Thursday, September 10, 2009

People's Bicentennial Commission Book Review

I ran into Voices of the American Revolution by the People's Bicentennial Commission. Our public library puts some books in a roller in the Amtrak Station and encourages people just to take one to read on the train. (We are fortunate to now have a train twice a day to/from Chicago which is a distance of two hundred and fifty miles from where I live and work, Macomb, the home of Western Illinois University).

I thought it was a book by an official entity, but I realized later that is not. However, some of its quotes from the Founding Fathers and others of the Revolutionary period are ringing of some of the themes of this blog. In fact the two "official" bicentennial commissions were the Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission (ARBC), established in 1966, and after a scandal involving a relationship with Richard M. Nixon, was replaced with the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration (ARBA) in 1973. The People's Bicentennial was a "New-left" inspired organization.

Tom Paine wrote:

"It is at all times necessary, and more particularly so during the progess of a revolution that until right idey as confirm themselves by habit, that we frequently refresh our patriotism by reference to first principles. It is by tracing things to their origin that we learnto understand them..."

And to some extent I am taking democracy to its first principles, and I by applying computer technology to participatory democracy, I hope to understand what democracy really is and can be. I remember something told to me by my boss on a computer science grant,

The phrase, to really understand something, teach it to someone else, is well known. But to really understand something, program it. And that is what I have students doing as their master's project and other indepedent work. And what is the first principles to determine the budget for our "public goods."

And the first chapters looked reasonable, like the things that a government-sponsored commission might very well write. But later on, the book seems to advocate, or claim the founding fathers did, communistic ideas.

Benjamin Franklin said "All the property that is necessary to a man for the conservation of the individual, and the propagation of the species, is his natural right which none can justly deprive him of; but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public who, by their laws have created it, and who may, therefore, by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of the public shall dispose of it, whenever of the public shall desire such disposition." (I took the liberty of checking this quote to see if it is real and I found it in many places via Google including a book by the United States Department of State from 1889.

The book also claims that Jefferson submitted a bill which passed, that released "half the area of Virginia" "from the large landholders."

The book claims the revolution was determined to diffuse power as much as possible. "In North Carolina, as the new State constitution was debated, one delegate to the convention was asked what power the governmor would have in this new deomcratic system "The power to sign a receipt for his salary" and one delegation to the convention was instruction to seek "a simple democracy, or as near it as possible. Oppose everything that leans to aristocracy of power in the hands of the rich and chief men exercised to the oppression of the poor." I confirmed with the full document

And since I have talked about the problems with the financial system and the alternative of a share economy, I quote from Thomas Jefferson:

  1. The dominion of the banks must be broken, or it will break us.
  2. Everything predicted by the enemies of banks in the beginnign, is now coming to pass
  3. I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.
There are apparently bogus Jefferson quotes out there and the University of Virginia has a list of presumably good ones on financial systems, banks, inflation and the gold standard.

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