Friday, November 22, 2019

To Summarize That

My recent post about "George Washington's Greatest Challenge", like many of these posts, is quite long.  I still think that it was all worth writing, but since a succinct version will have its own value:

Though the conduct of his countrymen over the course of many years did lead George Washington to have serious doubts as to whether free government in America would succeed and survive, he was too dedicated to it and to his country to allow his despair to keep him from doing all that could be done for it.

It is amazing to me to see how many demonstrations can be found in Washington’s letters of both his despair and his resolve, existing simultaneously.  It seems that determination can outlive hope, and that to that fact we owe our Constitution and the union.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

George Washington's Greatest Challenge

I write this for those of you who need it most.  If you are one of these people, you will know it once you have read it.

Not long ago, I read some of George Washington's correspondence from the years 1786 and 1787.   I was surprised to find that as he considered the challenges facing America at that point in time -- of which all related in one way or another to the failure of the confederation government, a regular neglect of what was necessary in order to maintain the union, and a seemingly widespread failure of Americans themselves to appreciate as indispensable the unity of America -- Washington saw serious reason to doubt that Americans, under those circumstances, would ultimately overcome these challenges.

I do not mean to say that Washington affirmatively believed that America would fail.  I only mean that the challenges facing America in the mid-1780s, in the years immediately preceding the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (and then the Constitution's ratification) -- many resembling those that America faces today -- appeared daunting even to George Washington.  It was (as it now is) the need for Americans to unite by choice for something extraordinarily positive, overcoming the formidable obstacles to it, at a time when the immediate threat of outside military force was (as it now is) unavailable as an impetus to union.

As odd as it may seem, this type of crisis is in some ways more daunting, appears more intractable, and may more readily inspire despair, than the crisis of war, even with all of the hardship, pain, destruction, death, and horror that are known to accompany war.  These two types of challenges are very different from each other, and Washington’s letters can both show that and provide comfort and inspiration to those who are dispirited by our present crisis.

Washington had only recently finished leading the army that defeated the British Empire and won America’s Independence.  Although he (and the other Patriots) did not achieve this alone, relying only on their own strength to defeat the British, they had made the decision in favor of independence without any guarantee of their victory or survival.  They intended to seek the aid of France, but they had no assurances that they would succeed in obtaining it or that it would be adequate to overcome Great Britain.  Nevertheless, as desperate as their situation was and must constantly have felt to those who endured and fought that war, they triumphed.

Yet, only a few short years after succeeding in all of this, Washington watched with dismay as the conduct of many of his own countrymen seemed to prove them unequal to the task of governing themselves.  The union itself was dissolving, of course, and for a short time (a little time being more than enough), at least one of its constituent states was in some danger of being violently overthrown by an army consisting of a faction of its own citizens.  The spectacle led Washington to ask, if only rhetorically, whether perhaps the British and the Tories knew something that the Patriots had not: that the American people were not competent to organize and maintain their own governments.

And that is why I wrote this commentary on these quotes: As George Washington witnessed the way the most visible (due to their conduct) of his fellow Americans acted in the months leading up to the Constitutional Convention, even given the remarkable triumph that they had just achieved together in the Revolutionary War, and even though the first act of each state upon attaining Independence was to establish for its government a free democratic republic, even he -- George Washington -- could not help but entertain serious doubts as to whether the American people would succeed in self-government.

A lot of us think of George Washington as a rock, metaphorically, who would never be fatigued, never be deterred, and never fazed by any power or threat, however formidable it might be.  My point is that this is not entirely true.  Washington genuinely came to fear that what he and all the rest had fought for -- free government in America -- would fail.  This, however, is not to say that he gave up on it.  We have all heard (due to its fame) how at the end of the war, Washington freely returned to Congress the power that he had possessed and refused the power that he could easily have obtained.  A less famous fact is that as the Constitutional Convention approached a few years later, Washington even initially resisted the request that he participate in the convention.  He wanted the convention to succeed, but he believed that a different person in his place could serve as well as or better than he could himself.

Other people thought otherwise; among other things, Washington could give the convention credibility and sympathy that it otherwise would not likely have.  Such people finally convinced Washington that although there was still hope for America, it needed and deserved every advantage it could get.  They convinced him that in this case, that meant that America needed George Washington.

