Program Report: Montpelier, VA Liberty Fund Co-Sponsored Colloquium

This past weekend, we were pleased to host 20 teachers from around the country for a weekend colloquium at James Madison’s Montpelier. Throughout the weekend, we discussed Madison’s ideas and his contributions to American history through his involvement in the Constitutional Convention, Ratification debate, adoption of the Bill of Rights, and in the politics of the early republic. Teachers explored Madison’s understanding of the concept of “faction,” including ways that Madison attempted to devise a constitutional system that would minimize the danger of faction, and the ways in which that concept appears today.


As guests at Montpelier for the weekend, teachers had the opportunity to stay on the grounds in the “Constitutional Village” that has been built for visiting scholars. Teachers also had the opportunity to tour the Madison’s home, where they saw Mr. Madison’s study and library, and where they learned more about his relationship with Dolley – who may have made the Madisons into Washington D.C.’s first “power couple”. And most importantly, teachers got to meet Mr. Madison himself (or at least a character actor who does a fine job of portraying Mr. Madison), who was present over the weekend to offer guests his holiday greetings.

This weekend’s program was one of several weekend colloquia which Ashbrook co-sponsors with a partner organization, Liberty Fund.

McGovern Criticizes the Carter Doctrine

800px-George_McGovern,_c_1972South Dakota Senator George McGovern, although spectacularly unsuccessful as a Democratic candidate for President in 1972, offered articulate critiques of American foreign policy even after his attempt at national leadership failed. An article McGovern wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in June 1980 shows his willingness to pick apart what he sees as the simplistic thinking of a president from his own party, Jimmy Carter.

By 1980, Carter’s earlier call for a foreign policy based in support of human rights rather than in regard for American interests had been thwarted by a variety of intransigent geopolitical conflicts, notably the rise of a religious nationalism in Iran that contested the rule of the American-backed Shah. After the Shah was deposed, Carter’s decision to admit him to the US for medical treatment provoked a violent reaction in Tehran, where the American embassy was seized and over 60 Americans taken hostage. When shortly thereafter the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Carter reacted in the manner of earlier presidents presiding during the Cold War, issuing a new doctrine declaring American determination to protect its interests in the middle east: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  McGovern criticized Carter for returning to a policy focused on Cold War calculations. He spelled out a number of concerns—“local, regional, and internal to the Soviet Union”—to which, he said, the Carter administration was now “indifferent, caught up as it was in the excitement of unveiling its new doctrine”:

It was almost as if, when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, we were relieved to find ourselves freed from the complexities of Third World nationalism and the Islamic revival and back on the comfortably familiar turf of a bipolar Cold War world. Once they heard the call of the Carter Doctrine, the Iranians would naturally forget about the shah, the Arabs would forget their differences with Israel, our allies in Western Europe and Japan would gratefully follow our lead, and all would join with us in a grand alliance against Soviet aggression. Now the unwelcome “lesson of Vietnam”–as Daniel Yergin put it, “that ‘fundamental designs’ may be illusory and that global implications may be secondary to local issues”–could also be cast aside. Americans could be patriots again, without bothering to make the troublesome distinction between patriotism and jingoism. is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

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