Saturday, June 5, 2010

The difference between a republic and a monarchy



"A monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and go to the bottom, whilst a republic is a raft which will never sink, but then your feet are always in water."

- Fisher Ames (1758-1808), American founding father.

13 comments:

bpabbott said...

Not to disrespect the prior quotes, but this is my favorite so far!

Nice pick Mark!

Mark in Spokane said...

Thanks! Fisher was a pithy guy.

bpabbott said...

I must admit, I've read very little about Fisher Ames. But if this quote is any indication, I expect I'd enjoy his concise insight.

Mark in Spokane said...

Federalist powerhouse, and a major mover and shaker in the early House of Representatives. Not much of a theorist, but a critical founder nonetheless. Definitely in the third-tier of Founding Fathers, but that's still pretty good company to keep!

Tom Van Dyke said...

I do question the "tier" theory, at least in principle. After all, Jefferson said he wrote the D of I as not his thoughts, but as an expression of the "American mind."

Jefferson's words were "helped" by Franklin on "self-evident" instead of "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable."

Then the Continental Congress added two more references to deity---"Supreme Judge of the world" and "divine Providence."

[Original capitalizations, as near as I can tell.]

And Franklin's plea for prayer at the framing of the Constitution tabled. Ben Franklin, the original Christianity skeptic.

James Madison's "Virginia Plan" for the Constitution was rejected, as was his proposed wording of the First Amendment.

John Adams, a leader of the revolution, was tossed out of the presidency after only one term.

Alexander Hamilton's bid for high office was destroyed by personal scandal in the 1790s, and if you look it up, the 5th president, James Monroe, was a little Jeffersonian weasel helping to expose Hamilton's indiscretion---spying on Hamilton's illicit assignation---so much so that Hamilton's widow turned eventual President Monroe away at her door when he came to pay a courtesy call.

Working from memory here, but I think I'm in the zone.

The only "Indispensable Man" was GWash, who presided over the Framing but spoke little. History does not record it, but I bet he achieved more with a raised eyebrow than any of the rest of the major speakers achieved with a hour of words.

As for the rest of the Framers and Ratifiers, they are what Madison called the "present genius of the people of America," and what Jefferson described as the "American mind."

We the People, and all that, you know. "Tier" is not a Founding concept.

bpabbott said...

Re: "We the People, and all that, you know. "Tier" is not a Founding concept."

As a point of clarification, I see no evidence that the founder's desired a society of tiered privilege as part of the founding ethos. I'm confident that Mark didn't imply they did and am confident that Tom didn't imply Mark had, but the wording might be interpreted otherwise.

In any event, I do think we can, and should, compare the relative contributions of the various individuals involved in the founding.

For example, Fisher Ames ranks as number 16 on Jim Allison's attempt at an objective ranking of Who were the most important founders?

I think he qualifies as one of the forgotten founders, and is above the 3rd tier ... notice that he ranks higher than Monroe, Jefferson, Henry, Adams, Rush, and Story, who are each readily recognized as leading founders.

Pinky said...

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It's so obvious that a monarchy is all about private property and that a democracy is about public ownership.
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Neither is at its best if it is pure and unsullied one way or the other.
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That sorta seems like with Ames has in mind.
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??
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Ben, I certainly wasn't "correcting" Mark, I was agreeing. Even the "leaders" lost political battles; it was republican sentiment.

In fact, John Adams wrote Jefferson about being approached about something resembling a House of Lords. Jefferson was appalled.

Mark in Spokane said...

I didn't take Tom's point to be a criticism -- I viewed it as rather as a different perspective. And one that I think is substantively right.

There isn't any question that there are "tiers" of Founders in terms of their later influence on law, politics and culture. Lincoln, for example, quoted Jefferson all the time and gave Jefferson's official writings a privileged place. The Federalist (written by Hamilton, Madison and Jay) is probably the most influential non-legal document used by the Courts in interpreting the Constitution. Franklin, quite frankly, is America -- and was viewed that way by the French and English and many of his own countrymen even before the Revolution. So, there are tiers. But the point that Tom raised, and one that I completely agree with, is that the tiers are arbitrary.

After Washington, the most important Founder during the Revolutionary period was Samuel Adams. Hands down, SA was the guy who was most influential in getting the Revolution started. And after SA, the most influential guy was probably Thomas Paine -- Common Sense was the tract that convinced Washington that America had to try for independence, for example. And Washington wasn't alone there. But SA is hardly mentioned when it comes to modern discussions about the Founders. Add tons of absolutely essential Founders to that list as well: Patrick Henry, Luther Martin, Charles Carroll, Roger Sherman, Daniel Carroll (cousin of Charles), Fisher Ames. Even somebody who was massively influential on an international scale during the time period can be largely unnoticed by popular history. Exhibit A for this point: John Jay.

Ideally, the general culture of the colonies (influenced by what was then largely broad, non-sectarian and socially tolerant forms of Protestantism that thrived in the colonies) needs more emphasis. The Founders built on a structure that already existed and used concepts that were in common parlance. And the whole panoply of the men (and women!) who influenced the Founding Period would be emphasized as well. But, we live in the world that we live in, and like it or not, there are "tiers" of Founders in the popular culture. What is to be hoped for is that the tiers will be recognized as arbitrary -- nothing more than a tool to help us classify folks and not a judgment of those folks' importance or inherent influence. One thing that I appreciated about the John Adams frenzy of a few years ago is that it helped to reinforce that point. Adams is now back in the top tier, rescued from relative obscurity.

And Tom, what you pointed out as Adams failure is actually one of his greatest triumphs. He's the first major leader in the modern West who actually surrendered power, not because he wanted to, but because the law told him to. There were plenty of voluntary retirements before (Washington, Emperor Charles V, etc.) but Adams was the first one who gave up power when he really wanted to keep it. He's the one who kept America from degenerating into a banana republic. By his own personal restraint. So yes, Jefferson cleaned his clock, but Adams defeat is the very thing that makes him so important. And great. I would say the third most important president in American history because of that. Right after #1 (Washington) and #2 (Lincoln).

Tom Van Dyke said...

But, we live in the world that we live in, and like it or not, there are "tiers" of Founders in the popular culture. What is to be hoped for is that the tiers will be recognized as arbitrary -- nothing more than a tool to help us classify folks and not a judgment of those folks' importance or inherent influence.

Ace.

As for John Adams, I understand your point, but what choice did he have but to step down?

This touches somewhat on his unpopularity even in his own party, and being seen as a tyrant in no small part for the Federalists persecuting their opponents under the Sedition Act. His loss in 1800 was not a close thing.

Adams-as-Paul Giamatti is a bit of a pop star right now, but I cannot think of an Adams quote that has found its way into the popular consciousness. He's not even on a coin or bill, nor is he ever likely to be.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Since it's relevant here, I do want to touch on the fact that "The Founding" is a bit two-headed: those who fought the revolution and those who fashioned and ratified the Constitution.

I don't know where that leads us, and surely there is overlap, but it seems to me it's a distinction to be kept in mind.

Samuel Adams is surely the Most Forgotten Founder of the former period, [IMO] James Wilson in the latter.

bpabbott said...

Re: "The Founding" is a bit two-headed: those who fought the revolution and those who fashioned and ratified the Constitution.

Good point!

Josh Hoisington said...

To be fair, Adams is on a dollar coin. Of course, so is William Henry Harrison.

James Wilson deserves a fresh biography, I think. Well, so many of them do.