The Declaration: A Review

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What does the Declaration of Independence mean? We are clouded by over 200 years of historical and political interpretation that we can’t even make out what our founding document actually has to say.  In a class of students, if the question is asked, “how many self evident truths are present in the Declaration of Independence?” almost none can actually answer the question.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there are certain truths that are self evident and immutable. Since the time of Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, most Americans only see one self evident truth: that all men are created equal. Yet, what of the word “truths”? If Jefferson only wrote one truth, that all are created equal, then why did he write that there are “truths”; an implication that there is more than just the one truth to be found. The idea of self evident truths is connected with the belief in the Natural Law, which St. Thomas said is inscribed on the hearts of all men. John Locke, one of the many names attached to the Law of Nature, believed that there are certain precepts or truths that can be known but that most must be acquired through knowledge. Jefferson, a Lockean thinker, acknowledges that there are self evident truths and proceeds to name them.

That all men are created equal” is the first of Jefferson’s self evident truths. It might seem a bit wrong for those of us living today for a known slave holder to suggest that all men are created equal. It would seem even stranger for us to find that it was a well accepted truth that all men are created equal by the time Jefferson wrote his famous Declaration. First, Jefferson does not say that we are all created equally, but rather simply as equal. The word equally is an adverb, whereas the word equal can be a verb, adjective, or noun. If we were all created equally, then we’d be identical in manner or equal to a certain extent. However, we’re not created equally but rather equal. The word equal has a number of separate meanings, however, the one Jefferson is aiming towards is, “having adequate powers, ability, or means.” It is only if this basic truth is accepted that the others can be called self evident. It is because we are equal in power, ability and mean that we are able to say the other three truths.

It was because we are all created equal, a truth widely accepted by this point in history, that Jefferson was able to posit a modified version of Locke’s famous “life, liberty and property.”  Jefferson says, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Because we are all created equal, we have the same unalienable Rights. Even in absolute monarchies like France, Spain or Russia it would be accepted that the Sovereign cannot deprive someone of their life or their liberty without just cause. Again, it might seem odd to suggest that they believed that liberty is an unalienable right when there still existed slavery and serfdom in the western world. However, is slavery or serfdom opposed to liberty? Remember, the individual slave owners thought they were doing right by their slaves. It was assumed that the slaves couldn’t fully enjoy their natural rights unless they were enslaved. And remember, neither the Declaration nor the Constitution and its amendments say that all are to be treated equally; because we are only equal. Once again, it is because we are created equal and because we have unalienable rights that we can identify the third self evident truth.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Our ability to form governments is based upon two self evident truths: all men are created equal and we are endowed with certain unalienable rights. One cannot consent to be governed if they are inferior and lack certain unalienable rights. And while there were more monarchies than democracies in the world in 1776, the idea that the King was chosen by God to rule (Divine Right Monarchy) was not as widely accepted as it had been less than 100 years prior. The writings of Hobbes, Locke and Sidney had already permeated into the world and while Louis was King of France he ruled largely because the nobles allowed it. In England, the King ruled only with the consent of the people. The Declaration of Independence came less than a century after the Glorious Revolution and the English Interregnum. Kings Charles I and II both were overthrown by the people or parliament and ruled with their consent.

This leads to the final self evident truth as laid out by Thomas Jefferson:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 The idea that a people could overthrow their legitimate sovereign had always been a point of contention. When Europe was still Catholic, the Papacy held that it could alone severe the ties between Prince and his subjects. As was seen in England, the right to revolution was already well established in the aftermath of the Interregnum and the Glorious Revolution. However, the idea that a colony could revolt and establish itself as an independent nation was still a new idea. It is this self evident truth that Jefferson made central to his Declaration of Independence. The Right to Revolution is based entirely on the acceptance of the other self evident truths. As such, the fact that we were all created equal is both the least significant self evident truth and the most important since from it stems our understanding of the other truths.

What Was Containment?

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, much of the globe was divided between the allied powers who were victorious in the war. Particularly, the United States and Soviet Union carved up the map placing areas of influence in the hands of each other. Arguably, the most famous of the post war spoils was Germany. The Allied Powers divided Germany, particularly Berlin, into East and West with Berlin divided into three districts occupied by England, the United States and the Soviet Union. It quickly became apparent to the West that the Soviet Union was not satisfied with simply taking their spoils. United States President Harry S. Truman felt it necessary for the US to have a policy concerning the Soviet Union’s appeared designs on Empire. From the Soviet threat came the American policy of Containment. What Containment was, largely rests with the theory’s architect: George Kennan. Kennan was an important diplomat in the post World War II era including stints as Ambassador to Russia and Yugoslavia. He was also placed in the US State Department under Secretary of State Marshall. From Kennan’s writings came three important policies during Truman’s presidency: The Truman Doctrine, The Marshall Plan and NSC-68. Together, these three policies shaped American policy towards the Soviet Union in particular and Communism in general.

The Truman Doctrine, or the Truman Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, was the official US policy to Communism. The doctrine entailed that the United States would meet the spread of Communism wherever it was to be found in order to stop it. This doctrine directly placed the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War and lead to US involvement in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the aftermath of the Truman Doctrine, President Harry S. Truman directed Secretary of State Marshall to create a plan to help stimulate the European economies. Initially, the plan was to offer aide to all European Countries (including the Soviet Union.) However, the USSR and her satellites refused to accept the money. Together with the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan’s economic angle played directly to George Kennan’s theory of Containment. Yet, NSC-68 was largely against Kennan’s theory and ultimately led him to leave government. At the heart of NSC-68 was the gradual coercion of the Soviet Union through massive peace time military spending and largely the abandonment of diplomatic and economic strains of the Containment Policy. In addition, NSC-68 also blurred the line between Communism in general and the Soviet Union; ultimately the two would be seen as part and parcel of each other under the policy.

However, these do not get at the heart of what exactly Containment was meant to be as George Kennan conceived of it. In his book, American Diplomacy, Kennan outlines his theory of how to contain the Soviet Union. At the heart of Kennan’s argument is the need for the US to have a sound policy in dealing with other countries such as the Soviet Union. Kennan states, “the idea of the subordination of a large number of states to an international juridical regime, limiting their possibilities for aggression and injury to other states, implies that these are all states like our own…”[1] Of course here Kennan is speaking of the newly formed United Nations, whose main goal was to provide a means of peaceably settling differences between sovereign nations. However, as Kennan points out, the United Nations does not assume the differences between regimes and treats all as the same.

