A Founding Father’s Fight Against the Constitution

Patrick Henry’s courageous and ceaseless arguments against tyranny have all but been forgotten. School children are taught in American History classes that he once boldly proclaimed “give me liberty or give me death!” But his fearless, bold and unremitting arguments against the Constitution, something he saw as truly tyrannical, are seldom mentioned, much less discussed.

Below is an excerpt, lightly edited for clarity and brevity, of a speech he gave on June 5, 1788 to the Virginia Ratifying Convention in a final petition against Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution. Were his warnings unfounded or prophetic? You be the judge.

“Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished.

“But we are told that we need not fear; because those in power, being our representatives, will not abuse the powers we put in their hands… Happy will you be if you miss the fate of those nations, who, omitting to resist their oppressors, or negligently suffering their liberty to be wrested from them, have groaned under intolerable despotism! Most of the human race are now in this deplorable condition; and those nations who have gone in search of grandeur, power, and splendor, have also fallen a sacrifice, and been the victims of their own folly. While they acquired those visionary blessings, they lost their freedom… it is urged by some gentlemen, that this new [Constitution] will bring us an acquisition of strength an army, and the militia of the states. This is an idea extremely ridiculous. This acquisition will trample on our fallen liberty. Let my beloved Americans guard against that fatal lethargy that has pervaded the universe…

“Will the oppressor let go the oppressed? Was there ever an instance? Can the annals of mankind exhibit one single example where rulers, overcharged with power, willingly let go the oppressed, though solicited and requested most earnestly? Sometimes, the oppressed have got loose by one of those bloody struggles that desolate a country; but a willing relinquishment of power is one of those things which human nature never was, nor ever will be, capable of.

“The American spirit has fled from hence: it has gone in search of a splendid government, a strong, energetic government. Shall we imitate the example of those nations who have gone from a simple to a spindled government? Are those nations worthy of our imitation? What can make an adequate satisfaction to them for the loss they have suffered in attaining such a government for the loss of their liberty? If we admit this consolidated government, it will be because we like a great, splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things. When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty was then the primary object… But now, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of [this Constitution], is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America… there will be no checks, no real balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances?

“This Constitution can counteract and suspend any of our [state] laws that contravene its oppressive operation; for they have the power of direct taxation and it is expressly provided [in the Constitution] that they can make all laws necessary for carrying their powers into execution, and [the Constitution] is declared paramount to the laws and constitutions of the states. Besides the expenses of maintaining the Senate and other house in as much splendor as they please, there is to be a great and mighty President, with very extensive powers, the powers of a king. He is to be supported in extravagant magnificence; so that the whole of our property may be taken by this American government, by laying what taxes they please, giving themselves what salaries they please, and suspending out [state] laws at their pleasure…

“In this scheme of energetic government, the people will find two sets of tax-gatherers, the state and the federal sheriffs. This, it seems to me, will produce such a dreadful oppression as the people cannot possibly bear. The federal sheriff may commit what oppression, make what distresses, he pleases, and ruin you with impunity; for how are you to tie his hands? Have you any sufficiently decided means of preventing him from sucking your blood by speculations, commissions, and fees? Thus thousands of your people will be most shamefully robbed: our state sheriffs, those unfeeling blood-suckers have, under the watchful eye of our [state] legislature, committed the most horrid and barbarous ravages on our people.  It has required the most constant vigilance of the [state] legislature to keep them from totally ruining the people; a repeated succession of laws has been made to suppress their iniquitous speculations and cruel extortions; and as often has their nefarious ingenuity devised methods of evading the force of those laws… if sheriffs, thus immediately under the eye of our state legislature and judiciary, have dared to commit these outrages, what would they not have done if their masters had been at [a federal capital]? It is there that you must appeal, and to judges sworn to support this very Constitution, in opposition to that of any state, and who may also be inclined to favor their own officers. When these harpies are aided by excisemen, who may search, at any time, your houses, and most secret recesses, will the people bear it?

“This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting, it squints towards monarchy; and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American?

