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By Jeff Booth
Before the Constitution was ratified, heated debates took place between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over our proposed form of government. To the latter, with memories of British oppression still fresh in mind, the thought of creating a powerful central government was not very appealing. "The first thing I have at heart is American liberty, the second thing is American Union," said anti-federalist, Patrick Henry.
The Anti-Federalists went on the offensive, analyzing everything the Federalists were proposing -- the Federalists on the defensive, forced to explain, in great detail, the benefit of a federal government and how it would operate. Without this conflict, more authority, no doubt, would have been granted to the federal government. The Anti-Federalists gave us our Bill of Rights -- something the Federalists opposed "...because they feared that scrupulous attention to individual liberties would impair the efficiency of the powerful government they wanted. Partisans of the bill of rights worked from a theory of limited government that, despite their professions, the Federalists did not share." (A Son of Thunder, A biography of Patrick Henry, by Henry Mayer. p. 429.) When the Federalists opposed a Bill of Rights, Henry asked sarcastically, "Why not? Is it because it will consume too much paper?"
These debates resulted in our current form of government and two great books, the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, are available through the Federal Observer catalog. If you haven't read them, you're missing one of the greatest political debates ever recorded. The following is just a short summary of one such debate:
Anti-Federalist, Robert Yates, was opposed to a Representative Republic. Not because he thought it was a bad form of government but because he believed it was unsuitable for a large nation.
"The territory of the United States is of vast extent; it now contains near three millions of souls, and is capable of containing more than ten times that number. Is it practicable for a country, so large and so numerous as they will soon become, to elect a representation, that will speak their sentiments, without their becoming so numerous as to be incapable of transacting public business? It certainly is not."
"In a republic, the manners, sentiments, and interests of the people should be similar. If this be not the case, there will be a constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of another."
No one who has listened to Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats arguing with each other ad nauseum over legislative issues can doubt the accuracy of Yates' prediction. "This will retard the operation of government, and prevent such conclusions as will promote the public good."
"History furnishes no example of a free republic, anything like the extent of the United States. The Grecian republics were of small extent; so also was that of the Romans. Both of these, it is true, in process of time, extended their conquests over large territories of country; and the consequence was, that their governments were changed from that of free governments to those of the most tyrannical that ever existed in the world," wrote Yates.
Tyrannical is no overstatement. Both the Grecian and Roman empires are cited in the books of Daniel and Revelation as "Beast" governments and both started out as republics. Our republic has, or had, something that the Grecian and Roman empires lacked: a strong Christian influence, which said influence may prevent America from becoming another "Beast" empire. I say "may" because with Christianity under constant attack from many quarters, that influence is rapidly disappearing. And if it disappears entirely we'll travel the same path as Rome and Greece.
Yates continued: "In so extensive a republic, the great officers of government would soon become above the control of the people, and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them. The trust committed to the executive offices, in a country of the extent of the United States, must be various and of magnitude."
Yates, quoting Montesquen, wrote: "It is natural to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist. In a large republic there are men of larger fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think that he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to grandeur on the ruins of the country. In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interest of the public is easier perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of course, are less protected." ('Spirit of Laws' by Baron de Montesquieu, chap. xvi, vol., 1)
The central theme of Yates' letter is that a Republican form of government is better suited for a small country, otherwise it will cause "a constant clashing of opinions," and "representatives of one part continually striving against these of another." The diverse racial makeup of America today, a factor that didn't exist in Yates' time, adds more burdens to a republican form of government.
Yates' letter appeared in print on October 18, 1787. Just thirty-four days later, Federalist James Madison responded with a rebuttal (Federalist #10). Madison agrees with Yates about the history of republicanism: "However anxiously, we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true." The question to be asked here is if Madison knew that Yates' complaints against a republican form of government were historically correct why didn't he, and others Framers of the Constitution, imposed more stringent limitations on the federal government? And history proves that republics were the forerunners of ruthless dictatorships. The Weimar Republic existed in Germany up until 1933 and we all know what followed.
Madison goes on to point out that faction and strife are a part of free government because men are allowed to express their opinions. There is no faction or strife under a totalitarian regime-not without severe consequences - which explains why Hitler was never booed at a political rally.
"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of men, and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. There are two methods of curing the mischief's of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects," wrote Madison.
"There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty, which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests." Madison goes on to say that both these approaches are impossible and that strife is a part of a free society.
"It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy that it is worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an element without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life because it nourishes faction that it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency."
Madison goes on to point out that a central government, in the long run, will be better for the nation and actually do more to prevent factions. "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction." If there's one thing the federal government has learned to do well, it's how to "break and control the violence of faction," as the Civil War, and to a lesser degree, Waco, demonstrated.
Madison counters Yates' argument directly when he says: "By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The Federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to state legislatures."
What the Anti-Federalists envisioned was a Federation: states remaining sovereign, a sort of "every man under his vine and under his fig tree" affair. This would have been totally inadequate for the 20th and 21st centuries and never would have lasted. World events would have forced us to adopt a central government with a strong military. And there was no guarantee that there would be no factions between neighboring sovereign states.
In all fairness, however, it should be noted that there was a certain amount of naivete on the part of the Federalists as well. They seemed oblivious to the level of degradation to which men would sink once in power, nor the level of usurpation coming out of Washington today.
What would Madison and other Federalists think if they saw the creation of federal bureaucracies such as the departments of Education, Energy, Transportation? The FBI, CIA, BLM, DEA, OSHA, EPA, FEMA, Medicare, Social Security, Executive Orders by the president, passage of the 16th Amendment, Federal Reserve and IRS? And, during the Clinton regime, a proposed health care plan that could've landed some doctors in prison for violating it? Not to mention outside influences such as the UN, global environmentalism and a NWO mentality. And the list goes on.
It was Madison who said, "You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself." Easier said than done. Herein lies the Achilles' heel of our Constitution. It was designed to be in the control of men with integrity. Even Madison in his rebuttal to Yates admitted that "Enlightened statement will not always be at the helm." But how do you word a Constitution that will remain inviolate even when in the hands of men without integrity or self-control? If the Bible cannot promote integrity because of free will, how much less the Constitution? The Bible, as well as the Constitution, will work only if men are willing to comply with its dictates willingly.
Patrick Henry asked: "Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty? I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt." You only need to look at what Washington is doing to our liberties today to understand that Henry was correct and why he and other Anti-Federalists pushed for a Bill of Rights.
It was Madison who said: "Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government." Again, the Achilles heel. As with any form of government, it's only as good as the men who are in seats of power. If you strive for original intent, as chief architect of the Constitution Madison suggests, your efforts will be quickly labeled "antigovernment," or, "extremist."
In the final analysis, was the Constitution the Framers gave us the best? In a word, Yes. However, if the Framers had the insight of the Anti-Federalists, perhaps they would have imposed more stringent limitations on the federal government.
Who won? Tough choice. If you consider our current situation, we have neither form of government that Yates and Madison championed.
Who was right? Both sides. The Federalists gave us a form of government that far exceeded anything the world had ever seen. Not because a republican from of government is something new, but because it was coupled with a strong Judeo-Christian influence. The Anti-Federalists were correct in pointing out its weaknesses and, with uncanny accuracy, the consequences of those weaknesses.
Who lost? We did. We gambled that our unalienable rights would be secured "on the sole chance of [our] rulers being good men..." They're not, and now we're faced with a "mad attempt" in tying to get our liberties back. If Patrick Henry could speak today, he'd probably say, "I told you so." If Madison could speak, he'd probably say, "What the hell happened?" We can speak, but too few are listening.
The solution? Washington will not self-correct and unless more Americans get involved there will be no solution...only consequences.
Foundation of the Federal Republic (Compact Disc)
Federalist Papers/Anti-Federalist Papers (3.5"disks)