By John Henry
In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which criticized slavery, was banned in the South. On Jan. 16, 2018, my play “Republic For Which We Stand,” which criticizes the U.S. Congress for abdicating its responsibilities under the United States Constitution, was banned on Capitol Hill.
The United States Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), which previously approved the play, abruptly refused to permit the staging of the play.
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton are the Achilles and Hector of the colorful drama. They duel over where the Constitution should allocate the power to make war. Guided by the lamp of experience, Madison champions justice over power and liberty over “Empire” — as the North Stars of the American Republic’s constitutional dispensation. He argues that the authority to take the nation from a state of peace to war must be entrusted exclusively to Congress — a deliberative body slow to take decisions. In contrast, Hamilton insists upon limitless executive power and Empire as the touchstones of national greatness on the model of 18th-Century Britain.
Madison persuades the Founding Fathers and Mothers gathered in Benjamin Franklin’s home on the eve of the constitutional convention. But the irrepressible Hamilton proclaims that history will vindicate him. Congress will become invertebrate, and the war power will march from Capitol Hill to the White House under the banner of “American exceptionalism.”
“Republic for Which We Stand” concludes with Madison’s electrifying challenge: “It remains to us to nobly save rather than meanly lose our Republic.”
The CVC issued its ban on a play about the constitutional war power while “We the People of the United States” are saddled with nine wars ordained solely by the president. Congress has not authorized any of these multi-trillion dollar misadventures. Now the CVC has blocked the staging of a play intended to provoke a debate about the constitutional issues this raises. In so doing, the CVC has acted to impede the First Amendment “right of the people . . . to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
After the play’s sold-out Virginia premiere, “The American Conservative” magazine wrote that “Henry’s play . . . burns with a hard, gemlike flame, throwing off beams of light as well as heat, cool as well as astringent, witty as well as wise — a buoyant bonfire of all human vanities.” The drama foreshadows how three generations of presidential wars have betrayed the Founders’ magnificent handiwork.
“Republic for Which We Stand” will now be staged on Jan. 29, 7 p.m., at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It is directed by Rick Davis, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Professor of Theater at George Mason University. This event is made possible in part by a grant from RAAC’s Mitchell Arts Fund.
Author’s note: John Henry’s Stone Hill Theatrical Foundation is located in Flint Hill. He wishes to acknowledge the help of Committee of the Republic members in writing this commentary.