Mini-Federalist #3 – The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #3, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published November 3, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

It is obvious that the people love the Union – otherwise the idea of it would not have stuck around as long as it has. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Union for these States is the way to go.

The chief concern of the people is their SAFETY. Now, SAFETY can mean a lot of things – what I’m talking about is the continuation of peace (both in respect to foreign affairs, and potential home-grown disturbances). For now, let’s look at how the Union best provides for security from foreign threats.

Countries generally go to war for a reason (whether those reasons are legitimate or not is a different story). Regardless, doesn’t it make sense that having 1 large country (rather than 3 or 4 – or even 13 – smaller ones) would lead to fewer conflicts with other nations? Legitimate wars start usually because of acts of physical violence, or because of broken promises.

We are already heavily engaged in trade, and have made treaties with several nations. Wouldn’t it be easier to keep up those international relations as one country, rather than a bunch of smaller ones – all negotiating with the same foreign powers? Under one Union, we can have the best diplomatic minds in this whole country negotiate for all of us, rather than just for their own small section. And those small sections might not always get along in terms of trade – a few small conflicts (or personal greed of a few State leaders or locally-influential citizens) may jeopardize things for the rest of us. Petty local concerns can escalate quickly – look at all the conflicts with the Native-Americans that have been started by a State government messing up. Having one united, dispassionate voice will prevent these kinds of situations.

Another concern is that we currently share borders with Britain and Spain. Should we break off into separate confederacies, those states on the border have a higher risk of being engulfed in war with either of those powers. A national government can act to calm these tensions before they erupt – not only because they are dispassionately disconnected from them, but because a larger, stronger government will always have a better hand in negotiations than a smaller, weaker one. That much is clear from history.

Mini-Federalist #2 – Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #2, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published October 31, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

I’ll begin by reiterating how important it is to make the right decision about ratifying the Constitution.

Any government is going to require the people to give up a certain amount of freedom. Is it better to give that freedom up to one big government, or to a series of smaller ones?

It has always been the consensus that a single Union of the States was the best course of action for America. Only now have people begun to suggest that we’d be better off as a group of smaller countries. We can’t ignore this thought completely, but we should be careful until we know whether this is actually a good idea.

We have an amazing country – and it is great that it is a single country – almost as if that was God’s plan all along. The land is fertile and productive, and we have good rivers to transport our goods. Similarly, the people who inhabit this country are all united with the same culture, language, and religion. These people fought together to obtain their freedom and firmly believe in self-government. That united government has already conducted a lot of business and done a lot of good. These people, this land, and this government seem to have been made for each other. It would be a shame to break this all up.

From the beginning, the people have agreed. The first government they created was a federal one. The fact that it isn’t perfect is clear and totally understandable as it was instituted in a time of war and under great stress. Because the people still want a united government – just a better one – the recent convention in Philadelphia met to figure out what to do. The best and brightest minds came together and were able to take their time in designing a government this time. The Constitution is the result of these careful deliberations.

To be fair, the Constitution is only one suggestion for fixing our government. But we should consider it carefully. Remember how many people thought it was a bad idea for us to declare our independence from Britain? That turned out OK. We had a lot of smart guys in Congress from all across the country back then. Many of them are still in Congress and even participated in the Constitutional convention – they haven’t done us wrong before, and they have always believed in a united America.

It was the mandate of the convention to keep the Union together, and that’s what their plan – this Constitution – does. Why are there now people who think that Union is a bad idea? The majority of the people have never thought that dissolving the Union was the way to go, and if we were to follow through with it, I’m sure our best days would be behind us.

Mini-Federalist #1 – General Introduction

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #1, the original text of which can be read here:

Originally published October 27, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We have all experienced how terrible the current federal government is. Thanks to the recent convention in Philadelphia, there is a new proposal on the table to consider – the Constitution of the United States. America has a unique chance to show that a free society can work, and that we need to take this opportunity seriously and ask whether this new government would be best for society as a whole, and not look for the advancement of our own selfish interests in it.

At the same time, we must not to make the argument personal. People will have different and varied motives for their support and opposition to the Constitution, and we should hear each other out and give the benefit of the doubt, as both sides can have evil motives dressed in the clothing of “the public good”. For this reason, we should try to judge the different arguments as dispassionately as possible. My own view is that the Constitution is a good solution to our governmental problems, and I will write a series of articles to lay out the reasons why. My papers will include discussion of:

  • The benefits of having a Union of all the States (as opposed to breaking up into smaller, regional confederacies, as some have proposed).
  • The fact that the Articles of Confederation don’t do a good job of creating such a Union.
  • No matter what government we come up with, it needs to be at least as strong as the one proposed in the Constitution.
  • How the government that is created by the Constitution matches up with what a true republic should look like.
  • How the Constitution is like the pre-existing State Constitutions.
  • Other aspects of the Constitution that will lead to better government, freedom, and protection of property for all.

Further, I will try to provide answers to arguments brought up by the other side in opposition to the Constitution.

Simply put, the argument is one between keeping the Union intact, or breaking off into smaller confederacies – an option that I don’t think is palatable at all, and the next paper will begin to explain why.

Civil War Artillery: Basics

One of the things that is often over-looked (or mistreated, in my opinion) by most visitors to a battlefield is the artillery pieces that are on display. In most cases, these are actual weapons used during that period and fired in anger at the opposing force. They exist today because of careful preservation efforts and we’d like to keep them around for generations to come. This means that you probably shouldn’t let your kids treat them like playground equipment, OK?

Well, I’m not here to lecture you – at least not about your parenting. I’m here to talk about the guns themselves. Mini-rant over.

Gettysburg National Military Park has one of the best collections of Civil War-era artillery anywhere. While there are some fakes among the guns on the field (which have their own interesting history), most of the collection consists of the real thing. In this post, I’d like to focus on laying out some of the basics of Civil War artillery so that you too can become as much of a nerd for this stuff as I am!

First, let’s examine some of the different kinds of guns that were used during the Civil War.

As you may know, the Civil War marked several turning points in warfare. It was certainly a transitional period for tactics, but also for the technology employed in weapons and their manufacture. Some of these advances didn’t catch on right away, but you can see the beginnings of modern artillery in some of the pieces from this era.

The most visually-obvious advance was the use of metals other than bronze in the casting of cannons. Bronze was still in heavy use in the construction of weapons like the Model 1857 12-pounder Light Field Gun (the “Napoleon”), and in the Howitzers of the day, but iron was beginning to make an impact in weapons like the Parrott Rifle (mostly cast iron, with a wrought iron reinforce), and the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle (made entirely from wrought iron). These weapons were very strong and lighter-weight than their bronze counterparts. They were cheaper to produce (especially the Parrott design), and also did a much better job with another big innovation: rifling.

So we’re able to develop a basic identification guideline already: if a weapon is green (or greenish) it is made of bronze. If it is black, it is made of iron. The iron guns are ALL rifled (UPDATE: Well, maybe not). Very few of the bronze ones are.

Now let’s have a look at some of the basic anatomy of these weapons:

6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.

While this diagram specifically refers to a 6-pounder gun (which was basically obsolete by the time of the Civil War), the same terms apply to all the other weapons of the period.

The important parts to note here are the breech, the muzzle, and the trunnions. These are the places where a cannon will bear marks that will help you to identify it. Information stamped onto a piece might include it’s manufacturer, serial number, weight, year of manufacture, and inspector’s initials. No visible markings on the piece is a pretty clear indication that it is a fake.

Let’s have a look at an example from Gettysburg:

Muzzle of a "Napolean"
Muzzle of a “Napoleon”. Photo by John Dolan.

On the left, the “No. 90” refers to this weapon being serial number 90. The serial numbers were unique to each manufacturer, so there may be as many as 6 or 7 U.S. number 90s. Sometimes the serial numbers were also done by orderer. This is especially true of the Parrott rifles. There was a “No. 1” that was made for the U.S. Army, AND a “No. 1” that was made for the Pennsylvania militia. It can get rather confusing.

Below the “No. 90” marking, are the initials “T.J.R” – this is the inspector’s mark (in this case, Thomas Jefferson Rodman) who ensured that the gun was fit for service. If it was, a “U.S.” mark was applied on the top of the barrel, near the trunnions. Moving counter-clockwise, we come to the “1862” mark, referring to the year this weapon was cast. The next marking, “1247 lbs.” obviously refers to the weight of the gun tube itself (not the full weight with the carriage and all).

On this example, the manufacturer’s mark is at the top of the muzzle:

Sound familiar?
Sound familiar? Photo by John Dolan.

It says “Revere Copper Co.” for those of you who have trouble reading it. Yes, it’s THAT Revere. While we all know him for his revolutionary exploits (including a certain late-night ride), that was not his entire life story, of course. His real business was silversmithing and in the post-revolutionary period he did so well for himself that he expanded his business into copper, brass, and iron works. While not the largest supplier of artillery, there are a few examples of his company’s work at Gettysburg, and to my eye, they are the ones with the highest level of craftsmanship. They seem to always have a very bright and consistent green color and just take a look at the “U.S.” stamp on top of the tube:

Revere's fancy "U.S."
Revere’s fancy “U.S.” Photo by John Dolan.

So we can tell a lot about this particular weapon by the markings. First, it is a REAL one. Since we know it was made by Revere Copper Co. in 1862 with a “U.S.” mark, we can also deduce that it was made in Boston, MA and purchased by the U.S. Army specifically for the war effort (since the war went on from 1861-1865). It was likely actually used in battle. The weight of the piece determined the price (usually between $0.40-$0.50 per pound), so that tells us that it probably cost the government between $500-$600 at the time (between $11,500-$13,000 in 2010 dollars) to buy. The fact that it is a bright, consistent green color tells us that it used a pretty high-quality bronze. Some of the Confederate guns in particular are a dingy grayish-green color; a result of metals like iron and lead being mixed into the bronze because the south couldn’t produce or smuggle-in enough copper. Confederate guns may also have bright green dots scattered on them. These are plugs that were put in after the gun was cast to fill in imperfections in the metal.

Another important part of the artillery is the carriages that the weapons are mounted to for field use. A gun without a carriage is pretty useless. During the Civil War, these were made from wood for ease of construction and to keep them lightweight. The problem with wood carriages in a static, “museum” atmosphere is that they don’t weather very well. The carriages at Gettysburg (and on every battlefield I’ve ever been to) are reproductions made out of steel and painted to appear as they would have. All the normal pieces are present on these copies, though:

A full artillery piece (side view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (side view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (top view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (top view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.

Terms like “prolonge” and “elevating screw” tend to come up in official descriptions of battle action, so it’s handy to know what parts these are referring to.

Now that the basics are out of the way, I’m planning to do a series of posts on this topic. Among the other things I want to cover are the mechanics of how these pieces were fired; how they were arranged into sections, batteries, and battalions (including command structure); and a few posts on specific weapons in the Gettysburg collection that are unique or interesting.

Stay tuned!

Trips to Gettysburg

It’s no secret that I’m a huge nerd for Gettysburg. I go up whenever I can.

I haven’t been going with my regular frequency since our son, John has been born though. You aren’t really supposed to take a newborn out too much, and it’s been kind of a lot of work to take him places. I’ve been missing it up there.

So when my friend John (not my son, John) suggested going up for the day a few weeks ago while Ruth was at work, I got excited. Little John is old enough to be out in the world now, and we recently bought a minivan so taking him places is much less of a production now. Ruth was even fine with it! We were going to Gettysburg!

First trip to Gettysburg!
First trip to Gettysburg!

Once we got into town, we hit the newly-bare and reopened Powers Hill (which none of us had ever visited), and then we went cruising around the field. At some point, the visit turned into a quest to find different pieces of artillery. We hit all the unique pieces that I knew of off the top of my head, including the only intact 6-pounder on the field (pictured above), and the little-visited Jones Ave. and Benner’s Hill. We even took a side-trip over to Hanover, PA to see 10-pounder Parrot No. 1 (which it turns out, wasn’t the first one produced).

We had such a great time doing it, that as soon as we got home, Big John and I started going through books and websites learning all we could about the guns on display at Gettysburg. As is usually the case, we found things that we missed, but REALLY wanted to see. Last Saturday, we made a return trip, this time with Big John’s girlfriend, Jess.

Daddy and his boy on McPherson's Ridge.
Daddy and his boy on McPherson’s Ridge.

We got some more artillery nerdery in (which I will post further about later), and gave Jess a basic overview of the battle. It’s always nice to go up there with a new set of eyes – it makes me question my assumptions and tighten up my story of the battle for the eventual day when I decide that I don’t really care about money and start guiding.

One a "James", the other a John. Both 14-pounders.
One a “James”, the other a John. Both 14-pounders.

These are the first of many memories that I want to make with Little John. Not just at Gettysburg, but chasing history and learning whatever we can, wherever we are. Learning is a life-long process that happens away from a school and without tests most of the time. I want John to really understand that, and I look forward to our future adventures.

Maybe mom can come along, too.

The Mini-Federalist

For those who are unaware, the Federalist Papers is one of the greatest collections of political thought ever assembled. This was the original argument in favor of adoption of the U.S. Constitution, that was laid out in the newspapers of New York between late-1787 and mid-1788. Originally published anonymously, we now know that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were behind them (although sometimes we aren’t sure which ones specifically).

