Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The New Barbarism? Learning in Twenty-First Century Schools

By: Tony Williams

"In the Middle Ages and early modern Europe, most commoners were illiterate and learned visually through art such as Giotto depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi and later with posted broadsides with woodcuts. After looking at these visuals, the illiterate peasants might discuss them in a group at church or in a tavern.

Meanwhile, the middle and upper classes were churchmen, bureaucrats, lawyers, and merchants who were classically educated in the methods of the trivium and the subjects of the quadrivium by tutors and at universities. Theirs was the culture of the written word which dovetailed with the rise of the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on sola scriptura and reading the Bible.

The invention of the printing press and the gradual increase in the availability of cheap books and other written material led to widespread literacy over a few centuries. Education also became more democratized over the centuries and more people attended school and became literate. Education in the West, however, was still rooted in the written word as students read classics in Latin and Greek, held disputations, and engaged in rigorous thought.

Today, our young students in school resemble the illiterate peasants of the Middle Ages more and more. Teachers are increasingly moving towards teaching the students with a barrage of visual stimuli mirroring their leisure activities with their array of technological gadgets. The need for concentration, rigor, reflective thought when grappling with primary sources is losing out to PowerPoints, bullet points, streaming videos, and other latest technologies. They often do so in groups where students teach each other rather than having a knowledgeable teacher emulating Socrates or Jesus.

We are racing through the twenty-first century with our schools following the culture, rather than education molding the culture through our youth. Almost every mission statement for schools today pledges allegiance to “twenty-first century learning” without any real idea of what that truly means except “not getting left behind.”

I wonder if we shouldn’t reverse the numbers and get back to twelfth-century learning. Students should grapple with the classics through primary sources in age-appropriate ways through the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of learning. Their teachers (as they are at Hillsdale, Christendom, Thomas Aquinas colleges) should be the words of Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, St. Augustine, Chaucer, St. Thomas More, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Luther, Burke, Jefferson, Tocqueville, Lincoln, Darwin, Einstein, Lewis, Freud, Eliot, and company, not a slide up on the screen."

Footnote: [http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2018/04/new-barbarism-learning-twenty-first-century-schools-tony-williams-timeless.html] Additional Reading: “Is our Greek and Roman heritage merely allusive and illusory? Or were our founders, and so our republican beginnings, truly steeped in the stuff of antiquity? So far largely a matter of generalization and speculation, the influence of Greek and Roman authors on our American forefathers finally becomes clear in this fascinating book-the first comprehensive study of the founders' classical reading. Carl J. Richard begins by examining how eighteenth-century social institutions in general and the educational system in particular conditioned the founders to venerate the classics. … In this analysis, we see how the classics not only supplied the principal basis for the U.S. Constitution but also contributed to the founders' conception of human nature, their understanding of virtue, and their sense of identity and purpose within a grand universal scheme.” See: “The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment” by Carl J. Richard 
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Tony Williams is the author of six books including the brief and engaging "Hamilton: An American Biography" (Rowman Littlefield, 2018) and "Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Created America" (Sourcebooks, 2015), co-authored with Stephen F. Knott. He has also written "America's Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation's Character," (2011), "The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results that Shaped America" (2011),"Pox and the Covenant: Franklin, Mather, and the Epidemic that Changed America's Destiny" (2010), and, "Hurricane of Independence: The Untold Story of the Deadly Storm at the Deciding Moment of the American Revolution" (2008). He serves as the Program Director at WJMI and works as a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute. He holds history degrees from Syracuse University and Ohio State University. He taught history for fifteen years and was a fellow at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Alexander Hamilton and American Greatness in the 1790'S

by Tony Williams 

“On September 11, 1789, the Senate confirmed President George Washington’s appointment of Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. He worked all weekend to address immediate financial concerns and would spend the next decade at Washington’s side engaged in nation-building for the new republic.

As one of the primary authors of the Federalist and as a key delegate to the New York Ratifying Convention, Alexander Hamilton had been instrumental in winning ratification of the new Constitution strengthening the national government. During the 1790s, he would use the constitutional authority of that new government to build a lasting republic. Hamilton’s visionary financial plan was the foundation of his nation-building in the 1790s. The first part of the plan was to remedy the teetering financial footing of the new nation. After much debate and controversy, Congress eventually passed his plan for the federal government to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states as well as the tariffs and excise taxes he wanted gradually to extinguish the debt.

