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FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Federal Farmer #1
A Publius/Billhedrill Essay | 8 February 2010 | Publius/Billthedrill

Posted on 02/08/2010 7:57:31 AM PST by Publius

An Anonymous Author and His Measured Critique

After more than two centuries, no one knows the true identity of Federal Farmer. Some have theorized it was Richard Henry Lee or Melancton Smith, but nobody really knows. His letters were initially published as pamphlets addressed to “the Republican”, widely believed to be Governor George Clinton of New York.

A month after their initial publication, a New York newspaper opposed to the adoption of the Constitution printed them after a bit of editing. Today an astute editor would contact the author, work with him to tighten up his arguments, trim it a bit and publish it as an op-ed. Publication was a major coup in the debate over the Constitution, for even Alexander Hamilton, a fine judge of lucid prose and logical argument, was forced to tip his hat to Federal Farmer as a formidable foe.

Federal Farmer #1

Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican #1

8 October 1787

1 Dear Sir,

***

2 My letters to you last winter on the subject of a well balanced national government for the United States were the result of free enquiry; when I passed from that subject to enquiries relative to our commerce, revenues, past administration, etc., I anticipated the anxieties I feel on carefully examining the plan of government proposed by the convention.

3 It appears to be a plan retaining some federal features, but to be the first important step and to aim strongly to one consolidated government of the United States.

4 It leaves the powers of government and the representation of the people so unnaturally divided between the general and state governments that the operations of our system must be very uncertain.

5 My uniform federal attachments, and the interest I have in the protection of property, and a steady execution of the laws will convince you that, if I am under any bias at all, it is in favor of any general system which shall promise those advantages.

6 The instability of our laws increases my wishes for firm and steady government, but then I can consent to no government which in my opinion is not calculated equally to preserve the rights of all orders of men in the community.

7 My object has been to join with those who have endeavored to supply the defects in the forms of our governments by a steady and proper administration of them.

8 Though I have long apprehended that fraudulent debtors and embarrassed men on the one hand, and men on the other unfriendly to republican equality would produce an uneasiness among the people and prepare the way not for cool and deliberate reforms in the governments, but for changes calculated to promote the interests of particular orders of men.

9 Acquit me, sir, of any agency in the formation of the new system; I shall be satisfied with seeing, if it shall be adopted, a prudent administration.

10 Indeed I am so much convinced of the truth of Pope's maxim, that “That which is best administered is best,” that I am much inclined to subscribe to it from experience.

11 I am not disposed to unreasonably contend about forms.

12 I know our situation is critical, and it behooves us to make the best of it.

13 A federal government of some sort is necessary.

14 We have suffered the present to languish, and whether the Confederation was capable or not originally of answering any valuable purposes, it is now but of little importance.

15 I will pass by the men and states who have been particularly instrumental in preparing the way for a change and perhaps for governments not very favorable to the people at large.

16 A constitution is now presented which we may reject or which we may accept, with or without amendments, and to which point we ought to direct our exertions is the question.

17 To determine this question with propriety, we must attentively examine the system itself and the probable consequences of either step.

18 This I shall endeavor to do so far as I am able with candor and fairness, and leave you to decide upon the propriety of my opinions, the weight of my reasons, and how far my conclusions are well drawn.

19 Whatever may be the conduct of others on the present occasion, I do not mean hastily and positively to decide on the merits of the Constitution proposed.

20 I shall be open to conviction and always disposed to adopt that which, all things considered, shall appear to me to be most for the happiness of the community.

21 It must be granted that if men hastily and blindly adopt a system of government, they will as hastily and as blindly be led to alter or abolish it, and changes must ensue, one after another, till the peaceable and better part of the community will grow weary with changes, tumults and disorders, and be disposed to accept any government, however despotic, that shall promise stability and firmness.

***

22 The first principal question that occurs is whether, considering our situation, we ought to precipitate the adoption of the proposed Constitution?

23 If we remain cool and temperate, we are in no immediate danger of any commotions; we are in a state of perfect peace and in no danger of invasions; the state governments are in the full exercise of their powers; and our governments answer all present exigencies, except the regulation of trade, securing credit in some cases, and providing for the interest in some instances of the public debts; and whether we adopt a change, three or nine months hence, can make but little odds with the private circumstances of individuals; their happiness and prosperity, after all, depend principally upon their own exertions.

24 We are hardly recovered from a long and distressing war: the farmers, [fishermen], etc., have not yet fully repaired the waste made by it.

25 Industry and frugality are again assuming their proper station.

26 Private debts are lessened, and public debts incurred by the war have been by various ways diminished, and the public lands have now become a productive source for diminishing them much more.

27 I know uneasy men who wish very much to precipitate, do not admit all these facts, but they are facts well known to all men who are thoroughly informed in the affairs of this country.

28 It must, however, be admitted that our federal system is defective and that some of the state governments are not well administered, but then we impute to the defects in our governments many evils and embarrassments which are most clearly the result of the late war.

29 We must allow men to conduct on the present occasion as on all similar ones.

30 They will urge a thousand pretenses to answer their purposes on both sides.

31 When we want a man to change his condition, we describe it as miserable, wretched and despised, and draw a pleasing picture of that which we would have him assume.

32 And when we wish the contrary, we reverse our descriptions.

33 Whenever a clamor is raised and idle men get to work, it is highly necessary to examine facts carefully and without unreasonably suspecting men of falsehood, to examine and enquire attentively under what impressions they act.

34 It is too often the case in political concerns that men state facts not as they are, but as they wish them to be, and almost every man, by calling to mind past scenes, will find this to be true.

***

35 Nothing but the passions of ambitious, impatient, or disorderly men, I conceive, will plunge us into commotions if time should be taken fully to examine and consider the system proposed.

36 Men who feel easy in their circumstances, and such as are not sanguine in their expectations relative to the consequences of the proposed change, will remain quiet under the existing governments.

