Monday, June 18, 2018

The Three Things That Matter in Our Performance Evaluations

I don't know when was the last time I've written about performance evaluations on this blog -- or indeed if I have ever written about performance evaluations on this blog before -- but they've been on my mind this week. With the close of our fiscal year, we're entering performance evaluation season at my organization.

I believe in regular feedback, and I'd like to think that my organization engages in it throughout the year, but we still have a once-a-year, formal sit-down conversation where an evaluation of performance is communicated and documented. And in that evaluation, there are only three things that matter.

1. Performance measured against staff values and associated behaviors. Like many organizations, we have established a set of values that describe our expectations for staff behavior in their interactions with each other and with our members. The degree to which each staff person exhibits behaviors that align with these values is assessed and weighted as the most important factor in our performance evaluation.

2. Performance measured against strategic program objectives. Each year a series of program objectives are identified that align with the strategic goals that have been set by our Board of Directors. Each individual staff member is then given primary responsibility for achieving a specific set of these program objectives, which require them to act as leaders in the organization, coordinating the efforts of other staff members and association members alike to achieve significant outcomes. The ability to weigh appropriate risks, make clear decisions, and exhibit a bias towards action are necessary precursors to this success. The degree to which each staff person achieves their program objectives, as well as the degree of difficulty each entailed, is weighted as the second most important factor in our performance evaluation.

3. Performance measured against professional development objectives. Each year we identify an organization-wide professional development objective, as well as individual professional development objectives for each individual staff person. The degree to which each staff person achieves these objectives is weighted as the third most important factor in our performance evaluation.

That's it. Do you embody our values? Did you achieve your objectives? Did you engage in professional development? When it comes to formally assessing the performance of our staff, those are the only questions we seek to answer.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Going Where There Are No Podiums

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Getting Out From Behind the Podium when giving a talk at my association's Annual Conference. For the first time in a decade, as I describe in that post, I got out from behind the podium and walked the stage while delivering my speech, like many of the professional speakers that we hire do.

Last week I had another speaking opportunity. This time one of my members had invited me to come and speak at his company's sales conference. They wanted to hear my take on our industry and the various markets we serve. Where are we now? Where are we going? What trends are impacting our industry and where are the opportunities for growth and success?

It is something I am always happy to do. Constructing such a presentation helps me think through these important issues (something I should be probably be doing more regularly anyway). But, more importantly, it gets me out of my office and into the environment of my members. It is, without fail, always a very positive experience for me.

But this time, oddly, it seems like I had failed to learn anything from my experience at my Annual Conference. As I often do, I wrote a very detailed script for my presentation. There are things I absolutely want to make sure I say and I've learned the best way to ensure that I say them is to write them out.

I did the same thing at the Annual Conference, but there I had the right technology at my disposal. What got me out from behind the podium was not the lack of a detailed script, but my ability to put the script not in a ring binder on the podium, but on the confidence monitor that was propped up, facing the speaker, at the foot of the stage.

There was no such confidence monitor at my member's sales conference. Or, at least, I didn't expect that there would be. Truth be told, I asked very little about the format, arrangements, and technologies of the conference. There would be a projector, I was told. If I wanted to bring some slides, they would have the ability to project them.

Not knowing what else to expect, I reverted to my old habits. I wrote out my script. I put it in the Notes section of my Powerpoint in case they had me standing behind a podium. I could then use Presenter View and, if not get out from behind their podium, at least have my detailed notes in front of me. And, in case there was no podium, I also printed out the script in big enough type to read at an arm's distance, folded the twenty or so pages in half and tucked them in the inside pocket of my sport coat.

When I arrived on-site at the conference, I realized I should have asked more questions in advance. The audience of the sales conference was no more than thirty people, and we were all in a large conference room in the company's corporate headquarters. There was no big conference table. If one had been there, it had been removed, and in its place were fifteen or so classroom tables, all oriented towards the front of the room. And at the front of the room? Nothing. A screen, sure, and a small table pushed up against the side wall where I could place my computer and connect it to the no more than three-foot cord coming out of the wall which would link me with the LCD projector hanging from the ceiling above. Other than that, there no nothing but a big, empty space for me and whatever speakers were to follow me to roam around in.

I realized there was no way I was going to be able to read my script in Presenter View and maintain any kind of connection with my audience. To do that, I'd be tucked off in the far corner with my laptop. So I decided to go with the printed copy in my pocket. As long as I only glanced at it from time to time to get my bearings, I figured I should still be able to watch for reactions and hands going up for questions.

And that's what I did. Except something even more unexpected happened. There were sections of the presentation where I really needed the script. It was new information to me, and I was less familiar with it. For those sections, I'll admit that my head was down and I was reading. To help lighten the mood, I joked that the attorneys had reviewed my remarks and were requiring me to stick closely to script during certain parts.

But other sections were very familiar to me. I had used the slides and the remarks that went with them many times before. Even if I didn't remember every word in the script, I knew intimately the essential points that needed to be made. And for those sections, throwing my last scrap of caution to the wind, I quite deliberately decided to abandon the script completely and go with my gut.

I kept my head up. I made eye contact. I paused for emphasis. I did everything I had done at my Annual Conference, but I was doing it without a script. My mind was obviously active, but more frequently, I was speaking from my heart.

It's a strange and sometimes frightening country, this place where there are no podiums and no scripts to place upon them. But sometimes, it seems, it is the best place to deliver information that connects with an audience.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Chainbearer by James Fenimore Cooper

This one had a bit of a story behind it. If people are familiar with Cooper at all, they’re familiar with his most famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans. And if they are familiar with The Last of the Mohicans, then they may know that it is one of a series of five novels featuring the same character at various stages of his life, collectively known as The Leatherstocking Tales.

But it is a rare person indeed who has heard of Cooper’s other series of novels, collectively called The Littlepage Manuscripts, of which The Chainbearer is the middle volume. I first stumbled across the series in some ancient used bookstore when I happened across Satanstoe, the first volume in this then-unknown series. That began a kind of quest for me, searching seemingly in vain for years for both The Chainbearer and for the third and final volume The Redskins.

Obviously, I recently discovered The Chainbearer, not in a used book store, as I recall, but in an antique shop clustered among a few random tomes on display more from their appearance than their contents. In the intervening years I’ve read a few other Cooper novels, largely of the Leatherstocking variety, and have more or less developed my own theory of the author’s intent, based largely in what I saw most conspicuously displayed in The Pathfinder.

In short, a disbeliever in the ability of man to distinguish between good and evil without the aid of instruction, would have been staggered by the character of this extraordinary inhabitant of the frontier. His feelings appeared to possess the freshness and nature of the forest in which he passed so much of his time; and no casuist could have made clearer decisions in matters relating to right and wrong; and yet he was not without his prejudices, which, though few, and colored by the character and usages of the individual, were deep-rooted, and almost formed a part of his nature. But the most striking feature about the moral organization of Pathfinder was his beautiful and unerring sense of justice.

That’s a description of Natty Bumppo in The Pathfinder, and it typifies my imagined theme. In the service of his charges, the frontier scout finds the path, not just through the forest, but through the moral quandaries that beset and challenge them along the way. I really wanted The Chainbearer to conform to this same theme, but, despite my hearty enjoyment of the novel, I’d have to say that it didn’t quite measure up to this standard.

Moral Judge or Civilizing Force?

Although the introduction of the titular Chainbearer did give me some hope.

“Who is the queer old man of whom I have heard you speak, Mordaunt,” my sister demanded, “and with whom you have lately had some correspondence about these lands?”

“I suppose you mean my former comrade, the ‘Chainbearer.’ There was a captain in our regiment of the name of Coejemans, who bears this appellation, and who had contracted to get the necessary surveys made, though he fills the humble post of a ‘chainbearer’ himself, not being competent to make the calculations.”

“How can a mere chainbearer contract for a full survey?” asked Tom Bayard, who had joined the party, and had been listening to the discourse. “The chainbearers, in general, are but common laborers, and are perfectly irresponsible.”

