Friday, September 25, 2009

The Madness of King George -- Movie Review

The Madness of King George has an outstanding cast, excellent production, beautiful music adapted from Handel. It received the Art Direction Oscar in 1994. I wouldn’t buy it as a gift or even watch it for any type of relaxing entertainment. The theme of this movie is far too intense. I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I’m glad I did. Nigel Hawthorne is outstanding as King George.

George III was the last King of America. Our Declaration of Independence paints a scathing portrait of him, evil, tyrannical, all the reasons for the American Revolution. Much of this is unwarranted.

We weren’t so much anti-monarchy; we just didn’t want George III. In fact, at the constitutional debates, the proposal to have a king was actively discussed.

The subject of this movie is why did George, at the mid-point of his long life (1738 – 1820) begin to exhibit such strange behavior and how did people handle it? It is at times quite a terrifying story.

The movie begins in 1788. The king still refers to America as the “colonies, and his powerful Prime Minister Pitt reminds him that America is now a new country.

George is showing increasing signs of his life-shattering illness. We now believe that the illness was porphyria, which causes irrational speech and bizarre behavior. There are remissions, which George experienced. The disease has never been completely diagnosed in him, although the suspicions are very strong. Symptoms may have been present years before.

It exposed him to the appalling medial treatment of the time. His high rank did not protect him. As his symptoms at times intensified, there was a lot of political talk about establishing a regency with his eldest son, George, indolent, immoral, championed by Fox, a leading political leader strongly disliked by the King. The Prime Minister, Pitt, was against it. King George knew that Fox had a very bad influence on his son.

The medical treatment at times became very harsh, and the movie spares nothing to describe it. George showed great courage against hopeless odds. I feel great sadness for him.

The movie is described as a comic biopic. I couldn’t disagree more. Oh sure, there are amusing comments, but generally the mood is very dark. The genuine affection between George and his wife is very touching. It does not diminish, although the doctors separate them in his illness.

The movie ends of a brighter note. The Kin is in remission, so there is no need for a regency. He waves and basks in the roar of the cheering crowds. His family is with him, even the regent, whom the father heartily despises.

Today, the British monarchy is fully constitutional, which means it doesn’t have a lot to do. It receives visitors, goes on vacations, and sometimes makes goodwill tours. There is also parliamentary protocol which sometimes needs attention.

Above all, the tabloid-featured Royal Family is very good for tourism. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Media Mania from FriendsOf1776: Sweet Liberty; 1776; The Patriot; Liberty! PBS Series

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Commemorating our Constitution

I wish today was a holiday.

On September 17, 1787, the mostly upper-class, propertied men at the Constitutional Convention had finally come out of their political hiding and were told that the Constitution was complete. It could now go to the states for ratification. It needed nine states to approve this.

The outcome was no sure thing. Federalists and Anti-Federalists were in strong disagreement for the need of a central government at all. Many strong Anti-Federalists believed that the final outcome of the Constitution would be to get rid of the states altogether. Many esteemed patriots, including John Hancock and Patrick Henry, were very much against ratification. There was strong interest in how three larger states would vote.

In Massachusetts, John Hancock, was very outspoken about his lack of support. But ever business-minded, he was a late convert. The possibility of a Federal appointment and a Bill of Rights were two issues important to him. Madison worked constantly to accomplish the latter.

The results in Virginia and New York were very close. Patrick Henry, powerful orator as always, felt that Virginians were doing very well under the Articles of Confederation, and didn’t need a Constitution at all.

The The Federalist Papers were a strong advocate for ratification. But it’s important to realize that ratification was not a public election, although the secrecy of the deliberations was completely changed to a very open process, including an active press.

Our Constitution, in a sense, marks the end of our revolutionary war period. The aim for a separate country free from Great Britain had been realized. Now America had to face new and daunting challenges alone.

Among these was the explosive issue of slavery, which lasted another 78 years! – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The American Revolution Produces Our First Constitution, the Articles of Confederation

On September 17, we can commemorate our national Constitution, 1787, the one in solid place today, the one that is always being scrutinized, what does it say? That’s what the Supreme Court does.

But less than ten years before, some influential Americans, central government proponents, were looking for a more solid direction for the states, which were going their own way. People weren’t too unhappy about it. After all, they were Virginians or New Yorkers first, or whatever their location, before joining any states’ federation for the common good! And they certainly didn’t want to fund any central government! That was an open invitation to corruption. Look at why they were fighting Great Britain; to be free of that uncontrolled power.

