Generals Make Lackluster Presidents


Consider this unique fact, 12 of our United States Presidents have held the rank of General in the United States Army. None held the same rank in the Marine Corps or Air Force and there has never been an Admiral attain the Presidency. Does this mean that Americans have viewed Army Generals as better suited for the Presidency, or just that they are more in the spotlight during wartime? Certainly none of the Army Generals who have attained the Presidency had stellar Presidencies. In fact, more times than not the former General turned President has been a controversial figure in his own time as well as in ours. The Presidents who have served this nation as Generals fall into two categories: Forgotten and Controversial. Only one of our General turned Presidents has been remembered in a positive light: George Washington. Yet, even his Presidency was forgettable if it weren’t for the fact he was the first President.

Of those Presidents who were Generals and have been forgotten by History, there were: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Tyler, Franklin Pierce, US Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. William Henry Harrison is largely forgotten for one simple fact: his Presidency lasted exactly one month. In fact, aside from Grant, Garfield, and Eisenhower most of these Presidents are totally forgotten by history. Grant and Eisenhower are by far the most well-known of these three Presidents, having served as the General of the Armies during the Civil War and WWII respectfully. In both cases the men were remembered more for their on field conquests and less for their Oval Office successes.  James Garfield was the second President to be slain by an assasian, having died 6 months and 15 days into his Presidency.  All of these men deserve the respect of a grateful nation for serving our nation in both the Military and Presidency. They respresent one key fact, however, and is just because you were a General doesn’t mean you should be President.

Two men in our Nation’s history have gained attention not because they were great Generals, although one was, but because they served very controversial Presidencies. Andrew Jackson, called by his contempories “King Andrew I” was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. As a President he was known to ignore his political enemies, basically everyone, and to veto any legislation he didn’t agree with, almost everything. Jackson was the first President to receive a Censure from Congress and was the first President after the epic fall of the Era of Good Feelings (which ended when he first tried to attain the Presidency and lost to John Q. Adams in 1824.) Jackson’s record is most tarneshed for his Indian Policy, which resulted in the Indian Removal Act that saw Tribes relocated from the East to the Great Plains.

Like Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson was less remembered by history for his military service during the Civil War and more for his failed Presidency. To give some credit to Johnson, he was expected to follow in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assasination. Johnson was a southerner by birth, Tennessee,  and a Democrat but remained loyal to the Union when the South seceded. He struggled with his Congress over the question of Reconstruction and was eventually impeached twice (more than any other President) but escaping conviction both times. Little is actually remembered about Andrew Johnson’s Presidency that would be classified as “good”.

So while we celebrate President’s Day today, the third Monday of the Month of February, we should remember that just because one was a General doesn’t mean that one should be President of the United States. None of our General-Presidents have turned out all that great for the United States.

Emergence of the American Military Power


Have you ever wondered where the military power of the United States came from? We haven’t always been a super power capable of destroying our enemies, our friends, and ourselves.  For most of the early years of the American republic we had to rely on allies to assists us in our military campaigns. The French aided us in the American Revolution, although we did have minor successes prior to their entry into the war. We fought to a stalemate with the English during the War of 1812, yet our Nation’s Capital was burned down.

We were able to defeat the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War, but we still weren’t a super power. We had to rely on the British to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European Colonization. Yet, one event in American History stands alone as ushering in the advent of American military supremacy.

During the Civil War advancements in technology were made that made obsolete all other militaries in the world. The mini ball made for more accurate gun fire, destroying a military fighting style that had spanned centuries. The CSS Hunley was only the second major attempt by Americans to create submarine power (the USS Turtle was used during the American Revolution, which was a one man submarine that operated on a similar concept as the Hunley.) And ultimately, the clash of the Iron Clads (CSS Merrimack & USS Monitor) made all other navies in the world obsolete. By the end of the Civil War there were over 1 Million soldiers in America’s Army. Within a couple years that number would drop significantly to 125,000 military personal.

In the wake of the Civil War and the assassination, and attempted assassination, of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward two nations attempted to capitalize on a war torn nation. Emperor Louis Napoleon III had fashioned himself as a French Andrew Jackson, but like his famous ancestor became an Emperor. With the coup that destroyed the French Second Republic, Napoleon sought to take advantage of a perceived weak America.

Napoleon conspired with the Arch-Duke Maximilian of Austria to take over Mexico and create an Empire that would threaten the existence of the United States. Secretary Seward recovered from a carriage accident and being stabbed in a failed assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot by Booth to challenge Napoleon’s plan. General Grant sent 50,000 soldiers and General Sheridan to the Texas-Mexican border to secure America from an attack. In the mean time Seward sent General Schofield to deter Napoleon from his plan. Publicly Seward published a letter to the Emperor that was more diplomatic than what Schofield was sent to deliver. Napoleon backed down and the Mexicans murdered the Arch-Duke.

In the mean time, the British were attempting to secure Canada from the United States. War was England was eminent during the Civil War, it was only Ambassador Charles Francis Adams  (Son of John Q. Adams and grandson of John Adams) that helped prevent war from breaking out. The British, Sir John A.  MacDonald created a plan to create the Kingdom of Canada, a confederacy of the Canada territories. When northerners along the border cried for war, the English monarch Queen Victoria signed into law a bill creating the Dominion of Canada; regardless, the damage was done and a permanent reminder of the English monarchy was created. And in a major coup for the United States, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russians. This purchased, declared “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” was actually a tactical victory for the United States. With Alaska, the United States surrounded Canada from the South and the West. The arctic circle to the north meant that Canada only had it’s Eastern boarder free from America. In the event of a war with England, the United States could secure Canada and blockade it’s Eastern shore ports.

The United States came out of the Civil War a military power house. Over the next thirty years the US would continue to grow stronger as the industrial revolution took hold. By the time the United States went to war with Spain she had one of the strongest navies in the world, and was able to defeat the once mighty Spanish. Following the destruction of Europe in World War I, the United States stood as the most complete and most powerful military in the world. It wouldn’t be until the end of the Second World War that the U.S. was officially a super power, with enough fire power to destroy the world.

Sultans of the Legislature


We don’t have great legislators anymore. The era of great men in our national legislature is gone, never to be revived and almost barely remembered. John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay are three of the most important legislators our nation has ever had, or will ever have again. While their ambition led them to strive for the President’s office, none achieved this end. Instead, they each spent their careers in the Senate working to improve upon what the Founders had given them. A connection to the Founding generation, many Americans looked to these men for guidance; and their leadership in the Senate has been matched by no one. While they all had monumental foibles (Calhoun was a secessionist, and Clay was a slave holder to be specific) they all contributed greatly to the course of the 19th century. And while ultimately their actions indirectly lead to our Civil War, they also helped preserve the union throughout the course of their lives.

While we have had men and women in the Legislature, none can match the fame and notoriety Calhoun, Clay and Webster achieved in the middle of the 19th century. And in particular, none of this Nation’s previous great Legislators remained in the the Legislature. Madison eventually succeeded Jefferson in the Presidency, and he is the only other great legislator worth mentioning in the 19th century. In the 20th century we had LBJ and Gerald Ford, both of whom eventually went on to serve lack luster terms as President of the United States. If nothing else, the three Sultans of the Senate were saved from a the failures suffered by Madison, Johnson and Ford in the oval office. While both Clay and Calhoun found themselves in the Vice Presidency and in other various cabinet positions, neither had a realistic chance of winning the Presidency. Clay was the great compromiser, and for good or ill he helped save the Union from a civil war on numerous occasions ending with the Compromise of 1850. Webster, known as “Godlike Dan” eventually became known as “Black Dan” when he saw the prudence in supporting Clay’s Compromise of 1850. And while Calhoun helped advance the policy of secession in the South, he was a pivotal player in the United States Senate.

