We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident…Part II

James Madison frequently remarked that “all just and free government derives from social compact.” Indeed, this is the basis of government in the Declaration of Independence, which specifies that the “just powers” of government derive from the “consent of the governed.” Because “all men are created equal”—because, that is, no one by nature has the right to rule anyone else—the only legitimate source of rule is the consent of those who are to be ruled, and the only legitimate reason for consent is for the “safety and happiness” of those who agree to be ruled. In agreeing to join civil society, each individual freely accepts the obligation to protect the rights of fellow citizens in return for the protection of his own rights. The “just powers” of government are thus directed to the equal protection of the equal rights of those who consent to be governed. Equal rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—derive from “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Equal protection of those rights is the very definition of the rule of law. Equal protection of the laws is thus intrinsic both to the social compact and to the Constitution.

The Constitution states that “We the people . . . do ordain and establish . . . this Constitution,” not that the Constitution creates the people. The people were created by the Declaration of Independence, which mentions the people both in their political capacity—“one people”—and in their moral capacity—a “good people.” Once the people are established, Madison says, a second contract is necessary, this time between the people in its political capacity and the government. By this second contract, the people consent to be governed under the forms of the Constitution and those who occupy the constitutional offices of government pledge to use their powers exclusively to “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessings of liberty” to the people. However, should the government act in a settled way to disfranchise the people of their rights, the people always reserve the right to alter or abolish the government in order to secure new forms that are better calculated to promote their “safety and happiness.” This is what has come to be known as the right of revolution, a necessary attribute of the people’s sovereignty which serves as the ultimate guarantee of every other right. The right to alter or abolish government is the only obligation mentioned in the Declaration because it is the ultimate expression of the people’s sovereignty.

The Constitution was intended by the Framers to put the principles of the Declaration into practice. But as in all things political, it is never possible to translate theory directly into practice. Insofar as the Constitution allowed the continued existence of slavery, it was only an incomplete expression of the Declaration’s principles. Madison argued that the compromises with slavery were necessary to secure the adoption of the Constitution—otherwise the slave-holding states would have bolted the Constitutional Convention. And as the most thoughtful of the Federalists understood, without a strong national government the prospects of ever ending slavery—of ever bringing the Constitution into complete harmony with the Declaration—were remote. Thus the prudential compromises regarding slavery in the Constitution were actually in the service of eventual emancipation. Adoption of the Declaration made the abolition of slavery a moral imperative.

The Rise and Fall of America..I mean, Rome.

In 509 B.C., Rome became a republic, a government in which power is controlled by the common people. It was under this Republic that Rome grew and expanded by conquest into the most powerful nation in the world at the time. As Roman territory increased, however, politicians and generals became more and more powerful and hungry for power. A series of events during the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. led to the demise of the Roman Republic. Under the reigns of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, the Roman Empire was formed. The Empire was ruled by an emperor, who had complete control over his people. Power was no longer in the hands of the people, but Rome continued to prosper and expand for several centuries.
Under the Republic, senators were elected by the people to run the government. The vote of wealthy landowners counted for more than others and many elections were fixed by bribes. However, the common people still maintained a significant power in government affairs.

When Rome’s Republic was formed, Rome was a mere small city-state, easily managed. However, as time went on, politicians found it harder to maintain the growing country. Extremely wealthy landowners, known as patricians, began to have more and more political power. After the second Punic War, marking the destruction of Rome’s enemy Carthage, the Roman economy and trade grew at a fast pace. Rich landowners and merchants were able to buy up most of the country land. Under Roman law, only landowners could serve in the military, but with the rich owning the land, the number of available soldiers dwindled. This caused instability in the Roman military.

Tiberius Gracchus, an enthusiastic politician, was elected tribune, an important political office, in 133 B.C. He proposed several laws to reshape Rome into the honest, pure republic that it had once been. His propositions included giving an equal share of land to all citizens, limiting the amount of land one person could have, and allowing every free Roman citizen to vote (at the time, only residents of Rome could vote). Tiberius’s ideas were very controversial, so he was murdered by a riot. His brother Gaius as tribune in 123 B.C., also attempted to pass these laws, but he too, was murdered.

More problems arose with the reforms of General Marius. In 104 B.C., he established a new law, which stated that people did not have to own land to be a soldier. This worked to strengthen the military. However, in return for their service, soldiers wanted to be granted land. Only under the general’s influence over the senate could soldiers be granted that land. The result was that soldiers tended to trust the general more and be more loyal to him than to the senate. The generals started to gain significant political power in Rome.

In 88 B.C., Sulla was elected consul. He gained much power within the senate, and was the first one to challenge Marius’ position, for until then Marius had been the most powerful man in Rome. A civil war erupted. Marius marched his army on Rome forcing Sulla to flee. Marius soon died, but his supporters continued the fight. Sulla came back with an army of his own and marched on Rome, declaring himself dictator in 82 B.C. He died in 78 B.C, but his reign encouraged others to grab absolute power over Rome.

After Sulla’s dictatorship was over, Rome temporarily went back to being controlled by the senate. Meanwhile, Pompey, the most distinguished general of the time, was gaining public favor from his many military victories. At the same time, Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome, also gained much popularity from the common people, for defeating a large slave uprising. Each held the ambition of someday ruling Rome. Another prominent general who was gaining popularity was Julius Caesar. Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar made a secret alliance to work together to gain control over the senate. This alliance became known as the First Triumvirate.

Caesar was elected consul in 60 B.C. He proposed laws that would gain the triumvirate even more power. When these laws were opposed, Crassus and Caesar resorted to violence and intimidation in order to get them passed. After a short time, the First Triumvirate began to crumble. Crassus was killed in battle in 53 B.C. Caesar, after his term as consul ended, was given a governorship of the area of southern France. Unheeding the word of the senate, Caesar raised his own army and led a path of conquest throughout all of Gaul.

After 8 years Julius Caesar returned. The senate was afraid that he might march on Rome with his loyal army. The senate’s fears proved correct. Pompey could not organize a counter offensive in time to save Rome, so he was forced to flee. Caesar marched into the city and appointed himself dictator. While the senate still existed, it was practically powerless against Caesar’s commands.

Desperate politicians Brutus and Cassius plotted against Julius and eventually killed him, stabbing him in the back on March 15, 44 B.C. The conspirators believed that the senate would regain control of Rome. However, strong generals Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus unofficially established their power by intimidation through their armies. In the ensuing years the Second Triumvirate was formed. This consisted of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian, who had demanded a position in the senate after Julius’ death. The three men swept the senate with terror, killing Cicero, who was the greatest supporter of the republic.

Brutus and Cassius retaliated by raising an army against the triumvirs. However, Antony met their army and, after fierce fighting, defeated it. Brutus and Cassius killed themselves after viewing their defeat.

Now, Antony and Octavian received no more opposition from the senate and were supreme rulers. They were powerful enough that they didn’t need Lepidus anymore, so they betrayed him by knocking him out of their alliance. Antony took control over Eastern Rome, while Octavian controlled Western Rome. After a few years, in 36 B.C. Octavian, needing an excuse to wage war on Antony, accused him of being disloyal to Rome by becoming involved with Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavian attacked Eastern Rome and defeated Antony. Octavian, who had changed his name to Augustus, was finally supreme ruler over Rome.

The republic had died. While the senate still existed, it had little say in government matters and could certainly not challenge the word of the emperor. Ten Caesars came after Augustus to rule over Rome. Despite the crippling of the Republic, Rome continued to prosper and expand for several centuries until its eventual decline.