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The Lost Fifth Volume of Conceived in Liberty

03/25/2019Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Murray Rothbard was a genius. One aspect of this was his writing as an American historian. He was every bit as significant a scholar here as he was as an economist and philosopher.

For example, there is his stunning four-volume history of early America from Jamestown to the end of the American Revolutionary War. His brilliance and originality are on display, as he deftly handles a huge amount of research including a vast array of hitherto unknown facts.

Murray is, as always, a power-elite analyst, and looks at family and financial interests of famous men, as well as their motivations and real ideologies. Standard historians shun this as politically incorrect, but in Murray’s hands, it explains so much.

Murray writes, of course, from a libertarian perspective, and also brings to light little-known libertarian writers and activists. History has seldom been this exciting.

But there is one tragic note. Conceived in Liberty was supposed to be a five-volume work, ending with the adoption of the Constitution. And, indeed, Murray wrote the fifth volume, the most revisionist of all. He did it in longhand on legal yellow pads, and used a dictating machine a friend had given him. His wife Joey would use the recording to type the manuscript.

I know that sort of machine, since my father had one. As you spoke into the microphone, it would inscribe clear plastic discs with your recorded words. Murray dictated the entire book, but when he finished it over many days, all the discs were gibberish.

Even experts couldn’t fix the disaster, so Murray — frustrated — put his huge handwritten manuscript aside, to take up other projects. He intended to get back to the fifth volume, but died before he could do so.

Murray left all his papers and books to the Mises Institute, honoring me as his literary executor. But I was never able to decipher his handwriting; not even Joey could do so, nor others I consulted. I hated the situation, but saw no way out of it. Then the young professor and Rothbardian Patrick Newman came upon the manuscript while he was doing other work in the Mises Institute archives, and astoundingly, he was able, with great difficulty, to read Murray’s handwriting.

So you can imagine the celebration that ensued. We were all thrilled with the book. It is compelling, radical, original, brilliant. It revivifies the first four volumes of Conceived in Liberty, and is a delight to read, with a great introduction by Patrick, who also edited Murray’s hitherto unpublished book, The Progressive Era. As you can imagine, we’re very proud of our former student. I can almost hear Murray exclaiming, “Attaboy, Patrick!”

The fifth volume, entitled The New Republic, 1784–1791, charts the course from the freeing of the 13 states from British mercantilism to their shackling with a new American form of it.

For Murray sees the Constitution, not as a document enshrining liberty, but as the charter of a new, powerful, centralized government designed by Madison, Hamilton, and their cohorts in a coup at Philadelphia.

The centralizers convinced the Continental Congress to wage a traditional, centrally planned, hugely expensive war, rather than a volunteer, libertarian guerrilla action. This ensured many evils, from paper money inflation to high taxes, from conscription to price controls and seizure of goods. Ironically, it was the guerrilla leaders who actually won the war, and not General Washington, as Murray demonstrates.

Even the post-war Articles of Confederation mixed centralizing provisions with libertarian ones. The centralizers dishonestly dubbed themselves “Federalists,” and their libertarian opponents “Antifederalists.”

They proved to be effective propagandists in lying to the people of the 13 states, and intimidating their leaders. Eventually the Constitution was ratified by 12 states, with only little Rhode Island refusing. So the central government threatened a trade war, and Rhode Island succumbed.

The Antifederalists, a minority, became strict constructionists to fight for freedom under the Constitution. But virtually all their predictions about future power grabs came true.

To get the Constitution passed, however, the opponents were able to demand a Bill of Rights. But the wily Madison made them as weak as possible, ignoring the stronger protections that the opponents wanted.

The fight for freedom continues to this day, of course, despite our giant warfare, welfare, and police state. As the fifth volume, like the rest of Conceived in Liberty, makes clear, we have an extraordinary American heritage. Heroes, known and unknown, are our inspiration. Villains, too, we must know about.

The fifth volume completes Murray’s great work, lost for decades, yet as relevant as the day he finished it. Regular American historians, ignorant of non-Keynesian economics and biased by statism, are a bane. Won’t you help us publish this corrective? It must be priced for students, sturdily bound, and widely distributed.

Your tax-deductible donation of any amount to the fifth volume will help. Donors of $100 or more will receive a free copy of the book. If you can make a $500 donation, you will be listed in the front of this handsome work as a Donor; $1,000 as a Patron; $5,000 as a Benefactor.  

You’ll love the Foreword by Judge Napolitano and Preface by Tom Woods.

Help us with your generous donation to fill in this gap in American history. Help us honor Murray. Help us teach real history, instead of the usual pap.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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