Tag Archives: Aristotle

Debunking History: Alexander Hamilton and the June 1776 raid on the Sandy Hook lighthouse

In addition to discovering many interesting facts pertaining to Alexander Hamilton, which I’ve been sharing with you over the past few weeks, another major goal in writing Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years was to check on stories told about Hamilton, either to verify their accuracy or to debunk them. One such story involving Hamilton was introduced by Ron Chernow in his Alexander Hamilton (page 75). The following extract from Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years analyzes this story:

On June 21, 1776, an American force with some light artillery attacked the Sandy Hook lighthouse in New Jersey, seventeen miles south of New York City. According to biographer Ron Chernow, “Hamilton gallantly led a nighttime attack of one hundred men against the Sandy Hook lighthouse outside New York harbor” and then reported the news to The Royal Danish American Gazette, which printed the account in its issue of August 14, 1776. However, the same report had already appeared in The New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury on June 24, 1776. As The Royal Danish American Gazette printed this account alongside a number of extracts and reports from around the world, it is clear that the St. Croix newspaper simply copied this out of the New York paper. Furthermore, it is known with certainty that Hamilton did not lead the attack. According to contemporary sources, the mission was led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Tupper* with Major John Brooks assisting and Captain Jotham Drury in command of the two pieces of artillery. None of these sources mention anything that would suggest Hamilton’s involvement. No one prior to Chernow—not Mulligan, Troup, Fish, John C. Hamilton, no one—ever mentioned Hamilton’s participation. The evidence is clear that Hamilton neither participated in the strike on the lighthouse nor wrote about it afterwards, and he most certainly did not lead the attack.

* A year earlier, Benjamin Tupper led a similar raid against a Boston lighthouse.

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in the endnotes of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Please support the publication of this “must have” work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Review of Cicero’s The Republic and The Law with some of my favorite quotes

 

The Republic and The Laws by Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

I really enjoyed Cicero’s writing and insight into politics and government, but too much of Cicero’s Republic is missing to make it a compelling read. What parts do exist are reminiscent of Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, and Polybius’s Histories and Cicero certainly built upon those sources. It is interesting to read what this great man who fought against Cataline, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian/Octavius/Augustus has to say on the topic. I certainly recommend Cicero’s Republic to anybody interested in Roman history or the history of political thought. However, to the more casual reader or those more generally interested in political thought, there is little benefit to reading this book if you already read or plan to read Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius. If we had all of Cicero’s Republic, I’d likely be giving it four or five stars, but it deserves only two or three stars as it exists to us today.

Turning to the second half of the book, The Laws, which appears to be more complete and thus easier to read and review, Cicero argues that laws come from nature, not men. Cicero explains, “Law was not thought up by the intelligence of human beings, not is it some kind of resolution passed by communities, but rather an eternal force which rules the world by the wisdom of its commands and prohibitions… That original and final law is the intelligence of God, who ordains or forbids everything by reason.” In this respect, I found sections of Cicero’s The Laws to be quite similar to Frederic Bastiat’s The Law.

Cicero explains that the Latin word for law, lex, comes from the word for choosing, lego. [Pages 103 and 125. But there is much uncertainty whether this is the actual etymology of the word law.] Thus, the book is primarily designed “to provide a code of living and a system of training for nations and individuals alike.”

Cicero then makes the case that “the highest good is either to live according to nature or to follow nature and live, so to speak, by her law.”

Cicero then describes Rome’s legal code and proposes some changes. This section is sometimes interesting from a historical perspective, but less so in terms of political philosophy. However, it becomes extremely tedious and dull at times when Cicero describes certain aspects of Rome’s laws in depth.

All in all, very insightful, though a bit tedious at times. But the worst aspect is the incongruous nature of the work because of all the missing text. I also wish the notes were put on the bottom of each page rather than in the back. I for one enjoy reading every note and found it difficult to flip back and forth four or five times per page.

In total, I am giving Cicero’s The Republic and The Laws just three stars (out of five). I am sure this would disappoint Cicero greatly, but I place little blame on him. If his writing existed in full, I’m sure he would easily earn four stars and possibly five, though Cicero himself admitted in The Laws that he could not compete with Plato’s writings on the same subject, which is why it would likely earn just four starts while Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics deserve five stars.

Some great quotes (besides those above) from the book:

History is “the witness of the times, the light of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger from the past.” [From De Oratore 2.36]

“You cannot start a history without setting free time aside; and it cannot be finished in a short period. Moreover, I tend to become confused if, after starting a project, I have to turn to something else. And it’s not so easy to pick up the threads again after breaking off as to take a thing through from start to finish.”

