U.S. Reengages with U.N. Human Rights Council

On February 8, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the U.S. was reengaging with the U.N. Human Rights Council. Here we will examine that development after first looking at the U.S.’ prior rocky relationship with the Council.

The U.S. Rocky Relationship with the Council

 Creation of the Council.[1]

On March 16,  2006, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution creating the Council to be “responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner; . . . [to] address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon; . . [and to] promote the effective coordination and the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system.”

This work of the Council “shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.”

That General Assembly resolution also provided “that the Council shall consist of forty-seven Member States, which shall be elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly; the membership shall be based on equitable geographical distribution, and seats shall be distributed as follows among regional groups: Group of African States, thirteen; Group of Asian States, thirteen; Group of Eastern European States, six; Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, eight; and Group of Western European and other States (including the U.S.), seven; the members of the Council shall serve for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.”

The General Assembly vote on this organizing resolution was 170 to 4.

U.S. Non-Involvement with the Council, 2007-2009[2]

In 2006, the U.S.was one of the four negative votes on creating the Council; the others were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau while Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained. Soon thereafter the State Department announced that it would not be a candidate for membership in the May 2006 first election of members and instead would support other countries with strong human rights records and might run for a seat in 2007. But the U.S. agreed to help finance the Council and pledged to support it.

Among the Republican critics opposing  the panel were Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota; Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman; and Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who sponsored a bill that would withhold U.S. dues from the United Nations. The opposition was bolstered by President George W. Bush and by John R. Bolton, then the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., who said, “I believe rather strongly that our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running and sending the signal ‘this is not business as usual’ this year than if we were to run.”

When Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, proposed a resolution on March 31 calling for an American boycott of the new council, Representative Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, another Republican detractor of the United Nations, put out a statement urging the resolution’s defeat. Human rights groups speculated that the United States was worried that revelations of abuses of detainees in Iraq and of clandestine prisons abroad had raised fears in the George W. Bush administration that it could not get the 96 votes in the 191-member General Assembly needed for election.

This U.S. decision not to support the Council was criticized by Human Rights Watch, and Robert Wexler (Dem., FL), a member of the House International Relations Committee, who said, “This decision reflects the colossal diplomatic failures of Ambassador Bolton. It’s a national disgrace for America that we will not be a presence in guiding and leading that council in a productive direction, and that under Mr. Bolton’s leadership at the U.N., the world’s single superpower cannot muster up the necessary votes to win an election.”

In Fiscal 2009, a provision enacted by Congress prohibited U.S. funding of the Council.

U.S.Involvment with the Council, 2009-18[3]

In 2009, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would seek membership in the Council. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at the time, Susan Rice, said “ the decision was made out of a belief “that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.”

Thereafter, on May 12, 2009, the U.N. General Assembly elected the U.S. to the Council for a three year-term (2010-12) and on November 12, 2012 re-elected the U.S. for another three-year term (2013-15). However, under the Council’s  term-limitation provision, the U.S. was not eligible for re-election in 2015 for another such term.

But on October 28, 2016, it was elected to another three-year term (2017-19), but it did not complete that term when the U.S. withdrew from membership on June 19, 2018.

U.S. Withdrawal from Council Membership, June 19, 2018[4]

On June 19, 2018, then U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley jointly announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Council. According to the Secretary, “the Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human-rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself. The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human-rights abuses — and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change.”

These comments were endorsed by Ambassador Haley. “The Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human-rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself. The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human-rights abuses — and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change.”

This withdrawal was severely criticized at the time by Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, and others.

Afterwards Ambassador Haley criticized U.S. human rights groups for their failure to support her preceding efforts to reform the Council in the U.N. General Assembly, The response from such groups was pressing the General Assembly for the U.S. proposals would only have invited efforts to weaken the Council from Russia, China and other nations.

The Biden Administration’s Reengagement with the Council, 2021-[5]

On February 8, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the U.S. was reengaging with the U.N. Human Rights Council. “The Biden administration has re-committed the United States to a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality. Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision, and in that regard the President has instructed the Department of State to re-engage immediately and robustly with the UN Human Rights Council.”

“We recognize that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel. However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”

“When it works well, the Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny. The Council can help to promote fundamental freedoms around the globe, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and religion or belief as well as the fundamental rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ persons, and other marginalized communities. To address the Council’s deficiencies and ensure it lives up to its mandate, the United States must be at the table using the full weight of our diplomatic leadership.”

“In the immediate term, the United States will engage with the Council as an observer, and in that capacity will have the opportunity to speak in the Council, participate in negotiations, and partner with others to introduce resolutions. It is our view that the best way to improve the Council is to engage with it and its members in a principled fashion. We strongly believe that when the United States engages constructively with the Council, in concert with our allies and friends, positive change is within reach.”

This decision was criticized by former Ambassador Haley. “If Biden rejoins the council whose membership includes dictatorial regimes & some of the world’s worst human rights violators,” Ms. Haley wrote on Twitter last month, “it will fly in the face of our fight for human rights.” Joining her was a letter from 40 House Republicans, who said the Council was “disproportionately targeting” Israel over other members.

The Council’s current members include longtime U.S. allies such as the U.K., France and Germany. But the roster also includes countries such as China, Russia, Cuba, Somalia, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Sudan — states that are deemed “not free” in the most recent rankings from Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization.


This blogger concurs in the decision to rejoin the Council. Yes, it has many flaws, but the U.S. as an advocate for human rights needs to be participating in its debates to encourage  greater respect for international human rights. Obviously this blogger rejects the editorial opinion of the Wall Street Journal that a “leading conceit of Joe Biden’s foreign policy is that the U.S. can reform international organizations—and make them live up to their ostensibly noble purposes—simply by showing up. History shows that America’s involvement condones the farce rather than ending it.”

One of the unique procedures the Council has developed to help fulfill its mission is Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights records and issues in every U.N. member (and thus is “Universal”) every 4½ years (and thus is “Periodic”). Each such UPR concludes with recommendations (not orders) for improving human rights from members and Council officers.

