In the summer of 1787, a group of men in wigs, poofy shirts, and long coats sat sweltering in the brick state house in Philadelphia, Pee-Ay. As the harsh rays of newfound freedom poured down upon the land, these brilliant minds convened to revamp the charter of their fledgling nation. The Articles of Confederation were imperfect, and the men were assembled to put their bedewed brows together with the intention of applying a remedy. While most were probably near-fainting for the entirety of the session due to the overpowering force of Jared Ingersoll’s* musk, they crafted that most enduring document of representative government – the Constitution.
Classic mission creep.
It would seem that from the very beginning, the natural impulse of our governing elites has been to find new and creative ways to go beyond the scope of their appointed tasks. The only thing that saved us, my dear friends, was the damnable heat. Indeed, it was a happy accident that we ended up with the Constitution rather than a band-aid on the markedly inferior Articles. But politicians have not the restraint of the artist, whose principle task is to know when he has applied the final stroke to his masterpiece. They are irredeemable tinkerers.
Imagine, if you will, how the Convention would have proceeded if these august men had been safely ensconced in a hall that was cooled by an efficient modern air conditioning system. With neither suffocating heat nor oppressive stench to hasten along the proceedings and sharpen the mind toward escape, these men, among the best-educated in history, would have no doubt been content to bloviate in their justacorps and pantaloons. Given enough time, can any among you doubt that Hamilton would not have seduced the assembly with his essentially British model of government? And he wouldn’t have even have had the decency to break a sweat.
You had better thank God for the lack of air conditioning that summer.
Throughout the 1800s America held mostly true to her founding ideals, at least insofar as the scope of government was concerned. Oh, there was that unpleasantness in the middle portion of the century, but in the main it was laissez-faire and altogether sweltering.
The Congress was forced by the dictates of climate to recess in the summer months, return to their constituents, and explain themselves.
But as any student of history could tell you, it was not to last. The hubris of man assured the doom of our bonnie Republic. For it was in 1906 that a man defied the laws of nature and its God, cooling and dehumidifying the air by artificial means. By 1928, Congress had gotten themselves a piece of that action. Soon enough, in the fourth decade of the 20th century, the first private residence was equipped with an evaporative cooling unit.
That year, 1933, also marked the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s 12 years in office, wherein he expanded the federal government so ruinously that to this day, the punch to the nethers that he gave Hitler only just, in a cosmic sense, balances things out.
From that time to this, we have been gifted the New Deal (many features of which remain with us today); the explosion of entitlements; the enshrinement of subsidies galore; the Great Society; the drug war; cowboy poetry; military adventurism; terrible IRS Star Trek parodies; the surveillance state; and Barack Obama’s little healthcare law.
I could go on and on, but I don’t have air conditioning in my house.
See how that works? There’s a certain moral clarity that a man achieves when he is bereft of the sweet kiss of cool air in the dead of summer. It gives him the perspective to take a hard look at the state of the country, to strip away not only most of his own clothing but the varnish covering the truth of matters political. It also makes him contemplate the hiring of a recent college graduate to fan him with palm fronds (compensation: access to the wi-fi; e-mail if interested), but that’s really more something Jefferson would do.
I wish that I could tell you this trend toward larger, more intrusive and less responsive government was reversible. I wish I could tell you that the Republic could be saved. But frankly, air conditioning was an icy dagger in the heart of this noble experiment in liberty. It was a wound, a mortal wound, one that has left us to stagger around thrashing in our death throes, and generally wrecking things up before we croak.
*I have no idea whether Ingersoll had B.O., but I’d guess none of those fellows smelled particularly sweet.