Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Colonel's Year in Review

It is one of the things I dislike the most about the end of a year. Everyone of any self-considered importance assaults our awareness with an anthology of annualized review and remembrances. Each brings to us a breathless recap of the momentous events of the ending year, bearing bias and little brains as backup material. And, as a special bonus, each year whose numeration ends in the numeral 9 is proclaimed as the "end of the decade," necessitating a breathlessly brainless and biased recap of the last ten years' "important" events. So we have that to look forward to this year. Never mind that the current decade does not actually end until midnight on the 31st of December 2010...but, that's grist for another post.

Needless to say, those of us with no lives (and that includes the three of you who have absolutely nothing better with which to occupy your senses than to regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon) will have eyes glued to the tube as some windbag (the Colonel knows windbags, being a prominent one his own self) winds down the year/decade with prejudiced recollections, replete with arched eyebrows and disapproving vocal inflection when describing the demise or accomplishment of a productive member of society who happens to be a conservative, or worse, a Republican--and lavishes praise on the "world-changing" impact of deviants like Michael Jackson. The Colonel would have you, instead, consider the year's events as they transpired here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State, situated at the northern end of southern nowhere on the periphery of the middle of nowhere.

The Colonel's Year in Review:

January 1st, 2009. The Colonel awoke clear-minded and relatively pain-free after a good night's rest preceded by a quiet non-alcoholic evening with the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda watching Ilidia Batatcha review the most momentous events of 2008.

January 2nd, 2009. In the 73rd playing of Cotton Bowl, and in the last such named post-season match-up to be played in the venerable Cotton Bowl Stadium, the 25th (BCS) ranked Ole Miss Rebels of the vaunted Southeastern Conference defeated the 8th (BCS) ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders of some little known collection of teams out west. In the highest scoring Cotton Bowl in history the Ole Miss Rebels continued their long and storied domination of the aforementioned little known collection of teams out west, having last trounced a team, Oklahoma State, from said little known and lowly regarded conference in the 2003 Cotton Bowl.

January 26th, 2009. The Colonel celebrated the completion of 53 solar revolutions standing hours on end waste deep in a cypress swamp whose liquid foundation hovered barely a quarter degree above the freezing mark on Herr Fahrenheit's scale, in vane hope of contributing to the noble cause of defending the northern end of southern nowhere from the annual mallard reenactment of Sherman's march to the sea. The Colonel has always been a sucker for lost causes...

February 2009. Sucked...

March 2009. Didn't suck so bad...

April 22nd, 2009. The Colonel celebrated Earth Day by harvesting timber aboard Eegeebeegee and turning it, with the help of his brand new personal saw mill, Semper Filet (not to be confused with his pick-up truck Semper Fillit, his trusty tractor, Semper Field, and his dearly departed boat, Semper Fish), into a few board feet of lumber and a prodigious amount of sawdust.

July 4th, 2009. The Colonel commemorated the 146th anniversary of the fall of Vicksburg to Grant and celebrated the 233rd anniversary of the independence declaration of the since-re-United States (see events surrounding the fall of Vicksburg to Grant) by loading the worldly possessions of Number 1 son and his family into the world's largest U-Haul truck and subsequently leading the exodus from bondage in the Scumslime State to freedom in the promised land on the shores of Lake Brenda at the northern end of southern nowhere just west of the middle of nowhere.

July 31st, 2009. The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda celebrated the 33rd anniversary of her marriage to the man of her dreams, the dashing rake, the man, the myth, the legend... The Colonel. The Colonel celebrated said anniversary in much the same way he has celebrated every day since securing his bride in the bonds of holy matrimony--in amazed appreciation of a good and gracious God whose second act of unmerited love toward this colossal sinner was to place the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda athwart the path of my hitherto errant life.

September 18th, 2009. The Colonel returned from a week-long excursion to the Ozarks and declared definitively that he shall never initiate an overnight leave-taking from the comforting confines of Eegeebeegee as long as he shall live...or until the comely and kind-hearted puts her dainty foot down...which ever comes first.

