Tuesday, June 30, 2015

‘Return to the Constitution!’

This is the rallying cry for many who call themselves conservatives in the [u]nited States, and on the surface it is attractive.  For the [u.] S. Constitution has received an abundance of praise for being a conservative document, even from such insightful men as Dr Russell Kirk and Prof Mel Bradford, as well as for its being well-crafted in its various articles and sections.

ƿe (We) do not wish to disparage good men, but the history of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 shows that the national compact was not written with the intent to find a golden mean in governlore (politics), to preserve local customs and distributed power, and such like. 

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, made it abundantly clear before and during the Convention that he thought the national government ought to have the power to veto directly acts of State legislatures, as well as other powers to bring the States to heel for the sake of the ‘general interest’ (Bill Kauffman, Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin, Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2008, pgs. 21-2, 53-5, quote at 53). 

Furthermore, those delegates at the Convention like Madison who leaned towards scrapping the weaker, decentralized Articles of Confederation for a more powerful, centralized system of national government far outnumbered those of who sought simply to fix what was lacking in the Articles (pgs. 19-20). 

In this group we find even George Washington himself, ironically.  For he is the most outstanding symbol of the War for Independence, and the Articles of Confederation that he sought to overthrow ‘was a constitutional expression of the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence’ (Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation, quoted in Kauffman, p. 12).  Indeed, Jensen says well that the making of the 1787 Constitution was a ‘counter-revolution’ fought against the political ideas put forward in 1776 that ‘erected a nationalistic government whose purpose in part was to thwart the will of “the people” in whose name they acted’ (The Articles of Confederation, Madison, Wis.: U. of Wisconsin Press, 1970 [1940], p. 245).

This is not meant to endorse the anti-Christian humanism that is at the heart of the program of 1776, but simply to say to those who are willing to hear that the Constitution of 1787 is not the greatest achievement in the history of governlore, that the ‘demi-gods’ assembled in Philadelphia who wrote it had far different motives than those usually given to them by well-meaning conservatives.

For those looking for good models of government, in the Souð and elsewhere, we shall need to look away from the ‘efficient’ and ‘energetic’ model of the 1787 Constitution to what has been tried and proven throughout the ages (and especially in earlier times in our own States) and adapting those things to our present circumstances as best we can:  giving deference to age, to elders, in the halls of government; vesting again with power those chosen by God through the ‘accident of birth’ (that is, re-introducing hereditary elements); and so on. 

Colonial Virginia offers a good ensample of such praiseworthy old principles in action.  May we learn from our Southern forebears what we ought.

Judged by the quality of the men it brought to power the eighteenth-century Virginia way of selecting political leadership was extremely good; but judged by modern standards of political excellence, it was defective at nearly every point. As for voting qualifications, there was discrimination against women, poor men, and Negroes. There was no secrecy in voting, and polling places—only one in each county—were spaced too far apart. The two-party system was not in existence. Local government was totally un­democratic, and few offices at any level of government were filled by direct vote of the people: only burgesses in the colonial period and not many other officers for many years after the Revolution. Such modem refinements of political processes as the nominating primary, initiative, referendum, popular recall, proportional voting, and mechanical voting machines were, of course, unknown.

Nearly every detail of the political processes of eighteenth-century Virginia has been repudiated; but, at the same time, the men elevated by those processes have come to be regarded as very great men. Here is a dilemma in an area of fundamental importance, and its resolution is no simple matter. Was eighteenth-century Virginia so full of great men that a random selection would have provided government with a goodly supply of great statesmen? If not, must it not follow that the selective system played an important part in bringing to the top the particular men who managed the public affairs of that day?

 . . .

Source:  Charles S. Sydnor, ‘The Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth’, http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/the-eighteenth-century-to-the-twentieth/, posted 23 April 2014, accessed 12 June 2015

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