Sunday, October 30, 2016

John Randolph: Citizen of the Republic of Reason

I am a citizen of the Republic of Reason. 
--John Randolph

Reading about John Randolph, of Roanoke, Virginia, born 1773, who served in the nascent United States House of Representatives and the Senate is both thrilling and reassuring, here and now in 2016. 

Randolph was a slave owning master of a Virginian plantation, a son of Virginia aristocracy and bizarrely, a distant relative of none other than Pocahontas. (This should be a comfort to Elizabeth Warren. Not all descendants of Pocahontas look like Cher.)

He was a prodigious horseman, whose feats upon stallions were well known and much admired in hunt country, but he was also clearly a eunuch. His biographers speculate about the source of his testosterone deficiency, speculating him to be  a victim of Klinefelter's Syndrome, but all we really know is at his autopsy, he had only a remnant of one atrophic testicle. Whatever caused this, it likely happened before puberty was fully completed, leaving him with long legs, no beard growth and a high pitched voice.

It was Randolph, reacting to another Congressman's taunt about his lack of virility, who said, "Sir, you pride yourself on an animal faculty, in which the Negro is your equal and the jackass infinitely your superior."
Oh, that we had Congressmen with that sort of mind today--but without the racist tinge. 
As if in compensation for his lack of manliness, he became pugnacious and physically fearless.  His home plantation was called, "Bizarre." And bizarre he was.

But he was also important and reading about him is much more than merely entertaining and enthralling: It is enlightening. 

Randolph vehemently opposed the proposition the federal government ought to raise and support a standing army in peacetime.  For Randolph, the idea of paying an army of mercenaries to defend the citizens of America was an anathema. 
"A people who mean to continue free must be prepared to meet danger in person, not to rely on the fallacious protection of mercenary armies. When citizen and soldier shall be synonymous terms, then will you be safe."
As a student at Columbia, he had listened to debates in the United States Congress, then in New York, about the idea of allowing militia to keep and bear arms.  He thought arming the militia a bad idea. Citizens should arm themselves.
This provides a new insight into the origins of the Second Amendment. Clearly, the Second Amendment was meant to arm militias, not individuals. Randolph thought the Constitution should guarantee an individual's right to bear arms and was appalled it ceded that right only to members of a militia.
Somehow, this escaped the attention of Justice Scalia and others as they found the Second Amendment guaranteeing an individual's right to keep and bear arms in what they claimed was the original intent of the founding fathers. (What did Scalia actually know about what the founding fathers thought?)
Randolph was offended by the idea of paying men to be soldiers when there was no war to fight. These fighting men, with no fight before them would simply be "mercenary loungers and ragamuffins." 

Oddly, the idea that peacetime soldiers might be described as slackers or hired guns did not so much offend the military as the description, "ragamuffin," and Randolph felt compelled to walk back that term, but he stuck to his guns about the slacker (lounger) and mercenary parts.

I cannot know for sure, but from what I've read, those off the grid white supremacists living out in Idaho and North Dakota would likely agree with Randolph about the imperative to be self sufficient and to be prepared and willing to defend yourself and your home personally and they are arming themselves to fight the standing army of the federal government. Now we think of these people as lunatics, but Randolph, coming from a Virginia plantation was describing this mentality explicitly.

Distrust of others, unwillingness to place power in the hands of people outside your family, your plantation is sewn into the fabric of those Trump supporters who pack heat and show up at his rallies. These people are profoundly, often sociopath ically, anti social. Theirs is a distrust of the losing class, the kids who were told in grade school they were stupid, who were denigrated by their teachers in middle school, who were never going to get past high school.  Institutions of the government rejected them, told them they were worthless losers. And they never fully recovered, even if they went on to earn decent livings as HVAC repairmen, plumbers, electricians and wood workers.

Clinging to their guns.

But the really interesting thing is the unraveling of threads we today think of as interwoven.  Clinging to their guns and their religion. Not so in Randolph, who like Jefferson and so many other founding fathers was a "deist, and therefor an atheist."  Deist, as Jefferson described it, hoped for the existence of a God and an afterlife, but had no faith in any earthly religion connecting them to that.

Randolph would not have embraced today's Second Amendment crowd. He detested the idea of equality, and no gun could make you his equal.

It's pretty clear the current gun toting Second Amendment character feels powerful, the equal of any man when he straps on his Glock or slings his AK-15 over his shoulder and walks down the street or shows up at an Obama rally to protest.

Randolph had no illusions about even the biggest hand gun or rifle making you all powerful. The Revolution had been fought with cannon and howitzers--even in the late 18th and early 19th century, armies could crush any individual or plantation owner. 
My right to enslave others

Oddly, Randolph and Jefferson and the early Republican-Democrats loved the French revolutionaries, who were heavily into chopping off heads.  The heads they were after were aristocrats and the government they were advancing was one of citizen equality. And Jefferson and Randolph were aristocrats. But what they did not like was the idea of a government which could intervene on behalf of the have nots to impose power over them in their own little plantation kingdoms. 

Much as today's anti government Trumpees revile the whole notion of government. 

The odd evolution has, however, brought our present day anti government types into the military fold. Kelly Ayotte extols the virtues of our present day ragamuffins at every opportunity. Of course, you can argue that we no longer have a peacetime army in our world of eternal, constant war.  But she loves the idea of hiring others to do our fighting for us, rather than making citizens defend themselves in person. 

But Ayotte and her Tea Party lovers do share that Jeffersonian, Randolph desire to live without a government.  
You want guns: I'll give you guns

"Given the choice between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I'd choose the latter," Jefferson said.

Which means, for all his dismissal of the value of any real government, Mr. Trump has not embraced the alternative. 

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