As always, comments of agreement or disagreement or elaboration are always appreciated.


[1] U.N. Human Rights Council, Welcome to the Human Rights Council; U.N. General Assembly, Resolution 60/251 (Mar. 15, 2006).

[2] Hoge, U.S. Won’t Seek a Seat on the U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (April 7, 2006).

[3] U.N. General Assembly, Election of Human Rights Council Members (12 May 2009); U.N. General Assembly, Election of Human Rights Council Members (12 Nov. 2012).

[4] Harris, Trump Administration Withdraws U.S. From U.N. Human Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2018); Harris, Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018).

[5] State Dep’t, Secretary Blinken Press Statement: U.S. Decision To Re-engage with the UN Human Rights Council (Feb. 8, 2021); Hudson, U.S. rejoins U.N. Human Rights Council, reversing Trump Era Policy, Wash. Post (Feb. 8, 2021); Rogers, Biden Administration Moves to Rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council, N.Y. Times (Feb.7, 2021); Chappell, Biden Orders U.S. To Re-engage With U.N. Human Rights Council Immediately, npr-news (Feb. 8, 2021); Assoc. Press, U.S. officials: Biden administration moves to rejoin UN Human Rights Council in another reversal of Trump foreign policies, Wash. Post (Feb. 7, 2021).

[6]  Prior posts have discussed the U.S. and the Council (List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: United States (POLITICS) [“U.S. & U.N. Human Rights Council” section). This blog also has discussed  the Council’s 2018 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cameroon and Cuba (List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CAMEROON; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: Cuba [Cuban Human Rights section]. See also Editorial, Hope Over Experience at the U.N. (Feb. 8, 2021).



As always, comments of agreement or disagreement or elaboration are always appreciated.

Wall Street Journal: Repeal the Electoral Count Act of 1887 

On January 6th, as we all know, there was an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that caused the death of five people, threatened the lives of others and destroyed  U.S. government property.

The “business” of Congress that day was to certify the prior presidential votes of the Electoral College.as required by the Electoral Count Act of 1887 [“ECA”}.[1]

That statute, said  a January 26th editorial in the Wall Street Journal, should be repealed. According to the Journal, the ECA “was intended to resolve contested presidential elections’ in an era when the electoral votes were “delivered to Congress by train or carriage.” Now there is no such need when “results are broadcast in real time.”

In recent years, however, “it has mainly been used by partisans in Congress to exploit the ceremonial process of counting electoral votes. . . .In the wake of the Capitol invasion [this year], the ECA is ripe for an overhaul that reins in Congress’s increasingly destabilizing role in presidential elections. Repealing the law would make future challenges, even by the most willful candidates, less likely to spin out of control.”

“The ECA clashes with principles of  federalism and the separation of powers. The Framers didn’t want the executive branch to be beholden to the legislative branch, so they designed an Electoral College to elect the President independent of Congress. Voters in each state register their choice for President by choosing a slate of electors, whose votes are then transmitted to Congress to be logged.”

The editorial concluded, “If the 117th Congress wants to firm up the legitimacy of election outcomes, then restoring the constitutional balance by repealing this dated legislation should be a priority.”

This blogger concurs in this half-way judgment of the Journal. Instead, the Electoral College should be abolished by a constitutional amendment.[2]


[1] Editorial, The Law That Fueled the Capitol Riot, W.S. J. (Jan. 26, 2021); [Electoral Count Act], 3 U.S. Code sec. 15; Electoral Count Act, Wikipedia.

[2] E.g., Democrats Have Two Years To Prove U.S. Political System Works dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 27, 2021).

Pandemic Journal (# 38): Gratitude for Peaceful Presidential Transition

On January 17, this Journal prayed for a peaceful Presidential Transition and Nation after the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the January 13th impeachment of Donald Trump. [1]

Now gratitude is in order for the January 20th peaceful inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris and the first days of their administration.

The Inauguration[2]

 As required by Article II, Section I, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Biden stated,  “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Then as President, Biden delivered a moving inaugural address that provided, in part, the following:

“We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

“So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.”

“We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.”

The “American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On ‘We the People’ who seek a more perfect Union. This is a great nation and we are a good people. Over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go.”

“We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain.”

“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”

“To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.”

“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.”

“History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.”

“And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

“The world is watching today. So here is my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example. We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.”

“Before God and all of you I give you my word. I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I will defend our democracy. I will defend America. I will give my all in your service thinking not of power, but of possibilities. Not of personal interest, but of the public good. And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness.”

“So, with purpose and resolve we turn to the tasks of our time. Sustained by faith. Driven by conviction. And, devoted to one another and to this country we love with all our hearts. May God bless America and may God protect our troops. Thank you, America.”

The First Days of the Biden Presidency[3]

On the first days of the Biden Administration, he signed 30 executive orders, presidential memoranda and agency directives primarily focused on addressing the Pandemic as well as some of the  following topics:

  • Reinstated U.S. ties with the World Health Organization;
  • Reinstated U.S. into the Paris climate accords;
  • Revoked plan to exclude noncitizens from 2020 census;
  • Bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and called for Congress to enact legislation to make it permanent;
  • Ended aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants;
  • Ended ban on travel to the U.S. from predominantly Muslim and African countries;
  • Halted construction of U.S. border wall with Mexico;
  • Revoked permit for Keystone XL pipeline;
  • Terminated the recently created 1776 Commission and its report on U.S. history;
  • Extended federal moratorium on housing evictions;
  • Paused federal student loan interest and principal payments;

Other Comments on the Inaugural[4]

Beautiful singing at the Inaugural was provided by Lady Gaga (“National Anthem”), Jennifer Lopez (“This Land Is Your Land” and “American the Beautiful”) and Garth Brooks (“Amazing Grace”).

