Blogs > Liberty and Power > Saying No in So Many Ways

Dec 8, 2008 2:35 pm

Saying No in So Many Ways

Most historians have probably heard about Nathaniel Macon, but few other people have. At the time of his death in 1837, Macon, a long-time congressman and senator from North Carolina, was eulogized as a giant among the nation’s founders. Children were routinely named him, as were places from Macon, Georgia, to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. But he fell into obscurity in the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, Randolph-Macon is now just Randolph College.

He was an outspoken advocate of limited government; that’s probably why.

Troy Kickler, the historian who heads the North Carolina History Project (and who will soon be a blogger on Liberty and Power), is trying to restore awareness of Macon. Troy is editing Macon’s letters, and on December 1 he gave a talk about the legislator at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.

Nathaniel Macon opposed adopting the Constitution, believing that a powerful national government would destroy the liberties of individuals and state governments. He lost that fight, of course, but once the Constitution was adopted, he consistently opposed expanding the federal government’s powers (expansion that began almost immediately).

Macon became a national figure—and Speaker of the House—by opposing the Sedition Act of 1798, a clearly unconstitutional act that banned “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. The act was designed to quash the evolving Republican Party. The law “sunset” in 1801 and Macon helped keep it from being reenacted.

Macon opposed debt (public and private) and paper money, favored free trade, and hated government meddling. Among the quotes that Troy shared with his listeners:

“The attempt to govern too much has produced every civil war that ever has been, and . . . probably, every one that ever may be.”

“Principles can never change and what has lately been called the law of circumstances is an abandonment of principle, and has been the ruin of all free governments, and if the Republican party fall in the United States, it is owing to the same cause.”

That last one is something to reflect on at the close of 2008.

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More Comments:

Ralph E. Luker - 12/9/2008

I continue to be surprised and amused when Libertarians and libertarians celebrate slave-owning apologists for human bondage.

Troy Kickler - 12/8/2008

Here are some more interesting quotes from Nathaniel Macon's congressional speeches.

1) "I fear that tough times is a strong argument with many of us to stretch the constitution, and the difference between expediency [and] constitutionality becomes every day less."

2) "I am not of the opinion that it is sound policy to pass laws as fast as we can. On the contrary, I believe the less legislation the better."

3) The government is founded on the principle that the People have sense enough to govern themselves; and if passion should sometimes show itself, it will burn out, and reason will resume the throne, and thing will come right."