“The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.”
Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774
There’s a mystical island somewhere in the waters of the Mediterranean where the soothing music of the lyre is buoyed by a gentle breeze and life goes on forever. You may recall the stories from ancient Greece about mortals visiting its eerie caverns, consulting with the Gods and philosophers of ages past. According to Homer, Odysseus stopped by on his ten-year odyssey.
Those of you who have followed these blogs since their early beginnings may recall I had a visit from an old friend and fellow global traveler in 2012 who had sailed to the mystical island on several occasions, and visited with Galileo, and later, with the late Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas.
My friend (a fellow Floridian who continues to remain anonymous), returning from a recent trip, surprised me with a visit and shared a recording of his conversation on the island with Thomas Jefferson, our Third President, who is also well-known as the scribbler of our Declaration of Independence, celebrated every July 4th since 1776. Jefferson took up residence on the island, along with his old friend, our second President John Adams, shortly after the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
… You know, we seem to be having problems with our governors in Florida and Texas, and a few other states, like you had in 1776 with England’s King and the governors he appointed!
Over the years I’ve been able to keep up with what’s been going on in America. It looks like my old friend, Dr. Franklin, was right when he warned us at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults….I believe, further, that it is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism as other forms have done before, when the people shall be so corrupted as to need a despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
Unfortunately, despotism’s started in several states, like Florida and Texas, where the legislatures and governors are pushing one-party control. As you know, states drive the federal government, with their control over elections, state and federal, given them under the Constitution.
Ah, yes – the great compromise. My good friend, James Madison, wrote about it in the Federalist Papers. When we adopted our Constitution in 1789 after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the colonies were still struggling with the idea that the new Constitution required them to give up independence. So our Constitutional Convention made several compromises, giving the states a lot of power, to keep the 13 colonies together.
The Constitution gives a lot of say to geography, which each state electing two senators regardless of population.
I was in Paris, negotiating with the French, when the Constitution was approved. But the issue of big states versus small states was a concern from the beginning, even under the Articles of Confederation. The four largest states had 50% of the population. The fear was that they would govern the union as they pleased. My concern, which I pointed out in my autobiography, was that the interests of the 13 states as a whole were being sacrificed to the small states. I raised the question, “shall two million of people put it in power for one million to govern them as they please?” I argued that it was better for all of us if the majority controlled, but it was not to be.
The Convention could not have foreseen that California with 40 million people and Wyoming with 500,000 people would each have the same 2 votes in the Senate. Most of the urban areas of America vote “blue” and most of the smaller, rural areas vote “red.” There are more small states than big states. Today, 2/3’s of Americans live in 15 states, with 30 Senators. One-third of Americans live in 35 states with 70 Senators. That creates a tyranny of the minority.
It’s worse because too many states are becoming perpetual one-party states, controlled by the party in power by voter gerrymandering and voter suppression, even when the majority of the people in those states – like Florida and Texas – aren’t in the controlling party. When states pass voter-surpression laws and gerrymander the shape of voting districts to perpetuate the party in power, it’s adds to the problem. Not everyone’s vote has the same value. Yet, the Supreme Court permits gerrymandering, saying that partisanship gerrymandering has been with us from the beginning.
There were some gerrymandering attempts early on, after the Constitution was adopted. Madison warned about it at the Convention, but, despite the risks, as part of the compromises made, the states retained discretion about setting voting district boundaries and voting rules. So, a lot of the how and who votes depends on where you live. Ironically, when Madison ran for Congress after the Constitution was adopted so he could push approval of the Bill of Rights amendment, Patrick Henry, an anti-Federalist who wanted more state power, tried to gerrymander a voting district in Virginia to separate James Madison from his supporters so he wouldn’t be elected. But newspapers denounced Jay’s attempt as violating the rights of people to decide who should be their representatives; and Madison was elected and the Bill of Rights were approved and became part of the Constitution. It surprises me that your Supreme Court recently approved partisan gerrymandering and restraints on voting that effect some voters more than others.
And political parties! Unfortunately, when we set up our Constitution, we didn’t foresee political parties. It wasn’t until the election of 1800, when my friend John Adams and I disagreed about the direction our country should take, that political parties came into being. Factions were always a concern. Madison wrote about factions in the Federalist Papers. We thought that setting up the federal government as a republican democracy, and requiring each state to be a republican democracy, with checks and balances at the federal level, provided by the three-branch separation of powers, would be sufficient. When political parties came along, Madison wrote a newspaper article that political parties were inevitable and would be good. He saw the contest of ideas between parties as another check and balance that would overcome the damage factions could do. We didn’t give enough thought to a political party becoming entrenched, with its corruption and self-interests overcoming the checks and balances we set up.
We are where we are! In Florida, the Governor is pushing legislation and issuing executive orders that put a heavy thumb on the rights of anyone who doesn’t agree with him and his party, just like King George III did that concerned you in 1776.
We finally came to the realization we had to arouse the people from “the lethargy in which they had fallen,” as I wrote in my autobiography. We didn’t set out to have a revolution. With the people behind us, we thought we could present our grievances to the King and Parliament and achieve some satisfaction. In 1774, I wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was reprinted in England for the King. The Summary recited our grievances in detail. Unfortunately, the Summary wasn’t enough.
Article IV of the Constitution mandates a republican democracy in all the states. This provision, along with the Bill of Rights, are strong grounds for voter action. Arousing the people and getting voter support starts with a strong presentation of the rights of the people that are being trampled. If the people together are vocal enough long enough the courts and the state and federal politicians are going to have to listen. If the people aren’t, Franklin’s concerns about America becoming a despotism will become a reality.
Reminds me of something Albert Einstein said after World War II and the Holocaust: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch without doing anything.”
At that point, Jefferson and my friend worked through the list of my friend’s grievances. Using the Summary and the Declaration grievances presentations as guides, they came up with a list of grievances to be worked into a 21st Century Declaration of Rights presentation for the people. For example:
Jefferson’s 1776 complaint, “He [the King] refused to cause others to be elected” converts in 2021 to:
“The Governor refused to set a timely election to replace a deceased Democrat Congressman.”
Of course, that’s a brief summary. Congressman Alcee Hastings died April 6, 2021. Florida laws require a special election to fill the vacancy and provides that the Governor “shall fix the date of a special primary election and a special election.” Although the statute doesn’t specify a time frame for such an election, historically, governors have set the election to occur in about three months. However, Congressman Hastings represented Florida’s 20th District, which is heavily Democratic and only 13% Republican, Governor DeSantis’s party. In the 2020 election 79.8% of the District voted for Biden. The House of Representatives has 220 Democrat members and 212 Republican members. DeSantis set the replacement election for January 11, 2022, 9 months after Hastings’ death, leaving members of the 20th District unrepresented in Congress, and shrinking the Democrats’ House majority.
My friend’s long list includes:
Over the next several weeks, my friend and I will assemble our “Summary View of the Rights of Floridians” that are being offended by our Governor and his political party legislators.
If you’d like a signed copy of Democracy of Dollars: