Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reason, Patriotism & Reverence for the Laws: Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Speech

By Tony Williams

On January 27, 1838, a young Abraham Lincoln addressed a Young Men’s Lyceum debating club in Springfield.  The topic of the speech was “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” and addressed the tumult in American society raised by radical abolitionism who were willing to sacrifice the laws to the “higher law” of justice for slaves.  The address, however, raised fundamental questions about human nature, the authority of law, and the American founding.  Lincoln’s speech raises an interesting counterpoint to Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which I wrote about on the WJMI recently. 

Lincoln begins the speech by expressing reverence for the American political tradition of self-government which was more conducive to “the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.”[i]  The Founders left a legacy that was “hardy, brave, and patriotic” to the present generation.  They inherited that gift of republican self-government and had a grace responsibility to transmit it to their posterity: “This task gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.” 

The greatest threat to ensuring the survival of that inheritance was not from outside enemies but from the suicide of a nation of free men who lived by license rather than ordered liberty.  “I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.” 

Lincoln is assuming a classical and Christian position in which man is a rational being who can master his passions and become a self-governing individual.   In Book IV of The Republic, Plato has Socrates explain that, “Moderation is surely a kind of order and mastery of certain kinds of pleasures and desires, as men say when they use . . . the phrase ‘stronger than himself.’”[ii]  In second book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us that, “Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean . . . this being determined by a rational principle” over irrational passions and desires.[iii]  St. Paul tells us in Romans 6:12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.”  These thinkers agree with Lincoln that rational man can gain self-mastery by controlling his passions through reason. 

Many Founders adopted this classical and Christian stance on human nature such as James Madison when he wrote about the danger of factions in The Federalist.  In Federalist #10, Madison wrote, “By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the right of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”[iv]

For Lincoln, moral license leads to vice, violence begets violence, and unpunished acts spawn a lawless spirit among the American people.  Soon, both the guilty and innocent “fall victims to the ravages of mob law . . . till all the walls erected for the defence of the persons and property of individuals are trodden down, and disregarded.”  The result is ultimately that the “strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed – I mean the attachment of the People.” 

Lincoln’s answer to the destruction of law and liberty in the land is poetic, reasonable, and practical:

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.  As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; - let everyman remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.  Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap – let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; - let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.  And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.

Lincoln wants to build laws rooted in reason to frustrate the designs of ambition of a Caesar or Napoleon, and to foil the passions of a mob.  He admits near the end of the speech that the passionate mobs of the American Revolution were dedicated to liberty and threw off British rule to advance the “noblest cause – that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.” 

However, the Founders had passed away, and a new generation has been given the reins of self-government.  Lincoln finishes with another poetic appeal to reason, law, and the name of Washington: 

That temple must fall, unless we, their descendents, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.  Passion has helped us; but can do so no more.  It will in future be our enemy.  Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence, - Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.  Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as has been said of the only greater institution, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” 

That same burden to preserve the laws, the Constitution, and American principles of religious and civil liberty binds us.  May we do so through well-reasoned, civil discourse rather than partisan demagoguery. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

[i] All quotes from Lincoln’s speech can be found in Roy P. Basler, ed., Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings (New York: Da Capo, 2001), 76-85. 
[ii] Allan Bloom, The Republic of Plato (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 109. 
[iii] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 39. 
[iv] Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, ed., Clinton Rossiter (New York: Signet, 1961), 72. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Henry Knox and the Cannon of Fort Ticonderoga

On January 26, 1776, former bookseller Henry Knox arrived at George Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 60 tons of captured artillery to use in the liberation of Boston from British forces. Knox had masterminded the removal and transportation of the guns from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, through over 300 miles of sparsely populated terrain in the dead of winter. [1]

Knox went to Ticonderoga in November 1775, and, over the course of three winter months, moved 59 cannons and other armaments by boat, horse and ox-drawn sledges, and manpower, along poor-quality roads, across two semi-frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the lightly inhabited Berkshires to the Boston area. 

On December 17, 1775, Knox wrote to Washington from Lake George, New York, describing the difficulty of transporting the cannon and mortars: “It is not easy [to] conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them here over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the Year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past; three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them untill next spring, but now please God they must go – I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield.” 

Historian Victor Brooks has called Knox's exploit "one of the most stupendous feats of logistics" of the entire American Revolutionary War. [2]

“What was heroic in this expedition was that it was a stroke of inspiration, coupled with good timing, skilled logistics and luck. And by this stroke, the British Army was forced to relinquish its hold on one of the great American cities. In a time when proofs of potential victory were precious few, this single event did more than most to energize and inspire the Revolution.”  (New York Knox Trail History).

