Thursday, August 29, 2013

Calvin Coolidge and Foreign Policy

The diplomatic efforts of the Coolidge presidency, taking place as they did between the two world wars and during the prosperity of the 1920’s, often receive less attention than they deserve, being overshadowed by the administration’s domestic matters. To be sure, Coolidge’s domestic policies are noteworthy: his repeated efforts to get Congress to pass anti-lynching laws, and his amazing ability to simultaneously reduce taxes, government spending, and national debt. Coolidge achieved several budget surplus years while in office.

In the realm of foreign policy, Coolidge was occupied by the world balance of power. Taking office four years and a few days after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, he was concerned to stabilize international relations in the wake of World War One. This brought him into some amount tension with America’s allies, especially France, who were intent on punishing Germany and relentless in demanding war reparations. Yet Coolidge saw that the ruthless terms of the Versailles Treaty, and the cruel strictness with which its terms were being imposed, could easily lead to another world war.

While Coolidge’s style in domestic policy may be described as “hand-on”, he prefered to delegate much of the diplomatic work. For this purpose, he assembled an excellent team. Charles Evans Hughes served as Secretary of State, starting before Coolidge took office until March 1925; before Coolidge took office, he negotiated a separate peace with Germany to avoid implicating the United States in the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles and led global peace and disarmament talks resulting in the signing of several treaties; under Coolidge, he worked to ensure that the United States would not recognize the Bolshevik dictatorship which had formed the USSR. Charles Dawes, Coolidge’s vice president from March 1925 to March 1929, had served as Director of the Bureau of the Budget under President Harding; he was then appointed to deal with the looming geo-financial crisis regarding Germany’s economy and created the Dawes Plan, which kept Germany and Europe economically sound for the rest of that decade.

In seeking to avoid the scenario in which France provoked another war by its harsh treatment of Germany, Coolidge saw himself as acting in America’s interests. He feared that the United States would again be dragged into a major land war in Europe. His policies were neither internationalist nor isolationist, as David Greenberg writes:

Secretary of State Hughes secured the president’s blessing to organize a commission of delegates from Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, and the United States to craft a solution. To lead it, Coolidge named the dynamic Charles Dawes, a wealthy financier who had been Harding’s economy-minded budget director. Though the president stayed out of the negotiations, he threw his weight behind the Dawes Committee and joined its fortunes to his own. Negotiations commenced in earnest in Paris in January 1924, and by early April a compromise emerged: in return for a withdrawal from the Ruhr, the Allies would restructure the German debt and reorganize the German central bank. Providing the critical ingredient, the United States would furnish Germany with the capital to help repay its loans. Despite criticism from isolationists like Hiram Johnson, who decried the meddling European affairs, Coolidge stuck with the plan.

Foreign policy influenced domestic politics, as is always the case. Having had no vice president during his first years in office, Coolidge selected Dawes at the 1924 Republican convention as his running mate as Dawes’s fame was on the rise because of these diplomatic achievements. Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury during Coolidge’s entire presidency, would see to it that Dawes continued to be influential in policy decisions. Amity Shlaes writes:

On June 7, even as the Republican Party was selecting its vice president, came the news that the German Reichstag had voted to support the Dawes Plan; it was another coup for Dawes and sealed Dawes’ candidacy. Mellon had a plan to give the vice president greater powers, including supervision of some bureaus and agencies, so that the executive need cover less. This appealed to Dawes.

Another crucial appointment made by Coolidge was Frank Kellogg as Secretary of State from March 1925 to March 1929. Coolidge initiated, and Kellogg organized, a conference at Geneva in 1927 in an attempt to limit arms. Approach by the French diplomat Briand with an idea of a bilateral treaty, Kellogg countered with the idea of a multilateral treaty which would finally involved 62 nations under the title “The Kellogg-Briand Pact.”

Coolidge saw Europe in the 1920’s as having the potential for another great war. Seeking to avoid that war, by stabilizing the global economy and by limiting the international arms race, was the impetus for much of Coolidge’s foreign policy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Other Declaration

Prompted with the words 'Revolution' and 'Declaration', most students will produce the idea of the Declaration of Independence, written by the Second Continental Congress - rough draft by Thomas Jefferson, revisions by the committee - and dated July 4, 1776 - although not all the signatories placed their ink on the document that day.

