More on Anonymity and Retribution

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

This is a little more on the use of anonymity in American politics without going into street names and current literature.

Anonymous was, according to Paul Stubblefield who was my freshman English teacher at DU, the most prolific writer in the English language prior to the eighteenth century.  On the web (s)he seems to be making a comeback.  The use of noms de plume goes back in politics in this country at least to 1722 when Silence Dogood slipped letters under the door of James Franklin’s printing operation.  James’ younger brother Ben had a number of similar correspondents of whom Poor Richard is the best known.  I might go back to Elizabethan times if I accepted the nonsense about Edward de Vere writing plays and sonnets under the name of William Shakespeare, but I’ve read some of De Vere’s work, and he is no Bill Shakespeare.  I am listing here a url to a pdf of an article in the January 8, 1770, Boston Gazette signed by Vindex.  It appears that Vindex is none other than Sam Adams.

The Constitution of the United States was a controversial issue in 1787 when it was submitted for ratification.  There are still writers who consider it a coup d’tat and assert that the Articles of Confederation are the legal founding document, but I have also heard claims regarding the descendants of James VII of Scotland, II of England to the current throne.  As an answer I point out that Cumberland won at Culloden with an army of Scots. The fact is that Cumberland won.  And the fact is that the United States Constitution was ratified by the states.  

Virginia and New York were problematic states.  Jefferson and  George Mason were both master politicians who were able to force a “conditional” ratification on the convention.  New York was a battle ground.  The Federalist faction wrote up a series of arguments which we read as the Federalist Papers like they are just nice essays explaining the Constitution.  They were part of a debate as to what should be the form of government and whether there would be a republic strong enough to ward off the recolonization that England would attempt.  (People in those days knew that England was the power in the British Isles–there was no pandering to the Welsh, Scots and Irish with the namby-pamby United Kingdom language of the twentieth century.)   The name signing the Federalist Papers was Publius.  In addition to anti-federalists there were Tories still loyal to King and Church.  No, they did not all go to the Hudson Bay colony.  Their descendants are still here.  But they were keeping in contact and would gladly have turned in Col Hamilton or Mr Jay.  Mr Madison had already been convicted of treason in absentia.  So the name Publius was used because, let us face it. we are products of the Roman Republic, of the literature, culture and law.

The Anti-Federalist papers argued against doing away with the Articles of Confederation.  They believed in a voluntary compact that would allow them to come and go and to enact legislation that would help them protect jobs in their own state.   So who wrote the Anti-Federalist Papers.   Cato and Brutus were the primary authors.  There is some evidence, though not conclusive, that Col George Clinton was Cato.  Clinton was the governor of New York and a Revolutionary War Officer.  Other names mentioned are Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.  The latter is not to be confused with Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee, a staunch federalist.  At any rate, identities were “secret” until after the fact.

The upshot of the conflict between the factions was that New York, like Virginia, ratified the Constitution conditioned on passage of a Bill of Rights.  And that Bill of Rights contains ten Amendments that essentially prohibit federal action or regulation.  Without the input of Publius, Cato and Brutus we might be living under a constitutional government with no limits on its powers.

In my opinion (realizing that everyone who took constitutional law I and II is an expert, and further realizing that the only justice who comes close to my constitutional view is Thomas) the decision in Citizens United did not go far enough and dismantle the Federal Election Commission as well as the regulations it enforces.  My reasoning is that the First Amendment permits no regulation on speech, petition, or the electoral process.  The Congress has power to regulate the selection of electors in the District of  Columbia and the power to regulate local elections in said District and in territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam etc.  Otherwise the only provision for federal interference in state sponsored elections which include elections to the house and senate are the Fifteenth. Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth Amendments which guarantee individual rights to vote and are handled by the Justice Department.

There is an argument that in our society with open communication there is no retribution and therefore no need for anonymity.  Retribution goes back to the administration of John Adams, second president of the United States and one of two former presidents to endorse the idea of Massachusetts’ secession, had an enemies list, a number of whom were incarcerated under the Sedition Act of 1798.  There was a similar Sedition Act in 1917 under which a number of anti-war, anti-military ministers were incarcerated as well as a number of opponents of conscription were incarcerated for the duration.  During the War of 1861-65, a number of judges and legislators were banished to the Confederate States of America.  Much anonymous literature was circulated opposing Lincoln and the War.  Specifically, Clement Laird Vallandigham of Ohio was convicted by a military commission and denied a writ of habeas corpus when he was forthwith incarcerated.  Lincoln ordered him transported to the Confederacy in order to prevent him from becoming a “martyr for the Copperheads.”  This did not stem the anonymous criticism of Lincoln and the war.

In the thirties there was a true civil war in Spain.  The Loyalists who considered themselves a soviet and had representation on the Politburo were portrayed as the “good guys” in the American press.  There was an American contingent in the International Brigade called the “Lincoln” battalion and there was at some point some adverse action attempted but the popularity of the cause–celebrated in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls protected them. There were also Americans  who fought for Franco in the Spanish Foreign Legion, but they kept quiet about their participation in the cause of the Falange because they could suffer retribution at home.  However the choice was not between the Falange and Republicanism but between Falangist Republicanism and the agents of Stalin.

Compleat Idler, Education, Free Society

Who is Silence Dogood?

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl – Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

James Franklin opened the lock and pushed the door open to the New England Courant. There was no sign of his apprentice Ben. Looking down he saw a folded paper and picked it muttering about that “Dogood woman.” As he walked to his desk he began reading. When he got to “As for Idleness, if I should Quaere, Where are the greatest Number of its Votaries to be found, with us or the Men? it might I believe be easily and truly answer’d, With the latter,” he noticed Ben slipping into the room and moving behind the press.

“About time, Ben,” he groused. “We have another missive from the widow. You might as well set it in type. And be sure the punctuation is right.”

“Do you not wish to read it first.”

“I will read it and be infuriated with the rest of Boston. Why did I let Father talk me in to allowing you as apprentice?”

“I can set type.  And I can read.”

“Be at it then and after sweep around the press. You are the idlest apprentice in Massachusetts Bay.”

James Franklin did not know the identity of Silence Dogood. Goodwife (pronounced “Goody”) Dogood slipped interesting letters under the door of his print shop in Boston. They poked at the customs and what was happening in the colony from a decidedly puritan point of view although in a strangely familiar style.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no time to go around looking for a middle-aged woman who would probably lecture him on his habits. And it would do no good to send his 16-year-old apprentice Ben who would most certainly use the time in sport and idleness with his contemporaries.

Ben had spent eight months in school as his father wished him to prepare for the Anglican clergy. And being bored he dropped out. Ben could read the Bible and the Prayer Book (even though it was disapproved by his dissenting family). And he began running with a crown of idlers who read the latest journals that had been discarded. The Spectator from London included the best essayists in England and occasionally Dean Swift from Dublin. They even tried writing articles in the styles of the writers. And they got good, but the best was was Ben Franklin, the chandler’s son.

Someday James would teach Ben to write, but not now. Ben offered and was scolded for idleness. But Ben spent spare time writing commentaries. He heard James and his friends discussing the affairs of the day them and heard gossip in taverns or coffee houses on his way home and occasionally managed to snag an unused periodical or book. And every so often he would slip a commentary under the door.

James Franklin was a busy man. He had no clue as to the identity of Silence Dogood.  He was furious when told.


New England Courant The first regular newsletter in the colonies. Published by James Franklin except when incarcerated. It was transferred by letter to his former apprentice, Benjamin Franklin, to prevent its seizure by forces of the Crown. James, upon release from custody, found a letter from Ben transferring back as Ben was striking out in the world—eventually landing in the great port of Philadelphia where he would also have trouble with the authorities. James, himself, departed Boston and published in Providence as the dissenter Roger Williams had done in 1634.

Quaere Ask or inquire. The term is still used by law professors and their former students but spelled query.

Votaries Devotees.

Silence Dogood One of many noms de plume of Benjamin Franklin. It mocks the naming of women in Puritan society and “Do good” is a command.

Dissenting Josiah Franklin was a Congregationalist as opposed to the Church of England which was epiacopalian in governance. Churches other than the CofE were called dissenting bodies.

Dean Swift Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, was a brilliant essayist and a disgruntled clergyman. Remember this when reading Gulliver’s Travels or any of his politically incorrect essay.

Chandler Candle maker. Although a dissenter, Josiah Franklin plied his trade for the Anglican churches which could better afford his wares than the Meeting Houses where he worshipped. His desire that Ben be an Anglican clergyman was a desire for upward mobility.