The Spirit Of The American Constitution
Many political writers, invoke the spirit of the American Constitution – as something that is extinct. This ‘spirit’ has been a matter of conjecture, dispute and speculation – due to subsequent actions.
PT Barnum (The Propaganda Slayer) says
“Truth is, this spirit of the Founding Fathers is a mythical animal,”. He continues, “It never existed. Ever. To all those who claim (or feel) that America today is not what the founding fathers meant it to be, you have two options. Option one – Take a cold shower.”
The expose by PT Barnum (the Patron Saint Of Propagandists) on the American Constitution is given below.
Much before the American Constitution was being put to paper, an American luminary declared,
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
His name was Patrick Henry. America then went on to give death to the Native Americans and took away the liberty of millions of African-American slave people.
PT Barnum’s take on this – Enslaved ‘Blacks’ and all the ‘Red Indians’, all marked for genocide and slavery, for the glory of the White race – conspired and claimed that Patrick Henry had included them in this declaration.
Patrick Henry should have not have said this.
All men are created,’ declared Thomas Jefferson. When confronted with the need for a solution for the Black slaves, (who, he considered, as NOT equal to Whites), he suggested that they should be sent back to Africa! Where in Africa could the slaves be sent back to? He suggested that US should create a new colony for them.
The result – Liberia. Another land of the free? Of course, the local population living in the soon-to-be-Liberia, were not consulted. They were unimportant.
Of course, he forgot to add, as long as you are White. The White Gods had decided what was best for the Black people. Benjamin Franklin’s thought that the majority of American Blacks, “are of a plotting disposition, dark, sullen, malicious, revengeful and cruel in the highest degree.”
Thomas Jefferson also made some promises that all people would be allowed “pursuit of happiness” – if I remember correctly. The devil is in the details. Jefferson forgot to mention that this “pursuit of happiness” was a privilege for Whites only.
This principle of “equal in the eyes of law” was another matter of regret for Jefferson later. The US Supreme Court did decide, in the Dredd Scott case that ‘Blacks’ were barred from approaching American Courts.
Jefferson had written,
“Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice[intolerance], protecting our religions, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on equal footing.”
Yet another problem was the idea of “equal in the eyes of the God.” Women demanded the right to vote. How could women (it did not matter that they were White) be allowed to vote? In another landmark case, the US Supreme Court decided, (Myner v. Happerstett) that being a US citizen did not give women the right to vote. Finally, after more than 100 years of Women’s Suffrage Movement, the right to vote was given to US women in 1924.
Land Of The Free
1798: Criticism of Government, a criminal act?
John Adams made it a crime to criticize the US Government. Fearing a French invasion, the US Congress and President John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These gave the US Government sweeping powers to deport any person considered dangerous to the nation’s welfare, to imprison anyone found guilty of criticizing the government. Numerous people were imprisoned.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson made this into a campaign issue – as Whites (his favorite color) were getting affected. After getting elected, Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under these laws. Nearly 200 years later, in 1964, the US Supreme Court found courage to declare these law as unconstitutional.
1861: ‘Honest’ Abe Lincoln jailed thousands, flouted court orders
Lincoln’s face adorns Mount Rushmore. The same President Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, suspended habeas corpus (a cornerstone of Western claim to liberty and freedom), allowed the Federal Government to run amok. Southern sympathizers were arrested, without submitting evidence against them or giving them a trial. Hundreds of draft resisters were imprisoned, including newspaper editors, judges, lawyers, and legislators.
An estimated 13,000 people were arrested. Lincoln ignored Chief Justice Roger Taney’s judgment which ruled that the President’s actions were unconstitutional. Lincoln used the might of the State against pro-South newspapers.
1917-18: Under Woodrow Wilson imprisoned Socialist leader for years.
Distrust reached the zenith during WW1 when American citizens were suspected of being German spies. The US Congress and President Woodrow Wilson approved the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The acts gave the US Government authority to censor foreign language press, restrictions against use of US Mail by antiwar publications. After this if any one did express ‘disloyal’ or antiwar sentiments; they could be imprisoned. Suspects were targeted, using the Espionage Act (1918). In a familiar routine, all dissenters were smeared as Wobblies, legal proceedings instituted against them and imprisoned. John Reed, (writer of Ten Days That Shook The World, about the Bolshevik Revolution), captured these sham trials,reporting from the Chicago court.
An estimated 2,000 people were prosecuted. Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist candidate in the Presidential race, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Charles Schenck, an author against the draft was also imprisoned. The US Supreme Court, in their long tradition of rubber-stamping many abusive laws, upheld Schenck’s conviction.
Following Woodrow Wilson’s ‘warnings’ against “hyphenated Americans [who] have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out,” the US attorney general unleashed a wave of repression in the land of the free and home of the immigrants. In post-WW1 USA, Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer arrested and detained more than 10,000 people, deported nearly 500, mostly immigrants.
Palmer operated with his soon to become famous assistant – J. Edgar Hoover. A man who no one could touch. From 1919 till his death in 1972. A man, who “never lost his sense of entitlement to bend the rules, either to protect the country or to protect himself.”
Based on his experience in the Justice Department’s Bureau of investigation, Hoover went on to form and head the FBI in 1924 – till his death in 1972. An organisation with “19,401 employees, including 8,586 special agents”. He had a file on everyone in the USA – and outside. He made and unmade people – operating behind the scenes, and in stealth. In the USA. He outlasted 8 US presidents, and ensured that he and his agency were seen as “astonishingly uncontaminated by outside political influence. The number of FBI agents convicted of a crime: none … honest, expert and free from partisan taint.”
