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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Complete Noobs Guide to American Politics

Episode I

    In the Beginning... Between 1607 and 1733 Great Britain had been establishing colonies in North America. While the earliest British settlers in North America came from England in order to freely practice their strict conservative puritan religion, which was unpopular in England, the majority of early European Americans came to “the new world” for the financial opportunities the lands natural resources implied. The smaller religious villages were eventually consumed by the larger, more prosperous colonial communities and the inhabitants were assimilated into the colonial economy, society and government.
    The original 13 colonies were as follows:

  1. Delaware
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. New Jersey
  4. Georgia
  5. Connecticut
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Maryland
  8. South Carolina
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Virginia
  11. New York
  12. North Carolina
  13. Rhode Island

    Is There an ‘Old York’ and an ‘Old Jersey’? York is a town in the United Kingdom, northeast of Wales. Jersey is an island off the northwest coast of France. The great leaders of our past were notoriously uncreative when it came to naming new territories. The only empire which ever rivaled the British was the empire of Alexander of Macedonia, or ‘Alexander the Great’, who named a total of 6 cities Alexandria.

    The Grand Ole Tea Party.  The 13 original colonies each had their own independent government and held elections, as well as their own individual paper money. The British government kept a military presence in the colonies and collected taxes to pay for the colonies military protection. Because each of the colonies had their own forms of currency, if one held a job in Georgia, and was paid in Georgia, with Georgia's paper money and then went to Rhode Island they would not be able to spend their money as Rhode Island used a different form of currency. Each individual colonies government provided a local police force, created and enforced laws and imposed taxes for public services. The government officials were elected by citizens of the colony. Most white men were eligible to vote.
In addition to local taxes imposed by colonial government, citizens also paid a tax to Great Britain. Although the colonial citizens were able to vote for their own local representatives and had a say in local taxation, the colonists had no representative back in England, and therefore had no say in what taxes Britain imposed and/or raised. In 1765 Great Britain imposed a new tax called the Stamp Act. The stamp act required that printed materials such as legal documents, magazines, newspapers etc. be produced on a special embossed (or ‘stamped’) paper manufactured in London. All British taxes, including the fee for the ‘stamped’ paper,  were required to be paid in valid British currency, not colonial paper money.
American colonists began to protest their lack of representation back in England. The principle of “No Taxation Without Representation” spread through all of the 13 colonies. British Parliament responded to the protests by imposing even more taxes. In 1773, when Parliament passed a new tax on tea, the American colonists boycotted tea and in Massachusetts, a group of protesters dumped a large shipment of tea into the Boston harbor in an attempt to force Great Britain to allow them representation in Parliament. This act of protest would henceforth be known as ‘The Boston Tea Party’.

Viva la Revolución! After the ‘tea party’ incident, Britain put an end to Massachusetts independent government and instituted martial law in the colony. The colonies put together their own underground government system, each tied together by the creation of the Continental Congress. The colonists, who were mostly farmers, began forming local militia groups who trained to be ready in a minutes notice, and where therefore called ‘minutemen’.
    In April, 1775 General Thomas Gage, who was head of the British military force occupying Massachusetts, sent troops out of Boston to take the militias weapons. The rebel militias resisted and defeated the British troops Gage had sent, thus starting the Revolutionary War.

    The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is Not Just a Beastie Boys Song. On the night of April 18th, 1775, just before the first battles of the Revolutionary war, the Battles at Lexington and Concord, a rebel silversmith named Paul Revere was preparing for his job as a messenger to warn the rebel army of the coming British attack. Paul Revere instructed a man at a church to use lanterns to warn the townspeople of where the British attack would be coming from. The warning system was simple: “One if by land, two if by sea”. 2 lanterns were hung in the church, indicating the attack would be coming from the sea. Paul Revere rode his horse at midnight from Boston to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the movements of the British army. This heroic action by Paul Revere and several other messengers was later made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his historically inaccurate poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”.

    The Revolution Continues. Great Britain had great military training and power, and even larger numbers on their side. The colonists effective exchange of print such as underground magazines, newspapers and pamphlets not only provided the rebels with a greater means of communication but also served as a powerful recruiting tool. The free exchange of information is an invaluable tool for any successful revolution.
    The British military skirmish fighting style should be a well known image in the minds of most modern Amercians who own television sets. Back in their European landscape with flat plains and low rolling hills the British army could march in uniform rows kneeling to pack their muskets with a ball and powder and then rising to fire one shot, then repeat. They would face their enemy on an open battlefield, who would fight in the same uniform and symmetrical manner until they would meet in the middle, attach bayonets to the end of their now useless projectile weapons and fight in bloody hand to hand combat, usually ending in a British victory.
    In the cities of the colonies the rebels took great losses. Many men and boys were killed and buildings and harbours were burned to the ground. The rebel military was forced back into the remote mountain communities which were mainly populated by Scottish immigrants who were looked down upon by the British colonial immigrants and had more experience working with difficult land. Learning that this fight was unavoidably being brought to them and fearing the loss of rights to their land, these immigrants and mountainmen took up arms with the rebel army and helped to defeat the British.    
In the unforgiving North American wilderness with its high rocky peaks and its dense forests and brush the bright red British formations fell like large booming sets of proper well dressed dominoes. Rather than employing the antiquated and irrelevant British military style, the mountainmen invoked the fighting style of the local native American tribes, donning camouflage such as animal skins, mud and leaves. Rather than lining up and presenting themselves to the British army the new rebel forces hide in trees and bushes, lure British soldiers to indefensible positions and ambush them. These rednecks and hillbillys were a sort of godfathers of guerrilla warfare.
It’s worth noting that although America declared its independence on July 4th 1776, the revolutionary war did not officially end until 1783.

What is a ‘State’ Anyway? You may have noticed that when they refer to leaders of other countries in the news, they refer to them as “heads of state”.

state [steyt] –noun 1. a sovereign political power or community.

Each of the 13 colonies had enjoyed their own independent government before the onset of the revolutionary war. Although having their own government had its advantages, the disadvantages definitely needed to be addressed. Having separate currencies became a serious problem as economies fluctuated and exchange rate formulas were virtually incomprehensible. Trading goods and services usually ended in arguments and fistfights over disputes about which forms of currency were acceptable as payment, and where. The small size and population of the colonies meant smaller, if any military, which proved to be a problem with the British military occupation of Massachusetts. After the colonists won their independence from Great Britain, they wanted to maintain their own independent governments. Each colony now wanted to be as its own country or ‘state’, but necessity dictated that they band together and unite under a central federal government, which would have less power than the states government but could organize a central military and a standard form of currency. Having learned a valuable lesson from the injustices that started the revolution, it was imperative that the federal government maintain representatives from every district in each state and conduct a regular census to ensure that every one of each states citizens was being represented. The federal government would also need to impose taxes to pay for the services which it provided, which was accepted as long as each state had representatives to evaluate the need for the tax and vote either for or against it. Now each separate state, each with its own separate government is united by a central federal government, hence: The United States of America.

The Founding Fathers. The founding fathers of the United States of America were a group of 7 men who advocated the revolution and helped formed the new American government.
  1. Benjamin Franklin was an author, a printer, a postman, a scientist, an inventor and a political activist. He was one of the first advocates for the 13 colonies forming a union, even before the onset of the Revolutionary war. If the 13 colonies were the first season of LOST then Benjamin Franklin would have been Dr. Jack Shephard loudly espousing the philosophy “We live together, or we die alone”. Although Benjamin Franklins parents were Puritans, Franklin himself belonged to no particular religion and rarely went to church. he believed that religion taught important moral lessons, but never felt inclined to partake in organized religion himself. He did, however, belong to the freemasons.
  2. George Washington was a general, and eventually the commander in chief, of the Continental Army and led the rebels in victory against the British in the Revolutionary war. George Washington, of course, went on to become the first President of the united states of America. Initially, Washington rejected the payment offered for the position as President, as he was already wealthy, but he reluctantly accepted payment eventually, fearing his actions would set a precedent of only independently wealthy people running for president. Many different titles were suggested for the leader of the newly formed United States, but Washington settled on “President” as it sounded most humble of all the choices. Washington did not belong to any political party, and was against the formation of political parties as he feared it would polarize the country and undermine the system of government. George Washington served a 4 year term as President and was re-elected for a second 4 year term. He declined to run for a third term, thus setting a tradition of American Presidents only serving 2 terms. George Washington was a Christian Anglican who fought for religious freedom. He had said publicly that he denounced "every species of religious persecution", while hoping that "bigotry and superstition" would be overcome by "truth and reason" in the United States. Washington was also a freemason. Incidentally, if Katie Couric ever wants to know, George Washington is my favourite founding father.
  3. John Adams was a lawyer and a politician and was a member of the Continental Congress. Adams was George Washingtons Vice President and was elected the second President of the United States. Adams was a Christian Unitarian and believed that religion must change and evolve toward perfection.
  4. Thomas Jefferson was a politician during the Revolutionary war and the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was the first Secretary of State under President Washington and was the third President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson was openly hostile toward the Catholic church and rejected most Christian religions. Jefferson played a role in his local Episcopal church but considered himself a Unitarian.
  5. James Madison was a politician and the main author of the United States Constitution. Adams is called “The father of the Constitution”. He was the fourth President of the United States. Madison was an Episcopalian and the strongest proponent of the separation of church and state.
  6. Alexander Hamilton was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He was an economist and a political philosopher. Hamilton was raised as an evangelical Presbyterian as a child but was openly anti-christian from 1777-1792. Hamilton became religious again for political gain, to no avail and then became deeply religious after being shot in a duel in 1804 until his death the following evening. Hamilton spent his final day receiving communion and denouncing duels.
  7. John Jay was a president of the Continental Congress and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay was the Governor of New York and an opponent of slavery. His third attempt to pass laws for the emancipation of all slaves in New York succeeded in 1799. John Jay was an Anglican and later an Episcopalian but argued (unsuccessfully) against allowing Catholics to hold office in the U.S. John Jay was believed to have been a freemason.

    Declaration of Independence VS The Constitution. When the 13 American Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain during the Revolutionary war on July 4th 1776 the Continental Congress drafted a document to declare that independence in writing, published it and made it available to the public. The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 people, including founding fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The first 2 paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence are as follows:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,...

    The phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” is said to be the greatest sentence in the English language.
    The United States Constitution was adopted September 17, 1787. The Constitution is the defining document of the United States Government. It explains how the government shall work and why. The U.S. Constitution essentially IS the United States government. The preamble to the Constitution is as follows:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    The Constitution defines 3 branches of federal government:
  1. The Executive Branch is headed by the elected President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the U.S. military. Presidential elections are held once every 4 years. A President may not serve more than 2 four year terms in office. The President may write bills, which can then be voted on by the House of Representatives and then the Senate. If the bill is passed by a majority vote it can then be signed by the President and becomes a law. The President can choose to veto any bill passed by the House and the Senate, preventing it from becoming a law if he chooses. To be eligible for the Presidency one must either be born in the United States or if born outside of the United States must be the child of a U.S. citizen. Also to be eligible one must be at least 35 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years.
  2. The Legislative Branch is headed by Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
    • The Senate consists of 2 elected Senators from each state. Each Senators term is 6 years, which means that a current Senator must run again for re-election every 6 years. There are no term limits, so Senators may run for re-election as many times as they like. The Senate is split up into thirds, so ⅓ of the Senate has an election once every 2 years. I know, this is confusing. Basically every 2 years elections are held for Senators who will serve in the Senate for 6 years. We split it up into thirds and vote every 2 years so that we don’t have to vote for all 100 Senators at once.Senators may write bills which can be voted on by the House and then the Senate. If the bill passes by a majority vote it is then sent to the President who can either veto it and prevent it from becoming a law, or sign it and make it a law. To be eligible to run for the U.S. Senate one must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least 9 years, and a resident of the state which they would like to represent.
    • The House of Representatives consists of a certain number of elected Representatives from each state based on the population of that state. The Constitution requires that a census be taken once every ten years, on a year ending in a zero. The census information is used to divide the state into equal districts based on population and then each district is allowed to elect one Representative per district. A Representative may write bills which can be voted on by the House and by the Senate. If the bill passes with a majority vote it is then sent to the President to either veto the bill or sign it into law.To be eligible to run for the House of Representatives one must be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least 7 years, and a resident of the state which they would like to represent.
  3. The Judicial Branch is headed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Congress decides the number of Justices to serve on the Supreme Court. The President appoints the Justices to the Supreme Court. There are no terms or limits for a Supreme Court Justice. Each Justice serves a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. the Supreme Court can decide whether a law is keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.

    What is an Amendment? The Constitution has 27 amendments, the first 10 are known as the Bill of Rights. Amendments are added to the Constitution as necessary to further define and clarify the spirit of Constitution as intended by our founding fathers.

a·mend·ment [uh-mend-muh nt] –noun 1. an alteration of or addition.

    The 1st amendment to the Constitution provides us with the freedom of [from] religion. No government official can dictate a citizens religious preference or force a citizen to participate in any religion at all or create laws intended to enforce religious doctrine. It provides the freedom of speech. The government cannot prevent any citizen from speaking out against the government. It provides freedom of the press. The government cannot prevent the media from speaking out against the government or from reporting any facts they deem newsworthy and can prove to be true. It provides the right to assemble. The government cannot prevent its citizens from holding peaceful protests. It also provides the right to petition the government, ensuring citizens have the right to participate in their government.
    The 2nd amendment to the Constitution provides the right to bear arms. given that the Revolutionary war was started by the British government attempting to take weapons from the colonial militia in order to prevent them from defending themselves, the newly formed constitution prevents the government from taken its citizens weapons away.
    The 5th amendment describes rules of indictment, including preventing citizens from being forced to testify against themselves in court and preventing anyone from being tried for the same crime twice. In crime dramas on television, one might hear a defendant in court “pleading the 5th” or “taking the 5th”, that refers to this amendment preventing them from being forced in incriminate themselves.
    The 6th amendment provides the right to a fair and speedy trial by jury. The police cannot hold you in prison indefinitely because they don't believe they could get a conviction in court. You can only be held for a limited amount of time by the police, or they must charge you with a crime or let you go. If the police decide to charge you with a crime they can only hold you for a limited amount of time and then they must allow you to have a trial in court with a jury of your peers. Once the jury has made their decision if you are found guilty the judge can sentence you, if you are found not guilty you must be released. No matter what the jury decides, the government may not charge you with that crime again because of the 5th amendment.
    The 13th amendment abolishes slavery and was adopted December 6th, 1865.
    The 14th amendment provides the clause that states "no state shall ... deny to any person the equal protection of the laws". This amendments clause provides equal rights to all Americans.
    The 19th amendment gives women the right to vote and was adopted August 18th, 1920.

Check back later for Episode II

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