Reasoned Argument Book Club: After the War of 1812 to 1850 [Session 9]

After the War of 1812 to 1850

Event Video

Session 9 Reading:
Great orators dominate Congress: Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun
Novus Ordo Seclorum, Ch. 8, with a focus on pp. 282-284
Our Republican Constitution by Randy Barnett, Ch. 4, pp. 85-90
Watch the Federalist Society's 10-minute video, “Executive Power & the Louisiana Purchase


American Argument Prior to, During, and Following the
Federalist-Antifederalist Debate


John S. Baker, Jr., Ph.D.,
Professor Emeritus,
Louisiana State University Law Center

Reasoned Argument Book Club will run weekly on Tuesday evenings for 13 one-hour sessions, beginning Tuesday, August 24th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The class is now full, but you can watch the live streams on our website and YouTube.

Law and Liberty’s Lifeblood: Reasoned, Persuasive Argument

The Republicanism of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is the product of reasoned, persuasive argument. Over time, however, the republican rhetoric of law and liberty has been pushed aside by the language of regulation and federal power. More recently, Marxist rhetoric condemning America has erupted into the public square. The different worlds of sports, entertainment, education, media, as well as big law and large corporations seem to be singing from the same hymnal.  

Condemning America and commanding—not arguing—that we should all think and speak as directed is the way of Cancel Culture. Rather than responding in kind, this Book Club offers an opportunity to refresh our understanding of the Republicanism that fueled the Founding and the Post-Civil War Amendments.

The audience for this Book Club includes not only law students and lawyers, but anyone concerned about disorder in our constitutional order. This Book Club is closer to a collection of essays, largely drawing from two books: Our Republican Constitution by Professor Randy Barnett; Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution by Professor Forrest McDonald; and The Ethics of Rhetoric by Richard Weaver.

Professor Barnett’s book is aimed at a general, non-scholarly audience. Professor McDonald’s book goes more deeply into the intellectual richness of the Founding. Dr. Weaver's book addresses ethical and persuasive speaking and argument by analyzing particular arguments, including those of Lincoln.

Persuasive Speech—aka Rhetoric

Justice Scalia proved the power of rhetoric, classically understood. He defended the Rule of Law and Originalism, through much more than pure reason. He used, of course, analogies and memorable metaphors, e.g., “this wolf comes as a wolf.” It was his passion for truth, however, that powered his persuasiveness. The challenge, which he relished, was addressing written and oral arguments aimed at audiences steeped in relativism. For readers and listeners ranging from fans to sneering cynics, he employed humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, and (from the bench and in speeches) especially facial expressions. His purpose: to shatter their un-reflected acceptance of Progressive constitutional truisms.

Professor Baker co-taught with Justice Scalia over the entire period of the Justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court. Besides arguing constitutional cases, including twice in the Supreme Court, Baker tried over 40 felony, jury trials and countless misdemeanors as a state prosecutor prior to entering law teaching.

Baker emphasizes that one need not have the personality of a Justice Scalia in order to understand Rhetoric and to argue more persuasively. One need not even ever make formal arguments in order to realize its benefit in the most informal of exchanges with others. But everyone needs an understanding of Rhetoric in order to protect against Woke’s “Condemn and Command” rhetoric.

Click here for more information about the Reasoned Argument Book Club.


As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.