Sunday, January 10, 2010

A State of the Union Carole Chapter 3

For Chapter 1 go here
For Chapter 2 go here

Chapter 3

The trio materialized in a room filled with men and debate around what action to take in regards to Parliament. Many were speaking on the side of continued diplomacy, but the exact reference was unclear to the president. “Where are we this time? Getting ready to sign the Declaration of Independence?”

This question was greeting with a slap to the back of his head that felt far too strong and solid to have been delivered by a ghost. However, its origin became clear as Adams spoke.

“Do you see either one of us in this room?” As the president shook his head, both in a negative response and in an attempt to relieve the ringing in his ears Adams continued. “Since both Ben and I signed the Declaration, if this meeting was preparing for that don’t you think you’d see us in the room?”

“I suppose.”

“How can you possibly be the leader of our nation? What on earth were the people thinking?”

“They weren’t thinking,” Ben added. “They weren’t listening when he was talking about fundamentally transforming America. They’re suffering some pretty harsh buyer’s remorse right now though.”

“I was elected by the majority of the people and I will do their will. The people have spoken, my party won the election so the rest of the people need to come to terms with that.”

The two men exchanged a glance, and what appeared to be a moment of unspoken communication. “We’ll get to that attitude later. Right now you are at the Second Virginia Conference and you’re about to hear one of the speeches that most accurately and succinctly describes the feelings of the people at this point. Negotiations have almost completely broken down and as Parliament tries harder to bring us to heel, the people more vehemently resist.”

At this moment a man stood to speak. He was a moderately attractive man; tall and thin with brown hair and a narrow face nearly dominated by a roman nose. He addressed the assemblage and began what would be a powerful speech with a tone of polite respect.

“No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

At the end of the speech both Adams and Franklin broke into applause, but the president simply stood in silence. Before he could wrap his mind around what he wanted to say, and there was a lot he wanted to say, he was being whisked through time once again. This time before the president could ask where they were, it was volunteered by Adams. “We are in Lexington Mass, April 19, 1775.”

“Oh wait,” cried the president in evident self-admiration. “I know this one. This is the shot heard round the world, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” replied Franklin. “I’ve heard it referred to as such, but it was so much more than that.”

As the travelers stood, the forces began to gather, their fear only outmatched by their resolve. A resolve that would be tested and in many, found lacking. The travelers watched as the first shot was fired and the volley met by the British forces. They watched as the colonists, family men and farmers fled for their lives under the barrage of gunfire that greeted them. They watched as the British soldiers continued to fire even after the order had been given to cease. They watched and listened as the British soldiers crowed in their victory sure that the rebellion was over. They could not have been more wrong.

“The fact that those men, untrained in military operations, would choose to stand and even prepare to fight against the greatest army in the world said more about their views on Britain and her Parliament than the troops or the politicians could ever understand.” Franklin cast one last sad glance at the bodies on the green before he and Adams took the president on yet another trip through time.

They appeared this time inside a Tavern the location of which the president did not know and his companions did not see fit to inform him. The two ghosts immediately left the president and began wandering around the room hovering at various tables inhabited by men in serious debate over their ales. At one of these tables Ben evidently found a conversation which interested him and beckoned to the others.

As the president approached the table the first words he heard were spoken by a man who appeared to be wealthy. His clothes were impeccable and his wig tidy and white. “Independence from Parliament of course, but from the crown? Are we not British subjects? Should we even be discussing such a thing?”

A younger man in garments far less fine took up the opposite side of the debate. “Are we British subjects or are we British slaves. Do they treat us as British subjects when they attempt to end any learned and honest debate with the force of their military? How can we be British subjects when we are afforded no say in our own governance?”

“And with that I agree, but that is resolved in the independence from Parliament. We should be free to rule ourselves with our elected representatives and formulate the laws which impact us, but to break from the crown? To form ourselves as an independent nation?”

“As Ben Franklin has said,” here Ben took a moment to preen at being quoted, “the colonies must band together and create a confederation. We must stand as one and steps have been taken to bind us politically. If we have our own legislatures, designed by us, and we break from the political influence of Parliament what bond do we have to England except a King who in every conflict has sided against us? What loyalty do we have to a monarch who has no love or loyalty for us? If we are going to break free, why not break free and be truly independent?”

“With what government? What forms or systems do we have in place that could replace not only parliament but the King as well? We would be in a state of anarchy and how could we possibly even begin to win a war for Independence, and make no mistake, a war it would be, while in a state of anarchy?”

