Guest Essayist: Jay McConville


“I can scarcely contemplate a greater calamity that could befall this country, than to be loaded with a debt exceeding their ability ever to discharge.” (Anti-federalist Papers, Brutus No. VIII, 1789)[1]

Many Americans have a warm spot in their hearts for the British, by which they usually mean the quaint English people in the television shows they watch. For example, BritBox, the subscription service that features United Kingdom (UK) television shows, reported over 1 million U.S. subscribers by the first quarter of 2022, after only five years of operation.[2] Blessed with a rich history, a culture that often exudes sophistication, and a command of the language that (unfortunately) escapes most Americans, the UK is regarded highly by most Americans as our friend, our partner, and our kindred spirit in culture and world affairs. We share a language and history, of course, as the original U.S. states were British colonies. That early relationship was fraught with conflict, so our positive current alliance is better traced to our partnership fighting tyranny in World War I, II, and the Cold War. Many Americans also trace their lineage to the UK, or one of its former colonies or territories, so this tiny island nation is a favorite vacation spot for Americans. One British Airways survey found that “[t]hree in ten Americans said the UK is their favourite country and one in seven said they would move to Britain if they had the chance.”[3]

Yet the little nation that Americans love so much was once the most powerful, fierce, dominating, and wealthy empire on the earth. In fact, “by the end of the 19th century, the British Empire comprised nearly one-quarter of the world’s land surface and more than one-quarter of its total population.”[4] The number of current countries that were once part of its colonial empire are too numerous to list here, but included varying levels of control over much of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Kenya, Hong Kong, and South Africa just to name a few. The empire was built on economic adventurism, naval power, military domination, and colonial control. It developed over several hundred years, accelerating when the British led a coalition to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. It was later victorious in both World War I and II, ending competition for European hegemony from their industrial rival Germany. Yet colonial revolts, including the independence of India in 1947, proved too much to sustain and by 1956, with the Suez crisis, the empire was in full collapse. With the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the once great empire was no more.

Why this occurred is the subject of many books, movies, and academic papers. Boiled down, however, the decline can be traced to the consequences of an extended empire, the costs of maintaining military forces in those lands, unsustainable debts, and the eventual loss of the privileged economic position of the British pound sterling. In summary, the UK had failed to notice or heed the warnings Brutus provided to the United States, encapsulated in the quote above.

Brutus, an anonymous American writer opposed to the adoption of the United States Constitution, was the nom de plume used by the author (or authors) of the Anti-federalist Papers. These papers paralleled the Federalist Papers, arguing against adoption, fearing the federal government was being set up as too powerful. While, as we know, the Constitution was eventually adopted, the Anti-federalists did much to influence its final form, and Brutus’ papers provide, even to this day, important reminders of the dangers of a too-powerful central government.

What do the Anti-federalist Papers of Brutus tell us about what happened to the British Empire, and how do those warnings apply to the United States today?

While the Anti-federalists had many concerns, the most germane to these questions are those articulated in Brutus No. VIII. That paper, published in 1789, continued the argument that the Constitution’s “necessary and proper” clause (Article I, Section 8) gave the federal government too much power. That article begins, “The Congress shall have the power” and then lists the enumerated powers of the federal government. The Anti-federalists believed that clause meant, as per Brutus in the earlier paper “Brutus No. VI” (1787), the federal government “had no other limitation than the discretion of the Congress” and this could, in the future, “destroy all the power of the state governments.”[5] Germane to these questions then, are the enumerated powers that give the national government the ability to raise, borrow, and spend money, and specifically to maintain standing military forces. Brutus warned that these unlimited powers threatened the economic future of the country and the sovereignty of the people. Such an exclusive power would amount to “unlimitted authority and controul over all the wealth and all the force of the union.” Standing armies, he argued, drain the nation’s resources, and since they held allegiance to the military command and not the Constitution, might, in a crisis, overthrow an elected government. He quotes a British Member of Parliament (“Mr. Pulteney”[6]) to summarize the concern: “I have always been, and always shall be against a standing army of any kind; to me it is a terrible thing, whether under that of a parliamentary, or any other designation; a standing army is still a standing army by whatever name it is called…” (Brutus No. VIII)

True, in the end, the British Empire was not brought down by a military coup, but instead by the economic burden of their global military responsibilities, including efforts to maintain their extended colonies and the cost of two world wars. These expenditures drained the treasury and turned the once powerful nation into a debtor – just as Brutus had warned America’s Founders could happen here.

Riding on its military might, the British Empire had at one time enjoyed economic dominance unparalleled in history. The British pound sterling was the world’s primary “reserve currency” in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. This gave the British huge economic advantage, as their currency was held in large quantities by governments and banks across the globe. Those who wished to conduct international trade had to buy British pounds to pay foreign entities, make international investments, and participate in other global economic activities. But a reserve currency is also called an “anchor” currency, as it is chosen due to the economic stability of the nation that issues it. That stability relies on the ability of that nation to pay its debts. Exhausted by war and the military cost of its empire, the pound sterling lost that status to the U.S. dollar in 1944, when allied leaders decided to link world currencies to the U.S. dollar. At the end of World War II, British debt had reached 200 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This debt, worsened by poor economic policies and domestic spending, eventually led to Britain seeking debt relief from the International Monetary Fund in 1976. The WWII loans from the United States were only paid off in 2006.[7] After WWII, the United States, which had limited its military adventurism (with notable exceptions) up to that point, had eclipsed the British Empire.

Of note, while there was no coup, viewers of the TV show “The Crown” and history buffs also know that one – this time in 1968 and in response to the ongoing and precipitous decline of the empire – was nearly initiated by a group of British military, business, and political interests led by Lord Mountbatten[8], who had held multiple high positions in the British military, including first sea lord, admiral of the fleet, chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff, and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee[9]. While, thankfully, that did not happen, planning for it had commenced. By 1968 the Empire was through.

Fast forward to today, and we see that Brutus’ concern is once again important to consider here in the United States. America now holds the privileged position as the world’s top reserve currency. The U.S. dollar accounts for 59 percent of reserves held by central banks across the world, which is mostly held in cash or U.S. bonds. Nations across the globe use the U.S. dollar to conduct international financial activity, which accrues great benefit to our economy. Yet, the debt for those bonds exceeds $13 trillion[10] and the total U.S. National Debt stands now at nearly $31 trillion, or $243,000 per taxpayer and 123 percent of our GDP.[11]

It is hard to imagine anyone wants to follow the example of the British Empire, yet our military costs have continued to grow year after year, including massive expenditures for bases around the world, and most recently involvement in the Global War on Terror and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are now, additionally, a primary funding source of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression, committing $54 billion.[12] The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House in July 2022, included a record $850 billion in total defense spending. (The Senate received the bill in August 2022.[13])

This is in addition to the high levels of domestic spending on such programs as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, various transfer programs, as well as funds for operating the departments of the federal government. The President’s budget request for 2023, still being considered by Congress, is over $5 trillion. That request includes over $300 billion in interest payments on the national debt alone, a burden that is rising rapidly and which will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. One Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimated that the U.S. taxpayer will pay over $8 trillion in interest on the debt between 2023 and 2032.[14] That is just interest, not principle, and equals over $25,000 for every one of America’s 325 million inhabitants.

The question is whether we can continue to maintain this level of debt spending, or whether, in the words of Brutus, Congress is well on the way to creating a “national debt, so large, as to exceed the ability of the country ever to sink.” (Brutus No. VIII). Should we continue down that path, the ability to meet this debt will eventually come into question. Should we, like the UK, damage the full faith and credit that the world holds in our ability to do so, and we lose our reserve currency dominance, the repercussions could be severe. It is something that we need to think carefully about.

In the words of Brutus, “I take it for granted, as an axiom in politic, that the people should never authorise their rulers to do any thing, which if done, would operate to their injury.”

Most Americans cannot imagine a massive decline in our world position, nor that this nation is at any risk from a coup or revolt against the federal government. One is reminded, however, of the wise words of Ronald Reagan, who, like Brutus, warned us that freedom and liberty are not the default for any nation. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”[15]

There have been many efforts to reign in the power of the Congress to borrow and spend, whether on domestic programs or military forces. The Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, one that Brutus would no doubt support, is proposed year after year, and almost passed in 1995 and 1997, failing to achieve the required two-thirds majority by just one vote.[16] It failed again in 2011. The amendment threatens the ability of Congress to exercise the power that most concerned Brutus, and thus the very people who it controls will have to agree to it for it to pass. Power is seldom, if ever, relinquished voluntarily. So far, that has not happened, and spending continues apace.

Brutus was prescient in his warnings about the central government’s power to accrue debt. The British Empire provides an example of what can happen when a strong central government takes on military and foreign affairs commitments that make that debt unsustainable. So far, the United States has been able to handle its debts and remains an economic powerhouse. The question that is yet to be answered is whether we will maintain this position in the future, and what will happen if we do not.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and three grandchildren, and are expecting a fourth in September.

[1] “Brutus VIII.” New York Journal 1789-06-15 : Rpt. in The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 15. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1984. 335-38. Print, as featured in ConSource: https://www.consource.org/document/brutus-viii-1789-6-15/

[2] Thiede, Joshua (2022). BritBox Eyes American Expansion, but Plans to Avoid Content Becoming ‘Transatlantic Pudding’. The Streamable (29 June 2022). https://thestreamable.com/news/britbox-eyes-american-expansion-but-plans-to-avoid-content-becoming-transatlantic-pudding

[3] Kitching, Chris (2014). Brits? You’re all uptight, obsessed by tea, the royals and family trees, say Americans… and no, we can’t understand Geordie accents either, DailyMail.com (5 October 2014). https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2781088/What-Americans-think-Britains-revealed-survey.html

[4] Augustyn, Adam ed. (n.d.) British Empire: Dominance and dominions. Britannica online https://www.britannica.com/place/British-Empire/Dominance-and-dominions

[5] “Brutus VI.” New York Journal 1789-06-12 : . Rpt. in The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 15. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1984. 110-17. Print., as quoted in https://consource.org/document/brutus-vi-1789-6-12/20191125163602/

[6] Actually, William Pulteney, a prominent British Member of Parliament who served in the early 1700’s.

[7] Wikipedia (n.d.) History of the British National Debt, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_British_national_debt#cite_note-Ferguson,_Civilization,_p309-9

[8] BBC (2019). Lord Mountbatten: Did Prince Philip’s uncle attempt to lead a coup against Harold Wilson’s government? History Extra, BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed (29 November 2019). https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/lord-mountbatten-did-prince-philip-uncle-attempt-lead-coup-harold-wilson-government-crown-true/

[9] Britannica (2022). Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten, Britannica online, (21 June 2022). https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Mountbatten-1st-Earl-Mountbatten

[10] Best, Richard (2022). How the U.S. dollar became the world’s reserve currency. Investopedia, (24 June 2022). https://www.investopedia.com/articles/forex-currencies/092316/how-us-dollar-became-worlds-reserve-currency.asp

[11] US Debt Clock.org, retrieved 18 August 2022 from https://usdebtclock.org/

[12] Hennis, Ade (2022). The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine – Breaking it all down. Market Realist (11 August 2022), https://marketrealist.com/p/how-much-money-has-the-us-sent-to-ukrainie/

[13] United States Congress, H.R.7900 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, 117th Congress (2021-2022), retrieved 18 August 2022 from https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/7900

[14] Interest costs on the national debt set to reach historic highs in the next decade, May 31, 2022, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, blog, retrieved from https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2022/05/interest-costs-on-the-national-debt-set-to-reach-historic-highs-in-the-next-decade

[15] Reagan.com (2018). Ronald Reagan Freedom Speech. Reagan.com, (31 August 2018), retrieved August 18, 2022 from https://www.reagan.com/ronald-reagan-freedom-speech

[16] Govtrack (n.d.). H.J.Res. 1 (104th): Balanced Budget Amendment, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/104-1996/s158 and Istook, Ernest (2011). Considering a Balanced Budget Amendment: Lessons from History, Heritage Foundation, https://www.heritage.org/budget-and-spending/report/considering-balanced-budget-amendment-lessons-history

 

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Guest Essayist: Jay McConville


When I was a boy, I loved baseball. Unfortunately, having been born in Queens, New York, my chosen team was the NY Mets who, at that time, were the laughingstock of the major leagues. I still have faint memories of my father agonizing over their 89 losses in 1968, which, as bad as it was, was their best year since joining the league in 1962. At no time during those years had they finished better than ninth.

Then something amazing happened. In one of the greatest sports upsets in history, the 1969 “Amazing Mets” rose from the depths of the standings to become World Series Champions. I still remember that final game and cheering for all my favorite players. Yet, while they played amazing baseball, credit for the miracle season is most often given to Gil Hodges, the team’s manager. Joining only in 1968, he had quickly established a common vision for the team. His leadership enabled them to overcome their past, silence their critics, and play like champions. As announcer Curt Gowdy said during the last inning of the ’69 series, one word described the Mets: “inspired.”[1] It was Gil Hodges who inspired them, and his common vision put them on the road to success.

“From day one, spring training, Gil Hodges had a plan…He made each and every one of us better,” said outfielder Cleon Jones. Pitching Ace Jerry Koosman added, “Gil Hodges had one set of rules. There weren’t two sets of rules, and we each had to abide by those rules. That was a way of drawing teammates together.”[2] It worked, and the laughingstock team became World Champions.

You might wonder what this story has to do with the United States Constitution. Well, maybe not much. There is one thing, however, that I think it shows. An inspirational vision and a clear mission are critical to the success or failure of any organization. Successful leaders unlock the potential of others by articulating such a vision, one that can be shared by all and that is fair and equal across the board. History also tells us that the wrong vision, the wrong mission, can lead to disaster.

The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution established our nation’s vision and mission. The brilliant leaders who crafted those documents united a diverse people, established the most successful nation in history, and changed the face of government forever.

