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Lessons from history that USA founders invoked in def. of Constitution

by bluemoonKY
Tags: constitution, founders, history, invoked, lessons
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bluemoonKY
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Jan10-14, 01:06 PM
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In this article from City Journal, the writer Heather MacDonald states the following: "The American Founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world's most stable and free republic. They invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense. And they assumed that the new nation's citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy. "

Do you agree with this excerpt from Heather MacDonald's article? If so, what specific lessons did the American Founders invoke from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense? What are your sources that support your assertions?

Here is a link to the article: http://m.us.wsj.com/article_email/SB...DQyWj?mobile=y
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russ_watters
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Jan10-14, 01:26 PM
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Sounds like a homework essay question. Is it?
bluemoonKY
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Jan10-14, 01:30 PM
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No, it is not a homework essay question.

Greg Bernhardt
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Jan10-14, 01:34 PM
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Lessons from history that USA founders invoked in def. of Constitution

Quote Quote by bluemoonKY View Post
Do you agree with this excerpt from Heather MacDonald's article? If so, what specific lessons did the American Founders invoke from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense? What are your sources that support your assertions?
Why don't you give us your analysis first. What are your thoughts on this?
bluemoonKY
#5
Jan10-14, 01:36 PM
P: 37
Russ Waters,
I'm not even in school. I'm a middle aged truck driver. I can't see why you would think my question seems like an effort to get answers for a homework essay assignment. When I went to school, teachers got homework essay questions from textbooks, not City Journal.
bluemoonKY
#6
Jan10-14, 01:38 PM
P: 37
Greg,

My thoughts on what Heather MacDonald wrote is that it is interesting, but I can't say whether or not I agree or disagree with her since I've never seen any evidence supporting or going against the contention that the American Founders invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, or the Ottoman Empire in support of the US COnsitution. I can't really give an analysis. I'm not well read on the activities of the American Founders at the Constitutional Convention.
AlephZero
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Jan10-14, 03:17 PM
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Your link to the article doesn't work.

But I don't see anything surprising in those historical references. Any "well educated" person would have learned about the Greek city states as part of their classical education. The Carolingian Dynasty was more or less the starting point of the history of "modern Europe" ("modern" from the perspective of 1776). Even though the Ottoman empire was beginning to stagnate and decline, at its peak it had extended over three continents, and its political significance in 1776 would have been comparable with the the current political significance of say the 20th century history of the USSR.
SteamKing
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Jan10-14, 03:27 PM
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I think Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" was relatively current at the time. It contains a wealth of historical detail.

If you want to know what the Founders thought during their debates, James Madison kept a diary during the Convention, and the Federalist Papers were written shortly after the draft constitution was signed and submitted to the states for ratification. The Federalist Papers were written to support ratification and to explain the new document to the people.
SteamKing
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Jan10-14, 03:43 PM
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I think this is the link to the article the OP was referring to:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/...64321265378790

This particular article has been adapted from an article by the same author in the Winter 2014 issue of City Journal, which is not online yet.
AlephZero
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Jan10-14, 05:46 PM
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Quote Quote by SteamKing View Post
I think this is the link to the article the OP was referring to:
That link works, but (from the UK) I get to read about one sentence plus a request to "log in" - which I assume implies "subscribe" and "pay", since it doesn't explicitly say "free".
SteamKing
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Jan10-14, 08:37 PM
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It's a weird paywall at the Wall Street Journal which comes up if you try to access the article directly with the link in Post #9.

An alternate means of access is to google "Heather MacDonald lessons of the founders" and then click on the story, "The Humanities have forgotten their Humanity" at wsj.com (there's even a little picture by the link). That should get you thru the paywall.
Astronuc
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Jan11-14, 07:12 AM
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Quote Quote by bluemoonKY View Post
In this article from City Journal, the writer Heather MacDonald states the following: "The American Founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world's most stable and free republic. They invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense. And they assumed that the new nation's citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy. "

Do you agree with this excerpt from Heather MacDonald's article? If so, what specific lessons did the American Founders invoke from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense? What are your sources that support your assertions?

Here is a link to the article: http://m.us.wsj.com/article_email/SB...DQyWj?mobile=y
In order to answer the questions, or provide an informed analysis, one would have to be familiar with those who drafted and revised the US Constitution, or participated in the arguments, debates or deliberations of the Convention. It would also be helpful to know that state of a classical education in the 1700's.

Some insight into what influenced the authors of the Constitution may be found in their letters or writings, or in biographies.

