The True Definition Of Interposition
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “I was almost crying because I’m reading this going: All the ignominy I have suffered in my career as a result of advocating for nullification and interposition only to be told: Even your boy James Madison said it was unconstitutional and he was wrong in 1798.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: If we continue on all the way to the end – I’m going to bring Professor Gutzman on because he may want to yell and scream over this. Hello, Kevin.
Kevin Gutzman: Hey, Mike. How are you doing?
Mike: I am well. So, I’m about 30 minutes in now on the dissertation of the Wendell Bird piece in the quarterly Journal of the Early Republic. I was just revealing to the audience the significance and importance which I don’t think many people are going to get. This could be a game changer, right?
Gutzman: Right. The accepted account of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, among scholars of the period and among the experts on Jefferson and Madison, has come from a [unintelligible] article from 1948. That article has three main contentions. Number one, that the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were based on an idea of federalism, that it was invented in 1798 because Jefferson and Madison felt the need to defend civil liberties. Number two, no other states agreed with Virginia and Kentucky. Number three, interposition and nullification just meant passing resolutions or voting against federalists.
I myself have disproven contentions one and three in previous academic journal articles and have explained in my books why it’s not right to say that Jefferson and Madison only invented their idea of federalism in 1798. It’s not right to say that interposition only meant voting against federalists or passing resolutions. What Bird does here is to show that contention number two is also not true. It’s not the case that every other state disagreed with Virginia and Kentucky. In fact, what Bird shows are resolutions from Georgia and Tennessee endorsing those arguments made by the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures. Georgia and Tennessee both responded to the call from Virginia and Kentucky for other states to adopt resolutions condemning the Sedition Act by passing resolutions condemning the Sedition Act. Besides that, Georgia’s resolution condemning the Sedition Act said: We hope all we’re going to need to do is pass these resolutions and we won’t have to resort to interposition. Well, clearly then interposition doesn’t mean passing resolutions.
The standard version, Lincolnian account of 1798 that Jefferson and Madison didn’t really believe in a state-centered vision of the Constitution, they only argued for it in 1798, and, besides that, interposition didn’t really mean anything anyway is just completely false. Bird has joined me in disproving one of the three contentions of that 1948 article. Now we know that the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were popular outside Virginia and Kentucky. Suddenly it makes sense that the people who advocated in 1798 turned around and won the elections for the White House and the two houses of Congress only two years later in 1800.’
Mike: Kevin, I’ve got to tell you, I read this after our taping of The Constitution Hour, which is going to debut at noon today. I read a little bit on Tuesday, and then I continued reading yesterday and this morning. I was almost crying because I’m reading this going: All the ignominy I have suffered in my career as a result of advocating for nullification and interposition only to be told: Even your boy James Madison said it was unconstitutional and he was wrong in 1798. You plumb a question to its depths, you try to get to the facts of the matter, as any good attorney or historian does, and then you apply reason to it and come to a conclusion. Doing those three things – as you said, we had two of the three necessary pieces of this, but we were rebuffed because piece number two was: Nobody agreed with these guys anyway, so they’re obviously outliers. They weren’t outliers. They were in the mainstream.
As I was reading Wendell Bird, the other part of the narrative that’s coming in there is, not only were people so angry about this, and not just willing to go to legislatures and write silly resolutions, they were actually ready to go to the polls or tell their representative to go to the polls and do something about it, which was to elect President Jefferson. Right or wrong?
Gutzman: That’s exactly right. Jefferson, of course, himself later referred to the election of 1800 as the Revolution of 1800. He said the Revolution of 1800 was as great a revolution in the principles of our government as that of ’76 was in its form. Jefferson’s understanding was that what happened in 1800 was that an anti-American version of the Constitution, that is, a version that said the federal government was a national, sovereign government, was rejected in 1800. Within about 15 years, the Federalist Party that had stood for the opposite version had ceased to exist. It seemed to Jefferson that this was nothing but fulfillment of the revolution. This was actually required by the revolution.
One other thing, about old man Madison saying 1830-33, actually 1830-36, that the Virginia Resolution’s use of the word interposition referred only to adopting resolutions and voting against the federalists. I disproved that in an article in that same journal, Journal of the Early Republic, in 1995, which is now cited in every study of Jefferson and Madison. No scholar believes that. What actually happened was that Madison, in the late 1820s and early ‘30s mischaracterized what had happened in 1798. Again, this is not a contentious point. People who are listening may not be familiar with the title of the Journal of the Early Republic. What that is is the chief academic journal in the field. This is where scholars go to find the latest scholarship shows about particular questions in that area of American history. My article showing that Madison in the 1820s and ‘30s mischaracterized in 1798 to 1800 has been cited in Pulitzer-winning books, numerous other studies of Madison, and, of course, in my own book about Madison which was positively reviewed by journals, too. It’s not even controversial.
Mike: Let me ask you a question. When I asked you on Tuesday: Is it fair to say then that Madison cooked the books? You kind of chuckled and went: I hadn’t thought of it like that. Let me ask you again, is it fair to say that James Madison cooked the books?
