Scott Adams wrote a few cartoons where his character Dogbert had a taser, and he used it on everybody who annoyed him. Sometimes I wish I lived in that world. That way the next time somebody quotes Benjamin Franklin out of context, I can zap him with the taser until smoke pours out his ears. Maybe then people will learn that they will never win a point by quoting somebody out of context. Ben Franklin was speaking of standing armies when he said, “he who would sacrifice a little bit of liberty for a little bit of security, will lose both and deserve neither.” Franklin was against standing armies while other delegates to the Constitutional Convention were very much in favor of them. Like all of Franklin’s other Constitutional ideas, it was ignored.
In the last few years I have seen that quote applied to such diverse matters as cameras at stop-lights, the enforcement of libel laws, September 11th conspiracies, breaking the media monopolies, health care, weapons of mass destruction, cell phones, and the income tax. Not once has anybody applied that quote to standing armies. It has become the all purpose response when there is no other argument. When shown proof that cameras at stop-lights reduce traffic fatalities, out comes the quote. When presented with an idea that journalistic standards and ethics be enforced again, there is always the quote. I have no idea what Franklin would say about national health, but I hardly think he would equate it with standing armies. Suggesting that September 11th conspiracists should take their medications becomes a threat to liberty. The quote has become an internet meme which has completely lost any meaning. It is another way of covering your ears and singing, “la la la, I can’t hear you.”
Nor has this become the sole example of quoting out of context. Recently Glenn Beck has been trotting out Thomas Paine in support of the tea baggers. Paine was part of a social movement called the Populists. He advocated a progressive tax on wealth, welfare, subsidized farm loans, and representative democracy. He even declared health to be a basic human right. It just goes to show you that any point can be won if the person being quoted is dead. Paine was an anti-federalist who strongly advocated for the original American Confederacy of 1780-1790. Upon his return to the United States in 1802, he lived in obscurity for seven years and his funeral was ignored. Once he was dead, he immediately became the darling of the nation. Great monuments were built in his honor, and Common Sense has been quoted out of context by public school teachers for over a century.
In a recent interview, former pro-wrestler turned politician, Jesse Ventura, criticized the Democrats and the Republicans for not working together. I will be the first to admit it when Ventura says something intelligent. It happens so rarely. Then Ventura had to ruin it by quoting the founding fathers out of context. He said that George Washington, John Adams and others warned us against the dangers of political parties. If I lived in Scott Adams’ world, I would zap Ventura with my taser until lightning came out of his nose. The founders liked the two party system just fine. It was the many political parties being formed in England they were scared of. Different factions were creating their own political parties and having them elected to Parliament. In order to get anything done, the different factions had to work together to create a compromise. This is the foundation of Parliamentary Democracy. The delegates, Ministers of Parliament, Congresspeople, whatever you want to call them, directly represent their constituents and get them the best deal possible. That was what our founding fathers were worried about. They wanted to make sure their people stayed on top.
The Constitution represents a naked power grab by a faction in government whom we now call the Federalists. Had the revolution not happened, George Washington would have been jailed by Britain for his shady land deals. Alexander Hamilton was very well connected to the American and British financial industry. He and his relative by marriage, Robert Morris, worked together on a bond scam that defrauded the Revolutionary enlisted soldiers of their back pay. Even the leader of the anti-federalist movement, Thomas Jefferson, was a wealthy landowner as well as a slave owner who held his own children as property. These were not people who particularly cared about the rights of other people. When Jefferson became president, he continued the Federalist system and liked it.
Our Federalist founders created a system which imitated the British court of the time. Our president has the exact same powers as the Constitutional Monarch. He is the head of the army, disperses funds, oversees the execution of the law, industry, diplomacy, etc, through his cabinet. Originally the Senate was appointed by the state governments. There are no term limits for the Supreme Court, and British common law gives any American judge the same power as a British duke. Alexander Hamilton created a taxation system where the wealthy were barely taxed and the poor and lower middle class maintained most of the tax burden. Washington selected his cabinet from industrialists and landowners. You did not find Patrick Henry or Herman Husband amongst his closest advisers. To this day the cabinet is selected from the wealthy to serve the interests of the wealthy, and the Supreme Court Justices are selected by their loyalty to the monied interests.
