Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alexander Hamilton, Natural Rights, and the Purposes of American Government

By: Tony Williams

In 1825, near the end of his life (which, of course, occurred on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence), Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Henry Lee regarding the intent and sources of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson freely admitted that his lasting contribution to explaining the causes of separation and defining the purposes of American government was not entirely original. 

      This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. …[1]

Jefferson was correct: many patriots were expressing the same argument for natural rights from God and republican self-government based upon the consent of the governed.  One such essay was written in 1775 by a precocious young New York college student who had recently emigrated from the West Indies and immediately joined the patriot cause especially after the Boston Tea Party and repressive Coercive Acts that violated the liberties of New Englanders. 

Tory Anglican minister, Rev. Samuel Seabury, of New York, printed a scathing attack on the Continental Congress and questioned the legality of its continental association which banned imports from Great Britain as Americans had repeatedly done for a decade to protest British tyranny.  He called the Congress “a venomous brood of scorpions” who threatened to “sting us to death.”[2]

The young man, Alexander Hamilton, immediately took up his pen and responded to Seabury with a couple of lengthy pamphlets entitled A Full Vindication of Congress and Farmer Refuted.  Farmer Refuted was an essay that demonstrated the veracity of Jefferson’s claim that the principles he laid out in the Declaration of Independence were circulating among patriots throughout the American colonies.

Hamilton begins his argument by refuting Seabury’s contention that Hamilton’s state of nature (imaging the nature of man before government existed) would be a Hobbesian world free of moral restraint and be a “war of all against all.”  Contrarily, Hamilton argues that God created a natural moral law that was “an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind.”  He quotes Blackstone (and, indirectly, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others) for support that, “No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this.”    

So, Hamilton contends that there is a fabric of morality sown into human nature.  He also maintains that human beings are endowed by their Creator with reason to discover this moral law as well as with natural rights built into their natures.
Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind: the Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beautifying that existence.  He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which to discern and pursue such things . . . and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty and personal safety.[3]

         In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[4]  Hamilton makes the same argument for God-given rights with an eloquence rivaling Jefferson:

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records.  They are written, as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

       In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson also stated that republican self-government was based upon a social contract (from John Locke) with the purpose of protecting natural rights.  “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Hamilton agrees, quoting Blackstone again, that the “principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature . . . the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.”  In his own words, Hamilton strongly agrees with the consensual origins of government and its purpose to protect individual rights. 

The origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact between the rulers and ruled, and must be liable to such limitations as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man, or set of men, have to govern others, except their own consent?

Hamilton and Jefferson agreed that a tyrannical government was defined by stripping the people of their natural rights, thereby violating the very purpose for which it was created.  It broke the social contract, and the people had the right to disobey its laws and rebel.  Jefferson stated, “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government . . . as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”  In Farmer Refuted, Hamilton also contends that there is a right of rebellion against tyrannical government. 

To usurp dominion over a people in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to intrust, is to violate the law of nature which gives every man a right to his personal liberty, and can therefore confer no obligation of obedience.

The Lockean ideas that God endowed all humans with natural rights embedded into their humanity and that government was a social compact established to protect those rights but forfeited its right to popular obedience when it failed to fulfill this purpose was at the philosophical foundations of the creation of the American republic in 1776.  These principles found their most popular and well-known expression in the Declaration of Independence, but they had been stated by numerous others including the pamphlets of James Otis and Richard Bland, George Mason in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and an essay written in 1775 by a young genius who embraced the principles of the glorious cause for liberty. 

In his later defense of the Constitution as Publius in Federalist #84, Hamilton wrote that, “The Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, a BILL OF RIGHTS.”[5]  What he meant is that the proposed Constitution was a written framework of government established in a social contract of the sovereign people through deliberation with the very purpose of protecting natural rights.  Thereby, he weaved the seamless ideals of Farmer Refuted (and the Declaration of Independence) to the Constitution into a single garment of American self-government. 

Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it so poetically, the Constitution created a republican government to protect the natural rights in the Declaration of Independence. 

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved 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, or bruised or broken.
Tony Williams is the Program Director of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute, which is hosting a seminar on Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution to commemorate Constitution Day. 

[2] Quoted in Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin Press, 2004). 
[3] This, and all other quotes from Farmer Refuted, can be found in Richard B. Vernier, The Revolutionary Writings of Alexander Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008); the Ashbrook Center on-line document library at; and the forthcoming WJMI primary source reader with commentary, J.David Gowdy and Tony Williams, Alexander Hamilton and American Constitutionalism. 
[5] Federalist #84 can be found at, and Gowdy and Williams, Alexander Hamilton and American Constitutionalism. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” and American Founding Principles

By: Tony Williams, WJMI Program Director

Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd of some 250,000 black and white Americans, many clergy, and other supporters of civil rights. Every school child has heard of this epic speech, but usually swept away by the soaring oratory and pathos of the speech rather than understanding its principles. King’s speech is profoundly important in its understanding of American founding principles of liberty, natural rights, and self-government.

 From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King immediately struck a very Lincolnian note when he stated, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves one hundred years before on January 1, 1863.

Five score years ago. The phrasing of course evokes the other great document of 1863, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” which begins, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” So, King appeals to both of those great documents of liberty, which Lincoln applied to all human beings.

With those four short words – “Five score years ago” – King brilliantly appeals not only to the Gettysburg Address but especially the Declaration of Independence which was adopted four score and seven years before the Gettysburg Address. Both documents pronounce that all men have liberty and equality as they were created by God endowed with inalienable natural rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Next, King offers high praise for the founding fathers. He says that the “architects of our republic” wrote the “magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” This is highly significant in light of the current popular belief disseminated in schools and colleges that Thomas Jefferson and the other founders were rich, white, Protestant, property-owning, misogynistic, males who did not include blacks, women, the poor, and other groups in their idea that “all men are created equal.” But, in King’s view, Jefferson expressed a belief in universal rights embedded in the very nature of human beings by God. He does not call Jefferson a racist and a hypocrite for then King would simply tell the demonstrators that America is based upon lie and urge them to go home.

King takes America to task for the ensuing one hundred years of racism since 1863 as ample proof that black Americans were not actually enjoying their God-given rights. Indeed, he subtly changes the wording of the equality principle in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. For Thomas Jefferson, the idea that all men are born equal was a “self-evident truth” and a principle that was axiomatic and did not need proof. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln, even though he agreed with Jefferson that it was a true principle, altered equality to a “proposition,” a proposal that needed to be proven because it was being challenged by the Confederates who denied that blacks were meant to be included in the Declaration.

For his part, King labels the equality principle a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the ‘Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Again, King argues that Jefferson meant all humans, but he used the term “promissory note” because black Americans were not enjoying the rights they had by nature. King, like Lincoln, believed that equality was a true principle, but racism caused it to be an unfulfilled promise. “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” Still, King did not give up on America and shared the faith of Jefferson and Lincoln in American principles. “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

King initiates his parallel construction of repeating “I Have a Dream” by indicating that his dream is “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” In yet another reference to the Declaration of Independence, he had a dream that, “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’” The same truths were evident, King says, in the patriotic songs celebrating the founding of America that every schoolchild knew: “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

The master orator builds up to a crescendo, finishing his speech with an appeal to universal freedom of all humans by saying, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” In other words, black Americans had finally won the right to enjoy their inalienable, God-given rights as a universal principle declared nine score and seven years before.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is richly steeped in the tradition of natural rights principles of the American republic. He reached deep into the founding of America and its greatest documents of liberty to craft his own historic appeal to the rights of mankind. That is why we recognize Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as one of the greatest American speeches on its fiftieth anniversary.

The documents referenced in this essay can all be found at the excellent document library of the Teaching American History website at the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

One hundred fifty years ago, on July 1-3, 1863, the most important battle of the American Civil War was fought.  

