When ordinary Americans reflect at all on their political tradition, the Gettysburg Address invariably stands at the center of those thoughts. Yet there is reason to doubt whether it ought to occupy the same rarified air as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist, or other celebrated documents in American history. The Gettysburg Address has displaced these other works from their centrality in the American mind, but it shouldn’t.
McCraw uses the immigrant experience to explain in part the development of a national perspective (see here and here for the 1st 2 installments in this series). Being originally outsiders, immigrants could see the forest for the trees while many, if not most of their native born friends were freighted with the prejudices of particular states. (363) It was this, combined with Hamilton’s and Gallatin’s natural brilliance, McCraw contends “that enabled them to envision and then to execute the responsible deployment of rootless capital in the forging of a new economy.” (326)
Looked at from this perspective, McCraw understandably connects only partially to his subjects pre-American experiences, and then more for Hamilton than Gallatin. Much of the former’s sense of urgency and impatience stemmed, as he notes, from Hamilton’s youth on the island of Nevis: “He knew from his boyhood that things could fall apart on short notice.” (49)
The Caribbean was not the most stable region politically. Hamilton’s own French Huguenot background through his mother, and his father’s origins in Scotland, testify to the imperial seesaw that characterized the geopolitical reality of the islands. Yet for Gallatin, he misses a similar opportunity.
This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with John Vile about his new book, The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action. Our discussion, chronologically and philosophically, retraces the dramatic story of the Founders' Constitution. In four parts, we talk about the failing of the Articles of Confederation, the need to reground republican government on constraints and diffusions of power given the governing weaknesses of many state governments, arguments and contests among major and lesser known figures at the Philadelphia Convention, and the often overlooked state ratifying conventions where the Constitution had to…
How did the following clause of the Constitution–Article I, Section 8, clause 1— come into being? “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the Unites States.” And how did the common defense clause and the general welfare clause make their way into the Preamble of the Constitution?
The general welfare clause makes its first appearance in Article III of the Articles of Confederation of 1781. The same is true for the common defense clause. These two clauses have been linked together from the very beginning in the quest for an expression of the appropriate role of the federal government.