Friday, May 21, 2010

UPDATED: A review of "Prairie Republic" - looking at values we forget at our peril

South Dakota Dreamin’ | First Things

UPDATED: Check out the Facebook page.

A Creighton University (Nebraska)prof reviews Jon Lauck's book. Both the book and the review point to political values we take for granted and which we stand to lose.

From the review:

"A tradition of local governance that resists both a supine dependence on Washington, D.C. or dominance by remote corporate interests; a patriotism that believes in the noble possibilities of the American experiment; vibrant churches and church leaders who remind us that life is more than our economic or political self-interest—it’s not surprising that Lauck finds these features of Dakota life attractive. After twenty years living in Nebraska, I certainly have as well. But does this political culture, what Lauck calls 'republican citizenship,' have a future?"

From the book:

"In addition to the American democratic tradition, republican ideas, and agrarianism, statehood advocates maintained an intense respect for Christianity. At a June 1883 conclave called to debate the merits of a constitutional convention, Episcopalian minister Melancthon Hoyt, the 'oldest pioneer clergyman of Dakota,' blessed the work of the convention and called on God to bless conventioneers so that 'they may glorify Thy holy name and perpetuate the best interests of the citizens of this territory...' The Jamestown Alert noted that the 1883 constitutional convention had 'prayers every morning' and 'no one knows but that what is now a political gathering may be transformed into a great religious event...'

The Dakota constitution's bill of rights, noteworthy for the degree of consensus it generated during the convention and for its extensive use of the American constitutional heritage, even included a provision stating that the 'blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles...'

The statehood advocates and framers of the South Dakota constitution relied on republicanism and the history of U.S. democratic practices when they criticized and rebelled against the territorial system... (under which) the president of the United States chose the governor and judges for the territory, and Congress established the territory's organic law...

In 1880 Nehemiah Ordway was appointed governor of Dakota Territory, and he quickly set in motion plans for plunder...

The settlers' disgust with figures such as Ordway and the territorial system in general was effectively summarized by the prominent Congregational minister Joseph Ward, who argued that the people in the territories were 'treated, not simply as aliens, but almost as enemies...' Promoting local control and statehood would make Dakotan democracy 'pure' by ending 'the demoralizing influence of Federal patronage,' which excluded 'decent' men from political life and brought in a breed of 'toadying' hacks equivalent to those 'that appeared in any remote Roman province in the bad days of the Empire.'"

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