American Statesmanship
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This book, much needed in our public discourse, examines some of the most significant political leaders in American history.

With an eye on the elusive qualities of political greatness, this anthology considers the principles and practices of diverse political leaders who influenced the founding and development of the American experiment in self-government. Providing both breadth and depth, this work is a virtual “who’s who” from the founding to modern times. From George Washington to Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to FDR and Ronald Reagan, the book’s twenty-six chapters are thematically organized to include a brief biography of each subject, his or her historical context, and the core principles and policies that led to political success or failure. A final chapter considers the rhetorical legacy of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Nearly all readers agree that statesmanship makes a crucial difference in the life of a nation and its example is sorely needed in America today. These concise portraits will appeal to experts as well as history buffs. The volume is ideal for leadership and political science classroom use in conjunction with primary sources.

Contributors: Kenneth L. Deutsch, Gary L. Gregg II, David Tucker, Sean D. Sutton, Bruce P. Frohnen, Stephanie P. Newbold, Phillip G. Henderson, Michael P. Federici, Troy L. Kickler, Johnathan O’Neill, H. Lee Cheek, Jr., Carey Roberts, Hans Schmeisser, Joseph R. Fornieri, Peter C. Myers, Emily Krichbaum, Natalie Taylor, Jean M. Yarbrough, Christopher Burkett, Will Morrisey, Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, Patrick J. Garrity, Giorgi Areshidze, William J. Atto, David B. Frisk, Mark Blitz, Jeffrey Crouch, and Mark J. Rozell.

We honor greatness in the respective domains of sports, entertainment, art, science, and finance. But what of political greatness? Of what qualities does it consist? Does it require an apprenticeship, a study of the great masters, like the successful practice of other crafts? Our Founders thought so. George Washington went so far as to propose a national university that would train future citizens and leaders alike in the rights and responsibilities of democratic governance. Likewise, in Article XVIII of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, John Adams emphasized the need for a continual return to first principles as a means to revitalize the political faith of the country:

"A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty and to maintain a free government. The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives; and they have a right to require of their lawgivers and magistrates an exact and constant observation of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the commonwealth."

This book is an effort to take seriously Adams’ advice in returning to those founding principles and practices that help sustain the American regime. The example of past greatness combined with the power of enduring principle prepares each generation to confront future threats to the inseparable bonds of liberty and Union. The present may be renewed in light of the success and failures of the past.

While the authors and contributors of this volume may differ over who should be included among ranks of a statesperson, they nonetheless all agree that statesmanship makes a crucial difference in the life of a nation and that its example is sorely needed today. The purpose of this volume is to contemplate the nature and legacy of American statesmanship through the speech and deeds of some of its most influential leaders. The reader should be aware that not all the leaders included in the volume have reached the high standard of statesmanship. Some fell short and are included as a cautionary tale. Others might object that reformers like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and Susan B. Anthony should not be included in the volume since they pressured government from outside the citadels of power rather than ruling directly through an official position in government. While there are differences between reform leadership and statesmanship, a too restrictive definition of the latter would deprive us of studying the important influence these particular reform leaders had on the American politics and their dynamic interaction with elected officials. In what follows, we hope readers will ponder the qualities or virtues of statesmanship as displayed fully or even partially in the leaders in this volume.

As the great 20th century political philosopher, Leo Strauss, put it, we constantly need to be reminded of what constitutes political greatness, human greatness, and the peaks of human excellence. In doing so, we must remind ourselves concerning statesmanship “never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness.” We must, Strauss claims, make every effort to describe and understand “these rare peaks of political life, which put ordinary and prosaic forms of leadership in their proper perspective.” True political greatness, statesmanship, does not make us despise the run-of-the-mill or transactional leaders who merely provide services to their constituents, but it does allow us to see their limits. There is a tendency, in our democratic life to homogenize reality—to ignore those qualitative distinctions that constitute political reality. The study of political greatness—statesmanship—is a good antidote to this leveling tendency of a hyper-democratic age. All forms of leadership are not the same. We must be able to make thoughtful distinctions between the ambition of the noble statesman such as Lincoln, who aimed to be worthy of the esteem of his fellow citizens, the imperial ambition of Napoleon that gradually became indistinguishable from cold despotism, and the crude ambition of mediocre or selfish politicians who crave political success pursuing custodial management or utopian dreams. As a self-governing nation, we especially must make moral distinctions and judgments about leadership, thereby recognizing political greatness whenever it occurs and fostering its development wherever possible.

Introduction, Kenneth L. Deutsch
1. George Washington, Gary L. Gregg II
2. Benjamin Franklin , David Tucker
3. Publius, Sean D. Sutton
4. John Adams, Bruce P. Frohnen
5. Thomas Jefferson, Stephanie P. Newbold
6. John Marshall, Phillip G. Henderson
7. Alexander Hamilton, Michael P. Federici
8. Andrew Jackson, Troy L. Kickler
9. Daniel Webster, Johnathan O’Neill
10. John Calhoun, H. Lee Cheek
11. Henry Clay, Hans Schmeisser
12. Abraham Lincoln, Joseph R. Fornieri
13. Frederick Douglass, Peter C. Meyers
14. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Krichbaum
15. Susan B. Anthony, Natalie Taylor
16. Theodore Roosevelt, Jean M. Yarbrough
17. Woodrow Wilson, Christopher Burkett
18. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will Morrisey
19. Harry S. Truman, Elizabeth Spalding
20. Dwight David Eisenhower, Phillip G. Henderson
21. John F. Kennedy, Patrick J. Garrity
22. Martin Luther King, Giorgi Areshidze
23. Lyndon B. Johnson, William J. Atto
24. Richard Nixon, David Frisk
25. Ronald Reagan, Mark Blitz
26. Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, Jeff Crouch, Mark J. Rozell



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Date de parution 01 novembre 2021
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9780268201043
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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American Statesmanship
This book is published with the support of the Notre Dame Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government. The Center aims to explore the principles and practices of a free society so that citizens and civic leaders are equipped to secure our Godgiven natural rights and liberties, exercise the responsibilities of self-government, and thereby dutifully pursue the common good. Among its initiatives is a partnership with the University of Notre Dame Press to publish excellent scholarship on the ideas and institutions of constitutional government.
Principles and Practice of Leadership
Joseph R. Fornieri, Kenneth L. Deutsch, and Sean D. Sutton
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana
Copyright © 2021 by the University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
All Rights Reserved
Published in the United States of America
Library of Congress Control Number: 2021947715
ISBN: 978-0-268-20105-0 (Hardback)
ISBN: 978-0-268-20107-4 (WebPDF)
ISBN: 978-0-268-20104-3 (Epub)
This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at
“There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”
Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, Harvard Commencement Address, June 8, 1978
To Kenneth L. Deutsch, 1945–2015.
Professor of Political Science at SUNY Geneseo for over forty years who influenced a generation of students through his masterful teaching and scholarship, his demand for excellence, and his profound diagnosis of political health and sickness.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
Thomas Aquinas
CONTENTS Acknowledgments Introduction: What Is Statesmanship? K ENNETH L. D EUTSCH 1 The Statesmanship of George Washington G ARY L. G REGG II 2 Benjamin Franklin, Democratic Statesman D AVID T UCKER 3 Publius the Lawgiver: The Statesmanship of The Federalist S EAN D. S UTTON 4 John Adams: Statesmanship and the Limits of Popularity B RUCE P. F ROHNEN 5 Presidential Statesmanship: The Jeffersonian Example S TEPHANIE P. N EWBOLD 6 John Marshall as Constitutional Statesman P HILLIP G. H ENDERSON 7 Alexander Hamilton: Democratic Statesmanship, Spiritedness, and Audacity M ICHAEL P. F EDERICI 8 Andrew Jackson: One Man’s Demagogue, Another Man’s Populist T ROY L. K ICKLER 9 Daniel Webster: The Statesman as Constitutional Conservative J OHNATHAN O’N EILL 10 John Calhoun: Statesmanship and Popular Rule H. L EE C HEEK , J R., AND C AREY R OBERTS 11 Henry Clay the Great Compromiser H ANS S CHMEISSER 12 Lincoln as Philosopher Statesman J OSEPH R. F ORNIERI 13 Frederick Douglass: The Agitator as Statesman P ETER C. M YERS 14 Elizabeth Cady Stanton E MILY K RICHBAUM 15 Susan B. Anthony: The Prophetic Eye Discerns the Woman Politician N ATALIE T AYLOR 16 Theodore Roosevelt: Progressive Crusader J EAN M. Y ARBROUGH 17 Woodrow Wilson and Modern Leadership C HRISTOPHER B URKETT 18 Franklin Delano Roosevelt W ILL M ORRISEY 19 Harry S. Truman: American Statesmanship in World War and Cold War E LIZABETH E DWARDS S PALDING 20 Dwight David Eisenhower’s Leadership P HILLIP G. H ENDERSON 21 John F. Kennedy: The Courage of His Convictions P ATRICK J. G ARRITY 22 The Statesmanship of Martin Luther King, Jr. G IORGI A RESHIDZE 23 Lyndon B. Johnson: The Abuse of Power W ILLIAM J. A TTO 24 Richard Nixon D AVID B. F RISK 25 The Statesmanship of Ronald Reagan M ARK B LITZ 26 Presidential Statesmanship in the New Media Era J EFFREY C ROUCH AND M ARK J. R OZELL List of Contributors Index
We would like to acknowledge the following family, friends, and colleagues for their support with this project:
Joe’s wife Pam “earth” Fornieri, his parents Beatrice A. and Joseph P. Fornieri, his brother Peter and sister Kathy Fornieri, his daughters Isabella Alice and Natalie Beatrice Fornieri, his nephews Joseph and Jacob Fornieri, his stepchildren John Joseph and Helena Grace Morgano, and his in-laws Bruce and Jean Anderson.
Sean’s wife Sybil Catherine, the other two Sybils in his life, Sybil Marie and Madeleine Sophie Sybil, and of course Sheilagh. The boys can wait for the next book.
Patrick J. Garrity, nonresident senior fellow with the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia, scholar and gentleman, 1955–2021.
Randall (Randy) Strahan, professor of political science at Emory University, friend, blues brother, and southern gentleman, 1955–2014.
A very special thanks to the Bradley Foundation for their continued support.
To Joe’s friends at the Lincoln Forum and in the Lincoln world, Ruth Squillace, Frank J. Williams, Harold Holzer, Hank Ballone, Allen C. Guelzo, Reg Ankrom, Sara Vaughn Gabbard, and Joe Garrera.
James Pontuso, Jean M. Yarbrough, Nadine Strossen, Alan C. Kors, Tim Garman (“Starman”), Kevin “Cat” Catalfamo, Dean Laverne Mc-Quiller Williams and Professor (PF) Joe Williams, Dianne Sehler, Kelly Hanlon, Provost Ellen Granberg, Paul Barnes, Dave Tucker—GAS, B. J. Hoerner, and student assistant Sarah Contant.

Albert J. and Carolie Simone, Kraig Kayser for his continued support of the Center for Statesmanship, Law, and Liberty at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Bob Paquette of the Hamilton Institute.
And a final thanks to Steve Wrinn at the University of Notre Dame Press for his vision, guidance, and professionalism and to Elizabeth Sain for her outstanding copyediting.
What Is Statesmanship?
W e honor greatness in the respective domains of entertainment, sports, art, science, and finance. But what of political greatness? Of what qualities does it consist? By what standard should it be measured? Does it require an apprenticeship, a disciplined study of the great masters, like the successful practice of other crafts? Our Founders certainly thought so. George Washington went so far as to propose a national university that would train future citizens and leaders alike in the rights and responsibilities of democratic governance. Similarly, in Article XVIII of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, John Adams emphasized the need for a continual return to first principles as a means to revitalize the political faith of the country:
A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty and to maintain a free government. The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives; and they have a right to require of their lawgivers and magistrates an exact and constant observation of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the commonwealth.
The title of this volume, American Statesmanship: Principles and Practice of Leadership , is an effort to take seriously Washington’s and Adams’s advice in returning to those founding principles and practices that help sustain the American regime. The example of past greatness combined with the power of enduring principle prepares each generation to confront future threats to the inseparable bonds of liberty and union. Indeed, the present may be renewed in light of the success and failures of the past. While the authors and contributors of this volume may differ over who should be included among the ranks as a statesperson, they nonetheless all agree that statesmanship makes a crucial difference in the life of a nation and that its example is sorely needed today. The purpose of this volume is to contemplate the nature and legacy of American statesmanship through the speech and deeds of some of its most influential leaders. The reader should be aware that not all the leaders included in the volume have reached the high standard of statesmanship. Some fell short and are included as a cautionary tale. Others might object that reformers like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Susan B. Anthony should not be included in the volume since they pressured government from outside the citadels of power rather than ruling directly through an official position in government. While there are differences between reform leadership and statesmanship, most notably in terms of the requirements of official duty, a too-restrictive definition of statesmanship would deprive us of studying the important influence reform leaders have had on American politics, their unique form of public service, and their dynamic interaction with elected officials. In what follows, we hope readers will ponder the qualities or virtues of statesmanship as displayed fully or even partially in the leaders in this volume.
As the great twentieth-century political philosopher Leo Strauss put it, we constantly need to be reminded of what constitutes political greatness, human greatness, and the peaks of human excellence. In doing so, we must remind ourselves concerning statesmanship “never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness.” We must, Strauss claims, make every effort to describe and understand “these rare peaks of political life, which put ordinary and prosaic forms of leadership in their proper perspective.” True political greatness, statesmanship, does not make us despise the run-of-the-mill or transactional leaders who merely provide services to their constituents, but it does allow us to see their limits. 1 There is a tendency in our democratic life to homogenize reality—to ignore those qualitative distinctions that constitute political reality. The study of political greatness—statesmanship—is a good antidote to this leveling tendency of a hyper-democratic age. All forms of leadership are not the same. We must be able to make thoughtful distinctions between the ambition of the noble statesman such as Lincoln, who aimed to be worthy of the esteem of his fellow citizens, the imperial ambition of Napoleon that gradually became indistinguishable from cold despotism, and the crude ambition of mediocre or selfish politicians who crave political success pursuing custodial management or utopian dreams. As a self-governing nation, we especially must make moral distinctions and judgments about leadership, thereby recognizing political greatness whenever it occurs and fostering its development wherever possible.
Statesmanship is a conjunction of superior natural ability—high theoretical and practical intelligence along with acquired political experience that enables a public person to pursue the common good. It combines the arts of political strategy, political oratory, and political judgment with the art of utilizing the different skills and talents of diverse individuals in the service of the general well-being of society. To put it briefly, it involves the political skills and characteristics to know when and how to persuade subordinates and the public, and when and how to exercise necessary methods of coercion. This proper mix of persuasion and coercion in serving the common interest is the major part of what statesmanship is about.
Now a statesman is to a politician what a true virtuoso musician is to a mere player. The statesman does not simply exercise power—he or she effectively advances the quality of life of a people in terms of (a) the nation’s founding principles, (b) the requirements of immediate decisions, and (c) the concern for future generations.
What, then, are the qualities or virtues of a statesman? The nineteenth-century American public intellectual Orestes Brownson gave us a good start in answering this question when he stated that “What is especially needed in statesmen is public spirit, intelligence, foresight, broad views, manly feelings, wisdom, energy and resolution.” 2 In presenting such a long list of ideals there is a real risk of creating some mythical figure one would find impossible to identify in real life. We should consider them to be qualities of character or virtues that potential statesmen would strive to reach in practice, though falling somewhat short in some respects. These virtues or qualities are indeed rare in any era. Yet they are needed to sustain ordered liberty, most especially when facing a national crisis. We need to take seriously these virtues as citizens and political analysts by judging our past, present, or future leaders. As citizens in a constitutional democracy, such judgments enable us to make sound political choices and train ourselves for possible leadership roles. While there will continue to be a debate over what standard should be used to measure statesmanship, some qualities seem to be enduring. These include the cardinal virtues of prudence or practical wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.
For Aristotle, a statesman must master and embody the three rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos. 3 Ethos pertains to the statesman’s character. It is the source of one’s credibility as a speaker and leader. Pathos refers to the leader’s ability to move people emotionally. It appeals to the audience’s heart. Logos denotes the ability to provide sound arguments for particular political decisions, thereby moving people intellectually. In sum, statesmanship requires an extraordinary person who possesses both an uncommon as well as a common touch—uncommon enough to inspire people to struggle and sometimes sacrifice to achieve a good end and common enough so that the public can trust, identify, and empathize with such a leader.
In regard to logos, the statesman must have considerable native intelligence—possessing insight combined with sound and rapid judgment. Ideally, he or she should possess a theoretical grasp of the common good and the founding principles of the regime. This virtue is called theoretical wisdom. It involves a noble vision of what “ought to be” and of the proper norms that should guide the regime. One of the common themes in this volume is the leader’s understanding and relationship to the founding principles of the American regime. Secondly, he or she also possesses the practical wisdom of prudence, the ability to realize as much of this noble vision as possible under the circumstances. Guided by a noble vision, the statesman diagnoses the core of a nation’s problems, analyzing cause-effect relations and thereby reaching sound prudential judgments without undue delay. This means grasping the particular context of decision-making and different personality types. In sum, the intellectual resources for a statesman to make sound and decisive political choices are derived from both theoretical knowledge of the common good and of the nation’s ideals and the practical knowledge of the actual political conditions and resources available.
Although a statesman must take note of public opinion in a democracy, he or she resists subservience or intimidation. Neither can the statesman be bought. Like Plato’s master weaver in The Statesman , he or she recognizes how private groups such as the family, religious institutions, and corporations provide appropriate forms of leadership that pertain to what belongs to them. This is also known as the principle of subsidiarity: the recognition of discrete levels of authority within a society and the appreciation of the distinction between the public and private sphere. However, when these groups impinge upon the public interest, the statesman must act. As noted in appealing to ethos, pathos, and logos, the statesman must possess the rhetorical skill to communicate the nation’s true needs to both colleagues and the public at large. In sum, the transcendent purpose of a statesman is to impart the central ideas of the regime to the public. In the American regime this means ordered liberty, the equal rights to consent to be governed, the rule of law, and limited government. The statesman must be a public educator with regard to those central ideas and the true public needs of the nation by promoting educational excellence, military security, fiscal integrity, realistic environmental protection, infrastructure supports, and public order. In addition to the persuasive appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos, what are some other qualities displayed by great statesmen?
The statesman must demonstrate resolution. He or she must possess firm convictions as to what truly constitutes the common good of the nation. Nothing can dissuade a true statesman from addressing the greatest concerns of the regime—whether it is Lincoln with the extension of slavery, or Charles de Gaulle in facing the colonial Algerian rebellion, or Winston Churchill addressing the Nazi menace to his nation. Resolutely, the statesman, when necessary, risks everything in dealing with these common goods—reputation, career, safety, and even life itself. The statesman cannot get the problems of the people off his or her mind. As Werner Dannhauser once put it, “the very essence of statesmanship is difficulty and the surmounting of obstacles.” 4 Very often when keeping the people constantly in mind, the statesman must be concerned with their hearts and minds—constantly being focused on forming the habits of public spirit. The statesman must possess the energy that produces resolve and confidence in serving the people.
The statesman must be well ahead of his or her fellow citizens in considering possible or probable long-term political developments—this is foresight! It enables him or her to detect difficulties when they are far enough ahead to be diverted or reduced in scale. A statesman can often see what many others cannot.
The statesman must also be a public educator. Cicero notes how stately speakers are scarce, for “one has to acquire knowledge about a formidable quantity of different matters.” In order to do this, his or her education must have been of such quality as to bring profound theoretical and practical knowledge through study, travel, and life experiences of diverse social problems and individual personalities. The statesman’s own education should include the liberal arts and sciences, being widely read and having lifelong intellectual curiosity. A fine education for a potential statesman must include moral and political philosophy, American and world history, political biography (especially the lives and writings of great statesmen and tyrants), and the study of foreign cultures and how these different cultures lead to different national characters. All of this should contribute to producing a thoughtful statesman with both positive and negative models to reflect on.
Finally, humility and magnanimity (or greatness of soul) are absolutely necessary for a sober statesman to be formed. The virtue of humility shows self-awareness of one’s own limitations and the limitations of the human condition. The statesman is willing to acknowledge mistakes and to learn from his or her mistakes, avoiding utopian fantasies. This quality of humility will also mean preparing his or her successors to pursue and accomplish what the statesman was not able to accomplish in his or her term in office. Moderating one’s own expectations, those of the people, and those of one’s possible successors is perhaps the toughest job of a statesman. The statesman’s moderation and humility may provide a powerful model of inspiration that can teach statecraft to a future generation. All of this reveals the final virtue of a statesman—namely, magnanimity or greatness of soul. This is found in two senses of the term—to be a sacrificial servant and protector of a people’s well-being and full recognition that whatever talents one possesses as a statesman must be approached with a spiritual sense of gratitude to nature or to God. Coupled with this sense of gratitude is a great sense of public spirit and public service. Statesmanship as we have presented it is, to be sure, a rare phenomenon. But so are the most excellent singers, guitar players, basketball players, teachers, or scientists.
It may be argued that the American presidency in our political context discourages statesmanship. The students and practitioners of the American presidency place heavy emphasis on skill alone rather than character and ethos. They emphasize transformational innovations, managerial skill, or subservience to democratic sentiment. We have a great difficulty understanding, respecting, and promoting statesmanship because we are now somewhat prisoners of the Woodrow Wilson view of leadership in a democracy. Wilson believed that the popular statesman must incarnate the spirit of the people by selecting from currents of public opinion those that he or she regards as progressive (based on administrative expertise) and then transforming those opinions from latency to actuality. Instead of acting on the basis of the virtuous qualities discussed above, the Wilsonian popular so-called statesman operates entirely on the currents of popular opinion alone. For Wilson, both the demagogue and the so-called statesman simply respond to the common inclinations of the people: the demagogue trims to the inclination of the moment, while the popular, Wilsonian “statesman” obeys what he or she considers to be the general progressive inclinations of the public mind. Gone are the moral principles of the common good, the qualities of resolution, wisdom, foresight, personal sacrifice, humility, magnanimity, or risking public displeasure when necessary. Gone is a concern for educating and ennobling public sentiment! As our society is more deprived of a well-educated citizenry, strong private groups, stable families, and vibrant religious organizations that foster timely instruction and self-discipline, we require ever more the principled and courageous vision and public dedication of the true statesman. Today’s cancellation of the Founders and Lincoln deprives us of sorely needed models that once inspired future political greatness. Just when we need such statesmanship the most, we experience little public recognition of greatness in leadership. In addition to the Wilsonian example, current educational models seem to conflate statesmanship with salesmanship or with technical expertise apart from character. These models produce resistance rather than assistance in renewing the prospects of true statesmanship in this nation. Citizens, public intellectuals, and political analysts must persevere in fostering excellence in the realm of public leadership. It will be a tough pursuit both intellectually and politically. Our republic requires it, needs it, and deserves it.
This book will examine some of the most significant leaders in American history in terms of the nature, virtue, and task of statesmanship. The inclusion of some leaders and the omission of others will always be a matter of debate. While the editors do not necessarily share the views of the contributors, we do agree upon the political influence of each of these leaders on the development of the American regime. To be sure, each is judged in terms of being more or less statesmanlike. This volume also includes some notable failures of statesmanship. Just as a physician must have an understanding of both health and disease, so we should have an understanding of political health and pathology.
Above all, the statesman is committed body and soul to public service and to the preservation of the nation both physically and in terms of its moral character. Which of our leaders are more or less effective in bringing along the public by personal example, by argument, by coercive measures when necessary, and by a rhetoric that uses words in our language that enhance support for the public good?
1 . Spontaneous remarks by Leo Strauss on hearing of the death of Churchill, University of Chicago, January 25, 1965. See Statesmanship: Essays in Honor of Sir Winston Churchill , ed. Harry V. Jaffa (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1981), ix.
2 . Orestes A. Brownson, “The Need of Statesmen,” in Literary, Scientific, and Political Views of Orestes A. Brownson (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1893), 175.

3 . These three qualities correspond to Aristotle’s three rhetorical appeals based on ethos (character), pathos (feeling), and logos (reason). See Aristotle’s Rhetoric (1356a) in The Rhetoric and Poetics of Aristotle (New York: Modern Library College Editions, McGraw-Hill, 1984), 24–25.
4 . Werner Dannhauser, “Reflections on Statesmanship and Bureaucracy,” in Bureaucrats, Policy Analysts, Statesmen: Who Leads? , ed. Robert A. Goldwin (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1980), 118.

George Washington, print created ca. 1894 from an original image by Gilbert Stuart (Library of Congress, )
The Statesmanship of George Washington

T he man with the stiff smile and perfectly coifed hair stares up at us from our money. He broods down at us from his cold perch atop Mount Rushmore. His obelisk stands as one of the iconic monuments in our nation’s capitol. What we have come to know of George Washington is largely of these grand but unapproachable images. We refer to him as the “Father of our Country,” but he is a distant, stoic, and cold paternal figure; he is not one many of us recognize as a model politician, much less a good family man for the twenty-first century.
This image comes to us naturally from the man who was often distant and aloof even while he was alive. Few got to know the man behind the facade and it is understandable that we might agree with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s exaggeration that he seemed to have been born “with his clothes on and his hair powdered,” giving a “stately bow upon his first appearance in the world.” 1 But Washington was not born the statesman he would become; he actively made himself in the image he found necessary for his country and that he saw modeled in ancient history. To be more precise, he actively attempted to create himself as a kind of stoic Roman general and statesman for the New World. In the process, he changed from being an ambitious and arrogant young man, trying to make his way in the world and serve his king, into a military leader that defeated an empire, founded a new nation, and then relinquished power voluntarily. In the process, he changed our very expectations of statesmanship in the modern world.
Washington’s Life—A Brief Overview
Though he was not born in a log cabin in abject poverty, Washington was also not the stereotypical boy of privilege that many have come to assume. He was born to an entrepreneurial and hardworking father who had been educated in England and who had also sent his oldest son to follow in his footsteps at the Appleby School. When George was only eleven years old, however, his father died. The family had no money to send him away to school as they had his elder brother, Lawrence. His formal education would be meager, though he did learn to read and write and made a study of a set of “Rules for Civility” from which he learned how to carry himself in public, to treat others properly, and, in turn, to earn their respect. “In writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree & the custom of the place.” 2 These rules for proper behavior would well serve any statesman-in-training in the eighteenth century and are among the keys to understanding Washington’s very formal demeanor later in life.
Being the second son, George inherited only a small and less than desirable farm from his father’s estate. Without a formal education or large inheritance, young Washington knew he would have to make his own place in the world. As a teenager he set himself to learning the trade of surveying land. He was good at it and, with an entrepreneurial spirit like his father’s, he invested his earnings in yet-undeveloped lands. But having a trade and acquiring wealth was never enough for young Washington. He admired his older brother Lawrence, who had made a modest name for himself in military service. When Lawrence also died too young, Washington stepped forward to volunteer for military service and so began a career that would allow him to change the world and found a new nation.
Washington’s experiences as a diplomat, spy, and provincial officer leading up to and then during the French and Indian War were formative to the man and the leader he would become. His courage never in question, he volunteered for missions that he lacked the experience and skills to take on. He had a driving ambition and pride that allowed him to request promotions and assignments that he seemed to lack the credentials to demand. Though it is almost never remembered today, he actually ended up starting the French and Indian War by overseeing an ambush of a French force deep in the Allegheny Mountains of what now is southwestern Pennsylvania. Soon after the skirmish, he would brag in a letter to his brother, “I heard Bullets whistle and believe me there is something charming in the sound.” His braggadocio would make it into newspapers around the colonies and in Europe. Reportedly, even King George II was moved to comment on the young officer. Of Washington’s charmed reaction to the whistle of enemy musket balls, the king remarked, “He would not say so, if he had been used to hear many.” 3 Indeed, within weeks, this first sweet taste of victory turned into bitter defeat as he was forced to surrender in humiliation at Fort Necessity. Before the end of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), however, he would come back to win universal praise for his heroic acts to save both redcoats and militia forces during the Battle of Monongahela (1755). That battle, part of the British attempt to liberate the Forks of the Ohio (modern day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) from the French, found Washington, under withering fire, taking command and rallying British regulars and Virginia militia out of a bloody ambush.
He served his king and country and became the “Hero of Monongahela,” but Washington would go on within a few decades to serve as the commander in chief of the colonial forces that would challenge that same country and her king. Outmanned, out trained, and often with paltry support from the Continental Congress, Washington held his army together against the redcoats, sometimes taking the fight to the enemy, sometimes disappearing in the night to fight another day, but always with the goal of holding his force together so that they could strike when the right moments came. Whether it be the bold raid across the Delaware on that cold Christmas of 1776 or the bottling up of the enemy forces at Yorktown to end the war, enough of those right moments came and his army was ready for them. Independence would be won significantly on the back of the man who had the gravitas and the vision to hold the effort together, even during the darkest of days.
Having won independence, Washington turned to the task of educating his soldier-leaders in the ethics of free government and the expectations of the new age. He would go on to shock the world by refusing a crown, giving up power, and going home to his farm. Always an admirer of the great Romans, he would become “America’s Cincinnatus” and inspire new expectations for statesmanship. After taking a crown and a continent and then losing it all, Napoleon Bonaparte lamented, “They wanted me to be another Washington!” 4
Washington’s retirement did not last long, however. When his country needed him again, he stepped up to become a leader in the efforts to amend the Articles of Confederation. Indeed, while many consider Washington a latecomer to the fight for a new constitutional order, he was, in fact, arguing for a type of constitutional convention even as the Revolution was coming to an end. In August 1786, for instance, he would write to John Jay of the troubles he saw in the existing order, wondering if it had been built on a foundation that did not adequately reflect human nature. He lamented a rise in the acceptability of monarchy that seemed to come in response to government weakness and argued that a government with more coercive powers must be established if a coming crisis were to be averted.
We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt & carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation, without having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the different state governments extends over the several States. . . . What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people being disgusted with the circumstances will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate & prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom & patriotism. 5
When the convention did meet the following summer, Washington lent his own reputation to the proceedings by not only attending but serving as the presiding officer. During the debates, Washington managed the conversations but said little himself. There is some debate on what role he might have played behind the scenes, but it is indisputable that his position as president lent the proceedings and its product an irreplaceable air of legitimacy.
His presence and his actions in resigning power had a profound impact on the very creation of the office of president itself. While most states had very weak or no executive authority and while some delegates argued for a plural executive or one very limited in power, Washington’s actions inspired others to believe a different kind of office was possible. Without Washington’s statesmanship during the Revolution, it is likely there would be no office at all like the one created in Article II of the Constitution. Then, even though his worldwide reputation had already been secured above further embellishment, he agreed to serve in the experiment of a new government under the Constitution of 1789. He had achieved a fame worthy of any Roman but selflessly risked it all to help ensure his country had a new start on the strongest terms.
Often we skip over the details and importance of Washington’s presidency. We think of him presiding over a limited government during relatively simple times. This perspective, however, masks the importance of his eight years as chief executive. Most importantly, it is worth noting that he did everything for the very first time. As he observed, he walked “on untrodden ground.” There had never been an office of statesmanship quite like the presidency created by the Constitutional Convention. It was republican and elected and yet was a repository of some centralization of authority and was sketched out in broad constitutional mandates. What did it mean to be “commander in chief”? How, exactly, was the president to ensure the laws would be faithfully executed? How was he to work with the United States Senate in creating and ratifying treaties or appointing ambassadors and top domestic government officials? How was the president to conduct himself in public and in official business? With no good model to follow and with the constitutional mandates of Article II being vaguely written, George Washington had to invent the office around him as he went. As he did, he established precedents that could be followed by other chief executives and other statesmen who followed him. Cognizant of his place as first statesman of the new republic, he wrote to James Madison in May 1789, “As the first in everything, our situation will serve to establish a Precedent, it is devoutly wished on my part that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.” 6
After giving his nation the solid start of a term as president, he tried to retire again, but was prevailed upon by James Madison and others that his nation still needed him. Retirement finally came after two terms as president and with it he established the important expectation that presidential power was limited both in scope and duration. The two-term limit he established became so powerfully set that no president successfully challenged it for more than 130 years, and then the nation decided to codify it as the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Washington never simply left his station and moved on, but always sought to use his exits as moments of service and statesmanship. His farewells to his army and his resignation speech at Annapolis are great examples. Most famous today, though, is his Farewell Address that was offered as he prepared to leave the American presidency. That speech continues today to be read annually on the floor of the United States Senate. In that address, he urged the American people to focus on what united them rather than what divided them. He warned against political parties and their divisiveness, urged a fidelity to the Constitution, warned against entangling alliances with other nations, and argued that religion and morality must be cherished as indispensable supports for political prosperity: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.” 7
Even in his retirement and not many months before his time on earth would expire, Washington heard his county’s call and again put his reputation on the line for the greater good of his nation. President John Adams had no business asking for the elder statesman to come out of retirement to head the American Army in what might have evolved into a war with France, but he did. Unsurprising given what we know of his character, Washington yet again responded to the call to serve. Fortunately, no war came. During his last year of life, Washington rewrote his last will and testament. In that forgotten but very important document, the father of his country stepped forth to add the power of his name and example to the efforts to end slavery. He provided for the freeing of his slaves, the education of their young, and the care for the elderly and infirm who could no longer work for their bread. It was his last great act of public service.
Washington’s was a life worthy of any of the greatest Romans who served as his exemplars. His life polished anew the greatest lessons of the statesmen of antiquity and established a new nation that, founded upon his example, set the course for a reinvigoration of great statesmanship in the modern world. The remainder of this chapter is dedicated to some of the key moments and lessons from his extraordinary life that in so many ways established America itself and the institutions through which statesmanship has been expressed in our history. The reader should keep in mind that what Washington accomplished was so extraordinary that no chapter could even begin to explore the highlights. In fact, one of his best biographers, Douglas Southall Freeman, took seven volumes to tell the story of his life. Of necessity, the remainder of this chapter will only deal with a few moments in his extraordinary life as America’s founding statesman.
Being a Statesman—“Acting” the Part
George Washington was an avid theatergoer. He even used plays to entertain and edify his troops during the Revolution (including during a period when Congress had prohibited such thespian activities). The play that influenced Washington the most was Joseph Addison’s “Cato: A Tragedy.” That play recounts the Roman hero’s last days as he defended the old republic and faced down the emerging tyranny of Julius Caesar. Washington quoted liberally from the play in his correspondence and had it enacted by his troops during that terrible winter at Valley Forge. He would come back to its lessons in statesmanship as he found his own path through his public life.
As he prepared himself for the presidency, Washington would advise his nephew, “if you mean to make any figure upon the stage, . . . you should take the first steps right.” 8 What Washington was able to accomplish as a political leader was, to a large degree, made possible by his understanding that leadership is often a type of acting. To be a statesman was to enact the role of the statesman as if upon a stage. Such a role must be animated by core values, such as those discussed in the introductory chapter to this volume, but it is a role that must evolve in its execution with changing circumstances. A prudent thinker and keen observer, Washington understood this and adapted to the needs of the moment.
When discussing George Washington’s leadership, one cannot divorce his basic physicality from his thoughts and his actions. It was at least in part because he was taller, more muscular, and stronger than most of his peers that he was chosen for leadership from a young age. He augmented his natural gifts with an upright carriage and impeccable choice of dress. Always dignified, often distant, he cultivated a deep respect from his men during the Revolution and from the people during his presidency. “His demeanor at all times composed and dignified. His movements and gestures graceful, his walk majestic,” is how a fellow officer would describe him during the French and Indian War. 9 From an early age he cultivated the image of a military leader and then used that image to loan dignity to his immature nation and encourage trust among its people.
America in the twenty-first century finds itself partway between two worlds. Many in Europe today consider the private life of political figures to be wholly irrelevant to their jobs as public servants. France, where open infidelities are carried out with a shrug, is a good example of this pole. On the other end we find George Washington, who acted always as if there were public consequences to his private actions. America today is torn between these two poles. The statesmanship of George Washington was built upon the firm foundation of private morality and public efficacy. He chose the role he would play; he put on the mask of the man he wished to become; he led a nation from public office and inspired generations with private morality. For Washington, being a statesman, particularly at the founding of a new enterprise, meant being above reproach and beyond censure. He would set the tone for the new nation, not just in public affairs but in private character as well.
The new position of President of the United States was written in the Constitution with specific executive roles and responsibilities. But executing the laws is only part of the function of chief executives. Being the sole national figure, the president, like monarchs, must also represent the people during ceremonial functions and during times when symbolic actions are necessary. One can think, for instance, of the situation in Britain during the Blitz when it took both Winston Churchill’s decisiveness as well as the king’s confidence-inspiring words and actions to rally the people against the Nazi onslaught. In America, we combine these two essential roles into one office. George Washington understood all this perfectly well and embraced the symbolic aspects of the office—infusing it and the nation with his own private virtues.
Another key to Washington’s statesmanship was his ability to unite a people who had no long and ready history as a nation to call upon. To paraphrase historian Forrest McDonald, Washington had an ability to unite the people who had been habitually used to the adoration of a amonarch and to give the people time to unite under a love of country that does not develop easily or overnight. 10 King George III, as “Father of His People,” was replaced in the North American colonies by George Washington, “Father of His Country.” Washington embraced this role and always attempted to act in ways that would unite and not divide his country.
His actions in office were often aimed at the vital goal of uniting the nation and encouraging the service of a common good. As president, he visited New England first, but made sure to tour the southern states soon thereafter. He reached across the religious aisle to create common bonds between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. In 1790, for instance, he wrote to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport of the nation’s policy of placing objective good behavior ahead of sectarian concerns. “The Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no factions, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” 11 Knowing he would not always be on the stage to set the unifying tone for the nation, he also asked Congress to fund a national university to educate the “future guardians of the liberties of the Country.” Washington wrote: “Amongst the motives to such an Institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions and manners of our Country men, but the common education of a portion of our Youth from every quarter, well deserves attention. The more homogeneous our Citizens can be made in these particulars, the greater will be our prospect of permanent Union; and a primary object of such a National Institution should be, the education of our Youth in the science of Government.” 12
In his famous Farewell Address, he took time as he ended his presidency to warn the country yet again against the “Spirit of Party,” calling it “a fire not to be quenched,” and warning that “it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.” 13 To appropriate a phrase from twenty-first century politics, the object of his statesmanship was very much to be “a uniter, not a divider.”
These efforts at unity and developing a common understanding of a national common good did not become easier while he was in office. He faced challenges like the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794. He resolved that crisis by insisting on the rule of law and using military force to ensure it. Then, on the other hand, he turned around in 1795 and pardoned those implicated in the rebellion. He ended the crisis, but those involved and their families were not permanently alienated from their country. Washington also formed his government around the principal of consultation and cooperation. He formed the first “cabinet” of ministers and picked outstanding men, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, that represented various factions within the new nation. In major and contentious decisions, like on the creation of a national bank, he solicited opinions from both Jefferson and Hamilton before making his final decision. Everyone would participate and every voice would be heard. He always attempted to stay above the political fray and to discourage the formation of political parties but that did not mean he was without strong convictions on what the country needed. When tough decisions needed to be made, he was ready to make them, such as when his cabinet and the nation were deeply divided between helping Great Britain or France when those two superpowers were at war. Washington’s decision was his innovative and controversial “Proclamation of Neutrality” issued in April 1793 that kept his young and relatively weak nation out of the war. His political convictions, honed on the battlefields of the Revolution, influenced his decisions aimed at unifying his people as much as possible, strengthening the central government as he could, and keeping America out of foreign wars. He succeeded in the latter two goals, but further unity was illusive with Thomas Jefferson eventually becoming alienated enough to leave the administration to raise a political party in opposition to the prevailing policies.
Providing statesmanship for a new nation in its cradle of development, Washington painfully understood the stakes and resolved always to act in ways that would support the rule of law rather than encourage the adulation of men. Above all, this meant exhibiting the virtues of humility, a character trait that did not come naturally to him, and self-restraint. We have already mentioned his crucial service in resigning power after the war and refusing to stay on as president. We will see more in this vein before our discussion of Washington is at an end.

Self-Discipline and the Statesmanship of Restraint
Even though he could have, Washington did not exercise his power without proper authority. Shortly after independence had been declared, British Admiral Richard Howe sent emissaries to Washington with hints of a peace offering. Washington refused to accept the missive because it was addressed to him as if he were a private man with power rather than a public man with authority. Only after several attempts to get the address right did Howe succeed in getting Washington to accept the letter. Washington had insisted on being addressed as “General,” as a military officer in the service of his nation and under the authority of a civilian government. His power was not self-generated but came on loan from the people’s representatives in Congress. The Continental Congress lauded him for acting “with dignity becoming his station.” 14
During the Revolution, he never failed to turn over his men accused of crimes by civilian authorities, even though he knew many of the charges were bogus. Civilian justice must be seen to trump the loyalty of men in arms. He gave orders to investigate all claims of his men that they were being held in service beyond their agreements, no matter how much they may have originated “in the levity of the soldier [more] than in truth.” 15 There were several minor mutinies during the war, the biggest coming in January 1781 when the Pennsylvania Line mutinied after the turn of the new year and what they believed should have been the end of their three-year commitments to serve. The mutiny represented an extremely dangerous time for the Revolution, but the leaders of the effort spurned British attempts to persuade them to switch sides and they eventually settled their grievances. Washington engaged to use the opportunity to press the dire condition of the army and ask the states to fulfill their obligations to the men. Soon thereafter, however, another smaller mutiny took place among some New Jersey soldiers. This time Washington knew he had to end it in a way that would discourage further such rebellions that could threaten the very foundations of the war effort. He ordered key mutineers summarily executed by their fellow soldiers. Once done and the example established, however, Washington gave orders to investigate claims and set things right. “Having punished guilt and supported authority, it now becomes proper to do justice.” 16

Like the “dictators” of ancient Rome who were occasionally empowered with extraordinary authorities in order to save the nation, Washington was so empowered on two occasions. In 1776 and again in 1777 the civilian authorities who were fleeing the enemy forces gave Washington power to unilaterally “direct all things” relative to the operation of the war. Unlike some of his Roman predecessors, however, Washington wielded this extraordinary power with admirable humility and restraint. He never abused his power but held fidelity to the sovereignty of the people through their elected representatives as paramount.
His first act as president-elect was to refuse to act. Though it is hard to imagine in our modern world, George Washington refused to deal with presidential business or go to the capitol before every constitutional detail of his election was executed. Though everyone knew he had been elected in December 1788 (the vote of the Electoral College was unanimous), he found it inappropriate to act until Congress had met and counted the ballots as is required by the Constitution. Congress was slow to get a quorum and his inauguration ended up being delayed two months. Despite being somewhat cash strapped, the new president insisted his pay be docked for the time he was not in actual service. Once in office, Washington’s humility before the rule of law meant that he would further refuse to act when he did not see a clear constitutional power or authority from Congress. At the inauguration of his successor, the hero of the Revolution and the father of his country bid even the new vice president, Thomas Jefferson, to precede him off the dais. The American republic was about constitutional authority and not a cult of personality.
Statesmanship in Crisis and Founding, Saving the Republic and Resigning Power
To cast Washington’s example of great statesmanship in relief, let us focus on a moment of extraordinary leadership where all of Washington’s virtues were on display. Indeed, they were all needed to save the Revolution and properly establish republican expectations for American statesmanship. The moment comes at the end of the American Revolution. On the battlefield the war had been won with Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. It would be nearly two years fraught with great danger and many challenges for statesmanship, however, before the Treaty of Paris was signed and independence officially secured. Here, Washington’s statesmanship in a time of crisis would be at its best.
He was almost universally admired and had won a worldwide reputation for virtue and leadership. He had led, after all, an ill-equipped and poorly provisioned group of colonials against a world empire and won. His men loved and admired him and many would have crowned him and upon hearing his orders would have crossed our Rubicon, just as Caesar’s men crossed the institutional boundaries of the Roman Republic. Today we lightly dismiss the reference to Washington being offered a crown as a pleasant fable, like him purportedly cutting down his father’s cherry tree. But we should not so lightly pass over this moment. He was offered the crown, but more importantly still, he could have demanded the crown and few would have thought it out of bounds. Indeed in the spring of 1782, Colonel Lewis Nicola wrote to Washington telling the general of efforts he supported within the ranks to give Washington America’s new kingship. In response to a temptation that would have been the better of almost any such conquering general before him, Washington’s rebuke of Colonel Nicola was swift and sharp. He said that knowing such ideas even existed within the army gave him more pain than did any other occurrence during the war. 17 Thoroughly embarrassed, Nicola ended up writing three separate apologies to his general. Washington had resisted the eternal dream for power and passed a key test of republican statesmanship. In so doing, he began to establish a new expectation for the American people and their leaders.
When the war was well won and the peace treaty signed, Washington took up the task of teaching republican virtue and the necessities of creating a stronger and balanced central government to his soldiers and fellow citizens. As he would write to Theodorick Bland in April 1783, “We have now a National character to establish.” 18 This is a period of Washington’s service that few have paid much attention to and yet it is here that Washington begins to lay down certain essential foundations for republican government in America. Indeed, four years before the Constitutional Convention convenes, it is Washington who is calling for just such a meeting to revise the Articles of Confederation. He was no passive latecomer to the game of constitutionalism, as so often has been assumed.

Washington understood the potential pitfalls of being seen as a triumphant military commander intervening in politics, but he felt the stakes were too high to be silent. In June 1783, he told the states that he wrote of his political vision because in the crisis at the time, “silence in me would be a crime,” and he reassured them that he had no personal political ambitions. In his “Circular to the States,” he outlined his vision for America’s future, telling them that their situation was so favorable that “if their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own.” He outlined the importance of the moment they faced, told them of the foundations of government in justice and liberty, and urged upon them a dedication to union. He called upon them to use the lessons of the Revolution to strengthen the central government and ended by offering a prayer for God’s assistance and for his people to “do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with the Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.” 19
His farewell address to his armies of November 2, 1783, was also an important opportunity he used to teach and inspire. Here he sought to turn his men’s minds from war to peace and from military exploits to civilian opportunities. He was taming his army before sending it back into the nation’s life stream. He was attempting to turn his army of men from focusing on a war with Britain to conducting a kind of cultural war for the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. Urging them to have a strong attachment to the union of states, he hoped that “they should carry with them into civil society the most conciliating dispositions; and that they should prove themselves not less virtuous and useful as Citizens, than they have been persevering and victorious as Soldiers.” In this address, he was helping to lay the popular foundations of free government—particularly the expectations of a type of statesmanship and citizenship inspired to virtue and restrained by constitutionalism and the rule of law. 20
And then the great moment came. On December 23, 1783—a day that, I submit, should be remembered still by a grateful nation—Washington does what so few have done in human history. The conquering general, the man King George III himself would reputedly call the greatest man alive, laid down his sword and went home. And we should keep in mind that he laid down his sword and hands over his military commission to an incompetent band of politicos who frustrated him throughout the war. Their competence was not the question; the important point was to have resigned power into the hands of duly chosen civilian leaders. His actions shook the world and reverberated in people’s hearts and world capitols everywhere.
But these moments all occur in a noncrisis atmosphere and I said we would see Washington’s statesmanship in its fullest bloom during a moment of crisis. Before he is able to resign, which, again, is momentous, Washington does something even more extraordinary: he saves the republic and provides the foundation for constitutional statesmanship, the rule of law, and civilian control of the military in the months between Yorktown and his resignation.
Washington’s army was camped at Newburgh, New York, in 1782 and 1783. The war had been won but the peace treaty ending the war had not yet been negotiated. British forces remained on the continent and Washington had every reason to be suspicious of the British and their intentions. “The King will push the war as long as that nation will find men or money admits not of a doubt in my mind,” he declared. 21 He had to hold the army together and in good fighting condition until the treaty was in place and the redcoats were gone. The Continental Congress, however, continued to prove impotent. There was no money. The soldiers had not been paid. Washington would write this to Major General John Armstrong: “The army, as usual, are without pay and a great part of the soldiery without shirts. And tho[ugh] the patience of them is equally threadbare, the states seem perfectly indifferent to their cries.” 22
The soldiers were also desperately hungry and the horses were starving. Rumors of desertions and mutiny were in the air. It is easy to put yourself in the shoes of those officers. “If Congress is not paying us now, when we have guns and men, how can we expect them to pay us after we disband and go back to our homes and farms? Why not march and force our demands upon the civilian authorities?” The war was won, but the road toward true peace and free government was equally treacherous. All could be undone. The moment called for an extraordinary act of statesmanship.
A small delegation of officers went to Philadelphia to petition Congress directly and reported to them, “We have borne all that men can bear—our property is expended—our private resources are at an end.” 23 They met with both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton is far from innocent in the events that would unfold. He even wrote to Washington on February 13, 1783, to suggest that a moderate revolt of the officers, if kept within bounds, might actually prove helpful in persuading the “weak minds” in Congress. 24 He was not alone in such scheming. To understand Washington’s importance at this moment is to imagine the alternative. What precedents might have been set if Hamilton would have had his way? What would the nation look like if the military, at this crucial founding hour, would have marched on Philadelphia and insisted Congress follow their demands? Mercifully, that precedent was not set and America has been spared the military coups that continue to plague so much of the rest of the world. It was our great fortune that George Washington was more prudent and more republican than his former aide Alexander Hamilton and some of his top officers.
Washington knew well of the depths of the discontent but would have none of any scheme to use it to force the hand of the civilian government. He replied despairingly to Hamilton of what he called “the forebodings of evil” within the camp, which he felt “may be productive of events which are more to be deprecated than prevented,” but added, “I am not without hope.” He then warned Hamilton that soldiers were not “mere puppets” and that the army was “a dangerous instrument to play with.” 25
The crisis came to a head on March 11, when the conspirators circulated an anonymous pamphlet calling a meeting of the officers to voice grievances and coordinate action. Then a second anonymous note was circulated warning them to “suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance.” This was but a thinly veiled reference to General Washington himself and he was furious.
Washington countered the invitation by declaring he alone had the power to call such a meeting of the officers. Many would be tempted to work behind the scenes or to hope that the situation might just go away. Washington knew, however, that the situation demanded his own personal engagement. He used his power to call for just such a meeting as was advocated by the anonymous officers. Ominously, the meeting was to take place on March 15, the Ides of March: the day a group of conspirators famously chose to assassinate their supreme leader, Julius Caesar.

While he prepared to work the crisis on his own end, he also intervened with Congress to urge action. He wrote Hamilton again asking him to work in Congress as quickly as possible to redress the officer’s complaints and forewarned that failure of the government to take proper action would plunge the country “into a gulf of civil horror from which there might be no receding.” 26
The drama unfolded as if produced for the stage. On Washington’s orders, five hundred officers crowded the auditorium of the recently constructed building nicknamed “The Temple of Virtue.” In what would become rich irony, one of the lead conspirators, Horatio Gates, was set to chair the meeting. It remained unclear whether or not Washington himself would attend. Some hoped their general had tired of the inaction of the politicians and was prepared to take the government. A new monarchy might be on the verge of birth and they were there to be part of it. Others seemed ready to move on Congress with or without their commander. Washington’s top and most loyal aides entered and fanned into the audience.
At precisely noon, the doors opened. Washington entered. Everyone stood. He walked slowly, silently, and deliberately to the podium. His very presence, his dignity, and his strength served to strike the souls of his men. This was no mere fellow mortal, their Washington; His Excellency; The Commander in Chief; The Father of His Country.
He began by apologizing for appearing in person at the meeting; it was unusual for him but the gravity of the situation demanded it, he told them. By preserving his personal appearances for grave times, in other words, he preserved the symbolic power of his presence. In the modern parlance, he had strictly avoided “overexposure.” He began to read from his prepared remarks: “Gentlemen: By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together; how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! how unmilitary! and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the Army decide.”
He spoke to them as a man with authority superior to theirs, but also as a man whose conduct earned him additional reason to be heard. He recounted how he had been with them through difficult times and suffered at their side. He reminded them how he had not left their side except when called to public business. He linked his own reputation with theirs and urged them not to tarnish what they had achieved by actions unworthy of their characters. He told them of the support Congress had for the army and the great respect the members of Congress had for their sacrifices. He pledged his own service to their cause, and bound that service with only two limitations: the duty he owed his country and the respect they all owed to the legitimate societal powers in a free nation. He called upon their patriotism, the value of their honor, their respect for the rights of humanity, and their concern for the character of their developing nation and ended his speech by telling them that if they resisted the temptation to act; if they resisted the calls to take up arms and force their demands upon the civilian government: “You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; And you will, by the dignity of your Conduct, afford occasion of Posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to Mankind, ‘had this day been wanting, the World had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.’” 27
But in case he had not yet won the day, he also had a letter with him from a sympathetic delegate in Congress declaring the Congress’s dedication to the army and their plans to fulfill their promises. Washington pulled the letter from his pocket and began to read. He stumbled over the writing. He paused. The tension built. Then he pulled from his waistcoat a pair of glasses that had recently been sent to him by David Rittenhouse, a Philadelphia scientist. No one had ever seen Washington wear spectacles in public before. If his stern dressing down of the officers had not had its intended effect, this gesture proved devastating to the hopes of the lead conspirators. Washington stood before his officers and said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” 28 Here Washington exhibited most clearly the selfless aspects of his statesmanship. Washington, “the most favored of heaven,” the most flawless of men, bares his flaws to save the republic. No one would be more reticent of demonstrating a weakness in public, but he was more than ready to do it when the greater good required it.
This act of magnanimity found its mark. Officers’ eyes began to water. Tears dripped down heroes’ cheeks. The conspiracy was at an end as the officers were properly shamed before their moral superior. The plot neutralized, Washington silently walked out of the Temple of Virtue. His most loyal aides remained behind and immediately stepped up to offer a motion to issue a statement of loyalty to Congress. There was essentially no dissent from what was called “the general speechlessness” of the assembly. The motions to express trust in Congress and the commander in chief as well as to denounce the anonymous addresses were passed. The crisis was over. Civilian control of the military had been preserved. The army would bide its time until peace was made and colonial independence accepted by the British Crown. The nascent republic was not strangled in the cradle. We took a major step toward what has become our tradition of civilian control of the military.
Refusing power, teaching military deference to civilian authority (no matter its level of competence), voluntarily resigning his position and retiring from public life—these acts, which seem so basic to us today, shook the world. We refer to Washington as our Cincinnatus. His officers formed the Society of Cincinnati. A major US city is named Cincinnati. There are cities and counties named Cincinnatus across the nation. Why? Because George Washington did in our world an act that almost no statesman but the great Roman General Cincinnatus had done and that more than two thousand years before. He won a war, he liberated a nation, and then, instead of taking power, he went home to his farm. He changed the world. Not only an exemplary statesman, Washington did much to establish the very meaning of statesmanship in the modern world.
Washington’s example taught the men of the Philadelphia Convention that there was hope. There was at least one man who could be entrusted with power and who might then set the precedent for a republican executive unlike the world had ever seen. They created the American presidency with its relatively vague language and entrusted him to bring it to life and create the precedents that would last the ages. He set in motion the precedent that the military takes orders from the civilian authorities, whether they agree with their decisions or not. He set in motion the cultural expectations for statesmanship that fill in the blanks of the Constitution.

Washington’s Virtues
He demonstrated humility before the law. He acted with courage during difficult times. He never shirked public responsibility in the name of serving self-interest. He served out of a sense of duty and, at least in his mature years, not out of personal ambition. He exercised prudence in his decision-making and kept the nation free from foreign wars during the crucial first years of its tender life. He used his speeches and written communications to persuade and to teach virtue. He lent his personal reputation to the common good, including magnanimity unequaled. He left behind a life worthy of emulation by men and women everywhere along with a reputation that haunts would-be statesmen (and would-be abusers of power) all the way into the present age. In his eulogy, John Adams remarked on how Washington would be remembered and linked him with the great Roman emperor, general, and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations as long as our history shall be read. If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want biographers, eulogists, or historians.” 29
Now, more than two hundred years after his death, it is fitting to end this chapter with the words of the United States Senate after the news came of Washington’s passing: “Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic general, the patriotic statesman, and the virtuous sage. Let them teach their children never to forget that the fruit of his labors and his example are their inheritance.” 30 The fruits of his labors and his example are, indeed, still available to us in the twenty-first century. We should embrace them as our inheritance and hold our statesmen to the high standards of our Washington.
The author wishes to thank Connor Tracy and Travis Wilson for considerable assistance in the preparation of this chapter.

1 . Peter R. Henriques, Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006), ix.
2 . George Washington, “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” in George Washington: A Collection , ed. W. B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1988), 6–13.
3 . Quoted from David A. Clary, George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 89.
4 . Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (New York: Free Press, 1996), 103.
5 . Washington, “To John Jay, August 15, 1786,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 333–35.
6 . Washington, “To James Madison, May 5, 1789,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 531.
7 . Washington, “Farewell Address, September 19, 1796,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 521.
8 . Washington, “To George Steptoe Washington, March 23, 1789,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 432.
9 . Captain George Mercer, 1760, quoted in James Thomas Flexner, George Washington (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965), 1:192.
10 . Forrest McDonald, The Presidency of George Washington (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1974), 25.
11 . Washington, “To Hebrew Congregation in Newport, August 1790,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 548.
12 . Washington, “Eighth Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1796,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 509.
13 . Washington, “Farewell Address, September 19, 1796,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 520.
14 . Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington and American Constitutionalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993), 36–37.
15 . George Washington, “To Commissioners for Resolving Grievances of the New Jersey Line, January 27, 1781,” in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745–1799 , vol. 21, December 22, 1780–April 26, 1781 , ed. John Clement Fitzpatrick (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1938), 147.
16 . Washington, “To Commissioners for Resolving Grievances of the New Jersey Line, January 27, 1781,” in Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington , 21:147.
17 . Washington, “To Colonel Lewis Nicola, May 22, 1782,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 203–4.
18 . Washington, “To Theodorick Bland, April 4, 1783,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 231.

19 . Washington, “Circular to the States, June 14, 1783,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 239–49.
20 . Washington, “Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States, November 2, 1873,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 266–70.
21 . Washington, “To James McHenry, September 12, 1782,” in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745–1799 , vol. 25, August 11, 1782–December 31, 1782 , ed. John Clement Fitzpatrick (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1938), 151.
22 . Washington, “To Major General John Armstrong, January 10, 1783,” in The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745–1799 , vol. 26, January 1, 1783–June 10, 1783 , ed. John Clement Fitzpatrick (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1938), 26.
23 . Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (New York: Penguin Press, 2010).
24 . Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton , vol. 3, 1782–1786 , ed. Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 254.
25 . Washington, “To Alexander Hamilton, March 4, 1783,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 211–13.
26 . Washington, “To Alexander Hamilton, March 12, 1893,” in Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington , 26:217.
27 . Washington, “Speech to the Officers of the Army, March 15, 1783,” in Allen, ed., George Washington: A Collection , 221.
28 . Thomas J. Fleming, The Perils of Peace: America’s Struggle for Survival after Yorktown (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 271.
29 . John Adams and Charles Francis Adams, “Reply to the Address of the Senate, on the Death of George Washington,” in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations , vol. 9 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), 143.
30 . Matthew Spalding and Patrick J. Garrity, A Sacred Union of Citizens: George Washington’s Farewell Address and the American Character (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), 1.

Benjamin Franklin, print created in 1868 from an original image by J. A. Duplessis (Library of Congress, )
Benjamin Franklin, Democratic Statesman

B enjamin Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and died in Philadelphia in 1790. He left Boston for Philadelphia when he was seventeen, after only two years of formal schooling, five years of a contentious apprenticeship in his brother’s print shop, and publishing enough in his brother’s newspaper to have earned a reputation as both an “infidel or atheist” and an opponent of the colony’s government. He worked in Philadelphia and then London as a printer. Upon returning to Philadelphia in 1726, Franklin set himself up in business as a printer and began to prosper, publishing a successful newspaper and then an almanac, for which he supplied much of the content. He married and began to take part in Philadelphia’s civic life.
Over the next three decades, Franklin served as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, a justice of the peace, postmaster of Philadelphia and deputy postmaster of North America, a Pennsylvania assemblyman, and Pennsylvania’s representative to the British government during two tours in London (1757–1762 and 1764–1775), eventually representing three other colonies as well.
In 1747–1748, he took the lead in organizing Pennsylvania’s defense and served in its militia, later taking command of a military operation to defend Pennsylvania from Indian attack. On another occasion, as a representative of Pennsylvania when another war with the French and their Indian allies loomed, he attempted to organize the defense of all the British colonies and proposed a unitary government for them (the Albany Plan of Union, 1754) that neither the British nor colonial governments would accept. When war came, he became indispensable to the British in organizing their logistics, putting his own fortune at risk.
During these and subsequent years of public service, Franklin was also the prime mover in establishing the first subscription library in the United States, a fire protection society, Philadelphia’s first hospital, the American Philosophical Society, the Philadelphia Academy (which became the University of Pennsylvania), as well as other civic organizations and improvement projects. He also invented a stove, a musical instrument (the glass armonica), and bifocals, and he measured the Gulf Stream as he traveled back and forth from Great Britain. His great technical-scientific accomplishment was his examination of electricity, which led him to develop some basic concepts and terminology still in use.

While representing Pennsylvania and other colonies in London, he sought to hold Britain’s empire together. Rebuffed by the British, he returned to the United States and was elected to both the Pennsylvania Assembly and the Second Continental Congress. He helped draft Pennsylvania’s first constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, at the age of seventy, he was appointed representative of the United States to France and charged to win indispensable French aid for the revolution, which he did. He was then appointed one of the commissioners to negotiate the peace settlement with Great Britain (1782), which turned out better for the United States than might have been expected.
Franklin returned to the United States in 1785, where he was elected president of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council (in effect, president of Pennsylvania) and president of Pennsylvania’s abolition society. He was elected to represent Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention (1787), where, at a critical moment, he supported the compromise on representation between the large and small states. In 1789, he wrote the first anti-slavery protest addressed to Congress, followed a year later by a petition to Congress requesting the abolition of both slavery and the slave trade. Franklin’s life spanned the eighteenth century, but considering only the many enduring institutions he helped found and his scientific work, the century can hardly be said to have contained it.
The Qualities of Statesmanship
Franklin was many things, including a printer, scientist, inventor, writer, politician, civic leader, and diplomat. But was he a statesman? We distinguish between the statesman and the tyrant, between Lincoln and the slave power, Franklin Roosevelt and Hitler, Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union. The statesman has a leading or commanding position and uses it for the common good. The tyrant uses his or her power for his or her own good. Franklin, then, we might agree, was a statesman. He certainly worked for the common good. He reported in his Autobiography that he saw his election as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly as an event that “enlarge[d] my power of doing good.” 1 Yet Franklin seldom did good from a commanding position like Lincoln or Roosevelt. He once had command of troops but took the command reluctantly and was happy to give it up. The presidency of Pennsylvania was largely ceremonial, in part because Franklin had supported limiting the power of the executive.
If command, or the elevation, scope, or freedom of command, is not the most important part of statesmanship, then we might still consider Franklin a statesman. In fact, putting the emphasis on command might make statesmanship appear undemocratic. Democracy is the people giving themselves the laws under which they live. If we think of Lincoln or Roosevelt, or of Jefferson purchasing Louisiana, we are thinking of the exercise of power at times of crisis, and of presidents who carried the lawful exercise of executive power to its limit, if not beyond, in order to save the republic and the rule of law in the long term. This was the impulse behind the Roman tradition of appointing a dictator in times of crisis, an idea actually proposed in Virginia during the Revolution. Jefferson criticized the proposal, but found himself years later following its logic. 2 If we emphasize the freedom of command in our understanding of statesmanship, we will find it hard to distinguish the statesman from the tyrant. Insofar as the statesman and the tyrant exert their will, or command freely, they are no different. What distinguishes them is the end they serve. The statesman acts for the common good, the tyrant only for his or her own.
If we put the emphasis on the ends for which power is used, rather than on the kind of power that seeks them, the term “statesman” does not have to be restricted to those in a commanding position. Early in his Autobiography , Franklin described his father: “His great excellence lay in a sound understanding, and a solid judgment in prudential matters, both in public and private affairs.” 3 “Leading people” and “private persons,” in Franklin’s words, alike consulted his father on a variety of personal, church, and public issues because Franklin’s father had a capacity to discern what the best course of action was in the complicated issues they presented to him. When asked about George Washington, Jefferson praised his prudence, “perhaps the strongest feature in his character,” and portrayed him in councils of war as “hearing all suggestions,” selecting what was best, and “never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed.” 4 Franklin tells us that his father’s circumstances kept him closely tied to his trade and that consequently he never held public office. Washington’s position in the upper reaches of Virginia’s social hierarchy, on the other hand, almost compelled him to seek office, both military and civilian, and ultimately put him in position to positively affect the lives of millions of people. Despite the difference of their circumstances, however, whether Washington was at a table with his officers or Franklin’s father was at his dining table with friends and “leading people,” Washington and Franklin’s father were exercising the same human excellence, even if we tend to reserve the title of “statesman” for beneficence performed at the larger scale.
If we agree that the discernment exercised by Franklin’s father was the same as that exercised by Washington, we might still wonder if this discernment captures everything we mean by prudence. Might there be different kinds of discernment and prudence? For example, Jefferson’s praise of Washington’s prudence contained a criticism. According to Jefferson, Washington lacked a certain quickness of mind, an ability to adjust readily as the circumstances of battle changed. He was better at siege than maneuver warfare, better at deliberation than at offering a sound judgment when suddenly called on. To some degree, in Jefferson’s account this lack of quickness seems connected to the steadiness of Washington’s character, to what Jefferson calls Washington’s inflexible justice and his most pure integrity. By contrast, Julius Caesar, supremely self-interested, excelled at exploiting opportunities that arose in battle. 5 It was, of course, Washington’s stolidity, his integrity, his ability to hold himself together when everything else was falling apart, that was critical to his generalship, to the success of the American Revolution, and to the new government that followed. Washington was peculiarly suited to his times, which is probably what Jefferson had in mind when he remarked, in summing up his assessment of Washington, “never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great.” 6
If the careful weighing of alternatives and the quick grasping of advantage—long-term planning and crisis management—are two different, if related, aspects of prudence and statesmanship, then what we often now call “vision” seems a third aspect. “Vision” is the capacity to imagine a comprehensive future that is different from the present. A leader, a term that has now to some degree replaced “statesman,” is supposed to have vision in this sense. As such, vision is superior to and should guide both planning and crisis management, informing each of the ultimate outcome to aim for. In this contemporary meaning of the term, Washington did not have vision. His special genius, oddly perhaps for such a successful revolutionary, was preserving and holding together, not destroying and fabricating anew, which implementing a vision requires. Not being a visionary would seem to be true of Alexander Hamilton as well, whose plans for America were not so much visionary as replicative, in that he hoped to impose on America the centralized military-commercial complex so successful in Great Britain’s empire building. Franklin and Jefferson, especially Jefferson, for their parts, envisioned the United States becoming unlike anything seen before, a continent-spanning political order, one that was decentralized and pacific, yet a great empire, built out of the everyday doings, the frugality and industry of farmers (Jefferson) and shopkeepers and tradesmen (Franklin). 7 In this sense, “vision” is associated with a transformative, progressive, even revolutionary idea of politics. Yet the contrast seems not quite fair to Hamilton—or, perhaps, to Franklin and Jefferson. What emerged in Britain as the proto-modern state resulted from a combination of necessity (relentless competition between sovereign states), historical accident (for example, centralized national administration, a relative lack of public venality) and the grasping of advantage. 8 In contrast, Hamilton sought to replicate the British state in North America from nothing, so to speak—except a lack of public venality—and against the decentralizing tide of American politics. Given what the United States was when Hamilton took office as secretary of the treasury in 1789, his view of what it should become was as visionary as Jefferson’s or Franklin’s. The republic envisioned by Franklin and Jefferson, unlike Hamilton’s, may have had no precedent, and little need for destruction of the existing order to come into existence (and that largely done by the Revolution itself), but Hamilton’s would have been as transformative as theirs. Unless one assumes, as no one should, that whatever is new is better, the choice is always between rival visions of the human good. Different versions of the good guided the transformative politics of Hamilton and those of Jefferson and Franklin, and led them to see such different possibilities in America’s late eighteenth-century circumstances. Vision or being a visionary, like leadership and being a leader, are, then, nothing in themselves. Everything depends on the good foreseen. Vision, we should conclude, is not another element of statesmanship: it is rather another name for the understanding of the good that guides a statesman as he or she weighs alternatives or grasps an advantage given the power he or she has and the circumstances he or she faces.
Autobiographical Lessons in Statecraft and Leadership
All of the issues raised by this review of what statesmanship might mean present themselves in Franklin’s various activities. Examining some of the key episodes of his life, guided by his own account of them in his Autobiography , allows us to consider further these issues and will provide us a better sense of whether we may apply the title of statesman to Franklin.
A good place to start is with an episode early in Franklin’s life. He reported that as a boy “living near the water, I was much in and about it, learned early to swim well, and to manage boats, and when in a boat or canoe with other boys I was commonly allow’d to govern, especially in any case of difficulty; and upon other occasions I was generally a leader among the boys.” 9 Although Franklin does not say so explicitly, this passage implies that his knowledge of how to handle a boat led the other boys to let him take charge. It implies also that this was not always the case. Perhaps some of the other boys out of natural self-regard had an inclination to challenge Franklin for command, and perhaps other boys, out of jealousy of Franklin or friendship with his competitors, allowed one of them to govern. But when difficulties arose, self-preservation crowded out other competing passions, and the boys deferred naturally and rightly to Franklin’s superior skill, making him their leader. In which direction did he take them? Into scrapes sometimes, Franklin tells us. He recounted one instance, which showed “an early projecting public spirit.” To make a better place to fish, he persuaded his friends to build a wharf from stones intended to build a house, which the builders had piled near their fishing spot. They were discovered, complained of, and corrected by their fathers. In mitigation, Franklin “pleaded the usefulness of the work,” but his father convinced him—he doesn’t tell us how—that “nothing was useful which was not honest.”
In this episode, Franklin governed or took his place as a leader because of his knowledge or skill. It would be more accurate to say, as Franklin did, that the boys allowed Franklin to lead them. Franklin apparently did not insist on being the leader or use his size and strength to seize that position, but he acknowledged that his friends had to consent to him holding it. When he was the leader, he used his position to undertake a project of public improvement. He learned, however, that such improvements should not come through seizing others’ property. This is a paradoxical lesson, since it implies that the public good can be best served by respecting what is private, in this case, the property of others. Something private is more important than what the public requires. It is also an interesting lesson to begin his personal story with because it tells us that a man renowned for emphasizing utility learned early that utility depended on or had a relation to other things, certain character traits or virtues, that in the short run at least were not themselves necessarily or always useful, just as the public good depended on something private. Utility is not identical with what is good, and the good aimed at by a “projecting public spirit” may be more complex than it seems at first glance. Finally, in the same vein, the story indicates that leadership that serves the common good requires dealing with something else besides property that is private and not or not always good: the self-regard and private passions of one’s fellows.
The Autobiography was written when Franklin was an old man. He infused the episodes that he chose to recount with what he had learned in his long life. The wharf anecdote, charmingly presented, written from that older, wiser vantage point, foreshadows the great questions of politics and human conduct that Franklin faced and considered. For example, he presented in some detail in the Autobiography what he had learned about accommodating knowledge and consent, an issue implicit in the wharf story. As a young man, Franklin was disputatious, but he described this trait retrospectively as a bad habit, causing more problems than it solved. 10 Subsequently, having read about Socrates in Xenophon’s Memorabilia , he adopted the philosopher’s pose of a “humble enquirer,” all the better to entangle his unsuspecting opponents in contradictions. He reported in the Autobiography that having “become a doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this [Socratic] method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it.” Franklin’s mind was powerful enough to outwit his opponents, and he took delight in the exercise of that power, but he came to realize that he won victories he did not deserve (he did not always have the better argument) and that confusing an opponent was not the same as convincing him or getting him to do what ought to be done. Nor did such an approach serve Franklin’s own interests in the longer term. Consequently, Franklin gave up the Socratic method, except for its humble, ironic demeanor, which did in fact help persuade others. 11 Franklin refined this approach further by learning not to put himself in the vanguard of his various civic enterprises, lest jealousy of his personal success jeopardize the success of the enterprise. In time, he learned that as the enterprise prospered, his role would become known, and both the public good and his own would be well served. 12
Franklin’s Autobiography , then, describes Franklin learning how people of superior virtue, with no claim on others except that virtue, could serve the common good. Persons of superior virtue must win the support or consent of others in large measure by hiding their superiority. 13 In this way, they establish that they are not self-serving, because even though their superiority might justify their claim to rule, human nature will lead others to see in the assertion of superiority only the assertion of self-interest. Having established that they are not merely self-serving but concerned about the common good, individuals of superior virtue, if they have also won a reputation for good judgment, are likely to be called on in a crisis. Because they are known to be just, their fellow citizens will trust them with the power to deal with the crisis.
“Trifling Matters,” Public Opinion, and the Common Good
Franklin learned two other principles that guided his civic engagement. After recounting in his Autobiography a plan for cleaning streets, Franklin remarked that some people might think it not worth attending to or relating such “trifling matters.” Franklin responded that such matters of a “seemingly low nature” are worth addressing because “human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” 14 We may understand this remark in two different ways. We might read it as a rebuke to those who believe that statesmanship concerns only great things. If one wants to attend to the public good, and not just to one’s own greatness, one must attend to things that seem low. Alternatively, we might see this comment about the importance of apparently trifling matters as a critique of the need for statesmen. 15 Is it possible to imagine a leader producing “little advantages that occur every day”? Are such advantages not more likely to occur as people go about their everyday lives, following their passions and needs, as long as they satisfy them in an enlightened manner? As Franklin explained in the Autobiography , people were most likely to satisfy their needs if they allowed others the same opportunity. As this reciprocity spread, little advantages would multiply, and human happiness increase, without the need for those of superior virtue. Franklin’s life, we note immediately, seems to contradict this second interpretation, since he was a man of superior virtue who concerned himself with trifling matters. But Franklin was a pioneer, we might say, blazing a trail that lesser men would then be able to follow. A great effort might be necessary to establish a political order in which freely created little advantages accumulated into a great good, but that revolutionary effort might be necessary only once. After that, the frugality and industry of lesser men could carry on without the need of statesmen.
The second principle that Franklin learned is less a matter of speculation. Franklin came to understand that public opinion was critical for governing. In the Autobiography , he mentions with regard to his public projects that in order for them to succeed, he had to prepare public opinion or the public mind. 16 He did this by publishing essays explaining the need for the project. He also sought out influential people to win their support. As his own reputation grew, his support of a project by itself helped win over public opinion. Finally, he contrived various ways (lotteries, subscriptions, matching grants, private-public partnerships) to make the cost of his public projects appear less burdensome, describing one of these devices as “cunning,” but excusing it by the good it did. 17 As political problems grew between the colonies and Great Britain, Franklin emphasized the importance of opinion, particularly opinion about what was just. In 1764, he wrote to a British correspondent about a tax issue in which he thought the British government’s position unjust. The Pennsylvania Assembly objected to the plan because “they esteem [it] . . . contrary to common Justice and common Sense, . . . they are highly provoked at the Governor’s insisting on [it]. I wish some good Angel would forever whisper in the Ears of your great Men, that Dominion is founded in Opinion, and that if you would preserve your Authority among us, you must preserve the Opinion we used to have of your Justice. That Decision was certainly unequal.” 18
A few years later, following the Stamp Act and colonial protests against what the colonists and Franklin saw as the unjust taxes it imposed, Franklin wrote to a correspondent in Philadelphia that “government is not established merely by power; there must be maintained a general opinion of its wisdom and justice, to make it firm and durable.” 19
Franklin emphasized the role of opinion in governing both in America and Great Britain, although he surely knew that as a matter of fact the opinion of the governed mattered much less in Britain than it did in America. It would be more accurate to say, then, that when Franklin spoke about the opinion of the governed he meant something more like the opinion of the governing power. In Great Britain the governing power was a relatively small segment of the population. In America, it was a broader segment, in fact approaching 75 percent in Philadelphia, if we measure “governing power” by the extent of the franchise. Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in the mid-eighteenth century had the broadest franchise of anywhere in the world. 20 Franklin, however, was more concerned perhaps with equitable than with broad representation, since some kind of equitable representation of American interests within the British empire was a concern of his for at least twenty years leading up to the Revolution. He also worked to establish more equitable representation in Pennsylvania (it was already broad, as we have just noted). For example, he presided over the drafting of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and approved of the final product, a constitution that was, when approved, the most democratic that had ever existed and redressed the unequitable representation that had favored Philadelphia over the surrounding countryside. Throughout his political work, then, Franklin both stressed the importance of public opinion and worked to give that opinion more political force.
Self-Interest, Practical Virtue, and the Common Good
There is an important qualification to the claim that Franklin worked to give public opinion more force. He was also an advocate for a private and secret organization. Early in his life in Philadelphia, Franklin and some friends organized weekly meetings “for mutual improvement” derived from discussing issues of “morals, politics or natural philosophy.” Improvement of another sort came from the fact that the members directed business to Franklin. 21 The group called itself the Junto, which means a group sharing a common purpose: a club, cabal, or faction. 22 A few years later, Franklin conceived the idea of attaining moral perfection by methodically practicing the virtues. At about the same time, according to the Autobiography , Franklin thought of combining the small group with his plan for attaining virtue. Franklin thought of this combination because he believed that “the great affairs of the world” were not sufficiently carried out with regard to the good of the nation or the good of mankind. What was needed, Franklin concluded, was a “united party of virtue” that would bring together “the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body.” He wrote a creed for the new organization, which contained what he considered the essentials of every religion and the particularities of none.
That there is one God who made all things.
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayers, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice here or hereafter. 23
Franklin intended that the organization would begin with young unmarried men and that they would accept the creed he had written; have practiced his method of acquiring moral perfection; keep the organization secret, but search out other potential members among their acquaintances; and promote each other’s “interest, business and advancement of life.” Franklin intended to call this party of virtue the Society of the Free and Easy. 24
Franklin reported that he was not able to carry out his plan for the party of virtue because he lacked the leisure to do so. The Junto did follow one element of Franklin’s plan, the secrecy that Franklin proposed for the Society of the Free and Easy, and for the same reason: to allow the organization to be selective in admitting new members. Secrecy would allow members to deny membership to others without disadvantaging themselves, especially if they denied membership to someone who had the power to hurt their prospects. As a consequence, like other secret organizations, the Junto grew in a cell-like manner. Franklin himself made the proposal “that every member separately should endeavor to form a subordinate club,” without letting the members of the new clubs know about any other clubs, including the original one. This proposal had several advantages. It would improve a growing number of citizens; acquaint the members of the original club with the sentiments of the members of other clubs; promote the interests of the original members; increase the original members’ influence in public affairs; and increase their power to do good. 25
The Junto and the Society of the Free and Easy display the unorthodox (because it was private) way in which Franklin sought to serve the public good, and thus the unorthodox character of his statesmanship, if we consider him a statesman. In recounting his plan, Franklin said nothing about its paradoxical nature. (How do we reconcile its concern with “great affairs” and what Franklin said about the importance of trifling matters?) He was especially silent about its most paradoxical aspect. If the problem with the great affairs of the world is that they are carried out without regard to the common good and the good of mankind, how is a secret organization devoted to advancing the interests of its members going to rectify this? Consider the advantages of the Junto (a smaller scale version of the Society of the Free and Easy) that Franklin mentioned and we listed in the paragraph above. Of the five advantages of the plan, only the first and fifth refer to the good of others, and the fifth does so only ambiguously. Whose good would be served most by the Junto? one wonders. The second through fourth advantages accrue exclusively to the good of the original members. The third or central advantage, that it would promote the interests of the original members, makes this clear explicitly. Given Franklin’s emphasis on public opinion and the public good, how can we explain his plan for the secret Society of the Free and Easy, which would be devoted to its members’ good?

Several explanations are worth considering. We might say that the obvious paradoxes of the plan show that Franklin was not serious in proposing it. The great satirist and wit was having a little fun with the “organizing-for-improvement” spirit of his contemporaries. Franklin shared this spirit, as his work on organizing philosophical societies, hospitals, etc. shows, but he was not above making fun of himself. Yet Franklin took the trouble to include a lengthy description of the plan in the Autobiography and remarked that “I am still of opinion that it was a practicable scheme, and might have been very useful.” 26 Perhaps the plan was a satire, but satire may have a serious purpose.
A serious purpose in recounting the plan might have been to reveal that behind the talk about the common good and the good of mankind, there is in reality no such thing. The difference between appearance and reality is a theme in the Autobiography . 27 The plan, we might say, shows that the reality of human life is that the differences among people and the power of their passions are so great that there is no good common to people, except when the objects of their desire accidentally coincide. The only thing a human can do is pursue his or her own good in the least self-defeating way. This means taking into account the needs and desires of others, but only to the extent necessary to satisfy one’s own. This account would cast Franklin’s emphasis on opinion in a new light. As noted, he emphasized the importance in politics of opinions about justice, but this emphasis really means that justice is only the opinion that people hold of it. As a mere opinion, justice is only an appearance, not a reality. This is the view of Franklin as a pragmatist, someone focused always on utility. Usefulness is the only measure of what is real, and what is useful to someone changes over time and with circumstances. Usefulness may be a constant and common guide, but what is useful is so individual and variable that utility does not point to a common good but only to the unavoidably individual and private goods that all people seek and the minimal conditions of order and lawfulness that allow that seeking to occur.
This account of Franklin as only a self-interested pragmatist unravels quickly once we consider it. First, we might ask what the minimal conditions are that allow someone to seek his or her own good? If we take Franklin’s life as a guide, we would say they are a political order in which property is secure and an individual has other ways to protect his or her achievements and is encouraged to achieve by the knowledge that, one way or another, individual efforts have some chance to be rewarded. For individuals, the minimal conditions would also include habits of hard work, discipline, and frugality (sacrificing present pleasure for future greater pleasure). Such an individual life lived in such a political order would have been, by the testimony of human history up to Franklin’s time, a wonderful exception and a stunning achievement. It would have been an enormous benefit to each individual and to all sharing in it. It would have embodied a common good, therefore, whatever may have remained of the tensions between each individual good and the public good.
One might object that this understanding of the common good Franklin envisioned remains minimal and unappealing because it has no room for nobility or the sacrifice of self-interest for some greater or higher good and it thus diminishes human life into a squalid search for comfort. The good Franklin sought consisted too much of little daily advantages and not enough of heroic efforts, according to this criticism. Franklin might have responded that human history showed that the nobility of heroic efforts was typically found more in books than in life, and that in life it rested on arbitrary allotments of rewards (for example, by birth) and the suffering and degradation of the vast majority not so favored by chance. It is also important to remember that nothing in Franklin’s plan prohibits noble action. Some people have a desire for renown or glory and are willing to achieve it through self-sacrifice. (This helps explain Franklin’s public service.) This is in fact the same psychological mechanism, serving a different end, that encourages the frugality that Franklin praised. If one forgoes pleasure for the sake of some future greater pleasure, that greater pleasure need not be bodily or tangible, like wealth. It might well be something pursued not for its utility alone but for its own sake. Franklin himself was frugal in order to become “easy” in his circumstances—that is, financially secure—so that he could devote himself to natural philosophy. The utility of such study was not the only thing about it that appealed to Franklin. He pursued science out of genuine wonder about how the world worked. 28 Did Franklin’s plan encourage nobility as traditionally understood? It did not, and insofar as noble self-sacrifice is decisive in war, Franklin’s plan was a risk when he proposed it, in that it might be said to have assumed that as the Society of the Free and Easy spread, war would disappear from human life. (Franklin’s list of virtues does not include courage.) 29 But we should also keep in mind that Franklin’s plan for the Society of the Free and Easy included belief in a list of essential religious ideas, listed above, that supported a life of noble self-sacrifice, even as it helped secure the minimum political and personal order necessary for human happiness. Finally, even if Franklin’s plan undervalued nobility, that does not mean that it sought no common good.
We may also dispose of the idea that Franklin was a mere pragmatist, someone for whom changing notions of what was useful were the only guide for human action, by considering what he wrote in the Auto-biography about the useful and the honest: nothing was useful that was not honest. He also distinguished between what was true and what was useful. 30 Thus, he did not identify truth with utility. He maintained that there was a human nature, some enduring character to human beings, and that right and wrong were fixed by this nature. “Actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man alone considered. . . . [I]t was therefore every one’s interest to be virtuous, who wished to be happy even in this world.” 31 Given the complexity of human nature, we have no reason to believe that happiness will be exactly the same for everyone, but equally, given a shared human nature, we have no reason to conclude that it will be entirely different for each individual.
What was true for all people would have been true for each member of the Junto or the Society of the Free and Easy. Following Franklin’s method of becoming virtuous and fortified by belief in religious essentials, every member would be virtuous and happy, even if not identically so. Insofar as they were happy and sought happiness, their self-interest rightly understood would be identical with everyone else’s, properly understood, not only in the club but in the world. This is the ultimate reason why a club or society devoted to the interest of each member could also be devoted to the good of the nation and the good of mankind. Achieving the happiness of a virtuous life was the good common of all.
For a discussion of Franklin’s statesmanship, it is important to realize the scope of Franklin’s ambition to do good as indicated in his plan. The plan was intended to eventually include all of mankind. It was to be a party of virtue, “forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body.” 32 The most powerful and pervasive society known to Franklin for doing good for mankind was Christianity. Franklin thought Christianity insufficiently effective. It focused too much on doctrines that were beyond human reason’s capacity, thus creating the possibility of endless and fruitless dispute, and it relied too much on exhortation and not enough on method in its efforts to make humans better. 33 The Society of the Free and Easy avoided religious doctrine as much as possible and had a method for moral improvement. The society was an improvement on, if not a replacement for, Christianity, intended to change humanity as much as Christianity had. In this light, the ultimate reason that the self-interest of the members of Franklin’s society did not conflict with the interest of others or the common good was that the society was intended to change or reform every man’s understanding of what his interests were, creating the common good it was meant to serve. This is a level of doing good to mankind that we might say surpasses statesmanship and elevates Franklin to the level of a Founder, not of a mere country, but of a different and better way for human beings to live. The secrecy of the society was necessary, not because the society pursued a private good, but because the public good it sought was so comprehensive and revolutionary.
Democratic Statecraft, Civic Virtue, and Independence
As Franklin reported, he was unable to implement his plan, at least as originally intended. Instead, he devoted himself to a variety of civic projects, several of which we have mentioned before. We will close our consideration of Franklin’s democratic statesmanship by considering those projects devoted to defending the colonies and ensuring their future. Franklin was able to undertake his civic projects, to exercise and develop his superior virtues, because the government of Pennsylvania like most governments of the day did very little. It did not pave, clean, or light streets; organize schooling; provide medical care; put out fires; or any number of other things that governments now do. Either citizens organized to do these things or they did not happen. Fortune placed Franklin in a place where he could excel. Unlike some other governments, the government of Pennsylvania did not even protect its citizens from foreign attack, or did so, Franklin thought, only inadequately. This was so because Quakers dominated Pennsylvania’s politics and Quakers are pacifists. It was also the case that Pennsylvania was a proprietary colony—that is, owned by a private individual. For most of Franklin’s life, that individual was the son of the original owner, William Penn. Proprietors owned colonies to make money and thus tried to minimize what they had to pay for the upkeep of the colony. This meant they did not like to pay for the defense of the colony, even though they owned most of its land. These political circumstances created conflict in Pennsylvania because the founding of the colony and the first century of its existence coincided with what was in effect the second hundred years’ war between France and England (1689–1815), a series of conflicts for supremacy in Europe and in world empire. The geopolitical situation was that the French controlled Canada and had settlements or trading posts around the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi. They had developed close alliances with certain tribes in pursuit of the fur trade, but when at war with the British, as they were repeatedly in the eighteenth century, they used these tribes to attack the British colonies clustered along the Atlantic seaboard. Pennsylvania was a critical part of this geopolitical setting, as its territory stretched to the Great Lakes and it occupied the geographic center among Britain’s American colonies. Conflict between Britain and France inevitably agitated Pennsylvania’s politics, given the principles of the Quakers and the interests of the proprietor. As he became involved in Pennsylvania’s political life, Franklin became involved in questions of domestic defense and international politics.
One of the periodic eighteenth-century wars involving Britain and France occurred between 1740 and 1748: the War of the Austrian Succession. Beginning as a contest between France and Austria, it came to include Britain on the side of Austria, as Britain pursued its policy of trying to prevent French dominance of Europe. In the colonies, the war was known as King George’s War (1744–1748). As was common at the time, the war included the use of privateers, private individuals commissioned by a government to attack the commercial shipping of its enemies. French-sponsored privateers operated in the waters near Philadelphia, off the cape of Delaware and in Delaware Bay, throughout 1747. In the fall of that year, as reports of such attacks continued, the Pennsylvania Assembly declined to act. Franklin intervened. He published items in his paper flattering to Quakers and arguing that Quaker doctrine did not prohibit defensive war, a view he knew some Quakers in Philadelphia held. In November he anonymously published a pamphlet, Plain Truth , arguing the need for defensive measures and criticizing Quakers, and, more sharply, the wealthy, and friends of the proprietors who opposed these measures. He appealed to “the middling sort,” as he termed them, “the farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen of this city and country,” who were slowly building wealth and were more vulnerable to the depredations of war than the wealthy. He praised the Germans living in Pennsylvania, some of whom also held pacifistic religious principles. He also appealed to the prejudices of the middling sort, invoking Papists, including Irish Catholics, traditional enemies of the British, and French priests riling up French Indian allies and directing them to attack Pennsylvanians. Franklin explained that Pennsylvania had the human and physical resources to mount a good defense. Arguing that “the way to secure peace is to be prepared for war,” Franklin proposed an association for the defense of the colony. “If the hints contained in this paper are so happy as to meet with a suitable disposition of mind in his countrymen and fellow citizens, the writer of it will, in a few days, lay before them a form of an Association for the purposes herein mentioned, together with a practicable scheme for raising the money necessary for the defense of our trade, city, and country, without laying a burthen on any man.” Franklin closed the pamphlet with a prayer, signing himself “a tradesman of Philadelphia.” 34
Plain Truth did its work, generating interest in a popular organization of the colony’s defense. Franklin spoke publicly in support of the militia association he had proposed and organized a lottery (the practicable scheme Plain Truth referred to) to fund it. He also quickly published rules for the militia, 35 which had a clearly democratic cast. The rank and file were to elect officers (“elections secure the liberty of the people. And what can give more spirit and martial vigor to an army of freemen, than to be led by those of whom they have the best opinion?”). Companies were to be organized geographically, “to mix the great and small together, for the sake of union and encouragement. Where danger and duty are equal to all, there should be no distinction from circumstances, but all be on the level.” Eventually ten thousand men joined the association. As it turned out, peace returned in the summer of 1748, and the militia disbanded without having fired a shot.
Franklin’s efforts on behalf of the defense of Pennsylvania and the manner in which he made them earned him the esteem of many in the colony, but not of everyone, and certainly not of Thomas Penn, William Penn’s son, who was the proprietor in 1747. Penn was displeased that the lower sorts had taken charge of things, particularly of public security, which he saw as a fundamental responsibility of the king and Parliament. The militia association was therefore a threat to the established order. He termed Franklin a dangerous man. Franklin’s support and influence were sufficient, however, that when war with France again seemed a possibility, he was chosen along with three others to represent Pennsylvania at a meeting for colonial representatives in Albany, New York. The meeting had been called by British authorities to discuss ways in which the colonies might better defend themselves. Franklin produced a plan of union, known as the Albany Plan (1754), that united the colonies for defense but left them in charge of their internal affairs. Since responsibility for what we would now call national security is one of the key attributes of government or sovereign power, the scheme might be said to have implied a kind of dual sovereignty or shared sovereignty, not unlike the federal system later devised for the United States. Franklin supported colonial union by publishing an editorial in the Gazette in favor of it and by drawing and publishing America’s first political cartoon, a snake cut in pieces, each piece labeled with the initial of a colony, and below the drawing the motto “join or die.” He also engaged in a discussion and exchange of letters with Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, who opposed the plan because it gave the colonists too much power. These letters also anticipated future political issues. Franklin asserted that if the members of the council called for in the plan were not chosen by the colonists but were appointed by the Crown (Shirley’s preference), this would amount to taxing the colonists (for the support of the union) without their consent. In the final letter in the series, Franklin discussed having the colonists represented in Parliament. The letters were published in London in 1766 as issues of taxation and representation came to dominate Britishcolonial relations.

Franklin’s plan met with the approval of neither the colonial governments nor the British authorities. As Franklin put it in the Autobiography , the colonial assemblies “all thought there was too much prerogative [authority of the king] in it; and in England it was judged to have too much of the democratic.” Franklin commented that this opposition showed his plan “the true medium.” He added, writing in 1788, “I am still of opinion it would have been happy for both sides the water if it had been adopted.” The plan would have allowed the colonists to defend themselves without British troops. This would have meant no dispute over taxation to pay for these troops. In turn, this would have meant no “bloody contest” (the American Revolution). 36 That is, both the colonists and the British would have been happy (even happier?) had the American Revolution never occurred. This is a remark shocking to patriots and the Spirit of ’76, and surprising from a man whose diplomacy in France (1776–1782) was indispensable to winning American independence. Franklin drove the point home in the Autobiography by calling the failure to adopt his plan a mistake. “But such mistakes are not new; history is full of errors of states and princes.” He then quoted a couplet from the English poet John Dryden. “Look round the habitable World, how few/Know their own Good, or knowing it pursue.” 37 Reflecting on the Revolution several years after its successful completion, Franklin showed his distance from all patriotic enthusiasm and any conception of the Revolution as a millennial or providential establishment of a new order of the ages. Rather, Franklin saw a united and reformed British empire, with North America its leading component, as the best setting to develop fully the new way of life he proposed. American independence, as second best option, became necessary because of human folly. Perhaps Franklin also preferred a reformed British empire because he saw such a vast stage as the only one commensurate with his superior virtue. Such thinking helps explain why, during the years he represented Pennsylvania and other colonies in London, Franklin lost track of increasingly anti-British American opinion and was relatively late coming to support American independence.
Once Franklin did accept the necessity of independence, he worked tirelessly for it in France. Returning to the United States, he continued this work, adding his enormous influence to George Washington’s to produce a more effective union of the states, thus picking up in new circumstances his work of thirty years earlier in the Albany Plan. Franklin contributed most to the Constitutional Convention by encouraging compromise. At a crucial point he repeated the representational compromise first mentioned by Roger Sherman of Connecticut (proportional representation of population in the House of Representatives and representation by states in the Senate), served on the committee that drafted this aspect of the constitution, and encouraged its adoption. At the close of the convention he gave what some students of his life call his most eloquent speech, although his failing health led him to ask another delegate to read it. The speech praised the work of the convention, acknowledging that not every aspect of it met with his approval or the approval of every delegate. Ever attentive to the power of public opinion, Franklin suggested that the delegates sign the constitution as state delegations, thus allowing individuals who still opposed the plan to sign. This show of unanimity would increase the authority of the convention’s work with the public.
Franklin continued his public work after the convention. He became the most prominent American to take up the cause of abolition. In addition to the petition already mentioned, he wrote a satire of the slave trade about a month before he died—his last essay, his final act of statesmanship, still trying to turn public opinion to the good.
As noted earlier, Franklin has a claim to being a Founder of a particularly exalted and noble kind. Others before him have such a claim but, unlike them, Franklin not only wrote about this new way of life (the Autobiography ), he proved its worth by living it. As Franklin the scientist knew, however, one experiment does not prove a hypothesis. In this light, we may view his unfinished autobiography as a deliberately open-ended performance by the first American inviting his posterity, 38 future Americans, to finish his story with their own, to take their places, instructed by Franklin in the necessary virtues, and as disposed by nature and fortune, whether around dining tables or at councils of war, to consider what should be done and how best to do it.
1 . Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography , ed. J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zell (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 101. I have modernized spelling and some punctuation.

2 . Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia , ed. William Peden (New York: W. W. Norton, 1954), 126–29; Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson to John B. Colvin, September 20, 1810,” in Thomas Jefferson, Writings , ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1231–34.
3 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 7.
4 . Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson, Writings , 1318.
5 . On this aspect of Caesar’s generalship, see, for example, Kimberly Kagan, The Eye of Command (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 128–36.
6 . Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson, Writings , 1319.
7 . That Franklin and Jefferson were aligned when it came to political economy is evident from Franklin’s remark in his essay “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America” that there would not be “great establishments of manufacture” in the United States until the country was filled with poor or landless people and that would not happen until all agricultural land was used up. See Benjamin Franklin, “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America,” in Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings , ed. J. A. Leo Lemay (New York: Library of America, 1987), 240–41. Compare Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson , Writings , 290–91, 300–301.
8 . See John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).
9 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 6–7.
10 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 11.
11 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 13–14.
12 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 64.
13 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 64, 67, 99.
14 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 108.
15 . For this possibility, consider the argument of Franklin’s friend and publisher Benjamin Vaughan in the letter he wrote Franklin encouraging him to complete and publish the Autobiography , which Franklin included in the Auto-biography (Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 60).
16 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 98, 103.
17 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 104.
18 . Benjamin Franklin to Richard Jackson, March 14, 1764, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin , American Philosophical Society and Yale University, digital ed. by Packard Humanities Institute, .
19 . Franklin to Joseph Galloway, January 9, 1769. See also Franklin to Galloway, April 20, 1771, Papers of Benjamin Franklin .
20 . Richard R. Beeman, The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 250.
21 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 47–49.

22 . “Junto” is a corrupted form of the Spanish “junta,” a term for a council of joint rule. From that meaning, the term has come to be applied to a group of military leaders who take power from a civilian government and rule in its stead.
23 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 78.
24 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 66–73, 77–79.
25 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 83–84
26 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 78.
27 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 54, 75; consider 64, 99.
28 . Edmund Morgan, Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 5–14.
29 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 67–68.
30 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 7, 46.
31 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 75.
32 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 77.
33 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 65–66, 74; consider as well 38, 45.
34 . Plain Truth , November 17, 1747, Papers of Benjamin Franklin .
35 . Form of Association , November 24, 1747, Papers of Benjamin Franklin . Also printed, with remarks, in the Philadelphia Gazette , December 3, 1747.
36 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 110.
37 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 110.
38 . Lemay and Zell, eds., Autobiography , 1.
Alexander Hamilton, print created in 1895 from an original image by John Trumbull (Library of Congress, )
James Madison, print created between 1830 and 1852 by P. S. Duval from an original image by Albert Newsam (Library of Congress, )
John Jay, print (Library of Congress, )
Publius the Lawgiver
The Statesmanship of The Federalist

C oncealed behind the name Publius, Alexander Hamilton (1755– 1804), James Madison (1751–1836), and John Jay (1745–1829) wrote the essays comprising The Federalist in defense of the intent and merits of the proposed constitution. Coming out of Philadelphia, it needed a vigorous defense, as Publius admits, not only because of its novelty, but also because it affected too many interests, changed too many local institutions, and inflamed the passions and prejudices of the people on both sides of the ratification debate. 1
While Publius wrote the essays to secure ratification in New York, he looked beyond the battle for state delegates to the genuine interests of the people and their posterity. In the preface, he writes, “The great wish is that it may promote the cause of truth and lead to a right judgment of the true interests of the community.” 2 Later he writes, “Constitutions of civil government are not to be framed upon a calculation of existing exigencies, but upon a combination of these with the probable exigencies of ages, according to the natural and tried course of human affairs.” 3 In this way, Publius’s essays may be considered an enduring act of American statesmanship because his defense of the proposed constitution looked beyond momentary interests to the permanent interests of the American people. To be sure, Publius’s arguments continue to shape our reading of the Constitution of 1787. Today we take for granted the ideas he developed, such as legislative checks and balances, separation of powers, the extended republic, and judicial review, as well as his account of federalism. 4 Much in the same way as the ancient lawgivers Solon and Lycurgus educated their people, Publius provides a political education in self-government for the Americans. 5
Publius and The Federalist have a prominent place in the American constitutional order. “In terms of both quality and quantity, The Federalist simply overwhelmed all other writings on the constitutional ratification question.” 6 The Federalist was immediately recognized and acclaimed as a work of genius. As early as 1788, Thomas Jefferson described The Federalist as “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” 7 Almost forty years later, he acknowledged The Federalist as “an authority to which appeal is habitually made by all, and rarely declined or denied by any as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed, and of those who accepted the Constitution of the United States, on questions as to its genuine meaning.” 8 On the floor of the First Congress, opponents of the Federalist Party selectively adopted Publius’s arguments to limit attempts to consolidate and extend the power of the national government. 9 Joseph Story’s influential commentary on the Constitution largely takes its bearings from Publius’s spirited advocacy of the Constitution. 10 At the turn of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson’s notion of “presidential leadership,” the progressive means for overcoming separation of powers, is derived from a “critique” of Publius’s account of the structure of the government. 11 It is not an exaggeration to conclude that Publius’s essays have established an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution of 1787.
The name Publius conceals the identities and reputations of three American statesmen: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Hamilton served as George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War. In 1786, along with Madison, Hamilton was one of the leaders at the Annapolis Convention, which urged Congress to call a constitutional convention to address the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. He went on to serve as the country’s first secretary of the treasury (1789–1795), to found the country’s financial system, to establish the coast guard (1790), and to lay the foundations for a modern economy. 12 Notwithstanding Hamilton’s popularity on Broadway, Madison is hailed as the “father of the Constitution” for his role in the Constitutional Convention and for his share in The Federalist . He went on to write and shepherd the Bill of Rights through the House of Representatives and to serve as Jefferson’s secretary of state (1801–1809). In 1808, Madison was elected as the fourth president (1809–1817) and led the country through the War of 1812. 13 In 1783, Jay was a signatory of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. He served as New York’s second governor (1795–1801) as well as the first chief justice of the Supreme Court (1789– 1795) under the Constitution of 1787. As a diplomat, Jay helped fashion the United States’ foreign policy, culminating in the Jay Treaty of 1794.
Hamilton chose the name, Publius, because of its republican pedigree. Publius Valerius was one of the founders and heroes of the Roman republic and served as consul four times. He assisted Lucius Junius Brutus in driving the Tarquin kings out of Rome, and helped save the republic from a conspiracy intended to re-establish Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome. When Brutus died, Publius went on to strengthen the republic, increasing the size of the Senate and shoring up the popular base. He was honored with the name “Publicola,” which means “lover or cherisher of the people.” Hamilton’s choice of Publius signifies the republican character of the proposed constitution, while suggesting that there was one teaching in the papers. Further, the pseudonym concealed the identities of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay so that their arguments could be assessed on face value. 14
The theme of The Federalist is union and republicanism. In order to develop his theme, Publius must clarify—that is, refine and enlarge—the people’s opinions of these matters to prepare them to ratify the Constitution. In this way, he points to the distinctive character of American statesmanship, which is guided by the opinions of the people but also must shape the opinions of the people. This chapter explores the general character of American statesmanship as modeled in Publius’s attempt to refine and enlarge the people’s understanding of union, federalism, and republicanism.
Reflection and Choice: The American Mode
Publius opens The Federalist with “the important question” of “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.” The question takes on a philanthropic significance as Publius adds that “a wrong election” of the people will “deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.” If the American people can demonstrate to the world that good government can be established through reflection and choice—that is, through the consent of the governed—they will provide a lesson in moderation to Europe, which “by her arms and by her negotiations, by force and by fraud” has come to dominate the world and think of herself “as the mistress of the world and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit.” Proof that government by consent is possible will provide an alternative to the European view and “vindicate the honor of the human race.” 15

