Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Wisdom of John Adams

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

“I am surprised at the suddenness as well as the greatness of this revolution... It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals.”

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

“The happiness of society is the end of government.”

“They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.”

“But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.”

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof [the White House].”

“Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.” 

“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

“You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

“Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.”

“The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated.”

“The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.”

“The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families.... How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?”

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”
Source: Kees De Mooy, ed., The Wisdom of John Adams (Kensington, New York, 2003).

Monday, October 22, 2018

All Men Are Created Equal

On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress affirmed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and edited and approved by the “Committee of Five,” consisting of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston, the Declaration was adopted as the official proclamation of the thirteen American Colonies and later signed by fifty-six delegates. Did Jefferson, the Committee of Five, the signers, and those men and women patriots who sacrificed for the “glorious cause” of liberty really believe that “all men” are created equal?  Jefferson did refer to slaves as men in his first draft of the Declaration. Later in his life, he wrote that “whatever may be the degree of talent it is no measure of their rights,” since no man has a natural right to be lord over other persons (Letter to Henri Gregoire, February 25, 1809). If the founders did believe this was a “self-evident truth,” did they betray that principle by allowing slavery to continue?

No man or statesman ever contemplated and wrestled with these crucial questions more thoroughly and deeply than did Abraham Lincoln. He expressed, “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence…It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.” (Address at Independence Hall, February 22, 1861). Earlier in his political career, he stated, “Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men … [whereas] ours began, by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government. Possibly so, said we; and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant and vicious. We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser; and all better, and happier together.” (Speech fragment on Slavery, circa 1857-1858. Autograph manuscript).

During the campaign of 1858, Lincoln engaged in a series of formal debates with the incumbent Senator, Stephen A. Douglas, in a contest for one of Illinois' two United States Senate seats. Although Lincoln lost the election, these debates launched him into national prominence which eventually led to his election as President of the United States. The main theme of the Lincoln–Douglas debates was slavery, particularly the issue of slavery's expansion into the territories. Preceding the debates, in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Taney, held that that negroes or African-Americans, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The question of the equal rights of “all men” was on the mind of ‘almost all’ citizens. The long-held and simmering disagreements related to this question, and to slavery itself, led not only to great debates, but to great divisions among the American people.

In the candidates’ debate held on October 7, 1858 at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln replied, “The judge [Douglas] has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that it is a slander upon the framers of that instrument to suppose that negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible to believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned the immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the negro race, and yet held a portion of that race in slavery? … I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence; I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President [including Jefferson] ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so, or that any living man upon the whole earth ever said so, until the necessities of the present policy of the Democratic party in regard to slavery had to invent that affirmation.”

Lincoln repeated this same powerful argument in the next debate held on October 15, 1858, at Alton, Illinois: “[T]here never had been a man, so far as I knew or believed, in the whole world, who had said that the Declaration of Independence did not include negroes in the term “all men.” I reassert it today. I assert that Judge Douglas and all his friends may search the whole records of the country, and it will be a matter of great astonishment to me if they shall be able to find that one human being three years ago had ever uttered the astounding sentiment that the term “all men” in the Declaration did not include the negro. Do not let me be misunderstood. I know that more than three years ago there were men who, finding this assertion constantly in the way of their schemes to bring about the ascendency and perpetuation of slavery, denied the truth of it. I know that Mr. Calhoun and all the politicians of his school denied the truth of the Declaration. I know that it ran along in the mouth of some Southern men for a period of years, ending at last in that shameful, though rather forcible declaration of Pettit of Indiana, upon the floor of the United States Senate, that the Declaration of Independence was in that respect “a self-evident lie,” rather than a self-evident truth. But I say, with a perfect knowledge of all this hawking at the Declaration without directly attacking it, that three years ago there never had lived a man who had ventured to assail it in the sneaking way of pretending to believe it, and then asserting it did not include the negro. I believe the first man who ever said it was Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, and the next to him was our friend Stephen A. Douglas. And now it has become the catch-word of the entire [Democratic] party.”

In these debates, Lincoln plainly confronted the incongruences of opposing arguments and exposed the inherent fallacy of the Southern states’ position with respect to the founding. Some basis for the South’s prejudice in this matter may be found in the implausible argument of Senator John C. Calhoun (South Carolina) in 1837 that “slavery was a positive good.” This reasoning, followed by the ostensible legal justification in the Dred Scott decision 20 years later, combined with vested economic interests, together became rolling stones contributing to the secession of South Carolina and other southern states from the Union in 1860-1861.

A few weeks preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, the new Confederate States’ Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens, in his “Corner Stone Speech,” delivered on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, confirmed that the Confederacy stood for the proposition that Jefferson and the Founders were fundamentally wrong in declaring that “all men are created equal.” Remarkably and sadly, Stephens said, “The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’ Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Thus, the South actually argued against Jefferson and the language of the Declaration in seeking to justify their philosophy of inequality. And, “Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas and Alexander Stephens [all] agreed on one thing: the cause of the civil war was slavery.” – Thomas G. West, Vindicating the Founders (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), p. 35.

Even Frederick Douglass, the former slave and an articulate spokesman for his people, supported the fact that the principle of human equality was enshrined in the Declaration. He stated, “I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost…” (“What, to the Slave, is the Fourth Of July?” Rochester, New York, addressing the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, July 5, 1852). He firmly believed that with the Declaration and the Constitution, “there are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.” (Id.). Those forces operated, and from 1861 to 1865 approximately 620,000 Americans died in a brutal war between the North and South that preserved the Union and brought an end to slavery (Civil War casualties exceed the nation's losses in all its other wars combined).

The answer and conclusion to this first, great question is Lincoln’s, briefly, yet eloquently set forth in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Our nation was indeed conceived in liberty and dedicated to this divine proposition – that “all men are created equal” – meaning all races and creeds. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War were fought to establish and to defend this great principle of liberty, respectively, in companionship with other natural rights. Every generation must also consider and respond to the self-evident truth of the equal rights of man, and determine whether our nation “so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” May we study, understand, and as Frederick Douglass implored: “stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Federalist Papers & Publius: Architects of the Republic

“The "Federalist" may fairly enough be regarded as the most authentic exposition of the text of the federal Constitution as understood by the Body [Constitutional Convention] which prepared & and the Authorities [state ratifying conventions] which accepted it.” --James Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, February 8, 1825 (Peterson, 1974, 2. page 383).  

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's is pleased to announce its next teacher education workshop on the topic of “The Federalist Papers: Architects of the Republic.” This event will honor the 230th anniversary of the publication of the Federalist (1788-2018) and is being co-sponsored by the George Washington Center for Constitutional Studies. The program will include 3 x 1.0 hour class sessions. Along with presentations, the format will include a “roundtable” discussion using original source documents with participation by all. 

The outline of the sessions and agenda are as follows: 

8:30–9:00 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00–10:00 a.m. First Classroom Session -- "The Federalist and Human Nature." Presentation by Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Ph.D. (30-40 minutes): the role of human nature in the establishment and maintenance of a republic, representative government, separation of powers, federalism and the structure of the Constitution.  Followed by Q&A and discussion (20-30 minutes) 

10:15–11:15 a.m. Second Classroom Session -- “The best commentary on Government ever written” (Thomas Jefferson) Roundtable Discussion: Review of the historical background of the Federalist Papers, their authors, their general purpose, and their significance to the American Founding and to classical political science. Discussion Chair: Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Ph.D. 

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Third Classroom Session -- "Teaching the Federalist Papers"  Lessons by John J. Patrick and Clair W. Keller (ERIC and OAH) [11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.] Presentation by J. David Gowdy (30 minutes) on Civic Education in the U.S. and the importance of teaching selections from the Federalist Papers in secondary schools, review of ERIC lessons. Followed by Roundtable Discussion (30 minutes)

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. Luncheon    

WJMI welcomes Dr. Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor in Leadership and American Studies at Christopher Newport University as Presenter and Discussion Chair.

The workshop is designed primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, or U. S. History. The workshop, meals and class materials all complimentary (no cost) to teachers. 

The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, October 19th, 2018 at to be held at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn. The Seminar qualifies for four Virginia recertification points or 4 hours. Seating is limited. Teachers wishing to attend should pre-register. All registrations are requested by October 5th.

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 than 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

Benjamin Rush (January 4, 1746– April 19, 1813) was a Founding Father of the United States who signed the United States Declaration of Independence, and a civic leader in Philadelphia, where he was a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, educator, and the founder of Dickinson College. Rush was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress. He served as surgeon general of the Continental Army and became a professor of chemistry, medical theory, and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Rush was a leader of the American Enlightenment and an enthusiastic supporter of the American Revolution. He was a leader in Pennsylvania's ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. He was prominent in many reforms, especially in the areas of medicine and education. He opposed slavery, advocated free public schools, and sought improved education for women and a more enlightened penal system.

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 Benjamin Rush, 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

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 

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).