Roman Historiography: Politics & Morality


 

History has the purpose of telling people who they are, where they came from and teaching lessons. It is the purpose of the historian to tell a story, whether it is cultural, political, biographical, etc. The Roman people learned the art of history from the Greeks who first began recording history. Roman historians quickly became interested in one specific area of history: politics. It was important for them to record for posterity why it was their body politic was as successful as it was. Various historians took it upon themselves to tell the story of Roman res publica through a variety of different methods include general history and biography. Roman history is divided between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, but both still maintain similar features. Roman historiography focuses around politics and the role of morality is maintaining the body politic.

One of the earliest Roman historians, Polybius, concerned himself with the foundation of the Roman city. His historical study would lay the foundations for future historians of Rome by describing how it was the city of Rome came into existence and how it had been maintained. There are three periods in Roman history: Kingdom, Republic and Empire. Of the former we know next to nothing aside from what later historians wrote about it. The Republic and the Empire, however, were recorded during the time they existed and we therefore know more about them than we do about the Kingdom of Rome. Polybius helped to identify Rome as a political order in his Histories.  In this work, Polybius describes the foundation of a constitution and the various forms of government identical to the Greek philosophers. He then turns his attention to the Roman Constitution and identifies three reasons as to why Rome has succeeded: the Consuls, Senate and People. The strength of the Roman Constitution is described by Polybius:

For whenever any danger from without compels them to unite and work together, the strength which is developed by the State is so extraordinary, that everything required is unfailingly carried out by the eager rivalry shown by all classes to devote their whole minds to the need of the hour, and to secure that any determination come to should not fail for want of promptitude; while each individual works, privately and publicly alike, for the accomplishment of the business in hand.[1]

The Roman Constitution is the hallmark of Rome and therefore the focal point of Roman history. Only through extreme wealth and power could Rome’s Constitution become a victim of decay.[2] Polybius demonstrated that the Roman should heed their history.  The excesses of Roman life were, according to Polybius, what would bring about the destruction of Rome itself. The balance of power needed to be maintained in order for Rome to continue. Polybius placed an emphasis on examining the qualities of individuals and constitutions in order to understand their history. Polybius established a foundation of using history none historical purposes and was uninterested in telling Roman history unless it was to tell about the greatness of the city.

 Roman history maintained a similar usefulness for future historians in later centuries. However, it transitioned to lamenting the loss of the ethic that Romans once possessed. Where Polybius would describe the greatness of the Roman Constitution because it courted Fortune, as the Romans continued to distance themselves from the moral law Fortune seemed less on the side of Rome. Sallust wrote, as many historians, in the past tense when speaking about the city of Rome. To him Rome was already lost to a bygone era and there was only hope that the Roman people could once again reestablish old Rome. Like Polybius, Sallust saw the greatness of Rome in the people. It was the people who overthrew the kingship and established the republic. Through the republic, “Good morals…were cultivated in the city and in the camp. There was the greatest possible concord, and the least possible avarice. Justice and probity prevailed among the citizens, not more from the influence of the laws than from natural inclination.”[3] The loss of morality was what ultimately brought about the destruction of the republic. Sallust, like others of his time, lamented that the people were becoming complacent in their behavior and no longer honored the past generations. Only through history, which taught the lessons of the past, could Rome begin to regain the greatness it lost.

The source of Rome’s decay was the result of Roman superiority. The defeat of so many princes and most especially Carthage led the Roman’s to deviate from morality. “At first the love of money, and then that of power, began to prevail, and these became, as it were, the sources of every evil.”[4] Money ultimately created a new class of politician, one who only needed to bribe people into supporting their career. Men like Julius Caesar were able to establish their own armies, which gave way to them gaining immense power through intimidation. The people, for their part, fell away and allowed these new oligarchs to take control over the city.[5] During the end of the Roman Republic, Roman history took a distinct tone of lamentation. Roman history was praise for a Rome once existed but because of decay in the morality of the people that Rome was lost and replaced.

Roman history became closest to moral philosophy at the time of the Roman biographer Plutarch. Rather than appeal directly to Roman history, Plutarch took the aim of appealing to individuals in both Greek and Roman history. Through the lives of these great heroes, one could learn how best to live. The imitation of persons long since dead was not a totally new concept even centuries before Plutarch. The Roman people had a history of accepting aspects of the lives of those whom they conquered. Plutarch expanded on what had come before him and brought a new level of achievement to the field of biography. Plutarch’s Lives brought the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome to a new audience living under the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire was first created under Caesar Augustus, it was important for the new emperor to maintain the façade of the republic. The Caesars who followed were less interested in the façade and more interested in acquiring wealth for themselves. The purpose of history had changed from the study of the constitution to the study of human virtue.[6] Through human virtue one might become familiar with how best to live, which in turn might lead back to the old Rome.

Changes in Roman historiography can be attributed to the decline of the Roman Republic and the emergence of the Roman Empire. Romans began to contemplate the reasons for this change. Polybius understood that if Romans did not maintain their virtuous ways they would inevitably decline. By the time the Republic was on the way out, historians turned to imploring individuals to imitate the lives of their ancestors and to reacquire the morality that they had lost. Livy, speaking directly at this decline said:

I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.[7]

Roman historians began to look not at what might happen but why it happened in order to provide an answer for the men who took charge of the city.

Roman history began in an attempt to understand where Romans came from and to explain the Roman constitution. By the time the Republic fell, Rome’s historians were looking at why the constitution had failed. Rome’s historians had always been interested in the moral virtue of the citizens, believing that only through morality and virtue could Rome succeed.

 

 

Bibliography

Breisach, Ernst. Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. Amazon Kindle. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Livy. The Early History of Rome. Edited by Beatrice Radice. England: Penguin Classics, 1971.

Plutarch. Lives. https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/168444/Main/plutarch.html (accessed August 28, 2011).

Polybius. Histories. https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/168444/Main/polybius.html (accessed August 28, 2011).

Sallust. The Conspiracy of Catiline. https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/168444/Main/sallust.html (accessed August 28, 2011).

 

 


[1] Polybius,  Histories. 30

[2] “And as this state of things goes on more and more, the desire of office and the shame of losing reputation, as well as the ostentation and extravagance of living, will prove the beginning of a deterioration.” Ibid. 32

[3] Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline. 9

[4] Ibid. 10

[5] “These vices at first advanced but slowly, and were sometimes restrained by correction; but afterwards, when their infection had spread like a pestilence, the state was entirely changed, and the government, from being the most equitable and praiseworthy, became rapacious and insupportable.” Ibid.

[6]“We should not waste this good desire on trivial pursuits, but should study human virtue.  In the acts of great men, we find a proper and natural object for our attention.  The reader will inevitably grow in wisdom and eagerness to imitate their good example.” Plutarch, Lives: Pericles, the Olympian.

[7] Livy, The Early History of Rome, ed. Beatrice Radice(England: Penguin Classics, 1971) 34.

 

New Plymouth


Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (Vintage)

Only some parts of this book are reviewed.

Most school children in America are taught the story of the Pilgrim voyage to the New World and their subsequent Thanksgiving with the local Natives. The name Squanto resonates in the minds of Americans and those who pay a bit more attention to history know the name belongs to a Native American who helped save the New Plymouth colonists from starvation. None of this is found in Nick Bunker’s book Making Haste from  Babylon.Without actually telling his reader what happened when the Pilgrims reached Cap Cod, he instead describes what William Bradford must have meant in his book on the history of New Plymouth. This history, published in 2010, of the New Plymouth Colony is more concerned with the landscape and seas than with the actual events. The book is divided into six parts with three chapters in each.

The first part tells the tale of how the Pilgrims came to the Mayflower and then adds in stories of other ships and the landscape that the Pilgrims and there ship must have seen. Only brief mention is made of the reasons the Pilgrims are uninterested in staying in England, despite the fact each of them are English subjects. He conflates the Pilgrims with their future northern neighbors, the Puritans. In all, the reader finds the discussion more interested in describing the history of the Mayflower and it’s skipper prior to taking the Pilgrims to America. This part is largely insignificant with exception of it’s description of why the English government chose to allow the Pilgrims to migrate. But as we’ll see, the book only picks up in part two; part 1 could almost be renamed “Prologue 2.”

In the second part of the book, Bunker decides to leave us at the banks of Cap Cod and tell another tale some 40 years prior to the voyage in 1620. The story of the origins of Separatism is actually quite interesting and tells the story of John Browne, but also the other influential leaders and families of Separatism. Many readers will be interested in finding that Sir Francis Bacon’s brother was actually involved in the formation of the Pilgrim faith. Chapter 5 is very useful for students of Puritanism and Separatism. Bunk helps to shed light on the origins of both faiths and who were the most influential thinkers associated with the movements.

This historian, if we can call him that, gets side tracked too often and ends up burying the actual point of his chapter, part or even book. Making Haste from  Babylon is an excellent read for those who are interested in the deeper historical aspects of the Pilgrim voyage. However, for those who are only interested in learning about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, Cap Cod and New Plymouth this book is absolutely useless and a waste of money.

The book does have some very useful information in it and Bunker does a decent job at analyzing the history of New Plymouth. While at times the book drags on about the landscape of England or New Plymouth, it does provide the reader with an indepth analysis of the events leading up to the colony. However, as was said above if you are not familiar with the basic storyline this isn’t worth the purchase.

