Remembering Why Columbus Day Matters (Investor's Business
Daily, October 11, 2010)
Christopher Columbus lives.
Indeed, contrary to the assertions of radical revisionists, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea matters. For it was Columbus' epic discovery of a vast terra incognita that began the Age of Exploration — and sparked the bold voyages of his fellow Italian navigators: Giovanni da Verrazzano, Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and Amerigo Vespucci.
A contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, Cristoforo Colombo hailed from the land John Milton called "the seat of civilization and the hospitable domicile of every species of erudition." And as an exemplar of the Italian Renaissance, Columbus brought with him the reborn fruits of classical Roman humanism, pragmatism and governance — gifts that inspired the Founding Fathers as they forged our res publica.
In fact, Roma Aeterna lies at the heart of America's laws, system of government and the very republic to which we pledge our allegiance.
The founders were steeped in the history of Rome's republic and empire. Indeed, according to historian Rufus Fears: "They crafted our Constitution to reflect the balanced constitution of the Roman Republic, with the sovereignty of the people guided by the wisdom of the Senate, with a powerful executive in the form of the commander in chief, the consul."
When Caesar Augustus became Rome's first emperor-imperator, his authority over a vast domain — stretching from Scotland to the Sudan and across the desert sands of the Middle East — derived from the executive power of the consul of the old republic.
John Adams believed that the "Roman constitution formed the noblest people and the greatest power that has ever existed."
Substantively and symbolically, the Founding Fathers embraced the laws, virtues and ideals of that ancient Italian polity. George Washington was hailed as the "American Cincinnatus" by his peers. Sic floret res publica — "Thus shall flourish the republic" — was the Latin motto inscribed on our first federal currency bills.
E pluribus unum ("Out of many, one") still adorns the Great Seal of the United States of America on the U.S. dollar.
And when the president delivers the State of the Union address in the House of Representatives, he is flanked by two bronze fasces — symbols of Roman magistratical authority.
Our legal system, which has its origins in a jurisprudential continuum spanning the Twelve Tables of Rome and Justinian's Corpus Iuris Civilis, would be impoverished without stare decisis, habeas corpus, certiorari, posse comitatus, culpa in contrahend and paca sunt servanda.
Indeed, our entire governmental structure is predicated on Roman principles: the separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, checks and balances, the power of the purse, filibusters, vetoes, term limits, impeachment and the Electoral College.
Nor should we forget that the most hallowed of American tenets — citizenship — has an ancient provenance. The apostle Paul asserted his universal rights as a Roman citizen and secured a trial by declaring: Civis Romanus sum.
Indeed, Roman jurists had pragmatically translated the ideals of the ius naturale (natural law) into the ius gentium (the law of mankind) and the ius civile (the individual law of the Roman Empire).
And when it comes to the emancipation of women, Gloria Steinem and Co. — not to mention the ladies of "The View" — might be surprised to learn that Roger Vigneron and Jean-Francois Gerkens posit only two occasions wherein women have been considered legally equal to men: "Rome in antiquity, and now in North America and Europe."
These historians believe that the Romans pioneered an early brand of feminism because they held fast to a cardinal definition of the law: ius est ars boni et aequi — "The law is the art of goodness and fairness."
The founders situated the nation's capital in the District of Columbia. And on Oct. 12, 1892, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage, Francis Bellamy penned the Pledge of Allegiance to underscore our national unity and to commemorate America's debt to the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.
Having sailed across the expanse of the wine-dark Atlantic, Columbus enriched a new republic — and enlarged the world — with the gifts of his ancestral patrimony.
Vice Chairman, Italic Institute of America