Quote of the Day: Constitution Day

 

ConstitutionPro [from Federalist No. 10]:

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.

Con [from Anti-federalist No. 7]:

The Congress’s having power without control-to borrow money on the credit of the United States; their having power to appoint their own salaries, and their being paid out of the treasury of the United States, thereby, in some measure, rendering them independent of the individual states; their being judges of the qualification and election of their own members, by which means they can get men to suit any purpose; together with Col. Mason’s wise and judicious objections-are grievances, the very idea of which is enough to make every honest citizen exclaim in the language of Cato, 0 Liberty, 0 my country! Our present constitution, with a few additional powers to Congress, seems better calculated to preserve the rights and defend the liberties of our citizens, than the one proposed, without proper amendments.

[…]

What then may we expect if the new constitution be adopted as it now stands? The great will struggle for power, honor and wealth; the poor become a prey to avarice, insolence and oppression. And while some are studying to supplant their neighbors, and others striving to keep their stations, one villain will wink at the oppression of another, the people be fleeced, and the public business neglected. From despotism and tyranny good Lord deliver us.

From Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court, you would never know that there was a real debate about the framing of the basic rules, by which we are supposedly governed. Before the several states ratified the base document, USA 2.0 if you will, there was actually a robust, substantive debate. After the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison wrote a series of nominally anonymous essays, broadsheets, pamphlets, to make the case for ratification. Another group of writers, operating under other noms de plume, vigorously contested the claims made by the new constitution’s advocates. It turns out that the side, later styled the Anti-federalists by the winners, were prescient in their concerns about the whole enterprise, especially the effectively unconstrained third branch, the judiciary.

From the two quotes offered here, you can see the broad outlines of the two positions, and how both were right, at least in part. Look within the four corners of the Constitution, as submitted to the original 13 states, and you will find an implicit acknowledgment that there are no perfect human institutions. Hence both the separation of powers, the checks and balances, and the built-in processes to amend the Constitution, as a supermajority of the states deem necessary. The Framers of the Constitution, as distinct from the Founders who pledged their lives and sacred honor in signing the Declaration of Independence, mainly approached their task with a tragic, mostly a biblical, view of human beings and their creations. See the famous quote in Federalist No. 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

So, how are we doing? Consider the school handout offered by the Census Bureau for Constitution Day, painting a picture with a few numbers. Among those numbers:

Collecting Taxes

About $6.23 [$147 in 2016 dollars] The amount of state and local government taxes collected per person in 1880.

About $4,951—The amount of state and local government taxes collected per person in 2016.

Note that these are not federal tax dollars, but the real growth in the scope of state and local government. In part, federal taxes could not be compared across the same interval as “per person” because the federal income tax was not ratified until 1913. This points to all of us, collectively, voting over and over again for more and more government at every level, in contradiction to the basic assumptions expressed by both sides of the debate back in 1787-1789. We may truly get the government for which we vote!

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There are 6 comments.

  1. KentForrester Coolidge

    Great post, Clifford. Our founding fathers were really wise, weren’t they? They knew human nature in a way that exposes, by contrast, the ignorance of human nature by the current crop of Democrats.

    • #1
    • September 17, 2019, at 3:46 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Vectorman Thatcher

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Great post, Clifford. Our founding fathers were really wise, weren’t they? They knew human nature in a way that exposes, by contrast, the ignorance of human nature of the current crop of Democrats.

    Ditto.


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    • #2
    • September 17, 2019, at 5:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. RandR Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Great post, Clifford. Our founding fathers were really wise, weren’t they? They knew human nature in a way that exposes, by contrast, the ignorance of human nature by the current crop of Democrats.

    I would only amend this to say all “progressive” people of whatever party (or faction or group, etc).

    • #3
    • September 17, 2019, at 8:20 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Al French, sad sack Member

    Federalism 10: abolition of debts, equal division of property = wicked projects.

    Prescient indeed.

    • #4
    • September 17, 2019, at 8:29 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Here is the presidential proclamation.

    • #5
    • September 17, 2019, at 2:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Mark Camp Member

    Wow! This could be your best post ever, and one of the real Ricochet keepers of the year for 2019. Thanks.

     

    • #6
    • September 17, 2019, at 3:48 PM PDT
    • Like