Mandeville, LA – (Thanks to The Imaginative Conservative for this repost of Prof Gutzman’s essay) Kevin Gutzman was once and aspiring young author and not the Colossus of Constitution we know and admire today (see his James Madison & The Making of America”). Back in 1994, Gutzman was presented the opportunity to partially weigh in on the famous dialogue that embroiled the young “American Exceptionalism” movement begun by Professor Harry Jaffa. If you’ve ever wondered how Lincoln became the DeceptiCONS God, the answer is Jaffa (and Leo Strauss by mentorship). Here we read Gutzman’s takedown of Jaffa’s ridiculous claim that the Declaration WAS our Constitution in his book “Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question.”
This essay reinforces a point that will keep coming to the fore in the near future: WHAT are the States? Are they sovereign entities that possess the same sovereign powers as Bolivia or are they vassal entities for the American Nation, think of them as counties, who are forever doomed to subjugation from the stronger or larger power? If so, that would basically make a state little more than a conquered country operating under a treaty (see NATO). For my part I believe the States are the former but they act like the latter yet if I am to take Taylor’s exhaustive work on the subject, the former is the correct state of things. What a pity then that promotion of this fact is still deemed, even in some of our libertarian and [r]epublican circles as “over the top.”
From the TIC post of Kevin’s 1994 essay. “Conservatives today are generally devoted to the scheme of constitutional interpretation known as “original intent jurisprudence.” As first defined by James Madison in the Federalist, and later exposited by such men as John C. Calhoun and Robert Bork, a jurisprudence of original intent is one which seeks the meaning of a given statute or constitutional position in the understanding of that provision held by those who ratified it at the time they ratified it.
That is the principal weakness of this book, the reason for its ahistoricity. The equation of Jefferson and Madison with “the Founders” is necessary to bootstrap the Declaration above the Constitution, “equality” above consent, Lincoln above the people as ratifiers. When Jaffa says none of the Founders disagreed with his notion, one may rightly ask, what of Patrick Henry’s objection to the Constitution’s reference to “We, the People”? If the states had already been in a union (by which Jaffa means a nation), what can have been the nature of Henry’s objection?
The answer is that the states were, before the ratification of the Constitution, thirteen “free and independent states,” a fact that Madison, as Publius, recognized when he said ratification was a federal, not a national, act. The Publius letters, later collected in the Federalist, unlike Madison’s and Jefferson’s private correspondence after their retirement from office, may be taken to have had some effect on the ratifiers’ understanding of what they were doing in 1787, yet Jaffa strangely ignores this statement, as he does Publius’ statement that the Constitution must always be read in light of the ratifiers’ understanding. His motive for ignoring these passages is simple: he cannot possibly point to a time when South Carolina or Georgia (at least) consented to the notion that black people are equal to white, which means that the ratifiers never consented to put the Declaration before the Constitution, which shoots down the entire project of a Lincoln apotheosis.”