Skip to comments.Antifederalist #3: NEW CONSTITUTION CREATES A NATIONAL GOVERNMENT
Posted on 11/10/2009 6:31:58 AM PST by Huck
There are but two modes by which men are connected in society, the one which operates on individuals, this always has been, and ought still to be called, national government; the other which binds States and governments together (not corporations, for there is no considerable nation on earth, despotic, monarchical, or republican, that does not contain many subordinate corporations with various constitutions) this last has heretofore been denominated a league or confederacy.
The term federalists is therefore improperly applied to themselves, by the friends and supporters of the proposed constitution. This abuse of language does not help the cause; every degree of imposition serves only to irritate, but can never convince. They are national men, and their opponents, or at least a great majority of them, are federal, in the only true and strict sense of the word.
Whether any form of national government is preferable for the Americans, to a league or confederacy, is a previous question we must first make up our minds upon....
That a national government will add to the dignity and increase the splendor of the United States abroad, can admit of no doubt: it is essentially requisite for both. That it will render government, and officers of government, more dignified at home is equally certain. That these objects are more suited to the manners, if not [the] genius and disposition of our people is, I fear, also true. That it is requisite in order to keep us at peace among ourselves, is doubtful. That it is necessary, to prevent foreigners from dividing us, or interfering in our government, I deny positively; and, after all, I have strong doubts whether all its advantages are not more specious than solid.
We are vain, like other nations. We wish to make a noise in the world; and feel hurt that Europeans are not so attentive to America in peace, as they were to America in war. We are also, no doubt, desirous of cutting a figure in history. Should we not reflect, that quiet is happiness? That content and pomp are incompatible? I have either read or heard this truth, which the Americans should never forget: That the silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people.
The Swiss have been four hundred years the envy of mankind, and there is yet scarcely an history of their nation. What is history, but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered? Many of us are proud, and are frequently disappointed that office confers neither respect or difference. No man of merit can ever be disgraced by office. A rogue in office may be feared in some governments-he will be respected in none. After all, what we call respect and difference only arise from contrast of situation, as most of our ideas come by comparison and relation.
Where the people are free there can be no great contrast or distinction among honest citizens in or out of office. In proportion as the people lose their freedom, every gradation of distinction, between the Governors and governed obtains, until the former become masters, and the latter become slaves. In all governments virtue will command reverence. The divine Cato knew every Roman citizen by name, and never assumed any preeminence; yet Cato found, and his memory will find, respect and reverence in the bosoms of mankind, until this world returns into that nothing, from whence Omnipotence called it.
That the people are not at present disposed for, and are actually incapable of, governments of simplicity and equal rights, I can no longer doubt. But whose fault is it? We make them bad, by bad governments, and then abuse and despise them for being so. Our people are capable of being made anything that human nature was or is capable of, if we would only have a little patience and give them good and wholesome institutions; but I see none such and very little prospect of such. Alas! I see nothing in my fellow-citizens, that will permit my still fostering the delusion, that they are now capable of sustaining the weight of SELF-GOVERNMENT: a burden to which Greek and Roman shoulders proved unequal.
The honor of supporting the dignity of the human character, seems reserved to the hardy Helvetians alone. If the body of the people will not govern themselves, and govern themselves well too, the consequence is unavoidable-a FEW will, and must govern them. Then it is that government becomes truly a government by force only, where men relinquish part of their natural rights to secure the rest, instead of an union of will and force, to protect all their natural rights, which ought to be the foundation of every rightful social compact.
Whether national government will be productive of internal peace, is too uncertain to admit of decided opinion. I only hazard a conjecture when I say, that our state disputes, in a confederacy, would be disputes of levity and passion, which would subside before injury. The people being free, government having no right to them, but they to government, they would separate and divide as interest or inclination prompted-as they do at this day, and always have done, in Switzerland. In a national government, unless cautiously and fortunately administered, the disputes will be the deep-rooted differences of interest, where part of the empire must be injured by the operation of general law; and then should the sword of government be once drawn (which Heaven avert) I fear it will not be sheathed, until we have waded through that series of desolation, which France, Spain, and the other great kingdoms of the world have suffered, in order to bring so many separate States into uniformity, of government and law; in which event the legislative power can only be entrusted to one man (as it is with them) who can have no local attachments, partial interests, or private views to gratify.
That a national government will prevent the influence or danger of foreign intrigue, or secure us from invasion, is in my judgment directly the reverse of the truth. The only foreign, or at least evil foreign influence, must be obtained through corruption. Where the government is lodged in the body of the people, as in Switzerland, they can never be corrupted; for no prince, or people, can have resources enough to corrupt the majority of a nation; and if they could, the play is not worth the candle. The facility of corruption is increased in proportion as power tends by representation or delegation, to a concentration in the hands of a few. . . .
