June 18, 2010

Understanding the Constitution; Federalist #1

Rising...or Setting

The period of time after the winning the War for Independence was a rocky one for our young Nation.  Even though we still call them states today, when people like Thomas Jefferson thought of his home State of Virginia, he literally thought of it as his “Country” and he meant it in every sense of the word.  The United States at that time was viewed as a Union of 13 countries, much like the EU is today.   The day after the Declaration of Independence was signed it was agreed to have a Continental Congress to set up a Confederate Government between the 13 “States”.  This gave birth to the Articles of Confederation, which set out the plan for governing the new nation.  The Articles worked satisfactorily through the war, but without an ability to tax the “States” after the war there was a large war debt owed and no one could agree on payment.  This is where the problems started, and in many ways we are still struggling with the same issues.  The Federalists felt that the Articles were too weak, and thought we needed a stronger central government to stabilize the States, which were in a fairly constant state of upheaval, largely due to the war debt; provide for defense, equalize the representation between large and small States and to pay the debt.  The Anti-Federalists were of the opinion that a war had just been fought to get rid of one big central government’s tyranny and they were very reluctant to give up any of their “State’s” hard won sovereignty and local control.  The weakness of the Articles in establishing an effective unifying government was underscored by the threat of internal conflict both within and between the states, especially after Shays' Rebellion threatened to topple the state government of Massachusetts. The debate continued for some time until, in 1787, it was agreed that all states would send delegates to meet in Philadelphia to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a "Grand Convention. " Although the states' representatives to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were only authorized to amend the Articles, the representatives held secret, closed-door sessions and wrote a new constitution.  After months of sequestered deliberation they presented a proposal for a new form of Government.  It still had to be ratified, and in those days the representatives listened to their constituents; so in order for it to be ratified the people had to be informed as to the content of the Constitution.  That is what spurred the writing of the Federalist Papers.  In the days before any of our modern communication methods, there was the printing press and the Federalist papers were written as letters to the public published in newspapers to educate the public. Written under the Pseudonym “Publius” the papers were authored by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay.  I have included the text to Federalist 1 as it was written and below that attempted to translate it into more modern speech.  The thing that impresses me the most as I read the Federalist Papers is that once you understand exactly what they are saying (and honestly you can only get that from reading and understanding what they wrote, not what I translated it as) they could be giving these speeches TODAY.  We are STILL fighting the same battles as they did in 1787.  The game of Politics has never changed, and many of the same issues exist.  As you read the words below picture various Politians saying them, or contrast these words with some of the petty nonsense and childish drama engaged in by some of the current crowd in DC.  Wouldn’t you love to hear someone talk to you like this today?

hamilton_alexander In Federalist #1 Alexander Hamilton makes the case for the new constitution. He goes through much of what I just did above, in the opening paragraph he says:

“AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America.  The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

 img46e87508b994cWe all know the current situation is not working, it is up to you to make a choice to accept this new constitution or not.  This decision is a critical one, nothing less than the survival and safety of the Union is at stake.  Many have said that it seems as though the people of the United States will decide whether people are really capable of designing a good government for themselves, or whether people are always going to be ruled by governments created through chance and force.  Well if there is any truth to that idea, then that decision will be made now by You, and if we make the wrong decision it will be a shame on humanity.

“This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.”

You have the chance to be philanthropists in addition to already being patriots,biden and  you should feel proud for having a choice in this.  It would be great if the choice was made by logical consideration of the issues and not sidetracked by side issues and special interests.  But, this is a hope more than an expectation.  This plan affects too many different groups and ideas, to not lead into other discussions and debates, which will muddy the true issue.

“Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.”

One of the biggest challenges will be overcoming the powerful people within thehalloween-reid states that fear losing some of their power, and others, who seek to use this opportunity to fool the people and elevate themselves to position of power in the process; there may even be those who call for the country to be split into smaller factions

“It is not, however, my design to dwell upon observations of this nature. I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable--the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

obama But we cannot dwell on these things.  I do not wish to silence all opposition, everyone has a stake in this, and it is not right to pass judgment.  In fact, some of  the men who are likely to say these things will have good intentions.  I do not doubt that a lot of the opposition of this plan will come from people misjudging the issues because of mis-information, and fear.  This is such a big undertaking that emotions will run high, opinions will be strong, and people will have a hard time making up their minds.  If there was ever a time to be cautious in your assumptions, now is the time. Do not be sure that you are always right.  Do not believe everything you hear, but please be tolerant of each other.  Do not get into political party bickering.  You cannot force people to believe in you, lies cannot be stopped by ridicule.

“And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

HECHY22_PH1 But even with these words of warning, I am sure this debate will be just like any other of great importance.  There will be anger and hate flying around.  If we look at each side’s behavior we would be led to believe that they hope to convince us that they are right by shouting louder and being more hateful than the other side.  If we are not careful this spirit of good intentions that we have now will turn into a fear of tyranny.  Being overly concerned about the dangers to individual rights will be labeled as astro-turf or fake, to make the one side look bad and the other look good.  Do not forget that people cling to their beliefs out of love, and remember that the desire for freedom always breeds distrust of government.  On the other hand, we must also remember that a healthy government is essential to security and liberty.  In order to get it right, both security and liberty must be protected.  Remember people who seek power often say that they are for the rights of the people, rather than admit to their desire for Power.

george-w-bush_std History teaches us that those who say  that they are for the People have often been the ones who took the most from the people, and of all the rulers that have taken rights from the public most began by attempting to rally the people to their cause with smooth talk, and preying on emotions, with the stated purpose of  ending the policies of a supposed tyrant.

“In the course of the preceding observations, I have had an eye, my fellow-citizens, to putting you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth. You will, no doubt, at the same time, have collected from the general scope of them, that they proceed from a source not unfriendly to the new Constitution. Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion it is your interest to adopt it. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness. I affect not reserves which I do not feel. I will not amuse you with an appearance of deliberation when I have decided. I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded. The consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity. I shall not, however, multiply professions on this head. My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast. My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.”

Because of the dangers I outlined above, I want to put you on your guard against sarah-palin-hold-on attempts to influence your decision on an issue so important to you  from either side by anything other than the complete truth.  But you will see that even what I am saying that I am in favor of this constitution.  Yes, I owe you that, after thinking about it long and hard I think it is best if you choose to ratify it.  I am convinced it is best for your liberty, dignity, and happiness.  I will not lie to you and say that I have my doubts about it, when I have already made up my mind.  Instead I tell you right up front, I am for it, and I will tell you why.  My motives and intentions are good.  My reasoning will be right in front of you eyes and each of you can judge if I am right or not.  At least I am being honest with you when I share my opinions with you.

I propose, in a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting particulars: -- The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity -- The insufficiency of the present Confederation to preserve that Union -- The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the attainment of this object -- The conformity of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government -- Its analogy to your own state constitution -- and lastly, The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.

In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention.

It may perhaps be thought superfluous to offer arguments to prove the utility of the UNION, a point, no doubt, deeply engraved on the hearts of the great body of the people in every State, and one, which it may be imagined, has no adversaries. But the fact is, that we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new Constitution, that the thirteen States are of too great extent for any general system, and that we must of necessity resort to separate confederacies of distinct portions of the whole.1 This doctrine will, in all probability, be gradually propagated, till it has votaries enough to countenance an open avowal of it. For nothing can be more evident, to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject, than the alternative of an adoption of the new Constitution or a dismemberment of the Union. It will therefore be of use to begin by examining the advantages of that Union, the certain evils, and the probable dangers, to which every State will be exposed from its dissolution. This shall accordingly constitute the subject of my next address.

I will lay out my positions in a series of letters published in this paper, they are, 

  • The necessity of a Union,
  • The ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation,
  • The need for a government at least as strong as the one proposed by the Constitution,
  • The appropriateness of this constitution,
  • how similar it is to your state’s constitution,
  • and lastly, the added security that you will get from this and the preservation of your liberty and property by it.

I want to answer as many of the objections as I have heard.  You may think it unnecessary of me to state that there is a necessity for a Union to begin with; you might think that everyone agrees on that, but it is already being talked about in whispers that certain states or groups of states should secede.  I think that this will continue to spread until it gains legitimacy, and so it is best to lay out my position against it from the beginning.


So which of our leaders above could you picture saying those words?  Putting that aside, does it not sound relevant when you read it?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin