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  • What Is America? Hamilton and Reagan Got It

    What is America? What is this country fundamentally about? By and large, pundits and politicians on the right and the left don’t seem to get it. Some come close, but there is a widespread failure to explain why the Founders established this republic.

    On this date in history, two of the clearest expressions of the American ideal were first articulated.

    On October 27, 1787, a young Alexander Hamilton, writing under the pen name Publius, published the first Federalist paper in New York’s Independent Journal. In the very first paragraph, he laid out the implications for “mankind” of the momentous choice before the American people:

    [I]t seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

    At stake in the debate to ratify the Constitution was more than “your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness”—important as they were and remain: Americans were embarking on an experiment in self-government that would, if successful, vindicate man before all the princes, kings, and assorted thinkers who had firmly denied that men could govern themselves.

    At the heart of the Founding, as James Madison would later explain in Federalist No. 39, was “that honorable determination, which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all of our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”

    One hundred and seventy-seven years later, on October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, a former actor who had only recently started dabbling in politics, delivered a speech entitled “A Time for Choosing” in support of Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential run. The choice Reagan asked his audience to make was not simply between Goldwater and LBJ but between two views of America—one rooted in the Founding, the other in progressive liberalism:

    This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

    Reagan sought a counterrevolution against the Progressive faith in the rule of experts and the rise of the administrative state. He sought to reestablish the Founders’ vision of republican self-government.

    Nearly 50 years later, the world has changed, in no small part thanks to Reagan. The choice however, remains the same: Will we uphold the Constitution’s republican framework of limited government and continue to prove that men and women are capable of governing themselves and running their own lives? Or will we embrace the Progressive faith in the rule of benevolent experts—unelected, unaccountable, and largely unknown—and entrust them with the care to issue regulations governing every aspect of our lives?


    Posted in Featured, First Principles, Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    15 Responses to What Is America? Hamilton and Reagan Got It

    1. G Man says:

      Give Americans the same care that congress has.

      • Mike, Wichita Falls says:

        Give congress the same care that Americans have…to be free from the care of the state.

    2. Lynne says:

      EXCELLENT! Should be mandatory reading.

    3. Excellent reflections on the real American way. Power to the people! Not the experts!

    4. buck says:

      The current government is the progressives ideal situation , hows that working out for you ? And do you really think it is going to get better ? My personal belief and many others is that we desparately need to do a one eighty for the next fifty years , at least , if we are to save ourselves from government enslavement .

    5. The question is how tuned in are Americans to the real consequences and understanding of our choices at the voting booth? Do they know what is at stake? Norman Thomas-Socialist Party candidate for president in the 1940's said, “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.” That prospect seems very real and possible.

    6. and2therepublic says:

      Self-government can be good, or bad. Look at how the self-government of the ancient Grecian democracy turned out. Self-government cannot be good in the absence of virtue. Where does virtue come from? Where can we get it? How can we keep it in our self-government? The founders believed that our natural rights were endowed by our Creator. Is virtue also endowed? Is it inherent, unalienable? Or, is it something that must be sought? Liberals believe in the goodness of man. Real conservatives believe that we all fall short of the goodness, or glory of God. So, if we fall short, we must turn to Him for guidance in our experiment in self-governence.

      "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

      "Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government."

      "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the bible."

      George Washington

    7. Bobbie says:

      The American way is not a hard concept to grasp! Freedom IS to self govern!

    8. YnotNOW says:

      Outstanding call to arms that is so relevant to our times (and this November 2012 election). Thanks Heritage!

      I will offer one quibble: Rule by benevolent experts is not any more palatable to the freedom-lover if the rulers are "elected, accountable and largely known" – they would still be tyrants usurping our right to freedom!

    9. HES says:

      This is not "'rocket science." Aristotle, 2500 years ago, wrote that there were three types of government: Monarchy, rule by one; Aristocracy, rule by the few; and Democracy, rule by all the people. He wrote that whichever group ruled, they would rule to THEIR benefit. So, to him (and to me), it was best that the people rule for THEIR benefit, not the few ruling for the benefit of the few.
      It looks very much like Obama and the Democrats would like rule by the few (and for the benefit of the few).
      "A little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol" is exactly what is being foisted (or imposed) on us from BHO and his spouse/pedagogue, and the Democrats, down to the puniest bureaucrat in the most obscure bureau in the bureaucracy to impose regulations right down to what a family can eat to whether they can have electricity for lights and other uses, and whether they can have transportation beyond their neighborhoods. And they are making sure that they are well paid, better than the taxpayers who foot the expensive bills of the bloated oligarchy of government officials. This scheme is open-ended and has to be stopped.

    10. Marcantonio says:

      I do believe that the people can really be unwise sometimes and that they can really benefit from experts or intellectual elite. For instance, if the abolition of the death penalty had been subjected to the people's vote in France in 1981, it would have never been ratified. In the US, would have discrimination against the Blacks been reduced without the determination of the Liberals ? Isn't the subprime crisis largely due to a lack of control of Wall Street banks?

    11. Bobbie says:

      American government of the democrat elites want 100% democracy with NO REPUBLIC! Very, very dangerous as the democratic party often speaks in place of the people, with total opposition of what the American people want but will call it 99%! No need for government to put words in the mouths of people who can speak for themselves!!!! democrats call it good and force you to suck on it without a thought of your own.

    12. Jason M says:

      I think this article makes an excellent point of going back to the founders belief in self-government. Of course, it was an experiment to see if it would even work. But
      seeing that it was working, and was providing America with the opportunity to become a world power, there should have been more of a force to preserve these principles through
      time. I understand why the author used the word republican to describe self-government. He wasn't using it to name a party, because in the beginning he states that neither
      left nor right seem to get it. Instead he was talking about the foundation of a republic and its purpose of self-government. This is what has been changing over the years,
      and things need to go back to where individuals have more power and responsibility over their own decisions.

    13. scott says:

      I have recently been hounded bt a group called the LaRouche PAC. They make a lot of outlandish claims about their intentions. Can someone please shed some light on who these people are and what they are up to. I have been a US citizen for a short time and have no knowledge of the group.

    14. I have recently been hounded bt a group called the LaRouche PAC. They make a lot of outlandish claims about their intentions. Can someone please shed some light on who these people are and what they are up to. I have been a US citizen for a short time and have no knowledge of the group.

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