American Vision – Prologue

Prologue of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

Bruce Ticker has written a new book American Vision. He has given us permission to publish this work as a weekly series. Here is the prologue.

Even on a day when almost nothing happens, the course of American history can be set for more than two centuries.

One such day was July 17, 1787. The birth of the Connecticut Compromise is customarily dated to July 16, 1787, when the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved a fresh but flawed legislative system, as part of a broader package of provisions for the budding Constitution.

Prior to 10 a.m. on the 17th, delegates from the most populous states to the Convention gathered at what is now Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to assess the convention’s vote from the day before.

The Connecticut Compromise created a split form of government: Each member of the House of Representatives would represent the same number of Americans, on a proportionate basis, and each state would be represented by the same number of senators regardless of population.

More after the jump.
The compromise split the difference between the Virginia Plan for proportionate representation in both chambers and the response to the Virginia delegates, the New Jersey Plan. New Jersey’s delegates, afraid that the large states would overwhelm smaller states like New Jersey, demanded equal representation in all chambers.

Under Convention rules, each delegate had the right to raise any issue whenever they wanted, even after a decisive vote was taken. That means the issue could be reopened on any given day, and that day was July 17.

The main players of this caucus – Virginians James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Pennsylvanians James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris, and Rufus King of Massachusetts – reopened the issue, however briefly. They met to discuss how to react to the July 16 vote on the basis of their insistence that both the House and Senate should represent the people on a proportionate basis.

As constitutional scholar Richard Beeman writes, Madison reported that “the time was wasted in vague conversation on the subject, without any specific proposition or agreement.”

In his book “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution,” Beeman characterizes the outcome this way: “He discovered much to his chagrin that only a handful of delegates felt as strongly about the issue as he did, and no one was willing to risk the outcome of the Convention on it.”

So on March 4, 1789, the newly-revamped Congress convened in New York City for the first time at Wall and Nassau streets, eight blocks southeast of the future site of the demolished World Trade Center. Actually, it took roughly a month before either chamber had a quorum. Come April 30, George Washington was inaugurated at the same site as the first president of the United States.

Madison and the other four were apprehensive about a Senate where each state is authorized to send the same number of senators to Congress. As Beeman puts it, “They held the principled view that it was wrong to give any state government, be it a large state or a small one, too much weight and authority within the national government. The only way to avoid that injustice was to represent the people according to their numbers.”

History would repeatedly prove Madison and associates to be right. For example, the senators from New Jersey, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Maryland, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, discovered in 2010 that the wealthy would retain their tax cuts and health-care reform would be watered down. Delaware Sens. Thomas R. Carper and Christopher A. Coons advocate for most of the same concerns affecting the three states.

Such lapses are mainly rooted in how the Senate is composed in combination with its much-abused filibuster rule.

More than two centuries earlier, the chief opponents of proportionate representation in the Senate represented Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Though Delaware ranks 45th in population with 844,000 residents, New Jersey now ranks 11th with 8.7 million people and Maryland is 19th, population 5.6 million, according to Census Bureau figures. With 19.5 million people, New York is now the third most populous state.

Many of the 37.5 million Americans from these states are paying today in large part because of the Connecticut Compromise.

Honoring Our Veterans


— by Hannah Lee

Today we observe Veterans Day.  May we all remember and honor the service given to our country by these brave men and women in uniform.  They upheld the values of our country and, as young as they were when sent into service, they gave it all they had.  We owe it to them to remember their service.

On October 18th, I attended a ceremony dedicated to the 14 Jewish chaplains who’d fallen during service to the United States.  Their names are engraved on a plaque that was on exhibit that day at the National Museum of American Jewish History and a week later was installed on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery.  The moving moment for me was the sight of the aged veterans, in full military regalia, snap to attention and salute the flag while we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Being a child of the 60’s, I grew up in an era when we distrusted authority (and anyone over 30).  Saying the Pledge was perfunctory and maybe also ironic.  Singing the national anthem invariably induced some jokester to call out, “Play ball.”  But it was no joke for these veterans of America’s wars.  They remember their fallen comrades and why they were posted to foreign lands, regardless of whether it was the right strategic move.  The values they upheld were of civic and religious freedom (and the “pursuit of happiness” which our religious forefathers did not mean the right to shop until we drop).

