Home > History, Politics > Nothing New Under the Sun

Nothing New Under the Sun

Dixon Hall Lewis

Dixon Hall Lewis

Or so I’ve heard, though the guy who said it probably wasn’t thinking about Higgs bosons. Still, he may be right.

I came across additional evidence yesterday in the book I’m currently reading, Harvey Jackson’s Inside Alabama: A Personal History of My State. About a fourth of the way in, Jackson introduces Dixon Hall Lewis, who represented Alabama in the US Senate in the 1840s. Two decades earlier, he was a state legislator, then ran for Congress. In that race,

the issue he chose to exploit was federally funded internal improvements, which he opposed because (he claimed) they would open the door to tyranny by making people dependent on Washington instead of on themselves and their states.

Jackson contrasts Lewis with William Rufus King, long-time Alabama senator and briefly vice president under Franklin Pierce, until his death.

Together King and Lewis represent the bipolar nature of Alabama politics along with the tension that existed, and still exists, among Alabamians and their leaders. This was the issue: Should the state divorce itself, as much as possible, from the central government and go its own way even though such philosophical purity demanded that it give up advantages that come from collective action within the Union? Or should the state accept federal aid, with accompanying regulations and restrictions so that its people could have the same advantage enjoyed by other states? It was a dilemma, and efforts to solve it have made up much of Alabama’s history.

So while Dixon Hall Lewis denounced federal intrusions and suggested that states had the constitutional authority and moral responsibility to oppose laws that infringed on their sovereignty, William Rufus King offered a more moderate course. And Alabamians rallied to both. Understand that, and you are at the heart of the matter.

A hundred and eighty years later, Lewis’s descendants continue to turn down federal aid, from New Jersey Governor Christie’s rejection of funding for a new train tunnel under the Hudson to New York to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s (and others’) rejection of federal Medicaid funding under Obamacare. And NRA chief Wayne LaPierre fights gun control in an echo of Lewis’s warnings, reminding “senators that the founders didn’t want Americans to ‘live under tyranny.'”

Nothing new under the sun indeed.

Advertisements
Categories: History, Politics
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: