expressed his admiration for American politics in his 1830s survey, Democracy in America.
The public can find seeds of today’s American progressivism in the writings of George Bancroft, who began to publish a magisterial history of colonial America in 1834. The last of Bancroft’s eight volumes appeared in 1890. President Jackson was an enthusiastic reader of Bancroft’s history and referred Bancroft and his writings to President James Polk. These were the first presidents of the Tennessee Dynasty. Bancroft served in the Polk administration as Secretary of the Navy and founded the Naval Academy in 1845. Bancroft also served in the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, and he suggested phrases for the Gettysburg Address on the train to Gettysburg. He later gave their funeral orations following the deaths of both presidents. Bancroft encouraged new American universities to accept European scholars and incorporate their research ideas. Unlike Hamilton’s political writings, which dealt with minimizing the risk of future disruption, Bancroft held to a sunnier view of progressive political development with the arrival of canals, railroads, and river-traveling steamships by 1834. Hamilton founded the nation’s first state bank, the Bank of New York, now called Mellon Bank, and he established the First National Bank of America; the first stock market, known as the Curb Exchange; and other maritime, property, and life insurance companies that helped encourage capital growth by reducing the risk of loss.
Washington was unique in his ability to spot leadership capabilities in other people, and to maintain their loyalties for a lifetime. He made many decisions privately and showed great curiosity in many pursuits. Earlier in life, he had been mentored by his neighbor, George Mason, in military and agricultural matters. Washington is commemorated in the Capitol ceiling mural, Washington Ascending to Heaven, in the Capitol rotunda, underneath the rooftop statue of his mythical muse, Columbia.
All of the statesmen discussed refused to accept a king or tyrant for America. Yet, today there is an oligarchy ruling the country through a small group of multi-billionaires and their companies. In Silicon Valley, outside San Francisco, we have Facebook, Apple, and Google. The headquarters of Microsoft and Amazon are up the Pacific coast in Seattle. The leaders of these companies are frequently quoted, and spout the new political philosophy of “wokeness” and “social justice.” The political leaders they support are people like San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. The ideas of these leftist politicians, such as censorship, are, after a fashion, those of the potential tyrants predicted in Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings. Their decision-making is increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence (A.I.). Eric Schmidt, a former CEO of Google, stands out as a strong promoter of A.I., and he thinks it will lead the Democrats to a new Valhalla when all their unconstitutional policies can be enacted. Schmidt’s private company, Civis Analytics, helped develop the data-driven election campaigns of the Democratic presidential candidates in 2016 and 2020. At present, Eric Schmidt publicly touts A.I. in defense spending.
American success has led to the flowering of middle-class life for millions. The American middle class has risen to the occasion more than once in overcoming problems. We have not become less intelligent. Men like Washington and Monroe considered themselves replaceable in future ages by future great statesmen-politicians. But great leaders must understand our original federal and state constitutional documents.
If we can return to the leadership of the Founders, we may be able to harness the growing power of the Administrative State, also known as the Deep State. One suspects that if a Hamilton, a Washington, or a Monroe were alive today, they would stand by the Constitution and take on the Administrative State. Unfortunately, too few of our politicians today have read or understood our original Founding documents. These documents are not found in law school textbooks. These include Hamilton’s unpublished British-style Constitution found in his papers to Congress, The Federalist Papers, the National Constitution, and the Treasury-sponsored acts of the first congresses.
In 1776, men like Washington, Hamilton, Monroe, Marshall, Light-Horse Harry Lee, and Aaron Burr had reached heroic proportion in fighting one of the world’s twenty-five most decisive battles at Trenton, no mean feat. The same men a year later were with Washington at Valley Forge to develop constitutional principles for a new nation. Their models began with the Commonwealth Constitutions of the States. To do this, they all had become lawyers by the time of the Philadelphia Convention. Washington and Hamilton became responsible for a federal government designed for a republic, while James Monroe saw his version of state constitutions of democracy arise in the Northwest Territorial Ordinances. It is Supreme Court Justice John Marshall who continues Hamiltonian ideas through the presidency of his fellow officer and childhood friend, James Monroe. Lafayette’s ability, as commander of the Franco-American Division, to mobilize the French behind his military exploits in the United States, was crowned by his conquest of Lord Cornwallis. These men’s military-political background allowed for their outstanding accomplishments in founding the United States. *