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federalists and anti-federalistsConsidering the rather vigorous debate (as seen in the multiple postings) regarding the goodness of the constitution, I thought it might be good post a few of the best quotes from the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. I think it’s critically important to remember that each side of the debate in the late 1780s was populated by Americans, each striving to define the common good as inherited from their fathers, needing to be made palatable for the current generation, and ready to be presented as viable to future generations.

As Dr. Kirk put it so beautifully in his Rights and Duties, all good political decisions come from a compromise of the varying interests in society. Any attempt to create perfection on this earth, Kirk reminded us time and time again, results in dreary conformity and vast genocide.

[Thanks to Bruce Frohnen for his wonderfully edited work on the Anti-Federalists]

The Federalists

“We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour.  It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favoured class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honourable title of republic.”[1]

“A handful of tyrannical nobles” controlled the states, and the federal government could intervene to protect the rights of the citizens of those states. And yet, Madison continued in Federalist 39, “federal” did not mean the same thing as “national,” for the ratification demanded the “assent and ratification of the several states, derived from the supreme authority in each state,” the citizens of the respective state.[2]  In deciding whether or not to ratify the Constitution, each state “is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.”[3]

“Justice is the end of government,” Madison stated bluntly in Federalist 51, following Plato and Aristotle.  “It is the end of civil society.”[4]

In discussing the need for a strong executive branch in Federalist 70, Hamilton explained:

“A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government.  A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution: and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.”[5]

Arguments for energy applied to more than just the executive branch.

“Energy in government is essential to that security against external and internal danger, and to that prompt and salutary execution of the laws, which enter into the very definition of good government. Stability in government is essential to national character, and to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief blessings of civil society.”[6]

The Anti-Federalists

13-book98_theantifederalistsThough never the cohesive force the Federalists proved to be, the Anti-Federalists feared what they considered to be the objective of the Constitution: a consolidated, national government.  Such a desire, the Federal Farmer, a leading Anti-Federalist, argued, mostly likely came from “those who expect employments under the new constitution; as to those weak and ardent men who always expected to be gainers by revolutions, and whose lot it generally is to get out of one difficulty into another.”[7]  Federalists merely played on the fears of the people, promoting the notion that the current government is fully in a crisis.  The result, the Federal Farmer claimed, is predictable.  “Instead of being thirteen republics under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government,” he wrote.  “This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for some time past.”[8]

Another Anti-Federalist, Brutus, claimed the constitution would render the states obsolete through the “necessary and proper clause” of Article I, Section 8.[9]  Though the Federalists might write in placating tones regarding the status of states prior to the ratification of the Constitution, the tone would necessarily change once the Constitution was implemented.  “It will be found that the power retained by individual states, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States,” Brutus wrote.  This will follow the law of nature, as “every body of men, invested with power, are ever disposed to increase it, and to acquire a superiority over every thing that stands in their way.”[10]

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Notes:

[1] James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 39, pg. 194.

[2] James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 39, pg. 196.

[3] James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 39, pg. 197.

[4] James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 51, pg. 271.

[5] Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, no. 70, pg. 362-63.

[6] James Madison, Federalist Papers, no. 37, pg. 181.

[7] Letters from a Federal Farmer, Letter 1, 8 October 1787, in Bruce Frohnen, ed., The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999), pg. 144.

[8] Letters from a Federal Farmer, Letter 1, 8 October 1787, in Bruce Frohnen, ed., The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999), pg. 145.

[9] Essays of Brutus, Essay I, 10 October 1787, in Bruce Frohnen, ed., The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999), pg. 377.

[10] Essays of Brutus, Essay I, 10 October 1787, in Bruce Frohnen, ed., The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999), pg. 378.

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