A Great Expense of Blood

By Shtuey at Oh…My Valve!

When I think about what I want this country to be, the ideals I want this republic to stand on and live by, I look to the man that Jefferson referred to as the “colossus of independence,” and his wife, (without whom the colossus would have floundered, and so too the cause of independency): John and Abigail Adams.   Abolitionists and revolutionaries, John and Abigail Adams, above all their peers, understood the potential for what America could become.  When Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal the Adamses knew that meant all men (and if John didn’t think all women as well, Abigail constantly reminded him).

I believe it is a misnomer to say that the principles of our nation are embodied in the Constitution.  They are not.  The Constitution is a reflection of those principles…to an extent.  The three-fifths clause, or the so-called “Great Compromise” legitimated slavery in America for nearly another hundred years.  In elementary school our teachers called it “Great” because without this compromise it is more than likely that the United States would not have survived.  It is also because of this “compromise” that 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War.  The sin of slavery was a blood debt America was going to pay in 1789 or the 1860s not because of conscience, but because of one simple principle: “Economic motivation is paramount in man,” (the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves, it was money money money).  Yes, it was culturally accepted in the slave owning South, and in much of society at large  in the North, that the African was inferior to Europeans, but the three-fifths clause was about money and power.  It overrode any sense of conscience that southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention might have had, and ultimately the perceived need to form a stable system of national governance overrode the consciences of delegates from the North.  And it wasn’t until the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791 that American principles of our freedoms were ameliorated and applied to our legal codex.  But before all this, John and Abigail Adams were laying down principles that, though not always followed and too often ignored, are the compass by which Americans must now navigate if we are to have any hope of undoing what we have allowed to happen.  Here are a few of my favorites from John Adams (Abigail deserves her own post, and so she shall have it).

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have… a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean the characters and conduct of their rulers.

Society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.

How is it that we as a society have lost sight of these notions to such an extent that we are now witnesses to the very undoing of our republic, a potential end that has been long in coming, and that we have been dutifully ignoring?  Untold millions of Americas indigenous people were slaughtered on this land.  Women who sought the right to vote were jailed, beaten, and murdered to secure the right of franchise (For the record, the Constitution does not protect or guarantee our right to vote.  It merely defines who in our society is allowed to vote–scary thought isn’t it?).  And what have we done?  We have squandered our freedoms and rights.  We have allowed them to be usurped to the point where the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed the stimulus bill that was recently passed by Congress, and they did not listen.  You are not being heard.  Your desires, your needs, your opinions, your liberties do not matter to the people who are now heavily engaged in generating for themselves the greatest set of controls over our private lives in the history of this country.  They already sanctioned the warrantless tapping of your phone.  I certainly do not want the government having access to my medical records.  Do you?

On independence, and creating a society for free people Adams said,

The object is great which we have in view, and we must expect a great expense of blood to obtain it.  But we should always remember that a free constitution of civil government cannot be purchased at too dear a rate, as there is nothing on this side of Jerusalem of equal importance to mankind.

If Adams’ contention, that having the freedom to form and maintain a civil government, whose purpose he argued is to protect our rights and liberties to best allow for our common happiness, is so precious that the lives of enslaved Africans, our First Nations, and our citizens whose blood has been spilled at home and abroad was a price worth paying, then that blood is on all of our hands if we sit idly by and watch it all slip away.

So…what the heck are we going to do about this?


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26 Comments

Filed under by Shtuey

26 responses to “A Great Expense of Blood

  1. lililam

    I think your last paragraph is a definite wake up call and reminder to take heed of all the sacrifices that preceded us. There have been many recent times when the general tenor of public discourse has reached the trivial and sarcastic, and I do believe that many of those “in charge” right now possess a great deal of self-importance and the shared agenda of selfishness, but, as exemplified in your speech and that of many of our acquaintances, there can be a resumption of respect for ourselves, our country, and our forebearers. I never considered myself to be a fanatically patriotic citizen, but right now, it feels that we must return to that state of awe and acknowledge our tenuous connection to freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all of our brothers and sisters. A lack of respect for us all led to our current dilemma.

