Education: the art of finding lost souls

When I was in second grade we were asked to create a small biography of ourselves. We were to provide information such as “favorite color”, and “favorite sport”, and “favorite animal”, and “favorite book”. My grandfather had been telling me stories about these three bullfrogs sitting on a log since I was the age of 3 and therefore I had grown particularly fond of the children’s series “Frog and Toad”. However, I had also been thumbing through my brother’s books and listening to him talk about what he was studying in his political science classes. Rather than writing down one of the many books in the “Frog and Toad” series, I came to a toss up between The Gates of Fire, a fictional book about the battle at Thermopylae, and The Presidency of James Madison by Robert Allen Rutland. I chose the Madison biography because I didn’t want the trouble of explaining The Gates of Fire to my teacher. All I knew was that there was a lot of blood and cursing (which was probably more than I could say about the Madison biography at the time). Nonetheless, my teacher was still troubled with my choice.

That same year when we were doing times tables for speed during class, the kid across from me was teasing my classmate next to him in order to rattle him during the competition. I got angry and threw my pencil at him which landed me in a corner in the back of the classroom for the remainder of the year. She didn’t believe me.

When I was in the fourth grade I opened a business. I was bored in class- we mostly studied science and I had decided that I wanted to be a lawyer and study history in order to bide my time in lower school in order to prepare myself. During many of our class “experiments”, which consisted of the teacher explaining diagrams and we the students filling in work sheets, I would make what I then called “bookies”. In other words, I would create small comic books on notebook paper and sell them to students, who at first, I think, bought them out of their sense of charity, and who later bought them out of their desire to be fashionable, for 55 cents. I also had a small jar on my desk that would hold pencils that my mother had bought for me and I would sell those for 10 cents or throw them in to sweeten the deal for the bookies. I saw no problem with it. The students in PACE, who were said to be the advanced students, but in reality were the students whose parents had close connections at the school, sold lolly pops for 50 cents every day before school and the principal sold pencils in his office. My teacher shut down my efforts nonetheless.

When I had gotten to freshman English class I had a teacher that I particularly liked. We read Shakespeare and the Odyssey that year. I suppose the Odyssey reminded me of my adolescent love for the battle at Thermopylae. I can even remember that I thought so much of Homer at the time that I found that the textbook which contained the Odyssey left out a few scenes of the work. It didn’t say so anywhere on the textbook, but I found that some things in the text just weren’t adding up or painting a full picture of the story. I can remember my teacher telling me that we weren’t yet old or mature enough to read the entire work. I know what this really meant was that she didn’t have faith that we were “smart” enough to understand it- whatever that means.

My junior year was the year that all of us began to think about college. In my English class that year we read Gatsby and I fell in love. I can remember the movie, but I don’t remember any lectures. We were also asked, that year, to write an essay on a topic of our choosing. A rather vague assignment, but we were told that this was what we would be asked to do on the state tests, and this is what would be asked of us in college. I decided to write on Political campaigns. I was accused of plagiarism that year for my essay because my teacher said that the words “didn’t seem” like they were my own. I’m not sure how she would know- we hadn’t written an essay yet in her class and this was the end of the year, nor had we, to my knowledge, typed any true essays up until that point.

I don’t mean to insinuate that I didn’t have any good teachers in school. I can remember my third grade teacher inspiring me to collect coins, and I can remember my eighth grade history teacher and her love for Lewis and Clark. I can even remember my Math class from my eighth grade year. I couldn’t see the white board because I refused to get glasses and I struggled very badly. I told my math teacher and instead of having me take notes from the back of the class he would have me do a work problem on the white board every single day in front of my classmates. I loved him for that. He was a basketball coach at the high school and It showed that he cared. He and I would struggle together in front of the class. He would struggle to flex his art of teaching a kid who didn’t naturally get math. I would struggle on the math problem, and he would struggle to find what made me get it. Furthermore, he would reveal to the entire class, and to me specifically, what leadership was.

Although I don’t want to insinuate that I didn’t have any good teachers, I do want to say that I didn’t appreciate teachers because the bad ones had the ability to overshadow the good ones. They tinged my pallet so badly that by the time that my senior Spanish teacher prophetically told me that I was going to be a teacher I cringed. I also want to say that I had never known why I was doing the things that I was doing. I had asked teachers this before and they had taken my question as an attempt to lash out and demean them in front of other students. I may not have known it at the time, but the answer that I was looking for was one that I try to tell at least one of my students every day. The answer is either one of three things: “Because its good”, “Because its true”, or more importantly “Because its beautiful”. That was all I wanted to hear, alongside a defense of why it was one of those things.

Throughout the long history of teaching, one that stretches back to the conception of the first man, the art has shifted in terms of its aim. This is because teaching, despite the contemporary understanding of it, is an art. Like artwork, its focus shifts as the subject matter that it attempts to capture shifts. I was lucky to have my brother growing up. He is the greatest mentor that I have ever had, or that I will ever have. He taught me about character and love by simply being around me. He didn’t have to do anything special- he just had to be there and his being there was inspiring. The focus of teaching today is to do for students what my brother had done for me: to help me find my soul.

Unfortunately, today we lack older brothers as a society. Today we do not have leaders that we can look up to and that can teach us about character and what it means to be a man or woman who strives to do something good an honorable and just. We lack people that imbue our lives with a sense of purpose and meaning. School is at least partially to blame for this.

As a teacher I struggled a lot with this, and I still do. How am I to lead my students? I don’t particularly care about teaching them, for they have their whole lives to learn. I care much more about guiding them. I care about putting them on the right path so that their parents can draw the goodness out of them for the remainder of their lives until they must set them free. As a teacher I couldn’t do this, and this is why I gave up teaching. My soul was in pain because of this.

Teachers can’t be leaders today. The idea of school generally lacks purpose. It is a place that parents allow their kids to go during the day so they can go to work. We settle for this default understanding of what has been understood as the highest good of human life for the majority of the history of humanity simply because we are afraid to give up stability. But the problem is that our kids deserve better than mediocrity, and our nation can’t stand long if we only provide them with mediocrity.

I worked at the greatest school that I can imagine and I still struggled with this. Teaching is supposed to be team work; however, from my experience I have learned that much of the time I was working against the grain. There is not enough time to create community because we are concerned constantly with the practicality of doing things by the book. Because some bad teachers have treated students badly, teachers must refrain from becoming close with students. Because administrators are enforcing standards that they cannot explain and that they do not believe in there is tension between teachers and those who are supposed to support them most. Parents don’t understand that the process of learning and growing is painful and they resent when you foster children through the healthy pain of growth.

All of this needs to change. I did not get out of teaching to stay out, but I got out of teaching because I understand that we are wasting the human capital that we severely need as a nation. I understand that school is the most sacred institution on God’s earth, and I believe that wisdom is the most beautiful thing known to man. I got out of school because I hope to evoke the change that will bring education back to school. I am not sure how we get there, but I hope I can fight tooth and nail to do it.


Hands and Hearts

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is the only book in which the author writes what cannot be written. The book is highly experiential, arguably to the point of superfluity. Among my students, the whaling chapters are those which push them to give up the fight. For myself, my first copy of Moby Dick was burnt upon Ishmael’s description of the Italian paintings of Christ wherein the narrator claims that they are most accurate because they capture the “hermaphroditical” character of the Son. Melville even went so far as to write to Nathaniel Hawthorne that he had composed “a wicked book and (felt) spotless as a lamb” having written it. My argument is that Melville writes in such a way in order to accomplish what no author had yet, or has since, been able to accomplish: he not only makes his reader think about God, but he affords his reader the opportunity to experience God. Thereby, Melville is able to moderate the American soul in hopes that it may make use of the vast freedom that so quickly can dissolve into wayward discontent. His book becomes a symphonic experience through which you, reader, like Ishmael are plunged into the deep waters of baptism and forced to fight your way back to faith, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection. As we read the American epic we find that we are all Ishmaels searching to find something all the while knowing not what.


Everyone is familiar with the false opening lines “Call me Ishmael” (I say false because there are two important “chapters” preceding the “loomings” chapter). However, few understand the significance of “Call me Ishmael” just as they do not attempt to make sense of the title “loomings” which is of layered importance. The Biblical Ishmael is said to be a man “with his hand against all men”. How American is he? I see in him every political campaign to which I’ve ever contributed, and I see in him the faces of all of the students I’ve ever taught. As Americans our independent and enterprising natures are manifested in this fellow who will befriend us along this journey. He is an orphan and a wanderer, a son begat with no true mother, and one searching for some ounce of feeling all the while wandering off the path that he most needs to tread. Just as Tocqueville describes Americans full of restlessness and characterized by individualism, Melville creates an American working through his restlessness and grappling with his individualism.


The title “Loomings” is doubly important: first, it recalls the feeling that “looms” over Ishmael, and second it refers to the first step in the process of God’s weaving of Ishmael’s fate upon his loom. The feeling of having his hand against all other men makes Ishmael feel as if he must either walk into the street and “deliberately knock their hats off”, or commit suicide. Luckily for us, he chooses water as his “substitute for pistol and ball”. What we will learn alongside him throughout this journey is that love of his fellow man must displace this looming feeling of grief and loneliness. Only through knowing and appreciating others will Ishmael come by a feeling of self-love and appreciation. This communion with his fellow man will be a thread in the tapestry woven upon God’s loom throughout the tortured journey of the Pequod. Ishmael will find later that God is that weaver who “weaves and is deafened by his weaving”. Initially angered with God for his deafness, Ishmael reasons towards that thought which Ahab never does: that perhaps the reason that man can’t hear God isn’t because God is not speaking, but rather the word of God is drowned out as we place our word at the center of the universe, contemptuously displacing His plans for us with our own wandering desires.


Surprisingly early in the novel Captain Ahab symbolically nails his doubloon to the mainmast of the ship as a bribe for his crew to follow Moby Dick. Ahab proceeds to explain that his path is “laid upon Iron rails” as he rhetorically overpowers Starbuck in front of the crew. Ishmael remarks “my shouts went up with theirs because of the dread in my soul”. How often are we all damned to chasing cursed Job’s whale to the ends of the earth for no reason but our own looming loneliness? Melville really calls into question, in this instance, the extent to which man really desires to exercise rational judgment. At least for Ishmael, the easiest way out of loneliness is to succumb peer pressure; nevertheless, his coping mechanism proves a hollow one. It is not until about 200 pages later, when we have almost forgotten about the soft despotism that plagues the crew, that the spell over Ishmael is broken and his loneliness truly subsides.


Only in the “Squeeze of the Hand” chapter when Ishmael is kneading spermacetti with his fellow voyagers can he remark “I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it… while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.” The result: Ishmael “lowers, nay shifts, all expectations of attainable felicity” from philosophy to the home, the bed, the wife, and the hearth. He even remarks that on that day he saw “angels all with their hands in a jar of spermaceti”. Rather than trying to focus on his tortured fate and all that lacks sense, Ishmael begins to find pleasure in those small graces that we so often overlook. Only through this lens can Ishmael finally begin to make sense of his relationship with God. He must first see light in order to see darkness. For Ishmael, friendship makes good all the vices of his fellow man and cloaks all of the darkness of the world: it is akin to the forgiveness that God has given man when he sends his son to die on the cross rendering our sins moot in the respect to salvation. All that is necessary to gain this blessing is for Ishmael to turn his hands away from his fellow man, and use those hands to work with his fellow man instead of against him.


Thus goes the baptism of Ishmael’s hand in a jar of spermaceti. Melville wishes to make stark the distinction between baptism of the body and baptism of the soul; however, he understands that the physical baptism is necessary to make possible the spiritual baptism. The purification of the soul is harder than the baptism of the body because it is an active pursuit rather than a passive one. And, as no man is worthy of the mantle of the Son of God, each man’s discipleship will be riddled with tests and failures. Ishmael’s is no different. However, by the end of the book Ishmael is no longer Ishmael: he is no longer the biblical orphan with his hand against all other men, but rather he is claimed by the wayward ship “the Rachel” who weeps for her lost children. However, he cannot be claimed by the Rachel until he has been plunged into the deep in pursuit of Moby Dick, losing all of his comrades, and only surviving by attaching himself to Queequeg’s coffin. He thereby becomes a “loose-fish”, and he thereby suffers the same fate as Ahab. However, Ishmael turns the fate of Ahab inside out: where Ahab was claimed by the darkness as he was loosened, Ishmael is claimed by God. The epilogue (which was not included in the first edition of the novel due to a huge twist of fate, but that is a story for another time) begins with the first instance in which Ishmael accurately quotes the bible: “And I alone   am escaped to tell thee”. Melville thereby draws a parallel between the old, wayward Ishmael, and the new Ishmael. He thus renders his great novel digestible from another perspective for the reader’s second read: the perspective of Job. In short, through realizing who Ishmael is by the end of the novel, we are able to better understand his perspective throughout the journey by placing it in view of all of his suffering. 

America, and especially American kids, is experiencing an identity crisis. Moby Dick may be the book that my students most hate, but it is the book they most need. Today we are too quick to teach our children to be “nice”, but we do so at the expense of affording our kids the opportunity to explore the complexities of their souls. I hope that my students begin to hate Moby Dick the work, just as Ahab hates Moby Dick the whale. I hope that they burn their first copy just as I did- because this will mean that the book has touched them. This will mean that the book has pushed them intellectually and made them uncomfortable. After all, Ishmael must be made uncomfortable in order to come about change, in order to grow, and finally in order to come about a resurrection and a renewal of his faith. The way in which I gauge my success or failure while teaching Moby Dick is to evaluate how my students are working through their hate: whether or not they are taking it seriously. Soon they will no longer be children, and soon they will have to grapple with their souls as they roam free. The better part of “being nice” is not a continuous set of accommodating gestures, but rather it is the ability to rule the hatred in their souls that Ahab feels combined with the longing that Ishmael feels to contemplate the blackness in the world which seems to overrun all light. In short, what Moby Dick attempts to do is make sense of the erotic hatred within us all to which Ahab falls, and to reign in the false path that reason may take if we become an Ishmael rationalizing the darkness and its seeming consumption of the light. If our kids can do this, then they can learn how to rule themselves in a much more substantial way than they can by being nice at all costs. If we can teach them this, then we will not have to teach them to “be nice”, for they will be happy and they will be just.

Are schools limiting education?

In Senator Ben Sasse’s recent book, The Vanishing American Adult, he argues that America is experiencing “a coming of age crisis”. In short, he observes that kids are growing older without maturing; that, like Peter Pan, their minds remain childlike as they grow into men and women. Sasse doesn’t go so far as to fault the American schoolhouse, for he has no desire to make a political statement. However, I can’t help but wonder if teachers like myself are contributing to the rearing of Peter Pans, and I can’t help but recognize that perhaps we can’t help but turn our kids to perpetual adolescence because of our understanding of the function of the school. Our schools are failing our students today not because they lack resources but because we have rejected the essence of education. We have outright rejected the challenge to interest students in the most fundamental questions of life; questions that excite them to find answers through age and experience. I lament that school can do little to help our kids.

 America is enjoying one of the most prosperous periods in human history. Our great grandfathers could not have fathomed the mobility and efficiency our workforce is enjoying due to innovation in technology. A great majority of Americans are now working from virtual offices and performing their work tasks according to their own schedules. Many companies are now holding virtual meetings, reducing their overhead costs while allowing workers the comfort of connecting with others without having to leave their own homes. 

This sounds like it spells productivity and efficiency; however, the fruits of our innovation are startling. Our students are using these gifts not to become more productive but more consumptive. According to a 2015 Common Sense Media study, Americans ages 13 to 18 consume an average of nine hours of media daily. Considering most of these teens sleep at some point, this consumption averages out to about one-third of their waking lives. Another shocking number is the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010: just one month after its release the game had been played a cumulative 68,000 years! All the while, students are clamouring for free education, yet a recent study shows that in 2014 over half a million students enrolled in college that were unprepared for college level coursework. So why aren’t our kids capitalizing on the gifts that innovation provides? The simple answer is because they don’t want to, but the harder question is why they don’t want to. 

In the marketplace, companies that don’t satisfy customer needs don’t survive. Unfortunately I have noticed first-handedly that this principle does not apply to the school system. As the workforce is becoming more efficient, the classroom is becoming less efficient. A 2016 survey by the Center for Education Policy shows that 81 percent of teachers believe that their students spend too much time taking tests. The same study shows that throughout the school year students spend 10 days taking district-mandated tests and nine days taking state-mandated tests. In addition to the nineteen days spent taking standardized tests, thirty-six percent of teachers report spending at least a month on test prep for state-mandated exams (studies show that prep time is even greater in low income schools). Given the short duration of the school year, this leaves teachers little time to tailor the school experience to the wants and needs of the individual students. What is lost is what is most important: cultivating within their students a love of learning. 

Students are not treated with the dignity of individuals. The result: the consumers, the students, are the ones who suffer the consequences and they are unhappy as the school day lacks either true substantive challenge or the one-on-one attention students need to flourish. Some students are bored with school and some students are frustrated. To the child, this either manifests into a looming feeling that time is being wasted, or in a feeling of helplessness and loneliness. Due to arbitrary districting laws as well as regulations making the establishment of independent schools difficult, school choice is severely limited and parents are forced to settle for mediocrity. 

Mark Twain once remarked “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”. In a time of innovation and expanding freedom, the first thing we must teach our kids is that that education is a perpetual endeavor to understand themselves and what is necessary to make them happy. Only then will education perform its true function, rearing students to attain the confidence to become self-reliant and serious souls. Sadly, as schools are pressured to meet national benchmarks, students learn the opposite. We must recognize that the end of school is education, not vice versa. It is time that we begin to put the needs of our kids at the forefront of education. We can begin by thinking of innovative solutions to our education problem that are not one-size-fits-all. We can then understand the urgency of educational reform and turn the several solutions to education into a national conversation. We must loosen state regulations that prohibit educational solutions from playing out. If we do so we will empower teachers and free them to teach to student needs so that they may excite students to explore the goodness, the truth, and the beauty that is to be found in the world and within themselves. 

Education: The Innovation we need, and the Rebellion we Deserve

A system that denies parents the freedom to choose the education that best suits their children’s individual and unique needs denies them a basic human right. It is un-American, and it is fundamentally unjust. – Betsy DeVos

Yesterday Lt. Col. Allen West wrote an article entitled “Distracted Priorities” in which he begged the question “Will there be a return to the priorities affecting the lives of our citizens”*? Today as the insurgent agents of the Progressive Left occupy the capitol building in attempt to conquer our nation by dividing us through the wedge of the Russia question, Betsy DeVos, another favorite target of the Democratic party, was delivering remarks to the National Alliance of Charter Schools. But we Americans were distracted from her important remarks by the reality television show of cross examination that we have allowed to persist for much too long. It has long been apparent that the left does not want the arguments of DeVos to be heard- for they do not want the stigma that they have placed around her name to be lifted, and they thus prove that they do not want sensible solutions to the persistent failings of status quo education.

DeVos begins by recognizing as much, stating “Defenders of the status quo like to paint me as a ‘voucher-only proponent’, but the truth is I’ve long-supported public charter schools as a quality option for students”. Why is it that the left persistently pegs her as a “voucher-only proponent”, as if voucher has become one of the many “trigger-words” in our country? The left has no option but to paint conservative reformers in broad brush strokes. They can’t afford to lose the entrenchment of a national teachers union that secures jobs for life-long teachers at the expense of competitive innovation in the classroom. They can’t afford to lose it because they can’t afford to lose a steady political endorsement for the Democratic Party that has grown from $4.3 million dollars in 2004 to, an all-time high, $32 million in 2016*. They can’t afford to recognize that our modes are outdated: That in 2013 the US collectively spent over $620 billion on public and secondary schools, numbering at around $10,700 per pupil*. They refuse to acknowledge that education spending has nearly quadrupled since 1984, reaching upwards of $67 billion in 2014 all the while showing virtually no quantifiable results in eighth to twelfth grade reading proficiency and math scores*. They refuse to acknowledge these facts because admitting that the current system is broken and that we are merely average in world education today might lead to an avenue of progress that is unfriendly to the monopoly that they have created surrounding education.

What is further is that they don’t want to admit that education has ceased to concern itself with the wellbeing of students, but rather it has become a self-serving political endeavor to enrich the Democratic party come election time. They cease to recognize this even at the behest of DeVos. They would rather refuse results than give up the humanitarian ethos that they have worked so hard to unrightfully claim. The problem with this stern stance on education is not only that it does not offer results, but it doesn’t seek to develop an environment defined by freedom.
In DeVo’s speech she recounts two stories of families who have no choice in regards to their students’ placement within the school system, no opportunity to place their high achieving students in advance placement classes and no opportunity to cultivate the God-given gifts of their beloved children. This is sadly a reality for so many parents across the country: as state schools continue to exercise an effective monopoly over enrollment we fail our children and we fail our families. We thus become the key agent in the spiritual breakdown of our own communities, the ignorance of responsibility among our youth, and the peaking of youthful interest not in the endeavors of academics and patriotism but rather in pursuits of direct rebellion against their duties to their schools, to their families, and to their communities. The founders of our country went so far as to claim “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles”*, we must continually ask ourselves if these are the sorts of students our public education system is cultivating, and whether or not they can meet the demands that our fathers and grandfathers met in order to sustain our free government.


Near the end of his essay, Lt. Col. West writes, “the real culprit to this is ourselves, we have succumbed to the distraction of priorities because we, as an American society, lack a focused attention span” and he could not be more correct. It is no wonder that the fidget spinner became the bane of so many teachers across the country at the closing of the 2016-2017 school year: we no longer have an adequate commitment to do what is necessary in order to engage, interest, and educate our students, and the reality is that they are rebelling. If we are to serve our students and rear young patriots that are hardy enough to shoulder the demands and challenges of the coming years, and if we are to expect them to honor and serve the country in which they live, then we must once again commit ourselves to taking questions of education seriously rather than ignoring them. Perhaps a unilateral voucher system for schools is not the silver-bullet solution, but we can no longer afford to neglect the challenge to seek innovative solutions for our kids. As we continue to ignore such pressing questions, we continue to fail our kids.



*​ only=N​ (the National Education Association, a national teachers union, was one of two teachers unions in the top 20 donors to campaigns in the 2016 presidential election, they donated over $24 million dollars to the Clinton Campaign)

*​ ans-of-federal-spending-for-scientific-research/

“So costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom”

While the Lincoln Douglas debates are important because they grappled with the slavery question, they are of ongoing importance because the two statesmen debated the boundaries of liberty in a self-governing society. The lessons we learn from Lincoln are enduring, teaching us in an age of increasing ignorance what it means to be a free people capable of self-government. Lincoln’s lessons continue to apply as peace and progress displace the protection of liberty as government’s purpose, andas we the people favor the expedient rather than the just. Early in his career Lincoln vows, “If elected I shall consider the whole people… I shall be governed by their will…”, (Lincoln 57); however, Douglas afforded the people the most direct opportunity to decide upon the slavery question. Nevertheless, Lincoln best understood self-government as he understood that the people must be taught to honor freedom in order to sustain it. Only Lincoln regards the limits on majority rule that make the practice of freedom possible, whereas Douglas understands self-government as the unlimited will of the majority; furthermore, Lincoln, unlike Douglas, recognized that there were two pillars of the American founding, and understood that the right to self-government was derived from and dependent upon the principle of equal inalienable rights.

       Section I: The Compromise of 1850 and the Ongoing Dilemma of Slavery

    Our struggle for popular government is riddled with compromises and concessions. The historical events leading up to the Lincoln/Douglas debates grappled with a dilemma: whether to allow Congress to decide to restrict slavery to where it existed, or whether to allow the people to decide upon the question democratically. In Lincoln’s time, as in ours, many debated whether the founding fathers rejected or supported slavery. Despite their dedication to freedom did they relent their duty to apply their own principles in emancipating their slaves? Or worse, as some argued, did they regard African slaves as less than full persons incapable and undeserving of freedom? The very first attempt to place chattel slavery on the path to extinction was in the Declaration of Independence, and was overruled in order to ensure unity. The first draft of the Declaration, including the phrase “He (The king of Britain) has waged a cruel war against human nature itself…” (Rough Draft of the Declaration) was altered to avoid a principled stance against slavery. In the year 1787 the Northwest Ordinance was passed permitting Congress to declare that the Northwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin became a territory in which slavery should never be permitted. Through the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 the word slave was omitted; however, the three-fifths clause was added surrendering representation of slaves to their masters and considering them less than men, as was Article IV, Section II, providing a provision later purposed as a fugitive slave clause. In 1803, upon the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France, several slave states were carved and the territories were admitted without controversy as slaves already therein resided. The later attempt of Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state was resisted by northern representatives of congress. At last, in 1820, a Missouri Compromise was agreed upon which would concede to Missouri the opportunity to enter as a slave state, so long as within the remaining territory North of 36 degrees and 30 minutes slavery should never be permitted. As more territory was acquired from Mexico, Congress agreed upon five separate bills which formed the Compromise of 1850: California would be admitted as a free state, the slave trade would be banned in the nation’s capital, Texas would be granted the money to pay her war debts, the Utah and New Mexico territory would be granted the opportunity to decide whether slavery be admitted within their borders, and a more stringent fugitive slave law was enacted. By the time of the acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 it had become evident that the question of slavery was woven into the fabric of American self government. Each major confrontation raised this fundamental problem: was slavery to be overruled by a distant power because of a moral principle, or did the democratic process have the authority to choose a moral wrong rejecting the principle of equal natural rights from which self-government derived its power.

A national debate ensued about what the Compromise of 1850 stood for. Douglas argued that the Compromise of 1850 endorsed the use of referenda to decide the slavery question in new territories, and endorsed this principle as one that ought to apply to all territories alike because he saw that it assured both unity throughout the nation and freedom of the people to decide their own fundamental laws. The Compromise of 1850 attempted to place the moral question of slavery to the side. Whigs and Democrats alike acquiesced the compromise measures in order to settle the turmoil that prevented the union from pursuing manifest destiny, each interest accepting concessions against their organizing principles. Henry Clay’s resolutions read, “It being desirable, for the peace, concord, and harmony of the Union of these States, to settle and adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy between them arising out of the institution of slavery…” (Clay). According to the legislation, the compromise was fashioned as a settlement for the sake of “peace, concord, and harmony”; however, Douglas would later adopt one compromise measure, popular sovereignty, as a universal tenet of freedom. The resolution from which Douglas derived the principle of popular sovereignty reads, “it is inexpedient for Congress to provide by law either for its introduction into, or exclusion from, any part of the said territory; and that appropriate territorial governments ought to be established by Congress in all of the said territory… without adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery” (Clay). Although popular sovereignty was but one concession of the compromise, Douglas saw in it a great opportunity to put the agitation of the slavery question to rest. In 1854 writing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Douglas declared the prior Missouri Compromise “inoperative and void” as “being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slaves in the States and Territories” (Douglas). Douglas saw in popular sovereignty an appeal to American independence to provide the unity necessary if the regime wished to achieve prosperity. Thereby, Douglas was able to introduce a new maxim of justice among the people, and a new mode of prudence among partisans and representatives. Popular sovereignty appeared just because it favored neither abolitionists nor slaveholders, the intemperate minorities who sought to mold the territories to their will. In addition, it appeared peaceful because it tempered the passions that raged among partisans. Moreover, it appeared prudent, favoring the measures of expediency necessary to pursue manifest destiny and its promise of infinite prosperity. Through Douglas’ interpretation of the Compromise of 1850, he aimed to introduce a mode of legislating the slavery question that afforded the people the freedom to choose.

In the wake of Douglas’ work were political events that entailed consequences for the Whig party and colored the way in which the people would understand the founding principles. Thus, Lincoln began to argue that popular sovereignty could not be considered a principle established by the Compromise of 1850, nor did the compromise supercede prior legislation as Douglas argued. Lincoln begins his Peoria Speech by harkening to the spirit of American compromise. He states:

These (Northwest) territories, together with the states themselves, constituted all the country over which the confederacy then claimed any sort of jurisdiction. We were then living under the Articles of Confederation, which were superseded by the Constitution several years afterwards. The question of ceding these territories to the general government was set on foot. Mr. Jefferson… conceived the idea of taking that occasion to prevent slavery ever going into the north-western territory. (Lincoln 284)

 Lincoln first sought to prove that at the time of our founding it was conceded that Congress had the power to prevent the spread of slavery into new territories. He then states: 

But now new light breaks upon us.- Now Congress declares this ought never to have been; and the like of it, must never be again.- The sacred right of self-government is grossly violated by it! We even find some men, who drew their first breath, and every other breath of their lives, under this very restriction, now live in dread of absolute suffocation, if they should be restricted in the “sacred right” of taking slaves to Nebraska. That perfect liberty they sigh for- the liberty of making slaves of other people- Jefferson never thought of… (Lincoln 285)

Lincoln argued that popular sovereignty was a renegotiation of a founding principle: freedom turned perfect freedom. Perfect liberty was freedom without restraint. This licentious interpretation would allow men to do anything with their freedom, including forfeit the natural equal rights of others, without restraint. Lincoln saw that perfect liberty was inconsistent with the founding, favoring one pillar, self-government, at the danger of the other, the equal inalienable rights of all. In distinguishing liberty from perfect liberty, Lincoln displays the Democratic party as the aggressor favoring reinterpretation, and the Republicans the party fighting for preservation. Lincoln prophesies that the reinterpretation of this principle not only destroys the achievements of the past, but has detrimental effects for the future. Because the right of self-government is derivative of the equal inalienable rights of all, the pillar of self-government would collapse if inalienable rights were not recognized and protected. 

        Section II: A New Maxim- Douglas’ Assertion of Popular Sovereignty

Douglas understood popular sovereignty as the principle upon which republican government depended; further, it was not only a right of the people, but it was the only system of government diverse enough for American localities. In his speech upon his return to Chicago, Douglas states:

If there is any one principle dearer and more sacred than all others in free governments, it is that which asserts the exclusive right of a free people to form and adopt their own fundamental law, and to manage and regulate their own internal affairs and domestic institutions. (Douglas, Chicago 1858)

Douglas believed that if the people of the states were to submit their right to decide upon the slavery question they must submit the right to decide all other questions. If the people could not be entrusted with the opportunity to regulate slavery, then they could not reserve the power to regulate anything. Douglas saw Congressional interference regarding slavery as a trespass of the promise to exercise the right to self-government. Because the regulation of slavery was not explicitly enumerated within the powers of Congress, it must be ceded to the states. Both the Constitution and the principles which backed that Constitution ought to permit the states to regulate their own affairs. Douglas thereby placed emphasis on one pillar of freedom, self-government, while dismissing the second essential pillar, the preservation of natural rights. 

Lincoln argues that popular sovereignty was not the true principle upon which the republic was founded; further, self-government, if not ordered by some higher principle, destroys freedom. In Lincoln’s speech on the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, he speaks of the “declared indifference” regarding slavery as a “covert real zeal for the spread of slavery”. He states:

I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty- criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest. (Lincoln 291)

When Lincoln states that this declared indifference is a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, he does not suspect an active conspiracy. This is likewise true regarding the claim he makes in his Peoria address. However, Lincoln believed that slavery was the product of consequences, and endorsing the principle of popular sovereignty created consequences friendly to the expansion of slavery. He continues “I do not blame the southern people…” because he believed that, being born amid the institution, they had become softened to accept slavery as just. The regard in which slavery is held, and the extent to which the people honored the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence, would either limit or unleash slavery within the United States of America. Lincoln believed that declared indifference was in truth a “covert real zeal” for the expansion of slavery because it produced the same result as endorsement of slavery. This indifference to the second pillar of the American founding, that all men have certain equal natural rights, removed all objection to the question of slavery. Lincoln disdained declared indifference because it reared those in the free states to “care not” if men wished to become despots, thus insulating slavery from public sentiment. Lincoln abhorred that this indifference led good men to dismiss the challenge to defend the pillar of the founding upon which self-government was contingent. Lincoln, unlike Douglas, understood that in a regime bereft an objective basis for morality, there could be no true democracy. The second pillar of the founding, that all men had certain equal rights, was the reason self-government was just. To Lincoln slavery was the tacit acceptance of despotism among a free people, and a failure to apply the principles of the Declaration in defense against the ambition of tyrants.

Douglas argued that Lincoln attempted to settle the slavery question with national policy contrary to that of a majority of the country, and such policy would undermine self government. As Congress continued to regulate their affairs, and assume powers over the localities in which the people lived, the love of freedom and the regard for self-government would decay. Douglas understood that placing the slavery question in Congress was an immediate danger, akin to the cause of the American revolution. He states:

It is no answer to this argument to say that slavery is an evil, and hence should not be tolerated. You must allow the people to decide for themselves whether it is a good or an evil… Whenever you put a limitation upon the right of any people to decide what laws they want, you have destroyed the fundamental principle of self-government. (Douglas)

Prohibiting slavery in the territories would effectually deprive citizens of freedom. Douglas believed that popular sovereignty was noble because it entrusted the people with the power they naturally deserved, and it was useful because “the laws and domestic institutions which would suit the granite hills of New Hampshire would be totally unfit for the rice plantations of South Carolina…” (Douglas). Douglas appealed to the sense of the people. Each day within their own localities the people managed their own affairs. If this practice applied to the governing the self, why ought this practice not apply to the governance of a large republic? In Douglas’ estimate, keeping the slavery question confined to small and homogeneous localities avoided the danger that a national conversation on the subject would incite. Lincoln, on the other hand, believed that self-government only went so far. And Lincoln, rather than Douglas, endeavored to allow the people to “decide for themselves” while providing for the unity of the nation, so long as their decision honored both pillars of the American founding. This implied that they be faithful to the principle of self-government, but recognize that the preservation of equal natural rights was the reason for which the right to self-government existed. 

    Lincoln’s response was that the uniform preservation of natural rights would not be upheld by the individual governments of the states, and that preservation was “the sheet anchor of American republicanism”. Self-government did not vindicate transgression against natural rights because natural rights were prior to self-government. Lincoln claims:

The doctrine of self government is right- absolutely and eternally right- but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self government- that is despotism. (Lincoln)

Lincoln’s commitment to end slavery was thus based on more than the particular evil of the question at hand. His devotion was rooted in his conviction that slavery was the embodiment of a greater evil: a belief irreconcilable with the core principle upon which our regime rests, namely, the principle that no man may govern another without his consent. Later measures to ensure the observance of popular sovereignty would go much further: they would ensure that no one man could not object to one man’s ruling another without his consent. Without adherence to the core principle of American democracy, and without a check on those who wished to become despots in their own right, American self-government would fail. Our regime, bereft honor and observance of those limits on despotism that “clears the path for all- gives hope to all- and, by consequence, enterprize and industry to all” (Lincoln 513) could not provide the basis for sustained prosperity nor could it promise freedom for posterity. Lincoln understood the incongruence in the measures taken to ensure popular sovereignty and the founding principles in a way that others of his time did not. This understanding is what prompted Lincoln to view the question of whether slavery would expand as synonymous with the question of whether “a class of men… (would) blow out all the moral lights around us; that they must pervert the human soul, and eradicate the human soul and love of liberty” (Debates 77). Lincoln understood that the preservation of natural rights was the underpinning of self-government; if the people ceased to recognize that men were endowed with certain inalienable rights, they would likewise cease to recognize that each man had the right to rule himself and consent to those that governed him. 

        Section III: Douglas’ Teaching Tending Away from The Declaration 

Not only did Lincoln believe that the direction in which the nation was tending undermined the most sacred pillar of the founding, but he believed that the measures necessary to ensure popular sovereignty stretched the Constitution that preserved the Declaration. In Lincoln’s A House Divided speech he makes two claims that become widely criticized by Douglas’ pro-popular sovereignty coalition: one, that the American Republic has become divided and is tending in the direction of submitting to slavery, and two, that that very tendency is the product of preconcert. In the Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas attacks Lincoln’s first claim in stating that he is inciting revolution, and his second stating that he is advocating nonadherence to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. Despite Lincoln’s making a claim about pro-slavery conspiracy with little evidence, he can be vindicated by providing that what he truly understood to be the conspiracy was the softening of the American mind with lullaby arguments for a “care-not” policy . It was in this “House Divided” speech that Lincoln would warn the country that slavery would not die off quietly as proponents of the Missouri Compromise might have hoped. Lincoln gave the American people an ultimatum because he understood that Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act had transformed the question of slavery. He began to understand that compromise can delay the inevitable for only so long, thus he propelled himself back onto the national stage.

Section IV: Self Government and the Role of the Courts

Lincoln understood that the Court’s decision in Dred Scott, alongside the Kansas-Nebraska act, ensured that slavery would engulf the territories; for, the nation would become inclined to believe that it was unconstitutional to deprive masters of their slaves or from settling anywhere they pleased with those slaves. According to Taney’s decision slaves were private property protected by the Constitution, and the Missouri Compromise infringed on this constitutionally protected, substantive property right. In the first of the debates at Ottawa (Debates 74), Lincoln warned of a subsequent case (Lemon v. New York) which would, because of this previous rationale, rule that states had no power to prohibit slavery within their borders because such laws would infringe on slave owners’ constitutional property rights. Through the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, proslavery forces used the elected branches of the federal government to enact a law fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of liberty. But further, they used the courts to constitutionalize certain aspects of that choice and thus attempted to remove those aspects from the national conversation entirely. Specifically, they used the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott to constitutionalize the notion that slaves were property, all but ensuring that a territory’s choice of being slave or free would develop in a proslavery direction. What Lincoln most feared was the right the Supreme court granted slave owners in transporting their slaves as mere property. If slaves were to be considered property in all states, then no territory nor state was free from being forced to permit slavery traveling through and potentially settling, despite their own principles regarding the justice or injustice of slavery. Lincoln understood that Douglas’ popular sovereignty rendered the sheetrock of American republicanism vulnerable and the Supreme Court was beginning to chip away at it. 

Douglas claimed that Lincoln was attempting to undermine the Constitutional authority of the Supreme Court; however, Lincoln, due to his correct reading of the Constitution and his observance of the councils of history, disagreed with a fundamental premise of the Dred Scott decision that the Judges granted without dispute: that slaves were not human, and therefore property. Lincoln understood that throughout the American founding slaves were considered, if not men, different from ordinary property. This was the purpose of the three-fifths clause of the Constitution, and this was the reason for the omission of the word slave: the founders hoped that because of the measures that they had prepared, slavery would gradually diminish, and they did not want to place anything in the Constitution to slow its disintegration. Lincoln recognized the Dred Scott decision as a judicial aggrandizement to grant the institution of slavery immunity by declaring the right to hold slaves constitutional. Lincoln refused to accept the granted premise that slaves were simply property, understanding that the founders believed slavery to be an evil which violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The Supreme Court attempted to insulate slavery from future democratic choice, and Douglas, claiming the mantle of self-government, prepared the people to accept this trespass on American principle. 

Lincoln was aware that policymaking, especially by judges, succeeds only to the extent that citizens permit it; thus, Lincoln devoted himself to educating public sentiment in the opposite direction that Douglas had. In his speeches, Lincoln describes proslavery forces and government initiatives such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act working hand in hand to educate and mold the public not to care whether slavery was voted up or voted down. This molding of public sentiment is precisely what Lincoln warned of years before in his Lyceum address. He states:

It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up among us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passions, as others have so done before them… Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress… What! Think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?- Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. (Lincoln 83)

Very early in his life Lincoln understood that “we ourselves must be (destruction’s) author and its finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide” (Lincoln 77). Lincoln equivocates the losing of liberty to the death of the nation. Lincoln is today understood as the Alexander of his time, but Lincoln viewed Douglas as the true Alexander. He constantly reminded his audience that Douglas was more politically prominent. But what is more, Lincoln understood that Douglas, through ordering the passion of the people, aimed to subvert our understanding of Constitutional government and marginalize the Declaration of Independence rendering its principles partisan. He remarks, “And when he shall have succeeded in bringing public sentiment to an exact accordance with his own- when this vast assemblage goes back with these sentiments instilled into them, then it needs only the formality of a Dred Scott decision, which he is in favor of, to make slavery alike lawful in all the states” (Debates 77). Lincoln knew that the proponents of slavery could only succeed in imposing unjust policies if the public was lulled into indifference with palliations and lullaby arguments, and thus his aim became the education of the people for their own defense. Lincoln proved the great preserver, only because he was able to move public sentiment, whereas Douglas was the towering genius. 

Whereas Lincoln can be considered “that towering genius”, he in fact did not attempt to alter the regime out of ambition, as Douglas did, but rather returned to first principles in order to give rise to “a new birth of freedom”; further, Lincoln’s success is a tribute to the strength of the founding rather than its weakness. Because the nation was tending toward the dissolution of the most essential of the two pillars of the founding, Lincoln understood that if one pillar fell, the whole house, and “the last best hope” for freedom, would also collapse. Lincoln understood that there could be no popular sovereignty if the principle of equal natural rights was not upheld. Popular elections would cease to exist where equality ceased being honored. Only because men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights did consent become necessary to rule others. Throughout his political life Lincoln endeavored to educate the people of the congruence between popular government and equality through piety, history, and reason, as well as honor and dishonor. When the war came, Lincoln set to binding the nation’s wounds and maintaining the Constitution at all costs. Douglas, on the other hand, endeavored to alter the spirit of the founding through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and endorsed altering the letter of the Constitution through the Dred Scott decision. The principles of the American founding reign true today only because Lincoln was able to reeducate the public to honor freedom rather than expand it at the most vulnerable period in our nation’s history. 

Works Cited

“Homecoming Speech at Chicago | Teaching American History.” Teaching American History. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

Lincoln, Abraham, and Roy P. Basler. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Cleveland: World Pub., 1946. Print.

Lincoln, Abraham, Stephen A. Douglas, and Harold Holzer. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

“Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence | Teaching American History.” Teaching American History. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

Art: First things, and first steps

Liberty has long been something for which men are willing to die. There is nothing peculiar about the sentiment that propelled our forefathers to break ties with Britain. As Lincoln states in his fragment on the Constitution, “There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all” — the principle that clears the path for all — gives hope to all”. Jefferson even goes so far as to state in his letter to Henry Lee that “With respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects”. What was peculiar about the revolution, however, and what we ought to attempt to hallow and preserve, was the endeavor of an entire society of men to fight and die to prove an idea effectual- to prove an experiment in freedom and self-government possible. 

But what if I were to tell you that a painting played a crucial role in preparing the world for the promotion of liberty and equality as human rights that were fundamental, inalienable, natural, and defining of the human person? And what if I were to tell you that the very painting of which I speak is in an empty corridor of the National History Museum and is overlooked by senators and statesmen each day as they shuffle to their campaign meetings and congressional hearings? My aim in this post is to explain the perennial importance of art, and my goal is to do so through an explanation of of the best art. I wish to revert to old art because as I will argue later, art no longer does that which it once did. I argue that this disrupts the fixity once given to the principles of liberty and equality, and I argue that this fact makes fulfillment in a time of innovation and freedom incredibly difficult to come about. 

Where I would like to begin is Fra Filippo Lippi’s (awesome name right? Fra means “brother”, by the way) Adoration of the Magi. This was a painting commissioned  during the early renaissance by the Medici family, a family of the most wealthy bankers in all of Florence who would later become the banker of the Pope. The scene of the Adoration is first peculiar in its subject matter. Of course the story is from the gospel of Matthew, but what is most interesting is the volume of paintings featuring this scene produced during this time period. The reason this scene is so prominent is the Black Plague. The plague wiped out approximately fifty percent of the Florentine population in the 14th century. Giovanni Boccaccio, a Florentine historian writes “In the year then of our Lord 1348, there happened at Florence, the finest city in all Italy, a most terrible plague; which, whether owing to the influence of the planets, or that it was sent from God as a just punishment for our sins, had broken out some years before in the Levant”. The Florentines, and specifically the Medici family, truly believed that the plague was a punishment sent forth from God aimed at cleansing the city-state from “filth and sin” as Boccaccio would later remark. Therefore, child birth, given the decrease in population became increasingly important for reasons both spiritual and practical. Not only did the Florentines need hearty young boys to sustain the polis, but many also believed that the plague foreshadowed the second coming of Christ the Son. The Medici family, needless to say, wished to play the role of the kings in Matthew paying respect to the Newborn King after his mother had brought him forth. The symbols of the Medici are later added to the work. For example, Pierro’s symbol of the peacock ascends above the newborn babe becoming the central focus of the work after later edition. At the time, the peacock’s flesh was taken to be immortal, and therefore not only symbolized the wealth and power of the Medici, but reflects the eternal importance and strength of the Son of God not only in cherubim flesh but also in spirit. 

Given the focus on scripture, and specifically on the power of God post plague, one may be led to ask “where is God in this painting”? Could it be that Pierro is trying to usurp the station ascribed to God? Well, perhaps, but that is a story for a different time. What many don’t know about Italian art is that God the Father was not portrayed in human flesh until Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and his creation of Adam. To portray God as such, and to so equate him with our base inclinations and limited capacities was seen as blasphemous and Michelangelo risked his life to create such a portrayal of God, especially placing it centrally in the room in which the Pope would be elected. That said, God is in Lippi’s Adoration. Ten points to whoever can find him…….

If you look at the fellow waiting in line to praise the Newborn King who is looking directly above in wonder, you are brought back to scripture. He is most certainly looking heavenward, toward the star that leads one to Jesus in the manger. This is the way in which God was portrayed in art pre-Michelangelo. He was heavenward, not directly speaking to man, but communicating to him through nature. 

What might be most fascinating about this painting is that which one first notices- its shape. So many paintings produced during the early renaissance were circular in shape, but why was that so? This goes back to the idea of the sanctity of child birth. Upon birth, new mothers were presented with “birth trays” called deschi da parto. They were works of art, and the one painted by Lippi was in an inventory of the Medici collection valued at 100 gold florins and was the most expensive piece of art in the most valuable art collection at this time in all of Italy. That said- you should go take a look at it and reflect about how blessed we Americans are to have access to works of art only available to the wealthiest of citizens in the old world, and how sad it is that we lack appreciation for pieces that were held so sacred.

But why is this at all important, other than for those who like art? During this time period art was an essential medium through which stories were communicated. No Florentines had television or radio and most were illiterate. The men and women of the old world would spend their leisure time appreciating paintings and becoming informed by the stories they told and the beauty they depicted. What was central to much of these stories and depictions were the stories of scripture. Despite all of the moral missteps of the Medici family, the regime in which they lived and lead, through an emphasis upon the sanctity of child birth, took the first step in preserving the dignity of the human person. Because the Florenines were able to understand the child as having a certain and special dignity in the eyes of God, great influence was placed upon the Florentine mind regarding that first and essential right of free citizens: the right to life expressed at first through the sanctity of birth, and the intrinsic goodness of the human person as the creation of an omnipotent, powerful, and just God. Because the Florentines were able to understand the human being in such a way, and because Lippi and others communicated this appreciation through art, the world took a step forward in their understanding of natural rights and equality.

Perhaps you will not become an art scholar or collector by reading this; however, I hope that you will learn to be more conscious of art and more conscious of the type of art that you consume. If it was able to shift the mind of the most Wealthy city state in one of the most tumultuous periods in history, it most certainly can inform and alter your soul and character whether you think while you look or not. 

Why Term Limits Won’t Save You

As of late, I have observed the clamoring for congressional term limits. I understand this expression of the American mind to be a very bad thing in itself, and very bad in its consequences.

Thucydides understood the three impulses leading us to clamor as action, money, and power.

We are angered that no action is taken when there are so many problems in need of resolution. We become further angered that our representatives are amassing wealth and refusing to produce value for our society. All of this leads us to feel powerless and unimportant in a regime supposedly fashioned to suit the needs of We the People.

What I hate most about this election cycle is that it has highlighted the vices of our country. Meaningless soundbites have divided an otherwise prosperous and peace loving people, coercing them into the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” was not a promise reserved for the posterity of Washington, but only for those few favored by chance. I hate it because it makes for bad citizens- citizens who would rather resort to mob rule than moderate themselves by deliberation and choice. I hate it because it inclines good citizens to resort to unsound arguments and untruths- a clear submission to the lie of tyrants that might makes right. I hate it because it undermines the patriotism that our country so needs if we are to sustain our favored freedom at home rather than the shackles and shame of the backward nations across the globe. I hate the apathy assumed by my fellow citizens who I know are inclined to good, but consider their very voice powerless under what they believe to be the weight of a government instituted to protect the lives and livelihoods of a fortunate few. But most of all, I hate it because it causes me to tremble in fear that this last best hope for freedom may perish from this Earth, and our posterity will rebuke myself and my generation for its abatement.

The crux of freedom, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, is that it suggests the “idea of the indefinite perfectibility of man”. We, being free people, assume that the principle of freedom promises the prospect of limitless progress. We Americans are never satiated, and are held in the constant fancy that we may always, in some way, improve our lot. There always has been, and is, contrary to popular belief, an expanse of opportunity open to each individual in this country. We are free to move from sea to shining sea, and are at liberty to reorder our lives at the drop of a hat if we so wish. Recent studies show that Americans on average change careers seven times within one lifetime. We Americans love change, and when our opportunity for change is limited we lament. The same is true with our public policy. We wish to change it, and change those who have the ability to change it, because we are constantly reinventing new beliefs regarding justice.

Tocqueville generally saw this as a blessing among Americans, but it was nonetheless a problematic blessing, as all earthly blessings are. Because of our tendency for constant change, when we create things our intention is never that they may last long. Because we have freedom to think, we constantly envision the opportunity to create something better, and we constantly desire to improve upon what we have previously created. James Madison saw this as a political vice in need of restraint. In Federalist 62, he claims,“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” This is where we now find ourselves. The recent Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act marked legislation applicable to every citizen of the United States and ran 20,000 pages long and growing. Within the time it would take one to read the act, you could read the United States Constitution 4,000 times. Because of our love of constant improvement, and our be the change belief system, we have laws on the books that we cannot possibly take the time to read, nevertheless understand and habituate ourselves to faithfully observe. In Lincoln’s Lyceum Address he urges “a reverence for the constitution and the laws”. How can we possibly revere a law that would take a lifetime to read?

The belief in the “indefinite perfectibility of man” goes further, applying to our elected officials as well. Because we are a people who believe in progress and goodness, and a people who see injustice each and every day, we want to create parchment barriers to bar injustice. We are a sympathetic people who believe ourselves robbed of the opportunity to exercise our help to a people who most need it. We have been promised equality, but we constantly see those around us lacking the means to raise themselves up by their bootstraps.

I, like Tocqueville and Madison, believe this sentiment to be an honorable one, but a problematic one. At one point in our nation’s history we attempted to pass legislation to perfect the art of growing raisins. Believe it or not, this attempt at perfection still plagues us today. The same legislation just reached the Supreme Court in 2015 in the case Horne vs. United States Department of Agriculture. Often times it is more difficult to repeal bad laws than to pass good ones. The more bills that are voted upon in congress, the more the opportunity to perfect existing laws or repeal problematic laws diminishes. Agricultural marketing orders were once introduced as depression era regulations meant to stabilize crop prices. They now endanger the livelihoods of small farmers across the country, and the raisin marketing orders are particularly egregious. Under the USDA the Raisin Administrative Committee decides what the proper yield of raisins should be in any year and meet to decide an equitable price for the raisins that small farmers grow. Each year, they force every raisin farmer to surrender a percentage of their crop to a reserve pool that cannot be sold in the U.S. As the profit margins of raisin farmers have diminished over the years due to low tariffs on foreign raisins rendering them cheaper than those grown in California, the annual return of the farmers has dwindled. In 2003 farmers received zero dollars in return for the 47% of their product that they were forced to surrender to the federal government. Imagine yourself living on 53% of your family’s annual income in order to fulfill an almost hundred year old marketing order that promised the perfection of the industry in which you  find yourself. Similar regulations exist for nectarines and mandarins under the USDA. Did you know that your fruit is color tested, and even “squish” tested? The lesson being: the more distance between the people and their laws, the more ridiculous they become. The higher the laws aim, the more laws are passed. The more laws that are passed, the smaller your opportunity becomes as a citizen to repeal laws that harm you.

The bottom line is that perfection through government may not be possible, and our lawmakers and enforcers may not be angels. We have seen this in the news as of late. But the regime in which we live was fashioned in order that men may better order their lives to become prosperous without the interference of a wicked few attempting to eat the bread that we earn from the sweat of our brows. Perfection is the aim of the individual, protection is the duty of government so that the individual may pursue that perfection. In regards to term limits for your elected officials my advice is what Lincoln learned through experience. If you wish to change public policy to establish justice, leave your law office and participate in politics. Write to your congressman. Read the laws that are being passed in Congress. Withhold your vote if your voice is not being heard. Create a coalition with those in your locality to participate in local and national elections. If your voice is not heard, ensure that your voice will be heard and that you may be better represented. And as Lincoln implores, “Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong”. It is no easy task, but it is your civic duty and it is in your interest.

Madison feared that the constant reintroduction of new legislation would undermine recognition of the law. Lincoln understood that the inability to recognize the law made it difficult to revere the law and the country to which you owe so much. Tocqueville urged that limiting the years a man may serve would get rid of bad men, but would bar good men from the opportunity to exercise their good judgment.

It has occurred to me that this may not be the most contentious of elections in the annals for our nation’s history. All popular elections are wrought with partisan objection and petty politics. Many elections have been comprised of scandal, as politics always has. The difference in this election being the lacking strength and organization of parties and their ability to restrain their candidates, and the opinion of the people that their votes don’t matter much. This causes them to believe the system broken, and the promise of freedom frittered away. We grope for some ground upon which we may feel that we are in some sense represented. We demand more legislation to mitigate the multitude of duplicity that is the product of our own demands. Public opinion, what Lincoln would refer to as that thing “Upon which our Union rests”, gropes for more action among representatives, more equality, more for the individual, for the group to which the majority belongs, more freedom to do as they please with things that they have not yet earned.

Wrong as we think this current trend in popular government is, we cannot forget the lives lain down for our freedoms. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored. Let us not be dissuaded by such attitudes as “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care. Do not bow to such disrespect to your grandfathers who did choose to fight, begging and imploring all good citizens to unsay what great things they said and undo what they did. Let us have faith that we still have a stake in this government of ours, and let us understand that God commends our efforts on this small stage of life.