While they make great reading for nerds like me who are into this whole political science thing, they aren’t much read or understood by the general populace. There have been attempts over the years to put them onlinemake the language “friendlier”, or create audio versions, but another problem exists – there are 85 of these papers, and even though each is only a few pages long, it is hard to get through all of them.

I’d like to try to condense the ideas into a mini version, while translating the ideas into a more “modern” lexicon. So far as I can tell, no one has such a work online, and I think it would be a good exercise.

I’ve created a new category on the blog called “Mini-Federalist”, and hope to do a new entry regularly, going in order of the original papers. I accept that this will probably take a few years to complete. I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms as this will only make the final product better.

We Get E-mail

Anyone who runs a WordPress site knows about comment SPAM.

Basically, there are computerized robots roaming the Internet, looking for WordPress (and other blogs) to leave comments on. These comments are usually in the form of links to porn websites, or to sites selling fake Louis Vuitton bags out of Yugoslavia or something. The idea is to get links to their site on as many other sites as possible, because that’s how they increase their ranking on Google.

Anyway, I get a lot of this stuff. So much in fact that I can’t leave comments turned “on”, they have to be left in a “moderated” mode, where every comment needs to be approved before it is visible. It’s a mess.

It’s not all dark clouds, though. The entertaining thing is that there aren’t just links in these comments. They try to put something in there that sounds like a legitimate comment, but is always just a little off. Here are a few examples that I found particularly funny:

“A real uncle isn’t friends, although friends are usually each uncle.”

“Fancy can be the effective requirement for your personal living therefore the expansion of truley (sic) what most of us take pleasure in.”

“When you really need any accountancy of one’s importance, rely pals.”

“Around the world you most likely are someone, yet to person you most likely are everything about.”

Actually, there might be some good advice in there….

We’ve Been Busy…

I could hem and haw about all the crazy little errands, and work, and books I’m reading, and everything else. That would just be deceptive though.

Of course, I’m talking about the birth of our son. You remember – I posted about him earlier. Well, he finally arrived on Saturday, the 27th of October.

As a technology nerd, I had envisioned his birth as being very “connected”. I was going to take a ton of pictures, post them instantly on Facebook and elsewhere, maybe even make a few videos.

The day before we were scheduled to go in for our induction, my dad and I were talking on the phone about what was about to happen. He mentioned that when I was born, he didn’t have his camera with him – you see, my birth was something of a surprise, schedule-wise, and he didn’t have time to go home and get his kit after work.

He also told me that he was happy that it happened like that.

If you know my dad, you know how surprising this is. Family photos are painstakingly arranged; taking lighting, different angles, and depth-of-field into account. They are composed, and carefully captured. (They also take about 45 minutes, and by the time they’re done, not everyone is in such a smiley mood). It isn’t really his fault. He went to art school.

My dad was happy in retrospect, because if he had his camera, he would have been (as he put it) “working“. He would have been worrying about getting the right angle, the right light, waiting to set up that once-every-45-minutes shot. He would be focusing on capturing the moment, and he wouldn’t have been in it.

While I didn’t necessarily go in to the Howard County General Labor & Delivery department expecting to heed that advice, it was certainly in the back of my mind.

So, how’d I do?

I did post a photo of my son on Facebook. 4 hours after he was born. In total, I took less than 20 pictures over the 3 days we spent in the hospital. Not a single video. There was no live streaming. No podcast. Obviously, no blog posts.

Instead, I spent my time coordinating family members’ visits on the phone. I ran little errands to get food and drinks for my wife. I closed the curtain when she didn’t want to be seen. We walked around the unit together (anyone who has been involved in a birth knows how integral this is to the process). I spent my time with my wife, and when he arrived, with my son. I saw him come out. Not through a viewfinder, or on an LCD screen – I saw it with my own eyes.

It was miraculous, and I highly recommend it.

His name was a closely-guarded secret (that my wife only told about 300 strangers over the last few months, I later found out): John Andrew Skillman. We wanted something classic, strong and (as my teacher friends recommended) easy-to-spell. We really liked the name John (and it doesn’t hurt that one of our closest friends is named John). His middle name, Andrew, is a nod to my little brother, Phillip Andrew Skillman.

I’ll put together a more in-depth post (or series of posts, more likely) about the whole experience (it didn’t go exactly as we planned – does it ever?) But for now, I know what everyone wants. I know what gets the ratings and page-views on the Internet. The cute pictures! (The few that I took, anyway):

2 minutes old
John Andrew Skillman, 2 minutes old.
John Andrew Skillman
Probably the best photo we got of the little guy at the hospital.
John and Daddy
Getting some quality time with Daddy.