37 Many commercial and monied men who are uneasy, not without just cause, ought to be respected and by no means unreasonably disappointed in their expectations and hopes, but as to those who expect employments under the new Constitution, as to those weak and ardent men who always expect to be gainers by revolutions and whose lot it generally is to get out of one difficulty into another, they are very little to be regarded, and as to those who designedly avail themselves of this weakness and ardor, they are to be despised.

38 It is natural for men who wish to hasten the adoption of a measure to tell us, now is the crisis — now is the critical moment which must be seized, or all will be lost, and to shut the door against free enquiry whenever conscious the thing presented has defects in it, which time and investigation will probably discover.

39 This has been the custom of tyrants and their dependants in all ages.

40 If it is true, what has been so often said, that the people of this country cannot change their condition for the worse, I presume it still behooves them to endeavor deliberately to change it for the better.

41 The fickle and ardent in any community are the proper tools for establishing despotic government.

42 But it is deliberate and thinking men who must establish and secure governments on free principles.

43 Before they decide on the plan proposed, they will enquire whether it will probably be a blessing or a curse to this people.

***

44 The present moment discovers a new face in our affairs.

45 Our object has been all along to reform our federal system and to strengthen our governments — to establish peace, order and justice in the community — but a new object now presents.

46 The plan of government now proposed is evidently calculated totally to change in time our condition as a people.

47 Instead of being thirteen republics under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government.

48 Of this, I think, I shall fully convince you in my following letters on this subject.

49 This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for some time past.

50 Whether such a change can ever be effected in any manner, whether it can be effected without convulsions and civil wars, whether such a change will not totally destroy the liberties of this country — time only can determine.

***

51 To have a just idea of the government before us and to show that a consolidated one is the object in view, it is necessary not only to examine the plan, but also its history and the politics of its particular friends.

***

52 The Confederation was formed when great confidence was placed in the voluntary exertions of individuals and of the respective states, and the framers of it, to guard against usurpation, so limited and checked the powers that in many respects they are inadequate to the exigencies of the Union.

53 We find, therefore, members of Congress urging alterations in the federal system almost as soon as it was adopted.

54 It was early proposed to vest Congress with powers to levy an impost, to regulate trade, etc., but such was known to be the caution of the states in parting with power that the vestment, even of these, was proposed to be under several checks and limitations.

55 During the war, the general confusion and the introduction of paper money infused in the minds of people vague ideas respecting government and credit.

56 We expected too much from the return of peace, and of course we have been disappointed.

57 Our governments have been new and unsettled, and several legislatures, by making tender, suspension and paper money laws, have given just cause of uneasiness to creditors.

58 By these and other causes, several orders of men in the community have been prepared by degrees for a change of government, and this very abuse of power in the legislatures, which in some cases has been charged upon the democratic part of the community, has furnished aristocratical men with those very weapons and those very means with which in great measure they are rapidly effecting their favorite object.

59 And should an oppressive government be the consequence of the proposed change, posterity may reproach not only a few overbearing unprincipled men, but those parties in the states which have misused their powers.

***

60 The conduct of several legislatures, touching paper money and tender laws, has prepared many honest men for changes in government which otherwise they would not have thought of — when by the evils on the one hand, and by the secret instigations of artful men on the other, the minds of men were become sufficiently uneasy, a bold step was taken, which is usually followed by a revolution or a civil war.

61 A general convention for mere commercial purposes was moved for — the authors of this measure saw that the people's attention was turned solely to the amendment of the federal system, and that, had the idea of a total change been started, probably no state would have appointed members to the convention.

62 The idea of destroying, ultimately, the state government and forming one consolidated system could not have been admitted — a convention, therefore, merely for vesting in Congress power to regulate trade was proposed.

63 This was pleasing to the commercial towns, and the landed people had little or no concern about it.

64 September, 1786, a few men from the middle states met at Annapolis and hastily proposed a convention to be held in May, 1787, for the purpose, generally, of amending the Confederation — this was done before the delegates of Massachusetts and of the other states arrived — still not a word was said about destroying the old constitution and making a new one.

65 The states, still unsuspecting, and not aware that they were passing the Rubicon, appointed members to the new Convention, for the sole and express purpose of revising and amending the Confederation — and probably not one man in ten thousand in the United States, till within these ten or twelve days, had an idea that the old ship was to be destroyed, and he put to the alternative of embarking in the new ship presented or of being left in danger of sinking.

66 The states. I believe, universally supposed the convention would report alterations in the Confederation which would pass an examination in Congress, and after being agreed to there, would be confirmed by all the legislatures or be rejected.

67 Virginia made a very respectable appointment and placed at the head of it the first man in America; in this appointment there was a mixture of political characters, but Pennsylvania appointed principally those men who are esteemed aristocratical.

68 Here the favorite moment for changing the government was evidently discerned by a few men who seized it with address.

69 Ten other states appointed, and though they chose men principally connected with commerce and the judicial department, yet they appointed many good republican characters — had they all attended we should now see, I am persuaded, a better system presented.

70 The non-attendance of eight or nine men who were appointed members of the convention, I shall ever consider as a very unfortunate event to the United States.

71 Had they attended, I am pretty clear that the result of the convention would not have had that strong tendency to aristocracy now [discernible] in every part of the plan.

72 There would not have been so great an accumulation of powers, especially as to the internal police of the country, in a few hands as the Constitution reported proposes to vest in them — the young visionary men and the consolidating aristocracy would have been more restrained than they have been.

73 Eleven states met in the Convention, and after four months close attention presented the new Constitution to be adopted or rejected by the people.

74 The uneasy and fickle part of the community may be prepared to receive any form of government, but I presume the enlightened and substantial part will give any constitution presented for their adoption a candid and thorough examination, and silence those designing or empty men who weakly and rashly attempt to precipitate the adoption of a system of so much importance.

75 We shall view the Convention with proper respect — and at the same time that we reflect there were men of abilities and integrity in it, we must recollect how [disproportionately] the democratic and aristocratic parts of the community were represented.

76 Perhaps the judicious friends and [opponents] of the new Constitution will agree that it is best to let it rest solely on its own merits or be condemned for its own defects.

***

77 In the first place, I shall premise that the plan proposed is a plan of accommodation — and that it is in this way only, and by giving up a part of our opinions, that we can ever expect to obtain a government founded in freedom and compact.

78 This circumstance candid men will always keep in view in the discussion of this subject.

***

79 The plan proposed appears to be partly federal, but principally, however, calculated ultimately to make the states one consolidated government.

***

80 The first interesting question, therefore suggested, is how far the states can be consolidated into one entire government on free principles.

81 In considering this question, extensive objects are to be taken into view and important changes in the forms of government to be carefully attended to in all their consequences.

82 The happiness of the people at large must be the great object with every honest statesman, and he will direct every movement to this point.

83 If we are so situated as a people as not to be able to enjoy equal happiness and advantages under one government, the consolidation of the states cannot be admitted.

***

84 There are three different forms of free government under which the United States may exist as one nation; and now is perhaps the time to determine to which we will direct our views.

  1. 85 Distinct republics connected under a federal head. 86 In this case the respective state governments must be the principal guardians of the people’s rights and exclusively regulate their internal police; in them must rest the balance of government. 87 The Congress of the states, or federal head, must consist of delegates amenable to, and removable by, the respective states; this Congress must have general directing powers: powers to require men and monies of the states; to make treaties, peace and war; to direct the operations of armies, etc. 88 Under this federal modification of government, the powers of Congress would be rather advisory or recommendatory than coercive.
  2. 89 We may do away the several state governments and form or consolidate all the states into one entire government with one executive, one judiciary and one legislature, consisting of senators and representatives collected from all parts of the Union; in this case there would be a complete consolidation of the states.
  3. 90 We may consolidate the states as to certain national objects and leave them severally distinct independent republics as to internal police generally. 91 Let the general government consist of an executive, a judiciary and balanced legislature, and its powers extend exclusively to all foreign concerns, causes arising on the seas to commerce, imports, armies, navies, Indian affairs, peace and war, and to a few internal concerns of the community; to the coin, post offices, weights and measures, a general plan for the militia, to naturalization, and, perhaps to bankruptcies, leaving the internal police of the community in other respects exclusively to the state governments; as the administration of justice in all causes arising internally, the laying and collecting of internal taxes and the forming of the militia according to a general plan prescribed. In this case there would be a complete consolidation, quoad certain objects only.

***

92 Touching the first, or federal plan, I do not think much can be said in its favor; the sovereignty of the nation, without coercive and efficient powers to collect the strength of it, cannot always be depended on to answer the purposes of government, and in a Congress of representatives of sovereign states, there must necessarily be an unreasonable mixture of powers in the same hands.

***

93 As to the second, or complete consolidating plan, it deserves to be carefully considered at this time by every American; if it be impracticable, it is a fatal error to model our governments, directing our views ultimately to it.

***

94 The third plan, or partial consolidation, is in my opinion the only one that can secure the freedom and happiness of this people.

95 I once had some general ideas that the second plan was practicable, but from long attention and the proceedings of the Convention, I am fully satisfied that this third plan is the only one we can with safety and propriety proceed upon.

96 Making this the standard to point out with candor and fairness the parts of the new Constitution which appear to be improper is my object.

97 The Convention appears to have proposed the partial consolidation evidently with a view to collect all powers ultimately in the United States into one entire government, and from its views in this respect and from the tenacity of the small states to have an equal vote in the senate, probably originated the greatest defects in the proposed plan.

***

98 Independent of the opinions of many great authors that a free elective government cannot be extended over large territories, a few reflections must evince that one government and general legislation alone never can extend equal benefits to all parts of the United States; different laws, customs and opinions exist in the different states, which by a uniform system of laws would be unreasonably invaded.

99 The United States contain about a million of square miles, and in half a century will probably contain ten millions of people, and from the center to the extremes is about 800 miles.

***

100 Before we do away the state governments, or adopt measures that will tend to abolish them, and to consolidate the states into one entire government, several principles should be considered and facts ascertained — these, and my examination into the essential parts of the proposed plan, I shall pursue in my next.

Federal Farmer’s Critique

Where Samuel Bryan fires his howitzers, Federal Farmer sits in his concealed position, deploying a sniper’s rifle with telescopic sight, and picks off one enemy soldier after another. His overall intention is to call for deliberation (19) and to develop those criteria against which he will measure the new Constitution.

Throughout the piece he expresses a disapproval of the process by which the proposed Constitution was developed, the relative secrecy (64 & 65), and the uneven procedures for selecting the delegates to the Convention (67), which, albeit a legitimate complaint, seems to conflict with his tendency to favor the independence of the states and the respect for their separate political approaches. One can only wonder at just how chaotic that process looked to him in order to prompt this complaint.

There are, as well, clear indications of his suspicion that the haste is an effort to impel a commitment in heat that might not be made after due deliberation.

31 When we want a man to change his condition, we describe it as miserable, wretched and despised, and draw a pleasing picture of that which we would have him assume.

It is a ploy as old as Pericles and as recent as Marx (39), and one is reminded of the workers who were assured that they had “nothing to lose but their chains”, but who then found out to their dismay that things on the mid-Nineteenth Century Continent could indeed get much worse. It is that which he seeks to avoid (38).

41 The fickle and ardent in any community are the proper tools for establishing despotic government.

Inconstancy and ardor are a perennial feature of politics in general, and unchecked they would shortly result in the streets of Paris running red with the blood of those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of them: ardor, in the persons of the aristocrats, many of whom were advocates of the very liberties that would grant the mob the license to murder them; inconstancy, in the person of Robespierre, who would eventually share their fate.

Now, he considers the plan itself.

3 It appears to be a plan retaining some federal features, but to be the first important step and to aim strongly to one consolidated government of the United States.

And yet:

13 A federal government of some sort is necessary.

Another perennial feature of politics is the continuum between the poles of ideal and expediency. Clearly the prudent course is to avoid the extremes and aim for the middle ground. “Compromise” even then carried the cachet of betrayal, of selling out, and for idealists who had so recently paid in blood for their uncompromising stance toward the Crown this was likely to be an unattractive plea. And yet the failure of compromise is the death of practical politics, and the wolves were circling around the nascent nation in reality, not simply in men's overactive imaginations.

77 In the first place, I shall premise that the plan proposed is a plan of accommodation – and that it is in this way only, and by giving up a part of our opinions, that we can ever expect to obtain a government founded in freedom and compact.

And at last he lays out the bare bones of his own political theory and gives the reader a clue as to what standards the Constitution must be held in order to garner his approval.

84 There are three different forms of free government under which the United States may exist as one nation...

85 Distinct republics connected under a federal head.

89 We may do away the several state governments and form or consolidate all the states into one entire government with one executive, one judiciary and one legislature...

90 We may consolidate the states as to certain national objects and leave them severally distinct independent republics as to internal police generally. 92 Touching the first, or federal plan, I do not think much can be said in its favor...

For the reason of simple weakness, and:

93 As to the second, or complete consolidating plan, it deserves to be carefully considered at this time by every American; if it be impracticable, it is a fatal error to model our governments, directing our views ultimately to it.

Again, there is a plea for caution and a reminder of the consequences of failure. And lastly:

94 The third plan, or partial consolidation, is in my opinion the only one that can secure the freedom and happiness of this people.

95 I once had some general ideas that the second plan was practicable, but from long attention and the proceedings of the Convention, I am fully satisfied that this third plan is the only one we can with safety and propriety proceed upon.

This is interesting. Up until now, the general tone of the piece has led the reader to conclude that Federal Farmer opposed the overall takeover of the state governments by one central government. It is interesting as well that he acknowledges the proceedings of the Convention as helping settle his mind in the matter. Thus he will cautiously explore a middle-ground solution. Is this new Constitution that solution?

100 Before we do away the state governments, or adopt measures that will tend to abolish them, and to consolidate the states into one entire government, several principles should be considered and facts ascertained – these, and my examination into the essential parts of the proposed plan, I shall pursue in my next.

As the reader was told at the outset, this piece is a preamble for a later analysis on those terms that were laid out within it. We will see in Federal Farmer #2 just how that plays out.

There is one comment that reveals a central political precept of the late Enlightenment as well as the author's familiarity with its proponents.

98 Independent of the opinions of many great authors that a free elective government cannot be extended over large territories, a few reflections must evince that one government and general legislation alone never can extend equal benefits to all parts of the United States; different laws, customs and opinions exist in the different states, which by a uniform system of laws would be unreasonably invaded.

The first clause strikes the modern reader who is the beneficiary of the instant communications accorded him by radio, television and computer as a bit archaic, but it was in the very forefront of political theory at the time. Edward Gibbon had just finished his great work examining the causes for the fall of the Roman Empire, a topic that may have given intellectuals in London, who had just been dismayed – or delighted – to see their own Empire diminish with the loss of the American colonies, a tickle of immediacy. One of those causes Gibbon identified as simple geographic expanse; another was faction. Both argued against the success of any uniting of the states.

The last clause is an argument for that most tortured and misrepresented term in modern social theory: diversity. It is a caution against over-centralization and the tendency to attempt to cast the entire society in a single mold. That is a thing attractive to ideologues – Marx firmly believed that such differences were inconsequential in contrast to the more important uniformity of economic class. It was one of his most critical mistakes, and yet he was no more than an echo of the political enthusiasms sweeping the streets of France as the constitutional debate was taking shape in a Pennsylvania hall.

Caution and deliberation – those in the author's opinion were the safeguards against intemperate passion and indiscriminate destruction. Edmund Burke was to develop similar ideas into his most famous work and predict with grim accuracy what was to come in an incautious and passionate France. Federal Farmer was looking through the same lens.

The Messy Issue of Money

One would think that the American colonies of Great Britain would have used British coins as the principal means of exchange. It was true that British gold and silver coins circulated, along with coins of French and Dutch mintage, but the dominant coin was the Spanish Milled Dollar which was made of silver. Coins fresh from a mint could be honored at face weight, but older coins had been clipped, thus requiring a merchant to weigh the coin to determine how much precious metal was truly present. It was a difficult way to conduct business.

On the frontier, in those days the western parts of Pennsylvania and New York, things were truly chaotic. Coins did not circulate far outside the cities and towns, so farmers preserved the value of their fields and orchards by brewing beer products and distilling whiskies and brandies. A barrel of beer or cider, or a cask of whiskey or brandy, had a known value at a trading post when exchanged for a barrel of flour, a side of bacon, a bolt of hemp or gingham cloth, or machine tools. The frontier was truly on the alcohol standard, which created a problem when British revenue agents infuriated frontiersmen by invading their farms and cataloging their brewing and distilling apparatuses for taxation. It was one of the contributing factors to the Revolution.

There were only three banks in the entire country. These banks did not service the farmer, the shopkeeper, or the laborer, but only the owner of the textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the import-export business in Manhattan, or the iron foundry in Batsto, New Jersey. Ordinary Americans held their wealth in their mattresses and under their floorboards. Few could afford the new safes of British and French manufacture. Farmers and shopkeepers could survive without a coin of the realm, but the owners of banks and large businesses could not. How could a capitalist perform the Italian art of constructing a balance sheet or an income and expense statement if there is no standard by which to measure value?

During the Revolution, Congress had authorized the issuance of paper money, the Continental Dollar, which was supposed to have been backed by one Spanish Milled Dollar each. The problem was not just that Congress issued more paper money than there was backing, but that the British found it easy to counterfeit. The use of money became a political act during the war, with Patriots utilizing the Continental Dollar in commerce, while Loyalists preferred British gold and silver. Once the war ended, the Continental Dollar collapsed in value, which created an immediate political problem. Enlisted men in the Continental Army had been paid in paper dollars, and they expected those dollars to be honored at full value.