October 6th, 2009. The Colonel celebrated completion of his second favorite person's 4th air-breathing circle round ole Sol. Master Caleb, first of the Gregory men in his generation, is accumulating worldly wisdom at a much more accelerated pace since his escape from the Scumslime State and subsequent arrival at the center of the universe here at the northern end of southern nowhere. The hope of 21st Century Civilization is fast learning the manly arts only practicable in a rural setting. Freedom cannot be truly appreciated until one relieves himself, without fear of neighborly recrimination, at any place of one's own choosing in one's own expansive back yard--for example.

November 10th, 2009. The Colonel celebrated the 234th birthday of his beloved Corps. Many of his fellow Marines celebrated in the midst of combating the enemies of our great republic.

December 7th, 2009. The Colonel celebrated the completion of his third favorite person's 2nd air-breathing trip around the sun. Master Taylor is taking great advantage of the wide open spaces here aboard Eegeebeegee and is fast becoming a race-runner of great renown.

My friends, the Colonel is quite sure that the last few minutes of your life have been spent in frantically bored hope that the next paragraph of this missive would in some small way improve upon the previous. Sorry to disappoint. The Colonel expects that the next year will not fulfill our lofty expectations, as well. Here's hoping I'm wrong.

That, in and of itself, will be a rare event worthy of recollection this time next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Declare WAR or Bring 'Em Home

First reports indicate that the latest attempt to terrorize the American public by attacking an airliner over the homeland was planned, ordered, and supported by a radical islamist group operating out of Yemen. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, assesses the threat thus: "Iraq was yesterday's war. Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war. That's the danger we face." The fact of the matter is that Yemen has been a battleground of the West's cultural war with the islamo-fascists since the last century--the USS Cole was attacked in a Yemeni port in 2000, killing 17 Americans.

The Colonel's personal frustration with this issue is rooted in the strategy (and that is stretching the definition of the word) by which these re-United States and our (ahem) allies have pursued the amorphous "war on terror." Despite W's claim post 9/11 that the battle lines would be drawn clearly between us and those who did not wholeheartedly ally themselves with us in the fight, we have instead flailed against our enemy's tactic in a nearly single-handed, global, force-exhausting game of whack-a-mole and all but ignored the strategic centers of gravity--nation states supporting, at whatever level, the islamo-fascist movement. To use a well-worn war analogy: instead of "making Georgia howl" or "following Lee wherever he goes," as Sherman and Grant correctly attacked the Confederacy's centers of gravity; or threatening (quite convincingly, given the world's largest army and navy being built) Britain with war if they recognized the Confederacy, as the Union did to isolate the South internationally; we have chased individual rebel cavalrymen around the countryside and weakly implored governments harboring islamo-fascists to take actions which are clearly against their interests.

The clear strategic center of gravity of islamo-fascism is Iran, and Iran's ally, Syria. Instead of directly attacking this source of support of terrorists world-wide (Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Fatah, and the list goes on...) we have attempted to "isolate and encircle" Iran with neo-democratic states. The problem with this strategy is that Iran has not sat idly by while we attempted to install one of the weakest forms of government (democratic republics are, by design, weaker than the will of the people in order to protect the people) in the countries on the peripheries of Iran and Syria. Iran has continued to fund and direct the operations of its proxies both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as world-wide. It's as if we declared war on Japan's naval aviation and kamikaze tactics post 12/7 and conducted single-carrier task force operations primarily focused on eliminating that threat at sea--without ever dropping even one 250 lb bomb on a war materiel producing factory or supporting industrial center on the Japanese home islands. Until we take this fight to Iran, we will not win the war.

We had a golden opportunity dropped into our laps several months ago when the people of Iran took to the streets in opposition to the islamo-fascist clerics running and ruining their great country. We blew it. The Iranian people now know, just as the clerics tell them, that America has gone soft and cannot be depended upon to come to the aid of freedom-seekers.

My friends, we cannot indefinitely fight this "war" as is the plan of the political elite. We will lose it. The American people were "war weary" after only a couple of years of fighting during the Second World War. We are eight years on in this struggle with no end in sight. It is a crime against our people to pour, year after year, our blood and treasure down this rat hole without a clear vision of victory.

Declare WAR and bring our enemy to their knees or bring our soldiers home.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not "Merry"

Twenty years ago the Colonel was serving as the Operations Officer for Battalion Landing Team 1/8, deployed aboard amphibious shipping in the Mediterranean for a six month tour. We were the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and quite literally the tip of the American "presence" spear that has been maintained in that area since just after the Second World War. Twenty years ago this week, several other Marine officers and I were in Israel attending a planning conference for our unit's upcoming training in that country. I had been to Israel before, on Uncle Sam's behalf, but this visit was a surreal experience. While we were keenly aware that it was the Christmas season and that we were spending it away from our families, there was nothing visible in Tel Aviv to remind us.

It was one of my most memorable Christmases, nonetheless.

There were no commercial and/or secular distractions from my Christian beliefs regarding the reason for celebrating the season. No decorated evergreens. No Santa. No Rudolph. No frenzy to buy gifts. But, if one was observant of the countryside (as is this curious geography nut) on the commutes from downtown hotel to rural training areas, one could see people engaged in activities whose technology and technique had not changed for millennia. For this man, it was one of the greatest feelings of nearness to my God that I had ever experienced.

It has been thus for me ever since. The more I resist the will of merchants, family and friends to "get in the Christmas spirit," the closer I draw to Jesus and His will.

At the risk of incurring the wrath, disdain, or even mild displeasure of those of you for whom the cheery greeting means everything to you this time of year, the Colonel does not wish you a "Merry Christmas." Not if by "merry" you mean so absorbed in the giggly, brainless fluff of the season that you find no time for quiet, reverent reflection on the unfathomable love that God showed man with the gift of salvation through the sacrifice of His Son.

Here's wishing you a very reflective Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tea Party Problematics

On this date in 1773, the colonial caper known as the "Boston Tea Party" took place in Boston Harbor. The event has reverberated through the years as "Americans objecting to taxation without representation." The truth is a lot more complicated and a lot less noble.

In truth, taxes levied on the British Colonies in America by the British Parliament did indeed raise the question of "taxation without representation." According to the British Constitution, British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives in Parliament. Since the British colonists in America did not vote for, nor have, representation in Parliament, political rabble-rousers in the colonies argued, with increasing vociferation, that Parliament's taxation of the Colonies, such as was the case with the Stamp Act, was "unconstitutional." In response to the outcry from the Colonials, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1765 but maintained, in the Declaratory Act of 1766, that they had the right to raise revenue in the colonies. The irony is that any of the taxation Parliament attempted to impose on the American colonies was much less of a tax burden than that paid by citizens back in the British Isles.

Even more ironic is that the "Boston Tea Party" was in fact a reaction to lowered taxes on tea imported to Britain and then exported to America by the East India Company. British law, in granting a virtual monopoly on the British tea trade, required the East India Company to bring the tea to Britain first (in order to be taxed) and then auction the tea to middlemen who then shipped it to America. The taxes imposed and the cost incurred to make this indirect delivery to the colonies in America, meant that the Dutch could smuggle (a costly enterprise, considering the risks of confronting Britain's naval patrols) tea into American (as well as Britain's) ports and sell it much more cheaply than could the East India Company. When Parliament's Tea Act of 1773 reduced the taxes to undercut the Dutch smugglers and eliminated the requirement to auction the tea to middlemen, it directly impacted on the profits of American merchants who sold the smuggled tea. And, many merchants who had heretofore legally sold East India Company tea, were not given consignee commissions by the East India Company which could now ship its tea to America on its own right.

It was, therefore, a coalition of political rabble-rousers and undercut merchants that spawned protests against the new tea system, even though it meant that the people could now enjoy their cherished tea much more cheaply than before. Coercion--the threat of great bodily harm that was becoming an American talent--caused most of the East India Company consignees to resign their commissions and most of the tea sent to the Americas in 1773 returned to Britain in the ships whence it had come. Except, that is, for the three ships bearing tea to Boston. Seems the governor of the Massachusetts colony, whose two sons just so happened to possess East India Company tea consignee commissions, was not a man to back down in the face of threats. While every other colony's consignees had resigned their commissions, Governor Hutchinson's sons did not, and three ships bearing tea were tied up in Boston Harbor by the middle of December amid a standoff between the governor and colonists who refused to allow the tea to be unloaded.

British law allowed customs officials to confiscate cargoes for which import duties had not been paid within 20 days of arriving in port. When the first tea-bearing ship, the Dartmouth, arrived in Boston in late November, the local cabal of political rabble-rousers and undercut merchants called a mass protest meeting at which chief political rabble-rouser Samuel Adams led passage of a resolution calling for the Dartmouth's captain to return his ship and cargo to England. This impromptu congress also assigned a guard to prevented unloading of the Dartmouth, and Governor Hutchinson refused to allow the Dartmouth to leave Boston and return to England. With the deadline for paying the import duties looming and the possibility of custom officials seizing the Dartmouth's cargo, Samuel Adams was rousing the rabble at another meeting of the people on the evening of the 16th of December. At the end of the meeting, a group of men, the immediate impetus for whose actions is lost to history, disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded the Dartmouth and two other vessels that had recently arrived bearing tea, and dumped all of the ships' tea cargo into the water.

We Americans point proudly to the "Boston Tea Party" as one of the seminal events in our revolution against British "tyranny." Many of us are invoking the event's remembrance in our protest against the current fiscal irresponsibility of our federal government's elected leadership. I'm okay with that. But, just know that no revolution, war, nor any other political movement is as pure in motive as our idealistic recollection of it years later.

Revolutions are bloody, divisive affairs. Perhaps it is better to ease our collective conscience with selective memory and revisionist remembrance.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Explosive Pride of Narcissism

One hundred and thirteen years ago today, Alfred Nobel died. Today, his mortal remains set a new grave-spinning speed world record. On the fifth anniversary of their benefactor's death, the first Nobel Prizes for accomplishments in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace were awarded. Upon his death, Alfred Nobel, perfecter of the use of nitroglycerin, inventor of dynamite and the blasting cap, and, paradoxically, an avowed pacifist, bequeathed a fund from which monetary prizes would be awarded "...to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." Nobel's Peace Prize, decided upon by a committee chosen by the Norwegian Parliament, was to be awarded to "...the person who has done the most or best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Our young President was chosen for the Peace Prize, presumably, for his speeches. He has done nothing else of substance to merit the award. Even Jimmy Carter, as misguided in his decision-making and prone to pompous pronouncements as any President in the history of the Republic, has a resume of accomplishments (if mostly unmitigated disasters; with the one exception being his work with Habitat for Humanity) upon which one could deliberate for the purpose of such an award. President Obama has speeches.

Seems to the Colonel that President Obama could have boosted his stock enormously among adults by laughing off (and declining) the Peace Prize. He would have demonstrated that he "got it." Instead, he showed that he wanted it.

Therein lies the measure of a man.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Last Legal War

Sixty-eight years ago today the Congress of the United States fulfilled its duty under the Constitution and declared war on the Empire of Japan. It has shirked that duty ever since.

On December 8th, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed the Congress for only ten minutes. With the rest of the nation listening by radio, Roosevelt declared that the previous day's date would "live in infamy" and called Japan's strike against Pearl Harbor a deliberate, premeditated act of war. His request for a formal declaration of war by the Congress was agreed to by every member of that body, save for a lone pacifist dissenter who presumably voted his principles and did not really believe that the United States should not respond with force against the Pacific expansionists threatening our Pacific expansionism.

While the Colonel is tempted to glaze the eyeballs of you three gentle readers whose lives contain so few pressing matters that wasting time plodding through this pedantic post is of no consequence, we will dispense with the history lesson describing the geo-political tidal forces and American interventionism that alternately encouraged and then condemned Japanese self-assertion in the Orient. Suffice it to say that the Japanese leadership didn't wake up on the wrong side of their futons in late November of 1941 and launch the carrier strike force toward the Sandwich Islands on a sake-induced hung-over whim. I'm not trying to justify their actions, any more than I would attempt to justify Hitler's, Stalin's, Mao's, Johnson's, or bin Laden's. It is just important to understand that no geo-political action, no matter how heinous, spontaneously occurs independent of other factors. The only vacuums in international politics occur in the brain-housing groups of those who believe that bad actors are always "unprovoked."