Due process in law has always been at the whim of our government. Four years after the Constitution was ratified, Washington’s Attorney General declared that the Constitution did not apply to anyone accused of rebelling against the United States. Suspects in the Whiskey Rebellion were arrested without warrant. They were paraded down Market Street in Philadelphia as traitors, and tossed into an unheated cell without food or light. This was a precedent John Yoo turned to in his torture memos. In a foreshadowing of Guantanamo, all twenty men were found not guilty, even though the judges gave instructions to enter a verdict of guilty. Over the years due process has also been denied to freed slaves, European immigrants, and anyone else without the funds to buy due process.
Those tea baggers, and anarchist libertarians who talk about freedom within the Constitution have no idea what they are talking about. The United States was never a representative democracy. Our president is chosen by the electoral college, so I don’t even know why we bother with the popular vote. It’s all show anyway. Our Congress and Senate are representatives of military industrial complex, just as our federalist founders wanted it. There has never been a time when the wealthy paid their share in taxes, and a poor man has rarely won against a rich man in court. That is how our legal system is set up. The Bill of Rights was a major concession won by the few populist delegates to the Constitutional Convention, but even the Bill of Rights is interpreted through the Supreme Court, which historically championed Jim Crow.
When Libertarians prattle on about a return to the Constitution, I wish I was Dogbert so I can tase them until they do the Monster Mash. The America they talk about never existed in the real world. Maybe if they walked through a wardrobe and traveled through Narnia, Aslan might direct them to it. We are living in the exact America the Federalists wanted. A return to the Constitution is only going to cement corporate control over this country. If we want to change the country, we need to look to the future. Trying to return to the past never works. The clock never ticks backwards, and trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions only makes things worse. Look at what happened to Germany when they tried it.
(Author’s note. The original head photo was John Adams. This composite sketch was lent to me courtesy of http://wethepeoplegame.com/ and Bob Snizek. They hold all legal rights to it.)
His hair was unkempt for it had not been brushed in years. His clothes were tattered and mended; they were meant for farm work and not for addressing the members of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Yet he stood before the assembled leaders of colonial Pennsylvania and he preached fire and brimstone. He called down the wrath of God upon the crowned heads of Europe and the land speculators in New York. He preached the New Jerusalem on the American Continent. His America was one that Superman would be proud of for it was founded on Truth and Justice. Staring at his audience, no, his congregation, with eyes of fire, he preached the damnation of slaveholders, and condemned those who abused the natives to eternal hellfire. When he was finished, his audience rose to applaud their hero. His name was Herman Husband. His detractors called him the Mad Man of the Mountains, but his fellow members of the Pennsylvania assembly called him a man of God.
Born to a wealthy family in Maryland, Husband got religion from working for his tavern keeper uncle. That same uncle also taught him the value of hard work. Those lessons were so well learned that young Herman could not readjust to the frivolous life of a Maryland plantation owner’s son. He found their vapid imitation of British court life sinful, and he could not abide slavery. He soon moved away and bought his own plantation. He left the Anglican Church, which he felt was the home of the antichrist, and joined the Quakers. Proving that there was no fanatic quite like a convert, Husband became the most dedicated of Quakers. Forsaking all vanity, he refused to brush his hair and wore only work clothes. Even though his plantation and business interests made him a very wealthy man, he lived as frugally as a pauper. Despite his frugality and his uncompromising religious beliefs, his children adored him, and all three of his wives felt he was the world’s greatest mate.
His first wife gladly converted to the Society of Friends, his second wife joined him in exile when the Quaker elders banished him, and his third wife and all his children helped him escape when King George had a price on his head. Husband refused to compromise when it came to religion. It was his firm belief that God spoke to each and every human being regardless of race or gender. When he criticized the Quaker elders for forbidding revelation contrary to Quaker doctrine, the elders banished him. Husband could care less. His church was the invisible church on the right hand of God. No earthly authority had the right to tell him he wasn’t one of the elect.
Husband joined with fellow banished Quakers, angry Baptists, defrocked Methodists, and other heretics who became what is known as the Regulators. They did not earn that name for their religious beliefs. On the contrary, religion was the most unregulated thing about them. To them, accepting Jesus as their lord and savior automatically made them the equals of any popes or bishops. They could not care less about historic inaccuracies in the Bible. To them, the book was a divination tool. The will of God was revealed through relating the Bible stories to the modern world. It mattered not to them that there was no historic Moses, the Ten Commandments were still God’s own truth.
