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Bill Kauffman – Why Is Empire So Big And Lusted After? Little America Is Great!

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Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript“This is one of the points that you make in Bye Bye, Miss American Empire.  I’ve often talked about this on the show many, many times.  New York could have the Republic of Manhattan Island.  There’s what, 4.5 million people there?  You could have the Long Island Republic or the State of Long Island.  There’s another 3 or 3.5 million there.  You’re already at 5 million.  We haven’t even gotten up above the lower one-eighth of the state and we’re at 6 million people.”  Check out today’s transcript AND Clip of the Day for the rest….

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Begin Mike Church Show Transcript

Mike:  You, of course, are looking out the window of one of the towns in the Mudville Nine, right?

Bill Kauffman:  Well, we sometimes call it Eden, Mike, or God’s country.  Yes, rural Western New York.  I should say the colony of Western New York.  Politically we are essentially a subject people.

Mike:  You are subject to the emirs and kings and all the rest of the aristocratic royalty that holds court in Albany, correct?

 I guess we’ve built up, over the decades now, this presumption in favor of bigness, a belief that matters are best run by central authorities rather than the people.  There ought to be many more stars on Old Glory than there are.

Kauffman:  We are, yes, yes.  We just reelected — I shouldn’t say we just reelected, but Prince Andrew Cuomo going back for another term.  He’s sort of his dad without the wit or intellect.  I didn’t like Mario much.  There was sort of this clean sanctimony about him.  But he was a sharp guy.  The kid, oh, my God.  He was, actually a very under-funded Republican ended up winning 46 of New York’s 62 counties, and yet still getting crushed in the popular vote because the votes all come from downstate New York.  Like California, it’s an extremely diverse state that really ought to be multiple states.

Mike:  This is one of the points that you make in Bye Bye, Miss American Empire.  I’ve often talked about this on the show many, many times.  New York could have the Republic of Manhattan Island.  There’s what, 4.5 million people there?  You could have the Long Island Republic or the State of Long Island.  There’s another 3 or 3.5 million there.  You’re already at 5 million.  We haven’t even gotten up above the lower one-eighth of the state and we’re at 6 million people.  Then you can have the State of Iroquois where you live, which I believe you wrote about in the book.  The middle of New York can be the country of Adirondack or whatever you want to call it.

It’s easy for me to envision with an open mind at least five New Yorks, just like it’s easy for me to envision at least three distinct Louisianas.  I don’t have anything in common — it’s a very diverse state here in Louisiana as well.  We don’t have anything in common with our northern state friends.  We have a little bit in common with our Acadiane friends, but our Acadiane friends don’t have anything in common with people in New Orleans, and they don’t like them.  It’s easy for me to see at least three or four states being carved out of Louisiana.  What do you think is the hold-up?

Kauffman:  That’s an excellent question.  I guess we’ve built up, over the decades now, this presumption in favor of bigness, a belief that matters are best run by central authorities rather than the people.  There ought to be many more stars on Old Glory than there are.  Again, I know you’re a scholar of the early republic.  In the Constitutional Convention, one of the big discussions was the scale, congressional districts.  Is 30,000 people too many for a congressional district?  The anti-federalists thought so.  They thought there’s no way that a farmer or mechanic could ever be elected to office in a jurisdiction that large.

Today our congressional districts are what, average 700,000?  Most of us don’t even know our member of Congress.  We know him only as this image on a TV screen.  If we’re dissatisfied with some public policy, if we don’t like one of the endless wars or something, what can we do?  You write a letter to him and you receive a computer-generated response signed by an autopen or whatever the modern equivalent of an autopen is.  In the very real sense, in a large polity, say in the United States, you’re a subject, not a citizen.  It pains me to say that because I’m an old-fashioned patriot.  What acts of citizenship do I perform as an American?  I cast a meaningless vote every four years.  I pay my taxes.  That’s about it.

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Whereas, if power were to evolve to the most local level — and you can see it today.  If there’s some affair in your town or city, I can go before the town board or the city council and I can speak.  I can remonstrate with these people face to face.  They may not be sage or wise, and they may make boneheaded decisions, but I can get some satisfaction.  I can have my say in a way that I simply cannot at the national level, or I can’t even in a super large state like New York or California.

Mike:  Even if they make a boneheaded decision, at least it’s your boneheaded decision.  You own it.  You’re small enough to where the community has to own it then, right?

Kauffman:  You’re right.  These people have to live with the consequences of their decisions.  There’s a certain accountability.  There simply isn’t at the national level.  If your member of Congress votes for war, his son or daughter is not going.

Mike:  By the way, Bill Kauffman, author of Bye Bye, Miss American Empire, author of the ISI series book, Forgotten Founder, Drunk Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin.  I have to tell you, I love all your books because your humor is just so natural.  You’re a modern Mark Twain, my friend.  I enjoy reading your prose because you do inject the very wry and dry sense of humor, which I am, unfortunately, possessed of, as well as you.  To me, you’re writing to my heart.  When I read Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, I got so many little anecdotes out of that, so many stories.  Knowing that you were going to be on today, I went with the looming prospect of the president making legal citizens out of 4.5 million people that aren’t citizens.  I thought I’d go back and look a little bit at Luther Martin and what he told the Maryland Assembly when he came back from the federal convention.  You know this story as well as I, so feel free to jump in at any time.

Basically Martin is sent with two other delegates but James McHenry does not show up on time.  Martin is there with another guy, I can’t think of his name, but this guy is just a limp noodle.  It’s Luther Martin sitting there listening to Edmond Randolph and little Jimmy Madison drone on endlessly about this wonderful, vainglorious empire that they’re going to create.  Martin sits there and bides his time.  When they finally allow people to speak, he raises his hand and goes: I wasn’t sent here to make an empire, and if I go back with an empire, they’re going to kill me, so can we not worry about what Madison wants and talk about amending the articles.  Of course, this fight goes on throughout the convention.

Just as is feared, when Luther Martin gets back to Maryland with a copy of the Constitution in his hand, that’s exactly what happens.  He is summoned by the Maryland House of Delegates.  They basically sent an armed guard attachment out to go arrest him and they’re going to put him on trial in front of the Maryland House of Delegates and demand to know how in the world this happened.  Martin, being the phenomenal orator that he is, just says: All right.  Sit down and I’m gonna tell you a story.  Now, how many days did it take him to tell this story?  I ran out of time reading it last night.  I couldn’t finish it.  I read it for about an hour and a half and that’s all the time I had.  How long do you think he made that case?

Kauffman:  He was very, very longwinded.  In fact, that’s the reputation he got at the Constitutional Convention.  He gives these two very long speeches, which Madison records.  Madison gets really snippy.  He goes: Well, this guy speaks at great length and with considerable vehemence and doesn’t make much sense.  He says that because, of course, he’s attacking Madison’s Virginia Plan.  I always volunteer to be secretary of organizations I’m a member of, because he who keeps the notes writes the history.  You also have two Upstate New Yorkers, Lansing and Yates, who were at the convention, and who leave very early.  Like Patrick Henry said: I smelled a rat.  They thought these guys are essentially overthrowing the Articles.  They wanted no part of it.  They kept notes, too, up until July 10 or so.

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In their notes, Martin makes perfect sense.  He is longwinded.  We’ve all known people who can’t shut up.  In his case, it was fueled by this prodigious intake of rum.  The old line “I never knew he was a drunk until I saw him sober once” applied to Martin.  He was this great, larger-than-life drunken figure railing against the Constitution, offering the most sustained criticism of that document ever made, and probably that ever will be made because, obviously, it’s ratified and then the whole thing becomes a moot point.  He’s a fascinating character.

I think we can learn so much from the people on the losing side of political debates.  We have this nasty habit in this country of flushing the losers in any historical contest down the memory hole.  They no longer exist, or if they do, you’ve got to go back and paint these Snidely Whiplash mustaches on them.  Undoubtedly people, they’re human, and they’re wrong about many things.  We can learn a lot from the losers.  I’ve always had a great sympathy for losers.  I’ve been a Buffalo Bills fan all my life.  Martin is one of the really colorful losers in our history.  I got a huge kick out of writing that book.

End Mike Church Show Transcript

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