Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: DEMOCRACY – Pt. 3 – Constitution

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: Democracy, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photography. My edits/summaries of L.Q. continues.]

“…the Fall 2020 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, explores the history of people joining together to form movements, governments, and communities from the ancient world through the present day.” (L.Q. email.)

The Democracy Table of Contents are online, and similar is in Voices In Time. 28 of about 75 literary extracts are available FREE. The complete essays at the back are FREE also.

The main body of every issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is Voices In Time. In Democracy they are Revolution, Constitution, and Dissolution.

As Ayn Rand might say, let’s check our premises. On Constitution:

constitution: NOUN

  • 1A body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.

    3A person’s physical state with regard to vitality, health, and strength. (Ref.)

Constitution, the body of doctrines and practices that form the fundamental organizing principle of a political state. In some cases, such as the United States, the constitution is a specific written document. In others, such as the United Kingdom, it is a collection of documents, statutes, and traditional practices that are generally accepted as governing political matters. States that have a written constitution may also have a body of traditional or customary practices that may or may not be considered to be of constitutional standing. Virtually every state claims to have a constitution, but not every government conducts itself in a consistently constitutional manner. (Britannica.)

Constitution of the United States of America, the fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. The oldest written national constitution in use, the Constitution defines the principal organs of government and their jurisdictions and the basic rights of citizens. (Britannica.)

The CONSTITUTION section starts with a short, contemporary piece (2011) by Thomas Hofeller (d. 2018). It is a serious, but somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Powerpoint presentation on gerrymandering.

“What I’ve Learned About Redistricting—the Hard Way!

basic laws of redistricting
• Whether done with colored maps on the floor or high-speed computers, it always brings out the worst in everyone!
• And it’s never done on time!

redistricting miranda warning
• You have the right to an attorney.
• If you cannot afford one…you are in deep trouble!” (p. 73-74) (FREE.)

Gerrymandering is a polite euphemism for creating boundaries of voting districts, particularly with considerable bias in favor of the creators. As democracies and constitutional republics are all about voting, a few side-trips are available here for the uber-inquisitive. Wikipedia, always informative, tells us about gerrymandering.

It’s barely legal: “In June 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause that federal courts lacked jurisdiction to hear challenges over partisan gerrymandering.” (Same Wiki.)

Mr. Hofeller was in hot water both ante mortem and posthumously for his ‘consulting’ on the topic: 

After his death, Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller, made available computer hard drives that had been in her father’s possession.[6] Files on the hard drives showed that he played a key part in the decision of the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a decision that was challenged in the federal courts in the case Department of Commerce v. New York. Hofeller had conducted a study in 2015 which found that adding such a question would make it possible to draw district boundaries that “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” (Hoefeller Wiki.)

Stephanie is a bit of a rebel: REF.

The next extract is from the very insightful and expressive abolitionist Frederick Douglass in an 1860 speech in Glasgow, Scotland. It too is free. (FREE!) (I recommend this one.) I heavily underscored this one and gave it my coveted double-asterisk, on the whole, for importance. I trust I’m not leading you astray. The gist of it all is his argument that the U.S. Constitution is not pro-slavery, but quite the contrary. Here are a few tidbits:

“The American government and the American Constitution are spoken of in a manner which would naturally lead the hearer to believe that the one is identical with the other, when the truth is they are as distinct in character as is a ship and a compass. The one may point right and the other steer wrong. A chart is one thing, the course of the vessel is another. The Constitution may be right, the government wrong. If the government has been governed by mean, sordid, and wicked passions, it does not follow that the Constitution is mean, sordid, and wicked.”

“I, on the other hand, deny that the Constitution guarantees the right to hold property in man and believe that the way to abolish slavery in America is to vote such men into power as will use their powers for the abolition of slavery.”

“Its language is “we the people”; not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the people; not we the horses, sheep, and swine and wheelbarrows, but we the people, we the human inhabitants; and if Negroes are people, they are included in the benefits for which the Constitution of America was ordained and established.”

“My position now is one of reform, not of revolution. I would act for the abolition of slavery through the government—not over its ruins.” (p. 75-78)

Sadly, I don’t think I will ever fathom the depths of the ill-treatment (to put it ever so mildly) of black people, either then, or now. (I’m equally, with similar lack of success, attempting to fathom the presence of the ‘far-right’ vs. the ‘far-left’ in our contemporary politics. Antifa vs. Proud Boys, and the like. It’s giving new meaning to polar-opposites. I like the ethereal middle ground, but it’s a bit of a crossfire there. I digress. Apologies.)

The oft-quoted Alexis de Tocqueville, from his Democracy in America, comments on the role of the newspaper in the 1830s. It is the mass-media, information at your fingertips, vehicle of its day. ““In the Michigan forests there is not a cabin so isolated, not a valley so wild, that it does not receive letters and newspapers at least once a week,” he wrote.” (p. 90) A ‘Free’ extract yet again, people. Not many of them are, and I’m not selecting them because they are. Check the Table of Contents link above if you’re inclined to explore further. I can’t copy and paste everything!

Side quotes proliferate:

Andrew Carnegie expounds on equality:

“The equality of the American citizen is decreed by the fundamental law. All acts, all institutions, are based upon this idea. There is not one shred of privilege, hence no classes. The American people are a unit.” (Idealism personified?)

“It has often been objected to this republican theory of the state that under it a dead level of uniformity must exist. The informed traveler, who knows life in America, can be relied upon to dispel this delusion and to certify that nowhere in all the world is society more exclusive or more varied than in republican America.” (p. 98) (Free, see TOC.)

I’m intrigued by the industry moguls of the Gilded Age, the so-called Robber Barons. Carnegie was yet another industrious, intelligent Scotsman, so many of whom were the bedrock of the Industrial Age. He pulled himself into wealth and success by his own hard-scrabble, proverbial bootstraps. Carnegie wrote this extract in 1886. In 1892, the deadly Homestead Strike occurred while he was in Scotland. (Coincidentally I worked at the Homestead Mills one summer in my youth, shoveling grease and ash from recently used smelting furnaces.) Though not directly involved, Carnegie’s reputation suffered. In 1901 he sold all his holdings to J.P. Morgan, who formed the U.S. Steel Corporation. (U.S. Steel owned the Homestead Mills when I worked there in the 60’s. I’ve heard the mills are gone now, replaced by a shopping center.)

“During the last 18 years of his life, he gave away ~$350 million (roughly $5.2 billion in 2019)[4] to charities, foundations, and universities – almost 90 percent of his fortune.[5]” (Wikipedia)

Carnegie funded some 2,500+ libraries. One can’t fault him for his philanthropy. Did his steelworkers get off work at the end of a long day and head for the library to read? I wonder. Everyone’s a critic, and I’m no exception. One cannot fault the massive giving of philanthropists then, and now, with the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, etc. John D. Rockefeller is reported to have given away $500+ million (unadjusted). At one time his fortune was calculated to be the contemporary equivalent of $400+ BILLION. Today’s wealthiest billionaires are less than a paltry $200 billion. I found God’s Gold by John T. Flynn, about John D. and the discovery/growth of the infant oil industry in Pennsylvania, a VERY intriguing book. (My Goodread’s review.)

Still I digress, but so it goes when reading Lapham’s Quarterly. I’m continually off on tangent after tangent. The pages of Wikipedia are virtually dog-eared as a result. I guess it’s called learning, a life’s work for me. Will I do better next time around? One can only hope.


While I didn’t intend to focus on the free, online extracts, why not? W.E.B. DuBois is eloquent, way back in 1919, on Black Lives Matter:

“The persons, then, who come forward in the dawn of the twentieth century to help in the ruling of men must come with the firm conviction that no nation, race, or sex has a monopoly of ability or ideas; that no human group is so small as to deserve to be ignored as a part, and as an integral and respected part, of the mass of men; that above all no group of twelve million black folk, even though they are at the physical mercy of a hundred million white majority, can be deprived of a voice in their government and of the right to self-development without a blow at the very foundations of all democracy and all human uplift; that the very criticism aimed today at universal suffrage is in reality a demand for power on the part of consciously efficient minorities—but these minorities face a fatal blunder when they assume that less democracy will give them and their kind greater efficiency. However desperate the temptation, no modern nation can shut the gates of opportunity in the face of its women, its peasants, its laborers, or its socially damned.” (p. 103) (Free.)

Man’s inhumanity has yet to cease.

If I comprehend James Madison’s piece, he is expressing some healthy skepticism about republic and democracy:

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

“A pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.”

“Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians who have patronized this species of government have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”

Hence it clearly appears that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy in controlling the effects of faction is enjoyed by a large over a small republic—is enjoyed by the union over the states composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice?” (p. 106-109) (Free.)

Speaking of women’s rights and activism, Angelina Grimké (who?) makes a very cogent argument on the subject, in rebuttal to Catherine Beecher ‘objecting to women’s participation in abolitionism’:

“Thou sayest, “Heaven has appointed to one sex the superior and to the other the subordinate station, and this without any reference to the character or conduct of either.” This is an assertion without proof.”

““A woman may seek the aid of cooperation and combination among her own sex, to assist her in her appropriate offices of piety, charity,” etc. Appropriate offices! Ah! Here is the great difficulty. What are they? Who can point them out? Who has ever attempted to draw a line of separation between the duties of men and women, as moral beings, without committing the grossest inconsistencies on the one hand, or running into the most arrant absurdities on the other?” (p. 115) (Free.)


To be continued…

The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue, its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″, it is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by founder/editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the issue’s theme, with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

8 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: DEMOCRACY – Pt. 3 – Constitution

  1. Democracy is such a huge subject that tackling it in any manner seems impossible. I’ll just add Churchill’s famous quote: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill and built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891…” Their ruthless business tactics are a matter of debate, but at least they gave away some money. Thank you for reading, Sue.

      Liked by 1 person

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