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Property Rights and the Founding

Americans entertain the peculiar idea that history—or, at least, “our history”—is the reign of continuity.  In spite of all the talk about revolution, there appears to be a remarkable degree of stability in every substantial political rupture.  The American Revolution was, in fact (we are told by historians), a “conservative one,” restoring the political order the British had wrecked.  The not-so-civil “Civil War” was a much-needed Second American Revolution that finally rendered everyone a citizen, making the promises of the first “conservative revolution” available to human beings of all races and, eventually, to every nation on earth.  The Progressive Era, New Deal, and Great Society actually reshaped the role of the federal government in the era of mass politics.  However, this was invariably presented as a natural expansion and development of the original American experiment in self-government and framed in the half-clever motto: “Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends.”

History, in this country, is seen as a narrative without the solution of continuity.  In Montgomery, one can find the George Wallace Museum and the Rosa Parks Memorial within a few yards.  While the Confederate flag has recently been the object of much controversy, the men who fought under it are celebrated alongside those who destroyed the Old South. ...

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