There have been other documents titled 'declaration' and associated with various revolutions - notably, the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" adopted in 1789 by the leaders of the French Revolution, to which was added in 1791 the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen" and the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793" - the relatively quick accumulation of which points to the intellectual confusion underlying the French Revolution, which was manifested in its failure, as it turned to mass murder and the denial of the very rights which it initially proposed as its cause.

More interesting, and more fruitful, would be the other declaration produced by the Second Continental Congress, a full year prior to the famous Declaration of Independence. That document bore the lengthy title,

A declaration by the representatives of the united colonies of North America, now met in Congress at Philadelphia, setting forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms.

The text was largely a joint effort by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson. Although born in Maryland, Dickinson spent most of his life in Pennsylvania and Delaware. While one of his teachers was a Presbyterian, he gravitated toward Quakerism, his wife being a devout Quaker, but never formally joined the Society of Friends, having himself a moderate pacifism in contrast to Quakerism's radical pacifism. The text of the 1775 declaration highlights the connection between the French and Indian War and the American independence movement. While England claimed to have been acting in order to protect the colonies during that conflict, it had violated the rights of the colonists in the process. The inhabitants of the thirteen colonies claimed, as Englishmen, the rights set forth in the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Jefferson and Dickinson wrote:

If it was possible for men, who exercise their reason to believe, that the divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and an unbounded power over others, marked out by his infinite goodness and wisdom, as the objects of a legal domination never rightfully resistible, however severe and oppressive, the inhabitants of these colonies might at least require from the parliament of Great-Britain some evidence, that this dreadful authority over them, has been granted to that body. But a reverance for our Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all those who reflect upon the subject, that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end.

Accusing Parliament of exerting slavish and illegitimate power over the colonists, the text addresses the purpose of government. Governments exist to serve people, not people to serve government. A government can "promote the welfare of" its citizens by, in a roughly Lockean formulation, protecting their lives, freedoms, and properties. This, and the parallel formulation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is the understanding of welfare in the eighteenth century tradition of 'classical liberalism' which includes John Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. The document's repeated allusions to slavery as a metaphor for Parliament's tyranny over the colonies also foreshadows the abolitionist movement which was even then already making itself felt. Jefferson and Dickinson refer to the original understandings under which the colonies were formed:

Our forefathers, inhabitants of the island of Great-Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom.

The notions of freedom circulating in the American independence movement are always multivalent. Political liberty, economic liberty, religious liberty, intellectual liberty are all in the mix, and not always to be sharply distinguished from one another. Further, they should not be distinguished from one another, because, in order for any one of them to flourish, they all must flourish. Economic freedom and political freedom led to prosperity, and prosperity allowed the colonies to emerge successfully from the French and Indian War.

Societies or governments, vested with perfect legislatures, were formed under charters from the crown, and an harmonious intercourse was established between the colonies and the kingdom from which they derived their origin. The mutual benefits of this union became in a short time so extraordinary, as to excite astonishment. It is universally confessed, that the amazing increase of the wealth, strength, and navigation of the realm, arose from this source; and the minister, who so wisely and successfully directed the measures of Great-Britain in the late war, publicly declared, that these colonies enabled her to triumph over her enemies.

In the minds of the colonists, they were capable of defending themselves and had largely done so; they did not perceive the British army's intervention as decisive. In London, Parliament tended to view itself as having rescued the colonies. The colonists saw the British army as unnecessary, because they could have defended themselves, as troublesome, because hosting the English soldiers was a financial and a social burden, and as expensive, because after the war Parliament wanted to raise painful taxes upon the colonists to pay for the British military intervention. Parliament saw the colonists as ungrateful, refusing to pay for the soldiers who had saved them. Further, the colonists saw Parliament's legislative acts, and the king's directives, as violating what were by then long-standing legislative institutions in the colonies.

As in the 1776 Declaration, there is a list of grievances, and the 1775 list is similar to the 1776 list. The 1775 document cites Parliament's statement, in the 1766 Declaratory Act, that it has the

full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever

Jefferson and Dickinson then recount how the colonists have suffered from such legislations, how they have civilly and peacefully protested and petitioned for relief from such tyranny, and how the British government has brutally enforced such regulations and taxes upon the colonists. They write a narrative which explains how tax enforcement morphed into a cruel occupation by the English military of the colonial cities, chiefly Boston. The colonies responded to this tyranny:

We are reduced to the alternative of chusing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. - The latter is our choice. - We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. - Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.

Explaining their firm resolve to continue military action - hostilities had commenced in April 1775; Jefferson and Dickinson were writing after approximately three months of warfare - the colonists still maintain that there is some slight possibility of a peaceful reunion with the mother country. Even at this late date, the colonists might be persuaded to rejoin the British Empire if their representation in Parliament were guaranteed and effective, obtaining for them the full rights of Englishmen.

Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow-subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. - Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. - We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great-Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offence. They boast of their privileges and civilization, and yet proffer no milder conditions than servitude or death.

To avoid misinterpretation, Jefferson and Dickinson clarify the objectives of the Second Continental Congress. Their goals, understood as the only goals of any legitimate government, serve to highlight the fact that the Crown has been negligent in executing its proper duties: thus the monarchy is guilty of omission, in not carrying out its proper functions, and guilty of commission, in acting tyrannically. The colonial military action is justified:

In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it - for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.

The surprise, perhaps shocking in hindsight, is the equivocation, however slight, included in the document to the extent that a slight possibility is left in the text for a reintegration of the colonies into the British Empire. By July 1775, while the sentiment toward independence was strong, it was not solid enough among the representatives at the Congress to allow for an unconditional declaration. Indeed, the desire for complete independence was never unanimous among the entire population of the thirteen colonies, but by July 1776, it was the consensus of the leadership. The situation a year earlier was less solid, as James Srodes writes that

there also were sharp divisions even among those who were resolutely for a clean break and independence as to just what kind of new order was to be set up in its place.

Not only was there the open question of whether or not to seek complete political independence, but there was also the question of what type of government the colonies would institute once they had such independence. Not all of the members of the Second Continental Congress were classical liberals in the sense of John Locke; not all of them understood liberty as the primary goal.

There were those, like cousins Sam and John Adams, who wanted to create a kind of better England where the benefits and responsibilities of democracy would be reserved for the respectable classes of citizenry who would uphold the rule of law and the stability of society. But while England had offered a Whiggish model of orderly government, it had also sent the New World its “17th-century levelers,” those who thought no man should have too much while any man had not enough.

A clear choice lay before those who would form the future of the new nation. Would America choose freedom as its primary value, assigning to the government the task of protecting and maintaining economic liberty, political liberty, religious liberty, and the freedoms of speech and of the press? Or would America succumb to simply another form of tyranny, in which cruel taxes continued to inflict suffering on the residents of the colonies?

The politicking and negotiating between July 1775 and July 1776, i.e., between the two declarations, would decide. James Srodes tells us that

the plotting Adams cousins and their unlikely allies, the Lees of Virginia, who make a shaky and improbable alliance with a cast of conflicting and conflicted radicals from other colonies, some of whom were not even delegates to the Congress.

We might call Sam Adams, John Adams, and the Lee family the "freedom faction" among the various political views represented at the time. (Two of the Lee family, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, would be signers of the 1776 Declaration of Independence.) To reach a critical mass, and nudge the Second Continental Congress clearly toward both independence and a clear statement of liberty, they understood that

they could only get independence approved with the support of those town craftsmen, small merchants, debt-ridden farmers, newly arrived German settlers and, most unruly of all, the Scots-Irish who pushed ever westward looking for land that was free of cost and the constraints of English law. These were the men who ordinarily would be denied a vote, but they had formed themselves in to armed militias throughout the Colonies and were the backbone of Congress‘ own army. They had guns, and now they had the vote.