"General Robert E. Lee concentrated his full strength [leading the Army of Northern Virginia] against Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at the crossroads county seat of Gettysburg at what would come to be known as the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1st, Confederate forces converged on the town from west and north, driving Union defenders back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. During the night, reinforcements arrived for both sides. On July 2nd, Lee attempted to envelop the Federals, first striking the Union left flank at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, and the Round Tops with Longstreet’s and Hill’s divisions, and then attacking the Union right at Culp’s and East Cemetery Hills with Ewell’s divisions. By evening, the Federals retained Little Round Top and had repulsed most of Ewell’s men."

"Late in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, on a boulder-strewn hillside on the left flank of the Union line, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain dashed headlong into history, leading his 20th Maine Regiment in perhaps the most famous counterattack of the Civil War. The regiment’s sudden, desperate bayonet charge blunted the Confederate assault on Little Round Top and has been credited with saving Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac."

"During the morning of July 3rd, the Confederate infantry were driven from their last toe-hold on Culp’s Hill. In the afternoon, after a preliminary artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. The Pickett-Pettigrew assault (more popularly, “Pickett’s Charge”) momentarily pierced the Union line but was driven back with severe casualties. Stuart’s cavalry attempted to gain the Union rear but was repulsed."

The assault line of Pickett's Charge, comprised of approximately 12,500 Confederate soldiers engaged in the attack, extended a half-mile in width. "The hapless attackers were required to advance one mile through an open field and over a stone fence before they could engage their enemy. The majority of this distance was covered at a rank-and-file walk while Union troops poured deadly cannon and rifle fire upon them. The Confederates could not fire back. The Union troops, however, maintained a murderous hail of rifle fire by organizing themselves into efficient lines of four soldiers. After the first in line fired, he would move to the back of the line to reload his weapon while the next in line fired."

"The impact of this efficient killing machine on the approaching Confederates was devastating. As their comrades fell, their units would reorganize and tighten their ranks. Smoke from the cannonade from both sides soon drifted over the field dramatically reducing visibility. The noise was deafening. As they approached within a a few feet of the Union line, the Confederates charged. Some were able to scale the low stone wall separating them from their enemy, but the devastating fire from the Union troops forced a retreat. The battle was over."

Approximately 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died over three bloody days at Gettysburg, while another roughly 30,000 were wounded.

"Gettysburg holds significance for many reasons:

• It was a turning point in the war, ensuring the preservation of the nation [under the Constitution].
• Four months later, it was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where he described his vision for a “new birth of freedom” for America. It was what many consider the best summation in our nation’s history of the meaning and price of freedom.
• In the decades following the battle, it became a symbol of reconciliation, as soldiers from the Union and the Confederacy returned to the battlefield to shake hands across the fence lines."

“The world …can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

--Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Bill of Rights and James Madison’s Statesmanship

On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights into the First Congress.  Madison delivered what was arguably the most important speech of his political career.  It was a masterpiece of rhetorical statesmanship.  Madison attempted to persuade those with whom he agreed that a Bill of Rights was not very necessary to support it in order to save the Constitution and produce unity in the new republic. 

Madison had surprisingly opposed a Bill of Rights since it was introduced during the Constitutional Convention by Virginian George Mason and advocated by the Anti-Federalists throughout the ratification debate in the states.  During a long exchange with Thomas Jefferson, then in Paris, Madison privately articulated his reasons for opposing a Bill of Rights.  

Most of the Madison’s reasoning was based upon the fact that he believed, along with James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, that the Founders had created a natural rights republic with enumerated powers in a written constitution.  The rights of mankind were built into the fabric of human nature by God, and government had no powers to alienate an individual’s rights.  Moreover, leaving certain rights out or vaguely defining them was a recipe for disaster since the government could then act with respect to rights where it had no power according to the original compact. 

