|Born||May 8, 1934
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
|Died||March 3, 1993
Midland, Texas, USA
|Occupation||literary critic and legal scholar|
|Literary movement||Southern Agrarians, paleoconservatism|
|Notable work(s)||The Reactionary Imperative|
Bradford is seen as a leading figure of the paleoconservative wing of the conservative movement. He died just as the term paleoconservative 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 sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous."
Bradford's conservatism 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-Sumter 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 was first and foremost a literary scholar and a student of rhetoric. He was known in literary circles for his work on William Faulkner, where Bradford stressed the importance of the Southern setting and the primacy of community in understanding the action of Faulkner's novels and stories. He "had no truck with critical efforts to portray Faulkner as alienated from the South. To the contrary, he saw the novelist as thoroughly embedded within his native region." Outside of literature he wrote extensively on the subjects of history 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. "The original understanding of the Constitution, Bradford maintained, conformed much more closely to the Southern position than to Lincoln’s acts of usurpation."
Bradford was born in Fort Worth, Texas and grew up there. He studied English at University of Oklahoma and completed his bachelor's and master's degrees. He then continued his education at Vanderbilt University and graduated with a Ph.D. He stayed in academia and taught at several institutions of higher education, including United States Naval Academy and University of Dallas.
In 1980, Bradford was initially tapped by President-elect Ronald Reagan for chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. According to David Gordon, "Reagan’s wish to elevate him to the prestigious post did not stem solely from Bradford’s academic credentials. The president and he were acquaintances, and he had worked hard in Reagan’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Influential conservatives such as Russell Kirk and Sen. Jesse Helms also knew and admired Bradford." The selection met with intense objections from neoconservative figures, centering partly 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." He was even accused of comparing Lincoln to Adolf Hitler. "Bradford rejected Lincoln because he saw him as a revolutionary, intent on replacing the American Republic established by the Constitution with a centralized and leveling despotism." Another issue was Bradford's support for the 1972 presidential campaign of George C. Wallace. The neoconservative choice, William Bennett, was substituted for Bradford 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, William Buckley, Gerhart Niemeyer, M. Stanton Evans, Andrew Lytle, Harry Jaffa ("Bradford’s principal intellectual antagonist"), and "dozens of others" were also named as supporters. Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Michael Joyce and William Simon were among Bennett's supporters.
- A Better Guide than Reason: Studies in the American Revolution (1979)
- Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the Constitution (1982)
- Remembering Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative (1985)
- The Reactionary Imperative: Essays Literary and Political (1989)
- From Eden to Babylon : The Social and Political Essays of Andrew Nelson Lytle (1990)
- Religion and the Framers: Biographical Evidence (1991)
- Original Intentions: On the making and ratification of the Constitution (1993)
- "A Fire Bell in the Night: The Southern Conservative View".
- "The Heresy of Equality".
- "On Remembering Who We Are".
- "Rhetoric and Respectability".
- "Dividing The House: The Gnosticism of Lincoln's Political Rhetoric".
- A Defender of Southern Conservatism: M.E. Bradford and his Achievements (1999) by Clyde N. Wilson (ISBN 0-8262-1208-5)
- "Culture Clash on the Right" by David Frum, Wall Street Journal, June 2, 1989
- "Southern Conservatism and its Discontents: Mel Bradford and the American Right" by John Langdale in Southern Character: Essays in Honor of Bertram Wyatt-Brown (ISBN 0-8130-3690-9)
- M. E. Bradford: Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Death Record
- Gordon, David (2010-04-01) Southern Cross: The meaning of the Mel Bradford moment, The American Conservative
- Michael M. Jordan, Bradford, M. E., 03/10/10
- Briefing, The New York Times, October 22, 1981.
- "Melvin Bradford, 58, Conservative Theorist", The New York Times, March 9, 1993.
- Scholar Chosen as Humanities Chief, The New York Times, November 14, 1981.
- "Bradford's Boosters", The Washington Post, October 20, 1981.
- "The Amazing Endowment Scramble", The Washington Post, December 13, 1981.
- Mel Bradford, Old Indian Fighters, and the NEH, by Thomas H. Landess. LewRockwell.com, April 25, 2003.
- Southern Cross: The meaning of the Mel Bradford moment, by David Gordon. The American Conservative, April 1, 2010.