The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) prides itself as being part of an ever-growing network of organizations that seeks to provide undergraduate students with opportunities to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the Western tradition in general and of the American contribution to that tradition in particular.  On March 17, 2012, AHI Undergraduate Fellows Marta Johnson and Steven Pet joined students from four other members of that network at the Fifth Annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference on the American Polity.

AHI Charter Fellow Professor Douglas Ambrose chairs the first panel of the conference.

The conference, hosted by The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy at Georgetown University, provides selected undergraduates with the opportunity to present papers and receive valuable feedback from advanced graduate students and professors.  In addition to the AHI representatives, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Pet, this year’s conference featured students from The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, The Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy at Boston College, the Tocqueville Program for Inquiry into Religion and American Public Life at the University of Notre Dame, and The Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown. AHI Charter Fellow Professor Douglas Ambrose also participated in the conference as a panel chair.

AHI Undergraduate Fellow Marta Johnson, presents her paper at the Fifth Annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference on the American Polity.

Ms. Johnson’s paper, “The Minotaur Unleashed: Bertrand de Jouvenel and the Problem of Limited Government,” received praise for providing both an excellent overview of the impressive scope of Jouvenel’s thought and an incisive critique of that thought.  Mr. Pet’s contribution, “Pulling the Lever of Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln, the Slaves, and the Coming of the Emancipation Proclamation,” also elicited positive comments for its careful examination of the constitutional and political dimensions of Lincoln’s evolving views on emancipation.  Both Ms. Johnson and Mr. Pet distinguished themselves in their responses to the comments provided by Professor Sarah Houser of Georgetown University and to the questions from the audience.

AHI Undergraduate Fellow Steven Pet opens the conference with his paper.

“Steven Pet,” observed Professor Patrick Dineen, Director of the Tocqueville Forum, “delivered a lucid and rich account of the historical background of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Shedding light on neglected events and discussions leading up to the promulgation of Lincoln’s landmark Proclamation, the paper was a serious and mature treatment that added new depth and understanding to an otherwise much-studied moment in American history.  Marta Johnson delivered a stunning paper on Bertrand de Jouvenel, an unjustly neglected philosopher.  Hers was not only among the best treatments of Jouvenel that I have ever encountered, but in itself also a penetrating analysis of the nature of the modern State – called by Jouvenel “the Minotaur” – and its deepest philosophical and historical underpinnings.”

All those in attendance benefited from a stimulating and provocative keynote address, “Just Not the Founding Fathers: Unwritten Constitutions and Unfounded Foundings,” by Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative.  The conference provided a wonderful forum for exceptional undergraduates to showcase their talents, discuss significant topics with students from other colleges and universities, and develop an appreciation for rigorous and civil academic discourse.

“The Tocqueville Forum brought together a serious group of students and scholars to discuss pertinent issues relating to American history, politics, and culture,” said Mr. Pet.  “By any measure, the program proved a resounding success.  I was amazed by the quality of the presented work, the vitality of the discussion, and the intellectual diversity of the participants.  As a co-sponsor of the event, the AHI demonstrates once again its commitment to academic excellence and enhancing the intellectual life of its undergraduate fellows.  I thank both the Tocqueville Forum and the AHI for making such a wonderful opportunity possible.”  Ms. Johnson added, “This was my first time presenting at a conference, and it was a great experience. I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend. Everyone there was very intelligent, well-read, and interesting to talk with. I also enjoyed hearing the other participants give their papers; they presented from lots of interesting perspectives and addressed issues I hadn’t considered before.”

The AHI was delighted to co-sponsor the conference and is enormously proud of Ms. Johnson and Mr. Pet.  Congratulations to all.