Congress also easily passed the second part of Hamilton’s plan, which was to create a National Bank to circulate currency and lend money to promote economic growth. Despite the Jeffersonian accusations that he only advanced the interests of stock-jobbers and speculators, Hamilton’s economic vision included benefitting merchants, farmers, and artisans alike. The internal improvements that comprised the third part of the plan failed, but Hamilton helped to promote manufactures for the nascent industrial revolution. In a few short years, Hamilton’s triumph was vindicated by a thriving, dynamic economy. Hamilton successfully used the federal government to provide stability and order to the financial system that allowed individuals to thrive in the private free market.

Hamilton wanted to use strong economic growth to build a strong national security state for the young republic to survive in a world of contending empires. The nation needed the funding for national defense in case of emergencies. He adopted an expansive view of the executive power to act vigorously in foreign policy.

Despite an enduring historical legacy as a warmonger, Hamilton consistently sought to defend American interests and national honor with a policy of peace through strength. Whether during the debate over the Proclamation of Neutrality, the British impressment crisis and the controversial Jay Treaty, or organizing the army during the Quasi-War with France in the late 1790s, Hamilton pursued peace because he understood that the United States did not have sufficient power yet to oppose the great powers of Europe.

Hamilton spent a lifetime dedicated to public service to his adopted country. He was a war hero in the Revolutionary War, engaged in politics at the state and national level, and helped frame and ratify the Constitution. Influenced by his immigrant background and his service under Washington in the Continental Army, Hamilton quickly espoused a continental vision that shaped all of his writings and his statesmanship. As a result, Hamilton was one of the most important founding fathers who shaped the American regime of republican liberty and was responsible for working with Washington to build the new nation in the 1790s.”

See: http://www.historycentral.com/Bio/nn/Hamiltontdy.html

Tony Williams the Program Director for WJMI and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute. He is the author of six books on the American founding including his newly-published Hamilton: An American Biography (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired

"The English Bible was -- and is -- the most influential book ever published. The most famous of all English Bibles, the King James Version, was the culmination of centuries of work by various translators, from John Wycliffe, the fourteenth-century catalyst of English Bible translation, to the committee of scholars who collaborated on the King James translation. Benson Bobrick's Wide as the Waters examines the life and work of Wycliffe and recounts the tribulations of his successors, including William Tyndale, who was martyred, Miles Coverdale, and others who came to bitter ends. It traces the story of the English Bible through the tumultuous reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, a time of fierce contest between Catholics and Protestants in England, as the struggle to establish a vernacular Bible was fought among competing factions. In the course of that struggle, Sir Thomas More, later made a Catholic saint, helped orchestrate the assault on the English Bible, only to find his own true faith the plaything of his king.

In 1604, a committee of fifty-four scholars, the flower of Oxford and Cambridge, collaborated on the new translation for King James. Their collective expertise in biblical languages and related fields has probably never been matched, and the translation they produced -- substantially based on the earlier work of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others -- would shape English literature and speech for centuries. As the great English historian Macaulay wrote of their version, "If everything else in our language should perish, it alone would suffice to show the extent of its beauty and power"...

The impact of the English Bible on law and society was profound. It gave every literate person access to the sacred text, which helped to foster the spirit of inquiry through reading and reflection. This, in turn, accelerated the growth of commercial printing and the proliferation of books. Once people were free to interpret the word of God according to the light of their own understanding, they began to question the authority of their inherited institutions, both religious and secular. This led to reformation within the Church, and to the rise of constitutional government in England and the end of the divine right of kings. England fought a Civil War in the light (and shadow) of such concepts, and by them confirmed the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

In time, the new world of ideas that the English Bible helped inspire spread across the Atlantic [to the thirteen British colonies and served as a major catalyst in the American revolution], and eventually, like Wycliffe's sea-borne scattered ashes, all the world over, "as wide as the waters be." Wide as the Waters is a story about a crucial epoch in the history of Christianity, about the English language and society, and about a book that changed the course of human events.”

Review from Amazon.com, where the book is available in paperback or hardcover. See: https://www.amazon.com/Wide-As-Waters-English-Revolution/dp/1451613601/

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thomas Jefferson and the Teaching of the Constitution


Part II to "James Madison and the Teaching of the Constitution." (See:

Thomas Jefferson’s last great dream was to found a public university in Virginia.  Beginning with his first concept in 1800, and after the investment of much of his personal time, money and labor, and lobbying to the state legislature with the valuable assistance of several influential friends, the University of Virginia was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia on January 25, 1819, and opened for classes in March 1825. Thomas Jefferson's long-time friend and collaborator, James Madison, wrote to a mutual friend concerning Jefferson, the University, and the diffusion of knowledge: 