One of the things that REALLY irks me, is the idea that politics was never this bad back in the “good old days”.

They say it about nasty election-season ads. They say it anytime there’s a natural disaster (like the recent Hurricane Sandy). They say it wistfully, in support of a return to “civility” (whatever that means). Most importantly, they say it when they’re in the majority.

The trouble is, this “good old days” that people pine for never existed. This sentiment is raised by those who are utterly ignorant of history (which seems to be a requirement for political punditry nowadays).

To wit:

1) The Election of 1800.

This video from Reason pretty much says it all (all of these lines were written by the partisans for each candidate):

2) Abraham Lincoln.

While Lincoln is widely regarded these days as being one of our greatest Presidents, contemporaries did not see it that way.

The event of his election -literally- tore the country apart. He had no support in the South. His re-election in 1864 was far from certain until the tide of the war changed shortly before the election. Many members of his own cabinet didn’t like him.

He was accused of waging a war for his own political gain (and for the financial gain of the monied industrial interests in the north) against the simple, agrarian South that wanted nothing but peace (or so they claimed). Even his refusal to “compromise” on the issue of slavery was trumpeted by his opponents. On top of that, he was apparently a terrible public speaker!

And as if you needed more evidence, he was assassinated because of his politics.

3) FDR.

We think of FDR as being a super popular President (since he was elected to 4 terms – more than any other President), but his pinnacle really occurred in that second election (the election of 1936) when Roosevelt got almost 61% of the vote. His final 2 re-election campaigns saw steadily declining numbers.

Of course, the only thing you need to know about FDR is the history of the 22nd amendment.

FDR died April 12, 1945. On March 21, 1947 (less than 2 years later), Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution limiting the President to only 2 terms (it would officially become part of the Constitution in 1951 when Minnesota ratified it). Some may say this is purely coincidence. I’d argue that the country had just lived through the economic disaster that was FDR’s Presidency and collectively said, “Lets not do THAT again.”


The point is, we’ve NEVER been “civil”. We’ve never all agreed. We’ve never had an issue that had no dissenters. We’ve always been pricks to each other when it comes to politics.

That hasn’t changed – and I don’t think it ever will.

Votes and Rifles


“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

No matter your political stripe, this election matters. But I don’t think it was ever intended to be like this.

Our system has been morphed into one where the Federal government can do virtually anything it wants. Between the expansion of the Commerce Clause, and the farce that is “rational basis” scrutiny, there are almost no substantive limits on government anymore. Society has decided that if there is a problem (no matter how small), the government should solve it.

There is NO Constitutional basis for this. Nothing in the Federalist Papers mentions this philosophical idea behind our founders’ actions.

The downside of this all-powerful government is that now we get to treat EVERY election like it is the apocalypse. As the experience of the current administration teaches us, the Patriot Act, torture, killing U.S. citizens without trial, and the TSA are all TERRIBLE ideas. That is unless “our guy” is in charge. Then they’re fine. But if that “other guy” wins, with ALL THIS POWER we gave “our guy”, well – it would be THE END OF THE WORLD!

We need a return to a proper role of government in our society.

One of the reasons that I love that quote from Teddy at the top of this post is that it has multiple levels to it. I think his main message is that a rifle is neither good nor bad – it’s just a tool. If a good person uses it, it can be life-saving. In the hands of a mad man, it can cause horrendous destruction. Clearly, Teddy thinks that the same is true of votes.

I would take it a step further: a rifle can solve A LOT of problems – I’m sure that you’d have fewer stupid little disagreements with co-workers if you walked around with one all the time, for example – but the rifle isn’t the FIRST tool that you should grab for in that situation, right? Aren’t there more civilized and advanced solutions than jumping to the use of coercive force?

A vote for an all-powerful government is a vote for the use of force. You just aren’t the one carrying the rifle around – you’ve outsourced the function.

When you go into the election booth, don’t think about what YOU as an individual stand to gain “for free” with your vote – think about what is the best way to run our country. Remember that “your guy” won’t always be in charge, and the “other guy” might not be as trustworthy with an unlimited “kill anyone we call a ‘terrorist’ with absolutely no trial or oversight” power. Don’t use your vote as the first tool to solve all your problems. Use it like a rifle should be used – as a purely defensive last resort.

And if you get upset after the election because the “other guy” won, remember this comforting thought from the brilliant Frederick Douglass:

“Nothing is settled that is not right.”

It’s not the end of the world.