August 26, 2004

The United States as a Developing Country During the Cold War, or, John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Company

Scene: A start-of-the-semester reception at Euphoric State University, in the Great State of Euphoria, in the town of Plotinus, across the bay from Esseff itself. Glaukon and Thrasymakhos have clearly shown up way early. There is nobody else there. Glaukon is seated in a cushy chair, drinking wine akratos--and he has already drunk too much. Thrasymakhos, by contrast, is by the sideboard, showing what a determined opsophagos can do to an unguarded buffet.

Enter the Ghost of Daniel Webster:

GoDW: Neighbor, how stands the Union?

Glaukon: Bad. Very bad. Never worse. Terrorists... Weapons of mass destruction... Leaders... Incompetent idiots... George "Colin Powell doesn't want to know if what he is saying is true" Tenet... Donald "Why don't you exchange your saber for a foil and fight left handed to show how good a fencer you are!" Rumsfeld... Condi "I don't read footnotes" Rice... George W. "I don't read--but I might watch a PowerPoint presentation on Social Security" Bush... The Republic has never been in worse...

Thrasymakhos: Ha! (munch, munch)

GoDW: What?

Thrasymakhos: (munch, munch) Ha! I said, "Ha!" Try some of the salmon...

GoDW: I'm a ghost. Ghosts don't eat.

Glaukon: Why do you say "Ha!"?

Thrasymakhos: Because (munch, munch). Because the Republic has been in much worse shape and much greater danger in the past--with equally disreputable politicians.

Glaukon: It has not! It has never been in worse danger!

Thrasymakhos: Nonsense (munch, munch). The whole first half of the nineteenth century. A small, nonindustrial republic sharing the world with the rapidly-industrializing British Empire: a much more dangerous situation. After 1815 France had learned that it did not want to fight Britain and Germany had not yet developed its absurd delusion that it did. All Britain had to do was decide it was willing to pay the cost, execute enough patriots, find enough collaborators, and your "Union" would have been a memory.

GoDW: I must protest...

Thrasymakhos: And I suppose you will tell me that Old Hickory was a great and wise president, with a deep and thorough knowledge of the intricate details of nineteenth-century banking systems, and a deep respect for the constitutional order? "The Bank of the United States has made itself my enemy, and I will kill it!" "John Marshall has said what the law is: now let him enforce it!" Andrew Jackson knew only six things: he didn't like banks, he didn't like Cherokees, he didn't like wealthy New Englanders, he didn't like John Quincy Adams, he didn't like John C. Calhoun, and he trusted Martin van Buren...

GoDW: Ha! Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory. Yes, he was what you would call a "clown show." A genuine mountebank. Van Buren as the organ-grinder, and Jackson as the monkey. And...

Thrasymakhos: And don't think your crew was any better. The campaign you ran against Jackson: calling his wife Rachel a conscious and knowing bigamist, a slut, a whore. You would have thrown Bob "I said the Bush family should stop lying about *my* record; I'm happy to help them lie about somebody's else's" Dole--he who says that there isn't a muzzle big enough for Teresa Heinz Kerry, and that John Kerry claimed medals for wounds that were not, that didn't even bleed--you would have thrown Bob Dole out of your crew for excessive prissiness...

Glaukon: That's not fair...

GoDW: I recognize and admit that we were unworthy descendants of the Great Founders of the Republic--we did lead the Ship of State aground onto the Great Rocks of the Civil War--but the Great Founders: they are definitely worth respect. They were a Higher Breed of men...

Thrasymakhos: Ha! (munch, munch) Ha!

Glaukon: No. The Ghost of Daniel Webster is right. The Founders were Great Men.

Thrasymakhos: The "Founders" were little men. Selfish, greedy, grasping, ambitious men.

Glaukon: That's not true!

Thrasymakhos: It is true. You've just been force-fed too much bad political--and legal--history. (munch, munch) The stuffed mushroom caps are excellent.

Glaukon: Take someone like John Marshall. Marbury v. Madison. The establishment of an Independent Judiciary. A great gift to us--one of the things that has made our country great.

Thrasymakhos: There is no doubt that Marbury v. Madison was important, or, rather, that Marbury v. Madison was part of something important. And I agree that an Independent Judiciary is a very good thing. But it wasn't made by one case, and wasn't made by great men. One case in which the Supreme Court asserts jurisdiction but then refuses to act does not an Independent Judiciary make.

Glaukon: Then where did it come from?

Thrasymakhos: From the piecemeal deeds of little men. Marbury was important only in combination with Fletcher v. Peck, Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, Dartmouth College, et alii. The Independent Judiciary was not established merely with a stroke of a pen. It took a lot of effort. It took some very good writing and teamwork. It took more than a bit of prudent political cowardice and hypocrisy when necessary. Notice any parallels with Alan Greenspan, and the creation of the Independent Federal Reserve?

Glaukon: But... But... But surely the end of an Independent Judiciary was already marked out. Had not Madison and Hamilton set out the path? Wasn't an Independent Judiciary one of the "advances in the science of politics" that the Federalist said made big republics possible and stable?

