Louisiana, populism, and the Constitution, three items that don’t seem to have much in common, except that I spent time talking about all three in the last week.
You’ve probably heard that Jefferson violated the Constitution by pushing for the acquisition of Louisiana, that Donald Trump is a populist, and that the Constitution is an irrelevant scrap of paper.
False, False, and False.
Just like any other good myths, including the Lincolnian myth of American history and the War, these myths are based on both historical and ideological fallacies.
It is true that Jefferson thought that acquiring Louisiana mandated a constitutional amendment to make it valid. He was persuaded otherwise and rightfully so. There are many libertarians who would argue with me on this point–some did–but my response is quite simple. You cannot conflate the constant abuse of the “necessary and proper clause” or the “general welfare clause” through implied powers with that of treaty making. No one in the founding generation thought acquiring territory was illegal in 1783 through the Treaty of Paris, and while many in that generation feared that the general government would abuse the treaty making powers of the general government through the “supremacy clause,” particularly in regard to freedom of speech or the press, they were reassured that the treaty making powers of the new Constitution were identical to those under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the Constitution did not enlarge these powers and treaty making carried the same meaning in both documents. I talked about this issue on Episode 95 of The Brion McClanahan Show.
As for Donald Trump, it is quite popular these days–no pun intended–to call him a “populist.” This description usually comes from people, both learned and otherwise, who don’t really understand American populism in contrast to its European counterpart. The origins of American populism are found in the writings of men like John Taylor of Caroline not Karl Marx or Michel Foucault. Simply agitating for universal suffrage does not constitute “populism,” and flattering the public in scripted speeches is not populism either. That is demagoguery. I talk about American populism on Episode 96 of The Brion McClanahan Show.
Last but certainly not least, I sat down with Jeff Deist and Allen Mendenhall for Mises Weekend last Friday to talk about the Constitution. Is it still relevant? It certainly has been abused and shredded in the last two hundred years, but there is much to like, particularly real federalism and original intent. I spend much of my time talking about these things, so of course I still think the Constitution is important. You don’t want to miss this discussion. It is pure originalist bliss.