In March 1776, Washington seized Dorchester Heights (the key to Boston) and Knox placed the cannon in position there.  British General Howe realizing the danger of an impending American bombardment, withdrew his troops from the city. On March 17, he embarked his troops for Halifax. Boston was entered the following day by triumphant Americans. [3]
[1] "Noble Train of Artillery" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_train_of_artillery
[2] Brooks, Noah, Henry Knox, a Soldier of the Revolution: Major-general in the Continental Army, Washington's Chief of Artillery, First Secretary of War Under the Constitution, Founder of the Society of the Cincinnati; 1750–1806 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons., 1900), p. 210.
[3] "Historic Valley Forge" http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/knox.html

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“The Right Stuff” – The First American Army

“On the 14th of June, 1775, the Continental Congress, facing actual war, issued its first call for troops.  It is interesting to note the class of men to which America turned in her hour of extreme peril. Congress, having resolved itself into a committee of the whole, decided thus:

Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen, be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia; that each company consist of a captain, three lieutenants, four Serjeants, four Corporals, a Drummer or Trumpeter, and sixty-eight Privates. 

That each Company, as soon as completed, shall march and join the Army near Boston, to be there employed as Light Infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that Army.

Such was the beginning of the United States Army; for these were the first troops ever levied on this continent by the authority of the central Government. On the following day George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief.

It may seem strange that the first men called into service should be those furthest from the scene and hardest to reach, the nomadic hunters on the frontier. When hostilities were so imminent (Gage was already penned up in Boston, and Bunker Hill was but three days off), why did Congress send hundreds of miles into the wilderness, when the seaboard towns were alive with men eager to enlist?

…the action was due to a subtler policy than appears on the surface, and that it was suggested by the only man in Congress who knew the backwoodsman like a brother; who had marched with them, camped with them, fought side by side with them – by Washington himself. It was plain enough that a corps of these incomparable sharpshooters, hardy, indomitable, experienced in war, would be the right stuff to meet British Regulars. But there was another and a deeper motive which impelled Congress at this critical hour to hazard the delay of sending for the mountaineers…

The colonies at this time were still separated by petty jealousies and local pride. Cavalier mocked at Puritan, and Knickerbocker mistrusted both. Would these discordant elements act together when the supreme hour arrived? Would Virginia strike hands with Massachusetts? Would Pennsylvania fraternize with Connecticut and Maryland?  Granting that war was inevitable, it was above all else essential that this continental army have a nucleus that was not provincial , but American.

Where, then, were these Americans to be found?

As a surveyor in the back country, as scout and diplomat on his long midwinter march through the wilderness to the French outpost in the Ohio country, and especially with his Virginians in Braddock’s fatal expedition, Washington had formed the acquaintance of a set of men whose like was to be found nowhere on earth. These were the hunters, Indian fighters, pioneers of the Alleghenies… far in the interior there dwelt and roamed a class of men who remembered no fatherland but the wilderness they trod. Their food was won with the rifle, and their shelter was with the axe. Procuring everything they wanted from the forest with their own hands, they asked nothing of civilization, and never were in debt.

Here were Americans. Original in all things, they were not to be confounded with this or that province, or with any European race. Their freedom needed no proclamation; it showed in every movement and looked straight from their eyes.

We see, then, the significance of Washington’s fondness for the hunting shirt [he ordered 10,000 for his new troops]. It was an emblem of liberty, which never in history of man was worn by enslaved people.  It was distinctive. It meant: We are Americans.

And when Congress drew its first levies from the backwoods, it was not alone to secure the services of the finest marksmen living[1]. Something more was sought. It was the moral effect, upon the camp at Cambridge, of independence typified by flesh and blood, clad in American Garb, and wielding an American weapon…

As the riflemen moved swiftly toward Cambridge, there was rejoicing along the line of March.  The brothers Bradford, printers of Philadelphia, wrote to a London publisher:

‘This province has raised 1000 riflemen, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man’s head at the distance of 150-200 yards, therefore advise your officers who shall hereafter come to America to settle their affairs in England before their departure.” (London Chronicle, August 17-19, 1775, p. 174)…’”[2]

"To Washington, who desperately needed to keep the British from attacking during the ammunition crisis, the arrival of the riflemen was an answer to a prayer. They brought with them not only their rifles but a fierce reputation as fighting men." (Harrington, Patriot Riflemen, 2000)

[1] The frontier troops’ marksmanship with their American made long rifles became legendary, as they could, to a man, shoot an orange at 100 yards. The Virginia Gazette of July 25, 1775 carried an article claiming that so many riflemen had volunteered for the rifle companies that a shooting test was required to weed down the numbers. It was claimed that the judges chalked a drawing of a human nose on a board and sixty men were said to have riddled the mark from 150 yards away.

