Sunday, September 16, 2018

A More Pefect Union


“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

In the preamble, or the reason for its existence, the founders stated that the Constitution was designed and intended to form “a more perfect Union.”

What is the meaning of the word “Union” in this first phrase of the preamble?

How is the Union so formed “more perfect”?

With it as our guide, can we yet bring about an even “more perfect Union”?

Reflecting back, no doubt, the Constitution formed a better union that the Articles of Confederation. It also represented a better union than that offered to the American colonies by the King and Parliament of Great Britain. But, unlike any government ever before formed in history, the Constitution established a republic - based on liberty, equality, and natural rights.

As Lady Margaret Thatcher said when she spoke at Brigham Young University, “America, my friends, is the only country in the world actually founded on liberty— the only one. People went to America to be free. The Founding Fathers journeyed to this country across the perilous seas … to perpetuate freedom and justice more widely…. They believed, each and every one of them, in the sanctity of the individual … Those Pilgrim fathers came with the faith that infused the whole nation. Yours is the only nation founded on liberty.”[1]

When George Washington decided to step down from the Presidency near the end of his second term in office, he wrote his Farewell Address (1796). In this timeless Address to the American People – intended as his parting counsel to all citizens, both of his time, and future generations – Washington said, “Your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.” In other words, if we love liberty, we must also love and preserve the Union.

We might all agree that at no time in the history of our nation was the Union and the Constitution ever subjected to a greater test than during the Civil War. Our country was divided – literally, both ideologically and politically: North and South; States’ rights versus national unity; and human equality versus human subjection and slavery. Before the secession of South Carolina from the Union, before the guns were fired at Fort Sumter, before the first Battle of Manassas, a young man, born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana and Illinois, quietly read, studied and improved his knowledge of the American founding, growing both in his admiration for Washington and Jefferson, and for the Union and the Constitution. As he rose to prominence, first in his community, then in his home state of Illinois, this country lawyer and “rail splitter,” Abraham Lincoln, soon entered the national stage. Winning an unpredictable victory as the Republican Party’s candidate for the office of President of the United States, Lincoln was elected in November of 1860 with a nation already deeply fractured. Southern secession began the next month, and the War between the States commenced within six months. Scholars may debate the causes of the war, analyze its battles, and examine its effects, but one thing is clear – the Union once divided was restored, the Constitution was preserved, and the equality of all men was enshrined in the 13th Amendment. What motivated Lincoln to persevere and lead our nation through this tremendous ordeal?

He said: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”[2]  Lincoln felt deeply that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times …”[3]   I submit that it is the Declaration of Independence – and specifically its principles – that enabled Lincoln and our Union to withstand this great test. It is the foundation upon which the Constitution was built, and the only foundation upon which it will survive.

Concerning the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, Lincoln wrote the following meditation on Proverbs 25:11 (which was discovered in his personal papers after his death) – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

“[The prosperity of the United States] is not the result of accident. It has a philosophic cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of "Liberty to all" -- the principle that clears the path for all -- gives hope to all -- and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government and consequent prosperity. The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word "fitly spoken" which has proven an "apple of gold" to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple -- not the apple for the picture."[4]

Simply restated, “the Constitution was made, not to conceal, or destroy the Declaration; but to adorn and preserve it. The Constitution was made for the Declaration -- not the Declaration for the Constitution.”

The basic principles of the Declaration of Independence are not law, but they are America’s soul. Without these principles the Constitution has no lasting meaning -- and devoid of such principles, the Constitution and the Union will eventually fail in their grand purposes – the preservation of liberty and the equal rights of man.

Reflect and ponder for a moment on these self-evident truths of the Declaration, which begin with these words, “When in the Course of Human Events”...

"The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" -- are the foundation of the political principles of American independence. As set forth in the writings of Locke & Sidney, it means that nature has inherent laws by which each individual has a conscience, accountability for one’s actions, and a duty to not harm others or their property.

“We hold these truths to be self evident” -- confirms that there are certain truths that all people are bound to acknowledge, such as the equality of the rights of man, including the right to govern his life and property. “…that all men are created equal" -- As Locke wrote, “…all men by Nature are equal… being that equal Right that every Man hath, to his natural Freedom, without being subjected to the Will or Authority of any other Man."[5]  We are all equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal in our natural rights, and equal before the law.

“…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -- A religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and the vast majority of American colonists believed in God, the Bible, and in the creation of man. Two years before drafting the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1774: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”[6]   

And finally, “…the consent of the governed” -- Governments are properly the result of the choice of the governed. As John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 2, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government; and it is equally undeniable that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede [or delegate] to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” “We the people” are sovereign and all proper governmental power is delegated power.

In conclusion, Lincoln ended his meditation with this admonition, “So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, bruised or broken. That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.”[7]  May we all be vigilant in our love of, and loyalty to, the Union and to the Constitution, the picture of silver, and to the Declaration of Independence and its principles, the apple of gold; and may we study, act, and understand the points of danger. In so doing, I am confident that we will yet forge a “more perfect Union.”
__________________________________

1. “The Moral Challenges for the Next Century” BYU, March 5, 1996.
2. Speech at Independence Hall, February 21, 1860, American Patriotism, S. Hobart Peabody, ed. (American Book 3. Exchange, New York, 1880), p. 507.
3. Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), 3:375-76 (“Works”)
4. Id., 4:168 [Italics in orginial].
5. Second Treatise on Government (Chapter 6, sec. 54)
6. Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:211.
7. Works, 4:168.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Remarkable Dream of Benjamin Rush

Although Thomas Jefferson had served closely with John Adams during the Revolution, he later became one of his chief political rivals during the first administration of President George Washington. Accumulated political quarrels and disputes between them had eventually embittered Adams and alienated Jefferson, resulting in a lengthy estrangement of over ten years with no contact or communication. This lingering chasm troubled their mutual friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration who had labored with them during the Revolution and had remained close to both men. In the midst of his deep concerns over the fractured relationship between Adams and Jefferson, one night several months after Jefferson’s retirement from the Presidency in 1809, Dr. Rush had a dream about the two which he felt contained a prophetic message. On October 17, 1809, he wrote down an account of that dream and sent it to John Adams. In describing that dream, he related what he had seen:

To John Adams from Benjamin Rush, 17 October 1809
Philadelphia

My dear friend

…What book is that in your hands said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream? “It is the history of the United States sir said he. Shall I read a page of it to you”—? “no, no said I—I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the old & new testaments.” “But Sir—said my Son, this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then said I.” I read it with great pleasure, and herewith send you a copy of it.

1809 “Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship & intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their Ardent Attachment to their Country and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other, and became personal, as well as political friends. They met in England during the War while each of them held commissions of honor & trust at two of the first Courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties & success of their respective negotiations. A difference of opinion upon the Objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause, threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800, and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his Stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his Seat at Quincy where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits surrounded by an amiable family and a few Old and Affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United states in the year 1808 sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his Seat at Monticello in Virginia where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new System of husbandry. In the month of November 1809 Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his Old friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his Welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter, and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years, in which they mutually reviewed the Scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of Opinion & conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same stations in the Service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of Observation, experience, & profound reflection it is said are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped, the World will be favored with a sight of them, when they can neither injure nor displease any persons or families whose ancestor’s follies or crimes were mentioned in them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years, and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them) and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added, that they were Rival friends.”

— With affectionate regard to your fire side in which all my family join I am Dr: Sir your / sincere Old friend
Benjamin Rush

Over a month passed, and Adams replied to Dr. Rush.

From John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 21 December 1809 
Quincy

My dear Sir,—

I thank you for the pleasing account of your Family in your favor of the 5th. As I take a lively interest in their Prosperity and Felicity, your relation of it gave me great Pleasure. We have Letters from our Colony navigating the Baltic, dated at Christians and. They had been so far as prosperous, healthy and happy as such Traveler’s could expect to be… I really do not know whether I do not envy your City of Philadelphia for its Reputation for Science, Arts and Letters and especially its Medical Professor. I know not either whether I do not envy you your Genius and Imagination. Why have not I some Fancy? some Invention? some Ingenuity? some discursive Faculty? Why has all my Life been consumed in searching for Facts and Principles and Proofs and Reasons to support them? Your Dreams and Fables have more Genius in them than all my Life…

But my Friend there is something very serious in this Business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth…There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it… 

Your Prophecy my dear Friend has not become History as yet. I have no Resentment or Animosity against the Gentleman [Jefferson] and abhor the Idea of blackening his Character or transmitting him in odious Colors to Posterity. But I write with difficulty and am afraid of diffusing myself in too many Correspondences. If I should receive a Letter from him however I should not fail to acknowledge and answer it...

