The opinion expressed below is that of the author and is not necessarily that of the SCV or all of its members.
The following is obviously condensed and intended as merely a refresher designed to prime the reader's historical and civics knowledge and provide a context for the political and economic discussions that follow.
A basic understanding of the principles of our Republic may be obtained from a reading of The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments.
There are prior and subsequent historical documents which provide additional insight (e.g., correspondence of the Continental Congress[1774-76], the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, the correspondence related to the Articles of Confederation [1781-1788], etc.), however, The Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, as a serial publication advocating and opposing adoption (ratification) of the U.S. Constitution, is recognized as the most comprehensive discussion and elaboration on central or national government issues and political theory in general.
The Constitutional Convention was an extended debate and series of compromises that took place over the first nine months of 1787. Once the final draft of the proposed Constitution was submitted to Congress in September 1787, the proposed federal government would "begin" once nine of the thirteen states ratified it. The first Anti-Federalist Paper and Federalist Paper were published in October 1787. The state conventions were heated debates and most were very close votes. The ninth state ratified in June 1788, with two key addional states, Virginia and New York, to follow.
The Federalist Papers were for the purpose of justifying the need to have a stronger federal government (stronger than the existing Articles of Confederation) and to allay the fears of those who, justifiably, feared the consolidation of power that such a federal government might eventually allow. In short, the Federalist Papers were written in rebuttal to the "Anti-Federalist Papers," which were a series of letters critical of the proposed Constitution and published in newspapers under various pseudonyms such as "Brutus," "Cato," and "Cincinnatus."
The Framers at the Constitutional Convention had to devise a Constitution that would limit government sufficiently to overcome the prevailing distrust of any centralized government---enough so to persuade state conventions to ratify it. Having endured an eight year struggle to secede from the British Empire, most Americans wanted to avoid another supreme ruler in a distant capitol.
Constitutional scholar Forrest McDonald describes
the Constitution's text and design as follows:
"The Constitution was designed to bring government under the rule of law, as opposed to achieving any specific purposes....Fully 20 percent of the text is specification of things the government, state of federal, may not do . Only 11 percent is concerned with positive grants of power.....The main body of the Constitution, more than two thirds of it, addresses the task of making government act in accordance with law."
The Framers of our Constitution were a diverse group in terms of views and backgrounds but most had an aversion to the abuse of power. These leaders were educated and well-read men who were only too familiar with the tendencies of tyrants and oppressive government. Their understanding of human nature and the corrupting influence of power was demonstrated in all they wrote and in the blueprint for our Republic. They drew knowledge from the history of European and Middle-Eastern monarchies and republics and the Greek experiments in democracy and republics. Read the Quotes page for a selection of observations advanced by the Framers.
The Framers divided primarily into three camps. The Federalists advocated a stronger central government---stronger than the existing Articles of Confederation. Among them, there were the "extreme" federalists (e.g., Alexander Hamilton) who favored a national government with states as subordinate political subdivisions. The "moderate" federalists favored a stronger federal goverment to achieve the goals outlined in the Federalist Papers, but remaining subordinate to the states such that state and local governments would perform the vast majority of appropriate domestic governing (see the excerpt from Federalist Paper No. 45 below).
James Madison was at first an extreme federalist, but modified his views during the Convention debates to that of a moderate. George Washington was a moderate federalist and his views held great sway. The Anti-Federalists (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, George Mason, George Clinton, et al) favored no central government at all, preferring to retain the existing Articles of Confederation. Once the Constitution was ratified by sufficient states, most of the Anti-Federalists became part of the states rights party, known as the "Republicans" and later the "Democratic-Republicans."
Most of the moderate federalists and all of the anti-federalists feared the consolidation of power within a central government and painstakingly documented their intent within the Constitution to reserve the rights of the "sovereign and independent" states based on the principle that decentralized government ---government closer to home---was the best guardian of liberties. They reasoned that by spreading the power, natural jealousies would give various governments and branches within those governments incentives to guard against usurpations or power abuses by others. Keeping most government activities close to home would ensure, they reasoned, that the people would best be able to influence government and have it best represent them to protect their liberties.
Arguing that a national legislature, without limitations, would rule just as tyrranically as any single king, Thomas Jefferson said, "The concentrating [of powers] in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one."
"It is not by the consolidation, or concentration, of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected." --Thomas Jefferson
"I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive." -- Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists argued than any stronger central government would be oppressive. Jefferson suggested that the Federalists would establish "a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and moneyed incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry." It now seems prophetic that Jefferson predicted exactly what would and did happen beginning in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln. George Washington and other moderate federalists believed that the most serious threat to the republic was sectional factions gaining power to exploit their fellow states within the republic. Sectional frictions did, in fact, ensue in very short order.
To counter Jefferson's arguments, Madison and the other Federalists (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay) argued at length in the Federalist Papers that essential liberties would be protected and that the federal government would be constrained by its founding charter, the Constitution.
In addition, within the Constitution, they tried to establish a system of checks and balances [Federalist #51] to prevent any one branch of the proposed federal government from growing too strong at the expense of others and at the expense of our liberties in general.
The 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution spelled out in plain language the intent that states would be the dominant guardians of liberty and remain the supreme governments. The first ten Amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, was written to appease demands by state delegates that the rights of individuals and their general agents, the state legislatures, would reserve all rights not specifically delegated to the federal government. Massachussetts withheld its ratification until assured that a Bill of Rights would be added to address their concerns. George Mason, a prominent Anti-Federalist, wrote most of the Bill of Rights as adopted.
The Constitution, by design, did not specifically prohibit secession. Therefore, by virtue of both the 9th and 10th Amendments, the states reserved the right to withdraw from the federal union for any reason deemed appropriate by such state. More on the principle and right of secession follows in Section 2 and subsequent sections.
The links below will lead the reader to a reasonably comprehensive understanding of the Confederate Cause.
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