Does history repeat itself? Part II

This is the second of a 3 part series in which I shamelessly and some might regard foolishly, attempt to summarize history and trajectory of the United States. The U.S. has been a great experiment in setting standards of liberty, justice and equality of all those who claim citizenship. It has been a life raft for some that have come to it and a beacon of hope, sometimes armed to free other nations. We have loaned or given away vast sums of money to assist other nations. There have been many critics, sometimes fully justified, but other times simply done through pettiness and ego.

Yalta summit in February 1945 with (from left ...There have and will continue to be many instances where the U.S. falls far short of it’s stated ideals but in a world of imperfection and constant tension, it has done well for itself. The challenges going forth are no less and perhaps even greater as it struggles to define and assert itself in the 21st century.

The United States has often been compared to the ancient Roman Republic which later became the more autocratic Roman Empire. The Roman government built its nation state on many ideas of the earlier Greeks and later incorporated a system of representative government. Like the U.S. it had its wealthy aristocracy. In the early Roman republic all power resided in the hands of the Roman aristocracy, the so-called patricians ( patricii). The parallel to this in the U.S. were, only free men were able to vote. Women and men held through slavery weren’t able to vote. Many people assumed all blacks weren’t able to vote but this appears to not be a true statement upon more careful examination. Even women rights to vote were put to contest in the late 18th century in New Jersey. [1]

Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee

Rembrandt (Wikipedia)

New Jersey newspapers carried debate on whether the state constitution really intended for women to vote. Some argued that the words “all inhabitants” surely did not include children, slaves, and foreigners. If this were true, women should not be allowed to vote because they never had the right before. Others contested widows and single women who owned property worth at least 50 dollars should be allowed to vote. Married women were automatically excluded from voting as they were no longer able to hold property. During this time in a marriage all property legally belonged to the husband. See this for more information. Catholics and non-Christians were also excluded in some states. [2]

Over a period of approximately 100 years after the civil war, women were given the right to vote as well as black people. The 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution just after the Civil War. It says: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Not until the voting rights act of 1965 was this constitutional amendment fully enforced.

During U.S. history the country grew from an expanding territory to a world power. This became evident after the prior demise of Spain as a global power and exemplified during the brief Spanish-American war. The Louisiana purchase in 1803 doubled the size of the U.S. Further western expansion and the cession of the territory, sometimes by conflict with Mexico allowed the U.S. to tap into her rich mineral and petroleum deposits so integral for later 20th century industrial growth.

The United States became part of the world economic and military community after participating in ridding Europe of megalomaniacs in World War I & II. Winston Churchill rightly predicted the rise of power and influence of the Soviet Union; China as well as India divested themselves of colonial power eventually becoming more potent than their previous occupiers.

Rome was the largest city within Latium. This knowledge allowed it to lay claim and speak on behalf of all Latium itself. In its treaty with Carthage (510 BC) the Roman republic claimed control over a larger surrounding territory. In a move similar to the public battles going on in the U.S. over firearms restrictions, Porsenna, leader of Rome banned anyone from owning iron weapons so as to suppress future revolts.

When Rome was in miserable economic stagnation, the privileged classes enslaved any of the working class “plebeians” for nonpayment of debt. Again, this is similar to present day U.S. Although people are no longer thrown into prison, many have been reduced to working menial low paying jobs which essentially enslave them into poverty. [3]

As Rome expanded and grew, constant wars required the participation of the plebeians in Rome’s need for soldiers. The patricians alone could not fight all the wars which Rome was almost constantly involved. By around 470 BC, the patricians (aristocracy) recognized the plebeians power and allowed them to hold meetings to elect officers. These officers were representatives referred to as tribunes of the people, and were to go before the Senate to plead their causes.

The first demand of the plebeians was the need for written law. As long as there was no written code of rules, the plebeians remained at the mercy of the patrician consuls who interpreted oral law. Out of these demands, the Twelve Tables were established which were laws were engraved in copper and permanently displayed for public view. The twelve copper tables were a simple set of rules governing the public, private and political behavior of every Roman. This is similar to the Constitution of the United States. Courts of law were established and the final court of appeal in death penalties would be the Comitia Centuriata (assembly of the centuries). Penalties for transgressions often depended on whether you were a free man or a slave. Slaves or debtors usually got the death penalty whereas the free man often was flogged and then forced in some way to repay the harmed person.

A famous Roman story is similar to our own George Washington. Washington was a landowner (gentleman farmer) who when called up by his fellow citizens became a soldier in charge of all colonial armies. He later became the first President under the new Constitution (he wasn’t actually our first President). As an influential hero for his day, he turned down the idea of becoming another defacto King; like others he recognized the concentration of power in a few hands eventually becomes the ruin of any nation / state. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, was a farmer called upon by the patricians to lead a rescue of a trapped Roman army during Aequian wars in 457 BC. His authority included the powers of dictatorship. He gathered his army and led his forces against the Aesquians opening a gap for the trapped Roman army to escape annihilation. After his job was done, Cincinnatus relinquished his power and returned home to tend his farm. The U.S. city of of Cincinnati is named after this heroic citizen warrior.

Other wars and invasions followed including the Barbarians of Gaul from the north. These battles strengthened the grip of Rome principally held by the patricians however, they saw a way of advancing their power through clever manipulation. They championed the causes of the plebes and used this political power in subtle ways to gain more for themselves. The patricians sought to evade the law or to gain exclusive privilege by indirect methods. The events may differ but the schemes are the same in present time.  [4]

In summary, the historical rise in power of the Roman republic, later to be replaced by the autocratic (dictatorial) Roman empire exemplifies the structure and rise to power of the United States. Specific details are different but the influence of military, customs, architecture, art and engineering spread throughout the developed world. Indeed you can still see many of their civil and military constructions to this day. As we know, once the Roman empire fell into ruin, the world changed for many. This period of time afterward became known as the ‘dark ages’. Many of the scientific and engineering discoveries were largely lost except to the rising power of the Muslim and the Chinese dynasties. [5]

Soldiers & Sailors Arch - Brooklyn NY

Soldiers & Sailors Arch – Brooklyn NY

I will attempt to make additional comparisons to ancient Rome and concerns for the future of the U.S. in part III.


[1] Voting rights in America

[2] Who voted in early America

[3] The promotion of poverty in America

[4] Congress exempts itself from ObamaCare

[5] Classical Temple Architecture And Pagan Statuary Of Washington, DC

The order in which the original 13 states rati...

The order in which the original 13 states ratified the constitution, then the order in which the others were admitted to the union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)