Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Jefferson's Evolution of the 1790's

The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 was preceded by a decade of effort by the leaders of the nascent Republican Party which John Zvesper, author of Ballots to Bullets: The Election of 1800 and the First Peaceful Transfer of Political Power (2003), discusses in the previously-mentioned book and in a recent review, The Revolution of 1792!, of two books, Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling and Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism by Susan Dunn.

Zvesper says:
Ferling's ... imagination sometimes brings forth predictable turns of phrase, such as that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were "smoldering" for an absent woman (Adams for his wife, Jefferson for Mrs. Cosway), and occasionally leads him to reconstruct plausible but undocumented scenes to make his narrative more vivid. But his imagination, combined with his intelligence and learning, also helps him offer clear and credible explanations for complicated motives and moves, such as Hamilton's public attack on Adams's character in the middle of the campaign of 1800, or the House of Representatives balloting that eventually selected Jefferson over Burr for president.

Dunn's book, like Ferling's, includes some thoughtful passages on several important topics: for example, the development of the first party system into the second; the need for effective presidents to be partisan; and Jefferson's appointments strategy... Dunn ...recognizes the significance of the unprecedented practice of one party peacefully handing over power to another after a deep and bitter electoral clash—though she ruins this insight (which she seems to have picked up from Seymour Martin Lipset) by adding that a good two-party system "would take away any moral right to revolution."

Neither Ferling nor Dunn considers whether the more traditional nonpartisan views of George Washington and John Adams had any merit. Dunn makes some perceptive remarks about Washington's Farewell Address, but inaccurately interprets it as "an attack on parties in general." In fact Washington's premise (similar to Madison's in The Federalist) is that in republics, where all offices are elective, there will never be too little partisanship...

Zvesper continues with what he regards as two problems with both works:
First is the tendency to forget that the sometimes disunited, desperate, repressive, paranoid, anti-philosophical and offensively elitist Federalist Party of the late 1790s (and later) was not like the Federalist Party of the early 1790s. The Federalist Party changed much more during the 1790s than the Republican Party did, and it did not improve. In the beginning, when they had just won the battle to ratify the Constitution, and before they were challenged by the Republican Party, Federalists were confident and united. Many scholars tend to paint the Federalists unfairly as very dark from the outset, because they painted themselves pretty dark during their later struggles and death throes. Thus Ferling praises Jefferson for having been "among the first to divine the reactionary threat posed by the extreme conservatives in the early days of the new Republic."

This first affliction is often identical with the apparently strong compulsion, which both Ferling and Dunn have, to push the 1790s—if not all of American history—into a crude Progressive mold, and to interpret the conflicts between Federalists and Republicans as part of the great democratic struggle of the masses against deference to wealth and pomp. Of course, some Republicans did sometimes talk as if that were the central issue, and some Federalists did sometimes give them reason to talk that way, but in fact the partisan divisions were not nearly as simple-minded as that. Even if the parties had displayed such a neat class correlation, their policy differences were far more interesting and captivating, and even with no socio-economic conflict at all these differences would still have pushed politics towards electoral competition and realignment.

Both Ferling and Dunn undermine their argument that the party conflict of the 1790s should be understood as part of the battle against deference, when they draw our attention to the Republicans' very effective tactic of nominating party slates of "illustrious Revolutionary heroes" or other "dazzling" public figures as candidates for the electoral college or for state legislators who would then be choosing those electors. The success of this tactic, which brought Jefferson and Burr nearly all of Pennsylvania's electoral votes in 1796, as well as every electoral vote in the crucial state of New York in 1800, suggests that a kind of deference was not entirely absent from the new politics. (Of course, this tactic was complemented by an energetic ground war to get out likely Republican voters, and that was new.)

Dunn ...suggests (a little contradictorily?) that although class conflict drove the discord between Republicans and Federalists, class solidarity between these winning and losing parties explains why that discord did not become very violent... She can't help it if Jefferson and Madison and the others don't quite see it that way. That just shows their limits. They were "fathers," after all, which is pretty well equivalent to "elitists." Anyway, Dunn reminds us, since then we Americans have cleverly managed to combine Hamiltonian means (an interventionist federal government) with Jeffersonian ends (empowerment of individuals to pursue happiness), so all's better in today's party system. And we can be proud that we got where we are in spite our founding fathers.

The second widespread affliction affecting scholarship on the 1790s is the tendency to pass over too quickly the seriousness of the decision made by the leaders of what became the Republican Party to create that party in the first place. In the 1790s the Founders advanced towards the realization that in liberal democracies, a certain kind of principled partisanship deserves a degree of public respectability. However, most historians and political scientists do not see that this realization was largely achieved already in 1792 (insofar as the Founders did achieve it: some of this work was left to the "second party system"). They do not see that foreign wars and their domestic repercussions from 1793 to 1800 temporarily distorted that achievement and delayed its electoral results for eight years. If only Jefferson had spoken of the "Revolution of 1792"! Ferling accepts the conventional claim that it took American reaction to the French Revolution and other foreign policy events to make most Americans focus on the partisan contest, and although he discusses some of the interesting manoeuvres and publications preceding the election of 1792, he does not accept the Republican leaders' own acknowledgement that they were building a (temporary) political party. Dunn does not discuss the election of 1792, and she moves even more swiftly than Ferling to the foreign policy-related issues and elections of the later 1790s.

In December 1792, after most of the congressional election results were in, Jefferson—anticipating the language of his First Inaugural Address—predicted that the government "will, from the commencement of the next session of Congress, retire and subside into the true principles of the Constitution," supported by those who felt themselves to be "republicans and federalists too." After 1792, Jefferson came to realize that the Republicans had to win control of the presidency as well as Congress in a partisan campaign (they had already had a go at taking the vice-presidency away from Adams in 1792). However, he and other Republicans made it clear in all of the elections of that decade that their fundamental disagreement with Federalists was over Alexander Hamilton's economic project, which the two parties had fought over—Republicans had thought once and for all—in the election of 1792.

Republicans were already confidently and energetically appealing to American public opinion—through a peaceful electoral campaign—to establish the majority's voice in the government, in order to oppose imprudent measures that had been undertaken by that government only because it had not sufficiently consulted the public. Instead of basing its novel policies on any kind of public consultation, the federal government had been running in an unrepublican manner: as in Britain, executive ministers initiated policies, which it seemed they got enacted by improperly influencing the proceedings of the legislative branch.

Thus, much of the outlook and strategy of the Revolution of 1800 appeared in the Revolution of 1792, which set the precedent for principled public partisanship. But what took Republicans so long to establish their electoral and policy revolution? From later American history, we can now see that this delay was not abnormal; in the realigning elections of the 1790s, just as in the 1820s, 1850s, 1890s, and 1930s (and 1990s?), the House reflected the emerging partisan realignment before the White House did. Nevertheless, two special factors explain the delay of realignment in the 1790s. In addition to the fact that George Washington (whom Jefferson diligently tried but failed to get on their side) remained president until 1797, the Republicans' main impediment was the distraction of foreign policy issues. As soon as good prospects of peace with both Britain and France appeared, the Republican Party received a peace dividend. Some Federalists saw this coming, and feared that the Republicans' policy and patronage revolutions would be even more sharply to their disadvantage than they turned out to be. This fear incited their frantic efforts to come to an "understanding" with Jefferson (that he would not fire them and reverse their key policies) before finally letting him emerge ahead of Aaron Burr in the tie-breaking balloting by the House of Representatives in 1801.

What's missing from these two books, and from scholarship on the 1790s more generally, is a good understanding of the actions and intentions of America's first partisans when they were first being partisan, in 1792. We need that understanding in order to judge to what extent those actions deserve praise or blame, and in what manner they deserve imitation or avoidance.

While I don't quite agree with Zvesper's final paragraph, in that there are a number of fine works which cover the 1790's, I do contend that these books are not treated in courses on American history--and they should be.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ministates An American Problem

Michelle Boorstein's article in the Washington Post, "Homeowners Groups Fight to Stay Afloat," brings up an ongoing problem with the federally-encouraged quasi-municipalities commonly known as homeowner associations: liability
Hidden Lake's problems mirror those cropping up at first-generation, association-run communities across the country as they deal with aging infrastructure and outdated or poorly written covenants that make it impossible to enforce rules, increase dues to cover rising costs or resolve disputes.

Today, with 80 percent of homes being built in such communities -- a percentage an industry group estimates to be even higher in the Washington area -- an entire body of law and expertise has sprung up to deal with such problems. Governing documents have grown from three pages to the size of telephone books, states have passed laws giving homeowners associations power to collect dues and place liens on homes, and real estate agents in many places are required to inform buyers about what they're getting into.

While I realize that HOAs are a popular idea with some libertarians, they are statist to the core, there are far better social mechanisms. There are many problems with HOAs which I find are of great concern and this article illustrates the short-term orientation of the bulk of HOAs: that of under-capitalization (one which most HOAs are dealing with now) which leaves them with a multigenerational transfer problem. HOAs have little capacity to evolve over time to allow second generation ownership without a significant loss of value and opportunity to maintain the capital to keep their homes, roads and parks going and allow change for the next generation of owners. Same problem as other municipalities. The only difference is that the others are recognized as state creations.

As Dr. Allan Carlson says in ""Baily Park" or "Greater Pottersville"?":
Even worse, it turns out, are the Neighborhood or Homeowner Associations, a new kind of informal governance that has recorded rapid growth at the same time as suburban family life has declined. A product of the 1960's, Homeowner Associations now embrace 50 million Americans. Using restrictive covenants and liens-on-homes to enforce their wills, these Associations are--in analyst Spencer MacCallum's words--far more "arbitrary, unresponsive, and dictatorial" than Zoning Boards in their control over the lives of residents. Commonly prohibiting everything from home offices to swing sets and picket fences, Homeowner Associations--in one critic's words--provide neither liberty, nor justice, nor domestic tranquility.

Thanks to Evan McKenzie for his mention of the Washington Post article in his blog, The Privatopia Papers.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Henry George

"What is necessary for the use of land is not its private ownership, but the security of improvements. It is not necessary to say to a man, 'this land is yours,' in order to induce him to cultivate or improve it. It is only necessary to say to him, 'whatever your labor, or capital produces on this land shall be yours.' Give a man security that he may reap, and he will sow; assure him of the possession of the house he wants to build, and he will build it. These are the natural rewards of labor. It is for the sake of the reaping that men sow; it is for the sake of possessing houses that men build. The ownership of land has nothing to do with it."--Henry George

Henry George (9/2/1839-10/29/1897) was born in Philadelphia, the second of ten children of a poor, pious, evangelical Protestant family. His formal education was cut short at 14 and went to sea as a foremast boy on the Hindoo, bound for Melbourne and Calcutta eventually making a complete voyage around the world. Three years later, he was halfway through a second voyage as an able seaman when he left the ship in San Francisco and worked at various occupations (including gold mining) and eventually went to work as a journeyman printer and occasional typesetter before turning to newspaper writing in San Francisco including four years (1871-1875) as editor of his own San Francisco Daily Evening Post. George's experience in a number of trades, his poverty while supporting a family, and the examples of financial difficulties that came to his attention as wage earner and newspaperman gave impetus to his reformist tendencies. He was curious and attentive to everything around him.

"Little Harry George" (he was small of stature and slight of build, according to his son) was fortunate in San Francisco; he lived and worked in a rapidly developing society. George had the unique opportunity of studying the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. As he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the appearance of pauperism. He saw a degradation forming with the advent of leisure and affluence, and felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently. As he would continue to do as he struggled to support his family in San Francisco following the Panic of 1873.

Dabbling in local politics, he shifted loyalties from Lincoln Republicanism to the Democrats, and became a trenchant critic of railroad and mining interests, corrupt politicians, land speculators, and labor contractors. He failed as a Democratic candidate for the state legislature, but landed a patronage job of state inspector of gas meters (which allowed him time to write longer expositions).

As Alanna Hartzok has pointed out, Henry George's famous epiphany occurred
"One day, while riding horseback in the Oakland hills, merchant seaman and journalist Henry George had a startling epiphany. He realized that speculation and private profiteering in the gifts of nature were the root causes of the unjust distribution of wealth."

His son, Henry George, Jr., said
"...Henry George perceived that land speculation locked up vast territories against labor. Everywhere he perceived an effort to "corner" land; an effort to get it and to hold it, not for use, but for a "rise." Everywhere he perceived that this caused all who wished to use it to compete with each other for it; and he foresaw that as population grew the keener that competition would become. Those who had a monopoly of the land would practically own those who had to use the land."

"...in 1871 [he] sat down and in the course of four months wrote a little book under title of "Our Land and Land Policy." In that small volume of forty-eight pages he advocated the destruction of land monopoly by shifting all taxes from labor and the products of labor and concentrating them in one tax on the value of land, regardless of improvements. A thousand copies of this small book were printed, but the author quickly perceived that really to command attention, the work would have to be done more thoroughly.

Over the next several years, George devoted his time to the completion of his major work. In 1879, finding no publisher, he self-published Progress and Poverty (500 copies), and issued the following year in New York and London by Appleton's after George transported the printing plates to them. The plates were then taken by Appleton's and the book soon became a sensation, translated into many languages and assured George's fame, selling over 3 million copies.

At the heart of his critique of Gilded Age capitalism was the conviction that rent and private land-ownership violated the hallowed principles of Jeffersonian democracy and poverty was an affront to the moral values of Judeo-Christian culture. Progress and Poverty was “an inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth.” In the fact that rent tends to increase not only with increase of population but with all improvements that increase productive power, George finds the cause of the tendency to the increase of land values and decrease of the proportion of the produce of wealth which goes to labor and capital, while in the speculative holding of land thus engendered he traces the tendency to force wages to a minimum and the primary cause of paroxysms of industrial depression.

The remedy for these he declares to be the appropriation of rent by the community, thus making land community owned and giving the user secure possession and leaving to the producer the full advantage of his exertion and investment. This notion of the single tax (the term which the successful attorney and free-trade advocate, Thomas G. Shearman (who, along with C.B. Fillebrown, led the more hard-core, pro-free market position within the single tax movement--although later to falter), gave to George's solution.

George moved his family to New York in 1880 due to the demands as writer and lecturer. In 1881 he published The Irish Land Question, and in 1883-4 he made another trip at the invitation of the Scottish land restoration league, producing on both tours a strong international interest in his ideas. In 1886 he was the candidate for the United labor party for mayor of New York, and received 68,110 votes against 90,552 for Abram S. Hewitt (Democrat), and 60,435 for Theodore Roosevelt(Republican). In 1887, George founded the “Standard,” a weekly newspaper (1887-92). He also published Social Problems (1884), and Protection or Free-Trade (1886), a radical examination of the tariff question, An Open Letter to the Pope (1891), a reply to Leo XIII's encyclical The Condition of Labor; A Perplexed Philosopher (1892), a critique of Herbert Spencer and, finally, his The Science of Political Economy (1897), begun in 1891 but uncompleted at his death, when he was running for Mayor of New York one final time.

George's legacy has been long and vibrant over the last century, leading to utopian communities, legislators, economists and political activists of all sorts. This is a mixed legacy which one can argue both positive and negative influences. But it cannot be ignored.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism