Readers of The Imaginative Conservative might be interested in a lecture CSPAN has been airing on CSPAN3 regarding the Old Republicans, a groups of 19th-century American statesmen and men of letters who believed Jefferson and Madison had (almost) destroyed the republic during their respective presidencies.
Taken as a whole, Russell Kirk argued in his first book, John Randolph of Roanoke, the Old Republicans believed in several principles, including: 1) natural law and the inability of a legislature to accomplish anything meaningful beyond ratifying what is discovered in nature/creation; 2) a profound agrarianism and fear of cities and industry; 3) true individualism of the human person (promoting a true diversity of talents); and 4) a strict construction of the U.S. Constitution.
The so-called Jacksonian time period (1807-1848) is filled with bizarre and interesting persons, but none more so than those who made up the Old Republicans. As an exchange with Adam Smith expert, Jim Otteson, recently made me aware, the Old Republicans are the American equivalent of the Old British Whigs. I have had similar conversation with the leader of this fearless website, Winston Elliott. Indeed, Winston credits Kirk’s biography of Randolph as a central piece of literature in and to his own intellectual makeup.
It would be difficult for any reader of the The Imaginative Conservative not to recognize in these eccentric early-19th century figures, vital ancestors of today’s Conservatives and Libertarians.
After the producer, Luke Nichter (a great Nixon scholar and historian at UTexas), contacted me in August, a film company arrived on campus on September 15 and taped the lecture in Kendall Hall.
Though I think I have a face made for radio, I had an absolute blast recording this. The film crew was great, as were my brilliant students. I owe them all—Luke, the camera crew, and my students—an immense thanks.
And, I found out, probably not too surprisingly, that I’m a bit of a ham in front of a camera.
My lecture material came from original sources and memoirs, Russell Kirk’s stunning first book, Randolph of Roanoke (University of Chicago, 1951), and the work of several recent scholars including John F. Devanny, Jr., and Adam L. Tate. Google books and LibertyFund books, reprinting the various works of John Taylor of Caroline, helped immensely, as did my friend and Old Republican scholar, Carey Roberts.
A few favorite quotes from Kirk’s work:
“I would not live under King Numbers. I would not be his steward, nor make him my taskmaster. I would obey the principle of self-preservation, a principle we find even in the brute creation, in flying from this mischief.” [quoted in Kirk, Randolph of Roanoke, 14]
“The lust for innovation–for it is a lust–that is the proper term for an unlawful desire–this lust for innovation. . . has been the death of all Republics” [quoted in Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 166].
To these things, I can only write “Amen.”
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.