Anti-Federalist 3: New Constitution Will Not Abate Dangers of Despotism  

Monday, May 05, 2008

Antifederalist No. 3

New Constitution Creates a National Government; Will Not Abate Foreign Influence; Dangers of Civil War and Despotism

Like the nome de plume "Publius" used by pro Constitution writers in the Federalist Papers, several Antifederalists signed their writings "A FARMER." While the occupation of the writers may not have coincided with the name given, the arguments against consolodating power in the hands of a central government were widely read. The following was published in the Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser, March 7, 1788. The true identity of the author is unknown.

There are but two modes by which men are connected in society, the one which operates on individuals, this always has been, and ought still to be called, national government; the other which binds States and governments together (not corporations, for there is no considerable nation on earth, despotic, monarchical, or republican, that does not contain many subordinate corporations with various constitutions) this last has heretofore been denominated a league or confederacy. The term federalists is therefore improperly applied to themselves, by the friends and supporters of the proposed constitution. This abuse of language does not help the cause; every degree of imposition serves only to irritate, but can never convince. They are national men, and their opponents, or at least a great majority of them, are federal, in the only true and strict sense of the word.
Interesting that the Anti-Federalists (or at least this one) objected to the Federalists of the day calling themselves such. This is a complaint about the expansion of government that the new Constitution represented, as well as the perceived self-misrepresentation of the Federalists as men of limited government.
Whether any form of national government is preferable for the Americans, to a league or confederacy, is a previous question we must first make up our minds upon....
Today we know that their minds were ultimately made up, but with reservations. Eighteenth-century Americans knew that the people would have to watch this government carefully, and keep it from abusing its power. In defense of the Federalists, however, this government was never intended to be trusted. Still, the author has a point here, as this government has grown to a point where the abuse of power is the order of the day, and the people can't be bothered with doing anything about it.
That a national government will add to the dignity and increase the splendor of the United States abroad, can admit of no doubt: it is essentially requisite for both. That it will render government, and officers of government, more dignified at home is equally certain. That these objects are more suited to the manners, if not [the] genius and disposition of our people is, I fear, also true.
Here, the author acknowledges the prestige that the new government would bring to the country - the affirmation that yes, the world would look fondly upon the United States, as would the people of the country in general. However ...
That it is requisite in order to keep us at peace among ourselves, is doubtful. That it is necessary, to prevent foreigners from dividing us, or interfering in our government, I deny positively; and, after all, I have strong doubts whether all its advantages are not more specious than solid.
Here the author voices his doubts about whether this new structure will be necessary to keep peace among the people, prevent foreigners from exerting divisive influences or interfering in our affairs. Indeed, not only has the Constitution not been much of a force in these matters, it has failed dismally in supporting any assertion that it would do these things at all. We hear reports nearly every day of unrest in our country, and of foreign influence and meddling. The Anti-Federalist was dead on in this case.
We are vain, like other nations. We wish to make a noise in the world; and feel hurt that Europeans are not so attentive to America in peace, as they were to America in war. We are also, no doubt, desirous of cutting a figure in history. Should we not reflect, that quiet is happiness? That content and pomp are incompatible? I have either read or heard this truth, which the Americans should never forget: That the silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people. The Swiss have been four hundred years the envy of mankind, and there is yet scarcely an history of their nation. What is history, but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered? Many of us are proud, and are frequently disappointed that office confers neither respect or difference.
Here, the Anti-Federalist takes the Libertarian position that seeking to be a historical force in the world is often a mistake. Even though I largely disagree with this, we all have to admit that he has a point here. Is our position as the world's lone superpower a detriment to our people? I don't think it is, but I will have to acknowledge that the illegal expansion of our government that I bitch about and our rise to superpower status somehow managed to happen at around the same time.
No man of merit can ever be disgraced by office. A rogue in office may be feared in some governments - he will be respected in none.
And many "rogues in office" we do have today. Not the least of which are the three main contenders for the Presidency of the United States. None are "men of merit" (or women of merit, for that matter).
After all, what we call respect and difference only arise from contrast of situation, as most of our ideas come by comparison and relation. Where the people are free there can be no great contrast or distinction among honest citizens in or out of office.
This is instructive, isn't it? There can be no great contrast among citizens where the people are free. Brings up an interesting thought, doesn't it? Are we REALLY still free people now with all this contrast? Or is the contrast we are experiencing the result of dishonest people rising to prominence? It's an interesting thought, but I do believe we are in the midst of both dishonest people and a severe erosion of our freedoms, largely at the hands of those very dishonest people...
In proportion as the people lose their freedom, every gradation of distinction, between the Governors and governed obtains, until the former become masters, and the latter become slaves.
This brings to mind Sage's comment about a man being none the less a slave just because he gets to choose a new master every four years - and look at the way we view our so-called "leaders" - as those who determine our destiny. As such, are they not our masters, and we their slaves?
In all governments virtue will command reverence. The divine Cato knew every Roman citizen by name, and never assumed any preeminence; yet Cato found, and his memory will find, respect and reverence in the bosoms of mankind, until this world returns into that nothing, from whence Omnipotence called it.