“That is true, as a rule; but my old friend forms an exception. He set out for a surveyor, but having no head for sines, and co-sines, and tangents, he was obliged to lower his pretensions to the humbler duty he now discharges. Still he has long contracted for jobs of this nature, and gets as much as he can do, hiring surveyors himself, the owners of property having the utmost confidence in his measurements. Let me tell you, the man who carries chain is not the least important member of a surveying party in the woods. Old Andries is as honest as noon-day, and everybody has faith in him.”

Your first person narrator here is Mordaunt Littlepage, son of Cornelius Littlepage, whose adventures comprised the action of the previous volume, Satanstoe. The title of that volume refers to the Littlepage family estate in Revolutionary War-era New York, and much of the action of The Chainbearer will center on Mordaunt’s assignment to survey and sell parcels of upstate land owned by the Littlepages. To do this, as described above, he will employ an older veteran of the War, Andies Coejemans, known to all as the titular Chainbearer. Not a surveyor, mind you, one experienced with calculations, but a simple chainbearer, one responsible for laying out a line, straight and true, between one man’s land and another’s.

“I am sure her uncle is my superior in some respects; in carrying chain, particularly so.”

“Ay, but scarcely in station, Mordaunt.”

“He was the senior captain of the regiment.”

“True; but revolutions are revolutions. What I mean is, that your Chainbearer can hardly be a gentleman.”

“That is a point not to be decided in a breath. He is, and he is not. Old Andries is of a respectable family, though but indifferently educated. Men vastly his inferiors in birth, in habits, in the general notions of the caste, in the New England states, are greatly his superiors in knowledge. Nevertheless, while we must all admit how necessary a certain amount of education has become, at the present time, to make a gentleman, I think every gentleman will allow hundreds among us have degrees in their pockets with small claims to belong to the class. Three or four centuries ago, I should have answered that old Andries was a gentleman, though he had to bite the wax with his teeth and make a cross, for want of a better signature.”

“And he what you call a chainbearer, Mordaunt!” exclaimed my sister.

Like the Pathfinder, then, this Chainbearer is something between two worlds. A gentleman and not a gentleman. An educated man and not an educated man. If he cannot guide you through the moral landscape, then perhaps he can provide some other metaphoric service. He is someone, after all, who sees things honest and true, and who may be able to help others understand what side of the line they should be on.

And then, as my mind explored these possibilities, I was struck by what I took to be a remarkable decision by Cooper, a decision to take this, his central character of some clear moral force and objectivity in a new and uncharted direction.

“Of course, you merely gave your friends the pleasure of your company and looked a little to their comforts, on their return from a hard day’s work?”

Dus raised her eyes to mine; smiled; then she looked sad, her under-lip quivering slightly; after which a smile that was not altogether without humor succeeded. I watched these signs of varying feeling with an interest I cannot describe; for the play of virtuous and ingenuous emotion on a lovely female countenance is one of the rarest sights in nature.

Dus is a diminutive appellation for Ursula Malbone, Andries Coejemans’s niece and the novel’s primary love interest for Mordaunt Littlepage. And what she says after the “play of virtuous and ingenuous emotion” on her face, in this, their first meeting, will frankly shock our narrator.

“I can carry chain,” said the girl, at the close of this exhibition of feeling.

“You can carry chain, Ursula -- Dus, or whatever I am to call you--”

“Call me Dus -- I love that name best.”

“You can carry chain, I suppose is true enough -- but, you do not mean that you have?”

The face of Dus flushed; but she looked me full in the eye, as she nodded her head to express an affirmative; and she smiled as sweetly as ever woman smiled.

“For amusement -- to say you have done it -- in jest!”

“To help my uncle and brother, who had not the means to hire a second man.”

“Good God! Miss Malbone -- Ursula -- Dus--”

“The last is the most proper name for a Chainbearess,” rejoined the girl, smiling; and actually taking my hand by an involuntary movement of her sympathy in the shock I so evidently felt. “But why should you look upon that little toil as so shocking, when it is healthful and honest? You are thinking of a sister reduced to what strikes you as man’s proper work.”

And here I am thinking that I am really onto something. For remember, in my metaphoric context, carrying chain is not just an act of physical labor, it is an act of symbolic significance, in which the chainbearer separates one person’s property from another, and thereby provides a true reckoning around which civilization can define and progress itself. If the pathfinder helps us chart the moral course through uncertain territory, then perhaps the chainbearer helps us claim that territory as our own and keep it through peace and prosperity. In allowing Ursula Malbone to carry chain, is Cooper saying something about the role of women in that civilizing process?

Perhaps. Let’s read on.

Dus relinquished my hand almost as soon as she had touched it; and she did it with a slight start, as if shocked at her own temerity.

“What is man’s work, and man’s work, only?”

“Yet woman can perform it; and, as uncle Chainbearer will tell you, perform it well. I had no other concern, the month I was at work, than the fear that my strength would not enable me to do as much as my uncle and brother, and thus lessen the service they could render you each day. They kept me on the dry land, so there were no wet feet, and your woods are as clear of underbrush as an orchard. There is no use in attempting to conceal the fact, for it is known to many, and would have reached your ears sooner or later. Then concealment is always painful to me, and never more so than when I hear you, and see you treating your hired servant as an equal.”

“Miss Malbone! -- For God’s sake, let me hear no more of this -- old Andries judged rightly of me, in wishing to conceal this; for I should never have allowed it to go on for a moment.”

If Cooper is saying this, that woman are, or at least can be our guides and our lawgivers, it is clearly something Mordaunt Littlepage isn’t prepared to accept. And this despite Dus’s many reasoned arguments.

“And in what manner could you have prevented it, Major Littlepage? My uncle has taken the business of you at so much the day, finding surveyor and laborers. Poor dear Frank! He, at least, does not rank with the laborers, and as for my uncle, he has long had an honest pride in being the best chainbearer in the country -- why need his niece scruple about sharing in his well-earned reputation?”

“But you, Miss Malbone -- dearest Dus -- who have been so educated, who are born a lady, who are loved by Priscilla Bayard, the sister of Frank, are not in your proper sphere, while thus occupied.”

“It is not so easy to say what is the proper sphere of a woman. I admit it ought to be, in general, in the domestic circle, and under the domestic roof; but circumstances must control that. We hear of wives who follow their husbands to the camp, and we hear of nuns who come out of their convents to attend the sick and wounded in hospitals. It does not strike me, then, as so bad in a girl who offers to aid her parent as I have aided mine, when the alternative was to suffer by want.”

And indeed, we will meet more such women as Ursula Malbone in Cooper’s novel, women who, while in their domestic circle, follow and support their husbands in their traditionally masculine exploits. They, very clearly, make their achievements possible, and I think Cooper is very subtly making this point in Dus’s dalliance with the chain.

Rights of Property

But Cooper seems to be doing something else in this novel -- making a strong case for property rights being the fulcrum on which the whole advance of “white” civilization balances. Nowhere is this philosophy more clearly spelled out than in Mordaunt’s dialogue with an old Indian comrade of his father’s. He, like many characters in Cooper’s allegorical fiction, is known by several names, in this case Sureflint, Susquesus, or Trackless.

“These are what we call the rights of property, without which no man would aim at being anything more than clad and fed. Who would hunt, if anybody that came along had a right to pick up and skin his game?”

“See dat well ‘nough -- nebber do; no, nebber. Don’t see why land go like skin, when skin go wid warrior and hunter, and land stay where he be.”

Rendering the Indian’s speech into this phonetic dialect can be bothersome, but Sureflint does drive right to the heart of the disagreement. Why does the white man think he can own the land?

“That is because the riches of you red men are confined to movable property, and to your wigwams, so long as you choose to live in them. Thus far, you respect the rights of property as well as the pale-faces; but you must see a great difference between your people and mine! -- between the red man and the white man?”

“Be sure, differ; one strong, t’oder weak -- one rich, t’oder poor -- one great, t’oder little -- one drive ‘way, t’oder haf to go -- one get all, t’oder keep nuttin’ -- one march large army, t’oder go Indian file, fifty warrior, p’raps -- dat reason t’ing so.”

“And why can the pale-faces march in large armies, with cannon, and horses, and bayonets, and the red man not do the same?”

“Cause he no got ‘em -- no got warrior -- no got gun -- no got baggonet -- no got nuttin’.”