“Without that [authority], no house or state or clan can survive–no, nor the human race, nor the whole of nature, nor the very universe itself. For the universe obeys God; land and sea abide by the laws of the universe; and human life is subject to the commands of the supreme law.”

“Nothing is more damaging to a state, nothing so contrary to justice and law, nothing less appropriate to a civilized community, than to force through a measure by violence where a country has a settled and established constitution.”

The evils of democracy and the mob: Quotes from some of the greatest minds in history.

Fisher Ames: “A democracy is a volcano, which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption, and carry desolation in their way.”

John Jay: “Pure democracy, like pure rum, easily produces intoxication, and with it a thousand mad pranks and fooleries.”

Lord Acton: “The one prevailing evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

George Washington: “It is one of the evils of democratical governments, that the people, not always seeing and frequently misled, must often feel before they can act.”

Alexander Hamilton: “If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.”

Alexander Hamilton: “Real liberty is neither found in despotism, nor in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

James Madison: “Where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure.”

James Madison: “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Alexis de Tocqueville: “The will of the nation is one of those phrases most widely abused by schemers and tyrants of all ages.”

Cicero: “No tempest or conflagration, however great, is harder to quell than mob carried away by the novelty of power.”

Cicero: “This excessive licence, which the anarchists think is the only true freedom, provides the stock, as it were, from which a tyrant grows.”

Plato: “Is it not the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship?”

Plato: “And is it not true that in like manner a leader of the people who, getting control of a docile mob, does not withhold his hand from the shedding of tribal blood, but by the customary unjust accusations brings a citizen into court and assassinates him, blotting out a human life, and with unhallowed tongue and lips that have tasted kindred blood, banishes and slays and hints at the abolition of debts and the partition of lands.”

Plato: “And a democracy, I suppose, comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in both citizenship and offices.”

Plato called democracy “a delightful form of government, anarchic and motley, assigning a kind of equality indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike!”

Polybius: “And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.”

Tea Party Tyrants

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called the tea party “tyrants” in a tweet on August 7 because its members supposedly blocked a bigger and better deal from being approved.

Disregarding what effect the tea party had on the debt ceiling negotiations, there is absolutely no comparison between the tea party and tyrants. Aristotle writes:

A tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure.

The tea party has not promoted a single idea to promote its “private ends.” Instead, it has promoted ideas that it believes would benefit the entire nation. Democrats may disagree with the tea party’s agenda, but it is ridiculous to assert that the tea party’s “aim is pleasure.”

I can hear the liberals complaining that Aristotle’s definition of tyrant is old and out-dated. Let’s turn to a more modern and American definition. A definition that was essential in the creation of the Constitution and our republican. James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

Let’s see here. The tea party controls none of the branches of government. In fact, the Republicans do not even fully control a branch of government. (They control half of the legislative branch and 5 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices could be considered Republican, but the Senate is Democrat as is the President.)

But James Madison wrote that more than two hundred years ago. Many liberals don’t think the Constitution and our Founding Fathers are relevant any more. So let’s check an even more recent definition, Merriam-Webster:

1
a : an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution
b : a usurper of sovereignty
2
a : a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively or brutally
b : one resembling an oppressive ruler in the harsh use of authority or power

Hmm, the tea party fits none of those definitions either. The tea party is not an absolute ruler, has not usurped the nation’s sovereignty, is not a ruler with absolute power acting oppressively or brutally, and is not an oppressive ruler acting harshly.

I’d be very interested to hear by what definition the tea party are tyrants.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

Most popular quotes from The Path to Tyranny

Amazon’s Kindle has a cool feature that enables readers to highlight passages. Amazon is then able to record this and show the most popular passages from the book. Here are most popular highlights from the Kindle version of The Path to Tyranny:

Aristotle calls democracy a perversion of constitutional government in the interest of the needy.

In 1914, John Basil Barnhill said in a debate about socialism, “Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”[†]

politicians promise the right to high quality education, the right to free or affordable health care and housing, and many more so-called rights. These are not genuine rights. They are benefits at the expense of others. The rights to private property, free speech, and freedom of religion are true rights because they have no cost.

Choosing an absolute ruler and the organizational skills of a large government is often advantageous in a time of crisis, but the difficult part is rolling back the large government and tyranny after the emergency has ended, which Athens was unable to do.

Therefore, the best way to prevent invasion and coup is to maintain a small and decentralized government with a strong defense, a well-armed population, and the courage to defend one’s rights and liberty.

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek historian Polybius warned that “democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence” as the people grow more “accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others.”[14]

A drawback of large government with control over people’s lives is that it attracts ruthless men of ambition who wish to use the power of government for their own benefit.

Nevertheless, this use of government power to direct or coordinate society is a form of tyranny, because there can be no greater tyranny than an individual or group controlling the lives of an entire population, even if popularly elected.

