That Rock was Christ; Fighting under God’s flag; Amalek opposes God’s throne.
Political Parties, the Electoral College, Slavery, and the Constitution – By Daniel Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan)
#OTD, June 15, 1804, the Twelfth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is Ratified. The Founders didn’t envision political parties, but they came anyway in the 1790s, and with them came the need for a constitutional amendment.
The Constitution initially provided that presidential Electors vote for two people; the one with the most votes became President, the runner-up became vice president. But the rise of political parties created problems in this election process.
In 1796, Federalist John Adams became President, but Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, became Vice President, a bizarre twist of events. Four years later, it got even more strange. Two Republicans, Jefferson, and Burr tied for the top spot, which threw the decision to the House. They chose Jefferson for President, and Burr took the Vice Presidency.
Shortly after this, the twelfth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified, which specifies that electors vote separately for President and Vice President.
The downside of the Twelfth Amendment is that it propped up the pro-slavery party, which had an artificial head-start in each election because of the Electoral College. With the Presidency leaning toward pro-slavery presidents, pro-slavery judges were appointed, which further solidified the institution of slavery. It is probably no coincidence that the Twelfth Amendment would be followed up 61 years later with the Thirteenth Amendment, eliminating slavery.
June 15, 1215, should be remembered by Americans because it marks the first great step and the subsequent development of the system of representative government, constitutionalism, and the principles of individual liberty, all of which became more perfectly expressed in the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
During the early Middle Ages, English kings ruled oppressively. Neither the nobles nor the people had any voice in the affairs of state. The nobles despised the absolute rule of the king, and the ordinary people resented the high taxes. The clergy, the nobles, and the middle class concluded that the only way they could fix the problem was by banding together. When one of their worst Kings, John, came to the throne, they decided to act.
John was dishonest, treacherous, and hated by all classes. He seemed to be at war with everyone: he overtaxed the common people, quarreled with his vassals, and fought with the Pope. John also engaged in a war with the king of France in which he lost many English possessions. The people, suffering from tyranny and oppressive taxes, refused to help obstinate John.
But John, with this long list of transgressions, added this one, probably his worst, above all, he imprisoned his liberty-loving subjects who objected to his arbitrary rule – without trial! Many of these poor souls rotted in filthy dungeons for years. Pause for a moment and think about what it cost our forefathers to secure for us the right of trial by jury.
The nobles had enough. They decided their only option was to compel John to restore their liberties. On June 15, 1215, armed barons gathered together at Runnymede and forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, the Great Charter. It was a long document setting forth limitations on arbitrary power, drafted by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, and a committee of noblemen. Let us look at the Great Charter in a nutshell.
First, it assured the freedom of the church.
Second, it respected the feudal rights and privileges of the nobility.
Third, it forbade the king from extorting money from the people in the form of fines, taxes, or any other tricky measures, without first consulting the barons.
Fourth, the king was forbidden from arbitrarily imprisoning his subjects.
Fifth, the people were guaranteed a speedy trial by a jury.
Fifth, the accused could not be tried or punished more than once for the same offense.
Sixth, it prohibited the king from taking a freeman’s property or banish him without just cause.
Seventh, the king was forced to allow the nobles to appoint a committee to monitor him and punish him if he violated the charter.
Trial by jury is one of the outstanding features of this charter, which is what led Sir William Blackstone to predict immortality for the British Constitution.
“Greece fell, Rome fell, Venice fell; the Republics of modern times, that hovered around classic Italy, fell; but England will endure; for trial by jury will make the liberties of Englishmen eternal.”
John Adams, in his famous, Defense of the Constitutions, wrote,
“The interest of the people is one thing – it is the public interest; and where the public interest governs, it is a government of laws, and not of men: the interest of a king, or of a party, is another thing – it is a private interest; and where private interest governs, it is a government of men, and not of laws. If, in England, there has ever been any such thing as government of laws, was it not the magna charta?” [i]
To better appreciate the importance of the Magna Charta and its place in English history, and its impact on English identity and English rights, let the English historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay paint the picture.
