Skip to comments.Peter Berkowitz: Why Colleges Don't Teach the Federalist Papers
Posted on 05/08/2012 10:01:56 PM PDT by iowamark
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of The Federalist for understanding the principles of American government and the challenges that liberal democracies confront early in the second decade of the 21st century. Yet despite the lip service they pay to liberal education, our leading universities can't be bothered to require students to study The Federalist...
Small wonder it took so long for progressives to realize that arguments about the constitutionality of ObamaCare are indeed serious.
The masterpiece of American political thought originated as a series of newspaper articles published under the pseudonym Publius in New York between October 1787 and August 1788 by framers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The aim was to make the case for ratification of the new constitution, which had been agreed to in September 1787 by delegates to the federal convention meeting in Philadelphia over four months of remarkable discussion, debate and deliberation about self-government.
By the end of 1788, a total of 85 essays had been gathered in two volumes under the title The Federalist. Written at a brisk clip and with the crucial vote in New York hanging in the balance, the essays formed a treatise on constitutional self-government for the ages...
And thus so many of our leading opinion formers and policy makers seem to come unhinged when they encounter constitutional arguments apparently foreign to them but well-rooted in constitutional text, structure and history. These include arguments about, say, the unitary executive; or the priority of protecting political speech of all sorts; or the imperative to articulate a principle that keeps the Constitution's commerce clause from becoming the vehicle by which a federal governmentwhose powers, as Madison put it in Federalist 45, are "few and defined"is remade into one of limitless unenumerated powers...
(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com ...
Excellent Free Course on the Constitution. Pass it on.
Having read the convention debate, I doubt that mightily. It was pretty much a done deal. You might be right on the matter of the structural primacy given to international law in the Constitution, but from what I've been able to surmise, that was one of the key elements being demanded by our creditors.
Had Henry accepted George Washington's appointment as the first Chief Justice of the United States perhaps he could have had some influence in shaping the Judicial Power.
At that point, he probably didn't want to legitimize the process (a hard call at the time). I agree with you that the centrality of his thesis deserved more play in the process. He was not thrilled with the Enlightenment ubiquity of pagan inspired deism (something akin to heresy here on FR). I'm just finishing up Peter Gay's first volume on that topic and will have more to say on it when the second is done.
Some people don't respond when history calls. Henry was one of them.
I think that a bit harsh, but it certainly so appears in hindsight.
The Federalists were against it, reasoning amongst other things, that by listing specific rights in the Constitution was a bad idea, as it could some day be argued that only these rights existed. They were right. See conservative arguments against a "right to privacy".
The Federal Farmer argued for the amendments, arguing among other things, that without these amendments, the government would assume powers not in evidence, and would trample their hard-fought freedoms underfoot. I believe our history shows how right they were. Heck, just look how far the government violates the phrase "shall not be infringed" of the second amendment, and imagine what gun rights would be like without it. Better yet, a look at Britain can show where English common law can take you, absent a written Constitution without a bill of rights.
So, while they both had their points, both groups have, over time been proven to be both right and wrong in their arguments. I'm glad that the Federalists didn't win the day as it regards the first ten amendments (originally 12 were proposed). A proper appreciation of our history requires that both sides be recognised and studied. Obviously the amendments weren't the only bone of contention between the two groups of writers. On some issues, the Federalists prevailed, on some the Anti-Federalists held the line. It took both groups, and others to make our Republic what it was. I think it's a shame that the Letters from a Federal Farmer have been even more forgotten than the Federalist Papers have been.
Agreed, also see my previous post.
He would have been present for the formation of the Virginia/Randolph Plan. Could he have, from the beginning influenced what generally emerged as our Constitution four months later?
On June 9th delegate Paterson of New Jersey convinced the Convention to step back from the Virginia Plan in order for opponents to devise a more federal arrangement that improved the Articles of Confederation. There is no doubt that Henry would have immersed himself in this committee and its product, the Paterson Plan.
On 15-16 June the Paterson Plan was debated.
Madison shredded the Paterson Plan on the 19th. Had the best orator and debater in modern history, Patrick Henry been present, maybe the vote to accept the Virginia Plan as the basis for discussion by 7-3 would have been closer. In any event, Henry was no shrinking violet and would have been a prominent speaker along with Madison, Morris and Wilson.
I also suspect John Lansing and Robert Yates of New York would have remained to influence events if another large state delegate like Henry had likewise remained to oppose key elements of the Constitution.
Fast forward to June 1788 and Henry almost kept Virginia out of the Union. Had he attended the Constitutional Convention he would have undoubtedly affected the final product. If it met with his disapproval, he would have been as well equipped as Madison to debate the finer points. As it was, he was not, and federalists carried the day.
As a thought experiment, if a treaty was approved by 2/3 of the Senate which proclaimed the Pope as being the supreme and absolute ruler of the US, would that treaty be valid? Could we impose constitutional amendments by conducting a treaty with Burundi?
No. The fact that it's ridiculous to even consider the above means that a treaty is subordinate to the Constitution, and merely exists at the same level as any other federal legislation, and its validity is subordinate to its constitutionality.
Let's try a different question that answers yours. If the United States surrendered in a wary concluded by treaty, would it be valid?
The legal answer is yes. Treaties obligate a nation; a nation has a constitution. That's why "two thirds of Senators present" is such a disastrous provision. The degree of obligation is what is at question. Hence this recount of Henry's language at the Virginia Ratifying convention:
The practical answer may vary in your area, depending upon who has both the ammunition, communications, AND food with which to sustain resistance (the part that patriots seem to forget).
Great learning thread bump
Absolutely! I graduated in '73 and when I was about 25 I looked back and thought 'these last few years would have gone a lot better if there had been a few classes that taught us how to fill out a job application, how to do tax forms and what a renter's basic rights and responsibilities are.' All of that wouldn't have even taken up one semester in one course and would have saved me and many others I knew a lot of grief and tension.
Just a little brush with some basic life skills that go a long way towards getting a good start.
Hitler said that if he could get Germany’s children, he’d have them for life. Hitler’s dead but the NEA lives on.
bump for later
“Never forget that it was “Anti-Federalist Papers” that lead to the all so important “Bill of Rights” that we used to have.”
Exactly! I am in the anti-federalist camp. Those in the federalist camp were for big central government as their later actions prove. The anti-federalists knew this was the federalist position and tried to stop it.
In Georgia, during the late 70’s, we covered them (but not in much detail) in High School.
Anti-Federalists feared eventual tyranny under the Constitution.
We have had a good run under the Constitution, depending on how one views things, until FDR or perhaps LBJ.
There is no way these United States would have remained united much beyond 1787 under the Articles.
Plenty to disagree with on such an important document. What is truly amazing is that it has lasted this long and can still inspire heated debate.
What I liked about the course was the link between the Declaration and the Constitution. I never really thought about that.
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