While the Regulators could not agree on dogma or ritual, they did agree on politics. Amazingly, the Regulators were in total agreement that God wanted a progressive tax on wealth. It also came to a surprise to George Washington that God hated land speculators and wanted title given to the people who actually developed the land. Alexander Hamilton was not amused to hear that God demanded low interest loans to farmers. Imagine Thomas Jefferson’s outrage when he discovered that the Almighty not only wanted him to free his slaves, but to pay reparations for the indignities of being owned. The Regulators also felt that Africans and Native Americans had equal rights in the eyes of God and both should enjoy full civil rights on earth.
The name Regulators came from their belief that good government was government that protected the rights of the poor from the depredations of the wealthy. Laws should be passed to assure everybody of equal opportunities, and that everybody had an equal voice in government. Back when George Washington was still having tea with the Royal Governor of Virginia, and John Adams was campaigning for a British peerage, the Regulators were calling for an America free of European tyranny. The King was not happy, nor were the governors of Maryland and Virginia. It was not long before the Regulators became an illegal organization and Herman Husband fled into the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Husband the fugitive came to settle in the Allegheny Mountains. Known only as the Quaker, he worked amongst the the trappers and hunters who settled around Pittsburgh. Eventually he built a homestead where his wife and children joined him. His neighbors respected him not just as a farmer but as a preacher. He shared his vision of the American West as a new Jerusalem, and his dream of welcoming the reign of Christ through establishing just laws. In those days before the Rapture became dogma, Christians believed that the reign of Christ could be brought into existence through the efforts of human beings. Husband had a vision of the New Jerusalem ruled through a complex legislature based on strict term limits. His neighbors so loved his vision that they elected him to the Pennsylvania legislature twice.
There was no greater champion of the American Revolution than Herman Husband. To him, George Washington was a latter day Joshua, bringing down the walls of the British Jericho. Later, Husband would be shocked and dismayed by his hero. Not only was Washington an absentee land owner in Husband’s own beloved Alleghenies, but Washington’s presidency was a repudiation of everything Husband lived and worked for. The grand old man of the Regulators saw the Constitution as a work of Satan, and a means for the rich to exploit and abuse the poor. Having the general who led the revolution as the first president under that Satanic document almost shattered Husband’s belief in God.
Almost, but not quite. Despite the unfair taxation that exploited his neighbors, and laws that protected land speculators from prosecution from their tenants, Husband continued to believe. He continued to preach his New Jerusalem based on the equality of man. He continued to preach a progressive tax against wealth, civil rights for all, and an end to the damnable institution of slavery. When his neighbors rebelled against the Federal Government over Hamilton’s Whiskey Tax, which provided the likes of George Washington with a lucrative monopoly, Herman Husband was the first to join in.
He was also to be the first of many to be arrested without due process and the only one to be prosecuted for the crime of sedition. There were many Federalists who heard him preach against a government that forced hard working farmers off their land, and imposing taxes that sent working men into the poor house. Worse of all, he preached against slavery, and in the early days of the US government, that was a constitutional violation. Out of the 28 people to be prosecuted for the Whiskey Rebellion, Herman Husband was one of two to be found guilty. The rest were found not guilty despite judge’s orders to enter a guilty verdict. Washington, adroit politician that he was, pardoned him so he would not become a martyr to the anti Federalist cause. The pardon didn’t come a minute too soon. Herman Husband contracted pneumonia from being kept in an unheated cell in December and died soon after being released.
Poor Herman Husband never lived to see his American Jerusalem and was betrayed by the very heroes he prayed for. The religious movement he helped to found transmuted into today’s religious right. The social movement he helped start continued after his death, and later influenced such thinkers as Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. I find it funny that the only founding father I have any affection for was the great-grandfather of today’s born again movement. If there was any Christian who truly deserved heaven, it was Herman Husband, because it was he and not Washington or Jefferson, and especially not Hamilton, who embodied the American spirit of Liberty and Equality. Only Herman Husband embodied the best qualities of the religious and of the socialist. May his memory be restored as an example to us all.