Never Thought About It That Way Before…

brochure1-mBirthday: August 4, 1961

Statehood: August 21, 1959

The first is the birthdate of the current President of the United States. The second is the date that Hawaii was transformed, by law, from a U.S. Territory to a U.S. State. The two dates are separated by two years, and just about two weeks. If Mr. Obama had been born on, say, August 20, 1959, he could not become  President.

On October 5, 2004, a Yale Law Professor named Akhil Reed Amar testified before the United States Senate. At the time, the Senate was exploring the reasons why, in today’s world, an immigrant was not allowed to become President. Professor Amar knows a great deal about the U.S. Constitution. He points out, “the Founders did exclude…immigrants from the Presidency. But they did so because some at the time feared that a scheming foreign earl or duke might cross the Atlantic with a huge retinue of loyalists and a boatload of European gold, and then try to bully or bribe his way into the Presidency…In a young America, when a fledgling New World democracy was struggling to establish itself alongside an Old World dominated by monarchy and aristocracy, this ban on foreign-born presidents made a lot more sense than it does in the twenty-first century.”

He goes on to explain that seven of the Constitution’s thirty-nine signers were immigrants; that three of the first ten Supreme Court justices were foreign-born; and that similar statistics applied to other key government figures. What’s more, the Constitution was approved by an enormous number of people who were not born here; the same is true of nearly all of the Constitution’s amendments. People who serve on juries, people who vote, people who want to run for Governor of any state…all of these people may be foreign-born. But not the U.S. President.

It took me a bit to get past my emotional responses to Amar’s arguments, but after reading nearly 1,000 pages of his analysis and provocative investigations, my mind is now becoming accustomed to the kind of workout that a law professor can provide.

amar_akhilI started reading Amar’s book, American’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By last spring, but quickly realized that the book would make a lot more sense if I first read America’s Constitution: A Biography. The first book explains how the Constitution came together, and how its ideas have been interpreted, applied, shifted, calcified, de-calcified, respected, and transformed. The second book is more provocative; it requires the reader to consider his or her place, the decisions that we make within and beside the Constitution, the responsibilities that we accept as, for examples, voters and jurors.

The word juror, for example, is derived from the French and Latin words for “swear.” Not what I would have thought, but then, Amar shines the light on the concept of swearing an oath. What does the oath promise. In essence, we take an oath to use our conscience effectively. That is, we are swearing that we will, to the best of our ability, exercise a reasonable, moral, ethical judgment based upon the information provided to the jury. Which is to say, “when a juror is not told what punishments she is actually voting to inflict, and not told that she has a legal right to just say no and a legal duty to consult her conscience, then the moral foundations of the entire system begin to crumble.”

He goes on–these are long books, best appreciated over an entire summer of quiet nights–“Current practice…all too often instrumentalizes and infantalizes jurors by disrespecting or derailing their moral judgment. When a juror finds a man guilty of having shoplifted a baseball glove and only later finds out from a local newspaper or lawyerly acquaintance that what she really voted for was in the jury room was to send this poor soul to prison for life (and at taxpayer expense), she is apt to feel ill-used–as is the defendant, of course.

I think I’ve dog-eared the bottom corners of perhaps fifty pages–each containing a notable idea that I want to think about, learn more about.

Professor Amar, loose and having a good time as a guest on The Colbert Report last January.

Professor Amar, loose and having a good time as a guest on The Colbert Report last January.

In the second book, much is made about the Northwest Ordinance, a subject I vaguely remember from seventh grade, and perhaps, tenth grade in slightly greater detail. The key idea–and you’ll see why this phrase was so important in a moment–the key phrase in that document was “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” No slavery in what would become the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Amar points out, “(these states) formed the backbone of the Republican Party. Men from these places filled the Union Army at every level, from Grant and Sherman on down. Without these northwesterners, there would have been no President Lincoln, no Civil War victory, and no Abolition Amendment… Residents of this region arrived there from many different places (especially from the free states, of course), and inclined toward a distinctly nationalist worldview. Whereas nineteenth-century Virginians like Robert E. Lee gave pride of place to their home state (which had pre-existed the Union by more than a century…), northwesterners tended to see themselves as Americans first and state residents second. America had chronologically preceded the states they now called home.”

I kept finding myself thinking, “gee, I never thought about it that way.” I suppose that’s why, through all of the details of Supreme Court cases, nuances of amendment wording, minute details about the judicial process, I stuck with it. I have fifteen pages remaining. I will finish my summer’s reading before I fall asleep tonight. This summer, Professor Amar taught me a lot. And based upon the dog-ears, I’m not going to finish with these ideas for a long while.

As it should be.

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Thanks, Bill!

GinLane

Hogarth worked out every minute detail of even image: the angle of the robe behind the gin-soaked mother so that the eye is draw directly to her head; the leering muncher of the large bone, the position of the pawnbroker’s sign above their heads as a kind of upside down religious symbol; the distant grey of the growing city in which these denizens would never take part; so much more. That was the painter, and illustrator, William Hogarth’s intent: to tell remarkable, compelling stories through a series of images sold in a subscription series. His work was widely pirated.

If Bill Hogarth’s father, Richard, was alive today, he’d probably be writing a blog, cleaning up Wikipedia articles, and spending far too much time watching TED Talks. He was always busy writing what he hoped would be a popular play or a textbook for schoolchildren. As a boy, Bill tagged along with his father as he made the rounds from one coffee house to another, for that’s where the printers tended to meet their clients, customers, and friends. In a word, coffee houses in 1700s London were places to network. In time, Richard Hogarth managed to sell of his manuscripts to a a London printer named Curll; it would become a book that would “bring joy to learning through the playing of games” enabling (a then-radical) idea of learning without the direct assistance of a teacher. With tears of joy in his eyes, Richard Hogarth signed the publishing contract, and that, as would be inevitable in a story of this sort, was his undoing. When Curll demanded money to pay printing costs, Hogarth could not pay the bill, could not fulfill the requirements of a contract that he clearly did not understand. Richard Hogarth was placed in debtor’s prison, a nasty place where bribery could, at least, secure better living quarters for the fledgling author and his small family.

Son William was fortunate to secure an apprenticeship with an engraver, made some contacts, eventually earned some money, and became quite popular as both a painter and a storyteller. His prints, including the one pictured at the top of this article, were published in series, offered by subscription. The originals made money, but they were often copied (pirated) by unscrupulous printers throughout London. As he worked his way up London’s economic and social ladder, William Hogarth became a very popular painter, busy with commissions until the very last years of his long career. Battling syphilis (a very common theme in stories of this era), frequently lusting after young women (especially in his younger years), Hogarth often considered the fate of his father, and devoted much of his life to steering clear of any such problems.

Benefitting from his upscale connections, Hogarth began to pursue a new law, one that would protect creative people from piracy.  At the time, this was extraordinary; in London, and elsewhere, piracy was simply part of the system. Nobody much questioned the many illegal copies of an artist’s work. Printers published whatever they wanted to publish.  Standard business practices were uncommon. An artist who fought the system ran the risk of speaking truth to power, and could well end up in debtor’s prison, or worse (that is,  murders under dark bridges were extremely common at the time).

Hogarth had been painting, on commission, for a Select Committee of Parliament as they investigated gaols (now: “jails”). Hogarth painted the deliberations of the committee, made a friend of Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk. In time, Hogarth visited the influential man in his home, and over tea and gooseberry tarts, they considered a plan. There was an act of Parliament from Queen Anne’s time that protected writers, so Sir Archibald, in his strong Scots accent, thought aloud:

The connection to the other Act is gud. They like laws that build on other laws.”

Sir Archibald wrote letters to several important people in Parliament. Hogarth hoped that James Oglethorpe would be one of them, but his London home was boarded-up. Sir Archibald explained that Oglethorpe was in the colonies, founding a new one called Georgia. A short time later, Oglethorpe returned, and Hogarth gained his support:

Of course, I’ll support you. The book trade is run by scoundrels and idle incompetents. Always has been, always will be. But we’ll fire a few shots at them, eh, Hogarth?…Show me where to sign!”

Hogarth’s Law eventually passed and became law. Of course, his very next set of prints were his poorest sellers to date–he probably made more money on the previous subscription series, even with the piracy. And then, of course, there was the matter of enforcement of the new law–uneven because there was no system to police the bookseller’s constant practices. Still, times did change, and we benefit from Mr. Hogarth’s good work today.

So: the next time you’re in London, make your way to Leicester Square (Leicester Fields in his day), and take note of the statue of the man who made the world safe for creative professionals.

And, if the story intrigues you, pick up a copy of a lovely novelization of his life entitled I, Hogarth by Michael Dean, from which this article is derived. There is much more to Hogarth’s story–a lusty one, in parts–intentionally reminiscent, in its way, of early British novels that were developing at the same time Bill Hogarth was telling his stories in pictures.

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