Defending the Founders

Abraham Lincoln on Thomas Jefferson

Featured image In April 1859, the recently formed Massachusetts Republican Party celebrated the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, a founder of what had become the Democratic Party. For the occasion, Abraham Lincoln sent a letter to the Massachusetts Republicans. Lincoln explained away the irony of Republicans celebrating Jefferson, and then captured the essence of Jefferson’s contribution to our Founding and to our freedom. Here are key excerpts: Bearing in mind that about 70 »

Pauline Maier, RIP

Featured image I tended to enjoy Pauline Maier’s impressive historical scholarship, even though much of the time I thought she reached the wrong conclusions about the meaning of the ideas and events she wrote about, especially the Declaration of Independence.  She seemed to embody a trait found often among historians, of mastering and uncovering important facts, but having no systematic grasp of the wider theoretical implications of the subject matter.  She often »

The Blog as Modern Pamphlet

Featured image I’m re-reading for the first time in many years Bernard Bailyn’s classic Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which deservedly won both the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes.  An early footnote (yes, I always take in the footnotes) quotes George Orwell from 1948: “At any given moment there is a sort of all-prevailing orthodoxy, a general tacit agreement not to discuss some large and uncomfortable fact.”  Orwell thought the remedy to »

We Still Hold These Truths: Happy July 4

Featured image In addition to re-reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, it is useful also to recall Calvin Coolidge’s speech on the sesquicentennial of the Declaration in 1926, which sets out why the Declaration remains authoritative in American political life: About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.  It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we »

High tide of Obamaism

Featured image It may be too optimistic to wonder if commencement speech to the graduating students of Ohio State University (White House video here) might not have represented the high tide of Obamaism. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I wonder if it might not be (bumpily, with the implementation of Obamacare before us) downhill from here: Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as »

Just us

Featured image In one of his routines on the justice system dating back to the early 1970’s, comedian Richard Pryor commented sarcastically (in language rated XXX): “You go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find: Just us.” Pryor was referring to the racial composition of the players involved in the administration of justice. Times have changed substantially in that respect, but reading Ben Shapiro’s account of President Obama’s gun control »

Fundamental transformation, originalist style?

Featured image Over at NRO’s Corner, my daughter Eliana has an interesting preview of coming attractions in the Senate: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee — the Senate’s rabble-rousing GOP triumvirate – seek nothing less than to fundamentally transform the debate over gun control. As has been reported, they will likely filibuster when Harry Reid brings his gun-control legislation up for a vote. In doing so, according to sources, they hope »

Persecution and the college campus

Featured image James Wagner has found himself in a familiar position and he has dealt with it in the familiar fashion. Speaking as the president of Emory University, he praised one of the constitutional compromises with slavery. Writing in the university’s alumni magazine, Wagner cited the provision counting slaves as three-fifths of the population that determined congressional representation (and electoral votes in presidential elections) as a compromise that should inspire today’s gridlocked »

Remembering the indispensable man

Featured image Today is the anniversary of the birth of George Washington. Of all the great men of the revolutionary era to whom we owe our freedom, Washington’s greatness was the rarest and the most needed. At this remove in time, it is also the hardest to comprehend. Take, for example, Washington’s contribution to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Washington’s mere presence lent the undertaking and its handiwork the legitimacy that resulted »

Remembering Mr. Lincoln

Featured image Today is of course the anniversary of the birth of America’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. As a politician and as president, Lincoln was a profound student of the Constitution and constitutional history. Perhaps most important, Lincoln was America’s indispensable teacher of the moral ground of political freedom at the exact moment when the country was on the threshold of abandoning what he called its “ancient faith” that all men are »

The gospel according to Ben Carson

Featured image Introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions, Dr. Benjamin Carson spoke on Thursday this week at the National Prayer Breakfast to an audience that included President and Mrs. Obama up on the dais. Dr. Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon who has lived a life of incredible accomplishment defying seemingly impossible odds. Watching the video, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dr. Carson might not have a greater contribution to make outside »

Publius: Learn How to Fight Bullying

Featured image By now most everyone has seen or heard about Ben Shaprio’s magnificent smackdown of the egregious Piers Morgan on CNN a few weeks back (posted below).  If people didn’t know of Ben before then, they enjoyed a star-in-the-making moment.  But even a natural talent usually has some important help along the way, and in Ben’s case, it was the Claremont Institute’s Publius Fellows program.  Ben was among the 2006 class »

Obama’s Living Declaration

Featured image I think it would be a serious mistake to ignore or fail to attend closely to President Obama’s second inaugural address. It speaks to his ambition, his assault on the founding principles, and his attempt to realign the electorate on a misreading or misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the meaning of the founding principles. Attention must be paid. See, e.g., Yuval Levin’s “Obama’s second inaugural.” As R.J. Pestritto has demonstrated, the »

O, Fortuna

Featured image In the post-election “Now What?” edition of National Review just out today, I have an article suggesting that the durable features of the Constitution, however attenuated by a century of “progressivism,” should caution us from overdoing our pessimism.  The whole article is behind a subscriber firewall, but here’s the lede: Conservatives are natural pessimists, based on a realism about fallible human nature that fuels our opposition to the coercive utopianism »

Mid-Week Book Notes

Featured image While we await the Ryan-Biden smackdown tonight, a few notes from the bookpile.  Harry Jaffa has a new collection just out: Crisis of the Strauss Divided: Essays on Leo Strauss and Straussianism, East and West (Rowman & Littlefield).  It contains several essays written at the height of some of the disputes about Strauss in the 1980s, and some earlier material, such as Jaffa’s essay on the occasion of Strauss’s death »

The Godfather of Liberalism

Featured image Our friends at the Heritage Foundation have launched a new educational initiative, Makers of American Political Thought, featuring short essays on key figures and ideas in American politics.  (There will be an essay in this series from me a ways down the road, about a certain modern president.)  The first essay in the series came out last week—Hillsdale’s R.J. Pestritto on Woodrow Wilson: Godfather of Liberalism. Pestritto is the author »

The eternal meaning of Independence Day, part 2

Featured image President Calvin Coolidge celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1926, with a speech providing a magisterial review of the history and thought underlying the Declaration. His speech on the occasion deserves to be read and studied in its entirety. The following paragraph, however, is particularly relevant to the challenge that confronts us in the variants of the progressive dogma that pass themselves off today »