There has been much vilification of the Constitution by the Statists and the Libertarians. We shall ignore the Statists as being beyond remedial correction, for now.
It is the libertarian movement of Lew Rockwell, Ralph Raico, and the many others over at the Von Mises Ludwig Institute that concerns the supporters of Constitutional Federalism.
The Federalist Papers, written as individual freestanding essays, organized into a single volume with an underlying direction are well known. They appeared in newspapers throughout the young United States. Their purpose was clear; it was to make the case that the new Constitution was superior to the Articles of Confederation. The Articles created a very loose confederacy of sovereign states. The Central Government was absolutely a creature of the States. It could recommend that the States fund it. It restricted itself purely to being the interface of the united States and the rest of the world. The lower case “u” in “united” is not a typo. The Articles were an agreement among sovereign States that had agreed to present a common front to the world in regard to foreign policy, defense and trade. The weakness of this system was made manifest in the financial turmoil and terrible credit rating of the new nation. The Army was disbanded but for a small force to defend against Indians. Even so, the Army leaders were often bedeviled by the actuality of being made up of Thirteen Armies. The Congress could pass laws that required the States to fund the, but left the manner of collection to the states. In the final analysis many times the States welshed on promises made in the Congress. Though the call for the Constitutional Convention occurred before the outbreak of Shay’s Rebellion, this near anarchic state of affairs in western Massachusetts focused the delegates’ minds.
Shay’s Rebellion was due to the lack of circulating money and credit. The individual states were saddled by debt run up in the Revolution. Some states with land claims that were established in the early 1600’s claimed their western end was at the Pacific Ocean! Thus, Virginia Pennsylvania, and North Carolina were selling their western lands across the Appalachians, and paying down their debts. The New England States did not have claim to western lands. Thus Massachusetts, suffered high state taxation, and severe monetary contraction.
The Articles were clearly not working.
The States sent delegates to a Convention to “fix” the problem with the Articles. However, they voted themselves the authority to do away with it and start from scratch.
Once completed it had to be ratified by the States. The Constitution created a far stronger and a more robust Federal Government than many had expected. The fear of the replacement of the King of Britain by an American tyrant was hardly the reason the Revolution was fought! To allay these fears, and to support the case for the Constitution, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison in concert wrote a series of articles published in the newspapers of the day. They were read and discussed in taverns and Coffee Houses through out the United States. That the newspaper-reading public could and would read their lengthy arguments replete with historical references is an embarrassment to our present citizenry! Not even the New York Times today would be able to attract a readership for this writing style. (Or better, what the NY Times-readers think of themselves would be diminished if these articles were the talk of Starbucks!)
There never was an organized response called “the Anti-Federalist Papers”! Many dissenting voices wrote. Many articles appeared in many newspapers with dire warnings of a too powerful central government.
WIKI: “Major Anti-Federalist authors included Cato (likely George Clinton; Brutus (likely Robert Bates), Centinel (Samuel Bryan), and the Federal Farmer (either Melanchthon Smith, Richard Henry Lee, or Mercy Otis Warren). Speeches by Patrick Henry and Smith are often included as well.
One of the major points of the articles was the danger the new Constitution would bring without a statement of individual rights. Some of the Anti-Federalist concerns were addressed in the Bill Of Rights, which was added later. Historian Ralph Ketcham comments on the opinions of Patrick Henry, George Mason and others who were not so eager to give up the local autonomy won by the revolution:
Anti-federalists feared what Patrick Henry termed the “consolidated government” proposed by the new Constitution. They saw in Federalist hopes for commercial growth and international prestige only the lust of ambitious men for a “splendid empire” that, in the time-honored way of empires, would oppress the people with taxes, conscription, and military campaigns. Uncertain that any government over so vast a domain as the United States could be controlled by the people, Antifederalists saw in the enlarged powers of the general government only the familiar threats to the rights and liberties of the people.
The Anti-Federalists (with their “a ‘splendid empire’ that, in the time-honored way of empires, would oppress the people with taxes, conscription, and military campaigns”) indeed seem to have been prescient. But to make the case that it was the Constitution as ratified to some degree through the efforts of Hamilton, Jay and Madison that is to blame is a facile argument.