Thrasymakhos: Perhaps that was so in theory... in the theory of Young Turks desperate to convince the voters of New York to overturn the existing governmental order and create a brand new, different political theater--a level playing field in which old established position mattered little, and on which Young Turks like Hamilton and Madison could satisfy their ambition by displaying their virtu. But when in 1801 they actually came face to face with the fact pattern of Marbury v. Madison, Madison and Jefferson were none too pleased with their Federalist hack-staffed "Independent" Judiciary. There was serious talk in Republican circles of impeachment if Marshall had gone the other way. And, remember, by the time of Marbury, Hamilton is THE ENEMY. The royalist. The person who was conspiring to return America to its allegiance to the House of Hanover.

Glaukon: But Madison and Jefferson recognized the value of judicial independence...

Thrasymakhos: Did you think that either of them thought Marshall was "Independent"? How can the judiciary be "Independent" when the justices are so clearly craven, partisan tools, right? And how can you call Marshall anything other than a partisan tool of the conservatives?  His decisions were tendentious, naked attempts to further the partisan goals of the conservative party--radical strengthening of federal power and evisceration of the sovereign state powers for which our soldiers bled! (McCollough), radically strict and unprecedented (in the technical sesne) interpretations of public contract, preposterous  (Fletcher v. Peck! honest people robbed, robbed! outright bribery UPHELD by a reactionary Supreme Court as a binding contract on a legislature!  'Zounds, this crypto-royalist would have upheld the Stamp Act itself!).

Glaukon: But...

Thrasymakhos: If this be an "independent judiciary" why not just give the Republic back to the Hanoverians? Surely an "independent" judiciary cannot be made up of men animated by partisan or ideological impulse, can it?

Glaukon: Well, I suppose not. And maybe Marshall is overrated. But Madison, Jefferson, they were great...

Thrasymakhos: I am not so sure that they were greater. Perhaps Marshall was, in the end, the greatest. If you hold the opinion that Thomas Jefferson was, potentially, a dangerous man, then the trial of Aaron Burr may have been the most important event in the early Republic.

Glaukon: Do you really think that Jefferson was really, even potentially, a Robespierre--or even a Bonaparte?

Thrasymakhos: I think that somebody who was much too enthusiastic about Robespierre's Terror, who talks the Rousseauist language that the tree of liberty needs to be watered with blood, who hires journalists to write lies about his fellow cabinet members--Jefferson's campaign against Hamilton would make even the "Swift Boat Veterans" blush. It is said that Karl Rove told the Financial Times's James Harding that by the time this bunch of Republicans were through with him, people would think that John Kerry fought for the Vietcong. Well people who read the Jefferson-funded slime press and believed it really did believe that Alexander Hamilton was on the side of the British. You see, Hamilton was opposed to the French Revolution, which meant he must be on the side of the British...

Glaukon: I've often wanted to read a history of the early years of the United States as if the U.S. was a developing country during the Cold War. Domestic factions allied with Britain and France, which will recognize no neutrals. George Washington throwing all his prestige and virtu on the side of neutrality in the Farewell Address, pleading with his countrymen not to fall into this trap...

GoDW: And being completely ignored...

Thrasymakhos: As some chose France, and others chose Britain. The Alien and Sedition Acts, beginning the process of imprisoning people for political dissent...

Glaukon: The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, purporting to emasculate the federal government with nullification...

Thrasymakhos: Force to choose one superpower or another, the temper of political dispute rises to a boiling point...

Glaukon: And then William Pitt the Younger gives Richard Helms a marshall's baton to prevent the election of Allende--excuse me, Jefferson...

Thrasymakhos: Hamilton claims to win a narrowly-disputed election by using his army to prevent the arrival of one of the electoral vote envelopes in Washington...

Glaukon: The Contras begin burning homesteads in Tennessee--excuse me, the Cajuns...

Thrasymakhos: His Majesty George III sends a cake in the shape of a sycamore tree to Magua, Grand Sachem of the Iroquois...

Glaukon: Pinochet--excuse me, Jefferson--uses the Virginia militia to arrest the Federalist leaders, and executes them in a soccer stadium...

Thrasymakhos: You have the idea exactly. The successful transfer of power to Jefferson--we are all Federalists, we are all Republicans--shows that the Federalists value playing by the rules more than they value keeping their country's government out of the hands of the insane French puppets. But then there is a falling out among the Republican faction, and we cometo the Treason Trial of Aaron Burr. Burr is guilty as hell. Yet John Marshall--whether because he was bribed, or because he thought that the United States could not afford to establish the precedent of sending its vice president to the scaffold--steps in. Marshall's behavior in that courtroom was quite extraordinary: as much of a joke as the worst moments of William "ballot security" Rehnquist or Nino "I'd be so embarrassed if anyone ever used this as a precedent" Scalia. It was all in the interest of keeping the vice president off the scaffold. And remember: Burr has just assassinated the head of John Marshall's Federalist Party. John Marshall saves him--perhaps because he was bribed, but more likely because he thought it was very important to keep the United States from becoming a place where there was precedent that the penalty for high officers who lost political struggles was death.

