Friday, June 15, 2018

A review of David Starkey's “Monarchy” (U. K.)

"In England, for a long time after the Norman Conquest, the authority of the monarch was almost unlimited. Inroads were gradually made upon the prerogative, in favor of liberty, first by the barons, and afterwards by the people, till the greatest part of its most formidable pretensions became extinct. But it was not till the revolution in 1688, which elevated the Prince of Orange to the throne of Great Britain, that English liberty was completely triumphant."

- Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers (Federalist No. 26)

Throughout the English-speaking world, people are fascinated by the British monarchy. Although the institution has very little power today, Americans still follow its every move, as though we had never fought a revolution against it. Despite all this interest, there has sometimes been a trend in recent years - amongst historians, at least - to try and focus on what happened to "ordinary people" in history, and focus less on the traditional subjects of "politics and the military." For example, Ken Burns once said that the history of the United States is usually told as "a series of presidential administrations punctuated by wars," and that all other aspects of American history - including those dealing with ordinary people - are given short shrift, or even lost entirely. There is truth in this claim, and there is value in focusing on the lives of ordinary people - and on other celebrities from other areas, besides the traditional focus on politics and the military. Why, then, do we focus so much on powerful political leaders? Why do we continue to be fascinated by the lives of kings and queens, when the "common man" is held up as the "greater ideal" for an enlightened democracy?

Queen Victoria

Why do we sometimes ignore the "ordinary people" of history?

I think part of it might be that the lives of ordinary people are usually not as well-documented as the lives of the rich and powerful, and a dig by archaeologists that unearths details of an ordinary person's life doesn't get as much fame and sexiness as those that unearth details of a major monarch's life. For example, most people would rather hear more about Julius Caesar and his generals, than about the ordinary men and women that made up the empire he ruled; and the same is true of American presidents and generals. But besides the fact that the lives of ordinary people are not as well-documented, there is another reason that historians focus so much on politics and the military (including monarchy), which is that the lives of ordinary people are affected quite extensively by what genius - or moron - is in power at the moment. For the history of most countries of the world, this necessarily entails a thorough examination of kings, queens, and royal families - on the monarchs and dynasties who are in charge at any given time. These kings are not just studied because historians are fans of royalty and juicy court gossip (although there is plenty of that), but because the history of entire countries depends on these things, and on the "royal soap operas" that are so often found at the center of power.

Queen Elizabeth the First

When King John signed the Magna Carta, it was like signing a surrender document …

“No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

The original Magna Carta from 1215, Section 39 – using the translation (from the Latin into English) that was offered by Yale Law School's “Avalon Project”

When King John of England signed the Magna Carta in 1215, it was tantamount to signing a surrender document, and just as humiliating for him. Before, the authority of the king had been almost (if not completely) absolute. Now, it was limited, and his nobles had the king's signature to prove it. Why did the king agree to sign this document in the first place? If he wanted to continue to have absolute power (and he did), why would he agree to such limits upon his power?

King John of England

The short answer for this is that he had no choice – he was forced to sign this document by angry men wielding a sword at him. But how did these noblemen manage to force him to do this at sword-point? How is it that King John lost his grip on absolute power at this time, with his descendants having very little chance of recovering it later on?

The Magna Carta

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How did the Virginia Declaration of Rights influence the Bill of Rights?

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety … That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”

George Mason actually refused to sign the Constitution of the United States …

George Mason was present at the Constitutional Convention, but he refused to sign the finished document. When the final draft was approved, he said that he “would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands.” Why, you might be wondering? Because the original Constitution didn't have a Bill of Rights; and having authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights earlier on in his career, he knew the importance of a Bill of Rights in a country's constitution.

George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights

He wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May 1776 (ratified June 1776)

Specifically, he had authored the “Virginia Declaration of Rights” in May 1776 – a document that was later approved in June 1776. It not only influenced the United States Declaration of Independence (passed in July 1776), but the United States Bill of Rights (which was passed in 1791). It drew upon influences from both American and British history, but it also made some original contributions of its own, as well as some improvements on previous ideas. It was also amended somewhat by Robert C. Nicholas and James Madison.

James Madison

It influenced our federal Bill of Rights in many ways, as I will show with some relevant quotes

The Virginia Declaration of Rights influenced 7 out of the 10 amendments in the United States Bill of Rights (which is 70% of them), and was thus a major influence on our Constitution. This post will show the most influential parts of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the parts of the United States Constitution that they influenced as well.

United States Bill of Rights

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Petition of Right influenced the United States Bill of Rights

“The history of Great Britain is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted, and it gives us many useful lessons. We may profit by their experience without paying the price which it cost them.”

 John Jay, in the Federalist Papers (Federalist No. 5)

It sounds ironic to say it now, but a number of the Founding Fathers of the United States were actually against including a “Bill of Rights” within our Constitution. Some of them thought that it would be dangerous to do so, because they argued that any right not listed there would be construed “not to be protected” by the Constitution. They were partially wrong on this score, of course, and it would fall to other Founding Fathers to make sure that a “Bill of Rights” was later passed. But this early objection to the “Bill of Rights” may have been the reason that it eventually included a Ninth Amendment when it was passed, which said that “The enumeration [or “listing”] in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” (In other words, just because a right isn't listed in the Constitution, doesn't mean it's not a right.) This addressed the concern of those Founding Fathers who had objected to a bill of rights because of this.

Parliament of England

Some Founding Fathers were against having a “bill of rights” in the Constitution …

Nonetheless, when Alexander Hamilton listed examples of a “bill of rights” in one of the Federalist Papers, he was not endorsing them, but slamming them. He was holding them up as bad examples which should be avoided to avert danger from having a “comprehensive” list. Specifically, Hamilton said that “It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the PETITION OF RIGHT assented to by Charles I., in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants.” (Source: Federalist No. 84)

Alexander Hamilton

… while others were for it

Other Founding Fathers disagreed, and held them up as models of good laws that should be emulated to protect rights. Because of their well-deserved popularity, these laws had a great influence on the first ten amendments to the Constitution (the amendments that later became known as our “Bill of Rights”). They are thus deserving of our attention despite Hamilton's objections to them, and were positive influences on our Constitution once the “Bill of Rights” was passed. I plan to cover all of these documents in this series (plus a few others); but in this post, I shall focus exclusively on the “Petition of Right,” written by Sir Edward Coke. Two decades before King Charles the First was beheaded in the English Civil War, he was forced to sign this document. (And he wasn't too happy about signing it … )

Petition of Right, 1628

Monday, June 4, 2018

Aristotle and Mormonism

One of the great Macedonian kings was Philip II of Macedon. He fathered the boy who would become Alexander the Great, and he hired a tutor to teach this now-famous son. The tutor was another famous person that you've probably heard of, incidentally, because it was none other than Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Our church is among a number of those whose leaders have quoted from Aristotle, incidentally, as I will show below.


King Philip II of Macedon, who hired Aristotle to tutor his son

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Socrates and Mormonism

Mormons are among a number of churches that value the wisdom of Socrates. Church leaders have even quoted from him over the years at times. I have given some of these quotes in another post about Plato, so I will try to minimize the redundancy here. Suffice it to say that Socrates is important to us, and that I will try to show this with some relevant quotes.


Monday, May 28, 2018

A review of “The War That Made America”

"Since the English have in their power an officer and two cadets, and, in general all the prisoners whom they took when [they] assassinated Sieur de Jumonville they now promise to send them with an escort to Fort Duquesne, situated on Belle River, and to secure the safe performance of this treaty article, as was as of the treaty ... "

- English translation of the "Articles of Capitulation" after the Battle of Fort Necessity, Article 7 - the French text of which was mistakenly signed by George Washington (who did not speak French) on 3 July 1754, in the belief that the translation given to him had been accurate (which it probably wasn't)

This documentary is about the French and Indian War, not the American Revolutionary War ...

When most people hear the phrase "the war that made America," the event they would think of is the "American War of Independence." (Or as we call it in America, the "American Revolution," or the "American Revolutionary War.") Most people would be surprised to learn, then, that this is about the "French and Indian War" - or the "Seven Years' War," as it's known elsewhere (including in Canada). This war took place over a decade before the creation of the United States, and ended some years before the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord. It's also important for the future history of Canada, I should note here, because it turned Canada from a French colony into a British colony, and thus secured the dominance of English speakers in the region. The year 1759 is thus a controversial year in Canadian history, I should note here, and it is resented bitterly by French Canadians - not to mention the First Nations Canadians. Nonetheless, it is American history that is the focus here, even if the documentary is narrated by the First Nations Canadian Graham Greene (which it is).

Battle of the Plains of Abraham - Quebec, 1759

The bitter strife of the Revolution actually had its roots in this war

At this time, the British Crown ruled the Eastern Seaboard of this continent, and its colonies were loyal outposts of the British Empire. These colonies all had their own militias that took part in this struggle, but they were not terribly impressive compared to the professional Redcoat soldiers, who arrived from Britain in considerable numbers after the war began. These Redcoat soldiers were the real backbone of the British presence there, and they had reason to view the colonial militias with some contempt. They were tactless enough to express this contempt more than once, and there were signs of friction between the two even during this period. The colonial governments resisted London's attempts to pay for the war by taxing the colonies, and they actually insisted on retaining local control over the colonial militias with regards to staffing and - even more importantly - military strategy. The bitter strife of the Revolution thus had its roots in this war; and the two groups' fighting alongside each other was a temporary situation that would not last.

The Albany Congress - New York, 1754 (the precursor to the later Continental Congresses)

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