The revolution of sober expectations (1973) | ARCHIVES
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The revolution of sober expectations (1973) | ARCHIVES

October 17, 2019


Announcer: The American Enterprise Institute
presents the distinguished lecture series on The Bicentennial of the United States. Our host for the thought-provoking series
is Vermont Royster, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with The Wall Street Journal and
professor of journalism and public affairs at the University of North Carolina. Vermont: I’m Vermont Royster with another
in the distinguished lecture series on the American Bicentennial sponsored by the American
Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit organization in Washington dedicated to the proposition
that a competition in ideas is essential to the health of a free society. In honor of America’s 200th anniversary in
1976, AEI has gathered some of the country’s leading scholars to discuss several phases
of our nation’s history and development and their significance for the future. This lecture will be delivered by Dr. Martin
Diamond, professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Dr. Diamond will speak from Independence Hall
in Philadelphia, a fitting location for his lecture, which deals with America’s two founding
documents, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. Independence Hall was originally built as
a meeting place for members of the province of Pennsylvania. Construction was begun in 1729 on what was
then called The State House, but it wasn’t completed until 1748. The Bell Tower was finished in 1753 what was
then called a State House Bell was installed. The workmen completed the job, gave the bell
a test ringing and it cracked on the first stroke. The bell weighed 2000 pounds, had been cast
in England. The job of repairing it went to local classmen
named Pass and Stow. That work was successful, and what is now
known as the Liberty Bell was placed back into place. The bell was sounded on July 8, 1776, the
adoption of The Declaration of Independence was officially proclaimed four days after
the actual signing. The Liberty Bell was also rung on other historic
occasions, it rang in triumph for George Washington’s victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781,
the victory in the war of 1812. It sadly tolled for the death of men who signed
The Declaration of Independence. And on July 8, 1835, the Liberty Bell cracked
once more while tolling a funeral dirge for Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. In 1777, a little more than a year after the
signing of The Declaration, the British army occupied Philadelphia and Independence Hall
became a barracks for English soldiers. The occupation lasted just nine months. Reports at the time said the building was
in filthy and sordid condition with the inside torn much to pieces. And years later, however, the building looked
much the same as it does today. The Delegates began arriving to draft the
Constitution that would inspire the world. Four months later, when the Constitution was
finally signed, Benjamin Franklin pointed to a chair of a half sun painted on its back. “I have often looked at that sun,” said Franklin,
“without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now, at length, I have the happiness to
know it is a rising and not a setting sun.” The founding fathers had many doubts about
our new nation. Some of them will be examined in this lecture. Project Director for the AEI distinguished
lecture series is Dr. Steven J. Platzer, professor of History at the University of Michigan at
Ann Arbor. Dr. Platzer right here at Independent Hall
where he is introducing our speaker Dr. Martin Diamond. Dr. Platzer: It may seem, I suppose, inappropriate
to those who know Martin Diamond well, that in this Quaker City, which once was characterized
by simplicity of speech and directness and economy, Martin Diamond, who is characterized
by an elegant sufficiency of style, should be the lecturer. But this contradiction is only superficial,
for Martin Diamond is one of the greatest teachers, lecturers, and most powerful analyst
in political thought in America today. He’s published a number of distinguished and
penetrating essays on the Federalist. He’s a man who was schooled in the tradition
of the late Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago where he took his degrees. And he has served as a distinguished professor
at Claremont College in California and is presently a professor at Northern Illinois
State University. It is with great pleasure that I introduce
to you Professor Martin Diamond. Professor Diamond: Since I intend to stick
to my planned topic, I might as well begin by announcing it. I wish to title my remarks this evening, “The
Revolution of Sober Expectations.” And I’d like to begin with a statement of
my pleasure that having the opportunity to speak on that subject in this hall. “I am filled with deep emotion at finding
myself here in the place where were collected together, the wisdom, the patriotism, the
devotion to principle from which sprang the institutions under which we live.” These lovely words, unfortunately, are not
my own. They were preempted by Abraham Lincoln in
February 1861 only weeks before he assumed the terrible burdens of his presidency. But I cannot possibly find words better to
express my own deep emotion at having the opportunity to share with you in this hallowed
place my reflections as these are occasioned by the impending bicentennial of our national
birth. Because of the struggle then tormenting and
dividing the union, Lincoln was obliged to look back upon the origins of the Republic
to find the wisdom, patriotism, and principle that might save the Union and sustain and
in spirit its republican institutions. We are under no such compelling necessity
tonight. Our occasion is only inspired by the happy
imminence of our bicentennial. And yet and yet, for us to a backward glance
remains a necessity. Lincoln was obliged to look back to the men
who met here in Independence Hall in 1776 because it was their thoughts and words expressed
immortally in The Declaration of Independence from which sprang our institutions, the institutions
under which we live. We live still to an amazing extent under those
very same institutions. And like Lincoln, if we wish to understand
those institutions, if we wish to grasp their wisdom and apply their principles to our own
problems, then we too must return to the thoughts of the founding fathers. We too must look to its architects for the
plan of the house in which we still reside. No task could be more agreeable to me here,
the child of immigrant grandparents whose grateful patriotism instructed my youth and
whose teachings I remember with great joy. Now, there is a fascinating ambiguity, and
since I make my living in the realm of political philosophy, I delight at the discovery of
possible ambiguities. And when they are not there, we even go so
far as to invent them. But I do believe, in this case, there was
a fascinating ambiguity in the words of Lincoln which I have quoted. We must remember that there were two great
happenings here at Independence Hall. The first, in 1776 when independence was proclaimed
in the declaration. The second, 11 years later when the Federal
Convention met here for four long months and drafted the Constitution. When we look back to our origins, we look
to the same place, here in Philadelphia, but to two different times and events, 1776 and
1787, the Declaration and the Constitution. They are the two springs of our national existence. To understand them and their relationship
is to understand the political core of our being, to understand what it is we are soon
to celebrate the bicentennial of. It is to the relationship of the Declaration
and the Constitution then that I address my remarks. Let me repeat Lincoln’s words, “I am filled
with deep emotion at finding myself here in the place where were collected together, the
wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle from which sprang the institutions under which
we live.” Now, what we want to understand is precisely
how our institutions of government sprang from the Declaration. How, and to what extent were those institutions
generated by The Declaration of Independence? And what more had to be added, actually, to
generate and frame those institutions? We find the clue, I believe, in Lincoln’s
further remarks in the speech I am quoting from his, “wholly unprepared speech,” he said,
and it is humbling and yet inspiring to note the eloquence and thought which he was able
to do in a wholly unprepared manner. He goes on to say, “All the political sentiments
I entertain have been drawn, so far as I am able to draw them, from the sentiments which
originated and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling, politically, that
did not spring from the sentiments embodied in The Declaration of Independence.” Notice the emphasis on “feeling and sentiment.” Lincoln carefully limits his indebtedness
to the Declaration to sentiments and feelings that is to the spirit within which he conceives
government and its institutions. Indeed, he could not have done otherwise for
there is nothing whatsoever in The Declaration of Independence that supplies guidance as
to what the character of those governmental institutions should be. As we shall see, noble document that the Declaration
is, indispensable source of the feelings and sentiments of Americans and of the spirit
of their institutions, the Declaration of Independence is utterly bereft of guidance
as to the framing of the institutions of American government. Now, I have inferred that from Lincoln’s words,
his emphasis on sentiments and feelings. But in addition to what we can infer from
Lincoln’s speech, we have also the highest possible authority for the conclusion I have
just stated, namely the testimony of the father of the Constitution, James Madison, and the
acceptance of that testimony by the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson. In 1825, the two patriarchs of the American
founding engaged in a charming correspondence regarding a possible required reading list
for students at the law school of the University of Virginia. Interesting thought, the two great patriarchs
of freedom who knew that you had to require the proper readings to inculcate, at the outset,
the true spirit of liberty. “But it is not easy,” Madison wrote shrewdly,
“to find books that will be both guides and guards for the purpose. The work of John Locke, for example,” Madison
wrote, “was admirably calculated to impress on young minds the right of nations to establish
their own governments and to inspire a love of free ones. But Locke,” he went on to say, “could not
teach these future young lawyers how to protect ‘Our Republican charters,’ that is the American
federal and state constitutions and protect them from being corrupted by false constructions
and interpretations. Locke,” he said, “great though his treatise
on Government is offers no guidance to the meaning of our American institutions.” Now, this would seem to have been cutting
pretty close to the bone in writing to Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the Declaration
had clearly drawn inspiration from John Locke. But Madison had no reason to hesitate, and
thus writing to his old friend because he could count on Jefferson’s calmly agreeing
with his view. Indeed, he proceeded to make his point even
more explicitly. “The Declaration of Independence,” Madison
continued, “though rich in fundamental principles,” and saying everything that could be said in
the same number of words, it never hurts to be gentle with an author’s pride no matter
how close a friend he is, “The Declaration of Independence, though rich in fundamental
principles falls nearly under alike observation.” That is to say what was true of Locke is true
also of the Declaration. “Locke and the Declaration,” Madison says,
“have the same limitations.” What this careful 18th century language is
saying is plainly this, the principles of Locke and of Jefferson’s Declaration are infinitely
valuable for inspiring in young minds a proper love of free government, but that is all those
principles reach to. The declaration,” Madison is saying and Jefferson
cheerfully agreed, “offers no guidance for the construction of free government and hence
offers no aid in protecting the American form of free government under the Constitution. For that purpose,” Madison does not scruple
to add, “one must turn ‘to the Federalist’ as the most authentic exposition of the text
of the federal constitution.” In short, the patriarchs Jefferson and Madison,
agree with Lincoln, as I have interpreted him, in their understanding of the noble but
limited work of the Declaration of Independence. Vermont: You’re listening to Dr. Martin Diamond
discussing the sober expectations of The American Revolution. In the first part of his speech, Dr. Diamond
examined some of the thoughts of the men who framed the Declaration of Independence. In just one moment, he continues. In 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was the nation’s
capital. Both House and Senate met here in Congress
Hall. Here, George Washington’s second inauguration
was held, he made his famous farewell to Congress. He also turned over peacefully, and without
bloodshed, the leadership of this nation, which George’s time was the most unmarked
and remarkable event of the entire American experiment. In our address, Dr. Diamond was about to point
out that the founding of America was only half completed with the signing of the Declaration
of Independence. Dr. Diamond: The American founding, as we
shall see, is only begun by the Declaration. It reaches its completion only with the Constitution. But civilly pious, as we ought to be tonight,
we need not let the argument I am making rest only with the splendid authority of Lincoln,
Madison, and Jefferson, but may sustain their judgment by our independent reading of the
text of the Declaration. The relevant passage is the one usually printed
as the second paragraph, the passage dealing with the four truths the Declaration holds
to be self-evident. Now, this business about self-evident, by
the way, doesn’t mean evident to everyone as it has come to be thought in these disbelieving
relativistic days. Have you not heard the sort of mocking comment
on those self-evident truths? The mockers say, “Those truths aren’t evident
to me, I am in a different bag. And since they aren’t evident to me, they
cannot truly be truths.” The author of the Declaration of Independence
knew that those truths would not be self-evident to kings and nobles, not to predetermined
adversaries of freedom, nor to any one of insufficient or defective vision. Indeed, Jefferson knew that the truths he
held to be self-evident had not hitherto been evident to the vast majority of mankind. By self-evidence, the Declaration meant something
quite different. The self, to which the evidence refers, is
not the selves to whom the truths are evident, but rather what the Declaration means is that
the evident-ness of the truth is contained within the truths themselves. That is, these peculiar kinds of truths are
