Thursday, September 9, 2010

Forgotten Founding Fathers

"Contemporary Americans might be tempted to assume that the opposition does not deserve to be counted among the Founding Fathers and Framers," writes John Pinheiro, disagreeing — Remembering the Anti-Federalists. He reminds us that the "anti-Federalists did correctly predict that the U.S. Constitution would become a much-abused instrument in the hands of those who wished to build a muscular, far-reaching government" and "also foresaw that the judiciary might endanger liberty more than a quasi-monarchical president."

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Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Depends what you mean by a "founder." If by "founder" you mean somebody who was active during the Revolutionary War, then many of the anti-federalists would qualify. If by "founder" you mean somebody who was essential to the creation of the American Republic, then very few if any qualify.

If the anti-federalists had won the debate over the Constitution, the United States would in all likelihood not exist. There would be a recolonized chunk of New England that would be a kind of American version of Canada, there would be a Spanish-descended area that would be its own Republic, and then a Quebec-like republic or French dependency filling up the center of the country. Millions of Europeans would have died in squalor, unable to emigrate to the New World because there would be no America to emigrate to. Only a New World carved up by ravenous European empires. Our independence would have been short-lived before Spain, France, and Britain would have been back to feast on the little republics that would have existed had the anti-federalists had their way.

This is why even the Jeffersonians supported the Constitution. It was the only way to ensure the continued existence of the country. Without it, or something virtually identical to it, American independence would have collapsed.

The Confederation government was on the verge of bankruptcy, individual states were conducting their own foreign policy, and there was no possibility of creating a stable federal government under the Articles that would have been able to protect the country.

An excellent book on the American Constitution, one that nicely counterbalances both the wacky leftist view of the Constitution and the truly wacky views of a small but growing segment of the paleo-right, is the late Russell Kirk's study, Rights and Duties: Reflections on Our Conservative Constitution. Highly recommended.

10:49 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I'd say being the force behind the adoption of the Bill of Rights earns them Founding Father status, and then some.

I'm currently reading the Federalist Papers. Many good points are made, but some of the fear-mongering reminds me of what we've been subjected to in the last decade from the neocons. Also, many of the Anti-Federalist fears that "Publius" dimisses have come to pass.

Even Hamilton would be appalled at the State of our Republic. The Anti-Federalists might say, "We told you so."

12:14 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Except that the premise that the Bill of Rights is based on -- that the Constitution must be amended because the powers it grants to the federal government are without effective check -- is the very premise that modern liberal jurisprudence is founded upon. The anti-federalists created that view of the Constitution. If you read the Federalist and other pro-Constitution arguments from the period, you will see that Hamilton and others insisted that the federal government was limited in its powers to its express functions. Worried that Congress will set up a national church? Don't be. Nowhere in the document is the federal government given the power to set up a national church. Worried that the feds will deny you a jury trial? Don't be. They aren't granted the ability to do that by the document. That argument was rejected soundly by the anti-federalists, and in so doing, they fundamentally altered the manner in which the Constitution was viewed. They aren't founding fathers, they are the fathers of our current misery.

And yes, Hamilton would be appalled at the state of our Republic. By any honest view, Hamilton would largely be within the Kirkian fold of the modern paleo-conservative movement. Along with Adams, Fisher Ames, and the other Federalists, and Jeffersonians like St. George Tucker.

2:19 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I'll have to mull over your idea that "the premise that the Bill of Rights is based on -- that the Constitution must be amended because the powers it grants to the federal government are without effective check -- is the very premise that modern liberal jurisprudence is founded upon."

Even if what you say is true, that was far from the anti-Federalists' intention, just as the Federalists' did not intend the bloated government we now have in their arguments for "energetic" government.

The case is much easier made that it was not the anti-Federalist decentralizers but the Federalist centralizers who are "the fathers of our current misery," but I think it is useless to make it. Better the position that rather than demonizing either side, let's look at their best arguments in order to find out what went wrong and how to fix it, if it can be fixed.

The Bill of Rights only limited what the federal government could do, not what the several States could do. For example, Connecticut had a state religion, Congregationalism, until 1818. It was not the anti-Federalists who have led an interpretation of the First Amendment that bans Christmas trees in Peoria. If anything, it was the "energetic" government that Lincoln unleashed that did so.

9:39 AM  

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