However, the point of this missive is that in every instance of the use of American military power since 1945, the Congress of the United States has been negligent in the disregard of its Constitutional duty. Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution places the responsibility of authorizing and paying for war squarely on the shoulders of the Congress. The Executive Branch may have responsibility for execution of military operations to accomplish a national strategy, but it is the Congress’ role to declare that a state of war exists between the United States and another state (or non-state) entity. In this regard, Congress has been woefully remiss in its duty for nearly seven decades. In 1950, President Truman committed American forces to full scale military operations without a formal declaration of war. President Johnson did the same in Vietnam beginning in 1964. Following the Vietnam conflict, force “authorization” for which the Congress passed the unconstitutional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Congress sought to limit a future President’s use of military force with the cumbersome and impractical (not to mention, unnecessary) War Powers Resolution, which accomplished both an unconstitutional abrogation of Congress’ responsibilities and an unconstitutional infringement on the Executive Branch’s powers. The unconstitutional resolutions “authorizing” force against Iraq in 1990 and 2003 are further cases in point regarding a cowardly Congress bowing to an over-reaching Executive for the sake of re-election.

The Colonel would not have you think that the use of force in Korea, Vietnam, and against Iraq were not in the nation’s security interests. While cogent arguments can be made on both sides of that issue, the point is regardless the efficacy of the “vital national interest argument” in a given instance, our Constitution, and the will of its Framers, is quite clear regarding the way our nation may legally go to war. The Constitution, in Article I, gives the Congress the express authority “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water…” Absent Congress’ formal declaration of war, the use of offensive military force by the Executive is unconstitutional—therefore illegal, and grounds for impeachment.

The constitutional remedy for congressional constitutional malpractice is, in our democratic republic, vested in the hands of the people via the ballot. The Colonel not-so-humbly suggests we use our power accordingly at the earliest opportunity, and every one thereafter.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Flag Flap

The Colonel has never been flippant about flying the flag of these re-United States. From the long distant past of my childhood to the halcyon days of my young adulthood, I was at the receiving end of prodigious pedantry from members of a generation for whom veneration of our flag was one of the most sacred rituals of our nation's patriotic religion. Some of the most fervent posterior gnawings ever aimed my way were as a result of very slight procedural errors regarding the escort or display of The Colors. Since that early education at the hands of men who knew, I have always been mindful that for over two centuries young men and women have willingly given their lives for the freedoms and principles of the nation for which that flag stood.

Comes to the Colonel's attention this morning, this case: http://www.wtvr.com/news/wtvr-veteran-flagpole,0,2550197.story

Seems that a hero of our nation has trespassed upon the supreme authority of some power-mad home owner association president in a Henrico County, VA community. How dare Colonel Barfoot, recipient of the nation's highest recognition for battlefield valor, presume to flout the sensibility-protecting strictures against flag poles in front yards! He is permitted by the subdivision's supreme authority to display his flag in the manner prescribed for any and all other affinities--such as a banner representing a school or season. As if our nation's symbol should be equated with a square of cloth bearing the likeness of a pumpkin, hanging from a unobtrusive short pole, slanted from the front porch!

Colonel Barfoot knows whereof he speaks when he says, as quoted in the article linked above, that most people nowadays fly the flag incorrectly and disrespectfully. Most Americans have no earthly clue that the methods and manner proscribed for displaying the flag of the United States carry the weight of law, under United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10. Most Americans don't know even the basics of caring for and presenting The Colors. For example, did you know that the flag is never flown after sunset unless fully illuminated by a dedicated light source?

Colonel Barfoot should have known better than to move into a subdivision wherein his patriotism would be subject to the supreme authority of the homeowners' association. If he would like, he is more than welcome to build a home on an acre of the Colonel's spread here at the northern end of southern nowhere.

I'll even put the flagpole up for him.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Happy Birthday, Monroe Doctrine!

"Mind your own business and I'll keep my nose out of yours." This distinctly American notion, although increasingly out of practice in our scandal-driven, media circus world, has its own geo-political body of doctrine for which the principle is the spine.

On this date in 1823, during his seventh annual address to Congress, President James Monroe declared what became known as "The Monroe Doctrine" -- a set of principles for international relations, half of which was to guide the formulation of United States foreign policy for the better part of the next two centuries. Drafted primarily by future President, then Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, the policy arose from American concerns about attempts by European powers to reassert their political and commercial interests in the Western Hemisphere in general, and in territories adjacent to the nascent United States, in particular. While the nations at whose western hemispheric "meddling" the Monroe Doctrine was aimed paid scant attention to the upstart post-colonial country's declaration (we had no Navy or Army of any substance with which to enforce the doctrine), North Americans seized on the notion that the Americas, and the vast resources and space therein, were theirs for the taking and everybody else should steer clear.

What gets little attention in the Monroe Doctrine, is the other side of the coin. American presidents for the next 150 years, invoked the hemispheric non-intervention principle of the doctrine to justify the United States' actions in our hemisphere, from territorial expansion to self-defense to police actions to containment of communism. However, as Adams saw it, the Monroe Doctrine was actually a quid pro quo pronouncement that the United States would keep its nose out of European affairs if the Europeans would stay out of American affairs. From the standpoint of most European powers this was a laughable proposition--the United States was seen as a fractious collection of backward bumpkins; hardly a threat; and almost certainly to dissolve into several even weaker regional entities when the democratic republic experiment foundered. Were it not for Great Britain's tacit acceptance and enforcement (she had the world's preeminent Navy with which to do so), the doctrine would have been easily broached by any number of powers, including Spain, France, and Russia (who had designs on a frozen extension of Siberia--but for a small strait--in the far Northwest).

Up until just before the end of the century, the United States did indeed follow the isolationist strictures of the Monroe Doctrine. Then, the opportunity arose to invoke the doctrine against, and take advantage of, a weakened Spain. By the time the dust settled at the end of 1898, the re-United States were not only masters of the predominance of North America but were also in possession of colonies nearby in the Caribbean and way off to the west in the Pacific. It was becoming hard to maintain a straight face in our isolationist pronouncements and our condemnation of colonialism.

But, we persisted. Until 1917. But that's another story.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Constitutional Machinery vs Congressional Machinations

Never forget that a congress is first and foremost a political animal. While some members of a congress may place the people above their politics, and their country before their caucus, collective congresses will nearly always put priority on the accumulation and maintenance of political power. It has been so for the entire history of these re-United States.

On this day in 1824, the Congress of the United States, precisely following the Constitution's 12th Amendment, selected John Quincy Adams as the next President of the United States. It was an operational test of modifications made to the new American machine of government and it worked like a charm--for the party in power.

The 12th Amendment to the United States' Constitution, proposed by the Congress in December of 1803 and ratified by the requisite number of the States in June of 1804, corrected a couple of perceived "flaws" in the way Article II of the original constitution proscribed election of the President and Vice President via the Electoral College. Prior to the 12th Amendment; Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 provided that representatives from each State in the Electoral College, would each cast two votes for a candidate for President with the stipulation that the two could not be inhabitants of the same State. The candidate receiving a majority of the votes of the electors would be President, the next highest vote-getter would be Vice President. No majority vote was required for election of the Vice President; ties were decided by the Senate. If no presidential candidate received a majority of the votes cast by the Electoral College, Article II empowered the House of Representatives to choose the next President, from among the top five vote-getters.

One of the "flaws" in this original system was that if each member of the Electoral College voted a strict Party line, there would be a tie between the two candidates from the most popular ticket. This occurred in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr of the Democratic-Republican (I kid thee not) party each received 73 electoral votes (against the Federalists' John Adams' 64 and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney's 63). The Democratic-Republicans bungled a plan to have one of the Electors abstain on one Burr vote thereby giving Jefferson the majority needed to be elected President. History does not record which elector failed to get or comply with the Abstention Memo. The election then went to the Congress of the United States to decide--the outgoing Federalist dominated Congress. Jefferson was the Federalists' greatest political opponent, and the Federalists in Congress voted for the more palatable and less hated Burr instead of Jefferson. The first ballot, and next thirty-four, were exactly the same. Eight states for Jefferson, six for Burr. There were sixteen States and the Constitution called for a simple majority (not plurality)--nine, in this case--to win.

Oh, and here's where it gets really salacious. Alexander Hamilton, Washington's closest aide in the Revolutionary War and greatest champion of the Federalist cause during the push to replace the Articles of Confederation with the new Federal Constitution, was a close friend of Jefferson's and an antagonist of Burr's. Hamilton, although a Federalist, campaigned vociferously for Jefferson in the halls of congress during the marathon congressional version of the movie Groundhog Day. Hamilton supported Jefferson because he was "by far not so dangerous a man" as Burr. Hamilton's animus against Burr was evidently rooted in Burr's defeat of Hamilton's father-in-law in the 1791 U.S. Senate seat race in New York. Hamilton's exertions against Burr successfully changed one Federalist vote from Burr to Jefferson on the House's 36th ballot and Jefferson was elected President. Turns out Burr was indeed a dangerous man with a long, unforgiving memory. Vice President Burr killed Hamilton in a duel on July 11th, 1804.

The other "flaw" in the original Electoral College process was the fact that the top two vote-getters for President would most likely have campaigned against each other as political rivals, even if nominally from the same party. An unscrupulous politician (excuse the redundancy) so elected as Vice President could easily undermine policies of the President or even be tempted to engineer a coup de tat to oust and replace the elected President. The Republican Jefferson had found himself in just such a position of opposition when he had been elected as the Federalist Adams' vice president in 1796. The Twelfth Amendment, by providing for the election of the President and Vice President as a combined party ticket, theoretically at least, eliminated this possibility.

Which brings us to the Presidential Election of 1824. When Federalist John Quincy Adams (son of the second President), populist Democrat Andrew Jackson (the hero of the Battle of New Orleans), Georgia's William Crawford, and Kentucky's Henry Clay (and Speaker of the House), all failed to garner the necessary majority of the votes of the Electoral College, the newly adopted Twelfth Amendment came into play:

"The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice...," and "...The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President..."

In plain Murican: If no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives picks the President from among the top three vote-getters for President, and the Senate picks the Vice President from among the top two vote-getting VP candidates. Interestingly, there is no requirement for consideration of party or ticket. So, in a case where different parties controlled the House and Senate, a President and Vice President could, in theory, be elected from different parties. Imagine, if you will: President Obama and Vice President Palin... In fact, such a dilemma very nearly could have arisen in 1992, when early on (before Ross Perot exposed himself as the whack-job that he is) it looked like there would a be a possibility of none of the three tickets (Bush-Quayle, Clinton-Gore, and Perot-Stockdale) winning a majority of the Electoral College vote. With the House then in the hands of the Democrats and the Senate majority held by the Republicans, all kinds of strange combinations can be imagined to have resulted!

In the 1824 presidential election, Andrew Jackson garnered 99 electoral votes. John Quincy Adams got 84. One hundred and thirty-one was the number of a majority and so the 12th Amendment was invoked.

And, here's where it gets salacious, again. Jackson was a visceral and vocal opponent of many of the Federal institutions created over the first couple of decades by the Federalists (Washington, Hamilton, et, al.). He was a popular military hero and feared by the establishment. Henry Clay, whose votes in the Electoral College had prevented either Adams or Jackson from getting a majority, threw his weight (he was Speaker of the House, remember) behind Adams and convinced the House to elect Adams over Jackson, in contravention of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Clay was rewarded for this act by appointment as Adam's Secretary of State.

Congresses always act in their own interests. Important point to remember as the Health Care Reform debate swirls.