“Your President may easily become king. Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority… where are your checks in this government? Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies. It is on a supposition that your American government shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this government are founded; but its defective and imperfect construction puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men; and would not all the world, from the eastern to western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad? Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.

“This is my great objection to the Constitution, that there is no true responsibility and that the preservation of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves.

“In the country from which we are descended, they have real and not imaginary responsibility; for their maladministration has cost their heads to some of the most saucy geniuses that ever were.

“I have not said the one hundred thousandth part of what I have on my mind, and wish to impart… May you be fully apprised of the dangers of the [Constitution], not by fatal experience, but by some abler advocate than I!”

Virginia ultimately decided to side against Henry and voted to ratify the Constitution just a few weeks later.

Henry’s speech is worth reading in its entirety. You can read it here.

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The Dangers of an Unvaccinated Mind

Medical pioneers like Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur discovered that many infectious diseases, like small pox and rabies, could be combated by essentially injecting controlled quantities of those same diseases into people’s bodies and allowing their immune systems to naturally build up a resistance strong enough to combat the real disease should they ever be exposed to it.

As crazy as that hypothesis might have sounded a couple of centuries ago, vaccines have proved themselves incredibly effective in the prevention and even eradication of many terrible diseases.

Bad diseases that affect the body can kill an extraordinary amount of people. From the bubonic plague to smallpox to polio, diseases have maimed and killed millions of people. Fortunately, modern medicine, including vaccines, have generally eradicated many of the most crippling, contagious and deadly diseases that have unrelentingly plagued humankind throughout history.

As bad as the worst diseases to have plagued humankind have been, there is something that is far more vicious, cruel, savage, monstrous and deadly than a bad disease: A bad idea.

The Holocaust, Armenian and Rwandan Genocides, 9/11, Nanking Massacre, Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, communism, fascism, Maoist China, Soviet Ethnic Cleansing, racism, slavery, murder, theft, rape and taxation, are all the result of, or are themselves, bad ideas.

Most of us have an aversion toward bad ideas not unlike the aversion we have toward bad diseases and that is, to a certain extent, reasonable and healthy. However, this aversion begins to become unreasonable and dangerous when the fear of ideas leads people to completely shield themselves from exposure to any idea subjectively deemed as new, bad, taboo or outside the constantly shrinking Overton Window.

Recently, America and much of the West in general, has experienced the beginnings of a movement in which ideas are feared, not in the rational way that diseases are feared, but in the oftimes irrational way that vaccines are feared.

Things like safe spaces and trigger warnings have spread through university campuses like wildfire, or more appropriately, like infectious diseases. Microaggressions, and speech in general, are often equated with literal violence. An outside observer of a modern university campus in the West might think that exposure to ideas is akin to being literally tortured or raped. The discussion of an increasingly large number of ideas is feared and even abhorred by a very vocal segment of university students and even faculty.

Any action or idea that falls outside the Overton Window, as constructed by the Social Justice Glaziers, is immediately met, not with argument, but with inarticulate screeching, befuddled chanting, random noise-making, and even violence.

Infectious diseases can spread quickly through an unvaccinated or otherwise uninoculated population, resulting in the suffering and death of many. The vaccine of bad ideas is free speech. It is argument, discussion and rational, independent thought. When free speech is tabooed and independent thought is replaced with Orwellian Groupthink, individuals cannot learn to deal with new, different, and often bad ideas. They will grow up with weakened mental immune systems, unequipped to deal with, or even recognize, the real-life bad ideas that exist outside of the classroom, the truly monstrous and grotesque ideas have caused, and likely will cause again, the brutal suffering, unimaginable anguish and ultimate death of hundreds of millions of people.

Hopefully, the dread of being exposed to different ideas will not lead to an entire generation of communally unvaccinated minds, incapable of recognizing and dealing with ideas that go far beyond simply causing cerebral discomfort. As a species, we may not survive another 20th Century-esque outbreak of truly terrible ideas.

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Bitcoin Will Stop the Motor of the World

 “If you’re stupid enough to buy [Bitcoin], you’ll pay the price for it one day.” – Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, 2017

On March 10, 1876, a new invention sent an invisible electrical signal through a pair of copper wires. On the other end of those wires, the signal was converted to sound waves and Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant heard the now-famous words: “Watson – come here – I want to see you.”

Later that same year, across the Atlantic, the chief engineer at the British Post Office boldly claimed that “the Americans have need for the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”

Meanwhile, over in America, the President of the Western Union Telegraph Company asserted that “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”

Today, given the prominence of the telephone in our everyday lives, these assertions, made by some of the top executives and experts in the field of communication, seem remarkably absurd. And yet, at the time, they didn’t sound so ridiculous.

History is replete with entrepreneurs and inventors who have pushed the envelope of innovation and invention to the very edge of human imagination and maybe a little beyond. But new ways of doing things have a natural tendency to obfuscate the old ways of doing things and there are always individuals and groups that benefit from the status quo who are quick to dismiss, sometimes even condemn, new contraptions and revolutionary ideas.

The Birth of Bitcoin

On January 3, 2009, an anonymous developer known as Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first 50 bitcoin and created the Bitcoin Genesis Block. Since then, Bitcoin has provided the basic blueprint for hundreds of other currencies and platforms and has inspired the creation of an uncountable number of blockchain based solutions to real-world problems.

What Is Bitcoin?

But what is Bitcoin and why would I have the audacity to compare it to something as revolutionary as the telephone?

In short, Bitcoin uses public-key cryptography to create a decentralized, permissionless, publicly-viewable blockchain that serves as an immutable ledger, keeping track of who owns bitcoin and how much, all without a central, governing authority.

While this sounds complicated (and it is), don’t worry. Knowing cryptography and understanding the details of how a blockchain works are not necessary prerequisites to use and benefit from the technology any more than one needs to know how a combustion engine works in order to drive a car or how TCP/IP works in order to use the internet.

Why Bitcoin? Why Now?

But what use does the world have for a new type of digital money when we already perform near-instantaneous digital transactions with dollars, euros and yuan via PayPal, Visa and other financial institutions?

There are many reasons, including the desire of some people for increased privacy and anonymity in their transactions, more autonomous control over their own digital assets and the obsolescence of the need for third parties to provide the necessary trust factor between two parties in order to perform a transaction. These are all great reasons why so many people view cryptocurrencies as superior to government-issued, fiat currencies. But there is another reason; one that I think is the most important.

Much of human history has been dominated by powerful, centralized governments who have been responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths through democide and war in the last century alone. Most of these deaths were made possible by governments’ ability to finance killing on an immense scale by monopolizing the supply of money, printing massive amounts of it and declaring by fiat that their citizens had to use it, or else…

That system, that grotesquely bloated machine, incessantly spinning its morbid motor of merciless monstrosity, is thankfully coming to an end.

The Dawn of a New Era

The decentralization and democratization of money and banking through cryptocurrencies and platforms like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and Dash threaten the very foundation that makes possible large-scale murder, draconian limitations on international trade and heavy government regulations on markets across the globe that cause so much destruction of the achievements of yesterday, while simultaneously obstructing the progress of tomorrow.

The proverbial shots have been fired and a bloodless coup d’état, of sorts, led by internet nerds, hackers, libertarians, entrepreneurs and outright geniuses is underway.

Revolutions do not typically happen overnight, especially one so bold as to question the necessity of a motor as powerful as centralized banking coupled with seemingly limitless government power. But that motor will stop, and a new one, powered by voluntarism, peer-to-peer, decentralized relationships and a greater measure of freedom will take its place.

In the future, whether it be ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred years from now, people will look back on the cryptocurrency naysayers of today with the same incredulity that we now have when we look back at the telephone cynics of 1876.

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Net Neutrality Will Neuter The Net

The market provides goods and services in quantities and at prices in response to the market signals of supply and demand. This is certainly a very simple definition. There are exceptions and plenty of nuances to this statement, but for the purpose of this argument, it should suffice.

Examples of the market functioning sans state interference are somewhat difficult to come by since the state has wormed its way into virtually every facet of the market. Even so, some areas of the market are still free enough to adequately and quickly respond to market signals without too much distortion of those signals by the state.

Gold, cars, labor, wheat, bitcoin and bandwidth are all scarce resources which means that they all have a finite supply. Each of these goods and services are exchanged at a market rate that, by definition, is where both the supplier and the consumer are voluntarily willing to make the exchange.

As simple as this might seem, the number of people who cannot seem to grasp the very basics of market economics is still astronomically high.

It is readily apparent that state mandated price controls manipulate market signals in a devastating way. Every time price controls are proposed, there are vast numbers of people who think that the proposed controls are necessary and will be beneficial. History is replete with such examples. The Soviet Union dictating the price of milk, Nazi Germany’s price fixing of clothes and shoes, the United States’ tight control of gasoline prices in the 1970’s or the late Hugo Chávez’s recent foray into the morass of state enforced prices on virtually everything from bread to toilet paper, plummeting Venezuela into economic catastrophe. In each instance, the fear that poor people might not be able to afford milk, shoes, gasoline and bread was a very real. This fear drove people to support devastating government policies that lead to the rationing of goods and thriving black markets.

The result that comes from taking economic decision-making away from the market and handing it to the state is predictably destructive.

At its center, state enforcement of what is commonly called “net neutrality” is a form of price control. Many internet consumers have a fear that internet service providers (ISPs) might begin to treat the delivery of “data packets” differently, depending on how much consumers are willing to pay. The trepidation of many people is that some consumers may be willing to pay a premium price to an ISP in order to prioritize their data packets as they are shuttled through the scarce resource of available bandwidth. Rather than letting market forces incentivize innovation, net-neutrality supporters are advocating that the state step in and force the internet to maintain a status quo that the market, in response to the increasingly high demand for a scarce resource, may or may not want to keep.

Now, what if, instead of data packets, we were discussing real packets? Let’s apply this same logic to actual boxes with physical goods inside them. We know that the machines and labor used in the transportation of goods are scarce. There are a limited number of airplanes and trucks and a limited amount of workers to operate them. In order to keep parcel delivery available to virtually anyone, delivery services have allowed consumers to choose how their parcels are prioritized. Over the years, delivery time-frames have become shorter and less expensive because the competing delivery services are incentivized to continually innovate in order to maximize service and minimize cost for their consumers. Can you imagine how quickly such innovation would be stifled if the state stepped in and said that FedEx could no longer accept higher payment in exchange for a next-day-air delivery across the country? “Pharmacy ran out of heart medicine? We’ll get you some more in four days. Oh, it’s an emergency? You’re willing to pay us a premium for a quicker delivery? Sorry, it’s against the law. Four days. Live with it (or, in this scenario, possibly die).”

(As silly as it may seem for the state to regulate how quickly and at what cost mail and parcel delivery can be made, it has done so more than once. For an example, one need look no further than the state’s treatment of the American Letter Mail Co. founded by Lysander Spooner in 1844. Ironically, the state shut down Spooner’s company, not for delivering mail at higher prices, but delivering mail at prices so low that the state’s own company, the United States Postal Service, couldn’t adequately compete. Seriously, Google it.)

Many people really don’t care about innovation though, they only care about equality of outcome. They would much rather have slower postal delivery services or a slower internet speed, so long as everyone is equal in the slowness. The Pony Express offering to deliver letters at a faster speed for a higher price, while innovative to be sure, introduced an inequality in the speed of mail delivery, something that just cannot be allowed to happen with the internet! Thankfully, the state did not swoop in to regulate the speed and price of the services provided by the Pony Express, and today, we all enjoy vastly quicker delivery speeds at a fraction of the cost, all because of market innovation sans government meddling.

The comparative absence of state regulation has allowed the internet to completely revolutionize the entire world, and it has only really been in existence since about 1990. The breakneck speed of innovation within this industry has given internet access to virtually every American (and quickly trending toward every person the world over). Nearly 100% of my generation in America uses the internet. We shouldn’t fear change and innovation; it is what has built the internet into what we have now.

Injecting state control into the internet market will predictably lead to lower quality and higher prices. History has proven this time and time again. There is no need to repeat the mistakes of others.

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