Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought

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9780739120781: Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought

The disputed election of 1824 was one of the most important presidential elections in American history. After an indecisive electoral college vote, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president over the more popular war hero, Andrew Jackson. As a result, John C. Calhoun ended up serving as vice-president under Adams. Neither man was comfortable in this situation as they were political rivals who held philosophically divergent views of American constitutional governance. The emerging personal and philosophical dispute between President Adams and Vice-President Calhoun eventually prompted the two men (and Adams’s political supporters) to take up their pens, using the pseudonyms “Patrick Henry” and “Onslow,” in a public debate over the nature of power and liberty in a constitutional republic. The great debate thus arrayed Calhoun’s Jeffersonian republican vision of constitutionally restrained power and local autonomy against Adams’s neo-Federalist republican vision which called for the positive use of inherent power—a view that would become increasingly compelling to future generations of Americans. In the course of this exchange some of the most salient issues within American politics and liberty are debated, including the nature of political order, democracy, and the diffusion of political power. The level of erudition and insight is remarkable. The “Patrick Henry”/”Onslow” Debate deserves a wider popular and scholarly audience.

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About the Author:

H. Lee Cheek, Jr. is chair of the Social Science Division and professor of political science at East Georgia State College, and a senior fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute. His books include Calhoun and Popular Rule and Order and Legitimacy.

Sean Busick is associate professor of history at Athens State University and past president of the William Gilmore Simms Society. He is the author of A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian and The Founding of the American Republic.

Carey Roberts is associate professor of history and coordinator of university assessment at Arkansas Tech University.

Review:

H. Lee Cheek Jr., Sean R. Busick, and Carey M. Roberts have edited these debates in a fine volume. (Journal of Southern History)

[This] collection provides scholars with a fascinating glimpse into the emerging political and philosophical differences that underlay the rise of the second party system in American history. . . .The editors have done a scholars of the Jacksonian period a great service by highlighting a little known, but enormously interesting and consequential, debate. (South Carolina Historical Magazine)

The administration of John Quincy Adams was a transition period between what historians have called the Age of Jefferson and the Age of Jackson. Perhaps the most curious phenomenon of this unusual and fluid period was a philosophical debate between President Adams and Vice-President, John C. Calhoun—surely the only happening of its kind in U.S. history. This debate, carried out in the newspapers under pseudonyms, in the custom of the times, has been almost unknown, or dismissed as politics. But, in fact, it constitutes a serious discussion of the nature of Power and the interpretation of the Constitution that looks both backward and forward. By collecting these essays, the editors have made an important contribution to history and political science. (Clyde Wilson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina)

The momentous 'Patrick Henry-Onslow' debate, between John Quincy Adams, his supporters, and John C. Calhoun, evokes both the scalding political atmosphere of the 1820s and the perennial tension between liberty and government power. We owe a debt of gratitude to Professors Busick, Cheek, and Roberts for bringing this highly relevant debate back to life. (Thomas S. Kidd, Baylor University)

The debate between Vice President John C. Calhoun ('Onslow') and President John Quincy Adams or his ally ('Patrick Henry') captures the clash between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian views at a pivotal moment in American history. Edited by some of today's leading experts in the field, this first-ever collection of the essays should appeal to scholars and buffs alike. (Kevin R.C. Gutzman, Western Connecticut State University)

The debate between 'Patrick Henry' and 'Onslow' fought out in the pages of Washington newspapers in 1826, speaks to the idea of competing visions, present at the founding of the United States, of republican government. The editors of this timely volume return us to a lost world in which a seemingly small incident in the Senate could spark within the highest levels of government a deep and candid public analysis of the dialectic of liberty and power and its relation to the problem of limited government. Cheek and company deserve applause for this illuminating act of recovery. (Robert L. Paquette, Hamilton College)

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