Gutzman: Both of my journal articles that I mentioned earlier, the one that disproved the claim that Madison and Jefferson invented this federalism in 1798, and the one that showed that Madison mischaracterized 1798 and the late 1820s and ‘30s, both of those showed that Madison was mischaracterizing the historical record. You can actually go online and read the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and then read Madison’s Virginia Report of 1800. You’ll see that there’s actually some inconsistency between them. Madison was a slippery fellow. He was always trying to reframe things that had happened to be consistent with his current political inheritance. This, again, is not a controversial point. As I said before, my 1995 Journal of the Republic article is cited by all scholars basically everywhere. Pick up a book about Madison and look for it in the back and you’ll see it.
Mike: Before you go, one more thing. This pair of very notable scholars, very well-accomplished scholars named Amon and Coch [?], they’re the ones that wrote this piece for the William and Mary Quarterly in 1948. This is the big subject of contention here. When we talked about this on Tuesday, and people will hear this on The Constitution Hour debuting today, that these guys basically were acting on behalf of the Truman administration. Their piece amounts to little more than propaganda.
Gutzman: That, I think, is exactly right. In fact, the editor of the William and Mary Quarterly, which is the other main scholarly journal in this field, preceded the Coch and Amon article with an editorial statement of two pages saying that he was happy to publish this article because it proved that President Truman was right and Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia was wrong in the ongoing dispute within the Democratic Party over the nature of the union. In other words, I think, he had decided that he wanted Truman to win the argument with Senator Bird, and, therefore, they cooked up this article. You and I are going to describe it in great detail later on today on the Crusade Channel. It’s an outstanding example of malfeasance, I think.
Mike: That’s a diplomatic way to put it. Folks, I invite you to listen to the entire hour. I read significant pieces of – not significant. I read a couple snippets, excerpts that Wendell Bird cites from the Tennessee Resolution and then one from the Georgia Resolution. As I’m reading I’m going: Is there any question that remains now as to the people that were – the framers of the Constitution were still alive. The ratifiers of the Constitution were largely still alive, many of them acting in state legislatures or in the Senate or in the Congress. It becomes apparent here that what you had is something basically similar to what we have today. You have the early beginnings of parties. One party is saying: We didn’t really mean all that federalism stuff we said when we ratified the Constitution. This is where we’re going with it. The other party, the doctrinaire, dogmatic party is saying: No, we had a revolution and this is the result of the revolution. This is how we’re supposed to govern ourselves. Is that fair?
Gutzman: I think that’s entirely fair. The people you’re calling dogmatic are the ones who were insisting that the revolution meant something. The Hamiltonians, the people on the other side, were saying: Well, really our government is just like the British government. All the authority is in the center, and anything that local people are allowed to do is only allowed because the people in the center decide to let them do it for now. This, Jefferson and Madison both thought, was a betrayal of the Revolution. That’s certainly the way that John Taylor, the legislative sponsor of these resolutions in Virginia, thought, too.
Mike: I’m going to get my voice guy to do an audio version of Taylor’s two speeches. He gave one on December 10th and he gave another one on December 28th in 1798. The first was the introduction of the act to interpose, or whatever the act was called, in Virginia. The second one was an answer to all the 17 days of debate or however many days it was that ensued afterwards. In other words, it was Taylor’s chance as an attorney to basically make a closing argument and say: We’ve heard all the opposition. Let me address the opposition and prove that they’re wrong.
Gutzman: The funny thing about that is, John Taylor of Caroline, the man we’re talking about, is often portrayed by scholars as some kind of outlier, old republican, a fellow devoted to these principles that were, as we’ve just said Coch and Amon tried to show them to be unusual. With Bird’s evidence, we now know that they weren’t unusual at all. They weren’t confined to Virginia. As I’ve said, I’ve shown that they weren’t confined to 1798. They actually trace all the way back to the days before the Revolution. In fact, my forthcoming book Thomas Jefferson – Revolutionary is going to show that Jefferson had similar opinion from the mid-1770s until he died in 1825.
Mike: That’s just amazing.
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Gutzman: He died in 1826, but he made the last statement about it in 1825.
Mike: It’s amazing. By the way, I told the audience earlier, the title to Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s opus, which has never been answered by anyone, is, Was secession a constitutional right previous to the war of 1861? We know, whether we agree with him or not, that all the states that seceded claimed the doctrine of reserved powers using the Tenth Amendment. As you’ll discover today when you listen to The Constitution Hour with Kevin, this is the power that’s in question here. Is there a reserve of power that was kept by the states – that would include all the states, California, Nevada, Utah, all of them – when they ratified or entered the union under the Constitution? We can now say with great confidence: Yes!
Gutzman: I was confident of that before, but [unintelligible] Bird should put to rest this animal from 1948, making the contrary argument. You and I later today will be talking also about the kind of evidence that they didn’t bother to consult and so on. It really is a scandal, I think.
Mike: It is a scandal. It’s going to be a great show. A lot of people are going to be turned onto it and there’s going to be a lot of eye-opening here and a lot of discovery. You’re right, it is a scandal. I know you’ve got to go. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll see you, on taped delay, at noon.
Gutzman: Nice talking to you, Mike.
End Mike Church Show Transcript