John Adams

How the idea of genius became the basis for political power

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How Alexander Hamilton and a Swiss anti-Federalist created our country's capitalist system.

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In making the legal case against Obamacare’s individual mandate, challengers have argued that the framers of our Constitution would certainly have found such a measure to be unconstitutional. Nevermind that nothing in the text or history of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause indicates that Congress cannot mandate commercial purchases. The framers, challengers have claimed, thought a constitutional ban on purchase mandates was too “obvious” to mention.

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The Dream of Law

Law in American History, Volume I: From the Colonial Years Through the Civil WarBy G. Edward White (Oxford University Press, 565 pp., $39.95)  G. Edward White is one of America’s most eminent legal historians. He has written fifteen books, many of which have won awards and honors.

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  There’s a cheeky scene in Born Yesterday, George Cukor’s Americanized upending of Pygmalion,that casts light on the thinking behind the marquee at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway this season. About a third of the way into the Cukor film, William Holden, on assignment to instill class in Judy Holiday, takes her to the symphony. “What's the name of this number, did you say?” she asks him. “Beethoven’s Second Symphony, Opus Thirty-Six,” he answers. “I didn’t ask you who made it up,” she snaps back.

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The Mirage

I. The American dream of politics without conflict, and of politics without political parties, has a history as old as American politics. Anyone carried along on the political currents since 2008, however, might be forgiven for thinking that the dream is something new—and that a transformative era was finally at hand, in which the old politics of intense partisan conflict, based on misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misanthropy, could be curbed if not ended. After the presidency of George W.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

In an 1814 letter to John Taylor, John Adams wrote that “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That may read today like an overstatement, but it is certainly true that our democracy finds itself facing a deep challenge: During my recent stint in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, it was clear to me that the country’s political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing.

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Ross Douthat's column today makes a sharp point about the myth of the realigning election, and how this encourages partisans to dream of total victory: This “realignment theory” was embraced by many scholars because it fit the historical record so well.

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At least one of the Founders thought that Independence Day would become important. When the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776, John Adams, who more than any other single Founder was responsible for that vote, was ecstatic. America’s declaring of independence from Great Britain, he told his wife Abigail, marked “the most memorable Epocha in the History of America.” He hoped that the day would be “celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.

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