A close study of the period in American History from 1820-1856 cannot be fully understood without examining the lives and careers of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. It is undoubted in an age dominated by the Presidency that we will ever again see legislators that can match the legacy these three men left behind.

Roman Foreign Policy between 264 and 146 B.C: Why They Fought


From the First Punic War through the Third Punic War there was much change in the reasoning for Rome going to war.  Roman conquest of Italy in the years leading up to the First Punic War gave the Romans confidence about their military power. Their success at unifying most of Italy under the Roman banner must have given them an adrenaline rush to spur them into a war with Carthage in an attempt to take Sicily. Successive wars appear to have been encouraged by Roman desire to dominate trade throughout the Mediterranean world.

Roman involvement in the First Punic War was spurred on by ambition to add Sicily to their territory. The Second Punic War and the wars with Greece were brought on primarily through a desire to dominate trade.  The wars with Spain and the Third Punic War, however, appear to harken back to the desires which spurred on the First Punic War and the Italian wars.

According to Polybius, the First Punic War marked the first time the Romans engaged in sea warfare. Whether or not this is completely true or not does not detract from how important such an idea is to the motives of going to war. There is little doubt that the Romans probably engaged in at least some minimal trade prior to this war. Yet Polybius’ account of the construction of wartime vessels demonstrates that the Romans most likely had not yet engaged in naval battles[1]. If this account is true then the motives for going to war over Sicily were not about trade, at least not entirely. To some degree Rome must have sought to have dominion over Sicily and to remove foreign influence in Italy all together. Polybius’ account of the treaty between Rome and Carthage, which ended the First Punic War, gives further credence to the idea Rome was not fighting for the sole purpose of trade. Polybius says, “’The Carthaginians to evacuate the whole of Sicily…. The Carthaginians to give up to the Romans all prisoners without ransom. The Carthaginians to pay to the Romans by installments in twenty years 2,200 Euboen talents’’[2] Polybius also accounts that the Roman people demanded, “they reduced the time of the payment by one half, added 1,000 talents to the indemnity, and demanded the evacuation by the Carthaginians of all islands lying between Sicily and Italy.”[3] These accounts given by Polybius support the belief that Rome’s first conquest outside of Italy was spurred on by a desire to continue unifying Italy, or at least to expand the territory they possessed.

The Second Punic War and the wars subsequently with Greece on the other hand were almost entirely about improving trade and Roman economic status. The Second Punic War was triggered by Carthaginian interference with a Roman ally in Spain. While the sources concerning the war do not directly demonstrate that this war was about economic gain through trade, it is clear through the terms of the treaty that the war was at least on some level about trade. Polybius once again demonstrates, “they were to surrender their ships of war, with exception of ten triremes.”[4] Without their former naval power the Carthaginians would be hard pressed to continue trading on such a scale as they once enjoyed. This left Rome as the most dominate naval power in the Western Mediterranean both militarily and trade wise. Without war ships the Carthaginians could not protect their trading vessels from pirates and other warring states.

With the Western Mediterranean locked up Rome focused her attention on the Eastern half. Rome’s attempt to subdue the Eastern Mediterranean was not so much like their attempts in the West. Unlike the West, the Romans did not seek to have dominion over the East. Instead the Romans sought to dismantle the alliances and empires throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. By doing this Rome was successful in destroying the economic power of the East. Their tactics with the East resemble in some manner their attempts in Italy to subdue the Latin tribes.

The Third Punic War and the wars with Spanish tribes appear to be more about revenge and expansion of the Empire than about acquisition of wealth. Carthage had been the nail in the Roman’s side for better part of a century. When they finally broke the Treaty of Zama the Romans found the opportunity to finally put Carthage away for good. With Carthage completely destroyed the Romans were able to take dominion over all of North Africa and eliminated the only threat to Roman dominance in the Western Mediterranean for good. If for nothing else the Roman destruction of Carthage demonstrated for her enemies that Rome could, if brought to bear, annihilate any and all foes. The Third Punic War demonstrates an almost entirely unique episode in Roman foreign policy between 264 and 146 B.C. It was not about acquisition of land, nor of furthering trade. Rather the Third Punic War was about revenge for the Romans.

In Spain however, the attempts by the Romans were almost entirely over conquest of land. Unlike Carthage and the Eastern Mediterranean, Spain was not governed by formal empires or kingdoms. With the ever expanding population in Italy, the Romans needed more space for citizens. Spain was the prime location after the Second Punic War. Unfortunately for the Romans the Spanish tribes were troublesome and required a full on assault to attempt to subdue Spain; even then, the Spanish tribes were not completely subdue until the time of Caesar Augustus. Yet Rome’s conquests in Spain were necessary in order to provide more land for her citizens. Not only was this, but Spain was rich in minerals, specifically in silver which was important to the Romans.  However, the Roman desire to conquer Spain was not primarily out of a desire to exploit Spain but rather to incorporate it.

Rome’s foreign policy from 264-146 B.C. was spurred on by two primary motives: expansion and trade. Ultimately, however, the Romans desired to create a Mediterranean wide empire. The true motive behind the Roman foreign policy was simply and purely imperialism. While their foreign policy began with an attempt to have more sovereignty, such as in the First Punic War, it ultimately landed on the need and desire for more territory as was the case in the Spanish wars.


[1] Naphatali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 1, Selected ReadingsThe Republic and the Augustan Age, 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 159-160

[2] Lewis 161.

[3] Lewis, 162.

[4] Lewis, 180

Alienation in Post World War America


World War II ended with the surrender of the Japanese Empire in August 1945 leaving a wake of destruction on almost every continent. America was elated, not only had they defeated the Nazis but the Japanese were defeated as well. Yet, America’s place in the world changed as a result of the war in a way very few people would have thought possible. Only an up and coming nation in the last World War, the United States emerged from World War II as the preeminent world power. Amidst the jubilation of victory in both theaters of war, Americans had to come to grips not only with America’s new place in the world, but with what had happened in the war to America. The story of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye demonstrates the alienation some particular Americans felt in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The beginning of The Catcher in the Rye takes the reader to a boarding school and a character named Holden Caulfield. Holden is arguably one of the most controversial characters in literature, but his story is an important one as it is the story of America after World War II. Holden’s alienation from the rest of the world is central in his story. Throughout most of the story Holden is unable to find the good in the world and insists that everyone he knows or meets is a phony. Holden is a confused young man who is attempting to reconcile the world of his childhood with the world of his young adulthood. At sixteen when the story takes place, Holden was born two years after the stock market crashed and was still too young when the United States entered the Second World War in December, 1941. America, in a lot of ways, has grown up rapidly in the span of Holden’s short life.