“You have given the effect for the cause, Sureflint, or the consequences of the reason for the reason itself. I hope I make you understand me. Listen, and I will explain. You have lived much with the white men, Susquesus, and can believe what I say. There are good, and there are bad, among all people. Color makes no difference in this respect. Still, all people are not alike. The white man is stronger than the red man, and has taken away his country, because he knows most.”

“He most, too. Count army, den count war-trail; you see.”

“It is true the pale-faces are the most numerous now; but once they were not. Do not your traditions tell you how few the Yengeese were, when they first came across the salt lake?”

“Come in big canoe -- two, t’ree full -- no more.”

“Why then did two or three shipfuls of white men become so strong as to drive back from the sea all the red warriors, and become masters of the land? Can you give a reason for that?”

“‘Cause he bring fire-water wid him, and red man big fool to drink.”

“Even that fire-water, which doubtless has proved a cruel gift to the Indians, is one of the fruits of the white man’s knowledge. No, Susquesus; the red-skin is as brave as the pale-face; as willing to defend his right, and as able-bodied; but he does not know as much. He had no gunpowder until the white man gave it to him -- no rifle -- no hoe, no knife, no tomahawk, but such as he made himself from stones. Now, all the knowledge, and all the arts of life that the white man enjoys and turns to his profit, come from the rights of property. No man would build a wigwam to make rifles in, if he thought he could not keep it as long as he wished, sell it when he pleased, and leave it to his son when he went to the land of the spirits. It is by encouraging man’s love of himself, in this manner, that he is got to do so much. Thus it is, too, that the father gives to the son what he has learned, as well as what he had built or bought; and so, in time, nations get to be powerful, as they get to be what we call civilized. Without these rights of property, no people could be civilized; for no people would do their utmost, unless each man were permitted to be master of what he can acquire, subject to the great and common laws that are necessary to regulate such matters. I hope you understand my meaning, Trackless.”

“Sartain -- no like Trackless’ moccasin -- my young friend’s tongue leave trail. But you ti’nk Great Spirit say who shall haf land; who no haf him?”

“The Great Spirit has created man as he is, and the earth as it is; and he has left the one to be master of the other. If it were not his pleasure that man should not do as he has done, it would not be done. Different laws and different feelings would the bring about different ends. When the law places all men on a level, as to rights, it does as much as can be expected of it. Now, this level does not consist in pulling everything to pieces periodically, but in respecting certain great principles that are just in themselves; but which, once started, must be left to follow their own course. When the rights of property are first established, they must be established fairly, on some admitted rule; after which they are to remain inviolable -- that is to say, sacred.”

“Understand -- no live in clearin’ for nuttin’. Mean, haf no head widout haf farm.”

“That is the meaning substantially, Sureflint; though I might have explained it a little differently. I wish to say pale-faces would be like the red man without civilization; and without civilization if they had no rights in their land. No one will work for another as he will work for himself. We see that every day, in the simplest manner, when we see that the desire to get good wages will not make the common laborer do as much by the day as he will do by the job.”

“Dat true,” answered the Indian, smiling; for he seldom laughed; and repeating a common saying of the country -- “By -- de -- day -- by -- de -- day -- By de job, job, job! Dat pale-face religion, young chief?”

“I don’t know that our religion has much to do with it; but I will own it is our practice. I fancy it is the same with all races and colors. A man must work for himself to do his most; and he cannot work for himself unless he enjoy the fruits of his labor. Thus it is, that he must have a right of property in land, either bought or hired, in order to make him cause that land to produce all that nature intended it should produce. On this necessity is founded the rights of property; the gain being civilization; the loss ignorance, and poverty, and weakness. It is for this reason, then, that we buy and sell land, as well as clothes and arms, and beads.”

“T’ink, understand. Great Spirit, den, say must have farm?”

“The Great Spirit has said we must have wants and wishes, that can be met, or gratified only by having farms. To have farms we must have owners; and owners cannot exist unless their rights in their lands is protected. As soon as these are gone, the whole building would tumble down about our ears, Susquesus.”

I quoted this at such length in part to show what a heavy emphasis Cooper places on it. Indeed, much of the remaining action of the novel will occur between characters that support this economic philosophy and those who oppose it.

Mordaunt has, after all, been sent to his family’s upstate estates, to begin the process, following Chainbearer’s careful survey, to divide one up into lots and sell them off to budding young landowners in the new American nation. Upon his arrival, however, he discovers that a squatter -- an old man named Aaron Timberman, but called Thousandacres -- has been cutting and selling Littlepage lumber without permission. And it is this character of Thousandacres who will dramatically and metaphorically oppose the economic philosophy espoused by Mordaunt and his companions.

“What trick does Chainbearer do, Trackless,” answered the squatter -- “a mortal sight of tricks, with them plaguy chains of his’n! If there warn’t no chains and chainbearers, there could be no surveyors; and, if there warn’t no surveyors, there could be no boundaries to farms but the rifle; which is the best law-maker, too, that man ever invented. The Indians want to surveyors, Trackless?”

It’s a shot across the bow, Thousandacres speaking to Susquesus in this manner, calling into question not just Chainbearer’s profession but the civilizing force he represents. But there is much more conflict to come. Upon the discovery of Thousandacres, the squatter and his sons are able to capture Mordaunt and his small party, keeping them imprisoned in one of their wooden buildings until they can finish cutting the lumber and send it downstream for their profit. But Andries Coejemans -- Chainbearer himself -- catches wind of this, and come rushing to the defense of his younger employer and comrade.

“So, T’ousantacres, I fint you here!” exclaimed Chainbearer. “It’s a goot many years since you and I met, and I’m sorry we meet now on sich pisiness as t’is!”

Yes, Cooper is unfortunately as committed to capturing the phonetic spirit of Chainbearer’s rich Dutch accent as he was to the way Susquesus’s tongue wrestled with the Lord’s English. Stay with it, if you can. It’s worth it.

“The meetin’s of your own seekin’, Chainbearer. I’ve neither invited nor wished for your company.”

“I p’lieve you wit’ all my heart. No, no; you wish for no chains and no chainpearers, no surfeyors and no compasses, no lots and no owners, too, put a squatter. You and I haf not to make an acquaintance for t’e first time, T’ousantacres, after knowin’ each other for fifty years.”

“Yes, we do know each other for fifty years; and seein’ that them years haven’t sarved to bring us of a mind on any one thing, we should have done better to keep apart, than to come together now.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but in Chainbearer and Thousandacres I see two economic and political philosophies in conflict with one another. And just as the two characters will never see eye to eye, I perceive that Cooper is saying that the two philosophies are also irresolvable.

“I haf come for my poy, squatter -- my nople poy, whom you haf illegally arrestet, and mate a prisoner, in the teet’ of all law and justice. Gif me pack Mortaunt Littlepage, and you’ll soon be rit of my company!”

“And how do you know that I’ve ever seen your ‘Mortaunt Littlepage’? What have I to do with your boy, that you seek him of me? Go your ways, go your ways, old Chainbearer, and let me and mine alone. The world’s wide enough for us both, I tell you; and why should you be set on your own ondoin’, by runnin’ ag’in a breed like that which comes of Aaron and Prudence Timberman?”

“I care not for you or your preet,” answered old Andries sternly. “You’ve daret to arrest my frient, against law and right, and I come to demant his liperty, or to warn you of t’e consequences.”

“Don’t press me too far, Chainbearer, don’t press me too far. There’s desp’rate crittur’s in this clearin’, and them that is’nt to be driven from their righteous ‘arnin’s by any that carry chains or p’int compasses. Go your way, I tell ye, and leave us to gather the harvest that comes of the seed of our own sowin’ and plantin’.”

“Ye’ll gat’er it, ye’ll gat’er it all, T’ousantacres -- you and yours. Ye’ve sown t’e wint, and ye’ll reap t’e whirlwints, as my niece Dus Malpone has reat to me often, of late. Ye’ll gat’er in all your harvest, atres ant all, ye will; and t’at sooner t’an ye t’ink for.”

“I wish I’d never seen the face of the man! Go away, I tell you, Chainbearer, and leave me to my hard ‘arnin’s.”

First Thousandacres claims that the world is wide of enough for both of them -- for both the philosophies they represent -- but then he threatens violence against Chainbearer, perpetrated by his many sons who have been helping him cut lumber. Evidently, the world is not wide enough for them both -- not, at least, when they come in conflict with each other. But here is where the two philosophies really come to the forefront.

