Forthcoming–Chaining Down Leviathan, The American Dream of Self-Government 1776-1865.
Marco Bassani, Ph.D
This is a study of American political thought between the secession from Britain and the War Between the States. This period was a struggle between the Jeffersonian and the Hamiltonian visions of America. The Jeffersonians favored a highly decentralized federation of sovereign states, whereas the Hamiltonians favored a highly centralized state with a veto on state legislation. This sort of polity has been called “the modern state,” which was a creation of European monarchs. When the monarchies were overthrown, it took on the form of mass democracy and national elections, both of which greatly expanded central power beyond anything the monarchs could have imagined.
When Britain tried to incorporate the colonies into a British version of the modern state, they resisted and won their independence. Most of the founders did not want an American version of the same planted in America. But some did. Hamilton and others seceded from Britain not because they opposed the modern state, but because they wanted to create an American version and govern it themselves. They failed. The Jeffersonians, though contested, dominated from 1776 to 1861. Lincoln inherited this Hamiltonian tradition and launched an invasion of the South, not to free slaves, but to prevent secession and securely plant a modern style European state in America where none had existed before.
Through scholarship at the highest academic level, professor Bassani shows how John C. Calhoun pulled together from the tradition that includes the Anti-federalists, Jefferson, and others, a philosophical vision of federalism that was a universe apart from the modern state and which articulated much of the actual practice of politics in Jeffersonian America. These salutary practices were violently overthrown by the Lincolnian revolution in centralization. Bassani writes: “Any freedoms that are still part and parcel of the American present are nothing but an echo or reverberation of the distinctively southern political school that dominated the Republic prior to the Civil War. The assertion of Madame de Staël that “liberty is ancient, and despotism is modern” is truer in America than in any other country.”
This book delivers a compelling political message to conservative politicians and intellectuals. What is worth conserving in the American political tradition is the Jeffersonian understanding of a federation of sovereign states able to veto unconstitutional intrusions into the reserved powers and ways of life of the several states. It is impossible to be in favor of limited government, rule of law, and all the paraphernalia of the Western liberal tradition, and favor centralization, and the illusion that central power can be limited by national elections.
Lincoln inherited a federal government that was weaker and ‘smaller’ than the one inaugurated by George Washington seventy years earlier. Constrained by the constitutional compact between sovereign states, the federal government could not define the limits of its own powers and was severely limited in the power to tax individuals and to create a public debt. So, central power did not grow for the best part of a century. Professor Bassani shows that the institutional history of America can be seen as a large laboratory in which Calhoun’s teaching is clearly confirmed: central power can only be resisted by state power.
About the Author
Professor Luigi Marco Bassani is Professor of the History of Political Thought in the Department of International, Legal, Political, and Historical Studies at the University of Milan, Italy. He wrote his dissertation on the political theory of John C. Calhoun. While most of his research (6 books and dozens of book chapters and articles for academic journals) is in Italian, his book Liberty, State, and Union: The Political Theory of Thomas Jefferson (2010) was published in English by Mercer University Press.
He is a founding member of the Abbeville Institute and an honored colleague. He was a fellow at the International Center for Jeffersonian Studies at Monticello, Virginia, and is a pundit on political affairs in Europe. Though published widely in subjects ranging from revolutionary syndicalism to libertarian theory, his paramount research interest is the American political tradition before the War for Southern Independence.
Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War
D. Jonathan White, ed.
A collection of nine essays from Abbeville Institute scholars focusing on Northern opposition to the War to Prevent Southern Independence. Topics include religion, Copperheads, New York Draft Riots, dissent in Delaware and Philadelphia. Footnotes contain scholarly apparatus.
Table of Contents:
1. Marshall DeRosa: “President Franklin Pierce and the War for Southern Independence”
2. Joe Stromberg: “Blood on the Pulpit: Northern Clergymen, the Kingdom of God on Earth, and the Abolition of the South”
3. D. Jonathan White: “Copperheads: History and Historiography”
4. Allen Mendenhall: “‘Get Down You Fool!’ Holmes on Lincoln, the Union, and the War”
5. Brion McClanahan: “The Avenger Without Mercy: Delaware Under the Federal Heel”
6. Richard M. Gamble: “The Warfare of the World in the House of God: The National Gospel and the Ordeal of Old School Presbyterians in the Civil War”
7. R. T. Valentine: “Yankees and Yorkers: Opposition to Lincoln’s Policies in Westchester County, NY and the Greater Hudson Valley”
8. John Chodes: “Oliver P. Morton, Indiana’s War Governor: ‘I am the State!'”
9. Arthur Trask: “Philadelphia Against the War”