Guest Essayist: Winfield H. Rose

Thanks to the grace of God, the United States is descended from the English political tradition. The last verse of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind: “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” This applies to countries as well as people, and here the two roads are absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchy.

England chose the less-traveled road of constitutional monarchy and “that has made all the difference.” This goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215, the accession of King James I in 1603, the Mayflower Compact of 1620, the English Civil War of 1640-1649, the regicide of King Charles I in 1649, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. In the midst of these very important events was the founding of Virginia, the first permanent English colony in the New World, in 1607, and then Plymouth colony in 1620, eventually to be followed by the other eleven.

These events have in common these principles: (1) the power of the king or government is not absolute but subject to law; and (2) the legislature is the law-making body of the realm and holds the power of the purse.

Fearing for his life, King James II fled to France in December, 1685 whereupon Parliament declared an abdication, that is, the throne was vacant. Parliament then functioned as a constitutional convention by drafting and adopting the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and inviting Mary, the elder daughter of James II, and her Dutch husband William of Orange to assume the throne as joint monarchs subject to the conditions stipulated in the Bill of Rights. Mary and William agreed and did so. This is called the Glorious Revolution, and indeed it was glorious because at this time England became a constitutional rather than an absolute monarchy.

Accordingly, the English government henceforth was divided into three interlocking, interdependent parts: the Crown, the Lords Temporal and Spiritual, and the people represented by the House of Commons.

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu was a wealthy, intelligent and energetic Frenchman born near Bordeaux on January 18, 1689 during the reign of Louis XIV and at the very time the Glorious Revolution was unfolding in England. In 1728 he left France to travel abroad. After visiting Italy, Germany, Austria, and other countries, he went to England, where he lived for two years and was greatly impressed with the English political system.

After his return to France in 1731 he began work on his masterpiece, The Spirit of the Laws, one of the most important and best-known works ever written on political philosophy, published in 1748. This book is a comparative study of three types of government: republic, monarchy and despotism, and it is clear he detested despotism.

Montesquieu’s Book XI is titled “Of the Laws Which Establish Political Liberty With Regard to the Constitution” and reads, in part, as follows: “ . . . constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it,  . . . To prevent this abuse, it is necessary … that power should be a check to power. . . . When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.

“Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be subject to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined with the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.

“There would be an end to everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.” (emphasis added)

It should be clear, then, that, while John Locke was the intellectual father of the Declaration of Independence, Montesquieu was the intellectual father of the United States Constitution. The twin principles of separation of powers and checks and balances permeate it from beginning to end. This includes not only the national government itself but all the state governments and the principle of federalism which defines the relationships between them.

In the 47th Federalist Madison says, “The oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject is the celebrated Montesquieu. If he be not the author of this invaluable precept in the science of politics, he has the merit at least of displaying and recommending it most effectually to the attention of mankind.”

Madison fully develops the idea in his 51st Federalist: “ . . . the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? 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.  . . . This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” (emphasis added)

The economic situations in the United States and Germany in the early 1930s were uncomfortably similar while the political situations were, though similar in certain respects, different in others. Both countries were suffering from an economic depression with high unemployment and high inflation, plus the hopelessness and despair that went with them. Germany was alienated not only from its administration in office but also from its entire political system, and there was much unrest.

The American people were substantially alienated from their administration in office but not from their entire political system. It was, however, on trial. There was no guarantee it would survive. No one knows what might have happened if Franklin Roosevelt had not been elected in 1932 but he was elected and, as Washington was not Napoleon,  Roosevelt was not Hitler.

There were several important differences between the United States and Germany at this time. One was that the American political system based on Montesquieu’s principles of separation of powers and checks and balances had been in operation for 140 years and had solidified into a strong tradition. Those holding positions in the three branches were dedicated to those principles and  that tradition and were not egomaniacs interested in one-man rule.

We remained on the road less traveled, thank God, but Germany did not. Their tradition was authoritarian, one-man rule and they reverted to it—and made it infinitely worse and more evil—on January 30, 1933, when Hitler took power. Ideas and traditions matter.

Winfield H. Rose, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Murray State University.


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Guest Essayist: Winfield H. Rose

How the catastrophe of Nazism occurred in Germany remains a question for the ages. It had no single cause, but resulted from a unique conjunction of traditions, events and personalities.

Christianity had existed in Germany for centuries. The Germans had a great civilization based on literature, philosophy, architecture, music and science. But they also had a strong military/warrior tradition going back at least to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D. This slaughter of Roman troops was one of the worst military defeats Rome ever suffered and established the Germans as fierce fighters.

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) following the Protestant Reformation caused great loss of life and virtually destroyed Germany. Two centuries were needed for Germany to recover. A great tragedy of this period is the discrediting of European Christianity. Protestants and Catholics did not come to love and respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  After killing each other by the thousands, they decided Christianity and its values were no longer relevant and cast them aside. This was facilitated during the next two centuries by the emigration of many German Christians to the United States, thereby making the remaining population less religious and more secular.

As bad as the religious wars of the 17th century were, England and France retained their national identities whereas Germany did not. For two centuries the national identity of Germany was, at best, unclear and, at worst, lost – except in the minds of two men, one a politician and one a musician. Richard Wagner the musician was born in 1813 and Otto von Bismarck the politician was born in 1815 while the Congress of Vienna was meeting. Both desired German restoration and worked to achieve it.

Three short, successful wars under “iron” Chancellor Bismarck in the 1860s and 1870s enabled him to unite Germany politically and found the autocratic Second Reich in 1871 under Kaiser Wilhelm I. After Bismarck’s dismissal and death, it became even more autocratic under Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Thus, in contrast to France, Britain and the United States, there was no democratic tradition in Germany. German culture included an extreme deference to authority and to authority figures. When Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) established his own one-man rule, Germans were used to it.

The 19th century saw the wars of the charismatic conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), the philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and the composer Richard Wagner who died in 1883. All these except Marx, who was so radical he was expelled from the country, contributed to the strange mix that was to become National Socialism.

Hegel used the term “alienation” to describe a profound disconnect between what we see as real and what we desire as ideal and wish to be real. The greater the disconnect (dissonance, difference), the greater the alienation. It includes unhappiness, sorrow, grief, depression, anger, rage and, very importantly, a compulsion to seek remediation.

To remedy alienation, Hegel exalted the state over the individual and glorified Germanic civilization as the culmination of history, thereby advancing the secularization of society and encouraging and solidifying the natural human ethnocentrism and racism of the German people.

One could say Wagner took up where Hegel left off. Wagner’s musical dramas are set in a mythical, distant and glorious past which has been lost and begs to be restored. What Bismarck did politically, Wagner did culturally – and that was to create a German state (Reich) for Germans.

Nietzsche’s part in this tragic progression was the ideas of “transvaluation of values,” “beyond good and evil,” “God is dead” and “Superman.” The first three terms jointly mean the rejection of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman (Western) civilization and values, the rejection of divine and natural law and the redefinition of good and evil (evil is good and good is evil).

Nietzsche differed from Hegel in that, while Hegel thought German civilization was the best possible and the best ever seen, Nietzsche regarded it with scorn and contempt, calling it a “supreme abortion (miscarriage)” which needed to be replaced with a master race of Ubermenschen or “Supermen” who would be as superior to present humans as present humans were to apes. Thus, Nietzsche removed the moral and ethical restraints of civilization and thereby enabled the German people to descend into barbarism in pursuit of mythical glory.

It cannot be determined exactly how much of this history and philosophy Hitler actually knew and understood, but it is safe to say he grasped the basics. Nietzsche had a younger sister who set up a small museum in his memory. There is a picture of Hitler visiting that museum and admiring a bust of Nietzsche (Dagobert D. Runes, Pictorial History of Philosophy, New York: Philosophical Library, 1959, p. 301). It is well known that Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer and that he frequently played Wagner’s music on a phonograph. Wagner was intensely anti-Semitic and did not accept Jews as true Germans; neither did Hitler, as is well known.  Add to this the popularity of eugenics and social Darwinism and you have a very toxic civic culture.

World War I and its aftermath put the final pieces in place for the rise of Hitler. Hitler himself served in the war and was wounded. He was obsessed with Germany’s defeat and restoration.

The abdication of the Kaiser required by President Woodrow Wilson created a severe leadership vacuum in Germany. The Allied wartime blockade of Germany’s North Sea ports was continued to June 1919, thus disrupting spring planting and worsening Germany’s already dire famine.

The Treaty of Versailles was a disaster. Germany was not allowed to participate and the war guilt and reparations clauses were especially onerous, thereby giving Hitler rallying cries of which he later made extensive use. At its signing, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch said, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” He missed it by three months.  The Weimar Republic which followed and its constitution were seen as imposed by foreign powers and therefore illegitimate.

Inflation was severe. It was said that, before the war, you took your money to shop in a purse and brought your goods home in a wagon but, after the war, you took your money in a wagon and brought your goods home in a purse. The significance of the postwar German economic collapse cannot be overstated.

Hitler exploited the economic collapse of the 1920s but was also “lucky,” if that’s the right word, insofar that there was a model leader in nearby Italy who, according to the conventional wisdom of the day, was showing the world how the postwar European catastrophe could be overcome.  That leader was “Il Duce,” Benito Mussolini, who came to power in 1922 and became Hitler’s prototype autocrat.

The failed “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923 provided another stroke of luck for Hitler. While he could have been incapacitated or executed, he was imprisoned only for a few months, a short time but long enough to dictate Mein Kampf.

Yet the most vile aspect of Hitler’s reign was his scapegoating of, German Jews. Human beings are always tempted to avoid accepting responsibility for our failures; they are always, people tend to think, the fault of someone else. And Hitler was the worst temptation. Jews and anti-Semitism had existed in Europe for centuries. They had been blamed for outbreaks of the plague and other calamities, so why not, Hitler thought, blame them for Germany’s present troubles?

Finally, Hitler had great oratorical ability and used it to bring all these factors together into the mass movement known as National Socialism (Nazism). Germany had fallen apart and saw itself as the ravished victim of evil forces. Hitler offered change, hope, order, prosperity and restoration. The German people were quick to climb on board but, to their eternal grief and shame, eventually learned they had made a Faustian bargain with the devil. Their slogan was “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer,” one people, one empire, one leader, but what they got was defeat, destruction and everlasting infamy.

Winfield H. Rose, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Murray State University.

Essay 31 – Guest Essayist: Winfield H. Rose

“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately” is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The moment was not captured and preserved by Movietone News but, whether true or not, that sentence captures the gravity of the action those 56 men took when they signed the document that ended with the words “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Keep in mind that the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, was, in the summer of 1776, considering two closely-related but separate issues. The first was a declaration of independence and the second was the Declaration of Independence. The resolution to declare independence was introduced by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee on June 7 and was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. Its first and most important paragraph reads as follows: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

The resolution was the subject of “intense debate” until June 10th, after which the delegates decided to delay the final vote “for 20 days, until July 1, to allow delegates from the middle colonies time to send for new instructions.” (McCullough, 118-119)

Interestingly, Congress did not wait for the adoption of Lee’s resolution to appoint a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence. It appointed such a committee immediately. Known as the “Committee of Five,” it consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Notice the word is “draft,” not “write,” clearly meaning the product would be subject to review and editing by Congress.

It was clear from the start that Jefferson would be the principal author, but how that decision was made is not clear. David McCullough, in his 2001 biography of Adams, says Jefferson offered the job to Adams but Adams declined for several reasons (pp. 119-120). Jefferson was from Virginia, was younger (33 v. 40) and possessed, as Adams said, a “peculiar felicity of expression.” That said, it can be asked why Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, the author of the independence resolution, was not placed on the committee and then asked to chair it. The answer seems to be that Lee was a man of the spoken word whereas Jefferson was a man of the written word. When president, Jefferson discontinued delivering State of the Union addresses in person and it was not done again until Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice. Jefferson’s writing ability was well-known.  To borrow a phrase, it seems to have been a “self-evident truth” that Jefferson was the man for the job, and history affirms his choice.

Jefferson worked quickly, without access to his library, and produced a draft in about three weeks. The Franklin Institute website says that “Benjamin Franklin primarily served as the editor of the Declaration of Independence. His changes were believed to have been minimal, but, when the document went before the entire Continental Congress, the draft was more thoroughly changed by the larger body from Jefferson’s original text. The final document was passed on July 2, 1776 and ratified on July 4, 1776.”

While true, the above statement does not do justice to Franklin’s contribution. As the elder statesman not only of the committee but also of the Congress itself, Franklin knew and had helped make the history of the pre-revolutionary period. He had, for example, spent some 15 years in London, working with Edmund Burke, trying to explain to the British how their policies toward their North American colonies were driving them to independence. Thus, Franklin knew the truth of the grievances Jefferson listed in the document and, when he affixed his signature to it, it carried much weight.

The contributions of the other members of the committee do not seem to be many or significant. When finished, Jefferson gave copies to Franklin and Adams and asked for their input. They made “two or three” minor corrections in their own handwriting, whereupon Jefferson prepared a new draft and sent it to Congress. Two points should be noted here: (1) the Declaration’s climactic words in the first sentence of its final paragraph are lifted verbatim from Lee’s resolution: “ . . .  that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; . . . ” and (2) Jefferson did not make copies for committee members Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.  

At this point it was not clear that the work of the Committee of Five would amount to anything because the Lee resolution declaring independence remained unpassed. Without its adoption, the wording of the Declaration of Independence would not matter. Pursuant to its June 10, 1776 decision, Congress resumed debate on Lee’s resolution July 1. Delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania spoke against it, arguing that the risks and costs of independence were not justified. When he finished, there was no applause. (McCullough, p. 126)

Adams knew the burden of history lay on his shoulders and his response truly made him one of our great Founding Fathers. To quote McCullough, “No transcription was made. . . . That it was the most powerful and important speech heard in the Congress since it first convened, and the greatest speech of Adams’s life, there is no question. To Jefferson, Adams was ‘not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent,’ but spoke ‘with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.’ ” (p. 127)

A vote was taken and the measure passed, but not decisively. They decided to postpone the final vote until the next day to allow time for more “politicking.” On July 2 the measure was adopted with twelve states voting “yes” and one (New York) abstaining. McCullough concludes that, “It was John Adams, more than anyone [else], who had made it happen.” (p. 129)

Speaking of New York, Robert R. Livingston, a member of Congress from that state, did not support the Lee resolution but abstained rather than vote against it. There is no evidence that he participated in or made any contributions to the Committee of Five, and he did not sign the Declaration of Independence after its adoption. He did, however, later support the ratification of the Constitution and served as Minister to France under President Jefferson during which time he played a significant role in the purchase of Louisiana.

Neither is there any evidence that committee member Roger Sherman of Connecticut participated in or made any contribution to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, but he did vote for it and sign it. His great service came later when he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and proposed what is known as the Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise on the character and composition of Congress.

When we have our annual July 4 celebrations, we do not think of the events of July 4, 1776 as anticlimactic, foregone conclusions, but they were. The big day was July 2 when Congress adopted both Lee’s declaration of independence and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Joined by Washington, Hamilton, Pulaski, von Steuben, Lafayette and others in the long effort to achieve rather than simply declare independence, these men became a marked band of brothers trying to create “the first new nation.” (Seymour Lipset) Success was far from certain. Yes, they were fighting for their homeland on their homeland, but the 13 colonies were a large and diverse territory with different histories and interests and were not accustomed to thinking of a single, common good.

Granted, the Atlantic Ocean protected the colonies and was an obstacle the British had to overcome, but Britain was the world’s great superpower at the time and its navy was well equipped for the challenge.

The mother country took its colonial empire in North America very seriously. That empire was making it rich and powerful, and it would not relinquish its colonies without a fight. How serious it was is borne out by what it did in the 19th century when it went on to assemble the largest noncontiguous empire the world has ever seen.

This band of colonial brothers (Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, 2000) knew the task that lay ahead would be hard and bitter. Did they rely on the protection of Divine Providence? If we can believe what they said, they did. The last paragraph of the Declaration begins with the words, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; . . .”

Also consider Franklin’s plea at the Constitutional Convention in the same room 11 years later when he said,

“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”

These beautiful words are beyond improvement. Notice Franklin used the word “truth.” We should take him at his word. If not all born again themselves, that these early patriots were imbued with Judeo-Christian values is supported not only by Ellis, cited above, but also by Donald Lutz in his The Origins of American Constitutionalism (1988) and by Dreisbach et al in The Founders on God and Government (2004).

What would have happened to our patriot forefathers if they had lost the war for independence? It would not have been pretty. Franklin’s prediction most likely would have come true. If not, the difference would have been that they were summarily lined up and shot rather than hanged.   It is very doubtful that Cornwallis would have been as magnanimous with Washington as Washington was with him or that the British would have bothered with the legal niceties required by trials. Thus, they did lay their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line. Thanks be to God!

Winfield H. Rose, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Murray State University.


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