Apparently in the article is the statement "The 14th-century Florentine poet Francesco Petrarch triggered the explosion of knowledge known today as Renaissance humanism with his discovery of Livy’s monumental history of Rome and the letters of Cicero, the Roman statesman whose orations, with their crystalline Latin style, would inspire such philosophers of republicanism as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson." So one may infer that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were aware, if not familiar, with Roman history, or perhaps Roman republicanism.

Regarding authorship of the Constitution, one may find

Q. Who actually wrote the Constitution?
A. In none of the relatively meager records of the Constitutional Convention is the literary authorship of any part of the Constitution definitely established. The deputies debated proposed plans until, on July 24, 1787, substantial agreement having been reached, a Committee of Detail was appointed, consisting of John Rutledge, of South Carolina; Edmund Randolph, of Virginia; Nathaniel Gorham, of Massachusetts; Oliver Ellsworth, of Connecticut; and James Wilson, of Pennsylvania, who on August 6 reported a draft which included a Preamble and twenty-three articles, embodying fifty-seven sections. Debate continued until September 8, when a new Committee of Style was named to revise the draft. This committee included William Samuel Johnson, of Connecticut; Alexander Hamilton, of New York; Gouverneur Morris, of Pennsylvania; James Madison, of Virginia; and Rufus King, of Massachusetts, and they reported the draft in approximately its final shape on September 12. The actual literary form is believed to be largely that of Morris, and the chief testimony for this is in the letters and papers of Madison, and Morris's claim. However, the document in reality was built slowly and laboriously, with not a piece of material included until it has been shaped and approved. The preamble was written by the Committee of Style.
Ref: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/cha...n_q_and_a.html

Apparently James Madison was a principal author of the Constitution.
James Madison, Jr. . . . hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights.

Madison became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. His collaboration with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay produced the Federalist Papers (1788).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison, which cites a biography of Madison "Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography, (1971)"
In the Wikipedia article on Madison, one will find some mention of his early life and education.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_M..._and_education

Also from the National Archives:
Q. What state papers should be considered in connecting the Constitution of the United States with Magna Carta?
A. The Great Charter was confirmed several times by later medieval monarchs, and there were various statutes, such as those of Westminster, which also helped to develop the germs of popular government. The Petition of Right, 1628, against the abuse of the royal prerogative, the Habeas Corpus Act, 1679, and the Bill of Rights, 1689, to establish the claims of the Petition, are the great English documents of more modern times on popular freedom. Meanwhile, the colonial charters became the foundation of the Americans' claim to the "rights of Englishmen," and were the predecessors of the State Constitutions, which owed their origin to the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence established the principles which the Constitution made practical. Plans for colonial union were proposed from time to time, the most important of them being the Albany Plan of 1754, of which Benjamin Franklin was the author. The united efforts to establish independence gave birth to the Articles of Confederation, which though inadequate, were a real step toward the "more perfect Union" of the Constitution.
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 1787
http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/cha...g_fathers.html

In all, 55 delegates attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, but only 39 actually signed the Constitution. The delegates ranged in age from Jonathan Dayton, aged 26, to Benjamin Franklin, aged 81, who was so infirm that he had to be carried to sessions in a sedan chair.
So there is quite a range of age, education and experience.

Individual Biographies of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/c...ion/delegates/
It has often been remarked that in the journey of life, the young rely on energy to counteract the experience of the old. And vice versa. What makes this Constitutional Convention remarkable is that the delegates were both young and experienced. The average age of the delegates was 42 and four of the most influential delegates——Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, Gouvernor Morris, and James Madison——were in their thirties. Over half of the delegates graduated from College with nine from Princeton and six from British Universities. Even more significant was the continental political experience of the Framers: 8 signed the Declaration of Independence, 25 served in the Continental Congress, 15 helped draft the new State Constitutions between 1776 and 1780, and 40 served in the Confederation Congress between 1783 and 1787.
I've read in the past that several of the 'founding fathers' had an interest in Persian poetry and social, political and moral thought.
Hornbein
#13
Feb1-14, 11:15 AM
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Quote Quote by bluemoonKY View Post
In this article from City Journal, the writer Heather MacDonald states the following: "The American Founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world's most stable and free republic. They invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense. And they assumed that the new nation's citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy. "

Do you agree with this excerpt from Heather MacDonald's article? If so, what specific lessons did the American Founders invoke from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution's defense? What are your sources that support your assertions?

