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Our Second FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
A Publius Essay | 20 January 2010 | Publius

Posted on 01/20/2010 11:29:03 AM PST by Publius

There is tendency for modern Americans to think that there was overwhelming support for replacing the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution and that the process was rapid and without serious opposition. The truth is quite different. Those against the Constitution spoke first and with great vehemence, and after three weeks Alexander Hamilton realized the tide was turning against him. Thus he sat down, first with John Jay, and then with James Madison, to write detailed responses in favor of the Constitution to get New York’s ratifying convention to support the new document. These papers, published in the newspapers of the time, are known as the “Federalist Papers”. Those who opposed the new Constitution wrote pamphlets and newspaper articles that have been collected under the name “Anti-Federalist Papers”. Together, these writings define the debate over the Constitution.

At that time there was a vigorous adversarial press in America, and there was no line separating news reporting from editorial content. An American of the period subscribed to the newspaper that reflected his political prejudices. In New York, opinion grew so heated that supporters of one side would attack the offices of newspapers opposed to their view and smash the printing presses. Both sides engaged in this behavior, and the debate over the Constitution in New York City was a matter of mobs and blood, not refined debate in the drawing rooms of the city’s great patroon families.

With the official end of the American Revolution only four years in the past, the willingness to shed blood over the great issues of the day had not abated. Those against the Constitution viewed the entire process as a coup d’etat. Granted, it was a very gentlemanly coup, for no one had been hanged – yet! – but they viewed the Constitutional Convention and its aftermath as a betrayal of the “Spirit of ‘76".

It is this maelstrom of point and counterpoint that we wish to cover. After our successful FReeper Book Club on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Billthedrill and I decided to cover the debate over the Constitution by a chronologically interleaved reading of the Federalist Papers along with certain Anti-Federalist Papers, thus to trace that point and counterpoint.

There have been several attempts to run serial threads on the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers at Free Republic over the years, most of which have petered out quickly.

Our proposal is to try a more comprehensive approach. Ralph Ketcham, in The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, printed a chronology of the publication of the various papers from both sides. Ketcham only cited certain Anti-Federalist Papers that were directly involved in the intellectual interchange between Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and the various Anti-Federalist writers. He left out the rest of the massive Anti-Federalist Papers collection from Herbert Storing’s seven volumes from the University of Chicago, which is supposed to be definitive. We decided to follow Ketcham’s example.

Morton Borden has taken various Anti-Federalist Papers and cut them down to 85 short essays, which he sees as a counterpoint to the 85 Federalist Papers. But he has copyrighted his work, so we decided not to use his collection.

By limiting our use of the Anti-Federalist Papers to Ketcham’s chosen few, we felt we had something of reasonable scope.

The Problem for the Modern Reader

Punctuation standards of the late Eighteenth Century are quite different from today, and the constant stop-and-go is the biggest difficulty for the modern reader. Standards for the use of capitals and italics were also different. The extreme length of paragraphs from some writers presents a problem, although Internet versions occasionally have the editors break the paragraphs down to modern standards. We decided to use modern standards for punctuation, capitals and italics.

But we decided on a very different idea for presenting the text of the papers. The texts of the Bible are presented in chapter-and-verse, which permits scholars to engage in exegesis by citing a particular line of text as a reference. We decided to do this by super-scripting each sentence, and separating sentences by line breaks. To maintain the authors’ original paragraphing, we used three asterisks on a separate line to separate paragraphs. Here is a short sample. The following is a paragraph from Madison’s Federalist #46.

Were it admitted, however, that the Federal government may feel an equal disposition with the State governments to extend its power beyond the due limits, the latter would still have the advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments. If an act of a particular State, though unfriendly to the national government, be generally popular in that State and should not too grossly violate the oaths of the State officers, it is executed immediately and, of course, by means on the spot and depending on the State alone. The opposition of the federal government, or the interposition of federal officers, would but inflame the zeal of all parties on the side of the State, and the evil could not be prevented or repaired, if at all, without the employment of means which must always be resorted to with reluctance and difficulty. On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

This is what it looks like after reformatting into our semi-biblical style and modernized punctuation.

***

38 Were it admitted, however, that the federal government may feel an equal disposition with the state governments to extend its power beyond the due limits, the latter would still have the advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments.

39 If an act of a particular state, though unfriendly to the national government, be generally popular in that state and should not too grossly violate the oaths of the state officers, it is executed immediately and of course by means on the spot and depending on the state alone.

40 The opposition of the federal government, or the interposition of federal officers, would but inflame the zeal of all parties on the side of the state, and the evil could not be prevented or repaired, if at all, without the employment of means which must always be resorted to with reluctance and difficulty.

41 On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular states, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand.

42 The disquietude of the people, their repugnance and perhaps refusal to cooperate with the officers of the Union, the frowns of the executive magistracy of the state, the embarrassments created by legislative devices which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose in any state difficulties not to be despised; would form in a large state very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining states happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

***

We avoid violence to the text but make it easier on the eye.

Essays to Accompany Each Paper

Up until now, threads on these papers featured the paper alone, with only a skeletal comment on the part of the poster. We propose to change that. Each thread will be accompanied by an essay written by the two of us along with proposed topics for discussion, and we will encourage FReepers to challenge our premises and improve the tenor of the discussion.

Scheduling

We will post two threads per week, every Monday and Thursday, starting February 1, for 55 weeks. We would ask those FReepers who wish to participate to add their names to this thread so that I may create a ping list for the project. Again, we will use the keyword “freeperbookclub” to mark these threads.

What is old has become new again. It’s time to explore federalism and the philosophy of the Framers. The lessons of 1787 are just as valid today.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Free Republic; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: constitution; federalistpapers; freeperbookclub; lping
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1 posted on 01/20/2010 11:29:07 AM PST by Publius
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To: ADemocratNoMore; Aggie Mama; alarm rider; alexander_busek; AlligatorEyes; AmericanGirlRising; ...

Ping to the people from the first FReeper Book Club. Any takers?


2 posted on 01/20/2010 11:30:32 AM PST by Publius
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To: Loud Mime

Ping.


3 posted on 01/20/2010 11:33:56 AM PST by Publius
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To: Vision; definitelynotaliberal; Mother Mary; FoxInSocks; 300magnum; NonValueAdded; sauropod; ...

Constitutional Ping


4 posted on 01/20/2010 11:37:56 AM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: Publius
Sign me up !
5 posted on 01/20/2010 11:38:49 AM PST by steelyourfaith (Freedom from fat cat greedy Big Government tyranny IS a Right ... It IS the Constitution.)
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To: steelyourfaith
Moi aussi.

ML/NJ

6 posted on 01/20/2010 11:43:25 AM PST by ml/nj
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To: Publius
The texts of the Bible are presented in chapter-and-verse, which permits scholars to engage in exegesis by citing a particular line of text as a reference. We decided to do this by super-scripting each sentence, and separating sentences by line breaks. To maintain the authors’ original paragraphing, we used three asterisks on a separate line to separate paragraphs. Here is a short sample. The following is a paragraph from Madison’s Federalist #46.

Very well thought out! Obviously, you are making a good effort for people to understand our Constitution and its foundations.

(Don't worry about NPR picking up on this ;^) )

7 posted on 01/20/2010 11:43:51 AM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: Loud Mime

Good to see you on board.


8 posted on 01/20/2010 11:45:52 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
Quick question, I'm looking for a book that combines both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers (all of them). Have any of you guys looked through this book:

amazon

I'm going to pick up Ketchum's book as well.
9 posted on 01/20/2010 11:51:00 AM PST by randomhero97 ("First you want to kill me, now you want to kiss me. Blow!" - Ash)
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To: Publius

Sign me up


10 posted on 01/20/2010 11:52:25 AM PST by r-q-tek86 (It isn't settled because it isn't science)
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To: randomhero97

I don’t see how it could contain all the Anti-Federalist Papers because it took Storing seven volumes to make them all fit. I suspect it has the same papers that Ketcham used for his chronology.


11 posted on 01/20/2010 11:53:07 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
Good to see you on board.

Even better to see the "wheels up" as your new project takes flight!

Although I was looking forward to it, this initial posting has grown my interest.

freepmail!

12 posted on 01/20/2010 11:53:27 AM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: Publius

Yeah, I kind of figured that once I read the product description. I guess I should of read that first, lol. Thanks.


13 posted on 01/20/2010 11:57:26 AM PST by randomhero97 ("First you want to kill me, now you want to kiss me. Blow!" - Ash)
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To: Publius

Boy, this is great!

14 posted on 01/20/2010 11:57:45 AM PST by sig226 (Bring back Jimmy Carter!)
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To: Publius

Boy, this is great!

15 posted on 01/20/2010 11:57:55 AM PST by sig226 (Bring back Jimmy Carter!)
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To: Loud Mime

I don’t have a problem with your posting a link to your book at Amazon. FReepers should support their own.


16 posted on 01/20/2010 11:58:03 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

Cool. I’m in.


17 posted on 01/20/2010 11:59:58 AM PST by Calm_Cool_and_Elected (Who is John Thompson?)
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To: Publius

sign me up


18 posted on 01/20/2010 12:00:05 PM PST by GeorgiaDawg32 (A moderate muslim is one who is simply buying time to reload..)
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To: Publius

I picked up Ketchams almost a year ago and have not gotten to it yet. Count me in please!


19 posted on 01/20/2010 12:00:22 PM PST by ladyvet (WOLVERINES!!!!!)
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To: Loud Mime
the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand.

Many of the People still believe the federal, or general government is omnipotent, despite the multitude of the Founders' writings to the contrary.

Even the die-hard Federalists would be considered far right wing, today!

Sign me up, please. :-)

20 posted on 01/20/2010 12:02:42 PM PST by MamaTexan (I am not a administrative, corporate, collective, legal, political or public entity or ~person~)
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To: MamaTexan

You’re going to have a lot of fun on February 1, when we dissect Centinel #1, Samuel Bryan’s artillery barrage against the new Constitution.


21 posted on 01/20/2010 12:06:03 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

Add me to the list Publius. I’m glad to see the project started.


22 posted on 01/20/2010 12:16:03 PM PST by whodathunkit (Obama is the caboose of the long train of usurpations)
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To: Publius

Yeah, ping me.


23 posted on 01/20/2010 12:18:41 PM PST by TradicalRC (Secular conservatism is liberalism.)
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To: Publius
"Any takers?"

A very enthusiastic "YES!" from me. Sign me up. The semi-biblical references are absolutely genius. I cannot imagine the amount of work you two have put into this. Thanks for your efforts.

24 posted on 01/20/2010 12:24:57 PM PST by BuckeyeTexan (Integrity, Honesty, Character, & Loyalty still matter)
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To: Publius

Add this one too!


25 posted on 01/20/2010 12:32:15 PM PST by EBH (An honest man is one who knows that he can't consume more than he has produced." ~~D'Aconia)
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To: Publius

Please add me to the list.


26 posted on 01/20/2010 12:34:22 PM PST by SunTzuWu
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To: Publius
Looks interesting.

-PJ

27 posted on 01/20/2010 12:35:16 PM PST by Political Junkie Too ("Comprehensive" reform bills only end up as incomprehensible messes.)
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To: Publius

Count me in.


28 posted on 01/20/2010 12:36:17 PM PST by stylin_geek (Greed and envy is used by our political class to exploit the rich and poor.)
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To: Publius

In!


29 posted on 01/20/2010 12:36:58 PM PST by Carlucci (Sarah Palin: Demonstrably Good!)
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To: Publius

i’ll do it. I didn’t comment much last time, I don’t know if I will this time either.


30 posted on 01/20/2010 12:38:22 PM PST by GeronL (http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: Publius
Ding me.

Please.

31 posted on 01/20/2010 12:41:40 PM PST by Doomonyou (Let them eat Lead.)
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To: Publius

Sign me up. Thanks, this looks like a great deal of work, but I am looking forward to it!


32 posted on 01/20/2010 12:44:55 PM PST by Betis70 (Never Forget)
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To: Publius

Please Pingeth me!


33 posted on 01/20/2010 12:45:07 PM PST by JDoutrider
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To: Publius

OKay, you hooked me ...

I’ll try and keep up with all y’all

21stCenturion


34 posted on 01/20/2010 12:45:38 PM PST by 21stCenturion ("It's the Judges, Stupid !")
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To: Publius

Sign me up, please!


35 posted on 01/20/2010 12:53:43 PM PST by Texas Mulerider
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To: MamaTexan
Even the die-hard Federalists would be considered far right wing, today!

A very eye-opening (for me) moment was when someone (wish I could recall who it was!) replied to me that FR would have been a Federalist website.

I think that it's so difficult to match up things across time (modern conservatives who would have been against the Constitution back then are some of its most ardent defenders), but that was an excellent observation and probably why I sometimes find myself at odds with FReepers who are more big-government in their outlook.

Not to jump ahead of things, but I think that both sides were right. On one hand, having the Second Amendment written out might be the only reason the right hasn't been totally abrogated. But on the other hand, by enumerating rights, people have gotten the idea that only the Bill of Rights matters and that the Constitution "grants us rights."

36 posted on 01/20/2010 12:54:57 PM PST by Gondring (Paul Revere would have been flamed as a naysayer troll and told to go back to Boston.)
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To: Publius

Please keep me on the ping list.

What a great project! I swear the sky just turned blue since the last time I looked—which was right before reading your post. :-)

Thank you for your efforts.


37 posted on 01/20/2010 12:56:46 PM PST by Gondring (Paul Revere would have been flamed as a naysayer troll and told to go back to Boston.)
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To: jan in Colorado

ping


38 posted on 01/20/2010 12:58:06 PM PST by Gondring (Paul Revere would have been flamed as a naysayer troll and told to go back to Boston.)
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To: BuckeyeTexan
Here I have to give public credit to Congressman Billybob. I saw a YouTube cut of him dressed at Ben Franklin, referring to the Federalist Papers as "the gospels according to James, John and Alexander." I felt as though I had been hit by lightning.

For years I had experienced difficulties with 18th Century prose, earning many a headache trying to wrap my brain around the prose of geniuses written in a bygone style. The idea of America's Civic Religion having its own bible made up of Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers made sense if one could treat the text as though it were truly from the pens of the editors of the King James edition.

You're right in that it is a lot of really hard work. But once the prose is separated into chapter-and-verse and the punctuation is modernized, the prose flows like water in a mountain brook, especially Hamilton's contributions.

I've come to see Hamilton and Madison as kindred spirits and in different ways.

Hamilton started his life in business and then "read law" to qualify for public office. His contributions come across like those of a brilliant business lawyer, which at that time he had become. If I wanted to invite someone to a dinner party who could entertain a whole room full of people, I'd ask Hamilton.

Madison, like myself, was something of a history geek, and he comes across like the earnest student of history. If I wanted to have someone over for a beer and a conversation, I'd ask Madison. (Hamilton probably wouldn't shut up, and Madison only drank in moderation.)

This is becoming a wonderful project for myself and Billthedrill.

39 posted on 01/20/2010 1:02:07 PM PST by Publius
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To: Loud Mime

Please add me


40 posted on 01/20/2010 1:09:40 PM PST by A Strict Constructionist (How long before we are forced to refresh the Tree of Liberty? Sic semper tryannis)
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To: Gondring
replied to me that FR would have been a Federalist website.

LOL! I'd have to agree. It's amazing how many people think a Republic is where everyone gets to try to tell everyone else what do do. :-)

but I think that both sides were right.

Excellent point. The Founders KNEW they had to have something written in order to make the States' dealings with foreign nations unified and to settle squabbles among themselves.

Having it misinterpreted or ignored was a risk they took. The best they could hope for was to tie it down as long as possible.

I look forward to the discussion!

41 posted on 01/20/2010 1:18:17 PM PST by MamaTexan (I am not a administrative, corporate, collective, legal, political or public entity or ~person~)
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To: Publius

Thank you. I’m in.

I started a book called “Founding America Documents from the Revolution to the Bill of Rights” for background, with the intention of reading the Fed/AntiFed in chronological order when I got to that point. But it got kinda dull at the beginning repeatedly listing the same grievances (which needed to be done of course, just got boring to read). This will motivate me to get back on track.


42 posted on 01/20/2010 1:19:52 PM PST by Darth Reardon (Im running for the US Senate for a simple reason, I want to win a Nobel Peace Prize - Rubio)
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To: Publius

Put me on your list please.


43 posted on 01/20/2010 1:27:06 PM PST by Parawan ("These are Times that Try men's souls." Tom Payne Dec. 23, 1776)
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To: Publius

I’m in.

From previous experience I know you and Bill with do this topic justice.

I am looking forward to my continued education.


44 posted on 01/20/2010 1:29:30 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (Liberals are educated above their level of intelligence.. Thanks Sr. Angelica)
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To: TASMANIANRED

Always good to have you on board.


45 posted on 01/20/2010 1:30:32 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

Please add me.


46 posted on 01/20/2010 1:38:32 PM PST by TheOldLady (No more global baloneyism!! -- Jim Thompson!)
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To: Publius; Gondring

Please add me to the list.

Thanks for the ping


47 posted on 01/20/2010 1:41:45 PM PST by jan in Colorado (In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act. --George Orwell.)
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To: Publius

Please add me to your list.

Though I too have had difficulty in reading the complex writing of 200 years ago, it seems to have gotten easier the more time I’ve spent with such authors. And I have to wonder...If we’re not able to comprehend what they wrote, will we be able to understand and weigh what they thought?

This is not pulp fiction, after all, to be consumed rapidly and then swapped out at the used book store. Much of what these men had to say requires re-reading and reflection, digestion and discussion. (Hence this FReeper book club.) Once that effort is made, their archaic prose ceases to perplex, and often becomes simply beautiful.


48 posted on 01/20/2010 1:58:19 PM PST by LearsFool ("Thou shouldst not have been old, till thou hadst been wise.")
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To: GeronL

MiTu.


49 posted on 01/20/2010 2:14:59 PM PST by DonnerT (I absolutely hate racists whose primary mission in life is trying to make me a racist.)
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To: Publius

Add my name


50 posted on 01/20/2010 2:30:48 PM PST by oldtimer2 (The majority is not silent--The government is deaf)
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