Glaukon: You are far too convincing. Do you really think that Jefferson could have become a dictator--could have handed on to us a political system like that of Jomo Kenyatta or Mahathir Muhammed?

Thrasymakhos: (munch, munch). I think that we are all quite fortunate that Jefferson had really, really poor organizational skills.  And (munch, munch) we are also quite fortunate that his second banana was not a Saint-Just but rather James Madison--the greatest and most virtu-suffused politician, well, ever.  (Of course, Jefferson had a significant role in choosing this second banana . . . )

GoDW: But Madison got us into the War of 1812...

Thrasymakhos: True (munch, much). His worst--and almost his only--big mistake. And it was a whopper. Suppose Napoleon had drowned crossing the Berezina, and Wellington and his army had been sent with plenipotentiary powers to deal with Cousin Jonathan. Then the southeastern border of Canada today would be at the Hudson (munch, munch). If not at the Susquehanna (munch, munch).

Glaukon: Are you going to eat up the entire buffet?

Thrasymakhos: It (munch, munch) depends if anybody else comes. You (munch, munch) are a tenured professor who bought his house in the early 1990s. I (munch, munch) am an untenured lecturer who rents. If you were me, you would be here maximizing calories...

Glaukon: And you would be here getting drunk!...

Thrasymakhos: Nah (munch, munch). I'm naturally optimistic. George W. Bush is no Bill Clinton or Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson. George W. Bush is not even a Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush is certainly no Jack Kennedy--it's quite possible (munch, munch) that he's no Dan Quayle. He may well be the worst president since the Civil War. But that doesn't matter much.

GoDW: That doesn't matter?

Thrasymakhos: That doesn't matter, sir, because of the answer to your question. You asked, "How stands the Union?" The Union stands strong, sir. The Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible: the mightiest, freeest, and most powerful civilization the world has ever seen, in this or in any age. There is much ruin in a nation. George W. Bush and company have drawn our account down more than I would have believed possible in less than four short years, but our balance is still very high.

Glaukon: I thought you were supposed to be a cynic, not an idealist.

Thrasymakhos: I'm not supposed to be a cynic. And I'm certainly not an idealist. I just take things as they are, and say what I see to be true.

Posted by DeLong at August 26, 2004 12:04 AM | TrackBack

I thought those dialogues had gone away. And now they're back, with stage directions...

I have no idea whether I agree with this. First I have to decide whether the question posed is even meaningful for anything except academic cocktail party conversation. And as long as we are there, then if that is the setting why (munch munch) rather than (slurp slurp)?

I think one thing in the dialogue is misleading: I don't think that Jefferson believed in an independent Judiciary that actually did much of anything -especially not judicial review. I think that it is true that he thought Marshall was a tool of the Federalists. But I also think it is clear from his writings that he didn't like the idea of judicial review -he thought that it lead to judicial supremacy, and he preferred supremacy of majority vote.

Why did you pick on Jefferson so much? And what is new about your comments on Jefferson? There are a bunch of Jefferson haters out there who think he had quite a fanatical dark side and exercised it several times during his career. Why isn't the powerful aristocratic federal government that Hamilton described during his speech to the constitutional convention just as disturbing?

I also disagree with your comment on historiography. I think that there has been a cold war aspect to histories of that period. It amazes me how many historians take sides -they are either Republicans or Federalists; Jeffersonians, or Hamilton men. There might even be an Adamsite out there someplace. You read some very catty and snarky comments in books written about that period -many authors do see themselves doing battle against some kind of dark side of something or other.

Posted by: jml at August 25, 2004 07:40 PM

According to my high school American History teacher (who, believe me, was not someone you argued with), Jackson was asked on his deathbed whether he had any regrets. "Yes," he replied. "I regret I didn't hang Clay and shoot Calhoun."

It's hard to argue with that.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg at August 25, 2004 08:09 PM

So, see, Jackson did restrain himself.

Upon reflection, I also think that your post was unfair to The Sainted Founders. Who weren't saints, but I think one can make the claim that they operated on principle more often than politicians usually have since.

Was there anything other than principle behind Hamiltion's public outburst against Adams, and then his support of Jefferson? I think Hamilton might have been bipolar, but that is a psychological factor to add to principle, not interested calculation. What if McCain, or Hagel or Schwarzenegger (sp??) denounced Bush -it would be a politcal earthquake.

Jefferson's ruthlessness and aggressiveness, during the Embargo and Burr trial, and Louisiana Purchase was all in the sphere of foreign affairs. But he was open about his opinion that the federal government did have strong powers in that area. Seems to me that even at his Jacobian best (eg, when he was on one of his periodic Republic of Wards binges) he was open about this.