  2. Your historical perspective is always a brilliant reminder of the ideals that our brave warriors, whether military or civilian ideologists, fought for.
    The disease has been isolated, but what is the cure, and how is the patient (our country) going to receive treatment? Your query is the crux of the matter, Shtuey. We ponder, find appropriate phrases, deeds, and laws to supplement and make the case for our current decline, but the solution (cure) is either here right in front of us or beyond our reach and/or scope of capability. With widespread emotional anarchy, it is obvious that we are all questioning the “how to” aspect. In days of yore, we fought with our weapons. In more modern times, we staged protests. However, in my estimation, we have never been confronted with a complete revamping or better yet, takeover, of the laws and principles upon which our beloved country was founded, so these are unprecedented times. How do we as citizens overturn the will and determination of the conglomerate in control? Not sure…just not sure.

  3. astra14

    “So…what the heck are we going to do about this?”

    Well the tea party protests have started – even if the news won’t report on them – so people are starting to understand something is very wrong. It may take EVERYONE protesting in the street before those is power wake up to the fact the people of this country do have a voice. Will that happen? I don’t know. As petunia politik stated, these are unprecedented times.

  4. lililam, beautifully stated. Our history is laden with paradoxes, enigma, shams, injustice, and idealism. America has been on steroids from the beginning. It has been argued that the people who put this republic together meant for it to end up where we are, and others who believe that the bar was set very high, but that too many were not interested enough in vaulting.

    We don’t have the luxury of grabbing Jefferson and Adams by the shoulders to ask, “What the hell were you talking about?!?” We’re here now, and we’re on our own. We can’t undo the past, but we sure as hell can do something about the future.

    petunia, I think the first step is to stop letting their will play us. If we won’t play along what power do they have?

  5. Shtuey,

    You are a patriot extraordinaire!

    Thank you for all you do to keep us informed.

    I don’t know the answer, but I have faith that we will see this through, and we will be victorious.

    Sometimes I think if we are just patient the criminal punk in chief will be his own undoing, but I fear the freedoms lost on the way to that end.

    God bless America!

  6. Pat Johnson

    I tend to believe that the Founding Fathers put together a treatise that both honored the individual as well as the collective. The danger is that we oftimes forget. Freedom should never be taken for granted but we have seen how easily it can be corrupted by those who have strayed from the original intent.

  7. Cinie

    Shtuey, okay, here’s my two cents. The romanticization of the Founding Fathers as pure-hearted, altruists full of good will toward all is something that I as a black, lesbian American woman just can’t get behind. To me, the motives of the men who founded this country can best be described as being akin to those in Major League Baseball who instituted the salary cap. Yes, they were interested in “fairness,” but only amongst and between themselves. The interests of the players were inconveniences to be dealt with. In other words, in the case of the MLB owners and the Founding Fathers, how they divvied up the spoils gained from the work of those they employed or owned, was paramount; the rights of those subjected to, and affected by, their dominance was not even considered. Thus, atrocities of varying degrees (if such a thing is possible) were routine against Native peoples, blacks, religious “extremists,” “foreigners,” and oh, yeah, women. Other, “lesser,” white men often fared no better. Irishmen, Scots, Germans, and even other Englishmen were enslaved, (“indentured”) only their skin color and potential ability to escape and blend in made them less valuable as slaves than blacks and Natives, and ultimately placed them slightly higher up in the food chain. My point is not to relitigate the past, but to suggest that any attempt to go forward be done with an honest eye on our shared history. The Constitutional mantle under which we live and work arrogantly affords us all the freedom to do so, as if some men have the power to grant freedom to others born without it, yet that freedom is an inadvertent residual legacy, not the rightful inheritance of just men to their pridefully acknowledged heirs. It’s not that our founding principles, freedoms and rights have been corrupted, it’s that the Constitutional ideals as interpreted by those who live under them, as opposed to those who crafted them, have never been realized, mostly only narrowly applied, as they were intended to be.