The amazing star of the program was Amanda Gorman, a beautiful, miling 22-year -old,  the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate and Harvard graduate from Los Angeles in a stunning yellow coat and red hat reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb” that went as follows:

  • “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
    The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
    We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
    We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
    and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
    And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.”
  • “Somehow we do it.
    Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,
    but simply unfinished.
    We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
  • And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine,
    but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
    We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
    To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
    And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”
  • “We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
    We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
    We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
    Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
    That even as we grieved, we grew.
    That even as we hurt, we hoped.
    That even as we tired, we tried.
    That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
    Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”
  • “Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
    If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
    That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.”
  • “It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
    It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
    We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
    Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
    This effort very nearly succeeded.
    But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
    it can never be permanently defeated.”
  • “In this truth, in this faith, we trust,
    for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
    This is the era of just redemption.
    We feared it at its inception.
    We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
    but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
    So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’”
  • “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
    A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
    We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
    Our blunders become their burdens.
    But one thing is certain:
    If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.”
  • “So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
    With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
    We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
    We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
    We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
    We will rise from the sun-baked south.
    We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.”
  • “In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
    our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
    When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
    The new dawn blooms as we free it.
    For there is always light,
    if only we’re brave enough to see it.
    If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

The Benediction

The Inaugural was concluded by a moving benediction from Rev. Silvester Beaman, a pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware and a longtime friend of the President.


[1] Pandemic Journal (# 37): Praying for a Peaceful Presidential Transition and Nation, dwkcommentareis.com (Jan. 17, 2021) .

[2]  White House, Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (Jan. 20, 2021); Sanger, A Call for Unity to a Nation Facing a Pandemic and Division, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021); Lleibovich, Washington Breathes an Uneasy ‘Sign of Relief,  N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021).

[3] Sullivan, Hickey & O’Key, Here are 30 executive orders and actions Biden signed in his first three days, CNN,com (Jan. 22, 2021); Kavi, Biden’s 17 Executive Orders and Other Directives in Detail, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021).

[4] Watch Lady Gaga Perform The National Anthem At Biden’s Inauguration YouTube (Jan. 20, 2021); Garth Brooks sings ‘Amazing Grace’ for Biden Inaugural, YouTube (Jan. 20, 2021); Pareles, At Biden’s Inaugural Events, the Music was Earnestly Reassuring, N.Y. Times (Jan. 21, 2021); The Hill We Climb: the Amanda Gorman poem that stole the inauguration show, Guardian (Jan. 20, 2021); Gabbart, “An Inspiration to us all’: Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem stirs hope and awe, Guardian (Jan. 20, 2021); Rash, Amanda Gorman composes a poetic inauguration, StarTribune (Jan. 22, 2021); Bykowicz, Poet Amanda Gorman Has Star Turn Reading ‘ The Hill We Climb’ at Biden Inauguration, W.S.J. (Jan. 20, 2021); Alter, Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, asks, ‘Where can we find light’ in Inauguration Day recitation, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2021); Wang & Merry, Amanda Gorman reads poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden inauguration, Wash. Post (Jan. 20, 2021).

“The U.S. needs a democracy overhaul” 

This was the first sentence of the Washington Post’s headline for its January 2 editorial. As a blogger who has frequently lamented the continued existence of the Electoral College, the overrepresentation in Congress of states with relatively fewer people, gerrymandering and other efforts by some states to restrict and discourage voting (especially of minority citizens) and the ongoing Republican effort to overturn last year’s presidential election that gave Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over seven million more votes than Trump and Pence, I was thrilled with this editorial, which is reprinted below.

Washington Post Editorial[i]

“SINCE LOSING reelection, President Trump has failed to overturn the results. But his post-election tantrum, not to mention his behavior before now, has magnified legitimate concerns about weaknesses in the nation’s democratic institutions. Mr. Trump lost the electoral college by a secure margin. What if he hadn’t? What will happen when a wanton president, an out-of-control state legislature or a hyper-partisan congressional majority sees a riper opportunity, based on a cockamamie legal theory or bad-faith execution of its duties, to reject the will of the voters?”

“In short, Mr. Trump and a disturbing number of Republican officials have made obsolete the old assumptions that each major party will play fair, that electoral results will reflect the will of the majority and that each side will willingly turn over power when defeated at the polls. The nation needs a top-to-bottom review of how it conducts elections, counts votes and assures the public of the democracy’s health, so that it resists those who want to restrict voting, trash legitimate ballots and leverage positions of trust to upend valid results. Among President-elect Joe Biden’s first acts should be to convene a high-level commission to recommend a democracy overhaul.”

“The review must be wide-ranging, beginning with the electoral college itself. The commission should examine ways to reduce the chance that a candidate can win the presidency without winning a majority of popular votes, or for a tied electoral college vote to be decided by the House. Maybe the cleanest way is simply to abolish the electoral college in favor of a straight national popular vote. Or maybe there is another idea — such as proportional allocation of electoral college votes between the top two candidates in each state — that makes more sense.”

“The commission should look at encouraging more voter participation. That could mean universal voter registration, which would make the process less arduous but potentially more secure, or making Election Day a holiday. Or perhaps mail-in balloting should be expanded, along with ditching signature-matching for more sophisticated methods of verifying voters’ identities. The commission could even review how mandatory voting has worked in places such as Australia.”

“A clearheaded review of ballot security could recommend smart ways to prevent fraud and promote voter confidence, while nixing measures that are more burdensome than helpful, such as strict voter-ID laws.”

“Some states and cities are experimenting with ranked-choice voting, which deserves more attention. This promising reform could eliminate the threat of third-party spoilers throwing elections to candidates most voters dislike.”

“Voters must be assured that their ballots are secure from malicious actors and administration incompetence alike. That means stronger national standards — and federal money — for voting equipment, staff and support, including stipulations on using statistically sound methods to audit vote counts. Simple changes — such as paying poll workers more, training them better, opening better-organized polling places more often and for longer, keeping better records, buying better machines — can make substantial differences in voters’ experience.”

“Americans should also have confidence that partisan officials will not be able to reject voting results. Internationally, the United States is unusual in that its chief voting administrators — state secretaries of state — are partisan elected officials. Mr. Trump has raised the specter of state legislatures assigning electoral college votes to their favored candidates or of partisan-influenced state canvassing boards failing to certify legitimate vote totals. The commission must find ways to reduce the possibility of partisan interference in the democratic process. For example, secretaries of state might be barred from running for higher office for a certain number of years or go through an accreditation process.”

“Finally, Americans should never again have to dig up rickety old laws to determine whether arcane electoral college counting procedures might offer federal lawmakers a route to overturning a presidential election by congressional vote. The commission should recommend a thorough update of the 1887 Electoral Count Act that eliminates the possibility that a partisan Congress could reject properly certified electoral votes, as Mr. Trump would like to see happen on Jan. 6.”

“There is much more that a democracy commission could consider. The nation’s democratic system, wounded and exposed from a rough 2020, cannot limp into 2024 in comparable or worse shape. Many of the questions raised in the past several weeks are not ones most Americans previously imagined they needed to contemplate. But they are now arguably the most important issues facing the country as it reckons with the Trump era.”


The editorial concludes with hyperlinked citations to several of the Post’s articles and editorials related to this editorial.

I thank the Post for this timely and meaningful editorial.


[i]  Editorial, The U.S. needs a democracy overhaul. Here’s what Biden’s first step should be, Wash. Post (Jan. 3, 2021).


Pandemic Journal (# 36): Perspectives on the Years 2020 and 2021

Everyone in the world has spent the year 2020 battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) in one way or another. The statistics: The World, Cases,  83.7 million; Deaths, 1.8 million. The U.S., 20.1 million and 347,248. Minnesota, 415,361 and 5,382.[1]

The good news near the end of the year was a U.S. federal agency approving two anti-coronavirus vaccines, each of which has been tested at 95% effective: Pfizer-BioMTech and Moderna  And the U.K. government recently has approved another vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca whle China reportedly has developed another vaccine.[2]

The U.S., however, has been experiencing difficulties in distributing the vaccines to the states, because the federal government does not have a national health system or a program or system for the states to decide on what groups of individuals will receive the vaccines first and how the vaccines will be administered to individuals. Another difficulty is the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at extremely low temperatures, which is impossible wherever special freezers are not available to store this vaccine. [3]

The New York Times editorial on December 31 harshly criticized the first two weeks of the vaccination campaign. “So far, things are going poorly. . . . Untold numbers of vaccine doses will expire before they can be injected into American arms, while communities around the country are reporting more corpses than their mortuaries can handle.. . . Of the 14 million vaccine doses that have been produced and delivered to hospitals and health departments across the country, just an estimated three million people have been vaccinated. The rest of the lifesaving doses, presumably, remain stored in deep freezers — where several million of them could well expire before they can be put to use.” The editorial continued:

  • “That’s an astonishing failure — one that stands out in a year of astonishing failures. The situation is made grimmer by how familiar the underlying narrative is: Poor coordination at the federal level, combined with a lack of funding and support for state and local entities, has resulted in a string of avoidable missteps and needless delays. We have been here before, in other words. With testing. With shutdowns. With contact tracing. With genomic surveillance.”
  • “The root problem is clear. Officials have long prioritized medicine (in this instance, developing the coronavirus vaccines) while neglecting public health (i.e., developing programs to vaccinate people). It’s much easier to get people excited about miracle shots, produced in record time, than about a dramatic expansion of cold storage, or establishment of vaccine clinics, or adequate training of doctors and nurses. But it takes all of these to stop a pandemic.”

Nevertheless, my wife and I are in general good health bolstered by being careful mask-wearers, avoiders of social gatherings and washing our hands after going out to buy groceries or downstairs in our condo building to take out recycling and compost and pick up the mail. In addition, we qualify for one of the groups that are supposed to be designated for early administration of the vaccine—those 75 years old and older. Therefore, we are not personally distressed by the current COVID and vaccine situation.

Therefore, we  are grateful and hopeful that in 2021 the U.S. will significantly improve its distribution and administration of the vaccines, that we will obtain our vaccinations, that the economy will reopen and expand, thereby bringing many unemployed workers back to work and eliminating or dampening worries about being or becoming homeless.

We also have to admit it is frustrating to be unable to go out and spend time with family and friends, to go to concerts and plays and to eat at restaurants, many of which are going out of business. (A small caveat. the Minnesota Orchestra is recording concerts by smaller contingents in an empty Orchestra Hall that are telecast on Friday nights on public television in the state. The smaller orchestra and groups also play many works that are new and not in the usual repertoire. We have enjoyed those concerts. One of these pieces that I especially enjoyed was a rare percussion trio, and listening to the piece made me think of a friend, Jeffrey Gram, who was a music professor for percussion and now frequently plays drums and other percussion instruments at our church, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian.)

One cannot forget that we were most pleased that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the U.S. presidential and vice presidential election in early November with the largest number of popular votes in U.S. history, 81,283,485, which was 7,059,741 more than those for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. The Electoral College was 306 to 232. Nevertheless, the country has been subjected to the unjustified outrage of Trump and some Republicans with ridiculous lawsuits challenging the results in some states, all scornfully dismissed, many by Trump-appointed federal judges. Next week, on January 6 there will be a joint session of the Congress to tabulate the results of the Electoral College, which some Republicans are planning to use to mount other ridiculous challenges, which should fail, thereby making it almost official for the January 20th inauguration of Biden and Harris. But even that important cause for celebration is subject to the risk of armed violence instigated by Trump supporters at the urging of Trump himself.[4]

In the meantime, on January 5th the State of Georgia has an unusual election of two U.S. Senators. The incumbents are Republicans—Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The Democratic challengers are Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. This  election is enormously important. If both Democrats are elected, the Senate will be equally divided between the two parties and Vice President Harris as the presiding officer of that body will be able to break tie votes in favor of the Biden-Harris Administration. If, however, at least one of the Republican candidates is elected, the Republicans will maintain control of the Senate under the “leadership” of Senator Mitch McConnell (Rep., KY) and be able to thwart many of the Biden Administration measures. Even here, Trump is voicing unfounded claims that this Georgia election is ‘illegal and invalid.” Needless to say, the two of us are pulling for the Democratic candidates.[5]


[1] Coronavirus World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2021); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. times (Jan. 1, 2021);Track Coronavirus Cases Important to You: Minnesota, N.Y, Times (Jan. 1, 2021).

[2] Thomas, LaFraniere, Weiland, Goodnough & Haberman, F.D.A. Clears Pfizer Vaccine, and Millions of Doses Will Be Shipped Right Away, N.Y. Times (Dec. 11, 2020); Grady, Goodnough & Weiland, F.D.A. Authorizes Moderna Vaccine, Adding Millions of Doses to U.S. Supply, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2020); Mueller & Robbins, U.K. Authorizes Covid-19 Vaccine From Oxford and AstraZeneca., N.Y. Times (Dec. 30, 2020); Wu, AstraZeneca and Sinpharm clear regulatory hurdles in a week of vaccine milestones, N.Y. Times (Dec. 31, 2020).

[3]  Stolberg & LaFraniere, Biden Promises 100 Million vaccine Shots in 100 Days, but Shortage Worries Rise, N.Y.Times (Dec. 8, 2020); Mohamed, Chokshi, Thomas, Goodnough, Hoffman & Kwal, Vaccine distribution is about to begin in the virus-ravaged U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 13, 2020); Calvan & Kunzelman, Race to vaccinate millions in US off to a slow, messy start, Assoc. Press (Dec. 31, 2020); Editorial, We Came All this Way to Let Vaccines Go Bad in the Freezer? N.Y. Times (Dec. 31, 2020); Hopkins & Camo-Flores, Covid-ap Vaccine’s Slow Rollout Could Portend More Problems, W.S.J. (Jan. 1, 2021).

[4] Assoc. Press, 2020 US election results; Barrett, Judge dismisses Gohmert lawsuit seeking to stymie Biden electoral college count, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2021); King, Fourteen days that will test our democracy, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2021);  Fausset,Trump Calls Georgia Senate Races ‘Illegal and Invalid,’ N. Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2020); Mascaro & Jalonick (Assoc. Press), GOP torn over Trump’s Electoral College challenge, StarTribune (Jan. 2, 2021); Wright, The Plague Year, The New Yorker (Jan.4 & 11, 2021) (the caption of the lengthy article says it covers, “The mistakes and the struggles behind an American tragedy”)..

[5] E.g., Herndon & Fausset, Early Voting Numbers in Georgia Senate Races Put G.O.P. on Edge, N.Y. Times (Dec. 30, 2020); Latest Polls Of The Georgia Senate Runoffs, Wash. Post (Dec. 31, 2020); Philips, What you need to know about the Georgia Senate runoff elections, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2021).

Pandemic Journal (# 35): Year-End Activities During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The current Coronavirus Pandemic in the midst of our end-of-year celebrations has prompted Jacey Fortin to contrast some of the records of the 1918 year-end events in the midst of the 1918 influenza pandemic. [1]

She reports, “the winter holidays in 1918 were marked by grievous loss. They came during a relative lull after the deadliest wave, in the fall. Another, smaller surge would peak shortly after New Year’s Day.”

According to J. Alexander Navarro, a medical historian and editor of the Influzena Encyclopdia, by the end of the year 1918, “Hundreds of thousands of people lost loves ones. But by the time of Thanksgiving, there really wasn’t much debate about whether or not they should get together. So they did, often with an empty chair at the table.”

Fortin uses family letters from that time to shed light on how ordinary people were reacting to that pandemic.

In January 1919 in rural Iowa Rebecca Tinti wrote to family members that not long before Christmas she had visited a neighbor farm family of eight, seven of whom were very ill with the flu, to help the only healthy member of the family, their seven-year-old daughter, to care for the others. “The mister had been waiting on the rest till he had a relapse and kept on getting worse, till he died a week later. I stayed till the funeral, which was the day before Christmas.”

A relative of Rebecca, John Tinti, in a February 1919 letter said, “I was for three weeks busy doing the neighbor’s chores and burying the dead. I helped lay away more people this winter than I ever did in my whole life. It sure was awful.”

Another of Rebecca’s relatives, Margaret Hamilton, wrote in March 1919, “My heart almost refused to work and my lips and nails were a purplish black. Sure almost went over [died].”

Another letter, this one from Caroline Schumacher of Carroll, Iowa on December 29, 1918, said, “I suppose you’ve seen that the town is quarantined. Don’t know how much longer [the church] will be closed yet. It is terrible when there is no church. It doesn’t seem like Christmas at all.”

This correspondence of Rebecca Tinti is now in the custody of her goddaughter’s daughter, Ms. Ruth Lux of Lidderdale, Iowa. This past April Ms. Lux visited Rebecca’s grave site and said Rebecca was “the Florence Nightingale of Adair County “ Iowa.

[1[ Fortin, Holidays in a Pandemic? Here’s What Happened in 1918, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/us/pandemic-holiday-christmas.html?searchResultPosition=4; See also the following posts and comments to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/03/27/living-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-3/; Comment: Naming of the 1918 Flu (# #)(Mar. 28, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/03/27/living-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-3/; Comment: Other Thoughts on the 1918 Flu (Apr. 22, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/03/27/living-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-3/; Pandemic Journal (#22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918) (May 17, 2020) ;https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/06/17/minnesota-romance-in-the-midst-of-the-1918-flu; Minnesota Romance in the Midst of the 1918 Flu (June 17, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/06/17/minnesota-romance-in-the-midst-of-the-1918-flu; Pandemic Journal (#28): The 1918 Flu Never Went Away (Sept. 7, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/09/07/pandemic-journal-28-the-1918-flu-never-went-away/.