As to any nation attacking a number of confederated independent republics ... it is not to be expected, more especially as the wealth of the empire is there universally diffused, and will not be collected into any one overgrown, luxurious and effeminate capital to become a lure to the enterprizing ambitious. That extensive empire is a misfortune to be deprecated, will not now be disputed. The balance of power has long engaged the attention of all the European world, in order to avoid the horrid evils of a general government. The same government pervading a vast extent of territory, terrifies the minds of individuals into meanness and submission. All human authority, however organized, must have confined limits, or insolence and oppression will prove the offspring of its grandeur, and the difficulty or rather impossibility of escape prevents resistance. Gibbon relates that some Roman Knights who had offended government in Rome were taken up in Asia, in a very few days after. It was the extensive territory of the Roman republic that produced a Sylla, a Marius, a Caligula, a Nero, and an Elagabalus. In small independent States contiguous to each other, the people run away and leave despotism to reek its vengeance on itself; and thus it is that moderation becomes with them, the law of self-preservation. These and such reasons founded on the eternal and immutable nature of things have long caused and will continue to cause much difference of sentiment throughout our wide extensive territories. From our divided and dispersed situation, and from the natural moderation of the American character, it has hitherto proved a warfare of argument and reason.
“Step outside the box, and imagine if we’d NEVER created the national government. “
We might look like Canada.
Step back and imagine if we actually had followed the Constitution, and held fast to the idea of a LIMITED national government.
We had a limited national government when the United States was a confederacy. They screwed the pooch when they created a national government that was a complete and supreme entity. So many predictable invitations to power and expansion--The preamble, with its broad, general goals, the implied powers of the "necessary and proper" clause, the shockingly powerful and final Supreme Court that would decide the meaning of the Constitution, the total dilution and smothering of state sovereighty--it's all in the Constitution. Odd, isn't it, that the actual federalists are known as the antifederalists, and the nationalists are known as the federalists? Providence has a sense of humor.
I think we could have looked more like Switzerland, but of course, we got way, way too big to be a functional confederation, let alone a single republic, a long time ago.
I might say a limited national government is sorta like being slightly pregnant. I might also say wouldn't it be nice if rivers were made of chocolate and bottles of jack daniels grew on trees. You should read Antifederalist 49:
People once possessed of power are always loathe to part with it; and we shall never find two thirds of a Congress voting or proposing anything which shall derogate from their own authority and importance, or agreeing to give back to the people any part of those privileges which they have once parted with-so far from it, that the greater occasion there may be for a reformation, the less likelihood will there be of accomplishing it. The greater the abuse of power, the more obstinately is it always persisted in. As to any expectation of two thirds of the legislatures concurring in such a request, it is if possible still more remote. The legislatures of the states will be but forms and shadows, and it will be the height of arrogance and presumption in them, to turn their thoughts to such high subjects.
Antifederalist 45 is haunting:
From this contrast it appears that the general government, when completely organized, will absorb all those powers of the state which the framers of its constitution had declared should be only exercised by the representatives of the people of the state; that the burdens and expense of supporting a state establishment will be perpetuated; but its operations to ensure or contribute to any essential measures promotive of the happiness of the people may be totally prostrated, the general government arrogating to itself the right of interfering in the most minute objects of internal police, and the most trifling domestic concerns of every state, by possessing a power of passing laws "to provide for the general welfare of the United States," which may affect life, liberty and property in every modification they may think expedient, unchecked by cautionary reservations, and unrestrained by a declaration of any of those rights which the wisdom and prudence of America in the year 1776 held ought to be at all events protected from violation.
In a word, the new constitution will prove finally to dissolve all the power of the several state legislatures, and destroy the rights and liberties of the people; for the power of the first will be all in all, and of the latter a mere shadow and form without substance, and if adopted we may (in imitation of the Carthagenians) say, Delenda vit America.
The POTENTIAL for problems was definitely there, which is why I agree that the Constitution failed in its purpose. But a Supreme Court decision or two could have derailed the whole thing (proper interpretation of the "commerce clause" for instance). But I do not see the result as having been inevitable by any means.
I've already said that the Anti-Federalists were eerily prescient about the results. But it is also true that even the Anti-Federalists believed that with the addition of the Bill of Rights, that the potential problems could be avoided, as sufficient of them voted to enable the passage of the Constitution.
So, ultimately, they were wrong, too.
That the entire system could hinge on the interpretation of a few unaccountable judges is simply mind boggling.And the results were entirely predictable:
"When the courts will have a precedent before them of a court which extended its jurisdiction in opposition to an act of the legislature, is it not to be expected that they will extend theirs, especially when there is nothing in the constitution expressly against it? And they are authorised to construe its meaning, and are not under any control.
This power in the judicial, will enable them to mould the government, into any shape they please. "
I don't think there's anything eerie about it. It simply shows that the problems were obvious to many observers at the time.
But it is also true that even the Anti-Federalists believed that with the addition of the Bill of Rights, that the potential problems could be avoided, as sufficient of them voted to enable the passage of the Constitution.
Not exactly. I mean, it passed WITHOUT a bill of rights. They had the promise of a bill of rights. The vote in Virginia was very close. I don't know how all the anti-federalists voted in the end. You are correct that the Bill of Rights failed to fix the inherent flaws. In fact, the Bill of Rights contains some whopping errors in its own right.
For example, why the introductory clause in the 2nd amendment? If people have an absolute right to bear arms, why qualify it regarding militia duty? It muddies the water. The term "respecting the establishment of religion" is regrettably vague." What is an "unreasonable" search or seizure? etc.
I think that once the Constitution passed, it made sense to try to improve it with the bill of rights. But I think those that opposed a national government were correct. Those who supported it (and created it) were dead wrong.
Enough of them that the Constitution was ratified, obviously. Whether the Bill of Rights was included, or merely a promise was made, the tactic convinced enough of them to change their votes to result in ratification.
And the irony of it is that the world has learned nothing from the mistakes, as the "EU" is about to go down exactly the same road.