Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Glenn Beck Makes the Wrong Original Argument

Despite his recent departure from Fox News, Glenn Beck remains a media phenomenon. He’s created an organization that grinds out new books at an amazing pace. His latest, The Original Argument: The Federalist Case for the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century, is already a New York Times bestseller.

Beck is to be credited for popularizing the discussion of Constitutional issues fundamental to the founding of our republic. However, I think it’s fair to criticize his recent effort on several grounds.

I was surprised that by the second page of his introduction Beck made a significant historical error of the sort he ought to take pains to avoid. He cites a quotation by William Byrd II as an example of the kind of dischord that existed among the thirteen states at the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and subsequent state ratification debates:

Those opposed to the new constitution, collectively called the “Anti-Federalists,” were generally wary of the power wielded by the larger states and were concerned that the structure being proposed–a true republic–could never work in practice . . . Then you had groups like the Puritans, Virginians, and Quakers, who seldom agreed on, well much of anything. As Virginian William Byrd II said of the Puritans, ” A watchful eye must be kept on these foul traders.”

Byrd, it turns out, died in 1741, almost half a century before the Constitutional Convention. A well known Virginia politician and writer, Byrd’s critique of the Puritans was probably one of the last made while such a clearly identifiable culture existed. It’s an argument, applied to a world in which there were still those in New England who could be called “Puritans.” By the Constitutional Convention of 1787, however, the “Puritan” culture of New England had disappeared, replaced as it was by the “Yankee” culture. I was surprised that this anachronistic error was caught by neither Beck nor the fairly large staff that worked on this project.

You can read the rest of this article at Broadside Books' "Line of Fire" here.

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