The vision so beautifully articulated in our founding documents was that all men were sovereign over themselves and equal before the law, and that because of this innate human value, governments were instituted among them only by their consent. It was a vision that had been long in the making. Thomas Jefferson, tasked by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration in June 1776, had studied the writings of the Greeks, the Magna Carta (1215), English Common Law, Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England (1600-1615), John Locke, and Montesquieu (1689-1755), among others. Like James Madison, John Adams, and the other Founders, he knew the importance of individual sovereignty in guarding against the depredations of the state. The vision in the Declaration was a bold assertion of those rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…”[3] His phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which was lifted from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690) (“life, liberty, and estate”)[4], established that forever more the individual would be sovereign, protected from the tyranny of government by the fact of his humanity.

While Jefferson did not attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, that vision was certainly reflected in the Constitution’s checks and balances, controls on federal power eventually acceptable to both Federalists and Anti-federalists alike. The critical nature of these was most famously, and most articulately, laid out in Federalist 51, and James Madison’s famous words: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”[5] Madison, a Federalist, advocated for a strong central government, yet recognized the risk in power being concentrated in the hands of fallible men.

Later, the Bill of Rights was added, providing ten amendments to further clarify the vision of a free and sovereign citizenry. The Anti-federalists insisted that those amendments be included, to document for all time the limited scope of government. This unifying vision survives to this day, enshrined in the due process protections in the 14th Amendment, and reflected in many Supreme Court decisions limiting the government’s reach.

That vision was both positive and unifying, and it brought our young nation together. The then national motto, adopted in 1782, reflected the belief that the individual was the core of the nation. E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) ushered in a dramatic change in the nature of governance. There was no king, no emperor, and no aristocratic class to rule. “We the people” were sovereign and independent, yet also tied together in a common pursuit.

And what was that pursuit? Equal in importance to the vision was a unifying mission: to achieve “a more perfect Union.” This would be accomplished by establishing “Justice,” insuring “domestic Tranquility” providing for the “common defense,” promoting the “general Welfare,” and securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”[6] Articulated in the Constitution’s preamble, that is a mission worth serving, and one that hundreds of millions have pledged their lives to.

It is informative to contrast America’s vision and mission to that articulated in another extremely impactful document, the “Communist Manifesto.”[7] First published in London in 1848, it was translated into multiple languages, and, importantly, released in Russian in 1863. Like the United States’ founding documents, the manifesto ushered in a revolution in governance, which took hold first in the Soviet Union in 1917, and then spread throughout the world. While written mostly by Karl Marx, “its economic analysis was strongly influenced by [Friedrich] Engels’s ‘practical experience of capitalism’ in his family’s cotton firm…in 1842-44.”[8] It is therefore important to note that the world was experiencing extreme upheaval during the 1840s. Major social, political, and economic strife fed the development of the text, which explains some of its dark character. The serf societies were ending, farmers were moving to cities in response to the budding industrial revolution, the European aristocracy was losing its power to a rising class of business entrepreneurs, while everywhere workers struggled to find a place in new, rapidly changing, and often soul-deadening, industries. As historian of the manifesto, George Boyer, writes, “despite its enormous influence in the 20th century, the Manifesto is very much a period piece…It is hard to imagine it being written in any other decade of the 19th century.” Regardless, its impact was global and long-lasting. The 1917 Soviet Revolution adopted Marxism as its guiding vision, which eventually led to a rapid expansion of communism in the 20th century.

Yet what was that vision? Was it to inspire great things, like that of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? No, it was not. The Communist Manifesto[9] inspired, in a word, tyranny. A review of some of its text demonstrates why.

First, there was no message of equality of all men. The document focuses on class conflict, and the struggle of one class to destroy the other. “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” The mission would only be achieved when “they” (the bourgeoisie) were destroyed.

Second, there was no commitment to individual sovereignty (life, liberty, and especially property) seen in the U.S. documents. “The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at” and “…you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.” Gone was the concept of unalienable rights.

Third, the vision did not inspire unity, but instead served as a justification to use raw power to achieve dominance, power that would be wielded by the state. “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoise, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class…”

And finally, the power of the state was to be absolute, and the revolution violent. “Of course, in the beginning this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property…”

In contrast to E Pluribus Unum, consent of the governed, equality before the law, protection of individual life, liberty, happiness, and property, and limits on the tyrannical impulses of government, the Communist Manifesto provided vision and mission focused on class conflict, rule by force, destruction of the opposition, the end of property rights and individual rights, all to be instituted by the unlimited “despotic” power of government.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has done extensive research documenting the damage done by tyrannical communist governments. They cite 100 million deaths at the hands of these regimes over only a 100-year span. Inspired and enabled by the Communist Manifesto, these regimes destroyed societies in a quest of a property-free utopia that was unachievable. In so doing they imprisoned, tortured, banished, and killed over a hundred million of their own citizens, while foisting war and chaos on the world. Thirty years after the fall the Soviet Union, “millions of people worldwide — one-fifth of the world’s population — still live under communist tyranny.”[10]

It has become somewhat fashionable to say that communism, or “socialism,” is a good idea (or theory) that could work if we just implemented it correctly. The Communist Manifesto gives lie to that claim. The vision is destruction, the mission tyranny. The result predictable. How many more need to die before we finally accept this fact?

