Friday, April 17, 2009


This is a pretty big subject we are taking on here, maybe too big for a blog. Even so, we can use blogging to at least bring out some facts, air some points of view, and, above all, discuss the issues.

I started this series of posts because I am tired of hearing Americans calling each other names.

What I hope to accomplish, as always, is to clarify. Knowledge is power. Knowledge and clarity of purpose will defeat those who would manipulate you.

At first, I thought my premise for these posts was simply that our federal government has gotten too big and too intrusive, far beyond what the writers of our constitution intended or envisioned it to be, and, as a result, many important things today are not being taken care of effectively. After only two posts, I realize already that simply pointing out the bigness and resulting unresponsiveness to the needs of the people, is not going to accomplish much. Many people already agree with me that government is too big and too unresponsive.

So, instead, I think it might be more productive for us to try and formulate a consensus of what we would want our federal government to become, and what issues we would like to see addressed, and come up with ways for these problems to be effectively addressed. Along the way, I hope we can also begin to drop the labels.

Where to begin? Since this is going to take awhile, why not begin at the beginning and lay the proper foundation? Starting at the beginning may be especially useful because I am blessed with several readers who are not Americans, who are not necessarily completely familiar with our origins and our government, but whom I hope to still involve in this discussion. In a larger sense, this discussion affects non-Americans very much indeed. So, by starting at the beginning, I can maybe bring some of them along with me if I can keep their interest. I should also mention that if one's goal is truly clarity, it is always a good idea to start at the beginning anyway.

I intend to sprinkle in posts on other subjects to keep the interest of readers who may not be interested so much in the ways and perceived sins of our federal government.

Before we begin at the beginning, though, how many of you can tell what form of government we have in the USA?

1. A monarchy
2. A dictatorship
3. A democracy
4. Something else

On to the beginning. The real beginning might be Athens, Greece, a long time ago. It might even be farther back in time than that. I don't want to go quite that far back though. How about we start with a simple summary of where the country called the United States of America came from, and work our way up to the point where we got ourselves something called a federal government? Feral government. Whatever.

Europeans began coming to this part of the world a long time ago. The Spanish came in 1492, but even before that the Vikings came. The British began coming in the late 16th century, and the first permanent British settlement, at Jamestown, was in 1607 if memory serves. There was an earlier British settlement, also in Virginia, that failed. The Dutch came only a few years later, 1612 I think, concentrating only in what is now the city of New York and up the Hudson to Albany. Feel free to correct me.

This land when all these various Europeans came was hardly uninhabited, so none of them "discovered" the Americas. They did discover the new lands for the Europeans, though, and soon there were plenty of Europeans camped out in the Americas.

The British settled on what is now the East Coast of the country now called the USA, primarily between present-day Massachusetts and Georgia at first.

The various British colonies were established by companies or men who had royal charters or investors to explore and settle the new lands, with the usual intent being to prosper the land for the benefit of the British crown or the company's investors. In the end, there were 13 of these British colonies.

Again, feel free to make corrections to this overview, since I am doing it from memory and there may be errors.

In a sense, even before our revolution against the British crown, we have always had a sort of federal government. Back then the "federal government" was simply the British government, and our ancestors' fortunes ebbed and flowed pretty much at the whims of the British Parliament.

The actual country called the United States of America didn't come about until after our ancestors fought a successful revolution against the government of Great Britain.

It is important to remember that up until that revolution, the 13 colonies were very much separate entities. Travel between them was allowed and common, but they each had their own legislatures and their values and were not necessarily all that compatible either. In those days of few and poor roads, and travel by horse, it was serious business to travel even from Boston to New York - and travel to the Carolinas or Georgia was a major event. This was long before the railroads, of course.

I bring these points out only to  remind you that the colonies at that time were not exactly united entities with overall common purposes. A Virginian was very much a Virginian. A New Yorker was very much a New Yorker. The life of a backwoods planter in South Carolina was almost as foreign to the life of a Massachusetts lawyer as the man in the moon.

It is especially important for you Europeans and Africans reading this to take note of this individualism of the several colonies, and the states that subsequently evolved from them. It would be a huge mistake for you to think of our states in the same general manner as you think of your counties.

The colonies, later states, were almost more akin to separate countries than merely united geographical subdivisions of one big happy country: no such big happy country existed yet. To a certain extent, you would be wise to think of even the present-day states as being very separate in many ways. You will understand the inner workings of the current USA better if you keep that in your mind.

When the rotating inattentions and oppressions of the British Parliament, and other reasons, finally brought on a revolution, those very different colonies united against their common enemy and each contributed men and materials to a common army (although they often remained colonial militias, as do many present-day U.S. Army units remain state militas, or "guards.")

This unification for a common cause was unnatural for the separate colonies. It was the revolution that gave them their first taste of some sort of larger unity, although even after the revolution they still didn't quite think of themselves as part of a larger country. This feeling of separateness, or independence, and distrust of an outside government would continue through even the first attempt at a national government: quite frankly, the first attempt at a central government failed.

Tomorrow: the USA's first federal government.
Answer to question about the form of government the USA has:

4. Something else.

The United States of America is a republic. A republic is a state whose power derives from the people rather than from a ruler. This, as opposed to a (true) monarchy or dictatorship where the power is at the top and the people at the bottom are the subjects.


  1. I think you said some time ago that the European Union may be more like the United States. I think I may even have shouted you down at the time, which is most unusual. Still, I can see that there may be enough similarities to make some comparisons, even though we haven't got as far as a federal Europe.

  2. Max. I'm NOT going to post about Canadians burning (or not) down the White House - I'm going to TALK about it. Soon. To let the cat out of the bag a little - I REALLY wanted to find that it was Canadians but I'm struggling. One final question though - what do you call the inhabitants of the 13 colonies that fought against the British in the Amercian revolution? As a group, how do people gernally refer to them?

  3. @A. - Ah, but you have already gone that far. Not yet as intrusive as ours, true, but a fledgling federal state that is beginning already to stretch its tentacles. You will see.

    I intend to use the EU in future posts for other comparisons. There are parallels.

    Ummm.... they still allow you to use the pound sterling? Or no? Heh.

  4. @Canucklehead - Well, good. I'm sure you can figure out a way to talk people into believing it wasn't the British. Go for it. As for myself, I am busy preparing a declaration of war since you broke the blog treaty. You can read that on your podcast if Hong King ever responds to your audio needs.

    What did the colonialists call themselves? Or what do we today call them in retrospect?

    As a group, we call them colonialists. At the time, they called themselves Virginians or Georgians. The British called the entire area of land, from their perspective, America, and all the people who lived there, collectively, Amercians. Americans didn't call themselves Americans until after the revolution. Unless they were in France. Then they would probably say they were from America. Probably. Who knows?

    I know that clouded in your poorly constructed question is hidden some sort of Canadian agenda. If you think colonialists thought of themselves as one country and called themselves Americans I vote that you are wrong, just from reading the things the colonialists wrote back then. Thomas Jefferson would NEVER have thought of himself as an American - probably not even after the revolution. He was a Virginian.

    Somehow I get the feeling I am giving you too much credit for a deep question. You are much too superficial to have prompted this long response. What are you REALLY trying to say?

  5. The first British colony (that failed) you were thinking of was Roanoke. I believe the British largely described the American colonies as "the colonies" both before and after the revolutionary war and, to a lesser degree, even after the defeat in the war of 1812, kind of like the Southerners in the way they describe "the war between the states"

    I don't have a real issue with your post except the confederation you were pointing out (but not describing) was after the revolutionary war, not before. If you jump to the federal government before you get to it, you'll miss a key era that drove a great many of the federal decisions that went into the constitution.

    And the colonies had gotten together before to help fight a war, the French and Indian war. Many of the "injustices" the colonists complained about were the imposition of taxes already imposed on British subjects on the original island put in place to help pay for the war they helped fight over here.

    I'm not saying there weren't injustices or that the colonies had no right to leave (in fact, I'm notoriously unsympathetic to imperial actions, especially when they impinge on native peoples - but that doesn't apply here since the transplants were the ones that revolted). I'm just saying I disagree that the situation was as black and white as you paint it (or, in fact, our eloquent founding fathers painted it).

    Can you tell my mother was a history major, speciallizing in the revolutionary period?

  6. Can you tell I don't have spell check when it comes to words like specializing?

  7. Oooh, you guys are good. I am going to enjoy this ride. How did Canucklehead get into this? I think something is going on.

  8. @Stephanie - Yes, I used a premature picture on this post. But I promise I won't jump ahead and leave anything out. Actually, I thought I was going to get a little farther in my "history" recap and cover the Articles of Confederation, but the post was already so long that I just stopped. I just left the picture. Sorry.

    You know a lot about history - congrats to your mom, and to her transferring her knowledge to YOU!

    Yes, Roanoke was a mystery story all by itself, wasn't it? The others came back the next year and they were all dead. No, not dead - just GONE! But one must assume the Native Americans revoked their visas.

    This is going to take a while. I won't leave anything out on purpose - you must help when I do, or when I gloss over something important. Then, at the end (if it ever arrives!) we can get back to today's world and what we should be or could be doing that we aren't. But in order to bring the others along with us, a little history won't hurt.

    Thank you so much for your input, K?

  9. @Stephanie - Thank you for reminding us about what the British referred to as their "Seven Years War" (What we call the "French and Indian War".)

    Although certainly some colonial militias fought with the British, I'm not sure I would agree that qualified for a real "uniting of the colonies". Or do you think there were enough colonial participants to qualify? I don't know. Maybe. I did read where George Washington fought as a leader of a Virginia militia unit under British command. I think he got angry about the disparity in pay between British officers and colonial officers and took his ball and went home. After getting his butt kicked at the French Fort Duquesne. No? Or was that a different war? I don't want to mislead anyone. And I don't want to look it up either. So I am torn. :)

  10. @Ettarose - I think it is cool that you are coming here and participating in this. I appreciate your company. A lot. Who knows about Canucklehead? He works for the Ontario phone company. It could be anything. Except an actual long-term thought. :)

  11. The post is most edifying, at least we have one thing in common with you, the British rule. Looking forward to the next instalment

  12. @Frostygirl - Well, thank you! I am looking forward to your comments when we get closer to the end of this discussion and start talking about what the role of our federal government should be in addressing some of our major problems. I value your political and economic opinions (and admire your courage for the way you speak out in your own country) so I hope you won't get bored with me before I get to the end. :)

    I enjoyed your post today, btw, about the novel way Congo is trying to solve their food problem. I hope it works. Take care.

  13. @Soubriquet - Once again you amaze me with the breadth of your incredible store of knowledge. Is there NO subject for which you don't have SOME facts squirreled away in the inner recesses of that glorious data base? :)

    To those for whom your one-word comment was meaningless (and your keeping a comment to one word is itself an incredible feat) let me try to edify, admittedly with a little outside help on the dates:

    As mentioned in the post, and added to by Stephanie, there was a British attempt at establishing a settlement in Virginia before the successful one at Jamestown. It was called Roanoke. It consisted of 117 men, women and children, people placed there in the summer of 1587. Then the settlers were left alone. They were not revisited until 1590 (no ships being available due to Queen Elizabeths war with Spain), and the settlement was abandoned by that time - a still-unsolved mystery. The likelihood that they were removed and enslaved or killed by the Native Americans is admittedly greater than, say, them being transported out to another planet by space visitors.

    Anyway, one of the few things left by those vanished settlers was the carving of a word on a tree by one of them.

    That word was "CROATOAN" (the name of a nearby Indian Tribe.)

    You never cease to amaze me, my friend. :)

    [Note to readers: if you would like to read a more complete account of the enigma of the vanished settlement of Roanoke, I found this article very enlightening.]

  14. By the way, I knew without looking not only what Sobriquet meant, but that the first British colonist BORN on American soil was Virginia Dare.

    The French and Indian War was the first French/British war that started in the Americas, prompted by the colonists needs and lead to debts. Wikipedia has a decent write-up on it but it doesn't say much about the makeup of either side (British troops vs. colonist militias). There was more here.

  15. Virginia Dare. Weird how things stuck in the back of your mind for years suddenly resurface. Thank you for the prompt. :)

    I recently read a good biography of George Washington which recounted his service in the war with the French and their allies. I went back to that part of the book and that's where I got the part about him being disgruntled with the disparity of pay between regular British officers and American colonial militia officers. A very good read by Joseph J. Ellis called "His Excellency". Ellis is also the Pulizer Prize winning author "Founding Brothers". (Which I will be referring to at length shortly when I drone on about who the actual "founding fathers" were. There were only a handful. By my definition anyway. :)

    Your cites are also interesting, Stephanie.



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