And Washington's position of neutrality was based on prinicple. Jefferson claimed that Washington was actually sympathetic to the French revolution. Supposedly in a cabinet meeting Hamilton tried to get Washington to condemn it, but Washington said that even though many things had gone wrong, the French revolution was necessary. So according to Jefferson, Washington was sympathetic to France, but chose a course of neutrality out of concern for the U. States' welfare.

Of course, this is Jefferson talking. Since your post mentions that he, and apparently only he, sponsored smear campaigns in the press, I will assume the claims that Jefferson was an atheist advocate of free sex and violence, and was in fact hellbent on and destroying private property, and instituting the 18th century equivalent of rounding up political opponents in soccer stadiums and shooting them. Except I guess it would have been cricket pitches back then. Or rounders stadiums. Whatever.

Posted by: jml at August 25, 2004 08:23 PM

Bravo. The most fun I've had online this year.

Posted by: Aaron Silverman at August 25, 2004 08:34 PM

What's amazing is that you don't really have to go back to the founding fathers to find a campaign that's at least a half-order of magnitude, if not a full order of magnitude, nastier than the current one. GHWBush's 1988 convention speech made a half dozen subtle references to Willie Horton -- I doubt we will hear GWBush mention his opponent's Vietnam service at all. In 1980 "Democrats for Reagan" ran an add basically saying that the Ayatollah wants Jimmy Carter to be President; while the "10 out of 10 terrorists agree" meme is out there, no one is running TV ads like that this year. In the 1940 Democratic convention "a vote for Dewey is a vote for Hitler" was invoked explicitly at the convention.

And this little spiel was absolutely hilarious.

Posted by: niq at August 25, 2004 08:38 PM


I love the site, but please, could you end the faux Greek dialogues? They are not worth reading, and actually, are tedious.

I would rather see your energies put into more "normal" posts, whuich are more informative than most news sources anywhere.


Posted by: F L Giancola at August 25, 2004 08:48 PM

And the only third world strongman antics I've read about Washington is that when he lost his temper in cabinet meetings he would stomp on his hat, or jacket, and swear up a storm. Didn't beat up or shoot anyone. Weak tea if you ask me.

OK, I will now restrain my outrage at this post and let some one else take a few shots.

Posted by: jml at August 25, 2004 08:51 PM

Jefferson and Marshall were descendents of William Randolph, whose progeny contributed an immense amount of gossip to our national heritage. It isn't clear what issue caused their lifelong enmity. Marshall's grandmother was involved in a set of scandals which were resolved by her marriage to an Anglican priest and their removal to the frontier in northwestern Virginia. The Marshalls were respectable industrious folk, like the Jeffersons. So it doesn't apear to have been social snobbery.

The high point of the enmity, because the most petty, occurred when Marshall bought a big house and needed to get out of debt. So he wrote a multi-volume biography of Washington. In it he described the fateful meetings of the Continental Congress in 1776, forgetting to mention the detail that Jefferson wrote the Declaration. Jefferson took it very personally and expressed his outrage to several people.

The enmity may have started with a famous trial in 1793. A Randolph woman (and child of a Randolph cousin marriage) became pregnant, probably by her Randolph brother-in-law (also the child of a Randolph cousin marriage). The baby died under suspicious circumstances and she and her brother-in-law were tried for infanticide. Their attorneys were the dream team of Patrick Henry, at the end of his career, and John Marshall, at the beginning of his. There was an acquital, since the key witnesses were slaves, who couldn't testify. But along the way, it came out that the defendant had obtained an abortificent plant preparation from her good friend (and wife of her brother), Martha Jefferson Randolph. Perhaps Jefferson expected Marshall to stip this out of the evidence.

On a happier note, the female co-defendant, very much a fallen woman, later married Gouverneur Morris, richest man in New York, writer of the final draft of the Constitution and buddy of Madame de Stael. The stepfather of the male co-defendant was St. George Tucker, eminent writer on common law and the only Virginian of the period who not only condemned slavery but proposed a concrete program to end it.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at August 25, 2004 08:53 PM

Frank - My vote cancels out y'alls. Brad's dialogues are always interesting, even if he does have a tendency to prop them up with a sudden increase in stage directions and asides as they wind down.

As for historians taking sides, jml, I think there's a distinct imbalance of Jeffersonians -- particularly Sean Wilentz, who can be relied to pen a three-thousand word searing indictment in the New Republic every time anybody says anything remotely nice about a Federalist.

I don't think Jefferson was evil; I just think he was a self-important blowhard. He had one great achievement for which I salute him, the Louisiana Purchase, and I've always thought it instructive that his greatest achievement struck violently against the grain of the philosophy he spent his life espousing.

But I'm glad to see there's at least one other member of the James Madison Fan Club out there.

Posted by: schwa at August 25, 2004 09:17 PM

So, the founders were human. How disappointing.

However, ponder this. Could we get Bill of Rights passed in this day and age?

Posted by: piotr at August 25, 2004 09:23 PM

I'm shocked that Van Buren's cowardly if not treasonous behavior during the Aroostook war wasn't mentioned.