[2] This blog post is an excerpt from John G. W. Dillin, “The Kentucky Rife” (Washington D. C., 1924). pp. 77-83.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, the Constitution, and Justice

By: Tony Williams

Most everyone knows Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which I wrote about here on its fiftieth anniversary last August.  The March on Washington and King’s famous speech had a singular impact upon the Civil Rights Movement and passage of the Civil Rights Act.  The “I Have a Dream” speech was profoundly shaped by American founding constitutional principles.

As important and brilliant as the “I Have a Dream” speech was, the lesser-known “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was perhaps an even more profound examination of the principles of constitutionalism and justice. 

In early 1963, King and the movement were faltering after a failed campaign in Albany, GA, to raise awareness of the injustice of segregation.  The leaders of the movement decided strategically to make Birmingham, AL, a showcase of injustice with the reaction of a virulently racist police chief. 

Mass demonstrations and arrests soon followed.  Pretty soon, the infamous police dogs and fire hoses were loosed upon the demonstrators.  King, himself, marched in defiance of the local authorities and shared a prison cell with his fellow marchers.  King proceeded to pen a letter explaining his breaking of the law banning the demonstrators from marching as well as explain to the white ministers who opposed his direct action campaign why he could not follow their counsel to “wait” for justice. 

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a logical and philosophical masterpiece of persuasive writing and is profoundly rooted in the traditions and thinkers of Western civilization.  King writes that blacks “have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights.”  He starts by appealing to the pathos of the readers recounting many terrible injustices suffered by southern blacks from the “stinging darts of segregation.” 

King addressed the fact that people were legitimately concerned that King and other leaders were breaking the law “since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools [Brown v. Board of Education].  How can King advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?  His answer is that “there fire two types of laws: just and unjust.”  King is a firm advocate of the moral responsibility of obeying just laws for order in civil society.  However, he argues that, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”   He then quotes the great Christian authority, St. Augustine, that “an unjust law is no law at all.” 

Like a good philosopher King sets about defining his terms “just” and “unjust” to prove his case about following them.  A just law, King writes, is a “man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”  The unjust is “out of harmony with the moral law.”  King assumes, like the Founding Fathers, that there was a natural law of right and wrong given to humans by the Creator.  For support for this natural law philosophy, King refers to the great Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas, who held that an unjust law is “’a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.’” 

King provides further elaboration by positing that just laws uplift the human person while unjust laws “distort the soul.”  Just laws are rooted in human equality as in the words of the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”), while unjust laws give a false sense of superiority and inferiority.  King uses the terminology of the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, arguing that unjust laws are based upon an “I-It” relationship rather than an “I-Thou,” treating people as things rather than persons with dignity.  In language that might seem out of place in today’s politics, King went so far as to say that segregation was not only “politically, economically, and sociologically unsound; it is morally wrong and awful.”  Indeed, he writes that segregation is an example of man’s “terrible sinfulness.”  Finally, the unjust segregation laws were inflicted upon a minority with no vote in creating the laws and thereby passed without consent, violating American principles of republican self-government.  He quotes from St. Paul, Martin Luther, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln to support the ideal of justice. 

King rejects the argument that his belief in breaking unjust laws would lead to anarchy.  “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty,” he writes.  “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”  He refers to other examples of those who were persecuted for disobeying the laws of the state including Socrates, Jesus, the Christian martyrs, and the members of the Boston Tea Party. 

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a document that argued for justice deeply rooted in the Western and American traditions.  King agrees with James Madison, who wrote in Federalist #51 that, “Justice is the end of government.  It is the end of civil society.  It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained.”  In a state where the strong majority oppressed the weak minority, “anarchy may as truly be said to reign.”   

King anchored the Civil Rights movement in American principles of liberty and self-government.  “One day,” King wrote, the world will note that the Civil Rights demonstrators were “standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of four books including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Favorite Benjamin Franklin Quotes

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706.  Franklin was a leading American author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, statesman, and diplomat. He was the only Founding Father to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain, and the Constitution. Here are a few quotes from this wise and great man (many of which were published under a pseudonym in his popular Poor Richard's Almanack), and which after more than two centuries still ring true.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”

“Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.”