not to be reached at the end of a chain of reasoning. They are not the fruit of supporting data
evidence, inference, and argument, but rather to repeat. These truths carry the evidence of their truth
owners within themselves. Their truth is to be grasped by a kind of
direct seeing or perception, and their truthfulness is to be vindicated for those who hold them
by the truth and excellence of their consequences. It would be by means of these consequences
that others would be led in time also to see and subsequently hold these truths to be self-evident. So, it was up to the American Revolution and
the future regime for the first time to universalize the holding self-evident of those truths. Now, the declaration to repeat, holds for
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that governments, whose proper end is to secure
those rights, may only be instituted by the consent of the governed, and that when government
becomes destructive of those ends or rights, the people have the further right to alter
or abolish it and reinstitute another in its place. Now, these truths do not rise by inference,
one from the other, but are each independently…Excuse me…But are each independently self-evident
and together form the foundation for a political society. Yet for our purpose tonight, and perhaps even
intrinsically, the most important truths are the two central ones, namely that the end
of government is the securing of certain unalienable rights and that government must be instituted
by consent. We have transformed the Declaration in our
minds by reading the phrase “consent of the governed” as meaning ruled by majorities,
that is to say democratic government. Indeed, we think of the Declaration of Independence
as our great democratic document, as the clarion call to and the guide to our democratic nature. But the Declaration does not say that consent
is the means by which government is to be operated. Rather, “Consent,” it says, “is necessary
only to institute the government.” That is, to establish the government. The people need not, however, establish a
government which operates thereafter by means of their consent. The Declaration says that they may organize
government on “such principles” as they choose and they may choose “any form of government”
they deem appropriate to secure their rights. That is, the Declaration of Independence was
not prescribing any particular form of government at all, but rather was following John Locke’s
social contract theory, which taught the right of the people to establish the form of government
calculated in their minds to secure their liberties. Although the Declaration is rich in fundamental
principles, which nurture in humanity a love of free government and thus supplied Lincoln
with all his political sentiments and feelings, there is and can be no guidance, as Madison
said, in the declaration itself for the institutions of government which sprang from that love
of freedom which the Declaration inculcated. That guidance is to be found in the thought
would shape the Constitution and is to be found in the Constitution itself, which frame
the institutions under which we live and it is to the Constitution that we must ultimately
turn to as the completion of the American Revolution. It was, so to speak, only half a revolution. It did the American Revolution, it did overthrow
a government albeit a distant one. It did, in a revolutionary way, abolish an
existing government, and that is at least half a revolution. But it did not, in the same breadth, commit
itself to the shape of the new government to be instituted. The American Revolution and its makers, the
makers of the American Revolution did not think themselves in possession of the single
and complete political truth or of a simple panacea for government. They claim possession of only half the truth,
namely that equal freedom must be the foundation of all political society and in the name of
that equal freedom, they made half a revolution. But soberly and moderately, they left open
the question of institutions of government. These, they knew, would have to be forged
from old materials, worked and reworked, and with a cool awareness that the new American
institutions would be subject still to perennial human frailty and folly. The Declaration of Independence thereby limited
the dangerous passions of revolution only to the unmaking of tyrannical government. It gave no license to new rulers to carry
those revolutionary passions into the making of new government. That new making of government would have to
find its way through still uncharted paths to be trod soberly and prudently. But what have I left? It may be asked, echoing words of Lincoln,
“What have I left of our once glorious Declaration? I have as emphatically as I can argue that
the Declaration soberly left open the question of forms of government and of its institutions. And in so doing, I have perhaps reduced its
claims and reach as these are now understood.” But after the French and Russian revolutions,
we have a different and utopianly grandiloquent idea of revolution. But I do not believe that Jefferson and his
colleagues or Madison or Lincoln would have understood the declaration otherwise than
I have stated it, nor would they think me to have diminished it. From our perspective, it may look like only
half a revolution, but they understood that that was nonetheless revolution indeed and
revolution enough. Vermont: We are watching Dr. Martin diamond
discussing the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution from the
site of those documents conception Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Dr. Diamond has been discussing the meaning
behind the truths of the Declaration of Independence says are self-evident. In a moment, he will continue. Today, Independence Hall is secure as a National
Shrine. Even before the Bicentennial, two million
visitors shared its memories each year. But in the early 1800s, Congress had moved
to Washington and the Philadelphia building was just the Old State House. In 1816, the building was about to be torn
down when the city of Philadelphia decided to buy it for $70,000. Inside, Dr. Martin Diamond is about to discuss
why the American Revolution differed from other revolutions of its time. Dr. Diamond: What was truly revolutionary
in the American Revolution and in its Declaration of Independence? It was that that revolution and that declaration
made liberty, civil liberty, the doctrine of certain unalienable rights the end of government. Not as the end of government had been for
millennia, whatever end power haphazardly imposed upon government, not virtue as the
end, not piety, not privileged or wealth, not merely protection and law and order, not
empire and dominion as the ends of government, but now the principle of liberty as the end
of government. While modern followers say of Edmund Burke
may warn against the dangers of devotion to abstract principles, they cannot blink aside
the simple fact that of Revolutionary American devotion to precisely such an abstract principle
and yet there is indeed something moderate and non-utopian in the American devotion to
liberty. But that American truth of Liberty was as
abstract as, say, robe spears tyrannizing abstraction or Lennon’s tyrannizing truth. Whence then the difference? Wherein was the American Revolution one of
sober expectations, and the Jacobin and Leninists revolutions of unbridled expectations? It lies not in degrees of devotion to abstractness,
but in the substantive nature of the principle they were abstractly devoted to. It is one thing to be abstractly devoted to
the reign of virtue or to unlimited equality or to mass fraternity, whatever that would
be, or to classless society or to the transformation of the human condition itself, and quite another
to be devoted to the abstract principle of civil liberty. Civil liberty as a principle constrains its
followers to moderation, legality, and rootedness in regular institutions. Moreover, moderate civil liberty does not
require terror and tyranny for its fulfilment. Liberty is an abstract principle capable of
achievement. Jacobin or Leninist equality or mass fraternity
are not. Moderate civil liberty then, so to speak,
as a possible dream. Utopian equality and fraternity are impossible
dreams. And the recent popular song to the contrary,
notwithstanding the political pursuit of impossible dreams, leads to terror and tyranny in the
vain pursuit of what cannot be, but what of democracy we must now ask. Perhaps as I have claimed, the Declaration
of Independence is indeed neutral regarding democracy. But does not the American Revolution somehow
have something to do with the establishment of democracy in this country? I acknowledge the force of the question. It does indeed. And the revolutionary establishment of democratic
government in America is at once perhaps the most revolutionary element in the American
Revolution, and at the same time the most sobering aspect of that revolution. Americans, as Tocqueville observed, were born
equal, born equal. This was so for many historical reasons, too
familiar and complicated to dwell upon here. The Englishman who came to this country were
from the middling walks of life, and the institutions they developed here were far more democratic
than those of their contemporaries and kinsmen in England. America, as Karl Marx, has observed, in the
same spirit as Tocqueville, America did not have a feudal Alp pressing down upon the brow
of the living. The stuff of American life was thus quietly
being prepared during a 170-years of colonial life in the direction of democracy. But democratizing as American experience was
in that 170 years, colonial thought was still decisively pre-democratic. Colonial thought was in unanimous accord with
the dominant English and Continental belief in the doctrine of mixed government or of
the mixed regime or as Englishmen called it, the balanced constitution. This idea of the mixture of kinds of regimes,
more powerful than ever in the 18th century of England, derive from a 2000-year tradition
stemming from Aristotle. The idea of the mixed-regime rested upon the
premise that the pure forms of government like monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, all
tended to their own corruption, any unbridled ruler, be he the one, the few or the many
would become tyrannic, hence, the idea of the mixed or balanced regime that is a combination
of the three kinds into one to prevent what would otherwise be the inevitable degeneration
or corruption of any pure form. For example, in England, this meant the balance
of Crown, Lords, and Commons. There was nearly universal agreement on this
political prescription, especially on the part of the teaching which emphasized that
pure democracy was especially untenable. But the American revolution changed all this
and therein lay its profoundly revolutionary character. As Tocqueville again said, “When the American
Revolution broke out, ‘the dogma of the sovereignty of the people came out from the township and
took possession of the government. The essentially popular character of American
life was quickened by all the forces of the revolution. The logic of the struggle against Royal and
aristocratic England tilt to the Americans more wholly toward democracy. The flight of property Tories had the same
effect. The old colonial institutions of government
always predominantly popular became still more so with the removal of royal governors
and councils. Democracy became the dominant factor of the
new American confederation of states. The Americans found themselves becoming democratic
without having quite intended to become so, and apparently healthy way to ease gently
into democracy.” Once independence was declared, each of the
colonies was obliged to flush out its existing institutions and assume fully the responsibility
for its own governance. And each of the new state constitutions, each
of the new state governments was a more fully democratic than had been its colonial predecessor. But in almost all of the new states, there
were also significant vestiges and perhaps more than vestiges of the powerful, old, mixed
regime idea. Some of you will recognize I am taking on
Charles Beard at this point with the portrait of the states as the happy hotbeds of democracy
and the constitution as it’s Thermidorian retrogression. I mean, literally to reverse that idea but
I will not take the time to elaborate further my intention. More than vestiges were to be found of the
powerful, old, mixed regime idea. For example, wealth, especially, was given
a privilege standing in almost all the state governments. The suffrage qualifications differed for the
different levels of State office popular house, Upper House, and Governor. Suffrage qualifications differed for each. More property was required for the right of
voting for the higher officer. And even more dramatically, there were steep
property qualifications for office holding, the higher the office, the steeper the qualification. These vestiges powerfully testified to the
force of the old idea of England’s balanced Constitution. Thus democratic as had been the pace of the
events during the revolution, there still was the possibility that in time, the democratic
tide would recede and that property and privilege as they had had throughout all mankind would
reassert their perennial claims, especially perhaps in the South where the slave development
would have made particularly likely or perhaps, say, in Massachusetts in the aftermath of
such a struggle as that over the Shays’ rebellion. But whatever might have been the possible
course of events, whatever might have developed in each state or region, the massive demonstrable
fact is that the fate and shape of democracy was settled on this continent by the drafting
and ratification of the Constitution. For example, with one single little remark
clause of the Constitution, those vestiges of oligarchic privilege and of the mixed regime
in the states, those live remnants of the mixed regime idea were forever barred and
the idea of democracy was rendered complete in the American system. I refer to Article 1, Section 2, which establishes
the then broadest possible democratic franchise as the basis for federal election. There was no practical possibility thereafter
under the Constitution for the gradual insensible reintroduction of aristocracy wealth and privilege
into the federal government. So, this may be added, the total absence of
any property qualifications contrary to existing state practices for any federal office. And also, the clause barring the introduction
of titles of nobility. And finally, the provision for the payment
of salaries to federal office holders, thereby ensuring that men of any walk in life might
in fact be able to serve the government. These quiet and usually unremarked clauses
of the Constitution are part of the means by which the Constitution completed the most
dramatic aspect of the American Revolution, namely the firm establishment of the democratic
form of government. Vermont: Dr. Martin Diamond has been discussing
the unique qualities of the American Revolution and of the United States Constitution. In just one moment, Dr. Diamond will continue
his address from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. As a repository of American history, there’s
