Tuesday, August 1, 2017

“The Unshaken Rock:” The Jeffersonian Tradition in America


One key difference can be found in the Confederate Constitution’s Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5, which gave the state legislatures the power to impeach and remove “any judicial or other Federal officer, resident and acting solely within the limits of any State.”  This was the heart and soul of Confederate governing principles.  If federal officials meddled in state and local affairs, they could be banished from the state.  This was one of the crucial components of Jeffersonian political thought, designed solely to preserve federalism. Yet establishment historians say it wasn’t about states’ rights.

There were also other notable differences in the Confederate Constitution that fall along Jeffersonian lines: God was mentioned in the Preamble. The President could serve only one six-year term and had a line item veto to control spending.  It outlawed protective tariffs, banned the international slave trade, removed the “general welfare” clause, prohibited federally-funded internal improvements (today known as “earmarks”), required a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress for appropriations, forbid recess appointments, and prohibited persons of foreign birth who had not obtained citizenship from voting for any office on the state or federal level. All of these provisions upheld the Jeffersonian ideal.

When historians discuss reasons for Southern secession, as if the South needed to produce one, perhaps the most important, and sometimes neglected, motive was the protection of the Jeffersonian tradition, essentially the right to self-government.  What was this Jeffersonian tradition or ideal? It is our lost political heritage of limited government and federalism, the political ideals that made up what might be called Jeffersonian conservatism. Those traditions came under attack in 1861 with the Lincolnian Revolution, which tried to kill it and has nearly succeeded.

The Jefferson tradition is a set of political principles, the true ideals of the revolution that Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the bright constellation” that guides our path. For Millard Fillmore, a one time Northern Whig, they represented a “beautiful fabric” and a “priceless inheritance.” For Franklin Pierce, it was these ideals, embodied in the “unshaken rock” of the Constitution that could keep the nation from falling into faction and division, if they were adhered to.

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