I'm Barack Obama. Who the hell are you? HAHAHAHA
That the people are not at present disposed for, and are actually incapable of, governments of simplicity and equal rights, I can no longer doubt. But whose fault is it? We make them bad, by bad governments, and then abuse and despise them for being so.
In other words, since we choose our leaders and form of government, we're not in a position to complain when we don't get what we want. The author concedes that the people are not interested in maintaining their freedom, and are more than happy to surrender it to the new government. This is the biggest reason I can think of not to vote for any of the "big three" come November, for the consequences of electing ANY of them are dire and will be suffered by us all.
Our people are capable of being made anything that human nature was or is capable of, if we would only have a little patience and give them good and wholesome institutions; but I see none such and very little prospect of such. Alas! I see nothing in my fellow-citizens, that will permit my still fostering the delusion, that they are now capable of sustaining the weight of SELF-GOVERNMENT: a burden to which Greek and Roman shoulders proved unequal. The honor of supporting the dignity of the human character, seems reserved to the hardy Helvetians alone. If the body of the people will not govern themselves, and govern themselves well too, the consequence is unavoidable - a FEW will, and must govern them. Then it is that government becomes truly a government by force only, where men relinquish part of their natural rights to secure the rest, instead of an union of will and force, to protect all their natural rights, which ought to be the foundation of every rightful social compact.
A very sad state of affairs, indeed - and this dead-on accurate description of early Twenty-first Century America was written in the country's infancy!
Whether national government will be productive of internal peace, is too uncertain to admit of decided opinion.
It hasn't.
I only hazard a conjecture when I say, that our state disputes, in a confederacy, would be disputes of levity and passion, which would subside before injury.
Plenty of that now too ...
The people being free, government having no right to them, but they to government, they would separate and divide as interest or inclination prompted - as they do at this day, and always have done, in Switzerland.
I'm not buying this whole comparison with Switzerland thing. On one hand, he's saying we shouldn't be looking to other countries for approval or example, and on the other, he wants to be Swiss. As I've said to many people who say they'll move to another country if this or that candidate wins this or that election, DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE ASS ON THE WAY OUT!
In a national government, unless cautiously and fortunately administered, the disputes will be the deep-rooted differences of interest, where part of the empire must be injured by the operation of general law; and then should the sword of government be once drawn (which Heaven avert).
Can a government be less cautiously and fortunately administered than ours right now?
I fear it will not be sheathed, until we have waded through that series of desolation, which France, Spain, and the other great kingdoms of the world have suffered, in order to bring so many separate States into uniformity, of government and law; in which event the legislative power can only be entrusted to one man (as it is with them) who can have no local attachments, partial interests, or private views to gratify.
Inadvertent prophecy if I ever read such. Could there be a more accurate prediction of our own Civil War?
That a national government will prevent the influence or danger of foreign intrigue, or secure us from invasion, is in my judgment directly the reverse of the truth.
He is right, of course, but in choosing a national government, a people is choosing to defend it from these incursions. One huge hypocrisy of the Democratic Party is its refusal to stand up to those who would destroy us, while simultaneously advocating the expansion of the very national government that largely brings about the incursions.
The only foreign, or at least evil foreign influence, must be obtained through corruption. Where the government is lodged in the body of the people, as in Switzerland, they can never be corrupted; for no prince, or people, can have resources enough to corrupt the majority of a nation; and if they could, the play is not worth the candle. The facility of corruption is increased in proportion as power tends by representation or delegation, to a concentration in the hands of a few. . . .
To look past this guy's apparent adoration of all things Swiss, it cannot be denied that giving a government the resources to implement corruption has resulted in lawlessness and corruption in our government today.
As to any nation attacking a number of confederated independent republics ... it is not to be expected, more especially as the wealth of the empire is there universally diffused, and will not be collected into any one overgrown, luxurious and effeminate capital to become a lure to the enterprizing ambitious. That extensive empire is a misfortune to be deprecated, will not now be disputed. The balance of power has long engaged the attention of all the European world, in order to avoid the horrid evils of a general government. The same government pervading a vast extent of territory, terrifies the minds of individuals into meanness and submission. All human authority, however organized, must have confined limits, or insolence and oppression will prove the offspring of its grandeur, and the difficulty or rather impossibility of escape prevents resistance.
The Anti-Federalist here dismisses the notion that a strong centralized government would be any improvement in the area of warding off attacks by foreigners, but hits upon a much more important point, one that The Old Sage makes in this post, that the authority of the government doesn't have the proper limits placed upon it necessary to ward off its becoming oppressive.
Gibbon relates that some Roman Knights who had offended government in Rome were taken up in Asia, in a very few days after. It was the extensive territory of the Roman republic that produced a Sylla, a Marius, a Caligula, a Nero, and an Elagabalus. In small independent States contiguous to each other, the people run away and leave despotism to reek its vengeance on itself; and thus it is that moderation becomes with them, the law of self-preservation. These and such reasons founded on the eternal and immutable nature of things have long caused and will continue to cause much difference of sentiment throughout our wide extensive territories. From our divided and dispersed situation, and from the natural moderation of the American character, it has hitherto proved a warfare of argument and reason.

The Anti-Federalist correctly makes a number of strong points in this piece:

* That true Federalists stand firmly against the expansion of government on the grounds that such expansion promotes abuse and corruption.
* That seeking to be a force in the world may not be the best thing for the people.
* That even our Constitutional republic would have to be monitored closely by its people in order to succeed.
* That the erosion of freedom and dishonesty go hand in hand.
* That eventually the people of this country would become slaves to the government by allowing the aforementioned erosion of their freedom.
* That the people's choice to allow the erosion of rights, followed by their complaining about it, is hypocrisy at best.
* That the people, in refusing to govern themselves, bring forth government by the few.
* That a national government would not bring about internal peace.
* That a national government will not stop outsiders from meddling in our affairs or in and of itself deter assailants from attack.
* That government officials, by their very nature, are corrupt.
* That there isn't anything in the new Constitution that can stop government officials from usurping power from the people, states, or other branches of government.

It is important that the warnings of the Anti-Federalists be brought to the fore, espeically given the modern reliance on the government for every little stupid thing. America was envisioned a state of individuals, even by those who built this Constitution, its faults and all.

Perhaps the flaws in the Constitution are a test, placed into the Constitution deliberately by the Founders, for future generations. A test geared towards the concept of self-education. Perhaps the Founders knew what the Twentieth Century had in store, and gave us only the tools (e.g. The Federalist Papers and the rest of the Founding Documents - with the Anti-Federalist Papers as the "other side" of the issue) to solve the problems on our own. Surely it would have been their hope, in this scenario, that we would be wise enough to succeed.

The real question then becomes: Are we?