The Monroe Doctrine


As a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

                                  –President James Monroe‘s 7th Annual Address to Congress 12.2.1823

When the United Colonies, in General Congress Assembled, declared their independence from Great Britain there were three European powers occupying North America: Spain, Russia and England. By the time the 1790’s rolled around, France was reoccupying the Louisiana Territory; a tract of land France had ceded to Spain following the end of the French & Indian War. For her own part, the new United States of America had little means of removing these powerful Europeans from American soil. It had been with the assistance of the French, and a lesser degree the Spanish, that the US had even won her independence. However, the problem of French occupation quickly found a peaceful resolution when Thomas Jefferson authorized the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Within a decade of that purchase, the United States found herself in a second war with the English; the War of 1812. While this war is still considered by many to be a status quo war, it demonstrated the emergence of American military capabilities.

It was with this that 11 years after the Americans stood toe to toe with the English that President James Monroe promulgated his Monroe Doctrine. This doctrine warned the powers of Europe to never again attempt to colonize the Americas. Yet, our Monroe Doctrine did not take into consideration that in 1823 the United States did not have the military capabilities to enforce this doctrine. Therefore, the Monroe Doctrine relied heavily upon our good relations with the English. American military power was not at the point of enforcing such a doctrine until after the Spanish-American War, which was explicitly fought to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine added the next evolution in American military involvement in the world. In addition to preventing European powers from occupying the Americas, the Roosevelt Corollary promised American intervention in Latin Countries unable to pay international debts. It also declared the right of the United States to intervene and stabilize any Latin American Country. This doctrine helped create a partnership between the United States and her Latin American counterparts to the South. It was not, however, the last evolution of the Monroe Doctrine. Rather, the Monroe Doctrine would undergo another change in the late 1940’s.

With World War II officially over, the post-World War world began to take shape. In a matter of years it was apparent that the United States and Soviet Union were settling in for a long, cold War. President Harry S. Truman, hoping to halt the spread of Communism, issued his own corollary to the Monroe Doctrine: The Truman Doctrine. This doctrine stated that the United States would send troops to anywhere in the world in order to prevent the spread of communism. It was under this doctrine that the United States became involved in the Korean War and Vietnam War. As an extension to the Truman Doctrine was the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was the economic side of the Truman Doctrine. The plan called for the United States to economically prop up Western Europe to help confront the Soviet Union.

Finally, the last of the evolutions of the Monroe Doctrine came in the wake of 9/11. The Bush Doctrine called upon the United States to meet the spread Terrorism anywhere in the world it may find safe harbor. This doctrine has resulted in the United States intervening in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Monroe Doctrine was devised to simply assert that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in the Americas. Since it was first put forth by James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine has been transformed to assert American right to intervene in the governments of Latin America, under the threat of Communism, or supporters of Terrorism.

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

Review: 1776 by David McCullough


In American history very few years stand out as well as that of 1776. Within the span of a year, American colonists went from loyal subjects of His Majesty King George III to Americans fighting against a foreign invader for their freedom. The events that unfolded in that year are remarkable in many ways. In his book David McCullough captures the events of the year 1776 with remarkable clarity that makes his book, 1776, a significant contribution to the study of 18th century America and the American Revolution.

1776 is divided into three sections with two to three chapters per section. In each chapter McCullough recounts the events of the year in a very accessible way. The first section simply called “The Siege” describes the events on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the Siege of Boston. The middle section discusses the summer of ’76, and McCullough focuses his attention on New York.  The final section concerns the last part of the year, and General Washington and the Continental Army’s retreat from New England. McCullough provides in each section a well balanced description of the military events from both American and British points of view.

The opening chapter of 1776 actually takes place in the fall of 1775 in London. At the opening session of parliament in October of 1775, the King of England George III travels to London to speak to a joint session of Parliament. On topic, as McCullough relays, was the rising crisis in the American colonies. The King declares the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion, and asks for both the House of Lords and House of Commons to support his position. In a general history of the American Revolution, specifically written by an American historian, readers may never encounter the happenings of Parliament in the autumn of 1775. The point to which American resistance had driven members of the British government are presented in this opening chapter. For many in Parliament, the American colonies were in rebellion and deserved to face the full brunt of His Majesty’s Army and Naval forces. The House of Lords, as McCullough says, was in session until midnight debating and eventually voting in favor of the King’s proclamation. However, in the House of Commons, where sympathies for the Americans was far more prevalent the debate went until 4 A.M. before the commoners voted to support the King. Among America’s most staunch supporters were Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox who both made speeches in support of America; although even they agreed that Parliament had not only the authority, but the constitutional right to legislate for the American colonies.

