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.
An article tucked away on the back page of my local newspaper caught my attention: the Library of Congress has become the latest federal agency to acquire a SWAT team. The Library of Congress? We know that only members of Congress and high level executive department officials have check-out privileges, so it is unlikely that SWAT teams will be used to recall overdue books. What then? Is there evidence of a planned terrorist plot to destroy the Madison papers and thereby our memory of constitutional government? Perhaps an assault by Taliban negotiators on some of the still-secret Kissinger papers to learn how Le Duc Tho outwitted the U.S. in the Paris Peace accords?
This next Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Justin Litke on his new book, Twilight of the Republic. Our conversation focuses on the book's attempt to situate twentieth century claims of American Exceptionalism within the context of the political symbols and public meanings that are revealed in significant political documents stretching back to the Mayflower Compact and forward to Albert Beveridge's 1900 Senate speech "In Support of American Empire." Along the way, we discuss the Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in order to better understand Litke's powerfully argued claim that the…
I write from the Washington, DC suburbs, now quivering in fear from the violence of the last few weeks, from madmen, our police, and our Redskin-baiting politicians. But a Canadian immigrant (and I don’t mean Mark Steyn) relieves some discontent while producing even more.
In furious rage against the Cruz-sade, this weekend’s New York Times regular op-ed page columnists sputter about President Obama resorting to sinking aircraft carriers; Washington DC Hunger Games workouts led by Paul Ryan; and our sick politics that has produced gerrymandered red-lite districts. But there is an adult in the room, Times writer-at-large and sadly, former Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus, who gets to the heart of the crisis in his op-ed, “The Benefits of Intransigence.”
Our review essay this week is Ted McAllister's "The Tyrannical Declaration of Independence" on Alexander Tsesis' book For Liberty and Equality: The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence: The intellectual rise of Neo-Progressivism over the past three decades depended heavily on historians who helped craft a compelling story of America. This story had to expose and chronicle the dark history of exploitation of the privileged and powerful against a litany of victimized “others” while simultaneously laying claim to a worthy past that is unfolding toward a noble future. The psychological benefits of this story are many and powerful, though…
In my previous post on this theme, I attempted to provide a friendly critique of Greve’s competitive federalism thesis by way of James Madison and his arguments in both Federalist 39 and the Virginia Resolutions of 1798. I wanted to show that Madison’s position challenges the notion that state governments are just revenue maximizing authorities. I also stated that maintaining free government requires more than self-interest; indeed, it requires qualities that are its opposite. Perhaps this last bit could be better stated. What we need are public virtues that compliment and make whole self interest.
But why should we have confidence that the state governments could ever perform in the capacity argued for by Madison? The question might be more basic: Why Liberty?
Why did the Southern states choose to secede when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November of 1860? At the time, Southerners attributed “secession winter” to the fear that Lincoln and the Republicans fully intended to make war on slavery, bypassing the Constitution, which left the issue of slavery to the states. Thus, they believed, their only option was to separate from the Union.
Northern Democrats agreed, contending that Republicans intended to circumvent the Constitution’s prohibition against direct federal action against slavery. Agitation by the “Black Republicans” was responsible for the crisis. The Democrats felt vindicated when Republicans refused to compromise on the extension of slavery into the territories. In addition, the Democrats charged, the Republicans intended to refuse to enforce the fugitive slave law that had been passed in 1850 as part of the Great Compromise.
Much of President Obama’s speech commemorating the 1963 civil rights March on Washington deserves praise–or at least admiration. Speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, he began by reciting the most famous lines from the Declaration of Independence. He reminded his cynical audience that the cause of civil rights comes from the heart of our national existence. And he reinforced that principle by later quoting Lincoln, in his brief speech on the meaning of the Declaration, that “the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”
One of libertarianism’s more admirable traits is its spiritedness, a welcome addition in a grey world. My blogging colleague Mike Rappaport adds thoughtfulness to spiritedness in his various elaborations on libertarianism. Lately he has asked what a libertarian immigration policy might be and has responded to Michael Lind’s provocation that there are no libertarian countries.
Mike’s responses raise questions fundamental to the adequacy of libertarian thinking. I speculate that a kind of universalism originating in the Declaration of Independence underlies his thinking, but that a decisive Lincolnian correction is needed.
Thanks to Greg Weiner (and the commenters) for taking on my original piece, which has gathered far more attention than I had anticipated. Greg argues that, “It has become commonplace to see the Declaration as a radical break with this tradition—and, in some circles, the Constitution as a radical break again—but a continuum of this symbol is clearly traceable.” Yet, though there is some “traceable” continuity, the Declaration is of a different order.