State & Local Politics

A Jeffersonian Awakening in Texas

Something of possibly great historic importance occurred on April 15 at the “tea party” anti-tax demonstrations. Heartland America found a voice and a natural leader: Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

The story, which made a sardonic splash on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the other major venues this Saturday, was not so much about the substance of what he said, but that the governor, American native son, rancher and Texan back to the fifth generation, had the audacity to speak at all. Perry, the most temperate, Main Street, mainstream, straight-arrow Eagle Scout of governors, was widely accused of threatening Texas secession. He did use the phrase “states’ rights.” Indeed, he used it is a mantra, like states’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights. He did not, of course, endorse Texas secession, but he did remind listeners that we are a nation of states and that states form the first circle of our responsibility and power.

History enters the world hiding in plain sight. It is ignored at first, then patronized. Next, hostility builds against it, then panic.

Libertarians still may be largely ignored by major press outlets, but their ideas are being rapidly assimilated today by both major parties. And Libertarians today are the primary purveyors of Jeffersonian ideals: ideals and ideas that call for state, local and regional control and local-grown culture rather than federally dictated policy and mandates. Could New England ever find its own nature and identity again and get its mojo back from New York? Hard to say. So much has come and gone since 1865 and dominance by the territorial imperatives of Wall Street, the Empire State and the Hamiltonian federalists, like the huge mother ship in the movie “Close Encounters,” hovering over our heads.

I first felt the new Libertarian influence just five years ago when Mitt Romney, then the governor of Massachusetts, disparagingly used the phrase “one-size-fits-all federalism,” a phrase Perry repeated in his speech on April 15. The core of the complaint is that what is right for the Gulf States and the Katrina region is not necessarily right for New England. And what it good for Kansas is irrelevant to the Pacific Northwest. People are different, and they are better different.

New visions of federalism like those of Jefferson and Madison were being suggested at The Federalist Society where Romney had given a speech. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. became apoplectic when newly appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts was said to have had some relationship with The Federalist Society. Later, Schlesinger’s political ally Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s secretary of the Treasury, started something called The Hamilton Project. The core of Hamiltonian thinking is One Size Fits All Federalism; a centralized government which controls all; optimally, all of the world. It is a vision that has since taken a quantum leap in the Obama administration, where the New Man of Washington — Obama Man — is that bland and neurotic protagonist of so much 19th-century Slavic literature, the dreary government clerk in a heavy overcoat carrying his tea slowly through the night and fog.

“In the beginning of Washington’s administration two men defined the fundamental principles of the two societies, Alexander Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South,” wrote the Vanderbilt agrarian Frank Owsley. “The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other States Rights, but in truth the first should have been called Unitarianism and the second Federalism.”

The Obama interlude aside, the Hamiltonian part of our American journey may be drawing to an end. As Hamilton’s vision dominated from Jay’s Treaty in 1795 to the present, we are seeing now the Jeffersonian tendency arise.

That is what was going on across agrarian America in the anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations on April 15.

Visit Mr. Quigley’s website at

Tags Alexander Hamilton Bill Clinton Democracy Employment Relation Federalism Federalism in the United States Federalist Papers Federalist Society Mitt Romney Person Career Person Location Political philosophy Politics of the United States Quotation States' rights United States

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video