The main antagonists in Holden’s life are his roommate Stradlater, his neighbor Ackley, a friend from home Sally, and a pimp and a prostitute he meets while staying in New York. In each case, the antagonists choose to ignore the realities of life by distracting themselves with sex, money or theater. Holden faults each character for being a phony, and considers his dead brother Allie, and his younger sister Phoebe as two of the only real people he has ever met. Holden has been affected by the war and its aftermath and maintains a child-like opinion of the world. In fact, he states, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”[1] Holden is alienated from those who are his age, or close because of his own inability to grow up. The various encounters Holden ha leave him more alienated than before. In the case of Sally, Holden contacts her and makes a date only to alienate himself from her by saying:  “You give me a royal pain in the ass…”[2] Holden is completely unable to maintain friendships and continues to draw further and further away from the world.

As Holden is unable to maintain friendships with anyone he meets, he is also a contradiction. At the beginning of the book he states, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.”[3] And yet he goes to see a movie at Radio City after his date with Sally. He goes into the bar at his hotel and has a low opinion of everything about it from where they seat him, to the band, to the patrons.[4] Holden constantly belittles people, places and things only to turn around and immerse himself in them. This further alienates him from the world and people around him as they view him as an immature person.[5] His sense of superiority, which results in his alienation, prevents Holden from having any meaningful relationships with anyone aside from his sister and dead brother Allie.

Holden is so disillusioned with the world around him that the only thing he can think to do is protect those who he views as innocent. Holden’s depression is lifted whenever he is around kids. The first instance the reader sees this is in the streets of New York. On his way to find a record store open on Sundays, Holden follows a family of three. The parents are on the sidewalk and immediately gain the disapproval of Holden when he says, “They looked sort of poor, which implies that Holden views the family, at least the parents, as beneath him. The child, however, entertains Holden as he is walking behind the family. The child is in the street singing, “‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’” The child and song make Holden, “feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.”[6] Holden is not alienated from children the way he is from those closer in age to him because he is able to find a truth in children that doesn’t exist for him in his contemporaries.

Holden’s alienation goes even further, to a desire to remove himself completely from society. At first, Holden pleads with Sally to, “drive up to Massachusetts or Vermont….We’ll stay in these cabin camps and stuff like that till the dough runs out…I could get a job somewhere and we could live somewhere with a brook and all….I could chop wood in the wintertime and all.”[7] His feeling of superiority has alienated him not only from any meaningful relationships but also a desire to quit society almost all together. Later on he says, “Everybody’d think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they’d leave me alone. They’d let me put gas and oil in their stupid cars, and they’d pay me a salary and all for it, and I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there the rest of my life.”[8] Both times, Holden suggests leaving society to live away from a world he doesn’t fully believe he belongs to.

Holden’s alienation also drives him to attempt to save those he believes he cares most about. In his first desire to leave society, he invites Sally to go with him only to alienate himself from her when she refuses to go with him. Holden also feels a need to assist a roommate at a previous school before he ultimately rejects him. His roommate Dick Slagle is poorer than Holden and doesn’t have as fancy of luggage as he has. As Holden describes the situation: “The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs…”[9] But he goes on to clarify, “You think if they’re intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don’t give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do.”[10] Holden both creates his own alienation, as in the case of Sally, and is a victim of society’s mandated alienation as was the case with the former roommate. Yet in both cases, Holden attempts to save that person from the phony world as Holden perceives it.

Finally, Holden’s struggle not to care about what others think or do and his desire to save people from their phoniness comes to a head. His sister Phoebe questions whether or not Holden actually likes anything, or if he simply hates everything.[11] As he avoids Phoebe’s questions, she finally prompts him, “All right, name something else. Name something you’d like to be.”[12] And it is here that Holden admits to his desire to protect children and to allow them to maintain their innocence when he tells Phoebe, “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”[13] Holden’s alienation from friends closer in age; his hatred of cars and movies all stem from his own desire to return and protect the innocence of childhood.

Yet, it takes Holden until he has nearly broken down psychologically that he realizes he can’t protect everyone from everything. While on the way to  deliver a note to Phoebe at her school, Holden notices writing on the walls outside the school. He desires to protect the innocence of the children from the writing  and dreams of killing the person responsible for writing obscenities on the school’s walls. The second time he finds the obscenities, however, he realizes that it has been craved into the wall.[14] It is at this point that Holden comes to the realization, “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.”[15] He finally realizes that things won’t return to how they were when he was a child and life was simpler. Holden recognizes that the world is full of things he hates and wants to protect others from but it is a fool’s mission to try to protect the world from all the bad.

The story of Holden Caulfield could be analogous to the story of the United States after World War II. Like Holden, the United States was alienated from the rest of the world, including our allies. As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States had a responsibility not shared by her allies. Both the Soviet Union and the allies of the United States differed from the U.S.and did not seem to share many beliefs held by America. The United States, as well as Holden, had to come to grips with the reality of the world. Holden was never going to achieve living in a world where people were to be exactly as he wanted to be more ready to believe exactly what he believed. Holden is defined by his alienation from the world and weather he is finally able to reconcile himself with both the world and people around him.


[1] Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye(Boston: Little Brown and Company 1951) page 122.

[2] Ibid. 133

[3] Ibid. 2

[4] “they gave me a lousy table anyways…”, “The band was putrid”, “show-offy-looking guys with their dates.” Ibid. 69

[5] “Same old Caulfield. When are you going to grow up?” Ibid, 144

[6] Ibid. 115

[7] Ibid. 132

[8] Ibid. 199

[9] Ibid. 109

[10] Ibid.

[11] “You don’t like anything that’s happening.” Ibid. 169

[12] Ibid. 172

[13] Ibid. 173

[14] “I saw something that drove me crazy…”, “I went down by a different staircase….” Ibid. 201, 202

[15] Ibid.

 

Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.


My friend Ashok asked that I provide a commentary on Hamlet.

As a student of Political Philosophy and American Studies I may not seem like the proper person to provide a commentary on William Shakespeare’s epic play Hamlet. However, this semester in pursuance of my Master of American Studies, I am taking a class on the playwright.

 Hamlet begins with a question; more importantly, it is a challenge by a watchman. The question is returned with yet another question, or challenge, by a second watchman. The Kingdom of Denmark is on alert after the King’s untimely demise.  Questions and challenges play an important role in Hamlet, some of the questions penetrate throughout the entire play. How did the King die? Is Claudius, the new king and the dead king’s brother, the cause of the king’s death? Is the dead king’s wife Gertrude guilty as her new husband, the new king? Is Hamlet, the son of the dead King, truly insane or is he simply putting on an antic-disposition? All of these questions riddle throughout the play, but there are even greater esoteric questions that one can ask.

In the second act of the play, Prince Hamlet is charged by the ghost of his dead father to kill his uncle. Thus presents our first question, is it right for a Christian to commit tyrannicide? Is it right for a Prince to commit tyrannicide? And if it is right, under what circumstances can a Christian or a Prince commit tyrannicide? Hamlet spends the play in contemplation, in fact he spends more time in contemplation than any other Shakespearean character. Yet he spends very little time contemplating the justice in his charge to commit tyrannicide. Instead, Hamlet spends his time contemplating the meaning of life. His time thinking causes him to delay in his charge, yet at other times (death of Polonius) Hamlet acts quickly and almost without any thought.

Before we can answer the key question of whether or not he has a right to commit tyrannicide, we have other questions that  must be asked. Hamlet has to have a justification for tyrannicide, even in Protestant thought tyrannicide is only acceptable with a just cause. As it stands in the play only two people know for a fact that Claudius killed Hamlet the elder…Claudius and Hamlet. Hamlet the younger only knows this fact through a ghost, which he doesn’t know if the Ghost is a belligerent or not. As Hamlet himself admits only, “Heaven and Hell” know whether or not the Ghost can truly be trusted. And since no other character attests to having heard the Ghost, Hamlet is left alone to defend his actions based on the information of a Ghost. As a result, Hamlet does have legitimate cause to delay in his cause so that Claudius has a chance to incriminate himself. But before Hamlet can even consider killing Claudius, he must be prepared to take the throne once the deed is done. This brings us to our first problem of committing tyrannicide. Hamlet is considered by other characters in the play a competent leader. Ophelia in her sentiments supports the theory that Hamlet is capable of being king. He also appears to be capable in foreign policy, but he doesn’t appear thrilled to become King.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas Tyrannicide is acceptable in two situations, when there is a Tyrant by Usurpation or a Tyrant by Oppression. In this instance, is Claudius a Tyrant by Usurpation? Did he usurp the legitimate king and take his throne? In Denmark the monarchy is elected, albeit for life. The first time we see Claudius we find that he had the support of the people for his reign and in this instance Hamlet cannot legitimately commit Tyrannicide. But is Claudius a Tyrant by Oppression? Again, Claudius appears to have the support of the Danish people. He also doesn’t seem to be an oppressive ruler, and only resigns to become such towards Hamlet once it becomes clear Hamlet seeks to murder him. And so at least in the Catholic understanding, Hamlet does not have just cause to commit tyrannicide.

The first question of the play then, whether or not Hamlet is entitled and justified in committing Tyrannicide, is answered in the negative at every turn. Hamlet is not prepared to take the throne, and Claudius is neither a usurper nor an oppressive ruler.

The second major question then is found throughout Hamlet’s soliloquies. Hamlet has more soliloquies than any other Shakespearean character with seven. The soliloquies are important, because throughout the play, with the exception of his first appearance, Hamlet is putting on his antic disposition. As a result, Hamlet’s true thoughts and feelings come through in his soliloquies. As such, to what extent is Hamlet’s concern with Fortune and Honor in contest with his charge to commit tyrannicide?

The first soliloquy is the most unique because it comes before Hamlet decides to put on an antic disposition and even before the Ghost appears to him. The first theme found in the soliloquies is suicide. Hamlet contemplates suicide so that the, “sullied flesh would melt away.” In this instance, flesh can mean either the actual physical human flesh that covers the body, or it could mean the passions. Flesh is another theme found throughout Hamlet’s soliloquies and it seems that it is constantly connected to the theme of Fortune. Finally, in the first soliloquy Hamlet does what he does throughout, he generalizes. In this instance, Hamlet generalizes about life through the particulars of his own. He also generalizes about women through his mother Gertrude. In his generalizations about women he comes to feel that they are weak and fragile and this is something he ultimately generalizes about Ophelia.

The struggle for Hamlet about tyrannicide is deeper than it’s proper justice. Like in his thoughts of suicide, Hamlet is concerned with saving all from the flesh and in particular Claudius. He doesn’t want to send Claudius to Hell, he wants to save him from his passions or his flesh. Flesh and passions are connected to Fortune and as a result Reason is connected with God. Passion and Fortune govern the affairs of men, and neither Reason or God can rule over them and this upsets Hamlet to the point that he wants to be released and wants to release everyone else. Hamlet’s anger over the inability to govern the Passions and Fortune are expressed in the recitation of Aeneas’s story to Dido about the Fall of Troy. Hamlet sees himself as Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles who wants to murder Priam to avenge his father. But like Hamlet, Pyrrhus is unwilling to do what he must to avenge Achilles.

Hamlet contemplates this speech in his third soliloquy, where he is aware of his father’s death but cannot bring himself to perform the murder. As a result, instead of action Hamlet decides to catch Claudius in speech. He does this in part to find if the Ghost is from heaven or hell. Hamlet authors lines to insert into the play within the play to convince Claudius to admit the murder. What is odd about the lines is that Hamlet doesn’t create the lines to bring out Claudius’s guilt, but rather to torment his mother over her disgrace. Her frailty has been a point of contention for Hamlet throughout the play.

The typical reading of Hamlet’s fourth Soliloquy, the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, is that it is about suicide. Hamlet begins the soliloquy generalizing about life itself, “being or not being.” Again fortune and flesh play a key role in Hamlet’s thoughts. The passions are always in concert with fortune, and reason can never rule over them and so it makes life unbearable for Hamlet. He sees death as a passageway to Heaven, which is our native country; but like the famous Hotel California, once you check in you may never leave. It is also in this soliloquy where Hamlet admits clearly that the passions do not submit to reason.

The problem with reason for Hamlet is that he sees it as two functions: the faculty that has the ability to understand events and actions and the faculty which governs the passions.Hamlet strives to see them both as one but cannot; the play itself is about these two functions of reason. The ability to control the passions with the ability to understand. Hamlet must be able to rise above his passion to kill Claudius to avenge his father, and use the ability to understand to do it.

The final soliloquy before the end of the play concerns itself with one basic premise of the play. Hamlet’s deliberation always resolves down tot he futility of action, in particular political action. Yet Hamlet admits that he has, “cause, and will, and strength, and means to [kill Claudius.]” The final soliloquy focuses around the concept of honor, and like the first soliloquy it stands unique. The final soliloquy centers around Hamlet recovering himself and is no ready to do what his dead father charged him to do. What prompted this change is difficult, was it the encounter with Fortenbras’s men? Or was it Ophelia who saved him? If it was Fortenbras, does Hamlet want to be like him? Fortenbras seems to be the timocratic man to a fault.

Finally, Hamlet finally resolves to kill Claudius only after he himself has become Claudius. His murder of Polonius has caused the suicide of Ophelia, and now his unwillingness to take responsibility for the destruction of Polonius’s family will bring about the destruction of Laertes.

So to conclude, the play Hamlet is about the justice of tyrannicide, and overcoming the passions.

How the Constitution provides for energy and stability while maintaining liberty and republicanism through separation of powers.


Energy and stability have been the greatest questions in government since the ancients first developed the polis. Prior to the United States, no country made better efforts to perfect the art of separation of powers than England has made. Publius describes in Federalist 37 the need for stability and energy in the new government, while at the same time protecting the liberty of the people and the republican way of life. The Constitution of 1787 achieves these aims through a separation of powers between the three branches of the Federal government and the specific make up of the departments.

In order to understand Publius’ argument better, it would be best to take his argument in Federalist 37 first, followed by his discussion of the relationship between the three branches of government. Lastly I will view his discussion of the specific make up of the various branches of the United States Government.

Publius argues for the necessity of a separation of powers in the new government in order to provide for the necessary stability and energy in government while protecting liberty and republicanism. In order to do this he argues that there most be present a separation of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government. Furthermore, there must be a separation of powers between that of the States and Federal governments. Publius says, “Among the difficulties encountered by the convention, a very important one must have lain in combining the requisite stability and energy in government with the inviolable attention due to liberty and to republican form.”[1] The first attempt at creating a republic with the Articles of Confederation failed due to a lack of energy and stability within the government, thus it was pertinent to create in the new government fixes for these problems. Publius then goes on to explain:

The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people by a short duration of their appointments; and that even this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but in a number of hands.[2]

This is the genius of the new Constitution according to Publius, it has attained the short periods of appointment and dividing the government among many hands. In order that the liberty of the people is not offended, they must remain the source of power for the government.

Yet this is not enough, in order to understand how this present in the Constitution Publius explains further in papers 47-51. In the first of these papers, Publius addresses the allegations by opponents of the proposed plan that it lacks a separation of powers. Publius explains Montesquieu’s argument for the separation of powers by saying, “he did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over, the acts of each other.”[3] The magistrate must have the authority to not only enforce the laws passed by the legislative, but also to veto laws that violate the Constitution, and the judicial cannot create laws but can advise the legislative.[4] Publius then goes on to demonstrate that the various Constitutions of the states provide for more blending of the branches of government than the proposed Federal Constitution.

And then in Federalist 48 Publius describes how the Federal Constitution provides a defense through a moderate blend of the branches of government. At first he argues:

But in a representative republic where the executive magistracy is carefully limited, both in the extent and duration of his power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly, which is inspired by a supposed influence over the people with an intrepid confidence in its own strength; which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes; it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people out to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.[5]

So in order to prevent the encroachments of the legislative on the rights and liberties of the people, the executive and judicial branches must have authority to reign in the power of the legislative. The legislative is also apt to encroach on the power and freedom of the other branches through pay[6], and thus they must be limited on how they are able to alter the pay of these other branches. Publius provides examples of Virginia and Pennsylvania where the powers of the legislative were not protected against and the judicial and executive branches were usurped by the authority of the legislative. Having demonstrated the dangers of allowing unbridled power to exist within the legislative branch, Publius goes on to explain how it might be possible to prevent the encroachments of one branch on the power of another.

Federalist 49 provides for this explanation and Publius defines that the people alone are the source of charter for the Constitution and its parts. Thus the people alone should be consulted when the powers of the Constitution are in question as to demolishing them, or creating a new power.[7] Appeals to the people are necessary in order to prevent the encroachments of power by the various branches. Yet frequent appeals are insufficient in protecting the freedom of the society. Not only this but it is impossible, as Publius explains, “The members of the executive and judiciary departments are few in number, and can be personally known to a small part only of the people.”[8] Yet the legislative is many in number and can be known by a larger number of the people.[9] Thus the legislative would be most likely to take advantage of the appeals from the people and thus encroach on the various powers of the other branches. As such frequent appeals of the people could turn out to be bad for the stability, energy and liberty of the society as the legislative might take their appeals as a mandate. And so how this can be moderated is discussed next by Publius.

Publius states at the beginning of Federalist 50, “It may be contended, perhaps, that instead of occasional appeals to the people, which are liable to the objections urged against them, periodical appeals are proper…”[10] In order to achieve this, Publius argues that a fixed period for appeals to the people could be detrimental to the purpose of those appeals. If they are too close together Publius argues, “the measures to be reviewed and rectified will have been of recent date, and will be connected with all the circumstances which tend to vitiate and pervert the result of occasional revisions.”[11] Yet by the same token, if they are too far apart then the people are likely not to know each other and to be unaware of the circumstances which lead to the need for revisions. [12] To demonstrate his point, Publius once again looks to the states for an example. He tells of how in Pennsylvania there had been a meeting of censorial council to remedy the defects of their Constitution. He elucidates however that the members of the council were prominent citizens who were members of the parties within the state. Secondly, some of the members of the council had served in the legislative and executive departments. Third, the proceedings of the council were disrupted by the factionalism of the members themselves. And finally, the council either did not understand the limits placed on the legislative and executive, or the legislative completely ignored the changes made by the censorial council.[13] Publius demonstrates properly the difficulty of having occasional or frequent appeals to the people for the remedy of the defects for the Constitution.

And so Publius goes on to discuss in Federalist 51 the structure of the government in regards to checks and balances. He states, “it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.”[14] The importance of each department having its own will is demonstrated in the preceding papers, where Publius demonstrates the likely chances of an encroachment and usurpation by the legislative. In order to achieve this, Publius also states, “It is equally evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others for the emoluments annexed to their offices.”[15] Thus the departments must have a will of their own and should not be made dependent on the other departments for their pay. But at the same time Publius argues that the members of the various departments must be given the constitutional means and personal motives to protect against the encroachment of another department on their own.[16] Publius argues, “The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It must be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government.”[17] However, Publius also reminds the reader that the legislative must be predominant in republics. In order to properly control the legislative against usurpation Publius argues:

The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.[18]

By dividing the authority of the legislative, a republic is capable of controlling the growth of power and influence of the legislative. Yet this is not enough, as Publius points out it is important in a “compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments.”[19] By dividing the legislative, you weaken its ability to encroach on the authority of the other branches. But by dividing the government into two different governments and allotting them different powers a republic can prevent the creation of a tyranny.

However, one question still remains and that is how the different bodies of government are erected for the purposes presented in Federalist 51. The various branches must be provided with different powers so that no one branch can consolidate that power. The branches must also have varying degrees of separation from the people, so that the passions of the majority cannot rule in society. In regards to the legislative branch, the branch should be split into two distinct houses with one having more of a dependence and response to the people than the other. As the legislative branch is closest to the people, and thus lays one of legislative threats, it is proper that it be divided so as to limit this closeness with the people. The first branch of the legislative Publius discusses is thus the House of Representatives, which is designed to be the department most dependent on the people. Publius describes, “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”[20] The House of Representatives will only share in the legislative authority of the government and will be able to respond to the passions of the people while the upper house will be able to filter out the reason. This great authority constitutes a need for a shorter duration of power as Publius states, “It is a received and well-founded maxim that where no other circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is, the great out to be its duration…”[21] Further, the House of Representatives will be watched not only by the people through its direct dependence on them, but also by the collateral branch of the legislative.

Next Publius discusses the Senate, which serves as the connection between the States and the Federal government as directed by the un-amended Constitution.  On this Publius states, “It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”[22] So that the States retain some type of authority under the new Constitution, it is important that they be given the authority to appoint the members of the Senate. The advantage of this stands that now law cannot be passed without the consent of both the people and the States.[23] And it also serves as a way to prevent members of the legislative body from forgetting their constituents by requiring the laws to be passed by both distinct bodies. Publius goes on to say:

The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by the factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.[24]

The Senate’s mutability is important as well, so that the members restrain their passions and tyrannical nature. By having the Senate elected by the States, the States have their own elections for government offices. By changing the government representatives in the States, the Senate will be apt to change and thus opinions will be changed. Their length of office will allow the Senate the opportunity to learn the laws of the nation as well, and so that they are not constantly changing and that the opinions and measures remain some what consistent.[25] The importance of the Senate within the make up of checks and balances and separation of powers is clear. It serves as a check on the passions of the people, while balancing the representation of the States within the Federal government. Further the two branches of the legislative provide for stability and energy in the new government by removing the passions of the people and allowing for competition within the branches.

Thus next Publius discusses the executive branch, by far the most controversial of the day and most in need of defense by Publius. Publius discusses the mode of electing the President in Federalist 68. As with the legislative, the mode of electing the President must have a way of preventing the passions of the majority from ruling. Thus the Electoral College was devised as a way of preventing the encroachments of the people’s passions from entering into the election of the President. Publius describes, “It was equally desirable that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation.”[26] By doing this the Electoral College is made up of a small number of individuals so that deliberation is permitted in the election of the new President. Publius says, “This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of the President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”[27] As for the proper place of the executive in the stability and energy of government, he is of the most importance. As Publius says, “A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory must be, in practice, a bad government.”[28] The executive must be strong and energetic in order to properly execute the laws he is charged to enforce. Publius calls “united; duration; an adequate provision for its support; and competent powers”[29] to be what constitutes an energetic executive. Energy is found in unity as in a single person the powers of the executive can be carried out quickly without delay. If the executive power were divided among more than one person, it would be subject to deliberation which will prevent an energetic executive. [30] Likewise, the President’s tenure of office is important for his energy. The duration of office is also an important element in the stability of the executive. If he stays too long, then he is apt to be too firm and possibly encroach on the powers of the legislative. Yet if he is tenure is too short then he is apt to fall prey to the legislative.[31] Shortness in the tenure of office is also likely to prevent the interest of the executive from performing his duties. This is also the argument used by Publius in Federalist 72 in regards to the reelection of an executive; by allowing him to run for reelection, he will watch how he acts in office so that the people look upon him favorably.[32] These are the aspects which allow for an energetic and stable executive, without which the government as a whole would lack stability and energy.

Lastly, Publius discusses the importance of the Judiciary in the make up of the new Constitution. Publius calls the Federal judiciary, “the best expedient which can be devised in any government to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.”[33] The purpose of the Federal judiciary he proposes is to prevent “the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.”[34] Publius counters the fears of judicial usurpation by asserting that the Federal judiciary will be the weakest of all the branches as it lacks power over the purse and sword. Publius further argues:

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.[35]

The Judicial branch will have no authority over the purse or over the sword, but instead only over judgment.[36] It will thus be able to prevent against legislative and executive encroachments by striking down laws which are contrary to the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States. The separation of the judicial from the legislative is also important so as to allow the judges to exercise their judgment without fear of reprisal by the legislative branch. Thus, the salaries of the judges cannot be lowered so as not to influence their opinions.[37] Their tenure of office also allows for freedom of judgment in judicial matters. Their appointment is for during good behavior, which prevents their judgment from being dependent on reelection, which may have a negative effect on their opinions. Thus through the judicial department is called upon to be safeguard against the encroachments of the representative and executive bodies. It will further only have the power of judgment, not the power of the purse or the sword. And it will further lack dependence on the legislative branch because their salaries cannot be lowered and their tenure of office is during good behavior, not apt to reelection.

The Federalist lays out a discussion of how energy and stability will be present in the new Constitution without violating the principles of republican government and the liberties of the people. As such, the basic necessity to ensure this requires a separation of powers. Publius describes how the various departments of the new government participate and uphold the principles of the separation of powers. He further demonstrates how the people and States partake in the controlling of the new government by their participation in the election of the houses of the legislative. Publius properly upholds his argument in Federalist 37 in his discussion of the following papers.


[1]Federalist 37, in Alexander Hamilton et al., The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter, introduction and notes by Charles R. Kesler (New York: New American Library, Mentor, 1999), 194.

[2] Federalist 37, 195

[3] Federalist 47, 270

[4] Federalist 47, 271

[5] Federalist 48, 277

[6] “as the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people…”Federalist 48, 278

[7] “As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power…” Federalist 49, 281-282

[8] Federalist 49, 284

[9] “The members of the legislative department…” Federalist 49, 284

[10] Federalist 50, 285

[11] Federalist 50, 286

[12] “If the periods be distant from each other…” Federalist 50, 286

[13] “Pennsylvania in 1783 and 1784, was, as we have seen….” Federalist 50, 286

[14] Federalist 51, 289

[15] Federalist 51, 289

[16] “But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several…” Federalist 51, 289

[17] Federalist 51, 290

[18] Federalist 51, 290

[19] Federalist 51, 291

[20] Federalist 52, 295

[21] Federalist 52, 298

[22] Federalist 62, 345

[23] Federalist 62, 346

[24] Federalist 62, 347

[25] “The mutability in the public councils…” Federalist 62, 348

[26] Federalist 68, 380

[27] Federalist 68, 382

[28] Federalist 70, 391

[29] Federalist 70, 392

[30] Federalist 70, 392

[31] “Duration in office has been mentioned…”Federalist 71, 399

[32] “The first is necessary to give the officer himself….” Federalist 72, 404

[33] Federalist 78, 433

[34] Federalist 78, 433

[35] Federalist 78, 433

[36] Federalist 78, 433

[37] Federalist 79, 441

Sovereignty by Donation: John Locke’s First Treatise of Government


Quotes taken from the New American Bible
and
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett

In the previous chapter John Locke discussed Sir Robert Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty over his children by creation. This next chapter, Locke discusses Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty by donation from God. There are by two methods Locke discerns from Filmer that Adam would have sovereignty: God gave Adam dominion over all the wild beasts and thereby was monarch, or that he had dominion over all creatures. Locke asserts that God did not give Adam authority over man, or his children and that he did not give him sole dominion over the beasts.

John Locke first examines the claim that Adam had sovereignty by having sole dominion over all living things. The Book of Genesis indicates in the first two chapters the order in which living things were created. On the 6th day God created what can amount to domesticated animals, and He created the wild beasts and reptiles. It is after the creation of the beasts and reptiles, and before the creation of Man, that God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Locke draws specific attention to God’s usage of the word “them” when speaking of man. In normal linguistics this can be noted to say that God was speaking of the plural, and at this point in time the word “man” could be used in reference to either a single person of the male gender or all humans. Thus Locke argues, God gave all man guardianship over the cattle, animals who crawl on the ground, and the wild beasts. Locke also wishes to draw specific attention to note that at verse 28 God does not say to subdue cattle, but rather only those living things that move on the ground. From this Locke points that the Septuagint distinguishes that the living things that move on the ground can be divided into wild beasts and reptiles. Two verses before at 26, Locke points out that God states to create man to rule over creation, in the list provided by Moses of the things man is to have rule over wild beasts are left off.

A certain interesting distinction can be pointed to here, at one point man is given control over the natural and at another only over the political. Wild beasts are the distinction between the natural and political, as according to Aristotle man is either a beast or a god outside of the city. However, the most important aspect to God’s list of what man, or in Filmer’s point of view Adam, is to have dominion over God leaves off man both times. It is clear from this that God intended for man to share in his dominion and rule over the natural life, and is to subdue nature. Of the power granted to man initially, man is not granted the authority to kill. This does not come until Noah and his Sons receive their edict from God to replenish the Earth and eat of animals. The proclamation made to Noah and his Sons can more properly described as a political edict, because at this point man is given authority to kill–something that was left off from the initial proclamation.

Yet still, man does not receive the authority to rule over each other. In Locke’s opinion, if the reader is unable to see that Adam is not sovereign over the world, then they should see it when that same charter is claimed to be given to Noah. Noah does not have children after the flood, only his children do. When God gives His proclamation to Noah, his sons are present as well and receive the same proclamation. That being said, all men are equal after the flood with the same authority. Within this state outside of society, all men are granted dominion over the earth to subdue nature. No one man has authority over another, as Locke points that David in the 8th Psalm does not acknowledge that God granted Adam sovereign authority. By nature we are all equal in our authority.

Likewise, Eve is given the same dominion as Adam because God speaks of man in the plural sense at verse 28. At this point there were only two creatures who fell under the definition of man: Adam and Eve. Clearly, if God spoke in the plural and there were only two humans then both would have be granted the same dominion, not just the one. Eve, as man, has been created similar to Adam, “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…'” (Genesis 2:23.) Eve is an identical copy of Adam, she is fully man just as Adam is fully man. As such, Eve too is created in the Image of God and Locke states, “For wherein sover else the Image of God consisted, the intellectual Nature was certainly a part of it, and belong’d to the whole Species, and enabled them to have Dominion over the inferiour Creatures…” And therefore Adam lacks dominion over all living things, and only over those of the sea, and air and over cattle, wild beasts and reptiles.

Locke has asserted for the first time in a clear and percise manner that all men are created equal and that there is no natural government; man must consent to being ruled and is not naturally born into the precondition of being ruled. Man is not given the authority to take life until after the Flood, when God grants Noah and his children the authority to eat meat and to take the life of one who sheds the blood of man. The idea that man must consent to being governed is shown through England’s Manors. The Lord of the manor only has authority over the natural things, not over his tendents. He can order the slaughter of a calf, but not over those men who inhabit his land. The Lord of a Manor only has the authority granted to him by those who consent to his rule, no more or less. This is a strict departure from Hobbes who grants the Magistrate any authority once one consents to his rule. The only time man is able to refuse the Magistrate is when that Magistrate attempts to take the life of a subject. Locke is specifically stating here that man is given the authority to rule over another man by consent only, and that consent to be ruled is limited to what has been agreed upon.

As such, Locke has now asserted a design for his State of Nature where there is no government except the individual and that all are granted common rule over the earth. He has also demonstrated that man is given command to subdue the earth, which will become the authority to perfect nature in his Second Treatise. All men are created into a world of equal freedom and authority, only when entering into society does man consent to relinguish some of that freedom and authority but never more than what has been agreed upon.

Doctrine of Self Preservation


 

In the Summer of 1763 John Adams undertook the writing of an essay entitled “On Private Revenge.” The turmoil of the French and Indian War was only freshly over and the British Parliament in that same year adopted the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation granted control over the lands acquired through the Treaty of Paris to the British government, not the colonial governments. Within a decade the Parliament would go on to do more to seek retribution from the Colonies for the assistance England provided during the war. This enraged the passions of colonial Americans, specifically in New England in and around Boston. We must read Adams’ essay only in the light of these events. In his traditional style, Adams calls for law and order to persevere over chaos and anarchy.

The first paragraph of the essay sets up the plan Adams has laid out for his argument. In the Politics, Aristotle asserts that man outside of the city is either a beast or a god. Adams argues that man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to unite and entire into society. The natural attributes of man are not enough to make him superior to other animals, but in fact Adams believes they would make man weakest of all other animals. What makes man superior is his ability to unite with others of his kind; thus agreeing with Aristotle partly by stating man outside of society is nothing more than a beast such as, “the bear or the tiger.” Within this man, like other animals, Adams argues, “As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves him.” Locke argues that the law of nature is only known through reason, with exception of the first law which is that of self-preservation. Hobbes too argues that within society the Magistrate is capable of ordering his subjects to do whatever he wishes, except if he desires to kill them in which case the law of self-preservation requires them to defy the Magistrate.  And thus Adams has created his argument; man is superior to other animals because he is able to unite himself within society. However, like other animals man has implanted in his soul self-preservation, which calls upon man to defend his life against all threats. How does one preserve his life and at the same time allow himself to exist in society? The law of self-preservation appears to grant man the authority to execute the law of nature. Society limits this ability and grants that authority to an impartial third-party.

Adams description of a state of nature comes closer to the description provided by Rousseau. He describes that in this state man is propogated, food is found on “the banks of clams and oysters”, weapons for war are present, and animal hide become clothing. Yet this society is void of friendship, trade, and human bonding unless instinct calls for it. In essence, man is truly free and independent without any other above him or below him. Adams defines the virtues of the “savage state, courage, hardiness, activity, and strength.” Take these four virtues and compare them to the four classical virtues, “Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Many view the virtue of courage as among the basest virtues, in fact Aristotle in the Ethics describes it almost immediately, indicating that it is the most base of all virtues. The man who is in charge in this society is the one who can kill the best, or run the fastest. This is the basis for tribal leadership, and possibly the roots of how one became king in ancient England, France, or Germany. This basis for determining who is superior will also result in the usage of revenge over justice; the man who perceives himself to be stronger and is beat by another will take it as an insult and attack the other man. Adams even argues that the idea of allowing a third-party to mediate the situation is indication  the deficiencies of the savage state. It is clear that Adams views revenge as the hallmark of a savage state. New Englanders within a few years of this essay will attempt to overthrow the established system and seek revenge for the ills done to them by the British parliament. Adams, in a possible prophetic statement argues that when a horse treads over a gouty toe, our passions are so excited that we feel we must kill the horse. The horse is a symbol of Aristocracy in philosophy, which can lead one to see the prophetic nature of the comment. The horse represents the British Parliament, which does end up stepping on the gouty toe of the colonies, who never really recover from the French and Indian War. Adams finishes this section by saying:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones, lies in this,—that among the former every individual is his own judge and his own executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which savages are not, without infinite difficulty, persuaded to make, as it is of a right and privilege extremely dear and tender to an uncultivated nature.

A stark contrast between the savage state and the polite state is clear,  in the one man is his own executioner while in the other he is not. Rousseau argues in the Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remakable    change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions the moral quality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulse, and law succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had regarded only himself, sees that he is obliged to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

Rousseau’s sentiments are similar to Adams, in that when man passes into civil society he is expected to give up those habits which were present in him in nature.

This brings up the next point. If society should ever come to the point where we will give up our polite and noble nature, we will become worse than the Goths before becoming Christians. He compares the individual who believes that when offended one should draw his sword to that of the fowl, the bull, and stallion. The image of these three animals are simple, the bird can represent bloodshed, the bull destructive force, and the stallion life and death. It should be noted that he does not use horse, but rather stallion which indicates not the symbol of aristocracy specifically. Instead, the stallion represents the wild, unbridled passions of man and specifically can be seen as a symbol of life and death, which horses are known to symbolize. After initially using fowl, in his ending sentence of this paragraph Adams states, “But are cocks and bulls and horses the proper exemplars for the imitation of men, especially of men of sense, and even of the highest personages in the government!” The cock more specifically than fowl represents the underworld, passion and pride, and thus we arrive at how man is outside of nature: Prideful, passionate, destructive, and wild.

And finally Adams attacks the point that such images of gallantry have been argued from the military. Adams argument begins by stating that such images are not praised by the military, nor have they ever been. Instead, the dregs of society have idealized the Cock, Bull and Stallion as exemplars for man. He argues, “For every gentleman, every man of sense and breeding in the army, has a more delicate and manly way of thinking, and from his heart despises all such little, narrow, sordid notions.” Of these he mentions specifically Divines, Lawyers and Physicians. Divines represent religion, God; Lawyers represent the law; Physicians have a philosophic meaning behind them, in that whenever a Physician appears it represents healing of the body politic. In this instance, though it is much more likely that Adams is speaking that Physicians heal the body,  Adams suggests that they praise themselves above all others such as Divines and Lawyers do. The other set of professions he mentions include: husbandmen, manufacturers, and laborers. They lack the virtue of magnanimity and are instead short-sighted, little minded individuals believing their professions are the best in the world. It is likely then, that soldiers of lower ranks are just as likely to believe themselves superior to any other order. They are, as a result, prone to the, “principles of revenge, rusticity, barbarity, and brutality…” which Adams described earlier as the principles upheld by the savage. However, soldiers who are superior in their senses recognize the authority not only of their superiors but also of the civil society. Once again, in a similar prophetic nature as before, these soldiers recognize the superior nature of English law. Moving away from calling them soldiers, it is evident at this point that Adams is specifically referring to men in general, not just those who serve in the Army. England, being an image of the polite society, is superior to the savage society; some of his fellow New Englanders wish to rebel against English rule, thus stooping to this level. A truly polite and decent man would recognize the doctrine of self-preservation as indignant.

Adams having completed his argument has demonstrated that man who seeks the doctrine of private revenge has no regard for civil society, and therefore is only as good as a tiger or bear. Only within civil society is man able to full perfect his nature, which is where Adams demonstrates the Enlightenment principle that nature is created imperfect. It is man’s responsibility to perfect nature by building upon it, making things, and this is only possible in society. Likewise, man is only able to be fully man within society under the constrains of law and order which is characterized by justice; whereas man outside of society and in total chaos is characterized by the doctrine of self-preservation, or revenge.

The Good of the City and Man


Some in history have attempted to associate the good of the city with the good of man. In ancient times the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle argued this very notion. The city, according to Aristotle, is developed to assist man in reaching the complete human life through the administering of the daily and non daily needs. Thus what is good for the city must in the end is ultimately good for man. Man’s own good is tied to the city because it is through the city that man is able to live the complete human life. Initially what develops is the family, which is unable to provide for the non daily needs of mankind. Thus families enter into compacts with others to form villages, which are unable to provide for the daily needs of man. Finally villages are forced to join to form cities, which are capable of providing both the daily and non daily needs and thus is the only order capable of allowing for the complete human life. The ultimate struggle at the root of Socratic dialogues of both Plato and Xenophon, and the treatises of Aristotle, is the question of whether or not it is better to live of life of activity (politics) or the contemplative life (studies.) The breaking point comes between the politician and the philosopher but it is never truly clear as to which is better. We are only left with the evidence that only in the city are both lives possible. Thus what is good for the city must ultimately be good for man as well.

By the time of the Renaissance philosophers began to look at the question of the city differently. In the 17th and 18th centuries England produced two of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke helped to redefine what the city is and man’s relationship to the city. No longer was the city a natural order which helps man attain the complete human life. Rather, now the city is looked upon as an escape from the natural order. For Hobbes this natural order is a state of war because the only law is that of survival. Without a government to maintain order and ensure everyone obeys the laws of nature and maintains their contracts it is left to the individual to secure their rights. If you imagine the world before pan-national organizations like the United Nations or NATO you see this principle at work. Nations exist in a state of nature with each other, and thus in a state of war. There is no governing body able to enforce the laws of nature or maintain the contracts between two nations. Instead the nation becomes the judge, jury and executioner leading to a state of war. John Locke attempts to appear less savage than Hobbes but essentially reaches the same conclusion. Man exists in a state of nature, which is a state of pure freedom. Through reason man is able to know the law of nature. Yet in the state of nature man is responsible for enforcing the law of nature and contracts. Life is truly short and brutish in a state of nature as Locke states. Ultimately this state of nature dissolves into a state of war causing man to seek to escape nature and enter into society. For the moderns nature was something to be conquered and therefore society cannot be viewed as natural as the Greeks viewed it. Society is formed to allow for an impartial judge, and a common law which is enforced by an outside force. Outside of these responsibilities, society is useless to man. Hobbes defines society, as a Leviathan, the modern view of society is not as man’s friend but as his enemy. Unchecked society can do whatever it pleases whether it is for the good of man or not. For Hobbes the magistrate can do whatever he wants to his citizens and they must obey, save of course when one’s life is in danger and you are obligated by the law of nature to defend yourself. Thus for our Founders, students of men like Hobbes and Locke they would have viewed society, our Constitution, as a necessary evil.

Yet in recent times, namely the end of the 19th century, a new understanding has developed which does not exclude the Leviathan nature of society but does not reject society’s ultimate benefit to mankind either. The men who were associated with the German school of thought developed by men like Marx and Nietzsche associated society with being able to advance man. The central concern of Nietzsche is breaking man out of his “all too human” nature and the creation of the ubermensch. Marx viewed society as a tool to help advance man along the historical timeline to a period where no government would be necessary. In America we call the men and women associated with this line of thought the Progressives. It was their belief that in order for man to be moral the government had to instill that morality. For the moderns, morality was already present in the form of the law of nature. In order to understand morality one merely needs reason to understand the law of nature. Yet the German Historicist school of thought rejected a universal morality outside of the confines of the society. This notion was what helped spur on the Prohibitionists who believed it was government’s responsibility to ban alcohol to help better mankind. What developed was a notion similar to the ancient understanding that what is good for the city is good for man. Unfortunately, they were unable to temper the Leviathan and encouraged it to grow to control every aspect of human life. Through this belief came the rise of the Totalitarian states of Communist Russia, Fascist Italy and Spain, and Nazi Germany.

What makes the Progressive era different than the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment believed it was the responsibility of the government in a way to enforce the moral code. Yet the Enlightenment had the law of nature, which dictated right and wrong to society. Society was obligated to create laws in accordance with the law of nature or face being deemed illegitimate—they were able to hide the notion that really morality is whatever the majority willed. With the destruction of God by German philosophers came the destruction of the law of nature (ultimately rooted in the Divine Law.) Now it is whichever faction with the biggest guns makes the morality. The society for the Enlightenment is only charged with the safety of the people. Their complete perfection is left in the hands of the individual person. As Locke argues in his Letter on Toleration, society is permitted to promote religion but not religious beliefs—in other words it is man’s responsibility to find his way to salvation by whatever means he thinks best, but society is able to promote a religious lifestyle and prevent dangerous factions from existing within society. The Progressives were less worried about safety and more with perfection of humanity. The Ancients throw a wrench into the wheel of both movements by encouraging the notion that the city provides safety (non daily needs) and that the city provides for the complete human life. However, that safety doesn’t mean that the city should be ignored as in the case of the Enlightenment where individuals can essentially live and let live. Political activity was central in the Ancient understanding of the city. A man who refused to engage in Politics was called an idiot by the Greeks. Their definition of the complete human life had nothing to do with the divine—the idea of man’s salvation and perfectibility would have been lost on Aristotle in the Progressive sense. Rather, complete human life tends towards two arenas: Politics or Philosophy. Both lives potentially can lead to the complete human life. The obligation to be involved in the political life, more than merely casting a vote, is at the heart of why the city’s goods are good for man. By the Enlightenment man’s obligation to society was vested in merely voting. The interests of man at large are often mixed with the passions and interests of the individual. Progressives would view that it is important to have experts in positions of authority, so that their own private passions and interests are eliminated. Man is no longer able to make his own decisions, but is left to the dictates of supposed experts. Thus, since society should be dictated by those of superior intellect (experts in a given field), what is good for the city and man are intrinsically connected.

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