Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background

(The following is a draft excerpt from a forthcoming book.)

One important issue that prominent pre-constitution pre-Americans were concerned about was the tyranny of the English government and of how to preclude the possibility of a similar tyranny amongst a conglomeration of the thirteen east coast English colonies which then existed. Ten years prior to their drafting of the constitution in 1786, there had been a loose sort of formal relationship between these colonies (which at the time and for many years hence had the status of different countries with different currencies and laws) inscribed in a document called The Articles Of Confederation. Then, no executive (president) or judicial (supreme court) branch of government existed. The educated, wealthy people at the time (reminiscent of the philosopher-kings of Plato’s Republic) had for decades just made the laws for their individual colonies without any vote or debate. Despite this, perhaps surprisingly, the colonies prospered. According to Benjamin Franklin:

“There was abundance in the Colonies, and peace was reigning on every border. It was difficult, and even impossible, to find a happier and more prosperous nation on all the surface of the globe. Comfort was prevailing in every home. The people, in general, kept the highest moral standards, and education was widely spread.”

Given the lack of democracy in the Colonies of the mid-eighteenth century, one may wonder: how could such a relatively utopian society possibly exist (especially given the views of post-second-world-war American presidents about the moral necessity of democracy in current geo-politics)? According to Benjamin Franklin the reason for this prosperity was two-fold. First, the colonies printed their own money (called ‘colonial scrip’), paying no interest to any bank. Secondly, neither too much nor too little printed money was allowed to circulate – colonies controlled their money-base (and incidentally, people from such colonies could revolt against their government if e.g. the value of their money was too low – that’s not possible nowadays since government doesn’t control the value of money anymore).

The (privately owned and misleadingly named) ‘Bank Of England’ had been cut off from a source of revenue from the colonies during this time. Upon their learning of the existence of colonial scrip, opposition to it arose immediately. This led to the bank’s insistence that the English Government (who were subservient to the bank) require that the colonies cease printing their own money.

Although colonial scrip was ‘fiat currency’ i.e. owner’s of such currency had no right to demand to exchange it for a set amount of e.g. gold or silver, it had worked well in pre-revolutionary times. States (not banks) could control how much currency was in circulation in order to regulate its value and thereby facilitate commerce and prosperity. The key idea about fiat money is that money in general is only what people agree upon as having instrumental value – something that can be exchanged for something else that is intrinsically valuable (valued for its own sake, not as a means to getting something else). Almost anything could (and often has) been used as money historically around the world e.g. Yak dung, wooden ‘tally-sticks’ (in England), gold, silver and pieces of paper with numbers on them (e.g. dollar bills).

Currency backed by gold/silver was favored by banks because banks realized that there was a demand for this relatively rare commodity and that they could charge interest on loans of paper money based upon it (e.g. to governments in order to finance war on a grand scale or to businesses / individuals on a small scale). Franklin rejected the notions that private banks should control the amount of currency circulating in a country and that they should make a profit from charging interest when lending money. Not only is such profiteering (or ‘usury’) morally wrong on many conceptions of morality (religious and secular), Franklin realized that just as fiat money (bits of paper) is not intrinsically valuable, neither is gold, silver, wooden sticks, dung, etc. Although some of these things may have some other instrumental value (e.g. wooden sticks could be burnt for warmth), unless one can exchange them for goods and services which ultimately lead to something valued for its own sake e.g. happiness they have no intrinsic value.

For example, suppose a student is asked the question: “why do you want to go to university?” She replies “in order to get a good job”. Why? Good pay etc. (suspend one’s disbelief about how going to university will result in a good job and good pay for the moment). Why do you want that? To be able to provide for a family and pay for nice things. Why? In order to be happy. Suppose one then asks: “why do you want to be happy”? The answer is that happiness is something valued for its own sake, not as a means to getting something else.

Ultimately, money is only valuable if can exchange it for goods and services (which ultimately make one happy – happiness is one thing that is intrinsically valuable (justice too)). Even if bits of paper represent gold in a more convenient form to carry about, as far as human interest is concerned gold is no more intrinsically valuable than paper – each is only valuable to the extent that there is a demand for it.

