Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “When you’re talking about Independence Day and the 4th of July here in the states — I don’t know if the Scots are going to vote for independence or not. One of the downfalls or one of the things to be guarded against when you are a member of a union of states as large as ours is, and especially as boastful we are of our military firepower and its supremacy, is that this is what tends to get us into these wars where, as you pointed out, we have thousands of young men coming home who have heard the call of duty, have honorably accepted it, and have gone off to places like Iraq and come home or don’t come home alive.” Check out Pt II of today’s transcript/interview with Kevin Gutzman for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Professor Kevin Gutzman is on the line, if you were wondering, author of James Madison and the Making of America. You’re writing in two different styles, but going back to the subject of American exceptionalism and the way that you wrote about it, and one of the things that makes us exceptional according to Murray and others of our day, including these people that call themselves conservatives today…
PLEASE NOTE: Part I of this transcript was made available to the public at no cost but we hope you will want to continue reading this fascinating interview in Pt II which is available to Founders Pass members only. Not a member!? You can signup today and support this site (transcripts are expensive to produce) and Mike Church’s continuing work to bring you the most accurate, most entertaining views and stories of America’s history available today.
Mike: Professor Kevin Gutzman is on the line, if you were wondering, author of James Madison and the Making of America. You’re writing in two different styles, but going back to the subject of American exceptionalism and the way that you wrote about it, and one of the things that makes us exceptional according to Murray and others of our day, including these people that call themselves conservatives today is, and you mentioned this briefly and I want to try to drag this conversation out a bit, about accepting the verdicts and rulings of the nine men in black robes, also known as SCOTUS, Supreme Court of the United States. Recently, while I was on holiday in Scotland, there was a ruling that came down in the case of Hobby Lobby.
This was widely celebrated by many on the right as a big, huge victory for religious liberty and religious freedom. Some went on to say, like on the pages of TownHall.com, that: By the way, you libs, you ought to shut up about Hobby Lobby because they do wondrous things. They have 16 forms of contraception that they actually do provide for their employees. I’m reading this going, pre Griswold v. Connecticut, contraception was a big taboo, a big no-no that public policy never dealt with. The Supreme Court dealing with it is just another one of these perversions. For people to be running around and cheerleading this and accepting it as if Roberts went up to the top of the Supreme Court building with a couple of stone tablets in his hand and God himself struck some lightning bolts into them and came down with the Hobby Lobby ruling and whatever other ruling. This is also another perversion of what was to make America exceptional.
The Supreme Court wasn’t supposed to be a legislative body. It wasn’t supposed to be nine über adult tribal elders, if you will, of our civilization that were going to counsel us on what and how we ought to think about things. You pointed this out. There was an example that you gave that I’m unfamiliar with about Justice Story, who was certainly no friend of constructionism, as I understand it anyway. Justice Story, even he, back in the day, did not vote for a certain verdict because he didn’t think the Constitution allowed him to. Can you explain?
Kevin Gutzman: Well, sure. I gave a couple of examples of people in the early republic who followed the Constitution despite personally opposing the policy outcome that led to. The most obvious case is, the last thing James Madison did as president was veto the Bonus Bill, which was a bill he had called on Congress to pass. The reason he vetoed was, he said: I told you you needed to amend the Constitution to give yourselves power to do this before you did it and you just went ahead and did it without amending the Constitution, so you still don’t have the power to do this. He had to veto it. Another example, the one you mentioned, is the one in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania. Justice Story, who was the first Harvard Law School professor and notable anti-slavery proponent, in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, he voted to uphold the Fugitive Slave Law and required its enforcement in Pennsylvania. He therefore ended up being persona non grata among his fellow Harvard faculty members, but he did what he did because he thought the law required it. He thought the Constitution mandated the outcome that he voted for. So even though he found it repellant, he upheld it.
Just try to imagine a situation in which Sonia Sotomayor does that. Try to think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg holding a statute that she disfavors, that is controversial between Democrats and Republicans, that is contrary to the latest liberal wish-list constitutional. I wager you can’t do it, and that’s because these people today don’t really believe there is a constitution. It’s just a matter of having a vote and seeing which side wins in the super legislature, which is the Supreme Court. This is the difference between having a government by a court and having a constitutional government.
Alas, Murray, again kind of the throwaway line at the end of the book, says this is one sense in which America is still exceptional. We still generally accept what the Supreme Court says about the Constitution. When I read that, I immediately started yelling at my book: No, that’s not exceptional! They have a system like that in Egypt. They have an election and then the army tells them what’s going to happen. They have that in Iran. They have an election and then the mullahs tell them what’s going to happen. In America we have elections, we vote against, I don’t know, gay marriage, and then the Supreme Court tells us what’s going to happen. It’s really not exceptional at all. This is the way things have been in most of the world almost all the time.
Mike: Professor Kevin Gutzman is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. His essay, “American Exceptionalism, Anyone?” is just in time for Independence Day published at NomocracyInPolitics.com, is listed in today’s Pile of Prep. Of course, you can get James Madison and the Making of America autographed by the good doctor in the Founders Tradin’ Post at MikeChurch.com as well, in paperback and hardback. One of the things that I note while I was in Scotland, I went into two post offices to send some postcards out. In both post offices, there were plaque memorials that hung from the wall. They were memorials to the workers of the British or Scottish postal service that had either been drafted or had volunteered in what they called the Great War. Of course, they were referring to World War I. They had gone and lost their lives in the trenches of the Maginot Line and in other parts.
I asked somebody about those plaques because there were several of them that I saw. That gentleman told me that those plaques are there to hopefully remind people of the horrors of war and of the horrors of being part of the United Kingdom that decides to follow countries like the United States into other wars. We had talked earlier about Washington’s farewell address and about Jefferson’s statement in the inaugural. I will throw in that when the Constitution was being ratified, George Mason, among others, one of the strongest cases they made was their fear that we would have a standing army. They feared it because of the consequences of battles or wars, horrific wars like World War I that the United States was ultimately dragged into by President Wilson. It’s just a reminder.
When you’re talking about Independence Day and the 4th of July here in the states — I don’t know if the Scots are going to vote for independence or not. One of the downfalls or one of the things to be guarded against when you are a member of a union of states as large as ours is, and especially as boastful we are of our military firepower and its supremacy, is that this is what tends to get us into these wars where, as you pointed out, we have thousands of young men coming home who have heard the call of duty, have honorably accepted it, and have gone off to places like Iraq and come home or don’t come home alive. They leave families behind and what have you here. This is one of the things to be guarded against. This was not the will or the intention of the founding generation. As a matter of fact, it was actually quite the opposite, wasn’t it?
Gutzman: Yes, certainly. The idea was that we wouldn’t be launching these expeditions because we could avoid what are almost always overwhelmingly bad results. If you had a standing army, the prince, it was thought, would find a war to find. I know I’ve mentioned this on your program before, but I think the perfect illustration of the truth of this fear, or the well-groundedness of this fear, that if you give a prince an army he’ll find a war to fight, comes in the context of the older President Bush’s decision to intervene in Somalia. As he explained his decision, what happened was that he turned on CNN one day, saw starving children in Somalia, and said to whoever it was that was sitting next to him: I have an army; I don’t have to allow this to happen. Next thing you know, the U.S. is intervening in Somalia. Net good done: zero. We end up with dozens of dead American soldiers and no causative effect on Somalia, more debt, more of every kind of problem.
Did the Congress ever vote to have a war in Somalia? No, they didn’t. The whole thing was a debacle. Ultimately, of course, it led to even worse consequences in the Clinton administration as, through inertia, Clinton decided to keep forces in Somalia for a little while. This is just the way things work. It’s a bad idea to have a standing army. It was in the late 18th century and it is now. You don’t want to have forces that the president can send wherever he wants and come to be accepted by the mainstream of both parties that the president can use the army to intervene where he wants. Apparently the only way to keep that from happening is to deprive him of his standing army.
Mike: In the few moments we have left, another subject of conversation that would have been taking place about this time in 1776 is there would be a draft that would be proposed of what would be called Articles of Confederation. I think they debated, but I really haven’t re-studied this. I did once upon a time, but my memory is a little foggy on it. I think they were debating Ben Franklin’s idea of what the Articles of Confederation ought to look like. It began on or around July 8th or so. They would start talking about: We need to get to the Articles of Confederation. Of course, it would take another act of Congress years later, for Maryland I think it was, to finally actually say: Okay, we’ll go ahead and ratify. Then they had a unanimous vote on it and they ratified it. Just tell the folks a little bit about what was going on in 1776 with the Articles of Confederation.
Gutzman: Well, of course the war had already started by the time the Declaration of Independence was promulgated, yet there was no formal relationship among the states. So Congress decided there needed to be a federal constitution. In fact, it was called “our federal Constitution by people at the time in the Philadelphia Convention who wrote the current federal constitution, Madison repeatedly referred to the Articles as “our federal constitution.” The idea here was just to regularize the operations of the Continental Congress. [/private]
Gutzman: Ultimately there ended up being this constitution that established a new government without an executive, without a judiciary, with extremely limited powers, and requiring for any major acts to be taken that all the states agree, including requiring that all the states agree to ratify this new federal constitution.
Maryland, which, of course, is immediately north of Virginia, refused to ratify this thing for four years. The grounds they gave was that it would not agree to enter into a federal relationship with Virginia so long as Virginia extends all the way to today’s Minnesota. People may not realize that although Virginia is kind of a mid-size state halfway north to south on the East Coast, in those days Virginia also included West Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. Maryland says: Before we’re going to join the federal relationship with you, you have to give up these western lands. Finally in 1781, Virginia’s northwest session ceded all of its land north of the Ohio River to Congress. That meant that Virginia was then going to be composed only of today’s Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. At that point, finally Maryland agreed to enter into this new government, so the Articles of Confederation were finally adopted.
End Mike Church Show Transcript – See Pt I of Kevin Gutzman on American Exceptionalism