“From that moment her prospects brightened. John was driven from Normandy. The Norman nobles were compelled to make their election between the island and the continent. Shut up by the sea with the people whom they had hitherto oppressed and despised, they gradually came to regard England as their country, and the English as their countrymen. The two races, so long hostile, soon found that they had common interests and common enemies. Both were alike aggrieved by the tyranny of a bad king…The great grandsons of those who had fought under William and the great grandsons of those who had fought under Harold began to draw near to each other in friendship; and the first pledge of their reconciliation was the Great Charter, won by their united exertions, and framed for their common benefit.”
“Here commences the history of the English nation. The history of the preceding events is the history of wrongs inflicted and sustained by various tribes, which indeed all dwelt on English ground, but which regarded each other with aversion such as has scarcely ever existed between communities separated by physical barriers. For even the mutual animosity of countries at war with each other is languid when compared with the animosity of nations which, morally separated, are yet locally intermingled. In no country has the enmity of race been carried farther than in England. In no country has that enmity been more completely effaced…when John became King, the distinction between Saxons and Normans was strongly marked, and that before the end of the reign of his grandson it had almost disappeared.”[ii]
When the Americans claimed their rights as Englishmen, they were going back to the very principles that made them English, removed animosities, and made brothers out of the worst of enemies – The Magna Charta.
Tyrants hate restraints. According to historian John Fiske, King John, after signing the charter, went to his room, rolled on the floor like an angry child, cursing at the top of his lungs, and chewed on sticks and straw because he couldn’t get his way.[iii] And, as you can guess, John, and his successor, Henry the 3rd, violated the charter, thus causing civil wars and a constitutional crisis. But these upheavals led to the establishment of the Parliament, in 1295, in which a system of representation was set up.
The foundation of the temple of constitutional liberty was laid with the Magna Charta, and the rest of the structure would be slowly erected over the next centuries.
Here is what followed:
Councils or assemblies were called on various occasions to assist the king from the English kingdom’s earliest days. During the Angles and Saxons era, the body was called the Witenagemot, or assembly of wise men. The body consisted of leading officers in the kingdom, the king’s thegns, bishops, and abbots. After the Norman conquest, feudal lords made up this assembly, but the members looked very much like the Witenagemot. This Great Council aided and advised the king, but they had no control over him.
The Magna Charta changed the nature of this body. The king promised in the charter not to collect taxes without the consent of the people. As a result, those representing lower classes, like knights of the shire, who represented nobles, and borough representatives, who represented traders, were called to the assembly. These bodies met from time to time until 1265. In that year, when Simon de Montfort was in power, he called for representatives from each of the towns to meet in the Parliament. In 1295, King Edward I established the rule that Parliament must have representatives from counties and towns. Historians call this the Model Parliament because it became the model to future ones.
—Liberty Based Charters
The word charter originally meant paper or a written document. It applied to real-estate transfer deeds, contracts, and other vital negotiations that required something in writing as proof of the transaction. People in English towns began to refer to their town charter as “title-deeds of their liberties.” Americans took the notion of written agreements to a new level, as we shall see shortly.
After the Magna Charta, the next liberty-based charter was the Petition of Right, 1626. Parliament passed this act during the reign of Charles I, and Charles was forced to accept it as law. It guaranteed that no man would be compelled to give any gift, loan, or tax to the government without common consent by act of Parliament. It also ensured that no one should be imprisoned contrary to the laws of the land, even if the king orders it. It also forbade the quartering of soldiers or mariners in private homes. Furthermore, the act outlawed the issuing of military or martial law.
Next, the Habeas Corpus Act, 1679. One of the greatest victories of liberty took place during the reign of Charles II with this act’s passage. By it, Englishmen were protected from arbitrary and illegal imprisonment.
