Yoram Hazony has spun another long yarn that is a tribute to Eastern conservatism and the defunct Federalist Party which he sees as a model for “American Nationalism.”
“It is sometimes said that there is no authentic tradition of American nationalism. Indeed, as nationalism has gained strength in the United States in recent years, some writers have gone so far as to say that nationalism is “un-American”—a claim we’ve heard from Bret Stephens of the New York Times, Kim Holmes of the Heritage Foundation, and Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute, among others.
Nevertheless, this view of nationalism in America is mistaken. The truth is that America produced a great, home-grown nationalist political tradition, and indeed a ruling nationalist party: the Federalist Party, which advanced a set of principles and policies that were obviously nationalist, and in fact can serve as a model and an inspiration to nationalists today. First forged into a distinct political grouping with a set of common ideas during the 1780s by the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the American nationalists were headed by figures like George Washington, John Adams, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Oliver Ellsworth, Rufus King, John Marshall and Noah Webster. They regarded America as one nation characterized by a single political and cultural inheritance, in 1787 spearheading the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, the adoption of a new constitution, and its subsequent ratification. They then went on to lead the American government for its first twelve years under the new Constitution. In this period of ascendancy, the nationalists established the principal executive, economic and judicial institutions of the nation, as well as shaped the leading judicial interpretation of the national Constitution until the 1830s. In fact, we may say that to a great degree, the Federalists founded America as we know it. …”
Where should we start responding to this nonsense?
First, it was New England that started the American Revolution, which leveled the British monarchy to the ground. Public opinion was far more divided on the Revolution in the Middle Colonies and the Deep South where loyalist sentiment was stronger and the population was more socially conservative. Hence, British military strategy. At the Constitutional Convention, it was the rest of the country which quelled the Revolution, which had already gone much further at the state level in New England.
Second, it was New England and the other Eastern states that abolished slavery during and in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution. It took longer to abolish slavery in New York and New Jersey because those states were more ethnically diverse and socially conservative and were not founded as a “Holy Experiment” like Pennsylvania or a “City on a Hill” like Massachusetts. Once again, the rest of the country lacked this utopian perfectionist leveling streak and did not join the East in its second social revolution. Slavery wasn’t abolished in Virginia until the Union victory in the Civil War.
Third, it was only New England that rejected the mainstream nationalist consensus at the time that America was a White Republic or White Man’s Country before the War Between the States. In 1860, blacks were citizens of only five states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. They had lost citizenship in Pennsylvania in 1838 due to Irish immigration. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 which held that blacks were not American citizens reflected this consensus. It was only the extension of slavery in the territories that was controversial and mainly because much of the North wanted to keep blacks out the territories so that they could be reserved exclusively to Whites. Even after the War Between the States, states like Connecticut voted against black citizenship during Reconstruction.
In 1860, it was a tiny abolitionist vanguard based in New England and its settler outposts like Iowa and Kansas that believed blacks should be American citizens of a liberal republic based on equal rights. Abraham Lincoln himself said that he did not believe in this because the charge was politically damaging in his debates with Stephen Douglas who defeated him when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat. The so-called Black Codes originated in states like Illinois and Ohio which wanted to keep out free blacks. Most of the North was racially segregated in the antebellum era until the war fever in the War Between the States. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Kansas were the only states that had repealed their anti-miscegenation laws. It was Massachusetts that pioneered “civil rights” in 1865.
Of the three major social revolutions that occurred before 1860 (republicanism, abolition and black citizenship), all three had been launched in the East. The last two had no traction whatsoever in the South. In fact, the cause of racial equality lost ground from the time of Gabriel’s Rebellion and the Jefferson presidency forward. Free blacks lost the right to vote in North Carolina and other Southern states. Manumission laws were tightened. Abolitionism faded. “Scientific racism,” which Jefferson himself pioneered in his Notes on the State of Virginia, became the consensus view of race relations. In the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, it was Jefferson and his successors who proposed resettling free blacks outside the country in Liberia which was established for this purpose.
In the long arc of American history from the Revolution to the War Between the States, the East became much more liberal while the South became far more conservative and reactionary. By the 1850s, Thomas Jefferson was being criticized by George Fitzhugh and others for being too liberal. Jefferson himself never emancipated his slaves or believed in racial equality or entertained the idea that racial integration was possible or desirable. He was later seen by his successors as being soft on slavery. The founders of the Confederacy based their new nation on the proposition that all men were not created equal.
The idea that Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans set America down a course that was liberal and anti-nationalist, which was opposed by “national conservative” Federalists, is preposterous. For starters, it was Southerners like Jefferson, Jackson, Tyler and Polk who are responsible for annexing 2/3rds of the continental United States – the Louisiana Purchase, Florida, the Oregon Country, Texas and the Southwest – which was bitterly opposed by Eastern conservatives. They damned Andrew Jackson as a tyrant for deporting American Indians to Oklahoma. They opposed the purchase of “Jefferson’s swamp.” They loudly opposed the Mexican War. They threatened to secede at the Hartford Convention in the War of 1812. They blocked the annexation of Cuba because it would diminish their power.
Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans envisioned a rural, agrarian nation in which property was broadly distributed and were deeply skeptical of urbanization and industrialization which they associated with extremes of wealth and a loss of republican virtue. The American South remained predominantly rural and religious down to the 1940s. Even today, it is by far the most socially conservative section of the United States while the East which followed Alexander Hamilton’s vision and rapidly urbanized and developed an industrial and commercial economy is by far the most liberal. More than anything else, it is this rural vs. urban divide which determines support for social conservatism or social liberalism with the suburbs being the battlegrounds. New York City where National Review is based is one of the least conservative places on earth. It is the headquarters of our liberal elites.
Emulating Great Britain also makes no sense from a “national conservative” perspective. It was Britain which literally established the liberal world order. It was Britain which pioneered and propagated the great liberal causes of the early 19th century – free trade, laissez-faire capitalism and abolition. In Thomas Jefferson’s time, it was Britain, not France, which was the superpower that posed the greatest threat to the United States. It was Britain that sacked Washington and burned down the White House in the War of 1812 whereas Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to Jefferson. Britain was more of a negative influence than France. We inherited the liberal world order that Britain had created after World War II.
It is funny and quite revealing that Yoram Hazony and “National Conservatives” celebrate the Union victory in the War Between the States. During the Reconstruction era, the East went through and imposed its fourth social revolution on the United States – civil rights. It was the Radical Republicans who destroyed the White Republic that had been created by a compromise between the Founders and replaced it with a liberal republic based on birthright citizenship. The Reconstruction amendments empowered the federal government to impose a nebulous vision of “equality” on the country which has been the basis of every successful leftwing social revolution since that era. Previously, the only “equality” that had existed in the American constitutional order was “equality” between the states in the U.S. Senate.
“National Conservatives” celebrate all of these social revolutions – republicanism, abolition, black citizenship and civil rights – and especially Abraham Lincoln for creating a liberal republic based on the proposition that “all men are created equal.” As Southern conservatives like George Fitzhugh pointed out at the time, the East was boiling over with multiple incipient social revolutions. He called abolition a “mere gulltrap” and a means to an end which was an ultimate transition to anarchy. He saw other social revolutions on the horizon like women’s rights, Bloomerism, socialism, anarchism, communism, atheism, temperance and Free Love bubbling up in the unsettled and discontented “free society” of the East.
Thomas Jefferson may have done the South and America a disservice by basing the Declaration of Independence on his liberal axioms, but Fitzhugh believed the South was ultimately anchored in conservatism by slavery and the presence of millions of blacks. The “free society” of the East had no such anchor and was marching and dragging the rest of the country toward “Radicalism.” Jefferson himself was never carried away with his own liberal axioms due to being a plantation owner which kept him tied down to earth. Eastern conservatism has never in all of history mounted a successful resistance to leftwing social revolutions and the ultimate demise of the Federalist Party is further proof of that fact. This is why the American conservative establishment is faced with the sociological paradox of trying to sell the Federalist Party to social conservatives whose ancestors supported Jefferson and Jackson.
Over the course of American history, Eastern conservatism would preside over multiple further social revolutions: women’s rights (fifth) and Prohibition (sixth), the Second Reconstruction/Civil Rights Movement (seventh), feminism (eighth), Free Love (ninth) and gay rights (tenth). These were followed in short succession by multiculturalism (eleventh), political correctness (twelfth) and open borders (thirteenth). As the Left forges ahead toward its goal of “a more perfect union,” we have watched the social revolutions rapidly accelerate: transgenderism and gender non-conformity (fourteenth), heritage destruction (fifteenth), wokeness (sixteenth) and finally we seem to be approaching anarchy (seventeenth) and atheism (eighteenth) which is the final stage of the glorious transition predicted by George Fitzhugh who observed and criticized the mounting instability, disaffection and disintegration of the social order that he saw in the East and from which our ancestors bravely attempted to escape.
Jefferson Davis famously called them the “disturbers of the peace of the world.” In spite of the glorious and false story it tells itself, it is not an exaggeration to say that never before in all of world history have more dramatic social changes occurred in a shorter period of time than under Eastern conservatism over the past fifty years. Why should anyone after witnessing this much disruption in their lives continue to have any confidence in the most ineffective conservatives in history?