From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition~ is an anthology of essays and writings by historian Clyde Wilson. As Joseph Stromberg writes in the introduction, “Dr. Clyde Wilson is a Christian, a Southerner, an American, a historian and a conservative. For over three decades he has worked on the definitive edition of the Papers of John C. Calhoun, has written on Calhoun and published a collection of Calhoun’s most important writings.” Wilson is a luminary figure amongst southern conservatives in my humble opinion, and yet modest about his own accomplishments. He has also written a splendid biographical history of General James Johnston Pettigrew and assembled an anthology of essays in tribute to the late Mel Bradford. As Stromberg opines, “His writings published in Modern Age, Chronicles, Telos, and many other forums shows Professor Wilson off as the kind of conservative who is a stalwart defender of federalism and republicanism and the liberties associated with them. Such conservatives are few and far between these days.”
For most of American history, the old Jeffersonian Democrats, sometimes referred to as Southern conservatives, were the most plentiful and common American type and now they are largely forgotten. The prescriptive wisdom of the old Jeffersonian Republicans lives on and is brilliantly encapsulated in the writings of Clyde Wilson. From his easy-to-read historical exposition of southern conservative statesmen to his stalwart defense of states’ rights, Wilson offers a refreshing bit of conservative sobriety with this enlightening collection of essays accumulated over the years. Wilson defends Jefferson and spells out just why so many people from the Right and the Left hate Jefferson, and are committed to tarnishing and maligning his historical legacy. My favorite essays are those recollecting the legacy and contributions of the Old Republicans – James Monroe, George Mason, John Taylor of Caroline, John Randolph of Roanoke, and Nathaniel Macon. The Old Republicans were, in fact, more Jeffersonian than Jefferson himself as Wilson expounds upon the Tertium Quids with amazing clarity. Like Mel Bradford, Wilson is appreciative of the rich republican legacy and the Constitution, but keen to admit the prescriptive wisdom of the Anti-Federalists in light of history. The Constitution in our time has been thoroughly subverted and rendered a dead letter by “construction.”
Wilson is no mere nostalgic revisionist and his realism compels him to admit that lately we Jeffersonian Republicans have been on the losing side of American history. A free republic requires a self-reliant, resourceful, resilient and productive populace not apt to look to the state for its sustenance and financial provision. In our time, dependency on the paternalistic state is at an all-time high and it is apparently what many people want. Nonetheless, Wilson gives southern conservatives a reason to hold their head up high as he and other torchbearers continue to kindle the flame to pass on to a new generation of conservatives. The Roman statesmen Cicero avowed, “Long before our time the customs of our ancestors molded admirable men, in turn, these men upheld the ways and institutions of their forebears. Our age, however, inherited the Republic as if it were some beautiful painting of bygone ages, its colors already fading through great antiquity; and not only has our time neglected to freshen the colors of the picture, but we have failed to preserve its forms and outlines.” It is through the Jeffersonian tradition and the legacy of southern conservatives that we may find the brilliant colors and hues to refresh the colors of our the picture and by a prudent understanding of history we can restore those forms and outlines of our fragile republic. Perhaps with perseverance, we can one day effectuate Jefferson’s vision of an empire of liberty and restoration of the republic. Wilson is a bold visionary and though realistic about political realities now, he is not possessed of a spirit of resignation and defeatism. This distinguished southern gentleman has left a legacy of scholarship that will be disseminated for years to come. With his Calhoun scholarship, he bequeaths to posterity some potent tools for Republican restoration.
In summation, Wilson’s accumulated scholarship invigorates the Jeffersonian tradition and gives us southern conservatives a reason to be emboldened about our political prospects despite the formidable odds. At the very least we have a venerable Republican tradition and able torchbearers like Dr. Clyde Wilson to bequeath the flame of liberty to future generations, which should give us hope of future restoration of the republic. As a southern conservative, I have been honored to make Dr. Wilson’s acquaintance and hear his lectures.
Reprinted from Amazon.com.
Source: Murray Rothbard from Lew Rockwell – From Union to Empire