OTOH, some libertarian believes that MVB was the greatest American President. Google it up.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at August 25, 2004 09:47 PM

Worth noting: Chester A. Arthur is the most under-rated president of all time. Jefferson, on the other hand, sucked.

Posted by: praktike at August 25, 2004 10:04 PM

Brad, as I understand your point, it is that there were pretty damn lousy politicians in the US's past, but the system did OK; with the subtext, presumably, that while it would be nice to boot Bush, it's not the end of the world if we don't.

The difference, however, is like the difference between a bar fight that involves fists and a bar fight that involves guns. There were strong limits to just how much individuals and corrupt groups could hurt the nation in the past, limits that no longer exist.
At the elementary level we are talking about things like control of the media that allow for Orwellian campaigns, but that's kids stuff. What about issues like global warming? What about when Al Qaeda finally succeeds in buying their bomb from Pakistan?

The difference now, like the bar fight with guns, is that there's a heck of a lot less room for error, let alone for deliberate stupidity.

Posted by: Maynard Handley at August 25, 2004 10:20 PM

The way people normally learn about Jefferson inevitably leads to disillusionment. We learn all the positive stuff first, and have an image of Apollonian balance and sincerity. So there's a sense of surprise when we find about about his treatment of Burr, his approval of the Terror, the intemperate seech. About all you can say in defense is that they didn't reflect political expediency.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at August 25, 2004 10:36 PM

"please, could you end the faux Greek dialogues? They are not worth reading, and actually, are tedious."

You, sir, are a Cretan.

Posted by: ogmb at August 25, 2004 10:45 PM

Reading this dialogue, what might the Kerry/Edwards campaign conclude?

1. The 5th Estate, whose truth-telling efforts
traditionally tempered the debate (you can't
lie too much or the press turn on you) has
shrivelled. In its place are the modern
equivalents of the printing-press owners:
willing and able to peddle any old twaddle
so long as there's a check in it, and they
don't offend the next client too much by
taking sides.

2. Therefore, the only way to participate in the
political contest is 'the old fashioned way'.
Pamphlets, rabble-rousers, and rumours.

3. Well then, hell; let's go with the following
pamphlets (oops - ads):

Bush: Coward or Clueless (or Both?)

Bush/Cheney: Thieves, murderers, and
incompetent to boot.

Bush/Cheney: Desperate Liars make Comfortable

I mean, isn't this one thing to conclude? The Republic is strong enough to take whatever Bush and Kerry can fling at each other. And all
that matters is winning the election.

Posted by: Paul G. Brown at August 25, 2004 10:58 PM

Snicker. Thank you. I do like these.

Let me suggest, however, that these days the issues are much different. Really, could you see how any of the old-timers could do as much harm as W. has by invading Iraq? And then there's environment risks he's taking.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz at August 25, 2004 11:21 PM

This is DeLong's blog. He has more authority over what we write than the other way around. So given I've yet to hear a peep from him on our behavior (does he even read the comments?), so I'm not inclined to tell him how to act -- especially in his house! Back off and let the guy have a little fun in his own sandbox, okay?

That said, there's one fatal error in comparing the past to the present: Nowadays, reality moves much, much faster. "George W. Bush and company have drawn our account down more than I would have believed possible in less than four short years," is a hint of what got missed.

Posted by: Dragonchild at August 26, 2004 12:21 AM

Brad, you really need to reevaluate your image of Jefferson, and in particular of the newspapermen of the 18th century. When you refer to "the piecemeal deeds of little men," my thoughts turned to Benjamin Franklin Bache, William Duane, and James Callendor.

I recommend The Tyranny of the Printers or American Aurora.

Posted by: Dave Meyer at August 26, 2004 12:27 AM


I think you might find Steve Erickson's Arc d'X somewhat interesting. It's a literary novel partly with a SF setting. And Jefferson and Sally Hennings are important characters in it. It's quite weird.

Have you read this? Any comments?

Posted by: Robert at August 26, 2004 01:12 AM

Brad DeLong is mistaken in bringing out Britain's industrial strength, though his conclusion is accurate; until about 1860 what counted was financial strength, and Britain had that. Consider what was needed for the Crimean War, for instance.

Wellington was indeed consulted on the costs of retaking the revolted areas in 1814, and he advised against it. This was not only on the ground of financial cost but also of military resources tied up over the long term.

There was also a British pro-American lobby, mainly mercantile, and the landed interest had no interest in overseas anyway - there really was something to virtual representation. Consider, for instance, the early history of the firm of Baring Brothers.

There was no need for collaborators for the methods then used for pacification; apart from a few areas, pacification didn't need occupation but expulsion (just as the rebels had done to the Loyalists). There were enough nearby expelled loyalists to return and occupy the few points needed indefinitely. In fact, this was pretty much what the concept of "colony" meant in those days - a sort of Fencible operation on a larger scale, much like the colonies Alexander the Great left all over his conquests. It would have been quite practical, and indeed in Britain's long term interests, to have a devastated shatterbelt rather than a breeding ground for future rebellion and future competition for hegemony.

All in all, a wasted opportunity.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence at August 26, 2004 01:44 AM

Well done. One small problem, however, is the issue of judicial review. There was no tradition of judicial review. There are no 18th century instances. It's argued that it's implicit (although not explicit) in the Constitution. Traditionally, the right of legal review resided in the people not the judiciary so judicial review was a usurpation.

Posted by: Dave Schuler at August 26, 2004 06:12 AM

Two books worth looking at in connection with this period:

The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution by Thomas Slaughter

The American counterrevolution : a retreat from liberty, 1783-1800 / Larry E. Tise

On the plus side for Jefferson: dis-establishment of the Church of England in Virginia. The dis-establishment of the churches in the various states is a neglected topic.

Of course the big negative on Jefferson is his stance on slavery. He like just about every white southern man in the universe was unable to beat the thought of living with free blacks. What would Olympe de Gouges have said about that? I have a fair notion.

Looking at the era of the American and French Revolutions it is easy to find feet of clay in your heroes, or at least among their allies. Those who think that the Terror somehow negates every positive thing about the Republican Revolution should contemplate the Terror inflicted by Royalist forces in the Vendee when the Royalists were winning in that region.

It was a tough time to be pure. Anyone who praised anything in the revolutionary era no doubt praised something that some or all of us find repugnant, looking back. The most loathsome demagogues and reactionaries all said something that is indubitably true.

For those who don't like the dialogues, has it occurred to you not to read them?

Posted by: sm at August 26, 2004 06:54 AM

I'd like to echo the "margin of error" thought raised above. The stakes in the modern era are vastly higher, tolerating far less incompetence and error than in prior ages. Imagine, for example, if weapons of mass destruction were available to the various sides of the French Revolution. Chances are reasonable that instead of pictures of IM Pei's glass pyramid at the Lourve we'd have postcards of Lake Paris. Or so on.

We live in an age where we literally stand a few weeks --or hours-- away from the end of human civilization. There's a reason why the last term in the Drake Equation is the probabilty that an alien civilization that develops sufficent technology to communicate with us avoids blowing itself up long enough to communicate with us...

Posted by: Jeff at August 26, 2004 07:13 AM

Actually, I find that the dialogs provoke the most interesting comment threads, and have a lower chance of being visited by trolls.

Posted by: John Stein at August 26, 2004 07:35 AM

The title of the main page is coming up in my browser as "Brad DeLong's Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal...."

Posted by: digamma at August 26, 2004 07:48 AM

Off the thread, but relevant to the issue of how bad things are, the Census folks have produced their 2003 report on household income, poverty and insurance.

It is true that things are not good. It is also true that things are better than they once were. And, EPI underestimated the rise in poverty by 46% last week. Those guys are shills for the White House.

Posted by: kharris at August 26, 2004 08:24 AM

I agree it's valuable to look back and see how rough and tumble things really were during those times that are now elevated in popular culture to a glowing all-principled pedestal. Helps me to be optimistic about our future.

However, regarding the state of the Union. I don't think it's good and maybe it's time to make the Union less sacred. Division might be an improvement. Red states on their own would be forced to adopt fiscal responsibility and then they'd get school prayer in the bargain. Blue states get universal health care. The world, including ourselves, gets one less superpower full of hubris and willing to take awful chances.

Or, in less incendiary terms let's call it a rebalancing of sovereignty. Every minute that goes by we end up with less; some of it going to the new citizens being born and some going to globalization. Can't stop either but some new disunited states might bring a bit of control closer to home. Unfortunately federalism isn't working all that well any longer so let's try something else.

Great post and comments.

Posted by: dennisS at August 26, 2004 08:28 AM

That was awesome. Thanks Mr. DeLong.

Posted by: jared at August 26, 2004 09:03 AM

Great dialogue, tho surprised you didn't mention the big challenge to claims of judicial independence upon Jefferson's ascendancy: the impeachment trial of Justice Chase. That seems to me to have been the key moment --- had Chase not been acquited in the Senate, removal of justices might have become increasingly regular. Despite Chase's political diatribes from the bench, we are nonetheless lucky that he survived so that others less political could remain so.

The Chase impeachment also points to the role of dumb luck in the settlement of our most revered institutions. Had it not been for the fluke of Yazoo scandal, which had annoyed many of Jefferson's supporters in the Senate, Chase may well have lost his place on the bench. And this comes in the way of a response. Perhaps the Union developed stable institutions during its early years due to luck breacking against the bad decisions of mediocre leaders. But we may not be so fortunate the next time we have mediocre leaders making bad decisions. In this way, the complaisance of Thrsymakos is unwarranted: with bad fortune, things can take a turn for the worst. Bush's continued habitation of the White House should make us nervous. We should remain very worried about a lack of responsible leadership.

Posted by: Robert Tennyson at August 26, 2004 09:05 AM

To NYC ... Or Not to NYC

To NYC, or not to NYC: that is the question.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Republicans,
Or to take arms against a sea of Swift Boats,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That Freedom is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to TV: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what horrors may come
When we have voted off this November election,
Must give us pause: there's the lack of respect
That makes calamity of so apolitical a life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of Bush,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The fangs of despised Rove, the law's delay,
The insolence of high office and the spurns
That patient merit of NeoCon fascists takes?

To slave and sweat under the Ashcroft spies,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd CIA prisons from whose bourn
No freedom fighter returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those evils we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of American resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And free speeches of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action, becomed passive.

Instead we commence and find in far NYC our peers,
and with them march, in pallor, shuffle and suit,
a dirge of death throughout its quieted streets,
a dirge for America lost, for the death of Republic
and that intimate vision of stolen freedoms fading.

Go then, and come with us, and sing this solemn dirge,
Sing, and sign, and bang thy drum loud for all to hear,
until the heavens rent, and rain down cold fury upon us,
then shall those evil lords tremble in feckless fear.

Posted by: Hesai Deshaid at August 26, 2004 09:37 AM

I am not so sure the margin of error "smaller" now--old fashioned warfare was incredibly destructive of human life and as many died of disease and starvation as wounds, while the population itself was precariously small. And today, even if Al Quaida got a nuke, they would be unlikely to get many--Japan survived two. I think the real dangers to the republic are economic. GWB is building up huge deficits just as we head into the generational tsunami of a retiring baby boom generation. And it is not just the government--household and corporate debt are also growing--hence the ever huger trade deficits. Instead of preparing for the day the party stops, the current administration is piling on future problems.

Posted by: quartz at August 26, 2004 10:15 AM

I resent the dismissal of Jackson. He was jobbed out of one election and then won two. Rose from orphanhood to business, professional, military, and political success. Defended the Union as president (siding with Webster) and led the rise of popular democracy.

I don't know about the Clay and Calhoun epigram, but the sentiment may have been right. Remini says his last words were as follows.

"Where is my daughter and Marion? God will take care of you for me. I am my God's. I belong to him, I go but a short time before you, and I want to meet you all in heaven, both white and black."

" What is the matter with my Dear Children, have I alarmed you? Oh. do not cry -- be good children and we will all meet in Heaven."

Posted by: Craig Nelson at August 26, 2004 10:42 AM

More Americans Are Living in Poverty, Census Bureau Says

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3 million last year, to 35.9 million, while those without health insurance climbed by 1.4 million, to 45 million, the Census Bureau reported today.

It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.

The figures, which the administration issued a month earlier than usual, quickly became the focus of political charges.

"Today confirms the failure of President Bush's policies for all Americans," Senator John Kerry said, referring to the new data. "Under George Bush's watch, America's families are falling further behind."

But some Republicans noted that even as the number of uninsured Americans grew, the number of insured did as well, by a million.

Median household income remained basically flat, at $43,318 when adjusted for inflation.

The numbers were not unexpected, and do not reflect the economic growth of the past several months that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Dan Weinberg, a Census Bureau analyst, said the data were typical for a post--recession economy, but that the numbers of insured reflected continued uncertainty over employment. Employers have cited the high costs of providing health insurance as a reason to hire conservatively.

Still, the new data come amid a close election campaign in which debate over economic health and fairness loom large.

Posted by: anne at August 26, 2004 11:09 AM

Typical for a post-recession economy? Maybe. The poverty rate continued to rise after the prior recession, too, and rose continually through the double dip of the 1980s. However, soon after the end of the second dip, the poverty rate began dropping in the 1980s. Earlier post-recession periods did not see an extended rise in the poverty rate. A ready guess would be that whatever has prevented a typical post-recession rise in employment has also contributed to the rise in the poverty rate well past the end of the recession.

Posted by: kharris at August 26, 2004 11:51 AM

> 1. The 5th Estate, whose truth-telling efforts
traditionally tempered the debate (you can't
lie too much or the press turn on you) has
shrivelled. In its place are the modern
equivalents of the printing-press owners:
willing and able to peddle any old twaddle
so long as there's a check in it, and they
don't offend the next client too much by
taking sides.

I think you meant "the fourth estate" here. Though, there is a certain comedy to be had if you really meant "the 5th estate" instead. URL:


Posted by: s9 at August 26, 2004 12:06 PM

naw, bloggers are the 5th estate.

So who riggedmade the voting machines back then?

Posted by: Anna at August 26, 2004 12:23 PM

Two comments -- one is to agree with some previous posters that stronger and more centralized power today can do greater harm than in previous centuries.

The other is to note that having survived possibly greater dangers in the past does not guarantee surviving dangers now. Even if your near-blind elderly relative drove through rush-hour Washington, DC, without killing himself or others, he still might sail through a small-town red light with fatal consequences tomorrow. The damage to the nation's institutions, civil infrastructure, and economy from this administration still looks very, very dangerous.

Posted by: nihil obstet at August 26, 2004 12:23 PM

(note to self and others - don't bother including any html tags)

Posted by: Anna at August 26, 2004 12:24 PM

from 8/24:
"I have received numerous emails from psychiatrists, escapees from Nazi Germany and even one from a former Nazi Party member, who say an authoritarian takeover is underway, or at least being attempted, and that the people in power are dangerous."