probably no equal to Independence Hall. These are the books in which are recorded
the votes of the men who guided this nation through its first hours. They were first kept in this original site
of the library of Congress. The voice in Congress Hall today belongs to
Martin Diamond, who is concluding this lecture on “The Revolution of Sober Expectations.” Dr. Diamond: The Americans, with the Constitution,
completed the half revolution begun in 1776 and became the first major modern people fully
to confront the issue of democracy, a dramatically revolutionary event. But again, the American Revolution, precisely
in its most revolutionary thrust, was simultaneously, distinctively sober. The way the Constitution confronted democracy
is the third and perhaps the most important element in “The Revolution of Sober Expectations,”
the sketch of which I have been developing. The sobriety lies in the founding fathers
cool-headed and cautious acceptance of democracy. Not one single American voice was raised in
euphoric praise of democracy. There was universal recognition of the problematic
character of democracy, a universal concern for its inherent weaknesses and the fear of
the dangers natural to it. Among the Americans, there was universal recognition
that democracy could be defended and established only under certain moderating and controlling
conditions. The debate in American life during the founding
decade gradually became a debate over how to create a decent democratic regime. Quite the contrary to our modern, much too
complacent with perspective regarding democracy, which assumes that a government cannot be
decent unless it is democratic, our founding fathers, universally, were more skeptically,
sensibly, and soberly concerned how to make their new government decent even though Democratic. All the American revolutionaries, whether
they were partisans of the theory that democratic republics had to be small or agrarian or only
loosely confederated in order to remain stable and free, or whether they retained the traditional
idea that democracy had to be counterbalanced by nobility or wealth, or whether they subscribed
to the new theories implicit in the novel Constitution, all the American revolutionaries
knew that democracy was a problem to be solved, not a panacea to be swallowed, and that a
democratic system of government would constantly need moderation and was by no means the universal
political solve-all-and-be-all. Thus, the American Revolution soberly worked
its way out of the 18th century into the era of modern democracy soberly, prudently, seeking
means to live with the emerging democracy. No debate is more instructive for modern Americans
who wish to understand the genesis and hence the genius of the institutions under which
they live than the debates of the Federal Convention of 1787, that second event which
hallowed this hall. And in contemplating that convention, we may
now answer our earlier question. In what sense did our institutions spring
from the Declaration, and what had to be added to bring those institutions into being? They sprang, on the one hand, from the love
of free government inspired by the noble sentiments of Jefferson’s Declaration. And on the other hand, from the theoretic
genius of James Madison, whose sober clarity regarding democracy gave the shape and thrust
to our unique democratic form of government. The way was opened for the quiet and mild
genius of James Madison who spent much time in this hall. The way was opened for his quiet and mild
genius to gain its ascendancy by a stroke of good fortune that could lead one almost
to attribute the success of the Constitutional Convention to the direct intervention of Divine
Providence, namely the fact that during the summer of the convention, John Adams happened
to be in London and Thomas Jefferson in Paris, happily carried away from these shores to
do diplomatic duty for their country. Had these two formidable figures, the one,
a lingering partisan of the idea of the mixed regime, John Adams, and the other, too easily
given to a shallow and mere libertarianism that would have vitiated the effectiveness
of government and the strength of the Union, Thomas Jefferson. Had these two formidable figures been in Philadelphia
in 1787, I do not believe the single clear vision of Madison would have been able to
prevail as much as it did. And in my judgment, that one half of a revolution,
the Revolution of sober expectations of 1776 would never have been so successfully completed
as it was in fact by the framing and adoption of the Constitution. I think that Tocqueville, whom I’ve quoted
several times, understood that what distinguished the American Revolution was indeed, as I have
been urging, its successful assent to the Constitution. Indeed, he regarded our revolution with the
scorn appropriate to a Frenchman who’d seen a really big one. He thought that our revolution was the two-bed
revolution by comparison to the French and he was, of course, quite right. And he thought he said indeed, explicitly,
