The Sixteenth of July, not having the same ring, will never compete with the Fourth for fireworks, picnics, or paeans to the document published on that day. But now that Americans have digested our annual hosannas to the natural rights theory of the Declaration of Independence, we might save a moment to remember the appearance, in the New York Independent Journal of July 16, 1788, of Publius’ broadside against a Bill of Rights. If the Fourth of July represents the American contribution to abstract universalism on rights, July 16 was the day we theorized it, in Federalist 84, as the…
Between the breathless whispers that Judge Neil Gorsuch intends to impose either medieval Catholicism or, worse, Oxford sensibilities from the bench through the mechanism of natural law and the fear that he might otherwise glide into the legal positivism of which Justice Scalia was unreasonably accused lies another possibility: The Constitution can neither be interpreted through natural law nor reduced to positive law. It is more profitably understood as fundamental law.
Americans are united in professing respect for the Constitution, but they are deeply divided over what it actually means and how it ought to be interpreted. These disagreements have roiled our public life for decades. Everybody who follows politics knows about the clashes between the liberal proponents of judicial activism and the conservative defenders of judicial deference. These arguments go on and on, with neither side succeeding in persuading the other of the superior merits of its theory. Faced with this ongoing deadlock, we wonder if there is any way to achieve unity on the meaning of the Constitution.
On the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909, Booker T. Washington delivered an important speech before the Republican Club of New York City. His “Address on Abraham Lincoln” deserves to be better known. Not only does it provide an astute assessment of the Great Emancipator’s virtues and legacy, but it demonstrates the ability of a talented statesman to deploy the memory of Lincoln to meet pressing needs of the moment.
My previous posts for Law and Liberty examining Abraham Lincoln’s use of the Bible in the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses generated interest that far exceeded my expectations (and those of the editor). These were primarily descriptive rather than critical assessments of the propriety of Lincoln’s references or allusions to Scripture in these celebrated orations. Space constraints did not allow me to explore other issues of interest to me, such as the perils of deploying religion in political—often partisan—rhetoric.