31 July

Jefferson And The Carriage Horses: When Democracy Fails.

by Jon Katz
Stealing From The Mouth Of Labor
Stealing From The Mouth Of Labor

My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, was visiting me recently and she asked me about the carriage horses, she was curious that I was so drawn to the subject, especially since I do not live in New York City.  I asked her what the thought about the mayor’s drive to ban the horses from New York.

She said she didn’t care, really, she had always had this sense that the horses were being abused, she had seen that accusation so often online she assumed it had to be true as no one ever challenged it. If it wasn’t true, she said, and she was coming to see that it wasn’t,  then the horses were no one’s business but their owners and drivers, and the mayor had better things to do. Still, she said, she saw the carriage horses as an expensive entertainment for tourists, they didn’t really have much to do with her, it wouldn’t affect her greatly whether they stayed or left.

I am an animal lover and I write about animals, so the issue has special meaning for me on many levels. But I told my daughter I thought the issue was important for everyone who cares about a moral government or the workings of a healthy democracy. The nature of government – it’s power and purpose, affects everyone in a democracy, and if a wrong is done to anyone, it is done to everyone. This issue is not just about horses, as many people are beginning to see.

What the mayor and his millionaire friends are doing to the carriage horses can be done to us. And most likely will be, if history is a judge.  Some millionaire might wake up next week, decide my having a border collie who works or three donkeys who guard sheep is abuse – they should all be out roaming in the wild –  and give a lot of money to the governor New York for his re-election campaign. I could be facing an angry mob of people – none of whom would ever speak with me or come see my dog or donkeys –  protesting the existence of my farm, and lobbying for a ban on my work and livelihood.

I am surprised and sorry to say that is more or less what has happened to the people in the carriage trade. Has democracy failed them?

My guides to moral democracy are the people who created it in our country, most especially John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson. They understood the dangers of arrogant government and grasped the need for defining its power and purpose.

“A wise and frugal Government,” wrote Jefferson, “is one which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” This, he wrote, “is the sum of good government…”

I prefer Jefferson’s definition of moral government rather than that of Steven Nislick, the founder of NYClass, the private organization spearheading the drive against the horses. He threatened to punch a New York Daily News photographer in the face because the paper has opposed his efforts to ban on the carriage horses.

By Jefferson’s definition,  good and wise government is failing in New York City, a city which professes to care deeply about justice and fairness.

Government has not served the carriage trade. In New York, the city government has made no effort to curb or control the relentless, and often dishonest and cruel, attacks on the people in the carriage trade, or protect them from cruel slander or harassment. The hundreds of people who work with the horses are not being left free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, quite the opposite, their work and livelihood is gravely threatened without cause, due process, or any kind of open hearing, debate or discussion.

The people in the carriage trade have broken no laws, committed no crimes, there are no charges or complaints against them from the five different city agencies responsible for regulating their work and the the horse’s well beings or from the public. The mayor’s clear intent – without ever once speaking to anyone in the carriage trade or visiting a single stable – is to take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is not in response to the popular will or the public well being, or any accusation of wrongdoing. It is almost entirely a response to the private and intensely controversial views of one millionaire who calls himself a supporter of animals rights and who gave the mayor enormous amounts of money for his campaign, and his small but angry legions of fanatical supporters.

Even though 66 per cent of all New Yorkers, nearly three out of four, say they wish the carriage horses to remain in the city, the overwhelming sentiment seems to have no effect on the outcome. The mayor has said those figures do  not matter to him, the City Council is moving ahead to try and take away the legitimate work of hundreds of people and seize their property regardless  of the public’s will. He means to enact his ban on the horses, which he has described as one of the most urgent priorities of his administration. It is not clear whether or not he will be successful, the people in the carriage trade are tired and worried.

The philosopher and writer John Locke invented the idea modern democracy, he was one of the strongest influences on Thomas Jefferson and the founders of the American experiment. “All mankind..being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions,” he wrote. “Every man has a property in his own person,” Locke wrote. “This nobody has a right to, but himself.”

Locke also said this: “Government has no other end, but the preservation of freedom and of property.”

Are the members of the carriage trade being treated as equal and independent?

The mayor often speaks to the people in the organizations seeking to ban the horses, he has taken their money, attended their fund-raising dinners, and plots in secret the strategy behind the move to banish the horses. He will speak to millionaires about the carriage trade any time, but he will not speak to the people in the carriage grade, visit their stables, negotiate with their representatives, attend their functions or meetings, or even share the reasoning or nature behind the secret proceedings nowunderway in the City Council and meant to shut down their work.

In fact, the members of the carriage trade are treated as less than human, not entitled to the considerations given most the wealthy or other members of the so-called moral community.

Thomas Paine, the soul of the American Revolution, the author of “Common Sense,” the pamphlet that helped inspire it, wrote that “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for it he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” This, I told my daughter, is why she might care, and why you might as well. Paine might well have been speaking of the carriage horses when he wrote that “when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”

All over New York and in many parts of the country, thinking people are embracing the privilege of thinking, awakening to the distorted morality and corrupt origins of the long campaign to banish the horses. It is not right, it does not bear thought or scrutiny, it speaks to the failure of democracy, not it’s proper and moral workings. It would also be a grievous setback for the idea that animals like the horses can remain in our world and be safe with us if we will find the will.

I told my daughter that it would be a good exercise to take the statements of Jefferson, Locke and Paine, architects and angels of our democracy and imagine the three of them sitting on a jury that would decide whether or not the carriage horses would be banished from New York. They seem as well qualified as the New York City Council. And all three actually knew something about horses.

I believe these three brilliant men would instantly grasp that this issue is about much more than the horses. Their feelings about the duty of government are quite clear. This controversy is about how government and democracy work, whether government can be just and fair, whether government will protect our freedom and property rather than join in the mobs of the moment that sometimes appear seeking to take it away.

The controversy is also about whether the men and women of the carriage trade are our equals, after all, entitled to the rights of hard-working citizens who pay their taxes and obey the law. It is about whether they are free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement,  not to have the taken from their mouths the bread of labor that they have earned.

You can read their own words and think for yourselves. It is still possible to do that, even in the age of hysterical blogs. Hundreds of people – neighbors, animal lovers, veterinarians – have gone to the stables to see for themselves how the horses are being treated. The mayor won’t go. Every single one of them – myself included – sees horses that are healthy, safe and well cared for. Abuse is a tough thing to hide in a big draft horse, no one, not even the city’s inspectors, has found any in the stables.

If the visionaries who created our democracy – Jefferson, Locke, Paine – were deciding, the carriage horses would remain in New York, the freedom and property of the human beings in carriage trade preserved.

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