“Earnin’s! Do you call it earnin’s to chop and pillage on anot’er’s lants, and to cut his trees into logs, and to saw his logs into poarts, and to sell his poarts to speculators, and gif no account of your profits to t’e rightful owner of it all? Call you such t’ievin’ righteous earnin’s?”

“Thief back ag’in, old measurer! Do not the sweat of the brow, long and hard days of toil, achin’ bones, and hungry bellies, give a man a claim to the fruit of his labors?”

What two philosophies am I talking about? Why, seemingly none other than those perennial bugbears of Capital and Labor, the opposing beliefs that value accrues either to ownership or to effort, and not ever to both.

“T’at always hast peen your failin’, T’ousantacres; t’at’s t’e very p’int on which you’ve proken town, man. You pegin wit’ your morals, at t’e startin’ place t’at’s most convenient to yourself and your plunterin’ crew, insteat of goin’ pack to t’e laws of your Lort and Master. Reat what t’e Almighty Got of Heaven ant ‘art’ sait unto Moses, ant you’ll fint t’at you’ve not turnet over leafs enough of your Piple. You may chop ant you may hew, you may haul ant you may saw, from t’is day to t’e ent of time, and you’ll nefer pe any nearer to t’e right ta’n you are at t’is moment. T’e man t’at starts on his journey wit’ his face in t’e wrong direction, olt T’ousantacres, wilt nefer reach its ent; t’ough he trafel ‘till t’e sweat rolls from his poty like water. You pegin wrong, olt man, and you must ent wrong.”

Irreconcilable. Adopting Chainbearer’s useful metaphor, the two philosophies are not even journeying in the same direction. As Cooper’s own narrative voice will say later:

The man who measured land, and he who took it to himself without measurement, were exactly antagonist forces, in morals and well as in physics; and might be supposed not to regard each other with the most friendly eyes.

And when we realize what these two characters -- Chainbearer and Thousandacres -- represent, then it is an easy matter to determine which philosophy the author wished to put in ascendency over the other. The closing paragraph of the novel, describing old Coejemans’s grave site, seems to say all the is needed on that subject.

I caused to be erected, in the extensive grounds that were laid out around the new dwelling at the Nest, a suitable monument over the grave of Chainbearer. It bore a simple inscription, and one that my children now often read and comment on with pleasure. We all speak of him as “Uncle Chainbearer” to this hour, and his grave is never mentioned on other terms than those of “Uncle Chainbearer’s grave.” Excellent old man! That he was not superior to the failings of human nature, need not be said; but so long as he lived, he lived a proof of how much more respectable and estimable is the man who takes simplicity, and honesty, and principle, and truth for his guide, than he who endeavors to struggle through the world by the aid of falsehood, chicanery, and trick.

A Slam on Democracy?

Cooper published The Chainbearer in 1845, and lived from 1789 to 1851. This means Cooper was alive and writing throughout much of the history I recently read about in that three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson. As such, I believe the following passage from late in The Chainbearer took on a greater significance for me than it otherwise would have.

After all, the strong native intellect of this barbarian [referring to Susquesus] had let him into one of the greatest secrets connected with our social ills. Good laws, badly administered, are no better than an absence of all law, since they only encourage evildoers by the protection they afford through the power conferred on improper agents. Those who have studied the defects of the American system, with a view to ascertain truth, say that the want of a great moving power to set justice in motion lies at the root of its feebleness. According to theory, the public virtue is to constitute this power, but public virtue is never one-half as active as private vice. Crime is only to be put down by the strong hand, and that hand must belong to the public in truth, not in name only; whereas, the individual wronged is fast getting to be the only moving power, and in very many cases local parties are formed, and the rogue goes to the bar sustained by an authority that has quite as much practical control as the law itself. Juries and grand juries are no longer to be relied on, and the bench is slowly, but steadily, losing its influence. When the day shall come -- as some it must, if present tendencies continue -- that verdicts are rendered directly in the teeth of law and evidence, and jurors fancy themselves legislators, then may the just man fancy himself approaching truly evil times, and the patriot begin to despair. It will be the commencement of the rogue’s paradise! Nothing is easier, I am willing to admit, than to over-govern men; but it ought not to be forgotten, that the political vice that comes next in the scale of facility, is to govern them too little.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but the line that practically leapt off the page at me was the one about public virtue constituting the great moving power that can set justice in motion in the American system of government. This is exactly what the Jackson biographer tried to school me in. To borrow a convenient paragraph:

Andrew Jackson was the product of the Revolutionary generation and he absorbed many of its prevailing ideas and beliefs. From colonial days through the Revolution and well into the nineteenth century, Americans believed that those who exercised power were naturally inclined to suppress liberty and that they regularly devised means to limit if not abrogate the rights of the people. They viewed corruption as power’s greatest weapon and virtue as freedom’s greatest defense. The struggle between liberty and power during the colonial era produced the Revolution and ultimately achieved independence from the British empire for the American people. But the dangers to freedom persisted. They persisted as long as power could be concentrated and the operation of government corrupted. The only defense rested upon the virtue of the American people.

The only defense rested upon the virtue of the American people, and that’s what evidently broke down in the administration preceding Andrew Jackson (and some would argue continued under Jackson) and that’s what Cooper seems to be talking about for the rest of his paragraph.

Cooper clearly seems like an advocate for a strong central government -- a Hamiltonian Federalist, in the language of my discussion of political parties and their progressive dance between liberty and power in my blog post. “Crime is only to be put down by the strong hand, and that hand must belong to the public in truth, not in name only.” But his subsequent discussion on the weakening power of the courts and their susceptibility to the wiles of the demagogue provides an interesting window on what he must have seen happening in the early decades of the American republic. It all makes me wonder what Cooper thought of President Andrew Jackson. If he’s worrying about jurors legislating from the jury box, how must he have felt about the President legislating from the White House? Did he want a popular democracy like Jackson evidently did, or was he more in favor of the representative republic the Founders originally designed?

A clue comes earlier in the novel, when Cooper clearly seems to lampoon the inevitable tyranny of the majority in any pure democracy. A vote is to be taken on the denomination of the church that it is raised on one of Littlepage’s upstate properties, a vote of all the tenants currently living there and who would clearly be patronizing the church. With no clear majority winning the vote, the squire and acting magistrate of the estate, begins to eliminate the factions with the fewest votes by having the population vote on which denominations should be included in the following ballot. In this way, essentially forcing the people in the smallest minorities to vote for a denomination not of their choosing, the squire creates an outcome unpopular to the majority.

Such were the facts attending the establishment of the Congregational church in the settlement of Ravensnest, on purely republican principles; the question having been carried unanimously in favor of that denomination, although fifty-two votes out of seventy-eight were pretty evidently opposed to it. But republican principles were properly maintained, and the matter was settled; the people having solemnly decided that they ardently wished for a church that in truth they did not desire at all.

Is Cooper being sarcastic there? Yes, he undoubtedly is, because in the midst of relating this episode, the narrator breaks in with the following paragraph, pretty clearly decrying the growing populism of his times.

I am sorry to say that very mistaken notions of the power of majorities are beginning to take root among us. It is common to hear it asserted, as a political axiom, that the majority must rule! This axiom may be innocent enough, when its application is properly made, which is simply to say that in the control of those interests of which the decision is referred to majorities, majorities must rule; but, God forbid that majorities should ever rule in all things, in this republic or anywhere else! Such a state of things would soon become intolerable, rendering the government that admitted of its existence the most odious tyranny that has been known in Christendom in modern times. The government of this country is the sway of certain great and incontestable principles, that are just in themselves, and which are set forth in the several constitutions, and under which certain minor questions are periodically referred to local majorities, as of necessity, out of the frequency of which appeals has arisen a mistake that is getting to be dangerously general. God forbid, I repeat, that a mere personal majority should assume the power which alone belongs to principles.

Those principles he refers to are clearly the things protected by the Bill of Rights, and Cooper correctly sees, in 1845, the jeopardy those rights would be in if ever subjected to the power of local majorities.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, June 4, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 4

Two weeks ago, in Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 3, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our most recently completed Board meeting. I ended the previous post with a comment that I would reveal in a future post the second decision we had made to help our Board focus their discussion on the strategic implications of our four scenarios at our upcoming Board meeting.