Soros has warned of the same thing - -
"Soros believes a “supremacist ideology” guides this White House. He hears echoes in its rhetoric of his childhood in occupied Hungary. “When I hear Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ it reminds me of the Germans.” It conjures up memories, he said, of Nazi slogans on the walls, Der Feind Hort mit (“The enemy is listening”): “My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me”..."

So - are the ones who've seen it happen before oversensitized, or are they acutely perceptive?

Posted by: Anna at August 26, 2004 12:37 PM


"A ready guess would be that whatever has prevented a typical post-recession rise in employment has also contributed to the rise in the poverty rate well past the end of the recession."

Agreed. But, what are we dealing with? Are we dealing with a combination of productivity advances from the application of technology that lessens demand for labor? Are we dealing with competitive job displacement to Asia? Of course, fiscal policy has not been nearly as effective as it could be.

Posted by: anne at August 26, 2004 12:58 PM

Who cares what happened 200 years ago?
The republic is being destroyed today!

Posted by: Andrew McManama at August 26, 2004 02:11 PM

How refreshing to see an American speaking in public about the Sainted Founders and mentioning that they did not have halos.

Of course, it is done via a fictional intermediary.



Posted by: meno at August 26, 2004 06:54 PM

I realize that the Professor's Socratic dialogs are meant for my improvement, so I read them. They are like treasured ancestral family cold remedies: after the agony subsides you realize that your head is clear for a little while. I just think they are better suited for scintillating discussions of the market social welfare function, and economic history of land tenure (those are really scintillating topics to economists.). And I am a Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian-Adamsite, so I am cool with the Prof trying to be even handed.

I was saying earlier to a distinguished personage that some people who grew up in a third world country during the cold war tell their history as if they had US-style founding fathers. I've spoken with students from Ghana and Tanzania in US grad schools who would never have gotten anywhere except for government funded village grade schools built by people like Nkrumah and you hear them talk as if that sort of person were a distinguished founding father. And I've heard people from families who prospered under the colonial government talk about Nkrumah as either a corrupt strongman or a idealistic fool who wrecked things up but good. They tell a more familiar story -at least more familiar to us in this country.

Maybe we were just lucky. Jefferson thought invading Canada during the War of 1812 was a great idea -"a mere matter of marching" he said. But that was such a disaster right from the start that it didn't lead to much trouble -we realized our mistake and marched back home lickety-split. And Hamilton *might* have had dreams of getting control of the US Army and doing a little invasion of Mexico to bring them republican government -or maybe it was just a passing fantasy he wrote out in a letter while in one of his odd moods So, yeah, I guess they could have messed things up, if they had been given more of a chance at the right time.

It seems to me that TJ, AH JM and JA all considered France and England to be corrupt colonial powers who had lost any sense of morality, and the first principle should be to stay out of their way as much as possible. At least that is what they wrote in private correspondence -if I remember correctly.

I had never heard about the wickedness of van Buren and that Aroostook thing before.. shocking, absolutely shocking! I googled, and first thing I saw what that van Buren introduced a ten hour workday for labor on government projects -so libertarians like that guy? Then I read about the Aroostook horror -Canadians sneaking across the border and enslaving US trees, and this van Buren namby-pambied around about it and negotiated! Pure evil if you ask me.

Posted by: jml at August 26, 2004 07:10 PM

I'd like to add something to Anna's warning that an authoritarian takeover may be imminent, or may already have begun to happen irreversibly.

What is really striking about Bushco is how incredibly well-positioned and collusive all of its components are. The media, the three branches of government, and the corporate funding sources are all mutually reinforcing and therefore difficult to dislodge. You pretty much have to tackle all of them simultaneously; if you focus on just one of the components, the others will rush to its aid.

The situation forcibly reminds me of how Stalin took over the Soviet Union. (The Nazis may have copied his methods.) He quietly insinuated his people into key positions within the Party. When Lenin and Trotsky finally woke up to Stalin's machinations, it was too late: it wasn't their party any more.

I hope it's not too late for the U.S.

Posted by: Carbo at August 26, 2004 09:05 PM

My big problem with this dialogue is that, as a participant, Webster gets off scot-free. Fugitive Slave Act, anyone ?

Posted by: John Quiggin at August 27, 2004 12:22 AM

A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi - A precipice in front, wolves behind (between a rock and a hard place)

Posted by: thigh high panty hose lace at August 27, 2004 08:03 AM

i used to believe that the US would undergo a Soviet-style breakup in about 75 years.

since the red-Assed Baboons took over, i have drastically revised that estimate downward.

i'm thinking now i may actually live to fucking see it.


Posted by: graywyvern at August 29, 2004 10:02 PM

i used to believe that the US would undergo a Soviet-style breakup in about 75 years.

since the red-Assed Baboons took over, i have drastically revised that estimate downward.

i'm thinking now i may actually live to fucking see it.


Posted by: graywyvern at August 29, 2004 10:02 PM