"Your old friend, Mr. Jefferson, still lives, and will close his illustrious career by bequeathing to his Country a magnificent Institute for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge; which is the only guardian of true liberty, the great cause to which his life has been devoted."[1] 

In preparation for the opening of classes, Jefferson corresponded with Madison regarding the teaching of the Constitution at the new University. Their concern was that students be instructed in the true "principles of government" upon which the Constitutions of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia "were genuinely based." The results of that mutual correspondence and collaboration were brought forth in a meeting of the Board of Visitors on March 4, 1825.  Pursuant to Madison's advice in his letter to Jefferson dated February 8, 1825, and his sketch (outline) for the recommended curriculum, the Board agreed to a resolution.  Adopted by Jefferson, Madison, and the other three men on the Board of Visitors (trustees), the following sets forth the authentic sources of our American principles of government and of the Constitution: 

"A resolution was moved and agreed to in the following words: Whereas, it is the duty of this Board to the government under which it lives, and especially to that of which this University is the immediate creation, to pay especial attention to the principles of government which shall be inculcated therein, and to provide that none shall be inculcated which are incompatible with those on which the Constitutions of this State, and of the United States were genuinely based, in the common opinion; and for this purpose it may be necessary to point out specially where these principles are to be found legitimately developed: 

Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his "Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government," and of Sidney in his "Discourses on government," may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States, and that on the distinctive principles of the government of our State, and of that of the United States, the best guides are to be found in:

1. The Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental act of union of these States. 
2. The book known by the title of "The Federalist," being an authority to which appeal is habitually made by all, and rarely declined or denied by any as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed, and of those who accepted the Constitution of the United States, on questions as to its genuine meaning. 
3. The Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1799 on the subject of the alien and sedition laws, which appeared to accord with the predominant sense of the people of the United States. 
4. The Valedictory [farewell] Address of President Washington, as conveying political lessons of peculiar value. …"[2] 

It is significant that Jefferson and Madison determined that these specific "founding" documents and books constitute the "best guides" to teaching and understanding the Constitution and our republican form of government. It is also enlightening that out of all of the numerous books that Jefferson and Madison had read and studied on politics and government (including Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hobbes, Bolingbroke), they elevated Locke and Sidney's writings as the two works containing the "general principles of liberty and rights of man, in nature and in society." 

We also learn from Jefferson and Madison's list of "best guides," that the Constitution is based upon certain principles. These principles formed the basis for the raising up and establishment of our democratic, constitutional republic, which was designed to "secure the Blessings of Liberty" to us and our posterity. True principles, of course, are timeless and unchanging, and their applications are universal. As Algernon Sidney wrote, "…truth is comprehended by examining principles."[3]

May we as citizens, students, parents, and teachers endeavor to study, learn, and teach these documents and the principles of Constitution in the tradition of Jefferson, Madison, and our other founding fathers.

Download a free copy of "Thomas Jefferson & James Madison's Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Constitution," published by WJMI, at: http://www.liberty1.org/TheGuide.pdf
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[1] James Madison to George Thomson, June 30, 1825, The Writings of James Madison, 4 Volumes (J.B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1865) 3:492.
[2] Minutes of the Board of Visitors, March 4, 1825, ME 19:460-61 (cited as “Minutes”).
[3] Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government (London: A. Millar, London, 1751), I:3:8 (cited as “Discourses”).

Sunday, February 11, 2018

James Madison and the Teaching of the Constitution

On February 8th, 1825, James Madison replied to Thomas Jefferson from Montpelier regarding the teaching of the Constitution at the newly established University of Virginia.  Madison sat on its Board of Visitors along with  Thomas Jefferson, the university's founder and Rector. Jefferson had previously written to ask his long time friend and political collaborator to advise concerning the proposed constitutional curriculum. In this letter Madison sets forth his thoughts on the best sources of the principles or "true doctrines of liberty" exemplified by the Constitution. In the end, he recommends using the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Virginia Resolutions and Washington's Inaugural and Farewell Addresses as the "best guides" to the "distinctive principles" of the Government of the United States.  His recommendations were largely adopted by the Board of Visitors of the University by a resolution on March 4, 1825. See: http://www.liberty1.org/UVA1825.pdf
Following is the primary text of Madison's letter, and his sketch for the teaching of the Constitution, which should be instructive to all citizens of the republic and students of the Constitution -- from the "father" of this, our great charter of freedom and self-government:


Dear Sir: 
…I have looked with attention over your intended proposal of a text book for the Law School. It is certainly very material that the true doctrines of liberty, as exemplified in our Political System, should be inculcated on those who are to sustain and may administer it. It is, at the same time, not easy to find Standard books that will be both guides & guards for the purpose. Sydney & Locke are admirably calculated to impress on young minds the right of Nations to establish their own Governments, and to inspire a love of free ones; but afford no aid in guarding our Republican Charters against constructive violations. The Declaration of Independence, tho’ rich in fundamental principles, and saying every thing that could be said in the same number of words, falls nearly under a like observation. The “Federalist” may fairly enough be regarded as the most authentic exposition of the text of the federal Constitution, as understood by the Body which prepared & the Authorities which accepted it. Yet it did not foresee all the misconstructions which have occurred; nor prevent some that it did foresee. And what equally deserves remark, neither of the great rival parties have acquiesced in all its Comments. It may nevertheless be admissible as a School book, if any will be that goes so much into detail. It has been actually admitted into two Universities, if not more, those of Harvard & Rhode Island; but probably at the choice of the Professors, without an injunction from the superior authority. With respect to the Virginia Document of 1799, there may be more room for hesitation. Tho’ corresponding with the predominant sense of the Nation; being of local origin & having reference to a state of parties not yet extinct, an absolute prescription of it, might excite prejudices against the University as under Party Banners, and induce the more bigoted to withhold from it their sons, even when destined for other than the studies of the Law School. It may be added that the Document is not, on every point, satisfactory to all who belong to the same party. Are we sure that to our brethren of the Board it is so? In framing a political Creed, a like difficulty occurs as in the case of religion though the public right be very different in the two cases. If the Articles be in very general terms, they do not answer the purpose: if in very particular terms, they divide & exclude where meant to unite & fortify. The best that can be done in our case seems to be, to avoid the two extremes, by referring to selected Standards without requiring an unqualified conformity to them, which indeed might not in every instance be possible. The selection would give them authority with the Students, and might control or counteract deviations of the Professor. I have, for your consideration, sketched a modification of the operative passage in your draught, with a view to relax the absoluteness of its injunction, and added to your list of Documents, the Inaugural Speech and the Farewell Address of President Washington. They may help down what might be less readily swallowed, and contain nothing which is not good; unless it be the laudatory reference in the Address to the Treaty of 1795 with G. B. which ought not to weigh against the sound sentiments characterizing it. 

After all, the most effectual safeguard against heretical intrusions into the School of politics, will be an Able & Orthodox Professor, whose course of instruction will be an example to his Successors, and may carry with it a sanction from the Visitors. 
Affectionately yours, 
James Madison 

[Enclosure] Sketch: And on the distinctive principles of the Government of our own State, and of that of the United States, the best guides are to be found in: 1. The Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental Act of Union of these States. 2. The book known by the title of the “Federalist,” being an Authority to which appeal is habitually made by all & rarely declined or denied by any, as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed & those who accepted the Constitution of the U. States, on questions as to its genuine meaning. 3. The Resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1799 on the subject of the Alien & Sedition laws, which appeared to accord with the predominant sense of the people of the U. S. 4 The Inaugural Speech and Farewell Address of President Washington, as conveying political lessons of peculiar value; and that in the branch of the School of law which is to treat on the subject of Government these shall be used as the text & documents of the School.[1]

For a free copy of "Thomas Jefferson & James Madison's Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Constitution," published by WJMI, visit: http://www.liberty1.org/TheGuide.pdf
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[1](Rives Collection, Madison Papers, University of Virginia)[some spelling modernized; emphasis added] https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/04-03-02-0470

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Favorite Quotes from Ronald Reagan

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Prior to the presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. As President of the United States he inspired a generation and his term saw a restoration of prosperity at home, with the goal of achieving “peace through strength” abroad. Notably, through his convictions and moral force as a leader, he led an end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and he is credited with helping bring down the Berlin Wall, with his famous words spoken on June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In 2011, anti-communist leader Lech Walesa unveiled a statue of Ronald Reagan in Warsaw, honoring the late U.S. president for inspiring Poland's own overthrow of communism. Here are a few of my favorite Reagan quotes: 

“The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become.” 

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” 

“Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” 

“The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas - a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated.” 

“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.” 

“I believe we can embark on a new age of reform in this country and an era of national renewal. An era that will reorder the relationship between citizen and government, that will make government again responsive to people, that will revitalize the values of family, work, and neighborhood and that will restore our private and independent social institutions. These institutions always have served as both buffer and bridge between the individual and the state—and these institutions, not government, are the real sources of our economic and social progress as a people.”