Strong Recommendation for New U.S. Policy for Engagement with Cuba

On December 17 a strong recommendation for a new U.S. policy for engagement was put forward by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America.[1]

It sets forth the Case for Engagement; the First Nine Months of the Biden Administration (Repairing the Damage); The Second Year [of the Biden Administration] (Taking the Initiative); and Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda.

For example, here are the major points of its Case for Engagement that advance the interests of the U.S. and those of the Cuban people:

  • “Engagement begins with constructive diplomacy that includes cooperation on issues of mutual interest and negotiations on issues in conflict.”
  • “Engagement is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.”
  • “Engagement must include civil society—cultural, educational, scientific, and familial linkages that foster mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural enrichment for both peoples.”
  • “Engagement will facilitate commercial ties, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform.”
  • “Engagement will serve as a counterweight to the aspirations that global competitors like Russia and China have in Cuba.”
  • “Engagement accomplished in two years more than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty years.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is “a non-partisan 501(c )(3) institution dedicated to promoting a U.S. policy toward the Americas based on engagement and mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at adds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance.” It was founded in 2008 by Sarah Stevens.[2]

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is “ a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and demand cross-border solutions. We create strategic partnerships with courageous people making social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious and business leaders, artists, and government officials. Together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.”[3]


[1] Democracy in the Americas,  The United States and Cuba; A New Policy of Engagement (Dec. 17, 2020); Center Democracy in Americas, Joint Press Release. The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas publish “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement” (Dec. 17, 2020); WOLA., The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement (Dec.2020).

[2] Center for Democracy in the Americas, Our Work.

[3] WOLA, About Us.

Another Perspective on the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims

A previous post provided a positive view of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims who wrote and signed it. A vastly different perspective on these topics has been provided by Joshua Zeitz, an American historian and contributing editor of Politico.[1]

He starts with a positive note. “The Pilgrims wrote and  “signed the Mayflower Compact, which arguably planted the first democratic seeds in New World. The same Pilgrims . . . transported a strain of Christian millennialism to America that influenced the development of political culture throughout the United States.”

However, Zeitz says their Colony of Plymouth “was a small, struggling outpost that never achieved the prosperity or influence of its close cousin, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled 10 years later by non-separatist Puritans. . . . Puritanism—both in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay—fell into a state of decline within a generation of each colony’s founding. Ultimately, the political and religious culture the Pilgrims and Puritans built had little to do with the nation we became—it shaped neither the republican revolution against Parliament and Crown in the 18th century nor America’s evolution into a diverse and boisterous democracy in the 19th century.”

“From the start, the Puritan project faced steep challenges. A large number of Mayflower passengers were ‘strangers’—servants or craftsmen who were necessary to the settlement but did not share in the separatists’ religious faith. . . . Local conditions were also trying. . . . Plymouth remained a small and relatively poorer society of fishermen and small farmers.”

Moreover, “by the 1660s large numbers of residents of both colonies were not baptized church members. . . . Whereas upward of 80 percent of Plymouth and Massachusetts settlers belonged to churches in the 1640s, by the 1670s that portion had fallen to as low as 30 percent.” In other words, “[f]ar from laying the foundation of American political and religious culture, the Puritan settlers, separatists and non-separatists alike, built an inward, particular religious community that frayed within three generations of their arrival in the New World.”

Zeitz  concludes by saying that there has been little public note of “this year’s 400th anniversary of the [Mayflower Compact and the] Plymouth landing, in contrast to the [current] spirited debate over [the introduction of slavery in the Virginia colony in] 1619,[2][ and that this contrast] reflects the right priorities. We still grapple with the legacy of slavery in ways both profound and worrying, and the impulse to claim the mantle of ‘true Americans’ hasn’t left our politics. But we can be thankful that the Pilgrim’s world of ‘invisible saints’ and unregenerate sinners, of closed communities and neo-theocracy, has little to do with the America we know, nor has it for a very long time.”


[1] Zeitz, How America Outgrew the Pilgrims, Politico (Nov. 25, 2020).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The 1619 Project Commemorates the Arrival of Slavery in the U.S. (Oct. 20, 2019); Prominent Historians and New York Times Officials’ Comments About the 1619 Project (Aug. 12, 2020); Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project, (Aug. 10, 2020); Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery (Aug. 11, 2020); Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, (Aug. 3, 2020).


Mayflower Compact’s 400th Anniversary  

On November 21, 1620, the  “Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth” (now called the Mayflower Compact), was signed aboard the Mayflower ship by its 41 male passengers while the ship was anchored in Provincetown Harbor within the hook at the northern tip of Cape Cod.[1]

Among the signers of the Compact were John Carver, the main author of the Compact, its first signer and the subsequent first Governor of the Plymouth Colony; William Bradford, the second signer of the Compact and a subsequent Governor of the Colony; Myles Standish, who became the First Commander of the Colony; and William Brewster, who became Senior Elder of the Colony.

The Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony  for the passengers of the Mayflower, who were separatist Puritans trying to purify the Church of England of certain Roman Catholic practices along with some adventurers and tradesmen. The Puritans were fleeing from religious persecution by King James I of England.

Here is the text of the Compact:

  • “IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great BritainFrance, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESSwhereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.”

This document evidences their determination to establish their own government, while still affirming their allegiance to the Crown of England. Thus, the Compact was based simultaneously upon a majoritarian model and the settlers’ allegiance to the king. It was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the community’s rules and regulations for the sake of order and survival.

Here is a commentary on the Compact by John G. Turner, Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of “They Knew they Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty” (Yale Univ. Press,; New Haven, CT.   2020)

Turner’s Commentary[2]

 “In November 1620, the Mayflower completed its voyage across the Atlantic. Before its weary passengers walked on American soil for the first time, 41 men signed their names to a simple agreement. They declared their loyalty to King James and formed themselves into a ‘body politic.’ They promised, among other things, ‘all due submission and obedience’ to the laws and offices they would enact to govern themselves. Then the passengers went ashore, explored Cape Cod and soon established a settlement at Plymouth.”

“For much of American history, the Mayflower Compact—as it came to be called—has been considered a foundational document. John Quincy Adams praised it as the ‘original social compact,’ an agreement that eventually had given birth to a nation. ‘In the cabin of the Mayflower,’ declared the 19th-century historian George Bancroft, ‘humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of ‘equal laws’ enacted by all the people for ‘the general good.’ The Pilgrims, as the Mayflower passengers had become known by this point, gained renown for their dual commitment to religious and political liberty.”

“In recent decades, the Pilgrims and their compact have lost some of their luster. Since 1970, Native Americans and their supporters have held a National Day of Mourning in Plymouth each November. They see the Mayflower crossing not as a stroke for liberty but as the commencement of conquest and dispossession. Meanwhile, some Americans train their gaze on other origin stories, such as the arrival of African slaves in Virginia [in 1619].”

“What meaning, then, does the Mayflower Compact have for Americans in 2020? Setting aside the hyperbole of Pilgrim venerators past, it remains a landmark worthy of commemoration.”

“The agreement aboard the Mayflower was terse out of necessity. Pilgrim leaders only drafted it after their ship sailed off course, missing their intended destination somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River. Nothing authorized the Pilgrims to form a government farther north, in New England, and the uncertainty over this stoked unrest. Some of the passengers made ‘mutinous speeches’ and intended to ‘use their own liberty’ when they left the ship, according to the account of William Bradford, later elected the colony’s second governor. The compact tamped down this brewing mutiny.”

“Given these circumstances, the Mayflower Compact was not a grand statement of political principles. There’s nothing in it like ‘when in the course of human events’ or ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ It was an agreement to work together, not a constitution or bill of rights. The agreement also said little about religion, only that the colonists undertook their work ‘for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country.’”

“Yet while some of the language was mere boilerplate, other portions contained more profound ideas. When the Pilgrims formed their ‘body politic,’ they referred to it as a ‘covenant.’ The notion was congruent with their religious principles. The majority of the Pilgrims were separatists, men and women who had withdrawn from the Church of England. They had then ‘joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate,’ promising to ‘walk in all [God’s] ways…whatsoever it should cost them,’ according to Bradford. These actions were illegal. In the face of persecution, many of the future Mayflower passengers fled their homes and took refuge in the Dutch city of Leiden. For the separatists, it was essential that Christians retained the liberty to choose their own church leaders. John Robinson, their minister in Leiden, explained that their church government was ‘after a sort popular, and democratic.’”

“That also describes the political covenant fashioned aboard the Mayflower. The compact affirmed that those who belonged to the ‘body politic’ held the authority to ‘enact, constitute, and frame…just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices.’ In other words, the legitimacy of laws and political offices rested on the consent of the people. Those laws, moreover, had to be ‘just and equal.’”

“The principles of consent and equity harked back to Magna Carta, but as of the early 1600s most English politicians and philosophers believed that only the propertied elite possessed these bulwarks against arbitrary rule. The Mayflower Compact, by contrast, was shockingly broad. Most of the adult men on the ship signed it, servants alongside their masters. Certainly, we could focus on those excluded, such as the women on board. In the years ahead, most of those who lived in Plymouth Colony—women, Natives, African slaves and many religious dissenters—did not have a say in framing laws or choosing political leaders. By the standards of its day, though, the compact was radically inclusive; the colony’s leaders felt compelled to assure their investors that they hadn’t given women and children the right to vote.”

“After signing the compact, the passengers put its principles into practice. They chose John Carver as their governor ‘for that year.’ The election was a stark contrast with the politics of other early English colonies. Virginia, for instance, had a representative assembly, but company officers back in England appointed the colony’s governor and council.”

“Along with nearly half of the Pilgrims, Carver died during the colony’s first winter. The survivors selected Bradford as his replacement. Thereafter, they held annual elections for governor and other high offices.”

“The compact remained important to the settlers of Plymouth Colony, or at least to those men with voting rights. When they assembled 16 years later to revise the colony’s laws, they began by having the compact read aloud. They affirmed that laws and taxes could only be imposed on them ‘by consent according to the free liberties of the state and kingdom of England.’ Accordingly, settlers objected when their own magistrates empowered courts to levy certain taxes. They objected when a crown-appointed governor of a reorganized New England imposed taxes on them without their consent. Later generations of Americans would distill these complaints into the clarion cry of ‘no taxation without representation.’”

“The Pilgrims . . . contributions merit a more serious examination. Despite its brevity, and despite the blind spots of those who signed it, the Mayflower Compact established a government that lasted for 70 years. That was no mean feat by 17th-century standards.”

“The basic principles of the Mayflower Compact still resonate with the expanded American body politic of the 21st century. Men and women owe their obedience to laws and leaders, but only when they fairly participate in their formation and election. As Martin Luther King Jr. declared in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963, ‘An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote.’ Many of our political arguments—over the Electoral College, redistricting, the Supreme Court—hinge on exactly what constitutes democratic consent.”

“The Mayflower Pilgrims set a powerful example. But forget about their idea of annual elections. Given the anxieties and rancor that accompany American presidential campaigns, we can leave that particular 17th-century practice to the history books.


[1] Mayflower Compact, Wikipedia; Puritans, Wikipedia; Jacoby, How the Mayflower compact sowed the seeds of American Democracy, Boston Globe (Nov. 12, 2017); Shribman, Review: The Pilgrims’ Progress, W.S.J. (Nov. 21, 2017); Wood, America wasn’t founded on slavery in 1619—but on Pilgrims’ ideals written in 1620, N.Y. Post (Nov. 7, 2020); Freeman, ‘The Foundation Stone of American Democracy,’ W.S.J. (Nov. 12, 2000); Wood, Pilgrims’ protest: Mayflower descendants defend their ancestors—and the history of America, N.Y. Post (Nov. 21, 2020); Anderson, 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact signing is today, Boston Globe (Nov. 21, 2020).

[2] Turner, The Mayflower Compact 400 Years Later, W.S.J. (Nov. 21, 2020.





Giving Thanks for Refugees and Other Immigrants 

On Thanksgiving Day 2020 I give thanks for the courage and fortitude of immigrants in my own family and of refugees and other immigrants in the U.S..

Personal Ancestral Immigrants

My earliest immigrant ancestor, to my knowledge, was William Brown (my seventh maternal great-grandfather), who left England as a young boy before 1686 to come to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, eventually settling in Leicester, MA, where he was one of its early settlers and officer of the town in various capacities. [1]

His grandson (my fifth maternal great-grandfather) was Perley Brown, who was born on May 23, 1737 in Leicester, MA, where later he was a Minuteman and then fought for the colonists in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was killed in the Battle of White Plains, NY under the command of General George Washington.[2]

My first maternal great-grandparents, Sven Peter Johnson and Johanna Christina Magnusson (Johnson), were born and married in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S. sometime before 1881, when their daughter (my maternal grandmother), Jennie Olivia Johnson (Brown), was born on February 28, 1881, in Ottumwa, Iowa.[3]

My paternal first great-grandfather, Johann N. Kroehnke (John Krohnke) was born on November 26, 1839 in Holstein, Prussia and emigrated to the U.S. circa 1867 and denounced Allegiance to the King of Prussia (William I?)  when he applied for U.S. citizenship in Davenport, Iowa on October 9, 1867 and received his U.S. naturalization papers on March 7, 1871. He settled in Benton County, Iowa, where he met Elizabeth Heyer, who was born October 13, 1847 in Krofdorf, Prussia?, but the dates of her arrival in the U.S. and obtaining U.S. citizenship are unknown. The two of them were married on December 26, 1871 in that same Iowa county. Thus, she is my first paternal great-grandmother. [4]

To determine whether there are additional immigrants in my family tree, I need the assistance of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.[5]

Refugees and Other Immigrants

I also give thanks for the courage and fortitude of the millions of refugees and other immigrants who have come to the U.S. and who have become U.S. citizens, a few of whom as a pro bono lawyer I helped obtain asylum as their first step for obtaining U.S. citizenship. I thank them for helping me learn about their personal histories and later introducing me to the moving experience of U.S. naturalization ceremonies, when they obtained their U.S. citizenship. (I also was the pro bono attorney for an Afghan man for his interview for U.S citizenship.)[6]

One such ceremony was in Minnesota in February 2016 when U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank before swearing in the new citizens, said, ““We are a better country now than we were five minutes ago. We are better with you than without you.”  The Judge  added that three of his five daughters were naturalized citizens.[7]

Ed Collins of Wilmington, Delaware recently wrote about his attending such a ceremony 35 years ago at San Francisco’s Masonic Temple at the invitation of a friend from college. Collins said he “was stunned upon arrival to see around 150 applicants and 300 or so friends and relatives in the auditorium. A judge led the ceremony supported by a military color guard and a small military band. The judge spoke eloquently about the duties of citizenship as well as its privileges. All joined in lustily singing a number of patriotic songs. Finally, the judge led the applicants in swearing allegiance to the U.S. and then pronounced them citizens of the U.S.”[8]

Collins added, “An amazing roar of cheering, applause, laughing and crying swept the room. I have never seen such a large display of emotion and total joy. That moment led me to understand the value that these good people placed on U.S. citizenship. I urge every American to attend a naturalization ceremony at least once. You won’t look upon U.S. citizenship the same way again, and you won’t take your citizenship for granted.”

Even more inspiring was the December 2015 naturalization ceremony at Washington, D.C.’s Rotunda of the National Archives Museum, where the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are permanently displayed on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The welcome of the new citizens was given by President Obama. Here are some of his remarks that day:[9]

  • “To my fellow Americans, our newest citizens. You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”
  • “Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”
  • “And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
  • “We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.”
  • “We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.”
  • “And the biggest irony of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’”
  • “The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.”
  • “That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”
  • “That’s our great inheritance — what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey — to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.”
  • “You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”
  • “Thank you.  May God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.”


Given the recent frequent negative comments about immigrants, especially in the rural areas of the U.S., it would be instructive to have such naturalization ceremonies broadcast live in all parts of the states where they occur. Another source of information and inspiration for all current U.S.  citizens is the recent widespread statements of governors justifying their support for resettlement of refugees in their states. [10]

Pope Francis also provides a religious justification for welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees and other immigrants.[11]


[1] Carol W. Brown, William Brown: English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts and His Descendants, c. 1669-1994, at 1-4 (Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] Id. at 17-27.  See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Watertown, Massachusetts, 238 Years Ago (April 20, 2013); The American Revolutionary War’s Siege of Boston, April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 (July 27, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 (July 30, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Campaign for New York and New Jersey, March 1776-January 1777 (Aug. 13, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island), August 1776 (Oct. 8, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of Harlem Heights, New York, September 1776 (Oct. 10, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of White Plains, October 1776 (Oct. 12, 2012). George Edwin Brown and Jennie Olivia Johnson Brown, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 17, 2013); n.1 supra at 267.

[4] Hansen, The Heyers From Krofdorf to Keystone at 9, 19 (Amundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, IA 1977).

[5] Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS.org.

[6] Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer, dwkcommentaries.com (May 24, 2011).

[7] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy (June 7, 2015); Minnesota Welcomes New Citizens (June 8, 2015); Another U.S. Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony (Feb. 18, 2016).

[8] Collins, Letter: A U.S. Naturalization Ceremony to Remember, W.S.J. (Nov. 23, 2020). Collins was prompted to write his article by reading another about a recent naturalization ceremony attended by Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty. (McGinty, More Green Card Holders Are Becoming U.S. Citizens, W.S.J. (Nov. 13, 2020).)

[9] President Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens with Inspiring Challenge, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2015)(contains full text of Obama’s speech).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (December 31, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.7, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020).

[11] Pope Francis Reminds Us to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).