Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

“American Conservatism and the Old Republic,” By Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

The following essay was written by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and is now published here with permission from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

As some renditions of American history would have it, the conservative pedigree in the United States begins with, or at the very least includes, Alexander Hamilton and his followers. In fact, the typical lineages are given thus: Federalist-Whig-Republican on the one hand and Jeffersonian-Jacksonian-Populist-New Deal on the other. This breakdown of the American political tradition was due in no small part to the work of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.—who, like many liberals, was well-nigh desperate to identify a major strain of American thought that modern liberalism could claim as its ancestor.

There is no reason for conservatives to adopt a dichotomy that was drawn up for them by their adversaries. All too many conservatives have misunderstood their own tradition because of their thoughtless acceptance of this Schlesingerian division. Russell Kirk certainly rejected it: in A Program for Conservatives, Kirk contended that Hamilton did not qualify as a conservative, and urged that “the liberal is mistaken, and the conservative ill-advised, if they try to make Hamilton into the founder of our conservative politics.”[1] Likewise, nearly four decades ago these very pages carried a rather different assessment of where conservatives’ sympathies should lie. In “The Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition,” Clyde N. Wilson argued, correctly in my view, that the proper conservative position was that of Jefferson: strict construction of the Constitution, states’ rights, and a relatively weak executive.[2]

If anything identifies a conservative, it is his realistic appraisal of human nature—his appreciation of what is good and admirable, and his recognition of what is base. He understands the need for institutional restraints to keep man’s predatory instincts under control. That is especially true with regard to the exercise of political power. Governments by definition possess a monopoly on the use of initiatory violence within their borders, and thus if people are going to live under a state at all it must possess institutional safeguards to discourage the misuse of such power.

It is not sufficient to divide federal power into three branches, for as Jefferson warned they could simply combine against the American people. Much more important is a sharp division of power between the federal government and the states, in order that political power may be broken up and divided, thereby making it still more difficult for wicked men to impose their designs on the people. This is the American version of the principle of subsidiarity, the decentralist philosophy that occupies an honored position in Christian social thought.

Jefferson even proposed that the states should have the power to nullify federal laws they believed to be unconstitutional, for only such a defense mechanism could protect the states against federal encroachment. If the federal government has a monopoly on interpreting the Constitution and the states simply have to accept its decisions, the eventual outcome should not be difficult to predict. (And if this idea sounds radical, it isn’t— Jefferson was giving voice to the mainstream political tradition of his native Virginia, extending all the way to the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788.)[3]

Deprive the states of such a power and we have no right to be surprised when the federal government runs roughshod over traditional local prerogatives and the states find themselves eclipsed. When South Carolina nullified the tariffs of 1828 and 1832, the result was a compromise that more or less satisfied the demands of both sides. How often in our own day does the federal government feel pressure to reach an accommodation with disgruntled states?

Both the Federalist diagnosis and the remedy they proposed for American society have proven disastrous from a conservative point of view. All too often the Federalists viewed the states as forces to be guarded against, liable as they were to sap the federal government of vigor. Exactly the opposite has happened, of course, and indeed it is the federal government that has needed guarding. Likewise, the judiciary, whose wise expositors of the law were supposed to uphold all that is good and honorable against the stupid and vicious common people, has itself become a central instrument in aggrandizing the federal government and depriving the people of power and rights.

Consider John Marshall, the second Chief Justice of the United States. For whatever reason Marshall has been held up as an icon for conservatives. He was nothing of the kind. Jeffersonians like Spencer Roane (and even, to some extent, James Madison) were absolutely correct in their sharp criticisms of Marshall, who introduced countless innovations into constitutional interpretation that plague Americans to this day. Those innovations have since ossified into sacred precedent that is all but impossible to dislodge.