I am Dear Sir with every friendly sentiment yours
John Adams

More time passed. Early in 1811, Dr. Rush advised Jefferson of his ardent wish that “a friendly and epistolary intercourse might be revived” between the two men, expressing his firm belief that “an Advance on your Side will be a Cordial to the heart of Mr. Adams.” Yet all of these initiatives bore no fruit.

In the summer of 1811, however, Jefferson’s neighbors Edward Coles and John Coles visited John Adams in Quincy, and Adams stated to them that, “I always loved Jefferson, and still love him.” After these words reached Jefferson, he was moved, and on December 5, 1811 he wrote to Rush about the continued warmth and depth of his feelings for his old friend Adams. Sensing an opportunity, Dr. Rush soon passed the pertinent passages from Jefferson’s letter along to Adams. An olive branch having been extended, Rush implored Adams to write to Jefferson and for the two men to “embrace each other! Bedew your letters of reconciliation with tears of affection and joy. Bury in silence all the causes of your separation. Recollect that explanations may be proper between lovers but are never so between divided friends.”

Adams took the first step and wrote to Jefferson on January 1, 1812, concluding "I wish you Sir many happy New years and that you may enter the next and many Succeeding years with as animating Prospects for the Public as those at present before us. I am Sir with a long and Sincere Esteem your Friend and Servant." Jefferson replied with a gracious letter to Adams on January 21st, in which he wrote "A letter from you calls up recollections very dear to my mind. It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties & dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government." Much to Dr. Rush's delight, thus began a cordial renewing of a warm and sincere friendship between his former friends. Jefferson and Adams' subsequent correspondence reestablished one of the most celebrated intellectual dialogues and literary conversations in American history. Their letters fill a volume and spanned fourteen years, embracing the subjects of government, liberty, religion, philosophy, agriculture, and family griefs and joys, etc. And, as described in Dr. Rush’s dream, Adams and Jefferson both “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time” -- on the exact same day – the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.

See: "The Adams-Jefferson Letters" http://wjmi.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-adams-jefferson-letters.html
_______________________________
Reference: Lyman H. Butterfield, “The Dream of Benjamin Rush: The Reconciliation of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” Yale Review 40, 1950). [Quoted in the United States National Archives online: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-04-02-0296-0001].

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Liberty, Responsibility, and Character in Plutarch's "Parallel Lives"

From the Online Library of Liberty:

"The concise biographies of famous Greek and Roman men (Parallel Lives) written by the Greek philosopher and priest Plutarch under the early Roman Empire are true classics in the literature of Western civilization. Following the Renaissance’s rediscovery of ancient Greek literature, his Parallel Lives inspired leading authors and thinkers. Montaigne, Shakespeare, Dryden, Rousseau, and Emerson––all were avid readers of Plutarch. The public loved Plutarch, too: from the founding of this country until well into the nineteenth century, a translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives was the second most likely book to be found in American homes, following only the Bible. Plutarch’s biographies were regarded as essential reading for young people because they revealed in dramatic fashion just how much character mattered in moral choices.

Plutarch writes biographies focused on individual character, not the details of history. Therefore, he explores his subjects’ characters and their responses as free and responsible individuals to moral challenges, whether posed by small things or momentous events. Plutarch concentrates on crucial moments in their lives at which they face difficult decisions. When right and wrong are not obvious in these situations, Plutarch is not reluctant to judge his subjects, but in the end he expects his readers to shoulder the task of evaluating the wisdom of the choices his subjects make. Plutarch’s goal in his biographies is to present readers with examples of conduct to imitate and to avoid in their own lives. Plutarch’s Parallel Lives therefore has important insights into liberty and responsibility. These qualities combine to make the Parallel Lives a worthy candidate for [study and discussion] by high school teachers [and their students], who daily face issues of character and morality and thus can bring some important insights into these texts.

I: Alcibiades and Athenian Democracy. ...As Plutarch reveals, Alcibiades of Athens was an individual whose great talents and advantages in life were matched by his desire and ambition. His aristocratic birth, his wealth, his brilliance, and his freedom of action in Athens’s democratic society and politics gave him both a high level of individual liberty and of personal responsibility for the fate of his homeland. He could have led Athens to victory in the Peloponnesian War in defense of its independence and imperial power, but instead he fled into exile when attacked politically and gave strategic and tactical advice to the Spartans, gravely damaging Athenian prospects in the war. This ...raise[s] issues of the intersection of private conduct and public leadership in Alcibiades’ career, especially in the context of ancient Athenian democracy and the contested issue of whether it privileged equality at the expense of liberty. Finally, ...consider whether a commitment to individual liberty can ever justify betrayal of one’s homeland.

