Justice Anthony Kennedy (Born 1936) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Republican President Dwight Eisenhower reputedly said that appointing Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William Brennan were among his biggest mistakes as president as they helped usher in a wave of liberal jurisprudence at odds with Eisenhower’s conservative philosophy.  Republican President George H.W. Bush might have said the same about Justice David Souter for the same reasons.  Finally, Republican President Ronald Reagan would have agreed that Justice Anthony Kennedy surprisingly became a swing vote who could lean left.

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Roe v. Wade (1973) And Planned Parenthood Of Southeastern PA v. Casey (1992) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Before the 1960s, all states had stringent laws banning abortions.  The women’s movement of the 1960s demanded access to abortion as one of the rights of women. Abortion rights activists began working at liberalizing state laws on abortion since it was a state issue in the federal system.  The advocacy successfully chipped away at several laws, though by the time of Roe v. Wade in 1973, roughly forty states still had strong laws against abortion.

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Engel v. Vitale (1962) And Everson v. Ewing (1962) (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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“Almighty God, we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country:” Engel v. Vitale (1962)

In the Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township (1947), the Supreme Court decided that it was constitutional for the state of New Jersey to reimburse parents for the cost of bus transportation, even to a parochial school. In rendering the decision, the Court attempted to use evidence from the nation’s founding to prove that there was a “wall of separation between church and state.”

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Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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“A Puzzle Inside an Enigma: Untangling Affirmative Action”

In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court invalidated fixed quota systems for affirmative action as a remedy for historic racism, but decided that using race as a factor in college admissions was constitutional. It was a confusing decision with a 4-4-1 vote with the justices all concurring in part and dissenting in part (and resulting in a 5-4 decision). Bakke did very little to settle the constitutionality of affirmative action or even to clarify the issue—indeed, it only confused the issue further.

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Bolling v. Sharpe (1954) And Brown v. Topeka Board Of Education (1954) And Cooper v. Aaron (1958) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

In December 1952, African-American lawyer Thurgood Marshall appeared before the Supreme Court representing a seven-year-old black girl from Topeka, Kansas named Linda Brown who had to ride the bus to her segregated black school instead of walking to the neighborhood school.  Marshall and other NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers were there for three days of oral arguments in five consolidated cases dealing with segregated schools.  Three hundred spectators packed the hearing room while four hundred anxiously waited in the corridors.

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Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777-1864) (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Roger B. Taney was born and raised on a southern Maryland tobacco plantation.  He attended Dickinson College and received a classical education before reading law under Jeremiah Chase, one of three judges on the state’s General Court.  He passed the bar exam and married the sister of his close friend, Francis Scott Key.  He entered politics and won a seat in the Maryland House as a Federalist.  He supported the War of 1812 and broke with the Federalists over their opposition to the war.  He adopted Jeffersonian views that would lay the foundation for the rise of the Democratic Party.

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Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Arrogance & Injustice in the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) Case

In the 1850s, the United States was deeply divided over the issue of slavery and its expansion into the West. The northern and southern sections of the country had been arguing over the expansion of slavery into the western territories for decades. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had divided the Louisiana Territory at 36’30° with new states north of the line free states and south of the lines slave states. The territory acquired in the Mexican War of 1846 triggered the sectional debate again. In 1850, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky engineered the Compromise of 1850 to settle the dispute. But, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act permitted settlers to decide whether the states would be free or slave according to the principle of “popular sovereignty.” Pro and anti-slavery settlers rushed to Kansas and violence and murder erupted in “Bleeding Kansas.” Meanwhile, southern talk of secession was in the air, and observers warned of civil war.
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Lochner v. New York (1905) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Making up Rights?: Lochner v. New York (1905)

In April 1901, Utica, New York bakeshop owner, Joseph Lochner, was arrested for allowing one of his few employees, baker Aman Schmitter, to work more than sixty hours in a week. A grand jury indicted Lochner for violating a New York bakeshop law regulating work hours. In February 1902, he was tried, convicted, and fined fifty dollars for his misdemeanor crime.

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Schechter Poultry Corp v. U.S. (1935) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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The “Sick Chicken” Case: Schechter Poultry Corp v. U.S. (1935)

In 1933, the American economy was mired in the great depths of the Great Depression characterized by unprecedented unemployment and deflation of prices for business and farmers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors believed that the problems of the economy were rooted in excessive business competition resulting in low prices, faltering incomes, and underconsumption. In 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) to stimulate business recovery and economic growth as part of the New Deal. The legislation established National Recovery Administration (NRA) as an executive agency to work with business to craft a variety of industrial codes and regulations for entire industries to decrease competition by setting codes within industries. The goal was to set production quotas to increase prices and introduce labor regulations including a minimum wage to benefit workers. The Roosevelt administration sought to prevent “unfair competition,” ironically by allowing business to cooperate in a way that broke antitrust laws.

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United States v. E.C. Knight (1895) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Federal Regulation and the Rise of Big Business: United States v. E.C. Knight (1895)

The late nineteenth century was a time of business consolidation as the American economy experienced a “great merger movement” with the rise of big business. Through means foul and fair, corporations formed trusts that dominated entire industries to combat competitive pressures that drove prices and at times to monopolize for control. The sugar industry was a part of this consolidation movement.

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Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky (1837) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In 1832, Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States, applied for an early renewal of the bank’s charter.  He feared that bank opponent, President Andrew Jackson, would move to destroy the bank after he was re-elected.  So, Biddle tried to outmaneuver the president before the election.  His opponent, Henry Clay, and other National Republicans (future Whigs), supported Biddle’s move because they wanted to make it a campaign issue. Both houses of Congress voted to re-charter the bank in July.

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Barron v. Baltimore (1833) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore was developing as a bustling urban center and port.  The city diverted the streams around John Barron’s successful wharf and lowered the water level, which negatively impacted his business.  He sued the city to recover his financial losses. 

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McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In May, 1818, James William McCulloch was a cashier at the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States.  McCulloch issued a series of bank notes on which the bank did not pay a Maryland state tax.  The state treasurer quickly sued to recover the money and won a judgment in Maryland’s highest court. The Supreme Court soon accepted the case, which would have a profound impact in defining the principle of federalism, the reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, and the national vision of the Marshall Court.

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1988, George H.W. Bush Defeats Michael Dukakis – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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A Thousand Points of Light: George H.W. Bush and the 1988 Election

George H.W. Bush had three significant obstacles to overcome if he wanted to be elected president in 1988.  The first was that Bush’s election seemed to be a referendum on eight years of the Reagan presidency.  Americans were split over that legacy with conservatives wanting to build on his economic and foreign policy achievements in the Cold War, while liberals wanted to stop a third consecutive term by a conservative Republican.  The recent Iran-Contra hearings had damaged the Reagan presidency and fed the partisanship.

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1984, Ronald Reagan Defeats Walter Mondale: Geraldine Ferraro Nomination As Vice President And The Constitutional Implications Of The Feminist Movement – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Morning in America: Ronald Reagan & the 1984 Election

In his 1984 State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan laid out his principles and vision that had guided his first term and provided the foundation for his re-election campaign. He reminded voters that the economy was growing rapidly and was back on track after the horrific stagflation of the Carter administration. The “crisis of confidence” of the 1970s was conquered by a renewed American spirit.  Reagan was proud to report that, “There is renewed energy and optimism throughout the land.”  Indeed, he touted, “America is back, standing tall.”

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1960, The Election Of The First Catholic President As A Vindication Of The First Amendment’s Clauses On Religious Freedom And Religion Establishment – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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JFK, Catholicism, and the 1960 Election

The American Founding ushered in a “new order for the ages” that included the unprecedented and remarkable natural right of liberty of conscience.  The First Amendment protected this universal right of all humans and banned Congress from establishing an official religion.  The Constitution also banned all religious tests for national office.

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1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt Defeats Thomas Dewey: Constitutional Implications Of Roosevelt’s Liberal Internationalism, United Nations – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Global War and Peace: The 1944 Election

In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a “Second Bill of Rights” that redefined the rights of the founding bill of rights. This radical pronouncement promised economic security and “positive rights” guaranteed by the federal government.

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1932, The “New Deal” – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In 1932, the U.S. economy reached its nadir during the Great Depression.  Unemployment had risen to more than 20 percent, or 11 million Americans, matched by a similar number of the underemployed as factories and businesses closed their doors.  Banks were closing at an alarming rates as people instantly lost their life savings.  Hundreds of thousands of farmers and urban dwellers alike were suffering forecloses and lost their homes.  Breadlines were long and strained the resources of private charities and local governments.

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1912, Woodrow Wilson Defeats William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs: Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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“The Professor and the Bull Moose” 1912 Election

In June, 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt broke with the tradition of candidates not attending conventions and arrived at the Republican National Convention with great fanfare. He fervently announced, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.” He then proudly labelled himself a “Bull Moose.”

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1844, The Issue Of Oregon Territorial Boundary – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

In the early 1840s, thousands of settlers from the Midwest traveled to Independence, Missouri, where they loaded hundreds of pounds of food, tools, and supplies on their oxen-drawn wagons.  They launched an epic overland trek 2,000 miles to the Oregon Territory and braved its dangers in order to participate in the fur trade in earlier decades, but now mostly for farm land.  The individual decisions of these ordinary Americans in search of opportunity in the West would have implications for international affairs and the election of 1844.

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1824, The Second Instance Of An Election Decided In The House Of Representatives – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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The election of 1824 was eerily similar to the 2016 campaign.  It was characterized by fierce personal attacks launched by the surrogates of candidates and by the candidates who accused each other of corruption.  Several establishment candidates ran but failed to rouse the base.  One highly popular candidate ran as an anti-establishment, Washington outsider and was widely accused of being a demagogue.  The partisan media lined up for their favorite candidates.  Economic issues ruled the day with many concerned about government intervention in the economy while others railed against “the interests.”

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1808, James Madison Defeats Charles Pinckney: The Embargo Act Of 1807 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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On June 22, 1807, the American frigate USS Chesapeake set sail from Norfolk, Virginia for the waters of the Atlantic to join in a squadron heading to the Mediterranean to battle the Barbary Pirates.  The 50-gun British warship HMS Leopard immediately pounced upon the ship and sought to board her seeking deserters from the Royal Navy.  When American Commodore James Barron refused the demand, the Leopard fired a warning shot and then loosed a deadly broadside at the Chesapeake.  The thunderous barrage was followed by others, and the beleaguered American ship could only offer meager resistance.  As the smoke drifted around the opposing ships, three American sailors lay dead and eighteen writhed in agony from horrific wounds.  Barron had no choice but to surrender, and the British seized four seamen though only one was a British subject.

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Election Of 1800: Constitutional Implications Of The Alien & Sedition Acts – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In the summer of 1798, the capital of Philadelphia was gripped by several fevers.  Ships from the tropical West Indies brought Yellow Fever to several port cities including Philadelphia, causing thousands to flee for their lives as the number of victims escalated.  The epidemic, however, hardly compared to the political fever taking hold over the country.

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What’s In a Name? The Controversy over the Washington Redskins – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the progressives created numerous agencies in the executive branch of government that were supposed to bring more rationality, efficiency, and order to American society.  They were to be run by scientific experts who would oversee a civil service bureaucracy that would govern objectivity as they made decisions free of politics and partisanship.

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Treasury Department Overreach? – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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The Treasury is not simply executing its task of printing money for legal tender and updating its design to thwart counterfeiters.  It is pursuing an ideological agenda outside of its authority. 

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Immigration Reform By Pen? – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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The cliché that America is a “nation of immigrants” is true as successive waves of immigrants throughout its history came to this country for its freedoms and opportunity.  The Statue of Liberty symbolically welcomes immigrants to America.  Over the past 150 years, American immigration policy has alternated between restriction and liberalization.  But, whatever vacillating nature of immigration laws, the unifying core was that constitutionalism generally guided the process of laws regarding immigration.

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Do You Know How Many Wars Congress Has Formally Declared War In? HINT: It’s Fewer Than You Think – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and killed 2,500 American servicemen.  Japan’s ally, Germany, followed up the attack by declaring war on the United States.  Just after noon on the following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the shocked members of Congress and told them that the sneak attack was a “date which will live in infamy.”  The Congress declared war on Japan by an 82-0 vote in the Senate and nearly unanimous vote of 388-1 in the House.  When Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, Congress responded in kind on December 10.  World War II became the last war in which the United States declared war against a foe.

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Monday, June 17, 2013 – Essay #86 – Commencement Address at Yale University by John F. Kennedy – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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John F. Kennedy, “Commencement Address at Yale University”

Throughout the twentieth century, one of the most fundamental tenets of progressive ideology was what many historians called the “gospel of efficiency” that found salvation in scientific rather than republican government. Progressives believed that democratic, partisan politics based upon representative government was often corrupt but always too messy. The people were too uninformed, the Progressives believed, and political compromise did not always result in the “best solutions.”

The Progressives thought that they had a much better alternative. They believed that if policymaking were removed from the hands of the sovereign people and their representatives and placed in the hands of the academic experts in executive agencies, then scientific government could rationalize all areas of American life to bring order and efficiency out of democratic chaos. The gospel of efficiency became indisputable truth and worshipped as a creed by those who simply knew better than ordinary people.

The result of this for progressive liberals has been to believe arrogantly that they are acting scientifically and rationally while conservatives rest their arguments on platitudes and slogans. This was recently seen in the debate over gun control in the wake of several tragic mass shootings. The supporters of increased gun control described their reforms as “reasonable,” “common sense,” or “moderate,” implying that anyone who opposed them were irrational extremists. Progressives after all were academic experts – they simply knew better than everyone else, who should simply passively accept the policies handed down to them.

President John F. Kennedy clearly expressed his belief in the kind of progressive ideals described above. His 1962 Commencement Address at Yale University reads like a Progressive manifesto on the superiority of progressive over consensual government.

After some amusing digs at Yale from a Harvard Man, Kennedy tells the graduates that the central domestic issues of his administration were not based upon “basic clashes of philosophy or ideology but to ways and means of reaching common goals – to research for sophisticated solutions to complex and obstinate issues.” Kennedy explains some of the hidden meaning behind his statement. The Republicans and conservatives, though without naming them, rest their arguments on “myths,” “clichés,” “repetition of stale phrases,” “illusions,” and “platitudes.” Instead, Kennedy offers a post-partisan, progressive solution. “We need not partisan wrangling, but common concentration on common problems,” he explains to his audience. If the Republicans would simply accepted Kennedy’s ideas about government, then there wouldn’t be a problem.

He uses the occasion to shatter three prevailing illusions that “prevent effective action.” The first myth is that government is too large and that government is bad. He seeks to demolish this myth with the argument that the size of the government bureaucracy and federal debt had grown less rapidly than the size of the economy and any other sector of national life. Moreover, he argues that the large size of government “can bring benefits.” For example, even though he proudly states that three out of every four dollars for medical and scientific research comes from the federal government, “American scientists remain second to none in their independence and in their individualism.”

The second myth is that the growing federal debt is a problem. As proof, Kennedy states that although the debt was growing, it was decreasing as per capita and relative to Gross National Product. Additionally, he maintains that the public debt is increasing at a slower pace than private debt or the debt of state governments. If Kennedy can be forgiven for not guessing that our debt would reach a staggering seventeen trillion dollars, he might have foreseen that his support of a much larger government with almost limitless responsibility might contribute mightily to an unsustainable federal debt.

The third myth that Kennedy debunks is that business lacked confidence in his administration leading to stagnation. The president argues instead that confidence is rooted upon institutions – business, labor, and government – all fulfilling their obvious “obligations to the public.” The “solid ground of mutual confidence is the necessary partnership of government with all of the sectors of our society in the steady quest for economic progress.” The national administrative state run by experts necessarily reaches into every aspect of American life to usher in a perfect society not just for the United States but the world. Indeed, he continues, arguing that, “The safety of all the world – the very future of freedom – depends as never before upon the sensible and clearheaded management of the domestic affairs of the United States.”

What is at stake, Kennedy avers, is not contending rival visions of liberals and conservatives who would debate as politicians in a republican system, but the “practical management of a modern economy” by experts who could solve “sophisticated and technical questions.” Political compromise and representative government may have been adequate in a bygone age but the modern era had more subtle challenges for which only “technical answers, not political answers, must be provided.”

Kennedy’s embrace of progressivism traced its lineage back to Woodrow Wilson and the early twentieth century. Kennedy advocates a government based upon the European model when he promotes a government by experts and an increasingly large government that manages society,. Just as Wilson admired the German model and philosophy, Kennedy thinks America should become more like Europe. “The example of Western Europe,” Kennedy explains, “shows that they are capable of solution – that governments . . . prepared to face technical problems without ideological preconceptions, can coordinate the elements of a national economy and bring about growth and prosperity.”

President John F. Kennedy sought to administer government by progressive experts rather than the people. He sought to bring efficiency and order to democratic politics and free enterprise. He sought to impose a European vision of statism on American institutions, and then promised that this was the way to protect and promote freedom. It would supposedly “demonstrate anew to the world the superior vitality and the strength of a free society.” Perhaps we are living with the illusion that one could live freely and enjoy prosperity in a managed society.

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute in Charlottesville, VA, which teaches teachers American founding principles. Free downloads of its recently published WJMI Guide to the Constitution are available at http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/ebooks/jefferson-and-madisons-guide-to-the-constitution. He is the author of four books including American Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character.

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 – Essay #83 – Democratic Convention Address by Franklin Roosevelt – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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On June 27, 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for the presidency.  Despite all of the success in getting Congress to pass New Deal legislation during his first administration and his excellent chances for re-election, FDR felt beleaguered.  Republicans in Congress and conservatives such as Herbert Hoover and the Liberty League continued to oppose the legislation he believed would solve the economic crisis and transform America.  Populist radicals such as Huey Long and Charles Townshend went even further than FDR in seeking to provide a guaranteed income for Americans and won some of his support.  Read more

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 – Essay #82 – “Commonwealth Club Address” by Franklin D. Roosevelt – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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In 1932, the Democratic candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was the privileged scion of a wealthy family who ran a campaign that was committed to the Progressive vision of American society and government from the turn of the century.  In his “Commonwealth Club Address,” FDR embraced the Progressive idea that pitted the “interests” against the people.  He also promised the continued growth of the administrative state managed by enlightened bureaucratic elites in the name of the people.  Even more importantly, FDR maintained that the purpose of government under the social compact was to preserve rights, but he was bold enough to assert that a redefinition of rights was necessary in an industrial age.  Achieving this vision would usher in a secular utopia of progress and equality. Read more

Friday, May 31, 2013 – Essay #75 – Socialism and Democracy by Woodrow Wilson – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute in Charlottesville, VA

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Progressivism was a movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Whatever its different iterations, progressivism was rooted in the belief that the natural rights principles of the American founding were fine for an earlier age but no longer relevant in a mass, industrial society.  The modern age, as the Progressives saw it, was characterized by great inequality and concentrations of wealth.  The “interests” controlled the masses for their own self-interest rather than the public good. Read more

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 – Essay #72 – Liberalism and Social Action by John Dewey (1859-1952) – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director for the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute in Charlottesville, VA

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We’re No Longer Lockeans Now: John Dewey & the Rise of Modern Liberalism, by Tony Williams

In his 1861 “Cornerstone” speech, Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens argued that Thomas Jefferson and the Founders really meant all humans, including blacks, were created equal in the Declaration of Independence.  He just believed that they were wrong.  John Dewey, in his “Liberalism and Social Action,” does much the same thing.  He largely summarizes the ideas of John Locke correctly and notes his influence on the Founding.  Again, much like Stephens did, he rejects those ideas, this time because of his belief in the new liberalism of the modern Progressive administrative state.  Read more

Friday, May 10, 2013 – Essay #60 – “The Dividing Line between Federal and Local Authority: Popular Sovereignty in the Territories” by Stephen Douglas – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director for the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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1859 was an ominous year for America as civil war between the sections threatened despite the attempts to avert it.  Back in 1854, Stephen Douglas had tried to quell sectionalism with the Kansas-Nebraska Act that would grant the seeming American principle of popular sovereignty regarding slavery in the territories, but Kansas became “bleeding Kansas” as a shooting war between pro and anti-slavery forces erupted after they flooded the state to institute their vision of popular sovereignty.  In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney injected the Court into the political question and tried to help prevent civil war with the Dred Scott opinion, Read more

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 – Essay #57 – “A House Divided” by Abraham Lincoln – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director for the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln won the Republican nomination for the vacant U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.  His opponent in the election would be Stephen Douglas.  Upon his nomination, Lincoln delivered the “House Divided” speech in the war of words of what would culminate in the Lincoln-Douglas debates later that year. Read more

Monday, March 25, 2013 – Essay #26 – On Property by James Madison – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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“Conscience is the Most Sacred of Property”: James Madison’s Essay on Property
by Tony Williams

On January 24, 1774, James Madison wrote to a college friend praising the Boston Tea Party, which had occurred only weeks before.  He praised the Boston patriots for their boldness in “defending liberty and property.”  Equating political and civil liberty, he warned that if the Church of England had established itself as the official religion of all the colonies, then “slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us.” Read more

Friday, March 22, 2013 – Essay #25 – Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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On January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson received a thirteen-foot mammoth cheese weighing some 1,200 pounds.  It was delivered by dissenting Baptist minister and long-time advocate of religious liberty, Reverend John Leland, who then preached a sermon to the president and members of Congress at the Capitol two days later.  Jefferson took the opportunity to compose a letter to the Danbury Baptists on the relationship between government and religion that would shape the course of twentieth-century jurisprudence. Read more

Thursday, February 28, 2013 – Essay #9 – The US Constitution – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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The Constitution

When Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were creating the University of Virginia, they decided that the three American documents that would best illuminate the meaning of the Constitution when teaching future statesmen were the Declaration of Independence (along with the ideas of John Locke and Algernon Sidney), George Washington’s Farewell Address, and the Federalist.

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence expressed the universal principle that all men were endowed by a Creator with natural, unalienable rights.  Influenced by the ideas of John Locke’s social compact theory, the purpose of government was to protect those natural rights.

If any government became tyrannical, or destructive of the ends for which it was created, the people had a right to overthrow that government and to institute a government that would protect their rights. Read more

Thursday, February 21, 2013 – Essay #4 – Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

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Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics & American Republican Government

After George Washington was sworn-in as the first president of the new American republic on April 30, 1789, he delivered his First Inaugural Address to the people’s representatives in Congress.  He started the speech with his characteristic humility, stating that although he wished to retire to Mount Vernon and did not have the requisite skill to govern a country, he was nevertheless answering the call of his country.  The address struck a distinctly Aristotelian chord in Washington’s wishes for his country.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, describes his understanding of the basic nature of man.  Humans are rational creatures, he maintains, and must use that reason to exercise self-restraint over their passions.  That same rationality allows humans to be ethical, Read more