For instance, Marshall made much of the Tenth Amendment’s wording to the effect that the states retained all powers “not delegated” to the federal government, noting that the Amendment failed to say “not expressly delegated.” But Marshall is not being honest here. Expressly delegated is precisely the wording that was used by Federalists themselves— including Virginia’s Edmund Randolph and South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney— to persuade the people to ratify the Constitution, and special emphasis was directed to this point at the very Virginia ratifying convention at which Marshall himself had been a delegate.[4]

Likewise, it was Marshall who transformed the “necessary and proper” clause into a far broader allowance than the Framers of the Constitution intended. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution granted Congress the power to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the department or officer thereof.” According to Marshall, “necessary” really meant “convenient,” and this clause afforded the government a considerable array of unenumerated powers. He explained that the word “necessary” often “imports no more than that one thing is convenient, or useful, or essential to another. To employ the means necessary to an end is generally understood as employing any means calculated to produce the end, and not as being confined to those single means, without which the end would be entirely unattainable.”[5]

The Constitution’s framers and ratifiers had had something rather different to say in their exegesis of the clause. George Nicholas told the Virginia ratifying convention that the necessary and proper clause “only enables them [Congress] to carry into execution the powers given to them, but gives them no additional power.” James Madison held the same view.[6] According to jurist St. George Tucker, the necessary and proper clause “neither enlarges any power specifically granted, nor is it a grant of new powers to congress, but merely a declaration, for the removal of all uncertainty, that the means of carrying into execution those otherwise granted, are included in the grant.”[7] Even Alexander Hamilton, who might have been expected to argue for a broader interpretation, maintained in Federalist no. 33 that the necessary and proper clause, along with the supremacy clause (Article VI, Clause 2), only made explicit what was logically and unavoidably implied in the very nature of the Constitution, and added nothing to that document other than simple clarification. He wrote, “It may be affirmed with perfect confidence that the constitutional operation of the intended government would be precisely the same, if these clauses were entirely obliterated, as if they were repeated in every article. They are only declaratory of a truth which would have resulted by necessary and unavoidable implication from the very act of constituting a federal government, and vesting it with certain specified powers” (emphasis added).

And this is not to mention Jefferson’s argument (echoed by figures like William Branch Giles) that if “necessary” means “convenient,” and the federal government may define “convenient,” there will be no aspect of American life it will be unable to touch, and the government of limited powers that the Framers plainly intended to establish will be no more.[8] For that reason alone, we know that such a rendering of the meaning of “necessary” cannot be correct.

It was also Marshall who began interpreting the commerce clause in ways that gave twentieth-century justices all manner of mischievous ideas. According to Madison, the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce had been intended as “a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government.”[9] Marshall, on the other hand, introduced—as in invented, with no historical or constitutional argument of any merit to speak of—the view that the clause allowed the federal government to regulate even a purely intrastate activity if it had an effect upon another state. Since, as Jefferson noted, everything can in some sense be said to affect everything else, this is a recipe for unlimited government.

The old republic with its strict limits on government was therefore being undermined from the beginning, even by figures who are held up to conservatives as icons. We are going to need analysis that is more critical and less hagiographical if we are to get to the bottom of our present difficulties and their origins.

Any analysis of the fate of the old republic will eventually settle on the question of the misnamed Civil War. “The question of whether the Confederate South or the Republican North was the carrier of the American conservative tradition can probably be debated fruitlessly and forever,” Wilson cautions, which is why no attempt will be made to settle that issue here.[10] But when we view that war in its proper context—that is, as a war of national unification that was typical of the nationalistic nineteenth century—we at once perceive how it undermined the republic of the Founders.

With secession declared to be illegal by the Supreme Court in 1869, the justices not deigning to justify this claim with such prosaic instruments as reason and evidence, an important check on the federal government’s power was removed. And with the very idea of states’ rights now on the defensive—though it was not actually crushed for several more decades yet—and the federal government having established to its own satisfaction that it was indeed the final and exclusive interpreter of the Constitution, the course of twentieth-century American history should not have been difficult to divine.

Although we cannot do the topic justice here, it is worth recalling a passage from Wilson’s 1969-70 article that ought to provoke those conservatives who date the decline of the republic to the 1930s or later:

There is very little done by Liberals in the twentieth century for which one cannot find some ancestor in the acts of the Republican Party in the nineteenth century. Lincoln’s arbitrary exercise of executive power has still not been matched. The great war powers exercised by Wilson and Roosevelt were formally granted them by Congress. Lincoln’s were simply seized. In deliberate indifference to the letter and spirit of the Constitution in pursuit of expediencies and passions of the moment, a Great Society Congress can find ample example in the conduct of the Republican Congressional Party from 1860 to 1876. In twisting the meaning of the Constitution to serve special interests and ideologies, the Warren Court can find colleagues in many of the Republican justices of the post-Civil War period. The first example of large-scale use of FDR’s famous tax, spend, and elect formula is the billions voted by the Republican Party for Union war pensions. The Radicals who formed one wing of the Republican Party are exact psychological and moral ancestors of today’s intolerant Liberals.[11]

In some cases the reductio ad Hitlerum is simply contemptible, but here it is instructive, for in Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler had some interesting things to say about states’ rights and the American Civil War. Hitler was altogether sympathetic to Lincoln and contemptuous of Southerners and their arguments from state sovereignty. In Germany, Hitler promised that the Nazis “would totally eliminate states’ rights altogether: Since for us the state as such is only a form, but the essential is its content, the nation, the people, it is clear that everything else must be subordinated to its sovereign interests. In particular we cannot grant to any individual state within the nation and the state representing it state sovereignty and sovereignty in point of political power.” Thus the “mischief of individual federated states…must cease and will some day cease…. National Socialism as a matter of principle must lay claim to the right to force its principles on the whole German nation without consideration of previous federated state boundaries.”[12]

The point here is not the crude one that Lincoln was Hitler, or that his admirers are National Socialists. Instead, we are reminded of the Jeffersonian argument that states’ rights—that is, the division of political power in America into smaller parts—is a necessary (if not always sufficient) ingredient in the protection of American liberty, and is consistently opposed by tyrants of every stripe. There is a lesson for Americans here that is surely not to be despised.

In his passage above, Clyde Wilson reminds us of Lincoln’s vigorous and constitutionally dubious exercise of executive power. A small industry has since emerged whose purpose is to explain away Lincoln’s use of power, and weaves the kind of apologias that we laugh at when we hear them uttered by foreigners in defense of their own rulers. The consequences of all this are still very much with us. Even today, whenever a mischievous federal government is under scrutiny, the predictable refrain is rarely far behind: even Lincoln did thus-and-so.

Such a ready defense of executive authority is highly dubious from a conservative point of view. The Federalists had envisioned a vigorous executive and a powerful independent judiciary, imagining these as institutional bulwarks against an unreliable and possibly dangerous majority will. What they failed to anticipate was the damage that could be done if these offices wound up in the hands of a frankly anti-constitutional party anxious to impose its social and economic preferences on the people. That is why the Jeffersonians are once again the better conservatives: by seeking to restrain all branches of government— though placing more confidence in the legislature than in any other—they minimized opportunities for the imposition of radical change upon an unwilling population.

The presidency was initially understood to be an office of relatively modest proportions. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, the president “has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends; and his influence in the state is too small for the success or ruin of a faction to depend upon his elevation to power.” Foreign as it sounds to us today, that was how the presidency was viewed by the framers of the Constitution. “The people who ratified the original Constitution never intended the presidency to be a powerful office spawning ‘great men,’” writes Robert Higgs. “Article II, Sections 2-4, which enumerate the powers of the president, comprise but four paragraphs, most of which deal with appointments and minor duties.”[13]

Both Andrew Jackson (philosophically) and Abraham Lincoln (politically) set the stage for a more expansive understanding of the powers and duties of the presidential office. But it was Theodore Roosevelt who first worked out a full-fledged philosophy of the presidency that would become the standard for the chief executives of the twentieth century and beyond. According to him, the president, by virtue of having been elected by the American population at large (rather than simply by the people of a district or state, as with representatives and senators), was the direct representative of the American people. As the people’s representative he had the responsibility to implement their will. And in implementing their will the president was not limited to an enumerated set of powers but was free to act except where expressly forbidden by the Constitution.[14]

Theodore Roosevelt also pioneered the technique of government by executive order—a presidential directive issued in the absence of congressional consent. What had been a rare and unremarkable practice on the part of his predecessors, usually in the pursuit of presidential actions authorized by the Constitution, became an ideological statement for Roosevelt, who was inclined to view Congress’s obstruction of his plans as an intolerable frustration of the people’s will. Consider: Presidents Hayes and Garfield issued no executive orders at all. Arthur issued three, Grover Cleveland (first term) six, Benjamin Harrison four, Cleveland (second term) 71, and McKinley 51. Roosevelt issued 1,006.[15]

In my published writing I have reflected at some length and with numerous examples on Roosevelt’s ignoble legacy in American history, so I shall be austere in my discussion of particular episodes here. In 1902 he intervened in the United Mine Workers strike and ordered the mine owners to agree to arbitration. He threatened to order the army to take over and operate the coal mines if they refused. When told that the Constitution did not permit the confiscation of private property in this manner, Roosevelt exclaimed, “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”

A forgotten aspect of this incident is that at one point Roosevelt summoned General John M. Schofield, instructing him: “I bid you pay no heed to any other authority, no heed to a writ from a judge, or anything else excepting my commands.” General Schofield was to stand ready, at the president’s command, to seize the mines from the operators and run them for the government.[16] When House Republican Whip James E. Watson heard the plan, he objected to the Republican president’s face: “What about the Constitution of the United States? What about seizing private property without due process of law?” Roosevelt shot back, “The Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution.”[17] Thus speaks every demagogue, to the disgust of any conservative worthy of the name.