On that condition, Washington could not refuse, and his decision to accept that call back into the service of his country most likely gave the convention, the Constitution, and ultimately the United States what they needed in order to succeed.  My point, however, is that as well as we know how much his participation contributed to the cause, he did not agree to go to the convention because he was certain of what was to come; George Washington went to the convention because he knew it could fail, and he knew that it would most certainly fail if good people neglected it because of their doubts, or for any other reason.  Further, he knew that if it could fail -- if free government in America could fail -- it was his obligation to do everything that could be done to ensure that it would not.

It is not unusual for people who care about the future to experience doubt, and sometimes even dismay, as they watch the future form.  As I read Washington's correspondence from those years, witnessing in chronological order Washington's reactions to events, I concluded that Washington's strength was not in somehow being incapable of fear and doubt.  The source of his strength, to the extent that it is reflected in his writing, was in his determination.  The events that we witness may well justify profound doubts concerning what the future will become -- whether the shape that it is taking is something that we are prepared to allow.  George Washington (and others of America's founding generations) witnessed such events, but he persisted and (with the help of others) prevailed because whenever and to whatever extent those events led him to fear for America's future, his determination supplied what his confidence otherwise would have lacked.

And I write all of this because Washington's example has something to offer those who despair, if they can find their way to making it work for themselves.  An optimistic outlook and the will to continue are not reserved for those people (if any exist) who expect a good future to which they intend to be mere bystanders.  Though some things are admittedly beyond our control, there is more that can be done (especially with time) than most of us are used to thinking.  A good future is an end better fitting determination than anticipation alone.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Summarizing That

Since yesterday's post was pretty long, I offer the following summary of it:

I ascertained the identity of the city that the population range (which until recently appeared at IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7)) which I had discussed in an earlier post had been designed to identify (but to do so without identifying the city by name).  The city that this population range of 4,950 to 5,000 people had been meant to identify is Whiting, Indiana.

However, this no longer really matters, because the current Indiana General Assembly (during its session earlier this year) enacted legislation (see pages 13 through 16) which has purged IC 7.1-3-1-25 of the absurdities and the unconstitutionality (as that code section had repeatedly defied the limits imposed by the Indiana Constitution's Article 4, Sections 22 and 23 on the General Assembly's power to pass special and local laws) that I had previously written about and criticized.

I do not know what prompted the General Assembly to do this; I am not aware that anyone had pressured it to do so, and I cannot imagine how cleaning up this Indiana Code section could have been expected to work to anyone's political advantage.  Until I learn more about what led the legislature to make this revision, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to (tentatively, and while the opportunity lasts) believe that the legislator or legislators most responsible for it just wanted there to be a little less absurdity, impropriety, and clever* unconstitutionality in the Indiana Code.

* It was probably supposed to have been clever, but I am not impressed.  If those who introduced the abuse of population ranges had been clever enough to conceal that it was just an attempt to get away with violating the Indiana Constitution, they would not have left it all so obvious.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Mystery Solved And An Abuse Corrected

Last year, the Indiana General Assembly finally succeeded in putting an end to the state's Sunday-only prohibition of the "carryout" sale of alcohol.  Though what the legislature left in place still needs improvement (the Indiana Code now permits carryout sales on Sundays, but only from 12 PM to 8 PM; for every other day of the week, these sales are permitted from 7 AM to 3 AM the following day), it has now at least made some progress that past General Assemblies had inexplicably struggled with.

While Indiana's Sunday-only prohibition of "carryout" alcohol sales was still in effect, I discussed some of the bizarre and seemingly unconstitutional (as violations of Indiana's constitution, not of the United States Constitution) exceptions to it which had at some point been written into the Indiana Code.  In one post, I gave extra attention to one that was a particularly transparent abuse -- one which, in using population ranges to identify the cities and counties to which the benefit of a certain exemption would be limited, designed one of those population ranges to extend the exemption to cities with populations between 4,950 and 5,000.  The only "mystery" was the question of which city that population range was meant to identify -- it was obvious that the General Assembly that had set that range (and any General Assembly which was responsible for that range's counterparts in older versions of the Indiana Code; the range had already been adjusted at least once to reflect a change in the population of its target city) intended to identify and extend the exemption to a specific city, using a narrow population range to identify the city in place of the city's name.  (Presumably, someone was under the impression that Article 4, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution, which limits the General Assembly's power to make special and local laws, would be no obstacle so long as the General Assembly identified the place or places where a local law was to apply without identifying them by name.  Presumably, that "someone" also thought that this was clever.)  When I last wrote about this, I had been unable to figure out which city the occasionally-adjusted population range that appeared in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7) was meant to identify.

