Summer reading for old-school patriots


For the rare and dwindling lot of you who know a bit about and still revere the origins of our country, there is a new book you should read: “The Quartet” by Joseph J. Ellis. Thanks to Wayne Franz for drawing my attention to this excellent book.

The book’s subtitle sets up the story: “Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1788 – 1789.” The quartet is composed of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, four men who swam against the strong current of the time to bring about the Constitution and the United States of America.

You might think creation of a new nation was the purpose of the Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the entire Revolutionary War, but it was not. The purpose was for 13 independent colonies to overcome the oppression of British rule and become 13 independent states. And that is exactly what happened.

There are two reasons creating a new united nation was far from the minds of most leaders of the time. First, American colonists typically were born, lived and died in their colony, their home country, the source of their identity.

Virginians, for example, led a far different life than Bostonians, had different customs, different diet, spoke different dialects, had their own unique values and grew up learning to ride and shoot and farm while their Boston counterparts lived a city life. Colonies bordering the Appalachian mountain range had western expansion priorities.

When conflict with British rule compelled colonists to act, cooperating with other colonies as a unified whole to declare independence was new and involved heated arguments with very different points of view. They had no plan whatsoever to become one country with a federal government, which is reason number two.

The key word in colonists’ lives was “local.” Many never traveled more than 30 miles from home. Their elected representatives were known face-to-face, and the notion of creating a far-away government that had a degree of control over their lives was abhorrent. That was the very reason they took up arms against the British in the first place. The words “central government” would make many of them spit in anger.

So what happened at the end of the Revolutionary War? Well, actually it began in 1776. In June of that year the Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration to inform the world of their purpose, and as you know Thomas Jefferson reluctantly agreed to write it.

A couple of days after forming that committee, the Congress appointed another committee to draft a constitution, and John Dickinson of Philadelphia began what would be a long and arduous task of drafting and re-drafting.

Instead of Constitution, the draft sent to each state for ratification in 1777 was titled Articles of Confederation, and focused on issues of defense. The key phrase was, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.” Each state had one vote, regardless of their size or population.

Four years later in 1781, Maryland was the 13th state to finally ratify, two years before the end of the war. With the end of hostilities, most citizens and leaders assumed the states would remain completely independent, with never a thought to forming a new nation with a federal government.

The Articles of Confederation were aptly named, since “confederation” implies a coalition of disparate entities, each pulling in its own direction, just as the states did throughout and after the war. “United,” at least at the time, would have been a wishful label at best.

This book tells the story of how four dedicated men recognized the Articles of Confederation were completely inadequate to the potential of America, and how they turned the tide of history, designed the delicate balance of separation of powers in the Constitution, then promoted the idea of the United States as one nation with a central government, using a series of 85 anonymously published essays collectively now called “The Federalist Papers.”

It is interesting to note that, among deep thinkers of the time, democracy was a dirty word meaning mob rule, like three foxes and a hen voting on what to have for dinner.

As our founders considered our form of government, “republic” was the key word, not democracy, with a buffer from popular vote so that officials are elected as representatives of the people and bound to act within the law.

I have long imagined James Madison composing the pieces of the Constitution while commiserating with his mentor, Thomas Jefferson, as they speculated how this and that part of the Constitution would function, “… if we get elected,” meaning their party. And then they would speculate what would happen, “… if those other bastards get elected!” and that, it seems to me, is how the balance in the Constitution is intended to guard against the frailties of human nature.

The balance intended for our three co-equal branches of government is under assault as our President repeatedly rides roughshod over limits on his authority and ignores his duty to enforce laws, the Supreme Court assumes the role of the legislature by ruling on what they personally prefer rather than what the Constitution says, and the Congress egregiously uses the Commerce Clause as their excuse to over-regulate every aspect of our lives and fails to use impeachment powers to prosecute Presidential overreach.

Meanwhile we have a media dedicated half to entertainment and half to promoting their favored side of politics instead of doing their journalistic job, and the public sentiment they whip up on their preferred issues smacks precisely of the mob rule our founders feared.

I’m not sure how much that matters any more since the American public as a whole is willfully ignorant of what our freedoms are based on, and has no clue that the disciplines of that freedom must be nurtured to keep them alive.

It is more than disheartening to witness the decay of America’s culture, and the rapidly disappearing appreciation of American exceptionalism that set the world on fire long ago, a rapidly-spreading passion for people governing themselves with limited government, personal responsibility and freedom, and jealously guarded rights of private property.

Far too many Americans are too preoccupied gazing at their own navel to appreciate these things that ultimately delivered for them the opportunity to have a comfortable life.

We are awash in stupidity. As just one tiny example, current plans are to remove the image of one of the Quartet – Alexander Hamilton – from the 10-dollar bill, to be replaced with “a woman.”

Well, of course. We already have Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea on different issues of the dollar coin, but the politically correct appetite must be fed and there is surely racial as well as gender homage to be paid, never mind that Alexander Hamilton was a key force in establishing the U.S. monetary system and personally engineered a remarkable rescue from the debt of war.

Despite being surrounded by self-indulgent naval-gazers, even while the founding principles of our country are trampled by the pop culture, our media, our President and an ignorant public, some of us can still appreciate the magic that happened 240 years ago. If you are one of those, don’t miss reading this book.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is]