Although he enumerated several reasons for his opposition, Madison then gave his friend hope when he averred that most important reason in favor of a Bill of Rights was that, “The political truths declared in that solemn manner acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the National sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion.”  Madison thought the liberties would become engrained in the American character.

When he arose to give the speech on June 8, Madison faced hostility from several Federalists who thought the House of Representatives had more pressing business to attend to and seemed to ignore their promise of “subsequent amendments” safeguarding liberties during the ratification debates. Madison wanted to make sure that obligation was fulfilled because he knew that failing to do sure would strengthen the Anti-Federalist push for a second Convention to alter the Constitution and that it would stir up continuing opposition to the new republic. 

Madison began his speech by stating that a Bill of Rights would prove to the Anti-Federalists that the Federalists were “as sincerely devoted to liberty and a republican government.”  In an act of reconciliation and magnanimity, he reached out to the Anti-Federalists because, “We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution.”   

Madison then explained that the people had something to gain, but nothing to lose from the protection of their sacred liberties.  He was concerned that if the Congress did not act, a second Constitutional Convention would fundamentally alter the structure of government.  He wanted to avert this possibility at all costs.  But he did “wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights.” 

Perhaps surprisingly to modern ears, the greatest danger would not come from the executive or judicial branches but from the legislative.  In a republican form of government, the people are most directly represented in the legislative branch which makes the laws.  Therefore, it is the most powerful branch where the greatest danger really comes from the “great body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.” 

Madison then neatly summarizes the arguments of the Federalist opponents of the Bill of Rights, admitting that “the arguments are not entirely without foundation.”  He agreed that the national government had enumerated powers and could not act outside those powers to violate liberties in addition to the fact that states already had bills of rights.  A Bill of Rights might also leave some rights out, thereby rendering them insecure and subject to violation.  “This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights,” he admits.  

Although he thought that the state legislatures would guard against encroachments by the national government and that the states were the “sure guardians of the people’s liberty,” Madison had witnessed severe repression of the rights of conscience and majority tyranny in Virginia and thought the proposed Bill of Rights should apply to the states as well as the national government.  “It must be admitted,” he argued, “that the state governments are as liable to attack these invaluable privileges as the general government is, and therefore ought to be as cautiously guarded against.”  The members of Congress fought zealously against limitations upon the states and Madison lost this battle.  Until the Fourteenth Amendment “incorporated” the Bill of Rights, it only applied to the national government. 

Madison magnanimously completed his lengthy speech by reaffirming the significance of considering amendments to the Constitution protecting liberties and fulfilling the sacred pledges made during the ratification debates.  “If we can make the constitution better in the opinion of those who are opposed to it, without weakening its frame, or abridging its usefulness, in the judgment of those who are attached to it, we act the part of wise and liberal men.” 

This important speech was a model of statesmanship.  It sought to produce unity on constitutionalism in the new American republic by reaching out to opponents and prudently deflecting calls for additional constitutional conventions, which Madison thought would result in chaos.  He could have done what was politically expedient and deferred to those who wanted to delay consideration of a Bill of Rights though Madison saw that the Federalists probably meant never to take it up.  They had won the debate after all, and the Constitution was ratified.  Madison would not let them off the hook and held them to their pledge to safeguard the traditional and natural rights of mankind in a free republic.  He set aside his own belief that the Bill of Rights was not wholly necessary and stood firm for principle and the public good.  That is why, amid the commemorations of Memorial Day, D-Day, and Independence Day we should remember the principles of June 8 for which those brave soldiers were fighting when they gave their “last full measure of devotion.”  
Tony Williams is the Program Director for the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute.  He is the author of four books on the founding of America including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jefferson & Madison's Guide to the Constitution

