Discussion in 'World History' started by Plotinus, Jan 31, 2011.
A continuation of the original and the sequel.
Maybe this question is worth it's own thread. But it's first, so I'll pretend this is my thread.
Jeffersonian democracy, or perhaps it ought to be called "republicanism" as Jefferson called it, worked out to be a pretty stable system of government in the United States in the years before the Second Industrial Revolution (and also since then). But in most other countries where Constitutional Republics were attempted in this time frame before industrialization became dominant--I'm mostly thinking about Liberia, Mexico, & South America--republicanism kept getting overwhelmed with corruption, leading to the suspension of constitutions and military coups.
Certainly there was corruption in the US. But it didn't overwhelm the constitutional structure. Certainly there were bumps along the road, like the Civil War (where the drift toward universal suffrage was going pretty slow, to say the least). But the Civil War was a regional insurrection concerning people who were out of step with the national trends in labor and industrial development.
My question: How did the US dodge that bullet? What made that Constitution survive the desire to establish order in place of the corruption and decentralization that seemed to topple other early modern republics? What factors insulated the US from destabilization?
It's really pretty simple. The US was initially British colonies, so they had English common law,
and (eventually) some form of self government. So the once independence was won, they
simply carried on with a tweaked version of the British system - the major difference being they
put the US constitution in writing.
In Latin America, no such tradition existed. They inherited nothing from the Spanish to prepare them for self government.
Very good point Serutan. By the time of the American Revolution the British had more freedoms than any people that had ever existed on Earth IMO. The Americans simply built on that system. I would also add that including a plan in the constitution for checks and balances between the three branches of govertnment also helped avoid some of the problems mentioned in the OP.
I dunno if institutions mattered as much as you guys think they do.
You are correct, good sir. The USSR had the most liberal constitution in human history. Institutions don't matter as much as the people in charge of them.
It was difficult for the institutions in British North America to be corrupted because they hardly did anything to begin with. London did not attempt to micromanage the Thirteen Colonies prior to the Boston Massacre, and so the colonists lived through several decades of weak government and became outraged at anything more, which was rather unlike the relationship between Spain and New Spain for example.
The U.S. also benefited from the fact that its Founding Fathers were not psychotic like the Jacobins.
Please explain. If you prefer 'traditions' or 'culture' to 'instutitions' I won't argue with you
None of those really makes the difference, though. Institutions, culture, tradition, past history, all of those things inform the actions of individuals, but they never, ever dictate them. The American rebellion ended with a man in charge of the American military (such as it was) who was disinclined to use it to increase his own personal power and play warlord, but who also was able to use that military to enforce federal government. For various reasons, that chain of events didn't happen in nearly any of the former Spanish colonies. Some of them might be traced to institutional deficiencies, but I tend to think that a great deal of weight lies with the personalities of the men who built those states (or, in some cases, destroyed them).
I don't know if this warrants a thread, so I'm going to ask it here. Assuming Napoleon IV was held back by Chelmsford (or is there basically anyway at all having gone to South Africa he wouldn't have gotten himself killed, assuming how determined he was to fight), is there any point post-1879 that he could return to France and establish a Third Empire, or was the Third Republic pretty well established beyond that point?
Furthermore, assuming a constitutional monarchy had been established, would Napoleon IV coming to France have garnered any response from Bonapartists/Legitimistes?
So it comes down to the actions of just one guy, lucky roll of the dice? That sounds like "Great Man" theory to me. Or are you saying the difference was that North Americans in general were collectively of a more democratic character than Latin Americans? That still doesn't explain Liberia, where all the leaders were of North American extraction and instituted very USA-like institutions and practices and yet still didn't manage to hold onto a true republic for more than a few generations. By 1900 it was a one party state and utterly corrupt.
It's not "Great Man" theory, it's contingency (which frequently gets slandered as "Great Man" historiography by Marxists and the like); I just pointed to George Washington because it was easier and succincter. He was obviously not the only Founding Father who "mattered". If I'd gone and talked about Madison and Mason and Jefferson and so on and so forth that post would've gotten really long and boring. And of course, the Founding Fathers weren't the only relevant people involved in the construction of American democracy that mattered, either. You can't point to any One Person or One Group of People. In large part, I think it was just because the Americans gelled in a way that the Bolivians or Colombians or Platans didn't.
I don't think it has anything to do with a difference in how "democratic" the character of North Americans in general was, either, and I don't see how you could read that in my post; if anything, I would have argued against that.
Its a combination of luck (in terms of the leadership group that emerged, primarily Washington) and that the colonial experience under British rule had prepared the 13 colonies in a way that the various Spanish colonies were not, for self-rule.
Almost every single American colony had varying experiences with independent self-governance. From the Puritan theocracy to the planter-class dominated House of Burgess in VA and everything in-between, the colonies had decades and decades of experience in self-governing. They had very little consistent oversight from England and this, in turn, led to more self-reliance and better developed traditions of governance. In fact, it was when England tried to reign them in and assert a level of authority, that they had largely abdicated for the prior century, following the French & Indian War, that an irreparable conflict came to be.
Contrast this to a Spanish system which is extremely top-heavy, autocratic, and dominated by Royal appointees and that had many inherent prejudices against native born leadership and desires for self-governance and I think its no coincidence that the US got off on a solid footing and Mexico, Argentina, etc.... did not.
(CAVEAT: I'm over-generalizing about Latin America. Its an exceptionally large area and there are most definitely exceptions to my main points (Chile for example))
In essence, the US had trained itself in republican forms of government for over 100 years by 1776. The Spanish colonies did not.
Now, the luck comes in (if you want to call it luck, you could also argue that this is a good example of making your own luck) that the FF leadership was exceptional. Washington is the shining example. If he had said "I want to be King", its likely he would've been. I'm hard pressed to think of many other historical examples of figures that were so dominant and had the opportunity to accrue more power, yet walked away from it.
Here's a question with presumably an easy answer: why were there 13 colonies instead of say, one? Why was Rhode Island and Connecticut separate colonies, for example?
The historical basis of their foundation.
(o rly) Care to elaborate? What about the historical basis of their foundation required them, or caused them, to be 13 separate colonies rather than just 1 (or any other number) colony?
The royal government gave charters to various companies (Virginia Company, Massachusetts Bay Company, etc) that granted each a selective strip of land from the coast to, practically the Mississippi, ideally the Pacific. Charters were also given to individuals (like William Penn) and other groups of settlers. Other colonies also emerged from larger colonies due to internal disputes, Rhode Island for example. Other colonies were extensions of captured foreign colonies (like New York).
You could just ask the same quesion of Australia and get a good idea?
Thanks SG-17 for the answer.
That's a good point, but there's a bit more geographic separation between Sydney and Melbourne than Connecticut and Rhode Island.
... There's also a pretty big temporal seperation as well
Separate names with a comma.