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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Disaster Porn

If this be our doom, let us prepare to meet it like men, with boldness, with unanimity.  Let us banish, let us destroy every circumstance that can excite or keep alive a spirit of party.

 - Senator Gouverneur Morris, February 3, 1803

 

After a day full of writing and researching stuff for the Town in between household chores and entertaining the wee ones, of course I would spend Daddy Time exploring the history of disaster relief.  I came across the above quote whilst perusing the Annals of Congress.  Even though it actually has nothing to do with national emergencies (Morris was a Federalist doing battle with Jeffersonian Republicans who wanted to undo judiciary shenanigans of the outgoing Adams administration), I liked it because of all the Kumbaya stuff between Christie and Obama.

Anyhoo, obviously America has suffered crises of all stripes for aeons.  If I might just go back to White European Recorded History, William Bradford wrote in History of Plymouth Plantation:

This year [1635], the -14- or -15 • of August (being Saturday) was shuch a mighty storme of wind and raine, as none living in these parts, either English or Indeans, ever saw. Being like (for the time it continued) to those Hauricanes and Tuffons that writers make mention of in the Indeas.

It began in the morning, a litle before day, and grue not by degrees, but came with violence in the begining, to the great amasmente of many. It blew downe sundry [211] houses, and uncovered others; diverce vessells were lost at sea, and many more in extreme danger. It caused the sea to swell (to the southward of this place) above • 20 - foote, right up and downe, and made many of the Indeans to clime into trees for their saftie; it tooke of the horded roofe of a house which belonged to this plantation at Manamet, and floted it to another place, the posts still standing in the ground; and if it had continued long without the shifting of the wind, it is like it would have drouned some parte ofthe cuntrie.

It blew downe many hundered thowsands of trees, turning up the stronger by the roots, and breaking the hiegher pine trees of in the midle, and the tall yonge oaks and walnut trees of good biggnes were wound like a withe, very strange and fearfull to behould. It begane in the southeast, and parted toward the south and east, and vered sundry ways; but the greatest force of it here was from the former quarters.

It continued not (in the extremitie) above -5 • or-6-houers, but the violence begane to abate. The signes and marks of it will remaine this • 100-years in these parts wher it was sorest. The moone suffered a great eclipse the • 2 • night after it.

No mention of FEMA in his account of the aftermath, but I'm sure the commie Pilgrims all pulled together somehow, which is part of the American spirit.  Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they later passed despotic building codes to better mitigate such events.

You know who else liked such regulations?  Noted commie, Adam Smith, who observed in Wealth of Nations:

[I]t is the proper business of law not to infringe, but to support [natural liberty]. [R]egulations may, no doubt, be considered as in some respect a violation of natural liberty. But those exertions of the natural liberty of a few individuals, which might endanger the security of the whole society, are, and ought to be, restrained by the laws of all governments; of the most free, as well as or the most despotical. The obligation of building party walls, in order to prevent the communication of fire, is a violation of natural liberty, exactly of the same kind with the regulations of the banking trade which are here proposed.

Indeed, in the wake of the Great Fire of London, Parliament passed An Act for rebuilding the Citty of London (1666), which laid out codes requiring buildings be made of brick and have firewalls of specific thicknesses, etc.  We'll ignore his advocacy for regulations to prevent bankers from endangering the whole of society for now.

A century and a half later the United States saw the Great Portsmouth Parade Fire of 1802.  A few weeks afterward in the House of Representatives:

Mr. S. Smith offered a resolution instructing the Committee of Ways and Means to inquire into the expediency of pro;ongiog the period of payment of bond, given for duties by merchants of Portsmouth who may have been sufferers by the late fire at that place.

Mr. S. submitted a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury to him, as chairman of the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures, stating that, if the prolongation depended upon him, he should be inclined to grant it—also enclosing a letter from the Collector of the port of Portsmouth.

The resolution was immediately taken up and agreed to.

Just over a month later, Congress passed the bill:

It really wasn't much when you get down to it.  No transfer payments to Portsmouth or the state of NH, no Federal agencies going in to coordinate rebuilding, whatever.  It's not entirely clear if this was even controversial from a Constitutional or fiscal perspective since everything seems to have been discussed in a Committee of the Whole in the House, and the Senate didn't record any debates on the matter.

Constitutionally, I'm sure nobody batted an eye--they were focused on issues surrounding the Judiciary, and postponing receipt of taxes is pretty clearly under the plenary power of Congress to lay duties and such.  But this still is considered the first relief act passed by Congress, and delaying payments is significant in that it denied the government revenue whilst allowing businesses a chance to rebuild.

Yet today's Republicans would think this didn't go far enough...for business.  Why delay taxes when you could simply cut them?  But for the People who ordained the Constitution?  It would be immoral for the government to help them out...

ntodd

November 1, 2012 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink

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