A Fistful of Results

Not long ago, I asked Where’s Publius?

Today’s Frankfurter Allgemenine reports:

The European Convention Talks Back
Appeal to the Intergovernmental Conference
Modeled on the “Federalist Papers”
Call by 63 Parliament Members

Brussels, Nov 13. Four months after the end of the EU Reform Convention, members of the body that was entrusted with working out a draft constitution are attempting to exercise greater influence on the work of the intergovernmental conference (IGC). Herald of probably increasing common efforts is an appeal to the Italian presidency presented on Thursday by 63 parliamentarians from various EU countries and parties. In addition, MEPs reported on Thursday that MPs from member states and MEPs are planning an appeal for retaining as much of the Convention’s draft as possible. The effort is planned for the week preceding December 12-13, dates expected to bring a compromise in the IGC’s work at a summit in Brussels. Part of the push has been undertaken by Convention president Val?ry Giscard d’Estaing and his deputies Jean-Luc Dehaene and Giuliano Amato. It will have the title “The Papers of the European Convention” and take as its model the Federalist Papers of 1788. At that time, the “father or the American constitution,” James Madison wrote essays together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in an effort to influence the debate over the draft constitution that had been presented in Philadelphia the year before.

Not a bad idea.

5 thoughts on “A Fistful of Results

  1. Yes, as long as they can find even one member with the prose and editing abilities of Hamilton or Madison. Current form doesn’t look good.

  2. Alex,

    “Current form doesn’t look good.”

    Absolutely but those were more leisured times and you are focusing on a small and well educated land owning class which mostly had slaves to cater for their every need. There are many insights and prescriptions in the writings of Jefferson for us in Europe to heed now but his defence of slavery and his absurd attachment to Revolutionary France, as against Britain then, are not among them.

    The truth is rather that Jefferson was a bit confused. His staunch advocacy of the rights of the individual against state power owes far more to the running themes of individualism and voluntarism in English political writings and practice than to the likes of Robespierre’s prescriptive model for a virtuous state or Napoleon’s notion of the pervasive state.

    Jefferson’s idea of introducing checks and balances in government as a protection against abuses of executive power in government – rather neglected in the draft EU Constitution – derives from Montesquieu, a French aristocrat and confessed Anglophile, who got the notion from what he took to be our early 18th century constitutional arrangements.

    Admittedly, Britain’s governments in the late 18th century through to Pitt behaved high-handedly towards American “colonials”. Jefferson was entirely right to react against that – as Parliamentarians like Edmund Burke said at the time – but Jefferson should have better appreciated that Revolutionary France and the French dirigiste tradition represented the very antithesis of what he believed in. He made little allowance for what Britain was up against in the Napoleonic wars with a population half that of France and with a land area of less than half. We tend to forget nowadays that the wars lasted from 1793 through to Waterloo in 1815 – historians have laterly calculated the combined casualty rate at Waterloo at six thousand per hour. Dominique de Villepin, France’s present foreign minister, apparently thinks that “even today, Napoleon’s defeat ‘shines with an aura worthy of victory.'” – from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A55843-2003Feb23?language=printer

  3. Bob,

    All of the american colonies had representatives at
    the constitutional convention and many and likely
    most of those representatives did not own slaves.

    The system of slavery that england bequeathed these
    colonies was an issue of contention from the very
    beginning, including the constitutional convention.

    Your assertion that Thomas Jefferson advocated slavery
    is completely mistaken — on the contrary he was outspoken
    opponent. The Declaration of Independence (and rebellion
    against england) of which Jefferson was the principle
    author was originally in part a statement against slavery
    and the only reason it did not remain so was the requirement
    of approval by all the delegations. He was not confused
    about what he advocated.

    By the same token the Constitution of the United States
    which replaced the earlier Articles of Confederation is,
    I think, a remarkably simple, straightforward and logically
    coherent document with the sole exception of those
    sentences referring to slavery which stand out like
    a sore thumb.

    The reason of course is that they were a compromise
    and without that compromise, as with the earlier declaration
    of independence, the colonies would have gone their separate

    Next, Bob, you speak of Jefferson introducing checks and
    balances as protection against abuses of “executive power.”
    Well first of all Thomas Jefferson was not part of the
    constitutional convention. Maybe the man you’re thinking
    of is James Madison, but in fact a great many delegates
    were advocating this sort of thing.

    But the main problem with this assertion is that the
    checks and balances were not just against “executive
    power” they were against the power of the federal government
    period. The whole point of the Constitution is to restrain
    and limit the power of the executive branch, the legislative
    branch, the judiciary and in fact all elements of the
    superstate being proposed.

    Looking around it’s obvious that over two hundred years
    later that effort has been a less than complete success,
    particularly lately, but for the majority of the development
    of the United States, this deliberate hobbling, this deliberate
    restriction of centralized power more or less did succeed
    and of course did much to facilitate human freedom and economic

    It’s ironic that when people speak of federalism here and
    elsewhere, often what is meant is something opposite to
    what was earlier intended.

  4. I don’t think the ability to convey political ideas in clear, appealing, and coherent language is a monopoly of slave-owners. What an odd reaction! My point was that the European Convention – and more generally the Union – has a very obvious problem explaining itself in any form that makes sense to people other than the very restricted class of EU officials, diplomats, national officials in Euro-related departments, specialist journalists, academics and international lawyers. (The Eurorati?) The Federalist still makes much more sense to almost any educated person than around 95% of all documentation produced by the Union. (I speak as someone who specialised during my degree in the European Union.) Obviously, jargon and blah are features of all organisations, but the EU has evolved a unique level of impenetrability that appears to survive in all languages. Perhaps the official translators’ love of dictionary translation has something to do with it.

  5. Alex, bob,

    The historical documents relating to US-GB diplomacy are on line at Yale.

    Jefferson is working from Locke and Neville and the English Bill of Rights (linked below). As just about every other letter Jefferson ever wrote (a lot of em) are on line, I’ll leave you to it. But my impression of his writing is that he regularly mentions Cicero, Aristotle, Livy, Polybius, Plutarch, and various English common law.

    John Milton, Defence of the People of England (1692)

    This link is a really great read. For those who doubt that the colonials didn’t have a common law basis for their griviences against George III, here it is. It’s also interesting in that it’s certainly the basis for the consideration of the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.


    An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown


    “….And thereupon the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare:

    That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;

    That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal;

    That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious;

    That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal;

    That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal;

    That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;

    That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;

    That election of members of Parliament ought to be free;

    That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;

    That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;

    That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders;

    That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void;

    And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently.

    And they do claim, demand and insist upon all and singular the premises as their undoubted rights and liberties, and that no declarations, judgments, doings or proceedings to the prejudice of the people in any of the said premises ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into consequence or example; to which demand of their rights they are particularly encouraged by the declaration of his Highness the prince of Orange as being the only means for obtaining a full redress and remedy therein.”

Comments are closed.