Before the revolutionary war whilst in England, Franklin noted that the richest country in the world at the time had its streets covered with beggars and poor. Around 1764 the colonies were infected with the same unemployment that had blighted England. Later, upon his return to America, Franklin wrote:

“The Colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been for the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament, which has caused in the Colonies hatred of England and the Revolutionary War”

Franklin blamed the Revolutionary War on the Bank Of England – a privately owned bank existing purely for profit, which required the English Government to try to ensure that the same sort of central bank held sway in the colonies. Thomas Jefferson (who in the Declaration Of Independence advocated the (Lockean) notion of a natural right (i.e. of the sort that others have a moral duty to respect)) wrote:

“I sincerely believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.”

The natural right to liberty, according to Jefferson, was threatened by banking institutions even in the 18th century.

James Madison, chief architect of the constitution wrote:

“History records that the money-changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.”

If people realize that the bits of paper that they work for (or in the case of the American Revolutionary War, risked death for) have no instrumental value let alone intrinsic value, that’s a problem. People who fought in the Revolutionary War realized that the currency they were paid was essentially worthless as it was based on a gold standard which the colonies couldn’t honor since they had no gold (which has no intrinsic value anyway). Basically, the war was fought based on I.O.U.s that could not be honored, and payment was overdue. The misleadingly named ‘Bank Of England’ (which was privately owned by userers, who controlled the English Parliament) was to blame.

Just as the I.O.U.’s that the soldiers of the American Revolutionary war fought for were worthless, so too are the bits of paper with numbers on them that modern soldiers fight for since these are also essentially I.O.U.’s from the U.S. Treasury, which is subservient to the modern money-lenders in the U.S.A. (the Federal Reserve).

In the year prior to the meeting of state delegates at the assembly in Philadelphia which ultimately resulted in the drafting of the U.S. constitution, a minor revolution (Shays’ rebellion) had occurred in which revolutionary-war veteran Daniel Shays led thousands of rebels in an uprising against perceived economic injustices in Massachusetts.

Those wealthy previous signatories to the Declaration Of Independence who had been shaken by Shays’ rebellion, basically wanted to keep their wealth and wanted laws which allowed them to do that, in transitioning from a realistic state of nature to a more recognizable form of government (of the sort that has existed throughout most of the the modern history of America).

Hobbes advocates the idea that citizens will only be law-abiding if there is an authoritarian ‘Leviathan’ in control of government; someone who would inspire such fear amongst citizens that they would not dare to break the law (examples from modern history include people like Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao etc). Unfortunately Donald Trump’s Presidential history thus far fits with this Hobbesian trend at least as far as his non-condemnation/fraternization with contemporary authoritarians e.g. Putin, Duerte, Mohammed Bin Salman etc. are concerned. Add to this his racist tweets about four women of color in 2019 - the duly elected Congress women Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

The founding fathers and drafters of the constitution were worried about tyranny, but were aware that this comes in different forms. In addition to the possibility of tyranny from an American monarch/government there was the possibility of a democratic ‘tyranny of the masses’ which at the state/colony level might result in the masses rising up to demand a re-distribution of wealth, especially given the hardships endured by those same masses who had been involved in the recent war of independence against the English Crown. Those veterans might reasonably want economic justice in the pre-industrial era in which they lived. They had, after all, given up their self-interested economic livelihood in order to fight against the British Empire. They were in a situation approximating to a ‘state of nature’ (described by philosophers Hobbes and Locke), in which no coherent colonial-state laws protected immigrant individuals from Europe against each other, much less the African people brought to America in slavery or the Native-Americans who were to be slaughtered and their land stolen, each of whose ‘natural rights’ were to be completely ignored despite the founding fathers’ enlightenment ideals. Ann Coulter euphemistically calls the founding fathers and others having arrived from Europe ‘settlers’ (not immigrants). The King divinely ‘gave’ individuals/settlers (e.g. William Penn) land in America. Some years later, Europeans arriving in such land ultimately rose against the notion that a King has a divine right to take away e.g. property (land). However, if the King has no divine right to take land away from anyone (e.g. Native Americans), he has no divine right to give that land away to other people (Europeans) either, in circumstances in which granting land to someone will involve taking land away from someone else. In which case, the Declaration Of Independence (if stated in Locke’s terms of life liberty and property) would entail that the founding fathers and others had no divinely granted right to be in America, since this entails taking land away from Native Americans. Jefferson, perhaps in order to mask recognition of this entailment (not merely to escape the charge of plagiarism) changed ‘property’ to ‘pursuit of happiness’ in his drafting of the Declaration Of Independence).

If so, the legally authorized militarism against Native Americans by the constitution and the bill of rights is much like saying Nazi Germany ‘settled’ in Poland and France. Trump?