Last month, I decided to look into whether I could obtain online (in sufficient detail, including the population numbers for each Indiana city and county) the U.S. Census data that the General Assembly would presumably have used in establishing and updating the population range in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7).  I found the census data that I needed from both 2000 and 2010, and comparing the populations of Indiana cities with the population range appearing in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7) (comparing the 2000 data with the population range required as of 2006 and comparing the 2010 data with the population range as modified in 2012), I was able to determine that the city of Whiting, Indiana is the city which that absurdly narrow population range was meant to identify.  I still have no idea what the purpose was of extending to Whiting an exemption that was withheld from so many other cities (and counties) in Indiana.

However, I am pleased to report that during its session earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly revised IC 7.1-3-1-25, eliminating all traces of that section's former abuse of population ranges and giving its provisions uniform operation throughout the state (just as the Indiana Constitution requires!).  I am even more pleased by this than I would otherwise have been because the General Assembly appears to have done this on its own initiative, without being under any political pressure that I am aware of to do so, and even though it would be difficult to benefit politically by fixing something that would take such a long time to explain and that directly affects so few people.

I may yet discover what it actually was that led the current General Assembly to (seemingly spontaneously) clean up IC 7.1-3-1-25, but for the moment, while I still have the luxury of enjoying this, I am going to continue to entertain the extraordinary possibility that a legislature was motivated simply by a desire to cure the previous version of this section either of its absurdity and impropriety or of its unconstitutionality.

UPDATE (June 30, 2019, 5:40 PM EST): Video of committee proceedings (specifically, from a meeting of the Indiana House of Representatives' Public Policy Committee on February 6, 2019) concerning the bill which has now revised and corrected IC 7.1-3-1-25, as discussed above, provides evidence of the General Assembly's true motive (or at least of the motive of the bill's author, Rep. Ben Smaltz) for fixing that section of the Indiana Code.  It appears that this action really was motivated by a recognition of the absurdity and impropriety of the way that that section had used population ranges and by a desire to make Indiana's alcohol laws more rational.  To witness this for yourself (using the link that I just provided), view the video of the Wednesday, February 6 meeting and move the video ahead to 41:41.  Feel free to take pleasure in this; we should savor these moments whenever we find them.  After all: Somebody has done something good!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Concerning Perceptions of Hopeless and Irremediable Decline

Given how common they are, it takes little effort (and even that little effort will have deserved a better use) to find people who insist that some community or another of which they are a part is approaching its demise and is beyond all hope of reclamation.  The people to whom I am referring are not those who are convinced of the decline only once they have good reason to be -- sometimes, of course, the decline is real, and a person is not necessarily irrational for concluding that to be the case (even when it is not).  Rather, the people of whom I am writing are those who reach that conclusion so readily, and who so prematurely determine that it is impossible either to prevent this downfall or to recover from it, that they appear to have found in hopelessness their own strange equivalent to pleasure.

(I am confident, however, that this incomprehensible taste for voluntary despondency is not an inherent trait possessed by certain people but to which other people are not susceptible.  Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain how it is that this taste becomes fashionable, from time to time, at which time larger numbers of people than usual begin to gather and to socialize by exchanging with each other their reasons for believing that everyone around them is doomed.)

On this subject is the following, written by a publisher who encountered such a person while living in Philadelphia:

“There are in every country morose beings, who are always prognosticating ruin.   There was one of this stamp at Philadelphia.  He was a man of fortune, declined in years, had an air of wisdom, and a very grave manner of speaking.  His name was Samuel Mickle.  I knew him not; but he stopped one day at my door, and asked me if I was the young man who had lately opened a new printing-house.   Upon my answering in the affirmative, he said that he was very sorry for me, as it was an expensive undertaking, and the money that had been laid out upon it would be lost, Philadelphia being a place falling into decay; its inhabitants, having all, or nearly all of them, been obliged to call together their creditors.  That he knew, from undoubted fact, the circumstances which might lead us to suppose the contrary, such as new buildings, and the advanced price of rent, to be deceitful appearances, which in reality contributed to hasten the general ruin; and he gave me so long a detail of misfortunes, actually existing, or which were soon to take place, that he left me almost in a state of despair.  Had I known this man before I entered into trade, I should doubtless never have ventured.  He continued, however, to live in this place of decay, and to declaim in the same style, refusing for many years to buy a house because all was going to wreck, and in the end I had the satisfaction to see him pay five times as much for one as it would have cost him had he purchased it when he first began his lamentations.”

- Dr. Benjamin Franklin, writing of a prediction that had been made to him as a young man in the 1720s, by an acquaintance in Philadelphia