Eli Merritt is a visiting scholar in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University, where he is completing Disunion Among Ourselves. This book tells the story of the American Revolution through the lens of the founders' relentless struggles to overcome partisan politics in order to win the war and avert disunion and domestic civil war.
Disunion Among Ourselves
Disunion Among Ourselves: North-South Crisis and Compromise At the Birth of the Nation tells a new story of the War of Independence. Typically, accounts of the Revolution highlight the stunning might of the British armed forces as the chief obstacle . . .
Why Demagogues Were the Founding Fathers' Greatest Fears
This op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, subsequently published by 22 other newspapers, reveals that the founders self-consciously drafted the Constitution to be a bulwark against demagogues gaining power in the federal government. As Hamilton put it Federalist No. 1: “History will teach us that ... of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”
Alexander Hamilton Would Have Led the Charge to Oust Donald Trump
Published at the height of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate, this op-ed in the Los Angeles Times tells the story of Alexander Hamilton's campaign in early 1801 to defeat a demagogue, Aaron Burr, and instead elect his political arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson, as president of the United States. Hamilton deplored Jefferson's policies but believed he, unlike Burr, was dedicated to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. Burr, he said, who was “deficient in honesty” and “one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates,” would “disturb our institutions” and be governed by a singular principle — “to get power by any means and to keep it by all means.”
The Constitution Must Be Our ‘Political Religion’: Remembering Lincoln’s Words
This op-ed in the Seattle Times, telling the story of Lincoln's historic 1838 address entitled "The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions," showcases Lincoln's belief that in order to survive as a democracy we must transcend our racial, religious, regional and party affiliations and together embrace what he calls "the political religion of our nation"—that is, the Constitution and the rule of law.
MLK's Prescription For Healing Hate Was Embracing 'Agape'
This op-ed in USA Today, published to commemorate the Birmingham campaign of 1963, describes MLK's relentless devotion to the Greek concept of agape, defined as love and compassion for all fellow human beings, in his arduous life's work as a civil rights leader. King characterizes agape as a potent inner position of “soul force” that each of us can cultivate within ourselves—and teach to our children. According to King, agape is the world's greatest hope for healing hate in all its manifest forms, whether racial, religious, ethnic or political.
How George Washington Would Fix Partisan Politics Today
This op-ed in The Tennessean casts new light on Washington's political talents as revealed in the Newburgh Conspiracy and his First Farewell Address in 1783. Washington's two-part prescription for politics in the 21st century would be the same as in the 1780s: 1) the rule of law and 2) emotional intelligence.
Sectional Conflict & Secret Compromise
Published in The American Journal of Legal History, "Sectional Conflict and Secret Compromise: The Mississippi River Question and the United States Constitution" reveals that the United States nearly broke apart in 1786-87. The young nation was saved from North-South disunion by the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.
The Mississippi Navigation Crisis
Published in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, "The Mississippi Navigation Crisis" highlights the role of New Yorker John Jay and North Carolinians Timothy Bloodworth, Richard Caswell, Hugh Williamson, Benjamin Hawkins, and William Blount in the North-South crisis over the Mississippi River in 1786-87.
Thomas Jefferson in a New Light
This letter to the New York Times calls for doublethink on founder Thomas Jefferson. The otherwise enlightened founding generation perpetuated slavery not only due to a pervasive ideology of white racial superiority but due to the founders' overwhelming fear that emancipation would trigger disunion, civil war, and a swift collapse of the American experiment in self-government.
Debt Ceiling Treatment
In this op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Merritt satirizes Democrats and Republicans for their mutual intransigence in resolving the debt-ceiling crisis. The piece concludes with a prescription by founding father James Madison for treating such political dysfunction.