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.

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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

Generals Make Lackluster Presidents


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

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

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

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

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

Emergence of the American Military Power


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sultans of the Legislature


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Lewis 161.

[3] Lewis, 162.

[4] Lewis, 180

The Nature of Government and of the United States as Affecting the Right to Secession


The question of Secession was raised immediately after the first Southern states began to leave the Union. President Abraham Lincoln ordered Federal troops to invade the South in hopes of unifying the nation. Following the war, Orestes Brownson wrote on the issue of whether or not Secession was in fact legal or constitutional. Secession is not constitutional, as Orestes Brownson argues in the American Republic, on the grounds that government itself is indissoluble.

Orestes Brownson divides his argument against Secession into four major themes: the origins of government, the constitution of government, the United States, and the United States Constitution. These four main arguments supply the basis upon which Brownson argues that secession is unconstitutional. In order to understand why secession is unconstitutional, it is necessary to examine Brownson’s four main arguments first.

The circumstances surrounding the secession of the southern states in 1860 stem from a long argument concerning which was superior, the state or federal government. The necessity of government and man’s place in society is self evident according to Brownson who argues, “Hence as man is nowhere found out of society, so nowhere is society found without government.”[1] As such, the question over whether or not man belongs in society and whether or not society requires government is put to rest by Brownson. From the ancient Greek philosophers Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle to the Enlightenment philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau the question of the origins of society and government have been argued.

Yet these philosophers do agree on at least a handful of axioms of government and man’s loyalty to government. Brownson sums up the responsibilities of government by stating:

“[Government] defines and protects the right of property, creates and maintains a medium in which religion can exert her supernatural energy, promotes learning, fosters science and art, advances civilization, and contributes as a powerful means to the fulfillment by man of the Divine purpose in his existence.”[2]

These axioms are agreed upon by most political philosophers throughout time, although the specific aim of government may be different. But as long as these are maintained and protected, the individual person in society is obligated to remain loyal to the society and government. As Thomas Hobbes might agree, a duly instituted regime has the authority to do as it pleases. However, if it fails to protect the people it is no longer legitimate. Tyranny is never legitimate. We are required to remain loyal as long as our liberty is secure.[3]

Yet, while the majority of political philosophy agrees that there are certain responsibilities of both society and the citizen, the origins of government differs drastically from one philosopher to the next. The six origins of government according to Brownson include:

Government originates in the right of the father to govern his child.

It originates in convention, and is a social compact.

It originates in the people, who, collectively taken, are sovereign.

Government springs from the spontaneous development of nature.

It derives its right from the immediate and express appointment of God.

From God through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society

From God through the people

From God through the natural law[4]

The first of these origins is taken directly from two sources, the first is Aristotle and the second is Sir Robert Filmer. Aristotle’s argument, stemming from book one of the Politics, demonstrates that the origins of society and government come from the family. Aristotle argues that because people wish to mimic the gods, they favor monarchy as their choice of government with the family ruled by the father, the village ruled by the eldest male, and the city ruled by the king. While Aristotle admits that other forms of government do exist, and may in fact be more desirable than monarchy, people will still naturally yearn for monarchy. This argument is also connected to Divine Right of Kings set forth most completely by Sir Robert Filmer.  Sir Robert Filmer, in his Patriarcha, makes an argument in favor of Divine Right monarchy stemming first from Adam’s sovereignty over his children. Brownson, however, disagrees both with Aristotle and Filmer by rejecting monarchy in favor for republican government. . “The distinctive mark of republicanism is the substitution of the state for the personal chief, and public authority for personal or private right.”[5] Governments based on the principle of fatherhood are despotic. Republicanism is the true government because the rulers rule for and on behalf of the state. Rulers who are proprietors of the land are not rulers. Aristotle is most famous for putting forth the argument that government stems from the family, is critiqued with the moderns who reject paternal rule. One must rule for the sake of the commonwealth.

Following the classical understanding, Brownson critiques the modern understanding of government as being a social compact. “The state, as defined by the elder Adams, is held to be a voluntary association of individuals. Individuals create civil society, and may uncreate it whenever they judge it advisable.” Brownson rejects the concept that society can be established and abolished at will and calls America out, “Prior to the Southern Rebellion, nearly every American asserted with Lafayette, ‘the sacred right of insurrection’ or revolution…”[6] However, sovereignty cannot be relinquished, neither by a state/nation nor by a person. The Enlightenment holds that people are sovereign in a state of nature and that they give up part of that sovereignty when they enter society. “But individuals cannot give up what they have not, and no individual has in himself the right to govern another.” Modern political philosophers suppose a state of nature, which supposes a social contract. Brownson rejects the social contract because man cannot willingly forfeit his rights and because man is bound into society. Furthermore, men in nature fail to be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to create a civil society.

While there are still four other origins of government according to political philosophy, the first two are the most important for the United States. The United States was born out of the modern understanding of government, the only enlightened government. The United States, as a result, was an independent nation and a republic before it declared independence from England. Brownson’s arguments against the ancient and modern assertion of the origins of government indicate that the United States as a society had to exist prior to the revolution. However, the question is not whether there is a United States but whether it formed as a collection of sovereign, independent nations or whether it formed as a single whole. The same principle applies to the society as it does to the individual: a sovereign society cannot give up its sovereignty. If this is the case, then the several states never gave up their sovereignty and the United States as a single entity never existed. Brownson argues against the individual sovereignty of the states by stating, “The colonies were all erected and endowed with their rights and powers by one and the same national authority, and the colonist were subjects of one and the same national sovereign.”[7]However, if the United States exists as a single entity it would be impossible for the states to be independently sovereign.[8] Thus, if the United States is a society, then the states would be inferior to the federal government. In this instance, the states would not be capable of secession from the Union because they are not sovereign nations in themselves.

The American Constitution, therefore, is the only element left in determining whether or not the southern states had a right to secession in 1861.   As discussed in his chapter on the origins of constitutions, a constitution is not something created, as man is a creature not a creator. Under the auspices of this same argument, the U.S. Constitution is understood by Brownson as, “Two-fold, written and unwritten, the constitution of the people and the constitution of the government.”[9] This unwritten constitution is what Brownson refers to as the Providential constitution. To Brownson, this Providential constitution is not something created but rather comes into existence along side the nation.[10] The American Providential constitution is unique to the United States and never seen elsewhere in the world. Our Constitution is made up of both sovereign and dependent states, and is neither a confederacy nor centralized state.[11] We are still yet one people divided into states but still united. “The Union and the States were born together, are inseparable in their constitution…”[12] The United States Constitution declares the American people as, “We the people of the United States…” And as such, the American people are united together rather than a loose confederacy of sovereign nations with mutual interests.[13]

The origins of the American system and the nature of the American Constitution are seen most clearly through Brownson’s understanding of territorial democracy. The thirteen original colonies that formed together as the United States of America did not exist under their own authority. They were created by the authority of the King of England and joined together as United Colonies under the authority of the Continental Congress. The various states that have come into the Union since the creation of the United States Constitution can only do so under the authority of the United States Congress.[14] The individuals living within a given territory are granted democracy within their given territory, but that territory does not have sovereign authority. Rather, it is subject totally to the United States Congress. The people living in the territory, “are subjects of the United States, without any political rights whatever, and, though a part of the population, are no part of the sovereign people of the United States.”[15] Or more simply put, are not citizens. The people of the territory are given the authority by the United States to, “meet in convention, draw up and adopt a constitution declaring or assuming them to be a State, elect State officers, senators, and representatives in the State legislature, and representatives and senators in Congress, but they are not yet a state.”[16]

Thus, when a territory becomes a State and the people of that territory go from being subjects to citizens of the United States that State only exists by the will and authority of the United States Congress. None of the States exist by themselves with sovereign authority. Brownson demonstrates this time and again as showing that society and government are not created and that the United States is the sovereign and not the individual states. As a result, Secession of the various states in 1861 could not be legally permitted as they had no authority independent of the United States to secede from the Union. From the time the first colonies were settled to when the territories became states, the individual states depended upon an outside authority for their creation. As such, outside the Union they are not states.

[1] Brownson, Orestes. The American Republic. ( Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2003) pg. 12

[2] Ibid. 13

[3] “But it is never lawful to resist the rightful sovereign, for it can never be right to resist right, and the rightful sovereign is the constitutional exercise of his power can never be said to abuse it.” Ibid. 17

[4] Ibid 19-20

[5] Ibid. 23

[6] Ibid. 34

[7] Ibid. 136

[8] “If the several States of the Union were severally sovereign states when they met in the convention…” Ibid. 127

[9] Ibid. 141

[10] Ibid. 141, “It is Providential, not made by the nation, but born with it.”