II: Coriolanus and the Roman Republic. ...As in the case of Alcibiades, he was, as Plutarch shows, a man of tremendous talent and equally powerful ambition. ...[C]onsider what went wrong in his career and where responsibility lies for his failure at Rome. He was a citizen with the social rank to enjoy individual liberty in early Republican Rome, yet he betrayed his country in war. Did he fail to balance his liberty with a concomitant sense of responsibility? Plutarch offers judgments in his short comparison of Alcibiades and Coriolanus...

III: Alexander: Conqueror or Liberator? The biography of Alexander the Great opens with our best surviving description of Alexander’s youth and the formation of his character. Plutarch narrates Alexander’s tortured relationship with his father, king Philip of Macedon, and his mother, the foreign Queen Olympias, the formation of his character as a youth, the tumultuous events surrounding his father's assassination, and his violent accession to the kingship of Macedon and the hegemony over Greece. Plutarch paints a fascinating and evocative picture of a young man nurtured by conflicting forces: the violent, hard-drinking machismo of Macedonian society and the intellectual aspirations instilled by history’s most distinguished tutor, Aristotle.  ...[C]onsider what effects Alexander’s upbringing had on his astonishing career as a conqueror and diffuser of Greek civilization in the territories of the former Persian Empire.

IV: The Personality and Politics of Julius Caesar. Plutarch shows Caesar yearning to equal Alexander’s fame and struggling to gain power in the violent politics of the disintegrating Roman Republic. Like the other men whose biographies we are reading, Caesar must wrestle with the issue of how to balance his desire for personal glory with his responsibility to his community. ...[W]hy does Caesar [become] so wildly popular at Rome and also why he encounters such bitter opposition from a faction of the senatorial elite[?] ...[Do] the reactions to Caesar reflected traditional Roman attitudes to the liberty and responsibility of the different social classes at Rome[?] This question becomes more pressing as the story of Caesar proceeds. In the later years of his life, a dilemma arises that provoked his murder and destroyed the republic: how a charismatic leader should suppress anarchy and restore peace after civil war without ruling as a king and therefore abolishing the liberty of the citizens by turning them into subjects.

V: Antony as Roman General and Politician. The life of Mark Antony provides appropriate material for the meeting’s final two sessions because it is significantly longer than the other lives and also describes Cleopatra and her plans to remake the Mediterranean world politically. Plutarch starts out by describing Antony's family background, the early evidence for his character as revealed in adolescent improprieties and worse, and the development of his ambiguous political relationship with Caesar. Plutarch then shows how Antony’s ambitions for power after Caesar’s assassination contribute to the turmoil that explodes into another civil war, one that would end the republic and bring to power Octavian, the eventual founder of the Roman Empire (as the first emperor, Augustus). As with Alcibiades, ... how important Antony’s outrageous private conduct is in influencing the deterioration of the public sphere in his homeland: does he misuse his personal liberty so seriously that his behavior amounts to shirking his responsibility as a free Roman citizen of elite status?

VI: Antony and Cleopatra. In the latter part of the biography of Antony, Plutarch provides our best surviving evidence for Antony’s erotic and political entanglement with the remarkable Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Plutarch implicitly poses the question of whether the pair’s personal passions fatally undermine their innovative plans for ruling the eastern Mediterranean world as a shared Roman-Egyptian sphere of interest. Plutarch depicts in detail Antony’s indecisiveness and enslavement to passion, character flaws that turn out to be fatal in the face of Octavian’s cold and calculating approach to life, love, and politics. ...[C]onsider in what sense Antony and Cleopatra are free actors in this drama, and what would have been the effects on individual and political liberty in the Mediterranean world if they had been successful instead of Octavian.

[Each of these lives] depict extraordinary individuals who, through the force of their characters and the power of their actions, had extraordinary effects on their societies. Since they were all free citizens, not subjects, they could operate with liberty, and they had corresponding responsibilities."

From Article and Lesson Outline at: http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/plutarch-s-parallel-lives

References to Plutarch’s Lives. The Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and Revised by A.H. Clough, in 5 volumes (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1906)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution

by Jeffrey Sikkenga, Ashbrook Center

“…Abraham Lincoln entered the presidency with a deeply developed view of the Constitution’s meaning and significance. Alluding to Proverbs 25, he called it the “picture of silver” inside of which was the “apple of gold,” the Declaration of Independence.[1] “I never had a feeling politically,” Lincoln declared, “that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence,” especially the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal” in their God-given natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, from his earliest days in politics, Lincoln maintained that equality of natural rights “is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest.” Americans are not bound together “by blood,” he declared; rather, it “is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.” It was the Declaration, not the Constitution, which formed the moral and political basis of the Union. The Declaration made Americans into “We the People” who then gave the Constitution its authority by their consent. 