55 During the war, the general confusion and the introduction of paper money infused in the minds of people vague ideas respecting government and credit.

After of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the war debt caused immediate difficulties, not the least of which was a deflationary depression. A few states took their debts seriously, but others engaged in partial or total repudiation. The states that wanted to treat their war debts honorably had a problem. Repaying those debts would require a major tax hike, so these states avoided issues at home, taxing the residents of other states by charging tariffs on goods crossing state lines. Quickly the idea gathered momentum, and a full scale trade war erupted. Thus, the debt crisis had opened up the old taxation-and-representation issue which had driven Americans to war in the first place.

60 The conduct of several legislatures, touching paper money and tender laws, has prepared many honest men for changes in government which otherwise they would not have thought of — when by the evils on the one hand, and by the secret instigations of artful men on the other, the minds of men were become sufficiently uneasy, a bold step was taken, which is usually followed by a revolution or a civil war.

Today, when one thinks of the term legal tender, one visualizes the words on a Federal Reserve Note: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” It all sounds so innocuous, as though the central bank were saying, “This note is good to be used as money.” But the actual legal meaning of the term legal tender is forced tender.

Money once had intrinsic value. A coin was made of precious metal which had a known standard value. No one had to say that the coin was money because the coin itself had intrinsic value.

Paper money has no intrinsic value, but represents something of value if the money is properly backed. The words on a Federal Reserve Note should read, “This note does not look or feel like money because it is not made of gold or silver as the Constitution mandates, but we say it is money because we have the guns to back that statement up.” That is forced tender, the same as legal tender.

In the midst of all this monetary chaos, the issue of the legality of the Continental Dollar finally came to a head in 1787 when Massachusetts refused to accept it in payment of taxes, in spite of the words legal tender, and insisted on gold and silver instead. That led to Shays’ Rebellion, which led to the Constitutional Convention.

The Road to Philadelphia

In his masterly Washington: The Indispensable Man, James Thomas Flexner delves into the chaos that followed the end of the Revolution and how the infant United States almost accepted fascism.

After the climactic Battle of Yorktown in 1781, George Washington encamped with his army in a variety of places in New York awaiting the peace treaty that would end the war. In 1783, while at Newburgh, Washington found that Congress would not be able to pay the Continental Army due to the unwillingness of the states to foot the bill. Among the officers in the Newburgh camp, a budding fascist movement arose that Washington managed to channel safely into a petition to Congress.

The state leaders now wanted to make clear that they were thirteen independent nations, not one, but that was not the issue for which the war had been fought. In effect the states were trying to find a way to ignore the financial obligations for which they had enlisted via Congress when the war began.

The military committee that had been assembled to carry the petition went to Philadelphia to meet with banker Robert Morris and Gouveneur Morris (no relation). The men agreed that the only protection for creditors was the existence of the army, which should refuse to go home and even threaten violence to get the states to cooperate and set up a strong central government to rectify American finances. Once the army had reformed the state legislatures, perhaps then it would be safe to return to self-government.

The men in Philadelphia agreed that Washington would probably not go along with the plan, so it would be necessary to replace him. But considering Washington’s standing with the people, it would be better to get him on board. Thus, the Morrises approached Alexander Hamilton, now a congressman from New York, to prepare the way for a proposal that Washington assume the dictatorship. Hamilton assured Robert Morris he knew how to handle the general and would make the initial approach to gauge the general’s interest.

In a carefully composed letter, Hamilton warned Washington that elements in the army were preparing to take matters into their own hands and that Washington’s command itself was imperiled. But at the same time, a congressman from Virginia, Joseph Jones, sent a letter to Washington to warn him of the plot that had been set into motion.

Like many contemporaries, Washington wondered if self-government were possible, considering its poor track record over history. Was Hamilton right? Was a firm hand at the tiller the only way to govern? Washington agonized tremendously before he wrote to Hamilton that he would stay the course. The conspirators were on their own.

A series of unsigned polemics began to circulate among the officers at Newburgh. While Washington sympathized with his men, he registered his disapproval and called a meeting of his officers. Washington was not expected to make a personal appearance, so when he did, it came as a surprise. He urged his officers not to listen to the voices that called them to violence, but to join him in his belief that the government would eventually act justly. He saw that his speech was not working.

He pulled out a sympathetic letter from a congressman to read but did not appear able to discern the contents. Then he pulled out his reading glasses, which only a few of his officers had ever seen him wear, and commented that he had not only grown gray in the service of his country, but had grown blind. There was not a dry eye in the house after that, and the military coup collapsed.

Unfortunately, the government continued to limp along, with Congress often not having enough men present to constitute a quorum. The states violated the Articles of Confederation in a thousand little ways and went out of their way to weasel out of their debts, setting off an interstate trade war in the process.

At the suggestion of Virginia, a convention of the states was held at Annapolis in 1786 to address the problems with the Articles that had made commercial relations so difficult. Only five of the thirteen states attended, infuriating both Hamilton and James Madison, a congressman from Virginia. But the Annapolis gathering requested that Congress call a general convention to be held the following year in Philadelphia to address all deficiencies in the Articles.

By the end of 1786, the system of state finances began to crumble, particularly in Massachusetts. Viewed on the ground, Shays’ Rebellion was a minor event, merely a protest that had gotten out of hand, but the reaction of the men in government was far out of proportion. In the Massachusetts legislature, Samuel Adams condemned the uprising in terms that would not be heard again until Robespierre came to power in France less than a decade later. Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, wrote to Washington that the object was to create a sea of paper money to drown all just debts and redistribute property with the goal of leveling the repositories of wealth. While Knox was exaggerating, those in government knew that if the rebellion were to spread, it would demolish every institution in its path. It seemed as though the history of self-government was about to claim yet another casualty. But the rebellion petered out, and the farmers of western Massachusetts took their battle to the ballot box, which got them much of what they wanted.