[11] Ibid 141, “The unwritten or Providential constitution of the United States is peculiar…”

[12] Ibid 144

[13] Ibid. 145 “united, not confederate States.”

[14] Ibid. 145 “Even then it was felt that the organization and constitution of a State in the Union could be regularly effected only by the permission of the Congress; and no Territory can, it is well know, regularly organize itself as a State…”

[15] Ibid. 146

[16] Ibid. 146


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Federalist 37, 195

[3] Federalist 47, 270

[4] Federalist 47, 271

[5] Federalist 48, 277

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

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

[8] Federalist 49, 284

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

[10] Federalist 50, 285

[11] Federalist 50, 286

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

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

[14] Federalist 51, 289

[15] Federalist 51, 289

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

[17] Federalist 51, 290

[18] Federalist 51, 290

[19] Federalist 51, 291

[20] Federalist 52, 295

[21] Federalist 52, 298

[22] Federalist 62, 345

[23] Federalist 62, 346

[24] Federalist 62, 347

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

[26] Federalist 68, 380

[27] Federalist 68, 382

[28] Federalist 70, 391

[29] Federalist 70, 392

[30] Federalist 70, 392

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

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

[33] Federalist 78, 433

[34] Federalist 78, 433

[35] Federalist 78, 433

[36] Federalist 78, 433

[37] Federalist 79, 441

Comments on John Adams letter to Samuel Adams from 18 Oct. 1790


As the American Constitution of 1787 went into effect focus shifted from how to create a new political order to how to preserve it. John Adams, the Second President of the United States, in the autumn of 1790 wrote to his cousin Samuel with his thoughts on how to preserve the American political system. Adams presents three main principles to preserve the American system of government.

The first problem presented by Adams for the new republic was the competing notions of the commerce of luxury and the commerce of economics, called by Adams, “hay, wood and stubble” in reference to Montesquieu. How is it that this government will be able to escape the problem of Europe? Adams suggests that the “prevalence of knowledge and benevolence” are the necessary elements in this endeavor. It is curious that Adams suggests benevolence as a cure for the problem of the commerce of luxury, as benevolence calls to mind piety. For the ancients, piety was one of the main elements needed to moderate the soul. Curiously, Adams is suggesting that piety is necessary in this new republic in order to temper the collective soul of America. Secondly, Adams is calling for a knowledgeable people in America. In fact in his essay Thoughts on Government, Adams calls for liberal education specifically of the lower classes. Once again in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Adams states, “Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.”[1] Adams places an emphasis on education as a means of preserving liberty. Knowledge and piety, through the manner of benevolence, are necessary for the preservation of the commerce of economics: or prevention against tyranny.

Adams adds a third element for the preservation of this new regime, namely virtue. Adams contrasts knowledge, virtue and benevolence with ignorance, error and vice. He states, “If there were no ignorance, error, or vice, there would be neither principles nor systems of civil or political government.” Of course this hearkens to the Federalist Papers statement, “If men were angels there would be no need for government.” Knowledge, virtue and benevolence must be implemented by the government in order to over come human nature. The best regime to instill these qualities in people and to preserve liberty is discussed next by John Adams.

Republicanism stands as the best method to preserve liberty within the body politic for John Adams. Adams defines republic as, “a government in which the people have collectively, or by representation, an essential share in the sovereignty.” However, Adams does not wish for our country to have a republican form of Poland, Venice, Holland or Bern as he calls them no different, “than the monarchical form in France before the late revolution.” In order to understand what Adams means by this, it is prudent to explain these examples. Poland between 1569 and1795 was a Commonwealth comprised of a single house parliament composed of nobility. Any member of the parliament could abolish it or veto any law it passed. As a fundamental principle, Adams professed that there should be a bi-cameral system of the legislator. Poland violated this principle, making it no better than an absolute monarchy like in France. The Venetian Republic was comprised of an executive and legislative branch of government, with the nobility comprising the legislative assembly. The Venetian Republic was very close to the model of the Roman Republic, which was based on the Commerce of Luxury. Once again, the Venetian Republic violated to the principle of a two house legislator. Holland was a confederate regime with a weak central government and independent states. Once again, the nobility was in charge of government affairs in the Dutch Republic. The system of Bern, which is the capital of Switzerland today, was originally a Dutch style Confederation of independent states. For Adams these regimes lacked the fundamental principles by which a Republic can stand. How Adams envisions the composition of a Republic is left off for later in the letter. Rather, he states, “For, after a fair of trial of its miseries, the simple monarchial for will ever be, as it is has ever been, preferred to it by mankind.” Simply put, republican government is apt to suffer miseries and will eventually dissolve into a simple monarchy. Adams rightly points out that monarchy has always been the preferred method of government by mankind.