The 2nd Continental Congress began to consider the Articles of Confederation, the “United States of America”, in 1776 – 1777.

It was an attempt to designate what, if any, role could be better handled by the states together. From the beginning, dissension between the central versus anti-central government supporters was intense. Funding for a Confederation was actually non-existent, because the states generally never paid their assessments. The states retained enormous power. Over the long run, the articles would be untenable.

They were not ratified until 1781, over the contentious issue of how new states should be admitted. The 13 articles withered on the vine. Their most ferocious critic was, you guessed it, Alexander Hamilton. His message was, “I told you so!”

He saw, that with their financial structure, they were doomed. After a few years, many of the delegates to the Confederation government showed little interest in the proceedings.

There was nothing democratic about how delegates were selected. Many you could identify as machine politicians. The franchise was restricted to those with power and property. No others need apply. Changing this has been unbelievably slow. Consider that women didn’t get the vote until 1920 and poll taxes weren’t eliminated until 1964!

I believe that war (World War I and Vietnam here) seems to produce great domestic changes.

There is some technical quibbling on whether the Articles are a constitution at all. Well, they sound awfully like a constitution to me! The states are all included; the same articles apply to all of them. They are intended to be perpetual, not change every three months. There are rules on how and when delegates may serve. We have that in our present constitution.

A difference is that the powers retained by the states are far greater, although this issue is not completely resolved today.

The Articles did consider some very important issues though. Their main purpose was to prevent states from individually waging wars, making alliances, running as individual countries. There were questions if states could retain armies and navies. Militias were okay. Did citizens had the right to move unhindered from state to state? Issues such as extradition for criminals were considered. The Confederation was to be the final arbiter of disputes between states and it alone could regulate currency. Today, we take these issues either for granted, or look to our Supreme Court to resolve them.

Since the states still held the “power of the purse” and Alexander Hamilton’s objections were correct, it was time for something new. So in 1787, we wrote our second constitution. It’s the one that’s around today.

Please note: I found very clear and engaging testimony in the following source: Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc., 2002. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Causes of the American Revolution: Part 6 – more on Boston, the Boston Massacre

Massacre is a very ominous word.

Some of history’s most notorious events have this term attached to them. It certainly doesn’t fit what happened in icy Boston on March 1770.

We know relations in Boston and the “British Garrison” had deteriorated rapidly since 1768, when British troops were posted in the city after a serious smuggling incident.

Much of Boston’s volatile street rabble had practically declared open warfare on the British soldiers. This rabble was manipulated by radicals (including Sam Adams) to further their agenda. This was basically “get the British out of Boston, Massachusetts and the rest of colonies”.

In March 1770, the situation in Boston came to a head, with predictable results.

A street mob, many after heavy drinking, was itching for a fight. So they harassed a lone sentry, pelting him with snowballs and chunks of ice. Ten British reinforcements were no match for the menacing crowd.

This was a typical schoolyard bully situation. Pick on someone weaker, taunt them, the victim is outnumbered anyway. Then start the attack.

This was a very, very unfair fight. The results came soon enough. Captain Preston, the British commander, no rookie, was very nervous. The situation was out of control.

A British shot was fired, whether by accident or panic, who knows? Then there were a few more shots. Five Bostonians lay dead.

“Massacre” was the roar of the mob. The British had fired without provocation, wantonly. They will pay for their dastardly deed. Of course, radicals had now just the situation they could exploit, which they began immediately.

For me, the real story starts now. Even today, when a dreadful crime has been committed, and the criminal awaits trial, even with our Constitution and legal safeguards, who would want to defend the obviously guilty person? Forget the process, let the trial begin, pass judgment now.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. Of course, the quality of the defense can vary widely. A good lawyer can literally make the difference between life and death. The British soldiers got a very lucky break.

They got the best defense, John Adams, with Josiah Quincy. Adams had no love for the street crowd. He was always very suspicious of the opinion and motivation of any mob. That wasn’t law, that was anarchy.

He did feel that anyone should be defended for a criminal charge, certainly the British. After all, it was a long-held principle of justice.

I don’t feel that the verdict of acquittal for all but two of the soldiers is so amazing. The stories of the witnesses fluctuated widely. Even the jurors must have realized evidence must have some validity, not vary from person to person. Can you imagine the grilling the witnesses got from the defense team?

However, the “Massacre” incident’s notoriety did not subside. Other colonies took up the alleged outrage. The familiar story persists to this day.

However, it does show that even if all you face is an expensive speeding ticket, it will probably pay you to hire a good lawyer! – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Causes of the American Revolution: Part 5 – Boston