It is also fashionable to criticize the United States for our failure to live up to our vision and mission. We are beset, and have been since our founding, with a multitude of problems and challenges. Slavery, social upheaval, war and civil war, domestic strife and crime, poverty, natural and manmade environmental disasters, depressions, recessions, and so much more. Have we failed in our mission? I think it is important to remember the 1969 Mets. In that miracle year, they gave up 1,217 hits, including 119 Home Runs, let in 541 runs, batted only .242, struck out 1089 times, and lost 62 Games. Yet they were World Champions.

Our shared mission is to “promote a more perfect union.” The word “more” is important. Our mission is not a utopian dream of perfection, instead it inspires us toward progress. Progress, not perfection. The road may be twisted and rocky, but we are well along it to establish justice, peace at home and abroad, improve the general welfare and pass the blessings of our liberty onto our future generations. Each generation’s task is to make our nation “more perfect.” For all our faults, our unifying vision and mission have set us apart among nations and made us the example for others to emulate.

What we need now is to trust in that vision, not abandon it for one proven toxic and deadly.

We need to rededicate ourselves to creating a more perfect union, not descend into the politics of resentment and strife found in the Communist Manifesto.

As future President, Calvin Coolidge, said in his “Have Faith in Massachusetts” speech in 1914, “We need a broader, firmer, deeper faith in the people – a faith that men desire to do right, …a reconstructed faith that the final approval of the people is not given to demagogues…but to statesmen ministering to their welfare, representing their deep, silent, abiding convictions.”[11]

E Pluribus Unum, Consent of the Governed, All Men Created Equal, and a More Perfect Union.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

[1] Team of Destiny – The Final 3 Outs of the 1969 World Series, New York Mets, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyDiuRDf918

[2] The Greatest Season: The 1969 Miracle Mets Trailer, MyMar Entertainment and Media, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSh9XcgVrt0

[3] Declaration of Independence: A Transcription, National Archives, retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[4] Bernstein, William (2004). The birth of plenty: How the prosperity of the modern world was created, McGraw Hill

[5] The Federalist No. 51, [6 February 1788], Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-04-02-0199. [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, January 1787 – May 1788, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 497–502.]

[6] Constitution of the United States, Constitution Annotated, United States Congress, retrieved from https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/

[7] Hutchins, Robert Maynard ed. (1989). Great books of the western world: Marx. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

[8] Boyer, George (1998). The historical background of the Communist Manifesto. Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 4, Fall 1998, https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.12.4.151

[9] All quotations from Hutchins (1989), pp. 413-434

[10] Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, https://victimsofcommunism.org

[11] Coolidge, Calvin (1914). Have faith in Massachusetts. Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation,  https://coolidgefoundation.org/resources/have-faith-in-massachusetts/

 

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By Jay McConville

America is the great nation that it is because we revere and honor the memory of brave souls who gave their lives to preserve it. Let the memory and sacrifices of those who have come before, for liberty purchased at such an immeasurable price for future generations, be forever written in our hearts.

“Whether we observe the occasion through public ceremony or through private prayer, Memorial Day leaves few hearts unmoved. Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.” (President George Herbert Walker Bush, Proclamation 6442—Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 1992)

Regardless of one’s faith tradition, one must acknowledge that the Bible is one of the greatest books in all human history. Many expressions we use daily come from it, and people often use biblical phrases without ever knowing it. In Jeremiah, from the Old Testament, one such memorable phrase relates to the covenant that God made with Israel. Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV) reads, in part, “I will put my law in their minds and will write them on their hearts.” This is repeated in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews (10:16, NIV), which reads, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

While biblical scholars may disagree on the specific meaning of this verse, it is generally believed to indicate that the laws, in this case from God, are followed not merely out of obedience, but because we accept them as part of us at a much deeper level. Those with the laws written in their hearts live those laws as part of their very being.

