congress

The metric system…in many ways, a source of contention between the American government, or whoever it is who keeps trying to push it on the American public, and the American public in general. Sure, it’s mixed in with our way of life, but somehow, it’s not something that most of us really understand very well. It’s like a strange foreign language, that no one wanted to learn in the first place…but somebody told us that it was important, better, more efficient…or some other such nonsense. It’s perfectly acceptable to use the metric system in the United States…in fact, Congress originally authorized its use in 1866 and has repeatedly tried to make it accepted in the years since, but the American public has continued to reject it.

Although the government now requires metric use in some public sectors and strongly encourages it in many private industries, but the American public never really took to the system and largely dismissed it, making the United States the only industrialized nation where that’s the case. These days the medical field exclusively uses it in their jobs, but when a nurse takes your temperature and tells you that it is 38° C, and you ask her how much that is in “English,” most of them have no idea that it is 101° F. Yes, they know that you are running a fever, but seriously, when you are running a fever, do you want to have to get out your nearest conversion table to figure out how high it is. Most of us know that normal is 98.6° F, but when you don’t feel good, the last thing you want to do is math. I don’t know who came up with inches and centimeters, or Celsius and Fahrenheit battle, but up until 1866, the United States knew what their measurements meant. We didn’t have to try to sit down and figure it all out. Why should we have to now? In American, it just doesn’t measure up.

So, in the next act of “pushiness,” Congress even passed a Metric Conversion Act of 1975 and set up a U.S. Metric Board to take care of all the planning for the desired transition, but they apparently didn’t empower the board with enough authority, and the American people essentially said, “no” to adopting metric system, and continued on with their miles, pounds, ounces and all the rest. Similarly lackluster efforts since then have done little to get Americans to change their minds. We are a stubborn people, and we don’t really like it when someone tells us that, what we have always known as white, is now black. That simply makes no sense, and just because Congress tells us that it does, doesn’t mean that it is so. I don’t suppose that the failed metric conversion will be the last thing that Congress tries to push on us, that will end up in the junk heap…do you?

For anyone who has watched the process of getting a bill made law in Congress, the word Veto is a well known word. If the president doesn’t like the bill, he can always threaten to veto it, forcing Congress to get a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate to override his presidential veto. The exact number depends on how many representatives vote, so the actual number is subject to change. The word veto is Latin for I forbid, and it is the power used to unilaterally stop an official action, especially the enactment of legislation. Therefore, if the president doesn’t like the bill, even if it has passed the House and Senate, he can veto it to see if he can keep it from being passed on a second vote.

The first veto ever exercised was by President George Washington on April 5, 1792. The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House of Representatives that would have increased the amount of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, President Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because it provided for additional representatives for some states, and it would have introduced a number of representatives higher than that allowed by the Constitution. After a discussion with the president, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that votes for or against the bill were divided along perfectly geographical lines between the North and South. Jefferson observed that Washington feared that a veto would incorrectly portray him as biased toward the South. In the end, Jefferson was able to convince the president to veto the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and introduced principles that were liable to be abused in the future. Jefferson suggested apportionment instead be derived from “arithmetical operation, about which no two men can ever possibly differ.” With Washington’s veto, the bill was sent back to Congress. Though representatives could have attempted to overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote, Congress instead threw out the original bill and instituted a new one that apportioned representatives at “the ratio of one for every thirty-three thousand persons in the respective States.” That is a much more fair plan, in my opinion. George Washington would go on to veto one more bill during his time in office. In February 1797, the former commanding general of the Continental Army vetoed an act that would have reduced the number of cavalry units in the army. Neither of the vetoes were overridden by Congress.

Thirty six of the 45 presidents have vetoed at least one bill, with the most regular vetoes going to Franklin D Roosevelt with 372…seconded by Grover Cleveland with 346. There is also something called a pocket veto, which is basically when the president simply does nothing…refusing to sign it into law, or to veto it outright, and it was used by a number of presidents as well. That one seems strange to me, but it seems to have the same procedure to pass the bill into law that the regular veto does. Politics is a messy business, because with so many people involved, there is bound to be differing opinions on what should be done. Nevertheless, try as he might, while the buck might stop at the president’s office, the bill might not, but only if Congress can get its collective act together and vote to override a presidential veto.

Charles-WilkesAntarcticaCaptain Charles Wilkes was an American naval officer, ship’s captain, and explorer. During an exploring expedition, authorized by the May 18, 1836 act of the Congress, Wilkes set out to explore the southern oceans. Congress didn’t expect his expedition to find anything amazing, but that is where they were wrong. His group set out in 1838, and it was during this expedition that Wilkes spotted the coast of Antarctica. The group had sailed around South America to the South Pacific, and after spotting Antarctica, decided to explore a 1,500 mile stretch of it’s eastern coast. The area later became known a Wilkes Land. In 1842, the expedition returned to New York, after having circumnavigated the globe. Wilkes wasn’t the first explorer to look at Antarctica, however. It was discovered by European and American explorers, and in the February 1821, American John Davis became the first person to land on the continent, coming in at Hughes Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Over the next century, many nations, including the United States, wanted to stake their territorial claims to portions of the frigid continent. I’m sure they all had the same idea for its use. Obviously, it was not going to be a place where people were going to live for any length of time…at least not at first. Scientists do spend quite a bit of time there now, but back then, the necessary facilities and equipment were not available.