Unlike some people (especially abolitionists), however, Lincoln’s love of the Declaration never led him to denounce the Constitution or think that it should be set aside when it seemed to be in conflict with the principles of the Declaration. The Declaration and the Constitution had to go hand-in-hand so “that neither picture, or apple, shall ever be blurred, or broken.” Both were charters of freedom, and both part of the same great end: self-government. 

Thus, throughout his public life, Lincoln spoke and acted to keep the two together. In his early political career he was part of the Whig Party (before it disintegrated), and he embraced the “Whig” view that Congress has broad power under the Constitution’s “necessary and proper” clause to finance internal improvements like roads, canals, and railroads. Lincoln accepted this view of the Constitution not out of party loyalty but because of political principle: in his view, developing the country’s resources was a vital way to encourage the people to exercise (and be attached to) their rights, especially the right to the fruit of their own labor. For Lincoln, this right was “[m]ade so plain by our good Father in Heaven, that all feel and understand it, even down to brutes and creeping insects,” and the more individuals exercised their own right to labor, the more prosperous they would become and the more they would see the injustice of depriving others of their right. He therefore believed that the Constitution permitted federal policies that promoted the progress of free labor, which would show “to the world that free men could be prosperous.” 

The idea of promoting “Liberty to all” through the Constitution (and not outside of it) underlay Lincoln’s view in the 1850s that Congress had the constitutional power to prohibit slavery in the Western Territories (because “negro slavery is violative of” the natural liberty and equality of human beings), but did not have the power to abolish slavery in the states where it existed at the time of adoption of the Constitution. The people of many of the states would not have agreed to immediate abolition in 1787, so the Convention did not grant Congress the power. But in Article IV, section 3, the Constitution did specifically give Congress the “Power to make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting” the Territories, and so—in accord with “the great fundamental principle” of equality—it could prohibit slavery in the Western Territories as the earliest Congress did in the Northwest Territory that became Ohio, Michigan, and other states. Where Congress did not have power from the Constitution, it could not interfere with slavery; but where it did, Lincoln believed, it must promote freedom. 

He knew that the Supreme Court had rejected his view in the 1858 Dred Scott decision. But, Lincoln said, the Supreme Court is not the Constitution itself, and the Constitution does not say that the Court has the final say on its meaning. The job of interpreting the Constitution belongs just as much to the president and Congress, and ultimately to the people themselves. Supreme Court decisions therefore bind everyone else only when they are indisputably “fully settled,” and Dred Scott clearly was not. In Lincoln’s view, the people and their representatives too must interpret the document because, as he told the country in his First Inaugural Address, “if the policy of the government on vital questions affecting the whole people … is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court … the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.” 

The same constitutional views guided Lincoln in his speeches and actions as president, including his most famous. When he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he was very concerned that, as president, he had to articulate a constitutional basis for emancipation; so he did not free all the slaves in the US or even in all the slave states. Citing the constitutional power of commander in chief, the Proclamation freed slaves only in states where the people were “in rebellion against the United States,” and then only on the ground that it was “a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.” Lincoln was criticized by those who thought he should do much more, and by those who thought he had no power to do what he did. He believed both criticisms were wrong constitutionally: where he had power as president, he could advance the principles of freedom; where he did not have the constitutional power, he could not. Even in his most controversial actions during the Civil War—such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus—Lincoln claimed that he always tried to follow the letter of the Constitution as closely as possible, given the overriding importance of saving the Union, without which “the Government itself would go to pieces.” 