This does not, of course, mean that the United States needs only to develop a military answer to possible Soviet aggression. Kennan’s argument does not imply that the Soviet Union was not a military threat to the United States; they had detonated their first Atomic Bomb in 1949. It does, however, reflect Kennan’s view of Marxist theory in the form of Soviet Communism. At the core of Soviet Communism, “has always been in the process of subtle evolution.”[2] It is for this reason that Kennan believed that a purely militaristic approach to the Soviet Union was unnecessary. Kennan identifies that the Soviet Union has, in the past, relaxed its policy of intervention in economics. When they had done this the capitalistic elements of the Russian economy flourished. And as long as these elements could survive they would, “always constitute a powerful opposing element to the Soviet regime and a serious rival for influence in the country.”[3] For this reason Kennan incorporated an economic element into his theory of Containment. By supporting the capitalistic elements of the Soviet economy, we would provide them with a lifeline to challenge the state controlled government.

The most important element of Kennan’s theory of Containment encompassed one basic principal: the Soviet Union will eventually dissolve if left to its own devices. As Kennan states, “The Kremlin has also proved able to accomplish its purpose of building up in Russia, regardless of the interests of the inhabitants…” In which case, the Soviet Union destroyed its best men in attempting to prop up the state through, “labor camps and other agencies of constraint…”[4] Every aspect of the Soviet system of government placed unnecessary constraint on the people of Russia. Change in Russia depended on these internal constraints on the people and economy, but also on the American government’s influence on Russia:

But the United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.[5]

The policy of Containment required both the Soviet Union to continue on its path of self destructive and the United States to influence the Soviet Union through economic, diplomatic and military policies. So what was Containment? It was the official policy of the United States government to prevent the spread of Soviet style Communism to the rest of the world. The policy of Containment encompassed economic, diplomatic and military aspects against the Soviet Union. Despite many changes to the policy, and the emphasis on different aspects at different times, Containment was the official policy that helped bring down the Soviet Union.

[1][1] George F. Kennan. American Diplomacy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.) 97

[2] Ibid. 107

[3] Ibid. 110

[4] Ibid. 121

[5] Ibid. 127

Of the Mayflower Compact

Upon dropping anchor off Cape Cod in 1620, the men on board the Mayflower convened to draft a compact that would be bound by law and create a government. The immediate cause of the compact was the fear of non Separatists (called Strangers) on board the ship. These individuals were financial backers of the new colonial experiment, and it was feared that they would defy the Separatists if they landed in an area other than what had been given to them by the London Company. The Mayflower Compact is more vital than some may wish to admit. Unlike their Puritan neighbors in Boston Harbor, the Pilgrims were separatists. The Pilgrims wanted a complete separate between the English Church and the Roman Church; the Church of England still held very many vestiges of the Roman Church until well after the separation took place. And because the Church of England was lead by the King, the Pilgrims not only viewed the Church to be utterly corrupt but also the state.   Upon examining the Mayflower Compact, we may better understand the American Revolution a century later.

It should be pointed out that the first words of the compact are “In the name of God”, as Willmoore Kendall suggests, “The one God is called to witness the compact that is about to be made. And we may safely assume that none of the signers of this oath is taking the matter lightly. Any subsequent violation of this oath will be no mere breaking a promise but an offense against God…” The Pilgrims acknowledge God first and never exclaim the name of the King for who they make this compact. The Pilgrims have acknowledge that their right to compact is granted to them by God by their pronouncement of “In the Name of God” with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning “Let it be done” following. This is an important step because they are acknowledging that their authority does not come from the King, but rather it comes from God. As Willmoore Kendall once more explains, “In Western Civilization basic symbolizations tend to be variants of the original symbolization of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: variants, this is to say, of the tale according to which a founder, Moses, leads the people out of the realm of darkness, Egypt, into the desert…” And as we can see from this, the Pilgrims are fleeing their own Egypt for the safety of Plymouth. Like the Israelites, the Pilgrims are not acknowledging the authority to constitute government stemming not from the King, but from God.

The primary purpose of the mission is laid out in the first sentence of the compact, “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia.” This is not uncommon, all colonies whether English, French or Spanish at this point were founded for, at least in name, the Glory of God and the Faith as well as for monarch and country. The French were less shy about also seeking riches in the Americas. So it is not unusual that the Separatists, who still viewed themselves as Englishmen, to acknowledge that their colony was founded to help God, the Church, King and Country. As such, the main purposes of this document are to demonstrate that the colony wants to promote God, religion, King, and country. It is interesting to point out that the Pilgrims list Faith and Church in front of Politics and State. By omitting the King’s name at the front of the document, and now here placing him subordinate to God and the Church, have inadvertedly stripped him of his power over them. The Mayflower Compact is forced to still recognize King James as their sovereign due to the large number of Strangers on board the ship. However, it is still significant that the King is subordinated under God. Like the Declaration will do a century later, they are displacing the King’s authority by acknowledge God’s authority as their means of receiving government. Like Moses and the other ancients before them, this society and body politic will simply be a divinely ordained society. As such, because its purposes are firstly divine, the citizens cannot revolt. Like the ancient regimes who were thought to be formed in the likeness of the gods, so too is the Plymouth society.

While the Pilgrims acknowledge the sovereignty of the King they still believed him unable to fulfill their perceived end of society: salvation. The Pilgrims maintained some hope that King James, a Presbyterian, would affect the changes they believed necessary in the Church of England. However, they were prepared for a total separation if James proved to be incapable of doing what they hoped. In addition to this explanation, it cannot be forgotten that the Pilgrims were far more willing to admit a strict alliance between Church and State. The English Monarchs for some time up to that point had declared their legitimacy was a by product of Divine Right and the Pilgrims whole hardheartedly supported that belief. Therefore, the King was subordinated beneath God as a way of rebellion against the still very Catholic monarchy. There cannot be too much emphasis placed on the desired separation from England by the Pilgrims, though the Compact is clear that the Pilgrims had by some right to govern themselves.

The next sentence of the Mayflower Compact is what might be of more use for our purposes.  The passengers “covenant and combine” themselves into a “body politic.” For those less aware, a body politic is a government strictly speaking. There are some who will argue that the passengers were hoping to only erect a temporary government for themselves, but this cannot be assumed just looking at the Compact. The colonists were erecting for themselves a government and it is rarely for a short time that people do such things. These words and what follows are almost entirely the same as the words which end the Declaration of Independence. This alone helps draw the connection between the purpose of the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Because the Pilgrims were persecuted by their own king in their home country, they were forced to flee to a distant and alien land to erect a new government more suited for their ends. As a result, by erecting this government, they were acknowledge not only had the King’s government infringed on their rights, but that the King was no longer able to provide them with the essential needs government is instituted for the begin with. As was pointed out with Aristotle and John Locke, these reasons alone are cause for a revolution in the government.