More after the jump.

The 14 Jewish chaplains include:

  • World War II: Rabbi Alexander Goode; Rabbi Herman L. Rosen; Rabbi Henry Goody; Rabbi Samuel D. Hurwitz; Rabbi Louis Werfel; Rabbi Irving Tepper; Rabbi Nachman S. Arnoff; and Rabbi Frank Goldenberg;
  • Cold War Era: Rabbi Solomon Rosen; Rabbi Samuel Rosen;
  • Vietnam and Southeast Asia: Rabbi Meir Engel; Rabbi Joseph Hoenig; Rabbi Morton H. Singer; Rabbi David Sobel.

Recently, when I attended a private tour, “Journey on the Silk Road” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cynthia John, who’d created this tour, referred to the Holy Roman Empire (quoting Voltaire, says my young friend) as “not holy, not Roman, and not even an empire.”  Later, I asked John to elaborate but she only had time to say that the Mongols, who’d transformed far-flung agrarian societies into an urban one based on commerce, were an example of a real empire.  Nobody loves his emperor, but people have managed to forge strong allegiances to other entities, whether a religious icon, a culture, or a sports team.

My Rabbi has said that one can deduce much about other people’s values by their passions.  So, what do we know about people who wear apparel– even religious garb– emblazoned with an athletic team’s name? That they value sportsmanship or the thrill of victory (or maybe the agony of supporting the underdog team)?  Just how different are the various teams from each other?  A similar example of artificial distinction occurred during the recent political discussions about gerrymandering in my state, when I heard one woman express her wishes thus: we should just use rectangles in drawing our electoral districts, because then we would be sure that they are fair (or at least, not subject to political jockeying for power).  When I was first introduced to maps as a child, the states with the straight lines were the easiest to remember and to draw.  But, they do not connote any real distinction between the bordering states.  More socially relevant were the rivers and mountains which may have contributed to variations in dialect, climate, and terrain.  

At the museum ceremony, Rabbi Lance Sussman of Keneseth Israel Congregation spoke about the historical role of Jews in the American military, from Asher Levy petitioning to serve in the militia in New Amsterdam in 1657 (appeal initially denied, later granted) to the Jews who served in the American Revolution to a Jew being in the first graduating class at West Point (one of two graduates!).  In World War II, there were 500,000 Jews in the American Army, compared to a half million Jews who were conscripted in the Soviet Army.  One overlooked fact by revisionists who question the minor public role of American Jewry in the rescue of Jews from Nazi-controlled lands is that American Jews served at double the percentage of its share of the national population.  Their view was that the best way to help was to ensure victory for the Allieds, to defeat the Nazis.  These Jews served with bravery and distinction.  Of the 14 rabbis honored, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was one of four chaplains (including Reverend George L. Fox, Reverend Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington) who gave up their lifejackets when their ship, the USS Dorchester foundered and later sank in 1943.  They were honored as “the Four Immortal Chaplains” and were depicted on a U.S. postal stamp in 1943.

We do not have mandatory military service, so most Americans feel distant from our soldiers and other members of the armed forces.  A contrasting case in point was the Israeli public’s view of the release of Gilad Shalit, held captive as a political prisoner in Gaza for 5 1/2 years by Hamas militants.  Israelis overwhelmingly approved of the deal that exchanged one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.  With mandatory national service, every Israeli is but one degree of separation from an active Israeli soldier.  The negotiations for Shalit’s release were based on a tacit promise to all Israeli parents that their government would watch over their soldiers.  Their government would not forget them in captivity or in memorial.  

Southern Jewish Memories

— by Hannah Lee

Already 38 years in print, Eli N. Evans’s The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South has garnered high praise by the late Israeli statesman and author, Abba Eban, who wrote of Evans: “the Jews of the South have found their poet laureate.”  Humbly identifying himself as “the grandson of a peddler,” Evans began his lecture at The National Museum of American Jewish History on October 16th by noting that being raised as a Southerner and a Jew were unique experiences that shaped his sense of self and of home.  In describing his boyhood in Durham, North Carolina, he said “I grew up like every other Southern boy– with a bicycle in the neighborhood and football, basketball, and picking honeysuckle in the spring.”
[Read more…]