Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Monday, May 29, 2017

My Top-10 New Reform Club Posts

Citation: Seth Barrett Tillman, My Top-10 New Reform Club Posts, New Reform Club (May 29, 2017, 2:30 PM),

President George Washington Doing Business With The Federal Government: Forbidden Emoluments?

See Certificate for Lots Purchased in the District of Columbia, 18 September 1793, Founders Online, [

Certificate for Lots Purchased in the District of Columbia, 18 September 1793

Certificate for Lots Purchased in the District of Columbia

Territory of Columbia, 18th September 1793
At a Public Sale of Lots in the City of Washington, George Washington, President of the United States of America became purchaser of Lots No. twelve, No. thirteen & No. fourteen in Square No. six hundred & sixty seven for the consideration of one thousand and sixty six dollars & two thirds of a Dollar, subject to the Terms and Conditions concerning the manner of improvement published, and on the further terms of paying down one fourth part of the purchase money, and also paying the residue in three equal annual payments, with yearly interest on the whole principal unpaid, under forfeiture of the said fourth to be paid down: and he hath accordingly paid the said one fourth, to wit, two hundred and sixty six Dollars and two thirds of a Dollar, and he or his Assigns, on making the said other Payments, will be entitled to a conveyance of the said lot in Fee.1
Lots No. 12. 13. & 14
Square No. 667.
Dd Stuart,
Danl Carroll
DS (duplicate), NN. A similar document recording GW’s purchase on this date of lot 5 in square 667 was offered for sale by Parke-Bernet Galleries, Autograph Letters & Documents. Property of the Late Forest G. Sweet. Part I, sale 1756 (1957), item 376.
1A description of these three lots and lot 5 is to be found at NjMoHP: “Lot No. 14 on Square No. 667.—Beginning at the end of 147. Feet 5¼ I[nches] from the South East corner of the said square, measured on the West side of Water Street, running thence west 100. F. 4. I. then north 32. F. then East 107. F. 3. I. to water Street and with water Street South 12°. 18’ West 32. F. 8¼ I. to the beginning—With a privilege of improving, in front of the Lot, into the Eastern branch.
“Lot No. 13. in same Square—Beging at the end of the third line of Lot No. 14. run[nin]g thence with said line reversed 107. F. 3. I. then North 32. F. then East 114. F. 1½ I. to water street & with water Street South 12°. 18’ West 32. F. 8¼ I. to the beging with the privilege of improving, in front of the lot, into the eastern branch.
“Lot No. 12. in same Square—Beging at the end of the third line of Lot No. 13. running thence with said line reversed 114. F. 1½. I. then north 48. F. then East 124. F. 7½ I. to water Street, & with it South 12°. 18’ West 49. F. 1¾. I. to the beging with the same privilege of improvement.
“Lot No. 5 in same Square—Beging at the end of 165. F. 9. I. north from the South west corner of the Square then running north with 1st Street west 68. F. 6. I. then East 173. F. 7. I. then South 68. F. 6. I. then west 173. F. 7 I. to the Beging.”
For the location of square 667, on the waterfront south of the Capitol, see Fig. 1.

Citation: Seth Barrett Tillman, President George Washington Doing Business With The Federal Government: Forbidden Emoluments?, New Reform Club (May 29, 2017, 5:53 AM), 

President James Madison's and President James Monroe's Gifts from Foreign States: Forbidden Gifts or Emoluments?

Jonathan Fildes, Science probe for ‘space pistols, BBC News 

(May 26, 2008, 4;17 GMT), 

(emphasis added)

Science probe for 'space pistols'

By Jonathan Fildes 
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Given pride of place in an unassuming museum on the East Coast of America is a pair of 200-year-old duelling pistols shrouded in mystery.

The intricately decorated guns were said to have been forged from the iron of a meteorite.
They were a unique gift from the commander of a South American region, which would later become Argentina, to the fourth US president, James Madison.
"Permit me therefore to present to your Excellency... a specimen of the first essays of the manufacture of arms established in the provinces of Buenos Ayres and Tucuman," wrote General Ignacio Alvarez in an accompanying 14-page letter.
Over time, they passed into the hands of Madison's successor - James Monroe - and are now on display at a museum dedicated to him. ...

Citation: Seth Barrett Tillman, President James Madison’s and President James Monroe’s Gifts from Foreign States: Forbidden Gifts or Emoluments?, New Reform Club (May 29, 2017, 5:38 AM),  

President Thomas Jefferson's Presents from Foreign States: Forbidden Gifts or Emoluments?

[Letter] From [President] Thomas Jefferson to Levett Harris [American Consul-General to Russia], 18 April 1806, Founders Online, (emphasis added)

From Thomas Jefferson to Levett Harris, 18 April 1806

Washington Apr. 18. 1806.
It is now some time since I recieved from you through the house of Smith & Buchanan at Baltimore, a bust of the Emperor [Tsar] Alexander [I], for which I have to return you my thanks. these are the more cordial, because of the value the bust derives from the great estimation in which it’s original is held by the world, & by none more than by myself. it will constitute one of the most valued ornaments of the Retreat I am preparing for myself at my native home. accept at the same time my acknowledgements for the elegant work of Atkinson & Walker on the customs of the Russians. I had laid it down as law for my conduct while in office, & hitherto scrupulously observed, to accept of no present beyond a book, a pamphlet, or other curiosity of minor value; as well to avoid imputations on my motives of action, as to shut out a practice susceptible of such abuse. but my particular esteem for the character of the Emperor, places his image in my mind above the scope of law. I recieve it therefore & shall cherish it with my affection. it nourishes the contemplation of all the good placed in his power, & of his disposition to do it.
A little before Dr. Priestly’s death he informed me that he had recieved intimations, through a channel he confided in, that the Emperor entertained a wish to know something of our constitution. I have therefore selected the two best works we have on that subject, for which I pray you to ask a place in his library. they are too much in detail to occupy his time: but they will furnish materials for an abstract, to be made by others, on such a scale as may bring the matter within the compass of time, which his higher callings can yield to such an object.
At a very early period of my life, contemplating the history of the aboriginal inhabitants of America, I was led to believe that if there had ever been a relation between them & the men of colour in Asia, traces of it would be found in their several languages. I have therefore availed myself of every opportunity, which has offered to obtain vocabularies of such tribes as have been within my reach, corresponding to a list then formed of about 250. words. in this I have made such progress, that within a year or two more I think to give to the public what I shall then have acquired. I have lately seen a report of mr Volney’s to the Celtic academy on a work of mr Pallas entitled ‘Vocabulaires compares des langues de toute la terre,’ with a list of 130. words to which the Vocabulary is limited. I find that 73. of these words are common to that & to my vocabulary, and therefore will enable us, by a comparison of language, to make the enquiry so long desired, as to the probability of a common origin between the people of colour of the two continents. I have to ask the favor of you to procure me a copy of the above work of Pallas; to inform me of the cost, & permit me to pay it here to your use: for I presume you have some mercantile correspondent here to whom a paiment can be made for you. a want of knowledge what the book may cost, as well as of the means of making so small a remittance, oblige me to make this proposition, and to restrain it to the sole condition that I be permitted to reimburse it here.
I inclose a letter for the Emperor, which be pleased to deliver or have delivered, it has some relation to a subject which the Secretary of State will explain to you. Accept my salutations, and assurances of esteem & consideration.

Citation: Seth Barrett Tillman, President Thomas Jefferson’s Presents from Foreign States: Forbidden Gifts or Emoluments?, New Reform Club (May 29, 2017, 5:25 AM), 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

R.I.P. Philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler

Details here.


I'm a big fan of Peter Lawler's "They Built Better Than They Knew" thesis about the American Founding, that they ended up with an "accidental Thomism" anyway, i.e., classical Aristotle/Aquinas natural law.

As I’ve said many times before, we can see that our Declaration was a statesmanlike legislative compromise between Lockeans and Calvinists, and the result was a kind of accidental Thomism. Something similar can be said about the actual language of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, which point in the direction, contrary to Madison’s theoretical anti-ecclesiasticism, of freedom of the church.

From John B. Kienker in First Things: "In a superb chapter on John Courtney Murray, Lawler defends the American founders' "implicitly Thomistic" liberalism (from which we've strayed), which, despite its debt to Locke, retained a conception of rights firmly grounded in natural law. Following Murray, he credits a Calvinist influence with tempering the founders' own liberal impulses, allowing them to build "better than they knew." He hopes that perhaps our politics may again experience a similarly fruitful tension between today's evangelicals and secularists."

More from Lawler here and here. Requiescat in pace.

Friday, May 26, 2017

St. John Paul II on the error of making politics a "secular religion"

"Moreover, man, who was created for freedom, bears within himself the wound of original sin, which constantly draws him towards evil and puts him in need of redemption. Not only is this doctrine an integral part of Christian revelation; it also has great hermeneutical value insofar as it helps one to understand human reality. Man tends towards good, but he is also capable of evil. He can transcend his immediate interest and still remain bound to it. The social order will be all the more stable, the more it takes this fact into account and does not place in opposition personal interest and the interests of society as a whole, but rather seeks ways to bring them into fruitful harmony. In fact, where self-interest is violently suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control which dries up the wellsprings of initiative and creativity. When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a "secular religion" which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world. But no political society — which possesses its own autonomy and laws55 — can ever be confused with the Kingdom of God. The Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30; 36-43) teaches that it is for God alone to separate the subjects of the Kingdom from the subjects of the Evil One, and that this judgment will take place at the end of time. By presuming to anticipate judgment here and now, man puts himself in the place of God and sets himself against the patience of God."

-- Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Frank S. Meyer on the conservative approach to the state

“The conservative — who understands also that power in this world will always exist and cannot be wished out of existence — stands for division of power, in order that those who hold it may balance each other and the concentration of overweening power be foreclosed. He stands for the limitation of the power of the state, division of power within the state, a free economy, and prescriptive protection of the rights of individual persons and groups of individual persons against the state. But he does not see the state as an absolute evil; he regards it as a necessary institution, so long as it is restricted to its natural functions: the preservation of domestic peace and order, the administration of justice, and defense against foreign enemies.”

-- From The Twisted Tree of Liberty (National Review, Jan. 16, 1962).

Fake News