Theme Panel: The “Legitimate Authority of the People” in American Political Thought

The “Legitimate Authority of the People” in American Political Thought

The word “legitimacy” rises to prominence after America’s constitutional founding era, but the concept or something quite like it is there, and it is debated by leading minds. Those debates can illuminate what seems to be a crisis of legitimacy in the liberal democracies of the 21st century, to include America’s current moment of turbulence. The word legitimacy does not appear in The Federalist Papers, but the phrase “legitimate authority” occurs several times, in papers by both Hamilton and Madison, principally in relation to the American people, who are called its source or fountain. Looking at various sources, spanning the Founding era to ante-bellum debates and our current polarization, and taking different approaches, the four papers on this panel will explore the grounding of legitimacy in the people over the course of American political time.

Christine Dunn Henderson, Liberty Fund (Chair)
Robert P. Saldin, University of Montana (Discussant)
James M. Patterson, Ava Maria University (Discussant)

“Founded in Opinion:” Benjamin Franklin and David Hume on Legitimacy
John Zumbrunnen, University of Wisconsin, Madison (Author)

The Aim of Every Political Constitution: The Founders and the Election of Trump
Michael P. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame (Author)
Zachary German, University of Notre Dame (Author)
Robert Burton, University of Notre Dame (Author)

Emerson on Self-Reliance, Slavery, and Constitutional Reform
Robinson Woodward-Burns, University of Pennsylvania (Author)

The Paradox of Rule and the Problem of Legitimacy in American Politics
David D. Corey, Baylor University (Author)