Lincoln believed that the “picture of silver” must not be tarnished in word or deed because it embodies what James Madison described as “that honorable determination, which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government” (The Federalist #39). In ratifying the Constitution through their “reflection and choice,” the American people made the idea of “the equal rights of men” into the organizing principle of their law and their lives. They made freedom their own. In Lincoln’s view, the success of the Constitution demonstrated that they made the right choice—that ordinary men and women really can govern themselves on principles of justice, not just self-interest. Freedom can work for everyone

This was always Lincoln’s great concern: ensuring that the American people remained true to the constitutional principles of natural rights and the rule of law from their Founding. Even in his crowning constitutional act—the 13th Amendment—Lincoln saw himself not as changing the principles of the Founders’ Constitution but as making its words indisputably reflect its principles. At moments of national crisis, the Constitution and its principles didn’t need to evolve; they just needed to be remembered. They didn’t need to be updated; they just needed to be practiced. This was Lincoln’s constitutional lesson to the people of his day, and it is his lesson for us today…”
___________________________
[1] Concerning the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln wrote the following meditation on Proverbs 25:11 (“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”): ... “[The prosperity of the United States] is not the result of accident. It has a philosophic cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of "Liberty to all" -- the principle that clears the path for all -- gives hope to all -- and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all. The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government and consequent prosperity. The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word "fitly spoken" which has proven an "apple of gold" to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple -- not the apple for the picture.  So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, bruised or broken … That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.” Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham LincolnVolume 4, p. 168 (italics in original). 

http://ashbrook.org/publications/onprin-feb2009-sikkenga/

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hamilton: An American Biography


A review of Tony Williams new book by , Journal of the American Revolution.

"Alexander Hamilton fever has certainly swept the country and revived the American public’s interest in Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers. Individuals who perhaps at one point showed little special interest in the founding of the country are reading history books and absorbing everything Hamilton. Although a great deal of scholarship has been done on Hamilton and his life and times, Ron Chernow’s tome stands out as the go-to volume for those who thirst for Hamilton—until now, that is. Tony Williams, author of Hamilton:An American Biography, steps in to provide a volume for those who need more Hamilton in their lives but are not yet ready to tackle Chernow’s biography. Recognizing Chernow’s work as worthy of its place as a staple but also a massive undertaking that requires great dedication, Williams sought to provide a biography of the Hamilton essentials geared toward a popular audience that is likely to shy away from an intimidatingly large book but are much more likely to pick up a slender volume.

Arguing that Hamilton maintained an unwavering lifelong devotion to American principles, Williams chronicles Hamilton’s life from his beginning in West Indies to his death by duel in 1804. Although quite concise, Williams covers all aspects of Hamilton’s public service, including his Revolutionary service as Washington’s aide, his work in ratifying the Constitution and as Secretary of the Treasury, and his continued efforts to maintain the new country in the face of foreign and domestic threatsOffering a balanced view of Hamilton, this book presents a man who completely devoted himself to American principles and consistently acted out of motivations for the public good, even if he at times made flawed decisions.
Hamilton’s devotion to principles of liberty remained constant from the time he arrived as an immigrant in New York, where his connections involved him in the Revolution’s roots. As the conflict launched Hamilton advocated American liberty, always with an eye toward maintaining honor, a principle that proved to be a key motivator in his decisions. After the initial shots fired at Lexington and Concord propelled Hamilton into supporting the American cause, his devotion to national honor informed the agendas for which he advocated through the rest of the Revolution, carried him through his fast and furious writing of the Federalist essays, and continued to inform his plans to develop America into a nation that reached its full potential. Williams presents Hamilton as a man who deserves to be in the spotlight not because of a prominent Broadway musical, but because his contributions warrant his consideration as a central Founding Father.
As this book makes clear, many of Hamilton’s agendas that his fellow Founders considered controversial can be explained by his devotion to his principles. Although his nemeses loved to accuse Hamilton of having monarchical tendencies, Hamilton pursued the type of government that he felt necessary to allow American liberty to flourish. This included, much to the chagrin of some contemporaries, acting justly toward Tories who remained in America and maintaining a close relationship with England. Building a successful national foundation similarly motivated Hamilton to advocate the assumption of public debts and the establishment of a national bank. Meanwhile, as Hamilton worked to build a strong America, he held realistic viewpoints concerning the new country’s vulnerable position. Once again adopting viewpoints that proved controversial among his contemporaries, Hamilton supported Jay’s Treaty—not as an advocate of war, but rather an advocate of neutrality in accommodation of America’s weak state. Hamilton’s contemporaries often perceived the worst-case scenario for his agendas, when in fact, as Williams asserts, Hamilton concerned himself with acting in the best interest of the country as a whole with consideration of both its present and future states.
While Williams convincingly demonstrates that the principle of honor and devotion to American principles propelled Hamilton’s life and influenced every facet of his public service, he also provides a balanced consideration of the man and his work and acknowledges Hamilton’s occasional tendencies to act irresponsibly and irrationally. One of the most infamous examples of this facet of Hamilton’s personality is the affair with Maria Reynolds and the aftermath of the puzzling sordid, detailed pamphlet Hamilton himself published. Williams asserts that Hamilton’s public reaction in the affair’s fallout provides evidence for Hamilton’s devotion to national honor even above his own very prized personal honor—personal pain and suffering must be put aside for the preservation of national honor. Even as Hamilton blundered his way through the election of 1800 that caused bad blood between himself and Aaron Burr he remained primarily concerned with the welfare of the nation and tried to uphold his exacting standards.
Overall, Hamilton: An American Biography provides an engaging and accessible narrative that gives an overview of Hamilton’s life placed within the context of his times. Williams achieves a good balance between delivering an accurate historical account and tackling misconceptions about Hamilton while at the same time creating an account that is not overwhelming for readers who are new to Hamilton and the Founders. The popular style in which the book is written differs from the usual style of historical non-fiction, particularly in Williams’ choice to modernize and not cite quotations, pointing readers to his other work for that information. The audience for which the book is written probably will not mind, but readers more grounded in historical scholarship may find it slightly inconvenient and certainly unusual. Providing an excellent foundation for those just beginning a journey with the Founding Fathers and a pleasurable read for long time students of the period, this book deserves a place on the bookshelf of any Hamilton enthusiast."