A specific example that those who support an activist executive draw from Roosevelt’s presidency involves the Panama Canal. Here, they say, is a case in which executive vigor was certainly necessary, and where more scrupulosity and restraint in the exercise of power would have meant a tragic missed opportunity.

This argument misfires. As students of history know, Roosevelt helped foment a revolution in Panama in order to bring about its secession from Colombia—with the goal of securing a canal treaty on favorable terms from a grateful and compliant Panamanian regime. He hatched the scheme after the Colombian senate rejected his proposed terms for a canal. Instead of continuing negotiations, as he would almost certainly have done with a European nation (he said it was laughable to deal with South American countries as he would European ones), the impatient and contemptuous Theodore Roosevelt imposed a solution that damaged America’s good name for years to come.

We often carelessly assume that the way things actually turned out was the only way they could have turned out. Historian Tyler Dennett, on the other hand, said of the Panama Canal ordeal: “The saddest aspect of the episode was that it had all been so unnecessary.” According to William Marina, whose writing has appeared numerous times in these pages, “The rights for a canal satisfactory to all parties could have been negotiated with either Colombia or Panama, thus preventing the hatred of Roosevelt’s blatant imperialism which has plagued Americans ever since—but not before the election of 1904.”[18] David McCullough, whose biography of Harry Truman lionized that ideological descendant of Theodore Roosevelt, nevertheless conceded that had he “been a little more diplomatic and patient, probably an acceptable agreement could have been worked out with Colombia.”[19]

The subject of foreign policy in general has to be central to any overview of the old republic and our present situation. The Founders were wary of war for a great many reasons, among them a concern for how it expands government power and especially the executive branch. Purely defensive wars cause enough difficulties for a free society, but the waging of elective and/or ideological wars poses a far greater danger. That is why it was the conservatives who dominated the antiimperialist movement following the Spanish-American War of 1898.[20] The left, on the other hand, typically delighted in that war, and overwhelmingly favored United States intervention in World War I.

In his study of leftist clergy in the early twentieth century, Richard Gamble spoke of their transformation of war from a limited engagement with finite objectives into a grandiose crusade for ideological vindication—an approach that has always been anathema to conservatives. “They transported the war [World War I] out of the sordid but understandable realm of national ambition, rivalry, and interests—where policies and goals can be debated and defined—into the rarified world of ideals, abstractions, and politicized theology, where dissent and limitations are moral failures or even heresies.”[21] Richard Weaver, in his description of the typical American southerner, might have been speaking about the conservative statesman when he said that he “accepts the irremediability of a certain amount of evil and tries to fence it around instead of trying to stamp it out and thereby spreading it. His is a classical acknowledgment of tragedy and of the limits of power.”[22]

Conservatives, in fact, have been far more cautious and skeptical about the use of military power than people scanning the op-ed columns today might guess. In The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, George Nash identifies three figures as the key “traditionalists” in the postwar conservative renascence: Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and Robert Nisbet. All three, to one degree or another, were critics of militarism and the warfare state.

Already in the 1940s, for instance, Russell Kirk was criticizing the military draft. He thought military spending was too high even under the budget-conscious Dwight Eisenhower, and he opposed the war in Vietnam. Several years before his death he also opposed the Persian Gulf War of 1991, reminding conservatives that “Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.” He rebuked those Americans for whom patriotism had become thoughtless jingoism: “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace comes to pass in an era of Righteousness—that is, national or ideological self-righteousness in which the public is persuaded that ‘God is on our side,’ and that those who disagree should be brought here before the bar as war criminals.”[23] In correspondence with a friend he suggested that George H.W. Bush be strung up as a war criminal on the White House lawn.

