Recently I was reviewing some older work and saw where I had used some references of present relevance that I’d like to share. The following quotes are pulled from a single letter written by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The letter was written to the Federal Convention in and for the State of South Carolina that was then meeting in Charleston on May 14, 1788. Insofar as who Charles Pinckney was and his prominence in the birth of this nation, I’ll leave that to you the reader, suffice to say however that his role was instrumental in helping shape this nation. In pertinent part and to that end, I proffer the following:
“It seems to be generally confessed that, of all sciences, that of government or politics, is the most difficult.” Indeed. How many systems and forms of government have been used, implemented, morphed, imposed, practiced, and instituted through the ages of people trying to formulate a means of order under which all may live and prosper? We find theory and practice intertwined through time. Monarchy, theocracy, democracy, oligarchy, and all the various forms thereof under which people have lived, suffered, prospered, sometimes flourishing and sometimes suffering under the weight of oppression. What is the complexity and dynamic of physics in comparison? What we know today of the hard sciences today never change in their base forms and remain absolute. In mathematics, two plus two always equal four. What does change in the hard sciences is the amount of what we know and understand. But in government and politics, the base dynamic is constantly evolving and changing because of the people factor; the chance factor.
In our current world, there are those that look and gesture back toward Europe as the model that we should strive to be like. “In reviewing such of the European states as we are best acquainted with, we may with truth assert that there is but one among the most important which confirms to its citizens their civil liberties, or provides for the security of private rights…we have been taught here to believe that all power of right belongs to the people; that it flows immediately from them, and is delegated to their officers for the public good; that our rulers are the servants of the people, amenable to their will, and created for their use. How different are the governments of Europe!” How different indeed. That one “European state” so referred to by Pinckney was in fact England.
The same nation with which we had just waged a war of independence and yet it was seen and viewed by many as a model by which we should mold our form of governance. A nation led by a monarch who refused to give representation to the colonies, hence therein lies the rub. “From the European world are no precedents to be drawn for a people who think they are capable of governing themselves.” In other words, the models for democracy that exist today in Europe were copied from our own quest for Freedom. And yet, there are those that say today that we should exemplify the European model; they copied it from us! While there existed in the Europe of that time parliaments that ‘represented’ the people, they were still subservient to the will of the monarch. “Let it be therefore our boast that we have already taught some of the oldest and wisest nations to explore their rights as men….”
In the formation of the type of governance, “The first knowledge necessary for us to acquire, is (sic) a knowledge of the people for whom this system was to be formed; for unless we were acquainted with their situation, their habits, opinions, and resources, it would be impossible to form a government upon adequate or practicable principles. If we examine the reasons which have given rise to the distinctions of rank that at present prevail in Europe, we shall find that none of them do, or in all probability ever will, exist in the Union.” “The only distinction that may take place is that of wealth. Riches, no doubt, will ever have their influence; and where they are suffered to increase to large amounts in a few hands, there they may become dangerous to the public—particularly when, from the cheapness of labor and the scarcity of money, a great proportion of the people are poor.” This argument remains to this day. The disparities among the few and the many with regard to wealth have grown and manifested themselves in the last 30 years, despite this letter being almost 235 years old, we have seen precisely these very things move to the forefront in our nation.
Pinckney was a lawyer and a plantation owner. He prospered from the very things that he wrote warning the nation of. His primary belief was in agriculture and the proliferation thereof. Did he stand to benefit? I’m sure he did. But he also saw the ways in which the government could be corrupted and oppressive. Why? Because we have seen the rise of the following, whom Pinckney quotes, but doesn’t name, “the three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war…this is robbery.” “The second is by commerce, which is generally cheating….” “The third is by agriculture….” Pinckney disagrees with the writer concerning commerce, because he says, “some kinds of commerce are not only fair and valuable, but such as ought to be encouraged by government.” But, “Foreign trade is one of the enemies against which we must be extremely guarded—more so than against any other, as none will ever have a more unfavorable operation. I consider it as the root of our present public distress—as plentiful source from which our future national calamities will flow, unless great care is taken to prevent it…the object of a republic is to render its citizens virtuous and happy; and that an unlimited foreign commerce can seldom fail to have a contrary tendency.”
When you analyze what is written in the context of today, you see precisely what was warned of taking place. You have seen this area and in a greater regard, the nation decimated by foreign trade. You have seen the plight of the poor and those less affluent of this country become more so and the rise of a thriving commercial monolith through what is commonly regarded as a corporatocracy; the subjugation of the people by means of influence through the political process by way of lobbyists and the introduction of those in commerce into politics and governance. “Commerce may be made, an object of the attention of government…it does not appear to me that the commercial line will ever have much influence in the politics of the Union.” Proverbial, but it didn’t proliferate itself until the latter part 20th Century to be precise, with impunity. This has become a self-serving ideal in the bodies’ politic across the nation. But to be clear I am no more a fan of agriculture ruling the people than I am commerce. Both are necessary and crucial to our existence, but not in controlling our destiny. Agriculture, commerce, and the trades should all be allowed to operate and prosper within the framework of our Republic, but not at the expense of the people.
With those notions I will leave it to you the reader to ponder the implications of that wisdom. Some will have already made up their minds after reading the first few paragraphs because they will view what they have read within the context of what they believe or hold to be true without further consideration that maybe, perhaps, they have been mistaken in what they believe. I have found myself in the position to have to re-consider positions I have long held as true on the basis of additional information and truth and grudgingly reformulated my own opinions and beliefs because what I had known to be true was in error. And while this isn’t necessarily an expression of opinion, it is an expression of thought. And to perpetuate ourselves and our Nation, we must think of the future, learning from our past, our mistakes and missteps, and learn from them by not repeating them.