Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Bicentennial of the Founding of Galveston This April

This April will mark the 200th anniversary of Jean Laffite's founding of his "commune" in Galveston. Neither the city of Galveston nor the County plan to celebrate this momentous event. But for anyone interested in libertarian self-governance and anarcho-capitalism, this is a momentous occasion.

Site of  Laffite's house at Galveston

Laffite called himself a governor, not a president, and the house in which he lived while he governed was La Maison Rouge -- the Red House -- rather than the White House. And he called his colony  a commune, because he was speaking in French and was influenced by the revolution and Napoleonic law and the like. But it wasn't a commune in the sense of pooled resources. Private property ruled in Laffite's world. When people worked for him, they were either paid an agreed wage or, like his privateers, they received a cut of the profits. And unlike other governments that tax their citizens for the income they make, Laffite never took a dime in tax on those who lived with him in the colony he founded. Instead, he preyed on Spanish vessels and shared the booty with his people.

Laffite was at war with the Spanish Empire and supported those who rebelled against it. But he did not finance his war at the expense of his people. He used that war to fund his government and pay those who lived in his colony for their contribution to the war effort.

Who should pay for waging war? Whoever wants to wage war and finds it profitable.

Arguably, Laffite paying his privateers to wage war against Spain is not so different from the US government paying those in the military for their services. But here is the meaningful difference: when the Federal government pays the military, it uses taxes levied from farmers, factory workers, manufacturers and every other productive individual to fund the war effort. The war effort itself shows no profit and brings in no income.  Our war effort is parasitic of everything that every other citizen does to make a living. But when Laffite paid his privateers, he did it with profits from the war effort. No farmers, shopkeepers or manufacturers were taxed to pay for the venture.

It is true that freedom isn't free. It is true that the best defense is a good offense. But what is not right is to constantly engage in wars that do no one any good, subsidizing them at the public's expense. Let him who profits from war pay for any war he profits from.

This April, think of Jean Laffite's Galveston and why the US government drove him away.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Goals and a Video on Burr

In 2017, my goal is to refrain from writing new books, but to spend more time promoting the books I have already written or published. I also plan to support and promote the work of other writers, dead or alive, whose contributions I value.

With that in mind, I would like to share this video from the year 2000 of  Roger G. Kennedy talking about his book  Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character.

The video takes an hour to watch, and I hope you will set aside that time to watch it. For me, highlights from Kennedy's talk include his mention of the following points:

  • at the time when Burr was successfully campaigning as an abolitionist, free blacks and women who owned property could vote in the state where Burr was soliciting their vote.
  • when Burr suggested to Jefferson that women should be allowed to hold high office, Jefferson wrote back that this was something for which neither the public nor he himself were prepared.
  • while Burr was promiscuous and insolvent -- vices he shared with Hamilton and Jefferson -- he was never mean or cruel to anyone. 
  • Hamilton projected onto Burr all his own issues, and he used Burr as a means to commit suicide.
  • Burr was a war hero as soon as the war began and preferred to serve in active combat than on George Washington's staff -- for which Washington never forgave him.
  • Thomas Jefferson personally indicted Aaron Burr of treason. There was no grand jury. There was no inquiry or investigation. It was the one and only presidential indictment in American history.
  • Burr was tried for treason three times, and all three juries acquitted him. One of those juries also indicted Jefferson for even bringing such baseless charges against Burr.
  • People remember the charges leveled at Burr more than they remember the outcome of the cases brought against him
  • The second historian was a revisionist. Any true historian looks for the truth, rather than repeating what someone else has written about the past.
Roger G. Kennedy was a great and engaging speaker, as well as a persuasive and scholarly writer. He died in 2011. When asked in the year  2000 what contemporary politician reminded him of Burr, he said "Adlai Stevenson." This rather startled me. For one thing, I don't even think of Adlai Stevenson as contemporary. For another, the man was a progressive Democrat  -- not my cup of tea. But Roger Kennedy was on Dwight D. Eisenhauer's campaign staff, so Stevenson was a contemporary of his. And Kennedy also worked for Bill Clinton, so he seems to have been quite versatile, ideologically speaking.

Realizing that I am well out of my depth in evaluating Kennedy's life and politics, I nevertheless submit that he has made a meaningful contribution to Aaron Burr scholarship. For this I commend him.