The American Experience

The American Revolution is often portrayed as a high-minded, orderly event whose capstone, the Constitution, provided the nation its democratic framework. Alan Taylor, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, gives us a different creation story in this magisterial history. The American Revolution builds like a ground fire overspreading Britain’s colonies, fueled by local conditions and resistant to control. Emerging from the continental rivalries of European empires and their native allies, the revolution pivoted on western expansion as well as seaboard resistance to British taxes. When war erupted, Patriot crowds harassed Loyalists and nonpartisans into compliance with their cause. The war exploded in set battles like Saratoga and Yorktown and spread through continuing frontier violence.

The discord smoldering within the fragile new nation called forth a movement to concentrate power through a Federal Constitution. Assuming the mantle of “We the People,” the advocates of national power ratified the new frame of government. But it was Jefferson’s expansive “empire of liberty” that carried the revolution forward, propelling white settlement and slavery west, preparing the ground for a new conflagration.

John C. Calhoun (1782–1850), the South Carolinian who served as a congressman, a senator, and the seventh vice president of the United States, is best known for his role in southern resistance to abolition and his doctrine of state nullification. But he was also an accomplished political thinker, articulating the theory of the “concurrent majority.” This theory, John G. Grove contends, is a rare example of American political thought resting on classical assumptions about human nature and political life. By tracing Calhoun’s ideas over the course of his political career, Grove unravels the relationship between the theory of the concurrent majority and civic harmony, constitutional reform, and American slavery. In doing so, Grove distinguishes Calhoun’s political philosophy from his practical, political commitment to states’ rights and slavery, and identifies his ideas as a genuinely classical form of republicanism that focuses on the political nature of mankind, public virtue, and civic harmony.

Man was a social creature, Calhoun argued, and the role of government was to maximize society’s ability to thrive. The requirements of social harmony, not abstract individual rights, were therefore the foundation of political order. Hence the concurrent majority permitted the unique elements in any given society to pursue their interests as long as these did not damage the whole society; it forced rulers to act in the interest of the whole. John C. Calhoun’s Theory of Republicanism offers a close analysis of the historical development of this idea from a basic, inherited republican ideology into a well-defined political theory. In the process, this book demonstrates that Calhoun’s infamous defense of American slavery, while unwavering, was intellectually shallow and, in some ways, contradicted his highly developed political theory.

In 1936, Lloyd Gaines’s application to the University of Missouri law school was denied based on his race. Gaines and the NAACP challenged the university’s decision. Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) was the first in a long line of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding race, higher education, and equal opportunity. The court case drew national headlines, and the NAACP moved Gaines to Chicago after he received death threats. Before he could attend law school, he vanished.

This is the first book to focus entirely on the Gaines case and the vital role played by the NAACP and its lawyers—including Charles Houston, known as “the man who killed Jim Crow”— who advanced a concerted strategy to produce political change. Horner and Endersby also discuss the African American newspaper journalists and editors who mobilized popular support for the NAACP’s strategy. This book uncovers an important step toward the broad acceptance of the principle that racial segregation is inherently unequal.

This is the inaugural volume in the series Studies in Constitutional Democracy, sponsored by the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.

This essay examines how or why Huck came to recognize the humanity of the slave Jim. Christian principles and those of the Declaration of Independence play little or no explicit part in the change. In addition, a careful examination of the dispute over King Solomon and language in chapter 14 suggests that Jim’s capacity for reason did not prompt the change. Several subsequent episodes reveal that Huck’s recognition of Jim’s humanity is rooted rather in sentiment, especially sympathy. This approach places Twain’s thought closer to Rousseau than to Locke and suggests that the novel can be understood as an exploration of the pre-political relations needed for overcoming racism.

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