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Monday, March 30, 2015

The merits and demerits of Mel Bradford's understanding of the American Founding

That's the topic of discussion in this short but interesting piece over at The Imaginative Conservative:  Mel Bradford and the Founding.

While I would agree with Bradford about the constitutional status of the Declaration of Independence (it isn't a legal document like the Constitution or statutes enacted under constitutional authority), I would disagree with him about what set behind Lincoln's appeal to the Declaration.  Lincoln was not attempting to re-found the country, rather, he was trying to call the country back to its origins, to the vision of its Founders, and to the idea of ordered liberty that was at the core of the Founders' vision. The Declaration's statement of equality was not a radical and absolute equality of position for all in society, it was a statement of the equality of all human beings before the Creator.  Because all men were equal in station before God, so should they be equal before the law that was predicated on the inalienable rights of life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness that come from the Creator and not the State.

It was Lincoln, in the great contest of the Civil War, who was the conservative, the one who sought to walk in the "old paths." Russell Kirk understood this well, and it is a pity that his friend Mel Bradford chose not to appreciate that aspect of Lincoln's political philosophy.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Exactly. Lincoln's famed Cooper Union speech, 1860

But you say you are conservative - eminently conservative - while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new.

True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary; some for the "gur-reat pur-rinciple" that "if one man would enslave another, no third man should object," fantastically called "Popular Sovereignty;" but never a man among you is in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our Government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge or destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

Again, you say we have made the slavery question more prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is more prominent, but we deny that we made it so.

It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times, readopt the precepts and policy of the old times.

Mark D. said...

Great quote from Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, Tom. Makes the point I was making in the main post all the more clear!

bobcheeks said...

Bradford's analysis is spot on.

Slavery was more secure in 1860 then it had ever been in American history.