“If we lose freedom here [in America], there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth”

“We celebrated our 200th anniversary as a nation a short time ago. Fireworks exploded over Boston harbor, Arthur Fiedler conducted, thousands cheered and waved Old Glory. These were not just images of a bicentennial; they were reminders of our birthright of freedom—and of generous, fervent patriotism that burns in America. A patriotism that shows itself sometimes in very unexpected places. Remember "baseball's designated patriot"—Rick Monday—an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs who on April 25, 1976, at Dodger Stadium grabbed our flag from two demonstrators who were trying to burn it in center field—and as he came off the field to the dugout, carrying the flag, thousands stood and cheered and then found themselves singing “God Bless America.”

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”

“The men of Normandy [on D-Day June 6, 1944] had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray to God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.” 

“Since her beginning America has held fast to this hope of divine providence, this vision of "man with God." It is true that world peace is jeopardized by those who view man—not as a noble being—but as an accident of nature, without soul, and important only to the extent he can serve an all powerful state. But it is our spiritual commitment—more than all the military might in the world—that will win our struggle for peace. It is ... belief and resolve—it is humility before God that is ultimately the source of America's strength as a nation.” 

To those who cite the First Amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions everyday; I say: The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.” 

“I've spoken of [America as] the shining city [on a hill] all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.” 

“At this very moment, some young American, coming up along the Virginia or Maryland shores of the Potomac is seeing for the first time the lights that glow on the great halls of our government and the monuments to the memory of our great men. Let us resolve tonight that young Americans will always see those Potomac lights; that they will always find there a city of hope in a country that is free. And let us resolve they will say of our day and our generation that we did keep faith with our God, that we did act "worthy of ourselves;" that we did protect and pass on lovingly that shining city on a hill.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Obstruction of the Laws

“All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.” -- George Washington (Farewell Address, 1796)

As our first President clearly stated, obstruction of the laws under any character are of fatal tendency to our republic. Our nation was founded on the principle that no man, king or commoner, senator or governor, mayor or citizen, is above the law. As John Adams wrote in his Thoughts on Government (1776), "There is no good government but what is republican...[T]he true idea of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.' That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the law, is the best of republics." And, as John Locke simply stated, “…where there is no law, there is no freedom.” (Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 6, sec. 57).

Our Constitutional republic was designed as a “compound” or dual republic -- there is a federal republic and each State is also a republic. Thus, the United States of America is a federal republic comprised of a union of 50 republics. This principle, and the balance of power shared between the federal government and the States is called “federalism.” As James Madison said in Federalist Papers No. 51, “In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America [federal and state], the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.” As with its other aspects, this balance of power and law under the Constitution is designed to protect our individual and mutual liberty.

When the manners and morals of the people degenerate, their respect for the law likewise diminishes. We may observe this in various forms both in our society and in the political arena. Samuel Adams wrote concerning this: “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy... [this spirit] established the Independence of America; and nothing but opposite principles and manners can overthrow it.” --Letter to James Warren (February 12, 1779).

Another factor in the degeneration of respect for law is the “spirit of party,” or unmitigated partisanship. When party loyalties take precedence over principle, and lead men to ignore the application of the law and justice to their situation because of their passion for a cause (or their own self-interests), no matter how right they may seem or how convenient, respectively, anarchy lies ahead and the possible “ruin of Public Liberty” forewarned by George Washington.

Washington purposefully addressed this theme in his Farewell Address:

"Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind. It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy. The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension… is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually… [lead to] the ruins of Public Liberty."

Of course some laws may not be just or fair, or they may be outdated and inapplicable. But if we face or encounter unjust laws, we must be patient and diligent in our cause, allowing “the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests” to overturn, change or modify such laws. Simple or blatant obstruction of the law is not the solution, and is of “fatal tendency.” The Constitution was established to provide the necessary checks and balances on elected leaders, departments of government, and citizens themselves. Our loyalty should ever be to the Constitution first, not to lesser laws or issues. Both principles of federalism and the tenth amendment should be upheld, but not ill-conceived and out-dated notions of ignoring federal law while enforcing state law (or vise versa), or of “nullification.” We would be wise if in our day we would give heed to the warnings of Washington and Adams, etc. by reversing the gradual decline of manners and morals, avoiding extreme partisanship, and recognizing the supreme importance of honoring, sustaining and obeying the laws of the land, both state and federal -- in order to maintain a “more perfect Union.”
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Also see: Tony Williams' Essay "The Federalist, Human Nature, and Forms of Government"