- Published: 08 January 2012
The definitions of the "Twelve Basic American Principles," in the preceding Part I, are based upon the results of many years of research by the present writer in the writings of American leaders of the period 1750-1800, including particularly those eminent among the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Special attention was given to what might be called the Jefferson-Madison list of sound sources in this connection.
In collaboration with Madison, who is often and justly called "the father of the Constitution" because of his exceptionally valuable and diligent service in 1787 in the Federal (framing) Convention, Jefferson provided an especially interesting and most persuasive piece of evidence that they, and assuredly their fellow leaders in general, accepted a certain set of principles as being fundamental American principles of government--together constituting the uniquely American philosophy of government; made genuinely American by being put into practice by the people. This was the resolution which these two members of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia offered and caused to be adopted by the Board at its meeting in March 1825 (Jefferson then being the Rector). It stated that all students shall be "inculcated" with the basic American governmental principles and that "none should be inculcated which are incompatible with those on which the Constitutions of this State, and of the U.S. were genuinely based, in the common opinion." The faculty was thus required to teach positively and affirmatively ("inculcate" and "indoctrinate" being synonymous under the word "teach") these principles only. Such sound teaching does not preclude, indeed it requires, students being taught about conflicting principles in order to enable them to understand the unsoundness of the latter--judged by the sound standard of the American principles, with which the students must, of course, first be made familiar so as to have a "yardstick" by which to judge soundly.
Jefferson, Madison and their fellow leaders were undoubtedly in agreement on this point: that in order to inculcate the sound American principles--partly by teaching uninformed and impressionable Youth about the conflicting principles which are unsound, judged by this "yardstick," so as to enable them to understand fully the soundness and value of the American principles, considered comparatively--it is of course necessary that the reasons for the comparative unsoundness of the conflicting principles be stressed comprehensively, clearly and positively through adequate teaching, with scholarly competence and intellectual honesty, in keeping with the duty aspect of Academic Freedom-Responsibility, which is in a very real sense closely related to Individual Liberty-Responsibility in general. Otherwise the students are deprived of the substance of their right to freedom of choice; they cannot choose soundly between alternatives which they do not know, or do not understand adequately in all their implications for the long term. The exact wording of the Preamble to the Board's above-mentioned resolution is as follows:
"Whereas it is the duty of this board to the government [of the United States] under which it lives, and especially to that [of Virginia] of which this University is the immediate creation, to pay especial attention to the principles of government which shall be inculcated therein, and to provide that none shall be inculcated which are incompatible with those on which the Constitutions of this State, and of the U.S. were genuinely based in the common opinion: and for this purpose it may be necessary to point out specifically where these principles are to be found legitimately developed . . ."
For this purpose, the resolution specified six writings (named below) as being, in the Board's opinion, such authoritative sources.
This resolution did not express merely the Board members' personal views. It was in effect certifying to the truth of an important point, accepted and firmly supported with unanimity by the American people in 1776 and through all succeeding generations for about a century and a half: that America does have a distinctive, indeed a unique and definable, governmental philosophy which is firmly rooted in her well-defined traditions; and that youth should be indoctrinated accordingly.
Four of the six writings, reflecting long experience in government in America, were referred to as embodying these American principles. They are: (1) the Declaration of Independence; (2) Washington's Farewell Address; (3) the Virginia Resolutions of 1799 (adopted by the Virginia Legislature); and (4) The Federalist. These are the American sources cited. The remaining two of the six writings are much earlier volumes by Old World authors, concerning abstract theories of government: John Locke's Essay Concerning The True Original Extent and End of Civil Government (originally published in 1690), and Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1698). These two writings were listed in that resolution as being sound sources of "the general principles of liberty and the rights of man in nature and society;" that is, as theoretical discussions. These six writings were prescribed as textbooks for law students.
In the Appendix of this study-guide, there are presented, for ready reference, the text of some of these sources: the Declaration of Independence; the Farewell Address; and the above-mentioned Virginia Resolutions. The Appendix also presents selected parts of several essays of The Federalist. These sources constitute a part of the reliable proof--on the authority of Jefferson, Madison and their fellow members of the University's Board of Visitors--that there does exist a distinctive and definable American philosophy consisting of a set of specific, traditional principles as applied governmentally.