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”

“Creditors have better memories than debtors.”

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

“Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them.”

“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure.”

“Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.”

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

“Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other.”

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

“Half a truth is often a great lie.”

“He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.”

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made.”

“If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.”

“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.”

“It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy those that follow.”

“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.”

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.”

Marriage is the most natural state of man, and... the state in which you will find solid happiness.”

“Life's Tragedy is that we get old to soon and wise too late.”

“Lost time is never found again.”

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

“Observe all men, thyself most.”

“One today is worth two tomorrows.”

“Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.”

“Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.”

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

“The strictest law sometimes becomes the severest injustice.”

“Work as if you were to live a hundred years. Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

“Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.”

“There was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.”

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

“Where liberty is, there is my country.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Best Books of 2013

Happy New Year to all our readers, teachers, and fellow citizens who are helping to make the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute a voice in the national civic discussion and continuing education of American founding principles.  2013 has seen the publication of many important books related to history and politics related to the Founding.  We at the WJMI have invited a few scholars to reflect on some of the best books they read that were published this year (or very recently).  That is of course a different list that they might have drawn up of the best books they read this year whatever the publication date, some may quibble with some of the choices.  But, we hope that you will read over lists, enter into the conversation, and maybe even pick up one of the following books! 

Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute, and author of four books, including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

         One of my favorite books of the year was published by a frequent lecturer at the WJMI, David Bobb, who wrote Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue (Thomas Nelson).  Trying to restore some sanity to our national civic conversation, Bobb spends the beginning of the book with a brilliant, readable examination of humility in classical and Christian philosophy.  He then examines the virtue of humility in the character and statesmanship of George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.  Coming in under 200 pp., it is a wonderful brief masterpiece on this highly original topic. 

         In The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (Random House), Arthur Herman compares and contrasts the ideas of the great ancient Greek philosophers and their relative influence on Western philosophers in the medieval and modern world.  The book is broad in scope, written with magnificent prose, has sound judgments, and demonstrates a remarkable erudition.  It is a grand achievement. 

         Although many books on the American Founding did not always live up to my expectations, two solid books on the subject were Stephen Brumwell, George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus), and John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation (Bloomsbury).  Brumwell’s Washington is an aggressive risk-taker in war and an eighteenth-century virtuous gentleman.  Ferling’s book narrates the events, ideas, and characters of the well-known rivalry in the 1790s that shaped the America of today. 

         Daniel Hannan, an English writer and former member of the European Parliament, has written a book – Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World (Harper Collins) – on the “Anglosphere” based upon extensive research and experience in politics.  In the book, he examines what Winston Churchill called the “English-Speaking Peoples” and notes that their great political success, economic growth and world leadership has resulted from the exceptional principles of individual liberty, the common law, a rule of law, property rights, and representative government as seen in its great charters of liberty: Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the American Constitution. 

         In The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right (Basic Books), Yuval Levin writes an intelligent comparison of great British conservative, Edmund Burke, and radical pamphleteer, Thomas Paine.  Levin attempts to prove that Burke represents the right and Paine the left in politics.   Although he underestimates the significant political changes engendered in the Progressive Era and rise of the welfare state in creating the current political categories that he is analyzing, this important discussion of these lesser-known figures in the popular imagination is an important, thought-provoking one.   

         Coming off Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written another magisterial tome of history and American politics, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster).  The book compares and contrasts the progressive policies and expansion of federal and presidential power under Roosevelt and the conservative temperament and use of power by Taft.  Goodwin also shows the very close ties Roosevelt had to progressive journalists who eschewed journalistic objectivity for social activism.  Although Goodwin is a firm advocate for Roosevelt’s view and a masterful writer of narrative history, she perhaps inadvertently exposes how much of a progressive Teddy Roosevelt was in expanding federal power and creating the twentieth-century state. 

David Frisk, a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, is author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012).

         A notable disjunction exists between intellectuals and average citizens on the Right. Ordinary people tend to assume that freedom and a governmental recognition of traditional values fit together. The intellectuals are prone to suspect that when the question is considered rigorously, they don’t. One intellectual who thinks they do is Donald Devine, a vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, formerly a political scientist at the University of Maryland and a high official in the Reagan administration. His book, America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution (ISI Books), introduces believers in limited government and traditional values to the relationship between these ideals—both of which conservatives identify with, but whose linkages aren’t often clearly expressed.