The Von Mises; Neo-Confederate wing of the libertarians have vilified Alexander Hamilton. No matter is it that he was mortally wounded in a duel with the truly villainous Aaron Burr! As the Constitutional Regime became operative, the Ideal of Gentlemen Leaders rising up above the pettiness of self-interest to legislate wisely became less than obvious. However the United States lacked the numbers of truly wealthy Gentlemen of Britain. Collecting rental money on their landed estates and becoming leisured, refined and educated with the ideals of the Enlightenment, worked in Britain. Though Southern Plantation owners approached that level of “Gentility” they had to keep a sharp eye on the Tobacco markets, on their overseers, and on their slaves. They were not as independent of interests as the British squire. The Northern pretenders to Gentry were even more seen as poseurs.
The divide became between the Federalists and the Republicans. The concept of parties was at first resisted. Party was looked down upon from the lofty heights where men like President Washington existed. The idea that men fresh from the mechanic shop, the shoemaker, the tradesmen of all kind could have a political opinion was just so unexpected.
Though the anti-Federalists objected to the ratification of the Constitution, as mentioned above, much of their impetus was taken by the addition of the Bill Of Rights.
Thus the current habit of setting The Federalist Papers symmetrically against the Antifederalists is glib and false. For one, the former were a standard canon of essays by the three men; Hamilton, Jay and Madison. There was never any official canon of writings or writers ever organized into The “Anti-Federalist Papers”. The Complete Anti-Federalist, was written by Herbert J. Storing (1928-1977), a professor of Constitutional History and Law, The Federalist Papers, and, most notably, the Anti-Federalists. Prior to his death at the age of 49 he had completed most of his annotated seven-volume collection of Anti-Federalist writings, The Complete Anti-Federalist that was later completed by his former student Murray Dry.
Thus the “Anti-Federalist Papers” is a creation of the Twentieth Century. It is today becoming popular and is a rally point for the resistance to the overweening Federal Government.
The Financial Leviathan of the Fed and other Global interests are seen as the conspiring against individual Americans’ Liberties, and against the interests of the USA. This is something I agree with.
However, to trot out Alexander Hamilton as the demonic tool of International Banking is foolish.
The debates between Hamilton and Jefferson became enflamed even more by their opposing feelings on the French Revolution. Hamilton the Anglophile who admired Britain’s ability to fund its military and her allies against the French Revolutionaries and later against Napoleon, was despised by the Francophile Jefferson who was not adverse to the guillotine and revolution.
In retrospect who was right? What if Jefferson’s way prevailed. They nearly resulted in Civil War, in the crisis of 1807. The preceding Federalist, John Adams, was inherently disgusted at the violence ripping apart French society. He armed US trading vessels to fend off the attacks by France on ships bound to Britain. He was alarmed by the presence in the United States of French Revolutionaries. Jefferson had even put one on the Federal payroll at his State department, during Washington’s last term. Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Act out of a real fear that certain foreign intriguers were kindling the Revolutions sweeping Europe. This “proved” the fears of the Jeffersonian/ anti-Federalist party called the Republican-Democrat Party.
To conflate all this with Hamilton’s financial construction at Treasury is to miss the point.
It was Hamilton’s plan for the Federal Government to assume the debts of all the States incurred during the American Revolution. This debt had been discounted sharply as it became more and more evident that the government under the Articles would never be able to repay it. Indeed, “money interests” bought it up at sharp discounts. But when the US Constitutional Government agreed to make good on the entire debt, those who sold low hoping to save something from a bad investment lost out; because the Treasury paid face value, 100%. This actually did benefit the “money men”. But, it also benefitted the Credit of the USA. That Credit allowed for the greatest growth of national size, wealth and power in world history!
Let us not wring our hands over the tyranny in the Federal Government and leave it at the feet of Hamilton and the Federalists. Federalism stipulated checks and balances on the Federal and State Governments and between the Executive, legislative and Judiciary. What we have now is no longer Federalism. The fact is that Anti-Federalists if they had prevailed, the United States would never have become the greatest power in world history. Too many of the Lew Rockwells prefer a weak America, rather than an imperial one. However a weak America would have not survived the 1820’s let alone the Civil War. No coincidence that the Von Mises Club considers Abraham Lincoln a tyrant. They would prefer a multitude of weak independent states, perhaps involved with rival European powers, being passive in the world rather than the active America of modern history. No they do not long for slavery. But they believe the “sanctity” of States’ Rats supersede the benefits the Constitution have provided.
To go Anti-Federalist now is not to return the Federal Government back to its Constitutional size and mission. It will distract from the better chances of the return to the Constitutional checks and balances that allowed the USA to produce more wealth for more people than any other nation in all of human history!