Yet, if this is not enough to sway you in this favor then the next sentence should be enough, “And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.” The Pilgrims were no fools, they recognized that the government of England would not be able to properly govern the colony three thousand miles away. As a result, this new government established by the Pilgrims was given the power to legislate. If nothing else, the simple power of legislation is itself the power of government. And further, had the Pilgrims not entered into a body politic they would have properly been living in a state of nature with no impartial judge to settle their quarrels. As such, the Pilgrims not only enter into a civil government, but they also give it power to erect laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers of the colony. Under English law only the King has the authority to appoint officers, and only the parliament by virtue of its power from the King has the authority to erect laws, ordinances and acts. But the Pilgrims go yet still one step further by pledging their submission and obedience to this newly established regime.

The final nail in the coffin is that after signing this document, the Pilgrim men elected John Carver the first governor of the colony of Plymouth. His authority does not stem from good King James, but rather from the authority of the citizens of the colony. Had they merely been given their government, as had Jamestown, this would not been an issue. However, the Mayflower Compact was designed and instituted by the Pilgrims themselves, not by the London Company or the King. The Pilgrims, whether purposely or not, had erected a rival government to the authority of the King. They had no right to establish for themselves a government, or to elect a governor. They had given themselves authority equal to that of the British Parliament back in London. Ultimately, the Mayflower Compact can be seen as the first movement of the American Revolution. The Pilgrims had be confronted by an unjust government and fled to establish a new government. The tradition of self government in the Massachusetts colony began at Plymouth with the signing of the Mayflower Compact. By the end of the French and Indian War when the British government began taking a better look at her colonies in America, the people of Massachusetts and other colonies had a long history of self government. While the people of Plymouth may have called themselves British subjects, they had unconsciously recognized that they were no longer subjects of the crown of Great Britain by erecting their own government in its place.

Between Two Worlds: Charles Eastman

The life of Charles Eastman is, in many respects, no different than that of any other great American. Men like Andrew Carnegie and Benjamin Franklin, like Eastman, brought themselves up from modest means through education and hard work. Eastman’s story in particular is similar to that of Olaudah Equiano or Frederick Douglass in that despite their status as minorities (and even as sub-human) they were able to achieve greatness.  Charles Eastman was born a Sioux Indian living in Canada in opposition to the white government of the United States. By the end of his life, Eastman was a well respected man among both Indians and whites while always teetering between two very different worlds and belonging barely to either.

At many points in his narrative Charles Eastman references times when he turned his back to his Indian ways and turned toward the ways of the white man. He credits his father for allowing that change to happen when he suddenly reemerged after a number of years to take his son back to his homestead across the American-Canadian border.  Eastman’s father was much changed from the man he remembered in his youth.  In particular Eastman references his father’s acceptance of Christianity as the largest change in his father.  Eastman said of his father’s religion, “It was his Christian faith and devotion which was perhaps the strongest influence toward my change of heart and complete change of my purpose in life.”[1] But throughout his life Eastman would see both the good and the bad of the white man’s religion.  Eastman’s father had incredible influence over his son, and one may say that as a proper Indian Eastman had no choice but to follow the will of his father. In many ways it was a result of his father that Eastman would continuously straddle the fence between Indian and white man without ever clearly stepping fully into either world. Through is father’s insistence and his grandmother’s disapproval Eastman attends his first school near his father’s homestead in Minnesota.  As Eastman described his first day in school one cannot help but think that his first day might seem similar to anyone’s first day of school. His resistance to the ways of the white man is quickly changed and upon returning to school he has cut his hair and devoted himself to following the path his father has laid out for him.  However, in his first day of school Eastman recounts the story years later and seems distant to the events.  By the time he wrote his story he was no longer the Indian boy who walked into the small prairie school house and the events seem like a distant event that he was only a spectator to. In particular Eastman wrote, “He rose silently…did not dare to do or say anything….”[2] his retelling is entirely in the third person as though a piece of fiction rather than a historical event.  The first time in which Eastman tells his reader that his heart was moved toward “civilization” was with his father and in those first days of school. But the first acceptance of this new life came not from the heart, but “were logical enough on the whole, although almost entirely from the outside….”[3]

The second instance in which Eastman tells of his decision to abandon his early ways for the ways of the white man come when he his travelling to his first boarding school. The Santee Agency in Nebraska was where Eastman first began to live up to his potential intellectually. While on the way to Santee he and a travel companion stopped to hunt and trap for food. The companion decided that he will stay there and continue living as their ancestors had once before. Eastman decided to obey his father’s wishes, still to this point they decision was not wholly his own but rather what his father willed, and continue on for the Santee Agency.  He was sixteen at the time and left to travel from his father’s home to Nebraska on his own. It is in the recounting of a story of his first experience in dealing with white men that Eastman tells of a second conversion to accept the ways of the white man. Tired and hungry from the road the young Eastman approached a farm house and begged to be fed. The farmer and his family accepted his plea and offered him food and a place to stay. In return Eastman, unfamiliar with money, offered the farmer money his father had given him. The farmer rejected the offer and it is with this gesture that Eastman wrote, “Then and there I loved civilization and renounced my wild life.”[4] The school at the agency was a struggle for Eastman.  At one point while in class a professor pulled out a globe and showed the Indian boys the world and Eastman remarked years later, “I felt that my foot hold was deserting me. All my savage training and philosophy was in the air, if these things were true.”[5] While at Santee Eastman continued his transformation into the world of the white man, but still held on to the world of the Indian.

At the same time period while he was at Santee his Sioux brethren were waging a war against the United States Government.  He indicates that it was during his time at Santee that the Battle of Little Big Horn took place. [6] The struggle Eastman had in living as an Indian in the world of the white man was made harder by the actions of his tribesmen. As Eastman wrote, he saw his own blood as “hostile” but Custer and his men as “gallant”. Yet at the same time, while at Beloit College he “was followed on the streets by gangs of little white savages…”[7] His struggle for self identity was not something unfamiliar in a time of such great change in America.

