George Will: To Construe the Constitution, Look to the Declaration

National Review:

Washington — On this 243rd anniversary of the beginning of the best thing that ever happened — “The Great Republic” was Winston Churchill’s tribute — many of today’s most interesting arguments about America’s nature and meaning are among conservatives. One concerns the relevance of the Declaration of Independence to the contested question of how to construe the Constitution. …

Also obvious and irrelevant is Pulliam’s observation that Jefferson, the Declaration’s primary author, was not at the Constitutional Convention (he was a U.S. diplomat in Paris). What is obvious — and, concerning the Constitution’s original meaning and continuing purpose, dispositive — is this: The Declaration’s role is the locus classicus concerning the Framers’ intention, which is surely the master key to properly construing what they wrought. …”

In the Declaration of Independence, King George III is condemned for preventing “the population of these States” and “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners.” In the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Founding Fathers created an immigration system in which only “free White persons” could become naturalized American citizens and invited European immigrants like the Germans and Irish to settle in the country. This wasn’t changed until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.

King George III is condemned for using “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries” against the American colonists and inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us” in the Southern states (like Abraham Lincoln) and for inciting “the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

“The late Judith Shklar (1928-1992), a Harvard political philosopher, correctly noted the “momentous novelty” of the Constitution’s first three words, “We the people.” They announced a “declaration of independence from the entire European past,” a root-and-branch rejection of all prior attempts to ground the legitimacy of government in anything other than the consent of the governed. The Constitution was, however, written by men of the Enlightenment who were not confident that the rationality they practiced and espoused could be counted on to constantly characterize the republic for which they wrote. …”

This would have been news to the Founding Fathers who never consulted any Jewish political theorists like Judith Shklar. Far from being “a root-and-branch rejection” of “the entire European past,” Thomas Jefferson himself saw the Revolution as a restoration of the ancient liberties of Anglo-Saxon England which he believed had been lost during the corruption of feudalism after the Norman Conquest. He even wanted to put Hengist and Horsa on the Great Seal of the United States to identify the new country with the ancient Saxons of “the woods of northern Europe.”

Republicanism wasn’t a “root-and-branch” rejection of the European past. The Dutch Republic already had a republican government. Switzerland was a republic. Ancient Greece had self governing city-states which Plato analyzed in The Laws and Aristotle in his Politics. The Roman Republic lasted for centuries. There were republics in northern Italy during the Renaissance like the Republic of Florence. Montesquieu had surveyed all these forms of government and had concluded that a mixed constitutional government was the best system to preserve liberty. He also insisted in The Spirit of the Laws that it had to be based on white supremacy because racial differences were derived from differences in climate:

“We have already observed that great heat enervates the strength and courage of men, and that in cold climates they have a certain vigor of body and mind, which renders them patient and intrepid, and qualifies them for arduous enterprises. This remark holds good, not only between different nations, but even in the different parts of the same country. In the north of China – people are more courageous than those in the south; and those in the south of Korea – have less bravery than those in the north.

We ought not, then, to be astonished that the effeminacy of the people in hot climates has almost always rendered them slaves; and that the bravery of those in cold climates has enabled them to maintain their liberties. This is an effect which springs from a natural cause.” The Spirit of Laws, 1748

“The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s genius — he was, in a sense, the final Founder — was in understanding what the University of Pennsylvania’s Rogers M. Smith terms the “Declaration of Independence-centered view of American governance and peoplehood.”

As the president of the American Colonization Society, James Madison deported free negroes like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Liberia. The Civil Rights Movement also created “rights” for blacks by destroying the state sovereignty that Jefferson and Madison championed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is also completely inconsistent with “classical liberalism.”

“Over the years, this stance of “Declarationists” explicitly opposed Jacksonian democracy’s majoritarian celebration of a plebiscitary presidency, and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act’s premise that majorities (“popular sovereignty”) could and should — wrong on both counts — settle the question of whether slavery should expand into the territories.”

Didn’t Thomas Jefferson and James Madison oppose the Missouri Compromise for restricting the spread of slavery? Didn’t Madison also support the colonization of free blacks in Africa?

“That it ought, like remedies for other deeprooted and wide-spread evils, to be gradual, is so obvious that there seems to be no difference of opinion on that point.

To be equitable & satisfactory, the consent of both the Master & the slave should be obtained. That of the Master will require a provision in the plan for compensating a loss of what he held as property guarantied by the laws, and recognised [sic.] by the Constitution. That of the slave, requires that his condition in a state of freedom, be preferable in his own estimation, to his actual one in a state of bondage.

To be consistent with the existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U. S. the freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied or allotted to a White population.

The views of the Society are limited to the case of blacks already free, or who may be gratuitously emancipated. To provide a commensurate remedy for the evil, the plan must be extended to the great Mass [sic.] of blacks, and must embrace a fund sufficient to induce the Master as well as the slave to concur in it.”

“But all such reasoning occurs in an unchanging context. Timothy Sandefur, author of The Conscience of the Constitution, rightly sees the Declaration as the conscience because it affirms “the classical liberal project of the Enlightenment and the pervasiveness of such concepts as natural rights.”

If the Declaration of Independence affirmed “the classical liberal project of the Enlightenment,” why didn’t anyone ever talk about classical liberalism? Why do mainstream conservatives like George Will talk about it that way? Why does Thomas Jefferson sound nothing like George Will?

“Pulliam dismisses as “inapt Biblical imagery” Lincoln’s elegant formulation that the Constitution is the frame of silver for the apple of gold, which is the Declaration. Lincoln’s mission was to reconnect the nation with its Founding. The frame, Lincoln said, is to “adorn” and “preserve” the apple. Frames are important and silver is precious, but what is framed is more important and gold is more precious. So, tonight, by the light of some sparklers, read the Declaration, which illuminates what came next, the Constitution, and a nation worth celebrating.”

Did the Founders arrest state legislators like Lincoln did in Maryland? Did they topple sovereign state governments like Lincoln did in Missouri? Did they create entire new states like West Virginia without the consent of the majority of the people of a sovereign state?

Did they close down newspapers, put men in stockades on the basis of mere accusations, seize their property and force priests and preachers to swear oaths of allegiance to their military government like Abraham Lincoln did? Did they imprison thousands of political prisoners like Abraham Lincoln did? Did they arm the slaves to fight against their masters like Abraham Lincoln did?

About Hunter Wallace 12325 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

9 Comments

  1. George Will has been irrelevant since the end of the Cold War, but obviously, he didn’t receive the memo.

  2. WIll is a schmuck. He’s gone beyond total irrelevancy, to being a talking head for the Moloch State. He is accursed.

    Excellent column- the comparisons and contrasts help to shine a light on the REAL America.

  3. The Will-Jaffa-Lincoln interpretation of the Declaration contains multiple misunderstandings. First, they ignore that in understanding a document purpose determines meaning. The purpose of the Declaration was the declaration of the independence of the separate colonies, claiming their equality with the other independent nations of the world. Second, instead of reading the document as a unity, they lift out phrases and filter the meaning of the document thru them. The form of the declaration is a plea at common law. In such a plea, each part contributes to the meaning of the whole. The common starting point is setting forth the general principles governing the case being made, Next comes the concrete grievances being complained against. In the Declaration, these are violations of the respective colonies right to self-governance, not the violation of individual rights. Lastly the desired resolution of the grievances. In the Declaration, this is independence for the colonies.

    The difference in purpose is why the Constitution does not derive it meaning from the declaration in the way Wiil et al think. Independence at the most provides a predicate for the Constitution, The Constitution is about self-governance derived from our prior independence, not about the abstract justification of the colonies being free from the motherland. The constitution is about how we are to govern ourselves, not justifying our right to do so as a people. Abstract phrases from Jefferson’s handy work are thus irrelevant.

  4. Will, Gingrich and all the other “empty suit” relublicans have nothing in common with us.

  5. The Declaration of Independence was just a war document.

    http://www.robertwwhitaker.com/politics/what-the-declaration-was-written-for/

    “There was a war going on, but Jefferson is not supposed to have NOTICED it.

    To win the war, the Declaration had to appeal to two desperately needed groups. There was an anti-War segment of parliament, extreme Whigs, who referred to the Americans as “our army.” As Americans foresaw, it was THEIR victory in the British elections that forced the King to make peace after Yorktown.

    The other group Jefferson had to appeal to was French liberals. That is the crowd which brought on the FRENCH Revolution, which led to slaughter and despotism worse than the one it replaced. To appeal to them Jefferson wrote his “all men are created equal,” which made no sense to anyone outside a French salon.

    That is the only part of the Declaration anyone can quote. That is because the ideas that led to the French Revolution were utterly alien to Americans. Which is the reason the two revolutions led to such entirely different results.”

    When it came down to writing a legally binding Constition after the war was won, the White founders said their new country was to be for “Ourselves and our Posterity” and no one else. Is that a Korean country? African, Vietnamese, perhaps?

    If the Founders were alive today, they would have been banned from Twitter two years ago. They would have had their bank accounts taken from them with George WIll’s blessing.

    • If the Founders were suddenly resurrected, they would very quickly go mad or die from shock.

  6. The Constitooshun was foisted upon us without our consent. The FFs were only supposed to meet in Philadelphia for the purpose of amending or improving the Articles of Confederation government, not abolishing it.

  7. How come nobody on our side every through a milkshake at this worst ever cuckservatives, ZOG prostitute George Will? I be George Will has probably never even been heckled by anyone on our side.

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