If any American today were to listen to the nationalists in charge of either the political class or American education at large, they would get the sense that it is settled science that the American Union is comprised of one people held together by a national government with uncontested sovereignty over all matters foreign and domestic. Certainly, States and local governments can make laws, but those laws are subject to review by the national judiciary and can be declared invalid at any time if a national judge rules that the law in question violates the prevailing national opinion in regard to any matter, political, social, or economic. Not even national laws crafted by the national legislature can stop the black robed federal adjudicators.
It has not always been this way. There are hundreds of dusty tomes buried deep in both research and public libraries that expose this position as a fraud, at least in regard to the federal American system as designed by the founding generation. And not all lawyers, legal scholars, or judges used to be corrupted by nationalist propaganda. There were hearty souls who effectively refuted the nationalist lie made popular by Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, Joseph Story, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln. Many of these works are available for free online, but knowing who to look for and where to look can be a daunting task. Finding quotations on the Constitution by any of the nationalists is a simple web search away, but their opponents have been relegated to the dark corners of acceptable thought, tarnished with charges of treason or worse. Most of them are Southern. This makes their ideas—long considered outmoded or frankly dead by the modern academy—not only dangerous to the political class and the ruling establishment, but politically incorrect.
This is unjust and thousands (hopefully millions) of Americans are finally realizing that the American federal republic as crafted does not mesh with the political monstrosity on the banks of the Potomac River today. The “federal” leviathan a cancer, the very thing most in the founding generation wished to avoid and diligently argued would never happen even if the Constitution were ratified in 1788. It wouldn’t have been had anyone listened to the real “federalists” of the antebellum period, namely those who believed in a federated republic of independent States held together in a Union for expressly delegated purposes outlined in a Constitution of limited powers. There were exponents of this position North and South in 1788. A compelling case could be made that every proponent of the Constitution accepted this position during the State ratifying conventions, including the arch-nationalists James Wilson of Pennsylvania and Hamilton of New York. What happened after the Constitution was adopted is another story, but no family held more firmly to the argument that the Constitution was, and is, a compact between independent States with expressly delegated powers than the Tucker family of Virginia. They deserve our attention and thus a weeklong focus on their political, social, and constitutional beliefs.
Starting today, the Abbeville Review and the Clyde Wilson Library will feature pieces written by or on the Tuckers. The first great constitutional scholar of the family, St. George Tucker, is the focus of Clyde Wilson’s piece on Monday at the Clyde Wilson Library. St. George Tucker wrote the first comprehensive study of the Constitution after its adoption as a corollary to Blackstone’s famous commentaries on English law. His edition of Blackstone was widely read and used in legal studies for much of antebellum American history. St. George Tucker was friends with Thomas Jefferson and a true republican of the old Virginia order. His View of the Constitution of the United States should be standard reading for anyone interested in a detailed examination of the “compact fact” of the Constitution, perhaps even more so than John Taylor’s New Views on the Constitution of the United States, a study written in response to John Adams’s highly centralized exposition on American constitutionalism.
Tuesday’s piece is written by St. George Tucker’s oldest son, Henry St. George Tucker. Henry St. George Tucker was appointed to the law faculty for both the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia. He served as a member of Congress, as the president of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and less conspicuously as a captain in the War of 1812. He was a prominent member of the second generation of Americans, reared in the Virginia republican tradition and a staunch defender of originalism. His piece comes from his 1843 Lectures on Constitutional Law and is a well-argued attack on the “one people” thesis of early American history. He expertly shows that an “American people” has never existed and that the colonies, far from being an amorphous mass of land under the singular direction of the crown, shared no allegiance to one another nor did any colonial American think of an American “nation” or an American “people.”
Wednesday’s essay is by St. George Tucker’s second son, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, better known as a writer of fiction than for his essays on the Constitution or political philosophy. His The Partisan Leader was highly influential among Southern secessionists, particularly in the 1850s, and Edgar Allen Poe called Tucker’s lesser known novel George Balcome “the best American novel” in an 1837 review in The Southern Literary Messenger. Beverley Tucker also served as a member of the law faculty at the College of William and Mary and counted among his contacts some of the most important men in the Union, among them President John Tyler and Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur. His 1839 treatise A Discourse on the Genius of the Federative System of the United States reprinted by the Abbeville Review is a call for the men of Virginia to lead a renaissance of federalism in America, for Tucker rightly expresses his belief in the “compact fact” of the Constitution. It was Virginia that birthed Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and a host of other great Americans. To Tucker, it made sense that Virginia would be at the vanguard of a renewed call for real federalism.
Henry St. George Tucker’s son, John Randolph Tucker, authored the Thursday piece at the Abbeville Review, an 1887 commencement address delivered at South Carolina College (University of South Carolina) titled The Old and the New South. J.R. Tucker was Attorney General for Virginia both before and during the War for Southern Independence and member of the United States Congress after the War. His address is not only a sweeping history of the antebellum period, the causes of the War, and the ramifications of Southern defeat, but a clarion call for Southerners to defend their heritage and the principles for which the South bled during the War, namely the original understanding of the Constitution as outlined by John C. Calhoun, a personal friend of Tucker’s.
The final installment of Tucker week is by Henry St. George Tucker III, John Randolph Tucker’s only son. Henry St. George Tucker III was a member of Congress, the president of the American Bar Association and the Dean of the Law School at Washington and Lee University and George Washington University. His 1927 essay is a thorough shredding of the expansion of the “General Welfare Clause” made famous by Joseph Story’s commentaries on the Constitution. No one has surpassed Tucker’s clarity of argument either before or after his essay was written.
It must be noted that each of the Tucker’s were not only great legal scholars, they were devout Christians. That is apparent in their writing. Several of the Virginia Tuckers later served as men of the cloth, with Beverly Dandridge Tucker (1846-1930)—nephew of John Randolph Tucker—appointed as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. His sons would be prominent members of the Episcopal Church. Son Henry St. George Tucker would be the presiding Bishop for the American Episcopal Church (1938-1946) and another son, Francis Bland Tucker, was a famous composer and Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia until his death in 1984.
All five pieces in our Tucker week are scholarly. They are meant to be chewed and digested, read and re-read, and hopefully serve to whet the appetite for more research into this important Virginia family. They provide enough intellectual ammunition to destroy any nationalist argument. The Tuckers are a true American legal and ecclesiastical dynasty in need of a Requiem Mass. Their work, not that of Story or Marshall, should be required reading for American legal scholars. That can start here.