1942: 120,000 residents of Japanese Descent Interned
After the Pearl Harbor attack (1941), President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order to set up a concentration camp for 120,000 Americans residents of Japanese descent – two-thirds of them, US citizens. Their crime – their Japanese descent. They were released four years later, in 1946 – one year after the surrender of the Japanese forces. Enemy Japanese soldiers were released earlier than US citizens were! The US Supreme Court rubber stamped this decision also.
Some 40 years later, in 1988, the US Congress granted surviving internees $20,000 each. A pro forma official apology from the US government was also conferred on these American citizens.
1949-54: McCarthy era – Communists imprisoned.
During 1950s, American leadership fanned fears of an imminent communist takeover of the world. Eisenhower stoked the fires of anti-communism and proposed the Domino Theory. Sen. Joseph McCarthy led this crusade against ‘communist traitors’. This paranoia led to the prosecution of leaders of the Communist and Socialist Parties under the Smith Act (1940). This law, 10 years after it was written into law books, was used with devastating effect. This act made it a crime to advocate violence against the government. Some individuals were sentenced to prison for studying works of Marx and Lenin. Once more, the US Supreme Court, rubber stamped convictions under this Act.
Most egregious was the McCarthy era. The persecution of dissidents in the world’s largest democracy was no less than in any military regime. Left leaning Hollywood personalities were implicated in fabricated cases and criminal charges foisted on them based on thin (or no) evidence. The Hollywood Ten (Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawton, Albert Maltz, Sam Ornitz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo) were banned by the Hollywood corporations. Under pressure from the Government, Hollywood’s production corporations, blacklisted alleged Communists. Eric Johnston released the Waldorf Statement on behalf of the Hollywood studios.
For many years, after the end of the witch hunt, these Hollywood corporations continued with the blacklist. Popular press targetted all the witnesses who co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Hearings and Senator Joe McCarthy – but not the perpetrators of the witch hunt. Heads of these Hollywood corporations (who could have resisted) and figures of authority like Eisenhower, Truman, McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and the various perpetrators went scot-free. Victims, like Elia Kazan, who collaborated, under pressure, were smeared as rats and further persecuted.
1996-2006: New laws – Secret evidence, for those on the death row.
After the Oklahoma city bombing, by Timothy McVeigh, many laws were passed. The infamous Patriot Act is one such specimen on display. Congress passed other counter-terrorism laws limiting habeas corpus. But what takes the cake is the restriction on appeals for death-row inmates. Who can imagine that any law can restrict appeal against a death sentence. Any system of jurisprudence will be very circumspect about passage of such laws. But not in the land of the free.
These laws also allowed discriminatory behaviour by the US Government towards immigrants, suspected of terror activities, to be detained and deported based on ‘secret’ evidence.
Another Tom Tom Dance
The Great American Melting Pot was another music to which American’s did a tom-tom dance. Rightly so. They managed to melt everyone into one WASP profile. No other languages were allowed. For 200 years (nearly), Catholics (Red, White or you) could not become President in the land of the free. It took a rich Catholic man (never mind how the Kennedy clan got their money) to become the first non-WASP president. Till such time, that the Italians maintained their identity, they were kept at the fringe of American society. We are not even started on the Blacks and the Native Americans.
Americans were not allowed to learn or teach non-English languages for the best part of 200 years. All other language groups had to become American by giving up their own languages – and adopt the language of the land of the free.
By 1923, thirty-four states had laws that declared English the language of school instruction. Since then, most states have enacted laws that require the use of English in specific situations, such as in testing for occupational licenses.
During the 1980s, resurgent xenophobia, directed this time toward Latino/a and Asian immigrants, revived interest in and support for comprehensive English language laws. Organizations, such as U.S. English, formed to urge states and Congress to enact Official English and English-Only laws that encompass all aspects of government. (from Impact of English Language Movement on Consumer Protection Regulation By Steven W. Bender Excerpted from Consumer Protection for Latinos: Overcoming Language Fraud and English-Only in the Marketplace, 45 American. University Law Review – 1027-348, 1047-1054 (1996).)
Various US state governments outlawed all languages – except English. It was only in 1923, was this was finally set aside after the matter reached the US Supreme Court (read Meyer vs Nebraska). The USA gathered some courage to start timidly with more than English only after seeing India’s success with 15 languages.
America created the Monroe doctrine – supposedly an anti-colonial doctrine. But they anyway went ahead and ‘bought’ Philippines and Puerto Rico – also Cuba. The Cubans refused to honour this ‘purchase’ – for which the USA has waged a war against Cuba for the last 100 years.
The USA also conspired to remove the Queen Of Hawaii – for which the US has now apologized, yet again. Of course, I am not an expert on the American Constitution! Was this allowed under the American Constitution? I mean, the apology!!
The new glory of the US Constitution that the Americans now espouse is the establishment of the Federal Reserve. Some claim that the Federal Reserve was not a part of the original constitution.
After the Propaganda Slayer, PT Barnum pointed these aspects of Great American History, I am lost. Completely.
Can someone tell me what was there in the original American Constitution? Equality! Freedom! The Rule of Law?!