The first decision, as revealed in that previous post, was to prioritize the indicators that defined each of our scenarios so that we didn't need to immediately review or assess them all to understand which of the four possible scenarios our industry was heading towards.

We expect that the second decision will have an even more drastic scope-limiting effect on our future discussion. In making it, we recognize that although our prioritized set of indicators should help us monitor our environment and determine which the four scenarios is likely coming true for our industry, the indicators themselves do nothing to help us decide which of the four scenarios we would like to see come true for our industry. Just because one scenario is most likely, that doesn't mean that is the same scenario that is most preferred.

Remember that our four scenarios were derived by combining the two possible future outcomes of each of our two megatrends in all of their possible configurations. Since each megatrend could result in one future that is positive for our industry and one that is negative, that means that of the four possible scenarios, only one of them would be "super positive" for our industry -- that is, the one in which both of the positive futures of the two megatrends come true.

Here's the chart that illustrates this dynamic with our four scenarios again:

Now, regardless of which of these four scenarios is deemed most likely, is anyone at our Board table going to argue that Scenario A, the one we branded as "Connected Growth", the one in which our industry benefits from both of the selected megatrends -- is anyone going to argue that that isn't the scenario that, if possible, our association should work to help create for our industry?

We don't think so. Therefore, when it comes to discussing the strategic implications of the four scenarios, we believe that it may make sense to first discuss what our organization can or should be doing to serve our members in Scenario A.

This was the second decision we made to help focus our Board's discussion and attention. We will not, as described earlier, develop different strategic action plans for each of the four scenarios, and then wait for the evidence of our indicators to tell us which of those scenarios is coming true and which of our action plans should be activated. Instead, we will intentionally select the scenario that would best serve our industry, and then discuss the actions that our association will take to help make that scenario a reality.

How we frame that discussion will be the subject of my next post in this series.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Millennials Are Lazy?

Here's a rare post on the subject of generations in the workplace.

Recent readers of this blog may not be aware that I cut my blogging teeth on the subject when I hosted (with Jamie Notter) The Hourglass Blog from 2009 to 2012. There, the focus was primarily on Generation X, and our investigative question was primarily on whether and how members of that generation would step into positions of leadership in our society and its organizations as the swelled ranks of Boomers began leaving the workplace.

The Hourglass Blog came to an end for a variety of reasons, but one was clearly how, even in 2012, the focus of all generational conversations in the workplace was increasingly on the Millennials. Indeed, as an Xer myself, I have to admit that I grew a bit frustrated with the never-ending focus on the new slacker generation, especially when questions of leadership of organizations came up. How to deal with those crazy (and lazy) Millennials in the workplace was fair game (to my way of thinking, at least), since they were infiltrating the workforce in greater and greater numbers. But even when questions of leadership came up, the popular conversation seemed to center on whether or not Millenials had (or would ever have) the chops to fill the shoes of all those departing Boomers. As if there wasn't another generation standing between the Boomers and the Millennials that was, in fact, ready to lead -- albeit in a slightly different direction.

Enough. I put that hobby horse to bed in 2012, but now, in 2018, it seems that not much has changed. In a recent business book I read the subject was explored, and again, when it came to searching for people to lead our organizations into the future, the author chose to focus almost entirely on the Millennial generation.

And whenever Millennials are talked about, one particular adjective seems to always be correlated. Lazy. Millennials are lazy.

Are they? I have several Millennials on my small staff of eleven people, and they are far from lazy. In fact, they are among the hardest working people on my team. I have found them to be not just hard-working, but creative, self-starting, ambitious professionals. They want to make a difference for themselves and for the organization they work for. I find myself pulling them back much more frequently than pushing them forward.

So why does this myth of laziness persist? Do older generations still think of Xers as slackers (assuming they think of Xers at all)? That was how Generation X got branded when we first entered the workforce, but I can't imagine that we're still thought of that way. At some point, probably when we starting moving into leadership positions -- that is, when we became bosses instead of an older boss's employee -- the myth of Xers being slackers went away.

Is that what it's going to take for Millennials to lose the reflexive association with laziness? On The Hourglass Blog I wrote a lot about how Generation X was different from Baby Boomers and how those differences would lead to differences in our organizations and our society as Xers moved into leadership positions. I see something similar happening with Millennials.

Are they different from Xers and Boomers? Of course they are. They have a different set of life experiences, and therefore look at things differently and may even define success as something different than their older colleagues. And as they move into positions of leadership, those differences will become more and more normalized. Our organizations will stop viewing Millennials and their sensibilities as the lazy outliers, but rather as the status quo.

And then I personally can't wait to hear what the Millenials think of Generation Z.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy by Robert V. Remini

This is Volume 3 of a three volume biography of Andrew Jackson. I read the first volume in August 2012 and the second volume about five years later. I decided not to let as much time pass before getting through the third volume, and I’m glad I didn’t. Like the first two volumes, each of which held my attention as a result of a deep investigative interest, I found myself on a similar and enjoyable journey in Volume 3.

In Volume 1, the question was “Can I trust this biographer to present an unbiased portrait of Andrew Jackson?” I could. In Volume 2, the question was “Can the history of political parties in the United States be accurately seen as an ongoing struggle between the conflicting desires for liberty and power?” It could. In Volume 3, the question, bluntly put, was “Did Andrew Jackson break the Constitution?”

He did.

Andrew Jackson Was a Hothead

But before I go there, let me deal with something else, something that seems to re-open my investigative interest in the first volume. Namely, can I trust this biographer to present an unbiased portrait of Andrew Jackson?

Again and again in the text, Remini will make mention of Jackson’s notorious temper. And seemingly every time he does, he goes out of his way to stress that Jackson never let this notorious temper affect his judgment or subsequent actions. Here’s an example:

News of the action of the Nullification Convention shot up to Washington and around the country with record speed. The defiance shocked and infuriated the President. As he prowled the corridors of the White House, he uttered all kinds of savage threats, but at no time did he allow his feelings to color his judgment or influence his actions. In moments of crisis he exercised absolute control over his normally volatile emotions.

After a while, these statements began to ring hollow with me. This episode regarding South Carolina’s Nullification Convention is as good an example as any. It seems very much to me like Andrew Jackson is precisely letting his feelings color his judgment and influence his actions. The Nullification “Crisis”, as it is often called, began when South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, declaring the Federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within the borders of South Carolina. When informed of this action by a sympathizing unionist, Remini reports that Jackson was in full agreement with the man, who “reassured the President of the loyalty and dependability of the union men in South Carolina.”

“We would rather die,” he wrote, “than submit to the tyranny of such an oligarchy as J. C. Calhoun, James Hamilton, Robt. Y. Hayne and [George] McDuffie and we implore our sister states and the federal govt. To rescue us from these lawless and reckless men.”

Jackson responded immediately. “I fully concur with you in your views of Nullification. … It leads directly to civil war and bloodshed and deserves the execration of every friend of the country.”

Civil war and bloodshed. And Jackson wasn’t kidding. He had already taken several actions that would make such an outcome possible.

Five hundred stand of muskets, for example, with “corresponding equipments,” had been ordered to Castle Pinckney, and a sloop of war with a smaller vessel had been dispatched to Charleston and would reach the city momentarily. General Winfield Scott had been directed to take command of the entire operation. In addition, the commanding officer at Castle Pinckney would be instructed by the secretary of war to deliver the arms to the unionists in the state. Should circumstances so dictate, additional ordnance would be provided.

Now, Remini stresses that in all of this, Jackson acted carefully within the limits of the law, and then uses that fact to praise him again for his tempered restraint. But that is not the only way to look at Jackson’s actions. Just because he acted within his constitutional powers does not mean that he wasn’t letting his feelings color his judgment and influence his actions. The current President, by way of extreme example, has the constitutional power to order bombing strikes against any nation or actor he perceives as an imminent threat against the United States, but that doesn’t mean that every time he orders such an action he is acting with caution and tempered restraint.

The bigger question, to my way of thinking, is why is the current President dropping bombs, and why is Jackson preparing the federal army for war against one of the nation’s states. After all, isn’t nullification something states in the 1830s were allowed to do?