The American sources cited, in the University resolution, alone contain adequate evidence of the soundness of the definitions of the Twelve Basic American Principles presented in the preceding Part I of this study-guide. Among the many other writings consulted in this regard, those especially of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and John and Samuel Adams--to name a few of the most prominent leaders--offer a wealth of supporting evidence. Brief comment concerning five of the above-listed sources, and extended discussion of The Federalist, are in order at this point.
Madison wrote Jefferson on February 8, 1825, that the writings of Sidney and Locke ". . . are admirably calculated to impress on young minds the right of Nations to establish their own Governments, and to inspire a love of free ones . . ." and, further, that the Declaration of Independence is ". . . rich in fundamental principles . . ." Madison also stated that he had considered Jefferson's suggestion of a textbook for the University's Law School and added: "It is certainly very material that the true doctrines of liberty, as exemplified in our Political System, should be inculcated on those who are to sustain and may administer it."
It is noteworthy, in passing, that Locke's and Sidney's writings are soundly considered not to have originated the basic ideas, or principles, entertained by American leaders but principally to have helped to clarify the expression of some which were already a part of the thinking of these leaders--clarification by way of logical exposition and lucid expression. Note also that the frequency of quotation by American leaders in this period of a few of Locke's statements as to some main ideas should not be permitted to lead to the erroneous conclusion that writings of other foreign philosophers also in this field were not similarly utilized; because many of these leaders were familiar with them. It should never be lost sight of, moreover, that the fundamental American principles of government were the outgrowth mainly of generations of painful experience in self-government in America and were not merely theoretical ideas drawn from books --this being true as to the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as of the Constitution and the constitutional system. These principles, derived mainly from experience in America, were thus given support--in application in practical affairs--by selective, not imitative, use of the foreign writings, which were themselves chosen on a similar, selective basis. The Americans made use of the parts of any writing which served their purpose but did not embrace in their entirety any foreign writer's set of ideas. Then, as now, American thinking was more practical than theoretical--as John Adams stated (1778, "Thoughts On Government"): "It must be conceded that, as yet, philosophical generalization upon abstract questions of the highest class is not the characteristic of the American mind."
The Virginia Resolutions of 1799, drafted by Madison and adopted January 4, 1799--and his lengthy 1799 Report to the General Assembly (adopted January 7, 1800) in explanation and support of its Resolutions of December 21, 1798--were intimately related to the famous Kentucky Resolutions drafted by Jefferson and adopted by the Kentucky Legislature on November 10, 1798. All of these Resolutions were in defense of the rights of the people and of the States, as reserved by the Constitution and expressly by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, against what were considered to be the recent usurpations and abuses of power by the Federal government in various respects, chiefly through the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798. These resolutions were not the first such protest by a legislature; in 1790, for instance, the Virginia Legislature had protested against the Federal government's assumption of the war debts of the States as being unconstitutional. Other States did not support the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, but this legislative protest helped to start the creation of public opinion in opposition to these 1798 laws with the result that their end was assured by the next election. Use of legislative protests, exemplified by Kentucky and Virginia in 1798, was moreover resorted to in the succeeding decades by the governments of various States--in New England, the North in general, the Midwest as well as in the South--in support of their own respective complaints from time to time against what they deemed to be abuses, or usurpations, of power by the Federal government, including especially the Supreme Court, in violation of the reserved rights of the States under the Constitution. These developments are recorded in detail and at length in the book, State Documents on Federal Relations: the States and the United States, by Dr. Herman V. Ames of the faculty of the History Department of the University of Pennsylvania, which published it in 1906.
An impressive example of such later, legislative protests is the set of resolutions adopted in 1815 (during the war with England) by the Hartford Convention--representing the governments of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire--protesting against what were considered to be Federal usurpations, potential or actual, regarding use of the States' Militia by the Federal government in war operations and concerning other matters involved in national defense. (See quotation from these Hartford Resolutions page 14, ante.) The Fugitive Slave Law and the Supreme Court's decision in the 1857 Dred Scott case, Scott versus Sandford, concerning slavery, as well as later decisions of the Court involving this subject, aroused violent protests by the governments and especially the legislatures of various States. A notable example is the resolution adopted by the Massachusetts' Legislature in 1858, against the Dred Scott decision, asserting that the people of Massachusetts would never consent to any invasion of their liberties by reason of the Supreme Court's "usurpations of political power" and, further, "That no part of the decision of the supreme court of the United States, in the case of Scott versus Sandford, is binding, which was not necessary to the determination of that case . . ." This referred to what were considered to be political parts of the decision. A more extreme protest, against a decision of the Supreme Court involving the subject of slavery, was that of the Wisconsin Legislature in 1859 asserting that the Court's decision was "an arbitrary act of power, unauthorized by the constitution . . . and therefore without authority, void, and of no force . . . and that a positive defiance . . . is the rightful remedy." (Emphasis per original.) This meant the proper remedy of the States in self-defense and defense of the Constitution against usurpation of power by the Federal government, including the Supreme Court. Other States in the North and the Mid-west were vigorous in their legislative protests in this pre-Civil War period regarding the Dred Scott case and matters involving the Fugitive Slave Law.
It is noteworthy that the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, pertaining to Federal laws, did not use any language such as that used by the above-quoted Wisconsin Resolutions: "void, and of no force." In the 1830's Madison wrote a lengthy manuscript: "Notes on Nullification" in which he emphasized that the Virginia Resolutions were not intended to attempt nullification of any Federal law and therefore were not a precedent for the 1832 "Ordinance of Nullification" of South Carolina, which he considered unsound. He had also discussed this topic at length in an 1830 letter to Edward Everett and an 1832 letter to N. P. Trist. Madison well knew, of course, what Hamilton had made entirely clear in 1787-1788 in The Federalist (especially number 78, also number 33) to have been the understanding of the Framing Convention: that it is the Constitution only, as the "supreme Law of the Land," which can--and does automatically--make null and void any conflicting Act of Congress. This applies equally to other things governmental, such as Supreme Court decisions. The State Ratifying Conventions also understood this. The controlling principle is this: no legislature, or government, of a State has any power, under the constitutional system, to nullify any Federal law, or Federal court decision, and the converse is equally true. This basic principle was noted in The Federalist number 34 by Hamilton (referring to a law as an act): ". . . there is no power on either side to annul the acts of the other." Any annulling is by the Constitution.
An important consideration needs stressing at this point. It is that a protest by a State legislature against claimed Federal usurpation, or abuse, of power is entirely sound constitutionally and traditionally as one of the peaceable remedies (within the constitutional system) available to the States, in any such situation, as indicated expressly in The Federalist number 46 by Madison. Any such protest by a State legislature, thus acting within the constitutional system, amounts of course to nothing more than a declaration of opinion of that body without in the least affecting the tact of constitutionality, or unconstitutionality, as the case may be, of the Act of Congress in question. Madison made this point expressly in his clarifying discussion in his above-mentioned "Notes on Nullification" with regard to the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799. The basic importance of this topic makes it deserving always of most thoughtful consideration.
The foregoing brief discussion of these resolutions and their historical significance must suffice for present purposes due to lack of space for more extended consideration.
The inclusion of the Declaration of Independence in this list of writings needs no explanation; but it is fitting to note the unusually interesting statement about it in the July 4th oration by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1821 (destined soon thereafter to become President):
"It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude. It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people. It proved that the social compact was no figment of the imagination; but a real, solid, and sacred bond of the social union." (Emphasis per original.)
He continued his eulogy by adding this poetic but just estimate of the Declaration:
"It stands, and must for ever stand, alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light till time shall be lost in eternity, and this globe itself dissolve, nor leave a wreck behind. It stands for ever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men, a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed . . . [as the delineation of] the boundaries of their respective rights and duties, founded in the laws of nature, and of nature's God."
The profound and invaluable Farewell Address was prepared by President Washington over a period of several years with the elaborate attention merited by his last official utterance to the people of his day and to Posterity. He was assisted in this task by some of his associates, notably Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The fact that it contains "political lessons of peculiar value"--to use the words of the 1825 University resolution--is obvious to even the casual reader possessing any familiarity with history's lessons in this field.
The Farewell Address reflected the accumulated wisdom of the ages regarding the topics discussed, as understood not only by Washington, Madison and Hamilton but also by their fellow leaders as well as by that period's multitude of well-informed and thoughtful Americans so alert intellectually and profoundly concerned with regard to things governmental, chief of all the philosophy of government in relation to Man's Liberty. This address reflected the teachings of history and of governmental experience not only in America but in the Old World, with which The Founders were thoroughly familiar. An especially interesting book concerning the development of this address is entitled Washington's Farewell Address, edited by Victor Hugo Paltsits, published in 1935 by the New York (City) Public Library.