it’s ridiculous to compare the American Revolutionary War to the French wars of the revolution and
of the republic in which a 20th part of the mankind of France was flung across the continent
of Europe in successful warfare. But he goes on to say, “If America ever approached,
for however brief a time, that lofty pinnacle of glory to which the proud imagination of
its inhabitants is wont to point, it was at this solemn moment when the National Power
abdicated as it were its authority.” He refers to 1786-1787. And then he says, “What is truly novel in
human history? It is new in the history of society to see
a great people turn a calm and scrutinizing eye upon itself when apprised by the legislature
that the wheels of its government are stopped to see it carefully examine the extent of
the evil and patiently wait two whole years until a remedy is discovered to which he had
voluntarily submitted without it costing a tear or a drop of blood from mankind.” The reason for this incredible patience, which
Tocqueville recognize to be the unique American historical phenomenon of the end of our revolution,
the reason for this remarkable patience was the initial sobriety of the revolution. Sobriety based upon the mildness of its aim,
namely free government, of its awareness of the permanent limits of human frailty, and
of its sober recognition of the dangers and difficulties of democracy. On this approaching bicentennial of the revolution,
I have tried to turn our attention to the two founding documents of our national being,
the Declaration and the Constitution. And I have tried to make it impossible for
us to think of the one without simultaneously thinking of the other. In this, I have followed, but I have also
reversed the magisterial effort of Lincoln. Lincoln devoted himself to drawing the Americans
of his generation back from the Constitution to the Declaration. He did so because in his generation, Americans
were then emptying the Constitution of its inspiriting love of equal freedom for all. In the interests of slavery and of compromise
with slavery, Americans then were reducing the Constitution to a mere legalistic compact
emptied of the abstract truth which had given it its sentiments and feelings and had made
it a promise and a model to all mankind. He wished when men said, “Constitution,” they
would think simultaneously, “Declaration.” That’s the reason four score and seven years,
87 years, 1863 back to 1776, root the American national origin back in the moment of the
sentiments and feelings of freedom which the Americans of his generation were losing. Today, our needs are otherwise. Our two documents must, as always, be seen
as indissoluble. But now we need to train ourselves when hearing
the declarations heady rhetoric of revolution and freedom always soberly, simultaneously
to see the Constitution as the necessary forming, constraining, and sustaining system of government
that made our revolution a blessing to mankind and not a curse. In an age of rising expectations, in an age
of unbridled, utopian expectations, it is useful to look back to the sources of our
sobriety and to link always the sentiments and feelings of freedom and human emancipation
with the constraining and channeling that our constitutional system of government properly
represents. I hope you will permit me in closing to indulge
myself in one more flight of rhetoric. I have made no effort tonight to speak to
any of the grave contemporary issues that tear at us and surfeit us with apparently
endless crisis. But whatever we each think must be done to
solve this or that grave problem, I call upon you tonight to take your guidance and bearing
from that double star of undiminished magnitude, which in two great exertions of political
sentiment and intellect burst forth from this hall. Thank you. Vermont: We’ve just had a lecture by Professor
Martin Diamond on “The Revolution of Sober Expectations.” Dr. Diamond discussed the role of the Constitution
and the Declaration of Independence in making the American Revolution into what Dr. Diamond
calls a blessing to mankind. Today’s lecture is one in a series presented
by the American Enterprise Institute dealing with the many aspects of the American Revolution
and its meaning for modern America. If you would like a copy of Dr. Diamond’s
lecture or copies of the entire series, write the American Enterprise Institute. That’s AEI, Box 19191, Washington D.C. 20036. Until next time, this is Vermont Royster. Thank you for joining us.

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  1. I don't know if AEI takes requests, but if so I'd love to see the discussion entitled "Professors, Politicians, and Public Policy" featuring Bork, Moynihan and Kristol.

  2. The discussion on the term “self-evident” around 19 minutes in this presentation, may be true from a historical perspective. However, in our modern day we should review “self-evident” as an axiom having a symmetric mapping to the physical constructal law. Please see the YouTube presentation titled, “The Science of Rights” along with its references.

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