December 3, 2012

DAVID POST: “Maybe Lincoln didn’t understand what was going on as well as Paul Finkelman now does, but I regard that as unlikely.” Having read the work of both men, I agree.

The attack on Jefferson, engaged in by those who are his intellectual and moral inferiors, is part of a project to unmoor the Constitution from the Founders. The idea is that some sort of abstract Constitution, as a brooding omnipresence in the sky, can be used to justify all sorts of projects — but only if it’s separated from what it was actually meant to do. But why should anyone defer to an abstract Constitution that turns out to just be a source of Divine Right for whatever interpretation legal scholars of a certain political persuasion choose to put on it now?

UPDATE: Prof. Stephen Clark writes:

The criticism of Jeffersonian ideals versus the reality of Monticello is ironic, isn’t it? Here are people who brush away the clash as if it were nothing: something which they would have easily resolved in Jefferson’s place. Many of these are the same people who apparently see nothing wrong with enslaving those too young to vote, or those not yet born, with a crushing debt burden bought to salve the consciences or provide for the comfort of those who would condemn Jefferson.

On the other hand, reader John Vecchione writes:

I took some umbrage at your attack on the attack on Jefferson. I have always thought that he was the original “coach and four” (limosine) liberal. As a graduate of Hamilton College I’m acutely aware there is a long, distinguished, and constitutional anti-Jefferson cabal in this country. Compare him to Washington or Marshal the Federalist slave owners of Virginia. Or even a John Randolf or George Mason. Dr. Johnson’s barb at those “bleating loudest about liberty” but owning slaves was directed right at him. Race aside, his understanding of finance, national debt and the like was the ruin of the South for 200 years.

I will say it Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine are my least favorite founders. Any one siding with the French Revolution over the guy who actually helped us in in Independece is right out in my book. The current anti-constitutionalists are precisely those who posit we should have had a French Revolution and not an American one. Jacobins all–and Jefferson too!

If the criticism of the “dead white male” founders were limited to Jefferson, this would be a stronger point.