That’s a deep question, and I’m not sure I know the answer to it. Jackson, clearly, didn’t think so.

“The Union must be preserved,” Jackson reiterated, “and its laws duly executed, but by proper means.” We must act, he went on, as “the instruments of the law.” [His sympathizer] was to tell the unionists “that perpetuity is stamped upon the constitution by the blood of our Fathers.” Nothing could dissolve the Union. Nothing. Constitutional amendment was the process provided to secure needed changes or improve “our system of free Government.” For this reason a state may not secede, much less “hazard” the Union. “Nullification therefore means insurrection and war; and the other states have a right to put it down.”

But it seems clear that, in 1832, the people of South Carolina thought they had the power to nullify federal actions.

Events in South Carolina then began to move at a frightening clip toward confrontation with the federal government and possible civil war. The people of the state seemed to accept the Ordinance of Nullification with no perceptible concern. The union party, though respectable in character, was overwhelmed in the fall elections by an “immense, an almost silencing majority,” completely sympathetic to the nullifiers. Robert Y. Hayne resigned as United States senator and John C. Calhoun resigned as Vice President of the United States. Hayne was elected to succeed James Hamilton, Jr., as governor. A new legislature, composed mainly of nullifiers, elected Calhoun to take Hayne’s seat in the United States Senate and then proceeded to pass the necessary legislation to carry the Ordinance into practical effect.

The rhetoric, indeed, got heated on the South Carolinian side of the debate, but Remini doesn’t go out of his way to point out that, dare I use the term, constitutionalists like John C. Calhoun never let his feelings color his judgment and influence his actions, and that every action he took was in strict accordance with the law and the legitimate powers of his office.

But that, of course, is not how Jackson saw him.

John C. Calhoun: the spoiler, the agitator, the traitor. That was how President Jackson saw the South Carolinian. That was how Jackson’s advisors and closest friends also saw him. They spoke of the former Vice President as “the most wicked and the most despicable of American statesmen.” They reckoned his nullification theory and his conspiracy to disrupt the Union as the consequences of a disappointed ambition. “He strove, schemed, dreamed, lived, only for the presidency,” they contended. And when he failed to attain that office by “honorable means,” he scrambled to rise upon the ruins of his country. That was Jackson’s final judgment of the tormented southerner. He “lived and died in this opinion.” On his deathbed, Jackson expressed his regret that he had not executed Calhoun from treason. “My country,” he said, “would have sustained me in the act, and his fate would have been a warning to traitors in all time to come.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. There is another explanation for Calhoun’s actions, and for the actions of the majority of the voters in South Carolina, who clearly thought they were well within their rights to elect their own representatives who would, when necessary, nullify federal actions. That explanation is that the United States of America were, at that time, properly understood as a confederation of sovereign states, who created a federal government for their mutual benefit that was subservient, not ascendant, to their sovereignty.

Andrew Jackson had a different set of ideas, ideas that were quite revolutionary in 1832 but which most take for granted today. Including, clearly, his biographer Remini. His text is written through the anachronistic lens of today’s understanding of the American nation. Jackson assumed many of the modern powers of the president and the federal government, but those in Jackson’s time who opposed those assumed powers are not properly viewed as rebels or traitors. Jackson did. And, to a certain extent, Remini appears to as well. But as I read the words and represented thoughts of President Jackson on the page, I can’t help but think that he, far from being motivated by a reasoned and dispassionate view of the constitution, was much more swayed by a new understanding of himself as the sole representative of the American people.

Andrew Jackson Is the Will of the People

Very early in the volume, on page 16 no less, Remini clearly lays out both Jackson’s understanding of the American nation and, surprisingly, admits that it is flawed. In the context of the possible secession of states from the Union, he writes:

Andrew Jackson had an absolutely clear conception of his position on this question. It was simple, direct, and logical. It may not have been historically accurate, but he sincerely believed it to be so. Most important, it proceeded from his commitment to democratic principles. The federal government, he said, was “based on a confederation of perpetual union” by an act of the people. A state may never secede, and that was final. Moreover, the people, not the states, granted sovereignty to the federal government through the Constitution. They called the Union into existence, they created the federal government, and they granted federal power. These actions, he insisted, were taken by the people at conventions that ratified the Constitution. And in ratifying the Constitution the people automatically amended their state constitutions to accord with the new arrangement.

This understanding, to use Remini’s own words, is historically inaccurate. It was contested vigorously in Jackson’s time, not because his opponents were disloyal to the Union, but because what Jackson was championing was not part of the Union that they understood. And, when challenged, what evidence did Jackson offer to defend his radical views. Again, Remini provides the relevant phrase. None. He just sincerely believed them to be so.

Remini heaps praise on Jackson for his proclamation in response to the Nullification Crisis, calling it “a major statement in constitutional law,” and Jackson “a statesman of the first rank.” But little in it rests on any precedent other than Jackson’s invented understanding of the U.S. government.

The people of the United States, Jackson went on, formed the Constitution, acting through their respective states. “We are one people in the choice of President and Vice President.” The people, he declared, not the states, are represented in the executive branch.

The electoral college, appointed by state legislatures, be damned, I guess.

This assertion culminated Jackson’s efforts to redefine the presidency and the relation of the American people to their government. It was another appeal for recognition that it was the presidential office -- not the legislature, no matter what Webster or Clay or Calhoun argued -- that embodies all the people. The President is the representative of the American electorate and directly responsible to them. By his actions and words he articulates and executes their will.

This “assertion” culminated Jackson’s efforts to “redefine” the presidency and the relation of the American people to their government. The italicized words are crucially important to my point of view. This was an assertion, not a constitutional argument, and Jackson was attempting to redefine, not support the existing definition of the American president.

Many in his inner circle publicly agreed with him, but privately staked out lines of dispute and uncertainty.

Martin Van Buren quite agreed with the President’s argument as well as the position he had taken, but he questioned whether the mere passage of nullification laws constituted an act of treason that would authorize presidential action. “You will say I am on my old track -- caution -- caution,” Van Buren counseled; “but my Dr Sir, I have always thought, that considering our respective temperaments, there was no way perhaps in which I could better render you that service which I owe you.” What Van Buren did not fully appreciate was that Jackson allowed his words to freight his emotional intensity; his actions carried nothing but restraint.

That last line is priceless. Essentially, what Remini wants me to believe is that Martin Van Buren, living at the same time and working in close consultation with Andrew Jackson, did not realize what his biographer, reading 150-year-old scraps of paper, clearly understood. Andrew Jackson was a hothead.

Meanwhile, ugly signs mushroomed all over Charleston. Palmetto cockades were sported on hats and lapels, and it was reported that volunteer regiments of nullifiers adopted a red flag with a black lone star in the center as its ensign. The American flag appeared on public and private buildings and on steamboats flying upside down. (When Jackson heard about the steamboats he burst out in a stream of expletives. “For this indignity to the flag of the country,” he reputedly said, “she ought to have been instantly sunk, no matter who owned or commanded her.”) General Winfield Scott, in charge of military preparations, reportedly wrote to the secretary of war “saying that blood would be shed and that he did not believe any thing could prevent it.”

No. Not, I suppose, with such a bloviating president in the White House, one taken to bursting out in streams of expletives.

But why? It’s fun to pick these holes in Remini’s supposedly objective account, but the larger and more important question is why did Jackson take this view, this view that the president alone represents the will of the American people. Why was it so important to him? Well, to understand that, I think you have to first recognize that is was not the president, per se, that Jackson believed represented the will of the people. It was Jackson himself.

Remini will not agree with me on this subject. He sees Jackson as a “statesman of the first rank,” someone whose motivations are noble, whose actions are premeditated and prescient.

President Jackson marks an important break with the past. He is the first and only statesman of the early national period to deny publicly the right of secession. Secession was a doctrine no longer in keeping with a democratic society, no longer congenial to the idea of “a Federal Union founded upon the great principle of popular representation.” Whether at some point in time it had any validity no longer mattered. It was a dead issue as far as Old Hickory was concerned, annihilated by the historical evolution of a democratic society.