  8. Ironically Cinie, many of the founders acknowledged that the rhetoric didn’t match the reality. I’m not into romanticizing the founders. I’m also not into placing the evils perpetrated in this nation on their shoulders either. It took a relatively few people to draw up and create our government. It took millions to enforce the societal ills of slavery, bigotry, and misogyny; things these people did not institute.

    But the truth is, regardless of the realities then, and now, the rhetoric is a source of what the ideal should be. Ghandi was no saint. Neither was MLK. But it was King, the night before he died that said, “Live up to what you said on paper.”

    Jefferson wanted to explicity attack slavery in the Declaration of Independence, but that language was stricken, which only served to delay what happened in 1860. Don’t confuse my admiration for the rhetoric with a statement that these men were saints.

    I disagree that the Constitution grants any freedoms. Jefferson and Adams made it quite clear that the freedoms we have are inhereted at birth. The Bill of Rights makes it clear that government cannot take those rights away. It is OUR moral failing that we need an ERA for women to be seen as equal, etc. Though everyone has the same rights, it is the ethical failure of humanity that we have slavery, prejudice, sexism, and genocide; not because a bunch of white guys met in Philadelphia.

  9. Pat Johnson

    All I can add is that after reading the back and forth between Shtuey and Cinie I need to just retreat to my own corner and observe. I bow to both.

  10. To clarify my position, I do not cite people like Adams, Jefferson, etc because they were perfect, or created the ultimate system of governance, or that our nation has lived up to the rhetoric. I cite it because we as a nation have not lived up to it, and it’s about time we did.

  11. Cinie

    First of all, Shtuey, what I wrote was not an attack on what you wrote, I intended to to a post along those lines, anyway, and your post opened the door to allow me to comment instead. I’m also not sure about the tenor of your response. My point was that the Founding Fathers were concerned with protecting their interests, not benefiting mankind. All too often, in my opinion, their legacy is imbued with unwarranted nobility, as if, in the analogy I used, baseball fans were to celebrate and revere the owners for the language used in drafting the salary cap rules. Fortunately, an opportunity exists to enforce the principles expressed in the Constitution in a larger, more positive, more inclusive, manner than they were initially intended. And, regardless of who has the power to grant or take away rights and freedoms, history tells us that I did not have them before, nor immediately after, the country was founded. In fact, in many ways, I still don’t.

  12. Cinie and Shtuey – Fascinating conversation! I hope you don’t mind if I drop in. (Whoops, too late!)

    I tend to be a little more romantic in my view of the Founding Fathers, simply because they were willing to die for their principles, something very few today remember. They were far from perfect, but they lost their families, their fortunes and their lives in order to create our nation. That willingness to sacrifice deserves a lot of respect in itself. (Can you imagine our brave Cheeto-stained keyboard kommandos doing the same?)

    I also do not believe that it’s a great moral failing that we don’t see women and gays as equals. I think it’s human nature to divide groups of people into “us” and “them.” And the patriarchy, the principle of The Blade, is constantly fighting any encroachment by the feminine, the principle of The Chalice; hence, the fact that Cinie and I are still considered 75% of a person (because that’s how we’re paid by those who are penile-ly endowed), and Gary and Mawm, who have a little too much Chalice in them, are similarly disenfranchised from being full equals in our society.

    I believe we humans have always needed leaders to push us towards equality and fairness, to set an example. And indeed, that’s why we have laws, to govern our public behavior. Without laws, we would most likely devolve into a Lord of the Flies society. (After 8 years of Bushian lawlessness, we’re not too far away from that now.)

    The pattern in America, as in other countries, appears clear to me. Humans will always tolerate social injustice until it is forbidden to do so. As Cinie so eloquently states, our history is rife with it. Thus, we will continue to have institutionalized misogyny and homophobia until we inscribe explicit protection against sexual discrimination into the Constitution.

    The ERA won’t erase social injustice in one fell swoop, but it will be a first step along the way, or so I believe.