Washington’s decision to go to the convention in Philadelphia was not an easy one, but he understood that he was the only person who could guide this gathering and prevent the establishment of fascism or the disintegration of a nation. It had been anticipated that the gathering in Philadelphia would not be any more able to act than its predecessor in Annapolis, but the events in Massachusetts added new urgency. The announcement of Washington’s attendance guaranteed that the states would send representatives and that something would be done to correct the problems, but no one was sure precisely what that would be.

Discussion Topics

Coming Thursday, 11 February

The Anonymous Author Questions the Basic Concept
Federal Farmer #2

Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican #2


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Free Republic
KEYWORDS: federalistpapers; freeperbookclub

1 posted on 02/08/2010 7:57:32 AM PST by Publius
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To: 21stCenturion; A Strict Constructionist; Aggie Mama; Albertafriend; alfa6; antisocial; ...
FReeper Book Club

The Debate over the Constitution

An Anonymous Author and His Measured Critique

Federal Farmer #1

Ping! The thread has been posted.

Earlier threads:

FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
5 Oct 1787, Centinel #1
6 Oct 1787, James Wilson’s Speech at the State House

2 posted on 02/08/2010 8:00:48 AM PST by Publius
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To: 14themunny; 300magnum; abigail2; AdvisorB; Alberta's Child; Alex Murphy; alexander_busek; ...
FReeper Book Club

The Debate over the Constitution

An Anonymous Author and His Measured Critique

Federal Farmer #1

Ping! The thread has been posted.

Earlier threads:

FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
5 Oct 1787, Centinel #1
6 Oct 1787, James Wilson’s Speech at the State House

3 posted on 02/08/2010 8:01:53 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
38 It is natural for men who wish to hasten the adoption of a measure to tell us, now is the crisis — now is the critical moment which must be seized, or all will be lost, and to shut the door against free enquiry whenever conscious the thing presented has defects in it, which time and investigation will probably discover.

Is Federal Farmer talking about ObamaCare?

-PJ

4 posted on 02/08/2010 8:33:09 AM PST by Political Junkie Too ("Comprehensive" reform bills only end up as incomprehensible messes.)
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To: Political Junkie Too
Not really, but he could also be talking about the Patriot Act or TARP. His concern is that the supporters of the Constitution are trying to rush the document through without proper consideration.

Whis is old has become new again.

5 posted on 02/08/2010 8:51:20 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

The first rule of Book Club is, you do not talk about Book Club ...

... if someone yells ‘stop!”, goes limp or taps out — the book is over.
... no shirts, no shoes.
... one book at a time fellas.
... books will go on as long as they have to.
... if its your first time at Book Club, you have to read.

SnakeDoc


6 posted on 02/08/2010 8:51:42 AM PST by SnakeDoctor (Life is tough; it's tougher if you're stupid. -- John Wayne)
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To: Publius
I hope they at least nailed the Constitution to the tree for more than 72 hours before voting on it. ;-)

-PJ

7 posted on 02/08/2010 8:58:29 AM PST by Political Junkie Too ("Comprehensive" reform bills only end up as incomprehensible messes.)
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To: Political Junkie Too
The nice thing is that they had to have at least 9 of the 13 states ratify via convention, not via state legislature. The document had been published, and then it became necessary to elect delegates to ratifying conventions and have them debate ratifying it.

So it had been nailed to the tree for quite a while, but that did not stop the proponents of the Constitution from demanding quick action. You'll see that in two weeks when Federalist #1 comes up for the book club.

8 posted on 02/08/2010 9:02:36 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

Wow. This is a LOT to digest in one sitting, but after a single reading through the entire thing, there is one factor that stands out:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The issues that our forefathers grappled with are not very different from those we struggle with today, except that we have 200+ years of government by republic to examine and learn from. This I knew from reading the Federalist papers.

We live in instant communication where images and data from cameras, news agencies and cell phones flow into our brains from the other side of the world almost instantaneously, but...we still have many of the same questions we struggle with, and we can even frame them the same way.

To me, it highlights the conceit we have, and highlights my contempt for those who view the current Constitution as an outdated, archaic document.


9 posted on 02/08/2010 9:15:17 AM PST by rlmorel (We are traveling "The Road to Serfdom".)
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To: Publius

LOL...I began writing my post when there was only two responses in the thread...and that was the same thing that stuck out at me.

Those who want to push something through as quickly as possible.

To me, one of the most amazing things about the Constitution (and my admiration for those who framed it) is that they took care to include the mechanisms of change within the documents itself, and were astute enough to make the document difficult to change, so that it would be resistant to the effects of populist winds and flames.


10 posted on 02/08/2010 9:18:35 AM PST by rlmorel (We are traveling "The Road to Serfdom".)
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To: Publius
8 Though I have long apprehended that fraudulent debtors and embarrassed men on the one hand, and men on the other unfriendly to republican equality would produce an uneasiness among the people and prepare the way not for cool and deliberate reforms in the governments, but for changes calculated to promote the interests of particular orders of men.

Amen and Amen!

11 posted on 02/08/2010 9:50:09 AM PST by Bigun ("It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Voltaire)
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To: Publius
34 It is too often the case in political concerns that men state facts not as they are, but as they wish them to be, and almost every man, by calling to mind past scenes, will find this to be true.

Yet another keen observation!

12 posted on 02/08/2010 9:57:17 AM PST by Bigun ("It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Voltaire)
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To: Publius

Bump (because there is so much here to digest!)


13 posted on 02/08/2010 10:07:16 AM PST by rockrr (Everything is different now...)
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To: Publius
61 A general convention for mere commercial purposes was moved for — the authors of this measure saw that the people's attention was turned solely to the amendment of the federal system, and that, had the idea of a total change been started, probably no state would have appointed members to the convention.

A key point largely forgotten today.

14 posted on 02/08/2010 10:10:12 AM PST by Bigun ("It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Voltaire)
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To: rlmorel; rockrr
Yes, there is a lot to digest.

But that's the nice thing about these threads. You can come back again and again and absorb the words and their meaning. It's not something that has to be done in a hour or even a day.

15 posted on 02/08/2010 10:48:50 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
37-50

In these lines lies the whole heath care debate.

Created crisis,fanned fires of urgency, deals made in haste and free from public scrutiny.

The anonymous writer was gifted with foresight.

16 posted on 02/08/2010 2:19:14 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (Liberals are educated above their level of intelligence.. Thanks Sr. Angelica)
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To: Publius

38 It is natural for men who wish to hasten the adoption of a measure to tell us, now is the crisis — now is the critical moment which must be seized, or all will be lost, and to shut the door against free enquiry whenever conscious the thing presented has defects in it, which time and investigation will probably discover.

Never let a crisis go to waste, even if it is an invented crisis.

Obama care, Cap and Trade....


17 posted on 02/08/2010 2:26:55 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (Liberals are educated above their level of intelligence.. Thanks Sr. Angelica)
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To: rlmorel
The issues that our forefathers grappled with are not very different from those we struggle with today...

That's been giving me chills since Publius talked me into this project. These are truly fundamental political concerns. Nor have the passions of men (nor their vices) changed a great deal since the quill pen gave way to the word processor.

Look at some of the dynamics in this one (and its successor) - class tensions, urban/rural tensions, the desire or reluctance to set up centers of power, funding issues, how to ensure that the government is not one thing to one set of citizens and another to others while simultaneously respecting the differences between regions. I don't think the men who wrote these pieces would be in the least disappointed that we're still debating them. I think they'd be astonished that we still can and delighted that we still do.

18 posted on 02/08/2010 3:06:44 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: TASMANIANRED
37-50
In these lines lies the whole heath care debate.

And the TARP debate and the Patriot Act debate.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

19 posted on 02/08/2010 3:23:35 PM PST by Publius
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To: Billthedrill
"...I don't think the men who wrote these pieces would be in the least disappointed that we're still debating them. I think they'd be astonished that we still can and delighted that we still do..."

Well put! That is a great and uplifting sentiment!

20 posted on 02/08/2010 5:01:29 PM PST by rlmorel (We are traveling "The Road to Serfdom".)
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To: TASMANIANRED

No kidding, you picked probably the single passage that nailed it in a nutshell.

Liberals, who have no sense or understanding of history, think of our forefathers as primitive bumpkins with coonskin hats.

They were remarkably sophisticated men especially if measured by today’s standards, and would easily be able to navigate and engage in discourse today.

Even more so, because they knew how to do it well. The fact that this writing is so prescient is astounding.


21 posted on 02/08/2010 5:13:13 PM PST by rlmorel (We are traveling "The Road to Serfdom".)
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To: Billthedrill
I don't think the men who wrote these pieces would be in the least disappointed that we're still debating them. I think they'd be astonished that we still can and delighted that we still do.

Well said.
22 posted on 02/09/2010 10:08:40 AM PST by LearsFool ("Thou shouldst not have been old, till thou hadst been wise.")
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To: Publius

(Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

I’ve always taken the above verse to be a reference to the actions of men.

#38 is another example of just how astute these people were in regards to human nature. And how hard the Constitutional Convention tried to guard against human nature when putting together the Constitution.


23 posted on 02/09/2010 1:48:59 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
After more than two centuries, no one knows the true identity of Federal Farmer.

I would be interested in finding out if modern methods have been utilized in trying to identify who this man was. I know that there are computer programs out there that can correlate writing styles and phrases to provide a statistical likelihood of the true author. Referring to line (2) that of a 'continuing correspondence' there must be other documents in keeping that would lend themselves to such a technique.

The reference to Pope's maxim (10)-

For Forms of Government let fools contest; whatever is best administered is best. - Alexander Pope

Makes the 'let fools contest', though not written, indelible.

(26) Private debts are lessened, and public debts incurred by the war have been by various ways diminished, and the public lands have now become a productive source for diminishing them much more.

Land grants were a common form of payment in colonial times and this practice carried on after the revolution. To the victors go the spoils and so they did. There was a thriving trade in land speculation following our independence. It was not unusual for officers to be paid in land and was an incentive given on both sides. Entities such as the Holland Land Company were set up to represent foreign investors who saw the turmoil as opportunity. Titles to land were bought from Officers who had no interest in settling new country and regarded land ownership as a relatively safe form of savings.(Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants ) Certainly another source for the diminishing of debt, though not always recognized, was the overwhelming demands of the westward expansion. I find it difficult to imagine the times. A bottled up populace on the east coast, enjoying the suddenly open lands to the west must have produced a vacuum for goods that would have rivaled the vacuum produced by the emigration of the Kings subjects to the north and east.

(98)a free elective government cannot be extended over large territories

This from a time when the fastest communication was by lantern light at night or perhaps cannonfire. The communication restrictions brought about by distance were assumed to be unalterable and though we find it amusing today, could result in an entire war being won or lost. Even this paper would have had quite a delay in getting distributed throughout the country and was likely not published in a timely manner that would allow the States at the extremes to have equal input into the process.

24 posted on 02/10/2010 11:40:38 AM PST by whodathunkit (The fickle and ardent in any community are the proper tools for establishing despotic government.)
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To: whodathunkit
Titles to land were bought from Officers who had no interest in settling new country and regarded land ownership as a relatively safe form of savings.

Afer reading that sentence, I realized that my little essay on money should have mentioned land. Because land was in fact money and wealth, it was one of the engines of prosperity that made America different from Europe, a topic that will come front-and-center with John DeWitt #1 next week.

25 posted on 02/10/2010 11:45:14 AM PST by Publius
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To: SnakeDoctor
Are you thinking that Pub and Bill are really just one guy?
26 posted on 02/11/2010 11:59:18 AM PST by r-q-tek86 (It isn't settled because it isn't science)
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To: r-q-tek86

I am Jack’s complete lack of suprise.

SnakeDoc


27 posted on 02/11/2010 12:14:14 PM PST by SnakeDoctor (When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow)
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To: r-q-tek86; SnakeDoctor; Billthedrill
No, Bill and I are two different people. I live in the Seattle area, and Bill lives in Idaho. We met at a FReeper Meet in 1998 when we both lived in the Seattle area but kept in touch when Bill moved.

I reformat the papers and write essays on things that I know, such as finance, and American history in the period between the Revolution and the Civil War.

Bill has read all the great philosophers and economists, and writes on those items.

It's a good mix, and we work well together.

28 posted on 02/11/2010 6:13:46 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

We didn’t actually think you were the same person ... it was a Fight Club reference (if you haven’t seen/read it, you won’t catch the reference ... but its a good movie).

SnakeDoc


29 posted on 02/11/2010 7:45:11 PM PST by SnakeDoctor (When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.)
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To: SnakeDoctor

I saw “Fight Club”. It was a good movie until the end, when it took that strange turn.


30 posted on 02/11/2010 7:46:11 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

The strange turn is what we were referring to.

Actually, I’ve often thought Fight Club was a reasonably good allegory for communism.

(1) Socialists sieze on anti-consumerist frustration with the lack of fulfillment with consumer-driven capitalism;
(2) property ownership is jettisoned for a simple, less consumer-driven, and nominally more fulfilling lifestyle;
(3) small communities are formed (the fight clubs) in which anti-consumerism and militancy are preached;
(4) the community leaders (Tyler Durden) grow in power and devotion from followers;
(5) the community grows, coalesces and militarizes (the Paper Street house);
(6) member individuality is completely subordinated for the good of the group/leadership (the members of Project Mayhem have no names, individual will is completely subordinate to the wishes of Tyler Durden);
(7) once individuality is completely jettisoned, and systematic brainwashing and re-education are complete ... the followers will do anything asked by the leadership to further the cause (violence, terrorism — Project Mayhem).

It lines up pretty well. I also thought the movie was an interesting commentary on masculinity in a matriarchal society. And I thought the plot twist was cool.

SnakeDoc


31 posted on 02/11/2010 8:08:54 PM PST by SnakeDoctor (When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.)
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To: SnakeDoctor
Don't listen to him. I'm really one of the Voices in Publius's head. "Publius! Oh Puuuuuublius! Kill them! Kill them all!!" But he won't, he just smiles at the sumbitches. Pub' is chamber music, I'm death metal. It works, somehow it works...

Maybe it's only a fantasy, but the impression I'm getting reading these pieces is that these guys would be very comfortable on FR. Sometimes I think of this place as a roadhouse in old Virginia, my car parked next to the horses and a furious contention inside next to a roaring fireplace and with bottomless tankards of ale. Sammy Adams over there is wearing his Red Sox sweatshirt again and I may have to kick his butt before the evening is over. Or he, mine.

Oh, yeah, and we...don't...talk...about...Book...Club... ;-)

32 posted on 02/11/2010 8:43:23 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: Billthedrill

Precious-s-s-s-s!


33 posted on 02/11/2010 8:45:12 PM PST by Publius
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To: Billthedrill
Sometimes I think of this place as a roadhouse in old Virginia, my car parked next to the horses and a furious contention inside next to a roaring fireplace and with bottomless tankards of ale. Sammy Adams over there is wearing his Red Sox sweatshirt again and I may have to kick his butt before the evening is over. Or he, mine.

OMG!! You've just given me the idea for a short story based on this with a touch of "Cheers". It will be like that "James Madison Gets Drunk" story I wrote for Loud Mime's thread.

Sam Adams walks into the bar in his Red Sox jersey. "SAM", yell the guys at the bar. "What'll you have?" asks the bartender. "Give me a Sam Adams dark." Everybody moans.

34 posted on 02/11/2010 8:56:13 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
Yeah, and don't underestimate that tall feller in the corner over there. Some surveyor with muddy boots name o' Washington, or so I'm told. The red-haired git next to him is Jefferson. He looks all mild and stuff but he'll clock you with his mug if you call him a Yankees fan. Well, I would too.

So there you are, and you have to tell these guys what became of that ridiculous little herd of ex-colonies they started. TommyJeff pours you another one from the pitcher and says, "Hey, you guys ever study something we called the Constitution in the history books?" Oh yeah, you answer, we're still having fistfights over it. Same as you.

Personally I think that's pretty cool.

35 posted on 02/11/2010 9:08:44 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: Publius; SnakeDoctor

We were making fun of the movie Fight Club.


36 posted on 02/14/2010 2:17:00 PM PST by r-q-tek86 (It isn't settled because it isn't science)
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To: Publius; Billthedrill; All

OUTSTANDING post, commentary, thread. Thanks to all historians/educators/posters. BTTT!


37 posted on 02/15/2010 8:47:00 AM PST by PGalt (catching up)
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To: Publius; All

Re-reading (worth the re-read). Thanks to all.


38 posted on 03/04/2010 6:02:27 PM PST by PGalt (catching up, still)
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To: PGalt

That’s what it’s here for.


39 posted on 03/04/2010 6:07:43 PM PST by Publius (Come study the Constitution with the FReeper Book Club.)
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To: Publius
Good evening. Thanks for all you do.

Maybe, just maybe, people reading these essays will figure out how far we have fallen from the original intent of our great Constitution.

Then again, maybe not. If not, we are headed for a debacle greater than the one in 1861. And, this possible future conflict will make CWI look like a walk in the park on a warm spring day.

Please pray for our country.

5.56mm

40 posted on 06/25/2010 7:05:58 PM PDT by M Kehoe
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To: M Kehoe
Bttt.

5.56mm

41 posted on 06/25/2010 8:01:06 PM PDT by M Kehoe
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