Finally, the English Bill of Rights, 1688. The tyranny of James II led to, in the words of Professor Samuel Harding, “a declaration of the true, ancient, and indubitable rights of the people of this realm.” That declaration was the English Bill of Rights, which settled constitutional questions of that day. It declared, among other things, that the people have the right to petition the king, that it is illegal to keep standing armies in times of peace without the consent of Parliament, and that excessive bail should not be required, excessive fines imposed, or cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
These liberty charters completed the structure of the English constitutional monarchy. The English Common Law expounded the general principles of these liberty documents. “That law was the growth of many centuries; its maxims were those of a sturdy and independent race of men, who were accustomed in an unusual degree to freedom of thought and action, and to a share in the administration of public affairs. So far as they declared individual rights, they were a part of the constitution of the realm, and of that ‘law of the land’ the benefit of which was promised by the charter of King John to every freeman. They were modified and improved from age to age, by changes in the habits of thought and action among the people, by modifications in the civil and political state, by the vicissitudes of public affairs, by judicial decisions, and by statutes.”[iv]
The colonists brought this proud heritage with them to the New World, and they claimed them as their natural rights and appealed to them when King George violated them. Thomas Cooley wrote, “The colonists claimed that this code of law accompanied them, as a standard of right and of protection in their emigration, and that it remained their law, excepting as in some particulars it was found unsuited to their circumstances in the New World. Relying upon it, they had well known and well defined rules of protection; without it, they were at the mercy of those who ruled, and, whether actually oppressed or not, were without freedom.”
When reading the provisions of these liberty documents, did you notice language and concepts later used in our Bill of Rights?
Dates to Remember in the Erection of the Temple of Liberty
1215 Magna Charta
1265 Simon’s Parliament: the first House of Commons
1295 Edward’s Parliament: the Model Parliament
1626 The Petition of Right
1679 The Habeas Corpus Act
1689 The English Bill of Rights
[i] Adams, J. (2001). A defence of the constitutions of government of the United States of America against the attack of M. Turgot in his letter to Dr. Price, dated the twenty-second day of March, 1778. Union, NJ: Lawbook Exchange.
[ii] Macaulay, T. B. (n.d.). History of England from the Accession of James 2 (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Hurst &.
[iii] Fiske, J. (1902). Civil Government in the United States. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin.
[iv] Cooley, T. M. (2001). The general principles of constitutional law in the United States of America. Bridgewater, VA: American Foundation Publications.
#OTD, June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress authorized the “stars and stripes” flag for the new United States.
On the right of the provided photo is the British Union Jack with the red cross of St. George and the Scottish white cross of St. Andrew. General George Washington used the flag on the left at Cambridge in January of 1776. The flag in the middle, our “stars and stripes,” was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, when Americans exchanged the British Union for a Union of 13 States, symbolized by white stars on a blue background. Below the center flag is the Washington family coat of arms with a Latin phrase meaning, “The event justifies the deed.” The “Stars and Stripes” now represented the United States in their struggle for freedom, and it flew for the first time on August 6, 1777. Here is how that story unfolded.
On August 3, 1777, British Colonel St. Leger, leading an expedition consisting of Loyalists and Indians, laid siege to Fort Stanwix, a log fortification held by two New York Regiments. The American patriot, General Herkimer, knowing the Americans couldn’t hold out for long, raised a militia of 800 men and went to the aid of his fellow patriots.
Herkimer and his band, however, were ambushed Near Oriskany, New York, by the Mohawk chieftain, Joseph Brant. The battle was gruesome. Militia, Royalists, and Mohawks became so intermingled that the fight turned into hand-to-hand combat, men wrestling with bayonets, hatchets, and hunting knives in hand. Many souls fell in the forest “with their left hands clenched in each other’s hair, their right grasping, in a grip of death, the knife plunged in each other’s bosom.” As he lay dying from a mortal wound, General Herkimer continued to encourage and command his men until his last breath.
The battle still raging, men from the American garrison executed a daring move that successfully drove the enemy away. The Patriots, having heard of Herkimer’s fate, returned to the fort with prisoners, spoils of war, and five enemy flags.
The garrison didn’t have a flag when the battle began, but soldiers improvised one on the spot upon their triumphant return. They cut up white shirts to fashion the white stripes, the red from pieces of scarlet cloth sewed together, and the blue background from a coat. Historian John Fiske describes the scene:
“This rude flag, hastily extemporized out of a white shirt, an old blue jacket, and some strips of red cloth from the petticoat of a soldier’s wife, was the first American flag with stars and stripes that was ever hoisted, and it was first flung to the breeze on the memorable day of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.”
“It was the first time that a captured banner floated under the stars and stripes.”
That’s the origin of the American flag.
Daniel Sheridan is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: The Gospel of Matthew
Time: Jun 13, 2021 09:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)
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