Richard Weaver, whose Ideas Have Consequences and The Southern Tradition at Bay are seminal texts in the conservative canon, included a devastating indictment of total war among the essays in Visions of Order. On another occasion he observed that an important watershed in American history had been reached with the Spanish-American War of 1898.

One cannot feign surprise, therefore, that thirty years after the great struggle to consolidate and unionize American power [i.e., the Civil War], the nation embarked on its career of imperialism. The new nationalism enabled Theodore Roosevelt, than whom there was no more staunch advocate of union, to strut and bluster and intimidate our weaker neighbors. Ultimately it launched America upon its career of world imperialism, whose results are now being seen in indefinite military conscription, mountainous debt, restriction of dissent, and other abridgments of classical liberty.[24]

Robert Nisbet said much the same thing. Nisbet, who taught sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Arizona and Columbia University, was the author of 17 books and respected as a social thinker by friends and detractors alike. “War and the military,” Nisbet wrote, “are, without question, among the very worst of the earth’s afflictions, responsible for the majority of the torments, oppressions, tyrannies, and suffocations of thought the West has for long been exposed to. In military or war society anything resembling true freedom of thought, true individual initiative in the intellectual and cultural and economic areas, is made impossible—not only cut off when they threaten to appear but, worse, extinguished more or less at root. Between military and civil values there is, and always has been, relentless opposition. Nothing has proved more destructive of kinship, religion, and local patriotisms than has war and the accompanying military mind.”[25]

Although not among Nash’s top three thinkers, Felix Morley was the author of important conservative books and one of the founders of Human Events, the oldest conservative newsweekly in America. He, too, was cautious about war and indeed about anything that smacked of empire, for these things were surely perilous to the old republic. He feared that nationalism—a belligerent perversion of patriotism—could delude people into yielding their liberties in exchange for imperial glory. In Freedom and Federalism, Morley quoted Adolf Hitler as saying that “a powerful national government may encroach considerably upon the liberty of individuals as well as of the different States, and assume the responsibility for it, without weakening the Empire Idea, if only every citizen recognizes such measures as means for making his nation greater.”

“In other words,” Morley went on, “the problem of empire-building is essentially mystical. It must somehow foster the impression that a man is great in the degree that his nation is great; that a German as such is superior to a Belgian as such; an Englishman, to an Irishman; an American, to a Mexican: merely because the first-named countries are in each case more powerful than their comparatives. And people who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort.”

And finally: “Empire-building is fundamentally an application of mob psychology to the sphere of world politics, and how well it works is seen by considering the emotional satisfaction many English long derived from referring to ‘the Empire on which the sun never sets.’ Some Americans now get the same sort of lift from the fact that the Stars and Stripes now floats over detachments of ‘our boys’ in forty foreign countries.”[26]

Morley, in turn, was just repeating what the Founders had by and large taken for granted. As Charles Pinckney observed at the Constitutional Convention, “We mistake the object of our government, if we hope or wish that it is to make us respectable abroad. Conquest or superiority among other powers is not or ought not ever to be the object of republican systems. If they are sufficiently active and energetic to rescue us from contempt and preserve our domestic happiness and security, it is all we can expect from them— it is more than almost any other Government ensures to its citizens.”[27]

“National greatness conservatism,” as the alternative presented to conservatives is at times clumsily known, bears no resemblance to historic conservative thinking in America. If anything, it has far more in common with leftism than with conservatism, for it was the Left that was always unsatisfied with the prosaic pursuit of bourgeois life. The conservative who wishes to preserve the republic given to him in the eighteenth century must be an abiding skeptic of executive power, a vigorous supporter of states’ rights, and contemptuous of saccharine promises about remaking the world. Woodrow Wilson, in short, was not a conservative.

The conservative temperament shuns all appeals to utopia, and seeks instead those finite but noble (and attainable) virtues we associate with hearth and home. These are the things that the conservative delights in and defends. Nathaniel Hawthorne once observed that a state was about as large an area as the human heart could be expected to love, and Chesterton reminded us that the genuine patriot boasts not of how large his country is, but always and of necessity of how small it is. Now that is all very mundane and uninteresting to those who would urge “greatness” upon us, but if conservatism is less exciting than ideological crusades waged from now until eternity, it is also more realistic and more sober, and less likely to set the world ablaze.

[1] Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives (Chi- cago, 1954), 258.

[2] Clyde Wilson, “The Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition,” Modern Age 14 (Winter 1969-70), 36-48.

[3] See Kevin R.C. Gutzman, Virginia’s American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840 (Lanham, Md., 2007).

[4] Its playful title notwithstanding, Kevin R.C. Gutzman’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution (Wash- ington, D.C., 2007) is an extremely important one for conservatives, and speaks at much greater length on this and other aspects of John Marshall’s thought.

[5] Gerald Gunther, ed., John Marshall’s Defense of McCulloch v. Maryland (Stanford, 1969), 33.

[6] Randy E. Barnett, Restoring the Lost Consti- tution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton, 2004), 156. Emphasis added.

[7] St. George Tucker, View of the Constitution of the United States with Selected Writings (Indianapolis, 1999), 227.

[8] Thomas Jefferson, “Opinion Against the Constitutionality of a National Bank,” in The American Republic: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis, 2002), 475-76.

[9] Raoul Berger, “Judicial Manipu- lation of the Commerce Clause,” Texas Law Re- view 74 (March 1996), 705.

[10] Wilson, “Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition,” 43.

[11] Ibid., 43-44.

[12] Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Lincoln Unmasked (New York, 2006), 83-84.

[13] Robert Higgs, “No More ‘Great Presidents,’” The Free Market, March 1997.

[14] On Theodore Roosevelt’s philosophy of the presidency, see Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “Theodore Roosevelt and the Modern Presidency,” in Reas- sessing the Presidency, ed. John V. Denson (Au- burn, Ala., 2001), 341-61; see also Woods, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask (New York, 2007), 136-42.

[15] William J. Olson and Alan Woll, “Executive Orders and National Emergencies: How Presidents Have Come to ‘Run the Country’ by Usurping Legislative Power,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 358, October 28, 1999.

[16] Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York, 2002), 165.

[17] Ibid.

[18] William Marina, “From Rape to Seduction: Panama and the Shifting Strategy of Empire,” Reason (January 1978), 37.

[19] “David McCullough on TR’s World View,” mccull4.html.

[20] William E. Leuchtenburg, “Pro- gressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898- 1916,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39 (De- cember 1952): 486.

[21] See Richard Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, Del., 2003).

[22] Richard M. Weaver, “The South and the American Union,” in The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, eds. George M. Curtis III and James J. Thompson, Jr. (India- napolis, 1987), 235.

[23] Russell Kirk, “Political Errors at the End of the 20th Century,” Heritage Lecture #321, Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., February 27, 1991.

[24] Weaver, “The South and the American Union,” 247.

[25] Robert Nisbet, Twilight of Authority (Indianapolis, Ind., 2000 [1975]), 174.

[26] Felix Morley, Freedom and Fed- eralism (Indianapolis, Ind., 1981 [1959]), 144-45.

[27] Jonathan Elliot, ed., Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution in the Convention Held at Philadelphia in 1787 (Philadelphia, 1863), 236.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is a senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is the author, most recently, of Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse. He received his doctorate in history from Columbia University. This article was originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of Modern Age and is reprinted with permission from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

4 Responses to ““American Conservatism and the Old Republic,” By Thomas E. Woods, Jr.”

  1. gabe

    Great piece! With the exception of the gratuitous slam on old Abe by asserting Hitlerian support for Lincoln’s actions / beliefs. One can also find commentary by Hitler indicating his support for the South. So which is it to be?

    However, Woods arguments concerning Marshall is well founded, indeed. I have come to reassess my thinking about the Court. Whereas in the past, I would be prone to dismiss errant (OK, bogus) rulings by the Court as misinterpretations, I have now come to conclude that they are invariably deliberate and WILLFUL misapplication of Constitution provisions, and as Professor Woods demonstrates, carried out with a specific object in mind, i. e.; enhancement of Federal Power. To Woods’ assertion, I would add enhancement of Judicial Power. As a young student, I recall the sense of pride that one of my instructors exhibited when quoting Marshall’s comment. “…It is a constitution that we are expounding.” As if this marked the dawn of a proper check and balance on power that would / did assure the Continuance of the Republic. Consider this statement in context of the intention of the Founders (and Professor Woods’ essay) and the sheer arrogance of the claim by Marshall comes through quite clearly. My reply to Marshall would be: “It is a Representative Republic that WE are expounding.”
    The “WE” being the people of the United States, not nine self-important, self aggrandizing, ideologues outfitted in Black Robes.

    In any event, great piece. Keep ’em coming!

    take care


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: