When our Founders finished drafting the Constitution they then had the difficult task of convincing the States to accept this new form of government they had created. Of great concern to the States was the fear that this new form of government was to replace the confederacy established by the Articles of Confederation and replace it with a consolidation of the States into a single Union under a nationalist form of government. Their fears were well founded.
Although Madison and his cohorts had attempted to maintain a veil of secrecy over the proceedings in Philadelphia, when John Yates and Robert Lansing left the convention in July word began to leak out and opposition to the Constitution began before the finished document was even presented for the States consideration.
These anti-Federalists, as they came to be known, feared that State sovereignty would be reduced drastically by the creation of this new system of government, and they fought tooth and nail to see that the Constitution was not ratified. To counter this, those who supported the ratification of the Constitution had to work tirelessly to appease the fears of those who felt that the States would be reduced to mere appendages of the national government.
I’ve done a great deal of studying in regards to our Constitution, and at one point I actually thought I had a pretty firm grasp of what it meant; that isn’t the case anymore. I had read the Federalist Papers and Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution and believed that they had provided me with a pretty in depth understanding of what the various Articles and Clauses found within the Constitution actually meant. However, recently I learned two things; first that the Federalist Papers are not to be read as the final say as to what the Constitution means. Rather, these essays were written by 3 men, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison as a marketing campaign to convince the people of New York to ratify the Constitution.
Then there is Story’s Commentaries, which I had believed was a legal examination of the Constitution by an esteemed Supreme Court Justice. Boy was I wrong! Joseph Story, if anything, was a follower of Alexander Hamilton, who was the first to introduce into our system of government the concept of implied powers. Hamilton used this concept of implied powers to push forward his agenda, that agenda that he had first spoken of during the debates in Philadelphia when the Constitution was in the process of being written; that being that the central government should reduce the States to mere corporations of the central government, and that the central government should exercise wide ranging and far reaching powers.
Both the Federalist Papers and Story’s Commentaries are not the truth as to what the Constitution means as I had believed; what was the truth is the arguments given to the State Ratifying Assemblies by those who sought to convince them to ratify the Constitution. It is how the Constitution was sold to the States that should be used to define the powers given our government by that document.
The problem with this is that there are not that many detailed notes from the various State Ratifying Assemblies, so if you want to find out how the Constitution was sold to the States you are going to really have to dig for the little kernels of knowledge which provide you with that insight. There is another way, but it also involves a bit of work on the part of those seeking the truth; that being the study of the first few years of our governments operation under this new Constitution. If one can find a few good books that provide detailed notes on the arguments over things like the assumption of the State debts by the federal government, or the establishment of the First Bank of the United States, one might be able to glean a bit of insight into the arguments which eventually led the States into accepting the government outlined by our Constitution.
All of the knowledge that I have acquired, and continue to acquire, points to one undisputable fact; from the moment our government went into operation in 1789 it began to expand its power beyond the specific powers found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Hamilton’s clever manipulations and use of the implied powers given the government by the General Welfare and Necessary and Proper Clauses are at the root of every single unconstitutional program our government enacts today. Had it not been for Hamilton, and those who supported him, our government may never have grown into this monstrous entity that exercises powers that are nowhere to be found in those specific powers our government was intended to exercise.
From the very beginning there were two camps of thought in our government; those who followed Hamilton’s line of thinking that the government possessed many unnamed and implied powers and those who felt that our government was restricted to the specific powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8.
As a side note, it is a sad commentary on the education of our youth today that most people in this country cannot tell you even a few of the specific powers granted our government by the Constitution. Yet when someone who has taken the time to learn these specific powers tries to tell the average person they get this ‘I don’t care‘ attitude in response.
What good is a Constitution which limits the powers it grants our government when the people of this country don’t care what the Constitution says? What good is having limitations upon our government’s authority when the only thing that matters to most people is their allegiance to political parties?
Are you aware that at one point in our nation’s history that Fisher Ames so opposed the strict interpretation of the Constitution that when Thomas Jefferson was elected to the presidency he suggested that the Northern States secede and form their own system of government? This was in 1801; half a century before the South would actually secede because they opposed the actions of the government; which by this time had firmly become representative of the industrial and banking interests of the North.
When the South lost the Civil War it was more than just the loss of the Confederacy that occurred; it was the death of the idea that each State was a sovereign and independent entity and that the States were co-equal to the federal government in that they had certain spheres of power, while the federal government had its own sphere of power.
This idea that the two different entities, the States and the federal government each had their own spheres of power and authority is best explained by Madison in Federalist 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.
The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.”
After the South lost the Civil War that boundary which separated State authority from federal authority was torn down with the federal government exercising exclusive sovereign authority over the States, and by virtue of this, the people themselves.
The government we have today may look, from all outward appearances, just like the one outlined by the Constitution, but the powers it exercises and the control it exerts over the States and the people make it clear that it is NOT the same government as the one described by the Constitution. I think it would be a fair assumption to say that the government we have today has been possessed by the ghost of Alexander Hamilton; for it is his policies and beliefs concerning government which dictates what laws our government now passes.
If anything, Abraham Lincoln drove the final nails into the coffin which held a Jeffersonian view on the powers held by our federal government, and our country has lived under Hamilton’s vision of government ever since.
Much ado has been made recently in regards to Hamilton, with a Broadway Musical being performed extolling his brilliance and a PBS documentary on the lasting effects Hamilton had upon our system of government. Columnist George Will once said, “There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.”
If you ask me, we need another national holiday; one to honor Aaron Burr, who on July 11, 1804 gunned down Alexander Hamilton in a duel; ridding us of his corrosive influence on limited government forever. Unfortunately, his vision lives on, and will continue to do so until the people of this country begin honoring men like Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Mason with more than just words, but by their actions and demands that our government adhere to the specific powers it was intended it possess. Until then, nothing’s going to change; the only difference is whether Hamiltonian government will come disguised as a donkey or an elephant.
~ The Author ~
Neal Ross, Student of history, politics, patriot and staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Send all comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked Neal’s latest column, maybe you’ll like his latest booklet: The Civil War: (The Truth You Have Not Been Told) AND don’t forget to pick up your copy of ROSS: Unmasked – An Angry American Speaks Out – and stay tuned – Neal has a new, greatly expanded book coming soon dealing with the harsh truths about the so-called American Civil War of 1861-1865. Life continues to expand for this prolific writer and guardian of TRUE American history.