This is the last in a series of posts excerpting my speech at the Federalist National Convention, arguing that only religious freedom, not pervasive religious sentiment, is necessary to civic virtue under our constitutional order. Here I show that periods of greater religiosity do not coincide with greater constitutional fidelity:
One test of whether religion is necessary to preserve the constitutional order is whether periods of greater religiosity coincide with greater fidelity to the Constitution itself. And if we look at the course of American history, we do not find a high degree of correlation, let alone a causal connection, between periods of greater religiosity and fidelity to the Constitution. History also fails to show a positive correlation between secularism and constitutionality. Rather, it underscores the great dangers to our constitutional order can come from either religious enthusiasm or secular utopianism. Both share an ecstatic approach to politics that finds the Constitution inconvenient, as its constraints protect a society generated by the spontaneous order of freedom. It is not that only that the Constitution can be preserved by the liberal order it encourages, but it can be destabilized by demands for government-enforced morality that is too encompassing.
In a very interesting recent book, The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution, John Compton makes the persuasive case that living constitutionalism—the theory that upends our written Constitution—has its beginning in the evangelism that originated in the second great awakening. These evangelicals and their religious descendants became unhappy that the Constitution as written facilitated such vices as alcohol and gambling by protecting interstate commerce and vested rights in property. They therefore promoted legislation that empowered the federal government, as opposed to the states, to regulate morals despite the limitations of the enumerated powers. They also wanted to destroy property used for immoral purposes despite the protection of vested rights.
The precedents set by this movement became key for progressive arguments. Just as the Constitution could be transformed to permit moral reform on a grand scale, so it could justify federal control of the economy.
A naturalization address given last week by Professor Kevin Hardwick in Beaverdam, Virginia at Scotchtown, the governor’s residence of Patrick Henry during the War for Independence.
In the late 1790s, during the presidency of John Adams, Americans conducted a bitter public debate over the meaning of patriotism. The dominant political party at the time, the Federalists, confronted an emerging opposition, headed by Thomas Jefferson. The opposition, the Democratic-Republican party, sharply criticized the Federalists, and condemned both their policies and their motives.
The revolution of 1787-1791 overthrew a constitution that strictly limited the federal government in favor of one with general welfare and necessary and proper clauses that allowed the federal government to absorb state powers over time. It also tossed out the dogma of separation of powers in favor of a more sophisticated balance of powers. When the states proposed to put that dogma back in the Constitution by Amendment and James Madison convinced the House of Representatives to include it in its Amendment package, the Senate, with its extensive executive powers, disagreed to it.1 Almost all Federalists claimed the Constitution was…
There is much to commend Professor Garry’s essay. He is eminently correct in saying that the Constitution contemplated a limited government. Whether it adhered to a “limited government model” is a different issue. What is more than curious, however, is Professor Garry’s statement that the “the overall scheme of the original Constitution” is primarily concerned with…
Patrick Garry’s essay “The Constitution’s Structural Limits on Power Should Be the Focus of the Bill of Rights” contains many valuable insights. In particular, it re-affirms the proposition – lost for many years but perhaps gaining some new currency – that the so-called “structural” provisions of the Constitution are, and were intended to be, not…
The Library of America continues its outstanding contribution to the preservation and dissemination of America’s literary heritage with this collection of letters, speeches, diary excerpts and newspaper articles from “America’s forgotten conflict.” You might not know it, unless you live in Maryland [home of the “star-spangled” license plate] or one of the states bordering the Great Lakes, but we are in the midst of “celebrating” the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This war suffers from obscurity in part due to the fact that for two of its principal players, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (the latter acted as a…
Ratifying the U.S. Constitution in Virginia
The Philadelphia Convention rent Virginia’s political elite as no event ever had. Not only had Patrick Henry refused his proffered seat (he said he “smelt a rat”), but two of the three delegates who stayed through the whole Convention before finally refusing to sign were Virginians.
And not just any Virginians. Non-signer Edmund Randolph, the Old Dominion’s governor at the time, had served virtually throughout the Convention as chief advocate of the Virginia Plan, which the delegates knew as “Randolph’s Resolutions.” Perhaps even more significantly, Virginian politicos generally recognized George Mason as their state’s leading constitutional authority. He had taken the lead in drafting both the Virginia Constitution of 1776—the first written constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world—and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the first American declaration of rights. Mason refused to sign too.
Randolph explained his recusant posture by pointing to the several objections he had developed in the course of deliberations, and then saying that he intended to leave the question open until the people of his home state had an opportunity to express their sentiments. Mason, characteristically more forthright and less concerned with popular opinion, made no secret of the fact that, as James Madison put it, he “left Philada. in an exceeding ill humor indeed.”