And it was while at Beloit College, during summer vacation that Eastman enjoyed yet another conversion experience to the ways of the white man, and his religion. While working for a farmer he had his eyes, “opened intelligently to the greatness of Christian civilization…” but he was still not converted in his heart to the ways of the white man.  While still working for the farmer Eastman “renounced finally [his] bow and arrows for the spade and the pen….” This was yet another time that he was able to have a conversion to the ways of the white man. He recommitted himself to the trail his father had laid out for him years before in Minnesota. And it was also here that Eastman, “gained [his] first conception of the home life and domestic ideals of the white man” through interactions with American college girls. Years later he would once again make a step toward transforming into a white man by marrying a white woman. But as was a common theme in Eastman’s life, he did not stay at Beloit very long. Instead he moved on to Dartmouth College. Dartmouth was originally established for the education of Indians, a fact for which Eastman was proud.  It was at Dartmouth that the final conversion seems to have taken place, for he believed, “it was here that I had the most of my savage gentleness and native refinement knocked out of me.”[8] From this point forward Eastman had the knowledge of two worlds to judge both according to their merits. His experiences with the white man through his days of education were generally good, but while a doctor at the Pine Ridge Reservation and thereafter he began to see the bad nature of the white man.

While Eastman was the doctor at the Pine Ridge Reservation he had the opportunity to engage in a number of aspects of the management of the reservation. He was a well respected man among both the whites and Indians and that gave him great influence over both at various points. His view on the Ghost Dance can be summed up as “watch and wait”, which the white leaders of the Reservation did not agree with.  The massacre at Wounded Knee served as an example of the white man’s malice for Eastman, who had not seen it up close as he had avoided such circumstances in the past.  All the while at the reservation Eastman defended the white man to his Indian brethren. That is, until he was asked to witness the issuing of allowances to Indians on the reservation. When it became clear that government officials were short changing those Indians too naïve to know any better, Eastman was steadfast in his refusal to remain silent on the issue. He was ultimately forced out of his job as a doctor to the Indians on behalf of the United States government. While he returned to his father’s homeland in Minnesota he opened a shop and realized that the white man was all too willing to cut corners and skirt the law. An opportunity with the Y.M.C.A presented itself to Eastman who agreed to go to the Indians and establish Y.M.C.A chapters. He successfully was able to preach the Protestant Christian belief system to the Indians he encountered and established numerous chapters of the Y.M.C.A. From this he began speaking to groups of white men about the place of Native Americans in American History.

Charles Eastman’s legacy deserves to be given two places, one with the world of the white man as a great ambassador to his own people on the white man’s behalf. The other is with the Indian world as their great ambassador of the Indian to the white man. But ultimately this only goes to demonstrate that Charles Eastman was continuously caught between two worlds while never really in either. He routinely underwent conversions to the ways of the white man, only to be disillusioned by the actions of the white man years later. He rejected the ways of the Indian numerous times, only to be an ambassador for the importance of the Indian in American History.


[1] Eastman, Charles A. From the Deep Woods to Civilization. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. pg. 10


[2] Ibid. 23

[3] Ibid. 29

[4] Ibid. 39

[5] Ibid. 47

[6] “It must be remembered that this was September, 1876, less than three month’s after Custer’s gallant command was annihilated by the hostile Sioux.” Ibid 53.

[7]Ibid 53

[8] Ibid. 67

Here this you kings! Listen, you rulers!: Thomas Aquinas and his Regimes

An important part of any political philosophy seems to be the question of Constitution. Plato and Aristotle both spend time in their seminal works on politics to understand the forms of government. For Plato those regimes are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny.[1] Aristotle expands on those regimes by excluding Timocracy and adding Kingship, and Polity.[2] The Neo Platonic and Aristotelian thinkers of the Middle Ages took a similar view on the forms of government. St. Thomas Aquinas is no different than his fellow Middle Age thinkers and devotes time to understanding the various forms of government. In the First Part of the Second Part of his Summa Theologiae Aquinas lays out his Treatise on Law. Within that treatise, in question 95 article 4, Aquinas argues for five forms of government.  Within his discussion of the forms of government a series of important questions are brought forth including, the relationship between law and regime, the place of the ecclesiastical within the civil society, and what can be determined as Aquinas’ best regime despite what he explicitly states.

First it is necessary to examine the regimes laid out by Aquinas and also their corresponding form of law. By understanding the type of law associated with each regime and what Aquinas believes to be the best regime as a result we may gain a better understanding of their relationship. From there it seems proper to discuss the place of the ecclesiastical authority within the civil society and in particular whether or not Aquinas gives any authority to the ecclesiastical. Finally, based on his three statements found in questions 95, 105 of the Summa and On Kingship we may come to some understanding of what Aquinas understands as the best regime.

Aquinas explicitly discusses his regimes and their relationship to human law in question 95 article 4. The first regime Aquinas mentions is monarchy, and the form of law associated with this regime are “royal ordinances.”[3] Aristocracy is the second regime and is associated with “authoritative legal opinions and senatorial decrees.”[4] Oligarchy is associated with “praetorian law” or what Aquinas also calls, “honorary.”[5] Democracy is the final regime associated with law, as tyranny is lawless, and democracy has, “acts of plebian assemblies.”[6] It is curious that Aquinas does not place the distinction of human law in particular on any of the regimes. The closest are Aristocracy and Oligarchy yet even those are only “opinions” and “honorary” laws. And considering the regimes and the form of law associated with them, Aquinas declares that none are the best government. This is unique given that in question 105, and in his work On Kingship where Aquinas declares that Kingship is the best form of government.[7] Yet in light of the relationship between regime and law none seem to have authoritative human law associated with them. This may be because Aquinas states that the best is a mixed regime with Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy.  However, if, none of the political regimes have law proper, then where does one receive law? Can authoritative human law be achieved through the temporal, or must one look towards someplace else? Aquinas exhibits four kinds of law: Eternal, Natural, Divine and Human law. The Human law is a reflection of the Natural and Divine laws. The Natural law is the Eternal Law’s participation in human reason. Therefore, it would appear as though only the ecclesiastical can make authoritative human law.

While Aquinas does not, in these sections, directly reference the relationship between the temporal and the ecclesiastical. However, using what Aquinas states in questions 95 and 105 of the Summa and On Kingship it nonetheless appears important to discuss that relationship. The polity is declared in question 95 to be the best regime. In question 95 of the Summa, polity, a mix of Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy, is declared the best regime; this polity could be likened to the regime found in England. However, does Aquinas mean by polity a mix of temporal and ecclesiastical authority with the Papacy at its head as king, and local aristocratic and democratic assemblies to deal with the day to day operations of the civil society? At the time the Papacy was only beginning to take the traditional title of Kings, “Vicar of Christ” for itself. However, based on Aquinas’ view of the Human law, it would appear that the ecclesiastical authority is necessary in the creation of human law. And so looking at this possible relationship between the two spheres, temporal and ecclesiastical, then one may see in Aquinas his willingness to give to the Papacy political authority in connection with the Papacy’s emerging claim to the title of Vicar of Christ.  Authoritative Human law could be possible under Papal rule, if one assumes that Human law is a reflection of the Natural and Divine laws and that they can only be decreed by members of the clergy. If this in fact is true, then a starker contrast can be seen between Aquinas and the moderns, even a starker contrast between Aquinas and a fellow medieval like Dante. The alternative to seeing Kingship as filled by a temporal, civil leader rather than by the Papacy would call into question Aquinas’ belief that the ecclesiastical has any authority within civil society at all.

And so having examined what Aquinas defines as the political regimes, and what he explicitly states as the best regime and the place of the ecclesiastical within civil society we can now turn our attention to be better understand what exactly Aquinas’ view of the best regime is. Within the Treatise on Law and On Kingship Aquinas states his view on the best regime three times. In question 95-4 the best regime, as already stated, is a polity with Kingship, Aristocracy and Democracy. Yet ten questions later Aquinas contradicts himself by stating the best regime is Kingship. And then again in On Kingship the best regime is seen as Kingship. Looking at On Kingship we may dismiss the account of the best regime on one major premise, the treatise is written to the King of Cyprus. The seriousness of Aquinas’ claim in On Kingship, therefore, can only be taken in light of question 105-1 from the Treatise on Law. Yet, an understanding here may be taken in light of question 95-4 where he indicates polity will include kingship. However, in his On Kingship Aquinas states, “Man therefore needs something to guide him towards his end.”[8] This guide is a ruler, whether it is a King, aristocrat, oligarch, or democrat and the end appears to be, “man may devote his reason to some particular branch of learning.” The best guide or form of government, in On Kingship is Kingship. He further defends his argument for Kingship as the best regime on the grounds that government of many is more likely to become unjust than the government by one.[9] The question of government by many is explained by Aquinas as, “For there is no beauty in a body unless all its members are properly disposed, and ugliness arises when even one member is improperly so”[10] In each instance throughout On Kingship Aquinas appeals to what might be called the energy and efficiency of the one over the many. In addition, Aquinas considers that if there are three rulers and one is corrupt than the whole is corrupt. Both of these reasons are why Aquinas suggests that Kingship is the best possible regime.

However, in his Treatise on Law it appears that the best government, polity, corresponds to that government with the most authoritative law. Throughout the whole of the Treatise on Law it appears that law is the ultimate good given to man by God as it allows man to know and participate in the Divine As such, it appears that the best regime must have the best human law associated with it. As Aquinas says in questions 90 and 92 in his Treatise on law, “A law, properly speaking, regards first and foremost the order to the common good,”[11] indicating that the best regime should be the one that best orders the common good. He goes on to say, “Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is “that which makes its subject good,” it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect.”[12] And as before, it would appear that the best regime would be the one that best makes its subject good. And since Aquinas argues that the best regime in relation to law is polity, it would follow that the best regime simply for Aquinas would be polity.

Therefore, in looking at his description in the Treatise on Law and On Kingship of the best regime, the argument from the Treatise on Law that the best regime is the one with the best law seems to be stronger than the one in On Kingship. Because the argument in the Treatise on Law appears stronger, we may assume that Aquinas believes polity is the best government albeit with the proper form of kingship. This appears true because the role of law is so important in human affairs for Aquinas throughout the Treatise on Law.

Aquinas’ description of the regimes calls into question three key things, the relationship between regimes and law, the role of the ecclesiastical in civil society, and what appears to be Aquinas’ view of the best regime based on the relationship of regimes and law. Some may question the necessity of addressing the role of the ecclesiastical in society because Aquinas himself does not address this. However, because of the historic role of the Church at the time of Aquinas and the centuries immediately following his life one cannot exclude the possible implications of ecclesiastical in society. And because Aquinas states in various locations differing views of what can be called the best regime it is necessary to attempt to better understand Aquinas’ view based on what he says but not necessarily what he says is the best regime; i.e. the role of the regime in human life, and the role of law.

[1] Plato’s Republic book VIII. Plato also states that Aristocracy degrades into Timocracy, which degrades into Oligarchy and then into Democracy and finally into Tyranny.

[2] Aristotles’s Politics book III and IV. Aristotle claims that Kingship is the most desired regime and this differs from Aquinas’s view in On Kingship where he calls it the best regime. Aristotle calls polity the best possible regime and it is here in Question 95 of the Treatise on Law that Aquinas agrees with Aristotle’s account.

[3] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae IaIIae 95-4 in  Aquinas: Political Writings edited by R.W. Dyson, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008) pg. 135

[4] Summa Theologiae I, II, 95-4 pg. 136

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “A kingdom is the best form of government of the people” Summa Theologiae I, II, 105-1. And, “The rule of the King is best.” On Kingship, pg. 11.  One must call into question Aquinas’s declaration of kingship in On Kingship as it is a letter written to the King of Cyprus. As such, one may argue that Aquinas is simply appeasing the king in declaring kingship to be the best regime. His seemingly contradictory statements in the Treatise on Law may be rectified by demonstrating that Kingship is one of the regimes in the Polity and that Polity should be in the form of a kingship, albeit with Aristocracy and Democracy elements.

[8] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 5

[9] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 17, “If, however, one man rules…” and “For when dissension arises.”

[10] Aquinas Political Writings, pg. 13.

[11] Summa Theologiae, 1.1.90-3

[12] Summa Theologiae 1.1.92-1

Evil men do not understand justice

What recourse does one have when a King, who rules by Divine Right, is deposed and usurped by another? The Heavens who have chosen the now usurped King cannot be thought to sit idly by while an illegitimate sovereign now reigns. Shakespeare’s second installment of his Second Tetralogy explores how the Heavens resolve the problem of the illegitimate sovereign. In particular the First Part of Henry IV explores how the Heavens attempted to solve the question of the illegitimate King. The first act of the play demonstrates that an uprising of supporters of the slain King Richard II is underway and both Prince Hal and his friend Falstaff discuss the relation of the Moon’s power to govern the affairs of men. It appears that the Law, which governs the Heavenly Bodies and men, is personified by Shakespeare in the First Part of Henry IV as a means of gaining satisfaction against King Henry IV for his usurpation of God’s chosen King, Richard II.

Some have seen Henry IV, Part One[1] as a play about the creation of a Prince and King in the character of Prince Hal; however, the play focuses on the career of a usurper.[2] Falstaff and Prince Hal discuss the new situation that they find themselves in. Falstaff says to Hal, “let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 28-31.) The moon has the power to make the ocean rise and fall at will and that same power governs men according to Falstaff. The moon is governed by God, and therefore the moon appears with water, the prominent literary image of redemption and a new beginning.  The moon will be used by God to cleanse the Kingdom of England by stirring the passions of the people into a outright rebellion.   The rebellion of the Welsh seems to be caused by stirrings of the moon in accordance with Falstaff’s belief of the moon’s power over mankind. The Prince responds to Falstaff by saying, “Thou sayest well, and it holds well too, for the fortune of us that are moon’s men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 32-35) The question that Prince Hal now must face is how to protect stability in England despite the wrath of Heaven against his father. Yet, to demonstrate to the Heavens that he, Prince Hal, is deserving of the throne his father stole, Hal acknowledges, “And pay the debt I never promised” (Act 1 scene 2, 216) This prophetic statement by Hal indicates that his father will in fact be saved from Divine justice, instead the Prince and the English people will be forced to pay for the sins of Henry IV.

Having disposed the King, Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke is prepared to turn his attention to the restoration of time and the kingdom of England; he proposes a crusade to the Holy Land. However, as King Henry IV, Bolingbroke faces his first threat from the Welsh, who as supporters of the late King Richard II are prepared to revolt against the usurper King.[3] Because of threats to his throne the crusade must be put on hold.  The play of the First Part of Henry IV focuses around the hostilities the new king faces in the aftermath of his execution and disposition of the previous king. In particular, a theme of the play is posed by the King’s son Hal; he will be forced to pay for the actions of his father in taking the thrown. The play looks to the relationship of the Heavenly Bodies and political affairs; England’s political affairs throughout the play are chaotic. Something seems to be seeking retribution for the deposing of God’s chosen monarch. The Law appears in various forms throughout the play, each seeking retribution against the King. The threat of a Welsh uprising is also an indication that Shakespeare plans for Part 1 of Henry IV how the Heavens handle usurpers.  Henry’s rule has ushered in a period of lawlessness in England that will last until the last of the Lancaster Monarchs has reigned. As Falstaff states, “I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company.”(2, 2, 10) The only way to restore the rule of law and order in England is restore the monarchy to a King who represents lawfulness rather than lawlessness. Henry’s choice to overthrow his cousin Richard plays out in the play to show the consequences of his choice: England and his family will suffer Divine justice.

The final element of the story of Divine Justice against King Henry IV is the war against the Welsh.[4] Falstaff says, “Rebellion lay in his way….” (5.1.29.)  The rebellion, a result of the moon’s power over the passions of men, symbolizes the Divine Justice against King Henry and as Falstaff indicates the rebellion was predestined when Henry usurped Richard. Rebellion by the Welsh calls into question the English Constitution under Henry IV and even his successors; primarily the weakness and irresponsibility of the King. Prince Hal comes into his own during the war as his plan expressed in his soliloquy in the first act. He draws others to himself, much like a jeweler places a diamond against a black background. And by executing his plan, and taking part in the war, Hal has made himself the object Divine Justice will aim toward.[5] This is evident by the action of Part II of Henry IV as Henry IV is terminally ill rather than dying from an external condition. Prince Hal kills the rebel leader Hotspur at the end of the play; and if the rebellion is the heavens seeking Divine Justice upon Henry then Hotspur must be the chief sword for that Divine Justice. This action places Hal, and not Henry, in the sights of the heavens as they seek retribution for the death of their legitimate, Divine Right King Richard.  As the Kingdom is taking account of what has happened in the rebellion, the King observes, “Thus did rebellion find rebuke…”(5.5.1) The divinely ordained rebellion was rebuked by the son of the man who disobeyed the Lord’s command that Richard be King of England. The theme at the beginning of the play, the restoration of time and the Kingdom, alludes to the words of Henry after the rebellion has been put down. Time represents a temporal order, indicating that Henry has restored a temporal monarchy after a period of Divine monarchs.

Many Shakespearean critics claim that the story of the play Part I of Henry IV is the story of Prince Hal and his career on the path to becoming king of England. Yet, the story of the play focuses on the Divine Justice planned out by the heavens against the usurper King Henry IV. The Prince interferes with this plan of the heavens by intersecting himself in the rebellion and killing the leader of the rebel army. The movement of the play does involve the establishment of Hal as the true and proper heir of Henry IV but in the sense that Hal becomes the focus of Divine Justice throughout Part II of Henry IV and Henry V where Hal becomes King Henry V. The rebellion is the main object of the play whereby Prince Hal reveals himself as the proper heir to the lawless, usurper King Henry IV. Rather than being good, this event actually shows the inevitable downfall of one of Shakespeare’s most important characters.

[1] All quotes from the play taken from Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994.

[2] David Berkeley and Donald Eidson, “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter, 1968), pp. 25-31 accessed from on 5/1/10. The authors argue in “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” that one of the themes in Henry IV, part One is the education of a prince. However, they ignore that the play also demonstrates Divine justice on usurpers. More importantly they fail to notice that Prince Hal, while “learning” to become King models himself on his father who is a lawless usurper in the eyes of the heavens. Thus, the Prince’s education is complete when he kills the leader of the divinely ordained rebel army, Hotspur.

[3] Trafton, Dain A. “Shakespeare’s Henry IV, A New Prince in a New Principality” in Shakespeare as a Political Thinker edited by John E. Alvis & Thomas G. West, (ISI Books: Wilmington, DE. 2000) pg. 94-104. This article is similar in the argument that I make in that the story of Henry IV is about Henry IV despite other underlying storylines. In addition, Trafton argues that Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 demonstrate the consequences of Henry’s decision to overthrow the Divine Right King Richard II.

[4]Leggatt, “Henry IV, Part 1: A Modern Perspective” in Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994. Similar to the argument made by Berkely and Eidson, Alexander Leggatt in his essay “Henry IV, Part 1: A modern perspective” argues that the movement of the play is towards the establishment of Hal as the true heir to Henry. However, his focus is on the battle of Shrewsbury where Hal proves himself the heir by killing Hotspur. This point I do not disagree with, as Hal’s killing of Hotspur shows him the proper object of Divine Justice.

[5] In Hal’s soliloquy at act 1 scene 2 he hatches a plan to make himself appear as the proper heir to Henry’s thrown. He says, “I’ll so offend to make offense a skill….”(1.2.223) Indicating that he will throw off attention on his father, making himself appear as “the sun.”

Shakespeare’s Account of Rome through Coriolanus

At the end of the Roman Republic it was necessary for Caesar Augustus to continue to support the Republican form of Rome while having the substance of an Empire. Yet, necessity of this devotion to the Republican form under the Empire  makes one wonder whether the Roman Republic was ever a Republic in substance or simply a Republic in form.  William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus ponders this same question through an examination of both the life of Coriolanus and his relationship to the Republic; and so by looking at the play, at least in this one instance, one may be able to understand the nature of the Roman Republic. Through the examination of the people of Rome as portrayed by Shakespeare, the relationship of the people to their rulers and the city, and the general comments made about the city and the constitution one may better understand whether  Rome was a Republic both in form and substance.

The beginning of Coriolanus shows a mass of people crowded around two primary speakers identified  as First and Second Citizen.[1] They have gathered to discuss the question of Caius Martius and whether  he should be put to death as an enemy of the  Roman people for his part in restricting access to grain. The crowd seems willing to go along with the plan for execution, yet they are further provoked by First Citizen. First Citizen presents the problem of democratic political power and whether the people are necessary for law, or if  they can simply use the law to hurt each other. In the Roman Republic the people were of high importance as they alone could held the power to elect consuls and sentence people to death. The very existence of Roman political power depended on a politically active populace. First Citizen is able to play upon the people’s devotion to the Republic, and also their distrust of Caius.

When Second Citizen asks, “Consider you what services he has/done for his country?”[2] First Citizen responds, “I say unto you, what he hath done/ famously he did it to that end. Though soft/conscienced men can be content to say it was for/his country, he did it to please his mother….”[3] Rome’s people expect the same devotion to the city and it’s constitution as they expect from themselves. First Citizen wins out and the masses head to the capitol where they are confronted by a patrician named Menenius Agrippa. First Citizen notices one approaching and calls out for who it is; Second citizen informs him that it is Menenius, “one that hath always loved the people.”[4] To which First Citizen responds, “He’s one honest enough. Would all the/rest were so!”[5] The sentiments expressed by First Citizen indicate that for some of the people of Rome the Patricians have less care for the city and it’s people than they should have. Menenius calls the mass his, “masters, my good friends, and mine honest/neighbors….”[6] As a Patrician Menenius is a class above the mass of people, yet as the people have the power in Rome they are his masters. To indicate a common bond and a sense of equality with the Plebian mass, he infers that they are his friends and neighbors. Menenius then goes on to explain the relationship of the Patricians to the Plebians:

I tell you, friends, most charitable care

Have the patricians of you. For your wants,

Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well

Strike at the heave with your staves as lift them

Against the Roman state, whose course will on

The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs

Of more strong link asunder than can ever

Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,

The gods, not the patricians, make it, and

Your knees to them, not arms must help. Alack,

You are transported by calamity

Thither where more attends you, and you slander

The helms o’the’state, who care for you like fathers,

When you curse them as enemies.[7]

Shakespeare argues from the Patrician point of view that Rome is a Republic in substance as well as form; however the Plebeians counter Menenius’s speech. Second Citizen says, “Care for us? True, indeed! They ne’er cared for us yet,”[8] And  complaints that the Plebeians urge against  Patricians and their supposed care for the people of the city.  The Plebeians see themselves as guardians against the encroachments of an ambitious Patrician such as they see in Caius Martius Coriolanus.

At the same time the Plebeians seek to not only gain access to corn and to execute Coriolanus for treason, but also to introduce a democratic element into the Roman Constitution through the creation of two Tribunes. This change would allow the form of the Republic to remain, but would change the substance of the Roman Constitution. Menenius attempts to dissuade the Plebs in his conversation with Second Citizen explaining that the Patricians have always protected the Plebs even in the time of the Kingship. He equates the Plebeians and Coriolanus to the belly of the ancient kingship. Menenius says, “There was a time when all the body’s members/ Rebelled against the belly….”[9] And he goes on to say, “Not me this, good friend;/ Your most grave belly was deliberate,/ Not rash like his accusers…”[10] The belly is Coriolanus, who according to Menenius was deliberate in his actions unlike the accusers who have not though their actions through.

Yet, the Patricians in turn see themselves as the guardians of Rome’s Constitution against Rome’s Plebeians.  Coriolanus sums up the fear of the Plebeians gaining power by calling them a “Hydra”[11]. The distrust in Coriolanus by the Plebs is no less than the distrust Coriolanus has in the Plebs. He says about allowing the Plebs any political power, “You are plebeians,/ If they be senators; and they are no less/ When, both your voices blended,/ the great’st taste/ Most palates theirs.”[12] Coriolanus fears the same fate for Rome as Greece should the people be granted equal authority over the city as the Patricians. Of Greece Coriolanus states, “Though there [Greece] the people had more absolute power,/I say they nourished disobedience, fed/ The ruin of the state.”[13] The quality that makes Rome’s Constitution superior to the Greek Constitution for Coriolanus is the position of the Patricians over the Plebs. The organized masses of the Athenian Democracy were far more dangerous than the unorganized, leaderless Plebs of Rome. In addition to fearing the masses of people, Coriolanus fears the creation of Plebeian Tribunes who Coriolanus believes could be more powerful than the Consuls. At the end of his speech Coriolanus states concerning the creation of Tribunes, “To know, when two authorities are up,/ Neither supreme, how soon confusion/ May enter ‘twixt the gap of both and take/The one by th’ other.”[14] Like many Patricians, Coriolanus is fearful of allowing a democratic element from being introduced to the Roman Republic.

In a similar manner, Menenius fears allowing the people a larger role in the Republic, instead arguing for a small deliberative body that handles the governing of the city. As the ruling class, the Patricians were a truly aristocratic class who sought out honors through both valor in war and deliberation in politics. By allowing the people a share in the rule of the city, then they can share in the honors of the aristocracy.  To protect their station and to protect the liberty of the city the Patrician aristocrats treated the people as lowly as they could get away with. Their devotion to the Roman Constitution as it is, while rooted in selfish reasons, exemplifies the lack of respect both Coriolanus and the Plebeians have for the Roman Republic.

Yet, ultimately, Coriolanus does not support the Roman Constitution as he chooses personal honor over defending the city. Coriolanus’s choice demonstrates that he in fact was not a Roman. Coriolanus receives this dedication to familial and personal honor from his mother Volumia. Unlike other Patricians, Coriolanus places less emphasis on the honor acquired by his ancestors and like Hector wants personal honor over what is best for his city. In this way, Coriolanus is an enemy of Rome in many ways that the Plebeians threatening revolution are enemies of Rome’s unique Constitution. Shakespeare departs from Plutarch’s account of Coriolanus and has Coriolanus die in Coriolus, the city where Coriolanus received his honorific name to demonstrate his choice for personal honor over what is best for the city.

Shakespeare presents Rome at this critical period in her history, within the same generation as Lucrecia sacrificed herself for Rome’s freedom, in order to show what it meant to be a Roman. Coriolanus is represented by Shakespeare as the greatest enemy of Rome because his concern is not with res publica, but instead with his familial and personal honor. Yet if devotion to Rome’s constitution is what makes one a Roman, then the Plebeians can also be charged with not being Roman. Shakespeare presents the Plebs at the beginning of the play on their way to execute Caius Martius Coriolanus because he has prevented them access to corn; however at the same time the Senate is contemplating the addition of Plebeian Tribunes. Through the introduction of the Tribunes to represent the democratic element of Rome, the Constitution of Rome would fundamentally be altered. The Plebeians appear less concerned with the Roman constitution than with the changing of the constitution under threat of rebellion. Both Coriolanus and the Plebeians seem more concerned with the form of Republicanism, than with the substance.

[1] Shakespeare, William. Coriolanus, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2009.)  Act 1 scene 1.

[2] 1.1.29-30

[3] 1.1.35-40

[4] 1.1.51-52

[5] 1.1.53-54

[6] 1.1.63-65

[7] 1.1.67-80

[8] 1.1.81-82

[9] 1.1.98-99

[10] 1.1.134-136

[11] 3.1.125

[12] 3.1.133-136

[13] 3.1.150-152

[14] 3.1.141-144

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 20:07  Comments (2)  

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.

Notes on The Tragedy of Caesar

When looking at Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar it is important to consider first and foremost the situation of Rome at the time the play takes place. In his unofficial Tetralogy of Roman History, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is the third installment following the “Rape of Lucrece” and Coriolanus. To consider the situation of Rome one need only look at the beginning of the play. A group of commoners are confronted by Flavius, a Patrician. The commoners are not recognized as citizens by Flavius and they are not wearing badges indicating their position. The great Roman war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great has ended and the commoners are calling for a celebration, a holiday. Yet, this call for a celebration is an indication of the fracturing of Roman politics and the dissolution of the Republic. Only victories over foreigners were traditionally celebrated by Rome, and so celebrating Caesar’s victory over a great Roman general is an important element to observe in the play.

From this point the play takes two positions, one as the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and the second as the Tragedy of Brutus.

In regards to Caesar, the commoners view Caesar as a “Super” Tribune though he held no official office. Historically speaking Caesar was a dictator at the time but there is question over whether the Senate recognized this office. If they didn’t recognize it, then Caesar was left to strive for something even more: the crown of King. This is the situation of the play, as Caesar has returned home there is discussion of naming Caesar Dictator for Life and providing him with a crown (albeit the Senate will insist it only be worn outside the city.) In addition to seeing him as “Super” Tribune, the people generally regard Caesar as a living god which some suggest is what Caesar is truly after. However Caesar suffered from epilepsy, got sick, and lost a swimming race, all of which may call into question the divine nature of Caesar.   One thing is very certain though, Julius Caesar was a very accomplished conqueror.  Caesar is also a shrewd politician who is well aware of the nature of the Roman people and so despite any desire to hold the crown he will refuse it knowing the people’s hatred of monarchy.

Throughout the play Caesar speaks of himself in the third person and refers to himself as the “unmoved mover”, which those familiar with theology and Aristotelian metaphysics will note that the unmoved mover is God. And to drive this point home further, Caesar calls himself Jupiter who was the Chief god of the Romans.  As a result of this  Shakespeare departs from his source (Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans) who suggests that Caesar struggled with his assassins and yet Shakespeare’s Caesar does not. This may indicate that Shakespeare’s Caesar desired some more than the crown of King or Dictator.

Caesar’s assassination calls the audiences attention to problems within the Roman Republic. The people’s devotion to a man who may or may not have desired to become King or at worst a god suggests that the people cannot rule themselves and are in need of a Caesar. This may be a result of the nature of the Roman Republic, which is also an Empire. One of the faults of Empire is that Republic is not possible. This is in part because you will constantly be on extended military adventures and will need a General willing to lead these exhibitions. As a result the soldiers that make up that General’s army will become devoted to their General more than to the republican government. A Republic exists so that no one person can say that anything is done according to their will, yet in an Empire such proclamations is feasible.

Caesar’s death comes early in the play and Brutus’ struggle to understand himself dominates the rest of the play. At Caesar’s death  Shakespeare reports his last words as “Even you Brutus?” However, despite Shakespeare placing Latin words into Caesar’s mouth he is reported historically to have used Greek. The translation of Caesar’s historical Greek last words are, “Even you child?” Causing the question to arise, was Brutus Caesar’s bastard? Brutus’s view of the “self” is that it is only possible to see and know oneself through others. Brutus views himself as his ancestor who helped to overthrow the Tarquin Kings. Every action he takes are with this image in mind; Brutus portrays himself as a lover of “res publica” and opposed to the private goods. The Roman Republic is his chief concern, not his private fears. His devotion to the cause of the Republic links him to the persons of Lucretia and Junus Brutus (his ancestor.) He places a strict emphasis on honor, but unlike Coriolanus who places an emphasis on honor without regard to the ancestral, Brutus sees honor very much in the light of the ancestral. Brutus, therefore, regards Rome under Caesar as not different than Rome under the Tarquins. It is at this point that Brutus chooses to take part in the assassination of Caesar.

Two important questions are to be considered in Brutus’ decision to join the conspiracy. First, what should a responsible Roman, committed to the common good, consider when deliberating joining a conspiracy against Caesar, which will end in his death? Secondly, the issue of Republic: how do you maintain Rome as a republic with Caesar’s death in particular when only a handful of people take part in the assassination?

As a result of taking part in the conspiracy Brutus objects to the attempt by the others to recruit Cicero to the cause; Shakespeare departs from Plutarch on this point. Brutus may fear that Cicero may take all the honor from the assassination, stealing Brutus’s role as savior of the Republic. In addition, Brutus is careful to make want Caesar’s death look as a sacrifice and not as a murder. Brutus is so high minded that he neglects seeing the assassination as others may see it: a crime.

In his speech following the death of Caesar, Brutus appeals to “Friends, Romans and lovers” in contrast to Antony’s “Friends, Romans and Countrymen.” For Antony the people are primarily fellow citizens and Romans but for Brutus they are less fellow citizens and more as lovers and friends. Brutus’ devotion to honor causes him to betray his Countrymen and his Friends causing him to have to exile from the city in the midst of a war. The speech is important to note as well because it is given in prose, typically Shakespeare used verse for the educated and noblemen and prose for the base.

Brutus’ suicide is a result of two factors: A. Brutus believes he can stand outside himself and view his actions and B. because he cannot be honest with himself as a result of the conflation of honor and justice. Ultimately, his suicide is a result of his persistence to see the assassination of Julius Caesar as an act of justice and because he still believes he is seen as Junus Brutus.

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


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