Finally, in the 1930s, conflicting claims finally led to international rivalry, and the United States, which led the world in the establishment of scientific bases, enacted an official policy of making no territorial claims while recognizing no other nation’s claims. While it didn’t immediately solve the conflict then, it probably set in antarctica-mapAdelie_Penguins_in_Antarcticamotion, the 1959 Antarctic Treaty that made Antarctica an international zone, set guidelines for scientific cooperation, and prohibited military operations, nuclear explosions, and the disposal of radioactive waste on the continent. It’s sometimes strange to think about a continent that has really no owner, or rather is owned by the world, and yet even in modern times we have another such place…the International Soace Station. It’s nice to know that there are some things that we can share globally and actually get along.

Congress in 1874The Nation of FranklinHave you heard of the nation of Frankland…or maybe the nation of Franklin? I hadn’t either, but it was a real place. Early in the history of the United States, its people operated on somewhat limited trust of the government…probably due to the treatment they received in England. In April of 1784, the state of North Carolina ceded its western land claims between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States Congress. The settlers who lived in that area, known as the Cumberland River Valley, had already formed their own government from 1772 to 1777, and their distrust of Congress led the to worry that the area might be sold to Spain or France to pay off war debts owed them by the government. Due to their concerns, North Carolina retracted its cession and started to organize an administration for the territory.

At the same time, representatives from Washington, Sullivan, Spencer (modern-day Hawkins) and Greene ben-franklin-portrait-national-portrait-gallery-smithsonian-museum-washington-dccounties declared their independence from North Carolina. Then, in May, they petitioned the United States Congress for statehood as Frankland. The simple majority favored the petition, but Congress could not get the two thirds majority to pass it…not even when the people decided to change the name to Franklin, in the hope of winning favor with Benjamin Franklin and some of the others.

When the petition failed to pass, the people in the area grew angry, and decided to defy Congress. On this day, August 23, 1784, they ceded from the union and functioned as the Free Republic of Franklin (Frankland) for four years. During that time, they had their own constitution, Indian treaties and legislated system of barter in lieu of currency. Two years into the Free Republic of Franklin’s history, North Carolina set up their own parallel government in the area. The economy was weak, and never really gained ground, so the governor, John Sevier approached the Spanish for aid. That move brought a feeling of terror in the government of North Carolina, and they arrested Sevier. The situation worsened when the Cherokee, Chickamauga and Chickasaw began to attack settlements within Franklin’s borders in 1788. Franklin quickly rejoined North Carolina to gain its militia’s protection from attack.

It was a short life for the little nation of Franklin, and eventually they wouldn’t even belong to North Carolina, but rather became a part of the state of Tennessee. It just goes to show that the growing pains of a nation can Tennessee with Franklintake on many forms to reach their destiny as a whole nation. Some changes are good ones, and continue on into the future, and others are not so good, and are sometimes absorbed into the fabric of history and time, and end up looking nothing like the change they started out to be.

Abe LincolnImagine a world without income taxes. I’m sure a lot of us would love to do just that. I don’t know what the taxes are called in other nations, but suffice it to say that the name doesn’t mean a thing…it’s still a tax, and it still has to be paid. In the United States…for many years, there was no income tax, at least not until August 5, 1861, when President Lincoln imposes the first federal income tax to help pay for the Civil War costs. The tax started when President Lincoln and Congress agreed to impose a tax of 3% on annual incomes over $800.00. I’m sure that the people were as unhappy about that as we would be today about gun control. The whole thing seemed unfair and for many unconstitutional.

The constitutionality of a federal income tax, was something President Lincoln checked into thoroughly, and I’m sure that it was the last thing he wanted to do, because that kind of thing can be income tax filingpolitical suicide, and in this case…I have to wonder if it played a part in Lincoln’s assassination, although it was said that John Wilkes Booth killed him because he disagreed with his stance on slavery.

Sometime, around March of 1861, Lincoln began to look at the government’s ability to wage a war against the South, and found that it was lacking. He sent letters to cabinet members Edward Bates, Gideon Welles, and Salmon Chase. Lincoln wanted to get their opinions as to whether or not the president had the constitutional authority to “collect [such] duties.” According to the documents, and their interpretations, which are now housed in the Library of Congress…Lincoln was very concerned about maintaining federal authority over collecting revenue from ports along the southeastern seaboard…as they might fall under the control of the Confederacy.
IRS building
The Revenue Act was broadly written to define income as gain “derived from any kind of property, or from any professional trade, employment, or vocation carried on in the United States or elsewhere or from any source whatever.” The comparable minimum tax as of 2003 would have put the minimum taxable income at about $16,000. The Income Tax went into effect, and the Civil War was funded. Then in 1871, Congress repealed Lincoln’s tax law, but in 1909, they passed the 16th Amendment, which made Income Tax a permanent tax, and the one we use today. The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913. Sometimes, I wish they hadn’t done that, but I suppose it is necessary, though maybe not always fair.

reaganWhen a United States president is assassinated, it sends shock waves around the world. When one is shot and lives, it sends waves of shock too…and then relief. I was a little girl when John F Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, and I will never forget where I was when I found out about it. At the tender age of just seven years, I don’t really think that I fully understood the gravity of the situation. When President Ronald Regan was shot in the chest, on March 30, 1981, I was a married twenty five year old mother of two daughters, and I fully understood the gravity of the situation, and how it could have affected our nation and the world. It was however, the reason he was shot that totally baffled me. I mean, I know what John Hinkley Jr’s deranged reasons were, but it still made no sense to me…especially that he would think that somehow he would win Jodie Foster’s love by shooting the president. I suppose that is simply how the deranged mind works.

In the years that the United States has been a nation, sixteen assassination attempts on our presidents. Of those, there have been four successful Presidential assassinations. They were Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. I really never thought there might have been that many attempts, but I can see that people get distraut with how things are going, and if they are at all unstable, they might attempt to shoot the president.

President Reagan’s shooting was probably one of the most strange, because he appartently didn’t feel the .22 caliber bullet that entered his chest, narrowly missing his heart, and hit his lung. There were three attendants with him, who were also hit. They were White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and DC police officer Thomas Delahaney. Hinkley was then overpowered and pinned against a wall. Reagan was shoved into the car and taken to the hospital for treatment. He made a complete recovery, which was amazing, considering that he was 70 years old at the time. He even insisted on walking into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. He was in good spirits and visiting with his wife, Nancy while waiting for surgery. He laughingly said, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.”

The next day, he resumed some of his executive duties and even signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. He returned to work at the White House on April 11, 1981. He returned even more popular that he already was, and received a hero’s welcome by Congress. His highly successful economics plan was passed with several Democrats breaking ranks to back his plan. Nevertheless, President Reagan felt the effects of the shooting for years afterward. The other men eventually recovered, but James Brady suffered permanent brain damage and later became an advocate for the “Brady Bill” requiring a five day waiting period and background checks before the purchase of a gun, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. John Hinkley received a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” bringing with it outrage among the people of this nation. He has been incarcerated at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital since that time, but more recently has been allowed supervised home visits with his parents. I suppose that one day, he could be released, since they have said that his mental illness is in remission.

Ghost TrainIn their early years, the railroads were quite powerful companies, and with good reason. The railroad reduced travel time across the United States from days or months, to hours, in many cases. They brought supplies, payroll, and people from back east to the west quickly. The railroad did not come without some confusion, however. Even as late as the 1880s, most United States towns had their own system for keeping track of time, based on where the sun was at high noon. I had never given much thought to this, but I suppose it could have been a big mess, since the train’s arrival would be very mixed up, and the end result would be that the train might be scheduled to arrive in several places at once.

Because the railroads were quite powerful, they took it upon themselves to make a monumental change that would affect the entire nation, and Canada too. At exactly noon on this day in 1883, American and Canadian railroads broke the continent into four sections, and began using a system of time zones that we still use to this day, with very few changes made to it over the years. I’m sure there were people who did not like the new system much, but most people quickly embraced it, because their lives depended on the railroad in one way or another. The root of the problem they had was that they moved passengers and freight over the thousands of miles the line covered. With the varying times in towns along the route, the train 1880 Train 1ended up with dozens of different departure and arrival times. No one really knew when the train would arrive…except possibly the engineer. I’m sure that caused chaos in the train stations…especially in the bigger cities. These days, we have to be at the airport two hours early for flights, because of screening, so imagine that kind of a scenario in the small train stations of the old west. This scheduling nightmare had to be stopped, and time zones were the only logical way to do it.

With the use of time zones, rail transportation became far more efficient. The thing that seems rather odd, is that they didn’t go to the United States or Canadian governments to resolve the problem, and if the government at that time was as inefficient as our congress is right now, I can fully understand why they didn’t. Imaging waiting six years to make a decision concerning time and its vital role in rail travel. Something had to be done right away, and the railroad was just bold enough to do it. As it turned out, no one tried to stop them either. I suppose everyone could see just how logical their plan was, and no one complained. So, the railroad companies agreed to create four continental time zones, and that decision has changed the way we live to this day.

The lines they adopted to make those time zones were very close to the ones we have today. I’m sure that any changes are based on where towns began to fall along the zone lines. It wasn’t until as late as 1918 that Congress officially adopted the railroad time zones and put them under the Interstate Commerce Commission. 1880 TrainJust imagine, if you will, if the people and the railroad had waited for Congress to act on this matter. There would have been 35 more years of unorganized and frustrating railroad travel. Something that should have revolutionized travel, would have been relegated to the stone age again, because of Congress’ lack of action. Even after the system was implemented and people finally had an organized schedule, that was relatively accurate…because you can’t predict accidents or weather related delays very well, Congress sat on their hands, and I suppose they operated the government on government time instead. In this writer’s opinion, the time zones were a wonderful idea, and have benefitted this nation very well since 1883. My family has a long history of working on the railroad, and that is a fact that I am very proud of.

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