I am partial to President H.W. Bush, who I quoted above, for personal reasons. He was my Commander-in-Chief during the war, that I was part of as an Army Officer, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Like hundreds of thousands of others who served then, and millions and millions who have served in other conflicts, I had raised my hand and taken an oath to defend the United States Constitution. While military oaths differ, every military member, regardless of rank, swears “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” That defense of the Constitution, for some, includes making the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day is unlike any other holiday, in that it remembers those who died to write the laws of the U.S. Constitution in our hearts and on our minds. On this special day, all Americans remember those who have, as was movingly described by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address (1863), given the “the last full measure of devotion” so that the ideals reflected in the U.S. Constitution would endure. As Lincoln said, those who gave that last full measure, did so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Constituting America’s mission is to educate, empower, and inspire. We do this by teaching the relevancy of the U.S. Constitution and the principles of self-governance inherent in our founding documents. That relevancy is more than just the legal principles of the Constitution, or even the ideals detailed in our founding documents. It comes from the meaning and significance that those principles and ideals promote in how we live our lives, both as individuals and as members of the national community. Those we remember on Memorial Day made the ultimate sacrifice for those principles and ideals, and lived them to the fullest, ensuring our nation would endure. From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg, Antietam to the Ardennes, from Iwo Jima to Seoul, and Ia Drang to Mogadishu, as well as many other places and battles known and unknown, Americans have bravely sacrificed their lives to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. The memory of each of those who died lives in the hearts of all patriots, and their sacrifice ensures that the Constitution lives there along with them.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we celebrate with friends and family, enjoy the emergence of summer, and bask in the bounty that we have been blessed with, let us rededicate ourselves to remembrance, so that those who died to make us free live forever in our hearts and on our minds. Let us also educate new generations about the sacrifices that have come before, so that what was purchased at such great price will inform how we live today, and how we persevere in days to come. Let us all dedicate ourselves, as those who died did, to the preservation of our great nation, and let us inspire all future generations to do the same.

As President Calvin Coolidge wrote on May 30, 1923, it is “to the spirit that places the devotion to freedom and truth above the devotion to life, that the nation pays its ever enduring mark of reverence and respect.”

The Constitution is more than just a legal document. It is the embodiment of what makes America the great nation that it is. Hundreds of thousands of brave souls have died to preserve it. Let their memory always be in our hearts, and let the Constitution be written there also. We must never take for granted what has been bequeathed to us by generations past. Let the Constitution be part of our being. In that way we will honor those who died to make it so.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” (President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961)

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Essay 77 – Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

When studying history, it is important to remember a few things. First, historic events were not singular moments as we often view them; instead, they developed as events today do, over time, and as a result of many influences.

Second, it is important to not oversimplify the past because people and events then were as complicated, conflicted, and convoluted as they are today. How people lived, the decisions they made, and the challenges they faced were complex, even if some of the details may have been lost to history.

When reading of the life of Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia, it is important to keep these considerations in mind. Born into wealth, Braxton did not, however, live an easy life though it may have been privileged and full of material comforts. He died at an early age, having lost his once significant fortune, yet given the struggles he faced throughout his life, he might be excused for some of these failures.

Braxton was born on September 10, 1736 into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished families in the colonies. He was born on the Newington Plantation, east of Richmond on the Mattaponi River, which connects to the York River and Chesapeake Bay, and sits at the western end of Virginia’s beautiful Middle Peninsula. He was a planter and merchant. His grandfather had immigrated from England, and his father, who received a large land grant from George II, would expand the family’s wealth and prestige, serving frequently in the House of Burgesses from 1718 to 1734. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Robert “King” Carter, a man of great wealth and prominence, who also served in the House of Burgesses, including as Speaker. King Carter even served as the colony of Virginia’s Acting Governor for a year.

From this auspicious beginning, one might assume that Carter led a happy and contented life of comfort. Yet his wealth did not shield him from tragedy. His mother died just a week following his birth, and his father passed away when Carter was only 13. He married Judith Robinson upon leaving the College of William and Mary after only one year, but sadly she also died after they had been married for only two years. Perhaps to ease his grief, he traveled to Europe and England where he learned a great deal about the rulers of his colonial home, knowledge and perspective that would inform his decisions when revolutionary fervor gripped the colonies. After two years in Europe, he returned, marrying a second time in 1760 to Elizabeth Corbin. It is reported that they had 16 children together.

In keeping with family tradition, Braxton served in the House of Burgesses following his return, beginning in 1761. Then, when Peyton Randolph died suddenly in October 1775, he was made a member of Virginia’s delegation to the Second Continental Congress where he would serve for two years.

Carter was loyal to Virginia, but also to the Crown, at first. He was a reluctant revolutionary and argued against independence, fearing that it, and specifically a republican government, would lead to disaster and despotism in the colonies. While disinclined, he continued to work alongside the familiar names of the eventual revolution, including George Washington and Peyton Randolph. He did not relish conflict with the British, and worked to quell it when he could.