Jackson, in this telling, and despite being “the first and only statesman of the early national period to deny publicly the right of secession,” is, like most pivotal historical figures, representative of a new wave of cultural and socio-economic forces. He argued that America “had been formed by the sovereignty of the people, not the sovereignty of the states. It was not a confederation, not a banding together of individual states, but a permanent welding of the people.”

Thus, by his words and deeds, Jackson continued to recast attitudes and perceptions of this nation and its operation. Republicanism was giving way to democracy, and Andrew Jackson was an important instrument in that change. Republicanism, with its emphasis on liberty, preached the need for strong states as a counterweight to the central government, but by the mid-1830s that philosophy could not accommodate the dynamics of an emerging industrial society. Protecting freedom in the modern world required a strong national government. Besides, the way to minimize the danger to individual rights was to fashion a government elected by all the people. In short, majority rule best protected freedom -- not the states, and certainly not a hobbled or enfeebled central government.

It’s often difficult to tell, like in these last few sentences, whether Remini in speaking in his own voice, or only paraphrasing the views and perspective of his subject. But either way, they strike me more as assertions than arguments. If there is some evidence that a strong national government is needed to minimize the danger to individual rights, in either Jackson’s or the more modern world, I would like to be presented with it. And the idea that popular elections are the best way to protect the rights of the individual is almost laughable.

Again and again, Remini will comment on how Jackson, in assuming more power for president, was doing it not for his own selfish reasons, but as the embodiment of some great cultural change taking place in American society. Here’s another example:

Jackson was the first President to hit the problem head on. He believed that all officials of the executive office fell totally and completely under his authority. They were to obey him, not the Congress. Here again Jackson established a new dimension of presidential power. He assumed total authority to remove all cabinet officers without notifying Congress, much less obtaining its consent. Today the power seems obvious. Not so in the early nineteenth century -- not until Jackson decided it once and for all.

And why did Jackson do this? To satisfy his own ego and secure his own authority? No.

This was another example of the small but important actions Jackson took that added to the power of the presidential office. His success in undermining the equal but separate doctrine of the Founding Fathers and tilting power more toward the executive was the result of the changes that had taken place in the American system of government and American society since the beginning of the century. An expanding economy had produced a rising democracy and, as a consequence, the American electorate demanded a greater say in the operation of the government. Since Jackson had become their spokesman and symbol, they were quite prepared to accept him as their representative at the seat of government. What was happening, therefore, was something that everyone sensed and accepted, even if they could not describe or define it, namely, the slow, continuing evolution of the nation from a republic to a democracy. Jackson by his conduct as President and his relations to the American people was asserting his role as the tribune of the people. And the electorate genuinely saw him as their representative. Their will was now being exercised through him, not through the legislature as was true in the past. The government had always been based on consent, right from the beginning of the American experiment, but consent was indirectly given through the legislature. Now, under Jackson, it was being expressed through the executive in a very direct manner.

Andrew Jackson, in other words, is not just the President of the United States. He is the will of the people.

Andrew Jackson Broke the Constitution

But is Remini right? Was “the electorate” “quite prepared to accept him as their representative at the seat of government”? Was this something that “everyone sensed and accepted”?

On May 6, 1833, President Andrew Jackson, accompanied by some members of his cabinet and Major Donelson, embarked on the steamboat Cygnet for Fredericksburg, Virginia, where the President was scheduled to lay the cornerstone of a monument in honor of the mother of George Washington. Then it happened. At Alexandria, where the steamboat made berth, Jackson retired to a cabin and had seated himself in a chair wedged between a long table (being set for dinner) and a berth. … Jackson was reading a newspaper and smoking his pipe with his right elbow on the berth and his left arm resting on the table. … “Thus confined, and thus situated,” he was interrupted by Robert B. Randolph, a former lieutenant in the navy, who had been dismissed for theft at Jackson’s specific direction. “In a plain & supplicating tone,” Randolph inquired if Jackson was the President. Old Hickory looked up from his newspaper and answered affirmatively. “Excuse my rising, sir,” he said. “I have a pain in my side which makes it distressing for me to rise.”

Randolph said nothing but pressed forward … pulling off the glove on his right hand as he moved. “Believing that he had a wish to shake hands with me, which is so common,” Jackson later recounted, “I said to him, do not draw your glove.”

“You have injured me,” Randolph responded “in a soft tone” of voice.

“How?” asked the President.

And with that, Randolph “dashed his hand” into Jackson’s face.

“What Sir. What Sir,” cried the President.

Randolph attempted to strike again but [a companion of Jackson’s] seized him and pulled him away. A scuffle ensued and the table was overturned. Several of Randolph’s friends, who had accompanied him aboard the vessel, grabbed him and rushed him off the boat. Poor Jackson had been so trapped behind the table that he could not rise with ease, nor seize his cane in time to defend himself. “Had I been apprised that Randolph stood before me,” he said, “I should have been prepared for him, and I could have defended myself. No villain has ever escaped me before; and he would not, had it not been for my confined situation.”

Evidently not. At least in the case of Robert B. Randolph, Jackson’s usurpation of power prompted him not to accept Jackson as his representative at the seat of government, but to find the president and punch the miscreant in the nose.

That, of course, is not the way Remini views it. In commenting on this first-ever physical attack on a sitting president, Remini makes two observations.

That Andrew Jackson should be the first President to be criminally assaulted is very suggestive. For one thing it says something about Jackson himself, the kind of man he was and the emotional passions he aroused in some people. But for another, and far more important, it says something about the age. It was a sign -- one ugly and frightening -- that the country was undergoing disturbing changes in its character, mood, and behavior. In forty and more years of the presidency, nothing like this had happened before. Regrettably, assaulting Presidents became a terrible fact of American life. And the thing that Jackson dreaded the most came about, namely the necessity of placing “a military guard around the President.”

Was Randolph a man with a grudge? Probably. But in googling him I found an interesting letter from Randolph to ex-President James Madison, seeking Madison’s assistance in restoring his reputation and career, and dated a fortnight before the attack on May 6. In that letter we find the following sentences.

“I consider the administration of Andrew Jackson as subversive of constiutional liberty at least; and utterly guided by feeling and passion; and altho my degredation and ruin have been long ago plotted by his malicious, invidious and utterly dishonest official subalterns, it has been his pride to connive at it all, and to make me the victim of their base and heartless injustice.”

Remini blames the attack, at least in part, to the increasing coarseness of American society -- which sounds suspiciously to me like the clarion call of some modern-day conservatives. (Clearly criminals are motivated by base and evil desires. What other explanation could there be?) And although Remini allows that perhaps Jackson’s tendency to arouse “emotional passions” in “some people” may be a complicating factor, there is no mention of what it is that Jackson does to arouse those passions. In this respect, I think the words of Randolph’s correspondence to Madison are relevant. Not only did Randolph think that the administration of Andrew Jackson was “subversive of constiutional (sic) liberty,” he ascribed those actions not to “absolute control over his normally volatile emotions,” but rather saw them as “utterly guided by feeling and passion.”

Remini will offer this same perspective when dealing with the episode of an actual assassination attempt on President Jackson -- again the first in U.S. history.

It was the first time a President had been attacked with intent to kill. Unhappily, it was also another sign that something powerful and frightening was operating in the country and which was changing its character and mood. The nation had come through forty years without such an experience. Six Presidents had administered the country during periods of stress and calm, through war and peace. Still nothing like this had ever happened before. Never had an American citizen dared to approach the chief executive and attempt to alter the course of history by pointing a loaded pistol at him and firing it.

Again, short mention of Jackson’s “forceful personality,” and then a long discussion of the changing socioeconomic strata of the country.

No doubt the forceful personality of Jackson did indeed attract lunatics everywhere. But as some suspected at the time, a deeper and more troublesome factor may have been involved. American society itself was undoubtedly at fault. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century the American way of life had changed dramatically -- sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The industrial revolution, the transportation revolution, the increased migration westward, the steady rise of the standard of living, the increased momentum in the democratization of political institutions, and the social and economic mobility that visitors instantly noticed -- all these had produced marvelous improvements in the quality of life in America. But they also produced hideous side effects. Poverty, urban crime and violence, blatant and vulgar materialism, the disparity of wealth and privilege spawned by the industrial revolution, racial and religious bigotry -- there, too, increased. Social conditions fell to such a depth that reform movements had already begun. These were organized attempts to change and better American society, to extirpate materialism, to raise the quality of education, to advance the rights of women, to free the slaves, to ameliorate working conditions, to improve penal and mental institutions, and to establish temperance as a national virtue. The assassination attempt, therefore, was only one more indication that something was terribly amiss with American life and needed attention and healing. It was “a sign of the times,” editorialize the New York Evening Post on February 4, 1835.

