Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anti-Federalist Number 1

The argument presented by "a Federalist" in this paper should seem very similar to what we know now has political unremarkabalness. The Constitution was a very contentious issue, and this essay makes the point that to sort through the document requires much time and patience so that all potential uncertainties could be sorted out. And the Constitution is a very short paper. I wonder what the implications, therefore, would be for a bill that is about 2000 pages long.

The full text of the first paper can be found here.

I am pleased to see a spirit of inquiry burst the band of constraint upon the subject of the NEW PLAN for consolidating the governments of the United States, as recommended by the late Convention.

If it is suitable to the GENIUS and HABITS of the citizens of these states, it will bear the strictest scrutiny. The PEOPLE are the grand inquest who have a RIGHT to judge of its merits. The hideous daemon of Aristocracy has hitherto had so much influence as to bar the channels of investigation, preclude the people from inquiry and extinguish every spark of liberal information of its qualities. At length the luminary of intelligence begins to beam its effulgent rays upon this important production; the deceptive mists cast before the eyes of the people by the delusive machinations of its INTERESTED advocates begins to dissipate, as darkness flies before the burning taper; and I dare venture to predict, that in spite of those mercenary dectaimers, the plan will have a candid and complete examination.

Some interesting facts come out through close scrutiny of this short passage. The first sentence shows that before the Constitution, the country ran as a loose collection of related governments rather than as a singular government. The extent to which that was true is not made clear, but it is interesting to see that there is opposition to a national government that would basically be the master of these more local, state governments.

In that second paragraph, notice the mention of the Aristocracy. The "Aristocracy" is blocking investigation, examination, and inquiry. They have clouded the vision of the people for their own sake. Now of course, the use of the word aristocracy in that time must have had an immensely negative connotation seeing as how the colonies had just freed themselves from that old social order. To call their fellow countrymen aristocrats, this writer is definitely using a scare tactic. He wants to show that this new document, in a sense, is favorable to that old social order. Now, the Constitution would not really establish the old social order, but it would be a far cry from what they had established with the Articles of Confederation.

Despite what is going on around him, the writer is still optimistic. He sees that the document is being rushed through and that people are persuaded to believe the writers, yet he thinks that the people in the end will ultimately win out. Unfortunately for his side, this does not mean abandonment of the document, but even worse would be the complete abandonment of any understanding of the limitations of the document in the present day. Federalist or anti-federalist, basically all but Alexander Hamilton would be opposed to our current political milieu.

Those furious zealots who are for cramming it down the throats of the people, without allowing them either time or opportunity to scan or weigh it in the balance of their understandings, bear the same marks in their features as those who have been long wishing to erect an aristocracy in THIS COMMONWEALTH [of Massachusetts].

Their menacing cry is for a RIGID government, it matters little to them of what kind, provided it answers THAT description. As the plan now offered comes something near their wishes, and is the most consonant to their views of any they can hope for, they come boldly forward and DEMAND its adoption.

The writer again uses his scare tactic of alluding to the old social order. In the second, the use of the word rigid again draws parallels to the action of Parliament in the decades leading to the Declaration of Independence. The writer appeals to those fearful of a strong, rigid government. In a sense, the writer is appealing to anarchy, as you will see right now.

They brand with infamy every man who is not as determined and zealous in its favor as themselves.

They cry aloud the whole must be swallowed or none at all, thinking thereby to preclude any amendment; they are afraid of having it abated of its present RIGID aspect.

They have strived to overawe or seduce printers to stifle and obstruct a free discussion, and have endeavored to hasten it to a decision before the people can duty reflect upon its properties. In order to deceive them, they incessantly declare that none can discover any defect in the system but bankrupts who wish no government, and officers of the present government who fear to lose a part of their power.

Does the label "patriotic," ring a bell? Not to say that every use of the word is just about something like this, but it has been abused, no doubt. The writer, though, does show that at least his side got some concessions by entering the Bill of Rights into the document.

This third paragraph is especially amusing to me. The writer is describing how people who oppose the Constitution are basically stigmatized as anarchists. We all know those dastardly anarchists. What a crazy system, right? Well anyway, the derision and scorn given to these opponents of the document is unjustified, and it is inhibitory to a good discussion about the document. Or, to put it in online debate-speak, the Federalists were using personal attacks and avoiding the heart of the issue.

These zealous partisans may injure their own cause, and endanger the public tranquility by impeding a proper inquiry; the people may suspect the WHOLE to be a dangerous plan, from such COVERED and DESIGNING schemes to enforce it upon them. Compulsive or treacherous measures to establish any government whatever, will always excite jealousy among a free people: better remain single and alone, than blindly adopt whatever a few individuals shall demand, be they ever so wise. I had rather be a free citizen of the small republic of Massachusetts, than an oppressed subject of the great American empire. Let all act understandingly or not at all. If we can confederate upon terms that wilt secure to us our liberties, it is an object highly desirable, because of its additional security to the whole. If the proposed plan proves such an one, I hope it will be adopted, but if it will endanger our liberties as it stands, let it be amended; in order to which it must and ought to be open to inspection and free inquiry.

The writer of this first paper is not even necessarily against adoption of the Constitution. His complaint is first and foremost about the debate that is going on. Sure, the writer has his sympathies with smaller government and a desire for more liberty, but he is not yet sure whether the Constitution secures or infringes upon that. His desire is for a free and open debate. What words of wisdom this is for the political world that we live in today.

The essay then goes on making the same point, but pays special attention to the lawyers who are all for adopting this (lawyers love complicated laws as it makes business for them), and again alludes to aristocracy.

This first essay, more than just describing the state of debate at the time before the Constitution, I believe is a great first post in a live read of the anti-federalist papers. It reminds us to not hold sacred cows and to avoid personal attacks. The path toward wisdom is along the road of open debate. Let us keep that in mind when we go through posts that are sure to ruffle more than a few feathers.

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