Why Treason Prospers

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Treason doth never prosper; what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

John Harington (1560-1612), Epigrams, Book IV, Epistle 5

Letter to Ben Franklin

Few people recognize John Harington, which seems a bit odd at the end of a year we’d like to leave behind us. Harington invented the first toilet. Just as few remember Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress whose Minutes and correspondence are preserved in the U.S. National Archives. But everyone remembers Ben Franklin.

Charles Thomson’s letter to his revolutionary colleague Ben Franklin leaps from the National as though he written it to us on New Year’s Day 2020.

When I look back . . . and view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, “Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,” who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?

Charles Thomson, Secretary of Continental Congress to Franklin (Nov. 1, 1774)

“The poet” from whose work Thomson drew was English poet, author and playwright Joseph Addison, whose “Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read among the colonial leaders as they moved toward the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomson changed Addison’s text from singular (“the Man”) to plural “(those Men”), perhaps inadvertently — memory will do that — or intentionally to fit the circumstances at hand, i.e., the English Parliament’s violations of the American colonists’ rights and freedoms under British law. Addison’s reference is singular.

Oh Portius, is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the Man
Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?

Joseph Addison, Cato, a Tragedy 1:1:21–4

Dealing with Madness — Singular and Plural

Both singular and plural fit our circumstances on New Year’s Day 2021.The post-monarchical Constitutional people’s republic of Ben Franklin and Charles Thomson teeters “on the very edge of the precipice.” Some of us wonder whether there a hidden thunder of wrath that will blast the Man who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin and when it will blast the Men who refuse to recognize the certified election results of every state and and the District of Columbia, and the certification of the Electoral College.

Clearing Our Eyes

Act V of Addison’s play raises the question the heirs of the American revolution have nearly forgotten to ask. But this tumultuous in-between time of transition of power puts this most important question to us, the heirs of Franklin and Thomas:

The honors of this world, what are they
But puff, and emptiness, and peril of falling?

Joseph Addison, Cato, Act IV, scene IV

New Year’s 2021 — Hope on the Edge of the Precipice

Thomson’s letter to Franklin ends with a realistic warning and a hope.

“Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may yet be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice.”

Two Ways of Being Human; Two Kind of National Character

Looking into the precipice of national ruin, we face two alternate ways of being a nation and two ways of being human: compassionate/heartless; arrogant/modest; honest/scheming; caring/uncaring; vulnerable/invulnerable; phony/authentic; realistic//illusionary; serving others/serving oneself — seem clearer than when things were “normal.” The precipice is real. So is Thomson’s adaptation of Cato’s quote from singular to plural. Treason can never prosper unless we, the people, accept treason.

A Hope and a Prayer from 1774 for 2021

Even yet the wounds may be healed and peace and love be restored.

Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congresses, Letter to Benjamin Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, January 1, 2021.


American Crisis

THE AMERICAN CRISIS TODAY

Whether the American constitutional republic survives the present crisis depends on us no less than it did when Thomas Paine challenged the American public at the beginning of the American experiment.

THE AMERICAN CRISIS: THOMAS PAINE

Photograph of original text of The American Crisis Number 1 by the author of COMMON SENSE, Thomas Paine.

These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. – Common Sense.

Thomas Paine was the American Revolution journalist whose pamphlets by the title “Common Sense” supported independence from the British crown. Paine published those words on December 19, 1776 in Pennsylvania Journal. He spoke them to the American Continental Army one week later.

SHRINKING OR STANDING

The American crisis then was the survival of a dream. Would the American people stand up or would they be fair-weather patriots — summer soldiers and sunshine patriots?

In April 1775 the colonists had begun the rebellion against King George and all things royal, but the temptation to return to monarchical rule has never be far away. The result of the revolution was a democratic republic based on a non-monarchical constitution that divided the powers of government into three separate and equal branches — congressional, executive, and judicial. The U.S. Constitution was crafted to establish limits on executive authority. There would be no king in the new American democratic republic.

BEN FRANKLIN WARNING

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, – if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.

BEN FRANKLIN, SPEECH TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, JUNE 28, 1787.

“WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED”

Well-administered government is necessary for us. The success of the American experiment. i.e. a non-monarchical democratic republic, depended on an uncorrupted electorate and uncorrupted administration of the three equal branches under the new U.S. Constitution.

Government itself is not evil. Despotism is. Despotic government is the end product of a corrupted people incapable of the uncertain complexities of the separation of powers. The desire for a strong man in times of uncertainty like ours is only checked by the protections of the U.S. Constitution. A strong man is not King George. Franklin saw the elevation of a corrupt despot by a corrupted people above the equal powers of Congress and the judiciary as the nation’s greatest threat. The longing for the return of King George was the stuff of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

THE KNOT OF CRUELTY AND RECKLESSNESS

The knot in my stomach has a history. I remember the same knot while watching Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn until Joseph Welch spoke the lines that would stop McCarthy: “Until this moment . . . . I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . . You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency left?”

The U.S. Senate later censured McCarthy for his reckless character assassinations of his fellow citizens whose left-of-center politics he suspected of communist sympathies or allegiances. McCarthy all but disappeared. Roy Cohn did not. Cohn went on to become the lawyer for media mogul Rupert Murdoch ; Mafia figures Tony SalernoCarmine Galante, and John Gotti;and real estate developer Donald Trump. “In 1986, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Cohn for unethical and unprofessional conduct, including misappropriation of clients’ funds, lying on a bar application, and pressuring a client to amend his will.” (Roy Cohn, Wikipedia)

CONSCIENTIOUS PERSISTANCE

Only an informed electorate that persistently demands uncorrupted government under the division of powers of the U.S. Constitution will save us from the despotic government a corrupted people deserve. This is a time that tries our souls. Those who stand now will be loved and thanked by their children and grandchildren.

— Gordon C. Stewart, author, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (Jan. 2017, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR), Chaska, MN, October 15, 2019.