The would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, whose pistol misfired twice at the public funeral of Representative Warren R. Davis of South Carolina, was, as Remini mentions, thought to be insane. If so, that would seem, from my point of view, undercut the socioeconomic argument Remini is otherwise making. (Unless, of course, he wants to add a rise in insanity to his list of societal effects.) But reading the account, I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t more than one lunatic at the funeral that day.

Immediately after the attempted assassination, there was a general rush to get the President to safety. “Boiling with rage,” the General kept trying to club the young man but was finally hustled to a carriage and sped to the White House. Once away from the rotunda, Jackson quickly regained his composure. He acted as though nothing had happened. Indeed, his outward calm in moments of crisis always amazed his friends. Martin Van Buren, who followed him to the White House and expected to witness an outpouring of Jacksonian wrath, was stupefied to find Old Hickory “sitting with one of Major Donelson’s children on his lap and conversing with General Scott, himself apparently the least disturbed person in the room.” Outside the White House a sudden thunderstorm broke, booming and raging and threatening; inside the house an old man quietly played with a child and shrugged off the seriousness of what had happened to him.

Excuse me. In the moment of crisis, Jackson was not showing outward calm. In the moment of crisis, he was trying to club the young man with his cane. Imagine the scene. Old Hickory -- sixty-eight years old with his shock of white hair and flaming eyes -- savagely swinging his cane like a cudgel, while a group of younger men sought to restrain and remove him from the scene. It was only after the crisis had passed, in the calm seclusion of his executive mansion, did the schizophrenic-in-chief show the outward calm he was evidently so selectively famous for. There is a reason, I contend, that Martin Van Buren was “stupefied” to find Jackson not boiling with rage, and it isn’t because the President was skilled at mastering his emotions.

And then, there is the judgment of the other statesmen of his day.

To men like Clay, Webster, Adams, Calhoun, and others, Andrew Jackson represented in American government the same sort of arbitrary authority that was associated in Britain with the crown. In their minds, Jackson presumed monarchical powers, powers that were unconstitutional and abhorrent to the American experiment in liberty.

I don’t see how Remini can escape this conclusion himself. And to be fair, he doesn’t escape it. There are times, in fact, when he states it quite clearly. But whenever he does, he seems to excuse it, appealing to a kind of progressive reading of history that verges on the same excesses as Manifest Destiny.

Jackson’s constitutional views proved untenable, but they were genuinely democratic. What he did, of course, was further subvert the doctrines of republicanism. Central to the constitutional system was the notion of checks and balances, but Jackson made a shambles of that notion by insisting on his primacy as President in interpreting and executing the law because he -- and he alone -- represented the people. Andrew Jackson was the great advocate of democracy. Majoritarian rule was the only thing that mattered in his thinking about the operation of government. But the democracy he practiced reduced to near ruin the kind of republic conceived by the Founding Fathers. He tilted the tripartite system in favor of the executive. In circumventing the Supreme Court, in thwarting the will of Congress and insisting on his right to direct legislation, and in riding roughshod over the claim of any state to assert its sovereignty against the collective rights of the nation, he shaped the constitutional system into something more appropriate to a modern, democratic state, which requires strong executive leadership.

In other words, Andrew Jackson broke the Constitution. But that’s okay, because it needed to be broken so we could be the great democratic country we were meant to be.

Final Thought

To be fair, Remini does not heap mindless praise on Jackson, and appropriately calls out his crimes and flaws when it is necessary to do so. But in his preface, Remini seems to offer this absolution to his biographical subject.

However, what needs to be taken into account in any final evaluation of General Jackson is that he loved the Union with a passion and that he sought to preserve it from those who would deliberately or unwittingly destroy it.

After delving deeply into this three-volume biography of the man, I’m left with the decided opinion that it was Andrew Jackson, not his political enemies, who deliberately or unwittingly destroyed the Union he supposedly loved so passionately.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, May 21, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 3

Four weeks ago, in Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 2, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our most recently completed Board meeting. I ended the previous post with a comment that we needed to resolve some unexpected problems with the structure of the exercise as we prepared to complete it at our upcoming meeting in June 2018.

One problem was the number of indicators we had created to describe our four scenarios, and the methodology that we would use to assess them and determine which of the scenarios, if any, were coming true for our industry. As my Board chair and I have worked to prepare the agenda for our upcoming meeting we've made a couple of decisions that, even if they don't solve that problem, will at least kick it further down the road.

Our first decision was to prioritize the indicators. This seemed like an obvious choice once we dug into the content of the indicators and examined them from the perspective that we would be using them to help us determine which future scenario was coming true. The way they are written, it seems clear that some will have more predictive power today and others won't achieve predictive power until much later.

Here's an example, using the indicators we have developed to predict a future in which our industry benefits from our technology integrating successfully with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. These are the indicators, in the order they were originally created:

1. IoT Products: The growth of fluid power products with IoT connectivity has kept up with or outpaced that of competing technologies.
2. New Applications: As a result of its integration with IoT technologies, fluid power has entered new applications and markets.
3. OEM Demand: OEMs have driven increased demand for fluid power products with embedded IoT technologies.
4. Workforce: Fluid power companies have increased their investment in the IoT skill sets of their workforce.
5. IoT R&D: Fluid power companies have increased their R&D budgets related to IoT technologies.
6. Standards: There are international standards that support the use of IoT technologies in fluid power products.
7. IoT Platforms: Major fluid power players have developed full IoT platforms and are offering subscription sales to those platforms.
8. NFPA Membership: IoT technology providers are engaged as members of NFPA.
9. IoT Retrofit Kits: IoT retrofit kits are available and in use by the fluid power industry.
10. Non-IoT Equipment: As a result of its integration with IoT technologies, non-IoT enabled equipment that is reliant on fluid power has been retired.

Reading carefully through that list seems to make it clear that indicators like #3, #4 and #5 have to come true before any of the other ones will. If OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers, i.e., customers, from the point of view of our members) aren't increasing their demand for fluid power products with embedded IoT technologies, then why would fluid power companies increase either their workforce investments or R&D budgets in favor of those developments? And if fluid power companies don't make those investments, how could indicators like #1 or #7 come true? They're going to launch IoT-enabled products and platforms without investing in the necessary research or workforce talent?

Using logical inferences like this, we were able to sort our original list of IoT indicators into the following three broad categories:

3. OEM Demand: OEMs have driven increased demand for fluid power products with embedded IoT technologies.
5. IoT R&D: Fluid power companies have increased their R&D budgets related to IoT technologies.
4. Workforce: Fluid power companies have increased their investment in the IoT skill sets of their workforce.

8. NFPA Membership: IoT technology providers are engaged as members of NFPA.
6. Standards: There are international standards that support the use of IoT technologies in fluid power products.
9. IoT Retrofit Kits: IoT retrofit kits are available and in use by the fluid power industry.

7. IoT Platforms: Major fluid power players have developed full IoT platforms and are offering subscription sales to those platforms.
1. IoT Products: The growth of fluid power products with IoT connectivity has kept up with or outpaced that of competing technologies.
2. New Applications: As a result of its integration with IoT technologies, fluid power has entered new applications and markets.
10. Non-IoT Equipment: As a result of its integration with IoT technologies, non-IoT enabled equipment that is reliant on fluid power has been retired.

Remember that the context of this exercise has us looking five years into the future. As such, we should be able to say that indicators labelled above as “EARLY” will have more predictive power in the early stages of the next five years, those labelled “MIDDLE” will have more predictive power in the middle stages, and those labelled “LATE” will have more predictive power in the late stages.

And this should give us better guidance for what signs to look for in the marketplace to help us understand which possible scenario is coming true. Rather than looking at all ten of these issues, today, the most important thing to determine is if our EARLY indicators are true.

That's one decision we made to help us focus our discussion at our upcoming Board meeting. I'll reveal and describe the second in a future post.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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