On Tuesday, July 17, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio launched an expanded news program – Court News Ohio – that features stories about the Ohio judicial system. This archived page on the Supreme Court’s website only displays news stories that occurred before that date. News stories that occurred on July 17 and thereafter can be found at www.courtnewsohio.gov.

June 7, 2011
Miami University Professor Discusses Self-Governance

In exploring the concept of self-government at a Supreme Court of Ohio event tonight, celebrated historian Andrew Cayton noted that questions of authority have been around since the American Revolution. In fact, the competing answers to these questions advocated by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson influenced the government we have today and continue to resonate in our present political culture.

“When the Americans went to battle creating the United States in 1776, they were breaking away from the type of government that had been in place in Europe,” Cayton said. “What the American Revolution was about was a rejection of constitutional monarchy. It was a constitutional crisis within the British Empire about who was a part of the British Empire but also a crisis of authority.”

Cayton, a Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University, presented “A Question of Authority” to an audience of about 75 guests in the Supreme Court courtroom during the latest Forum on the Law lecture.

According to Cayton, the self-government question was central to the debates creating the federal government under the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and the Ohio state government in 1803. These remarkable political developments were episodes in a hotly contested cultural revolution about the nature of authority.

Cayton said the question was, “By what right does a government exercise power? More bluntly, by what right does a government get people to do what they do not want to do?”

Rejecting centuries of tradition, Americans embarked on a radical political experiment founded on the notion that authority ultimately rests in “the people.” But what does that mean? Should there be limits on popular authority? Can citizens be trusted to act in their own best interest? Or do they need others to judge for them?

Nowhere were these questions addressed more directly than in the debates over the extraordinary invention of the federal and state judiciaries, particularly the power of appointed judges to void the decisions of popularly elected members of the legislative and executive branches.

The two competing schools of thought that attempted to resolve this question, and that to some extent still compete were the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian perspectives.

The Jeffersonian solution was to help people cultivate their moral sense through education and other institutions. The Hamiltonians were suspicious of the ability of the people to control their passions and govern themselves, even through the cultivation of the moral sense through education. The Hamiltonians feared being ruled “under the domination of a riotous mob.” Hamilton’s solution was to strengthen the union of the United States and establish political institutions, in particular courts, that would be capable of restraining the passions and protecting minority rights.

Cayton said the Jeffersonian perspective heavily influenced the Ohio system, leading to the establishment of an elected judiciary, with shorter terms and the idea of more democratic accountability to the people.

But the Hamiltonian perspective left the legacy of judicial review and a strong, though co-equal, judicial branch. “The courts existed to keep the legislature in bounds, but they were not superior to the legislature,” Cayton said. “In the end it is the Constitution that represents the will of the people.”

Cayton teaches courses in 18th and early 19th century North American and Atlantic history at Miami University in Oxford. He serves as president-elect of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

Cayton’s previous books include, with Fred Anderson, “The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000” (a History Book Club Selection; a Washington Post Best Book of 2005; and a Times Literary Supplement 2005 Book of the Year) and “Ohio: The History of a People.” He is collaborating with Anderson on “Imperial America, 1672-1764” — a volume in the Oxford History of the United States.

A Cincinnati native, Cayton earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Brown University.

Flash video Andrew Cayton Defines Authority

Flash video Andrew Cayton Discusses Personal & Professional Authority

Flash video Andrew Cayton Poses Four Questions

A Question of Authority will air on the Ohio Channel on the following dates:

June 16: 3 & 11 p.m.
June 17: 7 a.m.
June 18: 12 & 8 p.m.
June 19: 4 a.m.

Visit the Ohio Channel to locate your local channel.

Contact: Chris Davey or Bret Crow at 614.387.9250.