William Penn wanted a colony with religious freedom. A considerable number, if not the majority, of American religious denominations were founded in this city. The main misconception about religious Philadelphia is that it is Quaker-dominated. But the broader misconception is that it is not Quaker-dominated.
Right Angle Club 2010
2010 is coming to a close, a lame-duck session is upon us, and probably after that will come two years of gridlock. But the Philadelphia Men's Club called the Right Angle, keeps right on talking about the current scene. A few of these current contents relate to speeches given elsewhere.
Lumpers, Splitters and Technicians: The Framers of the American Constitution
Half a dozen distinguished colonists came to believe the thirteen American colonies could not survive unless they banded together. Eight years of bitter experiences during the Revolutionary War had taught them they must unite. We might call them lumpers.
Although we have had Judges for thousands of years, it's only one of the three branches of American government, and the last to be adopted, even in rudimentary form. Perhaps the framers felt the legal profession could handle the matter without much specification, just as at least so far, we have no cabinet minister or separate department for Medicine, in spite of its coming close to twenty percent of the national budget. At least it is certain that the award of a cabinet seat does not relate to the size of its national cost. The main function of the Supreme Court seems to be to enforce the Constitution on the elected branches, and the main rule is to limit the federal branches to making war and levying taxes. That's under constant attack, but at least it's the theory. An invisible rule is to avoid non-federal rules; we rejected the League of Nations, and essentially ignore the United Nations. The surest way to defeat a law is to say the Europeans have one like it.
This seems to be partly a human jealousy, quite similar to the way the federal government constantly seeks to invade the territory the Constitution gives to state legislatures. One of the central attractions of Roman citizenship was the set of rights afforded the citizens, and definitely not afforded to other people. St. Paul made good use of the rights of a Roman citizen, available to those who could announce civis Romani sum . These were, however, the exclusive gift of the Roman Senate, which for a long time Emperors feared to tamper with.
Chip Kelly of the Right Angle Club points out that Hammurabi intended the right of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye as a limitation of rights. If someone offended you or your family, you were definitely not entitled to overreact by massacring his whole tribe but limited to exact equality of the punishment to fit the crime. An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth -- and no more.
Somewhere, there may be a reasoned argument for natural rights or divine rights, but outside the French Revolution, it is a little hard to find anything but legal rights, as consistent rights which society, in general, has decided to give you. That's somehow related to the concept of extending those rights to everyone, which everyone would want to have for himself. Anything more restricted than that is not a human right, it is political favoritism. It may even be much of the reason the French and English rejected the European Union.
A cynic might say that an inalienable right is one which is impossible to bargain for. It will only be conferred if you are willing to die for it in a war which you win. When it comes down to it, that is the reason professional soldiers regard religious wars as the very worst kind and may just be a driving force behind the First Amendment.
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Originally published: Friday, April 16, 2010; most-recently modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2019