By Richard A. Primus
Richard A. Primus examines 3 the most important sessions in American historical past (the overdue eighteenth century, the Civil battle and the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties) and demonstrates how the conceptions of rights triumphing at every one of those instances grew out of competition to concrete political instances. within the first learn of its variety, Primus highlights the impact of totalitarianism (in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) at the language of rights. This ebook may be a big contribution to modern political thought, of curiosity to students and scholars in politics and executive, constitutional legislations, and American background.
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Extra info for The American Language of Rights (Ideas in Context)
The rights of free press, free speech, and] every principle of liberty . . . that might not be pleasing to members of the 'Peculiar Institution'" of slavery. 27 Adams's use of the Declaration of Independence points to the question of the sources of the rights that Americans claimed at the time. Generally, rights discourse from the midnineteenth century through Reconstruction relied less upon abstract sources like nature and reason than did Founding rights discourse, placing more emphasis on positive law and the writings of the Founders themselves. Just as during the Founding, however, people on both sides of the major political rifts used the same sources to argue for the rights they favored. The Declaration is a prime example. Southern Congressmen excoriated Adams for invoking the Declaration on behalf of the rights of his petitioning constituents, but their successors a generation later routinely read the Declaration as conferring their right to secede. Jefferson Davis ended his monumental apologia for the Confederacy by invoking "the eternal principles of the Declaration of Independence . . . the Bills of Rights . . . [and] the natural rights of man" in favor of secession and the Southern cause generally. 28 Northerners 27 Freehling, Road to Disunion, pp. 350–351. 28 Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Thomas Yoseloff, 1958), vol. II, p. 763. Page 141 who felt that the inalienable rights of man expounded in the Declaration were directly opposed to the institution of slavery might have found this Confederate invocation of that document hypocritical, or at least astigmatic. Southerners, after all, were generally skeptical that the rights claims of the Declaration had political or legal force — except for the rights of revolution and secession, which they claimed more and more frequently as 1860 approached. Such selective readings would be hard to justify by any rules of textual interpretation. The pattern of outcomedriven rights reasoning whereby one identifies some desirable entitlement, liberty, power, or immunity and only later associates it with some normatively binding source, whether or not such association is logically defensible, was neither unique to the South nor new to the nineteenth century. It was present throughout the Founding, and it recurred in the years leading up to the Civil War. Northerners found the antislavery right to liberty in the Declaration; Southerners found the right to secede. Northerners emphasized constitutional rights like free speech and petition, while Southerners emphasized constitutional rights to property and to freedom from a coercive central government. 29 In short, each side used rights language to defend its substantive political commitments, and each side "proved" the rights it claimed with the same sources. As during the Founding, the substantive commitments often drove the use and reading of sources rather than the other way round. The Right of Free Press The right to petition was one right whose endangerment encouraged Northerners to regard slavery as inimical to their system of rights.