Friday, October 14, 2005

Instruction on Arguing for Federalism

Many of my investigations into the thoughts of great men and the origin of strong words lead to a certain time and place. That is the seminal years surrounding the framing of our constitution. What I enjoy especially are the periods of time 3 or 4 years prior to the constitutional convention. In this spirit I want to delve into the mind of one of the greatest presidents. In Lincoln's Cooper Union Address, which is arguably one of his greatest speeches, he exhibits a frame of mind that is instructive for both the layman and the scholar. He constructs an argument in a careful yet forceful manner. Part of this construction is examining the voting record on an issue of those who signed the constitution. Here is the excerpt I wish to examine:

In 1784, three years before the Constitution - the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the "thirty-nine" who afterward framed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. The other of the four - James M'Henry - voted against the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it improper to vote for it.

Has he found reason to extend federal control over the states by interpreting the intent of this vote? Very interesting question. He continues on with other votes and similar evidence regarding more of the framers until he has evidence of a majority who's apparent intent was to extend federal authority with regards to slavery. Its a powerful argument. But lets look at just this first instance as a fundamental example. Who were these three in favor?

Roger Sherman was self taught, a surveyor, lawyer, proprietor, justice of the court, as well as a writer. A parish Minister assisted in his education and at a young age he was engaged in the civic and religious affairs of New Milford Connecticut. He is a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Mifflin was raised a Quaker and educated by the Rev. Dr. Smith. He graduated from the College of Pennsylvania in 1760. He ran his own import export business before the war and this formed some of his support against undue taxation which led to his involvement in the war. At a time in the War for Independence he was quartermaster of the army and Washington's right hand. He witness the inability of congress to control states infighting over supplying the war and thus did not support a loose confederation.

Hugh Williamson was one of the students in the first graduating class of the College of Pennsylvania. After graduating he became a minister but removed himself from that over infighting. He went back to school and mastered in mathematics. After four years as a professor he went to Europe and obtained degree in medicine. He lodged with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison and was instrumental in helping them (a clear federalist).

Can we see just how much depth Lincoln has put into his argument? Not words assembled together to persuade, but solid pieces of a foundation that have weight beyond the words. And its just fun to notice how religion and faith, commerce, and academia of the day formed the framers views. Within these extraordinary ordinary men the foundations of federalism can be found. And its instructive how Lincoln is aware of this and extends the same principles to engage in the fight over slavery while expanding federalism. Equally interesting is the offhand rejection of the vote against by James M'Henry. Lincoln clearly denigrates the cause in "for some cause" that prompted the negative vote by not even mentioning it. We have a bar, a standard, and in this matter of persuasive oration, the pinnacle is in a very high place. Thank you Mr. President.

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