Thursday, July 24, 2014

Elvin T. Lim's "The Lovers' Quarrel"

Elvin T. Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and the author of The Lovers' Quarrel: The Two Foundings and American Political Development (Oxford, 2014) and The Anti-intellectual Presidency (Oxford, 2008).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Lovers' Quarrel and reported the following:
The Page 99 test works eerily well for The Lovers’ Quarrel.

There, in the middle of the book, discussing the mid-point of American history, I cite Abraham Lincoln’s much-neglected and yet crucial observation that strikes at the heart of the book’s thesis. In his Cooper Union Address in 1860, he asks and answers this question:
Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the “thirty nine” who signed the original instrument. [my emphasis]
There were fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but only thirty-nine signed it. Yes, the “founders” were not all of one mind. Some were ambivalent about the Constitution; others, like Luther Martin and John Francis Mercer, even walked out. Who was Luther Martin, one might ask? He was a leading Anti-Federalist, sharing similar views as men like Patrick Henry. And what did the Anti-Federalists believe in? States rights.

Putting the dots together generates perhaps the greatest meta-historical irony of American politics. The very people who claim to be defenders of the Constitution today, some of whom belong to the Tea Party persuasion, are also the most vocal defenders of states’ rights. But here’s the rub: their political forebears were not the Federalists, who won both the ratification battle and the larger philosophical war to build “a more perfect Union,” but the Anti-Federalists—the folks who fought tooth and nail to oppose ratification, chanting to the tune of liberty as if liberty was not possible without a stronger, more consolidated government.

Because the United States experienced Two Foundings, one against government in 1776, and one in favor of it in 1787, we really ought to alter our textbooks to reflect the fact that we have also had two sets of “Founders.” Only then can we make sense of the alternating love-hate relationship that Americans have had with the state; the Lovers’ Quarrel that Americans have had again, again, and again. Abraham Lincoln got it; we should too.
Learn more about the book and author at Elvin Lim's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

--Marshal Zeringue