In Quest of Freedom: American Political Thought and Practice

By Alpheus Thomas Mason McCormick; Richard H. Leach | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

AMERICAN POLITICS esteems aggressive, self-reliant individuals whose tireless energy and unfaltering faith supply the primary impetus to progress. Political doctrine evolved slowly in the United States and, quite naturally, took on empirical or pragmatic form. Philosophy has been subservient, the tool of statesmanship. The doers are also the political thinkers. This book, therefore, highlights the actual participants in affairs of state, the men of "light and leading." Drawn largely from primary sources and presented in historical context, it confronts the reader with live issues, exhibiting our best minds in action--opposing, discussing, deliberating, compromising and deciding.

American statesmen have been disinclined to probe the mysteries of authority and obedience. Neither abstract political speculation nor the "grand design" has appealed to them. Jefferson, though known as a thinker, is valued for his works rather than for his political philosophy. His writings, like those of other major figures featured in this volume-- James Otis, John Adams, John Taylor, J. C. Calhoun, Thorstein Veblen, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt--were occasioned by specific issues and problems, not by the urge to speculate. The pioneering man of action cleared the forest, conquered the foe, established institutions of government. Succeeding generations have molded and adapted them to ever-changing conditions in the unending quest for freedom. We tend to berate as a loafer the contemplative man--a Thoreau, a Bellamy or a Bourne--who indulges in what Justice Holmes called the "isolated joy of the thinker."

In observing how great conflicts of public policy have been resolved, one is led to ponder the variety of points of view that may be sincerely and reasonably entertained, and to note the large part nonconformity and dissent, tedious procedures and cumbersome methods, play in the practice of free government.

The present illustrates the past. The Supreme Court's 1954 decision on segregation, while reviving old values, stimulated fresh conflict. The Court's vindication of the rights of political offenders in the memorable 1956-57 term again posed Lincoln's dilemma: "Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?" Despite 170 years of debate, compromise and decision, it is still relevant to ask: What is the nature and scope of equality? What is the appropriate relation between nation and state? Which majority should rule, local or national? How should various branches of the government be related to each other under conditions of

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