One historical incident shows the character and conservative nature of the man, when he worked with Patrick Henry to avoid direct conflict with the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore. Following the events at Lexington and Concord, Dunmore had confiscated gunpowder stored in Williamsburg, Virginia. Militia units were ready to fight over their lost supplies, led by the fiery Patrick Henry. Braxton was able to use the good connections he had through his father-in-law, Richard Corbin, who was serving as receiver general of the Colony, to pay the militia for the gunpowder, thus avoiding a military confrontation.

While Braxton was reluctant, he was not without independence sentiments. While a member of the House of Burgesses, likely as a result of his knowledge of the financial designs England had for the colonies which he learned through his travels there, he signed the Virginia Resolves which asserted that only the House of Burgesses had the right to tax Virginians. He also signed the Virginia Association, a non-importation agreement, and in 1775 became a member of the Virginia Colonial Convention.

Students of history know that there was a raging debate in the colonies at that time regarding independence. Many American leaders wanted England to change its policies toward the American Colonies, but did not support independence, nor did they desire revolution. Carter Braxton was initially of that opinion, and advocated a conservative approach. His essay which was published in June 1776, however, an excerpt of which is below, demonstrates his eventual acceptance of the need for independence:

When depotism had displayed her banners, and with unremitting ardour and fury scattered her engines of oppression through this wide extended continent, the virtuous opposition of the people to its progress relaxed the tone of government in almost every colony, and occasioned in many instances a total suspension of law. These inconveniencies, however, were natural, and the mode readily submitted to, as there was then reason to hope that justice would be done to our injured country; the same laws, executed under the same authority, soon regain their former use and lustre; and peace, raised on a permanent foundation, bless this our native land.

But since these hopes have hitherto proved delusive, and time, instead of bringing us relief, daily brings forth new proofs of British tyranny, and thereby separates us further from that reconciliation we so ardently wished; does it not become the duty of your, and every other Convention, to assume the reins of government, and no longer suffer the people to live without the benefit of law, and order the protection it affords?

So, rather hesitatingly, but eventually, he came to support the Revolution, voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and signed it on August 2, 1776.

In response to his cautious and conservative views about democracy, Braxton was not initially returned to Congress after 1776. He did, however, remain active in Virginia politics and eventually returned to Congress where he served until 1783. He died of a stroke at the age of only 61 in 1797.

Like many of the founders, the revolution was not kind to Braxton. He lent significant financial support to the American Independence effort, including both money and ships, many of which were destroyed. His business was greatly curtailed, and his lands and plantations ransacked and pillaged. He made some unfortunate financial decisions of his own, as well, and ended his life in debt. His reputation as a clear thinker, honorable public servant, and patriot did not suffer, however, from his lack of financial success. He was described by his peers as a sensible and accomplished gentleman, and by others as a man of cultivation and talent. Despite the many challenges and tragedies that punctuated his life, he is remembered most for his honorable service to the cause of liberty.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

Cruz, Shelly (2014). Carter Braxton, Descendant, Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (DSDI), https://www.dsdi1776.com/carter-braxton/

Revolutionary War (2020). Carter Braxton, Revolutionary War: A colorful, story-telling overview of the American Revolutionary War, https://www.revolutionary-war.net/carter-braxton/

Hyneman, C., & Lutz, D. (1983). American Political Writing During the Founding Era, 1760-1805. Liberty Fund, Incorporated. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/lutz-american-political-writing-during-the-founding-era-1760-1805-vol-1

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Essay 46 - Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

For those of us who spent our formative years in the suburbs of Long Island, including the Village of Setauket where I grew up, the name William Floyd is familiar, though I would venture a guess that very few are likely to know the story behind the name. As families travelled around those areas, or perhaps to the beach, including the famous Fire Island, the children would hear the familiar words, the “William Floyd Parkway.” I vaguely remember being aware of a historic home named for William Floyd as well, but I have no recollection of being taught who the man was, or what he did to earn such recognition. I may have been taught something in passing, but there is no doubt that as a young boy I was unlikely to pay much attention to such things. Our collective ignorance of Mr. Floyd’s life, however, does not detract from the distinction of it. It is only a shame, as there in our little village of Setauket we lived on ground trampled by history, a history in which William Floyd was a central character. It is also a shame that during those formative years, more effort was not made to teach us of the momentous events that took place where we lived and played. Perhaps, with some more effort and respect for the past, we all would have grown up more grateful and more respectful of our nation and its founders.

Even to those of us who traveled the road named for him, and lived in the town that his family founded, William Floyd did not achieve the lasting fame of George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or many others of the Founders and Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Yet together with them, he worked to bring about a new nation, conceived in liberty. He struggled and sacrificed, and did his duty, and his service to the future. He took the same pledge to risk his life, his (significant) fortune, and his sacred honor. Few know, however, of his life, and in that way, he was a man much like most of us. A man whose name, while respected during his time, will fade into history, and his years of service will go unappreciated by those who follow. He is one of the millions of American souls whose contributions comprise the fabric that has weaved itself into the tapestry of our nation.

Floyd was born in 1734 to a wealthy landowning family who had emigrated from Wales. His grandfather, Richard Floyd, founded the village of Setauket, where I grew up. The land was purchased by white settlers from the Setalcott tribe, one of the 13 native tribes of Long Island, which had its central location in that area at the time. William Floyd inherited significant lands from his father and, foregoing the educational opportunities available to a man of his wealth, he took to running those estates at only 21 years of age. He married Hannah Jones and they settled in to raise a family, steeped in the privileges of the landowning class. Floyd was a man of his times, which is a euphemistic way of saying that he owned slaves who worked his fields and tended to his operations. Slavery was then still a common practice around the world, but the concept behind it, especially the degradation of other humans before the law, had already begun to fall from favor. While this debate was prominent among the founders, Floyd, as far as history can tell us, was not an active supporter of abolition, and unlike many signers and political thinkers of those days, did not appear see a contradiction in the quest for liberty and the rights of man, and the slavery that supported his lifestyle. The census of 1820, a year before his death, still listed Floyd as a slaveholder (slavery did not end in New York until July 4, 1827).

Despite this glaring failing, Floyd was what we would call a reliable volunteer today. He was the person that the town turned to when they needed someone to run the committee, chair the meeting, represent the people at an event somewhere far away. Certainly, his wealth and status as a landowner must have first thrust him into positions of leadership, but it must have been his steadfast service and trustworthiness that kept him in positions of responsibility year after year, as the idea of a free and independent nation germinated across the colonies. Floyd was not a rabble-rouser, not a vocal rebel calling for revolution. He was a businessman, extremely wealthy, who sought independence from the abuses of England against his free enterprise. Respected by his community, he was appointed as a Colonel in the militia just as the Revolutionary War exploded across the Colonies. He would eventually achieve the rank of Major General, but his service was more organizational than combative. He was also selected to serve as a New York representative to the First Continental Congress beginning in September of 1774, and attended sessions in Philadelphia between then and 1776, when, along with the other original signers, he risked everything he had, and put his name to the Declaration of Independence. It was a risk that he took on freely, and one that he and his family would pay dearly for.

Many today are aware of the battles that took place on Long Island due to the popular television show “Turn,” a dramatic depiction of the events surrounding the capture, occupation, and eventually abandonment of Long Island by British forces. Many of these dramatized events take place in the Village of Setauket, and history records the Battle of Setauket as a major event in the war. As a boy I do remember being shown the bullet marks that are still visible in the old church and on the rock memorial that sits in the middle of the town. Floyd was in Philadelphia as a Delegate during this time, and when he returned to Long Island after the British left in 1777, he found his estate ransacked, his property stolen, and his lands plundered. His family had evacuated during the occupation, and the strain of the ordeal brought despair and sickness to his wife, who died in 1781.

Despair and loss, however, did not deter Floyd from his duties. Following his service in the Continental Congress, including multiple terms until 1789, Floyd was elected to the first United States Congress in 1789, serving one term. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York against the (still famous) John Jay. He was later elected as a Delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention in 1801 and to the State Senate in 1804. Having reestablished his estate, Floyd lived a long life, remarrying to Joanna Strong in 1784, and adding two additional children to the three that he had with Hannah Jones. He died in August 1821 at the age of 86. The William Floyd estate still stands on Long Island (although Floyd moved to Westernville, New York, in 1803), and is owned by the National Park Service as part of Fire Island National Seashore.

It was a life well lived, in times of struggle and change. Records from the time do not make much mention of Floyd. He was not a visible presence or vocal voice in the Congress. Records from the proceedings mention his presence, but his impression on other delegates might well be summarized in a contemporary’s letter to John Jay, that named William Floyd as one of the “good men, [who] never quit their chairs” (Grossman, 2014, p. 397). We should all be grateful to those, who like Floyd, never quit their chairs, and ensured the founding of our nation through their service and sacrifice.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

Bayles, Richard (n.d.), Long Island Indians and The Early Settlers http://longislandgenealogy.com/indians.html

Grossman, M. (2015). Encyclopedia of the continental congresses. Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/lib/vcu/reader.action?docID=3299586

Landy, Craig A. (n.d.), Legal history matters; When did slavery end in New York, Historical Society of the New York Courts, https://history.nycourts.gov/when-did-slavery-end-in-new-york/

National Park Service (2020). William Floyd Estate, Fire Island National Seashore, https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/williamfloydestate.htm

Revolutionary War (2020). William Floyd, Revolutionary War, https://www.revolutionary-war.net/william-floyd/

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