Get a FREE copy of “Jefferson and Madison’s Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Constitution” by J. David Gowdy
This publication is intended to assist teachers, students, parents, and citizens in understanding and appreciating the Constitution of the United States of America. It is designed as a handbook for studying the Constitution in the tradition of the founders, using the source documents and writings identified by them as the “best guides” to its principles and meaning. These sources include the writings of Locke and Sidney, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and Washington’s Farewell Address.
A main purpose of this book is to serve as a teacher and student manual for use in secondary schools, but is also for use by parents in the home, as well as by individual citizens. It is intended to organize and summarize in a clear and usable fashion, all of the sources identified by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as those required to teach and understand our constitutional liberties and unalienable rights.
It is incumbent upon each of us to study and ponder the heritage of liberty, and to assist in fulfilling the intent of our Founding Fathers to “advance and diffuse” this essential knowledge concerning human rights, equality, and the Constitution into our nation’s schools and homes, which in the past have stood on the front line as guardians of the “sacred fire of liberty.”
To download “Jefferson and Madison’s Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Constitution” by J. David Gowdy for future reading please right mouse click, then click save to download – Jefferson-And-Madisons-Guide-To-Understanding-and-Teaching-The Constitution
Click to learn more about the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute

Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring Our Veterans

By: Tony Williams

Americans honor those who have served every Memorial Day and acknowledge the sacrifice that untold thousands have made, and are making, in the service of their country by attending parades, thanking a veteran, wearing a poppy, or posting on their social media pages.  We thank the veterans for serving their country and those who gave “their last full measure of devotion” dying for their country and for the principles of liberty and republican self-government as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. 

Annually on Veteran's Day, we naturally think of those who have fought abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other armed conflicts since September 11, 2001.  We also think much of our fathers who fought in Korea or Vietnam during the Cold War, or our grandfathers who struggled against the forces of darkness in Iwo Jima or Normandy during World War II when “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”  But, when Americans commemorate the sacrifice of their soldiers and the principles for which they fought, they also reach back into the distant past. 

The tradition of fighting for American principles of liberty and self-government was seen in the horrendous battles of Antietam and Gettysburg when brother fought against brother for a “new birth of freedom.”  They fought for those principles at Fort McHenry and in New Orleans against the British in the War of 1812, what many historians have called the “second war for independence.” 

But, we reach even farther into the past to honor who defended freedom and democracy in ancient Greece against the Persian Empire who offered submission, slavery, and tyranny.  On the plains of Marathon in 490 B.C., a mostly Athenian army stood against King Darius and slaughtered over 6,400 of the enemy while suffering only 192 losses, soon revered as the “Marathon Men.”  At the Hot Gates of Thermoplyae in 480 B.C., Spartan King Leonidas and his band of 300 (and several hundred allies) slew as many as 20,000 Persians, delaying King Xerxes’ invasion and teaching him about the power of armies defending their lands, their families, their freedom, and their consensual governments.  While Xerxes burned a deserted Athens later that year, free men sailed out at Salamis and handed the Persians a decisive defeat that caused the king to flee home.  On the fields of Plataea in 479 B.C., the Greeks pledged an oath before their victory that, “I will fight as long as I am alive, and I shall not value living above my being free . . . And I shall bury in the same spot the dead of those who have fought as my allies, and shall leave behind none of them unburied.” 

For me, Memorial Day weekend has always been a time of reflective reading in the history of soldiers and their wars.  I have spent time over the years reading books from Stephen Ambrose’s epic histories of D-Day and World War II to David McCullough’s 1776 narrating the dramatic events of Washington’s heroic Crossing of the Delaware. 

Here are some recently published books this spring that will help citizens reflect on the soldiers throughout history that have contributed to the legacy of liberty and free government.

Victor Davis Hanson, The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars that were Lost – From Ancient Greece to Iraq (New York: Bloomsbury).  Hanson, one of our greatest classicists, military historians, and writers has penned a series of portraits of important generals including Themistocles, Belisarius, William T. Sherman, Matthew Ridgway, and David Petreus, who have snatched victory from desperate moments of seemingly lost wars.  Hanson tells us that he chose generals from consensual societies because “the very notion of ‘savior’ is embedded within some sense of a moral universe that should be saved.”  Hitler’s generals often won against great odds, but “their causes ultimately were better lost than won.” 

Paul Cartledge, After Thermoplyae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Greco-Persian Wars (New York: Oxford University Press).  Cartledge is one of the best academic popularizers of ancient Greek history.  He debunks the origins of the Oath of Plataea but provides a nice study of the Greek world and the wars with the Persians.  He argues that Plataea “was one of those historic rarities, a truly decisive battle.  Moreover, its result brought a surprisingly positive outcome not just for the Greeks but arguably for the entire future of western civilization as a whole.” 

Nathaniel Philbrick, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution (New York: Viking).  Philbrick is a popular historian and non-fiction writer who has produced a solid narrative history of Bunker Hill, seeing it as a result of a decade of British tyranny.  He writes of the importance of the battle: “The Battle of Bunker Hill is the critical turning point in the story of how a rebellion born in the streets of Boston became a countrywide war for independence.”

Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (New York: Knopf).  Guelzo, arguably the finest living scholar on Abraham Lincoln, has produced an outstanding military history of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Guelzo rejects his fellow academic historians who scoff at the writing of military history and notes its significance: “We cannot talk about the American nineteenth century without talking about the Civil War, and we cannot talk about the Civil War without acknowledging, even grudgingly, that the Civil War’s singular event was a war,” and the singular battle in Guelzo’s eyes was Gettysburg. 

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Night: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York: Henry Holt).  Military historian Rick Atkinson ends his epic trilogy of Americans liberating Europe from the iron grip of Nazi tyranny in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and now Northern France.  His massive achievement is the crowning story of the courageous men who stormed the beaches. 

Finally, two recent books, Richard Beeman’s Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor, as well as Joseph Ellis’ Revolutionary Summer, promise to be excellent books on the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the principles for which soldiers fought and died for.  We at the WJMI honor the sacrifice of those who fought for Western and American freedom from the plains of Marathon to the mountains of Afghanistan. 

Tony Williams is Program Director of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute, is a teacher and an author of four books on the Founding period, and lives with his family in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quotes Concerning the Federalist Papers

“[The Federalist Papers] have thrown new light upon the science of government; they have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner as cannot fail to make a lasting impression.” --George Washington

“[The Federalist Papers] will merit the Notice of Posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in Civil Society.” --George Washington                                
“[The Federalist Papers are] the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”  --Thomas Jefferson

“For all posterity the "Federalist" must remain the most authoritative commentary upon the Constitution that can be found; for it is the joint work of the principal author of that Constitution and of its most brilliant advocate.” --John Fiske (American author and historian)
“These essays have been appraised as 'the greatest treatise on government that has ever been written,' and its writers have been ranked as of the same order with Aristotle, Montesquieu, and Locke." –J. Reuben Clark, Jr. (Solicitor and Undersecretary of the U.S. State Department, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico).
“The Federalist letters are among the classics of American literature. Their practical wisdom stands pre-eminent amid the stream of controversial writing at the time.” --Winston Churchill
“[The Federalist Papers are] the most important work of political science ever written in the United States.” --Clinton Rossiter (Professor and historian, Cornell University)
“The Ideas of The Federalist should be essential elements of civic education, because they are core values and principles of the American heritage and foundations of national unity in a pluralistic society.” --John J. Patrick (Professor and author, Indiana University)

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of The Federalist for understanding the principles of American government and the challenges that liberal democracies confront early in the second decade of the 21st century.” --Peter Berkowitz (senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution)
“We must learn the principles of the Constitution in the tradition of the Founding Fathers.  Have we read the Federalist papers?” --Ezra Taft Benson (former Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower)

If you have not read the Federalist Papers, you simply cannot fully understand the Constitution, its principles and purposes. Available free online at the Library of Congress (among other sites): or order in paperback from  I invite you to start today...