This freedom coalition managed, as we now know, to carry the day, and so it was that the United States was founded upon a series of texts which emphasized individual freedom and personal liberty. Had the freedom faction not won, it might have been that the United States would have gained its independence, only to subject itself to a tyrannous taxation as cruel as Britain's taxes had been. Thankfully, that was not the case.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Suffering under Tyranny

The inhabitants of North America suffered in many ways prior to 1775. As John Locke had noted a century earlier, people endure a lot of abuse before they finally rise up against their oppressors. The long string of mistreatment would, however, eventually be sufficient to start a revolution.

Although there were already injustices in the 1600's, the first three-quarters of the 1700's would prove to be an era of one insult or provocation after another. In the process of enduring this abuse, those living in the thirteen colonies would become all the more perceptive, learning to detect in each new tax or regulation the hand of tyranny. George III, king of England, was not the only tyrant; among several others was George Grenville, Prime Minister of Great Britain from April 1763 to July 1765. Historian Les Standiford writes:

Though the mother country had never levied any tax directly on its American dependency, various trade duties had been applied over the years. Earlier in 1764, in fact, Grenville had pressed for passage of the Sugar Act, a modification of a piece of 1733 legislation imposing a duty on molasses imported into the colonies from Britain. The new Sugar Act actually reduced the levy on molasses from 6 pence to 3 pence per gallon, a tactical move that Grenville hoped would find favor among colonists who had responded to the original act by smuggling most of their molasses past British customs agents - those few they were unable to bribe, that is.

England's economy was in a slump in the years after the French and Indian War. That war had ended in 1763. England and France were at odds with each other anyway, but the war was initiated when Prussia's Frederick the Great attacked Austria's Empress Maria-Theresa. The English were dragged into that European war because they were pledged allies of the Prussians, and the French likewise were pledged allies of the Austrians. With the English and the French fighting each other in Europe, it took little incentive to get English colonies in North America to fight against French colonies in North America. The land in the Ohio River valley area - desired by both sides - was more than enough motive. The Indians - the native Americans - fought from time to time as mercenaries for both sides. The English won the war, but at great financial cost. Wartime debts now had to be repaid. This burdened the British economy; Parliament sought to raise taxes to pay the debts, but taxes only made the economy worse.

Such taxation was doubly harmful to the residents of North America. First, they were taxed, which is detrimental in any circumstance; second, they were taxes by a representative body to which they were not allowed to elect any representatives! Les Standiford explains:

The "new" tax was roundly descried as onerous by the colonists, however, as their own economy suffered in direct proportion to the downturn in Great Britain. Trade with the distressed mother country was down, and with the war over and its associated free spending dried up, prospects were grim. Moreover, a theoretical objection was also raised by opponents to the measure when it was noted that the British Constitution excepted its subjects from "taxation without representation." Previous revenue-producing measures imposed by the British had been cloaked in the rhetoric of "trade regulation," but colonists argued that the Sugar Act was a bald-faced tax. And although the citizens of England might rightly be themselves taxed by the members of a Parliament that they themselves had elected, the colonists had no representatives in that body.

No less a luminary than Benjamin Franklin was sent to London to plead the colonial case. While the demand of the colonies was well-founded, based on the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the Parliament chose expediency over justice.

Each of the thirteen colonies employed a liaison to Parliament, an envoy - as was Franklin - sent across the Atlantic to lobby for its part of thirteen different sets of interests, but that was not the same thing as having a properly apportioned voting membership on the floor. "No taxation without representation" would of course become a rallying cry for the colonists, justifying a wide range of future actions. But whether it was the 3-penny sugar tax itself or the principle of the thing that sent the colonists inching down the road toward rebellion is an issue that has had historians wrangling ever since.

From this situation, it would become clear that nothing less than proper representation would constitute justice, and it would also slowly become clear that the thirteen colonies would need to begin working together as a unit. The British government could sometimes play the colonies against each other as long as they were thirteen uncoordinated colonies. The colonies had two evils inflicted against them, two injustices which they had to overcome: first, that they were taxed; second, that they were taxed without representation.