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Liberty and Government


Exhibit One:
This month the Museum looks at Patrick Henry:

Sometime around October 20, 1788, Patrick Henry rode from his seventeen-hundred-acre farm in Prince Edward, Virginia, to a session of the General Assembly in Richmond. Henry is now famous for having declared, on the eve of the Revolution, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” – a phrase it’s doubtful that he ever uttered* – but in the late seventeen-eighties he was best known as a leader of the Anti-Federalists. He and his faction had tried to sink the Constitution, only to be outmaneuvered by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. When Henry arrived in the state capital, his adversaries assumed he would seek revenge. They just weren’t sure how.
     “He appears to be involved in gloomy mystery.” One of them reported.

    The Constitution had left it to the state lawmakers to determine how elections should be held, and in Virginia the Anti-Federalists controlled the legislature. Knowing that his enemy Madison was planning a run for the House of Representatives, Henry set to work. First, he and his confederates resolved that Virginia’s congressmen would be elected from districts. (Several other states had chosen to elect their representatives on a statewide basis, a practice that persisted until Congress intervened, in 1842.) Next, they stipulated that each representative from Virginia would have to run from the district where he resided. Finally, they stuck in the shiv. They drew the Fifth District, around Madison’s home in the town of Orange, to include as many Anti-Federalists as possible.

     An ally of Madison’s who attended the session in Richmond wrote to him that while it was unusual for the legislature to “bend its utmost efforts” against a single individual, this was, indeed, what had happened:
“The object of the majority of today has been to prevent yr. Election in the House of Representatives.” Another friend reported, “The Counties annexed to yours are arranged so, as to render your Election, I fear, extremely doubtful.” George Washington, too, was pessimistic; Madison’s defeat seemed to him “not at all improbable.”

     Henry’s maneuver represents the first instance of congressional gerrymandering, which is impressive considering that Congress did not yet exist. (One of his biographers has observed that Henry was fortunate that “the wits of Virginia” weren’t quick enough to invent the word “henrymandering.”)

     …Henry had only his gut to go on, and his gut, it turned out, wasn’t that reliable. In spite of his machinations, the Fifth District elected Madison…

Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, reviewing a book by David Daley; “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy (Norton).

* This is not meant to disparage the speech Hanther prints every Fourth. Whether Henry said it or not, and a French visitor to the event has a quite different version in his journal, does not make any difference to its celebrated content. This is the same case as the Shakespeare “ghostwriter”. If he didn’t write, say Hamlet, does that make the play any less good? This is just an interesting tip of the hat to History, which of course is the bread and butter of Museums.

Exhibit Two:

     "But satisfy the greed of the majority, and the rest will do you no harm. That's it. You've still got your fiction of consent. If the lowest of the workers start grumbling, claim that the power of the State stands above society, regulating it, moderating it, keeping it within the bounds of order - an impersonal and higher authority of justice. And what if the workers are beyond your reconciliation? Cry "Law!" Or "Common good!" and put on the pressure - arrest and execute a few...
     What is the State in a time of domestic or foreign crisis? What is the State when the chips are down? The answer is obvious and clear! Oh yes! If a few men quit work, the police move in. If the borders are threatened, the army rolls out. Public force is the life and soul of every State; not merely army and police but prisons, judges, tax collectors, every conceivable trick of coercive repression. The State is an organization of violence. Revolution, my dear prince, is not the substitution of immoral for moral, or of illegitimate for legitimate violence; it is simply the pitting of power against power, where the issue is freedom for the winners and enslavement of the rest...
     All systems are evil. All governments are evil. Not just a trifle evil. Monstrously evil...
     If you want me to help you destroy a government, I'm here to serve. But as for Universal Justice - “ He laughed.

Ayn Rand from the Fountainhead? Nope
Hanther from a "What's New"? Nope

The character Red Horse
From John Gardner's Grendel

As a fervent Anti-Federalist, Henry would be proud.

And the final Exhibit:
From an interview with Mr. Modi, Prime Minister of India.

The Reporter asks him if he ever grew discouraged by the slow pace of change in India.
He responds, “India is a land of discouragement. If you’re not discouraged by the harsh summers, then you are discouraged by the cow eating your plant, or the motorbike or tractor or car that is running over your plant, or the neighbor who is plucking the leaves from it just for fun as he is going by. If you can’t deal with discouragement, India has no place for you.”

This is government on a whole different level.



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.