  13. Keeping it simple, let’s be realistic here. There is and never has been any moral high ground upon which our country has stood. Perhaps the intentions were noble when the Founding Fathers (who probably treated the Founding Mothers like serfs) so eloquently wrote our governing laws. Perhaps it was for purposes of self-aggrandizement. The fact is, throughout our nation’s history we have violated a myriad of these “hopeful” guidelines. What is the purpose of lending assignation to the greatness of any leader when they oft are and were in violation of the very
    writings that are ascribed to them.
    Perhaps I break with the norm, but I do not believe that ratifying the E.R.A. will further the cause of women, rather it will serve as an appeasement with no clear relevance. Did the Civil Rights Act end discrimination? It allowed for integrated schools, but equality is in the hearts and minds of the populace. As long as there are homophobes, misogynists, and people who hate baseball because the players earn lots of money (this one’s for you, Cinie), there will be NO way to enforce equality. Implications of sexist behavior in the workplace are grounds for firing, yes? Tell that to the judge. We live in a subjective, “me” society, and we cannot expect our not-so-brave new world to acquiesce to the quaint documents that were supposedly forged for our benefit. Color me cynical. I vote for anarchy.

  14. Mirlo

    In Switzerland, they have equality in their constitution since 1983. The reality? Women are still payed 24% less for equal work, they are still ridiculed and belittled, just like in the US. There is a subministerial office for equality, it has been installed over 20 years ago, they are still struggling with the same issues, no real progress.

    I am convinced that things can only be changed by grassroot movements, by raising awareness and by resistance. We have to not accept certain things anymore, we have to be willing to take risks. We have to think and act for ourselves.

  15. I see now why Shtuey says we contributors will disagree on a lot of things. Petunia is an anarchist!

    Wow.

    Let’s just say in my view, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I’ll leave it at that.

  16. Ouch, MB!
    Just a realist that dreams of rebellion from the comfort of my sofa. My anarchist -like behavior has been relegated to domestic issues, how boring.

    Did you happen to witness SoS HRC just make a perfectly stirring speech regarding International Women’s Day? In theory, I’m inspired. In reality, what will change.

  17. Cinie

    Petunia, you say “Perhaps the intentions were noble when the Founding Fathers (who probably treated the Founding Mothers like serfs) so eloquently wrote our governing laws. Perhaps it was for purposes of self-aggrandizement.”
    Perhaps it was justification, rationalization and pr. “All men are created equal” sounds a lot better than, “Screw the King.”

  18. I’m with you, Cinie. Idealism might result in a blissful state of mind, but the reality was possibly more aligned to our presumptions about those mortal men. Sigh.

  19. Cinie, I know you weren’t attacking. I was trying to clarify my position that I do not have any illusions about who these men were. We do have a tendency to idealize our founders, which is why I mentioned the 3/5 clause. In spite of the grand words, the fact is that the continued bondage of black people was essentially the blood offering that allowed our country to exist after 1789. This is the prism through which we must view our founding. Failing to do so opens the door to failing to address the work that still needs to be done. My point was that, in spite of this, the ideals expressed are important.

    You are absolutely right when you say, “regardless of who has the power to grant or take away rights and freedoms, history tells us that I did not have them before, nor immediately after, the country was founded. In fact, in many ways, I still don’t.” At least I agree that your rights and freedoms weren’t being addressed, and still aren’t. But I do believe that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. You were born with them and you will die with those rights. It is an unjust society, or an unjust body of governance that acts otherwise, acts to deny that you have those rights. That’s what the struggle for human rights has always been about. We are not fighting for our rights. We already have them. We are fighting to make sure that those we entrust to govern recognize those rights, and hold them as sacred as their own lives and fortunes. At least that’s the way I see it.

    You are black, a woman, and a lesbian; a marginalization trifecta (you should convert to Judaism for the cherry on top 😉 ) Regardless of what society, or the government may say, you are still in possession of those rights. You are unfortunately part of a society that has largely acted to abridge those rights which, to me at least, is the definition of oppression. Here’s an example of what I mean.

