1934 - 1993
Melvin E. "Mel" Bradford was a conservative political commentator and professor of literature at the University of Dallas.
Bradford was a larger-than-life individual, both physically and intellectually. At 6'4" and 350 pounds, the impressive greatness of his frame was still dwarfed by the brilliance of his mind. He was first and foremost a literary scholar and a student of rhetoric. Outside of literature he wrote extensively on the subjects of history, literature, and culture. Bradford specialized in the history of the American founding and Southern history in the United States. Bradford also advocated the constitutional theory of strict constructionism.
Mel Bradford although a professor of English literature, he was perhaps the best defender of the Constitution of the Framers the 20th Century knew. Of particular interest to students of the Constitution is his Original Intentions (Univ of Ga Press, 1994). In this book, Bradford posits his understanding of how one is to understand the original intentions of the Framers. Bradford insists that there were several intentions to be found in the Framers, representing the various and different political and social experiences of the various American colonies and not a single unifying intention as is argued by some students of the Constitution.
Bradford was also a defender of the southern tradition. Following Richard Weaver's death in the 60's, Bradford took up the banner of southern traditionalism, not only in Politics but also in Literature. He was a student of Donald Davidson, one of the original Vanderbilt agrarians. After Davidson's death, he sought to pass on Davidson's twist on the agrarianism. Following Davidson [and also Weaver], Mel Bradford studied not only literature and culture, as agarians tended only to concern themselves with, but also politics, and the politics of the his rooted heritage, the south. Mel saw himself as generally a student of rhetoric, in the classical understading of that term; and as a student of rhetoric, he tended in his understanding of great literature, to argue that we must understand the literary works within the specific cultural-political frame that the story is set within. Mel made his mark in English literature, early in his career, writing a ground breaking reading of the works of Faulkner, which stressed Faulkner's deeply Southern nomocentric construction of narrative. But being a student of Donald Davidson, made him far more political than most students of literature.
Mel understood himself to be primarily a student of Rhetoric, which allowed him to be a very astute student of political speech, be it found in official document or public orations. His understanding of the differing modes of political rhetoric led him to see the fundamental danger of Abe Lincoln's political rhetoric to the Original Regime of the Framers. Bradford ultimately argued that Lincoln did not in fact preserve the Constitution as he claimed but rather Reconstructed it under the Framework of the Equality Clause of the Deceleration of Independence. This has led him to be targeted as an enemy of equality, but his rejection of equality is to be strictly understood as a defense of republican government which cannot survive in the toxic ideological wasteland that a dogmatic adherence to equality creates.
Bradford is seen as a leading figure of the paleoconservative wing of the conservative movement. He died just as the term paleo-conservative was being coined and preferred the term traditional conservative. In his preface to Reactionary Imperative he wrote "Reaction is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometime to perpetuate what is outrageous."
Bradford 's conservativism was rooted within the heritage and traditions of the American South. Although some have argued that he was actually from the Southwest, Bradford would take issue with such a delineation of Texas - one of the original "Pre-Sumpter 7" members of the Old Confederacy - from "the South". Regardless, he always saw both his beloved Texas and himself as part of the greater Southern cultural milieu. He studied at Vanderbilt and wrote his doctoral thesis under the Southern Agrarian and Fugitive Poet Donald Davidson (whose biography Bradford was wrapping up at the time of his sudden death at age 58), and thus was admitted to the succession of this movement to recover the Southern tradition.
Bradford also frequently wrote for Chronicles magazine and Southern Partisan magazine.
In 1980, Bradford was initially tapped by President-elect Ronald Reagan for chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The selection met with intense objections from neo-conservative figures, centering primarily on Bradford's criticisms of President Abraham Lincoln. They circulated quotes of Bradford calling Lincoln "a dangerous man," and saying, "The image of Lincoln rose to be very dark" and "indeed almost sinister." Their choice, William Bennett replaced him on November 13, 1981.
A letter supporting Bradford’s nomination, sent to President Reagan during the controversy, was signed by John East, Jesse Helms, John Tower, Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch, Jeremiah Denton, Dan Quayle and James McClure and eight other Republican senators. "Russell Kirk, Jeffrey Hart, Bill Buckley, Gerhart Neimeyer, M. Stanton Evans, Andrew Lytle, Harry Jaffa, and dozens of others” were also named as supporters. Irving Kristol, Michael Joyce and William Simon were among Bennett's supporters. Over two decades after the fact, the rift over Bradford's NEH nomination continued to be a major point of contention between paleo- and neo-conservatives.