Brutus No. 1: Antifederalist Warning on Consolidation
If you’ve been following our work here at the TAC, you’ll often see articles, videos, quotes, posts – about the dangers of centralization of power.
In fact, it might be one of the most common themes – both here and from the Founding Generation. That’s why the Constitution itself was very likely to fail ratification until deals were made in places like Massachusetts and elsewhere – that an amendment would be added in the near future to reaffirm the principle that all powers not expressly delegated would remain with the states or the people.
That, of course, became the 10th Amendment, which Thomas Jefferson called “the foundation of the Constitution.”
Even supporters of ratification regularly acknowledged the dangers of centralization – what they referred to as “consolidation.”
James Iredell, who was later nominated to the Supreme Court by Pres. Washington, pointed out that “The members of the Convention were as much averse to consolidation as any gentleman on this floor.”
Federalist William Davie said, “If there were any seeds in this Constitution which might, one day, produce a consolidation, it would, sir, with me, be an insuperable objection.”
And even Washington himself warned of consolidation leading to “a real despotism” in his famous Farewell Address.
There was virtually no debate over the fact that consolidation was dangerous to liberty. The debate hinged on whether or not the proposed constitution would have a consolidating effect, and to what degree.
That’s where the great Anti-Federalist writer Brutus (who was likely Melancton Smith or John Williams – or Robert Yates) comes in with a wealth of knowledge.
In his first paper – published today in history on Oct. 18, 1787 – he spent considerable time explaining WHY consolidation was such a threat.
The warnings are just as important today as they were back then.
The great concern was that a republic in a large territory would lead to consolidation – for many reasons. Such as:
Representatives: It’s impossible to actually have proper representation without succumbing to the dangers of pure democracy
Clashing Interests: “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 the other.”
This leads to standing armies: “In despotic governments…standing armies are kept up to execute the commands of the prince or the magistrate…. A free republic will never keep a standing army to execute its laws. It must depend upon the support of its citizens.”
Confidence and Trust: “The different parts of so extensive a country could not possibly be made acquainted with the conduct of their representatives, nor be informed of the reasons upon which measures were founded. The consequence will be, they will have no confidence in their legislature, suspect them of ambitious views, be jealous of every measure they adopt, and will not support the laws they pass.”
Abuse of Power: “In so extensive a republic, the great officers of government would soon become above the controul of the people, and abuse their power to the purpose of aggrandizing themselves, and oppressing them.”
No Accountability: “They will use the power, when they have acquired it, to the purposes of gratifying their own interest and ambition, and it is scarcely possible, in a very large republic, to call them to account for their misconduct, or to prevent their abuse of power”
I went through each of these important points – and more – in a recent episode of the TAC’s Path to Liberty. It’s just a 14 minute show – but packed with a bunch of essential info. At the link below you’ll find a video and podcast edition – plus additional links to source documents so you can read and learn even more:
At the end of the day, the Federalists won the debate. And whether you agree with them or their opponents on the big picture is less important than learning from the great wisdom that was available on both sides.
Today we live under the largest government in the history of the world. That’s consolidation like no other.
My view? We need to give more and more attention to some of these warnings if we ever hope to turn things around for the Constitution and liberty.
I hope you enjoy all this information as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you.
Thank you for being here with us!
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