Here is a link to the article: http://m.us.wsj.com/article_email/SB...DQyWj?mobile=y
As far as I'm concerned the WSJ is a propaganda outlet and I pay no attention to the contents. I tried to get the article, no luck.

The US Constitution was based on Rome and England, with the main innovation being the office of President with a veto over legislation. I would believe that the other sources were mentioned in passing, but were hardly major influences. Now let's look at the WSJ's journalism with a critical eye.

"world's most stable and free republic" would be Rome, which lasted a thousand years. If bygone regimes are excluded then the choice would be England, which became a republic before the US did. Thomas Jefferson wrote that Sir Francis Bacon's utopia was a big influence.

"And they assumed that the new nation's citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy." I don't believe that. Maybe they assumed that property owners would be versed in such things. Only property owners had the vote at first.
Astronuc
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Feb1-14, 01:05 PM
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Perhaps the best places to look for sources are the writings of the authors and their libraries.

Certainly those who took roles in government were relatively well read.


As for the WSJ and Heather MacDonald, they are conservative, and one should expect a certain bias in their writing.

Heather Mac Donald is a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.
http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/mac_donald.htm

"The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (renamed in 1981 from the International Center for Economic Policy Studies) is a conservative American think tank . . . " - Wikipedia

Nothing wrong with that. Folks are entitled to their opinions and perspectives, but the reader should be aware.
SteamKing
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Feb1-14, 01:06 PM
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When Rome was founded (traditionally in 753 B.C.), it was ruled by a king. The last king of Rome was deposed about 509 B.C. The Roman republic lasted until Julius Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. In between, there were periods of dictatorship during the Punic Wars and towards the latter years of the Republic. At most, the Roman republic lasted about 460 years. OTOH, the Roman empire, in its eastern and western versions, lasted considerably longer.

The chief innovation of the U.S. Constitution was not the office of the President, but something much more basic: it was written down. The English constitution was never committed to paper, and the Roman republic was governed by tradition as much as by a definite set of rules. Legislation could be vetoed under the parliamentary system in England: the House of Lords had a veto power over the bills passed by the House of Commons until 1911 and the sovereign could always deny royal assent to a bill. The last time that the denial of royal assent to a parliamentary bill was seriously considered in the UK was 1914.
Astronuc
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Feb1-14, 02:14 PM
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Quote Quote by SteamKing View Post
When Rome was founded (traditionally in 753 B.C.), it was ruled by a king.
or emperor. It seems that one became emporor by deposing, usually by assination, the previous emperor. Apparently, a similar system worked in the Byzantine empire.

The chief innovation of the U.S. Constitution was not the office of the President, but something much more basic: it was written down. The English constitution was never committed to paper, and the Roman republic was governed by tradition as much as by a definite set of rules. Legislation could be vetoed under the parliamentary system in England: the House of Lords had a veto power over the bills passed by the House of Commons until 1911 and the sovereign could always deny royal assent to a bill. The last time that the denial of royal assent to a parliamentary bill was seriously considered in the UK was 1914.
While there is no specific or single document described at the "Constitution of England (or UK)", there is a body of literature of English constitutional law. How about the Magna Carta?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.[1]

Unlike many other nations, the UK has no single constitutional document. This is sometimes expressed by stating that it has an uncodified or "unwritten" constitution.[2] Much of the British constitution is embodied in written documents, within statutes, court judgments and treaties.
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constit...United_Kingdom

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constit...dom#References (see 1 and 2)

But let us not diverge or digress.
SteamKing
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Feb1-14, 02:40 PM
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Traditionally, there were seven kings of Rome, starting with the founder Romulus. The other kings were thought to have origins in the nearby Etruscan civilization, but all of this is speculation, based on the legends which have come down to us through Roman literature.

In the republic, two consuls were elected annually, with power being split between the consuls during the year. One consul would act as de facto head of state for a month, then the other consul would assume power for the following month. In the field, each consul was ex officio the head of an army.

In times of dire emergency (such as when Rome was threatened by invasion from Carthage), a dictator could be appointed for six months, who had absolute authority over the state. An imperator was something which came after the republic was dissolved.
SteamKing
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Feb1-14, 02:53 PM
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The Magna Carta forms a part of the constitutional documentation of the UK, much like the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which is an actual bill passed by Parliament.

However, the English constitution subsumes these documents (and many other texts, including Acts of Parliament) along with various customs and traditions arising out of the history of England.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constit...United_Kingdom

Arising out of many different sources, the English constitution exhibited a certain flexibility in application and operation. Now that the UK has a Supreme Court, separate from the House of Lords, it will be interesting to see how things will operate in the future.


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