In America McCullough writes about the stalemate caused by the siege of Boston, the piece meal American Army and the stand out military figures early in the Revolution that were among the only bright spots militarily for the American army. Among the stand outs of the American Army include Nathanael Greene. Greene was a Rhode Islander who was self educated in the classics, “Nathanael read Caesar and Horace in English translation, Swift, Pope and Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.”[1]As the son of a rich business owner, Greene was able to build himself a house and upon his father’s death take over the family business. As a result of the latter, when, “he turned his mind to ‘the military art’” and “having ample means to buy whatever books he needed”, Green became one of the most learned military leaders of the American Revolution. While having no actual military experience at all, Greene was quickly elevated to the level of Brigadier General; he was the youngest general officer in the American army; he was thirty-three years of age. He entered the fray in Boston to find things in disarray. “Washington arriving in the first week of July, was told he had 20,000 men, but no one knew for certain.” As it turned out, Washington only had about 16,000 and of that only 14,000 were fit for duty. McCullough is fair to both sides of the siege, stating that the British had the better position than Washington’s Army.

David McCullough presents the British side of the Siege of Boston next, focusing his attention around the battle for Dorchester Heights. McCullough presents the British consideration for attacking Dorchester Heights from the start of the chapter. The British hoped to end the problems in Boston by taking Dorchester Heights on June 15th. However, this plan was changed as a result of the American movement to Bunker Hill. It took until June 17th to remove the Americans from Bunker Hill in a battle McCullough describes as a, “bloodbath.”[2] With the winter quickly approaching, and the American siege still in full force, the British were at a dilemma. As McCullough presents, the British could either pack up and resettle in New York, or dig in for the long Boston winter. In either case, the winter of 1775 was fast approaching. Like he did in the first chapter with Nathanael Greene, McCullough outlines the most important British officer as he sees it, William Howe. Unlike Greene, Howe had been a professional soldier since he was a teenager and was very well accustomed to military life by the time the American Revolution began in 1775. The winter of 1775 turned into the New Year of 1776 and the British were more in danger of the Americans than they had been in 1775. George Washington convened a war council that also included Massachusetts Assembly man James Warren, and Continental Congressman John Adams. It was agreed that Boston had to be taken and all in attendance agreed with Washington a vigorous attempted would need to be made for the city. But what had Washington most worried was rumors the British were looking to leave Boston and head for New York. He received assurances from Adams that New York should be Washington’s primary aim should the British attempt to take it. All of the American plans were nothing more than plans until General Henry Knox arrived in Cambridge to inform Washington that cannons from Fort Ticonderoga were on their way. By the beginning of March the bombardment of Boston began. The Americans succeeded in driving off the British from Boston, something that a year before seemed impossible for the ragtag Army to do.

David McCullough does a remarkable job throughout the next section discussing the situation in New York. New York was the central issue for both the American and British troops between April and August 1776. Unlike Boston, New York demonstrated how inept at times Washington could be when it came to military matters. Unlike his seasoned opponents, Washington proved every bit the military man who had been captured in one of his only commands during the French and Indian War. McCullough spends a significant portion of the book detailing the movements of the American and British forces and ultimately the Battle of Long Island, where the American Army was beaten horribly. McCullough does a remarkable job at telling the story of the battle for New York crossing back and forth to tell the reader of how both sides went about to execute their plans for taking New York City.

The British defeat of the Americans at Long Island lead to Washington’s decision to retreat from their position. However, the British realized that they had the American Army on the ropes, and to allow them to escape might come back to hurt them later. As a result, the Americans were chased by the British lead by Admiral Howe. The British continued to engage the American forces, driving them further south toward New Jersey. By November of 1776, Washington had made the fateful decision to retreat into New Jersey with what was left of his tattered Army. In their pursuit of the Americans, the British employed the use of Hessian Mercenaries.

The final chapter, fittingly called “The Darkest Hour”, examines the final two months of 1776 as the American Revolution looked to be almost lost. The American Army was in New Jersey, but severely undermanned and lacking provisions. McCullough captures the struggle of the Americans in retreat in New Jersey. With the American situation progressively getting worse, the British decided to go for a different look. General Clinton was ordered to New Port with 6,000 troops and the American capital in Philadelphia began to feel the pressure of the British enclosing around them. In New Jersey Washington was losing troops; loyalists were more prevalent in New Jersey than anywhere else as well. In all, the winter of 1776 was bleak compared to the previous year with the exception of one event. On Christmas Eve of 1776, Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River and attacked an encampment of Hessian soldiers.

In all, David McCullough’s book 1776 does what is rarely done; he looks entirely at the military aspects of the year rather than the political circumstances that enter the history books so often. McCullough, who by his own admission is more of a story teller than a historian, does a remarkable job of making military history accessible and enjoyable to the average reader.

Interested in buying a copy of this book? Visit: Amazon.com/1776


[1] David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 22

[2] Ibid. 70

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.

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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2867838 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.”

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.

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)  
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