Devine does this with a combination of persuasive policy analysis and well-integrated insights from various thinkers which help to argue for the Right’s stances on current issues. His title reflects a general view among conservatives that the country has indeed lost its way, along with the author’s opinion that too many people they have accepted as their political representatives are lost as well. After watching the Reagan-era spirit of limited government recede in the George W. Bush years, Devine was among those disgruntled leaders who thought the conservative movement had been badly wounded by Republican officeholders who wouldn’t uphold its principles and probably didn’t get them. Now, with a passionate statist in the White House, he is hoping for a new Reaganism. America’s Way Back—inspired partly by the role Frank Meyer, the in-house philosopher at the early National Review, played among conservatives—offers current activists the deeper understanding of their less-government, more-responsibility platform without which they may win elections but cannot govern.

Stephen F. Knott is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College and author of several books including Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (University of Kansas Press) 

The year 2012 marked the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but this “commemoration” generated little interest from the American public and the media. Donald R. Hickey’s book, The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence (The Library of America), however, brings this distant war to life in a gripping manner that gives this forgotten conflict the attention it deserves.

Hickey has assembled a fascinating collection of writings that do justice to both the “great man” approach to history as well as to those interested in the experiences of “ordinary” people engaged in the conflict. All are given their due, including Native-Americans, prisoners of war, disgruntled and disloyal Federalists, newspaper editors, and key decision makers in Washington and London. While most of the causes of the conflict remained unresolved at war’s end, “Mr. Madison’s War” restored a sense of American honor and respectability. For many Americans, the War of 1812 was America’s “Second War of Independence,” a conflict that concluded the unfinished business of the American Revolution. One important outcome of the war was that it convinced James Madison that Alexander Hamilton’s proposals for a national bank, a professional military, and a vibrant manufacturing base were all in the national interest. As Hickey notes, after the war Republicans who “had been hostile to peacetime defense spending . . . embraced a sizable army and an ambitious program of naval expansion and coastal defense.” Unable to make reality bend to his Republican ideology, President Madison was forced to concede on many of the contentious points that had divided the young nation since the early 1790s.

J. David Gowdy, is the founder and President of WJMI, and the author of "Jefferson & Madison’s Guide to the Constitution" and "Seven Principles of Liberty."

         In Long Journey with Mr. Jefferson: The Life of Dumas Malone (Potomac Books), author William G. Hyland, Jr. reviews the life of the noted author Dumas Malone as a man, teacher, and historian. The ultimate focus of the biography, and of Malone’s life, was the research and writing of his six-volume biography Thomas Jefferson and His Time, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History, and is considered the definitive work on Jefferson’s life. This 38-year labor of devotion occupied much of Malone’s professional life, and constituted his crowning achievement (particularly considering that Malone struggled with pain and blindness the last 15 years of his 83-year life).  Malone’s unequaled experience in seeking to uncover and comprehend Jefferson’s character led him to confess that, “I considered him my friend.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1757 - July 12, 1804)

By: Stephen F. Knott

Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot in the notorious duel at Weehawken, New Jersey, in July, 1804, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. A controversial figure in his time and ours, Hamilton is often portrayed as the most reactionary member of the founding generation — the man who hoped to foist a crown upon America and called the people a “great beast.” Although Hamilton did not advocate the former and probably never said the latter, he remains for many Americans the founding’s villain.

It is unfortunate that many Americans have this distorted image of Hamilton, for no man worked more assiduously for the ratification of the American Constitution than Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton had many doubts about the efficacy of the Constitution, yet as the guiding force behind The Federalist Papers and for the remainder of his life, he arrayed all of his formidable intellectual talents in defense of our nation’s charter.  Hamilton was well aware that he was part of a unique generation (Tom Brokaw to the contrary, this was America’s greatest generation) whose decisions would prove to cynics around the globe that men were capable “of establishing good government from reflection and choice” rather than on “accident and force.”

On Alexander Hamilton’s birthday, perhaps George Washington’s perspective on his closest advisor is worth pondering. As the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Washington observed that Hamilton filled “one of the most important departments of government with acknowledged abilities and integrity.” Washington went on to note that Hamilton was “enterprising, quick in his perceptions” and that his judgment was “intuitively great.” Responding to Hamilton’s critics, Washington noted that some considered Hamilton to be an “ambitious man, and therefore a dangerous one. That he is ambitious I shall readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand.” 

As Americans living under the Constitution, we are the modern beneficiaries of Alexander Hamilton’s great abilities, intuitive judgment, and laudable excellence.
Stephen F. Knott is a member of the Board of Visitors of WJMI, a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College and the author of Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (2002).