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation vs. Thomas Jefferson


by M. Andrew Holowchak

"In a new “manifesto” titled “Monticello Affirms Thomas Jefferson Fathered Children with Sally Hemings” (June, 2018), The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has declared that the official position of the foundation is that Thomas Jefferson fathered all six of Sally Hemings’s children. It is a perplexing statement, especially given that it is made not on account of any new evidence that has a bearing on Jefferson’s avowed paternity, and prior to this manifesto, they were content to espouse some degree of skepticism of paternity based on the available evidence. The manifesto merely rehashes its amassed “evidence” while paying lip service to certain maverick dissenters—“some who disagree.” With the opening of Sally Hemings’s room on June 16, they have taken it upon themselves to “remove the qualifiers.” They write now of a firm commitment to the relationship. There is little room for doubt.

As the Thomas Jefferson Foundation began planning The Life of Sally Hemings, an exhibit that relies on the account left by her son, Madison Hemings, it became apparent that it was time to reexamine how to characterize Jefferson’s paternity. For nearly twenty years, the most complete summary of evidence has remained the report authored by the Foundation in January 2000. While there are some who disagree, the Foundation’s scholarly advisors and the larger community of academic historians who specialize in early American history have concurred for many years that the evidence is sufficiently strong to state that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings. In the new exhibit exploring the life of Sally Hemings, her choices, and her connection to Thomas Jefferson, as well as in updates to our related online materials and print publications, the Foundation will henceforth assert what the evidence indicates and eliminate qualifying language related to the paternity of Eston Hemings as well as that related to Sally Hemings’s three other surviving children, whose descendants were not part of the 1998 DNA study. While it remains possible, though increasingly unlikely, that a more comprehensive documentary and genetic assemblage of evidence could emerge to support a different conclusion, no plausible alternative with the same array of evidence has surfaced in two decades.

Some comments on this manifesto:

First, they state that the most complete summary is their own report of January, 2000, and that smacks of self-service. Since publication, that report has been challenged by a number of compelling books: Bob Turner’s The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission (2001), Cynthia Burton’s Jefferson Vindicated (2005), William Hyland’s In Defense of Thomas Jefferson (2009), and my own Framing a Legend: Exposing the Distorted History of ThomasJefferson and Sally Hemings (2013).While none of these books proffers the sockdolager which shows that there was no relationship, all offer compelling reason for doubt. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has dealt with the arguments in those books by ignoring them. They can do that. They run the show at Monticello. For instance, as author of 10 books on Jefferson, some 70 published essays, not one of my books on Jefferson—and I have written critically on Jefferson’s views on religion, politics and political philosophy, history, morality, education, progressivism, and cosmology, inter alia—is for sale in the library at Monticello. Why? I wrote Framing a Legend, which attacks the often-shoddy scholarship on behalf of the liaison and argues, ultimately, for skepticism. Skepticism, it seems, is sufficient for censorship. They run Monticello and they can give visitors their own account of Thomas Jefferson by disallowing diversity of opinion.

Second, “there are some who disagree” is massively understated. Many disagree. The issue is that if you disagree with their official position on the liaison, if you disagree with what is now their manifesto, you run the risk of being dubbed “racist,” which is the kiss of death in liberal academic circles. I am a liberal, but I am interested in truth, not politics. Consensus among scholars today is, thus, forced, because of fear of being called racist. Truth has become irrelevant. Jefferson may have had a relationship with Hemings. That is important to know. Yet we wish to know that as a result of open debate on both sides of the issue and with a look at all the available, relevant evidence. If such debate shows anti-paternity is unlikely, then the anti-paternity adherents will have gained by, as Socrates has said, “an exchange of error for truth.” Yet TJF disallows open debate because they control the intellectual climate at Monticello. With open debate, they run the risk of being shown to be pedantic, dogmatic, and perhaps wrong. Thus, if Jefferson did have an affair with Hemings, we ought to demand evidence of it. A scholarly pro-paternity wave of hands among members of TJF, many of whom are unqualified to have a vote, ought not to convince anyone.

Third, Sally Hemings is an odd choice for an exhibit, given that Jefferson says next to nothing of her in his memoranda books and that no scholars know anything substantive of her life. Annette Gordon-Reed has made a reputation of being an expert of Hemings’s life through four chapters of the probable course of events in her stay in France in her much ballyhooed book, The Hemingses of Monticello, but those chapters are built on surmise, not evidence. The probability of her account being accurate in all of its details is nil.

Finally, in their manifesto, they relist 10 reasons (click the link in the first sentence of this essay) to believe that Jefferson fathered all of Hemings’s children. None of the reasons are new. Most have been challenged; some have been refuted. The TJF is blind to those challenges and refutations. Their policy again is to ignore evidence to the contrary. Why? They have invested much too much over the years in the Hemings’ controversy, and now they cannot recant. Yet with the manifesto, they have added something new: They are resorting to dogma, not debate.

With the exhibit of “The Life of Sally Hemings,” TJF will have muddied its face. Monticello’s Gary Sandling’s insisted when they were going about “reconstruction” of Hemings’s room that “we’re not going to use this room to tell a story about DNA and the paternity of her children.” Yet now we find that that is just what they are doing. That is just what they had in mind all along.
Vivienne Kelly and I in “Monticello Claims toHave Found Sally Hemings’s Room: Is This True?” have argued that the recent “discovery” of Sally Hemings’s room might be politically, not veridically, motivated—that is, we at least challenged that notion that making a room for Sally Hemings was being done for the sake of hammering home the notion that Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ six children. In our essay, we noted that one of the results of the room over time would be to offer visual proof of the nearly 40-year liaison. Having physical space at Monticello over time would be taken as proof in the minds of visitors of a liaison.

What is bothersome about the TJF’s new report is the political posturing of those in TJF. Sandling insisted that the room’s discovery was not political. It was. The issue of Jefferson’s paternity has been decided ex cathedra, without full discussion of all relevant evidence, and by a select view of “authorities” on Jefferson who never had doubts about Jefferson’s paternity in the first place. No one who dissented was part of the decision-making. That is how it has been at Monticello for a long time. That needs to change, because members of TJF are creating Jefferson’s history, not reconstructing it. It is an insufferable situation.

The TJF is content with its removal of qualifiers because they are content that the testimony of Sally Hemings’s son Madison Hemings is trustworthy and correct. As I have shown (see HNN, Hemings’s testimony), it is not. Its reliability is suspect from a number of points. We cannot merely assume its veridicality.

The greatest danger with what the TJF is doing is its complete insouciance concerning claims contrary to those they embrace, even if those contrary claims are well supported. There is no other way to put it, because there is insufficient evidence to decide the issue of Jefferson’s paternity, and yet they have removed the qualifiers. In such a case, we must be skeptical, not dogmatic. TJF disallows skepticism. They have decided for us how we ought to think about Jefferson.

As John Stuart Mill showed in On Liberty, the closest thing to a liberal’s bible, freedom of opinion and critical discussion of matters unsettled by reason, are needed for truth. Thomas Jefferson in Query XVII of his Notes on the State of Virginia said the same thing. It is a paradox of Brobdingnagian proportion that the people who now run Jefferson’s Monticello have such an aversion to Jefferson’s priceless liberal values and such indifference to truth."

Article from the History News Network (George Washington University):
https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/169304

See also: Thomas Jefferson: A Defense of His Character and Thomas Jefferson and the Pursuit of Virtue
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M. Andrew Holowchak, Ph.D., is a philosopher and historian, editor of The Journal of Thomas Jefferson's Life and Times, and author/editor of 10 books and of some 70 published essays on Thomas Jefferson. He can be reached through http://www.thomasjeffersonphilosopher.com