Publius’s important formulation “reflection and choice” may be understood in three related ways. 16 First, reflection and choice refers to the consent of the people. Second, reflection and choice refers to the deliberations and political science of the framers, who wrote the Constitution. Third, the Constitution itself can be considered to be the embodiment of reflection and choice. To be clear, the decision before the American people is whether to ratify the Constitution or not. That is, the people are asked to choose to conduct their public affairs in and through the Constitution, the reflection and choice of the framers, rather than according to their own will, passions, and momentary impulses. Through ratification, the Constitution comes to reflect the deliberate sense of the people. Thus, ratification reconciles the people’s reflection and choice with the reflection and choice of the framers. If the people learn to view the Constitution with reverence, it will become authoritative. It is in this sense that “the reason, alone of the public, may control and regulate the government.” 17
Publius’s opening question is compatible with his understanding of the founder as lawgiver, which in turn invites the comparison of his work to the work of the great founders of antiquity. The founder represents the pinnacle of statesmanship because he is the one who puts into motion the plan for a new political order, which sets the stage for statesmen, politicians, and citizens to carry out their civic duties. Publius, it seems, understands his work as comparable to the ancient lawgivers.
“In every case reported by ancient history in which government has been established with deliberation and consent,” Publius observes, “the task of framing it has not been committed to an assembly of men, but has been performed by some individual citizen of preeminent wisdom and approved integrity.” Further, it is difficult to determine the “degree of agency” the ancient lawgivers had or the extent to which their actions were sanctioned by “the legitimate authority of the people.” Draco was entrusted by the Athenian people, for example, with “indefinite powers to reform its government and laws.” Solon, “according to Plutarch” was obligated “by the universal suffrage of his fellow-citizens to take upon him the sole and absolute power of new-modeling the constitution.” The actions of Lycurgus, “were less regular,” combining “a portion of violence with the authority of superstition, and of securing his final success by a voluntary renunciation first of his country and then of his life.” Publius wonders why the Greeks, as jealous as they were of their liberty, placed “their destiny in the hands of a single citizen?” Nonetheless, history shows “the difficulties, as well as the expedients which they were obliged to employ” to make effective their reforms. From these ancient examples, he comes “to admire the improvement made by America on the ancient mode of preparing and establishing regular plans of government.” He adds that the ancient examples serve “to admonish us of the hazards and difficulties incident to such experiments, and of the great imprudence of unnecessarily multiplying them.” 18
The American mode of establishing government rests upon the foundation of the consent of the people, “the transcendent and precious right of the people to ‘abolish or alter their governments as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’” 19 In explaining the principle on which the Articles of Confederation can be superseded, Publius paraphrases the Declaration, appealing “to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.” 20 Unlike the ancient founders, the American improvement looks to the deliberate choice of the people rather than to a combination of force and persuasion. Publius acknowledges that the principle of consent and therefore equality, the heart of the Declaration of Independence, are both the solid and wise foundations of a constitution. “The fabric of American empire ought to rest,” he writes, “on the solid basis of the consent of the people. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” 21 This foundation he claims is solid because “if the federal government is [not] sufficiently dependent on the people it will not possess the confidence of the people.” 22
Publius’s understanding of the American mode of founding and his understanding of the pinnacle of statesmanship is informed by the teaching of the Declaration of Independence and the principles of equality and consent. Under the proposed constitution, Publius sees statesmanship as supported and disciplined by the laws written by the representatives of the people, ordered by the duties of a constitutional office vested with powers from the governed, and checked by frequent elections. His understanding of statesmanship is to be contrasted with the modern notion of leadership that demands followers who are to be led, thereby mocking the dignity of a self-governing people. The distinction between “leadership” and “statesmanship” was not unknown to Publius. In The Federalist , Publius pejoratively uses the terms “leader” and “leaders” at least a dozen times. He criticizes “factious leaders,” “favorite leaders,” “artful leaders,” and the like for their demagogic excesses and their attempts to enflame the passions of the people to serve their private interests. Only on two occasions does he refer to the patriotic leaders of the Revolution. 23 For Publius, the founding and statesmanship are compatible with the idea of a self-governing people.
Government, Union, and War
Publius begins his argument by refining and enlarging the people’s opinion of government and union. He writes, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.” 24 Government is necessary “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.” 25 Our natural rights and liberties are not secure outside the confines of government and the rule of law, where they are left subject to force and fraud. While absolute government in some form could, without the rule of law, eliminate force and fraud, Publius follows the teaching of the Declaration, which looks forward to a government capable of securing natural rights without trampling them. In clarifying the challenge, he asks, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” 26 The necessity of government reflects both human nature and the obligation of making government safe for the natural rights of the governed. The challenge is how one establishes a government that can both govern the people and control itself.
While it is agreed that government is necessary, there are doubts that the proposed constitution can establish a suitable government for the country as a whole. Publius writes that “we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new Constitution, that the thirteen States are of too great extent for any general system, and that we must of necessity resort to separate confederacies of distinct portions of the whole.” 27 Hence, he asks, whether it is more conducive to the interest of the American people that they be drawn together into one nation, “under one federal government,” than to divide themselves “into separate confederacies” with similar powers? 28
Publius accepts the long-held opinion that “the prosperity of the people” depends on “their continuing firmly united.” Nevertheless, he considers it “worthy of consideration” whether it is possible to seek the safety and happiness of the people “in a division of the States into distinct confederacies or sovereignties.” To help the people come to a sound judgment, Publius turns to the question of safety from foreign arms and influence and from domestic insurrection, which is “among the many objects, to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention.” As “the safety of the whole is the interest of the whole, and cannot be provided for without government, either one or more or many,” Publius asks “whether the people are not right in their opinion that a cordial Union, under an efficient national government, affords them the best security that can be devised against hostilities abroad.” 29
“The number of wars,” Publius observes, “will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether real or pretended , which provoke or invite them.” 30 He asks whether the just causes of war arising from violations of “the laws of nations” are likely to be given by a united America or a disunited America? He answers that once “an efficient national government is established,” it will attract “the best men in the country” to consent to serve or “to be appointed to manage it” with the result that “the administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national government will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more safe with respect to us.” 31 Under an efficient national government, treaties as well as the laws of nations will be “expounded in one sense and executed in the same manner,” something unlikely to occur under separate states or under several confederacies, whose representatives or delegates may be tempted “to swerve from good faith and justice” due to local circumstances. 32 A national government is not likely to be affected by those local circumstances and give just cause for war.
One national government, watching over the common interests, combining and directing the powers and resources of the whole, would be free from all these difficulties and inconveniences. If foreign countries see, Publius writes, that “our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit re-established, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentments.” 33 Separate states or several confederacies cannot be presumed to observe uniformly “the same degree of sound policy, prudence, and foresight.” Foreign powers would observe “weakness and divisions at home,” which would invite hostilities. Publius notes that “nothing would tend more to secure us from them than union, strength, and good government within ourselves.” 34 Moreover, the several states or separate confederacies would produce distrust, fear, and envy among themselves, leading to policies disposed to restrain and undermine the others. 35 Good order at home is “the best possible state of defense, and necessarily depends on the government, the arms and the resources of the country.” 36
The internal order of the union as a means for not inviting war brings up the question of domestic factions, divisions, and insurrections. Publius observes one has to be lost in “Utopian speculations” to doubt that if the states were disunited or divided in separate confederacies that they would not be subject to the innumerable causes of war. 37 Beyond these motives is the “axiom in politics that vicinity, or nearness of situation, constitutes nations natural enemies.” 38 According to the axiom, the states or the several confederacies would be subject to territorial disputes, contentions arising from commercial competition, disputes over payments of the public debt arising from the Revolutionary War, the diversity of laws that might impinge on contracts between citizens of different states, and the probability that the different states or confederacies would seek out incompatible alliances following their own interests. 39 Divided America would resemble Europe, where distrust, jealousy, and ambition would force the states or the confederacies to build standing armies, build fortifications, and other defenses to prevent invasion. Initially, without these measures, the larger states or the stronger confederacies would overrun the weaker. “War, therefore, would be desultory and predatory.” 40 Publius claims the case is not overwrought given the course of human history. “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” 41 As Publius notes, “Our liberties would be prey to the means of defending ourselves against the ambition and jealousy of each other.” 42
Publius’s lesson concerning the nature of government and international relations points to a nuanced constitutionalism. He argues that a properly constructed national government can bring together the diverse states in a “more Perfect Union” to form one people and one nation. This arrangement will ensure that the nation will not provoke or invite foreign hostilities as well as war between the states. The proposed constitution will achieve this feat because the people will seek to settle their most important questions, those that affect the whole, through the one constitution, its principles, and their representatives in the national government. The arrangement is designed to teach the people to habitually look beyond their immediate interests to the more general interest of the nation. In sum, Publius teaches that the proposed constitution is a conscious effort to form a people, its opinions, and its character. 43
Federalism and Human Nature
To draw the diverse states together in a “firm Union” under a properly constructed national government requires, as Publius shows, a proper understanding of federalism that combines national and federal features, unitary and confederal characteristics. His opponents admit the necessary energy to secure the union is missing from the Articles of Confederation. Yet they “aim at things repugnant and irreconcilable; at an augmentation of federal authority, without a diminution of State authority; at sovereignty in the Union, and complete independence in the members. They . . . seem to cherish with blind devotion the political monster of an imperium in imperio .” Such a political monster is a government within the government, a union crippled by the complete independence of its member states. Publius argues that the vices of the Articles of Confederation are fundamental structural errors that can only be addressed by altering the foundational principles of the document. In other words, the Articles of Confederation document is ineffective because it is built on a faulty understanding of federalism. 44
“The great and radical vice” of the Articles of Confederation is the principle of legislation, which directs the laws to the state governments and not individual citizens. This means the laws of the Confederation Congress are mediated through the states and therefore do not directly reach the citizens of the states. For example, the Confederation Congress has an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men and money from the states, but “in theory their resolutions concerning those objects are laws constitutionally binding on the members of the Union, yet in practice they are mere recommendations which the States observe or disregard at their option.” 45
The states are not pulled together into one nation by the Articles of Confederation. Publius writes: “Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of law that it be attended with a sanction . . . a penalty or punishment for disobedience.” Laws without sanctions “amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation.” Such a state of affairs, Publius concludes, does not deserve the name of government. 46
To think the states would simply obey the federal authority out of “a sense of common interest” reveals “an ignorance of the true springs by which human conduct is actuated, and belied the original inducements to the establishment of civil power.” Violations of the Articles by members of the state legislatures should not be surprising. When human beings are in groups, Publius observes, concern for reputation has “a less active influence when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one.” Human beings who exercise sovereign power resent “all external attempts to restrain or direct its operations.” Moreover, human beings would put the interests of their states ahead of the union because they find the allure of their immediate interests more attractive than the general interest of the union. If government is established because the passions of men do not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint, the Articles of Confederation cannot be continued without reforming the document’s “great and radical vice,” its fundamental principle. 47
Properly constructed, “a firm Union” secures “the peace and liberty of the States” and protects “against domestic faction and insurrection.” What is proposed is a properly constructed confederation, or a confederate republic. 48 The opponents of the proposed constitution appeal to Montesquieu against the proposed constitution, arguing that he “recommends a small extent for republics.” Publius responds that if we follow Montesquieu strictly, monarchies would have to be established in the states because they are too large to be republics, or they would have to be divided into smaller units, generating an “infinity of little jealous, clashing tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of increasing discord and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt.” 49 Even though the states appear too extensive, Publius argues, the question remains, how should confederation be understood?
According to Montesquieu, a confederate republic is an agreement “for extending the sphere of popular government and reconciling the advantages of monarchy with those of republicanism.” A confederate republic combines the strength of republican government, which is the protection of liberty by the people through their representatives, in an association of other republics to produce the strength of an empire for protection against external forces and against internal factions. This arrangement is an association of societies into a new society “capable of increasing by means of new associations, till they arrive to such a degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of the united body.” The force of the confederation can be used against domestic insurrections within any of the members of the association or if one of the members attempts to usurp the supreme authority. As the confederation is composed of small republics, it enjoys “the internal happiness of each” and, by means of association, the strength of a large monarchy. 50
Publius notes that his opponents raise a distinction “more subtle than accurate” between a confederacy and a consolidation of the states. First, they claim that the essential characteristic of confederacy is said to be “the restriction of its authority to the members in their collective capacities, without reaching to the individuals of whom they are composed.” Second, confederation, so understood, means “the national council ought to have no concern with any object of internal administration” of the states. Third, they assert “an exact equality of suffrage between the members” is a leading feature of confederation. These positions, Publius argues, are in the main arbitrary; “they are supported neither by principle nor precedent.” Indeed, “the extent, modifications and objects of the Federal authority” are matters of discretion, prudence, and judgment. Publius argues that as long as the states are not abolished, as long as they exist “by a constitutional necessity for local purposes,” while “in perfect subordination to the general authority of the Union, it would still be, in fact and in theory, an association of States, or a confederacy.” The proposed constitution “fully corresponds, in every rational import of the terms with the idea of a federal Government.” 51 Yet it combines elements of a national unitary government with elements of a confederation of states.
Publius explains the extent to which the proposed constitution is both federal and national. First, he argues that ratification of the constitution is by the people, “not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong.” Ratification depends on the assent of the states “derived from the supreme authority in each State—the authority of the people themselves” that makes the constitution in this sense a federal act. Second, if the constitution is tested in terms of “the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived,” the proposed constitution “exhibits as many federal as national characteristics.” The House of Representatives derives its power directly from the people of America and “the people will be represented in the same portion and on the same principle as they are in the legislature of a particular State,” while the Senate derives its power “from the States as political and coequal societies,” which is federal. 52 “The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political character” determined by “a compound ratio” through the Electoral College, both treating the states “partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society” due to differences in population. In the case of a tie, the president is determined in the House of Representatives by a vote made by state delegations. This arrangement presents “at least as many federal as national features.” Third, Publius acknowledges that “the operation of the government” is national because legislative power is directed to “individual citizens composing the nation in their individual capacities.” This legislative principle complies with Publius’s definition of government and corrects the great vice of the Articles of Confederation. However, in terms of “the extent of its powers,” Publius concludes that the proposed constitution is federal because it recognizes the existence of the states—that is, its jurisdiction “extends to certain enumerated objects only,” leaving to the states “a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” And finally, amending the constitution is “neither wholly national nor wholly federal. ” To propose amendments, two-thirds of the House and the Senate are required, or twothirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention to propose amendments. To ratify amendments, the assent of three-fourths of the states is necessary. By requiring more than a majority of the states, and not the people, ratification of amendments appears federal in character, but in looking to a concurrence of less than the whole number of states, it looks more national than federal. The proposed constitution, therefore, is in strictness neither a national nor a federal constitution but a composition of both. 53
For Publius, a federal government judiciously combines both elements of consolidation and confederation—that is, it is government that is both national and federal. The nature of a unitary central government is combined with residual state jurisdictions. Such a government pulls together the states and the people into one nation because it does not suffer from the debilitating weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and it relies upon the states to regulate local matters. Publius claims that the constitution adheres to the traditional understanding of federalism. To achieve that, he refines and enlarges and corrects the view of his opponents. 54
Republicanism and the New Science of Politics
The difficulty remains for Publius to demonstrate that the proposed constitution is republican. It must be republican as “no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with the honorable determination . . . to rest all our political experiments on the capacity for self-government.” 55 The problem is twofold: first, republican governments have a poor reputation; second, it is generally accepted that republics must be small. In defending the constitution, Publius must refine and enlarge the people’s opinions of republicanism.
He concedes that the history of “the petty republics of Greece and Italy” produces feelings of “horror and disgust” at their continual agitation and their successive revolutions that kept them oscillating “between the extremes of tyranny or anarchy.” From this history of disorder, instability, and violence, “advocates of despotism have drawn arguments not only against the forms of republican government, but against the very principles of civil liberty.” All free government, they decry, is inconsistent with the order of society. This is why Publius links the patriotic question of choosing a good government for ourselves to the philanthropic task of vindicating humanity by demonstrating that good government can be established through reflection and choice. 56 To the critics of the constitution, Publius responds that, “happily for mankind, stupendous fabrics reared on the basis of liberty, which have flourished for ages, have in a few glorious instances refuted their gloomy sophisms.” America will provide an additional example, “not less magnificent,” of their error. 57
Publius adds that the “enlightened friends of liberty” do not have to abandon the cause of republican government because political science, like most sciences, has improved. The effectiveness of various political principles, ideas, and institutions, “which were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the ancients,” is now well understood. The improvements in political science are as follows: separation of powers; legislative balances and checks; an independent judiciary composed of judges holding their offices during good behavior; representation; and the extended republic. These improvements are “either wholly new discoveries or have made their principal progress towards perfection in modern times. They are means, and powerful means, by which the excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.” 58 The five improvements in political science rescue republican government from opprobrium because each in their own way add to the indirectness of the rule of the people. Publius’s brief history of the small republic shows that the republics were turbulent because they were ruled directly by the immediate interests and passions of the people. In effect, the improvements direct the people through the government to their more refined interests and passions. The improvements moderate the excesses of republican government by continually bringing the people to look beyond their immediate interests to their true interests. The goal is that reflection and choice rather than immediate interests and passions rule the day.
One of the accusations against the proposed constitution was “that it violated the political maxim that the legislative, the executive and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct,” thereby endangering the rights and liberties of the people. The accusation is that the powers of government are distributed, blended, and mixed in such a manner that some of “the essential parts of the edifice are exposed to the danger of being crushed by the disproportionate weight of the other parts.” If true, Publius admits no further argument is needed to condemn the proposed constitution. Tyranny, he writes, is defined by “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective.” Regardless, Publius replies that the accusation is groundless because “the maxim on which it relies has been totally misconceived and misapplied.” 59
To understand the maxim, Publius consults Montesquieu, the authority on separation of powers. According to Montesquieu, the perfect model of separation of powers is found in the constitution of England, which he characterizes “as the mirror of political liberty.” Yet a cursory glance shows that in the English Parliament the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments are “by no means totally separate and distinct.” The executive or prime minister, for example, is a part of the legislature. Publius does not suggest Montesquieu was mistaken. He suggests Montesquieu “did not mean that these departments ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over, the acts of each other.” The danger to liberty arises where “the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department.” In other words, the powers of government do not have to be separate and distinct. Indeed, this may not even be possible. 60 What is required is not separate and distinct powers but separate power holders—that is, a separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial departments. 61 To drive home the point, he shows that while the states, from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and from New York to Virginia, have distinct branches of government, they are not wholly separate and distinct. From this, Publius concludes that separation of powers “does not require that the legislative, executive and judiciary departments should be wholly unconnected with each other.” What is required is that “the powers properly belonging to each of the departments ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of their respective powers.” Moreover, none of the departments ought to possess, directly or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others in the administration of their respective powers. 62
Publius teaches that the separation of powers can only be implemented by the proper structure of government, where the departments of government by their mutual relations keep each other within their constitutional bounds. To achieve this, “each department should have a will of its own” so that the members of each should have “as little agency as possible in the appointments of the members of the others.” What is necessary are separate elections for the House, Senate, and the presidency, which points to the republican character of the Constitution. 63 The judiciary departs from the republican principle because its members are appointed by the president and the Senate. The mode of appointment is required to ensure that members of the judiciary possess the necessary technical qualifications. While the mode of appointment departs from the republican principle, it nevertheless ensures the independence of the judiciary as the tenure for a period of good behavior will “destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.” It is equally evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on the others for their pay. The Constitution does not permit Congress to interfere with the pay of the members of the other branches.
Once the independence of the branches is accounted for, Publius turns to the meat of the argument. Echoing his definition of tyranny, he writes: “But the great security against a gradual concentration of power in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.” The structure relies on both constitutional provisions and personal motives. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional right of the place.” Publius’s solution here is political and not some mechanical device that automatically keeps the branches of government within their constitutional spheres. The structure of government ultimately relies on human nature for it to work, especially the officeholders’ ambition to hold their offices. Publius looks to the springs of human conduct to protect the safety and happiness of the people. While a “dependence on the people is . . . the primary control on the government,” political experience proves “the necessity of auxiliary precautions,” like separation of powers and the other advances in political science. He adds, “This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other—that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.” 64 This is why there are further divisions to be made.
Publius knows that it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense because in republican governments the legislative power is dominant as a result of its close ties to the people and its extensive powers, especially in its power to tax and spend. 65 The remedy for this is the political improvement of “legislative balances and checks,” or simply bicameralism, a division of the legislative power between the House of Representatives and the Senate, each with different tenures of office and modes of election. This divides the will of the people’s branch to prevent it from controlling one of the other branches. Further, Publius adds that the president must also be fortified against the Congress with a qualified legislative veto. Publius notes that a further division is possible. In a compound republic, as the one proposed, federalism can separate the jurisdiction of the national and the state governments. “The power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion, allotted to each, subdivided among distinct and separate departments.” 66 The power of government, the people’s authority, is divided horizontally between departments and vertically between governments.
Not only is it prudent in a republic to guard against the oppression of the government “but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of another.” 67 In this way, Publius’s discussion of the separation of power introduces the problem of factions, which he defines as “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The problem of factions is that they are a danger both to the rights of citizens and the public good.
Publius recognizes that there are two methods of curing the violence of factions: first, by removing the causes of factions; second, by controlling the effects of factions. 68 Similarly, there are two ways of removing the causes of factions: first, destroying liberty, which is essential for the formation of factions; second, giving every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests. Undoubtedly, the first method is “worse than the disease” because without liberty political life is impossible. “The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise.” No government is powerful enough to give to every citizen the same passions, interests, and opinions. Here Publius looks to the human soul and human nature to make his argument. So long as human reason is fallible, and human beings are at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. Further, as long as there is a connection between human reason and self-love, self-love will fortify opinion. This psychology points to our passionate and natural attachment to our opinions and the political leaders who appeal to them that animate factional distinctions. Better still, the passions differ as a result of the attachment of self-love to one’s own. As long as the self-love and opinions of men are connected, the passions will be aroused in defense of their opinions, leading to opposing passions. To this observation, Publius argues factions are derived from the diversity of human faculties from which the rights of property originate. “The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors ensures a division of society into different interests and parties.” It is important not to overlook that the protection of property and the encouragement of the unequal faculties that form the basis of property is an indirect way to protect and encourage the development of virtue. While merit and virtue are to be protected through the protection of the unequal faculties, “the most common and durable sources of factions” will remain “the various and unequal distribution of property.” The causes of factions, so it seems, are “sown into the nature of man.” 69
The only avenue left is to control the effects of factions. Publius notes that the republican principle where the majority rules will protect the people from a minority faction. But a majority faction is the real danger. “When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government . . . enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” 70 This prompts Publius to distinguish between a pure democracy and a republican government. In a pure democracy, the people and their immediate interests and passions rule directly. In a republican government, the people rule indirectly through their representatives. Representation refines and enlarges public opinion through a chosen body of citizens “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” Moreover, representation means a republic can be extended over a greater territory than a pure democracy, where the people vote in person. But representation is not sufficient to guard against factions. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs” may first obtain suffrage and then betray the people. Publius observes that an extensive republic increases the number of fit characters for the purpose of representation than in a small republic. In addition, each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens, making it more difficult for “unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.” 71
Publius nowhere suggests that the majority is not to rule. The proposed constitution establishes an extended republic that requires frequent elections where the majority of the people choose their representatives. The majority is to rule, but only in and through the constitution . In this way, the constitution disciplines the majority to rule. 72 Publius claims that an extended, representative republic offers “a republican remedy for the disease most incident to republican government.” 73
What the extended republic does is establish the grounds for a sound political life. Liberty ensures that the people will form different opinions, interests, and passions. The people will be divided in their loyalties to their interests, passions, opinions, and partisan views. 74 In order for a majority to form, the people must engage in the give and take of political life and negotiate with other citizens who will have different opinions, interests, and passions. It should not be overlooked that this order of deliberation occurs on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate because the members of both houses represent by necessity a multiplicity of interests, passions, and opinions.
By including more interests, opinions, and passions, the extended republic guarantees that the people discuss the issues that divide and unite them, the things that are agreeable and disagreeable to them, in order to find some common ground. Debate, deliberation, argument, and persuasion become the order of the day. One cannot succeed in securing one’s selfish preference without persuading another. 75 Opinions, interests, and passions will shift and enlarge to include other opinions, interests, and passions. Majorities will tend to form around the views, opinions, interests, and passions that are generally acceptable to the people, opinions that are compatible with the rights of all and the public good. “A majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good.” 76 The discipline imposed by the constitution through the extended republic ensures that the debate among the people about rights and the common good means that the “deliberate sense of the community” can rule. 77 Over time, the people will learn to debate and form their arguments around the principles of the constitution in terms of individual rights, justice, and the public good. Under the proposed constitution, the extended republic will form a people. Still, Publius reminds the people that it will be “vain” to expect “enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests and render them all subservient to the public good” because “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” 78 Publius teaches the people that they are to govern themselves rather than look to others to save them. To do that, the people must learn to be responsible citizens under the constitution.

P ublius’s statesmanship is an example of what he calls “the American mode” of founding, which is compatible with the teaching of the Declaration of Independence and its central principles of equality and consent. The American mode looks to the consent of the people as foundationally authoritative. As such, his statesmanship refines and enlarges the opinions of the people to choose the proposed constitution rather than compelling them to adopt it.
In making his case, Publius takes his lead from public opinion and attempts to shift it to a more thoughtful position. He argues that a national government is necessary to pull the diverse states together into a coherent nation that looks to one constitution to settle their political debates. In this way, the union will not invite or provoke foreign hostilities and protect against domestic insurrections. He recognizes that this national government must also be federal and so he refines and enlarges the notion of federalism at the heart of the Articles of Confederation to show that a properly constructed federal government is a judicious combination of unitary and federal characteristics.
Further, he makes the case that the government has to be republican—that is, the officers are to be elected either directly or indirectly by the people. In making this case, he again refines and enlarges the opinion respecting separation of powers and along the way he teaches the people how the government is to operate. In this way, Publius sets the stage for American statesmanship. Ambition and constitutional means are relied upon to keep each of the branches within their constitutional spheres. Still, separation of powers is shown to require legislative balances and checks, as well as an independent judiciary. Finally, Publius defends the extended republic, which requires representation. In so doing, Publius points to how it is that the extended republic set in place by the constitution supports a vibrant political life in which the people are disciplined to become citizens through debate, discussion, and disagreement in forming majority coalitions. He shows how this secures justice and the common good.
Moreover, Publius attempts to form the opinions of the people and their posterity as to the meaning of the proposed constitution. Perhaps he goes further and provides an enduring lesson for subsequent statesmen who will serve under the Constitution of 1787.

1 . Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers , ed. Clinton Rossiter, with a new introduction and notes by Charles R. Kesler (New York: New American Library, 1999), 1:1; see also 14:92; 37:192–93; 85:490–91. All citations to The Federalist are to this edition and indicate specific essay number followed by page number.
2 . See Alexander Hamilton, “Preface,” Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , lix.
3 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 34:175.
4 . Willmoore Kendall with George W. Carey, “How to Read ‘ The Federalist ,’” in Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum , ed. Nellie D. Kendall (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 403–4. Kendall argues that The Federalist is a prelude to the Constitution that provides an argument in the manner of the first speaker in a debate explaining both its principles and theory. The success of The Federalist has meant that our understanding of the Constitution has been to a large extent shaped by Publius.
5 . On this point, see Charles R. Kesler, “Preface,” in Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding , ed. Charles R. Kesler (New York: Free Press, 1987), vii–viii.
6 . Edward Millican, “The Political Objectives of Publius,” in One United People: The Federalist Papers and the National Idea (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1990), 24.
7 . See Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to James Madison, November 18, 1788,” in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, 20 vols. (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 7:183.
8 . See Thomas Jefferson, “Minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia,” March 4, 1825, in Lipscomb, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson , 19:460–61.
On the place of The Federalist in determining the intention of the founding, see also Martin Diamond, “What the Framers Meant by Federalism,” in As Far as Republican Principles Will Admit: Essays by Martin Diamond , ed. William A. Schambra (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 1992), 93–94.
Consider also the useful list of Supreme Court opinions that draw upon The Federalist in William B. Allen with Kevin A. Cloonan, The Federalist Papers: A Commentary; “The Baton Rouge Lectures” (New York: Peter Lang, 2000), 399–429.
9 . On the use of The Federalist in the First Congress, see David J. Seimers, Ratifying the Republic: Anti-Federalists and Federalists in Constitutional Time (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002); see also Jack N. Rokove, “Early Uses of The Federalist,” in Kesler, Saving the Revolution , 234–49.
10 . Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States , 2 vols., 4th ed., with notes and additions by Thomas M. Cooley (Boston: Little, Brown, 1873), 1:vii.

11 . Woodrow Wilson, Constitutional Government in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 54–58.
12 . See Michael P. Federici, The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 25–45. On Hamilton’s role in establishing a commercial republic, see Peter McNamara, Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois Press, 1997), 106–39.
13 . Marvin Meyers, ed., The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1981), 277–78, 289, 297.
14 . Martin Diamond, “ The Federalist (1787–1788),” in Schambra, As Far as Republican Principles Will Admit , 38–39.
15 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 1:1; see also 11:58–59.
16 . On the role of reflection and choice in The Federalist , consider Edward C. Banfield, “Was the Founding an Accident?,” in Kesler, Saving the Revolution , 265–75; David F. Epstein, The Political Theory of The Federalist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 11–14.
17 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 49:317.
18 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 38:199–201.
19 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 40:221.
20 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 43:247.
21 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 22:120.
22 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 46:268.
23 . On the use of “leader” and “leaders,” see Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 6:26; 10:47, 52; 14:72; 16:84; 18:92, 95; 43:243; 49:283; 59:333; 62:347; 65:365; 70:398; 85:489. See also Peter Augustine Lawler, “ The Federalist ’s Hostility to Leadership and the Crisis of the Contemporary Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 17, no. 4 (Fall 1987): 711–23.
24 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 2:5. The point is also made in the Declaration of Independence that without government our natural rights are not secure, and as such, the people do not have a right not to have a government at all. See also John Locke, The Two Treatises of Government , ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), II.13.
25 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 15:78.
26 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:290.
27 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 1:4.
28 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 2:5. Consider also Murray Dry, “Anti-Federalist in The Federalist: A Founding Dialogue on the Constitution, Republican Government, and Federalism,” in Kesler, Saving the Revolution , 42.
29 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 3:10; 4:15.
30 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 3:10.
31 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 3:11.
32 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 3:11–12.

33 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 4:17.
34 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 5:18–19.
35 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 5:21.
36 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 4:15.
37 . On the causes of war, see Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 6:23: Publius observes there are some that would have “a general and almost constant operation,” such as “the love of power or the desire of pre-eminence and dominion—the jealousy of power, or the desire of equality and safety.” To this he adds, “the rivalships and competitions of commerce between commercial nations.” There are also “private passions; in the attachments, enmities, interests, hopes, and fears of leading individuals in the communities of which they are members.” Often “men of this class” have “abused the confidence they possess; and assuming the pretext of some public motive, have not scrupled to sacrifice the national tranquility to personal advantage or personal gratification.”
38 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 6:27–28.
39 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 7:28, 30, 32, 33.
40 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 8:34–35.
41 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 8:35.
42 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 8:39.
43 . Allen, The Federalist Papers: A Commentary , 37.
44 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 15:76.
45 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 15:76.
46 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 15:78.
47 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 15:78–79.
48 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:39, 41.
49 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:41.
50 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:42–43.
51 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:43–44.
52 . This is qualified when Publius acknowledges that Senators do not vote in state delegations, see Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 75:422.
53 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 39:211–14.
54 . Martin Diamond, “ The Federalist ’s View of Federalism,” in Schambra, As Far As Republican Principles Will Admit , 124–25.
55 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 39:208.
56 . See Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 1:1; 10:49; 11:58–59; 14:72–73.
57 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:39–40.
58 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 9:40–41.
59 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 47:269.
60 . Publius writes that, due to the limits of the human mind, science, and language, there is no precise way to delineate the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. See Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 37:195–96.

61 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 47:270–71; see also Allen, The Federalist Papers: A Commentary , 226–27.
62 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 48:276–77.
63 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 39:208–10.
64 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:290.
65 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:290; see also 48:277–78; 49:283–84.
66 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:291–92.
67 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:291.
68 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:46.
69 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:46.
70 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:48.
71 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:50–51.
72 . Charles R. Kesler, “ Federalist 10 and American Republicanism,” in Kesler, Saving the Revolution , 34.
73 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:52.
74 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:292.
75 . Larry Arnhart, “The Deliberative Rhetoric of The Federalist ,” Political Science Reviewer 19 (1990): 68, 72–73.
76 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 51:293.
77 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 71:432.
78 . Rossiter and Kesler, eds., The Federalist Papers , 10:48.
John Adams, print (Library of Congress, )
John Adams
Statesmanship and the Limits of Popularity

I n considering the necessary attributes of statesmanship, it would be difficult to find a better “test case” than that of John Adams (1735–1826). What kind of person is worthy of being called a “statesman”? What type of character, what accomplishments, what life makes someone a virtuous defender of the public good within the sphere of politics and governance? Such questions dogged Adams throughout his life and career.
Adams was an important public man, taking a leading role in events that shaped our nation. Like most of the founding generation, including, most prominently, George Washington, he was concerned with his public persona. That is, he openly sought to earn the respect of his peers. 1 But he often has been derided as unworthy of being termed “great” on account of political mistakes, character flaws, and even perceived bad acts. Notwithstanding David McCulloch’s Pulitzer Prize biography, Adams’s statesmanship has been essentially overlooked, consigned to the shadows of George Washington. For example, a standard work on the history of the American presidency devotes a scant five pages to Adams’s administration, praising his avoidance of war with revolutionary France, while criticizing him for signing the Alien and Sedition Acts and so endangering individual rights. 2 In the end, however, consideration of Adams’s character and conduct, as well as his practical impact on public life in America, merit him the appellation “great statesman.”
Adams, born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, was the son of a prominent local farmer and deacon. He became a lawyer and delegate to the First Continental Congress (1774) as well as the Second Continental Congress (1775–1781), where he helped shape the Declaration of Independence. He also was the drafter of the Massachusetts State Constitution and served as ambassador to Great Britain and the second president of the United States. His adult life was one of almost continuous public service, which he provided at significant cost to his personal comfort, fortune, and peace of mind. He made many mistakes during his long career, and was not known for a calm or pleasing demeanor. But his dedication to and success at public service provide an important model of statesmanship that is relevant even today.

A Record of Public Service
One thing we must demand of anyone we would call a “statesman” is public service. No person, no matter how good, intelligent, or powerful, can be a statesman who has not benefitted the state in some important way. This need not mean building a more powerful government. Indeed, at times, it may require limiting political power. But working to benefit the “state” in the broad sense of pursuing the common good of one’s people by fostering peace, order, public virtue, and the like through public, political action is the essence of statesmanship.
There is much of this essential statesmanship of public service in Adams’s career. Without Adams, it is entirely possible that there would be no United States of America. More than any other single delegate at the Continental Congress, he pushed both behind the scenes and on the floor for the colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain. It was Adams who offered and did the most to secure passage of the resolution that was the Americans’ actual, practical declaration of independence. Adams also played a crucial role in gaining approval for the document, the Declaration of Independence, that helped justify that act. 3
Even before the Americans declared their independence, Adams was speaking out in favor of the colonists’ rights while putting his own reputation at risk in support of order and due process of law. In 1770, he already was involved in protests against Great Britain’s measures taxing colonists without the consent of their legislatures and Great Britian’s violations of long-standing rights against unreasonable searches and seizures of their property, along with threats to take accused American smugglers to England for trial. At the same time, he found himself defending British soldiers accused of murder (a capital offense) in perpetrating the so-called Boston Massacre (1770). Adams did not seek this appointment, but he felt honor bound to accept when asked. The soldiers had shot into a crowd of colonists who had been throwing ice and stones at them. Adams agreed to give them a proper defense. He succeeded in winning a “not guilty” verdict for Captain Thomas Preston by arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove he ordered his troops to fire and that “it is of more importance to community, that innocence should be protected, than it is that guilt should be punished.” For while guilt is so common that it cannot always be punished, innocence must be shown to be a reliable source of protection for citizens from the state, or “that would be the end of security” as all people would face constant fear of punishment, even for crimes they did not commit. 4 Six of the eight soldiers Adams defended also were found not guilty by the jury after hearing Adams argue that they could not convict anyone they were not certain had actually, personally, fired into the crowd. Two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter, a lesser offense than murder, after much evidence establishing that they had, indeed, fired into the crowd.
Adams was convinced that his public reputation and career were harmed by his ardent defense of the rights of the accused in the Boston Massacre case. His concern seems overdrawn, however, because his reputation for integrity and deep commitment to the rule of law was in part formed by his passionate and skillful service in that case. But his willingness to take it on, in the face of angry citizens with whom he shared abode, allegiance, and conviction (including the eventual determination to pursue independence from Great Britain), showed courage as well as intellectual integrity and practical skill. The result was a set of verdicts that kept Americans from unjustly killing the defendants, instead showing them that, even in times of turmoil, the rule of law can and should be upheld.
None of this lessened Adams’s willingness to argue for the rights of the colonists. In 1775, responding to arguments for Parliament’s absolute right to govern the Americans as it wished, Adams wrote a series of essays under the name Novanglus. Here he laid out the constitutional history of America and the British empire, showing that the colonial governments were, according to the common law of England, “the only supreme authorities” within their jurisdictions. That is, the colonial governments had the right (and duty) to govern their own people in all internal matters, looking to England for governance only in imperial matters such as issues of international trade, and were in fact connected with Britain solely through the (limited) sovereignty of the king. 5 According to Adams, Americans were under no “religious, moral, or political obligations . . . to submit to parliament as a supreme legislative.” In fact, to have no means of “giving or withholding their consent to the acts of . . . parliament” would make Americans slaves. 6
In addition, Adams was the one who, before independence, nominated George Washington (that “indispensable man” of the war for independence) to be commander in chief of the Continental Army, at a time when Washington was just another delegate to the Continental Congress. Further, while the war was going on, Adams did critical work overseas in finding support for the struggling Americans. He secured Dutch funding for the American cause, played an important role in cementing the American alliance with France that brought massive financial and military assistance crucial to victory in the Revolution, and negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1783) with the British that established the United States’ independence on favorable terms. 7
The Massachusetts Constitution (1780)
Perhaps Adams’s most important, and most frequently overlooked, contribution to the public good in America was his role as principal drafter of the Massachusetts State Constitution. One may think this achievement not a “great” one because it was not national in scope. But the frame of government he drafted for Massachusetts continues in effect; it is the oldest functioning written constitution in the world. Perhaps more important, it served as the single most influential model for the United States Constitution. Its discussion of fundamental rights and the purpose of government and, especially, its emphasis on the separation of powers influenced and served as a framework for the drafters of the United States Constitution. Although it has since been heavily amended, Adams’s Massachusetts Constitution is a singular contribution to the public good. A combination of practical and theoretical wisdom helped Adams produce a frame of government important for the principles it embodies and the practical rules and limits it imposes on those who wield political power.
Adams brought to his role of constitution writer a deep knowledge of the tradition of ordered liberty in New England. In the preamble to his Massachusetts Constitution, he summed up the American view of government’s purpose as protecting both the body politic—the political community—and the individual persons who compose it, enabling the latter to enjoy “in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life.” 8 Just as important, however, was his affirmation of the American covenantal tradition, going back through the Mayflower Compact by which the original Puritan settlers formed themselves into a body politic for life in the new world. In this tradition, the political community is “a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.” 9 Mutual duty, then, binds each citizen to the entire community as it binds the community, in its political form and laws, to protect each citizen.
To be sure, the rights of each person are to be protected. Chapter I of Adams’s constitution is a Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Born “equally free and independent,” all men, according to this constitution, “have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties” and that of “acquiring, possessing, and protecting [their] property.” 10 Other crucial rights include, according to this declaration, the people’s freedom of worship, consent to and reform of their government, removal of elected officials in free elections, settled laws and legal procedures, jury trials, and the set of procedural and trial rights embedded in the Anglo-American common law. In addition, Adams’s declaration sets forth rights of assembly, speech, and freedom from martial law. 11
But mere statements or declarations of rights mean little if they are not respected and embodied within the laws and rulers’ conduct. Thus, the protection of both the people and the body politic is also included in the Massachusetts Constitution: “The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a Constitution of Government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them.” 12

This discussion of the duty to frame a government that properly makes, interprets, and executes laws is of particular importance to the formation of the American Constitution. In addition to listing important natural rights that the government has a duty to protect, Adams’s constitution is specifically designed to protect those rights, and the security of each person, by separating the powers and the functions of the various branches of government. Adams’s draft of the Massachusetts Constitution states: “In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them, to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.” 13 The connection between the separation of political powers and the rule of law was not Adams’s invention. The French thinker Montesquieu, a source of wisdom for the drafters of the American Constitution, had written of it decades before. But Adams put this principle into action, as it were, by institutionalizing legislative, executive, and judicial powers into separate branches within a concrete, written constitution that provided rules for governance and could serve as a model for the drafters of the United States Constitution.
Publius, the author of The Federalist —that series of articles written to win ratification of the new, federal Constitution by explaining the logic and reasoning behind its provisions—notes that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” 14 Someone able to exercise all these forms of power will be free from oversight; no one will be in a position to subject his will to standing rules and laws, and so there will be no rule of law. And without the rule of law, there can be no peace, no security, and no rights on which any of the citizens may rely as protection against political power. All the people will be slaves to the will and whims of their rulers.
Thus, arguably, the central element in protecting ordered liberty within the United States Constitution, separation of powers into three branches including an independent judiciary (an innovation for the time), was first institutionalized in Adams’s Massachusetts Constitution. Moreover, Adams’s constitution, in an improvement upon earlier state constitutions roughly followed in the United States Constitution, was laid out in a modern, coherent fashion, utilizing a structure of articles, chapters, and sections spelling out the powers, qualifications, and limits of relevant branches of government, rather than simply listing its provisions.
The Virginia Plan? The New Jersey Plan? These other working documents used in the Constitutional Convention (1787) were just general sketches that disappeared into the bargaining process. It was Adams’s model constitution that provided concrete language, structure, and principles for the drafters of our United States Constitution. Thus, despite being out of the country as ambassador to Great Britain during the Constitutional Convention, it may be argued that Adams had as much influence over the final document as any, and far more than most.
The Problem of Personal Character
Despite the many contributions Adams made to American independence and stability, he rarely receives the accolades often bestowed on others from the founding generation. We rarely hear John Adams referred to as a great statesman. Why is that?
Adams has many critics, to be sure. And their charges often rest on issues of both substance and ideology. But first it is important to deal with a separate set of criticisms that could cause us to fail even to consider Adams’s true strengths and weaknesses as a statesman. These criticisms come down to the view that he was personally unpleasant and difficult to deal with.
Among the more famous statements concerning Adams’s character was this, from Benjamin Franklin: “He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” 15 Franklin and others had been subjected to Adams’s biting criticisms of their talents, work, and personal conduct. Stories abound of Adams’s invective, and even of his paranoia concerning perceived slights and the inevitable clashes produced by differences of opinion concerning what was needed to serve the good of the United States in difficult times. 16

We should be careful, however, not to take Adams’s criticisms too far out of context. The era of the American founding and the early republic was one of intense conflict over basic principles and the proper direction for the new nation. And the rhetoric of the time was far from tame. During the election of 1800, James Callender, a journalist encouraged in his work by Thomas Jefferson, used his newspaper to declare Adams a “hermaphrodit[e]” possessing “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 17 Callender also accused Adams (falsely) of having two mistresses. Adams certainly gave as good as he got, for example referring to Alexander Hamilton, his enemy within the Federalist Party, as the “bastard brat of a Scottish peddler.” 18 But the general tenor of the times, along with the fact that Adams always had his own friends and defenders, makes clear that the simplistic view of him as someone out of his mind rather than as someone unpleasant and cranky must be tempered.
At this stage, then, the question must be asked: Do we care if our public leaders are cranky? George Washington yelled a fair amount. Dwight Eisenhower yelled a lot. Abraham Lincoln suffered classic symptoms of depression, falling into a morose state for long stretches. But such personality idiosyncrasies do not seem to have hurt these men’s reputations. This is not to say that ill temper (or moroseness) is a good thing per se . Nonetheless, it seems unproductive to portray crankiness or depression as disqualifications from greatness, especially in regard to statesmanship, a role in which one would think the relevant criteria have more to do with service (or harm) done to the public good than personal niceness or cheerfulness.
One can be personally unpleasant and publicly great. The lives and characters of generals, political leaders, and even saints attest to this fact. One should not discount the importance of public leaders providing good examples of personal conduct, but orneriness hardly seems the sum total of personal conduct.
In determining Adams’s fitness as a statesman, then, we should not be concerned primarily with how personable or irritable Adams may have been. The evidence indicates that he had a “darker side,” but not that he abused people or allowed his personality issues to prevent him from carrying on in public life—including as a diplomat engaged in delicate negotiations. Rather, we should be concerned, primarily, with Adams’s more robust and publicly important character. That is, we should be concerned with whether he was an effective supporter of public virtue for the public good.
Despite his personality foibles (for example, his outspokenness and bluntness), Adams appears to have been rather a decent fellow. He paid his debts, he loved his family, and, despite his occasional intemperate words (particularly in letters to political adversaries), he generally maintained a decorum and civility that were exemplary and no doubt played a role in his many diplomatic successes. 19 On a more personal level, Adams embraced honesty. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, the much-loved democrat so often pointed to as his better, Adams never secretly funded newspapers attacking political opponents while serving with those opponents in public office and denying the fact of his involvement. 20
Crankiness does not necessarily mean vice. In Adams’s case, it seems more a product of his at-times-impatient determination to support virtue, both for its own sake and as a necessary support for liberty. As he argued, “Liberty can no more exist without virtue and independence, than the body can live and move without a soul.” 21 Obviously, Adams’s conception of virtue, like that of the Founders more generally, was deeply rooted in religion. And on that topic he never wavered. Adams was a persistent champion of personal as well as public morality, both of which he found rooted in religion: “Statesmen . . . may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue; and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.” 22
Aristocrat or Republican?
There is a second charge against Adams that, if true, would do more to call into question his statesmanship than would his crankiness. The charge, leveled at Adams during his lifetime and ever since, is that he was a would-be aristocrat who sought to forestall the dawning democratic age. Perhaps there is no better example of the combination of issues involved with this charge than Adams’s seeming endorsement of sumptuary laws.
In his “Thoughts on Government” (1776), Adams notes: “The very mention of sumptuary laws will excite a smile. Whether our countrymen have wisdom and virtue enough to submit to them, I know not; but the happiness of the people might be greatly promoted by them, and a revenue saved sufficient to carry on this war forever. Frugality is a great revenue, besides curing us of vanities, levities, and fopperies, which are real antidotes to all great, manly, and warlike virtues.” 23
Sumptuary laws regulate people’s consumption—what kinds of clothing and what kinds of luxury goods they are allowed to purchase and display. The notion of government regulations for clothing brands (perhaps outlawing Ralph Lauren’s polo logo?) would, at best, raise smiles today. Sumptuary laws give power to the state over commerce and social forms that seem odd today, as well as providing that state with an awesome power to intrude into the lives of its citizens. And Americans’ concern to protect individual choice and expression may make the suggestion seem more than cranky, perhaps resulting in a picture of Adams himself as a sourpuss.
One should keep in mind, however, that Adams expressed this view in what was little more than a throwaway line. He made clear that he seriously doubted Americans ever would submit to such laws and never suggested any attempt to impose them. Moreover, while the reference to sumptuary laws is indicative of what some people mistakenly view as his aristocratic leanings, it would be more accurate to see it as an indication of the depth of his Calvinist republicanism. The Puritans in New England had had sumptuary laws (at a more local level) for well over a century by the time of Adams’s writing, and a number of people, especially proponents of republican government, missed them, at least in the abstract sense of wishing people would spend more time serving the common good and less time shopping for and displaying “fopperies.” 24
At the root, Adams wanted to foster people’s devotion to virtue, to acting as they should, and, in particular, to serving the public good. Only a virtuous people, he noted more than once, could be free. 25 Only if the people were capable of governing themselves in their private lives—for example, eschewing “vanities” in favor of frugality, industry, and humility—could they govern themselves as a people, through republican forms of representative government. Did this make him an aristocrat? Hardly. These are classic yeoman, Calvinist values at the heart of America’s republican tradition.
It is an irony of American history that we are told that the great democrat is Jefferson, the fabulously wealthy (but spendthrift) slaveowner, and the aristocrat is Adams, who was much less well off and farmed his own land. In addition, of course, Adams never owned a slave, refused to employ the slaves of others, and consistently condemned the institution of slavery. “I have, through my whole life,” Adams wrote, “held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave, though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character, and when it has cost me thousands of dollars for the labor and subsistence of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes at times when they were very cheap.” 26 What we have, in Adams, is a middle-class farmer and lawyer who lived by his principles and spent the bulk of his life foregoing the making of money because he felt called to public service.
Critics also seek to paint Adams as a crypto-aristocrat by pointing to his seeming aspersions against “the people” and his view of the American Constitution as embodying a British system of balanced government. That is, they see him as mistaking American separation of powers for a system in which the democratic “many” represented in the House of Representatives would be balanced and kept in check by an aristocratic “few” in the Senate and a unifying “one” president. 27 Thus, the argument goes, Adams not only misunderstood separation of powers (along with federalism, with its division of powers on a geographical basis) but also, in effect, sought to increase the power of a new American aristocracy by institutionalizing it within a privileged and exclusive Senate. Adams certainly warned against placing too much trust in “the people,” by which he meant the mass of common folk of limited means. He argued, for example, that, left unchecked, the people historically “have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel, as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power.” 28 But Adams never expressed approval of any kind of inherited aristocracy. Instead, he agreed with his sometime friend Thomas Jefferson that “there is a natural Aristocracy among men; the grounds of which are Virtue and Talents.” 29 Indeed, Adams frequently commented on the pride, vanity, and avarice of aristocrats, and his Massachusetts Constitution had, as we have noted, insisted on the right of the people to consent to, and to reform, their government.
Adams, like Publius in his discussion of the problem of factions in Federalist No. 10, recognized that all people, whatever their financial or social status, too often behave in a selfish manner that damages the public good. In a word, Adams entertained a sober view of human nature. When added to his recognition of the inevitability of differences in wealth and property (a recognition also expressed by Publius), what we see, in essence, is a recognition of the need for the separation of powers to be reinforced with the checks and balances, not just of institutions, but also of the dominant interests within particular institutions. Anyone seeking to discount such a concern need only examine the average wealth of members of the United States Senate and perhaps consider whether the United States might not itself be possessed of discernible factions based in differences of wealth. 30
A “Failed” Presidency?
In addition to his other public service, of course, Adams was the second president of the United States (1797–1801). While holding that office, he kept the infant nation out of the devastating world war sparked by the French Revolution. He maintained his nation’s honor in difficult times, built a navy that would serve her well for decades while determinedly avoiding establishing a standing army, and stemmed a tide of ideological radicalism. Still, Adams’s greatness sometimes is denied on the grounds that he was simply a “loser.” That is, the argument is put forward that Adams was a bad politician who mismanaged his presidential administration and made everyone so angry that he suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid for reelection in 1800. Statesmanship means great public service. And some charge that Adams was simply bad at the job of being a public servant at its highest, presidential level. 31

No one likes a loser, we often are told. And the assumption is that managing to lose a presidential election is proof of, well, being a loser. What is more, we are told, the Adams administration simply wasn’t very good. Adams spent too much time at home in Massachusetts and made the critical error of keeping his predecessor’s cabinet, which was predictably disloyal to him.
Let us first dispense with the “loser” claim. Yes, Adams lost the election of 1800, but he lost principally because one state—New York—changed sides from the previous election. You see, Jefferson had wanted to be president himself, and he had a great deal of support in 1796 when he and Adams faced off in America’s first truly partisan election. Still, Adams won the election of 1796 in a very tight race. A lot happened over the next four years, but only six states had any kind of popular vote for presidential electors, and there were wildly divergent rules on who got to vote—principally regarding how much property one had to control in order to vote. 32 In the election of 1796, Adams defeated Jefferson by a margin of only three electoral votes—71 to 68. In the election of 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams by eight electoral votes—73 to 65. 33 Such numbers hardly are indicators of a massive loss of popularity or, more important, public confidence.
The election of 1800 certainly was hotly contested and involved many contentious issues, with taxes, war fever, and freedom of the press at the forefront. But it is difficult to fault Adams for his essential course of action, especially in regard to Americans’ strained relations with revolutionary France. Even before Adams took office as president, relations between that country and the United States were tense. Pressure from Paris for debt repayments, loans, and even bribes came at a time when the American government saw itself as freed from obligations to a regime that had, after all, just executed the king—Louis XVI (1793)—who had provided assistance to the Americans in their war for independence. Adams maintained President Washington’s policy of neutrality in the war between France and Great Britain and approved naval actions in the Caribbean punishing French attacks on American shipping. But Adams refused to succumb to war fever for the sake of political victory, let alone declare war on France. And these positions, along with his refusal to declare war on France, cost him significant support, especially among war hawks in his own Federalist Party. Adams’s political popularity was undermined by the scathing backroom politicking of Alexander Hamilton within his own party. In addition, Adams’s political image was assailed by the campaign against him in New York of Aaron Burr, the Republican candidate for vice president. 34 Through his moderate actions, Adams averted a war with France that would have torn the country apart and probably would have gone very, very badly for the United States. 35
Next is the charge that Adams was simply a bad chief executive. It is important to note here that Adams is not actually being charged with being a bad statesman. Rather, the charge is that he was a bad politician —a different and lesser thing concerned with the winning of elections and the making of useful bargains that can but need not make statesmanship possible.
Perhaps Adams was a bad politician—or, at any rate, not a great one. It can be argued that he spent too much time at home in Massachusetts instead of in Philadelphia, the capitol at the time. 36 He did his job perfectly well from Massachusetts, but someone more politically astute may have stuck around and cozied up to the national politicians—even if Adams thought, along with most Americans, that politics should not be a full-time job, and government should not always be “governing.”
And what of the charge that it was inexcusably foolish for Adams to keep George Washington’s cabinet? The charge may sound odd at first, but it can be explained this way: When he came into office, Adams failed to “clean house” by dismissing the men George Washington had appointed to be his own secretaries of state, treasury, and war, as well as his attorney general. By not replacing these holdovers, or perhaps “left-overs” since none of them had been Washington’s first picks, Adams failed to gain the services of men loyal to his programs, policies, and person. The result was political infighting and disloyalty that undermined Adams’s effectiveness as a leader as well as his political standing. 37
Adams’s loss in the election of 1800 might be taken as proof of the charge that he erred greatly in keeping Washington’s cabinet. But here it seems unfair and even foolish to charge Adams with clear error. To begin with, Adams thought continuity among high advisors would be best for maintaining stability and public confidence in a new nation. One must remember that this was the first change in American administrations. Moreover, the major example Americans had of how to deal with such transitions in rulership came from Great Britain, and British prime ministers often kept their predecessors’ ministers.
Adams may have put up with too much disloyalty to him personally from his cabinet members, but frankly we demand more of that now than used to be the case. What is more, Adams was trying to maintain the fragile alliance that was the Federalist Party of his day. That alliance was in very real trouble, stemming from the fact that it combined “High” Federalists like Hamilton, who were extreme proponents of nationalism, and “Low” Federalists who, like Adams, were more purely republican—fearful, for example, of standing armies.
As to Adams’s electoral loss itself, we should not lose sight of the fact that it also was Adams who ceded power to his rival after America’s second seriously contested election (he had won the first) and went into retirement—something still uncommon in many so-called democracies today. Adams’s retirement—his (never seriously doubted) acceptance of his defeat at the polls—shows the fundamental nature and importance of Americans’ adherence to their Constitution as a higher law setting limits to the actions of political leaders. And adherence to the Constitution was part of a more general respect for the rule of law itself. The Constitution Adams did so much to influence protects American citizens because, and to the extent that, it is recognized by people both in and out of political power; it is important only if it is recognized as having the authority to say “no” to political actors, be they in the legislative, executive, or judicial branch, who would violate its provisions (for example, the provision that only Congress can make laws). Otherwise, a constitution is mere empty words, powerless to protect the people from the will and whims of those in power. Thus, the rule of law itself is an important public good, one for which the American colonists were fighting, in part, in seeking independence from Great Britain, and for which Adams fought at considerable risk to his own well-being and that he followed right up to his exit from office.
Sedition and “Oppression”
Now we come to the great stain many historians see on Adams’s character, a stain summed up in the title of a set of legislation called the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The claim here is that Adams joined an evil cabal of High Federalists who sought to stifle democratic expressions of free speech and muzzle freedom of the press in order to secure their own reelections and stamp out opposition to their budding aristocracy. What should we make of this?
To begin with, presidents at the time did not initiate legislation. Those were more constitutionally obedient times, when Congress was in charge of making laws. What’s more, vetoing legislation was extremely rare, and generally undertaken only for constitutional reasons. Washington had vetoed only two bills during his eight years in office—one of them on specifically constitutional grounds. 38 The Alien and Sedition Acts were supported most forcefully by Federalist Party representatives Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts, Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina, and John Allen of Connecticut, though they received almost unanimous support from Federalists—and unanimous opposition from members of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. 39 It is wrong, then, to refer to these acts as Adams’s legislation, though it clearly was partisan, Federalist legislation. Moreover, there is substantial debate over whether Adams was in fact opposed to the legislation on the grounds that the acts made for bad, unpopular public policy. That said, Adams did sign the legislation and he allowed his attorney general to prosecute a number of people under its provisions. 40 How, then, ought we to judge his involvement with these acts?
Here, again, historical context is helpful in evaluating Adams’s conduct. After the American Revolution, which was supported by the king of France, the French had their own, much more radical, revolution. The French Revolution aimed to abolish all the old institutions and social forms of European tradition and to spread “liberty, equality, and fraternity” throughout the world, including to Britain, which still had a monarchy of sorts. This ideologically driven revolution turned exceedingly bloody. At the same time, America almost went to war with Britain over debts, American promises to compensate loyalists who had sided with the British for property damaged or confiscated during the war for independence, the continuing presence of British forts on American territory, and shipping disputes. But the Anglo-American dispute was settled, more or less, and Washington declared American neutrality in what was becoming a world war between Britain and France. 41

The French revolutionaries saw American neutrality as a betrayal and essentially broke off diplomatic relations. At about this time, Adams ascended to the presidency. He was no fan of Great Britain and a clear enemy of radicalism—of revolution of the French variety, in which God was replaced in churches by a “goddess of reason” and the world was to be “made anew” through governmental decrees, confiscations, and the use of the guillotine. Still, Adams sent new ambassadors, whom the French threatened and from whom they demanded bribes in what became known as the famous XYZ Affair (1797–1798). This created scandal and anger on both sides. By 1798, the United States and France were engaged in open conflict, often termed the “Quasi-War.” French privateers for some time had been capturing American ships and taking the ships, cargo, and crews as captive prizes of war. Now Adams built a navy to fight back and protect American shipping. 42
In addition to the Quasi-War at sea, French revolutionary diplomats, agents, and allies were roaming the country demanding America return to supporting its “fellow republic,” France. Actual mobs appeared in the streets of American cities. These actions had commenced under the Washington administration, some of them calling for that president’s ouster, and they increased in size and frequency under Adams, requiring frequent intervention from the authorities to protect public officials. 43
Under these difficult circumstances, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts provided for deportation of aliens found to be fomenting unrest and punishment for seditious libel. The provisions regarding aliens were largely irrelevant and unenforced. It was the Sedition Act that caused, and still causes, so much alarm.
It should hardly need to be pointed out that the Sedition Act made bad law. It gave significant power to the federal government and highhanded, biased judges like Samuel Chase (later impeached for his actions) to try to bully juries into sending their political opponents to jail. It also was patently biased and self-interested legislation because it allowed those in power to punish criticism of the government without protecting opposition figures from the same kinds of criticism. And its selfish nature was made clear by the fact that it was set to expire right after the elections of 1800.
But what did the Sedition Act actually do? Was it clearly unconstitutional? A boundless, unforgiveable attack on the natural rights of free speech and freedom of the press? The facts do not support these assertions.
To begin with, the Sedition Act in particular was not clearly unconstitutional. The act made it illegal to, in speech or writing, make statements that were “false, scandalous and malicious” against the government or its representatives with intent to defame. Now we have a word for false statements made with intent to defame. The word is libel, and it always has been in an important sense illegal. That is, one could sue, under English and American law, any person who intentionally defamed one; to intentionally defame another person was, and is, a tort—a breach of private law—entitling the defamed person to monetary compensation for any loss of reputation.
The difference between libel and “seditious” libel had to do with the nature of the person defamed. If the person was an officer of the government, then the libel was “seditious” in that it was considered an attempt to undermine the government itself. In such a case, the punishment was not payment of monetary compensation but a fine and possible imprisonment. Today we consider seditious speech, when it is not connected to overt acts intended to, for example, overthrow the government, to be protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution. But this was not the case at the time the Sedition Act was made law. Seditious libel had been prosecuted under the common law in both Britain and America for centuries. Even Jefferson believed that the United States had the authority to punish seditious libel. Jefferson’s principal objection to the Alien and Sedition Acts was that the federal government had acted beyond the scope of its lawful authority. Indeed, the Sedition Act liberalized the common law then existing in all the states regarding seditious speech or writing. The act allowed the defendant to show the truth of the matter contained in the publication, treating it as an absolute defense, if proved. The act also allowed the jury to determine both the law and the fact of the case, which was not allowed under the common law as practiced at the time. 44
Today most Americans would recognize the significant problem presented by laws regarding “seditious libel”—namely, that they empower the government to, in essence, prosecute its critics. Still, we should not forget the crucial facts: first, that the acts punished under the law already were liable to prosecution in all American jurisdictions; second, that the Sedition Act was made law at a time of significant conflict and concern over the actions of French agents; and third (and no less important), that the act was not clearly unconstitutional. Future chief justice John Marshall, for example, criticized the legislation as bad policy, but he never attacked its constitutionality, and many scholars name him the author of a Virginia legislative report actually defending it as constitutional. 45
Libel has never been protected speech. There seems little reason to claim that a person who intentionally utters a falsehood with intent to defame someone—to damage their reputation, bringing them into disrepute—should be able to claim constitutional protection for committing libel. And it certainly is not the case that the First Amendment to the Constitution, in protecting freedom of speech and of the press, was intended by its authors or understood by their contemporaries to protect intentional falsehoods intended to defame people. Moreover, the only change made from the common law by the Sedition Act was its provision of additional protections to the defendant in a case of seditious libel. Under the act, the defendant was allowed to argue that the statements contained in the publication charged as libelous were in fact true. Truth, as determined by the jury, would be an absolute defense, barring any successful prosecution. Likewise, the prosecution had to prove the defendant intended to commit subversion or insurrection. 46 This was not the case with the common law.
We also should keep the act and the harm done under the Sedition Act in perspective. Twenty-five people were arrested for violations of the Sedition Act. Eleven were prosecuted under it and every one of them was convicted, generally by partisan judges who were none too scrupulous in their definitions of what constituted seditious libel. Yet, while the law expired before Jefferson took office as president, his allies in New York soon commenced prosecutions against Federalist journalists for seditious libel—under the common, or judge-made, law of the state, feeling no need for a statute of any kind. 47
An Answer to the Critics
In the election of 1800, there was much unpleasantness. Close to a dozen journalists were fined and some were sent to jail, in trials that lacked true impartiality, for printing charges that the British were running the Adams administration, that Adams and Federalist supporters were oppressors with ambitions to aristocratic rule and the like. No one was executed, as happened to thousands upon thousands of people on the other, more “democratic,” side of the Atlantic, France. And we had a free election, which Adams lost.
Not a happy ending to Adams’s administration. But then a war with France, which he avoided with great, near-heroic efforts, would have made for a far worse ending, as would have capitulation to French depredations. Did Jefferson do better, or even as well, with his rather pitiful embargo of the French? Did Madison, with the disastrous conduct of the War of 1812, which brought the burning of our capital by the British? At the very least, a stronger case can be made in favor of Adams than his more popular successors.
In one sense it is unfortunate that a discussion of Adams’s statesmanship must be so concerned with answering his critics. Adams did permanent, important service for the United States through his defense of the rule of law, his tireless work to secure independence and to win the war making that independence a reality, and by crafting a constitution crucial to our constitutional structure and tradition. But his case and its controversies may be helpful in reminding us that we should not allow the hostility of his political opponents to blind us to the virtues of his enduring public service. The case of John Adams also may remind us that the measure of a statesman lies not in his political popularity at any given time but on his determination and success in providing virtuous public service.
1 . Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 43, 175–76.
2 . Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson, The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776–2014 (Washington, DC: Sage, 2016), 95–100.
3 . See, for example, Wood, Revolutionary Characters , 175–76.
4 . John Adams, “Adams’ Argument for the Defense: December 3–4, 1770,” Adams Papers , Founders Online, National Archives, .

5 . John Adams, “Novanglus,” in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams , 10 vols. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1856), 4:105.
6 . Adams, “Novanglus,” 38.
7 . Richard Brookhiser, America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918 (New York: Free Press, 2002), 40.
8 . John Adams, The Political Writings of John Adams , ed. George W. Carey (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2000), 499.
9 . Adams, Political Writings , 499–500.
10 . Adams, Political Writings , 500–501.
11 . Adams, Political Writings , 500–510.
12 . Adams, Political Writings , 500.
13 . Adams, Political Writings , 510n34.
14 . Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist: The Gideon Edition , eds. George W. Carey and James McClellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), 47:249. All citations to The Federalist are to this edition and indicate specific essay number followed by page number.
15 . Quoted in George S. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 195.
16 . David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 207–8, 241, 410.
17 . McCullough, John Adams , 536–37.
18 . McCullough, John Adams , 538–39.
19 . McCullough, John Adams , 648–51.
20 . McCullough, John Adams , 578.
21 . Adams, “Novanglus,” 29.
22 . John Adams to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776, in Adams, Works of John Adams , 9:401.
23 . Adams, Political Writings , 489, emphasis added.
24 . See, for example, the discussion in J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
25 . Quoted in Wood, Revolutionary Characters , 180.
26 . John Adams to Robert Evans, June 8, 1819, in Adams, Works of John Adams , 10:380.
27 . This is Gordon Wood’s argument in Revolutionary Characters , 194–97.
28 . Adams, “Defense of the Constitutions of the United States,” in Adams, Works of John Adams , 6:10.
29 . Adams to Thomas Jefferson, November 5, 1813, in The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams , ed. Lester J. Cappon, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 2:397.

30 . Jennifer Yachnin, “Senate Procures Influx of Millionaires,” Roll Call , October 27, 2010, .
31 . Brookhiser, America’s First Dynasty , 8.
32 . C. James Taylor, “John Adams: Campaign and Elections,” Miller Center, University of Virginia, .
33 . “Election of 1800,” 7 Elections that Changed U.S. History , Exhibits, Duke University Libraries, last modified November 9, 2009, .
34 . McCullough, John Adams , 556–57.
35 . McCullough, John Adams , 473–74, 484–86.
36 . McCullough, John Adams , 508–14 (detailing Adams’s absence in 1798 at the height of the undeclared war with France).
37 . Brookhiser, America’s First Dynasty , 48–50.
38 . “George Washington’s Presidential Vetoes,” The Papers of George Washington , .
39 . Anne Husted Burleigh, John Adams (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction, 1969), 335.
40 . McCullough, John Adams , 504–5.
41 . McCullough, John Adams , 444–45.
42 . McCullough, John Adams , 484.
43 . Saul Cornell, A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 88.
44 . The Sedition Act, July 14, 1798, U.S. Statutes at Large , 1:597.
45 . Kurt T. Lash and Alicia Harrison, “Minority Report: John Marshall and the Defense of the Alien and Sedition Acts,” Ohio State Law Journal 68, no. 2 (2007): 438.
46 . Bruce A. Ragsdale, The Sedition Act Trials , prepared for inclusion in the project, Federal Trials and Great Debates in United States History (Federal Judicial History Office of Federal Judicial Center, 2005), 46, .
47 . Morris D. Forkosch, “Freedom of the Press: Croswell’s Case ,” Fordham Law Review 33, no. 2 (1965): 415, 416–17.

Thomas Jefferson, portrait by Rembrandt Peale in 1800 (Library of Congress)
Presidential Statesmanship
The Jeffersonian Example

T he topic of statesmanship has been of critical importance throughout the history of Western political thought and the evolution of democratic states around the world. 1 Scholars often characterize statesmen as leaders who are willing and able to put the state and its democratic values before their own political interests, economic advancement, and social standing. 2 Within the US context, examining how American political leaders from each branch of government work to advance the country’s constitutionalism and make decisions that are in the best interest of the country has also been a noteworthy topic of discussion for political scientists, political theorists, and scholars of public administration, history, and law. 3 These collective analyses provide empirical evidence that illustrate how the practice of statesmanship has advanced the constitutional foundations of the American republic and its democratic institutions since the founding of the republic.
Thomas Jefferson is largely regarded as one of the most important statesmen in American history. 4 Over the course of his distinguished career in government, Jefferson worked to shape the political, constitutional, and institutional direction of the country. While most Americans remember Jefferson best for authoring the Declaration of Independence, he also served as governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, foreign minister to France, secretary of state under President George Washington, vice president of the United States under President John Adams, and president of the United States, and during his retirement years he worked to establish the University of Virginia, an effort that transformed higher education throughout the country.
This chapter explores how Jefferson contributed to the study and practice of statesmanship during his two terms as president of the United States (1801–1809). Jefferson’s presidency provides an illuminative case study that depicts the challenges and opportunities associated within running the American Constitution. Although President Jefferson was a seasoned politician, he often found himself in unfamiliar political circumstances. These complex situations forced him to make difficult decisions that put the good of the state above his own political preferences and ideas associated with constitutional governance and the management of public institutions. Jefferson’s distinctive approach to executive branch management, his opposition to expansive fiscal policy initiatives, his decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France without a legal or constitutional mandate, and his unwavering commitment to the continued enforcement of the Embargo Act despite public and political opposition enriches the concept of presidential statesmanship.
Early Life and Influences
Jefferson was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on April 13, 1743. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson’s connection to this part of the country, especially its land and agrarian traditions, including slavery, shaped his life in profound ways. Jefferson studied law at the College of William and Mary and subsequently completed a five-year apprenticeship with George Wythe, a distinguished contributor to the development of the republic and one of North America’s most esteemed scholars of the classics. Wythe signed the Declaration of Independence, participated at the Constitutional Convention, and was the nation’s first professor of law. Jefferson’s relationship with Wythe laid the foundation for his intellectual development, his interest in learning from the great thinkers of Western political thought, and his commitment to Enlightenment principles. In 1767, at the conclusion of his apprenticeship, Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia state bar and began his career as an attorney in private practice.
While the study and practice of law remained of significant interest to Jefferson, his interests were arguably broader than the vast majority of his contemporaries. He was a self-taught agronomist, farmer, viticulturist, architect, inventor, scientist, musician, and philosopher. Jefferson wrote more than any other American founder, composing more than sixteen thousand letters over the course of his life.
Fluent in five languages, Jefferson engaged the study of human history with energy and vigor and determined that the most profound contributors to the development of mankind were Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton. Notably, Jefferson displayed each of their portraits in his living room at Monticello as a means of demonstrating their influence and importance. Bacon’s, Locke’s, and Newton’s work shaped his own thinking with regard to the protection of individual rights from overbearing, intrusive governments that did not represent the best interests of the people they served.
Jefferson’s Vision for Democratic-Republican Governance
One of the most important freedoms associated with Enlightened government, according to Jefferson, was religious freedom. In 1777, he drafted a document that became a foundational pillar for American constitutional governance. The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, adopted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, was the first law passed by any of the American states that prohibited legal infractions or persecutions based on one’s religious beliefs. The law dictated that no Virginian could be compelled to support any religious doctrine and prohibited the commonwealth from legally or financially penalizing citizens because of their religious convictions. And, perhaps most provocatively for the time, the statute held that one’s religious beliefs did not “diminish, enlarge, or affect” his civil capacities. 5 The Virginia statute both changed the commonwealth and served as the impetus for the incorporation of the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution.
At the same time Jefferson was formalizing his ideas on religious freedom, the American Revolution began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In writing this important work, Jefferson relied on Locke’s Two Treatises on Government to articulate what specific rights were unassailable. While both philosophers focused on life and liberty as inalienable rights, Jefferson chose to underscore the pursuit of happiness instead of Locke’s emphasis on property. Toward the end of his life, Jefferson reflected often on the Revolutionary period. In a letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson noted: “[The Declaration] was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. . . . All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.” 6 As “an expression of the American mind,” the Declaration of Independence is crucial both for the arguments it makes in support of independence and for the articulation of the principles that ground American constitutionalism. The Declaration opens as follows:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 7
For the first time in human history, a people justified their claim to a “separate and equal station” on the basis of the law of nature, the law of reason, and not because of any idiosyncratic qualities or virtues of the nation. Further, in this greatest of political actions, Jefferson indicates that the natural law ought to rule and measure political life—that is, political life is not autonomous or separate from moral considerations. Jefferson’s language indicates that the American people have an obligation to seek their independence—that is, to claim what they are entitled to claim. He further links the duty to “declare the causes” that impel the people to separate from Britain to what is entitled to them by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Even Britain has a duty not to trespass on “the separate and equal” station of other nations.

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