Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

February 2008

Tall, Dark and Uniformed

Recently I read:

“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it is tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?”

The quote was attributed to James Madison’s Federalist Paper 62.

No doubt, you have had a chance to read the same quote, as it is at the very top of Vermont Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham’s “Dear Fellow Taxpayer” letter in this year’s tax return booklet.

I really wish he had included the next paragraph:

“Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the FEW, not for the MANY.”

By any chance, did Madison mean “uninformed”? After checking numerous Internet sources, it would seem he wrote “uniformed.”

That reminded me of another error involving a similar slip. Supposedly, a caption writer for Stars and Stripes was fired for referring to General Douglas MacArthur as “tall, dark and uninformed.”

Anyway, I naturally figured the Internet had to be right about Madison’s text, but just to make certain, I went to a real bricks-and-mortar library to look up the quote in a real bound book. Against all odds and conventional wisdom, Madison’s off the hook; he wrote “uninformed.”

But I’m still not so sure about his reference to the unreasonable advantage given to “the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people.” Can’t a person be sagacious, enterprising, moneyed, industrious AND uninformed?

I couldn’t say.