In an attempt to explain why it is that monarchy has been preferred over republic, Adams describes the English situation. Adams declares, “They [the English] have succeeded to such a degree, that, with a vast majority of that nation, a republican is as unamiable as a witch, a blasphemer, a rebel, or a tyrant.” Witch and blasphemer are affronts against God, while rebel and tyrant are analogous for affronts against liberty. The most blatant charges against republic is that it produces impious citizens, and that it destroys liberty. For the ancients the regime imitated the divine, and the divine were governed by monarchy: for Christianity the king was divinely ordained by God to rule and so it appears monarchy is the divinely appointed regime. In republics, because it is not the divine regime, the people will tend away from religion and so a good republic will instill a sense of piety within the people.

Secondly, the people are the worst protectors of their own liberty: Thus a regime based on the power of the people would appear as the most unable to protect liberty. How republic can maintain liberty is discussed later by Adams through the implementation of two exterior checks. For now Adams argues that government must cultivate knowledge and benevolence as a method of maintaining liberty and piety within the people. Virtue is a product of knowledge and benevolence and so the republic which instills knowledge and benevolence will produce virtuous citizens. But this is not enough, Adams argues if we wish for the American people not to, “renounce, detest and execrate” the word republic as the English, then there must be “explanations, restrictions and limitations” placed on republic. Adams has provided the explanation of republic and how to combat the problem of the people: Adams is aware that benevolence, virtue and knowledge will not be enough to maintain republican form. Human nature is too powerful to be overcome by these qualities alone, and so needs physical barriers to prevent human nature from destroying liberty.

The first obstacle to self government is human nature, which Adams describes as, “the ocean, its tides and storms.” Adams defines these tides and storms as, “Human appetites, passions, prejudices, and self love.” In order to conquer them, human means are the least helpful. And so religion and education are unable to temper human nature. Religion as Adams states is dependent upon the idea of the Messiah returning and ruling over the world. As this event is still in the future, it cannot be used as the only means against human nature. Universal education, a principle of government for John Adams, is not accepted by the governments of Europe and so knowledge via education cannot depended upon. The people cannot depend on themselves for the preservation of “safety, liberty and security.” Instead the two methods will stand together as “dikes” against “the ocean, its tides and storms” with other natural barriers. These natural barriers were established as a means of preserving liberty.

The first of these barriers Adams wishes to place on society is the development of nobility out of the natural aristocracy. He asserts that “prejudice, passion and private interest” are the roots of the destruction of liberty. These three elements counter public principles, motives and arguments. The nobility when placed without a check has contrived to destroy stability and liberty through summa imperii. However, Adams counters, “So have the plebeians; so have the people; so have kings; so has human nature…” But the nobility, Adams asserts, has also been the greatest protector of liberty. The people and king have only attempted to destroy liberty when given the chance, and so there must be a check on them in the form of the nobility. Adams makes it clear to his cousin that he does not imply to mean hereditary conventional nobility, rather a “natural and actual aristocracy among mankind”: We cannot deny the existence of natural aristocracy. The people, “only serve to foment prejudice, jealousy, envy, animosity, and malevolence. They serve no ends but those of sophistry, fraud and the spirit of party. It would be true, but it would not be more egregiously false, to say that the people have waged everlasting war against the rights of men.” But the nobility, they have been the ones to protect liberty in Europe; it was the noble class who gave England it’s celebrated Magna Carta, not the people nor the king.

Love of liberty according to Samuel Adams “‘is interwoven in the soul of man’”. John takes the opportunity to elaborate on his cousin’s observation. In Jean la Fontaine’s The Wolf and the Lamb, Adams finds that the wolf is a lover of liberty much like man. Together he finds that man and the wolf must be solitary creatures in order to enjoy this love of liberty. Only when man becomes “rational, generous, or social” through enlightenment of “experience, reflection, education, civil, and political institutions” that he can live outside of solitude. The wolf in the story chooses to live alone, lean and hungry because he sees that dogs who live sleek and plump must live under restraint. Like the dog, some men in the past have chosen, “ease, slumber and good cheer to liberty.” The people, as a result, cannot be depended upon alone to preserve liberty: neither can a simple love of liberty within the people be depended upon: The people will quickly forsake their liberty for simple monarchy. So we must introduce political institutions that will fight against tyranny. Yet, in those institutions those without money will always attempt to destroy those with money. In reference back to Aristotle’s Politics, where the democrat fights the oligarch, the poor will desire to destroy the wealthy. But the wealthy will only put up with this for so long when, as in they did in Rome, will tire of the poor. The people and nobility must be checked against each other so as not to allow either to become complacent. For Adams this would be found in a bicameral legislature with one house being for the nobility and the second house for the people. By making the people members of the government, you allow them to be responsible for the preservation of their own liberty. But the people will contrive to destroy that liberty and so the nobility must stand as a vanguard against the destruction of liberty and so they must be placed against the people in the legislature. The people and nobility must stand against each other to prevent either from destroying liberty. The only preservation of liberty is found in a bicameral legislature.

For all the good nobility can and has done for the preservation of liberty, Adams is not blind to how much nobility has contrived to destroy liberty as well. The people according to Adams “pretended to nothing but to be villains, vassals, and retainers to the king or the nobles.” The nobles themselves were not truly free either according to Adams, “because all was determined by a majority of their votes, or by arms, not by law.” This leads to the second problem in the preservation of liberty, family popularity. He asserts that the overthrow of monarchs by the nobility was for little more than to support ambition and family pride. Pride itself is identified as the concomitant of “riches, of knowledge, of genius, of talents, of beauty, of strength, of virtue, and even of piety.” Pride must be brought under check, but Adams rightly points out that family pride would have been nothing if family popularity had not been established. People attach themselves to popular families and as such causes the person to feel a great sense of pride, e.g. the people who attached themselves to the Kennedy family in the 20th century. But this problem according to Adams will always exist, “As long as gratitude or interest, ambition or avarice, love, hope or fear, shall be human motives of action, so long will numbers attach themselves to particular families.” This similar situation existed in ancient Rome, when plebeians would often attach themselves to patrician families in order to serve their ambition to power.

Popularity must be guarded against so as not to allow a single man or family too much power within society to risk the destruction of liberty. The power behind popularity of this kind according to Adams “will be employed to mortify enemies, gratify friends, procure votes, emoluments and power.” Therefore, to check the power of popularity Adams suggests placing “two watches upon them” namely a king and the people. Yet the problem with family popularity is its ability to create factions. Party and mobbish spirits can be traced to popular families. Adams quotes Tarquin, “In nove populo, ubi omnis repentina atque ex virtute nobilitas fit, futurum locum forti ac strenuo viro.” This stands in contrast to the traditional well born of societies where in America the nobility stems from a sudden out growth from the individual virtue. But still Adams fears that popularity of one family will cause other families to become envious. Those who would acquire their position by real merit will be overshadowed by the families: And so how can the family popularity be overcome? The nobles are necessary in society for the preservation of liberty, but the people will become pawns in the ever ambitious attitudes of the nobles.

Adams proposes that there be an arbitrator between the nobles and the people: What this arbitrator might be is not entirely clear. One could suggest that it might be law itself, as Adams points out previously that the nobles are not truly free without law. However, law only protects noble from noble so as not to cause majority tyranny. The King has already been suggested as being placed on the other side of the nobles opposite the people. But we already know from the need of a bicameral legislature that the King cannot properly be this arbitrator. As Adams has already expressed the need for independent legislature and executive, the only branch left is the judicial. To preserve liberty we must have nobility, but that nobility in order to not destroy itself must be restrained by law. The people must be restrained by the nobility, as ought the king. But how are the people to be protected from the nobility except to make them subject to the same law. And by making the people subject to the same law allow for an independent arbitrator to be established to maintain justice and prevent the creation of a conventional aristocracy.

John Adams presents for his cousin Sam and for us readers the need for a defect in society. This defect will serve to cause people to continuously pay attention to the matters of government. The rule of law, bicameral legislature, an executive and independent judiciary are all methods to preserve liberty and together they must promote knowledge, virtue and benevolence within the people. The rule of law will restrict and set free the nobility. A bicameral legislature and executive will place the people, nobility and king against either other and allow none to seize too much power and destroy liberty: The people cannot be trusted to maintain their own liberty and so there must be a nobility. Together the nobility and people will check each other in the bicameral legislature. Because the nobility cannot be trusted, there must be something superior to them and the people to check it’s authority. The executive, or king, is placed above the nobility in the upper house of the legislature and the people are placed in the lower house. Finally the arbitrator between the people and the nobility will be the judicial, who will have the authority to maintain the rule of law. The nobility will naturally attempt to seize power for itself through popularity of families, so in order to prevent this there must be a guardian of the law which was established to free the nobility.


[1] Massachusetts Constitution Part The Second, Chapter V, Section II

Plato and Aristotle’s Regimes: Republic and Politics.


There might be some confusion concerning the nature of politics and the type of regimes. Today we tend to think of a number of regimes, although many of them are simply the same regime with a different title. We call the government in England a Constitutional Monarchy, yet it simply is a Monarchy. China we say is a Communist regime, yet really all the political form of Communism is Oligarchy. All the regimes currently in use today can be boiled down to a list of just a handful. These regimes were originally defined and stated by Plato and Aristotle, two classical Greek philosophers who concerned themselves heavily with the nature of the polis. To get an idea of what the regimes are, this essay will attempt to outline the various forms of government as laid down by both men. In order to deal with the two authors it will be prudent to describe Plato’s regimes first followed by Aristotle.

In Book VIII of the Republic, Plato speaks of the degenerate regimes after having spent considerable time describing an Aristocracy. Aristocracy in the classical sense is not rule by the few, or rule by the wealthy. Aristocracy for Plato meant rule by the virtuous. The ideal city would be ruled by a Philosopher king, but because no philosopher will want to rule in the city there must be a handful of virtuous individuals willing to rule.

The first degenerate regime that flows directly from Aristocracy is Timocracy. This form of government is rarely spoken of and is largely forgotten compared to the remaining regimes. Timocracy is the rule by the honorable, or more simply a Warlord. Timocracy comes about when instead of concerning oneself with virtue itself, one concerns themselves with the seeking of honor. The primary means of attaining honor is on the battlefield, and thus the idea of a military leader leading the city falls into a Timocratic regime.

From the Timocrat comes the Oligarch, the son of the man who is more concerned about his honor than about wealth. When honor is lost and you have nothing else, then you are empty. The Oligarch as a result is a stingy person who spends little but acquires much. Oligarchy is defined by a few very wealthy individuals ruling the city over the less fortunate and often impoverished inhabitants. Oligarchy is the most popular form of government and the wealthy are often times viewed as the best individuals and therefore most worthy of ruling. Today Oligarchy is often confused with Aristocracy due to their elitist tendencies. With the fall of Oligarchy, so goes the way of the virtuous regimes. Oligarchy, Timocracy and Aristocracy represent the various parts of the soul for Plato, and also different virtues or, in the case of Aristocracy, virtue itself. The three parts of the soul that correspond with the three regimes are: Rational part with Aristocracy, the Spirited part with Timocracy and the Appetitive part with Oligarchy.

The first regime lacking virtue is democracy, or rule by the people. The democrat comes about because of the lack of equality in the Oligarchy. In the Oligarchy limits are placed on how much one can spend, preventing the democrat from being allowed to do as he sees fit. This coupled with the lack of equality brings about the Democracy. Democracy is ruled on two principles: Freedom and Equality. Because of its nature Democracy lacks virtue but it is not totally depraved. Democracy is the best possible regime while Aristocracy is the regime most wished for.

Finally Plato ends his account of the regimes with Tyranny, the most dreaded and depraved form of government developed by mankind. Tyranny is the exact opposite of Aristocracy. The tyrant comes to rule because he desires all. Tyranny is characterized by the lack of concern for one’s subjects and a desire to obtain all one wishes for. The tyrant cares nothing for his people or his city, only for his own selfish gains. Where the Aristocrat rules for the sake of the city, the tyrant rules for the sake of self. With the end of the analysis of the tyrant and tyranny comes the end of Plato’s discussion of the regimes within the Republic.

Aristotle does not entirely agree with Plato’s assessment of regimes in the Republic. His Politics is largely a rebuttal of the arguments made in the Republic. Aristotle defines three chief regimes: Kingship, Aristocracy and Polity. These regimes all have a degenerate regime corresponding with it: Tyranny, Oligarchy and Democracy. One will immediately identify that Aristotle lacks the Timocratic regime and instead replaces it with Polity, a mixture of Oligarchy and Democracy.

Kingship is a fairly self explanatory regime, for Aristotle it is the most desired regime but due to its ability to quickly turn into tyranny it is not the best possible regime. Kingship is simple, it is the rule by one person who is king. In the Kingship there is only one citizen and that is the King himself. This can be compared in some manner to Plato’s discussion of the Philosopher King, although the king in such a regime need not necessarily be a Philosopher but not a Tyrant either.[1]

Aristocracy is essentially the same regime for both Plato and Aristotle, the rule by the virtuous.

Polity as said above is a mix between Oligarchy and Democracy. Depending on the rulers it can either be more heavily Oligarchic or more heavily Democratic. The difference between the two being that an Oligarchic Polity would be ruled by a few selected wealthy individuals, while the Democratic Polity would be ruled by the people in general. This regime is what Aristotle calls the best possible regime because it involves the rule by the middling class. The middling class often makes up the most of all inhabitants in a city and thus the regime which allows for them to be citizens allows for the most participation in the operation of the city. Many often compare this to a Republic, but that is a false comparison as will be shown briefly.[2]

Oligarchy and Democracy are the same as in Plato and therefore require no additional attention. It should be noted, however, that Aristotle defines four types of democratic regimes unlike Plato. The first, considered the best and the oldest by Aristotle is democracy ruled by the farming sort. The second, similar to the first, is based around those who are herdsmen. The herding Democracy is exemplified by it’s military capabilities, as Aristotle states, “they are particularly well exercised with respect to their dispositions as well as useful with respect to their bodies and capable of living in the open.”  The third sort is made up of the middling class, or the merchants and exists in the city.[3]  This democracy is prone to more individuals being involved in the regime because of the proximity of living in the city. The fourth democracy laid out by Aristotle is where all are included in citizenship. Citizenship for Aristotle means those who are able to participate in the ruling of the polis. Therefore, this last sort admits people into the rank of citizenship who are unsuited for ruling the polis, including slaves. In this instance, slaves would apply to anyone who is unable to rule themselves and not the slaves who have been conquered in war.

Book Four of Aristotle’s Politics offers us another list of democracies, this time five. The first democracy in book four is based on the equality between the poor and rich, where neither class is preeminent in society. The second is where, “the offices are filled on the basis of assessments…”[4] The next two regimes are where those of unquestioned descent, and those who are citizens fill the offices but the law rules. The fourth is where the multitude, not the law, rules. The fifth democracy is similar in make up to the previous democracies except that the multitude, not the law, rule.

The best regime, and best way of life according to Aristotle are the same. The best way of life is the mirror image of the best regime. While Kingship is the regime most desired, and Polity the best attainable regime it is the mixed regime that is the best regime. The mixed regime contains elements of each individual regime, just as the best person is a mixture of all the different virtues. The regime must incorporate virtue, the farming class and the middling class. It is this regime, the mixed regime, which must properly be defined as a Republic. A Polity as stated before is a regime of Oligarchy and Democracy, while a Republic is a mixed regime with multiple regimes tied into it. Take for example the American regime, which is not a Polity at all but is a Republic. We have the element of Kingship in the President, we have the element of Democracy in the House of Representatives, we have the element of Oligarchy in the Senate and we have Aristocracy in the Supreme Court. Such a regime is the best possible regime because it allows for the virtues of each regime to be apart of the city; just as the the virtuous person participates in each individual virtue, so does the city participate in the virtues exemplified by the various regimes in a mixed regime.

[1]
Aristotle’s Politics Book III

[2]
Aristotle’s Politics Book IV

[3]
Aristotle’s Politics Book VI

[4]

Aristotle’s Politics Book IV

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