Defenders of CIA torture have broken faith with America’s Founding Fathers

Conservatives who say they have no problem with the CIA interrogation techniques described in a Senate committee report released Tuesday clearly are not as dedicated to American constitutional principles as they so often claim. As Juan Cole explains HERE, “most of the members of the Constitutional Convention…would have been completely appalled at [the torture report’s] contents.” The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction. Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices… [Thomas] Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort....

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If health insurance mandates are unconstitutional, why did the Founding Fathers back them?

To paraphrase an observation I once read somewhere, when history is inconvenient, it is often just ignored or twisted to suit the goals of demagogues. Such is the case with the argument by opponents of ObamaCare who want you to believe that the measure’s individual mandate has the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves. In truth, the Founding Fathers more likely would endorse the individual mandate. Consider THIS: The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate. That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it. Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John...

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It’s a myth that our Founding Fathers were 18th century versions of today’s libertarians

As a casual student of the American Revolution, I have long been wary of modern claims, whether from the left or the right, that the Founding Fathers clearly “intended” something or other. Trying to nail down the intentions of the Founding Fathers is no easy matter, considering that those folks were rarely in agreement among one another on the true meaning of their revolution or their Constitution. The ink had barely dried on our national charter before the founders began bitterly fighting over how it should be interpreted. After all, the Constitution had been a compromise. But many of the compromisers later clung to their original positions, previous concessions be damned.  These squabbles even reached the point where some of these guys actually hated one another. And yet today we hear politicians declaring that the Founding Fathers “believed” such and such, as if everything was kumbaya among those men. It wasn’t. Their disagreements about the American experiment have led to our disagreements. Their arguments about a strong central government, for example, have led to our arguments on the same subject. They were at one another’s throats, politically speaking, just as we are in the 21st century. But today’s political vocabulary and frames of reference are dramatically  different from those that informed the debates among the Founding Fathers. Therefore, as I say, it’s just not easy to claim with any certainty how the founders would feel about certain modern political disputes. If James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who had teamed up to write the Federalist Papers, later arrived at greatly different interpretations of the Constitution, who can say today which of them best represented the thoughts of their political generation? All of this came to mind this morning as I was reading an essay by conservative pundit David Frum. The subject of that piece is irrelevant to the point I’m making here, which is focused on this paragraph: It’s historically wrong to describe the “founders’ conception of limited government” as if there existed some group called “the founders” who broadly agreed a vision of government that more or less corresponded to contemporary libertarianism. Frum reinforced that point with a link to THIS ARGUMENT, which he wrote last year and wherein he says that “the question of whether the Founders were ‘libertarians’…seems to me a question approximately as meaningful as asking whether the Founders would have preferred Macs or PCs: it exports back into the past an entirely alien mental category.” Frum went on: Libertarianism argues that each individual should enjoy the widest possible scope to live as he or she thinks best. It’s an attractive ideal, one widely shared by 21st century people. Modern liberals share the libertarian commitment to “autonomy,” as this ideal is generally called – they just disagree about the institutions needed to support autonomy. But to an American of the Founding generation, the ideal of autonomy would have contradicted four of the most fundamental physical and psychic facts of life. You can read the rest of it for...

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Would Founding Fathers have supported Occupy Wall Street?

The answer to the question in the headline above would seem to be resoundingly affirmative, as Rick Ungar EXPLAINS: The reality is that the Founding Fathers did not think very much of corporations or, for that matter, any of the organized moneyed interests that played so large a role in the decision to revolt against Mother England. To understand this, it is important to understand the nature of corporations during the days when the United States was founded. The modern corporation dates back to the early 17th century when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to create the East India Trading Company. During that time, corporations were small, quasi-government institutions approved by the crown for a specific purpose. Not unlike today, the idea behind these organizations was to bring together investors interested in financing large projects, such as exploration. Indeed, many American colonies were originally governed by corporations— such as the Massachusetts Bay Company. We all know how well that went over. Recognizing the threat corporations could pose to government, the English monarchs kept a close eye on these organizations and did not hesitate to revoke charters if they didn’t like the way things were going. However, as the money piled up in these companies, they began to take on increased political power. (Snip) While we know that the Founders had contempt for these corporate entities and the corruption they produced in Parliament, it appears to have never occurred to them to directly address corporations when they wrote the Constitution. It is not particularly difficult to understand why this would be the case. The Constitution speaks to control of government by the people…for the people…and of the people. Why should it occur to the Founders that a corporation might ever be perceived as one of “the people”? And yet, today that is precisely what has become the case. A corporation now enjoys many of the same protections as a person under our law.  UPDATE: Incidentally, Occupy Wall Street is not only more popular than the Tea Party movement, according to the polls, but it also engenders MORE GOOGLE...

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WWFFD?

Some people, including many in the news media, have objected to the fact that negotiations on the U.S. debt ceiling are held behind closed doors. Indeed, some people find such secrecy almost un-American. Which raises the question: What would the Founding Fathers do (WWFFD)? Well, anyone who looks to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (above)  for guidance on the matter will find no precedent for openness. That historic gathering of the Founding Fathers was far more secretive than these current debt-crisis talks. One of the first decisions made by the convention delegates (virtually all of whom, by the way, were the political, social and economic elites of their day) was to establish rules of secrecy for their discussions. They unanimously agreed among themselves “that nothing spoken in the house be printed, or otherwise published or communicated without leave.” To help guard against snooping by outsiders, the delegates even had thick drapes hung over the windows, despite the oppressive heat in Philadelphia that summer. In other words, ordinary folks were completely barred from following the proceedings. Then, as now, the thinking was that discussions and deliberations would be more frank — and perhaps more wise — without pressure from outside forces, which would only invite grandstanding by the participants. James Madison, whom history remembers as the Father of the Constitution, was so committed to the rule of secrecy that he forbade the release of his copious notes on the convention until after his death nearly 50 years later — despite numerous requests that he make them available to help in constitutional...

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