The senators had hoped that killing Caesar would solve Rome’s problems, but the problem was not just Caesar the dictator, it was also the people’s desire to use government as a tool to redistribute land and wealth.

The tyrant also builds grand public works, acting as if he is helping the people, but his real goal is to impoverish them and keep them occupied.

 

Mubarak and Gaddafi were in it for the money. Tyrants always are.

Just in! Muammar Gaddafi has grown rich on the back of the Libyan people.

The dictator’s dough: Astonishing wealth of Gaddafi and his family revealed

The astonishing wealth of Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi and his family has been laid bare as countries around the world begin freezing billions of dollars worth of their assets.

The U.S. alone has seized $30billion (£18.5bn) of their investments, while Canada has frozen $2.4bn (£1.5bn), Austria, $1.7bn (£1bn) and the UK, $1bn ($600m).

These assets appear to be just the tip of the iceberg, as no one is yet certain exactly what the family owns around the world.

Story continues here…

Previously, we learned the same thing about Hosni Mubarak in Egypt:

Mubarak family fortune could reach $70bn, say experts

President Hosni Mubarak’s family fortune could be as much as $70bn (£43.5bn) according to analysis by Middle East experts, with much of his wealth in British and Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and along expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.

Story continues…

But then we learned those estimates were too high. Nevertheless, Mubarak was still quite wealthy.

Hosni Mubarak’s Wealth: He’s a Thief, But Not That Big a Thief

Egypt’s Former President Worth ‘Only’ $5 Billion, Says U.S. Intelligence; Family Wealth Estimates Range Up to $70 Billion

Newly deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family have a fortune of $1 billion to $5 billion stashed in foreign banks, according to U.S. intelligence estimates — a significantly lower figure than most recent estimates of the wealth accumulated by Mubarak during his 30 years in power.

Some experts have estimated that the Mubarak family has a net worth as high as $70 billion, while others have reported $40 billion, but U.S. intelligence sources told ABC News that the real number is probably much lower.

Story continues…

Surprised? I assume you are not and you shouldn’t be. Aristotle warned us that tyrants are like this:

As of oligarchy so of tyranny, the end is wealth; (for by wealth only can the tyrant maintain either his guard or his luxury). [Aristotle, Politics Book 5 Part 10.]

Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that within five years his subjects should bring into the treasury their whole property. [Aristotle, Politics Book 5 Part 11.]

Just in case some didn’t believe Aristotle, a quick look at relatively recent history demonstrates the same. (Quotes from my book.)

Regarding the Soviet Union:

Stalin and his cronies, though, did not share in the people’s suffering. In fact, Stalin and other leading Communists lived in houses that had belonged to Russia’s wealthiest families before the revolution.

And in Nazi Germany:

As in all tyrannies, many of the Nazi leaders used their power to amass vast wealth. Hermann Goering used his power as commander of the Luftwaffe, administrator of the Four Year Plan, and Hitler’s designated successor to acquire mansions and create an enormous industrial enterprise called Hermann Goering Works. As Reichsminister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels received gifts from the media, including a house given to him by the film industry. He also used his power to seduce several female film stars.

Arabs waking up? We shall see.

One political analyst told AP:

Arab peoples used to fear their authoritarian regimes. Things have changed and now Arab leaders fear their peoples.

Reminds me of a famous, often misattributed, quote by John Basil Barnhill:

Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.

Let us hope and pray these authoritarian regimes are replaced by something better. As I write in The Path to Tyranny:

Furthermore, once tyranny is established, it is difficult to abandon. Most often, upon the death or overthrow of one tyrant, another tyrant takes his place. Aristotle points out that “a tyranny often changes into a tyranny, as that at Sicyon changed from the tyranny of Myron into that of Cleisthenes.” Sian Lewis gives an even more impressive example: “When one looks before a tyrant such as Pittacus or Cypselus to see what kind of government they replaced, one tends to find not aristocracies or monarchies, but an infinite regress of tyrants, each apparently overthrown by a successor in the name of liberty: at Mytilene, for instance, Pittacus overthrew the tyrant Myrsilus, who had in turn overthrown Melanchrus, and before Melanchrus we hear of Megacles, who put down the rule of the club-wielding Penthelidai.”

This succession of one tyrant followed by another makes it all the more important to avoid the first tyrant. Plutarch reports that Solon “uttered the famous saying, that earlier it had been easier for them to hinder the tyranny, while it was in preparation; but now it was a greater and more glorious task to uproot and destroy it when it had been already planted and was grown.”

Overthrowing authoritarianism and replacing it with republicanism will not be an easy task. But for the first time in recent history, it appears that the Arabs desire and are willing to fight for true freedom.