Friday, February 15, 2013

The Anti-Federalists Are the Best Part of America

I am in the middle of Jackson Turner Main's The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution 1781-1788. Main is a great historian who meticulously traces the economic characteristics of each state's counties at the time of the Constitutional Convention and shows that the Federalist counties tended to be the wealthier ones while the anti-Federalist counties tended to be the ones where subsistence farming predominated.  Although there were wealthy people on both sides of the debate, Main shows that the economic divide was largely between indebted or subsistence farmers who lived inland and those who lived on coasts, along rivers,or in cities,and so participated in commercial life. There was therefore more substance to Charles Beard's claims in his Economic Interpretation of the Constitution than many historians and most supporters of the Constitution would prefer.  That is, the Constitution was largely passed to subvert democracy and home rule. It was passed under false pretenses: Much of Hamilton's writings in The Federalist Papers was lies, which caused Madison, whom Hamilton had hoodwinked, to break with Hamilton and side with Jefferson once the Constitution was ratified.

One of Federalists' biggest lies was their name:  "Federalist" refers to an advocate of a system with strong constituent states tied together with a weak central government.  The anti-Federalists were actually the Federalists; the so-called "Federalists" should have been called "Nationalists." Because most Americans at the time favored a Federalist, not a Nationalist, system, the Federalists lied.  Being from wealthier backgrounds, they were more adept at political manipulation.  In effect, from the beginning the Constitution was based on deception.

The anti-Federalists' objections to the Constitution include current issues: the federal government has escalated taxes; the Supreme Court has arrogated power; the executive branch has become a kingly office; a national government is too big to be democratic; the national government is guided by special interests; the national government is dominated by a financial elite.  These and related points were all made by anti-Federalists such as George Clinton, Abraham Yates, Luther Martin, William Findley, and Samuel Adams. 

Main makes clear that the Federalists frequently misrepresented their views about their intentions and what they believed would be the Constitution's effects.  Hamilton, for example, makes no mention of the "necessary and proper clause" being the basis for a central bank in The Federalist Papers.  He saved that claim for the year following the Constitution's adoption.  What we are witnessing today--  federal consolidation,  hyperelitist oligarchy, and presidential tyranny--the anti-Federalists foresaw.

I am tempted to say that they would have been surprised that it has taken this long to occur, but the level of tyranny that Americans live with today would have been unthinkable in 1786.  What would have seemed a tyrannical society to the anti-Federalists seems like a freer one to us.  The anti-Federalists would have viewed Andrew Jackson as an insufferable tyrant.  The Constitution made America into a servile nation, a nation where human dignity is impossible. 

Can a world like the anti-Federalists' be recreated?  I think not, but to begin to approximate one, it is necessary to live in a smaller country.  The American states on average had populations of fewer than 300,000 people; the total was about 3 million.  That is difficult to find today, but Uruguay has a population of about 3 million too, roughly equal to the United States population in 1787; Switzerland has a population of under 8 million; Singapore slightly over 5; Chile has 17.  All of these countries are freer than the US except for Uruguay, but Uruguay has great beaches and isn't far from Buenos Aires and Rio.   Each of these countries also has stabler economies.  I suspect that the citizenry of these countries is more committed to freedom than Americans are, and they are more moral.

Too bad the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. America would have been more economically and politically successful if it hadn't.  The Civil War would have been avoided, along with more than one half million deaths.  Likely slavery would not have expanded because the Fugitive Slave Law could not have been passed.  Likely, the Constitution was responsible both for the explosion of slavery following the invention of the cotton gin in 1793  and for the Civil War. Without the Constitution there would have been less federal regulation, so innovation would have been greater.  The world would have advanced more quickly, and for a longer period, had the Constitution not given commercial interests power to institute a tyranny here.