On October 8th, 1787, using the pen name of “Federal Farmer”, an American writes a letter to “The Republican”. The author and the recipient are deliberately vague and ultimately unimportant. The pen name is a play on words as the Federal Farmer is decidedly Anti-Federalist and he seems much more sophisticated in his writing than a stereotypical “farmer” as we might imagine one today. Whoever he was, he was nothing short of very insightful and well spoken in communicating the perils of not clearly defining the boundaries of a national government. In his first letter, the Farmer warns us about what might happen under the Constitution as it existed in its unratified form. Like so many of the Federalist & Anti-Federalist papers, it is revealing that after 223 years, nothing could be timelier.
Describing the American public as not applying critical thought to the political process in this country would be the understatement of the century. But the real point made by the Farmer here is that the form of government that is eventually chosen must be designed in such a manner that it does not require much modification post-ratification. However, this creates a second problem. If the system were perfect, what need would there be for a legislature? Like a virus assaulting the body of the Constitution, it is the nature of every politician to attempt to substitute enough of their DNA with the host’s DNA in order to perpetuate them into office in the next election. A politician measures life and death by what tangible proof of leadership he can bring home to his constituents. The result is that the pressure to do more far outweighs the pressure to do less.
Politics 101. The statement above sums up the car-salesman-like politicians of today and, undoubtedly, the politicians of 1787. It is neither new nor unique to our times that politicians are, by necessity, people who seek power. It is a character trait that is necessary for any man who would place himself under the kind of scrutiny he would face in the political arena. The noble images we are fed of even the Founding Fathers (right down to the label “father”), is contradictory to the personality needed to be successful in that role. Like the Farmer suggests, a politician is predisposed to lie, cheat and steal to achieve their ends. It is the responsibility of the consumer to invest themselves in the process or suffer the consequences.
This matter is a little more difficult to put a finger on. Anyone on the losing side of an argument would like more time to convince his peers that there is a better course of action. Determining when a debate had been sufficiently argued is a situation that would paralyze any organization made up of more than one person. That said, legislation of unbelievable complexity and proportions is passed today with relative blinding speed. Find a victim, describe their condition as “miserable, wretched and despised” and you can easily whip the public into a pitchfork-wielding frenzy. The public will demand legislative action that is both immediate and comprehensive, consequences be damned. The most immediate example is the health insurance reform law, but that legislation will have plenty of company in the library of hastily written and poorly conceived laws passed over the years.
The Farmer, without the aid of a crystal ball, anticipates an event that will not occur for almost 90 years; the growth from the Constitution of a powerful central government and the trampling of state’s rights in a civil war. Specifically, he predicts wars; I hope he is wrong. Abraham Lincoln, long held as a champion for his Emancipation Proclamation, may ultimately be defined by his redefinition of the Federal government. By invading the South after its secession, he made it clear that the United States of America was no longer a collection of republics, but rather a single republic under one federal government. It has been accepted as a necessary evil that resulted in the undoing of the practice of slavery. It did nonetheless weaken the very foundation of our government and has sent us into a spiral of never-ending growth in the power of the Federal government.
Human nature with regard to public office had not changed in the hundreds of years leading up to the writing of this essay, nor has it changed in the hundreds of years since. To those who would argue that the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the circumstances we face in the world today, I say they saw it more clearly than we do. The Founding Fathers possessed a very clear understanding of the dangers of centralized power, but like a weather-beaten vessel at sea, the Constitution needs time to refit and repair. This is best accomplished by a broader public awareness of the contents of the debate that surrounded the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers offer an incredible insight into the minds of the those who molded the Constitution.
Filed under: Nanny State, Regulation