- Hardcover: 238 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st edition (January 28, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1403963037
- ISBN-13: 978-1403963031
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virgina Resolutions and their Legacy 1st Edition
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"With historical knowledge that one can only wish more could possess, Watkins has brought our attention back to Jefferson's and Madison's constitutional commentary in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798-1800 and their illuminating relation to American history." - Clyde N. Wilson, Professor of History, University of South Carolina
"With Reclaiming the American Revolution, we have a thorough, thoughtful, and important study of a significant subject that has been too long neglected." - Joyce O. Appleby, Professor of History, UCLA; past president of Organization of American Historians and American Historical Association
"William Watkins' important book, Reclaiming the American Revolution, is intriguing and controversial: it is based on much research, and it is full of interest for the questions it raises about federal-state relations." - Robert L. Middlekauf, Preston Hotchkiss Professor of American History, University of California, Berkeley
From the Inside Flap
--Clyde N. Wilson, Professor of History, University of South Carolina
"With Reclaiming the American Revolution, we have a thorough, thoughtful, and important study of a significant subject that has been too long neglected."
--Joyce O. Appleby, Professor of History, UCLA; past president of Organization of American Historians and American Historical Association
"William Watkins' important book, Reclaiming the American Revolution, is intriguing and controversial: it is based on much research, and it is full of interest for the questions it raises about federal-state relations."
--Robert L. Middlekauf, Preston Hotchkiss Professor of American History, University of California, Berkeley
"Reclaiming the American Revolution is a provocative invitation to rethink the nature of contemporary American government in the light of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. William Watkins' brisk and panoramic account of American constitutionalism reminds us of the political possibilities open to courageous and spirited citizens who are dedicated to responsible liberty under the rule of law."
--Herman Belz, Professor of History, University of Maryland
"Those of us who are alarmed by the recent incursions into personal freedom are indebted to William Watkins for Reclaiming the American Revolution, his penetrating and insightful account of how Jefferson and Madison reacted to a situation of equal peril to liberty. We could not do better than to remind ourselves of how they responded when faced with a crisis no less grievous."
--Ronald Hamowy, Professor of History, University of Alberta; editor, Cato's Letters: Essays on Liberty by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon
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Watkins' book has been capably reviewed by five other reviewers who have also generated an intelligent discussion in the comments to one review. With this existing base, I'll limit myself to a few comments that I hope will add to the discussion.
Watkins' book is a scholarly history of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions followed by a proposed constitutional amendment which he believes would reestablish the shared sovereignty of the states with the federal government. Watkins has done a commendable job of keeping the history section focused on historical facts and not distorted by his agenda of the latter part of the book.
I read this book to get a better understanding of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and how they reflected (along with such subsequent events as the Hartford Convention and Tariff Nullification) the concepts of state sovereignty that held prior to the Civil War. Such concepts include a state's interposition between its citizens and the federal government, nullification federal laws, and secession. Watkins thoroughly described the Resolutions and followed their influence through the Civil War era and beyond.
There were actually five documents related to the Resolutions which ranged from fairly mild to very strong. Listed chronologically, they were:
1. Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Kentucky Resolutions (September 1798). This text was the strongest in Watkins' judgment. It explicitly asserted the right of a single state to nullify acts of congress and to prevent their enforcement within the state.
2. The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (November 1798). John Breckinridge edited Jefferson's draft and introduced them in the Kentucky Legislature. He toned down Jefferson's text and eliminated any explicit reference to nullification. However, he kept Jefferson's original phrases declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts were "not law but altogether void and of no effect". (That sounds pretty close to nullification to me.)
3. The Virginia Resolves (December 1798). Watkins' describes the Virginia Resolves, written by James Madison, as the most moderate of the documents. Madison did not attempt to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts, nor did he claim the right of a state to do so. However, he did assert the right and duty of the states to interpose "in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers" by the federal government not granted by the Constitution. (I'm not sure what the legal difference is between interposing and nullifying.)
4. The Kentucky Resolutions of 1799 (November 1799). These seem to have been a response to the other states that offered no support for the Kentucky-Virginia position. In this version, Kentucky declared that leaving the determination of the constitutionality of federal laws to the federal government was a path to despotism and that nullification by the states of federal acts not consistent with the Constitution was the rightful remedy. However, Kentucky would "bow to the laws of the Union" while continuing to oppose in a constitutional manner every violation of the Constitution.
5. Madison's Report of 1800 (January 1800). Also a response to the other states' failure to support Kentucky and Virginia, Madison again asserted the right of state interposition in cases of federal usurpations "deeply and essentially affecting the vital principles" of the Constitution. However, having asserted this right, he did not choose to exercise it in the case of the Alien and Sedition Laws.
I'll transition now from history to Watkins' proposed constitutional amendment, which would create a new Constitutional Commission, composed of one commissioner chosen by each state, with the power to judge the constitutionality of any law when petitioned to do so by 20% of the states. I don't have a strong objection to this proposed amendment, but question whether it would accomplish Watkins' actual goals in the unlikely event that it is ever ratified. In his presentation of constitutional history from 1800 to date, Watkins points out that the gradual but relentless expansion of federal power has been based on three clauses in the Constitution that have been repeatedly stretched from their "original intent":
1. The "common defense" and "general welfare" clauses in the preamble and Article 1, Section 8.
2. The "regulate commerce" clause in Article 1, Section 8.
3. The "necessary and proper" clause in Article 1, Section 8.
A more direct remedy to the expansion of federal power might be an amendment that clarified the meanings of these clauses to restore them to their "original intent". Such an amendment might include the following clarifications:
1. The preamble to the Constitution does not confer any powers not explicitly conferred elsewhere in the seven articles and subsequent amendments of the Constitution.
2. Article 1, Section 8, limits the power of Congress to levy taxes for any purpose other than for expenditures on "common defense" and "general welfare". The use of "common defense" and "general welfare" Article 1, Section 8, does not confer any powers on Congress not elsewhere explicitly conferred in the seven articles and subsequent amendments of the Constitution.
3. The power of Congress to "regulate commerce ... among the several states" in Article 1, Section 8, applies only to those specific goods and services that are in fact sold, transported, or provided across state lines. This power does not extend to similar goods and services sold or provided within a state, or to the manufacture or production of any goods.
4. The power of Congress "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers" cited in Article 1, Section 8, does not confer any powers to Congress not elsewhere explicitly conferred in the seven articles and subsequent amendments of the Constitution.
I offer this hypothetical amendment to illustrate an alternative, more direct approach to the problem Watkins addresses, but I do not necessarily advocate its adoption. It would be more useful if someone (with more knowledge of law than I) were to try to evaluate the impact of this change on existing federal laws, keeping in mind the adage "be careful what you wish for, you might get it". At least this approach seems more open to this type of analysis. With Watkins' proposed amendment, there is no way of evaluating what the Constitutional Commission might do. At least it is constrained to considering those laws brought before it by 20% of the states.
As a closing thought, trying to reverse the growth of federal power is probably akin to tilting at windmills. I remember Barry Goldwater's 1960 remark in The Conscience of a Conservative: The growth of federal power is seldom due to broken promises by politicians; all too often it's due to kept promises. The voting public got what they asked for, constitutional or not. A tremendous change in the demands and voting patterns of the public would be required to return to Madison's and Jefferson's Constitution. Unfortunately, I can't stretch my usual optimism to include this change.
Watkins does a tremendous job combining the history of these resolutions with the political ingenuity of both Madison and Jefferson. I guarantee that when you finish reading this book your knowledge will increase regarding the Constitution and how our founding fathers systematically dealt with the issue of sovereignty. Where does it reside? The difference between legislative sovereignty and ultimate sovereignty. He presents a balanced presentation of both views: those who support a strong centralized government with a broad interpretation of the constitution, versus those who were strong States' Rights advocates and a limited interpretation of the constituion. After presenting a concise yet thorough history of the resolutions he describes the effects of resolutions and how succeeding presidential administrations and state legislatures appealed to the resolutions to prevent encroachments. And he ends with a beautiful application to our day and how the government has constantly overstepped its constitutional boundaries and what we should do. And then he adds his own ideas as to what we can do as a people to make sure our rights stay in tact. In other words, he presents the problem and the solution.
Watkins makes bold comments in relation to how the framers interpreted the Constitution and how to remedy the encroachments of the national government. But every, and I mean every bold assertion is backed by tangible evidence. Unlike scholars who defend centralized government (whether ignorantly or knowingly) with vague examples and insufficient evidence, Watkins doesn't leave any stone unturned. And in addition you will find in his bibliography notes not only references, but added commentary from various poltical figures of the day. So in essence you get more than the views of Jefferson and Madison, but you get a view of both parties the Federalist (under the leadership of Alexander Hamiltion) and the Republicans (under the leadership of Jefferson). He explains how Patrick Henry, John Taylor, John Breckenridge and others saw the issues. But never does he down play the issue.
It is sad that some historians down play the rightful role of these Resolutions. Jack Rakove goes so far to paint Jefferson and Madison as radical and going too far to assert that the State legislatures could 'legally' check the powers of the national government. Jack Rakove states in "Madison and the Creation of the American Republic" (2nd Ed) Madison simply intended that the Bill of Rights was adopted for this purpose. Ok, well what happens when those rights are violated? Who now is the arbiter to determine whether the government has overstepped its boundaries or not? Well, Watkins makes it clear. The state legislatures were intended for this purpose. But he is fair to show the differences in the logic of both Jefferson and Madison in their view of Nullification and Interposition.
To sum it up in a little over 270 pgs Watkins enlightens the American public to the need of reform within our current government structure, and he shows how the principles of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions have been carried out in history to reserve the rights of the people and the government from expanding its power, and how the same thing is needed today. I could not put this book down, and I was upset when I found how much I was not taught in my early American history classes.