    I believe you already have the right to marry another woman if you choose. But there are states that want to take that right away. They have no authority to do so. It is your human right to marry whom you choose. Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong, in my opinion, and must be challenged.

    I think you captured the spirit of my intent of this post, and this blog, when you said, “an opportunity exists to enforce the principles expressed in the Constitution in a larger, more positive, more inclusive, manner…”

    I was just trying to make sure you understood that my intention is not to romanticize our founders, but to get America to do what King declared in Memphis, “Live up to what you said on paper.” If we can help America do that it won’t matter in the end if the Founders were trying to perpetuate a monochromed power base.

    So I think we’re largely in agreement, I just don’t think I conveyed it properly in my response. Apologies if I ruffled. ‘Twas not my intent. 😉

    Madamab, you pointed out something that is also important to keep in mind. The first Continental Congress sent King George what was referred to as the Olive Branch Petition as an attempt to rectify matters with Britain before they ever took up the vote for independence. His response was unequivocal. He considered them treasonous rebels that could end their nonsensical actions against the Crown, or be hung. Every signature on the Declaration of Independence is the name of a man who would have been executed had the revolution failed. They very publicly put their lives on the line for independence. Whether in the end they considered the revolution a means of advancing and achieving their own power, or advancing the cause of freedom, what they did was extraordinarily bold.

    As we engage in a struggle to, as Cinie rightly said, “…enforce the principles expressed in the Constitution,” I think it’s important to think about what sacrifices we’re willing to make in order to make that happen.

    Cinie, to my mind it is not enough to say you are born with your rights. They must be enforced, respected, and protected, and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you until they are my sister.

    And that goes for the rest of you.

  20. Speaking of the founding dudes and anarchy, I firmly believe that, in his heart, Jefferson was an anarchist.

  21. then i’m in good company.

  22. Cinie

    No apology necessary, Shtu, and if there was, it would be from me to you. I agree that we agree, and probably needed to go through this strange kabuki tango to see that. Sometimes like minds express themselves differently.
    And PP, I’d say we’re all in good company, even gay black, Jewish, feminist, anarchist, patriotic revolutionaries. And, all other Americans, too.

  23. For the record I think “Screw the king” is well put 😉

    kabuki tango…I think you’re onto something there Cinie; like the Macarena only not lame.

  24. Wow! That was one hell of an exchange…I rather enjoyed it. Is there room for a capitalistic anarchist patriot here or should I just move along now? 😉

    Everyone can sit around talking about the founding fathers as a bunch of rich, white, land-owning lawyers that also owned slaves…where does that get us now? Our country has gone from being run by lawyers to being run by the banks and their lawyers. What do we do about that? When I come up with an idea that does not involve forcing the government to respect us, I will let you know.

  25. Beata

    Shtuey,
    Just lurking. I like the new blog. I always enjoy your posts – wherever I find them! Love your knowledge of history and great sense of humor.

  26. celestialdragonfly

    I think the founding fathers were inspired men, but men none the less. Who tried to write the constitution based on a Belief in God. I think that as the belief in God has dwindled so has mans morale character…I think they go hand in hand. God was very much in the minds of those who formed this country. I don’t think that is the case anymore….while people are not perfect, when they are at least trying to obey the basic 10 commandments with the first being “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” and how the first half of the commandments deal with how to worship God and the second half are how to deal with our neighbors…. Everything that is going on in this corrupt world deals with the breaking of the commandments.
    Idolatry is anything out there that takes a mans heart away from the one true God. Whether that be money, power, baseball, what we devote our time to.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if we brought back, Thou shalt not steal….or Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor ANYTHING that is thy neighbour’s…..
    We have a whole lot of dissing God, and boy isn’t coveting at an all time high. So society doesn’t use those words anymore, I mean it’s so much easier to use the word tax then stealing but isn’t it the same. And when you tax the rich to give to the poor with their outstretched hands isn’t that coveting our neighbours things?
    I’m sure I’ll get flack for this comment but it’s the plain and simple TRUTH of the matter.

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