US State Constitutions and the American Contribution to the Theory of Bicameralism

Virginia State Capitol complex - old House of Delegates chamber

With the US House of Representatives representing the people, and the US Senate representing the states (more so prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment, but that’s another discussion), the US Congress is a recognizable extension of the “mixed-government” rationale for legislative bicameralism.

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John Adams’ Rules for Dealing with American Oligarchy

Painting of John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792

The verdict of history can be hard to overturn, even when patently unjust. Luke Mayville, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for American Studies at Columbia University, is a young scholar pursuing his own version of the Innocence Project. The beneficiary of his researches is John Adams, who despite his revolutionary bona fides and his manifold services to the new nation, was tagged a “monocrat” and a reactionary apologist for aristocracy by Thomas Jefferson and his partisans. Mayville’s fine first book, John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy, almost completely clears Adams of these old, but remarkably persistent, anti-democratic charges.

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Dark Times, the Declaration, and the Despotic Executive

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

It’s been a year since my last little piece on the Declaration of Independence, and what a year it’s been.

On the Right of our political spectrum, one could sum up its events and eventfulness in one word: Trump. A party has been captured by an outsider, the disaffection of millions of its rank-and-file revealed. At the national level, the Grand Old Party is not so grand or even particularly coherent, and some fear it might not last as a party. Something similar can be said of the party of the Left. Substitute “Clinton” and “Sanders” and comparable deep fissures emerge, although perhaps with less likelihood of disintegration.

What light, in terms of principles and manner of thinking about politics, might this context shed?

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Uber Drivers—This Century’s Yeomen of Liberty

One of the great pleasures of using Uber is talking to drivers about why they have chosen to use the service. Almost to a man (and so far all my drivers have been men) they celebrate being their own boss.  They decide when and where they would like to drive and even what model of car they will use.

Their ebullience about Uber is also informed by their previous experiences as employees. Quite a few previously worked for limousine companies and had difficulty getting along with management. One was summarily fired to make way for a nephew of the owner.

Their independence has social and political as well as personal benefits. It is striking in my conversations how aware they are of regulatory threats to their business and of the price of inputs, like insurance. Their knowledge translates into a healthy skepticism of government intervention generally. The political sensibility that comes from being in small business is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty.

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Hamilton versus Jefferson: A Conversation with Carson Holloway on the Struggle to Complete the Founding

hamitlonThis next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Carson Holloway on his new book, Hamilton versus Jefferson in the Washington Administration.

Leftward Drift Makes It Harder for Republicans to Confirm a “Moderate”

Some have called on the President and the Senate Republicans to compromise on the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia: The President should nominate a “moderate” candidate whom the Senate would then confirm. But any such compromise is likely a bad deal for Republicans. In modern times justices have tended to drift left, unless they were anchored in the conservative legal movement or were already on the left. Ideological ratings of justice year by year show overwhelming evidence of leftward movement. Thus, a moderate today would very likely become at least moderately liberal over time.

There are two reasons for this leftward drift. First, the current of the bar runs left. Thus, justices are surrounded by a  dominant legal culture that pulls in one direction. This is not the first time that such a strong current has frustrated one side of the political spectrum. Despite their 24-year control of the Presidency, Jeffersonian-Republicans were unable to change the course of the Federalist Supreme Court. After nineteen straight years of Democratic-Republican Presidents, the Court even upheld unanimously the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States—the bête noire of Thomas Jefferson.

Second, the accolades of our elites go to justices on the left.

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The Road to Prosperity and the Plans of Politicians

Powerful Economy Concept

The next two Republican presidential debates, including this evening’s, will focus on the economy, a testimony to the weakness of our recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the continued relevance of James Carville’s campaign advice to Bill Clinton over 20 years ago (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), and the all-but-universal assumption that American Presidents can, should, and must create the conditions for widespread prosperity.

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The Dual Virtues of American Citizenship: Jealousy and Commitment

Taking the Oath of Citizenship at a Naturalization ceremony

A naturalization address given last week by Professor Kevin Hardwick in Beaverdam, Virginia at Scotchtown, the governor’s residence of Patrick Henry during the War for Independence.

In the late 1790s, during the presidency of John Adams, Americans conducted a bitter public debate over the meaning of patriotism.  The dominant political party at the time, the Federalists, confronted an emerging opposition, headed by Thomas Jefferson.   The opposition, the Democratic-Republican party, sharply criticized the Federalists, and condemned both their policies and their motives.

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Two Cheers for Large Corporations

Large corporations help those of modest incomes by selling low-cost goods to the many. They help employees by providing relatively stable jobs, by offering a discipline that many workers cannot impose on themselves, and providing career opportunities that small businesses frequently do not.  Walmart to me is the paradigm example. It has been partially responsible for the happy fact that the cost of living has been going up more slowly for the those lower on the income scale than those higher. It has employed over a million people and not generally those who have backgrounds in prestigious education or other evidence of high human capital endowment.

But some commentators have doubted whether such large corporations are good for our republic and our civic culture generally. This concern has deep roots in American history, harking back to the Jeffersonian vision of a nation of sturdy and independent yeoman farmers.  Before the modern era some even thought to make the antitrust law the legal means to sustain an economic world of “small dealers and worthy men.” 

Nevertheless, on balance large corporations are good for our civic culture, at least given the kind of modern government we have. First, these corporations do indeed still promote a work ethic, particularly in a culture where government schools do such a bad job of this. Even modest jobs at companies socialize people into work and get them started on productive life.

Second, large corporations offer the closet approximation many people will have to civic associations of the kind Tocqueville celebrated.

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Do We Want a Redeemed Constitution?

Textured American Constitution with US Flag

My current podcast is a discussion with a most excellent scholar, Michael Paulsen, on the book he has coauthored with his son, Luke Paulsen, introducing the U. S. Constitution to the general reader. Good as the book is in many respects, it did surprise me with its embrace of the idea that the Constitution of 1787 was a pro-slavery document.

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