“There are already discussions,” the young man replied. “I recently read a document by John Adams,” here Adams took the opportunity to preen back at Ben and even go so far as to stick out his tongue. “His thoughts on government give us a great place to start. He identifies some of the Republics in history which we can learn from, both in what to emulate and what to avoid. Hold just a moment.”

The young man then rummaged around inside his jacket and pulled from it a tattered and worn document. He carefully opened the pages and found what he was looking for. “He worries about a single assembly and even points out a few of the problems . He says a representation of the people in one assembly being obtained, a question arises whether all the powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial shall be left in this body. He then says that a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy, whose government is in one Assembly. My favorite points that he makes are that a single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies and frailties of an individual. In essence, to summarize what he says, a single assembly is apt to act hastily, stupidly and with prejudice. The next is quite insightful saying that the single assembly is apt to be avaricious and in time will not scruple to exempt itself from burthens which it will lay, without compunction, on its constituents.” The young man flipped the paper closed as this point and then said with a grin, “But even with powers in different assemblies, it is still a possibility that they will exempt themselves from what they impose upon us. Yet should that ever happen I would hope that the people would rise up in protest and be better met by their elected officials than they are by a parliament on the other side of an ocean.”

The older man nodded emphatically at this. “It would be a sad day for the people if their elected officials treated them with the same disregard as Parliament currently treats us. I pray that such a day never comes in this great land whether we are an independent nation or simply independent of Parliament.”

“I trust in our leaders,” the young man claimed. “I trust in them to provide for us a form of government that, while adhered to, would prevent such injustice as we’ve experienced. The current tyrannical rule will be fresh on their minds and they must know what we must be protected from. How then could they institute a government which would allow the very oppressions from which we now seek our freedom?”

These words of the people, their hopes and assertions, would have had an effect on a man with a lesser ego, but the president refused to feel shame at what our government had become. He continued to see his plans to transform the nation as a salvation and not a destruction. He was also absolutely convinced that the people would never rise up in protest against him. He would make sure of it in a way that King George III had been unable to.

The ghosts said not a word to interrupt his thoughts, but simply grabbed him by the arms and transported him once more.

The president was taken through the drafting of the Declaration of Independence including the exclusion of the abolition of slavery that was in Jefferson’s original document. Both Adams and Franklin lamented over its loss but acknowledged that it had to be done in order to achieve the union of all states, but they took great pleasure in pointing out to the president how the Declaration used specific examples of their objections and that the examples were actually true. Something the president’s own examples to promote his agenda were often lacking.

They took him through the drafting of the Articles of Confederation and showed him via several stops the problems with the document and with a weak federal government. They stressed to him the problems that arise when you create legislation out of a sense of urgency and without fully analyzing the impact, the most important issue the failure of the states to fund the fighting men as they had been designated. They showed that the defense of the nation and the ability to make treaties binding all 13 states was the main reason that the articles were ineffective.

They showed him the debate over public funding of religion and the reasons behind their stance against it. They had him standing over Thomas Jefferson’s shoulder as he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom where he stated that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no way diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

They took him through the months of debates and discussions over the new Constitution, showing him how the open debate and the opinions of many helped them piece together the government which had held us in good stead for over 200 years. They showed him the objections to the Constituion; the statements that there were two sorts of bad government. That which does too little, and that which does too much. That which fails through weakness and that which destroys through oppression. The discussion over how the states should be represented to insure that neither the small ruled the large or the large ruled the small. The compromise that resulted in the House of Representatives being based on population while in the Senate each state had an equal voice. They showed him the fear of some that the government would result in a monarchy or an aristocracy at which point Franklin stated, “I really hate that those damned men were right about the aristocracy.”

The president was exhausted, his brain nearly saturated, and sure that this must come to an end soon. He gazed at his watch repeatedly, sure that he was missing his next appointments and quite possibly his own State of the Union speech, but the hands of time never moved; not a single second had ticked by.

“Enough,” the president said. “I’ve seen enough. I’m a busy man and I need to return. I believe you’ve made your point.”

“Have we,” Adams asked. “Have we really?” The two ghosts stood side by side and faced the current president. “So you understand how the country was built and will stop trying to circumvent the people to force your agenda upon them?”

“I told you,” the president said, “they elected me and this is what they want.”

“So we haven’t showed you enough then. We didn’t really believe we had. There is a very important series of occurrences that you need to see.”

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Documents:  Book  Founding America Documents From the Revolution to the Bill of Rights
Patrick Henry's speech:

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